Wednesday, November 23, 2022

BOOK REVIEW: The Cruel Star (The Cruel Stars, #1) by John Birmingham


The Cruel Stars by John Birmingham is the first book in a space opera science fiction trilogy with the same name. Birmingham has summarized the Cruel Stars trilogy as “Space Nazis invade and try to ruin everything, everywhere, all over the galaxy.” This is the first book by this author I have read; I did so because a machine learning algorithm recommended The Cruel Stars to me because I have either read, bought or borrowed related/similar books (like The Expanse books by James S.A. Corey and The Final Architecture trilogy by Adrian Tchaikovsky) that led the computer program to extrapolate that I would also enjoy this one. And you know what, the code was right, people, because I completely loved reading The Cruel Stars!
The structure of the book will be quite familiar to regular readers of fantasy and science fiction. The story is told via chapters from the perspective of different characters, similar to the structure of George R.R. Martin’s The Song of Ice and Fire and James S.A. Corey’s The Expanse. The five main characters of the The Cruel Stars are Lucinda Chase, a newly minted war hero who gets a field promotion to captain of her ship when the enemy’s sneak attack decapitates the senior leadership of the entire Armadalen military; Frazer McLennan, a foul-mouthed military genius from Scotland turned archaeologist who killed millions of Earth citizens in order to save billions by almost entirely wiping out an invading  army over 700 years ago and by miraculous advances in medicine is still alive (but decrepit); Sephina L’trel, a foul-mouthed lesbian space pirate who leads a small team of violent mercenaries burning to get revenge on the people who killed their loved ones; Princess Alessia Szu Suri sur Montanblanc ul Haq, the 12-year-old scion of an incredibly rich and powerful family who owns and rules the entire planet of Montrachet as well as a galaxy-spanning financial empire; and Corporal Booker3-212162-930-Infantry, a human being who has downloaded his mind into software as a member of a belief system called The Source. 
Each of these characters gets their own POV chapters as the story progresses, demonstrating their importance to the plot. However my favorite character in The Cruel Stars is not one of these previously mentioned POV characters, it’s Herodotus, who is an “Armada-level Intellect,” which means he is a sentient artificial intelligence with technological powers that are near god-like (such as the ability to teleport or “fold space” at will and near-infinite data processing capacity and speed) along with an incredibly snarky attitude. (Come for the god-like computer, stay for the snark!)
In The Cruel Stars we discover that the Sturm, also known as The Human Republic, the group that McLennan defeated hundreds of years ago (and has not been heard of since) has returned to continue their genocidal war against all humans who have modified their bodies with either technological or genetic enhancements. In the beginning of the book we discover that The Sturm has launched a devastating first strike in the form of a successful malware attack that turns any humans with technological implants who were accessing the galactic equivalent of the Internet at the time into brain-devouring zombies. 
The return of The Sturm has life-altering consequences for all of our main characters. Lucinda becomes the captain of her ship, the Defiant, because all the higher ranked officers are struck down by the Sturm malware. Alessia becomes the sole living representative of her family, as the few remaining relatives who were not affected by the initial attack were killed in a grisly execution broadcast galaxy wide. McLennan is captured by the Sturm while conducting an archaeological dig at a site the Human Republic considers sacred but is rescued by Herodotus after only some mild torture has occurred. Sephina has a lucrative heist interrupted and then watches the love of her life slaughtered by Sturm weapons hours after the initial attack. The only person who is positively impacted by the return of the Sturm is Booker, who is in prison sentenced to be permanently deleted at the vey moment the malware attack strikes his penal colony. The warden makes a deal to allow Booker to escape and promises to put in a good word with future authorities if Booker uses his military expertise to fight back and save lives on the prison habitat. Booker agrees to the deal, keeps his end of the bargain and escapes into space implanted in the operating system of a huge security robot.
Overall, The Cruel Stars is a fantastically entertaining space opera with lots of action, humor and violence. The characters are compelling and world-building intriguing. It’s reminiscent of the very best work of Peter F. Hamilton; fans of Hamilton should also read (and I am confident will enjoy!) The Cruel Stars.

Title: The Cruel Stars.
Author: 
John Birmingham.
Format: Kindle.
Length: 416 pages.
Publisher: Del Rey.
Date Published: August 20, 2019.
Date Read: October 17, 2022.

GOODREADS RATING: ★★★★½☆  (4.5/5.0).

OVERALL GRADE: A- (3.67/4.0).

PLOT: A-.
IMAGERY: A-.
IMPACT: A-.
WRITING: A-.

Sunday, November 13, 2022

CA Now Has Two Black LGBT State Supreme Court Justices!

Martin Jenkins

Kelli Evans

LGBT History was made this week with the retention election of California State Supreme Court justice Martin Jenkins on November 8 and the approval of Kelli Evans to join the state's highest court by the Committee on Judicial Appointments on November 10. Jenkins, 69, was nominated to the California Supreme Court in October 2020 by Governor Gavin Newsom. Evans, 54, was nominated to the court by Newson in August 2022. The California State Supreme Court now has seven members and is amazingly diverse:
  • Carol Corrigan, 74, white female
  • Kelli Evans, 54, African-American lesbian woman
  • Joshua Groban, 49, white mam
  • Patricia Guerrero, 50 Latina/Hispanic woman
  • Martin Jenkins, 69, African-American gay man
  • Leondra Kruger, 46, African-American woman
  • Goodwin Liu, 52, Chinese-American man
The court is majority women, majority people of color (one-third Black) and two-sevenths LGBT!
Guerrero is the brand-new Chief Justice of the State of California. Guerrero, Jenkins, Groban and Liu were all successfully retained in the November 8 election.

Tuesday, November 08, 2022

MadProfessah Voting Guide: November 2022

 


Here are MadProfessah's positions on how I  have voted in the November 8 2022 California General Elections. This post will contain  endorsements information from other organizations like the Los Angeles Times,  California Democratic PartyEast Area Progressive Democrats and the Los Angeles County Democratic Party


The 2022 General Election Ballot is quite long. Here are my endorsements (how I have voted) along with information about how others are encouraging you to vote. This link will take you to a printable two page version of this voting guideNames with an asterisk * are openly LGBTQ+ candidates.

The information here is accurate to the best of my knowledge. YMMV.
LAist also has a very helpful voterguide here: https://laist.com/news/politics/voter-game-plan.

CITYWIDE RACES (Los Angeles)


COUNTYWIDE RACES (Los Angeles)

COUNTY JUDGES (Superior Court)


STATEWIDE RACES 
STATEWIDE JUDGES 


Thursday, October 13, 2022

FILM REVIEW: Bros

There has been a lot of discussion of the movie Bros in the last few weeks after its opening weekend box-office gross was below expectations and Hollywood basically labeled the film as a "flop." Writer and star of the film Billy Eichner said on social media that "straight people [...] didn't show up for Bros" and that it was "disappointing, but that's what it was." That tweet was later deleted but the audience reception to an explicitly gay rom-com that was released by a major Hollywood studio in movie theaters was bound to get a lot of tongues wagging and think pieces written and read. However, despite the historic nature of the release of Bros, in the end I think the main reason is that it's just not a very good movie, and that may be the reason why ore people didn't rush out to see it and make it a box-office success. (Right now it's still an open question of whether it will make a profit, but it seems very unlikely .)

To be more precise, I do think that there's a version of Bros which could have been a very good movie. The major flaw in Bros is the casting of Eichner as the lead character. Eichner plays Bobby, a somewhat neurotic podcast host and executive director of the inaugural National Museum of LGBTQ History. He is happy to go on Tinder and Grindr "dates" to hookup with other New York City gays.  Eventually he runs into Aaron (played by Luke MacFarlane), a hunky, handsome estate lawyer who hates his job and is also happy to "play the field." Eichner's Bobby spends a lot of his time yelling his (admittedly funny) lines to anyone within earshot, which includes his coworkers, his straight friends, Aaron, Aaron's mom and many more. The first problem with casting Eichner as the lead is that he doesn't have the dramatic chops to provide a nuanced portrayal of Bobby, so he comes across as a bitter queen. I think it is at least possible that a more nuanced actor could have played the role as written where Bobby is still annoying and acerbic but in a way that the audience could still root for him to succeed. I appreciate what Eichner was trying to do with Bros: create a gay rom-com without sanding over the rough (or unfamiliar to non-gay folks) edges of urban gay life to not scare off the straight people. But even as a gay man, I thought Bobby's character was A LOT and problematic in multiple ways. (He has a LOT of opinions on how gay people comport themselves which frankly would have seemed homophobic or demeaning if said by a straight character and even by the end of the movie it's not clear that his opinion about other gays has really changed that much.)

The second problem with casting Eichner as the lead is the resultant glaring lack of diversity in the two leads. In 2022 to think that a gay rom-com should have two gay white dudes as the lead is just hubris and tone deaf. (It stuns me that the coin-counters and pencil pushers at the studio thought this concept would be one that is worth spending $20-30 million on production and marketing. But then again, how much do you want to bet these fiduciary decisions were not being made by a diverse set of greenlighters at the studio?) Yes, the film (cleverly) tries to overcome this lack of diversity in the leads by adding cameos from gay icons as well as making Bobby's workplace a setting with a tapestry of the members of the LGBTQ rainbow. There's a butch lesbian, not one but two(!) transwomen of color, a bisexual and a Generation Z non-binary person who constantly streams their life online. But in now way are these characters are central to the story. The other notable bit of diverse casting in Bros was in an (actually pretty funny) hookup scene that Bobby has with a muscular, masculine Black guy after meeting him at the gym during a "straight-acting" phase. The hookup doesn't end well when Bobby's post-coital voice is an octave higher than his pre-coital one and this revelation that Bobby's butchness was a facade (unsurprisingly) freaks the Black guy out, but maybe not for the reason we might think at first. "Well, would you have hooked up with me if I had talked like this before?" Bobby asks, and the guy says, "Yeah, probably, because you're hot." "Thanks!" Bobby says. "But not now! Now you just seem weird!". On the way out Bobby notices a huge Barbra Streisand poster next to the door, which shows that even butch Black gay guys in New York City love their divas! Yay, intersectionality!

With all that said there are lots of good parts of Bros to like. There are fun cameos by gay icons like Harvey Fierstein (Torch Song Trilogy), Bowen Yang (Fire Island), and Debra Messing (Will and Grace) to name just a few. Aaron is very easy on the eyes to look at, and we see a LOT of him (and his well-sculpted body), as the film doesn't hesitate from depicting typical sexual situations gay men like Aaron and Bobby get into in an urban mecca like New York City (and Provincetown). That fact that almost gthe entire cast (even the straight roles) are played by well-known out LGBT actors is kinda cool. Also, the script is firmly committed to being a parody of Lifetime romantic comedies (this is a fun inside joke, because the actor who plays Aaron has been in more than a dozen of them) and these gags are well-executed. The film has interesting things to say about body image in gay men and how the trappings of (hyper)masculinity distort how gay men interact with each other in multiple social settings (from hookup apps to gyms to going out to even just walking down the street).

But in the end, although the audience is supposed to be rooting for Aaron and Bobby to get together, it's hard to make that sale because I, for one, didn't buy that the two are actually right for each other. Bobby has a LOT of internalized homophobia which comes out as extreme criticism of modern gay life and an reluctance/inability to commit. Aaron has the more interesting character arc as he makes changes to his life when the initial relationship between Aaron and Bobby doesn't work out because of both of their insecurities. (This is not a spoiler because of course in any rom-com the two star-crossed lovers don't live happily ever after after the first fling!) Another interesting twist on the rom-com is that the movie ends with the two just promising "to date each other for three month and re-assess" not a lifetime commitment (sic) and that gives the overall plot verisimilitude with these characters.

Overall, I agree with some of the reviews who say that even though Bros was not the historic achievement Bill Eichner wanted it to be, it is still a milestone in LGBT cinema that he should be proud of and I am glad it was made and exists in the media landscape. After all, for true equality, LGBTQ people need to have the right to have all sorts of media telling our stories, and some will be crappy and some will be sublime. (My primary complaint is that we still really haven't had a diverse LGBT film that connects with today's audiences.) The one thing Bros did do successfully is to bring us closer to the day where the future of LGBTQ representation in the media is not dependent on any single vehicle.

TitleBros.
Director: Nicholas Stoller.
Running Time: 1 hour, 55 minutes.
MPAA Rating: Rated R for strong sexual content, language throughout and some drug use.
Release Date: September 30, 2022.
Viewing Date: October 3, 2022.

Writing: B+.
Acting: B.
Visuals: B-.
Impact: A-.

Overall Grade: B/B+ (3.16/4.0).

Star Rating:  ★★½☆  (3.5/5.0).

Tuesday, October 11, 2022

FILM REVIEW: The Woman King

It's been quite awhile since I saw a movie in the theaters, but last weekend I saw two of them! The husband and I intended to see Bros opening weekend with another gay couple but when it turned out they couldn't see it until Sunday we decided to go see The Woman King on Saturday, since it had stellar reviews and was only available in theaters. I'm glad we did!

The Woman King is a star vehicle for Viola Davis, the most Oscar-nominated Black actress of all time (and winner of the 2016 Best Supporting Actress for Fences). However, it is also a rarity among studio films, with a predominantly Black female cast. The movie is about the legendary Agojie, the "virgin African Amazons" who were an all-female army in the West African kingdom of Dahomey during the slave era. The film features John Boyega (The Force Awakens, Small Axe), Thuso Mbedu (The Underground Railroad), Lashana Lynch, Sheila Atim, Jordan Bolger and Hero Fiennes Tiffin. The last actor plays Santo Fereirra, the main white character in the film, a slaver from Brazil who is working with the enemies of the Dahomey to buy and ship captured Africans into slavery in the Americas. He arrives with his interracial friend Malik played by the pulchritudinous Jordan Bolger, who is the son of a Dahomey mother and white father.

Of course any film about slavery is effused with violence, but in this case the violence is mainly done by the Black female characters in the film (the Agojie).  The film is set in 1823 and makes clear that both the Dahomey and the Oyo participated in the slave trade, by selling captured African combatants to the slavers. However in the movie, Davis' character, Nanisca, the head of the Agojie decries the practice to King Ghezo (played by Boyega) and argues the Dahomey could and should trade palm oil with the white man instead. The primary conflict in The Woman King is between the Kingdom of Dahomey and the Oyo Empire, who are much larger and to whom the Dahomey pay tribute to. Dahomey refuses to pay tribute and the two nations go to war, with the smaller Agojie army using the superior tactical and strategic prowess of Davis' General Nanisca to eventually become victorious. However, during the main Oyo-Dahomey battle in the movie some of the main Agojie characters we have been following (played by Lynch and Mbedu) are captured and taken to be sold into slavery. Mbedu's character (Nawi) is bought by Bolger's character (Malik) in order to rescue her. (The two had their "meet-cute" moment earlier in the film when Nawi finds Malik bathing in a nearby waterfall and takes his clothes which for me was a highlight of the movie because Malik is phyne!!)

Although being told explicitly by her king not to go and rescue her captured Agojie soldiers, Nanisca goes anyway and along with her most loyal supporters basically destroys the town/port where slaves were being bought and sold and then transported across the Atlantic.

Overall, The Woman King is a well-done, action film (I think I saw someone call it a "a Black female Gladiator or Braveheart") with exceptional performances by Davis and Mbedu. It is exceedingly violent, almost graphically so, since almost all the combat is hand-to-hand with sharp, bladed weapons, a few primitive  guns and some gunpowder-based explosions. Despite the action genre, there is real emotional relationships depicted between many characters, like Nawi and Malik, Nawi and Nanisca, and Nanisca and Amenza (played by Atim). It's one of the best times I have had at the movies in years!

Title: The Woman King.
Director: Gina Price-Bythewood.
Running Time: 2 hours, 15 minutes.
MPAA Rating: Rated PG-13 for sequences of strong violence, some disturbing material, thematic content, brief language and partial nudity.
Release Date: September 16, 2022.
Viewing Date: October 2, 2022.

Writing: A-.
Acting: A.
Visuals: A.
Impact: A+.

Overall Grade: A (4.0/4.0).

Star Rating:  ★★½☆  (4.5/5.0).

Thursday, October 06, 2022

BOOK REVIEW: Eyes of the Void (The Final Architecture, #2) by Adrian Tchaikovsky


Eyes of the Void is the second installment in a space opera trilogy called The Final Architecture written by Adrian Tchaikovsky, one of the most prolific and creative science fiction authors working today. His Children of Time and Children of Ruin are two of my all-time favorite books. I’m looking forward to the release of the third installment in that series called Children of Memory in January 2023. However, until then, I’ve also been enjoying reading the first two books in The Final Architecture series, Shards of Earth and Eyes of the Void. I previously reviewed Shards of Earth and now I will write down some thoughts about Eyes of the Void.


The Final Architect series is set in a Universe where humanity exists as a galactically dispersed diaspora due to an apocalyptic event that occurred less than 80 years ago before the events depicted in Shards of Earth. Earth was one of several human-populated planets that were visited by Architects, huge implacable devices that have the power to manipulate space-time and gravitational forces so that they can convert planets to artistic arrangements of matter, apparently oblivious to the billions of sentient lives they destroy on those planets. When the Architects arrived, humanity had been just one space-faring species among several in the Galaxy, but with the destruction of their homeworld the fracturing of human society into various factions was accelerated and solidified. 


One of Tchaikovsky’s great skills as a writer is his depiction of alien culture, morphology and consciousness in such a way that it seems relatable to the reader, regardless of how unusual or bizarre they appear at first glance. In the Final Architecture books the aliens are quite other-worldly, in multiple senses of the word.


The main characters in the story are Idris Telemmier (an Intermediary, i.e. a human who has been biologically modified to enhance his ability to access unSpace and propel vehicles across vast distances) and Solace (a parthogenetically created soldier who has a complicated history with Idris). Both Solace and Idris had a role in the last battle which ended the Architects' War 50 years ago. In the events of Shards of Earth Idris and Solace start off on different sides of a conflict that is somewhat resolved in a way that leaves them on the same side.


There are several characters other than Idris and Solace in the series, and in Eyes of the Void we get to spend more time with them. These include snarky robot and academic Architect expert Trine; near-indestructible alien-plus-symbiont called a Tothiat whose name is Emmaneth; a (literally) cutthroat lawyer Kris Almier; disabled computer hacker-pilot Olli who incessantly cursed and kicks butt in her powerful scorpion-like exoskeleton; and a bureaucratic spy and double/triple agent named Havaer Mundy. The interactions between these characters are the primary source of the dramatic tension in the book, as they try and find and eventually rescue Idris after he is kidnapped by another alien who wants to use the Intermediary’s power for their own dangerous plot.


By the end of Eyes of the Void, we have learned a lot more about the mysterious Architects as they continue to devour more planets. Idris discovers that they are being forced to do what they do by even more powerful aliens, whom we have yet to meet (and seem absolutely terrifying!!) Presumably, we will find out more about these aliens who are forcing Architects to do their bidding in the third and final book in the trilogy: Lords of Uncreation.

Title: Eyes of the Void.
Author: 
Adrian Tchaikovsky.
Format: Kindle.
Length: 592 pages.
Publisher: Tor.
Date Published: May 3, 2022.
Date Read: June 4, 2022.

GOODREADS RATING: ★★★★☆  (4.0/5.0).

OVERALL GRADE: A- (3.67/4.0).

PLOT: A-.
IMAGERY: A-.
IMPACT: A-.
WRITING: A-.

Sunday, October 02, 2022

BOOK REVIEW: When Will There Be Good News? (Jackson Brodie, #3) by Kate Aktinson


When Will There Be Good News? is the third installment in the immensely popular  British crime detective series written by Kate Atkinson featuring former police detective Jackson Brodie. Atkinson is an interesting and unusual author; although mostly known for her literate novels with exquisite writing and evocative language, she has also dabbled in writing genre fiction, which often gets unfairly labeled as possessing uninspiring prose (although readers of S.A. Cosby's Blacktop Wasteland and Razorblade Tears would beg to differ!) The Jackson Brodie books were adapted into a very popular British TV series called “Case Histories” which ran for two 3-episode series in 2010 and 2011. All of the Brodie books by Atkinson have tens of thousands of ratings on Goodreads with average scores bear 4.0 on a 5-point scale.

Atkinson's first two books featuring Jackson Brodie are Case Histories and One Good Turn. They are very different from each other and from most books in the British crime thriller genre that I am so fond of. They are both so good that I have been trying to extend the time between reading subsequent entries since there are only a total of five books in the series. The Brodie books most definitely need to be read in publication order as events in one book are referred to in another.


The most memorable aspect of the Jackson Brodie books is Jackson himself, of course. He’s a former Edinburgh police detective and Army veteran who in the beginning of the first book has started to do private investigator work. As with most excellent detective novels, he has a complicated past that led him to pursue this line of work. He left home and joined the military at a very young age after his beloved sister Niamh disappeared when he was about 16 and her naked body was found in a nearby river soon afterwards. Niamh’s murder was never solved and Brodie has had a soft spot for damsels in distress ever since.


Another aspect of the Jackson Brodie books that makes them so compelling is Atkinson’s inclusion of many bizarre (and often horrific) crimes, either depicted from the perspective of the perpetrator or survivor. In fact, although Jackson is the primary character in the books, he often does not appear in the story for vast swathes of time, as “secondary” characters are used to advance the plot and also get first-person perspectives. Atkinson’s books can have multiple chapters that depict interactions between two (or more) non-Brodie characters, sometimes depicting serene, domestic scenes or sometimes incredibly horrific crimes. Then one of the central puzzles of the books is to figure out how those events where Brodie was absent as well as the people involved will be connected to Brodie at some point. In the first three books, the majority of these characters have been women, often people who he becomes romantically entangled with, or would like to be. 


In When Will There Be Good News?, the main non-Brodie character is 16-year-old Reggie Chase who “could pass for 16” and is effectively an orphan due to a freak accident that killed her mother while on holiday with another one of her mom’s problematic paramours. When we met Reggie she’s acting as nanny/babysitter for Dr. Joanna Hunter’s newborn baby despite being a minor child herself. Almost half the book is spent with Reggie, which is a lot of fun, because Reggie is a great character! She has a slightly older brother named Billy who has a dodgy moral compass and is clearly a minor criminal of some kind. She’s quite smart but had decided to leave her expensive private school to go out on her own even before her mom died unexpectedly because. When Dr. Hunter and her baby disappear, Reggie takes care of Sadie, Dr. Hunter’s large German Shepherd, and the two become inseparable for much of the book. Eventually Reggie saves Brodie’s life and asks him to help find Dr. Hunter. 


The other non-Brodie character we spend significant time with is Detective Chief Inspector Louise Monroe, who also appeared in One Good Turn. After the events of that book we aren’t surprised that Louise and Jackson are married at the beginning of When Will There Be Good News? but we are surprised that they aren’t married to each other.


By the end of When Will There Be Good News?, all the mysteries are resolved and there are many surprising developments that will have significant life-changing impacts on all of the main characters in the book (Jackson Brodie, Louise Monroe, Reggie Chase, Joanna Hunter). I’m very excited to see what happens in the fourth Jackson Brodie book, Started Early, Took My Dog.

Title: When Will There Be Good News? (Jackson Brodie, #3).
Author: 
Kate Atkinson.
Format: Kindle.
Length: 388 pages.
Publisher: Little, Brown.
Date Published:  September 24, 2008.
Date Read: September 27, 2022.

GOODREADS RATING: ★★  (5.0/5.0).

OVERALL GRADE: A/A- (3.75/4.0).

PLOT: A-.
IMAGERY: A-.
IMPACT: A-.
WRITING: A.

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