How to Train Your Dragon 2

[4.0 stars] [IMDb Link] [Amazon Link]

A sequel to (guess what) How to Train Your Dragon. The IMDB raters (as I type) have given this a slightly lower rating (8.0) than its predecessor (8.2, and number 152 of the best 250 movies of all time). But I liked it a bit better.

The Viking land of Berk has settled into a cooperative harmony with its dragon population. Hiccup, the previous movie's hero, is getting along with his dad, Stoick. Hiccup and his dragon, Toothless, are devoted to each other, and like nothing better than to explore the neighboring lands.

But Hiccup and his pals happen upon a ragtag crew of dragon-trappers, who are accumulating the beasts for the brutish, evil, wannabe-world-conquering Drago. And another strange character appears, a masked dragon-rider whose skills are comparable to Hiccup's. Who is it? No spoilers, sorry.

This movie has a fine plot and sympathetic characters, but wait, there's more: The animation folks at Dreamworks continue to display their almost-Pixar levels of imagination and expertise to make it jaw-droppingly gorgeous at points, hilarious in others, and butt-clenching at others. So good on them.

And, yes, How to Train Your Dragon 3 is apparently in the works. I'll be there.

The Last Colony

[Amazon Link]

I plunked this into by TBR pile … whoa … must have been back in 2008 or so, when I read the first novel in John Scalzi's trilogy, Old Man's War. I followed up by reading the second entry in 2009, The Ghost Brigades. And now, nearly six years later, I'm finally getting around to the third book in the (then-)trilogy, The Last Colony. This delay was due to the randomness in my book-selection algorithm and the depth of the particular sci-fi sub-pile.

So (bad news), the details of the first two books in the series had faded. Fortunately, this didn't matter too much, although I wouldn't recommend the delay to others.

Here, John Perry, the hero of Old Man's War, and Jane Sagan, the heroine from The Ghost Brigades, have married and adopted a teenage daughter Zoë (who has her own story). The previous books were heavy with mind-blowing levels of genetic engineering and consciousness transfer, and all three are a product/victims of those technologies. Talk about an untraditional family! They reside on the colonial planet of Huckleberry, where John is an administrative bureaucrat. A very peaceful existence, but things change when they are persuaded out of semi-retirement to establish a new colony, Roanoke.

Problems abound: earthlike planets in the reachable parts of the galaxy are rare, and hundreds of different species are willing to fight for them. Setting up on a new world is inherently risky. It doesn't help that the government that's sending John, Jane, and Zoë to the new world is lying through its teeth about everything involved: the risks, the opposition, its own motives, and the nature of the world itself. It doesn't take long before the risks develop into actual danger, not only for Roanoke, but for the entire human race.

But… (quibble) it takes awhile to get going. On page 110 or so, Zoë complains about how boring things are for her. I thought: you and me both, little girl. Things pick up shortly after that, but a lesser writer couldn't have brought this plot off at all.

Scalzi is a gifted writer, and the people who compare his storytelling technique to Heinlein's aren't wrong. I need to add at least one more book of his to the TBR pile: Redshirts, which won the Hugo Award for Best Novel.

The Phony Campaign

2015-02-01 Update

[phony baloney]

For some inexplicable reason, Mitt Romney's odds of being elected President have gone very long at Betfair. So he has been dropped from our tabulation:

Query String Hit Count Change Since
"Jeb Bush" phony 3,550,000 +2,801,000
"Hillary Clinton" phony 390,000 +4,000
"Rand Paul" phony 170,000 +11,000
"Chris Christie" phony 129,000 +8,000
"Scott Walker" phony 95,900 +19,100
"Elizabeth Warren" phony 89,100 -1,900
"Marco Rubio" phony 86,800 +2,500

That's quite a phony bump for Jeb this week; based on past experience it's more than likely one of those inexplicable Google Glitches, and he'll be back in the pack next time we look.

But what else is going on in the world of Presidential Political Phoniness?

  • Okay, one last shot at Mitt, from a January 27 WaPo story about the campaign that wasn't:

    If he runs again in 2016, Romney is determined to rebrand himself as authentic, warts and all, and central to that mission is making public what for so long he kept private.

    Not for the first time (or the last), we'll quote Jean Giraudoux: "The secret of success is sincerity. Once you can fake that you've got it made." If only Mitt had figured this out four years ago!

  • Mike Huckabee does not, as I type, have odds at Betfair, but Indispensable Geraghty notes that his "homespun schtick" is getting on some peoples' nerves. Charles C. W. Cooke is quoted, from his article on Huckabee's "cornpone politics":

    Unlike so many in Washington, Huckabee claims, he is firmly on the side of “Bubbaville” rather than “Bubbleville”; of the “catfish and cornbread crowd” rather than “the crepes and caviar set”; and of those who “come home tired at the end of the day” rather than those who “burn tires in the street.” Are you tired of the incumbent set? he seems to ask. Then you know what to do.

    Geraghty goes on to note some facts in discord with Huckabee's trying to paint himself as jes' folks: his $2.8 million Florida beachfront house; his recently-concluded $500K contract with Fox News; his $50K+ speaking fee; his PAC that doles out $400K in salaries to his extended family while providing a relative pittance in support of GOP candidates.

  • Rand Paul posted a fake transcript of a phone call between Jeb and Hillary. In this vein:

    Hillary: Well you're right...Maybe we can work something out…we both agree on so many issues! Bigger government, common core, and amnesty for illegal immigrants!

    Jeb: Well, we've both got problems... you've got problems with the grassroots and I've got all those damn conservatives. What say, we make a deal

    Everyone says it's fake, anyway. I'm not too sure.

  • And more news from the Democratic side:

    A group of major liberal donors who want Elizabeth Warren to run for president have paid for a poll intended to show that Hillary Clinton does not excite the Democratic base and would be vulnerable in a 2016 general election.

    Shadowy fat cats trying to push their radical agenda by torpedoing a mainstream candidate? That would be real alarming news if they were Republicans!

    [Update 2017-11-29: wow, that turned out to be prescient! Vulnerable even to Trump!]

Last Modified 2017-11-29 4:12 PM EDT