Monday, March 25, 2019

Book Review: Royden Lepp's Rust: Visitor in the Field by Royden Lepp

Royden Lepp's Rust: Visitor in the Field by Royden Lepp

In a war 48 years ago (that looks like an alternate World War I), robots were used to fight. They were as effective as any other new and overwhelming technology (like tanks, machine guns, or nerve gas). Now life is peaceful, for the most part. Roman Taylor wants to keep the family farm going, which means he has to repair their reprogrammed robots. The task is difficult, especially since his dad is missing and his younger siblings are too young to help out. One day, a boy with goggles and a jet pack crashes into the farm. He's Jet Jones, a bit of a tech wiz who helps out by fixing the tractor and other things. The only problem is he is reluctant to get the robots back on line. Roman needs the help but will he get more than he is bargaining for?

The book has a very lean narrative style. Dialogue is kept to a minimum, telling the story through pictures and action. I found the story intriguing. This volume deals mostly in setting up of characters and situations. They are interesting enough to get me hooked.


Friday, March 22, 2019

Movie Review: Venom (2018)

Venom (2018) directed by Ruben Fleischer

Eddie Brock (Tom Hardy) is a no-nonsense reporter who likes to uncover corruption and malfeasance. His publisher wants him to do a light piece on Carlton Drake (Riz Ahmed), a major inventor in pharmaceuticals and space travel. Eddie uncovers some untoward experiments that Drake's company runs, including the use of homeless people in medical testing. When Eddie confronts Drake, Drake ruins Eddie's career. Eddie got some key information from his girlfriend's (Michelle Williams) laptop, so his love life is in ruins too because she gets fired from the law firm representing Drake's company. Six months later, one of the company's scientists approaches Eddie hoping to get an expose on the evil things Drake is doing. Eddie sneaks into the headquarters, only to wind up a host for an alien symbiote that they found in outer space. He becomes Venom, a muscly, tentacly monster with a proclivity for biting heads off of living things (including people). Drake wants his alien back and has lots of resources, so mayhem ensues.

The movie suffers a bit from tonal shifts. Sometimes it feels like a horror movie. Sometimes it feels like a comedy. Sometimes it's an action-adventure flick. Occasionally it flirts with Jekyll and Hyde moments. These various elements don't fit together smoothly. The advertising promised a darker anti-hero movie but this turns out to be a typical reluctant hero movie, of which there are tons of examples nowadays. On the other hand, Hardy gives a fine, twitchy performance as a mostly-loveable loser who has a hard time reining in his other, alien half. The special effects look great and the story moves along at a brisk pace. I just wish it had been riskier or had some substantial difference from other superhero movies.

Slightly recommended.

Thursday, March 21, 2019

St. Patrick's Day 2019

One of our favorite local spots, Historic Savage Mill, had a Saint Patrick's Day scavenger hunt in the mill. Being veterans of several other mill hunts, we wanted to try this one out. Also, for a five dollar donation we received a bingo sheet that let us get a free ice cream.

Our bingo sheet in progress

We went to several stores and had success almost everywhere. Some shamrocks were easier to spot than others!

In Aww Baby Organics

We discovered some other fun items like this "I love you more than bacon" sign. That's a pretty big statement in our family!

Aww, thanks son!

The line for free ice cream was long, so Mommy stood in line while we finished off two more stores. The wait was totally worth it because they have some yummy ice cream at Say Cheezz Grille.

Strawberry, Moose Tracks, and Mint Chocolate Chip (we paid for two)

On actual Saint Patrick's Day, my oldest had his Gifted and Talented Elementary Band concert. They had been practicing since just before Christmas, so it was the culmination of a lot of hard work. They played six pieces.

My son coming in

Playing his saxophone

Changing his music

The event was also the world premier of a new work of music, Tectonic Plates by Adrian Sims. Sims is a recent high school graduate (he's only 18 years old!) who has already written another work. They played it beautifully.

The evening was capped off with a Guinness at home for me, since I didn't feel like fighting the crowds at the local bars.

The good stuff

They've opened a Guinness brewery here in Maryland which we haven't visited yet. Now that the Saint Patrick's Day excitement has died down, maybe we will finally check it out!

Wednesday, March 20, 2019

Key Lime Pie!

Another fantastic (and pre-Lenten) dessert we tried was making Key Lime Pie. It hardly seemed seasonal in wintertime (thank goodness spring has started as of the posting of this blog post!) but the stores certainly have more than enough ingredients to get the pie done.

In addition to juicing the limes, we also had to zest them. We made a very important discovery--it's better to zest a lime before you juice it!

Zesting the lime

Mixing took a lot more hands-on work than we were expecting. Such hardships hardly stopped us. Many hand do indeed make light work.

Whipping up some pie filling, literally (my hands were busy taking pictures)

The crust (made from graham crackers and butter with a little sugar) is pretty close to what we make for cheese cake. That was easy to make. Baking went very well. We cooled the pie for a couple of hours then put in the refrigerator overnight (covered by cling wrap). The plastic wrap took little bits of our perfect pie top with it when we removed the wrap.

The cool and refreshing pie

Hiding the blemishes was easy. Instead of a meringue, we opted for a whipped-cream topping. We've crafted home-made whip cream dozens of times so it was very easy to make and just as easy to spread.

Adding the whip cream

Artsy shot with the pie reflected in the mixing bowl

The pie came out wonderfully and we are very happy that we only used half of the bag of limes.

Another artsy shot

Tuesday, March 19, 2019

Book Review: Fullmetal Alchemist Vol. 10 by Hiromu Arakawa

Fullmetal Alchemist Volume 10 by Hiromu Arakawa

After another huge battle with the Homunculi (who are in some sort of conspiracy with the government), the Elric brothers get divided. Edward heads out west with Armstrong to tie up some loose plot threads. Al stays in Central City and watches over two of the good military officials injured in the big battle. The conspiracy hasn't stopped yet, so those two are clear targets for the remaining bad guys. What's easier to fake than a death in a hospital? On the other hand, it's a way to draw out the enemy. Tough times are ahead.

The story is mostly action in this volume, but some big things do happen during that action. The mystery is still intriguing so I will hang around for more issues.


Monday, March 18, 2019

Book Review: All You Need is Kill by Hiroshi Sakurazaka

All You Need is Kill by Hiroshi Sakurazaka

Keiji Kiriya is recruited to fight against the Mimics, strange alien creatures trying to terraform the Earth for themselves and thereby wiping out all indigenous life. Keiji trains with the United Defense Force (UDF) which plans to defend Tokyo from the threat, mostly for the vast manufacturing facilities in the area. The UDF equips soldiers with exo-suits called "Jackets" that have heavy-duty weaponry designed to take out the mysterious and seemingly undefeatable Mimics. They only seem undefeatable because one soldier in the UDF has an amazing record of not only surviving battles but also winning battles--Rita Vrataski, a.k.a. the Full Metal Bitch. She wields an axe and doesn't have any of the typical safety measures installed in her Jacket, enabling her to move quickly and not to run out of ammo. Keiji runs across her in his first battle where he is killed taking down an unusual Mimic. The next thing Keiji knows, he wakes up the previous morning with all the memories of a day and a half that he now has to relive. At first, he thinks it was just a bad dream. After he's killed again, he wakes up the pervious morning and has to do it all again for a third time.

If the plot sounds familiar, that's because this book is the source material for the Tom Cruise/Emily Blunt science fiction film Edge of Tomorrow (also known as "Live.Die.Repeat"). Keiji is a very different character from Cruise's Cage. Keiji is a more typical greenhorn recruit who turns into a killing machine through repeated practice. His character arc is different and he winds up in a different place at the end. Both stories are good. It's hard for me to say which is better.

The book has a very rough and ready style. It reads very pulpy, with lots of swearing (they are soldiers, after all) and rough action. The characters also have an immature attitude toward women that is a frequent stereotype of soldiers. On the other hand, Rita is very competent and intelligent and her character has plenty of depth. So it depicts sexist attitudes without adopting or endorsing them.

The author explains in the afterword that the plot was inspired by video games: Players can repeat the same level or challenge until they get it right. He discounts the heroism often accorded to players in video games when they finish ("You were the highly capable warrior destined to save us all!!"). I would disagree. This situation is how habits are formed. By repeating actions over and over, they become more easy to do and better executed. Good habits are virtues, something everyone should have. I would agree that being a highly-skilled video game player does not make one virtuous.


Parental warning: Naturally, the soldiers in this book swear like sailors. It's hard to count that many f-bombs. Some of the deaths are a bit gory. Some women are treated like sex-objects though there's no explicit sex in the book. It's implied that Keiji and Rita sleep together but only implied.

Friday, March 15, 2019

Movie Review: Edge of Tomorrow (2014)

Edge of Tomorrow (2014) directed by Doug Liman

In a not-too-distant future, an asteroid crashes into the middle of Europe. Vicious aliens (which the humans call "Mimics") were on the asteroid and begin taking over the Earth. They seem unstoppable as they advance with speed and unfailing assaults, until Verdun. At that battle, Rita Vrataski (Emily Blunt) was able to kill over a hundred Mimics and turn the tide. The human military develops new, heavily armed exo-skeltons for the soldiers to use, led by Rita. A massive battle is planned, launching from England to create a beachhead in France.

I hate to explain much more of the set-up because the film is surprising (in a good way) very early on and keeps up an intelligent, unpredictable plot throughout the film. Tom Cruise is in fine form in the action sequences and in performing an interesting character. He winds up in the battle and inadvertently gains the ability to relive the day--once he's killed, he goes back to a certain point on the previous day. So he fights again and again, Groundhog Day style, until he can find a way to beat the aliens. The movie has great pacing and performances. The time-travel angle is handled very well. The ending has a "Wait, what just happened?" feeling that takes away from the film's greatness, though by that point the film had earned enough respect to make me think I had missed something rather than it was lazy writing. The more I've thought about it, I've come up with a plausible theory to justify the end.

Recommended, especially for the intelligent sci-fi fan.

WARNING: The movie was disappointing at the box office, so in an effort to get better DVD/Blu Ray/Streaming sales, they packaged it so it looks like the title is "Live.Die.Repeat." Don't sweat it!