2014 has been the first landmark year I’ve had in a long time with two major story sales to a prestigious print magazine that will be published in 2015, the publication earlier this year of a memoir about writing, a trip to New York City, and several other major, beneficial personal and family developments. Wow!

So we kicked back on the Winter Solstice with a homemade pasta dinner and three movies: The Giver, Guardians of the Galaxy, and Percy Jackson: Sea of Monsters.

In The Giver, teenagers grapple with a totalitarian government that controls every aspect of their lives—their family units, their clothes, their houses, their food, and their deaths, daily drugs them into submission, has eliminated all books, and suppresses their memories, even their perception of color.

In a graduation ceremony, the government assigns each teen a lifetime job and attendant duties, which makes a lot more sense than Divergent with the rather silly premise that each child is born into a faction, then in a graduation ceremony, each teen can choose to belong to a different faction (what totalitarian government would ever give teens such a choice?).

In TG’s graduation ceremony, a teen boy is appointed The Receiver, an apprentice to The Giver, in this case an elderly man who lives in a vast library (“They’re called books.”) and has access to society’s collective memories, which he imparts to the boy through a visionary telepathy.

When the teen-boy glimpses a vision-memory that offers hope of breaking the government’s control, he sets out on a quest to free the collective suppression.

Recommended. Yet if TG sounds derivative of Hunger Games, Divergent, and even Pleasantville, note that TG the book was published by Lois Lowry in the early 1990s, optioned at about that time, and has been in development hell for something like nineteen years. The book performed reasonably well a decade before Hunger Games was a gleam in Suzanne Collins’ eye and long before Young Adult became the hot new marketing ploy of the Big Five Publishers.

Now that my Omni story Tomorrow’s Child has been in development hell at Universal for fourteen years (with three scripts, including mine), I can well imagine Lowry’s elation that The Giver finally hit the Big Screen, as well as her frustration that the project took so damn long to get there. Probably because it was released in the wake of Hunger Games and Divergent, the film didn’t perform well at the box office. Such is the happenstance of timing in the culture. Who knew the U.S. Marines would liberate the coastal city of Casablanca and make worldwide headlines literally on the day of the premier of Casablanca, a film plagued with script changes, cast changes, and other production delays? Talk about luck!

That The Giver and similar films appear at all in the culture is welcome news that we ourselves are not There—yet. It would be a pity, though, if people have become bored with fictional critiques of totalitarian governments due to a surfeit of films.

My first reading and viewing experiences in life were of talking animals, fantasy and science fiction, and myths: Charlotte’s Web, the Mary Poppins four-book series, A Wrinkle in Time, Myths and Enchantment Tales, Kipling’s The Jungle Books, The Golden Book of Dog, Cat, and Horse Stories, and Alice in Wonderland, all of which remain on my bookshelf to this day. So my Inner Infant (“the I.I.”) enjoys SFF tropes, talking animals, and witty animation. The Garden of Abracadabra, my adult urban fantasy, introduces a magical talking cat who will continue in the Abracadabra Series and will get her own series in the future.

A movie reviewer for The New Yorker roundly trashed Guardians of the Galaxy as derivative of Star Wars and even more juvenile. But since we like juvenile entertainment, we were willing to take a chance. Good choice! We were highly entertained by the ensemble motley crew—a young adventurer Peter Quill, a green-skinned woman (played by Zoe Saldana), a machine gun wielding, talking genius raccoon (voiced by Bradley Cooper), a tattooed assassin, and a tree man (the I.I. has loved talking trees since The Wizard of Oz)—and their galactic quest.

The film didn’t remind this viewer at all of Star Wars, which the I.I. frankly hated. The magic orb Quill steals reminded us of The Maltese Falcon, a mysterious object people are willing to kill for. The use of early 1980s sappy pop music added just the right humorous touch and reminded us of the latest X-Men film, which we greatly enjoyed. X-Men spoofed early 1970s pop music and clichés, with the opening scene of a Clint Eastwoodesque, sideburned, nude Hugh Jackson lurching up from a tryst on a waterbed while Roberta Flack’s “The First Time” croons on the reel-to-reel tape deck, the same tune Clint Eastwood plays over his nude love scene in a forest pool in 1971’s Play Misty For Me. That the waterbed/forest pool is ripe for a sight gag (Jackman *is* the Wolfman) didn’t make it any less hilarious when the gag arrives a couple of minutes later.

But that’s the latest X-Men (I think the subtitle is Days of Future Past, but I didn’t have time to review it when we saw it earlier this year and don’t precisely recall the full title), which is highly recommended. As for GotG, the distinguished Glenn Close appears in a very minor role as the leader of a good realm. Zoe Saldana has apparently been typecast in SF films—she plays Uhuru in Star Trek: Into Darkness, which we saw on Christmas Eve (I’ll review that over the weekend, if I can). If so, she would make a terrific Ruby A. Maverick in Summer of Love.

In GotG the tree man, Groot, turns out to be one of the most memorable characters with a nicely rendered arc that slowly reveals his powers and personality. He starts out as an inarticulate strongman, introducing himself, “I am Groot.” He repeats this phrase with a different inflection and in different circumstances so that, when tragedy strikes, the viewer truly cares. And when redemption arrives at the end, with another silly 1980s song, the viewer leaves the theater with a smile on her face and a silly song in her heart. I like the use of purposeful repetition that takes on new meaning as the story progresses and use that device in Tomorrow Is A Lovely Day, which will be published in The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction some time in 2015.

Since the I.I. practically memorized Myths and Enchantment Tales, I admit I was envious of Rick Riordan’s wild success with his reinterpretation of Greek myths as a YA series. Apparently, though, retelling of Greek gods and goddesses is strictly the province of Young Adult. I’ve seen reviews over the years of authors attempting adult retelling of the myths. With their violence, seductions, betrayals, and infidelities, the myths are ripe for adult drama. But somehow none of those books has achieved much success.

Riordan’s Percy Jackson books and the movie adaptations, here Percy Jackson: Sea of Monsters, are squarely aimed at the teen market and therein lies their limitations for this reader/viewer. When I was fourteen, I was reading Brave New World and The Last Temptation of Christ. As a teen, I would have scorned books like Riordan’s as the shallow end of the pool.

But, as mentioned above, the I.I. enjoys witty juvenile entertainment and animation. One of the best films we saw in 2014 was the 2009 film of Charlotte’s Web, a moving, beautifully rendered animation and faithful adaptation of one of my all-time favorite books. Another excellent animation is the witty Rango, with its sly rapid-fire movie references and a genuinely scary villain.

The high point for this viewer of Percy Jackson: Sea of Monsters was seven minutes of animation of the ”hippocampus,” a water horse PJ summons to take him and his sidekicks across an expanse of sea to a ship they’re searching for. A team of animators took considerable care in creating this delightful character who has more charm and personality as a horse than any of the live actors.

The rest of SoM is a rather predictable quest story and a touch too teen-boy-centric for this viewer’s taste. That a teen-girl ship’s commander botches her mission and surrenders her command to the teen-boy is not, in this viewer’s opinion, a very good message.

Not that female characters always have to be successful or “good.” But in a culture in which only 15 percent of speaking roles in 2014 films were girls/women according to The Hollywood Reporter’s year-end report, a statistic that has proven true every year going back forty years, when they do appear, female characters need to matter.

It’s interesting that other distinguished Academy Award winning “older” actresses are showing up as dictators of oppressive governments—Kate Winslet in Divergent and, in The Giver, a witchy, silver-haired Meryl Streep. I suppose we should be glad these female roles are of leaders and not, say, of waitresses.

So there you have it, my friends. If you only have ninety minutes for juvenile entertainment, choose GofG and save SoM for another time. Sadly, The Giver is way behind the YA dystopian curve but, if you’re interested in the trope, choose this film and save Divergent for later.

From the author of Summer Of Love, A Time Travel (a Philip K. Dick Award Finalist and San Francisco Chronicle Recommended Book) on BarnesandNoble, US Kindle, Canada Kindle, UK Kindle, Smashwords, Apple, and Kobo.
Summer of Love, A Time Travel is also on Amazon.com in France, Germany, Italy, Spain, Brazil, Japan, India, Mexico, and Australia.

The Gilded Age, A Time Travel on BarnesandNoble, US Kindle, Canada Kindle, UK Kindle, Apple, Kobo, and Smashwords.
The Gilded Age, A Time Travel is also on Amazon.com in France, Germany, Italy, Spain, Brazil, Japan, and India.

The Garden of Abracadabra, Volume 1 of the Abracadabra Series, “Fun and enjoyable urban fantasy,” on BarnesandNoble, US Kindle, Canada Kindle, UK Kindle, Apple, Kobo, and Smashwords.
The Garden of Abracadabra, Volume 1 of the Abracadabra Series, is also on Amazon.com in France, Germany, Italy, Spain, Brazil, Japan, and India.

Celestial Girl, The Omnibus Edition (A Lily Modjeska Mystery) includes all four books. On Nook, US Kindle, Canada Kindle, UK Kindle, Smashwords, Apple, and Kobo;
Celestial Girl, The Omnibus Edition (A Lily Modjeska Mystery) is also on Amazon.com in France, Germany, Italy, Spain, Brazil, Japan, and India.

Strange Ladies: 7 Stories, five-star rated, “A fantastic collection,” on Nook, US Kindle, Canada Kindle, UK Kindle, Smashwords, Apple, Kobo, and Sony.
Strange Ladies: 7 Stories is also on Amazon.com in France, Germany, Italy, Spain, Brazil, Japan, and India.

My Charlotte: Patty’s Story on Barnes and Noble, US Kindle, UK Kindle, Canada Kindle, Australia Kindle, Smashwords, Apple, and Kobo;
My Charlotte: Patty’s Story is also on Amazon.com worldwide in France, Germany, Italy, Spain, Brazil, Japan, and Mexico.

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