Archive for March, 2018

Whirly Word and 7 Little Words offer smartphone word-search fun

March 31, 2018

By Matthew E. Milliken
MEMwrites.wordpress.com
March 31, 2018

It’s time for another entry in my irregular and infrequent series of app reviews — and this time, it’s a twofer!

I have two word games on my smartphone, neither of which are Scrabble or the popular knockoff Words with Friends.

Some years ago, I downloaded Whirly Word, which challenges the user to make as may words as possible out of the six letters on offer. The letters are arrayed around a sort of dial, the center of which serves as an “enter button” when the player is finished selecting letters. A panel labeled “whirl” moves the letters into a new arrangement, which can be useful when a player feels stuck.

Unlike some word-search apps, Whirly Word lets the user put in every valid word based on the available letters — not just a select few, as is the case with Word Cookies. I’m currently on RABBIT, which makes such rather obscure words as AIT (a small island) and RAI (a type of Algerian music).

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Timothy Zahn builds a fun and engaging science-fiction universe in ‘Night Train to Rigel’

March 21, 2018

By Matthew E. Milliken
MEMwrites.wordpress.com
March 19, 2018

Timothy Zahn’s 2005 novel Night Train to Rigel is a fast-moving thriller set in a galaxy on the verge of war.

The tale, which is the first volume of a five-book series, is narrated by one Frank Compton. A former spy who used to work for the future equivalent of NATO, Compton is more or less between jobs when a bullet-riddled courier hands him a ticket to ride the Quadrail, a transit system that connects star systems around the galaxy.

Compton’s slain recruiter turns out to be an agent of the Spiders, the mysterious mechanical creatures that control the Quadrail. They’re concerned that a malevolent faction may have found a way to circumvent the hyperdimensional railway’s restrictions against transporting weapons. If true, such a development would trigger major bloodshed between the handful of alien empires who control most of the galaxy.

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Characters attempt to stave off madness amidst the deep freeze in Matthew Iden’s entertaining thriller ‘The Winter Over’

March 18, 2018

By Matthew E. Milliken
MEMwrites.wordpress.com
March 18, 2018

Matthew Iden’s 2017 novel The Winter Over is an entertaining thriller set at an isolated Antarctic station beset by a growing number of troubling events.

The main character is an engineer who as the book opens is about to spend her first winter at Shackleton South Pole Research Facility. (This fictitious base is modeled after a real place, the Amundsen-Scott South Pole Station.) Cass Jennings and her colleagues are disturbed to discover, just days before the start of roughly nine months of isolation, that a resident has frozen to death.

That’s hardly the only blow to morale. A few weeks after the deep freeze has cut the station off from the outside world, unexplained glitches disrupt Shackleton’s heat, electrical and communications systems. The outpost’s troubles begin accumulating, placing Jennings and everyone else under extraordinary pressure.

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Suffering out of time: Billy Pilgrim doesn’t quite float above it all in Kurt Vonnegut’s antiwar novel ‘Slaughterhouse-Five’

March 15, 2018

By Matthew E. Milliken
MEMwrites.wordpress.com
March 15, 2018

Slaughterhouse-Five is one of the great antiwar novels of all time. First published during the Vietnam War, it revolves around the fire-bombing of Dresden, Germany, near the end of World War II, a controversial two-day offensive that claimed more than 25,000 lives in a city some thought devoid of military or strategic significance.

The main character, Billy Pilgrim, is a hapless chaplain’s assistant captured during the Battle of the Bulge. Along with other Americans, he’s shipped first to a prisoner-of-war camp and then to Dresden, where the detainees are pressed into involuntary servitude. They survive the bombing because their bomb shelter — a meat locker beneath the titular Slaughterhouse-Five, which is being used as a barracks in part because of livestock shortages — happened to have been dug farther down than nearly all of the city’s other refuges.

Pilgrim’s experiences before, during and after the bombing map closely to those of Vonnegut’s. The novel, published in 1969, is semi-autobiographical: Vonnegut himself makes cameos during a few of the POW scenes and dictates the first chapter, which is really a preface that happens to be presented as the book’s first chapter.

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Although slow to start and saddled with a flawed leading man, Luc Besson’s ‘Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets’ is an entertaining and inventive space opera

March 6, 2018

By Matthew E. Milliken
MEMwrites.wordpress.com
March 6, 2018

For a brief span before the space adventure Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets was released in July 2017, it seemed to be impossible to turn on a television without seeing an advertisement for the movie. Clearly, some corporation or other had made a huge bet on the feature, which was written and directed by prolific Frenchman Luc Besson (La Femme NikitaLucy and many others).

This investment didn’t pay off, at least in the U.S.: Valerian, which was made for an estimated $177 million, was greeted with bafflement and sank with hardly a trace. The movie took in a paltry $41 million in American ticket sales; that ranked 66th among domestic box-office grosses for 2017, just ahead of fellow comic-book adaptation Ghost in the Shell and King Arthur: Legend of the Sword, but was roughly half of what The Emoji Movie and Power Rangers made in 36th and 37th places, respectively.

On the other hand, Valerian had international box-office receipts of nearly $185 million. It wasn’t a runaway hit like, say, The Fate of the Furious, which topped all comers with overseas ticket sales of more than $1 billion, but it (probably) wasn’t a complete disaster for (all of) its investors.

It’s too bad the picture didn’t fare better, because when I sat down to watch Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets the other night, I found a slow-to-start but otherwise well-paced adventure story with some beautiful visuals and intriguing concepts.

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The 2011 prequel ‘The Thing’ follows a bit too closely in the footsteps of John Carpenter’s brilliant movie

March 2, 2018

By Matthew E. Milliken
MEMwrites.wordpress.com
March 2, 2018

John Carpenter’s The Thing, released in 1982, is widely considered a magnum opus in the science-fiction/horror subgenre. I’ve long been curious about The Thing, the prequel released in 2011, which I recently got a chance to see.

The bulk of the movie takes place at a remote Norwegian research outpost in the Antarctic. The geologists at Thule Station — the name is pronounced just like “tool” — have made a remarkable discovery, one which they wish to keep secret, but which they require biologists in order to examine properly. But the scientists soon find that the unearthly thing they’ve dug up from the ice could threaten the existence of every living creature on Earth…

The story is related from the point of view of Kate Lloyd (Mary Elizabeth Winstead), a Columbia University paleontologist whom biologist Sander Halvorsen (Ulrich Thomsen) recruits on short notice to help extract the specimen found near Thule. The pair travel with Adam (Eric Christian Olsen), Halversen’s assistant and Lloyd’s friend, to the Norwegian station on a helicopter piloted by Carter (Joel Edgerton) and Jameson (Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje).

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