Digital Chum - Virtual fish guts and other nonsense


Book and movie reviews

Review: Our Inner Ape: A Leading Primatologist Explains Why We are Who We Are

Our Inner Ape: A Leading Primatologist Explains Why We are Who We Are by Frans de Waal Our Inner Ape: A Leading Primatologist Explains Why We are Who We Are by Frans de Waal
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Very interesting information about research on ape behavior, mostly chimpanzees and bonobos. Their social behaviors are strikingly similar to human behaviors and the author points these out, though not in a simple-minded “We are just apes” manner.

The book doesn’t come to a conclusion about any meaning of human/ape similarities, but focuses more on the wonderment of all the shared behaviors and social structures. Very enjoyable and thought-provoking.

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Review: Zombie Fallout

Zombie Fallout Zombie Fallout by Mark Tufo
My rating: 1 of 5 stars

Before I get started, I should admit that I could only make it halfway through this book because it was so bad, so I’m only reviewing the first half. However, I doubt the second half could have done anything to redeem what I’d already endured.

I really can’t understand all the good reviews of this book. The writing was horrible… inconsistent, juvenile in many cases, and packed full of grammatical errors. There were cultural references that were simply wrong… saying that the American Express motto was “Don’t go anywhere without it.” Really?

The author scattered in a selection of big words every now and then that were completely out of character with the rest of the writing. They weren’t unknown words (like “lugubrious”), but it made it appear as though he was stuck for a word and quickly thumbed through a thesaurus to grab a flashy adjective. It was simply distracting.

The main character was, in turn, smart then stupid then brave then a coward then loving then antagonistic… no consistency. The wife has absolutely no good qualities. It was just bad, bad, bad.

The writing aside, even the zombie part of the story didn’t make sense. One hour after things went spiraling into zombie apocalypse, there were rotting, maggot-ridden corpses? How does that work? The main character, even though he supposedly knew about zombies (from fiction) and had been sort of looking forward to the zombie apocalypse, didn’t seem to know to shoot them in the head. Wait… actually, he did mention that you needed to destroy the brain, but then he would waste entire clips of M16 ammo spraying the body of a single zombie… without killing it.

It was hard enough to stomach the bad writing and really bad characterizations, but then showing no respect for the reader’s ability to suspend disbelief took it over the top and into the land of discarded books.

I tried, though. I really tried.

Review: The Magician King

The Magician King The Magician King by Lev Grossman
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This is a wonderful follow-up to The Magician. Grossman continues the story of Quentin and his friends as they continue their magical adventures, but this time, Julia, his friend who never got into Brakebills, gets equal billing with Quentin, as we head back in numerous flashbacks to see her progression through the magical world that exists outside the academic structure of Brakebills.

Moving deftly between the gritty world of Julia’s past to the present day where Quentin and friends are adventuring, Grossman reunites old friends, introduces some new friends, unloads multiple surprises and twists, and captivates… but never disappoints. The Magician King is possibly (dare I say it) better than what came before.

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Review: The Magicians

The Magicians The Magicians by Lev Grossman
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

The Magicians is an absolutely wonderful book that un-selfconciously references Harry Potter, Narnia, Tolkien, and other fantasy works somehow without being plagiaristic at all. The main characters are wonderfully developed… distinctively different people who complement each other and keep the story racing along without a single dull moment.

Grossman ties the entire book together with articulate grace, weaving seemingly insignificant events at the beginning of the book into key points of the entire over-arching storyline. The Magicians is a truly satisfying read that left me wanting more.

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Review: The Undead Situation

The Undead Situation The Undead Situation by Eloise J. Knapp
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Fairly good, standard zombie fair with an interesting main character. The story “unfolds” rather than “develops” as the characters make their trek to a mountain cabin refuge. I say that because it comes across as almost a “slice of life” tale, without the usual story arc and character epiphany. The main character develops slowly throughout the book (in a very well-written manner), but the book’s ending leaves me thinking that it was just unfinished.

Oh… and having been a ferret owner, I was somewhat miffed at the pet ferret being called a “rodent” multiple times. 😉

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Review: Merchants of Doubt

Merchants of Doubt: How a Handful of Scientists Obscured the Truth on Issues from Tobacco Smoke to Global Warming Merchants of Doubt: How a Handful of Scientists Obscured the Truth on Issues from Tobacco Smoke to Global Warming by Naomi Oreskes
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Merchants of Doubt is an extremely well-written, well-documented history of the shenanigans employed by those who, in an attempt to avoid unfavorable legislation or the potential loss of profit, attempt to discredit the science rather than accept reality and come up with an appropriate solution to the problems of the world.

The history lesson runs the gamut, including cigarette smoking, acid rain, ozone depletion, second-hand smoke, DDT, and of course global warming. The authors lay out their case with heavily documented precision, showing what the actual science indicated and how it was distorted and misrepresented by those who feared the repercussions. The book shows how disinformation and fear-mongering were used to mislead the public about what the actual scientific evidence showed and what degree of certainty the research scientists had reached.

It’s a sad statement about the lengths to which some will go for their ideology.

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Review: The Blind Watchmaker

The Blind Watchmaker by Richard Dawkins The Blind Watchmaker by Richard Dawkins
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I’m not a fan of Dawkins’s writing, as he tends to ramble and go off on tangents that are related to his main point, but sometimes only marginally… and they go on far too long.

There was plenty of good information about evolution in the book, but it was tough to stay with it because of the asides and meanderings. There are much better books on the topic (even his own The Greatest Show on Earth is better, though it suffers from the same problems). In the end, the point that evolution is not a product of random chance is sufficiently made and explained, which is, after all, the intent of the book, so it is successful on that note.

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2004’s Catwoman was really bad

I was going to title this post “Halle Berry’s Catwoman was really bad” but I really didn’t want to blame Halle Berry for it.

I just watched the last 30 minutes or so of the movie on HBO and it reminded how how incredibly awful it was. The story itself… not so bad. Everything else… horrid.

The lighting is off. The camera angles are jarring and seemingly random. The writing seems like it was written by a 14-year-old comic book freak. The acting is even really, really bad… but that could be because of the writing. Some lines can’t be well-delivered no matter how good the actor.

There are times when Halle Berry does a great job being cat-like… expressions, movement, etc. But most of the time, it’s just over the top.

…like she’s possessed by Jim Carrey.


Review: Journey to the Center of the Earth

Journey to the Center of the Earth by Jules Verne Journey to the Center of the Earth by Jules Verne
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

In Journey to the Center of the Earth, Jules Verne weaves a great story, interspersed with somewhat tedious observations about geology, paleontology, and evolution (thought not nearly as tedious as the repetitive classifications of aquatic life found in 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea). The characters are interesting, though the narrator (who is the nephew of the intrepid professor) tends to be whiny and overly dramatic (read “drama queen”) about the perils they are facing, sometimes to the chagrin of his uncle.

I was somewhat disappointed in the ending, and the book should properly be re-titled Journey a Small Percentage of the Way to the Center of the Earth but the story was entertaining, nevertheless. Verne is great at weaving stories in a way that makes it easy for you to imagine being in them yourself, and Journey is no exception.

I listened to the unabridged audio version of the book read by Tim Curry (making the book all the better, in my opinion!).

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Review: Footfall

Footfall by Larry Niven and Jerry Pournelle Footfall by Larry Niven
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

This was perhaps the most tedious science fiction book I’ve ever read… or listened to (I had the audio book). The book had way too many “main” characters, most of whom had no bearing on the outcome of the book. Some seemed completely pointless. The alien names were unnecessarily complex and having a section of the book describing their language and its construction seemed self indulgent (of the authors) and tedious.

The book suffered from a lack of coherent story line, uninteresting characters, pointless dialogue, and unbelievable events. The premise was interesting (alien invasion), but the execution was poor.

I give it two stars only because the narrator of the audio book (MacLeod Andrews) was simply spectacular. His narration was the reason I was able to suffer through the book to the (disappointing) ending.

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