Throwback Thursday: Super Snappy Speed Reviews (Star Trek Edition)

Originally published 24/09/2017
SPOILER ALERT

While every effort has been made to avoid spoilers in this post, anyone who has not seen all of the films in the Star Trek franchise is hereby advised that this post may contain a few unavoidable spoilers.

The day we’ve all been waiting for with a combination of both hope and dread is finally here. Star Trek: Discovery premieres in America today, and so, in honour of this momentous occasion (and since we Brits won’t be getting it until tomorrow), I am pleased to present Super Snappy Speed Reviews: Star Trek Edition!

We’ve already had super snappy speed reviews for books (twice, in fact), TV shows and films but today it’s going to be a bit different. Today I’ll be reviewing all thirteen Star Trek films in order of release. As ever, these reviews only reflect my own personal opinions and impressionsphasered, disruptored and bat’lethed into just two or three sentences. So without further ado…

Star Trek: The Motion Picture

While it has a lot of the elements we might look for in a good Star Trek episode, The Motion Picture is spoiled by ridiculously slow pacing.  Buckets of atmosphere but not much else to say in its favour.

My rating: 🖖🖖

Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan

This film’s got it all: a familiar antagonist with a score to settle, exciting space battles and plenty of sub-plot. Arguably the best film in the entire franchise.

My rating: 🖖🖖🖖🖖🖖

Star Trek III: The Search for Spock

I can’t say much about this without giving away spoilers galore but suffice to say it’s a good popcorn muncher and is integral to the overall Star Trek canon. Its main let-down is the half-baked antagonist: a random Klingon with no redeeming qualities trying to steal a technology which he thinks will make a good weapon of mass destruction.

My rating: 🖖🖖🖖🖖

Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home

Definitely the most light-hearted of the Star Trek movies. Plenty of humour, a casual ecological moral and no real antagonist to speak of (okay, there is a giant probe thing threatening to destroy Earth, but only because it wants to make friends with some humpback whales and earth doesn’t have any them any more)

My rating: 🖖🖖🖖

Star Trek V: The Final Frontier

The rest of the world seems to hate this film but I quite enjoyed it. Sybok was a particularly interesting antagonist, in that he seemed to be well-meaning, if badly misguided. It probably could have benefited from unpacking some of the more important themes, however.

My rating: 🖖🖖🖖

Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country

My favourite Star Trek films and episodes are always those which focus on interstellar politics, particularly the Federation’s tense relations with the Klingon Empire. If that’s your flavour too then this film’s got it all: conspiracies, interstellar peace talks and even a Klingon courtroom scene.

My rating: 🖖🖖🖖🖖🖖

Star Trek: Generations

This film has a great bad guy (although I could have done without the Duras sisters…), strong themes and apart from being a little on the slow side at points, is generally well paced. The (mostly humorous) subplot concerns the previously emotionless android, Data, now fully equipped with emotions he can’t control, which is funny at first, then gets serious before kind of just fizzling out and resolving itself without explanation.

My rating: 🖖🖖🖖🖖

Star Trek: First Contact

If Wrath of Khan isn’t my favourite in the franchise, this one is. Excellent acting, strong writing and well paced. The Borg Queen in particular provides the previously faceless Borg Collective with a leader who is as subtle and seductive as she is evil. Unfortunately, this film does also include my least favourite line of dialogue in all of Star Trek history: ‘You people, you’re all astronauts on… some kind of star trek?’

As an aside, non-Trekkies should not begin here; this film is full of important references to the TV series.

My rating: 🖖🖖🖖🖖🖖

Star Trek: Insurrection

This might’ve worked as a TV episode, but as a film it’s just boring, boring, boring with extra boring on top. Some dude we’ve never heard of (with a simply appalling plastic surgeon), from a race of aliens we’ve never heard of wants to chase some helpless innocent people we’ve never heard of away from their planet and Picard doesn’t like it and… zzzzzzzzz…

My rating:  🖖🖖

Star Trek: Nemesis

Tom Hardy and Patrick Stewart’s acting as Shinzon and Captain Picard respectively are about the only things this film really has going for it. In theory, the premise had lots of potential but it turned out to be a bit of a poorly written non-story about a disgruntled clone who decides to kill everybody with a particularly nasty WMD, only to be thwarted by an inevitable act of self-sacrifice from one of the heroes.

My rating:  🖖

Star Trek

As reboots (especially prequels) go, this was a zillion times better than I thought it was going to be. It features, quite simply, some of the best plotting, characterisation and pacing I’ve seen in a Star Trek film. There are a few inconsistencies with prime universe that are not explained by the time travel story but nothing anyone but the most knit-picky of fans would worry about.

My rating: 🖖🖖🖖🖖

Star Trek Into Darkness

Take all your favourite scenes from Wrath of Khan, mix them up a bit and boom! You’ve got Star Trek Into Darkness! Even so, with its strong plot, superb acting (especially from Benedict Cumberbatch) and plenty of excitement, this remains my favourite Star Trek film since First Contact.

My rating:  🖖🖖🖖🖖🖖

Star Trek Beyond

After Insurrection and Nemesis, Star Trek Beyond is my least favourite Star Trek film. The writers clearly decided to forget about pacing, characterisation and all that boring stuff and created a non-stop heart-pumping thrill ride instead. Great acting though, I’ll give it that. Click here for a more detailed review on this film.

My rating: 🖖


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AUTHOR INTERVIEWS:

Due to a recent surge in interest, I am presently committed to a significant number of reviews/interviews over the next couple of months. If you would like an interview or review, I would still love to hear from you, though it is unlikely that I will be able to begin work immediately.

You can check out our previous interviews here:

Book Review: The Alloy of Law

If there is one series of fantasy novel I absolutely loved, it was the Mistborn trilogy by Brandon Sanderson, so I felt I was on pretty safe ground picking up this spin-off novel set some 300 years after the events of the original Mistborn trilogy.

This book follows the story of Lord Waxillium ‘Wax’ Ladrian, a lawman and Twinborn who spent most of his life trying to establish law and order in the aptly named Roughs until he is forced to return to the city of Elendel to fulfil his duties as head of a noble house. However when a spate of train robberies and kidnappings leave the local constabulary baffled and Wax’s intended fiancee is also kidnapped, Wax teams up once again with his old partner Wayne (I know…) to save the day with a whole lot of gun slinging and, of course, Sanderson’s trademark magic systems.

Sounds good, doesn’t it? And you’re right, it was pretty good.

Let’s start, as we always must, with the most important factor of any good story: characters. As was the case in the original trilogy, The Allow of Law boasts a stellar cast of larger-than-life characters whom you can’t help but fall in love with, especially the four main players: Wax (protagonist), Wayne (sidekick), Marasi (love interest) and, to a lesser extent, Miles (antagonist). All of these speak with their own distinctive voice, have well established and consistent traits which makes them stand out from one another and are reasonably well established in their goals and motives. I really can’t say anything bad about the characters and that alone makes a book worth reading.

Worldbuilding, of course, is something Sanderson is famous for doing well and the worldbuilding in The Allow of Law is no exception. While still firmly rooted in the world he established in the original trilogy, three centuries have passed since the events of The Hero of Ages and the world has moved on into industry, science and all the challenges any society might face while it is on the brink of modernity. It is unsurprising then that an emphasis is placed on crime, law and civil order, however we also get a good flavour for how religion and culture has developed over the centuries in a world in which metal endows some people with magic.

My main criticism of this book is that the pacing was just a shade too fast without much respite. There were a lot of action and fighting scenes, which can be cumbersome at the best of times, and even more so when the reader has to pause to remember what happens when a Coinshot pushes steel or a Bloodmaker taps his goldmind. And let me tell you, there’s a lot of that in this book.

Readers who are unfamiliar with the Mistborn world might want to read the original trilogy first. While the story is distinct enough from the original that it can stand alone, it is nevertheless deeply grounded in Sanderson’s original creation and tends to assume a certain level of knowledge from the reader about the world the story is set in (especially the magic system).

All in all, a fantastic little book. I’m not convinced it’s Sanderson’s finest work (he has set his standards so high) but it’s a good read and a strong successor to his earlier masterpiece.

⭐⭐⭐⭐


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AUTHOR INTERVIEWS:

Due to a recent surge in interest, I am presently committed to a significant number of reviews/interviews over the next couple of months. If you would like an interview or review, I would still love to hear from you, though it is unlikely that I will be able to begin work immediately.

You can check out our previous interviews here:

Super Snappy Speed Reviews: Cbeebies Edition

It’s time for another exciting edition of Super Snappy Speed Reviews. This week, I’m focusing exclusively on children’s TV from the Cbeebies channel, so roll up, parents of toddlers, as I review this small selection of my own little girl’s favourite TV shows.

You all know how these things work by now. I’ve selected five random children’s shows from the Cbeebies channel and written tiny little reviews of each of them. As ever these reviews reflect nothing more than my own personal opinions and impressions, squished, squeezed and diminished into just a few short sentences. The shows I have selected have nothing in common, save the fact that they are all fictional stories for very young children and are all found on Cbeebies. They are not necessarily TV shows that I or my daughter particularly liked or disliked, nor are they sorted into any particular order. So, here we go.

Raa Raa The Noisey Lion

A young lion has fun playing with other animals (including some who really ought to be his natural prey) in the Jingly Jangley Jungle. In the first series the show’s format is a little ill-defined, but by series 3 this insufferably self-absorbed little lion hears a different sound which he goes off to investigate and learns an important lesson along the way. Not bad, I suppose but I find the protagonist a bit of a pain (and I suspect his animal friends do too).

⭐⭐⭐

Postman Pat: Special Delivery Service

Postman Pat sure has evolved since my day. There’s a lot more excitement as Pat races against a ticking clock and insurmountable odds to deliver a particular item to the right place. Even as a grown-up, I do find it mildly entertaining and my daughter loves it. A firm favourite of both myself and my daughter.

⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐

Woolly and Tig

Right from the heart of my native Glasgow, Woolly and Tig follows the every day adventures of a little girl called Tig and her toy spider, Woolly, who occasionally springs to life to impart some pearl of wisdom whenever Tig encounters something new or confusing. This show has a cheap and cheerful feel to it but is nice to watch all the same. Another firm favourite of my daughter.

⭐⭐⭐⭐

The Twirlywoos

At first glance, this is a bizarre little program about a family of faintly bird-like creatures who live on a boat under the benevolent dictatorship of the faceless ‘hooter.’ Every now and again their boat will land and the hooter will send the Twirlywoos off into the real world to learn some new concept. Apart from being a little strange on the surface, it’s actually pretty good for teaching young kids some very basic concepts. My own daughter is a bit too old for it now and hasn’t really watched it for a good year or two but she loved it when she was still very little.

And in a weird way… so did I.

⭐⭐⭐⭐

Bitz and Bob

Ah yes, my daughter’s latest obsession. Bitz and Bob is about a girl and her little brother playing imaginative games with their toys and using science to solve problems. Entertaining and educational (though I don’t understand why Bob’s robot costume is the only ‘toy’ that doesn’t function in their imaginative games; it’s almost like Bitz has a pathological need to be the hero every single time). However, be warned, gentle parents: the music may drive adults to drink.

⭐⭐⭐

DON’T FORGET TO CHECK OUT ALL THE PREVIOUS EDITIONS OF SUPER SNAPPY SPEED REVIEWS
Super Snappy Speed Reviews: Children’s Edition (Vol. 4)Super Snappy Speed Reviews: TV Edition (Vol. 3)
Super Snappy Speed Reviews: Books (Vol. 4)Super Snappy Speed Reviews: Children’s Edition (Vol. 2)
Super Snappy Speed Reviews: Doctor Who EditionSuper Snappy Speed Reviews: Children’s Books Edition (vol 1)
Super Snappy Speed Reviews: TV Edition (vol. 2)Super Snappy Speed Reviews: Writing Apps for Android
Super Snappy Speed Reviews: Books (vol. 3)Super Snappy Speed Reviews: Games Edition
Super Snappy Speed Reviews: Star Trek EditionSuper Snappy Speed Reviews: Books (vol. 2)
8 Super Snappy Speed Reviews: Film5 Super Snappy Speed Reviews: TV Edition
8 Super Snappy Speed Reviews

Thanks for taking the time to read this post. If you enjoyed it, don’t forget to ‘like’ this post and also follow us so you never miss another post. You can also follow Penstricken on TwitterPinterest and like Penstricken on Facebook.

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ATTENTION AUTHORS:

Every Tuesday, I post a new edition of Spotlight: a short post which shines a proverbial spotlight on a published novel or collection of short fiction. If you would like to have your book considered for a future edition of Spotlightdrop us an e-mail including a short synopsis of your book and a link to where we can buy it. Better yet, send me a copy of your book and I can include a mini-review.

I’m still looking to interview fiction authors here on Penstricken, especially new or indie authors. Whether it’s books, plays, comics or any other kind of fiction, if you’ve got something written, I want to hear about it. If you’re interested in having your work featured on Penstricken, be to sure to drop us an e-mail or message us on Facebook/Twitter/Pinterest.

Please be advised that due to a recent surge in interest, I am presently committed to a significant number of reviews/interviews over the next couple of months. If you would like an interview or review, I would still love to hear from you, though it is unlikely that I will be able to begin work immediately.

You can check out our previous interviews here:

Throwback Thursday: Using Google Docs for Writing Fiction

Originally published 01/12/2019

I’ve resisted using Google Docs for writing fiction for a long time. It’s not that I think there’s anything wrong with Google Docs. Lots of people swear by it and I had no reason to doubt the good reports I was hearing, however I’m already pretty well established in the apps I like to use (Scrivener for long works like novels and Focus Writer for shorter pieces). Besides, in spite of all the good things I’d heard about Google Docs, it sounded a bit too much like a plain old fashioned word processor, without any peculiar functionality that might make it stand out to a fiction writer such as myself.

However, Christmas is coming. And here on Penstricken, Christmas can only ever mean one thing: the Penstricken Christmas Special. That meant I had only a few weeks to write, edit and publish a 1,000 word Christmas story and – to be perfectly frank – I don’t have a lot of time on my hands for starting a brand new story from scratch. I have a full time job, a toddler and (lest we forget) a novel I’m supposed to be writing. Most days I’m lucky to get half an hour to write, and I can’t possibly devote it all to the Penstricken Christmas Special. Then I had a brainwave:

Google Docs stores your work online so you can continue writing on the go!

My plan was to use a set portion of my normal writing time to work on the Christmas story using Google Docs on my PC, while using the Google Docs Android app on my phone to continue writing whenever I had a spare five minutes in my day (when I’m on the bus, during lunch breaks, etc).

Seeing no alternative to this plan, I swallowed my pride and began writing my first draft on Google Docs, starting with the browser version. The first thing to do is choose a template for your document. There are loads to choose from and not one of them has anything to do with fiction writing. Unwilling to be deterred, however (I mean, really, you don’t particularly need a fancy template for writing short works of fiction), I decided to start with a blank template.

So far, my thoughts on the subject had been proven absolutely right. At first glance, Google Docs really is just another word processor. In some respects, this was a good thing. It took absolutely no time to learn how to use, since everything is very familiar to anyone who has ever used a bog-standard word processor before. Another major selling point was the fact it automatically saved your work to Google Drive and instantly made it available to you anywhere in the world. You can also make your work available offline.

Perhaps its most obvious selling point is the fact you can share your work with other users who can edit your work or add comments. This is handy if you’re writing collaboratively or are looking for someone to give feedback on your work. Comments appear in small boxes to the side of your work which are anchored to particular portions of the document. You can reply to each comment, allowing for easy discussion with your fellow editors and, once you’re happy the issue has been resolved, you just click the button labelled ‘resolve’ to hide the comment. Personally, I like to write alone but I do find the comments function a useful tool for getting feedback on my writing.

Another key feature I found useful as a story writer was the outline function. It took me a little while to figure out just how to use this, but essentially the outline feature allows you quickly navigate around your document using headers, which is essential if you’re creating a lengthy piece of work and don’t have the benefit of Scrivener’s binder for separating your work into chapters and scenes. Alas, you can’t do too much to customise your outline. It’s basically just a list of links to every portion of text you’ve formatted as a heading, but you can’t use it for actually outlining or planning your story in any meaningful way.

My one big concern with using Docs to write my Christmas story was the mobile app. My plan relied pretty heavily on being able to seamlessly transition between the PC browser and the mobile app, but in my experience, mobile writing apps are often clunky, cluttered and have limited functionality. Fortunately, it wasn’t nearly as bad as I feared. There’s a small menu bar at the top and bottom of the screen as you write, allowing you to easily access to basic functionality such as formatting your text, adding comments or undoing and redoing. Everything else is discreetly tucked away in a menu you can access by tapping the button on the top right hand corner of the screen.

In short, Google Docs is a good online word processor and is has more than adequately served my needs when it comes to writing this Christmas flash fiction. I don’t think it would be much use in the planning stages of any story and I certainly wouldn’t fancy writing a longer piece of work on it, but for every day short story writing on the go, it’s more than equal to the task.

And hey, it’s free.

My rating: 🌟🌟🌟🌟


Thanks for taking the time to read this post. If you enjoyed it, don’t forget to ‘like’ this post and also follow us so you never miss another post. You can also follow Penstricken on TwitterPinterest and like Penstricken on Facebook.

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ATTENTION AUTHORS:

Every Tuesday, I post a new edition of Spotlight: a short post which shines a proverbial spotlight on a published novel or collection of short fiction. If you would like to have your book considered for a future edition of Spotlightdrop us an e-mail including a short synopsis of your book and a link to where we can buy it. Better yet, send me a copy of your book and I can include a mini-review.

I’m still looking to interview fiction authors here on Penstricken, especially new or indie authors. Whether it’s books, plays, comics or any other kind of fiction, if you’ve got something written, I want to hear about it. If you’re interested in having your work featured on Penstricken, be to sure to drop us an e-mail or message us on Facebook/Twitter/Pinterest.

Please be advised that due to a recent surge in interest, I am presently committed to a significant number of reviews/interviews over the next couple of months. If you would like an interview or review, I would still love to hear from you, though it is unlikely that I will be able to begin work immediately.

You can check out our previous interviews here:

TV Review: Norsemen

Spoiler Alert

Anyone who has not seen series 1-3 of the NRK TV series Norsemen is hereby advised that this post may contain a few unavoidable spoilers.

My wife and I were, once again, looking for something new and light-hearted to watch on Netflix when we stumbled upon a curious little number which we affectionately dubbed ‘silly Vikings.’ Norsemen is a Norwegian historical comedy which chronicles the silly, base and often senselessly violent comings and goings of a group of Vikings living in the village of Norheim in 790 AD.

I’ll be perfectly honest and say it took a long time for us to decide if we actually liked this program. Normally when we watch a new thing on TV we have a strict ‘turn it off if you don’t like it’ policy and this show took a good two or three episodes to really get going. Nevertheless there was something compelling about it even then and we stuck with it until the very end.

But was it any good?‘ I hear you cry.

There’s something in me that says this map will create a lot of problems for many people for several seasons.

Jarl Varg breaks the fourth wall in, s.3, e.6 ‘Scrotum Whipping’

In spite of the fact this show is sold as a comedy (and with its off-beat style, low-brow gags and occasional winks at the fourth wall, it unmistakably should be defined as such), I didn’t actually find it that funny. It had its moments, sure, but I hardly cracked a rib watching it either. But let me tell you why I enjoyed it anyway.

Unlike a lot of comedies which focus on an individual character getting into funny situations, this show actually had quite a few main players, all with well defined motives, goals and conflicts which the viewer could easily sympathise with. I don’t have time to list every one but a few that stood out include:

  • Arvid (Nils Jørgen Kaalstad) – torn between settling down in the village with a wife and his love of raiding and just a little sensitive about his weight, Arvid is hand picked by the chiefton on his deathbed to be his successor though he is not the next in line.
  • Orm (Kåre Conradi) – cowardly, lonely and with a fondness for spying on people as they defecate, this slipperly little man is next in line to be chiefton though no one wants him around.
  • Frøya (Silje Torp) – this muscle-bound female warrior loves to go on raids (including raping men). She also has the misfortune of being married to Orm, whom she despises.
  • Liv (Kristine Riis) – gold-digger and nagging wife par excellence.
  • Jarl Varg (Jon Øigarden) – one of the nicest guys you could ever hope to meet turned murderous tyrant because his friends made fun of his hair loss, Varg is obsessed with procuring a map to the West where he believes he will find endless plunder.

The character driven nature of the plot and the interplay of the various subplots was frankly excellent for a comedy series.

A little word of warning: while not especially graphic, there are some pretty adults themes referred to in this show. There’s a fair bit of casual violence and bad language, as well as jokes about sexual violence and a small number of mild/non-graphic depictions of the same.

All in all, a bizarre little show, undeniably low-brow in some respects and with off-beat humour that only managed to tickle me slightly. It took a little while to get started, but once it finally did get going, I found myself quickly starting to love it. Well written, well acted, full of rich characters and perfectly rounded off plot. If you can stomach a few adult themes and don’t mind the odd nod to the fourth wall then give it a go.

⭐⭐⭐⭐


Thanks for taking the time to read this post. If you enjoyed it, don’t forget to ‘like’ this post and also follow us so you never miss another post. You can also follow Penstricken on TwitterPinterest and like Penstricken on Facebook.

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ATTENTION AUTHORS:

Every Tuesday, I post a new edition of Spotlight: a short post which shines a proverbial spotlight on a published novel or collection of short fiction. If you would like to have your book considered for a future edition of Spotlightdrop us an e-mail including a short synopsis of your book and a link to where we can buy it. Better yet, send me a copy of your book and I can include a mini-review.

I’m still looking to interview fiction authors here on Penstricken, especially new or indie authors. Whether it’s books, plays, comics or any other kind of fiction, if you’ve got something written, I want to hear about it. If you’re interested in having your work featured on Penstricken, be to sure to drop us an e-mail or message us on Facebook/Twitter/Pinterest.

Please be advised that due to a recent surge in interest, I am presently committed to a significant number of reviews/interviews over the next couple of months. If you would like an interview or review, I would still love to hear from you, though it is unlikely that I will be able to begin work immediately.

You can check out our previous interviews here:

TV Review: Stranger Things

SPOILER ALERT

Anyone who has not seen series 1-3 of the Netflix TV show Stranger Things is hereby advised that this post may contain a few unavoidable spoilers.

There’s a very popular show on Netflix that I had resisted watching for a long time. Don’t ask me why but I get all cynical when everyone and their granny tells me how mind-bendingly fantastic a TV show is, especially when it sounds frankly lame, as this show did. Not only did it sound lame but it was also a genre I generally don’t have much interest in so all in all, I was pretty convinced this show couldn’t have been nearly as good as people told me it was. I am talking, of course, about Stranger Things.

In spite of that, my wife and I were struggling to find something to watch one night (isn’t that always the way?) so we decided to take a pop at it.

Set in the 1980s, this story focuses on a sleepy little town in Indiana where nothing much happens– until, of course, a young boy vanishes without a trace, a gateway to another dimension (‘the Upside-Down’) filled with terrifying monsters is opened up and a young girl with psychokinetic abilities escapes from a top secret laboratory which is conducting paranormal experiments and only a small group of nerdy school-friends, a teenage girl who can’t decide which boy she likes best, a local police officer with a tragic past and the missing boy’s mother can save the day.

If you’re thinking this sounds like a bit of a kitchen sink show, you’re absolutely right. The Duffer brothers who created the show seem to have painstakingly pieced together every single last light-hearted ’80s American sci-fi/horror trope they could think of and mashed them together to create this show. But you know… it’s not nearly as bad as it sounds.

In many respects, it has a bit of a Spielberg vibe to it, and I guess I say that as a compliment. It doesn’t just feel like it’s set in the ’80s. It feels like it was made in the ’80s. The use of classic tropes, cheesy synth music and so on take you right back in time to 1980s Indiana and in doing so pays homage to classic 1980s cinema in a way which just feels right.

However, a good vibe will only take a TV show so far. As is so often the case with good stories, the thing that really makes this show work is its rich cast of characters. Each and every one of them boasts a clear and distinctive set of motives and goals and well rounded personalities. The relationships between the main players develops in a way which is natural and interesting and the main characters’ arcs are all resolved neatly by the end of each season.

I think the thing that surprised me the most is how entertaining I found this show. A good film or TV show will have you laughing, crying and biting your nails all at the same time and Stranger Things accomplishes this in a way most shows and films of this genre usually fail to do. It kept me on the edge of my seat yet it didn’t stress me out the way some sci-fi/horror shows do which lack any sort of sentimental scenes or comedy relief. Stranger Things has it all. It is, perhaps, a little tropey and with frankly ridiculous monsters whose existence is never fully explained except that they come from a parallel dimension which looks like a scarier version of the real world with monsters but it’s still a great bit of TV if you can swallow the silliness.

All in all, a much more entertaining show than I was expecting. Give it a go.

⭐⭐⭐⭐


Thanks for taking the time to read this post. If you enjoyed it, don’t forget to ‘like’ this post and also follow us so you never miss another post. You can also follow Penstricken on TwitterPinterest and like Penstricken on Facebook.

Want a blog of your own? Start writing today with WordPress.com!

WordPress.com Jetpack WooCommerce

ATTENTION AUTHORS:

Every Tuesday, I post a new edition of Spotlight: a short post which shines a proverbial spotlight on a published novel or collection of short fiction. If you would like to have your book considered for a future edition of Spotlightdrop us an e-mail including a short synopsis of your book and a link to where we can buy it. Better yet, send me a copy of your book and I can include a mini-review.

I’m still looking to interview fiction authors here on Penstricken, especially new or indie authors. Whether it’s books, plays, comics or any other kind of fiction, if you’ve got something written, I want to hear about it. If you’re interested in having your work featured on Penstricken, be to sure to drop us an e-mail or message us on Facebook/Twitter/Pinterest.

Please be advised that due to a recent surge in interest, I am presently committed to a significant number of reviews/interviews over the next couple of months. If you would like an interview or review, I would still love to hear from you, though it is unlikely that I will be able to begin work immediately.

You can check out our previous interviews here:

Throwback Thursday: Ready Player One (Book Review)

Originally published 22/07/2018 under the title ‘Book Review: Ready Player One’
SPOILER ALERT

While every effort has been made to avoid spoilers in this post, anyone who has not read Ready Player One by Ernest Cline is hereby advised that this post may contain a few unavoidable spoilers.

‘Enchanting. Willy Wonka meets The Matrix‘ (USA Today). That’s what the little quotation says on the front cover of Ready Player One by Ernest Cline.

High praise indeed. High enough to make me buy it and read it. But I know what you’re thinking: ‘did it deliver?’

The opening chapters of this novel introduce us to Wade Watts: a super-geek teenage boy living in a dystopian not-too-distant future. He’s bitter, cynical and spends most of his time hiding from his abusive aunt in the OASIS: a (seemingly endless) online virtual reality/computer game. There, he dreams of finding the ‘Easter egg‘ which the OASIS’ programmer created, promising in his will that whoever found it would gain full control of the OASIS and get all of his considerable wealth. There’s also a fairly unremarkable romantic sub-plot thrown in there for good measure (Wade meets a girl on the internet, falls in love with her though he’s never met her, she keeps him at arms length because she’s insecure about something, turns out she’s got a birth mark on her face, Wade still loves her anyway, they meet in real life after thwarting the bad guys, kissy kissy, the end).

In a word, Ready Player One is a good, fun story. Not at all bad for a debut novel. It was a little hard to suspend my disbelief at points, as he breezes through impossible odds just a little too often for my taste (I know he’s smart and I know he’s good at computer games, but come on). Don’t get me wrong though, this book is still a real page-turner. I think geeks, gamers and lovers of retro will probably find it far more enjoyable than the rest of humanity because it is bursting with gaming lingo and references to computer games, TV shows, movies and music from the 1980s, some of which may be lost on the uninitiated, though I think Cline still does a pretty good job explaining everything without too much info-dumping. No small achievement in a story of this kind.

The first-person narrative style was, for the most part, a joy to read and let us get right under the skin of Wade as all good first person narratives should. If I was being hyper-critical about the narrative voice, I would only add that it sometimes felt like Wade spent the whole novel ‘getting the hell out of Dodge’. I don’t know how often he used that expression but… it was a lot. I know people tend to use the same expressions over and over in real life but still…

Anyway, let’s talk bad guys. Innovative Online Industries (led by the unrepentant Nolan Sorrento) are a global internet service provider who are determined to seize the Easter Egg before anyone else so that they can charge people to use the OASIS and use it as an advertising space. Their methods range from the unfair to the downright brutal (blowing up houses, throwing people out of windows and so forth). Absolutely no redeeming qualities whatsoever as far as I could tell. If you like a bad guy you can boo and hiss at, you’ll love these guys. If you want a bad guy you can sympathise with, you’d better look elsewhere because these guys are b-b-bad to the bone: slippery, devious and with seemingly limitless resources, there is simply no low to which they will not stoop in their quest for the Egg. In spite of this, I actually quite liked them. Yeah they’re a bit two dimensional but… dang, they’re just so much fun to boo at. However, without wanting to give too much away, I will say that I was really looking forward to an epic final battle between Wade and Sorrento and I didn’t really get one. I mean, yes, there’s a battle but it was over before it started. Wade kicked butt, raced Sorrento to the Egg and… got there first. Wade wins. The end. If only Sorrento had had one more ace up his sleeve in that final scene, I would’ve been satisfied but no. He just loses.

Digging a little deeper, I get the impression Cline was trying to build a bit of a theme, paralleling Wade’s search for the Easter Egg with religion; or at the very least, with higher causes in general (for instance, consider the way Wade treats Anorak’s Almanac almost as if it were some kind of holy scripture). I’m not sure if this was deliberate but I think it was. It’s the only explanation I can think of for the lengthy ‘religion-is-stupid’ diatribe in chapter one, and for the devout Christian minor-character who appears just long enough for Wade to compare the Hunt for the Easter Egg to Christianity:

I never had the heart to tell her that I thought organised religion was a total crock. It was a pleasant fantasy that gave her hope and kept her going– which was exactly what the Hunt was for me.

Ernest Cline, Ready Player One, ch. 1

It’s either that or he was soapboxing. Possibly both. Either way, it was a good idea for a theme but it could’ve done with a bit of work. It kind of fizzles out without reaching any conclusion that I can see.

All in all, a great story. A little weak on a few technical points, but an enjoyable read and an enthralling adventure all the same. And yes, it is vaguely reminiscent of Willy Wonka and The Matrix.

My rating: 🌟🌟🌟🌟


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ATTENTION AUTHORS:

Every Tuesday, I post a new edition of Spotlight: a short post which shines a proverbial spotlight on a published novel or collection of short fiction. If you would like to have your book considered for a future edition of Spotlightdrop us an e-mail including a short synopsis of your book and a link to where we can buy it. Better yet, send me a copy of your book and I can include a mini-review.

I’m still looking to interview fiction authors here on Penstricken, especially new or indie authors. Whether it’s books, plays, comics or any other kind of fiction, if you’ve got something written, I want to hear about it. If you’re interested in having your work featured on Penstricken, be to sure to drop us an e-mail or message us on Facebook/Twitter/Pinterest.

Please be advised that due to a recent surge in interest, I am presently committed to a significant number of reviews/interviews over the next couple of months. If you would like an interview or review, I would still love to hear from you, though it is unlikely that I will be able to begin work immediately.

You can check out our previous interviews here:

Throwback Thursday: Can’t Afford Scrivener? Try yWriter.

Originally published: 12/11/2017

Many years ago, when I decided to make my first serious attempt at writing a novel, I did what a lot of enthusiastic beginners probably do: I searched high and low for the perfect novel writing app. I didn’t know about Scrivener back then (in fact, I’m not even sure it was available for Windows at that time) but I did come across another app in a similar vein called yWriter by Spacejock Software. I attempted my first ever novel with it and I absolutely swore by it for a long time. Only the discovery of Scrivener for Windows really turned my head. However, in homage to auld lang syne, I’ve decided to download and review the most recent version of yWriter (specifically, yWriter6) for those of you who don’t want to spend any money (for there is no other good reason not to get Scrivener).

yWriter1
Fig. 1

yWriter’s main window (fig. 1) is, for the most part, fairly self-explanatory. Like Scrivener, it allows you to organise your various notes on characters, settings, etc. and, like Scrivener, it allows you to organise your work into separate chapters and scenes. You can either begin with a blank project or you can use the project wizard… which is basically the same as making a blank project, only you begin by specifying the title, author’s name and file directory you want to save it to before you begin, thereby saving yourself thirty seconds later on.

ywriter-editor
Fig. 2

The window which you use to actually write your scene is also pretty self-explanatory for anyone even remotely familiar with ordinary word processors. Unlike many modern word processors, however, you are essentially restricted to writing in a rich text box rather than on a virtual page. As such, there is no easy way to format your page layout (rulers, margins, etc). However, in addition to the features you would expect to find on any word processor, you also have the ability to hear your story read out to you by Microsoft David or Microsoft Zira (a feature which can be handy for helping you to edit a manuscript you’ve grown overly familiar with) and there’s a whole host of tabs on this window which allow you to edit all sorts of information pertaining to the scene you’re working on, if you find that sort of thing useful. You can also easily jump from one scene to another using the drop down menus at the bottom of the scene editing window.

Though this app is simple in many ways, and certainly lacks the flexibility of Scrivener, it does boast a plethora of handy little features which you can use or ignore as you see fit. I doubt if you’ll be inclined to use all of them and I don’t have nearly enough space here to mention them all, but suffice to say it seems pretty obvious to me that the developers have tried to appeal to a broad spectrum of novelists by adding a variety of tools.

ywriter-ratings
Fig. 3

Personally, I am rather fond of the word usage window, which shows you a list of every word used in your story and tells you how often you’ve used it; a handy feature if you’re given to tediously repeating certain turns of phrase over and over again. In addition, the help menu includes a ‘writing tips’ option, which brings up a simple message window containing a snippet of handy writing advice such as ‘take a 5-10 minute break every hour. Walk, exercise, make a drink’ and ‘sometimes it’s quicker to rewrite a short scene from scratch than to keep editing it’. You can also rate the relevance, tension, humour and quality of each scene you write and collate that information into a handy-dandy line-graph (fig. 3), which could be a potentially useful tool when you come to edit your drafts (assuming you can be honest with yourself about the quality of your work). The tools for developing characters, settings and items which appear in your story are simple enough to use, if a little basic and inflexible, although there’s plenty of room for writing whatever notes you want.

If there’s one major thing yWriter lacks, it is the ability to compile your manuscript into a suitable format for distribution. For instance, with Scrivener, you can easily compile your work into a variety of useful formats including (but not limited to) standard manuscript format, screenplay format or e-book format– and of course, if none of the presets appeal to you, you can customise your own format. You can’t do any of that with yWriter. It does allow you to export your project in a variety of ways, but if you’ve got any serious plans to submit your work for publication, you’ll need to transfer your exported project to a suitable word processor and format it yourself.

I realise I’ve unintentionally spent a lot of time here comparing yWriter to Scrivener but I hope you won’t misunderstand my intentions. I really like yWriter. Yes, there is room for further development but I do think it’s worth trying, especially for new authors who are just dipping their toe into novel writing for the first time. Nevertheless, bells and whistles not withstanding, it is quite limited when it is compared to more expensive tools like Scrivener. My advice would be to give it a go. You may find yWriter is more than sufficient for your own particular needs, in which case you should be able to get your novel written and save yourself a few bob into the bargain.

My rating: 🌟🌟🌟🌟

UPDATE 25/06/20: yWriter 6 and 7 both export to Mobi and Epub using Calibre to create the final output file. You can also export to Latex to create paperback editions.


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ATTENTION AUTHORS:

Every Tuesday, I post a new edition of Spotlight: a short post which shines a proverbial spotlight on a published novel or collection of short fiction. If you would like to have your book considered for a future edition of Spotlightdrop us an e-mail including a short synopsis of your book and a link to where we can buy it. Better yet, send me a copy of your book and I can include a mini-review.

I’m still looking to interview fiction authors here on Penstricken, especially new or indie authors. Whether it’s books, plays, comics or any other kind of fiction, if you’ve got something written, I want to hear about it. If you’re interested in having your work featured on Penstricken, be to sure to drop us an e-mail or message us on Facebook/Twitter/Pinterest.

Please be advised that due to a recent surge in interest, I am presently committed to a significant number of reviews/interviews over the next couple of months. If you would like an interview or review, I would still love to hear from you, though it is unlikely that I will be able to begin work immediately.

You can check out our previous interviews here:

TV Review: Life on Mars

SPOILER ALERT

Anyone who has not seen the BBC comedy/drama series Life on Mars is hereby advised that this review may contain spoilers.

If you told me that you liked your police procedural dramas with a generous dollop of humour, possible time travel and the occasional psychological scene, I would take that to mean you’re a fan of the British police comedy/drama, Life on Mars— because that’s the only program I know that fits the bill (except the sequel, Ashes to Ashes, but I’ll talk about that another time).

DCI Sam Tyler (John Simm) is a British police officer who gets hit by a car in 2006 and wakes up in 1973. The rest of the series catalogues his continual clashes with his new colleagues as he tries to navigate the unfamiliar world of the early ’70s and figure out how to return to the present day. There is also a fairly bog-standard will-they/won’t-they style romantic subplot with WPC Annie Cartwright (Liz White); one of the few characters who doesn’t continually mock and obstruct Tyler, despite her disbelief that he is truly from the future.

So, let’s start with the good things about this program.

For a start, it has got a superb bunch of regular characters. The desperate but righteous Sam; the quiet but strong and intelligent Annie; the blustering, boisterous but ultimately well-meaning Gene Hunt (Philip Glenister); the dim-witted but diligent Chris Skelton (Marshall Lancaster) and Ray Carling (Dean Andrews), who serves as something of a foil and rival to Sam throughout the show. The main players are all developed to perfection with good solid character arcs which resolve themselves neatly by the end of the last series. The supporting characters are also well developed but keep their place as supporting characters.

The pacing of this show is also excellent, blending together humour and darkness, mystery and sentiment and, of course, the lingering threat of insanity in a way which feels perfectly natural and leaves the viewer feeling fully entertained.

The overall story arc is also very satisfying. While each episode can more or less stand alone, insofar as there is usually a particular crime which is discovered and solved in each episode, Sam’s confusion about how he ended up in the past and what he needs to do to get home are never far from the fore and the events of each episode lead neatly to the climax at the end of the series.

I don’t have many negative things to say about this show. The romantic subplot between Sam and Annie was a fairly tedious tableau: Annie meets Sam in the first episode, there’s a bit of chemistry. He trusts her with the truth about what he’s going to; she thinks he’s mad but kind of likes him anyway, even though she’s a little hurt that he wants to get back to 2006 when it’s probably not real anyway. That’s pretty much how their relationship goes in every episode until they finally get together at the end of the very last episode. There’s not a whole lot in between. In most episodes he just has a disturbing experience with the Test Card Girl (Rafaella Hutchinson/Harriet Rogers), confides in Annie, Annie is concerned and whines a little that he doesn’t want to stay with her but ultimately tries her best to support him. Repeat.

Apart from that, it was a truly excellent bit of telly. Go and watch it with my blessing.

My rating: 🌟🌟🌟🌟


Thanks for taking the time to read this post. If you enjoyed it, don’t forget to ‘like’ this post and also follow us so you never miss another post. You can also follow Penstricken on TwitterPinterest and like Penstricken on Facebook.

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ATTENTION AUTHORS:

Every Tuesday, I post a new edition of Spotlight: a short post which shines a proverbial spotlight on a published novel or collection of short fiction. If you would like to have your book considered for a future edition of Spotlightdrop us an e-mail including a short synopsis of your book and a link to where we can buy it. Better yet, send me a copy of your book and I can include a mini-review.

I’m still looking to interview fiction authors here on Penstricken, especially new or indie authors. Whether it’s books, plays, comics or any other kind of fiction, if you’ve got something written, I want to hear about it. If you’re interested in having your work featured on Penstricken, be to sure to drop us an e-mail or message us on Facebook/Twitter/Pinterest.

Please be advised that due to a recent surge in interest, I am presently committed to a significant number of reviews/interviews over the next couple of months. If you would like an interview or review, I would still love to hear from you, though it is unlikely that I will be able to begin work immediately.

You can check out our previous interviews here:

TV Review: Another Life

SPOILER ALERT

Anyone who has not seen season 1 of the sci-fi/drama TV show Another Life is hereby advised that this post may contain a few unavoidable spoilers.

My wife and I are seldom happy unless we’re watching at least one TV program with space ships in it and having recently completed Star Trek: Enterprise, we were very much in the market for another space opera. And so we did the only thing we could: dipped our hand into the televisual nest of vipers that is Netflix, only to get bitten by Another Life.

I was cautiously optimistic about this show. In the opening scenes, a mysterious alien object crash-lands on earth and grows into an enormous crystalline monolith (dubbed ‘the Artifact’) which begins sending transmissions to a distant world. Niko Breckinridge (Katee Sackhoff), captain of the Salvare, is ordered to travel to this planet to learn what the aliens are doing, while her husband, Erik (Justin Chatwin) remains on earth to study the Artifact while trying to raise their young daughter.

Sounds good, right?

Yeah. That’s what I thought too.

However, if we ever do have to send a manned spacecraft out on a dangerous mission to make first contact with aliens who may or may not mean us harm, I seriously hope we send a slightly more seasoned (or at least, trained) crew than this mob. These guys seemed to see no problem in eating alien plant-life, taking off their helmets while mining on alien planets or (my personal favourite) vaping alien narcotics, nor did they ever once learn from their mistakes. Their idiocy finally culminated in them deliberately installing a mind-altering alien implant, which they knew virtually nothing about, into a sick colleague’s brain. And as if being stupid weren’t bad enough, this crew, who presumably represent the crème de la crème of America’s astronauts, lost their heads every single time one tiny little thing went wrong– when they weren’t having sex, of course.

The sexual elements in this show (I refuse to exalt them to the level of ‘romantic subplots’, for they were neither romantic nor were they developed enough to be called subplots) lacked any substance or purpose whatsoever. All of the characters were pairing (or tripling) off in ways which seemed forced and unconvincing, finally fizzling out in the episode ‘How the Light Gets Lost’ where they all get high and have sex. Only the chemistry between Niko and the holographic William (Samuel Anderson– easily the best character in this show, by the way) seemed remotely natural or like it was contributing to the overall story in any way, only to be spoilt when Niko and William have really weird ‘hologram-pretending-to-be-my-husband’ sex and then it all went wrong for them too.

‘Big Brother in Space’ is how my wife described this ship and its crew and I am forced to agree.

Anyway, let’s look at some characters.

Niko: One of the few competent people aboard the ship. A bit of a control freak and a hard-nosed no-nonsense space captain who was anxious to protect her family back on Earth. Fairly well written.

William: Best character in this show and easily the most likeable until the ‘Lame Sci-Fi Trope Monster’ got him too and he started to malfunction because he fell in love with someone who treated him badly.

Erik (Justin Chatwin): Your bog-standard American dad trying to raise his daughter all by himself even though he’s also got a really important job to do. Lots of potential but a little too superficial for my taste.

Sasha (Jake Abel): I liked him better after he became a bad guy. He made my skin crawl, which I think was the effect the writers were going for.

Cas (Elizabeth Ludlow): A little preoccupied with her own issues which were never fully explored in this season but generally likeable. Cooler in a crisis than most of the crew.

Michelle: Swears like a trooper but apart from that, she seemed to serve no function whatsoever aboard the Salvare, (I just checked back to see what her job was, turns out she was the communications expert. Ha!) and I was downright glad when she died because she was just such a torn-faced, potty-mouthed pain in the fundament who dragged down both the pace and the tone of the show with her shrill dialogue.

All in all, Another Life failed to live up to its potential. This first season (which ends on a cliffhanger, by the way) was a sloppy mish-mash of sci-fi/horror cliches, pointless sexual tension and a bunch of characters who, for the most part, were as irritating as they were incompetent.

My rating: 🌟


Thanks for taking the time to read this post. If you enjoyed it, don’t forget to ‘like’ this post and also follow us so you never miss another post. You can also follow Penstricken on TwitterPinterest and like Penstricken on Facebook.

Want a blog of your own? Start writing today with WordPress.com!

WordPress.com Jetpack WooCommerce

ATTENTION AUTHORS:

Every Tuesday, I post a new edition of Spotlight: a short post which shines a proverbial spotlight on a published novel or collection of short fiction. If you would like to have your book considered for a future edition of Spotlightdrop us an e-mail including a short synopsis of your book and a link to where we can buy it. Better yet, send me a copy of your book and I can include a mini-review.

I’m still looking to interview fiction authors here on Penstricken, especially new or indie authors. Whether it’s books, plays, comics or any other kind of fiction, if you’ve got something written, I want to hear about it. If you’re interested in having your work featured on Penstricken, be to sure to drop us an e-mail or message us on Facebook/Twitter/Pinterest.

Please be advised that due to a recent surge in interest, I am presently committed to a significant number of reviews/interviews over the next couple of months. If you would like an interview or review, I would still love to hear from you, though it is unlikely that I will be able to begin work immediately.

You can check out our previous interviews here: