The Amulet of Samarkand: Book One of the Bartimaeus Series (Spoiler-Free Review)

I don’t have any recollection of people discussing this series in the early 2000s. I only have vague memories of Bartimaeus’s face leering at me from atop a bookshelf at our school library in middle-school. I chose to read it only because I discovered it among my fiancé’s books from his childhood home. It left enough of an impression on him that he had decided to keep it (along with the other two books in the trilogy) all these years so I thought I would give it a go.

I have to say, I’m glad I did.

In spite of the fact that I’m obviously not in the age demographic this is targeted towards, I enjoyed this just as much as a child would. In fact, I think I enjoy it more as an adult than I would have as a kid. Much like Harry Potter, it doesn’t talk down to its audience, and I believe this is both to the book’s credit and its detriment.

The plot itself isn’t difficult to follow by any means, but some of the vocabulary used in this book might have gone over my head as a child and caused me to lose interest. Hell, I actually had to look up a few words up in the dictionary, especially the architectural terms, because I, a 26 year-old woman, didn’t know what a “cornice” was.

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Considering how much is going on in this story, the book handles world-building in an impressively clever way. Rather than doing massive exposition dumps, bits of information are sprinkled here and there, playing in the background of the bigger plot. It makes sense for this to be the case as Nathaniel, a 12 year-old boy, isn’t going to care about adult things that don’t directly effect him, and yet we, the readers, can ascertain what is really going on in the world these characters live in.

Speaking of characters, unfortunately, I found most them to be quite dull and one-note, especially those of the female persuasion. I’m not going to cry “sexist” because I don’t think this was done intentionally, but it’s worth noting. Mrs. Underwood in particular is criminally underdeveloped considering she has such a huge impact on Nathan’s life. I wouldn’t expect for her character to have an arc or elaborate backstory, but she seemed to have no personality outside of being a good person.

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That isn’t to say that all the characters were uninteresting, however.

I thought Nathaniel was a unique protagonist for a children’s book considering his moral code is significantly underdeveloped. While not a “bad person” per say, Nathaniel clearly has an ego and covets renown from his peers. He also falls prey to a lot of the same classist prejudices and narrow-minded beliefs many magicians hold. Prejudices he is not cured of by the story’s end.

It’s clear Stroud is playing the long-game when it comes to Nathaniel’s moral awakening and that suits me just fine. I always find it annoying when characters just intrinsically rebel against what they have been taught all their lives simply so the writer can portray them as being “special” right from the off. It’s much more realistic and cathartic for characters to change organically by having their beliefs questioned throughout the narrative.

As for Bartimaeus….I love him. I suppose the whole “sassy other-worldly creature” trope is old at this point, but dammit if I didn’t find him endlessly entertaining. His interactions with others of his kind are some of my favorite moments as you get a clear understanding of how “demon” culture works. I thought the bullet-points were a bit excessive in places, but on the other hand it gives the curious reader more insight all without bogging down the plot with unnecessary details.

I hope in the books that follow we will be able to dive even deeper into Bartimaeus’s past. I know that might slow down the plot a bit, but I found all the nuggets about his previous summonings and experiences to be interesting and I would love to hear more about it.

All in all, I enjoyed all the world-building, twists and turns, and spirit of this novel.

It leaves you with enough questions to keep you longing for Book 2, all without feeling like the entire things was just a set up for the sequel.

If you are looking for a fun, engaging read to ward off your quarantine blues, I highly recommend it.

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Why Canon Matters

WARNING: SPOILER ALERT FOR DOCTOR WHO SERIES 12 FINALE EPISODE. 

I know I said I was done with Who but I promise this isn’t just another reason to rag on the series 12 finale and why The Timeless Children is undoubtedly the most insulting episode to anyone that cares about Doctor Who and its history.

The more I thought about this episode and all its foibles, the more I realized I had to say on the subject of canon and continuity as a whole. I’ve seen many different shows and movies fall pray to the desertion of both the holy “Cs” and they have suffered in quality as a result. This is particularly common in TV shows within the fantasy and science fiction genre.

There is the commonly used defense within the Who fandom that postulates that Doctor Who canon has always been messed up and, therefore, doesn’t matter. After all, it’s a show where “anything can happen” so it stands to reason any changes made (no matter how contradictory to the themes and history of the show) are to be accepted.

Firstly, I reject the premise that “anything can happen” in a story regardless of how mercurial in nature the narrative may be.

When you create a fictional world it is imperative to create continuity (or “rules” if you prefer) so the viewer knows what can and cannot happen in this world.

Harry Potter cannot use an AK-47 to mow-down Death Eaters, Walter White cannot use telepathy to melt Gus Fring’s head, and Joe from You can’t use vampire mind-control powers to win Beck’s affections.

Why? Because these things would interfere with each stories’ internal logic.

This isn’t to say there can’t be twists along the way that may call into question previous notions about a character’s past or motivations, but these twists should complement rather than contradict the world in which they are taking place.

If you just haphazardly throw in an unplanned twist that messes with logic of that respective universe, you usually end up with one of these guys.

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Let’s use Who as an example.

If the Time Lords gained regeneration energy from The Doctor as a child, how did River Song obtain regenerative abilities? Presumably, if the Time Lords weren’t given regeneration energy from exposure to the Eye of Harmony this shouldn’t be possible and River Song should be entirely human.

If Ruth is supposed to be The Doctor before Hartnell, why is her TARDIS a police telephone box when its chameleon circuit had not been broken yet?

Why didn’t Clara see any of the female Doctor’s when she jumped into The Doctor’s time-stream?

Why did the Time Lords need to give The Doctor more regenerations when he literally has an infinite amount of them?

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The answer is simple: Because the change in the canon wasn’t supposed to happen.

Imagine someone gives you a jigsaw puzzle as a gift. You pour all the pieces onto the table and work for hours to recreate the picture you see on the box. However, it quickly becomes apparent the picture isn’t forming the way it is supposed to. In fact, many of the pieces appear to be from a different jigsaw puzzle altogether. When you confront your friend on why this is, they explain to you that this is how it’s supposed to look and, if you don’t see it, you’re an idiot. And so you give it another try, forcing the pieces together, bending them and contorting them so they will fit within the whole. You take a step back only to realize no matter how much you try to bend the pieces, they do not–will never–form a coherent picture.

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This is what it is like when canon is tampered with arbitrarily. Anything you change in the past will invariably have a ripple effect, causing everything that happened prior to the “amazing revelation” to no longer make sense.

This drastically hampers the audience’s capacity to suspend disbelief which negatively impacts their ability to be engaged in what they are watching.

I don’t know about you, but if I am forced to do mental gymnastics in order to justify creatively bankrupt decisions in my media, I tend to just give up.

If “anything can happen,” then why does anything matter? If a character dies they can just be brought back to life through some improbable means. If a “rule” prevents a character from obtaining their goal, it can be retconned with or without explanation.

There’s no reason for the audience to internalize any new information because it will only be discarded at the writers’ convenience.

This robs the story of tension, mystery, heart and everything else that makes a good story worth telling.

I’m perfectly fine with subverting an audiences expectations, but just because something is shocking that doesn’t mean it’s good.

Thanks for reading!

My Thoughts on “Sonic the Hedgehog” (2020) Spoiler-Free

I would like to preface this review by saying I have absolutely no emotional ties with Sonic the Hedgehog in any capacity.

I did not watch the cartoon, I did not buy the video games, and as I child I had no interest in doing so.

The only reason I chose to see it was because it was an excuse to squeeze out some more girl-time with a group of friends of mine who had fond memories of the guy.

That being said…..I thought this movie was awesome.

No, really.

It was good.

I’m just as surprised as you are.

It didn’t exactly break new ground, but this was a well-written and fun movie.

What made the movie so great in particular was how well the titular character was handled. It would have been so easy to make him just another annoying, migraine-inducing yapper that spouts out cultural references at every given opportunity. Instead, they brought a real vulnerability to the character that I had not anticipated. He’s a lonely guy that finds solace in observing people around him. When it finally dawns on him just how alone he is in the universe, it’s genuinely heart-breaking.

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Jim Carrey was….Jim Carrey. While I don’t know much about the lore of Sonic The Hedgehog (yes, there is lore), it seems to me that casting anyone else in the role of Dr. Robotnik would have been a misstep. Jim Carrey was more like a cartoon character than the actual cartoon character and never did it feel out of place. I wonder if the director actually gave Jim Carey any direction in these scenes, or if they just plonked him down in a room with a camera and space mech and said “go for it.” Either way, the end result was a masterpiece of cheese.

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That being said, I was caught off-guard by how well the jokes landed in this film It’s a kid’s movie so I was expecting low-brow humor, but this movie was funny for everyone. One gag in particular had me laughing so hard I went into a coughing fit.

What worked in this movie’s favor was it was self-aware without being ashamed of itself. It knew it was a movie about a blue hedgehog so it didn’t take itself too seriously, nevertheless, it never insulted the audience. It didn’t feel like it was another cash-grab from an idea-starved industry. It was a true love-letter to the fans of the franchise and it seems to be profiting from

I’m pleased to hear it had the best opening to any video game movie in history. I personally think I liked Detective Pikachu a bit more (come on, Pikachu is voiced by Deadpool), but this was still an incredibly fun movie.

If you are a fan of sonic, you will love it.

And even if you are like me and have no pre-established connection with the character, I’m still confidant you will enjoy it anyway.

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Thanks for reading!

Doctor Who The Hell Cares Anymore

****Warning: The following contains spoilers for Jodie Whittaker’s run of Doctor Who. Reader discretion is advised****

A couple of years ago, I wrote a series of posts where I pontificated on the possibility of a female Doctor and, while I understood the backlash surrounding the character’s gender swap, I considered it the show’s only possible move.

By the time Moffat announced he was leaving the show, Doctor Who had devolved into a paint-by-numbers soap opera with worn-down concepts. Characters were flat and one-dimensional, consequences were nonexistent, and the show was slowly rending itself apart with retcon after retcon after retcon.

I didn’t want The Doctor to be a woman because of representation, I just thought this was an excellent opportunity for the show to be reinvigorated.

I was excited for the chance to start over. It had been so long since I actually wanted to watch Who. Moffat’s flagrant disrespect for his predecessors and the intelligence of his audience had driven me nearly to the breaking point.

Chibnail would breathe new life into this stale show.

So…..how is Chibnail’s era of Doctor Who?

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If you thought constantly bringing characters back from the dead and undoing series cannon for jokes is bad, you ain’t seen nothin’ yet, Princess!

Because we’re taken’ that bullshit and dialing it up to 13, baby!

Not only are we supposed to believe that The Doctor’s first incarnation was a girl—

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Yeah, not only was she a girl in her first incarnation…..

SHE’S NOT EVEN A TIME LORD!!!

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According to series 12, The Doctor was a little girl that fell out of a portal and was experimented on so Time Lords could develop regeneration. Uh huh. They are seriously suggesting The Doctor’s first form was a female.

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It wasn’t enough that The Doctor is a woman now--oh, no–we now have to go back in time and rewrite the entire frigging series so we can show how woke we are. I’m not going to lie, Doctor Who has always been a bit preachy, but are you kidding me? Are you actually kidding me? 

The question I cannot get an answer to is why? Why did The Doctor have to be a woman in previous incarnations? Why did they have to spit on Hartnell’s Doctor, on all the years that came before? Why is it not enough that she’s a woman now?

You know what makes this even worse?

It’s not even an original story. 

The entire premise is lifted directly from a Doomsday comic.

Originally known as “The Ultimate”, Doomsday was born in prehistoric times on Krypton, long before the humanoid Kryptonian race gained dominance over the planet about 250,000 years ago. It was at that time a violent, hellish world, where only the absolute strongest of creatures could survive.[4][5] In a cruel experiment involving evolution, intended to create the perfect living being, the alien scientist Bertron released a humanoid infant (born in vitro in a lab) onto the surface of the planet, where he was promptly killed by the harsh environment. The baby’s remains were collected and used to clone a stronger version. This process was repeated over and over for decades as a form of accelerated natural evolution- Wikipedia 

Uncanny, wouldn’t you say?

The Doctor—the most infamous Time Lord in all of Gallifrey—isn’t even a Time Lord.

Doctor Who has taken many a dump on it’s own lore, but this….this.

This is like finding out Harry Potter wasn’t actually a wizard but a house elf that was enchanted to look human.

This creates so many problems I can’t even list all of them or this post will be as long as War and Peace.  Here’s a link if you’re interested in some of the major plot holes this revelation has created.

I once thought that the constant rotating door of writers of this show would ensure it’s survival. With new voices being brought in, new show-runners taking the show in unique directions, it would be revitalized but this isn’t the case. From what I can tell from Moffat and Chibnail’s eras, the head writers simply have too much ego.

They want their run to be the definitive era of Who and they don’t care if they have to destroy all the hard work of previous generations to do it.

Moffat retconned the destruction of Gallifrey, completely undercutting all the character development The Doctor went through during Davie’s era. Now, upon watching series 1-7, the scenes where The Doctor talks about being the last don’t land with nearly as much impact because we know he isn’t. Or wasn’t.

Chibnail, in his turn, has destroyed all the emotional tension of Moffat’s era surrounding The Doctor’s death because now we know he (she, they, whatever) was never actually in any danger to begin with because The Doctor is immortal! 

Oh…and I guess River’s ultimate sacrifice was completely meaningless as well.

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Come to think of it, doesn’t this mean that every person—every single solitary person—that has ever died for The Doctor died in vain?

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This suddenly got a lot worse didn’t it?

The offenses didn’t start here. Chibnail gave us perhaps the most boring incarnation of The Doctor ever created, a bloated Tardis crew with no real character development or intrigue, lackluster stories as well as preachy messages so on the nose they make you sneeze.

The show has become so mired with contention Antiques Roadshow beat the season finale in the ratings.

Let me repeat that: Antiques freaking Roadshow beat Doctor Who in the ratings. 

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Simple: People stopped caring.

Now that the novelty of The Doctor being a woman has worn off there is nothing to drive people to this show.

I don’t even blame political correctness as many are wont to do.

I blame laziness and ego.

You can’t save a bland story by tacking on a “save muh planet” message onto it. It doesn’t matter if your cast is diverse if they are underdeveloped planks of wood. Nobody cares if The Doctor is a woman if she’s annoying and doesn’t bring a new spin on the character. She’s not even The Doctor. She isn’t funny or clever. She’s like a side-character in her own TV show, clever when it’s convenient and utterly useless when it’s not. Super inspiring guys!

Ratings are in free-fall.

The fanbase in the United States is basically nonexistent.

But they refuse to listen to any manner of critique, choosing the same path as many creators are these days and blaming the fanbase for not liking their product.

If you don’t like Doctor Who in its current state, it isn’t because the writing is bad, it’s because you’re a bad person.

You are an alt-right troll that doesn’t like progress.

I thought Chibnail’s era of Doctor Who would be a breath of fresh air, but it’s more like a fart; a loud, smelly fart right in our faces.

No doubt there are people who will bend over backwards to defend the changes to the cannon. For whatever reason that appears to be an unavoidable reality with this show. It doesn’t matter how many dumb decisions are made, people will always clammer to defend it with paper-thin arguments that should win them a gold metal for mental gymnastics.

I’ll leave them to it.

I give up on this show.

For good this time.

I just don’t care anymore.

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