The Hugo-nominated Novel, Parasite, by Mira Grant

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Genre: Science fiction horror. Yes, really.

Synopsis: It’s the future, and SymboGen Corporation has long since developed the Intestinal Bodyguard, a tapeworm living inside of people that manages their health and provides their medications without them ever having to do a thing. Most everyone trusts in this technology–but the tapeworms aren’t what people think they are. And they’re inside nearly everyone.

Protagonist Sally Mitchell was on life support, and it was about to get cut. But she miraculously woke up, albeit with no memories whatsoever, and the credit for that goes to the Intestinal Bodyguard. But now strange things are happening to people, and no one knows why. Except maybe SymboGen. Sally’s ties to SymboGen and her father’s role in the government put her right in the middle of the unfolding chaos.

Series: First book in a duology.

POV: First person, single viewpoint

Romance: It exists, but more in the “this is this person’s life” way than as a selling point on its own–the story isn’t about it, though in a character driven novel like this one, it has to factor into the plot.

Preview: Chapter 5.

I wrote this literally the day before I found out this was nominated for a Hugo. Congratulations, Mira Grant!

My favorite part of this story is the kind of questions it brings up, questions that don’t usually get asked in horror. What is it about life that makes it valuable to us? Is it sentience, the capacity to understand the world in a comparable way to humans? Or is it familiarity–are dogs and cats more valuable to us than other animals because we’re used to coexisting with them, because they’re part of our world as we understand it? I can’t answer these questions, and neither can the book. But this is the line of thinking inspired by it, and some things are worth thinking about.

The audience gets eased into the story–we have enough information to realize that something isn’t quite right. That sense grows with time, even as the story balances the introduction of the setting with the unveiling of the plot. The fun is in the suspense.

The answers to the big questions are never much of a mystery–they’re not written to be, and there’s plenty of information provided to easily guess what’s really going on, early in the book. The part that’s interesting is how these events unfold, and what impact they have on people. It’s finding out which characters knew what, and who is and isn’t trustworthy.

As per usual for Mira Grant/Seanan McGuire, the book is character driven, and the characters are well worth getting to know. I love Sally like I love Georgia from the Newsflesh trilogy and Toby from Rosemary and Rue.

And even though Sally was usually a little slow at processing what was going on, there is actually a perfectly good reason for that–she only has six years worth of memories and experiences to go on. She had to relearn everything, including speech, because of her amnesia.

And I really love getting the perspective of someone who doesn’t have the cultural references that she was supposed to have grown up with, or who doesn’t remember having those references. It leads to these nice touches of what our expectations are and how much of those expectations come from environmental assimilation. Sally had to relearn her social context, but she couldn’t go back to being a child. She had to relearn it as an adult, and that’s different. The information would be imparted differently to someone who was supposed to be an adult–someone people assume should already understand these things.

The unique perspective that Sally has, and the things that she doesn’t buy into, make her more interesting. And it makes her a different type of protagonist, one that may be just that little bit more relatable to the type of people who don’t find many relatable characters in fiction.

Also, I have to appreciate the characters with a strong enough sense of morality that they don’t just go for the easy paths. The right thing to do, or as close to it as we can find in real life, usually isn’t the easiest.

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Doctor Comments on the Realism of Game of Thrones Injuries

Here’s a link to an article, the likes of which we should definitely have more.

A doctor answers questions about the injuries characters receive on Game of Thrones.

I really wish I saw more articles where people consulted with experts about the depiction of whatever is in the media. That’s the second best option, behind media putting a larger effort into being more realistic. Don’t think realism in media is important? Check out Television is Trying To Kill Us on TV Tropes, my reference page for this kind of thing.

Just a few weeks ago, when three characters got shot on a TV show (two in the head, one in the stomach), people were actually arguing in the comments on Hulu that it was suspicious one had “only” been shot in the stomach, and that the shooter clearly intended for the person to survive the injury. I swear, if this turns out to be true, I will lose a lot of brain cells by the time I finish banging my head against a wall.

Back to the article, I really loved the doctor’s response when asked if Joffrey’s personality can be explained by inbreeding. She managed the perfect response, even in written format. Though I have no idea if MTV was going for the funny, or didn’t actually know what the risks of inbreeding are.

Put simply: if two people who have a child are related, there’s a higher chance they both have a “bad version” of the same gene. And therefore there’s a higher chance that the kid gets two “bad versions” of the same gene, and no “good version”. (Each parent would have one “good version” and one “bad version”, in this case.)

MTV definitely tried to push the article in a more sensationalist direction, but that’s no surprise. Although, one of their conclusions was that Jaime was “riddled with STDs” from Cersei, and really, the STDs would have been Robert Baratheon’s fault.

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Captain America: The Winter Soldier

I can’t say too much about this movie, because everything is a spoiler. So, spoiler-free review, but shorter as a consequence.

Verdict: This has to be the best superhero movie I’ve seen since The Avengers. I’d missed going to the theater to watch a superhero movie and actually getting a good one.

But before we get into the fantastic job that was Captain America 2, let’s talk about that awful poster. What’s instantly striking is that, while the rest of it looks professional and serious, Black Widow looks absolutely ridiculous. It completely subverts the atmosphere of the poster, and it isn’t even subtle. How is it possible that anyone took this seriously enough to allow it to see the light of day? Is this really not as obvious or immediately striking to other people?

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As for the movie itself, I wasn’t expecting anything this good after seeing Captain America: The First Avenger, only rivaled by The Wolverine for sheer boring. But not only did it surpass the (admittedly not very high) bar set by its predecessor, it beat most of the other recent superhero movies, too.

This was very action-heavy. And in turn, the action was acrobatics-heavy. It had some quiet moments and it had a few funny moments, but it was mostly about the action and driving the plot forward. Never did I feel like it was overreaching, and it was entertaining throughout.

This wasn’t a character heavy work, but it certainly did enough to make me care about everyone’s problems and what they were going through. In some ways, I even appreciated how the characters controlled how much of what they were feeling they let out. They’re all professionals, and they’re in the middle of a crisis. It works that the plot and the action is the main focus, because in this situation, what the characters accomplish is what matters.

I also really like how the action was distributed. Multiple characters had their chance to do something, and while Steve Rogers naturally wins the contest of who sees the most action, there was a little bit more of a team feel to the movie.

This is also the first movie that really felt, to me, like it was part of a larger whole. This is where I’m starting to feel like I’m seeing something close what happens in the comics, when one event impacts a wide range of stories at the same time. Maybe that’s because I’m also watching Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D., or maybe it’s because the repercussions of this movie must be felt in other works in the Marvel Cinematic Universe.

Whatever it is, this is the point where I’m getting a real sense of continuity–not during the Avengers movie, even though it was a culmination of several stories coming together. Here, where I fully expect to see this event echo in the stories Marvel puts to screen from now on.

And also, Iron Man 3 should be taking notes, because this is how you take a character that doesn’t accomplish anything real over the course of the movie–that can’t accomplish it, because of the plot, unlike in Iron Man–and make that character matter anyway, make that character stand for something that needs to be pointed out. Ultimately, there is a purpose for this person other than looking pretty. There’s a reason she’s in the movie, much like there’s a reason the man from Avengers who refused to kneel for Loki was in the movie.

This is a perfect contrast to how Iron Man 3 included a character with no point, who never accomplished anything, and I just couldn’t resist pointing that out. Sorry, rant over.

The Captain America movie was great! I recommend it. Anyone else see it?

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Starters by Lissa Price, YA Dystopia

Synopsis: Only the young and the old, as the most vulnerable populations, received the vaccine against the genocide spores before it was too late. Everyone else died. This lead to a shift of power in the direction of the elderly, and left the minors with no living older relatives with no one to look out for their interests. Callie is one such minor, incapable of obtaining legal work or residency.

To make ends meet and to look after her younger brother, she signs up as a donor in a body rental program. This underground organization allows the wealthy elderly to take over a younger body and relive their youth. For Callie, it’s like going to sleep. She’ll be out for a month, wake up in her own body, get paid, then bail. But then she starts waking up during the times when someone is supposed to be renting her body. And finds that the woman using her is interested in bigger things than just reliving her youth.

Borrowed from

So it’s kind of like the opposite to Joss Whedon’s Dollhouse.

Series: First book, has a sequel.

POV: First person, single viewpoint

Romance: Ahahahaha. It’s secondary to the plot, but saying anything more than that would be a spoiler.

Preview: Chapter one.

I must have missed the memo that Lissa Price isn’t interested in following the standard YA playbook–mostly because there was a point towards the end where I pretty much stared at my kindle in shock for a few minutes, and then just started laughing. I usually don’t like talking about plot twists, because I prefer to think of the experience of the entire book, instead of just one moment. But this had one plot twist that literally had me checking the genre again, to make sure this really was YA.

The thing that stood out most to me about this book was what it was like for Callie, not being entirely in control of her own body. Not knowing where she was going to wake up. Not knowing what trouble her body would get into while she was out. Our protagonist is in a tough, stressful position, where she’s unsure of who to trust and unwilling to endanger the few people she does trust.

While this was a interesting situation for the protagonist to be in, it worked so well because Callie kept trying to do something about it. She generally took sensible steps to try and head off any disasters that she foresaw. It was nice that she used her head as best as she could, and tried to get through the situation without calling undue attention to herself. And it was nice how much she did manage to handle on her own.

I’ll admit that I wasn’t always right about who she could and couldn’t trust (which means it’s a really good thing I wasn’t in her position). I mean, I was so sure about some of these people. Callie tended erred on the side of skepticism, though she didn’t always have a choice–she had to choose to trust someone eventually.

I also loved that her priority, first and foremost, was always the last remaining family she had left. And after that, she was willing to do the right thing, even if it was risky. It’s also refreshing that there isn’t anything innately special about Callie–she just got unlucky.

The most interesting characters aside from Callie tended to be the elderly ones Callie met while waking up in the life her renter was living in her body. Helena, the woman renting Callie’s body, with sympathetic motives but somewhat sketchy goals. Lauren, Helena’s concerned friend who wonders if maybe she’s going too far. Madison, the clueless renter who doesn’t even consider the person who’s body she’s wearing.

The strengths of the novel definitely rest with the mystery of finding out just what is going on in the first half of the novel, and in the action and troubleshooting Callie undertakes once she finds out what’s happening in the second half.

Of course, my sadistic side really wants to see this made into a movie, so I can witness the uproar at the end as everyone’s expectations are trampled into the dirt. That would be amazing.

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Divergent, On Reading the Book After Watching the Movie

Now that I’ve seen the Divergent movie and have been relatively unimpressed by it, I decided to follow it up by reading the book immediately afterwards, on the suspicion that there were aspects of the story that would work better in writing.

The book was much better than the movie. It exceeded my expectations, because I could never have predicted it would be this good based on the movie.

Premise: In a world where everyone chooses one of five traits to idealize (bravery, selflessness, honesty, intelligence, peace) and sticks with that mentality, some can’t confine themselves to that. They’re known as Divergent, and they’re being hunted down by the ruthless leadership currently in power in some factions. Tris is Divergent, and she needs to hide what she is from those who would hunt her down.

The movie decided to cut out a lot of the substance. I could have stopped watching it at any time and not really cared, but the book? I read it straight through, in one evening.

The worst oversight to me was what they did with characterization. In the book, Tris struggled with her fears and her guilt for not being a better person. She wasn’t always the brave one, who stood up to the ones in power. Sometimes she was, and sometimes she was too afraid, and she suffered emotionally for it when she didn’t.

In the movies, she was much more perfect than that, generally doing the right thing. And that’s less interesting. It’s way more interesting to see her imperfections, to watch her struggle with the same kinds of fears most people would struggle with in her situation. Failing to do the right thing, in a situation where most people would fail just as bad, is what makes it so brave of her when she succeeds.

And it’s not just her. She wasn’t the only character in the book who ever stood up for anyone. The supporting cast was much more powerful, and much more gray, in the book. People were strong and good in some situations, then weak and cruel in others. It wasn’t cut and dry, and it made the characters and the pressure they were all under that much more potent. The message was that the same person can be brave and cowardly in completely different circumstances. It was a much more human portrayal of the situation they were in.

In the movie, characters were far less complex and therefore, unmemorable. There was no reason to care about them.

And guess what? Four wasn’t creepy in the book. He was actually a lot more interesting as a character here, and I’m pretty sure now that it isn’t because of age. He’s more complex, and he’s got a wider range of emotions. He has to be cautious because of the disagreements between himself and the leadership, but there’s moments when he mellows. And then his guard goes right back up again when he gets uncomfortable with the topic. In the movies, he was just kind of distant. I didn’t get a strong sense of him as a character at all.

I really enjoyed the way that Tris started thinking about the factions, seeing something fundamentally broken within Dauntless as it is now. That was a nice touch, to have her realize the corruption seeping into the system and wanting to fix it, to get back the ideals these factions were founded on.

The exploration of conformity and societal expectations is stronger in the book, as well. The author brings up the point that most people will learn to think what they’re supposed to think. And that goes a long way to explaining the setting.

People may not naturally fit into these boxes, but they learn to make themselves fit–which we do in real life, as well. And if someone really can’t bring themselves to fit into this one box, they have four others to choose from. But they have to conform to something, have to learn to think in one of these predictable ways. And this is very reminiscent of reality.

I’ve also seen that a lot of people dislike the changes to the ending of the movie–those I didn’t mind. They were just different ways of doing it, and I even enjoyed the last scene with Kate Winslet.

The things that bothered me were the things that prevented me from engaging with the movie, but drew me so deep into the book. The characterization, the internal struggles with identity and with the fear of failure, the interpersonal struggles between the ruthless and the ones trying to be better than that. Tris’ own struggles with trying to be better than that.

When all of that is lost, everything left that makes up that year of training for Dauntless–which is most of the story–is just the bare bones. And that isn’t enough to drive the story at a good pace. There needs to be something else happening to keep it interesting, and in the book, there’s plenty of that.

Maybe the movie couldn’t incorporate the best parts of the book for practical reasons–it’s harder to portray self-doubt and internal struggles on screen. But they could have portrayed these same concepts, the very ones that made the book interesting, through struggles between characters. And even those were missing. There just wasn’t enough to hold up the story for most of the movie.

Meanwhile, the book manages to have the same bare bones concept, and turns it into something fascinating.

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The Divergent Movie, Prior to Reading the Book

It was okay. Nothing special.

I wanted to like it, because I want this female protagonist in an adventure/action role YA trend to continue, but it was just kind of there.

I haven’t read the book, which might have made a difference–it’s possible that there were things I didn’t know from just the movie that could have changed my entire outlook on the story, which did happen in The Hunger Games.

As it stands, it was a watchable movie, but not great. There were pieces that were really interesting, but they generally didn’t come out into the forefront. For the most part, the movie didn’t manage to engage me on an emotional level. I wasn’t bored out of my mind like during The Wolverine, and I think I’d place it close to Iron Man 3 for enjoyment value.

After the movie I looked up the ages of the main characters–Tris is 16 and Four is 18. Which, whoa. Because I spent the entire movie wondering just how big that age difference was, thinking that Four in his 30s. That changed their dynamic entirely, because a 30 year old man should not act the same way as an 18 year old when getting involved with a teenager.

And seriously, there should have been some kind of indication of how young he’s supposed to be. I couldn’t tell that he was supposed to be a teenager solely from his behavior, and talk of a leadership position is going to make me inclined to believe he’s older. Who puts 18 year olds in charge of anything?

Maybe this was part of why Four came off as kinda creepy to me, or maybe not–I can’t go back in time and give myself the knowledge that Four is supposed to be a teenager. Maybe the weirdness came from me not knowing if a new recruit and her superior are allowed to engage in a relationship, for most of the movie. Maybe the scenes were deliberately staged to be borderline creepy, I don’t know. All I know is that I was getting creepy vibes, and I didn’t like it.

I feel like some things happened with little explanation. Like, maybe the movie was trying to follow the outline of the book but didn’t have time to explain, so instead of gradually moving from point A to point B in a straight line, it just teleported us to point B. And the audience is left wondering how it happened, when all we get is one line of explanation.

Some of the things that went on in the Dauntless faction were ridiculous, but let’s face it. Watching all of them, in their matching black outfits, jump out of trains and climb buildings? Easily the coolest part of the movie.

Again, I haven’t read the book, but I’m thinking it’s possible that some of the material used for the movie works better as a narrative. Some things just work better for one type of storytelling. There were definitely some scenes that seemed to go slow, and made me want them to hurry it up–those kinds of things could easily work in a book, with good narration driving the scene. But the movie doesn’t have narration to work with.

A common criticism I’m hearing is a lack of realism in the societal system in this movie, but I would argue that that’s the nature of dystopia. While I do have a natural resistance against oversimplification–I certainly don’t agree with anyone’s ideology here, at all–I feel like the purpose of dystopia isn’t to come up with the most realistic system that could come about, but instead to use a system as a metaphor for some aspect of human nature and explore how it affects people and society.

Divergent is taking on conformity versus individualism. That’s not a bad aspect to pick, and one that’s personally important to me. This movie might not be going particularly deep, but it is possible that it raises the idea that being different isn’t bad to its audience (namely, young adults). And that’s a start.

What about you guys? Anything stand out about this movie?

*Note: This post was written before reading the book, but a follow-up post after reading the book will follow shortly. Maybe this weekend.

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TV Opinion: Continuing Shows and New Premiers, mostly SFF

Here’s the status of the show’s I’m watching and the new pilots I’ve seen, from most promising to least. The older shows have an advantage in that respect, since they’ve had the opportunity to demonstrate some lasting power. Oddly, though I seem to have gotten harder to please with time, I’m only outright rejecting one show.

The rating system I’ve decided to use here–Verdict (Yes, No, Maybe)–refers to whether or not I’m going to watch any more episodes.

The Originals

Premise: A family of thousand year old vampires returns to their former home, New Orleans, becoming embroiled in the power struggles between vampires, witches, and werewolves.

Verdict: Yes

Excuse me while I mourn the loss of two of the main characters, who will no longer play a regular role in this show. But despite that unfortunate circumstance, The Originals continues to be compelling. The seriously messed up characters are put into conflict, and wow do things degenerate from there. And I am not kidding when I say these characters are messed up. They’re all psychologically interesting, though they have varying levels of likability. I’m thoroughly convinced that the main protagonist is also the villain.

One of the characters, Cami–the obligate human messed up in vampire affairs–isn’t quite meeting my expectations from her earlier potential. She’s evidently more forgiving than I ever anticipated (in stark contrast to most of the other characters). But she’s still a decent character, even if she’s firmly shoved in the background.

And lately, even Hayley got something to do. Which is crazy, because Hayley never gets to do anything.

Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.

Premise: A government team works to solve alien threats to humanity in a superhero world.

Verdict: Yes

I’m at the point where I’m watching the show for its own merits now, instead of because I know it’ll get better. It hasn’t done anything to really wow me yet, but it’s certainly entertaining enough to keep watching. I like the characters, and a lot of the plotting has smoothed out, though there’s still the occasional weirdness. I still caution all to ignore anything science-related in this show. Seriously.


Premise: The dead are coming back to life, and…they’re not zombies? Okay, then. What are they?

Verdict: Yes

This one is really promising. The mystery is set up, but it’s the reactions of the characters and how they deal with this that keeps me engaged. There’s this constant tension, created by the emotion of all of these characters and their disparate ways of dealing with the impossible. And there’s this little bit of underlying pain throughout–the understanding that even if this miracle is real, something was still lost. And there’s no way to get it back.

Unlike in Believe, I do buy the kid in this one. He understands that something is wrong, even if he doesn’t really know what’s going on. And his response is to withdraw, to try to pretend it doesn’t matter. He’s got bouts of just being a kid, where he forgets. But sometimes, there’s this sad quality to him. It works.

We’ll see what path the show takes once the mystery starts unfolding–it’s done really well by playing to emotions so far, and it’d be nice if it continues to do that without overdoing it, and if the plot goes down an interesting route. Right now, I really want to believe that this will be the standout.


Premise: A bus full of the children of the most powerful people in America is held up, and the kids are taken hostage. While the FBI strives to locate the children, the bad guys are blackmailing the parents into criminal acts.

Verdict: Yes

On odd addition to the list, given my usual preferences. But something about the trailer caught my attention, and the pilot episode was actually very well done. I don’t know how they’re going to keep this premise going, how long it could possibly sustain a series for, or where they’re going to take the story to keep it interesting. But they did a good job so far of mixing suspense with just enough characterization to keep me caring.

Also, when it comes to motivation for villains, a misdirected sense of poetic justice tends to be a pretty good way to go.

Some suspension of disbelief required, because there are a few too many melodramatic touches–but most of these are kept in the background, and don’t distract too much, yet.

The 100

Premise: 100 teenage criminals are sent from their spaceship to Earth, to test if the planet has become habitable since a nuclear war wiped out humanity.

Verdict: Maybe

I remember seeing the author of the book (that I haven’t read) speak on a great panel at a convention. It was years ago, so the details of what was actually said are a little fuzzy, though I do remember Kass Morgan spoke up a fair bit. And I remember having a fantastic time, which was a good enough reason to give the series a try.

The first episode didn’t try too hard to have too much in it, which made it less messy than most pilots. It was generally watchable with only a little frustration. I did like the lead, Clark, even though her taking on two prison guards with such ease struck me as odd.

But aside from her and Wells, the rest of the teenagers really piss me off. Every single one of them, no exceptions. That was where most of the frustration came from. The adults tended to be a little more interesting, but who knows how much they’ll get to do?


Premise: A little girl has uber-psychic powers she can’t control yet, and needs to be protected from those who would use her and her power. A death row inmate is coerced into being her bodyguard.

Verdict: No

The pilot was underwhelming. A little corny, actually.

This premise of this show depends on Bo being interesting or even just likable. That’s not getting off to a great start so far. She just doesn’t act like a kid who’s been in hiding. Or who’s had several of the people looking after her die. Even if she doesn’t fully understand the gravity of the situation, she should have had rules instilled in her by now, about when not to do incredibly stupid things.

The show looks like it wants her to be this kind-hearted, messiah-esque child with the naïveté of a little girl. Which, aside from being unlikely for a girl her age and in her position, is also kinda boring. And the show needs Bo to be a character, not a prop. If everyone continues to bow down to Bo’s amazing specialness, things will get pretty boring, pretty fast. Unless she turns out to be brainwashing everyone around her through her psychic powers, which would actually explain a lot.

Anyone else seen any of the new shows this season? Anything promising?


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