Book Review: Genius: The Game by Leopoldo Gout

Genius: The GameGenius: The Game by Leopoldo Gout
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Genius: The Game is about “The Game” (how original! /sarcasm) which is a gathering of 200 of the youngest geniuses in the world competing for a once in a lifetime opportunity to change the world. The winner will be given what seems like unlimited funding toward a project of lab of their choosing.

The 3 main characters Rex, Tunde, and Painted Wolf are all likeable enough and sometimes they are too congenial with everyone other than the “bad guys”. Somehow they know the bad guys without any evidence. They suffer from the same issues that I had with Ready Player One (which I loved). I wanted to love this book as much as Ready Player One as well, but it fell well short of what I had hoped this would be.

The premise of the book is tailor made for me. There is a competition, hidden agendas, and plenty of action to keep the story moving. So much of this story falls into my <3 box that it pains me to only give this story 3 stars.

The biggest problems with this novel are the lazy storytelling and descriptions. There are a few spots where there are pictures and diagrams used in place of descriptions. It tends to give the novel a vague feeling of being made for smaller children who are still learning how to read instead of being a Genius level romp. The storytelling is equally problematic as they present solutions described as being high level and intelligent, but if you know anything about the subject at all, you can see how basic and flawed they are. A little more research could have been done to spruce up the details and make the characters look as impressive as they are supposed to be. This more than anything undermines the whole book and creates jarring instances that lost me.

In the end I enjoyed it enough to finish the book in spite of its many flaws. There is enough to enjoy within the pages to outweigh the flaws slightly. The strength of the premise alone will pull me in to read the sequel eventually with hopes of the story improving.

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Trust Me

I recently went to see the movie Unsane in theaters which is in a genre that is one of my favorites, the psychological thriller. At the very beginning of the film the main character goes to see a counselor at a hospital to discuss things going on in her life. The counselor advises her that she will need to sign some paperwork that has standard disclosures and liability information before she would discuss future visits. With that assurance she signs the paperwork without reading it and it ends up causing her all of the problems. If you can get over the poor camera resolution (It was shot on an iPhone) and the silly ending (the last 5-10 seconds cheapen the film) then it is an entertaining B-movie psychological thriller with a very good performance from Foy as the main character.

The film made me think about some of the things that are currently going on in my life and how people tend to scroll through and agree to things without reading any of it. Most of us do it every time we download a new app on our phones. People seem to be even more trusting than they have been in the past when it comes to certain things, and other people are finding new ways to take advantage of that trust. Whenever you sign or agree to anything, you should read what you are agreeing to.

I am currently in the process of purchasing a house. There has been a lot of frustration on every side of things and the main issue at the heart of things comes down to trust. My realtor has been frustrated at the amount of time I have taken to read through things before signing anything, and I do NOT care. There have been things within the contract that needed to be changed, and they would not have been changed if I had not caught them. When the home inspection was completed we found that there were 4 major issues that needed to be addressed before I would proceed with the purchase. I was told that the sellers had agreed to do all of the repairs.

My realtor sent several amendments to the contract that I signed and sent back. This past week I got copies of the receipts for the work done, and it looks like the work was either half way done or not done at all. I don’t know for sure because the work hasn’t been inspected, but I don’t trust the sellers. They have been changing their minds on what repairs will be or won’t be done for the past 3 weeks. I also got word from my realtor that the sellers have not signed ANY of the amendments. They have only given a verbal maybe on the needed repairs. One of the receipts stated that the damaged duct work was removed and then a list of materials. It doesn’t say on the receipt if those materials were removed or if those materials were used to replace the damaged duct work. I am hoping that the duct work was replaced, but I don’t trust the sellers enough to take their word on it. I am going to have someone check out any repairs. The closing date is supposed to be 3/28.

As with anything else I want to tie in writing or storytelling into things. This has more to do with something I don’t talk about very much on the blog, and that would be the business side of writing. When it comes to any business contract, it is important that someone who has your best interests in mind to read it over. That is why I would always always always (add a few more here) have a lawyer, that is familiar for these types of contracts, look it over. There are plenty of predatory practices that are prevalent in the business (YAY alliteration). Anything from Vanity Presses to contracts that make it so publishing rights never revert to the author even if the publishers are no longer printing it. Traditional publishers are always trying new things to take advantage of authors, so it is important to have someone familiar with the wording to look it over and discuss these practices with you. If the contract doesn’t make sense then walk (or run) away.

In conclusion, if someone says “Trust Me” that immediately raises red flags. Don’t ever sign anything before reading it, or you could be admitted into a mental institution. As the prophet Ice Cube once said, “Protect yo self befo you wreck yo self.” Do you have any horror stories or situations dealing with contracts that were kind of shady? Share them in the comments!

The Unsolved

I have an obsession with the unsolved or unexplained mysteries in the world. It sparks my imagination to think of how these things happened. I used to love the TV show Unsolved Mysteries, and my Firestick keeps recommending it. Here is a list of a few of my favorite mysteries and why I can’t get enough of them!

The Pyramids

The great pyramids of Egypt have always been an interesting topic to me. There are a lot of interesting theories surrounding the pyramids with most of them surrounding their use or how they were built. What is so fascinating about them is how much we still don’t know. Within the ruins of the surrounding area rudimentary batteries have been found. How would they use electricity? Did they have rudimentary light bulbs as well that did not survive? The Sphynx, which is even more ancient, has been found to have chambers underneath it that remain unexplored. What curiosities could we find in those hidden chambers? Do they have traps in them like the later tombs of ancient pharaohs?

Arecibo Answer

Now I know there are many crop circles that have been faked over the years, but there are also many that have unexplained origins. The most interesting case is that of the Arecibo Answer. In 2001 a large rectangular message in the form of indented crops was found. Many see it as being a possible response to a message beamed into space by Carl Sagan in 1974. It is said to include a DNA structure of an alien race based on Silicon as opposed to Carbon along with a depiction of the typical ‘grey’ type of alien. Is it all just a hoax? That is the most likely explanation, but what if it isn’t? Perhaps there are other crop circles that are real attempts by aliens to communicate. Perhaps the fields are just convenient landing spots for alien spacecraft. Out of all the thousands of crop circles each year, is it possible that at least a handful of them aren’t faked?

Kennedy Assassination

There are so many conspiracy theories based around this that I don’t know where to begin. It is likely that we will never know what truly happened unless you fully believe that Lee Harvey Oswald acted alone. I find this highly unlikely considering that even with a magic bullet there was at least 1 other bullet that ricocheted off the asphalt that day according to multiple sources. I found another documentary on Netflix that consulted a forensics expert to be quite enlightening. It proved that the magic bullet theory wasn’t as crazy as the Oliver Stone film JFK makes it seem. It also provides an alternate theory that sounds plausible. Still, there is very little that is certain when it comes to what actually happened, and with more witnesses passing away as time goes by, it is unlikely that we will ever know the full truth of what happened.

Georgia Guidestones

A strange structure that is also known as the American Stonehenge is located in Georgia. It is inscribed in several languages with what seems like instructions on how the human population should constrain itself going forward. The problem is that the population constraints have been far surpassed. The people who paid for and put together these instructions seem to be anticipating an apocalypse or nuclear war that will decimate the world’s population. Some people think that these are the satanist 10 commandments that are meant to be followed after the events of the book of Revelation. All we have currently is speculation on who did this or what their intentions were.

There are many others that I could name that capture the imagination, but some of them are not necessarily unique. There are many unexplained alien sightings, people disappearing, or spiritual/paranormal activities that are all similar stories. I will write in more detail about these and other oddities in the future. These are only a few that have grabbed my attention. What are some of your favorite unsolved mysteries?

Book Review: Six of Crows by Leigh Bardugo

Six of Crows (Six of Crows, #1)Six of Crows by Leigh Bardugo
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Kaz Brekker is a street urchin who has risen from nothing to be the second in command of a powerful gang. He is clever and ambitious. He is offered the chance of a lifetime if only he can complete an impossible task. Break into the Ice Court and break out with a prisoner who knows how to make a weapon of unimaginable power.

The characters reminded me a lot of Lindsay Buroker’s Emperor’s Edge series. Each one has their own quirks and destructive nature. The difference is that these characters act like professionals while Lindsay’s tend to bumble around until things resolve themselves due to some insane plan that somehow kind of works. This story takes itself a bit more seriously, but the characters have the same kind of unique personalities that you can really sink your teeth into. I gravitate toward Inej the most as she is very similar to the ninja-type strong female characters that I love to write. She reminds me of The Ghost from The Cursed Armor in her lethal and acrobatic skill.

Six of Crows is a fast paced caper filled with twists. The characters are clever in their solutions to the problems that arise. Even though the story follows criminals that have shady backgrounds, I still felt myself rooting for them. It is a tale of revenge, love, magic, crime, etc… The story is very well done. The only reason I don’t give it a full 5 stars is because it never managed to pull me completely in. Even though they talked about how impossible the task was, there was never a point where the characters felt like they were in any real danger. It was almost too far over the top in some places with how they would escape. The book is a fantastic fantasy story and I will be picking up the next installment.

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Molly’s Game

I want to preface this post to profess my love of the game of poker. It is one of the very few games in a casino where you can play against the other players rather than against the house. If you are playing any game against the house chances are that the odds are stacked against you. You can play a lot of those games in a way to give you more favorable odds, but almost none of them will give you over a 50% chance to win. When you play poker you can often tilt the odds in your favor if you know what you are doing. Many times even if you statistically only have a 30% chance to win, you can tilt those odds in your favor if your opponent will fold to a good bet.

I’m not going to go further into the details of the game as Molly’s Game doesn’t. The film throws around a lot of the terminology, but doesn’t expect anyone to know what they mean. It’s a poker movie that isn’t heavy on the poker. The movie is more about Molly and how she built the game rather than the game itself. This is good and bad for various reasons. Poker is a complex game that could turn off the casual moviegoer, but for people who take the game seriously glossing over the actual poker feels like a cop out. In this case it doesn’t take away from the film, but as an aficionado of poker it is disappointing.

Molly’s Game from a storytelling perspective is an interesting film. It mixes interesting characters with a lot of drama and a seedy underworld. A lot of exposition is used to cut through much of the back story for the various characters. This would usually be lazy storytelling, but for a movie it has to be done to keep the film under 8 hours. The twists in the story were also quite interesting.

Typically true life stories don’t have this kind of entertainment value or the twists that this one has. Those are usually reserved for fiction. True to life stories will usually have something outlandish and crazy in a “life is stranger than fiction” kind of way. Molly’s Game has a story that lends better toward film than most true to life stories. Jessica Chastain is also one of my favorite actresses, and her performance is nearly flawless. Go see this film. I can’t wait to see it again. I have also ordered the book and hope it is as good as the movie is.

Book Review: Redshirts by John Scalzi

RedshirtsRedshirts by John Scalzi
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Redshirts follows the adventures of the crew members of the Intrepid. Apparently the Intrepid has an issue with its crew members dying when they go on an away team with specific members of the crew from the bridge. This causes the regular crew to avoid the leadership of the Intrepid like the plague to keep from having to go on away missions. Then there is the magic box that fixes problems that no one knows how to resolve. No one knows where it came from.

The premise of the novel is quite inventive and unique. It is a parody of Star Trek that lends itself to some interesting twists and humor. The characters are sassy and mostly interesting. The problem I have with this novel is the subdued plot. There are many ways that the author could have taken this novel. Instead Scalzi chose to rather mundane adventure filled with sarcasm. Most of it I enjoyed until the last act where everything slid off the page into a ravine. The final bits of the novel tied up the story, but it did it in a manner that ruined all of the build up to that point. I loved the first 3/4 of the novel even with the average plot, but then the novel took a left turn and tried to be something else. That something else did not work very well. It was like Scalzi decided the plane should land on its wing instead of the landing gear, and that just made one unholy mess.

I still thoroughly enjoyed the first 3/4 of the novel. I will just have to pretend the final act didn’t happen. Fans of Scalzi’s other works should enjoy this one as well. I was just not a fan of the way this one ended.

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Update 1/6/18

I know I haven’t been updating here as often as I should. Perhaps that should be a New Year’s resolution for 2018? I am also house hunting, so it is hard to do everything that I am supposed to do within the time frame that it is supposed to be done. I have gone to see every new movie that came out over the holidays. So let’s talk about a few of them.

Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle – This movie is about what you would expect. It loses some of the charm of the original, but it is a worthy sequel/update for the next generation. It captured some of the same magic of the original, but it is more for people who didn’t see it.

The Shape of Water – This is a beautiful and weird sci-fi/monster movie/love story. It is one of Guillermo del Toro’s better films although Crimson Peak is still my favorite. If you like Guillermo’s style and weird love stories then this is definitely for you. I also absolutely loved Sally Hawkins performance.

Darkest Hour – Gary Oldman captures the enigmatic Winston Churchill as I have never seen before. This story is more compelling than it has any business being. I went in thinking it would be an interesting biopic of a British icon that was worth seeing from a historical perspective, but I was surprised at how entertaining the film was. Oldman deserves consideration when awards season comes around for this magnificent performance that would make Godzilla clap. Of course Godzilla would then eat Oldman.

All the Money in the World – There has been a lot of buzz about Christopher Plummer’s performance, but I didn’t think it was any different than any of his other performances. Plummer is a fantastic actor and this is a role that fits his style perfectly. He just wasn’t as big of a character in the story as the trailers make him out to be. Otherwise it was an interesting story with a decent cast that provided some good entertainment.

I also went to see Molly’s Game today and planning to see the new Insidious film tomorrow, but I’ll write more about them tomorrow. I also have a couple of book reviews I am working on, so I should have more updates coming in the near future. Stay tuned!

Currently editing Virtual Wars: Running on Page 11 of 88

The Undead

Hello! I am back once again to talk about the scary BOO! No I’m not talking about ghosts, maybe next time. I am writing this about the undead creatures that go bump in the night because you did not invest in night lights, and they don’t know where they are going. Humanoid undead are going to be my main focus in this post, but undead animals can be super mega robot stalker creepy too.

Humanoid undead hint at the darker nature of humanity in general. They represent the darker impulses within us all. A little part of us dies every time we endure some sort of trauma, but what happens when there is very little left alive in our soul? The stories of vampires, zombies, and werewolves are interesting to me because of the parallel the draw with humanity. There are 2 sides to every coin, but the darkness can overtake both sides.

Zombies

So what makes a zombie? Generally they are dead people who are brought back to roam the earth while their flesh rots. Is there any part of their soul left? What about parts of the person they were before? I have seen many films where they speak to the dead to get information from them. I prefer the ‘Night of the Living Dead’ version of zombie where they lurch around attacking the living.

To me a zombie represents our lowest base instincts. The need to breathe, eat, and pay taxes… maybe not that last one. The desire to cling to life at any cost keeps them moving. They don’t have any higher level thought processing going on upstairs though. Much like some people I know, the wheel is spinning, but the hamster died long ago. What makes them human is gone, but they still look the part… at least until those parts fall off.

Vampires

Vampires have been depicted as everything from sparkly rainbow powered monsters of the dreamy to relentless killing machines that want to suck you dry. Like people they retain more of their soul than zombies do. They all have unique personalities that can make them as diverse as people are. Their bodies are decaying just as the zombies are and they are clinging to life like the zombies do, but they are able to stave off the decay. The blood they drink is restorative. Perhaps if they no longer get the blood they need then they too will become as the zombies are.

I like to think of Vampires as being a bit magical as well. It is mostly used to mask their decay. Their illusions trick some into providing blood to them. The fictional vampires I prefer are masters of illusion who seem to never age, but underneath the illusions they do indeed rot. The blood they consume helps to lessen the rot. It slows the rot down to the point where it is a gradual process, similar to aging but much slower. Their immortality ends up being another illusion that eventually they can no longer maintain.

These illusions are like the fronts all people put up to protect themselves. People try to show their best version to others while hiding all of the deep dark secrets that are held within. Those secrets eat at us and cause us to decay in a way. If only there were some kind of magical restorative liquid to make that darkness go away. Perhaps the violent act of getting the blood further rips at the soul of the vampire which causes the body to decay quicker even as the consumption of blood restores it. Maybe the larger the burden we carry inside does the same to us as well even though for moments we can let that burden go.

This is why I find these creatures so fascinating in fiction. They represent the darker side of humanity. This shows that the real monsters are human in nature. That can be the most terrifying part of the stories that hold these fictional creatures. I think that gets lost in these tales because we are so ready to dismiss them as monsters, but what if they are all people who have simply embraced the darker side of humanity?

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The Last Jedi

I went to see the new Star Wars event movie yesterday and it was very very good. If you haven’t seen it yet then what are you doing reading this????  Where are your priorities at? GO SEE IT ALREADY.

I do have a few thoughts on the film from a writing perspective. There are always some campy moments in Star Wars, but they only seemed natural with the original cast. The new addition of bird creatures added a couple of moments of comic relief, but they kept shoving them in the audience’s face where they served no purpose other than as a marketing tool to sell merch.

The Last Jedi begins with what seems like a large time jump after The Force Awakens. At the beginning of the new films the Empire is dead and the Republic is hunting down the last remnants of The First Order who are in hiding. At the end of the film you get the sense that The First Order are a threat to the Republic and have dealt a massive blow, but both sides are maybe on equal footing now in the battle to come. At the beginning of The Last Jedi it is more like the tiny resistance is trying to fight off an overwhelming force led by Commander Snoke. So what happened in between? Maybe I need to watch both movies again?

The writers also tried to do too much within the confines of one film. They did a great job of tying everything together, but it might have worked better if it had been broken up and parts of this film were used in the next one. Many times when writers do this you end up with parts feeling rushed or they just don’t make any sense (Batman v Superman). With The Last Jedi you get a feeling of it being rushed, but it is so awesome that you don’t really mind it too much.

Now I want to talk about the good stuff. The original trilogy of Star Wars was great because of the underdog nature of the films and the moments that they build up that cause you to watch with your mouth agape like HOLY SHHHH… Moments like the first time you see the Death Star blow up, Vader’s confession that he is Luke’s father, Vader turning on Emperor Palpatine. These moments were for the most part missing from the prequel films, although seeing Yoda fighting with Dooku was epic. The Last Jedi reminds us of why we love Star Wars, and it has several of those amazing moments that will stick with you. This is why The Last Jedi will be considered one of the very best Star Wars movies. I can’t wait to go see it again.

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Lady Bird

I went to see Lady Bird today, and I thoroughly enjoyed it. Saoirse Ronan is a fantastic actress. It seems like she is only getting better with each subsequent film. Lady Bird is a coming of age film that captures the angst and generational gap that we all feel at that age. The drama isn’t anything we haven’t seen before, but it is done very well. The biting sarcastic dialogue and relationships between the characters are what make the movie. It isn’t exceptionally great at any one thing, but it is good at nearly everything. The one thing that stuck with me about the film is that you cannot make anyone do what you want them to. They are going to do what they want to. It’s a theme that continues throughout the film and it rings true to life.

One of my writer friends asked an open question on Facebook asking how to build a story off an ending and a vague idea of a beginning. My answer was to develop the character in your head then figure out how their motivations would lead them toward that ending. The steps in a story become easier to write if you understand the motivations of your characters. Each one is going to do what they want regardless of what you (the writer) want them to do. If you force them to do something out of character then it will not feel authentic and your readers will notice.