Saturday, December 31, 2016

WATCH: Awesome review of TV and Movies in 2016

Hat/tip to Gizmodo

My Favorite Books Read In 2015 (Science Fiction, Fantasy, Mystery and Thriller)

The headline is not a typo; it has taken me almost an entire year to finally summarize my best reads of the last year. In 2015 I read 74 books; almost all of these were novels, primarily in the genres of mystery/thriller and fantasy/science fiction. By far the biggest fraction of books that I read in 2015 were in the categories of science fiction and fantasy (in 2014 mystery/thriller predominated my reading list) were mystery/thrillers. I made it through all six of Karin Slaughter's Grant County mysteries, continued reading Jussi Adler-Olsen's Department Q series and finished making my way through Michael Connelly's Detective Harry Bosch series and Jo Nesbø's Harry Hole thrillers.

Overall, although most of my favorite reads in 2015 were from authors familiar to me (James S.A. Corey, Louise Penny, Peter Brett, Jo Nesbø) whom I had read before I was also introduced to several new authors who I am confident will become some of my favorites for years to come: Brian Staveley, Cixin Liu, Ben Winters and Karin Slaughter.

I'm always looking for more good books and authors to start reading! Feel free to make suggestions of books or authors you think I would like in the comments after seeing what books have resonated with me previously.

Below are my favorite reads for 2015 in the genres Science Fiction, Fantasy, Mystery and Thriller.

Favorite Science Fiction Novel Read In 2015: Nemesis Games (The Expanse, #5) by James S.A. Corey

Nemesis Games is the fifth book in the best-selling space opera series known as The Expanse. Each of the four previous books have been some of my favorites (Leviathan Wakes, Caliban's War, Abaddon's GateCibola Burn) in the year it was published and, happily, the trend continues with Book 5: Nemesis Games. The authors (James SA Corey is the nom de plume of Ty Franck and Daniel Abraham) boldly move the story of a visionary future for humanity combined with non-stop action, political intrigue between planetary powers and intense peril for some of my favorite characters (Holden, Naomi, Amos and Avarasala). In Nemesis Games Corey introduces some new characters and resolves some plot points which have been developing since the very first book in the series (Leviathan Wakes). This was my favorite novel (of any genre) that I read in 2015. I totally expected that Book 6 in The Expanse, Babylon's Ashes, would be my favorite science fiction and overall read in 2016. However, since the 6th book has been postponed from it's June release to December I have decided to postpone my reading of Babylon's Ashes until January 2017.

Runner-Up Favorite Science Fiction: The Three-Body Problem and The Dark Forest by Cixin Liu.

The Three-Body Problem is the first book originally written in a foreign language to win the most prestigious award in science fiction and fantasy (the Hugo award). Cixin Liu has been described as the Chinese Isaac Asimov and  The Three-Body Problem and The Dark Forest are definitely space opera in the classic tradition of the most well-known Grandmaster of Science Fiction. Both books have ideas which are so original they are unlike anything I have read in other books. These original ideas come from the setting, which include multiple time periods set in China, including Maoist China is not only the setting, but also the story itself, which involves a slow-motion invasion of the Earth by an alien race who live on  planet called Trisolaris located hundreds of light years away in an improbable and unstable trinary star system.  There are far more details of the story which I don't want to give away here.  Basically, the tension in the plot(s) revolve around how specific people respond to the knowledge that we are not alone in the Universe by (1) collaborating with our future alien overlords and (2) coming up with brilliant strategies to defend Earth despite being technologically outmatched by the Trisolarians. The Three-Body Problem is primarily about the discovery of the Trisolarians and is dominated by the idea that there exist humans who would willingly collaborate with beings who are devoted to their species' extinction. The Dark Forest is primarily about humanity's realization that the Galaxy is a dangerous place for species once they reach a level of technology that allows them to perceive and interact with other civilizations on interstellar scales.

Honorable Mention (Science Fiction): The Bone Clocks by David Mitchell.
One of the most engrossing reading experiences I had all year was with the David Mitchell's The Bone Clocks. Mitchell is most well-known for his award-winning Cloud Atlas which was adapted into a gloriously disappointing movie starring Oscar winners Tom Hanks and Halle Berry directed by the Wachoski siblings. Cloud Atlas was also one of my favorite books of the first decade of the 21st century. I will not be surprised if Mitchell's The Bone Clocks makes the list of my favorites for this decade. Bizarrely, it is one of two books I read in 2015 which has the idea of consciousness shifting between bodies (the other is Claire North's Touch). Like Cloud AtlasThe Bone Clocks is written as a series of interlocking chapters, some of which are long enough to be considered novellas or novellettes. Part of the delight of the book is trying to figure out the connections between the characters in the consecutive chapters as the story continues to move forward in time. However, The Bone Clocks is memorable for much more than any one particular plot device or literary trope it deploys; it is memorable because it is a stunningly original story brimming with mordant social commentary all in the service of a captivating SFnal plot.

Favorite Fantasy Novel Read In 2015: The Emperor's Blades (The Chronicle of the Unhewn Throne, #1) by Brian Staveley

I had seen multiple references to Brian Staveley and his epic fantasy series The Chronicle of the Unhewn Throne on Goodreads and Amazon due to my positive reactions to the work of Brent Weeks, Peter Brett and Daniel Abraham. In 2015, I finally got around to reading The Emperor's Blades, the first book in the series after seeing very positive reviews for its sequel, The Providence of Fire. However, what I didn't realize is that if you start a trilogy and discover that the first two books are awesome before the third book comes out then you will have months (and possibly years) of anxious anticipation ahead of you.  This is precisely what happened with The Emperor's Blades. It is the story of three siblings, Adare (the eldest daughter), Kaden (the heir) and Valyn (the spare) who are the children of the Annurian Emperor, Sanlitun Malkeenian, who has been assassinated as the story begins. We are thrust into a maelstrom of power struggles while simultaneously being introduced to three very different main characters and a well-crafted world full of magic and mayhem. This is epic fantasy operating at the very highest level of effectiveness and excellence.

Runner-Up Favorite Fantasy: The Skull Throne (The Demon Cycle, #4) by Peter V. Brett 

I think of myself as someone who likes fantasy novels, but a review of my reading list in 2014 reveals I'm much pickier about titles in the fantasy genre than in the others that I consume. If I don't get caught up by a fantasy book early I am far more likely to give up on it than I would be if it were a mystery or science fiction book. One of my favorite fantasy authors that I have discovered in recent years is Peter Brett, and the bestselling series that he is known for is The Demon Cycle, which began with The Warded Man (back in 2009) and is now up to Book 4 with The Skull Throne. The Demon Cycle is set in a world where humanity is in a state of pre-industrial technology (i.e. flintlock rifles and no electricity) terrorized by the nightly appearance of various deadly creatures (called Demons) which materialize out of the ground but can be deflected by intricately drawn symbols, called Wards. This latest book shows how rich the story has become, having expanded far beyond the confines of Leesa, Rojer and Arlen from their small town of Tibett's Brook. Now we have an entirely new set of characters from the Muslim-inspired Krasian desert: Ahmann Jardir, Inevera and Abban. In The Skull Throne the stakes are raised as high as possible as the clash between the two competing civilizations comes to fruition.  Brett surprised me (and shocked fans) by killing off one of the main characters in this latest book, while simultaneously removing the titular Warded Man for most of the story. I can't wait to see how Brett will resolve the entire tale in The Core (scheduled for release in 2017).

Favorite Mystery Novel Read In 2015: World of Trouble (The Last Policeman, #3) by Ben H. Winters.

Nearly two thirds of the books I read in 2015 were science fiction or fantasy which is much higher than it was in 2014, when about half the books I read were mysteries or thrillers. What I have been looking for for years is a really good book that combines both genres (mystery/thriller and science fiction/fantasy). Amazingly, this year I finally discovered not one but four books that meet this standard. Three of them are part of Ben H. Winters' Last Policeman trilogy, which consists of The Last Policeman, Countdown City and World of Trouble. The entire trilogy is astonishingly good, but the third and final book is (literally) earth-shattering. The situation is that these are murder-mystery police procedural books with the twist that the Earth is about to be destroyed by a collision with an asteroid in the next six months. It was a complete eye-opener to me that a pre-apocalyptic work of fiction could be just as compelling as much of the post-apocalyptic work that has pervaded popular media. All good genre works force the reader to confront questions and the questions raised by Winters' The Last Policeman trilogy are devastating. Why are people still killing each other when there are only 6 months for every human being to live? Why should the police still try to find and punish evildoers? The very nature of responsibility and the usually hidden rules and protocols by which civilization functions are exposed by the imminent end of everything. And through it all we follow Hank Palace, a tall, geeky young police detective in Concord, New Hampshire as he lives, loves and sleuths before the world is destroyed in a final fireball. It is incredibly compelling, with both the mystery/thriller (Hank is originally called to the scene of yet another suicide and realizes it is actually a murder) and the science fiction (the way Winters portrays the many little details of how civilization falls apart as the asteroid gets closer feels very realistic) aspects executed with great flair and panache.

Runner-Up Favorite Mystery: The Ark by Patrick S. Tomlinson.

After years of searching for mysteries that successfully include science fiction elements and failing repeatedly, I actually found more than one in 2015.  Following my discovery of Ben Winters' The Last Policeman trilogy and enjoying it so much I redoubled my efforts to find other mystery-scifi hybrids. I ran into Patrick Tomlinson's The Ark and took a chance on it despite the limited number of reviews and ratings it had received. However, I was blown away by how much fun it is. The setting is on an arkship containing 20, 000 survivors of an Earth that was destroyed by a collision with a black hole 200 years ago. The protagonist is Bryan Benson, a former sporting hero who is now the police chief on the ship. He finds a dead body and has to grapple with the fact that there is someone on a ship containing the last vestiges of humanity who is a murderer. And that they have a secret so important to them they are willing to kill one of the few remaining humans to keep it. The story becomes quite thrilling as the stakes are incredibly high since the ship contains all of humanity.

Honorable Mention (Mystery):  The Nature of the Beast (Chief Inspector Gamache, #11) by Louise Penny.
The mysteries of Louise Penny have been some of my favorite reads for quite awhile. They are rather traditional: set in the mythical small town of Three Pines, with a cast of quirky characters that we have slowly been learning more and more about as the series progresses. The main protagonist is Armand Gamache who is a (former) Chief Inspector of the Sûreté du Québec but the attraction of these books is the familiar rhythm of the interactions between the characters, which are complemented by the deviousness of the murders.

Favorite Thriller Novel Read In 2015: Natchez Burning by Greg Iles.

One of the great author finds I made in 2014 was Greg Iles, whose The Quiet Game  was an Honorable Mention for my Favorite Thriller Read in 2014. That is the first book of Iles' Penn Cage  thrillers set in Natchez, Mississippi.  I devoured all the available books in the series (Turning Angel, The Devil's Punchbowl, Natchez Burning) very quickly. Cage is a former prosecutor who becomes a best-selling author who returns to his hometown of Natchez and eventually is elected mayor. Natchez Burning is the beginning of a new trilogy featuring Penn Cage and includes a parallel time line set in the civil rights era when Penn's dad Tom Cage was a family practice doctor in Natchez who had black and white patients. There is almost non-stop action in both time lines as the race-based hate crimes, murders and other events that happened in the 1960s influence what people do and think decades later. There are so many extremely dangerous situations that Penn and his fiancee Caitlin Masters (publisher of the local newspaper) are placed in as they seek to unearth secrets and crimes that lots of people will go to extreme lengths to prevent them from being revealed.

Runner-Up Favorite Thriller Read in 2015: Phantom (Harry Hole, #10) by Jo Nesbø.

Jo Nesbø was another one of the great author finds I made in 2014, after his books were recommended to me by Amazon and Goodreads because of my positive reaction to the Kurt Wallander books by Henning Mankell (all 10 books which I have previously read). Nesbø, Mankell and Jussi Adler-Olsen are all purveyors of Nordic Noir which is starting to become one of my favorite sub-genres. For example, The Snowman (Harry Hole, #7) and The Keeper of Lost Causes (Department Q, #1) were both some of the best thrillers I read in 2014. Phantom (Harry Hole, #10) is the latest (and some think possibly, the last) Harry Hole book to be published. The significant emotional wallop that Phantom has is heightened by the fact that it is the 10th book in a series where we have followed these characters over years of fictional developments. One of the key relationships that Harry Hole has is with Oleg, the young son of the love of his life, Rakel. Harry has basically retired from being a police detective and is in exile in Hong Kong when he discovers that Oleg (now a teenager) has been arrested for murder and accused of being involved with a heroin ring. What follows next is an incredibly complex and exciting series of events which had me gasping for breath at it its (very satisfying) conclusion.

Honorable Mention (Thriller): Blindsighted (Grant County, #1) by Karin Slaughter.
Another one of the great  author discoveries I made in 2015 was Karin Slaughter. In some ways her Grant County series has a lot in common with Greg Iles' Penn Cage series: they both involve a married couple living in a small southern town trying to investigate murderous and other criminal behavior. Slaughter, like Iles, does an excellent job of placing her central characters in extremely dangerous situations which are very harrowing to the reader.

Friday, December 30, 2016

CELEBRITY FRIDAY: Serena Williams Announces Engagement To Alexis Ohanian

Serena Williams blew up the internet on Thursday when she announced that she is engaged to be married to Reddit co-founder Alexis Ohanian. Williams, 35, is a 22-time major tennis champion while her fiance, 33, is a well-known Silicon Valley investor and was twice named to Forbes magazines 30 under 30 to watch.

The story of the engagement was posted to reddit in poem form:

I came home
A little late
Someone had a bag packed for me
And a carriage awaited
Destination: Rome
To escort me to my very own "charming"
Back to where our stars first collided
And now it was full circle
At the same table we first met by chance
This time he made it not by chance
But by choice
Down on one knee
He said 4 words
Ohanian's net worth is estimated to be under $10 million while Williams' is said to exceed $150 million. Hopefully, a prenuptial agreement is in the offing! Also, one hopes that Williams' engagement ends better than the one her bestie Caroline Wozniacki  had with  golfer Rory Mcilroy.

Good luck and congratulations to the happy couple!

Thursday, December 29, 2016

BOOK REVIEW: The Trespasser by Tana French

Tana French has been one of my favorite authors since her stunning (and genre busting) debut novel In the Woods. She is one of the few authors I will purchase in hardback immediately upon release. In The Trespasser, Ms. French continues her series of murder-mysteries set in the milieu of Dublin, with a different primary protagonist in every subsequent novel. In The Secret Place (the fifth book in what is now commonly known as the Dublin Murder Squad series), Antoinette Conway and Stephen Moran worked together to find out who had killed a teenaged boy in the posh private school attended by  Holly Mackey, one of their colleague's daughters. That colleague (Frank Mackey) had previously appeared in The Likeness and Faithful Place. It is this apparently haphazard recycling of seemingly minor characters from previous books into primary characters in subsequent books which sets French's Dublin Murder Squad apart from other series in the genre.

However, in the latest (and sixth) entry in the Dublin Murder Squad series, The Trespasser, French has repeated herself for the first time, by using Conway and Moran as the primary characters again. Actually, for all intents and purposes this is an Antoinette Conway mystery--she's the only character who gets a first-person narrative, although we get a lot of what Moran is thinking mediated through Conway's perceptions and interretations of his words, actions and signals. Regardless, for the second book in a row, the two work together to try and solve the mystery of who killed Aislinn Murray, a pretty young lass who was found with part of her head bashed in while wearing a sexy dress and a potentially romantic dinner for two burnt to a crisp in her well-appointed apartment after a curious anonymous tip was called into the police. Was the killer her date or a trespasser?

We had previously known from her appearance in The Secret Place  that Conway was an embittered (but excellent) detective but we didn't really know exactly how paranoid (and self-destructive) she can be until we are exposed to her neuroses full-time in the internal monologues the reader is given access to in The TrespasserAntoinette is being subject to a hostile work environment as the only female in a squad of two dozen males, with important files disappearing from her desk, disdainful look and cheeky remarks directed her way and absolutely no acknowledgement that anything is amiss from anyone else. For the first time in the series (I think), French dabbles with the trope of the unreliable narrator. 

That being said, to me The Trespasser is French's best book of the series so far, replacing the emotionally shattering Broken Harbor at the top of the heap. This is a welcome return to the form after some of excesses and errors displayed in The Secret Place. This time the stakes are raised so high for our protagonists (either Conway solves the mystery of whodunit or she will need to resign from Murder and take a spirit-crushing but lucrative private security job, abandoning Moran to his own devices). In fact, at one critical juncture in the investigation, Conway basically decides she's going to leave Murder regardless of whether she gets a solve or not (this is just one reason I would say that she's an unreliable narrator). One of the last key scenes in the book is near the end when she finally reveals her decision about her future to her partner Stephen.

A major feature of French's novels are her depictions of police interrogations and other conversations in general. As an American reader, some of the dialogue can be impenetrable ("gaff" for home, "gaffer" for boss, "jacks" for bathroom and many, many more) but it is the running dialogue of the observations and intentions of the speakers that French includes as the investigator and the suspect duel in the interview room that animates and elevates her books above other mysteries, and this book above the others in the series. Although it is at its heart another police procedural, all of French books subvert and transcend the narrow binds of genre. What French does is make it clear that the necessary job qualifications to be a successful Murder detective, namely being able to tell whether someone is lying, always wondering whether someone is telling you the truth or trying to determine someone's motives from their body language and words are things detectives do incessantly and seemingly reflexively). It seems exhausting and absolutely inimical to healthy relationships with other human beings, and we see that play out in different ways in basically all the members of the Dublin Murder Squad that appear in the book (Conway, Moran, McCann, Roche, O'Kelly and Breslin). 

But this truth about the toll her characters pay does not lessen the reader's respect or admiration for the difficult job detectives do and the pleasure we can take from seeing them do it in The Trespasser.

Title: The Trespasser.
Tana French.
Paperback: 456 pages.
Date Published: October 4, 2016.
Date Read: December 24 to 27, 2016.


OVERALL GRADE: A (4.0/4.0).


Monday, December 26, 2016

WATCH: Trailer for Bladerunner 2049

The trailer for the long-awaited sequel to Bladerunner, called Bladerunner 2049 and directed by (one of my favorites) director Denis Villeneuve (Arrival, Incendies, Sicario).

EYE CANDY: Fabrice Lemonnier (monochrome)

Fabrice Lemonnier has appeared as Eye Candy before (October 24, 2016 and November 28, 2016). He's a model and body-builder from France.

Happy holidays!

Saturday, December 24, 2016


The movie Arrival was one of my most anticipated movies of this year, as the director Denis Villeneuve has previously helmed some of my favorite films: Incendies (2011), Prisoners (2013) and Sicario (2015).  I blogged about some of the trailers for the movie, which stars Forest Whitaker, Amy Adams and Jeremy Renner and is based on an award-winning short story by Ted Chiang called "The Story of Your Life."

I saw it with a friend at the AMC Tysons Corner 16 in Northern Virginia opening weekend. The fact that the movie's source material is a novella is not surprising because in some sense it feels like there are a limited number of characters in the story, almost like a play. The main character is obviously Amy Adams who plays Louise Banks, a Prius-driving, professor of linguistics who it appears has recently(?) suffered the loss of a child after a long illness (these events are told in a prologue).

The movie really begins with the sudden arrival of a dozen egg-like spaceships, suspended in mid-air in various locations around the world. It turns out that the ship in North America is somewhere in Montana. Forest Whitaker's Colonel GT Weber shows up in Professor Banks' office soon afterwards and on the helicopter we meet Renner's Ian Donnelly, a theoretical physicist. Eventually, the three principals don the world's bulkiest hazmat suits to enter the alien ships and try to find out a way to communicate with our alien visitors in order to discover why the aliens have come to our planet and whether their intentions are peaceful or violent.

One of the memorable aspects of Arrival is the design of the ship and the aliens, which do not look like anything we have seen before, i.e. they really appear to be extra-terrestrial. In particular, the language and the manner in which the aliens communicate is so mind-bendingly original that it sets Arrival apart from other first-contact movies like Contact and Close Encounters of the Third Kind.

Some people have issues with the ending of Arrival but I thought this was the key point which elevated the film into one of the more thought-provoking cinematic experiences of the year. Some aspects of it were a surprise but there were some hints dropped at earlier points in the film which led me to make some conclusions before they were revealed in the narrative. Even though I was not surprised by the eventual twist at the end this did not diminish its emotional resonance with me.

Overall, Arrival is a brilliant, well-crafted depiction of first contact between humans and aliens which gets resolved in a way that reveals an existential question that confronts the viewer.

Title: Arrival.
Director: Denis Villeneuve.
Running Time: 1 hour, 51 minutes.
MPAA Rating: Rated PG-13 for brief strong language.
Release Date: November 11, 2016.
Viewing Date: November 13, 2016.

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

Overall Grade: A/A+ (4.16/4.0).

Friday, December 23, 2016

THE EXPANSE (S1E09-E10): "Critical Mass";"Leviathan Wakes"

Season 1 of The Expanse ends with a double feature of the last two episodes entitled "Critical Mass" (Episode 9) and "Leviathan Wakes" (Episode 10). The Season 1 finale aired on February 2, 2016. The Season 2 premiere will air on February 1, 2017.

S1E09: Critical Mass.

The title of episode 9 refers to the situation one needs to detonate a nuclear weapon. In "Critical Mass," the number of various elements of the story are starting to come together in order to reach a critical mass that will presumably explode in the final episode of Season 1.

Some of the elements which start to be revealed include:

  • What happened to Julie Mao and how a billionaire's daughter ended up dying in alone in a hotel room on Eros infected by what appears to be an alien entity called the "protomolecule."
  • Fred Johnson of Tycho Station reveals who was responsible for the creation of the ships which destroyed the Martian flagship Donnager (in Earth-based shipyards).
  • That Eros is becoming a scientific test site for the human incubation and experimentation with the protomolecule.
  • Crisjen Avarasala discovers that her boss, UN Undersecretary Errinwright, had her friend, the former Ambassador to Mars, killed in order to hide his connection to the mystery ships that killed the Canterbury and the Donnager

S1E10: Leviathan Wakes.

The title of episode 10 has the same name as the title of the first book in the Expanse series written by James S.A. Corey. Much of this episode takes place on Eros, as the Amos, Naomi and Alex make their way through the tunnels (using information only an OPA terrorist should have access to) to reach the Rocinante at the docks. The other main story in this episode is Holden and Miller trying to get to the docks but they have to do so by making way through an entire mercenary army who are attempting to enforce a genocidal lockdown.

  • The look on Holden's face when he realizes that he and Miller have been exposed to fatal doses of high-energy radiation as he says "We're dead."
  • The chemistry between Holden and Nagata becomes palpable in the final scene they have in the episode (and season) as he realizes that since she did in fact wait for him to get back maybe there is some kind of (romantic?) connection there after all.
  • The deadpan way Amos "cleans up the mess" after he prevents Sematimba from forcing Naomi to give him access to the controls of the Roci so that he can escape Eros (and leave Miller and Holden behind) is absolutely chilling.

  • Why does Holden waste all his ammunition by shooting at Kenzo to scare him off and leave him to die on Eros instead of actually shooting and killing him himself? They have already made it clear that Holden is a wuss when actually pulling a trigger to kill someone but this scene literally doesn't make any sense in the context of the life-and-death situation finds himself in.

GRADE: 9/10. ("Critical Mass").
GRADE: 9/10. ("Leviathan Wakes").

QUEER QUOTE: Draconian 30-Year Sentence Overturned In HIV Criminalization Case

The case of Michael Johnson has been a cause celebre for years, an emblematic of a toxic stew of race, (homo)sexuality, homophobia, AIDSphobia and criminal justice that produces (and is produced by) HIV criminalization statutes. Johnson is a Black gay man who at age 23 was sentenced to 30 years in a Missouri court in summer 2015 because the former college wrestler did not disclose to his male partners that he  knew he was HIV-positive before they engaged in unprotected sexual activity (some of which was recorded on cellphones). This week comes the news that an appellate court has overturned that draconian sentence (conviction for 2nd degree murder would have received less jail time) and ordered a new trial.

The Washington Post reports:
During the trial, Johnson remained adamant that he informed his partners of the positive HIV test. He pleaded not guilty. The prosecution, however, impeached his testimony using three clips of cellphone conversations, recorded while Johnson was jailed. In one snippet of phone conversation, Johnson admitted he was just “pretty sure” he had informed his partners he was HIV positive. 
After slightly more than two hours of deliberation, a jury declared Johnson guilty of three crimes, all felonies under Missouri law: one count of recklessly infecting a sexual partner with HIV, one count of recklessly exposing a partner to HIV and three counts of attempting to recklessly infect a partner with HIV. In July 2015, Judge Jon A. Cunningham of the Circuit Court for St. Charles County sentenced Johnson to 30 years in prison. 
Presiding Missouri Court of Appeals’ Eastern District Judge James M. Dowd wrote Tuesday that Johnson’s trial was rendered “fundamentally unfair” by the prosecutors; they tarried too long handing over the cellphone calls recorded while Johnson was in the county jail. “The State’s blatant discovery violation here is inexcusable,” the judges concluded.
Johnson's lawyer Lawrence Lustberg, the ACLU of Missouri and Lambda Legal celebrated this week's result. Lustberg's comment is today's Queer Quote:
"Statutes like the one used to prosecute Mr. Johnson are inherently problematic, as they promote stigma and animus towards people living with HIV in violation of their legal and constitutional rights."
The ACLU notes that the new trial is being ordered due to prosecutorial misconduct and not the underlying constitutional frailty of the criminal statute Johnson was charged and sentenced under.
MadProfessah will continue to follow this case closely and urge readers to contribute to organizations like Lambda Legal, ACLU and the Center for HIV Law and Policy.

Hat/tip to Washington Blade and Washington Post.

Wednesday, December 21, 2016

BOOK REVIEW: Uprooted by Naomi Novik

I'm glad I finally read Uprooted by Naomi Novik (primarily best known for her best-selling Temeraire series set in an alternative Napoleonic past that features telepathic dragons), especially after hearing about its many award successes and plaudits received all year long. (Uprooted won the 2016  Nebula award for Best Novel and was nominated for the Hugo award and Locus award.)

Uprooted is a pretty traditional fantasy novel. It is the story of Agnieska, a simple country girl who lives in a small village located near a dangerously enchanted Wood. Nieshka's village is guarded by The Dragon, an old Wizard who selects a girl from the local village every 10 years as payment for his protective services of the people who live in the environs of the Wood. Everyone expects that Agnieska's best friend Kasia will be chosen by the Dragon but (unsurprising, at least to me) he chooses Nieshka instead.

There is a lot of magic in Uprooted, as we discover that the reason Nieshka was selected is that she is an untrained Witch. (Of course she is. As usual, it just so happens that our main character just happens to have untapped resources of power  waiting to be developed and acknowledged. Isn't this the basic plot of every Marvel movie released in 2016?) There's also a lot of battles and a (surprisingly) large amount of death. The stakes are real for the people in the book.

As you might have been able to tell from my parenthetical comment above, one of the main faults of the book (to me) was the inclusion of too many clichéd fantasy tropes. Here is just an abbreviated list: young inexperienced farm girl, person who discovers they have powerful magic abilities, the palace intrigue, the very small village the main character comes from, the fish out of water scenes when the rube goes to the capital city, the battle of magicians, the ancient evil of the enchanted forest, the siege of hero by a numerically superior armed force, et cetera.

For lots of other people they may have gained comfort from the familiarity of these tropes but to me they were mostly just annoying. I like fantasy "well enough" but it's not my go-to genre. Examples of fantasy I have read relatively recently that I enjoyed quite a bit would includes works by Brian Staveley, Michael J. Sullivan, Robert Jackson Bennett, Daniel Abraham and N.K. Jemisin. Those books include lots of suspense, action, wonder (sometimes humor and often diversity), built around complex, memorable characters. These books use and then disrupt fantasy tropes. To me, 
Uprooted also uses fantasy tropes and perhaps is trying to invert them in some way but mainly ends up re-inscribing them. There is definitely action and suspense in Uprooted but I simply did not care about either of the two central characters and it is definitely lacking both a sense of fun and a diverse perspective. Additionally, I was almost driven to distraction by the young adult (YA) romantic scenes of "tension" between the young, inexperienced girl and older, emotionally distant, experienced magician.

However, overall I would still say that Uprooted is a well-crafted, quite traditional fantasy novel brimming with magic and mayhem, with a somewhat bewildering ending that simply failed to resonate with me.

Title: Uprooted.
Naomi Novik.
Paperback: 464 pages.
 Del Rey.
Date Published: March 1, 2016.
Date Read: August 8-13, 2016.

GOODREADS RATING:  3.5 STARS. (Rounded down for the nearly incomprehensible but unfortunately mawkish ending.)

OVERALL GRADE: A- (3.67/4.0).


Monday, December 19, 2016

WATCH: New Trailer for Season 2 of The Expanse

Season 2 of SyFy's The Expanse, based on the bestselling space opera series of the same name written by James S.A. Corey returns with new episodes available February 1, 2017! The third trailer for the second season is out now. These are some of my favorite books and I have previously blogged about most of the episodes of Season 1 and intend to do so again for the upcoming season (although I will try to do so in a more timely fashion!)

EYE CANDY: Kendrick Sampson (3rd time!)

You should recognize Kendrick Sampson from his appearance in Season 2 of ABC's How To Get Away With Murder. He has also appeared as Eye Candy before (January 5, 2015 and November 9, 2015). His acting resume lists him at 6-feet tall and 164 pounds. Google says he is 28 years old (born March 8, 1988). His eyes are listed as hazel, but they should be registered as weapons. Dayum!

Saturday, December 17, 2016

SATURDAY POLITICS: Obama (2009) versus Obama (2016)

This is how President Obama has aged between his first press conference in 2009 and the one he gave yesterday (which might be his last as President). Gotta wonder how Donald Trump will look in a few years after he has been president for awhile, huh?

Hat/tip Political Wire

Friday, December 16, 2016

WATCH: First Full Trailer for Christopher Nolan's Summer 2017 Dunkirk

The very first official full trailer for Christopher Nolan's next film, Dunkirk was released this week. This is the first film Nolan is making after 2014's Interstellar. Dunkirk  is about the famous World War II event, and stars Kenneth Branagh, Tom Hardy and 2016 Best Supporting Actor Oscar-winner Mark Rylance.

Thursday, December 15, 2016

FILM REVIEW: Moonlight

The movie Moonlight is based on an unproduced play by Black gay wunderkind (MacArthur Award winner) Tarrell Alvin McRaney. I saw McRaney's Choir Boy in Los Angeles and enjoyed it quite a bit so I was excited when I started seeing ads for Moonlight and seeing the overwhelmingly positive reviews on NPR and elsewhere.

I saw the movie more than 6 weeks ago but first pressures around the 2016 election and then reactions to the surprising results delayed my ability to engage with writing this review. Since then, Moonlight has become highly celebrated, and now that movie award season has become, the film and one of the stars Mahershala Ali (Luke Cage, House of Cards, Alphas) is starting to get Oscar buzz.

This is somewhat surprising, because although the film is quite good, and very emotionally affecting, it is ultimately a very "small" film, I'm not disparaging it by using the adjective, it is simply factual to note that it has a relatively small cast. Also, it is primarily the story of how one black boy grows up to be a man. Obviously, the subject matter resonates with me, especially when it turns out that the black boy (who his mother calls Chiron) is different from the other little boys in one specific way: he's probably gay, and he is being raised in near-abject poverty by a drug-addicted single mother.

The main character of Moonlight is played by three different actors, as the movie follows him at three distinct stages of his life. First we see him as "Little," an almost non-verbal, small-for-his-age child who is being abused by other kids his age. Then later we see him as Chiron, a shy, gangly and (sexually) conflicted teenager who is (still) being bullied by kids his age. In the third stage we see him as "Black," an impressively muscular, imposing Black man who has the typical accoutrements of a "thug" and no one is going to be bullying.

It's the "Little" segment of the film which is primarily getting most of the attention (and that's where Ali makes most of his on-screen time, in a memorable supporting role). For my money, I think the performances by the two main female supporting actors in the film are even more affecting: Teresa (played by Janelle Monae) and Paula (played by Naomie Harris). Paula is Chiron's biological mother, but Teresa is basically a surrogate mother-figure, primarily appearing in the second segment.
The accolades the ensemble cast is receiving are richly deserved.

For me it is the final segment, featuring Trevante Rhodes (damn, who is that phyne brutha?) as the grown-up Chiron, who now goes by the name of "Black" which resonated the most with me (and the other gay men I saw it with). Ultimately, however, I was disappointed by how the central tension of the film was resolved (in my opinion it was not resolved, but adroitly side-stepped in a way that was frustrating). That's not to say that Moonlight is disappointing, I hope I am communicating that my feelings are exactly the opposite. The film's portrayal of Black boys and Black men on screen is something so rare, nuanced and lyrical that ultimately seeing Moonlight is one of the most rewarding experiences in the theater I have had for a very long time.

Director: Barry Jenkins.
Running Time: 1 hour, 50 minutes.
MPAA Rating: Rated R for some sexuality, drug use, brief violence, and language throughout.
Release Date: October 21, 2016.
Viewing Date: October 30, 2016.

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

Overall Grade: A (4.0/4.0).

Wednesday, December 14, 2016

GODLESS WEDNESDAY: FFRF Full Page NYT Ad On First Amendment

The Freedom From Religion Foundation has a full page ad in tomorrow's New York Times (in honor of Bill of Rights day) with the provocative(?) headline "Don't Let The Religious Right Trump The First Amendment" with a picture of Indiana Governor (and Vice-President Elect) Mike Pence and a portrait of Founding Father (former President) James Madison. The advertisement also includes the statement "The framers of our secular constitution knew the only wall we need is between church and state." MadProfessah is a proud member of FFRF so I am happy to publicize this effort of promoting "free-thinking."

hat/tip to Friendly Atheist

Tuesday, December 13, 2016

TENNIS TUESDAY: Djokovic-Becker Split; Pliskova, Kvitova Swap Coaches; Murray Gets Greatest-Ever Kudos

It is the off season for tennis and that usually means the eventual announcement of lots of coaching changes. The biggest one so far occurred last week when 12-time major champion Novak Djokovic announced he would no longer be working with 10-time major champion Boris Becker, almost exactly 3 years after he had announced the two great champions would begin working together. When they started, Djokovic was a 6-time major champion, so the coaching pairing has been incredibly successful (6 major titles and 14 Masters series titles).

In a poll of Telegraph Sport, current World #1 and 2-time Wimbledon champion Andy Murray has come out on top as Great Britain's greatest sports hero.

Speaking of end-of-season coaching changes, a curious one happened in the Czech Republic. Both Petra Kvitova (World #11) and Karolina Pliskova (World #6) announced coaching changes. Effectively, they swapped coaches: Jiri Vanek who coached Pliskova for a very long time, will now coach Kvitova in 2017, and Kvitova's longterm coach (who coached her to Wimbledon titles in 2011 and 2014) David Kotyza will coach Pliskova in 2017. This is probably good news for both players, and Czech tennis.

In the off season the last two years a series of team exhibition matches have been organized throughout Asia featuring huge stars like Roger Federer, Serena Williams, Maria Sharapova, Angie Kerber, Martina Hingis, Novak Djokovic, Rafael Nadal etc. It is called the IPTL, the International Premier Tennis League, and is the brainchild of former doubles icon Mahesh Bhupathi.
However this year the star power has been significantly diminished when Federer and Serena pulled out, citing "uncertainties" surrounding the finances of the event.

Monday, December 12, 2016

EYE CANDY: Pikasso (reprise)

Pikasso has appeared as Eye Candy once before (May 21, 2010). His actual name is Stephan Allen and according to his Model Mayhem page, he is 33 years old, 6-feet tall and 185 pounds. Some people don't like tattoos but I think they are hawt!

Hat/tip to Pop Glitz

Saturday, December 10, 2016

Saturday Politics: Race For CA-34 U.S. House Seat (Not Yet) Crowded

Cue the musical chairs! Last week California Governor Jerry Brown announced his intention to appoint U.S. Representative Xavier Becerra to replace U.S. Senator-elect Kamala Harris as California Attorney General. Becerra, 58, is currently my congressman, representing California's 34th congressional district; he would become the first Latino attorney general in the history of the state (in 2016!)

Becerra had been a rumored candidate in the race to replace Barbara Boxer that Kamala Harris ultimately won over another Latino candidate, Loretta Sanchez. Within hours of the announcement that a rare safely Democratic Los Angeles-area Congressional seat was open, former Speaker of the House John Perez announced his candidacy for the race. Soon after that, my state Assemblyman, Jimmie Gomez, also announced his intention to run for the seat. Activist Wendy Carillo has also declared she is interested. Surprisingly, my City Council person Jose Huizar has so far declined to enter the race to replace Becerra, as has fellow Councilperson Gil Cedillo. For the special election, you just need to be a resident of California (and a U.S. Citizen and over age 25).

Today comes the surprising news that Perez is withdrawing from the race, citing an unnamed health condition which is serious enough that it will prevent him from running a rigorous race in the 2017 special election, according to the Los Angeles Times.
Citing a recent diagnosis of a serious health problem, former California Assembly Speaker John A. Pérez said Saturday he is dropping out of the race to replace U.S. Rep. Xavier Becerra (D-Los Angeles).
"I've got to focus on my health right now," Pérez said in an interview. "But it was a very hard decision."
The 47-year-old Democrat declined to offer specifics about his condition, citing a desire to keep it private. But he said it was serious enough that it would keep him from waging a vigorous political campaign in 2017.
"The treatment is one that doesn’t lend itself to the intensity of a campaign that the community deserves," he said.
Almost certainly there will be other prominent (and not so prominent) Los Angeles area politicos joining the race. MadProfessah will keep you posted, since it is literally happening in my back yard!


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