Tagged with sci-fi

Lighter Reading

A few weeks ago, I bought and started reading The World of the Crusades by Christopher Tyerman. I don't even remember where I saw the book recommended or what made it sound like a good idea, but I admit that the crusades have always been a bit of a gap in my overall layman's picture of history. What were they, actually, how important, and most of all why

This book is a bit dense though. While well made, written and illustrated, I rarely make it more than ten pages per night, before I fall asleep. The author has a tendency toward unnecessarily high-brow language but I think it is more the choice of which details to highlight, and the lack of connection between them, that makes it feel tedious to me.

Thus, I will put it aside for a while and dive into some lighter summer reading: The Culture series by Iain M. Banks, which I have heard many good things about over the years but never read.

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I recently watched Terminator 2 from 1991. Twice. Don't ask. I had almost forgotten how good this one is; one of the rare exceptions of 80-90s action films that hold up really really well. If you haven't seen it in a while, I highly recommend you do.

Just a few of the reasons why it is great:

  • Sarah Connor is a total bad-ass. Modern films sometimes pretend female action heroes are a new thing. Sarah Connor and Ellen Ripley are prime counter-examples.
    • She is not getting rescued from the mental asylum, she's on the way out by herself when the heroes meet up with her.
    • She is prepared, methodical, needs no extra time to react to crazy situations - a real pro!
    • At the same time she gets to show how broken she is, without weakening her.
    • She's less sentimental than even robot-Arnie in the final scene.
  • Her son John is a rare example of a character that is introduced as a spoiled brat but gets to redeem himself. The things one gets to know about his upbringing totally explain him being messed-up. And the late-eighties slang he teaches Arnie is soo quaint!
  • Arnie got to to do the same role as in T1, but with a sense of humour and irony this time, which makes it endlessly entertaining - that smile when he finds the mini-gun! Both the interactions with John and the exposition dialogues are written and executed well; there are very few moments to roll your eyes at.
  • Robert Patrick as the liquid-metal villain is also fantastic, mastering the cold stare of a machine.
  • The action scenes themselves still look great today and they are plenty, but with enough of down-time in between to make them feel intense. The pacing of the film is very good and the story relentlessly presses on.

I am repeating myself, but go watch T2! The first part is worthwhile too, if you feel like it, but I don't like it as much myself. The sequels T3 - ∞ are not worth anyone's time, unfortunately.

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Star Trek, The Movies

Star Trek. Hearing that name makes people's eyes either sparkle, or roll. Unlike Star Wars it never became fully mainstream and Trekkies are still considered to be quite dorky. I was born too late to have a sentimental relation to the original series, but Next Generation with Patrick Stewart as Captain Picard had 11-year-old me glued to the TV every afternoon. I loved it!

Ten years or so later, I re-watched it in English, instead of the German dubbing. This made it much better with respect to the voices, of course, but the magic that I remembered was gone. Some of the episodes were quite bad and it hurt a bit to realize that. Yes, I also watched DS9 and Voyager, but only half-heartedly, and never became a fan.

Another doubling of lifetime later (🙄) I recently found myself, for unclear reasons, intrigued by the idea to watch the Star Trek films once more. I think I had seen them all at least once, but never together and I barely remembered most of them. So I did, and regret nothing!

I: The Motion Picture. This is a very slow film and I almost pressed the button to speed it up. But I was surprised by how good the special effects still look today. I had this mental image of the old Enterprise being just crappy and ugly - not any more. 4/5

II: The Wrath of Khan. This one has its moments, but I didn't like it as much as some do. In fact, I have already forgotten most of it again. Still, 3/5.

III: The Search for Spock. This was fun, mostly because of Christopher Lloyd as a Klingon. The solemn parts on Vulcan and Kirk having a son had me looking at my watch, however. 3/5

IV: The Voyage Home. Even more fun than the last! Yes, time-travel is a cheap trick and can go horribly wrong story-wise, but it did not bother me here. Scotty putting complex formulae onto an 80s computer screen by pressing three buttons made me laugh out loud. 4/5

V: The Final Frontier. Yeah, this is everything as bad as its reputation. All the films are much more enjoyable, if you manage to have as much fun at the film as with it. This is especially true for this one. 1/5

VI: The Undiscovered Country. More serious in tone and with lots of pink CGI-blood. The ending is a bit of a mess, but overall very watchable. Interesting to see the Klingons change, here they are much closer to TNG than to TOS. 3/5

VII: Generations. Wow. I had vague good memories from this one, but it is as bad as the popular verdict suggests. It just doesn't make any sense! I noticed several occasions when CGI-shots were re-used in the earlier films and here we are shown the exact same explosion of the Klingon ship as in the last film. 2/5

VIII: First Contact. The borg are a favourite story-line from TNG and they make good enemies here, too. We get to see them take over a brand-new ship, the Enterprise-E. Getting rid of the large neck and making it smaller than the previous one are good choices - she looks good! The scenes on time-travel Earth are very light-hearted and if you accept the quirky humour, they work nicely to contrast the dire situation on the ship. Overall my favourite of the bunch, 5/5. In case it is not clear yet, ratings are relative within this list, I am not saying that First Contact is among the best films I have ever seen.

IX: Insurrection. This one I vaguely remembered as quite boring, but I did not dislike it this time around. The intrigue is fine, the villains are cliché baddies that look the part. Even the romance, often the worst part of any Star Trek, did not bother me. Don't get me wrong, a masterpiece it is not. 3/5

X: Nemesis. Well, I cannot quite put my finger on why, but this was not very good. The central question of identity and personality, and how much of it is "nature versus nurture" is a long-standing and important one, but how it was handled here felt shallow and stale. The final battle was not too bad, but Data's death was rushed. An unworthy finale, 2/5.

But maybe it is wrong to call it that. After all, they made Picard last year, the series that brought "the band" back together. I have seen it, but it did not leave a lasting impression. They say there will be a second season which I do not anticipate much, I just learned about it from the Wikipedia article myself. I will probably watch it anyway, in another vain attempt to get the nostalgia flowing.

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The Call of the Worlds

I finally read The Call of Cthulhu the other week. Considering it's impact on culture, this was certainly overdue. I had read a collection of Lovecraft's short stories some year ago, but this one was not among them for some reason. Needless to say it was a fun read and the quickly building atmosphere still works today.

And while at the topic of century-old monster stories, I also read H. G. Wells' The War of the Worlds not long ago, with mixed feelings. It certainly has its moments and is propbably rightfully regarded as one of the most important works in science-fiction. But I found it tedious at times and too long for its own good, which is mostly due to its age, I guess.

Oh, one more monster: The Thing, the 1982 movie by John Carpenter, was quite entertaining! The gory practical effects hold up well enough and the atmosphere is intense. I think I never had seen this to the end before; if I don't misremember I started watching it in my late teens, but when it got to the scene in the dog cage I said "Nope! Not for me!" and turned it off before the monster reveal.

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