September 28, 2015

Season/Series - the first of Inside No.9

While I am going to enjoy the second season of Inside No.9, I can try to throw a glance back at the first season.

Inside No.9 is a British series classifiable in the 'dark comedy' genre. The first season consisted of six half-hour episodes. It is an anthology series, meaning that each episode is a story in itself and is self-contained. The common theme, in addition to death and the dark side of the human soul, is the fact of being always set to the 'number 9' of something. An apartment, a house, a dressing room, and so on.

The authors, Steve Pemberton and Reece Shearsmith, appear in almost every episode interpreting very different characters. They were also the authors of the series Psychoville, for those who knew it. There are, in fact, some similarities between Psychoville and Inside No.9, although in my opinion the latter is far superior.

The pilot, Sardines, is perfect and inspiring, and it is why I immediately dedicated myself to the series. The story begins with a game of hide and seek in reverse, with the various players hiding gradually, like sardines, in the same cabinet. The dialogues introduce the characters and the various relationships with excellent style, and the dark side emerges, subtle, until the unexpected ending. I found it amazing how such a complete story has been stuffed into an half-hour episode.

The second episode, A quiet night in, shows an attempted theft in a villa. Very little dialogue, this time. Almost none. It is all played on alternating the characters in the rooms of the villa. Perfect timing, and a story that emerges by itself. A few laughs, despite the dramatic side. One of the best episodes.

The talent of the authors shows great again in Tom and Gerri, an actual thriller in which an aspiring writer is in trouble when helping a homeless man becomes a threat to his own identity.

Back to light tone in Last gasp. The death of a famous pop star while he is inflating a balloon becomes the occasion for conflict when everyone tries to appropriate the balloon itself, valuable 'last breath' of the famous singer.

In The understudy we have a thriller again. The protagonist is replacing a famous stage actor and is, after a serious accident of the star, having the opportunity to make a real change to his career. But whoever arranged this chance?

The arrowing ends the season with a gothic horror. A baby sitter is invited to watch the mysterious older brother of two very obscure and bizarre characters. Many jokes accompany the increasing tension up to the room of the 'brother' and the striking final.

A good season, a beautiful series. If you like british humor, even when it passes a little bit the comfort zone, and if you like well written and well performed stories, then it is definitely worth watching. It is time well spent.

September 22, 2015

Kingdom Rush - played it

When you write video games reviews a plus is that, compared to books and films, you do not run the risk of seeming an arrogant expert of Literature and Cinematography. If you review a game, you are a 'dirty player'. And on that game you've spent time. Playing.

And, I noticed just recently, I have never reviewed games.

Do we start with Kingdom Rush?

It is a game from Ironhide Game Studio, an interpretation of the most classic 'tower defense' genre: waves of enemies that attack moving on predetermined paths; defensive units upgradeable during the match; victory or defeat depending on the number of enemies that cross the finish line at the end of the path.

Bought with a Humble Bundle, for Windows, Linux and Android (note: it plays very well both on touch screen and on television with an air mouse). It was a good purchase, considering that we played for months, me and my two children. And we haven't got tired yet.

What are the strong points? First of all simplicity: even the 4 year old was able, in a short time, to learn rules, controls and game dynamics. Maybe he did not learn advanced strategies but got through the first levels independently.

Another strong point is definitely sympathy and attractiveness: the comic look and variety of characters, animations and sound effects make the game attractive, and encourage to explore and try levels, characters and new units.

I add the variety of game to the pros. There are various units, according to different paths for improvement: foot soldiers can become barbarians or knights in armor; bowmen may progress to elves or riflemen; wizards can become dark necromancers or benign sorcerers. There are many combinations to try, to choose, to be taken as a favorite strategy.

In conclusion Kingdom Rush is a good game, solid and fun.Well made, suitable for family fun (or solo) when you can enjoy twenty o more minutes of leisure time.

September 14, 2015


I hadn't seen many films from Danny Boyle. In Trance, The Millionaire and 28 days later. I liked all of them. Therefore, despite the trailer for Sunshine had not raised much curiosity in me, I wanted to trust the director.

The film tells the story of a group of astronauts that, due to the imminent loss of activity of the Sun, must 'awaken' it by placing a powerful nuclear device inside the star.

Take a starship. Move to a star. Drop a bomb.

Indeed, with such a plot, the risk is to run into a Solaris (sooo boring) or an Armageddon (zero thickness) and, in both cases, the only result is to mark those two hours as 'time spent badly'.

Yes, because in a film in which the protagonists have to place a super bomb in the dying sun, what can happen?

Nothing can happen, because they are aboard an hyper automated space stuff, so you end up watching two hours of wonderful scenes of the spaceship, the space, the stars and the astronauts doing boring things like playing chess and experience hallucinations.

Or everything can happen, because they are in an extreme situation, and at this point you end up watching two hours of people and computers going completely nuts and inventing implausible things and pushing implausible buttons to get to destination, dying on the run like leaves in autumn.

Or, come on, something in between.

Absolutely beautiful pictures next to something that happens.

So in Sunshine you can follow a decent plot combined with spectacular images. The plot is decent because, although not entirely original (*), pushes to follow with apprehension to see what happens next. The spectacular images complete the experience very well and, actually, are the icing on the cake. The dying sun, still so beautiful and deadly that seems to remind us when it was considered a deity itself. And the deaths of various characters, much cured visually. Every death is almost a painting.

Ultimately it is a watchable film. Time is not wasted. There are no 'mind blowing' ideas or peculiar 'what if's, and probably it will not be a story of those who remain in the memory for decades, but everything runs well.

(*) Final note: we often 'complain' lack of originality in a plot, but it is not the lack of originality that is a flaw. A plot is beautiful when we want to follow it and when it it leaves something. And, in this sense, an idea already proposed can be revived in an interesting way.
Just as an original concept can be ugly or totally anonymous.
Or not?

June 30, 2015

Home - watched it

Well, this story could have come from one of my novels.

Don't you believe?

Well, here is the plot. An alien race called Boov, constantly fleeing away from the destroyers Grog, decide to inhabit Earth after moving all humans in a kind of resort / theme park built in Australia. Tip Tucci, escaped the mass kidnapping, meets the alien Oh, sought to have mistakenly sent an invitation message to the Grog with indications on how to reach Earth. The two work together and, after incredible adventures, find the mother of Tip and a new friendship between the two races. In addition to saving the world.

The film is cute, colorful and with funny gags aimed at both adults and children. My kids liked it, even though they failed to describe what in particular has affected them.

Personally I found most enjoyable the lighter scenes, and a little weak those moments when the movie tries to go deeper, to go into feelings. Predictable but still very cute the final.

Note: The film is based on the novel 'The true meaning of Smekday', by Adam Rex. It does not look bad. Added to the wish list.

Another note: I've seen it in italian, but in the original language the character of Oh is played by Jim Parsons, as Sheldon Cooper Big Bang Theory.

Enough said?

April 8, 2015

Martians Go Home - I've read it

One thing you can say of this novel, without a doubt. It's really unique.

You will never find other similar descriptions of an alien invasion. You will never find aliens likewise detestable.

(no, even if you watch 'The host')

'Martians Go Home' is a very funny novel describing, as mentioned, an alien invasion a bit special. There is no mother spaceship. There's no sightings, or a warning to humanity before destruction.

The Martians arrive, all together, suddenly.

They are bodiless. They can't be touched, but can be seen and heard. They can kwim wherever they want. They see in the dark. They see through walls, safes, protections of all kinds. They are particularly good at languages and can interact with each terrestrial in no time.

But these are not their main traits.

Their main trait is that they are quite intolerable. Hateful. A pain in the ass. Annoying beyond belief.

In just a few words, they are trolls.

And, since coming on Earth, the only purpose of the Martians is just trolling every human being who comes within range.

You can say, "And what it takes? Just ignore them. Don't feed the trolls."

Try it.

Try working, eating, studying, reading, driving, indulge in any activity that requires concentration. Try to have sex while those little creatures are looking at you (even across the sheets) and comment. And always commenting offensively.

Try to not even be able to hit them, move them, hide from them. Not being able to get rid of them in any way.

Is it a nightmare? It is. But it's also terribly funny.

And if you want to know how it ends, if humanity manages to get rid of this unusual threat, then you need to recover this old novel (*) and read it all in one go.

It's worth it, Mack.

(*) Side note: I have found the edition shown at the beginning of the post in a small flea market. I was looking for it for a long time and, when I saw the cover appearing from an old cardboard box, I think I missed a couple of heartbeats. This is what happens with old science fiction classics.

March 9, 2015

GOTO, GOSUB and the days gone

When I was a kid and the most technologically advanced and wondrous object was a Commodore VIC20 (or, even better, a Commodore C64), we spent our afternoons in front of the TV.

We were on together. We played a lot with what we had on audiotapes and, sometimes, we also wrote some code. We were too young and inexperienced to be able to write our own code, so we used to buy some magazines with listings of games written in BASIC.

It was at least two, sitting next to each other. One was reading the listing, the other was writing. Full of expectations. Sometimes a few lines were wrong. Sometimes there were typos. We fixed it and we learned something.

We didn't understand, at first, what they meant those GOTO and GOSUB words which stuffed the listing. We didn't know that they were the equivalent of the english "go to" and "go subroutine". We read them as they were written, in italian, and those strange and funny words seemed to us a little magic.

Some of us, as a result, decided to pick up a manual and finally understand how it worked, really, this 'programming' thing.

Partly because every time we finished a listing and started it, inevitably the game sucked.

February 9, 2015

In the 90% of the Sturgeon's Law. And being proud of it.

To the critics who claimed that 90% of science fiction literature is crap, Theodore Sturgeon replied with the Law (or Revelation) of Sturgeon, which confirms this percentage but also states that, by extension, 90% of all (classical literature, cinematography, arts, etc.) is, in the same way, crap. Consequently, science fiction literature is not inferior to each other product of human creativity.

That said, I address the authors who follow this blog. Authors of science fiction and not. Self-published authors and not.

Given the extremely high percentage of crap, it's very likely to fall into it. I am, for sure. Even at the bottom of the pile, maybe. But let's face it, I'm in good company. And in that 90% I can find some Nobel Prize for Literature, some best seller author, some literary prize winner, some author cuddled by critics. There is so much room, in a 90%.

But there is a difference.

There is the fact that, in that 90%, you can also accept of falling into. Because, well, we are also readers. And certainly, among the books to which we are fond of and that we loved the most, there are many who fall just in that 90%. For me, at least, it is. I can pick out dozens of novels and short stories that are not art, that are not masterpieces, that are (cit.) written with the belly, but that I liked and I can not forget. And it's a beautiful thing.

Thus, the many writings that fall in that 90%, let's make them fall proudly. They are crap, but someone will love them the same. Someone will have spent over them a few pleasant hours. Someone will not forget them.

To celebrate the 90% of Sturgeon, I will use in this blog (and also on Twitter) the hashtag #ProudlyInSturgeons90.

Have a good reading.