Staying at home is the norm... What are you reading?

twistedmic

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It didn't.
The theatrical cut hinted at it being closer to weed- with Sauroman saying to Gandalf (paraphrasing a bit) “Your love of the halfling’s leaf seems to have clouded your mind” and Merry’s gentle admonishment to Pippin of “You always smoke too much”. Both have hints towards marijuana usage/effects.

The extended cut stops just shy of outright saying that it’s pot. There’s a scene with Merry and Pippin are raiding a storeroom at Isengard that has them find a bunch of pipe weed. It ends with two laughing uproariously while smoke drifts out of the doorway.
 

Thaluikhain

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The theatrical cut hinted at it being closer to weed- with Sauroman saying to Gandalf (paraphrasing a bit) “Your love of the halfling’s leaf seems to have clouded your mind” and Merry’s gentle admonishment to Pippin of “You always smoke too much”. Both have hints towards marijuana usage/effects.

The extended cut stops just shy of outright saying that it’s pot. There’s a scene with Merry and Pippin are raiding a storeroom at Isengard that has them find a bunch of pipe weed. It ends with two laughing uproariously while smoke drifts out of the doorway.
Not to mention the first Hobbit film, where Gandalf gives Radagast a pipe to calm him down, and he plays it for laughs.

(The bit with Merry and Pippin might have been about drugs, but alcohol rather than marijuana, they'd also found Saruman's supply of booze)
 

Hawki

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The Predator (3/5)

A novelization of the film of the same name - said film which I actually quite liked, even if I seem to be one of the few people on the planet to do so. Be that as it may, the novelization is okay. There's the main hurdle that when you're novelizing an action-heavy film into a visual medium, the end result is going to be lesser by definition, and there's not enough original stuff in the novel as a whole to make up for it. Add to that is the issue that off-screen, the Loonies are less distinct, and tend to blend in as one blob of characters. Not that they were that distinct to begin with (from each other at least), but at least there, there was acting to carry the writing. Here? Not so much.

Still, the above issues aside, I did like the novelization overall. For the most part, it does a good job of carrying the film's humour over. There's also some nice flourishes from the author, in how certain scenes/characters are handled. For instance, quite often, the writing quickly delves into the POV of a no-name character for a few paragraphs/pages, as events play out from their POV, and for a fair bit of the time, ending with their death. These include a fighter pilot (whose fighter is vapourized by the yautja ship) or a merc who's killed terribly by the Upgrade Predator. Even when the no-names aren't in harm's way (e.g. a NORAD operator, a police officer whose car is stolen), the writing is still solid, and oftentimes, quite funny. And the divergences sometimes feature the POV of one of the yautja too, which are also handled well.

On another note, there's stuff from the movie that's missing, such as Traeger explaining why the yautja are coming to Earth more recently, or more notably, the movie's ending, with the "Predator suit" being revealed. I wasn't fond of the idea behind it, but the novel doesn't feel properly concluded without it. It ends, and tries to give a sense of gravitas, but it falls flat.

Still, novel was decent overall.
 

Hawki

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The Magisterium: The Silver Mask (2/5)

Dear God, this is the worst book in the series so far, and that's saying something.

I'm more or less resigned to finish this dogshit, and since there's only one book left, I don't have too far to go, but by God, this is just...BAD. And to show why it's bad, I'll point out a few things:

-The entire book takes place in evil guy's manor/house, bar the early chapters with Call in wizard prison. The setting is dull, the setting is boring, the setting is trite.

-So Call is around 15 years old at this point, and that means puberty. Or not. At the least, he has the hots for Tamara now, and she has the hots for him, sort of, maybe, possibly, whatever. Look, teenage romance is awkward, and being as generous as possible, the awkward writing could be said to represent that, but it just doesn't work, and if anything, just fizzles out. It honestly seems to exist for the sole reason of "well, there's a boy and a girl, we're contractually obligated to have romance between them."

-The book tries to portray the stakes as being bigger and more meaningful than they actually are. So, the bad guys want Call to resurrect Aaron to demonstrate that they CAN bring people back from the dead, that Constantine was correct, and that once the wizarding world (not actually a term in the book, but I'm using it) discovers it, everyone will want to join their side. That's not the worst plan in the world, but come the climax, things just don't work.

First, the book tries to run with the idea of there being issues in the wizarding world, that multiple mages are tired of being kept down, of not being allowed to use certain abilities, etc. Except we haven't really seen any sign of that, ever, up until now. I'm going to bring up Harry Potter again (since this series is riffing off it, I'm entitled to), how the issues within the wizarding world were slowly revealed over time, and therefore, you could understand why Voldemort could gather so many followers. Magisterium wants to invoke the same plot point of "you didn't sort your shit out, now reap what you've sown), but has refused to do any actual legwork up to this point. it really doesn't help that even four books in, actual worldbuilding is close to non-existent. I mean, Goblet of Fire established, among other things, an international quidditch cup, the Triwizard Tournament, some other wizard schools, etc. Four books in, and there's only the vaguest of references to how this wizarding world actually functions, and if we apply it to a global scale, we know next to nothing about how mages operate outside the US and Europe (it at least implies that there's mages outside these areas, so there's that, at least). But that aside, I think the microcosm to this piss-poor payoff is that the father of one of the characters joins the baddies and is arrested after the final battle. You might ask "oh, like Lucius Malfoy?" To which I say, "oh yeah, sure - he's just never been named, or seen, or described, or anything." Heck, one of the main three's sisters joins the baddies, and she's at least been named, but it still falls flat because her reasons are...um...I've got the hots for one of the baddies? Or something?

Second, there's the battle itself. This is the penultimate book, so hypothetically, book 5 could surprise me, but this is just embarassing. Good mages and evil mages battle on the grounds of evil manor place, or something. The end.

-There's also the villain issue. So, by the end of this book, the main baddie is now apparently Alex Strike (yes, that's his actual name), who's now the first Chaos Devoured (I could explain, I choose not to), and he flies off to do evil things because...mummy issues? Okay, Alex is shown to be resentful to his mummy throughout the work for somewhat understandable reasons, but I don't get why he's evil now per se, nor do I care. I bring this up because it's such a bizzare choice. Up until this point, the main antagonists, at the very least, had something approaching a coherent philosophy (resurrecting the dead), what does this twat have to offer us narratively? I dont' know, I don't care, but fuck me I'll probably find out.

So, yeah. The book is bad. The series is bad. I've said this before and I'll say this again, it actually makes me appreciate Harry Potter all the more because this is following HP from its tropes to basic plot beats, but it's just, y'know, shit. It's so shit that at this time of writing...I can't believe I'm saying this, but I kind of think it might be even worse than Keeper of the Lost Cities. Why? Because Keeper, for all its many, MANY issues, at least put time into its worldbuilding. Banal worldbuilding, but worldbuilding all the same, doing more in one book than Magisterium did in 4. To be fair, Keeper was around 400-500 words, whereas these books are around 230 each, but still, do the math.

So, yeah. The books are bad, and the writers should feel bad. And no, that isn't snark, they should actually feel bad producing this drek and getting it published, because it's just embarassing.
 

Hawki

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Ratchet and Clank (3/5)

Specifically, this is the Ratchet and Clank comic series that was releaed sometime after the Future Trilogy. I think. Maybe. Yeah, I'm not really a fan of this series, and my only direct exposure up to this point was the movie, so I can't really comment on the context much. Only that Captain Qwark became galactic president (because voters are idiots), dethroning President Artemis Zogg, who steals a bunch of planets to put inside his own galaxy (contained in something resembling a dyson sphere), cue lasers and whatnot. I assume some of that means something to you, if not, then, well...

Well, anyway, the comic was okay. It sort of reminded me of Sonic comics, in that you have an eclectic cast of characters of various species (and a few robots, not just Clank) teaming up in a brightly coloured setting with extremely soft science against an evil alien scientist. However, the difference here (and this is extremely subjective), is that reading the comic, there's really no sense of scale. When your setting encompasses the entire universe (or at least quite a few galaxies), the stakes feel a bit redundant. For instance, Ratchet's homeworld Veldin (least I assume it's his homeworld) is one of the planets taken, and is threatened with freezing over due to the lack of its sun (if it's lacking a sun, why can people see anything?), and I guess that kinda sucks, but that's still one planet out of gadjillions. The Sonic comics could go for big stakes as well, including Crisis-style scenarios in the Archieverse, but when the stakes were msotly confined to a single planet, it was easier to get invested.

Or that's just me. Anyway, the comic is fine, just didn't do much for me. I smirked a few times at some of the humour, but it's humour that mostly operates on the premise of "random line/phrase, laugh." Also, Qwark is a terrible human being (is he human?), and faces no consequences for his actions by the comic's end, but I assume that's par for the course in this series.

So, yeah. Decent, but hardly converted me.
 

Hawki

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Read some stuff:

-Star Wars: Doctor Aphra - Fortune and Fate (4/5)

-Star Wars: The High Republic - The Edge of Balance, Vol. 1 (3/5)

-Ironheart: Those With Courage (3/5)
 

Hawki

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Identity: The Demand for Dignity and the Politics of Resentment (3/5)

I've always wanted to read something by Francis Fukuyama, given his (in)famous "end of history" assertion, but reading this, I was a mite disappointed. When discussing his ideas, he often veers off on tangents related to etymology and old Greek terms/concepts that aren't really relevant, and the book doesn't really have any overall structure to it. When it ended, and I found myself looking at the index, I went back, went forward, and realized that the book had indeed ended without proper buildup. Also, while this isn't a flaw, the author spends most of his time looking at identity politics in the US and Europe, and while that isn't bad per se, kind of left me short-charged. He does touch on Islamism and the yellow/redshirts thing in Thailand, but not nearly as much.

I bring up the geography thing in part because reading this, the arguments are strikingly similar to 'Democracy in a Divided Australia', in regards to identity politics, at least on the left, in that both authors point out how the left (at least in the US and Europe) abandoned worker solidarity for identity politics. The how's and why's differ slightly (as well as context, since Aus Labor has never really embraced identity politics), but basically, it can be boiled down to a series of factors, including:

a) The fall of communism

b) Left wing movements coming to terms with free market economics

c) It's easier to focus on narrow identity concerns rather than pushing for actual change. For instance, it's easier to get more of (insert category here) into (insert field here) rather than upturning the entire nature of said field (the "upturning" would be socialism/communism under the "old left").

There's some other interesting analyses as well. For instance, it's pretty much a given that working class Americans haven't been doing well for the last few decades, and you'd think that would push them to the left (which has traditionally been the spectrum emphasizing worker solidarity/equality), yet many of these people in both the US and Europe have ended up supporting right-wing parties. The diagnoses (and I may not be doing this justice) is basically the idea of dignity mattering more than monetary wealth. Since the right is usually the side of politics associated with patriotism/nationalism, the right offers something that the left doesn't.

You might think I'm critiquing the left here, and, well, yeah - there's plenty of bullshit in the US and UK that I've noticed, that Aus has thankfully been free from for the most part. That said, I do think Fukuyama's biases are on display here in that more time is spent critiquing the left than the right, even though he points out, correctly, that the right has its own form of identity politics, and that both sides' identity politics play off each other. Others have explored this as well (I believe it was Haidt who warned that tribalism isn't some switch you can turn on and off, and if you play this game you're playing with fire), but, um, yeah. None of what I've just written is new to me, but what IS new is Fukuyama pointing out that when it comes to identity politics, the separation mantra often wins over the integration mantra. As in, if you have Group X in Society Y, and Group X wants to either a) improve their standing in society, or b) wants to carve out their own niche, option b usually ends up winning out (in other words, the Malcolm X's of the world tend to do better than the Martin Luther Kings). That did kind of surprise me, but I think there's a strong case to be made for that.

There's also a fair bit of analysis on Islamism in the European context. Fukuyama devotes a reasonable amount of time to the Arab Spring, but there was also the question of Islamism/ISIS. As in, it's often the second-generation Muslims who feel alienated, and yet, they're turning to groups like ISIS rather than becoming fascists, communists, or anarchists. Again, not technically new, and I'm not really doing the work full justice, but it does provide an interesting look as to how Islamism factors into identitarian politics, and why the US has had an easier time dealing with migration than Europe.

Anyway, book's a decent read, but nothing special.
 

Bob_McMillan

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Finally got around to Dune and finished it in essentially a single sitting.

I can definitely see why they decided to break up the book into multiple movies, but I was also slightly surprised that I enjoyed the book much more than the movie (which I also enjoyed). Unlike in the movie, I gave a much bigger shit about Leto's death. In many ways, having watched the movie made the book better for me (such as being able to view the character's as they were cast for the movie in my mind's eye). But the book also made me appreciate the movie even more, the way they brought life to the world of Dune is incredibly impressive.

It wasn't perfect, I thought the time skips were a little wonky and far too many insignificant side characters are brought up and discarded, almost like Herbert lost interest in doing anything with them. The escalation in the third act felt odd, and in a way, unearned.

But man what a great experience. I haven't read a physical book in years. Considering I accidentally bought the last Dune book, I may as well read the whole series. I've heard however it might be better to stop at the first.
 
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Hawki

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Doctor Who: The Good Doctor (3/5)

This is a book that deals with the Thirteenth Doctor, which immediately sets off alarm bells, but even that aside, this book is okay at best.

Thirteen and her "fam" arrive on a planet in the midst of a war between human colonists and the native dog-like aliens (lobos, I think? I'll call them doggos). The Doctor brokers peace between the humans and doggos, but contrivance leads them to ending up on the same planet 600 years later, only to discover that the doggos are now slaves and a religion has sprung up that worships Graham as "the Good Doctor," with Ryan and Jasmine combined into a single saint. Since this religion is mysogenistic, the actual Doctor has to pose as "the Nurse" to assistant Graham, who has to bluff through things, and not do a good job of it.

Honestly, chances are you're familiar with this trope in sci-fi; space travellers visit world, find that their visitation has sparked religion, now they have to deal with the fuckup. It's not new, and even if I confined this purely to DW novels, a similar premise was explored in 'Night of the Humans', and IMO, done better. It's not that the novel is bad, but it doesn't do anything that hasn't been done before. That it's Graham who's ended up being worshipped rather than the Doctor herself is a reasonably original twist, but it's not enough to make this novel anything other than merely okay.
 

Hawki

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Uncivil Wars: How Contempt is Eroding Democracy (2/5)

This was a disappointing read for a variety of reasons, and I'm going to list out why:

-I commented on this in 'Identity,' but I'm so tired of non-fiction works that attempt to link themselves to classical literature/the Greeks/whoever in order to make their own arguments seem more informed than they actually are. Just make the argument yourself, let it stand or fall on its own merits.

-The essay doesn't really lay much out that I'm not already aware of - that the US is highly polarized is a "nah, really?" statement, and the how's and why's aren't particuarly new either. There's some sobering statistics (for instance, many voters for each party have no contact whatsoever with voters from the opposite party), but these are the potatoes rather than the meat of the content.

-The essay points out, correctly, that what happens in the US has an oversized significance, at least in part due to how many people get their information online, its cultural reach, etc. This is presented as a crux as to why all of this is relevant to Australia, according to them. However, I didn't find it that relevant. It's certainly true that trust in the major parties has been fraying here, but that manifested in minor parties getting more representation in the last election, rather than the insane polarization in the US. Due to a variety of factors, such as compulsory and preferential voting, the former of which means that the major parties have to widen their reach, and the minor parties get more representation, I don't think mass polarization is really possible here. So with that being said, why is the essay being framed as something that's as relevant to us as the authors claim?

So, yeah. Everything it covers, it's been covered elsewhere, and covered better.
 

Hawki

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The Magisterium: The Golden Tower (2/5)

The fifth and final book of the Magisterium series. Best I can say about it is that while it's bad, it's the "least bad" book of the quintet, which makes it...no. 3. Huh. Yeah, I'm not a fan of this series, but reading any of my prior reviews should have alerted you to that long ago.

Anyway, I really can't be bothered to give any kind of detailed summary, so I'm just going to spitball a few key points. So on that note:

-Aaron is stuck in Call's head for most of the book - it's one of the few things in said book that approaches actual creativity.

-CallxTamara is still bland and boring.

-So, there's a revelation that Constantine Madden, the Enemy of Death, was actually possessed by a makar - that he was the last in a long string of makars that are all the same person, body-hopping every time they near death. It's a revelation that means absolutely nothing to the story, because it never actually factors into plot or character development. You could remove this plot point, and literally nothing would change.

I can't stress enough just how asinine this is. It would be like if in Harry Potter if a great deal was made about the horcruxes, yet they never factored into the plot at all. It's outright bizzare that this is is even brought up when it affects nothing, and I can only assume that either something was cut, or it was a plot twist for the sake of a plot twist.

-So Alex Strike is still the big bad and...dear God, he is terrible as a villain. Not that any of the villains in this series have been particuarly interesting, but at least ones like Joseph had something approaching a coherent ideology. Alex is just a child, who acts like a child, whose demands are that the mages literally build him a tower (the titular Golden Tower) by the Magisterium so he can watch over them in triumph. Said tower has, of course, a TV, bathrooms, and a dungeon, because what tower wouldn't be complete without one?

You may think I'm being snarky, but no, this is close to how things are actually portrayed. That Alex is just some twat acting out is something that the characters themselves acknowledge. Spoiler: Just because your characters comment that the antagonist is a shallow twat doesn't automatically ameliorate the fact that they're a twat. Again, this is such a bizzare plot choice, I don't know what the authors were thinking. Again, if I was using Harry Potter as an example, this would be like Voldemort dying in book 6, and Dudley Dursley being the main villain in book 7 - I'd say Malfoy, but that doesn't do justice to just how terrible a villain Alex Strike is.

-So as part of the plan to defeat Alex, the protagonists have to gather four McGuffins, sorry, Devoured mages (one of each element) for reasons I can't be arsed to explain. This requires them to drive to various states in the US. You'd think that being on a road trip to acquire McGuffins might lead to some character development, or have something interesting...y'know, something like Percy Jackson and the Lightning Thief, which is actually a pretty decent book, and did the roadtrip thing well. Here? It can basicaly be summarized as:

1: Drive to place

2: Meet Devoured.

3: Ask Devoured to help.

4: Devoured says okay.

And repeat.

-Also, Call's father sacrifices himself to become one of the Devoured. And oh God, the book's attempts at this being an emotional scene...bleh.

-So Alex is confronted, and he's still a terrible villain. He's even worse of a terrible villain, because oh my God, his hair is spikey because of hair gel! Good Lord, what a monster! This...this...y'know, I'm just going to repeat a lesson from the writing courses I did at CCE, which is "give your characters weaknesses, don't make them weak." That's a lesson that mainly applied to protagonists, but reading this, I'm now of the opinion that this can be applied to antagonists too.

Can weak, pathetic villains work in fiction? Absolutely, especially in comedy. Does Alex work in that vein? Absolutely not.

-So Alex is defeated, Aaron gets to take his body as his own or something, book and series ends. Yay, or something.

So that was The Magisterium series. Are they the worst "magic school" books I've ever read? Probably not. Are they the blandest? Yeah, they probably are. It's actually kind of astounding just how un-creative they are, considering that this is magic, where you can do anything, draw from any kinds of mythologies or whatnot, you have five years by which you can grow a cast of characters, and yet nothing is done with the premise. I've said this before and I'll say it again, it makes me appreciate HP all the more. Heck, even Percy Jackson more. And yet, there's apparently going to be a movie series, and I've seen at least one person comment that these are the best books they've ever read. And okay, fine, more power to you, but to me, these were just bland, boring, and a complete waste of time.

If you're an adult, don't bother with them. If you have kids, PLEASE find them something else to read. They deserve better.
 

Hawki

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-Halo: The Rubicon Protocol (3/5)

-Star Wars: Brotherhood (3/5)

-Star Wars: Last of the Jedi - Master of Deception (3/5)
 

Johnny Novgorod

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I'm reading a (grown up) Harry Potter fanfic where Harry cheats on Ginny with Hermione but he's kinda coerced into it because she's his boss (they use a Time-Turner so they're not technically "cheating") and Ron is a cuckold who is blackmailing Harry for money to sustain his joke shop which he's reformed as a sex shop. Also Ginny got fat. Good stuff.
 

Drathnoxis

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I'm reading a (grown up) Harry Potter fanfic where Harry cheats on Ginny with Hermione but he's kinda coerced into it because she's his boss (they use a Time-Turner so they're not technically "cheating") and Ron is a cuckold who is blackmailing Harry for money to sustain his joke shop which he's reformed as a sex shop. Also Ginny got fat. Good stuff.
Ummm, ok.

 
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