A Classic About the Future in Our Past

2001: A Space Odyssey (Space Odyssey, #1)2001: A Space Odyssey by Arthur C. Clarke

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Outside of a few iconic parodies in films/shows like Toy Story 2, and Zoolander, and Futurama, I didn’t really have too much knowledge going into this book. I never saw the movie on which it was based, but it’s been on both my to watch and to read list.

That said, I’m glad I did read it. It has an interesting premise that seems to be fuel for the Ancient Aliens fire. (Although, not that he needs to, Arthur C. Clarke does say that it is a work of fiction right in the beginning.)

It was a very slow burn, but it was engaging. A very cerebral read, and I’m more interested to watch the movie now than I was before, because it takes about 100 pages out of the 221 pages in my edition for anything to actually happen.

This book is a huge amount of nostalgia. To think about what we might have accomplished up in space had budgets not been slashed.

I would recommend to the fan of hard sci-fi, or someone looking to read classics. For some casual fun, look elsewhere.

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Look It Up

Pay It Forward is one of those kick-you-in-the-chest movies that’s worth seeing at least once, if only because of Kevin Spacey’s character, Mr. Simonet.

My favorite scene with him is during his first introduction to his social studies class:

He uses the word atrophy, and he can see that the kids aren’t picking it up. And he tells them what I think is some of the best movie advice around: “If there’s a word you hear that you don’t understand…look it up.”

His lesson hits home with me. How many times have I read a book or article, gotten to a word that I don’t know, and just shot past it? Way more often than I’d care to admit. (Luckily there’s an app for that.)

And then I think about how many times I hear about an event in history, or a scientific study, or someone quotes from a poem, or a book, and I don’t know the reference. It used to be that I would have had to wait until I get home to do a google search if I wanted to know. But now I can look it up on my phone immediately. And how often do I do that? Less often than I’d care to admit.

With the available knowledge all around me, it’s easy to rely on the fact that I can look it up if I need to. It’s way more effort to educate myself on a topic that I know little about, or to look up a foreign word. Though I’m surrounded by everything I could want to know, I sometimes find myself ignoring, and paying more attention to the ephemeral, useless details that waste seconds and minutes that add up into hours and days of my life.

Yet sometimes, Mr. Simonet’s words ring in my head. Look it up. And I do. And I find myself more rewarded with new knowledge. I find life becoming richer, deeper, more interesting, and above all, more connected.

It’s like what John Muir wrote: “When we try to pick out anything by itself, we find it hitched to everything else in the Universe.”

And the more that I find that things are connected, the more I care about them, and the more willing and able I am to act. Less the outsider to life I remain, and more the participant I become.

So I say to you. If you come across something you don’t know, look it up. What’s the worst thing that could happen?

Kubo and the Two Strings – A Review

Phenomenal art. Gripping Story. Poor advertising.

I try not to set unrealistic expectations for movies when I recommend them. I usually say whether or not I liked them, and whether or not I would recommend them.

Not so with Kubo and the Two Strings.

Kubo Poster

I loved this movie. And I want you to go see it.

Phenomenal Art
This movie deserves to have its praises sung from the mountaintops. It’s a beautiful stop-motion film from Laika, the company that did Coraline. The art style and execution in the film is nearly flawless. Everything looks amazing. And this was slightly surprising based on the billboard pictures I saw.

The characters have great expressions, and in some cases, what you see makes up for the voice acting (if only because it’s hard to take Matthew McConaughey’s voice seriously at first).

Check out some behind the scenes footage.

Gripping Story (mostly spoiler free)
The movie starts off with a bit mystery and intrigue. As soon as Kubo takes the screen, you can’t help but feel for his character. And once it’s apparent what his character is capable of, you can’t help but be amazed by him.

Kubo’s journey to set things right is simple, profound, and amazing. While it’s a hero’s journey like many movies out there, it was told in such a way that made me stop trying to predict what would happen next. I simply lost myself in each scene.

It was gripping, heartwarming, and piercing.

I would put it up there with certain Disney films (Aladdin, The Lion King), Ghibli films (Spirited Away, Kiki’s Delivery Service), Pixar films (Wall-E, Toy Story), Kung Fu Panda, and How to Train Your Dragon, as a prime example of the correct way to use animation to tell a story. This movie deserves to be in the company of the great films.

Check out the trailer for the film here.

Poor Advertising
Unfortunately, this movie hasn’t performed well at the box office. I blame poor advertising. The first and pretty much only ad I saw for it was a billboard near a bus stop. Maybe one commercial during the Olympics.

And it’s unfortunate that a movie this good is going unnoticed.

I am really hoping that it will garner the attention of the Academy when it comes time for the Oscars next year, because in my mind this movie is clearly the front runner for the Best Animated Feature category, as well as numerous special effects awards. And I hope that when the DVD/streaming options come out, that this movie attracts a larger audience.

Kubo deserves it.

Curses Are for Breaking

Power of ThreePower of Three by Diana Wynne Jones

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I have yet to come across a Diana Wynne Jones book that I haven’t liked.

Her books are humorous, thoughtful, and they are well-planned from beginning to end.

This story was no different.

Power of Three follows the story of three different races–the people, the Dorig, and the giants–as they all share the Moor on which they live. One of the people is cursed by a Dorig, and it causes tremendous troubles for everyone.

Stories with curses at their core are often some of the and most intricate ones I know. (I’m thinking Holes and Howl’s Moving Castle.) The one in this book is well-crafted, and kept my interest from beginning to end.

The book is surprising, funny, and is genuinely one of the very best books I’ve read in a long time. And at its core, it’s a rather sweet story about understanding each other.

I recommend this book to anyone.

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So Smaug’s dead. Now what?

Dragons of Autumn Twilight (Dragonlance: Chronicles, #1)Dragons of Autumn Twilight by Margaret Weis

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I like this book for what it was, and for what it didn’t try to be.

This book is a romp. After five years of exploring rumors about the gods who abandoned the world, six adventurers meet back up in an inn in their hometown. Strange things are afoot, and it very quickly becomes apparent that the fate of the world might be in the balance.

Sound like a bunch of different stories you’ve heard? Sure. But where’s the harm in that?

Dragons of Autumn Twilight is a great Dungeons & Dragons novel, and it doesn’t pretend to be more than that. It borrows heavily from Tolkien, and leans on typical fantasy tropes quite a bit, but it remains relatively fast-paced, is mostly exciting, and even warrants a few chuckles.

The characters in the story fall a bit flat, as there are only two of them that seem to have any depth. And instead of a Mary Sue book where the protagonists are awesome at things, it’s apparent from the beginning that these adventurers kind of suck. But that adds to the charm.

What’s nice is that this book doesn’t try waffle in its pacing. The world of Krynn is under siege and the characters must act and (mostly) react to things in a way that feels like you’re part of a pretty fun Dungeons & Dragons session. Sometimes that means the characters do unique, interesting, and surprising things to solve their problems. And other times it means they crack some skulls or fight a dragon.

Was this a great book? No. Was this a good book? Definitely.

If you’re looking for some D&D type fun away from the table, it’s worth checking out. If you want the next LOTR or Harry Potter, then look elsewhere.

Oh, and feel free to skip the poems. They add virtually nothing, and might make you want to put it down before you give it a proper chance.

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