Monthly Archives: June 2013

Crater

Genre: Young Adult Science Fiction

Crater is by Homer Hickam, the author of Rocket Boys which was later turned into a movie entitled October Sky. This book was based on Hickam’s own life and was very popular. Though I never read it, I did see the movie and enjoyed it immensely. Therefore, there should be some expectation for Crater to be just as entertaining.

Moving in a different direction than the aforementioned book, Crater is a young adult, science fiction book. The main character is a 16-year-old boy named Crater Trueblood who lives on the moon in a small mining community. Young adult sci-fi is probably my favorite genre to read. Even as an adult, there’s something appealing about the young adult genre. The process of watching young men and women grow and become adults is motivating. That being said, I had a lot of problems with this book.

Crater starts off completely naive to everything, something I feel implausible for a character who grew up in a community founded around a dangerous profession, the majority of the employees being people who escaped Earth for various reasons (including crime). Though I like watching young adults grow in this type of novel, there didn’t seem to be much growing in Crater. Perhaps he gained an inkling of perception that things weren’t necessarily the way he had always imagined them, but it was only an inkling. There was no revelation or growth within the character. This was depressing to me. However, a sequel has just been released (Crescent), so there’s still a chance that Crater will eventually grow up.

But it’s not just Crater that seems too naive to survive in this hostile environment. The story follows a convoy moving mined goods (heel-3) halfway across the moon to Armstrong City, the moon’s main city built near the landing site of the Apollo 11. This journey is a dangerous one, which all those who sign up for the journey know. After all, they’re travelling across the surface of the moon, no atmosphere, no water, inhospitable temperatures. And yet, these men and women in the convoy seem not to care at all that they are in a situation where one wrong move means death by vacuum. The convoy drivers are constantly stepping out of line and acting recklessly in order to cause conflict in the story. The problem with this is that it seems so fake. I have a hard time believing a group of adults would blatantly disregard orders when they know the consequence of doing so could very likely be death.

Overall, this book asked me to suspend disbelief just a little too far. It had a good premise, one that I feel is interesting and worth writing about, but not so good execution. I wish this book would have had more to offer, but in the end it just left me feeling unsatisfied.

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Way of the Wolf

Genre: Science Fiction

This first book of the Vampire Earth series by E.E. Knight follows the story of David Valentine, a newly promoted Lieutenant in an army fighting to save the Earth from a race of vampiric creatures which have forced the human race to near extinction. Though entertaining and a pretty good read, once this book was over, it was over.

David Valentine grew up in a small village in Minnesota. When he was eleven, his family was killed by the Quisling guard, a group who has decided to help the Kurians (the vampires) control the Earth. After this event, David lives with the local priest, Father Max. When he turns of age, he leaves his home town to join a group of soldiers who have devoted themselves to fighting against the Kurians to save the human race.

This book has a lot going on. The reader is bombarded by a slew of terms and cultural norms that she has to quickly learn to navigate and place in a world that is far from familiar. This is a common practice in sci-fi, so for those of us used to reading it, it’s doesn’t take too long to get situated. However, I could see this being a bit overwhelming for people unfamiliar with the genre.

The main character, Valentine, is likable enough, but I never really felt like I could connect with him. I like to be able to sympathize with characters and place myself in their shoes. I had a hard time doing this with Valentine. I felt this character was a bit aloof and hard to relate to.

One of the things that irritated me the most about this book was something that I attribute to sloppiness on the part of the author and the editors. The book begins mid-action, then in the second chapter, backpedals four years to show us where it all began. I have nothing wrong with this format in general, but this is what got me: I reached the last few chapters and suddenly realized that I was further in time than the opening scene. This was a scene that was never resolved or completed, and the only reason I knew that I had passed that moment in the character’s timeline is because I thought to myself, “Gee, I wonder when we’re going to get back to that,” flipped to the first chapter to see the date on it, and realized the main character was already several months past that event. I didn’t like the fact that I was left without an explanation or even a nod to the fact that we had moved past the time of this opening scene.

All this said, my opinion of Way of the Wolf might not be in alignment with the norm. My quick run by Wikipedia while creating this post revealed that the Vampire Earth series has spawned a total of 10 books. So somebody’s reading them. And it’s not that I would be adverse to reading more about this world, but when I returned my book to the library, I didn’t immediately check to see if they had volume two in stock.

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Now You See Me

“Look closely, because the closer you think you are, the less you will actually see.” It couldn’t be said any more directly. This is one move that will have you trying to look closer, trying to figure out what it’s all about only to feel yourself slipping further away from the truth. Of all the movies that have come out this summer, “Now You See Me” is one that I actually wanted to see. It has actors I like, a mystery to solve, and above all else magic.

For a movie that many people I’ve talked to don’t seem to have heard about, this movie has quite a cast. Jesse Eisenberg and Woody Harrelson (who were hilarious together in Zombieland) are joined by Ilsa Fisher (Wedding Crashers) and Dave Franco to form the Four Horsemen, a magic act that is the best in town, creating illusions unlike anything anyone has ever seen before. However, as these magic tricks include robbing a bank as the closing act, they soon catch the attention of the FBI. With Agent Dylan Rhodes (Mark Ruffalo), Thaddeus Bradley (Morgan Freeman), and Arthur Tressler (Michael Caine) closely watching their every move, the Four Horsemen have to stay one step ahead to pull of their final heist.

The Four Horsemen (from IMDB)

The Four Horsemen (from IMDB)

With such a star-filled cast, you can only assume that the acting will be what we’ve all come to expect from these actor. I’m a big fan of Eisenberg’s quirkiness and Harrelson’s humor, and I was not disappointed by either. All four of the magicians brought their own sense of humor to their parts. Charisma is something that any good magician needs, and they all had it. On the other side of the trick, Caine’s tone and Freeman’s shroud of mystery gave their characters an effect that nicely offset the showy presentation given by the Four Horsemen. What was really great about the acting in this film was that it fit the tone of the movie.

The best thing for me about this film was the fact that I didn’t figure out the ending. I have a tendency to work out how movies are going to end about halfway through. But for the first time in a long time, I was unsure. Throughout the film, the FBI and Interpol are working to discover who is behind these illusions. Though I was able to rule out several possibilities along the way, I wasn’t able to pinpoint a definite mastermind to the plan. This was probably what made the film most enjoyable for me.

But, of course, what’s more enjoyable than magic? If you’re not a big fan of magic, or allowing yourself to fall for the illusion, then this might not be the movie for you. That being said, though, there is a lot of time devoted to explanations the art and science of creating magic tricks (without giving away how they are done, of course). It gives you an appreciation for the work that these entertainers put into their trade. But all that in mind, it’s the trick, the fact that our minds can believe the magic was real, that is the most satisfying.

Daniel Atlas (Eisenberg) conducts a magic trick on a New York City street in the opening scene of the movie. I encourage you to play along. This opener sets the mood for the rest of the movie, and will have you believing the illusion is real.

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Some Sort of Fairy Tale

If this were a happy story it might begin ‘once upon a time.’ But it’s not, and so it won’t.

The whole mess began after a particularly bad incident at the coffee shop where I worked after school. I was already in a bad mood because of an earlier encounter with my ugly step-sister, Marisa. Well, ugly might be a bit too strong of a word. Marisa had always been more beautiful than I was – everybody always said so – and she was always kind and courteous to everybody she met. More than that, she was absolutely, without a doubt, the favorite of both our parents. That’s right, even my own mother enjoyed her company more than mine.

My day began with a dispute in class which stemmed from the fact that I was incredibly tired of Marisa. She hadn’t done anything particularly annoying that day to spark my anger, other than eagerly volunteering to help my mother with her new in-home cosmetics company that morning at breakfast. And listening to her now, chatting sociably with the other girls in the locker room, just sort of irked me and made me act out. We were in PE. I thought it would be exceptionally funny to watch Marisa make a fool of herself in front of the other girls – that was just the kind of mood I was in – and dodgeball presents one with the perfect opportunity to catch someone unaware. A carefully calculated release of the ball enabled it to roll across the floor with extreme precision and get tangled between Marisa’s legs. She let out a short yelp before tumbling to the ground. I couldn’t help but laugh out loud at the sight of her splay out on the floor.

The coach blew her whistle and within seconds, all the other girls in the class were at Marisa’s side, helping to her feet and asking her if she was alright. Not exactly the response I had been hoping for. To make it worse, the PE coach had come to stand in front of me. She started to yell at me, lecturing me on the ideas of good sportsmanship and fair play. Marisa interrupted her.

“Don’t be too hard on Reina, coach,” she said. “I know it was simply an accident. I’ll be fine.”

Marisa’s sickeningly sweet voice made me fume.

My foul mood followed me to my afterschool job at the coffee shop. But as bad as I thought school had been that day, what happened at work was even worse. I was minding my own business, dealing the best I could with the afternoon rush, when he walked in.

Prince. He was the king of the high school. He was the captain of the baseball team, president of the Honor Society, and in his spare time he volunteered with an organization that provided tutoring for underprivileged children. He was perfect in every way, and his royal presence on at school would be publicly recognized in less than a month when he would undoubtedly be named Prom King at the upcoming dance. I wanted nothing more than to be the girl on his arm when he walked into the gym that night. It would be magical.

Lost in my fantasy I didn’t immediately realize that he had come up to the counter to place his order. He cleared his throat loudly to get my attention. I blushed as I came out of my haze and realized that I had kept him waiting.

“What can I get for you?” I asked in the friendliest voice I could muster.

“A tall coffee and one of those muffins,” he said, handing me his credit card – yet another sign of his royal wealth.

Prince took his seat across the room, and I set to work preparing his order. I was careful to do everything with precision and care. This was my shot to bring up the dance with him, and I wanted everything to be perfect when I did so. Certain that everything was in place, I picked up his order to hand deliver it to him at his table. There was no way he wouldn’t ask me to be his date after this.

Looking back on the situation, I can now see that this is where I made my mistake. What I should have done was this: I should have called him over to the counter to pick his order up. Then, as he approached, I could lean against the countertop, looking cool and suave and confident, and strike up a conversation about his baseball season (considering the team had been doing exceptionally well). He would have been excited that I had noticed and everything would have moved forward from there in a steady, fluid motion.

But instead, I decided to deliver his order to him. I was nearly to his table, keeping my nerves in check surprisingly well, when something unexpected happened. Apparently some previous customer had spilled his drink on the floor and had thought it would be cool not to tell anybody. I really do hate people sometimes. When my foot hit the puddle on the floor, I slipped and fell to the ground, my arms extending in a wide flailing motion. If that had been all, the situation might have been saved – Prince might have felt sorry for me and come to my rescue. But that was not all. In the next moment, I heard Prince let out a painful scream as his scalding hot cup of coffee fell into his lap.

Prince jumped up from his seat and was gone before I had time to react to anything that had happened. I simply sat there on the floor, stunned, and unable to move. How could such a perfectly conceived plan have gone so wrong?

I don’t know how long I sat there; nobody came to help me up. The people in the café simply went about their daily business as if I wasn’t even there.

That evening when I got home, I decided to skip eating dinner with the rest of my family. Instead, I went straight up to my bedroom and started to cry. I’ve found that some days can be so horrible that, by the end, crying is the only thing left for you to do, and this was definitely one of those days.

Once my tears finally began to dry, I found myself with an inexplicable urge to go look out the window. When I did, I noticed a brightly shining star that seemed to stand out against everything else in the night sky. I was reminded of that song, the one that goes ‘when you wish upon a star…’ and so that is what I did. I made a wish. I closed my eyes and wished with all my might that there might be some force in this universe that could undo all the bad things that had occurred that day and make everything the way it should be.

I will warn you that I was not prepared for what happened next. When I opened my eyes back up, the star that had been shining so brightly seemed to be growing larger. I continued to stare at it for several moments before realizing that the reason it seemed to be growing larger was because it was falling out of the sky. Not only that, but it appeared to be falling straight for my house. I let out a sharp cry and dove to the floor, throwing my hands over my head for protection, just as the falling star crashed through the window, shattering the glass in the process.

I slowly stood up and looked around the room, assessing the damage and trying to figure out what the hell had just happened. But my day had not yet finished being strange. There, sprawled out on my bed face down was the star that had caused this mess. I could now see, though, that it wasn’t a star at all; it was a small woman with wild white hair and fantastic clothing. She began to stir. I remained still, unsure yet about whether or not I wanted her to see me standing there. She rolled over onto her back, her eye closed in an expression of pain, and put her hand to her head.

“Bloody hell!” she exclaimed. “That was unexpected.”

She opened her eyes and surveyed her surroundings as if trying to make sense of what had just happened to her. Her eyes eventually came to fall on me, and when they did her entire body seemed to slump just a bit. “Oh,” she said. “It’s you.”

She stood up on the bed and brushed herself off, halfheartedly trying to make herself presentable. She then bent over and picked up a small pair of cat-like glasses that must have been knocked off during her spectacular entrance. She placed the glasses on her face, spending a few moments to straighten them until they balanced just right on her nose. Once satisfied, she turned to face me once again.

In the meantime, I simply stood there. What else could I do? Believe me, unless you’ve had a falling star-person crash through your window before, you are completely unprepared for how to deal with the situation.

“Well then,” the small woman prompted me, “what will it be?”

I said the first thing that came to my mind. “What are you?”

She eyed me suspiciously, as if we didn’t trust the sincerity of my question. Then, having decided that I was, in fact, completely clueless, she let out an exasperated sigh, throwing her arms down to her sides as she did so. “Well don’t just stand there looking so stupid,” she exclaimed. “I’m your fairy godmother. Apparently, you’ve called me down here to deal with you during your time of distress.”

It took a moment for this to sink in. And even when it had, I wasn’t quite sure whether or not to trust this tiny person. But what other option did I have? I certainly couldn’t come up with a better explanation for her appearance.

The fairy godmother was now sitting at the foot of my bed, one leg crossed over the other, picking at her fingernails in a bored fashion. “You really did pick the worst of times you know,” she was saying. “I was having a really good time out with the girl tonight. We were right in the middle of happy hour.” She eyed me, annoyed. “Thanks for ruining the evening, by the way.”

“I’m sorry,” I said. “I didn’t mean to. I mean, I didn’t even know you existed.”

“How could you not know?” the fairy godmother asked. “Don’t you read? All girls have fairy godmothers. Anyways, since you’ve pulled me down here, might as well do something. What is it you were sniveling over anyways?”

“You would not believe what a horrible day I had today,” I started as I sat down next to her.

“Yeah, yeah, yeah,” she waved me on. “Something about a boy who never notices you and an evil step-sister who is stealing all your chances of being happy.”

“How did you know?” I asked a bit taken aback.

“It’s always the same old story,” the fairy godmother said. “What I need to know is what you want me to do about it.”

“Well,” I said. “Could you possibly make me prettier and Marisa uglier and cause Prince to fall in love with me so that he will ask me to the dance next week?”

“How did I know it would be something like that,” the fairy godmother said dryly. She pulled a magic wand from her pocket and waved it around clumsily in the air for a moment.

“Done,” she said as she put the wand back in her pocket. “Just remember, the enchantment wears off at midnight on the night of the dance. After that, you’re on your own.”

And with a poof, the fairy godmother was gone. It was only after she had left that I realized just how much the tiny woman had smelled of alcohol.

***

The next day was the worst day of my life. I woke up for school to find my face covered in zits. I had had trouble with acne in the past, but that was nothing compared to what I was facing now. No amount of makeup could do anything to hide the mess that had sprouted on my face during the night; it had become a field of puffy red sores. To my irritation, when Marisa came downstairs that morning, she was simply radiant, glowing with a beauty that was astonishing even for her. I scowled at my luck.

My day only continued to get worse from there. At school, nobody would talk to me. It was as if everybody was making a point not to come near me just in case the growth on my face was contagious. As if this weren’t bad enough, the rest of the school was spending the day finding dates to the upcoming dance. I, of course, was entirely ignored during this process.

During lunch, I was sitting alone, minding my own business, when I saw Prince enter the cafeteria. I badly wanted to jump up from my seat, run up to him, and explain the mishap that had occurred the previous day, begging for his forgiveness. But I didn’t move. Prince seemed occupied by something else as he scanned the cafeteria. And then, he seemed to melt as his eyes fell on what he had been searching for. Marisa. I couldn’t help but suspect the worst.

That night at the dinner table my nightmares were confirmed when Marisa announced to the family that she had been asked to the dance by none other than the high school Prince. Curse the fairy godmother.

I ran straight up to my bedroom, leaned out the gaping window – the glass was still missing from the previous night’s episode – and shouted, “Get down here you little witch! I have a bone to pick with you!”

“No need to shout,” said a voice from behind me. I spun around to face the fairy godmother who was sitting on my bed.

“Agh!” she screamed, jumping into the air when she saw my puss-filled face. “What the hell happened to you?”

“You happened to me!” I shouted. “Everything was fine until you came into my life and messed it up. Now I’m even uglier and Marisa’s even prettier, and Prince has fallen in love with my step-sister instead of me. This is all your fault and I hate you for it!”

The fairy godmother seemed a bit put off by my outburst, but she recovered quickly. “First of all, I just want to make it clear that things were not fine before I got here. Believe me, I’ve been watching. So this isn’t entirely my fault; you did some of it on your own. That being said,” she continued, “things do seem to have gotten a bit worse. I might not have been completely with it while casting that enchantment last night. You did call me away from happy hour, after all.”

I rolled my eyes to the ceiling and let out a sigh of frustration. “Well can you fix it?” I asked.

“I’m afraid there’s not much that can be done except wait for the enchantment to wear off at midnight on the night of the dance. After that though, your life will be back to normal, and I promise never to interfere again.”

Though it wasn’t comforting in the least, I had to face the fact that nothing more could be done until the enchantment had worn off.

***

The night of the dance finally arrived. My acne had begun to clear up enough by then that a thick layer of makeup would cover most of it. I ended up going to the dance alone. But despite everything that had happened, I was determined not to give up hope. There was still a chance that after the enchantment wore off at midnight Prince wouldn’t be in love with Marisa after all and I would get my shot at making him fall in love with me. With this thought keeping me going, I silently sat in the corner of the gym, sipping my punch that had undoubtedly been spiked.

As if on cue, everything in the room seemed to come to a halt as all eyes turned to watch Prince walk in, Marisa smiling at his side, her arm wrapped though his. The entire room seemed to let out an affectionate “aw!” – it was all I could do to not vomit. How dare she take my dream date from me! I just had to keep reminding myself, it would all be over soon.

As my classmates danced the night away, I stayed rooted in my corner, keeping watch on the only couple I cared about – Marisa and Prince. A slow song was on and they moved close to each other, Marisa resting her head on Prince’s shoulder as they danced. She was falling in love with him; I could tell. But what could I do except hope that he wouldn’t fall in love with her as well? That was impossible, of course, because of the enchantment the fairy godmother had failed to perform correctly. He was already in love with her. I watched as he pulled away from her just enough to look into her eyes. And then, it got even worse; he kissed her. And she kissed him back. And there they were, making out on the dance floor and there wasn’t a chaperone in sight to break them up. Well, I wasn’t going to have it.

I marched through the crowd of teenage couples until I reached my ugly step-sister. I grabbed her by the arm and pulled her away from Prince.

“Hey!” the two of them shouted, obviously perturbed at having been interrupted.

“What the hell do you think you’re doing?” I asked Marisa.

“I was having a nice time with my date,” Marisa snapped at me.

“You shouldn’t be kissing him,” I said. “Up until last week you had absolutely no interest in him!”

“How could you say such a horrible thing!” Marisa exclaimed. Her eyes filled with tears. She hated being yelled at, and at the moment she hated being embarrassed in front of her date. She broke free of my grasp and ran outside before she could start crying in front of everyone.

“What’s wrong with you?” Prince snapped at me. “Can’t you see we’re in love?” He pushed passed me and ran after Marisa. Determined not to let the two of them have any time alone, I ran after them both.

When I got outside, Marisa was sitting on the street curb, her head buried in her hands as she cried. Prince was next to her, wrapping his arms around her in an attempt to comfort her. And just at that moment, the clock began to chime.

Knowing that the wretched enchantment was about to wear off, I made my move.

“Listen to me, both of you,” I said as I approached them. They stared up at me with wide-eyed looks that suggested they were confused by my presence.

“Oh, Reina,” Marisa sobbed. “Why are you so set on ruining my life?”

“It’s not me that’s ruining your life,” I protested. “Just wait. By the time this clock stops chiming Prince is going to realize that he never really loved you at all. It was all just some big, crazy mix up.”

“I would never do such a thing!” Prince insisted. “I would never do anything to hurt my beautiful Marisa!”

“Oh, Prince,” Marisa sighed. And then the two of them wrapped their arms around each other and began to kiss once more.

I turned away as I listened to the final chimes of the clock. And then silence. It was over. I turned back to Marisa and Prince. Their lips were still pressed together, but the expression on Prince’s face – one of utter confusion and discomfort – confirmed that the effects of the enchantment had finally faded.

He pulled away from Marisa and spoke. “Um, excuse me, but could you please tell me what is going on? Have I been drinking? I have a massive headache.”

“That’s because you were just released from a massive enchantment,” I informed him.

“Don’t listen to her, my love,” Marisa said, placing her hand on his face. “She’s just jealous of what we have.”

“Love?” Prince said removing Marisa’s hand. “I think you must be confused.”

“What are you talking about, my sweetheart?” Marisa asked. She sounded honestly concerned. “You said earlier—”

“I can’t love you,” Prince said as he looked down, avoiding eye contact with her. “I can love either of you.” The rush of red that flooded his face betrayed his embarrassment at having been caught in such a situation. “I’m gay.”

Marisa just sat there, stunned by what had just occurred. Prince got up when she said nothing and went back inside to search for the one he should have been at the dance with tonight. And I simply sat down beside Marisa, slightly stunned myself.

“Well, that was unexpected,” I said.

Marisa moved her mouth up and down a few times as if trying to speak, but ultimately remained silent, unable to come up with the right words to say.

So, in the end, Marisa was left stranded on the curb, Prince ended up embarrassed and without a date on his big night, and my chances of ever being with the guy of my dreams had been completely blown out of the water.

And nobody lived happily ever after.

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