Review of Deadpool 2

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This Marvel superhero film is the second in the series, following Deadpool (2016). It’s directed by David Leitch and stars Ryan Reynolds, Josh Brolin, Julian Dennison and Morena Baccarin. It was released into theaters 18 May 2018. This review contains spoilers.

Since the events of the last film, Deadpool (a.k.a. Wade Wilson) has been touring the world, fighting ninjas, yakuza, and whoever else, looking for what meaning might be left in his life. He loses his girlfriend. He tries a stint as an X-man trainee, but it doesn’t work out. However, as a result of this, he ends up becoming the hero of a young boy with dangerous supernatural abilities. He tries to reject this role, but eventually brings together an X-Force team to rescue the boy from the evil, time-traveling cyborg Cable. Can he pull this off? Can he get his girlfriend back? Can he fix Ryan Reynolds’career mistakes?

We have to wait a while to get to the heart of this film, while Wade searches around for the theme. However, once he’s focused on doing the right thing, then we can get on with the plot. The remaining space is taken up with social commentary and jokes that make this pretty much a satire of superhero franchises. The gags go by fast, so pay attention.

The movie did get criticism for the “fridging” of Wade’s girlfriend Vanessa. For anyone who’s not familiar with the term, it refers to threatening, injuring or killing a superhero’s girlfriend to provide motive for the plot. That leaves the woman with a very limited role. Writers and producers agreed they had engaged in this gimmick, and suggested fridging Deadpool in a different movie. Turn about.

This film is all highly creative, of course, and the writing/directing crew doesn’t really care that they pierce the fourth wall and talk directly to the audience. They’re also testing a few boundaries as far as offensiveness goes. I see that Ryan Reynolds is listed on the writing team this time, so I’m wondering how much he has to do with the comedy and commentary. He’s certainly found his niche as the bad guy anti-superhero. Although this film isn’t as impressive as the first one, it carries on the tradition well enough. His X-Force team turns out to be surprisingly attractive, too, so I’m sure we’ll be seeing more of them.

One other thing that merits mention is the choreography and gymnastics stunts in these films. There was only one instance of the gymnastics here, but same as the last film, it was breathtaking air ballet from a real person. Well, okay—I just like gorgeous stunts.

Four stars.

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Review of The Sudden Appearance of Hope by Claire North

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This novel was the 2017 winner of the World Fantasy Award. It was published by Redhook/Orbit UK, and runs 468 pages.

Most people totally forget Hope Arden within a minute. This means she can’t hold a job or maintain any serious relationships, and she supports herself by being a world-class thief. Hope is affronted by a woman’s death in Dubai, and partially out of spite, steals the Chrysalis diamonds from the Princess Shamma bint Bandar at a party hosted by the Prometheus Corporation. Prometheus markets an app that recommends actions, purchases and treatments to achieve Perfection. Because of the power and reach of the corporation, Hope finds herself on the run. Allied with a darkweb terrorist called Byron, can she bring down Prometheus?

This is a very complex novel. It’s basically a thriller plot, where Hope and her various allies struggle against the powerful minions of the corporation. It’s also an indictment of our worship of celebrity and perfection, here summed up in the app that guides people in how to become rich and beautiful to the ultimate degree, while also making them slaves to the corporation—meanwhile the ordinary Hope remains invisible. Regardless of the thriller plot, Hope continually digresses into stream of consciousness inspection of her past and the failings of society around her. This includes several prominent cultures because of the multinational quality of the tale. Her eventual solution to the battle with Perfection isn’t simple, either, as Hope’s vulnerability and her emotional responses to the people she meets constantly affect her decisions.

Good points: It’s complex; it’s a thriller; it’s got a lot to say as a mirror for our society. There are some artful cliffhangers, beautiful images, great feelings of place and very complex and well-developed characters. The reader forms emotional bonds with these people.

Not so good points: It’s slow-moving because of all the digressions—I had a hard time getting started because of the pace. The thriller plot could have been a short story or a novella without all the asides, so it’s not the book for people who like fast, hard-hitting action.

I’m going to go five stars on this one. I was impressed.

Review of “The Dream-Quest of Vellitt Boe” by Kij Johnson

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This fantasy story is a Nebula finalist in the novella category. It was published by Tor.com, and ended up with 10 recommendations on the Nebula Reading List.

Vellitt Boe is a professor at Ulthar Women’s College. She is awakened in the middle of the night by a student who reports that Claire Jurat, a third year mathematics student, has run away with a dreamer. In her youth, Boe was a far-traveler, and she volunteers to go after Jurat to save them all from the gods’ wrath. She makes up a pack, receives funds from the college bursar and sets out. She just misses catching up with the couple, as they have already passed through the gate into the real world. Boe then sets off on a quest for a way to pass through. Assisted by a gug, finds a passage through the land of the ghouls that opens into a real world cemetery. The gug transforms to a Buick, and Boe finds she has knowledge of the world. An artifact she picked up on her travels turns out to be a cell phone. Can she find Jurat and convince her to save the dreamworld?

This is another novella that could have been a really short short story. It’s also an book full of well-written prose for people who just like reading. Not much happens—we travel along with Boe, and for a while, a little cat, meet people and see layered realities. It’s a very creative concept and we get a really good feel for what the dream world is like as it is revealed through the narrative. It has an emotionally satisfying ending, but I’m not sure it holds water. How can you change a world that’s generated by dreams in the real world? Minor social commentary.

Four stars for the quality of the prose.

Review of “A Taste of Honey” by Kai Ashante Wilson

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This Nebula finalist is a novella published by Tor.com. It ended up with 11 recommendations on the Nebula Recommended Reading List.

Aqib is a royal cousin in the kingdom of Olorum who is talented with animals and works in the city menagerie. His family has recently lost status, and his father expects Aqib to marry well to increase the family fortunes. The boy is young and starting to attract the attention of marriage brokers, but he also attracts Lucrio, a Dalucan soldier stationed in the city for a peacekeeping mission. The two become lovers. Aqib later charms the highborn Femysade and the two wed. The marriage is harmonious and the couple produces a daughter, but Aqib keeps a long term relationship going with Lucrio, even though his brother tries to interfere. Femysade is talented in women’s work, a savant in math and science. She is tapped by the gods to go to their distant city and work, which leaves Aqib to raise their daughter alone. When his tour of duty ends, Lucrio has to go back to Daluz. He begs Aqib to go with him. Should he go or stay?

Well, this is different. I read somewhere that it’s supposed to be epic fantasy, but it’s actually science fiction and a love story. It’s described as a follow up to Sorcerer of the Wildeeps, which presumably explains more about the universe where Aqib lives. It does have characteristics of fantasy, but it’s written in a science fictional framework–it’s just that to the non-technical people of the city, science is the work of the gods and therefore something distant, arcane and magical.

Pros: You have to hand it to Wilson for writing a straight-out love story, which is sort of out of fashion in SFF. Also, you have to give him credit for turning a few social conventions on their heads, making science and math women’s work, for example; for putting the beautiful Aqib on the marriage market, and also for avoiding the subject of race. The figures on the cover are black, presumably because Wilson is an African American writer, but actually he doesn’t give many clues to the racial identity of his characters. The writing also has a good flow which makes it easy, comfortable reading. Cons: The characters aren’t well developed and I didn’t engage with them very deeply. The narrative skips around in time and into alternate realities, so the story has very little in the way of plot or structure.

Three and a half stars.

Review of “Daedelus” by Niall Burke

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This story is a Sad Puppy recommendation for Hugo Best Short Story. It was published in issue #6 of Holdfast Magazine.

Alistair has been sent to a secret facility to sabotage the city’s AI, which is out of control. The story reviews the history of the AI’s takeover of City Hall and discusses its reasoning and methods. Terrified, Alistair looks for a way to complete his mission and get out of the facility alive.

This is still another philosophical work. I’d classify this one as literary as well as philosophical, as it includes social commentary and a subtext. It depends heavily on exposition and is low on characterization, imagery, etc., but makes up for it in what it has to say. I’d give it a medium score for originality, as it’s not saying anything really new or striking. It runs a bit dark.

Three and a half stars.

Review of “I am Graalnak of the Vroon Empire, Destroyer of Galaxies, Supreme Overlord of the Planet Earth. Ask Me Anything” by Laura Pearlman

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This is a Sad Puppy recommendation. The short story was published by Flash Fiction Online.

Graalnak posts that he is available to answer questions. After some discussion of whether this is really Graalnak, members of the forum begin to post questions about issues including contests between tiny horses and giant ducks, Graalnak’s taste in radishes and tipping of wait staff. This is interrupted by a question about Graalnak’s mission by someone he accuses of being Kleeptor. The poster denies this identity, pointing out his profile states he is an ordinary human. Deliciouskoolaid then posts a question about whether the Vroon visited Earth in search of radishes years ago, which leads a sudden end to the Q&A.

This is clever and entertaining. The format is creative and the story well plotted. However, it is a short-short, and there’s no idea of setting, no character development and not much in the way of the depth, imagery, social commentary, etc. you’d expect from an award-winning story. It’s easily available online and fun reading, but I don’t think it will advance far in the nominations.

Three and a half stars.

The dangers of Internet activism

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WarriorAnother element that sticks out in the episodes of Internet bullying/censorship I’ve reviewed here is the backlash. Because Internet activists have a tendency to go off half-cocked and to be over-zealous, they sometimes make mistakes about what the public actually thinks about something. Their goal is to sway public opinion with a media campaign, of course, but not everyone falls for this. There are actually a lot of critical thinkers out there. These include people like Ann Rice who are concerned about the social implications, plus the experts who are now labeling this trend as fascism.

There are advantages to having a prominent role as an activist. Your name gets repeated a lot in blogs and articles, which raises your profile as an author (or whatever). As I mentioned some months back, some people feel there is no such thing as negative publicity. This means they will pursue notoriety regardless of consequence. However, some of these activists have run afoul of public opinion and suffered for it. Jenny Trout was dropped by her publisher after the Fionna Man episode. Ann Rice, Kevin Weinberg and Marvin Kaye suffered from their efforts to counter some of these attacks. Sarah Wendell received a lot of negative attention after Vox Day featured her comments on his conservative blog. And Day is a prime example himself. Everyone in the SFF community should know his name after last year’s Hugo debacle, but most of the press is so negative that it leads people to discount his viewpoints.

This suggests that activism should be used cautiously as a way to advance ideas and/or to market yourself. It should also be used intelligently to further viewpoints. Attacking people like Fionna Man doesn’t help the progressive cause.

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