Thursday, October 13, 2016

The Mindwar Trilogy by Andrew Klavan (Book Review)

The Story: A wildly creative terrorist has created a virtual reality realm that will allow him to hack into any computer system in the world. He plans to use this power to destroy the United States. To combat this threat, the American government recruits a crippled teenage boy who has a talent for winning video games. The boy must be hooked up to a machine that will allow him to enter the virtual reality realm and try to destroy it. Yet anything that happens in the realm will happen to his body--including death.

My Thoughts: I’ve enjoyed several of Andrew Klavan’s previous YA novels, particularly Nightmare City and the Homelanders series. The Mindwar trilogy is comprised of Mindwar, Hostage Run, and Game Over. Some trilogies have a weak middle book or third book, but that isn’t the case with the Mindwar trilogy. All three books are well-written, with plenty of action, good characterizations, and memorable fantastical imagery in the virtual reality realm.

I believe that the trilogy marks the first time Klavan has written science fiction, but he does a pretty good job at making the technology believable. The specific rules of the virtual reality realm are occasionally ambiguous, which sometimes robs certain scenes of their suspense, since at any moment an unknown element of the realm might provide the hero with assistance. Overall, however, the realm is a fascinating place, and the trilogy that is set in it is well worth reading for sci-fi and action fans of all ages.

Content Overview: Mild violence.

You might also be interested in my reviews of Nightmare City and the Homelanders series.

Friday, October 7, 2016

Free on Kindle Unlimited: A Great Sci-Fi Series

One of my favorite science fiction authors, J. Grace Pennington, has just released the newest volume of her YA sci-fi series Firmament. Reversal Zone is book four in the series. Firmament, like Star Trek, follows the adventures of the crew of a starship, but from the perspective of a starship nurse instead of the captain.

Although I’ll be ordering a paperback of Reversal Zone since I prefer print books, I thought I’d mention that the whole Firmament series is free to read digitally on Kindle Unlimited. Anyone who has Kindle Unlimited and likes sci-fi should definitely give Firmament a try. The series is best read from the beginning, though any of the books can also be read on its own.

Thursday, September 29, 2016

A Family-Friendly Serial Killer Movie? (Strange Illusion Movie Review)

The Story: After having a nightmare that a wicked man is seeking to take over his widowed mother’s life, a young man returns home from college and is shocked to find that his mom has just started dating a man. Could his mom’s new suitor be a good person, or was the dream a premonition of a horror to come?

My Thoughts: I never thought I’d see a movie that could be described as “a serial killer mystery for the whole family,” but then I saw this film, and nothing can sum it up better than that. It’s great fun to watch the naive yet earnest and caring young man try to figure out whether or not his mom’s new suitor might be evil.

Although the story and acting seem a bit clunky by modern standards, the overall plotting at least is above average for the time period and holds up pretty well today. Because of that, Strange Illusion is a suspenseful tale worth seeing for fans of good old-fashioned thrillers. Sadly, Hollywood rarely makes movies like this anymore.

Content Overview: A small amount of mild violence, which might be too much for very young or sensitive children.

Thursday, September 15, 2016

The Uglies Trilogy by Scott Westerfeld (Book Review)

The Story: In a world where everyone is surgically turned into a Pretty at age sixteen, an Ugly girl is eagerly awaiting her transformation. She meets a friend who opposes this mandatory procedure, and learns that rebels exist, people who decide to keep the faces and bodies they were born with. Due to her interaction with this friend, she is given a horrifying choice by the government: betray her friend and infiltrate the rebels, or stay an Ugly forever.

My Thoughts: The world depicted in the first book, Uglies, and its sequels is well-crafted, and I’d like to see it in movie form due to the striking visuals that are essential to the story. Both Uglies and the second book, Pretties, are powerful depictions of the heroine learning how to think for herself in a world where everyone is expected to be similar to everyone else and to not care about anything except partying. She is shown making mistakes, sometimes big ones, but she never stops trying to discover what’s right and hold to it.

The third book, Specials, feels more chaotic than the first two, with the story sometimes getting too rushed, but other than that, there’s not much to complain about. The ending strongly affirms that the freedom to be clear-thinking individuals who can ask questions is necessary to keep society healthy. Some people may find the frequent slang used in the series to be annoying, but it didn’t bother me, since it wasn’t confusing and it made the world feel more real. Overall, the Uglies trilogy is an entertaining read that may be worth trying even for those who don’t usually like dystopian novels, since it is not as dark as The Hunger Games.

Content Overview: A small amount of foul language. Several mentions of being nude, but no descriptions of it. Occasional vague implications that unmarried characters are sleeping together. Mild violence.

For another example of a dystopian series that isn't overly dark, see my review of the Shadow Children series by Margaret Peterson Haddix.

Thursday, August 25, 2016

The Amazing Mr. X (Movie Review)

The Story: A suave spiritualist promises to help a woman contact her deceased husband’s spirit, but the woman’s fiance and little sister are suspicious of the man. Is the spiritualist what he claims to be, or a con man, or something even more sinister?

My Thoughts: While this little-known film is perhaps not slick enough to please some modern viewers, fans of older movies, especially those of the mystery, horror, and thriller variety, will find much to like. It particularly surprised me by containing unusually well-done characterizations, including the complex title character.

The ending feels a bit clumsy, but it is adequate enough that it doesn’t hurt the film much. This movie begs to be remade with better writing at the end and the benefit of modern special effects. The right filmmakers could capture the irrepressible charm this movie has and polish it into something truly special.

Content Overview: Mild violence and scariness.

Thursday, August 11, 2016

What Band Makes the Best Music Videos?

An image from Family Force 5's "Cray Button" music video.

I listen to a lot of music, and I also watch a lot of music videos. Over the past few years, I’ve noticed that one band has stood out by consistently making the most entertaining music videos: Family Force 5.

This is perhaps not a comprehensive observation. I don’t watch all music videos that are released. Even so, the fact that I come back to re-watch the videos of Family Force 5 more than those of any other band shows that they are least in the top tier of bands when it comes to their music videos.

As an introduction to the videos of Family Force 5, here are their top 5 most popular music videos on YouTube.

#1 Chainsaw

#2 Cray Button

#3 Zombie

#4 Wobble


What band do you think makes the best music videos?

Monday, August 1, 2016

Snakebite (Western Short Story)

My newest short story, "Snakebite," just came out in TRC magazine. It's a humorous western tale about a preacher who takes on a gang of outlaws by pretending to be a ghost.

You can read the story online here.

Let me know what you think!