Book Review: The Honor of the Queen

The Honor of the Queen is the second book in the Honor Harrington series. It carries the tradition of strong narrative with a great main character at the center of the action. Fresh from her victory in Basilisk Station, Honor is sent to escort a diplomatic delegation from the Kingdom of Maticore to the planet Grayson.

One problem, Honor is a woman.

Grayson is a heaven for misogynistic Mormon-Expys.

And the population of are considered social moderates compared to their exiled brethren from Masasa, whose sole mission in life is to bring the “apostates” to heal by any means necessary (they have used nukes in the past, yeah they are that kind of folks) including allying themselves with the Republic of Heaven, Manticore’s sworn enemy so they can get the necessary tech to beat the Graysonites to submission.

This is a typical “Cold War” scenario where in two great powers, on the verge of war, manipulate local politics to their advantage.  In essence is a repeat of the plot of the first book, On Basilisk Station, but with less infodumps and some new wrinkles that keep the situation fresh enough to be enjoyable.

But certain problems crop up:

  • Orientalism: I get that these cultures don’t measure up to the standards of either Heaven or Manticore (their extreme misogyny being a key point of contention between each side and their would be allies), and while Grayson comes of the better with their intention to learn and change their ways (to match their new Heaven protectors) they still need pried open by through Honor’s near heroic sacrifice. Then and only then (and with their Axe Crazy/Religious Fanatic enemies) at their door will they support whatever the Manticorians offer (in good faith of course). Of course the Massadans, well….
  • Complete Monsters: The Masadans are the epitome of religious fanaticism. Use of extreme measures like nuking a planet-check, torture of prisoners in the most vile way possible-check, no deviation (with screening, frothing at the mouth and crazy fascist speech thrown in for good measure) from their divinely ordained mission even though they would be better off letting their neighbors live in peace-check.  Except for one sane man among them, all are complete bastards with no redeeming qualities, which leads me to my third and final point…..
  • Strawman Political: And how! Anyone that skews to one side of the political divide or another is seen as either a fool or a dangerous extremist. Only those who agree with Honor’s point of view are safe from this. Particularly bad with the character of Houseman, who while making some good points in the beginning, but his utter cowardice later on undercuts him completely and even leads to a near-no holds bar beat down from our resident Amazon/Tactical Genius.  Not that people like that don’t exists, but it seems that the character exists only for the author to prove a point, mainly that college educated liberals are sissies.

These things might annoy some readers enough to make them walk away from the books, but the action is so fast and intense, the main character so likable, and the situation so desperate, that it you can blow through these. In his defense, the Havenites do not come off as complete idiots or inhumane and the Manticorians are not perfect, even if they are the chosen good guys, so it seems that the author is aware of issues.

Overall, the book is entertaining, engrossing and well worth it.

——

And now for some music:

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My Dirty Dozen

Time for today’s Blogfest entry. These are my Dirty Dozen movies of all times, in descending order:

12. The Dirty Dozen: Of course! Where to begin? A subversion of every war movie made until that date and of the attitudes of the time The Dirty Dozen doesn’t pull any punches. War is a dirty business that requires dirty men and some of them are dirtier than others. Murders, rapists and all around scalawags. In an army of millions, you are sure to find a few of them here or there and Major Reissman does just that. Doesn’t hurt that it is played by Lee Marvin. The final sequence is standard war movie stuff, with big explosions and everything, but what leads to it is what makes this movie stand out from the rest.

11. Dune: Another book made into a movie. Panned by critics and bombing at the box office when it came out, never the less, David Lynch’s take on Frank Herbert’s classic is stunning. The sense of style and scale are amazing, and the rock opera score (from Toto no less) exceeds all expectations.  It may not be the most faithful of adaptations, but stands on its own as a sci-fi classic. LONG LIVE THE FIGHTERS!

10. Blade Runner: Another sci-fi adaptation (of Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?). It was Ridley Scott before Scott became a legend in his own right. The movie that cemented the cyberpunk look; mega cities, megacorps, the Japanese take over of the world and the sense that Man, whatever he may be, is but a sliver of thought in an ocean of ideas. The flying car sequences alone are enough to pull you in and the final fight with the replicant leader tugs at your emotional heartstrings. “I want you to use the machine on her, Deckard.”

9. Akira: The  movie that defined anime outside of Japan (also an adaptation to film, this time from the manga of the same name). Deviant youths cruising the chaotic streets of Neo-Tokyo, old psychic souls trapped in the bodies of children, government conspiracies both large and small, Akira has it all, it has it spades and threw in an orbital kill-sat for good measure. Blowing up Tokyo (twice!) never felt so eerie or satisfying. The psychic scream scene at the beginning of the movie, plus the nightmare escape from the hospital are a must for all anime/movie lovers. AKIRAAAAAAA!!!!!

8. Ghost in the Shell: Another manga adaptation to the big screen. It’s cyberpunk 2.0. Where Akira is visceral, Ghost in the Shell is cerebral and told from the point of view of the government conspiracy, or at least those who work within government to keep it on track.  It doesn’t hold back on the action either although it isn’t as dark as it’s predecessors, it does show that technology has its price and that the human soul may not be anything more than a memory.  Cyborgs never looked so good since Deckard’s smoking replicant girlfriend.

7. Dr. Strangelove: Political satire at its finest, made more so intriguing in that it was built entirely around the words of leading nuclear war theorists (the man-to-woman ration thing was real, as ludicrous as it sounded then or today). It also has Peter Sellers at his finest, as a demented ex-nazi with an evil gloved hand and a meek President trying to explain to his Soviet counterpart, that unfortunately one of his generals “went a little funny in the head” and now Moscow is about to go KABOOM, which strangely enough it did, but because of the Soviet’s own Doomsday Device, talk about Mutually Assured Destruction! “We must protect our precious bodily fluids!”

6. X-Men: Why this movie and not Iron Man or The Dark Knight? Because those movies would not exist it if were not for the first X-Men movie.  As a movie it made the modern superhero movie possible (and as a franchise it nearly killed it, although the Superman remake and Hulk were far worse). Not an adaptation per say, since it only took the characters and concepts from Stan Lee’s long running series (part of Marvel’s New Wave of comic books that started in the 1960s), it deludes the essence into life-action imagery without going overboard.

5. The Longest Day: One of the last truly epic war movies shock full of movie stars (watch it and see if you can spot all of them, hint, two Bonds appear on screen). Accurate and realistic (for the time), it tackles one of the most important days in the 20th Century, the invasion of Europe or D-Day. Notable in that non-English speakers lines are not dubbed but subtitled and that the Germans are treated realistically.

4. Saving Private Ryan:  Steven Spilberg/Tom Hanks at their finest, with a great backup of performances (and like #5, a few hidden celebrity gems).  Where as Longest Day is epic, Private Ryan is gritty. It strips away the vainglorious nonsense of  past war movies, without the action cinema excesses.  These are real men fighting a real enemy and facing death around every corner. Visceral, dramatic and soul wrenching,  you can’t watch this movie and not shed a few manly tears. “I’ll see you on the beach!”

3. Gladiator: Anachronistic and accurate as the same time, this is Ridley Scott at his finest. A soaring score, matched with bloody imagery that leaves no doubt Rome, for all it’s wealth and glory is a primal, self-consuming society. I also found it to be a deft commentary on our own modern society and our claims at superiority through modernity. The subversive political subtext is there, if you really listen. “On my mark, unleash Hell!”

2. Empire Strikes Back: This is the way you make a sequel (and the first thing you do is get George Lucas out of the director’s chair).  The second movie in a trilogy can make or break it, and Empire saves it. The stakes are higher, the Empire (and Darth Vader) are scarier and the mysteries of the Force run deeper. If you thought that the might of Empire was impressive when you saw the Death Star, it doesn’t compare to the sheer terror of a kilometer long warship or the inexorable approach of AT-AT on your position. “Apology accepted Captain Needa.”

1. Star Wars: Not the prequel (we will not speak of the prequels). Space Opera at it’s best. Along with Jaws, it cemented the movie blockbuster as the pinnacle of the Hollywood movie experience. George Lucas did what no one dared to do before (and many have failed to replicate, especially Lucas himself), a classic for the ages. It also defined the concept of the movie franchise, with millions of novels, video games, action figures and other assorted paraphernalia.  After Star Wars, nothing was the same.  “May the Force be with you.”

——-

I left out a few movies, such as LotR, Batman Begins/Dark Knight, The Matrix (only the first one), V for Vendetta, Sin City, When Harry Met Sally, Harry Potter and many others, but I only had 12 spaces and I wanted to highlight some movies that others would have missed.

And to cap it all off, here is the original trailer for The Dirty Dozen.

A New Toy!

After seeing the new trailer for Fallout 3 New Vegas, I decided that I had to get an Xbox 360 (don’t like the control scheme on the PS machines among other things). I’m a bit behind the gaming curve at the moment, but that also means I can snag a lot of great used games for half to a third of the price such as:

Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion
Halo 3
Mass Effect
Fable 2
GTA IV
Gears of War
Fallout 3

And a few others.

The plan is too avoid extreme gaming addiction by acquiring one game a month. Play them fully and then buy the next one. I may never catch up to the latest games that way, but for me, it’s all about the fun of playing them!

——

And to celebrate, a rebroadcast of one of my favorite Halo AMV (made by yours truly):

The Movie Dirty Dozen Blogfest

I just entered The Movie Dirty Dozen Blogfest which means:

Time to round up The Dirty Dozen!

Not criminals – movies!

On June 21, 2010, round up YOUR favorite movies and blog about those films. What movies would be your Dirty Dozen?

Simple enough, eh? Go to Alex J. Canvanaugh’s blog to enter.

Enjoy!

Trust Me, I’m The Doctor

Okay, I am not the Doctor.

David Tennant was the Doctor.

Now Matt Smith is the Doctor.

Doctor Who that is!

Watched the first four episodes and Matt is a hit, and so it’s Karen Gillian who plays the latest in a long line of companions, Amy Pond. The inevitable comparisons to David are clear to see, but there is one thing that makes Matt stand out, confidence. He plays the role like he owns it, every word, even when he is acting out the confusion post regeneration screams “this is my role, this is my doctor, their have been 10 other doctors before, but this one is mine”. And that is exactly what the role needs. Over time people will adapt to his face wearing the suit, bow tie and boots, and hope for that the evident UST between him and his costar pays off.

Good luck on your journey Doctor, see you in the 51st Century.

——-

And now the theme from the show by Orbital:

Back in the saddle again

Yep, I’m back inside the electronic womb of Azeroth, the land of electronic milk and megabyte honey. One of million slaying beasts, exploring dungeons and collecting bear asses (I kid you not!)  Still, the environments are enriching, the world is huge and colorful and the designers are always upgrading the experience which leads to a lot of complaints about nerfing, that is that which was once powerful (abilities) or hard to get (mount, special pets, etc) now it’s easy or underpowered. But I understand that you need to change things constantly, otherwise the game becomes stale. And even after five years you don’t need to invest in a AlienWare(tm) gaming rig to play the game.

Still, after awhile it becomes more of the same; the same quests, the same locations, the same objectives. I done the guild thing and the encounter thing. No high level dungeons, but then again, each expansion wipes out the thrill of legendary dungeons with more, over the top locations. Still pretty to look at, but as someone who enjoys solo play (and was once had a severe addiction to WoW), it has run its course. Now I’m back to visit, the way Scrooge visited his childhood home. Nice memories revisited, but I doubt I would pay to return.

Time to move on.

And talking about WoW based memories, here is an old one from days gone by:

What is it about Apple?

That makes it so popular?

Is it the stylish packaging that screams “buy me, I’m an Apple”?

Or the hip commercials that whisper “be unique, like everybody else”?

Could it be the slavish devotion of hundred of thousands of  Apple geeks which guarantee that the first run of each new shiny object of technology will be a success thus lowering subsequent prices due to the power of mass production?

Maybe it is Steve Jobs unique hippie genius that allows him to divine what people want the most but don’t really know until he hands it to them?

Or the “oh so easy to use that even your 98 year grandmother will be surfing the web before she is out the store door” interfaces with pretty graphics and intuitive performance?

The answer is: all of the above.

The wrong answer is: the price.

So is this one: cutting edge technology.

Once Apple was the domain of cheap home computers (Apple II series) but once the Mac hit the market, the prices, while not outrageous, they are certainly steep compared to the competition. And the tech you see in the iPhone, iPad or iPod is not cutting edge. Phones had touch screens, Windows™  based operating systems, text readers, or cameras or any one particular thing. The genius of Steve Jobs/Apple reside in the unique way the package/market their products. Macs look sleek and easy to use, iPod are fun for everyone, iPads are the new must have accessory. Add clever tie ins such as iTunes (buying music at .99$ did more for the iPod than the click wheel) and you have yourself not only a sales winner but a market conqueror (named the second to fourth most popular music players after the iPod, I bet you can’t even spell Zune and Sony Discman/Walkman don’t count).

Not that everything has gone according to plan. The Mac did not conquer the desktop market and it is even loosing some territory on the graphic artist area to PCs and tablets. While MacBooks may be the preferred portable computer of the trendy college student, yet for years Apple refused to even enter the market and a few Mac clones clawed out a miserable existence in a landscape dominated my their PC cousins.  But you can’t deny that Apple bounced back with a vengeance in the late 1990’s and has dominated key sectors of the pop culture driven consumer electronic markets (although the Apple TV ties, while interesting, did not take off). Their biggest rival is still Micro$oft who while having a barb-wire enclosed monopoly on the PC software market still can’t break out of the IBM PC office shell of it’s birth (except for the Xbox and even then when was the last time you heard someone say Microsoft’s Xbox in a complete sentence?).

In part it is because Apple knows marketing and knows that people will pay for products that do not overwhelm them with obscure operating systems that require you to take classes at CalTech just to turn on the damn thing. Apple products invite the user to explore them and customize them; it’s your games, your music, your graphics, not someone else. They also know the fine balance between standing on the ledge of pop culture trends while blending in into the ubiquitous fabric of everyday life.

And as long as Apple can maintain that balance, the kids will be alright!