The Netflix Queue: Voltron: Legendary Defender

Voltron: Legendary Defender I never really watched the original ’80s Voltron, being as that it first aired the year I was born. So I didn’t even realize that Netflix was doing a reboot until my roommate—who did watch the original cartoon—told me about it and said, “Hey, I think you’d really like this.”

Being as that I love both science fiction and giant robots, I was more than happy to give it a watch.

Spoiler alert: Roommate was right. I ended up absolutely adoring the show.

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Book Revew: Redshirts by John Scalzi

redshirtsRecently Eris and I were talking about dealbreakers, things that ruin a story for us and make us drop a book. One of the things she mentioned was pointless death being something that made her run for the hills.

Appropriate, I suppose, that right before that conversation I had started reading Redshirts, a book wherein the “pointless” deaths are actually the entire point of the plot.

For those of you who aren’t familiar with the terminology, a “redshirt” is “a stock character in fiction who dies soon after being introduced. The term originates from the original Star Trek (NBC, 1966–69) television series in which the red-shirted security personnel frequently die during episodes. Redshirt deaths are often used to dramatize the potential peril that the main characters face.” (thanks, Wikipedia!)

It is almost impossible to talk about this book without spoiling the hell out of it, because so much of what makes it work is essentially a giant plot spoiler. However, I will do my best, because Redshirts is one of the funniest, most entertaining science fiction books I’ve had the pleasure of reading.

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Book Review: Mine to Possess by Nalini Singh

I’ve been slowly making my way through Nalini Singh’s Psy-Changeling series since last year, which is a really interesting paranormal romance series with some fascinating worldbuilding. I picked up book four, Mine to Possess, along with book five at the used bookstore earlier this year. I’ve really been looking forward to getting through more of the series.

Alas, while Mine to Possess had a lot of the good that I’ve come to expect from Singh, I had such a problem with the hero, Clay, that it really dampened my enjoyment of the story.

mine-to-possessClay is a leopard changeling and a sentinel with the DarkRiver pack, a group that controls a large part of the San Francisco area. He wasn’t raised with the pack, though; he was raised in the city with his human mother, and was forced to keep his leopard half subdued for most of his childhood.

Talin, the heroine (and the first human main character to show up in the books so far), is a friend of Clay’s from childhood. She’s stayed away from him for the better part of twenty years for a number of reasons, and now she works for a group called the Shine Foundation, helping troubled kids get their lives back on track.

However, someone is kidnapping and killing Talin’s kids, and she goes looking for Clay to help her find out who’s responsible and stop them before they can kill again.

Now, the actual story of this book? Absolutely fantastic. Singh does a great job with the suspense and the mystery and balancing that with the romance. Plus, I love the futuristic world she’s built up here, which we’re introduced to in the first book, Slave to Sensation, and learn more about with each subsequent novel.

We have three major races: the Psy, who have a number of diverse psychic abilities, the Changelings, who are shifters, and regular old humans. The Psy have instituted a policy called Silence, which teaches young Psy not to feel any emotion, in an effort to curb the number of Psy who were going insane. It’s worked for about a hundred years, but things are starting to crack, and it’s at the beginning of this period of change that the books actually start.

I love this world, and I love what she’s done to build up the differences between the three major races while still creating romances that bridge those gaps. I love that she makes an effort not to cast all Psy as villains or all Changelings as perfect, but points out that there is good and evil on each side. (In some books, this is handled better than others.)

And for most of the book, I loved Talin as a heroine. She had a horrific childhood, was abused by her adoptive father. She got out of that situation, but throughout her teens and early adulthood, she didn’t make a lot of good decisions and has had a lot of trouble letting people in. Since then, she’s gotten better and is now trying to help kids who were in the same position she was. She’s fiercely dedicated and cares deeply about these children who have nowhere else to turn, and I really admired that.

And Clay himself was not bad as a hero. He’s clearly devoted to Talin, determined to protect her and equally determined to help her. The changelings in this world are generally very protective and possessive, which overall seems to work.

However. (WARNING: RANT INCOMING.)

One of the things Talin did, in her era of bad decision-making, was sleep around. She explains why, and while I don’t necessarily condone what she did, I get it. Besides, she was a consenting participant in all of it. She regrets it, but she doesn’t shame herself for those decisions, if that makes sense.

When Clay finds out she’s slept with other men? He flips OUT. He just cannot fathom why she would sully herself like that. (And yes, that is the DEFINITE impression I get from his thoughts: that sleeping with a lot of men has sullied her.)

And every time I saw that thought in his head, it took everything in me not to strangle him.

What fucking right does he have to get all judgmental about this? It all happened in the past, after they’d been separated and WELL before they get together again during the course of the story. It’s not like she was cheating on him. And it’s not even her reasoning behind it that seems to drive him crazy (although that is part of it); it’s the fact that she allowed any other men to touch her at all.

And I’m just like…dude. She was supposed to psychically know at age EIGHT that you two were going to be bonded, and thus to keep herself pure and virginal until you were both old enough to consummate the relationship? What the everloving HELL?

It just infuriated me to read. Because it was almost like if she’d been having sex because she genuinely enjoyed it, he’d still be pissed that she let other men touch her.

If Talin had, at some point, called him out on being a judgmental ass about it, I probably wouldn’t have had nearly the problem I did with it. Or if Clay had done more groveling than just a very, very little bit at the end. But that didn’t happen. In fact, at one point, Talin actually excuses his behavior because he is a changeling, and mentions that she would have put up more of a fuss about his attitude if he had been human.

And that just drove me absolutely nuts to read.

I don’t mind dominant heroes. I don’t even mind possessive heroes. But that has to be tempered with a heroine who can call them out on their bullshit, who’s strong enough internally to stand up to them. And that just didn’t come across to me.

That, combined with the overall feeling that this book was kind of a bridge book, setting up the next major conflict between the Psy and the DarkRiver pack, left me feeling kind of unfulfilled by the end of it.

Movie Review – Pacific Rim

pacific-rim-posterThis is one of those movies that I saw the trailer and made squeaky noises normally reserved for stuff involving hobbits. For someone who was never a huge Godzilla fan, I still have a soft spot in my heart for giant monster movies, as well as giant mecha anime. (That may be a holdover from loving Power Rangers as a kid.)

Pacific Rim is a movie that’s like a love letter to both of those genres. In fact, the dedication at the end is to Ishiro Honda, the original director of the Godzilla films, and Ray Harryhausen, stop-motion animation monster master. I walked in not expecting anything more than giant mechas fighting giant aliens from under the sea, and this movie ended up hitting so many happy nerd buttons for me I don’t even know where to start.

In Pacific Rim aliens called “Kaiju” have started emerging from an interdimensional rift deep within the Pacific Ocean. The Kaiju are massive, destructive, and hard as hell to kill. When it becomes clear the invasion isn’t going to stop, the world governments come together to fund the Jaeger Program, which gives humanity an army in the form of gigantic robots controlled by two human pilots.

After more than a decade of war, though, the Jaegers are deemed too expensive and the program is scuttled. With only four Jaegers and a handful of pilots left, the remaining members of the program prepare a desperate final charge that will either save our planet or doom it.

(minor spoilers follow)

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Book Review: Fuzzy Nation by John Scalzi

fuzzy-nationUntil my friend gave me Fuzzy Nation for Christmas, I had never heard of Little Fuzzy, nor had I heard of an author “rebooting” another’s work. Happens all the time in movies, but I had never heard of it happening with novels.

From the author’s acknowledgement, it seemed like Scalzi was just as interested in paying homage to the original story as he was in making it his own. And after reading it, I have to say not only did he make it his own, but he’s piqued my interest enough that I’d like to find the original and give it a go.

Synopsis courtesy Goodreads:

Jack Holloway works alone, for reasons he doesn’t care to talk about. Hundreds of miles from ZaraCorp’s headquarters on planet, 178 light-years from the corporation’s headquarters on Earth, Jack is content as an independent contractor, prospecting and surveying at his own pace. As for his past, that’s not up for discussion.

Then, in the wake of an accidental cliff collapse, Jack discovers a seam of unimaginably valuable jewels, to which he manages to lay legal claim just as ZaraCorp is cancelling their contract with him for his part in causing the collapse. Briefly in the catbird seat, legally speaking, Jack pressures ZaraCorp into recognizing his claim, and cuts them in as partners to help extract the wealth.

But there’s another wrinkle to ZaraCorp’s relationship with the planet Zarathustra. Their entire legal right to exploit the verdant Earth-like planet, the basis of the wealth they derive from extracting its resources, is based on being able to certify to the authorities on Earth that Zarathustra is home to no sentient species.

Then a small furry biped—trusting, appealing, and ridiculously cute—shows up at Jack’s outback home. Followed by its family. As it dawns on Jack that despite their stature, these are people, he begins to suspect that ZaraCorp’s claim to a planet’s worth of wealth is very flimsy indeed…and that ZaraCorp may stop at nothing to eliminate the “fuzzys” before their existence becomes more widely known.

First off? I loved Jack. He’s a very interesting character in that he’s not exactly a “good” guy—he has a lot of traits that wouldn’t fall under that banner—but you still end up rooting for him. He’s got a great sense of humor, and the back and forth between him and his contact at ZaraCorp at the beginning was a lot of fun to read.

For example, look at this exchange after Holloway accidentally causes the cliff collapse, which he attempts to claim is an earthquake:

“Who are you going to believe,” Holloway said. “I’m here. They’re there.”

“They’re here with roughly twenty-five million credits’ worth of equipment,” Bourne said. “You’ve got an infopanel and a history of bad surveying practices.”

“Alleged bad surveying practices,” Holloway said.

“Jack, you let your dog blow shit up,” Bourne said.

I also loved that all the stuff on the back cover of the book happened within the first three chapters. It meant I had no idea where the story was going to go next (particularly since I’d never read the original), and I adored it, because a lot of the fun of the novel was in the discovery of it. Very little went the way I expected, which was a nice surprise.

Also, the Fuzzy family? Some of the most adorable potentially sentient beings ever put on paper. You just want to squeeze them. Their interactions among themselves, with the humans, and with Carl the dog are just great. You can’t help but fall in love with them, and soon you’re just as invested in their safety as Jack and his friends are.

If there were any failings, it was that sometimes I felt a bit removed from Jack—like I wasn’t entirely sure what was going on in his head or how he felt about some of the events of the story. This might be for a couple of reasons: one, that he’s not an overly emotional guy, or two, that he was making up his big plan and in order to surprise the reader, he couldn’t think about it. It did occasionally make me feel like there was a wall between us, though.

If you haven’t read Scalzi before, I would say either Old Man’s War or Fuzzy Nation is a good place to start. I might edge toward Old Man’s War just because it is his first book, but Fuzzy Nation is just as good (maybe even better in some respects).

It balances being laugh-out-loud hilarious with some absolutely heartbreaking scenes, and it kept me reading for an entire day when I intended to only read it for an hour. If you’re a sci-fi fan, put it on your TBR list.

Book Review – A Civil Campaign by Lois McMaster Bujold

a-civil-campaignI wanted to read A Civil Campaign as soon as I read this introduction to a review of the omnibus Cordelia’s Honor:

Lois McMaster Bujold wrote what is quite possibly the most famous, beloved, and awesome science fiction romance ever, A Civil Campaign. A Civil Campaign is a Regency Romance set in space, with manners, fantastic clothes, and awkward dinner parties mixed with cloning, recovery from physical and mental trauma, inter-galactic politics, humor, sadness, glowing HEAs, and much more.

Doesn’t that sound fantastic? Really, why wouldn’t you want to read it?

I am here to report that A Civil Campaign lives up to the hype. I absolutely adored it.

This picks up a few months after the events of Komarr, with Miles back on Barrayar and bound and determined to start courting Ekaterin properly. However, he knows that she’s not all that keen on getting married again, so it’s a SECRET courtship. A secret courtship that he tells absolutely everybody about except for her.

(Don’t worry. He gets smacked for this. A few times.)

Then there’s his brother, Mark. Mark returns home from university with a brilliant scientist (that he may have helped escape from prison), a girlfriend, a bunch of bugs, and a business idea that involves all three.

And during all of this, Miles’s foster brother, Gregor (who also happens to be the Emperor of Barrayar), is getting married, which means that wedding preparations are taking up a great deal of everyone’s time.

It. Is. AWESOME.

I loved the way the various plot threads intersect and the culture clash between the staunchly traditional and conservative Barrayar society and the more progressive Beta Colony. I loved the more serious political plots moving under the romances.

I loved getting to meet Miles’s family: Mark, Ivan, Gregor, and his parents, Cordelia and Aral. Even though I hadn’t read the previous books that built the relationships between these characters, I still got the sense of camaraderie between them all. And I loved seeing how Ekaterin and her son, Nicky, slowly became integrated into the Vorkosigan family.

I loved seeing Miles in love and generally stumbling over himself and becoming his own worst enemy as he tries to do what he assumes is the right thing. (Because it’s what he wants, of course it’s the right thing.) And when he screws it up and it’s identified how badly he screws it up, Miles does apologetic like nobody’s business.

Ekaterin really grows in this book as well. After all the events of Komarr, it’s wonderful to see her come into her own, to stand up against people who want to beat her back into the mold she just escaped. And over the course of this novel, she becomes more than a match for Miles.

A Civil Campaign is much longer than most of the romances I’ve read (400 pages in a hardback), but it never feels that long. With everything that’s going on—the wedding plans, romantic plots, political plots, and business plots—it needs the space. The pacing’s brisk, and I was never bored.

There are so many things I want to talk about in this, but half the fun of the book was the discovery, seeing how all the best-laid plans you learn about in the first few chapters of the book just go straight to hell by the middle of it.

If the idea of a Regency-style romance set on another planet intrigues you, and if the elements from the quote at the beginning of this post pique your interest, then you must add A Civil Campaign to your TBR list. It was such a joy to read. I really couldn’t put it down.

I’d recommend reading Komarr first to get to know Miles and Ekaterin before you jump into this one, but as both are really, really good, you won’t be sorry.