Thursday, August 27, 2015

Armada by Ernest Cline

Zack Lightman is stuck in the past. The 80’s to be exact. Having never met his father, who died at 19 in a freak accident when Zack was a baby, he spends his days obsessing over the same interests his father had. 

Video games? Check.

Mixed tapes with bands like Rush, Pink Floyd, and AC/DC? Check. 

Collection of 80’s science fiction and video game movies? Check. 

Zack spends most of his time playing Armada and Terra Firma, two MMORPG’s that virtually everyone in the world plays. Armada is set in space, the purpose of the game to fight off an evil alien race by controlling state of the art ships stolen from the alien technology. Its sister game, Terra Firma, is set on the ground, with players manipulating large robots to defeat the aliens who land on Earth. Zack is a master at Armada, so much so that he ranks #6 in the top ten players in the world. But as he nears his graduation from high school, he begins to wonder what exactly he is going to do with his life. Playing video games for a living isn’t a possibility. Is he destined for greatness like his mother says? The answer comes to him when he is sitting in class one day and spots an alien spaceship flying around outside his window. And not just any spaceship. This is an exact replica of those found in Armada. But no one else sees it, and he is left wondering if he is going crazy just like his old man. Zack’s father was obsessed with discovering a supposed government plot that involved video games and science fiction movies, which he documented in a notebook left for Zack. But Zack wrote it off as the crazy ramblings of a 19 year old kid. Now he’s not so sure his dad wasn’t right all along. When he gets whisked away to a government facility along with other master players, he gets some of the answers he is looking for. Specifically, aliens are real, and they are coming to earth in less than 24 hours to kill us all. The government’s defensive strategy? Train all the people of the world over several decades how to fight the aliens by manipulating them into playing video games that are designed to be exactly like the alien invaders. But as Zack readies himself for the invasion, he realizes that not everything is as it seems. And with some help from some old and new friends, he will discover what it will really take to save the world.

I wanted to love this book. I really wanted to. I’m a huge fan of Cline’s other work, an immensely popular novel entitled Ready Player One. It’s not really fair to compare the two, since they are vastly different. Yes they both include elements of the 80’s, as well as a male protagonist who is into gaming. But the similarities stop there. I guess my biggest problem with Armada was that there wasn’t much to it. The whole book happens in a day. Plus, if you aren’t into gaming, aliens, and/or war strategizing, you probably won’t like the book. I stuck with it because I feel an allegiance to Cline. I ended up liking it ok. Will I want to re-read it like Ready Player One? Probably not. Will I read a sequel to Armada If he writes one? Most likely. I’m hoping that if he does choose to write a sequel that he will flesh out the story more and include more character development. It’s kind of hard to allow a character to grow when all the action takes place in one day. If you are a fan of Cline, definitely read Armada. Just don’t expect to like it as much as Ready Player One.  -LT

Friday, August 21, 2015

Alien (1979)

Alien (1979) starring Tom Skerritt, Sigourney Weaver, Veronica Cartwright, Harry Dean Stanton, John Hurt, Ian Holm, and Yaphet Kotto.

This is one of my all-time favorite movies, and although the franchise has seen a total of four films (with one additional film forthcoming), three spin-off films, novels, graphic novels, games, and a healthy fan following, this movie, Alien, is where it all began.

Synopsis: The space freighter Nostromo has picked up a distress signal coming from a nearby planet.  The ship awakens its crew, who then land on the planet to investigate the source of the distress.  During the investigation, an unknown organism attaches itself to a crew member who is brought back onto the ship, breaking quarantine protocol.

Yes, this film is sci-fi/horror, but of the kind that embraces art: atmospheric, beautiful, understated.  Unlike many films today of the same genre that feature fast action, laser blasts, and enormous, impossible CGI monsters waging CGI battle with the main characters, our movie is sleek, dark, and intelligent, much like the alien itself.  One of the best things about this film is Ridley Scott's ability to play to man's worst fear: the fear of the unknown.  And although the alien is indeed the main source of conflict, it's not the only source, and its very presence draws out the true substance and depth of personality from each crew member.  Featuring a cast of only seven, Scott draws brilliant, earthy performances from each of them.  Of particular interest is Sigourney Weaver's performance as Ripley, the main protagonist of our film and the role that firmly cemented Weaver as an able actress, and Ripley, one of film history's greatest (strong) female icons.

Alien was the recipient and nominee for a plethora of film awards, and you can read all about them at IMDB.

Alien is screening at the library today at 3PM - come join me!  Bring your snacks and leave your faint-heartedness at home, this film is Rated R for sci-fi violence/gore and language (but it's really not that bad, you'll sleep fine, I promise).  -JW

If you can't make it to our special screening (I will be very sad) you'll still be able to place a hold on it after it's been added to the library's film collection.

Wednesday, August 19, 2015

Beautiful Lego by Mike Doyle

Lego building bricks aren’t just toys anymore – they haven’t been for a long time.  In Beautiful Lego, master builder Mike Doyle collects the astounding creations of dozens of Lego artists across the globe.  That’s right, artwork constructed entirely from Lego bricks!  This book is a visual feast of all that is wrought by the imaginations of Lego dreamers.  Fantasy landscapes, scenes of destruction, scenes of renewal, historic buildings, tree castles, bugs, critters, aliens, starships, classic cars, it’s all here and fully realized in brick-sized splendor.

If there are any drawbacks at all to this book, it is that the number of bricks used to create each piece should have been listed, as well as an additional photo taken of each model with a person standing alongside so the scale of the model could be fully realized.  For example, the city of Odan, the Lego creation featured on the book’s cover, was created by Mike Doyle out of 200,000 Lego pieces, and unless you’re someone who’s familiar with your Legos, it’s difficult to fully appreciate how big this city is.

Are you a young Lego enthusiast?  Join Friday Fun from 3-5PM every Friday in the Children’s Department for free-building Lego time.

If you’re a teen, the Tech Lab has Lego Mindstorms robotics kits to tinker with.  Also, if you love playing the Lego Video games, the Tech Lab has just added Lego Jurassic World to their Wii-U collection!  Ask for Cody or Jennifer if you need a sidekick.

Thursday, August 13, 2015

The Constant Gardener (2000) by John Le Carre/film by Fernando Meirelles (2005)

John Le Carre is without a doubt one of the finest English authors of the 20th Century. His novels featuring British spy George Smiley are masterful espionage stories that feature psychological complexity and intricate plotting.  Le Carre reportedly drew on his own background in the British Foreign Service for this series, and he may have done so with The Constant Gardener as well.  This book uses a "ripped from the headlines" plot about a pharmacological company performing questionable and sometimes lethal testing on the population of Kenya but wraps the intrigue in a compelling love story.  Its lead character, Justin Quayle, is also the "gardener" of the title, a mid-level diplomat whose wife Tessa, a crusader against the pharma industry, is murdered.  Justin begins his own hunt for the truth behind the crime, painstakingly following her trail and simultaneously reliving the history of their marriage.

Le Carre's novel is a successful blend of suspense and character study.  The love story is perhaps its most affecting aspect; throughout his travels Justin both remembers his wife and sometimes speaks to her, imagining her beside him.  These scenes in lesser hands could have become maudlin, but the author's spare prose never slips too far into sentimentality.  Rather, he builds upon the device, creating a devastating conclusion as Justin finally approaches his answer while surrounding himself with the phantasms of Tessa and other people he has encountered along the way.

As much as I appreciated the novel, however, I have to say that I think the film version works better for me.  Much of Justin's globe-trotting has been pared away from the story, but I found I did not miss the finer details of the pharma plot.  The film stays true to the central relationship and deepens it with flashbacks while taking a more linear approach to the story itself.  Fine performances by Ralph Fiennes and Rachel Wiesz combine with Meirelles' realistic filming style in an entertaining and thought-provoking way.  I'm happy to recommend this title in either form, and may be happily delving into Le Carre's other works in the near future. -BR

Reserve the book or the movie.

Thursday, August 6, 2015

Saint Anything by Sarah Dessen

Sydney has always felt invisible. Overshadowed by her older, handsome brother Peyton, no one ever pays attention to her. But then Peyton goes to prison, convicted of drunk driving and hitting a teenager, paralyzing him from the waist down. Sydney feels terrible and remorseful for the poor boy who was injured, but she feels that she has to carry this burden alone. Her parents only seem to be able to focus on Peyton, her mother obsessing over his well-being to the point of ignoring everything else. Feeling trapped by her brother’s legacy, Sydney decides to switch schools. After her first day, she finds herself drawn to a local pizza joint, where she meets Mac and Layla, two kids her age whose father owns the place. Through them she finds acceptance and friendship. Mac and Layla’s family comes with its own set of problems: a wayward sister and a chronically ill mother. But rather than the dysfunction that is plaguing Sydney’s family, their family grows ever closer through their trials. As Sydney navigates through these two worlds, she finally gains the strength to confront her parents, and begin to heal from the tragedy that has affected them. 

I’ve always been a fan of Sarah Dessen. I consider her to be a kind of female John Green. She is very astute in her portrayal of female teenagers. I found myself relating a lot to Sydney, as I too was a bit of a wallflower in high school who felt invisible. Sydney is a likeable protagonist, and I was pleased with the journey that her character takes throughout the book. Dessen does a great job delving into the dynamics of each family unit, analyzing their relationships and discussing the roles that each member takes. This is a well written book that I would highly recommend to fans of young adult literature by John Green, Sara Zarr, and Maureen Johnson. -LT