What I Want from The Last Jedi

When The Force Awakens came out, naturally I was excited. As a lifelong Star Wars fan, the chance to slip back into that world was thrilling. But even so, there was a slight trepidation. The prequels, though still something I enjoy, and as a child was adequately enthralled by, had left me cautious.

But now, two years after JJ Abrams showed that there was more than one way to make a Star Wars trilogy, I have high hopes for The Last Jedi.

I have been steering clear of most spoilers and content, and slowly raising my expectations at what few snippets I let slip through. The trailers; amazing. And now the early reviews; very promising.

I don’t have the time for a detailed explanation of what I am hoping for as I previously posted for The Force Awakens, so instead I am just going to offer a brief list of what I am wanting from my ninth journey to a long time ago in a galaxy far far away.

  • Humour – one of the most pleasant surprises from TFA was how funny it was. The original trilogy had its fair share of levity, but the prequels never managed to capture the casual humour of characters like Han Solo. Finn got many genuine laughs. So I am hoping that continues here and things don’t go too dark.
  • Something different – Force Awakens was great, but it was also very familiar. That is good with a new trilogy trying to pay homage to its origins, but now is the time to strike out in a new direction. You can remain true to the spirit of Star Wars without having to just rehash things, so that is what I am hoping for.
  • Cool new planets – I don’t really recall much about the planets from TFA. Sure Jakku was pretty cool, but it was also too similar to Tattooine to evoke any new sense of wonder (though yes the crashed Star Destroyer was awesome). I want new locales that stretch the imagination. I want weird environments that look aliens to us, but also realistic. Throw in some funky wildlife and we are on to a winner.
  • Answers! – I want answers damn it!
  • Secrets – I want secrets too…
  • Lightsabers!
  • Weird new Force powers – Not midichlorians, nothing like that. I want more Kylo Ren freezing powers, I want some mystic crap that lines up with Force ghosts and chosen ones.
  • Millennium Falcon.
  • Some new ship – I want a new iconic ship. TFA didn’t really offer up much new in this regard, and if anything I was more impressed by Rogue One’s U Wing than anything else. So hopefully there is something here I can desire in LEGO form next year.
  • Porgs- Really I just want them not to suck.
  • Death! – I want main character deaths that raise the stakes, and are meaningful. More like Han, and less like whoever Kylo killed on Jakku.
  • Ambiguity – Kylo Ren looks like a complicated and conflicted character,and I like that. The original trilogy took Vader from generic baddie, into conflicted person. I want more of this. I want grey areas, and flawed people.
  • Complexity – Empire bad, rebellion good. Jedi good, with bad. Give me something in the middle. Give me real life, where goodies and baddies are never that easy to seperate.

I don’t know what else; just give me a good time!

P.s. excuse the rushed nature of this post, I wrote it on my phone.

Late Night Skip-Bo and the Paths Our Lives Take

Late last night playing Skip-Bo on the bed with my wife. I know there are debatably more fun things one could do on a bed with their wife, but hear me out.
Just over twelve and a half years ago my future wife re-entered my life.
Early in our relationship, I visited @minilizziebean in Melbourne and we played this game. I didn’t know anything about it, and the only instructions she had were, of all things, in German. But slowly we garnered what we could from the manual, combined with her memories, and figured out how to play the game. And we had a blast!
It is only now, reflecting on this, that I can see so much of our lives, or anyone’s life in general, can be mirrored in this early experience.
There is no manual for life, but there are clues. There are hints in the lives we observe, be it our parents, siblings, friends, or even the fictional lives that furnish our days. Sometimes in life you think you know what you are doing, but then suddenly everything seems like it’s written in German. Similar to English perhaps, some hints of words you understand, but also a smattering of strange dots and consonants. Sometimes you know there is a structure to things, but it only starts falling together once you get out there and give things a go.
The path that our lives have taken since that day has been anything but simple, and not always in the direction that I would have imagined it going in years before. But I wouldn’t change it for anything, because all the pieces that have fallen into place so far are precious things that have become a part of who I am.
Go back thirteen years and I would never have imagined that a woman as wonderful as my wife would ever see anything in me worth looking twice at. Indeed, the only reason I had the courage to go up and talk to her on the night we met was because I was certain she was so assuredly out of my league that there was no need to be nervous. Rejection was a given, so why not just have a chat?
Flash forward to today and not only have my many character faults failed to drive her away, but we are fast approaching a decade of married bliss, and even managed to raise one pretty damn cool little son in the meantime.
Sure, we have faced challenges together along the way; life isn’t easy. We are facing challenges this very day.
But the point of all this, and the card game session (pictured above) that started this whole post, is that sometimes it’s good just to put aside your concerns, your adult worries, and remember that life is a series of moments. You might not know where it is going, or if you are doing the right thing, but that’s ok. Live in the now, enjoy a simple game with the person you love most. Life is short, but it’s the longest thing you’ll ever do.
So, thanks for playing this game with me @minilizziebean. Thanks for introducing it to me, for playing it with me, and for continuing to make my life the remarkable adventure that it is every day.

Brown soup, weird dogs, and why my wife is the best

When you are looking for that right person in life, you don’t always know exactly what properties they should have. Sure you have an idea; you want a caring person perhaps, or someone who appreciates the same things that you do. But then further down the line there are other things that you find in your partner, that you never really knew you wanted, but that you will be forever grateful for.

One thing I love about my wife is that she is willing to go out of her way to humour me in some of the strange challenges I occasionally set for her.

Take for instance last night’s soup:

Now, tasty though it was, it isn’t really the best looking soup out there. But believe it or not, that’s kind of the point.

Over the past few months Lizzie has converted me into a soup lover. In the past, soup for me was either vegetable, creamy chicken, or else something relegated to other peoples menu items. It almost definitely came out of a can; needless to say, I wasn’t a soup guy.

Then my wife started making these wonderful concoctions, and things began to change:

Corn Soup; tasty as

Cauliflower and Walnut Soup; for the win!

Suddenly I couldn’t get enough soup. I was taking it to work for days afterwards; I am now a soup guy.

So after all these wonderful, colourful, flavourful meals I gave her a challenge; “Your next soup has to be a black or brown mess!” And thus was the origin of last nights scrumptious french onion soup. #OPDelivers

I knew she would be up for the challenge. After all this is the same woman who, after I informed her that I wanted my next dog to be a weird little thing, managed to find this creature who, is now a loving member of our little family:

So yeah, my wife is pretty awesome.
MM

Gods Danm you Autocro3ect!!1!

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AutoCorrect, you have saved me in the past from so many mistakes. Over the past twenty years, hours upon hours of proof-reading have been simplified through your ingenious algorithm.

But sometimes AutoCorrect; sometimes you really frustrate me.

Take the above for instance; I missed the double ‘t’ in better. So what do you offer me? What common word must I have meant when I wrote ‘beter’? What slip of the finger could have produced this lexicographical anomaly?

No, I didn’t mean ‘biter’. Fan of beer that I am, this isn’t what I had in mind. Stretching the likelihood when you suggest ‘beater’ and ‘beret’. But it is your suggestion of ‘bitter’ that really bugs me. You know why? Because there is a bloody double ‘t’ in there. So you can clearly extrapolate and know that double ‘t’s exist as a thing to correct towards. There is a double ‘t’, but also an ‘i’ instead of an ‘e’! Give me credit where it is due AutoCorrect, and don’t take away one of my correct letters.

Seriously, ‘better’ is a common word, and I missed one letter.

You should know better AutoCorrect, both literally and figuratively.

Work rant complete.

MM

Lunchbreak rant: The Problem with Asserting Implicit Messages in the Bible

Ok, so this started as a response to a post on Facebook from one of my Christian Facebook friends (Hi Troy!) during my lunch break. But it slowly spiralled out of control, so I figured I would paste it into a post here, in order to get it off my chest.

The article in question is linked below, and seeks to explain why the exhortations to stone people in the Bible don’t need to be taken literally today.

First of all, the author points out that many of the passages in question apply only to the Tribes of Israel, and cannot necessarily be extrapolated further than that group of people. I have to ask; if the laws in that part of the Bible are a covenant between the tribes of Israel and God, and thus not something that modern Christians have to follow, then how is this not some form of moral relativity?

This however is only a minor point in the article which focusses the rest of its argument to the idea that ancient legal practices were different to today’s, and that we must look at the words of the Bible through these Bronze Age lenses.

The article suggests that the laws written in the Bible are not meant to be taken seriously, as often punishments in the area weren’t handed out. I thought this was meant to be the word of the god, and thus a trustworthy document? Comparing the apparent rules of a creator with the pragmatic governments of the time seems to be troublesome.

The article notes the “the absurdity and impossibility of putting many of these laws into practice.”, yet still wants us to trust in the general idea behind the law. But why not apply this logic to other parts of the bible? It is perhaps absurd and impossible to expect gay people to not be gay, and yet this is what many Christians today claim.

If these “were not meant to be complied with literally even when they were first drawn up, [but rather they] serve an admonitory function”, then why not simply state this in the document that outlines the laws?

The text literally demanded a person be put to death but assumed the punishment would be substituted for a fine set by the courts.” Strange to think that these pretty explicit laws can be assumed to be paid off with a bit of cash. How can a legal system be considered fair when it can be so skewed by the wealthy?

The article likes to say that the way that these systems were meant to be employed was implicit in the document. I have heard the same argument employed by some homosexual Christians to explain how the Bible doesn’t decry same-sex relationships, but rather only certain kinds of same-sex actions. They say that it is implicit that when the Bible says “a man should not lie with a man as a man lies with a woman”, that it really means in a sinful manner, as can be done with heterosexual couples also.

The problem with trying to insert implicit things into the interpretation of the Bible is twofold: first it assumes that we can infer these implicit things by looking at other documents, when the Bible claims to be a wholly singular read. And secondly it then has to explain why such an important thing (the very word of a god!) would have relied upon implicit messages, when explicit ones would serve better. After all you don’t see lawmakers these days using implicit language in important legal documents.

I especially like this passage:

Old Testament scholar Joe Sprinkle notes that “‘life for life,’ in the sense of capital punishment, has an explicit alternative of monetary substitution.”

Really? I expected more from the Bible when it came to the idea of the sanctity of a human life. Instead here we find the assertion that taking a life is simply a monetary transaction, and that if you have the means, you can buy your way out of any punishment or culpability.

So really, if the contention of this author’s article is to be taken seriously, that is, that when the Bible says that a personal shall be put to death the Bible doesn’t mean literally; then perhaps the Bible needs to be rewritten, so that it says “the murderer shall be put to death, or pay a ransom”. Would not that be simpler, and more timeless? After all if an omniscient god was the origin of these edicts, then surely it would note the inherent problem in relying on customs that don’t span the breadth of time.

“It is not at all clear that the Old Testament ever commands Christians to stone women who commit adultery.”

Actually, many of these commandments are pretty explicit. Sure you can argue that there are later passages that can be used to infer that this isn’t so, but that argument can be applied elsewhere also (with worrying effect). There are passages saying “Thou shalt not commit murder”. But then subsequent murders are sanctioned. So can we say that it is implicit that some murders are ok? The fact of the matter is, if we are to take the Bible as the word of a divine being, and the framework of a moral system of laws and commandments, then there shouldn’t be such problematic implicit readings. This in itself should cause us to question the legitimacy of such a divine document.

The genre of the passages, in light of the common ancient Near Eastern legal practices and customs, suggests(…)”, if ever there has been a time to acknowledge the human origins of the Bible, then surely it is after reading this sentence. If we have to look towards ancient, and many would say out-dated, forms of society and legal system to try and explain an apparently timeless and absolute moral system, then surely we can see that these laws are a product of their time, and not the divine.

Lunchbreak rant complete.

MM

Spirit on the Spirit of Tasmania

Ok, so some people may know that my family and I were on the recent Spirit of Tasmania voyage that lost a man overboard.

I don’t want to sensationalise things, or try and make this a thing about myself, but after having this experience, I do want to say a couple of things on the subject.

One thing that I say to my son as often as I can when bad things happen is that I believe people are inherently good. It may be naive, but that is what I think. And I love the fact that this view gets vindicated so often; time and time again. Sure there are horrible examples of people doing terrible things, but these are the outliers, and I would argue that the bulk of humanity are good decent people.

So when the alarm sounded on-board last night, and people drifted drearily yet urgently toward the mass meeting at the rear of the Spirit of Tasmania, it would have been easy to imagine people being irritated, or annoyed at such an upset to their plans. But when people began to understand the nature of the situation, and that it was someone’s life possibly on the line it was amazing to see everyone come together in solidarity.

No one was complaining; no one appeared irritated. There was a solemn atmosphere as everyone’s thoughts were clearly with the man overboard, and the rescuers putting their lives at risk to help (one of whom was apparently injured).

People are inherently good.

What’s more, you hear a lot about people alleging our current selfie generation, and how people are all too keen to snap a photo, or click a button, rather than engage in something truly human. Yet when there were lights spotted out the windows, and people could see the rescue vehicles going about their job trying to provide essential assistance, there was no flurry of cameras, there were no extended arms trying awkwardly to get cameras far enough to include their owners faces in the frame. People were interested yes, people looked on, and passed on information to those around them. But it wasn’t selfish, it wasn’t for them; it was for others.

People are inherently good.

After nearly three hours sitting in our makeshift meeting area, when we would all have preferred to be sleeping in our undulating cabins, nary a complaint was heard. People were worried, people may have been scared, but they were nevertheless united in an understanding that no matter what inconvenience might have befallen us that night, it paled in comparison to whatever was taking place on the roiling seas below, and the impact it would have on other peoples lives.

People are inherently good.

In those seas below was yet another sign of people lending a hand. Two freighters joined the search, circling in a makeshift flotilla of hope. The second Spirit of Tasmania halted its journey back to Melbourne to lend a hand, and remained there until early this morning. The crew had earlier asked for help in spotting the man in need of rescue, scores of hands rose instantly in the air.

People are inherently good, and though this was undoubtedly a terrible event, a horrible night on the Bass Strait that appears to ultimately have ended with a life lost. It nevertheless reinforced in my mind the fact that us humans are deep down a decent bunch. We care about others we don’t know, we are willing to put aside ourselves when others are in need, and we do it all instinctively.

People are inherently good.

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Thoughts on my Apple Watch

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Look at this bland Apple Watch-less wrist. Look at the pale mark showing where it once was; this is what I have been looking at multiple times throughout the day. All because I left my watch at home, for the first time in almost a year. And I have to say, I feel it absence.

People often ask me if I think the Apple Watch was worth it, or what necessary function it performs. Usually I don’t put much thought into my response because, well, I didn’t make an informed decision about what this watch was for when I bought it. I just wanted it. I wanted the awesome gadget; I wanted to feel that feeling of having a bit of the future in my hands, like I did back in 2010 when I was an early adopter of the iPad (which people often questioned the usefulness of also).

So for me the Apple Watch didn’t really have to prove itself to me, I was just excited at getting it. At the novelty it provided. But now, being apart from it for the first time in a long time, I can actually start to evaluate its usefulness in my regular quotidian existence.

While I don’t think the Apple Watch represents as significant of a shift in the way we view digital information as the iPad did, I can definitely say, after this mere eight hours without it on my wrist, that it has a place in my life.

So much of how I deal with my phone, and the information I get, seems like a chore without my watch.

  • What’s the time? I guess I will have to pull out my phone.
  • What was that buzz in my pocket? Better unlock my phone and have a look.
  • How much money do I have for lunch? Please wait a moment while I dig into my pocket.
  • What’s the temperature? Siri can tell me, but I used to just have to turn my wrist.

Now yeah, I get it, it is a lazy thing. It is an indulgence, a first world luxury. So it makes getting my notifications easier, big deal; life isn’t about notifications.

But you know what, for some pretty important parts of my life, it is.

My wife and son are in Melbourne for a visit to the eye doctors after surgery last week, and so every beep and buzz of my phone leaves me feeling anxious that this is the news I have been waiting for. So far all day it hasn’t been, but I have had to check my phone each time just to see.

Plus what is life about really? I don’t think any of us can claim to know with any confidence

But one thing I know for certain about life is that it is finite. We only have so much time to experience the world we live in, so many hours to spend with the people we love. The philosopher Seneca spoke about the shortness of life; “It is not that we have so little time but that we lose so much”. My Apple Watch saves me time, and for me that is good enough.

#AppleWatch #FirstWorldProblems

Some Quick Thoughts on Batman Versus Superman

*Relatively spoiler free review, feel at ease and read away*

I went into this movie wanting it to be good, but expecting it to be bad. I knew that DC and Warner Bros. had a lot riding on this movie’s success launching a whole cinematic universe, so reservations about Man of Steel aside I decided to hope for the best.

I have to say I was pleasantly surprised.

People in the future will no doubt look back on this movie with different criteria, and different eyes, that I view it with tonight. But I think a lot of today’s media is looking at Batman Vs Superman and comparing it to one film; The Avengers.

And can we really blame them? A comic franchise bringing together their greatest heroes in one big smackdown; both films seem to offer the same thing. But look at the way these have been executed, and you can begin to see that these are very different films.

The Avengers was about bringing together our heroes to fight a bigger cause. It was pretty obviously good versus bad, with a bit of brainwashing thrown in for fun. But Batman Versus Superman is a different beast altogether. Its about how a being like Superman can be shoehorned into a modern world like ours, but also with Batman.

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I’m here too

But as tacked on as that last bit appears to be, it really works.

BvS (its quicker for me to type that way, as I just finished watching, and it is 12:30 am on a long weekend, and i wants my sleep).

BvS rather than being a story that brings our heroes together, is a story that is driven by our heroes trying to exist in the world, and how difficult this is.

Batman has seen the danger Superman poses, even if at present he is apparently good. And Superman sees that as much as he wants to just do good in the world, people won’t accept his word that his actions are good. The government wants accountability, and so does Batman.

(Hmm, superheroes being held accountable, sounds familiar….)

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We also exist

But overall I have to say that while the Marvel Cinematic universe (and yes in my point of view the comic universes as well) is superior to these DC offerings, I can’t help but concede that the DC characters themselves are much more Iconic. Say what you will about the awesomeness of Iron Man now, pre 2007 I had to explain to people who he was. Nowadays everyone knows he is Robert Downey Jr with awesome toys.

DC however is a whole level above that, and rather that start with some slightly obscure characters and bring it together, they are bringing out the big guns all in the second universe building film.

So let’s have a quick run down based just on the characters.

Superman

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Virtue is boring

The most integral part of the story, but as always for me, the most boring. Superman is such a morally pure being that he doesn’t even seem like a character, but rather the embodiment of an idea. So while it may be nice to have him in the story, it is never really that interesting to watch what he will do (long story short, he will do the ‘right’ thing).

Also, for the love of god in this day and age it makes zero sense that people would not be able to tell that Superman is Clark Kent; seriously. We all have smartphones, and the internet. Clark Kent truthers would be everywhere.

Batman

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Misplaced childhood anger is cool?

Ok, let me assure people, and get it out of the way: Ben Affleck’s Batman kicks arse.

When you watch him throw someone’s head into the floor, or hurl someone into a wall, you know it is for real and he is leveling thirty odd years of mental turmoil at his foes.

Yes the Batman voice may seem a bit put on, but luckily even the awesome Christopher Nolan/Christian Bale films have shown us cool characters can have shitty voices.

I cant wait to see a standalone film, especially if it allow Alfred to do more than be a sidekick in a cave.

Wonder Woman.

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I kick more arse than you are expecting

I was prepared to not care much about Wonder Woman, and to save my impressions for her inevitable feature film, and it always looked like she was going to be a simple tack on during the movies main fight scene.

And this is pretty much true.

Yes she appears early on, and they try to build her character. And yes her inclusion ultimately leads into the bigger universe, and starts to build a cinematic universe more believably. But really her part in the story seemed cliche and unnecessary.

But then came that entrance.

I wasn’t expected to be blown away, and on retrospection it wasn’t anything lifechanging. But when she makes her proper entrance (in full costume), the scene is quite breathtaking. Guitar music strums unexpectantly causing adrenaline to flow, and suddenly we are faced with a kick arse amazonian woman.

And believe me, for her brief time on screen, she really kicks arse. In fact she kicks arse to such a point at times that you wonder why Supes and Bats don’t just step back and let her finish the job.

But that is for another film.

Lex Luthor

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You just know that hair cant last; it must be destroyed!

Much flack was copped when DC cast Jesse Eisenberg as supermans nemesis. And then when he first appeared in a trailer as an eccentric long-haired almost prancing villain, people became even more worried. But having been there back when people (myself foolishly included) bemoaned the fact that a certain Mr Heath Ledger was cast as the Joker, I am more that willing to accept that an actor can take a role and really surprise you.

But then again I knew Jesse would rock it, so it came as no surprise to me when i fully bought him as a character.

Lex is a tricky character to bring to the screen, because a regular human taking on a virtual god is such a hard hand to play. I have to say though, in this film, I think it works. There may be some confusion as to how it all ended, and what it all means from Lex’s point of view. But the way that Lex manages to play characters off each other, and maneuver himself to being able to control events and people as grand as Superman and Batman is actually truly impressive. It quite chilling to watch this mere mortal manages to impose his will on others.

Some guy

Also some guy played by Drazic from Heartbreak High is in it, so both the Marvel and DC universes can be ticked of actor Callan Muvey’s wishlist.ome

Seriously look him up, he is pretty awesome:

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Callan_Mulvey

Conclusion:

This is a good film about Batman versus Superman. Don’t go in with wild expectations, dont want it to be more than it is. Watch the story, think about the characters, and enjoy the tale, because this movie definitely has a story it wants to tell.

Final verdict?

4/5

(Note, many beers at the cinema and staying up till 1:20a.m. might inflate my initial estimate, future opinions may deviate)

 

2015 in Books

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This year I read 20 books. To some people that sounds like a lot, to me it is nowhere near enough (especially when you consider the fact that I purchased 51 books this year!). I had initially planned to ape Mark Zuckerberg’s year of books, but found it a bit hard to keep to the fortnightly goal of finishing a single book. Some of the books I read in 6 days, others I slogged away at for over 40 days, but on average I finished a book every 17 days.
So I figured I would keep a bit of a rundown of what I read here for future reference, and also to hopefully track my ever increasing number of yearly book reads. I initially ended up churning out pages of commentary, but I figure I’d be best to keep it to a couple of sentences for brevities sake, and perhaps one day I will flesh out some of my other thoughts into beefier posts.
Also, before I get onto the individual books themselves, I was surprised to notice that there was pretty much an even split between physical books, and books on my kindle, so I shall present them as such:

The Physical Books

Hard Rain by Barry Eisler

The first book in the John Rain series about a Japanese-American assassin who specialises in making his kills look like natural causes. Great series of books for when you want some cool action/assassin/spy thrills. The writer is very knowledgeable, and you end up having a greater understanding of how to perform surveillance runs, fight hand-to-hand combat, and enjoy a delicious single malt whisky.

4 out of 5 totally unsuspicious heart attacks 

The Sixth Extinction by Elizabeth Kolbert

An amazing book, I feel I have a whole blog post waiting inside me to praise this book, so I won’t waste my time on that here yet.
The Sixth Extinction is the one we are living in right now, it is global, it has been going on for thousands of years, and it is being caused by us. This book goes over the previous 5 mass extinction events, but it also gives a fascinating outline about the latest extinction event being cause by humans (both present, and Palaeolithic).
I initially shied away from this book when I first noticed it popping up on peoples must-read lists back in 2014 because of its slightly depressing nature (much in the way I have yet to find the time or emotional energy to watch Blackfish or The Cove). I knew humans were causing mass extinctions, but I didn’t want to be overwhelmed with the reality of this.
I have to say though, I am glad I read it, and though it may be bleak to realise that you are a member of a species irrevocably altering life on earth, I think it is an important duty that we learn all we can about these extinction events if we ever hope to try and alter our planets future in a more positive way.
5 out of 5 species lost to the ages

Redshirts by John Scalzi

I had heard a lot about this book in the past, and then this year John Scalzi was all over the Internet with his ## million deal with Tor books. So I figured it was time to check out some of his work, and I was not disappointed. How has this book not been made into a film yet?
For those not in the know, a redshirt is the unofficial name given to those extras in Star Trek who always went along with the main characters on dangerous trips to other planets, only to be killed in some way that furthers the plot. This book is about a bunch of these redshirts on some futuristic ship, who start to realise their predicament as ‘extras’ in some mysterious narrative, and begin to do something about it.
Many thumbs up, have ordered Scalzi’s Old Man’s War, which is apparently some of his best work. Will report back next year…
4 out of 5 dead crewmen

Ancillary Sword and Ancillary Mercy by Ann Leckie

These two books for the latter part of a trilogy that I began last year after again hearing praise for the book all over the place. I don’t know how much detail I could go into with these stories because the world is so intricately made, and the characters so complex and fascinating, but perhaps the best way to get people interested in reading these books is to point out that the main character is a soldier who used to be a starship, and who is seeking to get revenge on the galactic dictator who killed her previous captain, and who is currently at war with various versions of herself.
Bam; read it!
4 out of 5 confusing pronoun uses (did I mention that, regardless of sex, characters all have the female pronoun?)

The Mechanical by Ian Tregillis

Set in an alternate world where the Dutch achieve near global hegemony due to their alchemical invention of clockwork automatons called clakkers. Their only opposition comes from a moribund French republic, fighting back from their last stronghold in Canada. The brunt of the book deals with a clakker who accidently finds itself imbued with the ability to exercise his own free will, and is then subsequently on its mission to escape the Dutch, and help free its fellow clakkers. There is also a hint of body horror that must be read, and some cool intrigue courtesy of the French spymaster (who has the cool sounding title of Talleyrand).
4 out of 5 sentient beings
(P.s. the book comes with red lined pages, which at first I thought looked cool, but then after losing minutes of precious reading time playing around with the various shades I could make by twisting my books pages, I soon realised I shouldn’t be near colourful things when I want to read.)

Emergence by John Birmingham

An ‘action-movie waiting to happen novel’ where a deep sea oil platform accidently cracks through the earth’s crust, letting lose a horde of orc like bad guys. Luckily an oil rig worker accidently receives super-powers after killing one of the beasts, and now sets about saving humanity.
An alright read for some quick action, but if you want a good book by John Birmingham I recommend his Axis of Time trilogy, about the repercussions when a futuristic military fleet is accidently transported back in time to World War II. Come for the awesome action involving futuristic weapons fighting Nazis, stay for the social commentary as modern values clash with 1940’s folksy racism/sexism.
3 out of 5 enchanted splitting mauls

Armada by Ernest Cline

When a gamer starts noticing the alien spacecraft from his favourite game flying around his local neighbourhood he firsts thinks he is insane. We then learn that all of pop-culture alien invasion stories have been secretly preparing humanity for an incoming invasion, and our main character might just be the guy to save the day.
This book was a nice little escape from reality, but it inevitably falls short to the expectation that Cline’s first book (the amazing pop-culture/virtual reality extravaganza that was Ready Player One) had brought to bear. The story is entertaining enough, but feels rushed, and could have benefited with letting the story grow more.
3 out of 5 space invaders

Sapiens by Yuval Noah Harari

The name of the book perfectly matches its scope as the author takes a step back and attempts to give a grand view of the history of our human species. Starting off from our emergence hundreds of thousands of years ago, chronicling our interaction with the other members of the genus homo, and then driving through our long history from hunter gatherers, farmers, industrialists and so forth until it bring us all the way to you and me; the current line up in billions of progressive human individuals.
I found this book tied in well with a couple of other reads this year in that it helps me to get a better understanding of where I fit in the world, and what I want to get from life. This books does a great job of explaining how I got to where I am as a member of the human species; now what am I going to do with the world I have inherited?
5 out of 5 wise apes

The Innovators by Walter Isaacson

Chronicles the advent of the computer age, starting way back when Babbage and Lovelace started tinkering with the idea of a computer, stopping every step along the way (from enigma cracking machines, the development of coding languages, the invention of operating systems, the development of transistors, the birth of the Internet; literally every step of the way!), right up until Google and Wikipedia changed the way we accessed knowledge forever.
A great read if you want to understand a bit more how we managed to turn some clanking gears and the abstract idea of a computing machine, into the interconnected world we have now. Explains the concepts in a simple enough manner, but also gives a great introduction into the people who made it happen, and the worlds that they made it happen in.
4 out of 5 innovative geniuses

The eBooks

The Circle by Dave Eggers

The Circle imagines a future where one Internet company gets so powerful, and becomes such an integral part of our daily lives, that it essentially ends up taking over large parts of who we are. Almost an attempt at a modern 1984, with a Google/Facebook mash-up as the sinister Big Brother, whose constant surveillance and demands for compliance eventually convert the main character in a Winston Smithish fashion. It’s a tale that was ripe for the telling as social media continues its inexorable charge into our lives, and though I found the world it created interesting, I think it didn’t present it in a convincing enough way. This is the kind of book where I wanted to argue with the main characters because there wasn’t enough of a dissenting voice in the story that I could hitch my wagon to.
3 out of 5 status likes

Moon for Sale by Jeff Pollard

Sequel to the first Kindle book I ever read. The story follows a character modelled on Elon Musk as he continues his quest to colonise space in competition with the sluggish government bureaucracies.

This is a good read if you like the technical details of space exploration (which I do). But the author is still finding his feet, the book needs some more editing, and the overall feel is a bit amateurish.

Lots of potential and I am invested enough to be looking forward to the next in the series, but this is more of a guilty pleasure for myself than it is a book I would recommend to others.

3 out of 5 thinly veiled references to real life Elon Musk facts

Elon Musk: How the Billionaire CEO of SpaceX and Tesla is shaping our Future by Ashlee Vance

This year my Musk fandom sky-rocketed like one of his falcon rockets! I can’t get enough of this guy, and his amazing plans for the future. He builds rockets, electric cars, solar utilities, ponders the danger of artificial intelligence and suggests plans for things like a Hyperloop. I am a massive Musk fan, a Muskiteer, and this book only added kerosene to the fire (kerosene is the fuel they use in SpaceX rockets after all….).

If you want a primer on all things Musk, this book is a must read. It chronicles his whole life, from a boy in South Africa, his move to America, funding of his initial start-up, then the multi-million dollar sale of PayPal, and on to his current ventures with Tesla (electric cars) and SpaceX (the eventual colonisation of Mars). More important however is that it shows you a bit of how Musk thinks, and what his plans are; and trust me, these are fascinating topics.

5 out of 5 Mars Colonial Transporters

Nexus by Ramez Naam

A cool science fiction story set in a not too distance future where an illegal drug allows some hackers to enhance their minds. It’s cool seeing how a hacking could be applied to the human mind, like when a character creates a program to help him keep his cool in tense situations, or boots up a protocol that allows him to bust Kung Fu moves on his would be attackers. And of course there are attackers because the story quickly has our hero being busted by the government, and then sent on a mission with a similarly ‘enhanced’ secret agent to spy on a mad scientist, blah blah blah. An enjoyable story that I had forgotten I read, but remembered that I enjoyed.

3.5 out of 5 cyberpunks

Aurora by Kim Stanley Robinson

I already wrote a bit about this over here, so I won’t go into much detail. Suffice to say I love all things Kim Stanley Robinson’s, and this was no exception.

Set on the tail end of a generation ships journey to Tau Ceti, the book deals with the realities of keeping a society functioning on a starship over hundreds of years, how that impacts on them, and the challenges they must face.

5 out of 5 regressions toward the mean

Parasite by Mira Grant

An interesting story about a future where people swallow genetically engineered tapeworms as a means of controlling their health and medication. But of course something starts going wrong, and soon people are being taken over by a ‘sleeping sickness’ that may or may not be the tapeworms taking over.

I enjoyed this book, but it took a while to reveal its big twist, so by the time one of the characters finally said what we were all thinking, it had become painfully obvious. Also, this is the first in a trilogy, and it really felt like it.

3 out of 5 medication excreting tapeworms

The Compassionate Carnivore by Catherine Friend

This book is exactly what I have been looking for for a long time. I have always been conflicted when it comes to eating meat. I love animals, and I believe that it is cruel to keep them in cages their whole lives, and then slaughter them just to eat their flesh.

But on the other hand; hamburgers. And Pizza, and bacon, and spaghetti bolognese! I can’t give these things up!

The good news is, don’t have to. I don’t have to be a vegetarian. I can accept my place in the food chain as a compassionate carnivore.

This book taught me a lot about how animals get from pasture to plate, how they should be treated, and more importantly, how they shouldn’t be treated. It taught me that yes I can eat meat, but I need to be conscious of where it comes from. I can eat meat, but only from humanely cared for animals. I can eat meat, but only in appropriate portions.

Of all the books I read this year, this has had the biggest influence on me. Yes I still struggle with the moral implications of eating meat. But now at least I feel like I have educated myself on the problem. I am more considerate of my actions, and how what I choose to eat affects others, in particular the animals themselves.

The book is written by a lamb farmer, so she knows her stuff and is by no means preachy. I encourage anyone who eats meat to give it a read.

5 out of 5 grass fed steaks (with no added hormones or antibiotics)

Short, Sharp Shock by Kim Stanley Robinson

Kim Stanley Robinson’s only foray into fantasy writing (unless you count the Buddhist reincarnation bits from The Years of Rice and Salt) follows the story of a strange who washes up on a beach with little memory of who he is, or where he has travelled. He follows the coastline of a seemingly planet spanning peninsula, and encounters a lot of weirdness along the way.

An interesting read, but unlike all of Kim Stanley Robinson’s other stuff, I don’t feel like I have taken anything away from this story. It was entertaining, yes; but it didn’t teach me anything new, It didn’t make me think about anything in a new way, it didn’t broaden my horizons to anything that is real. Though I suppose this is more of a disconnect with me and the fantasy realm, than it is a criticism of the book itself.

3 out of 5 men with small apple trees growing on their shoulders

Luna: New Moon by Ian McDonald

The moon is colonised in the not too distance future, but it is an ugly place. Five massive families/corporations have a hold on the moon, and battle it out Game of Thrones style, complete with knife fights (there are no laws on the moon except contract law, so trial by combat is still a thing), and forced marriages. The story follows one of the ruling families, the Cortas’, who mine the lunar soil for Helium 3.

A great bit of hard sci-fi, with entertaining characters, and a fully realised lunar society that appears completely believable, but utterly alien; just like good sci-fi should.

4.5 out of 5 low gravity knife fights

Homo Evolutes by Juan Enriquez and Steve Gullans

Ok, yes, you got me; I cheated. I used this little TED book to make my 19 books in 2015 become the more rounded 20 book sin 2015. Sue me.

Homo Evolutis is the name of a hypothesised new species of human that is coming about due to many changes currently under way across the world. Changes ranging from elective surgeries, gene therapy, cultural changes. Blah blah blah.

This book was interesting, though I wouldn’t really consider it a book. More of a transcribed TED talk with copious references. Now this isn’t a bad thing; I enjoyed reading it, and got a lot of information from it. But I still don’t feel entirely comfortable listing it as a book I read. So instead I will finish my list with:

Call back from 2014

Galileo’s Dream by Kim Stanley Robinson

I started reading this book in 2014, got through the first few chapters, and then it got lost in the mix somehow until I fund it again in February, 2015. Given the fact that I have blogged about Kim Stanley Robinson in the past, and two other books of his appear on this list, you may have figured out that I am a fan.

At any rate, this novel is set simultaneously in the past, and in the distant future, as the famed scientist Galileo Galilei is flung back and forth through time to help solve the scientific and moral conundrum facing people living on the moons of Jupiter. I was initially sceptical about this read, as half of it seemed historical fiction. But it was actually great to be able to read about Galileo, and how his scientific mind worked back before a lot of the tools we had today existed.

4 out of 5 Papal betrayals

In Memory of Those Who Didn’t Make It

Each year I start more books than I finish. I usually also buy more books than I start. It is a viscous cycle, but I like to think that I am just failure proofing my reading ,so that if there is ever a catastrophe and I lose my income, I will still have a bookshelf of new reads awaiting me (now where I could house that bookshelf is another question).

This year I bought approximately 51 books, here are those that I failed to fit into my reading:

  • Mr Holmes
  • The World until Yesterday
  • The Hour between Dog and Wolf
  • The Moral Lives of Animals
  • Scatter Adapt and Remember
  • Ghost Flight
  • The Dispossessed
  • Railsea
  • My Beloved Brontosaurus
  • In The Heart of the Sea
  • The Lagoon
  • Joseph Anton
  • An Astronauts Guide to Life on Earth
  • Why the West Rules For Now
  • Reamde
  • Future Babble
  • The Lab Rat Chronicles
  • The Spy
  • An Appetite for Wonder
  • Leviathan Wakes
  • The Second World War
  • Threat Vector
  • Seveneves
  • The Knowledge
  • Superintelligence
  • Solving the Procrastination Problem
  • Crux
  • How We’ll Live on Mars
  • The Three-Body Problem
  • Thinking about it Only Makes it Worse
  • Wired for Love

Let me know any thoughts you have on these books, or books that I should add to my list for this years reading.

Cheers,

MM

Quick thoughts on the latest Star Wars: The Force Awakens trailer

MF

Man; I am excited about this film. Even though this trailer give me no idea of what the storyline is going to be; it still somehow reassures me that this film is going to be true to the Star Wars world.
How can a Star Wars fan not be excited about this trailer, and thus about the upcoming film? The visuals, the music; the Han Bloody Solo!
Yes a lot of us remember the prequels being a bit of a let-down, and therefore are doing our best to not throw our hopes as high as they may have been in 1999. But I can’t help feel that here are a few legitimate reasons to be optimistic for the new trilogy.
First of all, I have faith in J.J. Abrams. Excessive lens flare aside, I think the man tells a great story, is able to make interesting characters (Jack Bristow FTW), and in general makes entertaining films. He is able to capture the essence of the stories he sets out to tell.
Second, we have enough from the old Star Wars trilogy to make it feel familiar. And I don’t just mean Ford, Fischer and Hamill; Lawrence Kasdan is back as co-writer. In case you don’t know, he was the co-writer of Empire Strikes Back, arguably the best of all Star Wars films.
Plus if The Force Awakens is a good film, then it means the majority of Star Wars films are good films, regardless of what you think of the prequels.
But having finally seen the trailer (as thin on actual plot details as it may be), I think I can see the way that Abrams will be taking this story; and I like it.

its true

All of it

What I take from this trailer is that The Force Awakens will be a story about the Star Wars story itself. A kind of meta self-referential tale about the power of the Star Wars story.
Star Wars casts a big shadow not only on science fiction films, but on film-making itself. It opened up a whole new way of telling stories, and inspired a new generation of directors. Directors like Abrams himself.
Abrams has long been a Star Wars fan; in fact I remember an interview with him upon the release of his reboot of Star Trek where he talked about not knowing much about Star Trek, and being more of a Star Wars fan.
In his film Super 8 Abrams gave us a movie that was as much about film-making itself as it was about an alien stuck on earth. Many claimed it was an homage to Spielbergian film-making (which I can see), but it was also a story about making films, and I think this is an example of how Abrams is able to convey a sense of awareness in his filmmaking. He understands where these films fit into the public’s perception of them.
So naturally when tackling one of the biggest film franchises of all time, he knows that there is a lot of history surrounding this, and that the fans of these movies are a part of that. The story of Star Wars has been around for almost forty years after all, so it has had plenty of time to have a life all of its own, and to pervade the way we think and feel about other stories.
This brings me to, in my opinion, the most interesting part of the trailer  (narrowly edging out the lack of Luke); this exchange of words:

Rey: There are stories about what happened.
Han Solo: It’s true. All of it. The Dark Side. A Jedi. They’re real.

You can hear in her voice, in the way Rey talks about these stories, that there is a power in such tales. It is this talk of stories that to me explains the direction this movie may take.
The Star Wars world in these new movies is almost a parallel of our own. Indeed the passage of time between the original trilogy, and this new series has taken place in real-time, so the memories of what happened in those movies is comparable to the memories of those movies for us here in the real world.
The power of the stories people told of the downfall of the Empire mirrors the power of the original Star Wars trilogy for us, the audience. The story of old glories come back, of the power of past experiences, rings true regardless of whether you are a character reacting to them, or an audience member reliving them. Even the films new villain, Kylo Ren, appears to mirror the public’s obsession with the classic villain Darth Vader, as he seeks to ‘finish what [he] started’.

vader fan
So perhaps this Star Wars will be a story about the story of Star Wars; about the power it has over people down the generations. It will be a tribute to Star Wars, as it very well should be.

Quick breakdown of other thoughts from the trailer;

  • Number one; where is Luke! Clearly there is a reason Luke isn’t being shown (beyond a pat on R2-D2’s head. Maybe how he looks will give something away (has he turned to the dark side?). Or maybe he simply isn’t that main of a character. After all he is also absent from the poster.

Rey explore

  • Rey’s travels through the ruins of derelict Empire starships just looks awesome. (P.s. when she is watching that ship fly off into the distance, there is clearly an AT-AT foot at the bottom of the frame, which is suggested to be where Rey lives)
  • The music in this trailer is awesome. Going to be great to hear John Williams on the big screen again.

battle

  • I like that we see Finn wielding the Skywalker lightsabre, yet I can’t help but worry that he is going to have his arse thoroughly handed to him by what appears to be a more sabre competent Kylo Ren. Unless there is going to be some awesome Jedi training montage in this film (seems unlikely), then this looks to be quite the mismatch. So either someone will come along and save Finn, or perhaps Kylo is more interested in collecting another Darth Vader icon than he is in disposing of Finn.
  • Speaking of Finn and Rey; what are their last names!! I can’t help but feel that at least one of them is being kept under wraps due to it being excitingly familiar (and familial).
  • Not much captain Phasma in this trailer.

air battle

  • Lots of awesome looking battle sequences though.
  • Lens flare.

kylo

  • Kylo Ren and his band of masked bad guys in the rain. And I don’t care what people say of its practicality; that red cross-guard lightsabre is awesome.

Finn down

  • Voiceover from Finn seems to lend credence ot the theory that he is a storm trooper who becomes disillusioned with the First Order after taking part in, or witnessing a massacre. Sure looks like he escapes in a TIE fighter and is shot down by a Star Destroyer over the junkyard planet of Jakka (soon to meet Rey no doubt).

MF2

  • Millennium Falcon. Millennium Falcon! MILLENNIUM FALCON!!!!
  • People a long time ago, in a galaxy far far away, clearly have terrible memories. They don’t know about the Jedi, or the dark side? Much like these people seemed to have quite quickly forgotten about the Jedi and the power of the force in the original trilogy. Han Solo may just have no interest in history when he says “I’ve seen a lot of strange stuff, but I’ve never seen anything to make me believe there’s one all-powerful Force controlling everything.”, and perhaps when Motti references the Force as an ‘ancient religion’ he just forgot about the whole Jedi Council that existed a couple of decades previous. But it still seems odd that a civilisations collective memory could be so forgetful; its like people being shocked to learn that Nazis were real things, or that there used to be this thing called communism.