Wednesday, 30 May 2018

Willful Machines by Tim Floreen (Book Review)

A fantastic book with great characters and a central theme about life and freedom.

As it’s nearly Pride Month, I wanted to do another book review with an LGBT love interest and wasn’t disappointed with Willful Machines by Tim Floreen. (Yes, I double and tripled checked to see how many L’s are in the Will part and the ful part)

But, before I delve into the depths of this book, I just wanted to speak a little about a 40 year old man reading Young Adult literature. No, it’s not weird and here’s why...

1.      I am an avid reader and normally have a few titles going at the same time. I’m in the middle of Swan Song by Robert McCammon which is a 1,000 page epic read about a post nuclear apocalypse belter based in America. It’s a heavy read and not something you finish in a couple of days. So, to have something on hand that is lighter and easier to read is great.

2.      I’ve also a hectic lifestyle, but often have 20 minutes to spare at lunchtime, sitting in the car waiting for the hubby to finish shopping or in between things, so a YA novel is also great for this.

3.      And finally, I enjoy them and want to continue doing reviews which might encourage a teen to read one of my favourites.

However, another great reason to read YA books is if you haven’t had a good experience with reading in the past (bullied by teachers or parents), or are a slow reader, or find it difficult to concentrate on a really complicated story or don’t have a lot of time to spare, YA books are perfect. It’s like my mum used to say; she is now a retired primary school teacher and spent much of her career teaching learning support students...she encouraged them to read anything, that back of the cornflakes box, a magazine on your favourite hobby, a comic or graphic novel. She didn’t care what they were reading as long as they were reading something. So, if you see an adult reading children or YA books, don’t judge, instead strike up a conversation and share your love of books with them.

Anyway, to get back to reviewing this great book.

Think of a Harry Potter style world, an old school with eccentric teachers based in the future, but instead of having magic, everyone has access to some amazing technology. Floating prisms around their head that help with lesson plans; use to communicate with each other & see what’s happening in the world. There are little robots everywhere to carry-out all the mundane work like cleaning and CCTV cameras flitting around capturing students doing what they are bound to do (but shouldn’t of course).

The protagonist Lee Fisher is the closeted son of the US president. His granddad is also the school principal who knows EVERYTHING (as all teachers do). He is trying to have a normal life, under constant surveillance by his Secret Service detail and then develops a crush on Nico, the eccentric, Shakespeare-obsessed dishy new boy who just started in the school. But, oh no, things are more complicated than that, he has to hide his recent suicide attempt from Nico, navigate a potential new relationship and keep himself from freaking out from all his secrets.

With amazing technological advancements scientists create what may be a new form of life: an artificial human named Charlotte. All goes well until Charlotte escapes, transfers her consciousness to the Internet, and begins terrorizing the American public. During her escape she kills Lee’s mother. I'm reminded about the fab movie Ex-Machina, if you haven't seen it give it a go.

Lee now finds himself the target of Charlotte and we find out that Nico may be part of Charlotte’s plan too. As Lee races to save himself, uncover Charlotte’s plan, and figure out if he can trust Nico, he comes to a whole new understanding of what it means to be alive…and what makes life worth living.

I really enjoyed this book and will definitely stick it on my shelf to read again. It’s written really well, the characters are well rounded and developed. The author Tim Floreen does a fantastic job, I think, of describing the thought processes of a young teenage gay boy. Not that I can remember that far back to being a teenager, but I do remember until the age of about 25 obsessing about, over thinking and worrying about every little detail. This book resonated with me, the life of Lee Fisher’s was very similar to my own, one of being unsure and extremely unconfident and nervous. Or, maybe, it’s like that for every young person until they figure out what they want and are happy with the path they have chosen. I don’t have the answers to that one. I wonder is the book slightly biographical in nature?

More on the author HERE

The descriptive passages of the old crumbling school building, the landscape around & roaring waterfall under the school and all the technological marvels are brilliant, I can see and smell the surroundings and imagine the click-clack of the worker robot-spiders cleaning the floors. I really like the central theme of sentience and questioning what exactly is life. It’s not a unique topic, the story that springs straight to mind is Data’s journey in Star Trek but the author deals with it well from a fresh perspective.

Of course, (and maybe I’m reading more into it that Floreen’s intention) this main theme can also be seen as a commentary on slavery and equality. If we create sentient robots are they alive? Do we give them free will? If so can we then expect them to stay slaves? Do we give them rights? And then come full circle, this theme can also be a commentary on LGBT rights. With this central theme the book would be a great classroom novel.

Anyway, to get down to business. This is a well written book with characters you want to know more about. The future vision that Floreen gives us is plausible and exciting. I hope there will be a sequel to Willful Machines. The book is a little bit predictable so for this reason I’m giving it a 9 out of 10 planets.

Other LGBT books I have reviewed are

Queens of Geek by Jen Wilde HERE

When Everything Feels Like the Movies by Raziel Reid HERE

Noah Can't Even by Simon James Green HERE

Simon vs. the Homo Sapiens Agenda by Becky Albertalli HERE 

Boy Meets Boy by David Levithan HERE

Live Long and Prosper
John The Captain Ryan

Monday, 21 May 2018

Deadpool 2 (movie review)

"This may be one of those rare occasions where the sequel is as good as the first"

[Warning: This post contains major spoilers for Deadpool 2.]

For those who never watched the first instalment of this Marvel "juggernaut", where have you been the last 2 years? I was tempted to watch it again before going to the cinema but didn't get around to it. The fantastic thing is, to enjoy Deadpool 2; you don't need to be up-to-date with the ever changing Marvel universe. This movie is a standalone extravaganza of comedy, violence, parodies from other movies (just wait for the Basic Instinct moment, it will be seared into your frontal lobe for ever) and more comedy. Grannypool (Leslie Uggams), aka Blind Al makes a return and is also hilarious.

So the basic story goes like this, Deadpool is ridding the World of evil, one gang at a time. The first part of the movie shows in graphic detail these bloody and gruesome fight scenes. Yes, this movie is a 16's cert and should be. I've blogged before how I hate movies being disneyfied and sanitised whilst reviewing Logan (HERE ) so to see the story as it should be is fantastic. When he goes too far whilst on a training mission with the X-Men (headed up by Colossus) he ends up being jailed with a fire wielding kid called Russell, aka Firefist played by Julian Dennison

Drum roll...Josh Brolin arrives. Not playing Thanos, but instead Cable, who has come back in time to kill Firefist before he starts down the road of killing and mayhem, eventually making charred remains of Cable's wife and daughter. X-force is created to stop Cable but by the end of the movie there is an uneasy alliance between them to try and peacefully stop Firefist who has teamed up with The Juggernaut. I was a bit disappointed that Juggernaut wasn't played by Vinnie Jones; the new Juggernaut was mostly CGI with a face capture and voice done by Ryan Reynolds himself. 

So, let’s get down to the nitty-gritty. The story is great and Marvel has introduced just enough characters, but unlike Avengers Infinity Wars they haven't gone mad altogether, keeping the storyline condensed with a good, albeit, and slightly predictable ending. Don't forget to watch the mid-credits extras. These are brilliant. There is no credit at the end but rumours suggest it was Deadpool killing baby Hitler by stealing Cable's time travelling device. 

The special effects, fight scenes and general mayhem are brilliant. Our expectations are really high these days and Marvel, yet again, out performs DC in producing a seamless masterpiece. AND the soundtrack, it's just amazing. Songs like Celine Dion's "Ashes", Dolly Parton's "9 to 5," and even "Tomorrow" from Annie accompany some of the movie's most violent scenes, making for a delightfully weird playlist. Weird yes, perfect also yes. Much has already been written about the soundtrack so I'm not going to repeat, find the whole playlist HERE.  

My favourite characters are Deadpool (obvs), Domino & Cable.  

Ryan Reynolds just loves playing the role of Deadpool. I can only imagine what the set is like; when actors and directors clearly love what they are creating it shows through. The offhand violence, adult humour and general capers are a perfect balance with the trailers for the movie not over selling the production. So many times you see a trailer & then when actually see the movie the only good parts were actually in the trailer. So hate when that happens. Some people might be fed-up of Deadpool's advertising antics but I just love them.

Zazie Beetz
 playing the role of Domino is fabulous. Another example of Marvel far out doing DC in providing us with an amazingly strong and sexy female character. Her superpower, simply put, she is really lucky. I loved the scene where the prison truck is being destroyed and she lands on the giant inflatable. Her scenes help the comedy element of the movie flow without having to rely only on Reynolds.

Josh Brolin plays Cable, the time travelling, crazy weapon wielding superhero. His fight scenes are superb (no pun intended) and the interaction between himself and Reynolds is also brilliant. Both characters, (Deadpool & Cable) are the anti-heroes of the Marvel universe, breaking all the rules of the X-men, which unfortunately mean they will never be full members of the Marvel Universe (or what is left after Infinity Wars). But, ironically the violence and immoral attitude of both is part of what elevates this movie above most of the other superhero offerings of the last decade. 

Another example of Marvel far out doing DC is the introduction of Marvel’s first onscreen lesbian couple. In fact, it is...

The first ever same-sex relationship in a superhero movie.

Now before you get your knickers in a knot, don't go bitching about my love of seeing LGBT characters in mainstream movies and stand-alone movies. As Jim Parson's says "“Let me get sick of too many gay romcoms thank you very much. Bring it on and we will see.” (See his interview HERE)

We see mutants Negasonic Teenage Warhead and Yukio, played by Brianna Hildebrand and Shioli Kutsuna respectively, whilst the pair don’t have a great deal of screen time, they are seen holding hands; and Yukio is outright referred to as Warhead’s girlfriend.

From the very first X-Men iteration in 2000 (Patrick Stewart and Ian McKellan), the X-Men movies have always been a commentary on the discrimination the LGBT community endures. "Straights" and "Gays" in the X-Men universe are translated into the "normal" versus the "mutants". Professor X's peaceful approach versus Magneto's militant approach brings to mind the struggle for LGBT equality all around the World. And then "heaven forbid" a cure for all mutants is found. Hell ya, let's just pray that GAY away. Halleluiah.

Anyway, to get down to a rating. This one is easy. This may be one of those rare occasions where the sequel is as good as the first. Special effects are awesome. The story is brilliant. The characters and actors are sublime. The comedy (Basic Instinct scene alone) is unforgettable. A ten out of 10 planets for me ALL DAY LONG.

John "The Captain" Ryan.

Check out this blog review by another Wexworlds Team member Billie Jean HERE

Sunday, 20 May 2018

Are you attending your first Scrabble Tournament? If so, read on

What to expect at your first tournament...

The most important thing is to try and enjoy yourself and meet new friends. We are a friendly bunch of nerds and you will always be welcomed with a smile (and probably some sort of comment like “I cannot get any decent letters, how about you?”). That being said, your first event can be a bit of a shock.

I've done a few really popular blogs for Scrabble beginners, check out the list HERE.

If you have never played Scrabble with a clock, try and get a practice game before the tournament starts. If you are arriving only a few minutes before the event is due to start, when you register ask the person at the desk to get someone to show you how it works. You will probably struggle during your first few games, but don’t worry you will get the hang of it and most opponents will remind you about it. Ideally, if you are local to where the tournament is happening or staying the night before, make your way down to the bar and you WILL find some Scrabble players about, explain you are new and they will help you out. Remember I said we were a friendly bunch, yes some of us will – SHOCK HORROR – be in the bar having a laugh. So do join us.

You might find the day tiring. YES, REALLY. Be prepared, it’s a long day. Ever play 6-8 games of Scrabble in a day?. And even though you might do that on a computer or tablet, it’s different playing in real time, there’s a lot going on. So, to help, make sure to take a break between games, even though it’s tempting to just sit and wait for your next game, get up, wander around, maybe go outside. Also, if you’ve ever had trouble with your back it’s really important to get up for that walk, sitting in the one position for many hours can get painful. Lots of people bring a cushion. If you had a bad game and made some mistakes don’t worry too much, shake yourself off prepare for the next game.

So, generally, how does it work? Well sometimes there are a few groups, other times all players are in one group. We use a computer program to determine which player plays whom. The program matches players by their performance. It also tracks who has already played whom and will engineer pairings to avoid playing the same people. (this is called repeat pairings). This is normally turned off for the last 2-3 games. Normally the first 3 games are random and then after this, players have “found” their place and performance pairings start. But, you needn’t worry about any of this. The moral of the story is that there will be a sheet of paper put up on the wall detailing who you will be playing and who goes first (the computer gives all players an equal number of starts during the event also)

There are only two things to consider. Whether you win or lose and by how many points (spread). These are then accumulated over the whole event. For example...

Game 1 – WIN by 73 points....................1/0/+73
Game 2 – LOSE by 124 points.................1/1/-51
Game 3 - WIN by 3 points.......................2/1/-48 

Therefore your cumulative result is 2 wins, 1 loss and a spread of -48 points

In game 4 you will be paired with another player who has a similar cumulative result as you.

The governing body for Scrabble in Ireland is WESPA. Full rules are HERE

Order of play
There is a lot going on during the game but keep this order of play in mind. This might seem a bit pedantic but it makes things easier and you get into a routine. It also helps when it comes time to challenge a word. You can do one of 2 things, play a word or exchange.

1.       Play your word
2.       Announce Score
3.       Press clock
4.       Record Score
5.       Draw replacement tiles (always have 7 tiles on your rack)
6.       Tile track if desired


1.       Check to ensure there are at least 7 tiles in the bag
2.       Declare you are going to exchange and how many tiles you are going to exchange.
3.       Place the tiles you are going to exchange to one side (NOT in bag)
4.       Hit clock to indicate end of turn.
5.       Draw replacement tiles and place face down
6.       Return other tiles to bag

Tile Draw
Tile drawing etiquette. It is customary to draw your tiles in a manner that makes it very clear you are not cheating. Whatever you do, don’t have the tile bag below eye level as your opponent “might” think you are looking in the bag at the tiles.

1.       Hold the bag above the board, above eye level
2.       Draw tiles one at a time placing them in plain view on the table
3.       Count how many tiles you are taking
4.       Try not to overdraw*. (*see below)
5.       Only place all drawn tiles on the rack when you are happy you have pulled the correct amount.

It happens at every tournament that someone overdraws. YES, every event, so don’t feel bad. If you are not sure what to do, stop the clock and ask the TD about the ruling. In fact if you are not sure of anything, ask your opponent or ask the TD. Don’t be afraid to ask, it’s the only way to learn.

(This is where point 5 of tile drawing comes in useful.)

(WESPA Rules V3)

What to do when your opponent plays a word you don’t know.
If you have never played in an event, don’t be surprised to see some players scoring 400 and even 500 points against you. Remember they are playing for decades and know lots of really crazy words like ATONIES. But, if you don’t know a word; challenge it. This is how we do it...

1.       Wait until opponent presses timer. This indicates the end of their turn. If they forget to hit the clock, as soon as they reach INSIDE the tile bag remind them to press the clock.
2.       Announce you intention to challenge the word CLEARLY and stop the clock.
3.       Declare which word(s) you are challenging. Some players chose to write down the words on a slip of paper.
4.       Both players cover the tiles on their rack (or turn them over) and proceed to check the word.
5.       The challenger types in the word on the device
6.       The other players hits button to check.
7.       If the word is ok, no harm, no foul. Play continues
8.       If the word is wrong it is removed from the board and player loses turn.
9.       Restart the clock

If you type the word in incorrectly on the device or when you return to the board & realise you spelled the word wrong (e.g. you checked TRAELED but the word on the board was TRAILED) you can recheck the word.

Other things to note

During the game when a blank is played, declare what the blank is CLEARLY and make a note on the result sheet. Later in the game this might be important if both players think it was something else

At the end of the game, both players agree the score and fill in the result sheet

Once the scoresheet is filled out & signed hand it up

When the game is over, leave the playing room if you want to talk

Here is an example of a completed scoresheet; 

The first blank was a Q and the second an X.
John (player no 23) beat Mary (player no 21).
John scored 350 and Mary scored 325.
The spread was 25 points.
Both players signed the sheet indicating they agree with the result.

Well peeps, that’s it. I hope I haven’t scared you off and we will see you at a tourney soon.

Live Long and Prosper and may the tile faires be with you.

John The Captain Ryan

Wednesday, 16 May 2018

The 8th Amendment. Retain or Repeal?

That is the question.  Social media, the press and everyone and their granny has given their tuppence worth over the last couple of months. This is the one and only time I’ll be posting about the referendum.

This is a difficult question, both, for a nation and its individuals. It’s even hard to decide what language to use, what I (scientifically) might call a bunch of cells or a foetus in someone else’s mind is a baby from the moment of conception and a gift from God. And guess what...I’m not disagreeing with them. The debate has been hurtful, tiring and destructive. The debate should be about how we write laws, people's rights and how as a nation we can decide and make an informed decision.

AND NO! ... don’t be trotting out the line “Well I have a right to my opinion”. Have your opinion but unless it is informed keep it to yourself.

There are a few things I am 100% sure of and nobody knocking on my door will change my mind.

1.       This is a personal matter. I’ll say that again. PERSONAL. What works for one person doesn’t work for another. You cannot equate the reasons why one person/family may want to keep a child and the next will not. And in some cases, will has nothing to do with it. So, as I’ve said before, the language we use is important. Don't be using the word dismemberment, murder and comparing the YES side to Nazi's.

2.       This amendment (as like most of the constitution) was written at a time when the vast majority of Irish people didn’t only consider themselves Catholic, they practiced on a regular basis. The Ireland of today is different. There are people of many faiths, no faiths and people who write RC on the census form but only go to mass for funerals and at Christmas. The Ireland of the 21st century is changing and we need to change our laws. It is my opinion that any laws about abortion DO NOT BELONG in the constitution.

3.       Our constitution and politics are predominantly written and dictated to us by a group of old suit-wearing men. The likes of Jackie Healy Rae have no RIGHT to tell any woman what to do with her body. I have no right to tell any woman what to do with her body in the same way that if I am in the hospital no woman has the right to tell me what I can do with my body. Either a person has full anatomy over their body and their medical care or they do not. You cannot choose which elements of Equality you agree with and which you don’t. That’s not Equality.

4.       Do I believe that abortion should be freely available to anyone who is careless and willingly has unprotected sex and is using abortion as contraception? HELL NO. Do i believe this will happen. No; because Ireland is still a morally strong conutry. Nobody chooses an abortion lightly.

5.       Do I believe that a woman that is raped should be forced to have that child? HELL NO.

6.       Do I believe that a woman should have to carry and give birth to a baby that is already dead in her womb or will only live for a few minutes? HELL NO!

7.       Do I believe that it any of my business? HELL NO!

So, in summary. It’s none of my business. A woman should have 100% autonomy over her body and must be able to make an informed decision as to her medical needs after consulting with her doctor. In a perfect World, the father of the child should also be consulted but he shouldn’t have the final say.  Laws in regards to abortion do not belong in our constitution.

To the Retain campaigners that called to my door a few days ago comparing the current government (who are crap), the Minister for Health and the Repeal campaigners to NAZIS. That argument is STUPID.

John The Captain Ryan

IT, Chapter 2. (movie review)

After a 2 year wait we finally get to see what happens to the LOSERS. (source  fortniteinsider )  IT's been a long time coming, ...