Reading Review of 2021

In this post, I list and briefly review all the books I read or listened to in 2021. These are in order of how they were consumed. Since I’m doing this retrospectively, some of my recollection about the books may be hazy, but my only real goal is to vaguely convey how much I enjoyed each work.

Resistance Reborn

This book fills in the void between Episodes 8 and 9 where Poe, Leia, and the other surviving rebels rally around the galaxy looking for allies to help fight in the resistance.

I enjoyed it at the time. In retrospective, it was a little forgettable compared to other books I read this year. It’s nice that it revisits some characters we’ve met in both the movies and the other books. I’d recommend it for any Star Wars fan.

Thrawn: Treason

Thrawn starts off with an interesting mystery. Using his keen intellect, it leads to a bigger conspiracy. We get to see more Chiss, and we revisit Eli, which was nice. I really enjoyed this book, and thought it was a great read. Highly recommended.

Tarkin

Tarkin gives us a look at what shaped Tarkin into the character we meet in Episode 4. It gives us back story about where he grew up, and how his childhood shaped his story. I thought it was reasonably interesting, and think any Star Wars fan would enjoy it.

A Boy and His Horse

I read the Narnia novels in the now current order which is in-universe chronologically, and not in the order of when they were written, which in retrospect, I think is wrong. This book follows a story that takes place entirely while the children are ruling Narnia in the first book. While it was a fine story, I was disappointed to not get the next part of the story with Peter, Susan, or Lucy. I’d recommend it, but would also recommend reading it in publication order which puts it after the Silver Chair.

Prince Caspian: The Return to Narnia

This book was very enjoyable, and was the revisit to Narnia I wanted/expected after reading the Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe. I found it very enjoyable and would recommend it to any one who enjoyed the first installment.

Darth Plagueis

It makes me sad that this is “legends” as it, in my opinion, works very well with canonical Star Wars. This was a longer book, and at times is really more about Shiiv Palpatine than it is about Darth Plagueis. I found the entire thing very gripping and loved all that it added to the Star Wars universe. Highly recommended to any Star Wars fans.

Rebel Rising

Rebel Rising follows the story of Jyn Erso during her time living with Saw Gerrera. It takes place before and up to the main events seen in Rogue One. I honestly don’t remember a lot of details now, but I remember it being enjoyable at the time.

From a Certain Point of View

For the 40th anniversary of Star Wars, 40 short stories were commissioned showing key parts of the saga from the point of view of other characters. It was entertaining for the most parts. Some stories stood out more and stuck with me more than others. In particular, I loved one of the first stories about why the gunners didn’t fire on the escape pod because they’d have to file paper work, and also since there were no life signs, their kill ratio would go down, which would look bad. I’ll consider that canon. Some of the stories are a bit of a stretch. It’s not a necessary read, but it was mostly entertaining.

Voyage of the Dawn Treader

The next installment in the Chronicles of Narnia was again an enjoyable tale. This time, Edmund and Lucy are accompanied by their cousin Eustace and get transported to Narnia aboard Caspian’s ship, the Dawn Treader. Caspian is looking for the lost lords of Narnia, and they have many magnificent adventures. I really enjoyed this installment, and highly recommend it.

The High Republic: Into the Dark

This is, so far, the only High Republic book I’ve read. There is an interesting plot about a seemingly abandoned space station, mysterious transportation pods, and sentient plant life, and a Sith shrine which is exuding dark side energy. It was an interesting, new adventure in the Star Wars universe. I’m curious to see how fleshed out Disney will make the High Republic era eventually.

Star Wars Last Shot

This book is about Lando and Han in two different time periods interacting with the same crime boss, attempting to get a device/weapon/mcguffin, the Phylanx. It takes place mostly after the battle of Jakku, before episode 7. It was another novel that I thought was enjoyable while reading, but not very memorable once finishing. I still would recommend it to any Star Wars fan.

Humble Pi

I listened to this narrated by the author, Matt Parker. It was a fascinating book with many anecdotes about times when people got the maths (that’s a British term) wrong and the interesting or even devastating consequences that arose. I just loved this book and couldn’t recommend it enough.

The Princess Diarist

I listened to this one narrated by the princess herself, Carrie Fisher. She is hilarious. This book was a bit risque at times, but was fascinating. I thought it would be more about her life, but it really was mostly about her life around Star Wars. It was an enjoyable book, and made me sad that she is gone.

Children of Dune

This novel follows the story of Paul’s children. Leto II and Ghanima. It was an okay read. Dune hasn’t been my favorite franchise as it leans so heavily into the constructed lore. I realize that some people love that. For me, it makes it a little harder to get into it.

God Emperor of Dune

Of all the Dune books, this was probably my favorite. Leto the second is living as the God Emperor of Dune and is taking us down the Golden Path. I thought it had an interesting plot and I really enjoyed Leto as a character. Recommended!

The Saints Volume 1

The Saints is a book presenting the history of the early LDS saints. The content is comprised of primary sources as much as possible with secondary sources when no primary is available. I don’t usually consider myself a fan of history, but I found this very fascinating. It filled in a lot of the gaps between the stuff I did already know. It’s more a book about presenting the history and therefore isn’t preachy so it could be an interesting read for anyone interested in the history of the LDS church, even if they themselves are not members.

Heretics of Dune

I didn’t love it. I read it out of my desire for being a completionist, and because I know my brother really likes the books, but I didn’t find the narrative super compelling.

Bossypants

I listened to this narrated by the author, Tina Fey. It was a short book, but very humorous and engaging. She’s a very funny lady, and had some great anecdotes, and insights inter her life and career. I’d recommend it, especially if you’re a fan of 30 Rock.

The Silver Chair

This book reunites us with Eustace and an old King Caspian. Eustace and a friend from the Human realm embark on a journey to rescue Caspian’s son. I rather enjoyed this entry into the Narnia saga, and would recommend it.

The Last Battle

This was a fun one. We are reunited with Eustace, and his school mate Jill once again. In Narnia, there is a false Aslan who has been doing questionable things. Eventually the charade is revealed. It presents a nice final ending to the saga, and was a fun book. Recommended!

The Saints Volume 2

The Saints Volume 2 continues where Volume 1 left off and brings us to the cusp of the 20th century. Another interesting insight into the events and people who were integral to the early church.

Conclusion

All in all, I don’t regret reading any of them and enjoyed most of them. The standouts this year were:

  • Humble Pi
  • Darth Plagueis
  • Voyage of the Dawn Treader

 

Bill & Ted

I’m a big fan of Bill and Ted’s excellent adventure. I grew up watching the original movie frequently, and will always have a fondness for it. I recently purchased the trilogy on BluRay and watched all three films back-to-back.

While I feel that often sequels are money-grabs that try to copy the beats of a successful film in order to duplicate the former’s success (I’m looking at you Ghost Buster’s II), I feel that Bill & Ted successfully avoided this pitfall and produced sequels that are both unique and interesting. They also continue telling the over-arching story of how Bill and Ted save the world through music, making them cohesive.

In my estimation, the sequels are both successful because:

  1. They are not rehashes of the first movie (Different beats)
  2. They tell a new story while building on what came before (New plots)
  3. They are tied together because they are all part of a larger theme (Saving the world through music)

Bill & Ted’s Bogus Journey is a very different movie from Bill & Ted’s Excellent Adventure. While the first is full of gags about time travel and a race to save their grades in their history class, the second does not focus on Bill and Ted time traveling at all. Instead the film focuses on them going to the afterlife, visiting heaven and hell, and becoming successful musicians. It uses new gags, has a new villains, and some pretty good special effects that I think still hold up pretty well.

Bill & Ted Face the Music pays homage to both previous films while not retreading them completely. It doesn’t follow the same beats, but does revisit elements of the first two films. First, Billie and Theodora go on a time travel mission to gather famous musicians, much akin to Bill and Ted gathering historical figures in the first movie. Secondly, they revisits hell, and reunite the cast with the Grim Reaper. It also has a new scenario of Bill and Ted going forward in time and visiting themselves to try to find the ultimate song.

I liked that the third film was able to take the story and prophecy into a new direction without being disrespectful to the previous films. I thought they did a great job with casting. I felt like it really nailed the tone of the previous films while also being contemporary.

In summary, I think this is a great trilogy which each film being unique, enjoyable, and not a mere copy of it’s predecessors.

Reception of the new MacBooks

I’m always excited for new products being announced by Apple. Yesterday, Apple announced new laptops and a new external monitor. I was excited to see some change. It’s been a while since something completely new has emerged, and I was excited. Although, there are things I definitely don’t like, it was still fun to see something new come out.

MacBook
I love the new MacBooks. I think they are just wonderful for non-pro users. All of my major issues were addressed in this update (not that I didn’t already love my MacBook…) First of all, the aluminum enclosure. I love it. It’s much more durable and less scratch prone than the plastic. It looks nice. The back-lit keyboard is a welcomed addition to the pack of features. That is something I have wanted for quite a while. The glossy display? I’m not so keen on it, but since I rarely use my MacBook for work, and it’s already got a glossy display, I don’t mind. The battery indicator on the side is a nice addition as well. One thing that does make me sad however is the lack of FireWire 400 or 800. For me, FireWire is a necessity. I don’t care much for USB, and I enjoy being able to use Target Disk Mode to connect my laptop up as an external disk. This lack of FireWire wouldn’t be too devastating if Target Disk Mode could be achievable through USB… But alas… a tragedy.

MacBook Pro
I was not a pleased with the direction the new MacBook Pros are taking. I certainly enjoy the new manufacturing process and overall look of the new MacBook Pros. Additionally, the ability to easily replace the HDD without removing 32 screws, and removing the top-case is a welcomed change. However, I am deeply disappointed that there is not an alternative for the glossy display. As a professional computer, and as a computer that is known for being a standard in the graphic-arts industry, I feel glossy display’s are the wrong choice. I feel that the over-saturated and untrue colors are more of an appeal to the trendy-college-student types rather than the working professionals.

LED Desktop Display
So good, and so bad, all rolled up into one. I love the methodology for using this display as a secondary display on a laptop. The screen acting as another power adapter for the laptop is just clean and brilliant. No clutter, no fuss, just sweet convenience. And finally, a screen with a built in iSight, just like the iMacs. I’ve been wishing for that for quite some time. But then, there is the glossy problem. To reiterate, I don’t like the glossy displays. Colors become different as they transition from one part of the screen to another. Angles combined with the gloss make it impossible to tell exactly what you are getting. I use a glossy iMac at work, and I love the computer, and it’s great for most things, but it is lacking when it comes to fine tuning colors.

All in all, there were some very neat new things introduced, but in my own opinion, there was nothing that made me want to jump up and buy a new computer… Maybe once they give me the option for a non glossy display…

Iron Man

I finally got around to seeing Iron Man at the 3 Dollar theater. I wanted to see it before it came out on DVD, and I do think that It was worth it.

I am not as familiar with the origins of Iron Man as I am with other comics, but fortunately the movie did not require any fore-knowledge to be enjoyable. I’m sure die-hard fans caught things which I did not, but that’s to be expected. The visual effects were pretty dang good, and it had some good one liners. I also thought that the casting was well done.

The story built from Iron Man’s beginnings and continued to build through the end. After all the build up of how he becomes Iron Man, there wasn’t much time in the movie where he was Iron Man. He fights the Iron Monger, which is a good action sequence, but not too long. I’m looking forward to a movie where we get to see him in action for a longer amount of time.

Overall, it was a good movie, and I was entertained. I can’t wait to see the sequel.

The Dark Knight



Well, I managed to wait two weeks before seeing this movie in theaters. I liked it a lot, but it still could have been better.

The reason I say that this film could have been better is because I didn’t care for the story as much as I did for Batman Begins. In Batman Begins, I enjoyed how they showed his becoming Batman. The technology was somewhat explained and made it feel plausible. Now, he just has new toys and technology without any real explanation. For example, he has the new echo-location system which seemed to far-fetched for my taste. The change of environment also bothered me a little. In Batman Begins, Gotham is a dark city with many high rise buildings, and the giant train infrastructure etc. It felt foreign and different, and dirty. In the Dark Knight the same city felt more familiar, almost like Chicago; Big, but generally clean. The big train infrastructure and thousands of giant high rise buildings from the first film were all gone.

I thought that the performance of Heath Ledger as the Joker lived to the hype. He wasn’t a crazy Jack Nickleson type Joker, but rather and anarchist Joker who wasn’t doing it for the money, just for the kicks. Heath Ledger delivered big time. Over-all, i really think the casting in both this and Batman Begins is fantastic. The visual effect were amazing, the sound and music and also the timing of scenes were all to perfection. Overall, this was an amazing movie.

Wall•E



Wow. Can I just say wow? This movie was right up my alley.

One of the things I have always loved about Pixar movies/shorts is the ability to exude humanistic qualities from very non-human objects. (ie: Luxo) Most of their shorts are able to do this without even any dialogue, which is one of the things I really liked about Wall•E. The first portion of the movie was sans-dialogue, or at least very minimalistic dialogue. The humor was accessible to people of all ages, ranging from physical humor, to niche humor especially for the nerds (like me). the movie was a little preachy about saving the planet, but I think it wasn’t too over-the-top.

I liked this movie absolutely. It was amazing, and I can’t wait to go see it again!

I Am Legend



I liked this movie in some ways, but in others it just didn’t quite do it for me. The overall storyline was good for me. It did what any good movie does. It made me sympathize with the protagonist, it made me contemplate living in that reality, it made me think. It also was scary when appropriate and wasn’t too lame.

The problem I had was that the infected humans didn’t look real enough to take seriously. In scenes where they swarmed, or were in the dark, it looked good. Or at least unnoticeable. In the ending scene however, the graphics kept me from being able to believe the story.

There are two different endings on the DVD. The original ending, which is more of a crowd-pleaser, and the alternate ending, which was more of a contemplative ending which caused me to think and rehash the contents of the movie. I must admit that psychologically, I preferred the alternate ending, and all of its implications. It was much harder to take seriously though because there was more screen time with the infected humans, and it just didn’t look realistic.

Over-all, it was a really good film, and pretty well done. I was thoroughly entertained.

Portal


For those of you who aren’t familiar with the game, Portal is a puzzle/first person shooter where your only weapon is a gun which can make portals on surfaces through which you can travel. The game-play is pretty straight forward and simple, which is one of the things that appeals to me in a game. I don’t like convoluted controls. Throughout the entire game, there is much humor in various fashions ranging from the GlaDos computer and her whimsical lines to the hidden writing on the wall about the cake and the lovable companion cube. There is a lot of detail that one should appreciate when playing the game.

The concept is fresh. Instead of using a gun with bullets or lasers as in most games, your only means of surviving is finding creative uses for the portal gun. It keeps you thinking and trying. The puzzles are challenging, but at the same time not overwhelming. I felt like it was the perfect balance.

The game did have two shortcomings as far as I’m concerned though; it wasn’t long enough, and it isn’t available on the mac (and probably never will be. Bummer) I passed it in a day. I think just over a couple hours. At any rate, it kept me riveted throughout and had a delightful surprise at the end.

Firefox


I have always had a battle between Firefox and Safari. Ask anyone who knows me. About every month I switch from one to the other. I love the usability, look, and interface of Safari. It’s clean, uncluttered, and simple. It appeals to my Apple-lover side too. Firefox though is much faster, and seemingly more multi-threaded. Often in Safari, I find myself unable to use other tabs because one page is loading (and taking its sweet time) rendering the entire browser unusable. I never have this problem with Firefox. It is so stable and so fast, but I do find the interface to be somewhat cluttered and lacking in niceties. I decided to compile a list of the tweaks that I find make Firefox usable.

    About:Config tweaks

  • browser.urlbar.autoFill;True
    This allows for the address bar to auto-complete, enabling the user to press enter for a given URL without having to type the whole thing, or down-arrow in order to select the URL guess.

  • extensions.checkCompatibility;false
    This setting allows the user to utilize add-ons which may not be compatible with the currently installed copy of firefox.

  • browser.tabs.closeButtons;3
    This places a single close button for your tabs at the right. I’m not sure if I like it better than having close buttons on each tab, but I do like knowing where to find it each time I’m looking for it.
    Add-ons

  • Adblock Plus
    Most people are already aware of this add-on. It blocks advertisements on websites. I hate visiting a website and having the whole thing cluttered with ads.

  • Flashblock
    Similar to adblock, Flashblock replaces flash elements with a play button. This gets rid of annoying auto playing music and flash elements that can be so annoying.

  • Stop-or-Reload
    This is just a simple UI tweak which makes the stop and reload buttons function as in Safari where the buttons are combined, thus if the page is loading, a stop button is displayed, and if it is loaded, then the reload button is displayed. It makes for a less cluttered UI, and I just like it.

  • Fission
    Fission merges the progress bar with the address bar, like Safari. This is once again an aesthetic tweak. I don’t like having the progress bar at the bottom of the window where my attention is usually not. In the address bar, it is more prominent and in my opinion less cluttered. PS: I like putting this picture as the background of the progress bar.

Instant Gratification


Each day our world is more and more enamored with the thought of having something for nothing, and fast! The marketing that we and even more so our children grow up with is meant to convince their audience that they need a product, and even that they can’t live without it! This could affect the rising generation, if we aren’t careful, by rendering them more self centered and self serving in their actions because of the need they feel to have their every whim gratified.

All technologies are showing this need for instant gratification. Tivos allow TV to be made around our schedule, and not the other way around. Internet makes listening to that music you want possible without even so much as driving to the local music store. Email allows a letter to travel around the world in a few seconds. Facebook lets people know what others are doing without even talking to them.

Throughout the ages, this is what drove technological advancement; the desire to sell products to more people. This wasn’t really possible back in the days of artisans and craftsman. Every product was one of a kind, and only the nobles could afford such luxury. As the industrial revolution occurred, and mass production of products began to be commonplace, prices were able to drop to a point that most if not all could partake. There is nothing wrong with this, or anything wrong with wanting to buy products that make our lives easier or just for fun. But I think it is getting to a point where people let it consume them, and it becomes a lust that is ever-present in their thoughts. They want the newest car, the newest computer, the biggest house, etc. People don’t want to wait to enjoy these things, and are willing to go to extraordinary lengths to get it now, such as going into debt.

Even the food industry shows the signs of a people who don’t want to wait. Fast food has made the ritual of eating less about the experience, and more about the getting the food you want so fast that you don’t have to leave your car, and with as little human interaction as possible. I personally hate drive-throughs. I would much rather any day actually see a person face to face and talk to them.

I wish we as a society could enjoy the wait. I wish we would slow down our lives a little and enjoy each other instead of trying to one-up each other at all costs. Life is too short as it is. I don’t want to be too concerned with gratifying all of my material desires that I let life pass me by. It’s hard though. I must admit that I too have succumbed to the desire for instant gratification. I find that I often covet the newest and greatest technologies that I just can’t afford. But maybe that’s just human nature. Who knows?

© 2007-2015 Michael Caldwell