Thursday, December 16, 2010

Finished Left Hand of Darkness; started a hiatus

I finally finished The Left Hand of Darkness by Ursula K. Le Guin. I'm just going to dive right into a brief description of the book, and then I'll talk about my impressions.

The story is about an envoy - Genly Ai -who is originally from earth, and who is sent to a planet to represent a galactic alliance of planets, which would like for this new planet to join up. The planet - which is called Gethen - is unaware of life on other planets. Right away, imagine the difficulty involved. Imagine if an alien came to earth and wanted to address us all us "earthlings" and ask us to join his planetary union. All the nations, agreeing on one thing. I'll note that while Le Guin kind of simplifies the nations of the planet in this story, she also makes it clear that an entire planet of nations agreeing on one thing is a bit difficult to accomplish.

Genly Ai has several troubles to overcome. The nation he lands in, Karhide, has bizarre politics that he doesn't understand. They have a system of honor and respect called "shifgrethor" in which they seldom speak plainly, which allows them to save face. They very seldom speak straightforwardly. The other Gethenian nation he deals with is Orgoreyn, where people act very straightforwardly but there are often hidden purposes behind it.

Additionally, almost all people of Gethen are androgynous. They have no gender except for when they go into "kemmer" once a month, which is basically like an animal going into heat. At that time their bodies choose a gender, and not necessarily the same one every time - one person may be a father to some children and a mother to others. There are occasional anomalies on Gethen in which a person is born with a gender and stays in that gender all the time. These people are considered perverts, as is Genly Ai. Meanwhile, Genly has trouble relating to these androgyns. He tends to characterize them all as men when they are not in kemmer, but is often put off by any feminine traits he sees in them.

Finally, Gethen is in an ice age. The conditions there are much colder than he is accustomed to, which leads to numerous hardships.

So clearly, Le Guin bit off a lot with this story. The book was published in 1969 when women writers were not very common in sci fi. While the feminist aspect of the story is not nearly the most significant issue, it's difficult for me to read this without concluding that Le Guin was overly eager to prove herself. There are just so many things - politics, gender, man vs. nature, war - the Gethenians have no word for war. They do not have wars, and it is suggested that this is because they have no gender, but this is not defended. I believe that she intentionally left it uncertain, but it's just one of many unresolved issues that left me feeling like the story was incomplete. My best sense of what the story is about is an outsider learning to understand a different race of people, and the story gets there eventually through the relationship between Genly Ai and Estraven, a Prime Minister of Karhide who assists Genly throughout the story. But it's a very slow story of understanding, partly thanks to the many sidetracks into other themes.

And then there is the language.

Kemmer is well explained. I could only figure out the meaning of shifgrethor through the internet, and even then it's unclear. There's also the Gethenian calendar, which is constantly being referred to, and which has no similarity to our calendar (of course). And the Gethenians have numerous words for snow, which are also often used. This seems unnecessary because Genly is translating to us from their language. Instead of using this particular word for snow, he could just say "sleet" or "slushy snow" or whatever. As if that isn't enough, Gethenians often have lengthy and complicated names which are not so different from the names of their months or their many words for snow. Often I got so bogged down in alien language that I got lost.

Of course, China Mieville also used his own made up calendar in The Scar, and it didn't cause any problems for me at all. The language isn't the only obstacle here. The pacing was very slow, and the story had no clear direction for a long time.

This is not the fault of the author at all, but while I've been finishing up the book, the weather here has been of the winter season so far. As I'm struggling to get my apartment warm, I've also been reading about Genly Ai and Estraven crossing over frozen lands that are barely hospitable to life. It's been a bit too easy to imagine their conditions. That last section of the book, when Genly and Estraven rely on each other closely for survival, is when Genly finally understands Estraven and shifgrethor. The book doesn't make it any clearer to the reader, though.

I think Le Guin was reaching for some very big concepts when she wrote this book, and she just didn't fully realize them all. I recognize that this book symbolizes a change in sci fi from stories about technology to stories about people, and that's certainly a contribution that changed the genre. But like so many influential works, it's rough and messy. The stories it inspired were more well crafted than this. It's value is obvious, but it's a dense read and doesn't really pay off at the end.


I've decided to take the Christmas holidays off and read some comics, which is my favorite way to spend a hiatus. This hiatus was inspired by Neil Gaiman's recent spot on Talk of the Nation. Neil was discussing The Best American Comics 2010, which he edited. I'd never stopped to consider that there are comic book anthologies, and hearing about this really thrilled me.

The Best American Comics 2009See, some time ago my comic book guy was fired. I don't really care the reason why he was fired (and in case you were wondering the owner did not say it was theft when he gave me a lengthy and extremely unprofessional lecture on why he did fire him). My comic book guy read everything, and every time I came in to the store he had recommendations for me. He was also a good, non-judgmental comic book guy. The store owner is more like the comic book guy on the Simpsons, and regularly let me know that he hated everything I was buying (let me translate that for you - I don't read superhero comics, and so he hates everything I read because that is all that he reads). Basically, no matter what may have been wrong with my comic book guy as a worker, he caused me to buy comics through his excellent recommendations. The owner, on the other hand, drove me off because I really have no desire to patronize a store where the owner openly despises my patronage.

So I stopped buying comics from Jerky McNerdy-Snob's Comic Shop, which works just fine as a statement of my displeasure, but left me in the lurch by way of new comic book recommendations. I tried getting comic book recommendations from the internet, but it wasn't all that helpful. I don't get that personalized touch I got with my comic book guy, who knew my tastes.

The Best American Comics 2006 (Best American)So this anthology comes as a real delight to me, because it provides a survey of stuff that I can browse through and pick what I like, and pursue it further. I immediately went to the library catalog and found the volumes for 2006 through 2009. They have them at the library! Actually they don't because I reserved them all and checked them out tonight. So wait your turn.

Now, I'm looking forward to a merry Christmas made all the merrier through new comic book discovery.

On that note, this is most likely my last post of the season, and also the year. Merry Christmas and Happy New Year!

Monday, November 15, 2010

Sourcery finished; The Left Hand of Darkness started

The Left Hand of Darkness
Wow, that was just a week. I think that's record timing for me.

Sourcery was everything I expected - funny, enjoyable, well written. If you've never read anything by Terry Pratchett, you really should. The Discworld series (which Sourcery is from) is a fantasy series that spoofs fantasy novels. If you don't feel like committing to a series, no problem - you can really start with any book in the series. Some of the characters are recurring, but the books don't need to be read in any particular order.

Even though I've really loved this series so far, I find it really hard to review comedy. So I decided that a section of the novel would represent the story the best:

"What on earth are you doing?" said Conina, not taking her eyes off the ghastly figure.
"I'm looking up the Index of Wandering Monsters," said Nigel. "Do you think it's an Undead? They're awfully difficult to kill, you need garlic and-"...
(a short while later)
"Of course, it could be a Zombie," said Nijel, running his finger down a page. "It says here you need black pepper and salt, but-"
"You're supposed to fight the bloody things, not eat them," said Conina.
The Discworld series seems to be getting better as it goes along. Sourcery had me laughing more than any of the others so far, but so did Mort (the last one I read), but so did Equal Rites (the one before that). Good books, highly recommended.

Next up is The Left Hand of Darkness, by Ursula K. LeGuin. I haven't read any of her novels before, although I feel like I've always been aware of her as an author. I'm afraid to give an opinion of her in advance or even to feel excited about this, because every time I do that with a writer that's new to me, I end up hating the book.

Sunday, November 7, 2010

Lost Souls finished; Sourcery started

I've finished Lost Souls, this year's Halloween vampire selection.

I did not like this book.

As always with books that I dislike, the main thing that nags at me is the writing. All along I've been thinking of situations in the story that were offensive to me (more on that later) but in the end, the very thing that made them offensive is not that they are in the story, but how they are used in the story. It's all in the style, not in the subject.

My main critique is that this feels like a teen novel. To clarify what I mean, there are very good quality novels that are about issues that concern teenagers primarily, but that can be enjoyed by adults as well because of the quality of the writing. Then there are teen novels, which are dummied-down to a low reading level and deal with subjects within a very narrow world view. In other words, they are novels that insult the reader's intelligence and don't ask the reader to think very much. Lost Souls falls more into the latter category.

Lost Souls also leans very heavily on shock value. Adults having sex with teenagers is a common scenario, but not a theme - the situations are merely lewd and gratuitous. There are also two incestuous relationships in the novel. One involves the non-vampires, a man and his teenage daughter. The scene is detailed graphically, which is absolutely cringe-inducing to read. Nothing screams exploitation like an incest scene written as if it's supposed to be hot. There's no real purpose behind it, other than his daughter has boobies now, and has messed up values because she takes Dracula a bit too seriously.

And yes, really, there's a girl in the book who has messed up values because she reads. There are numerous references to Dracula in this book, and plenty of gothic kids who want to be vampires. Apparently they want it so much, they are willing to prove themselves through acts of depravity. It reads like a true crime novel from the Satan-scare 80s, that strives to convince you that all goths are so obsessed with vampires that they set bizarre and depraved goals of initiation upon themselves. I heard that they have to break every one of the 10 commandments! I heard that they have to commit each of the seven deadly sins! I heard that if you see someone driving at night with their lights off, you shouldn't flash your lights to warn them, because it's really a car full of goths who are going to follow you and kill you and drink your blood!

Alas, these gothic kids cannot become vampires, because in this book vampires are born, not made. You know how with every vampire novel, the author feels the need to rewrite the vampire myth? This one is no different: a vampire is created when a vampire has sex and becomes pregnant or impregnates someone. This can include procreation with a human - humans can impregnate a female vampire, or carry a vampire child. The child kills the human at birth - so female vampires make a great effort to not get pregnant. As a safety against abortion, vampire spawn effect the mother's brain so that she puts the survival of the child first. These children - even though they are part human - are not dhampirs, but vampires. Older vampires have fangs, can walk in the sun but are less tolerant of it, and are unable to consume anything but blood. Meanwhile younger vampires can frolic in the sun all day and eat whatever they like, although blood is what truly nourishes them. But they don't have fangs so they have to file their teeth. This is not, again, because they are all half-human, but because of evolution. Vampire evolution. Fairly rapid evolution, thank you very much Mr. Darwin.

I can see where writers find it interesting to make their vampires their own, but the changes in this novel come rather close to the baseball playing, sparkly in the sunlight variety. Furthermore, the vampire's chief role is to symbolize taboo subjects that humans have trouble facing. It seems like a waste of time to put all this effort into defining what a vampire is if there is a story to tell - we know what vampires are, ya'll. They drink blood, they like the night, they have sex with absolutely everybody. Yes, get on with it - what's this story about?

And what this story is really about is how we are just as bad as the vampires. Every disgusting thing a vampire does is mirrored in a human's actions. The writing goes to great lengths to show that just living is a disgusting act. Even moments that seem meant to show some kind of tenderness between characters attempting to make a connection with one another are spoiled by the incessant use of the word "spit" every time two people kiss. Bodily fluids abound. Gluttonous young vampires eat junk food non-stop, spewing cake when they talk and smiling through chocolate-smeered teeth. For what reason?

Because we are all disgusting. We are all bags of spit and snot and blood, doing gross things like kissing and eating, like, all the time. The monsters and us, we are exactly alike.

I can just hear some ridiculous nihilistic teenager saying "whoa. We are all monsters." Maybe that teenager was me, once. I want to go back in time and smack her upside the head. Snap out of it, kid! Life ain't so awful!


SourceryNow that that's over with, I've decided to start a new trend. Every time I read a novel that I dislike, that offends the intellect and the senses, that makes me feel like my brain needs to be cleansed, I'm going to follow it with a book from the Discworld series. There are quite a lot of them, and they are witty and charming, so it's the perfect change of pace. So now I've started reading Sourcery by Terry Pratchett. So far it's funny and doesn't make me feel like I can't read it while eating. I feel quite confident that it will remain that way throughout.

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

The Scar finished; Lost Souls begun because Halloween means vampires!

The Scar took quite a while to finish, but it's been a really enjoyable read. This book definitely puts Miéville on the list of authors that I want to revisit.

The title of the book is also the main theme of the story - scars, and what they represent. The title is a bit heavy-handed, because scars are mentioned throughout the entire story with very little subtlety, always pointing back towards the title, always reminding you that today, class, we will be discussing scars. However, the story and the characters - all damaged, scarred, if you will - are written so well that this is completely forgiveable. I'm not really sure how the author carries this off, but it's a good trick (well, he carries it off with good writing, I suppose, but beyond that I've got nothing).

Miéville refers to his style as "weird fiction" after the style of Lovecraft, which would suggest that we are in for some strange and nightmarish creatures, and he does not disappoint. Sea monsters! Human prisoners punished by being remade into half-creature, or half-machine! A lot of different words that mean "vampire" (oupyr, loango, katalkana, haemophage, and ab-dead - I'll bet Buffy never knew all that)! As scary as these creatures are, however, none of them are two dimensional, merely evil and murderous without motivation (this same respect extends to the protagonists as well - he relies very little on cliches and archetypes). Also, like his fellow creator of "weird fiction" Guillermo del Toro in Pan's Labyrinth, Miéville explores the notion that storytelling helps us to persevere.

Above all, Miéville creates a world that is fully engrossing. The story takes place in a city that is constructed of a massive number of ships, and governed by pirates. The moving city travels slowly around the ocean, occasionally sending out invaders to claim other ships. The ships become part of the landscape, their crew becomes prisoner citizens - unable to leave the city, but now free and equal regardless of race or class, whether human, un-human, or remade. While reading, I found it very easy to imagine this world and immerse myself into it. The feeling of living in the story is possibly the part that I liked best.


Lost SoulsNext up is Lost Souls by Poppy Z. Brite. In celebration of Halloween, I'm reading a vampire story. Last year I read Dracula to celebrate the holiday, and this year's selection is far more modern. Brite's novel is about vampires who gather in a club in North Carolina, and then go on a road trip to New Orleans, because that's where any American vampire really ought to be (for some unfathomable reason I started to write their road trip destination as South Carolina - which would make these vamps really lame). The comparisons to Anne Rice seem so obvious that I've decided to ignore them. I've heard good things about Brite, so I'm giving her the benefit of the doubt.

Friday, October 1, 2010

From Hobbiton to Rivendell.

A friend of mine mentioned the Eowyn Challenge on Facebook, and now after talking about it with her for a while I've decided to take the challege. Amanda and I are starting walk #1: Hobbiton to Rivendell! This all starts officially with our Step Out Against Diabetes walk tomorrow morning. If you want to support me, you can do so anytime within a month of the walk. Just click here.

Monday, September 13, 2010

The Scar started

The ScarI've begun reading The Scar by China Miéville. Since I've begun working on this reading list, I've been checking out online reading clubs and sites that cover science fiction more often (especially Sword and Laser and io9), and China Miéville's name keeps coming up. So coming off of my Dragon*Con related novel hiatus, it seemed appropriate that I check out this author and see what has generated all this attention.

The Scar is about sea monsters and pirates, two subjects where you have to be quite a screw-up to go wrong. So although I'm so early in the novel that even the back cover description contains spoilers, I am hopeful about the content.

What has me even more excited, however, is the bit of research I've done on Miéville. First of all, he's only 9 months older than me. The guy is closer to my age than any other novelist I've ever read, and I'm excited about reading some sci fi from my own generation.

I want those earrings.
Secondly, he looks really cool.

That's not something that normally interests me in an author. But then, how often do authors look cool? OK, yes, I do understand that Neil Gaiman possesses a cool factor of his own, but in an elder, writer as rockstar way. But please, name some other author that looks cool (seriously, do it. I will post pictures, and we'll talk it over). Even the coolest ones won't pull off the look that Miéville has, a little punk, a little like a tough guy. But you know, a cool tough guy. The older guy at every punk show, who tells you to stick by him because there won't be any moshing where he is. And you do, because you're quite certain that he's right.

So, all of that is a whole bunch of cult of personality, which doesn't normally influence the way I read a novel. Time will tell how I feel about the story. I'll let you know all about it when I'm done.

Friday, September 10, 2010

Dragon*Con Part 2: The good, the bad, and what I learned.

Things that were awesome this year:

The Dragon*Con 2010 shirt -
surprisingly cool!
The shirt. Isn't a shirt the most obvious souvenir to purchase at any event? And yet I've never bought a Dragon*Con shirt in the past.
That's because they are always lame.
Seriously. Mostly they feature Boris Vallejo-like fantasy art. It's a style that definitely has fans, but it only represents a small segment of the many things that Dragon*Con is about. Then there's the annual Dragon*Con tie-dye, which is always a print of a dragon on a lightning-pattern tie-dye. Yawn. The yearly lame t-shirts are made worse by the fact that every year, they have a wide variety of artistic talent present in the multitudes of comic book and pop artists that attend, with diverse styles that span well beyond western fantasy dragons and babes with large breast plates. Ted Naifeh, David Mack, Brandt Peters, Kathie Olivas, Doktor A - the talent is immense, and diverse, and of course it's always nice to have a t-shirt design contributed by an artist in attendance in order to win them some recognition. My dissatisfaction with the shirts runs even deeper because the organizers of Dragon*Con put together a short-lived convention called Atlanta Comics Expo, and one of the shirts in their 2-year run was an incredible design by Tara McPherson - which of course, was sold out in my size by the time I got there (I was actually told later that it was out in my size almost before the con began, because of the number of volunteers who grabbed up the shirt before the con was officially open).
McPherson print used for ACE shirt
just to get our hopes up
The Tara McPherson shirt at ACE made one thing clear - Dragon*Con could make a cool shirt. They just chose not to, which made the hideousness of their shirts all the more painful.
So imagine my surprise when this year, the Dragon*Con shirt was an awesome design by one of the pop-artists in attendance, Derek Yaniger! They also had an adorable kid's t-shirt illustrated by artist Bobby Chiu, which was also the badge image.
As a result, I bought my first ever Dragon*Con t-shirt. Please keep up the good work.

The parade. The parade is always a highlight that I never miss, and it was larger than ever. I think it's the most visible thing Dragon*Con does to show good-will to the city. On Sunday while I was walking outside between hotels, a local stopped me for a photo (my large steampunk blunderbuss made from a dillapidated trombone drew lots of photographic attention) and asked "when is the parade?" When I told her it was on Saturday, she was genuinely disappointed that she'd missed it. It just goes to show what the face of the con is, and how spectacular the parade really is.

The blood drive. This is the less visible show of good-will, but Dragon*Con has an enormously successful blood drive. At one point I heard one of the organizers say that the 2009 Dragon*Con blood drive collected more blood than any other non-emergency related drive. I don't have the numbers on the 2010 drive, but it is really amazing the amount of support the drive gets. It's certainly meaningful to me because I've had to receive blood before.

Bob and Carl, Sci Fi Janitors. There's this thing Dragon*Con does called Dragon*Con TV. While you are waiting on panels, it shows on the screens in the room, broadcasting very popular panels, coverage of the parade, the masquerade, and etc. It also shows on the hotel information channels in the hotel room, which is nice when you are getting ready for an event and want to see a panel that you missed.
In between con footage, it shows amusing videos that were made for the con. They are amusing, but feature amateur actors (usually the same ones over and over) and can get a little old with repetition.
Until this year, when they introduced Bob and Carl, Sci Fi Janitors. Apparently you can never go wrong with hand-puppets. Bob and Carl were an instant hit, and people broke out in applause whenever one of their videos showed up on screen.
Yes please. More of this.
Click here to see what Bob and Carl have to say about Transformers.

Nice people. It's crowded. It's smelly. Everyone has had too few hours of sleep. Everyone is either drunk or dealing with drunk people. It's really easy to get into a foul mood.
So the presence of people who are nice is always a fantastic thing. At times even surprising, when you're in a crowded elevator with a loud surley man in the back who seems like he's going to spend the entire elevator ride annoying everyone. When we stopped on a floor with a man in a wheel chair trying to get down, loud surly man ordered some people in the front "ok, you have got to get off. This guy can't take the stairs down. Get off now and let him on, and walk down." He was loud and surly, so no one argued. Folks got off, the man in the wheel chair got on. Nice.
Or the hotel employee in the Hyatt who kept manning one of the elevators. He would ride it up and down all night, directing traffic, preventing shoving when people were drunk and inclined to shove, demanding that everyone make way for handicapped persons, skipping straight to floors that people riding actually needed when the elevator was full (instead of stopping at every floor where someone had pushed the "up" button, which was every floor), and promising people who protested when he cut off the number of people allowed in the elevator "I'll be back for you."
Or the cool people we saved seats for in the food court. Turns out that one of them worked for In thanks for us saving their seats so they could all go get dinner (instead of the usual way of saving seats in the food court, where one of your group saves the seats while the rest get food, meaning that the person who saved the seats will be the last to finish eating), she gave us some free ThinkGeek flashlights. Win!

Things that sucked this year:
Registration. Worst. One. Ever. It went entirely too slowly. The people working it were really, really awful at it. When my two hour wait was over and I finally got some face time with one of the volunteers working registration, what is the first thing she did? Leave me to go talk to someone else working registration. They were talking about getting a badge for another volunteer - why? Why would they handle that here, with general registration? Why aren't all the volunteers fixed up before registration opens? Why are you wasting my time? Then they just sort of chatted with each other. I used this time to flip through the book where I have to sign to show that I got my badge, which is basically identical to the book she has to flip through to get the sticker for my badge. I can tell you from handling that part myself that the layout of the book is completely stupid, with the relevant information (last names, to be specific) printed in the tiniest text possible.
Even with the bad layout, all she had to do was take my pre-reg postcard from me, look at my ID, get me to sign the book, slap my sticker on a badge, and hand it to me. Now, this is way too many steps, and a really stupid way of handling such a massive registration in the modern age. But still, it should have taken 3 minutes at most. Instead, I probably spent 15 minutes just standing there waiting on her to return her attention to me and get it together. Incompetence played a very large role in this equation.
According to Dragon*Con, they were trying something new this year that clearly didn't work - which is funny because it looks just like last year's registration, only slower for reasons that were unclear. They claim that they will try barcode scanners next year, which come closer to the way things need to be - instead of going to a line that covers the first letter of your last name (as well as 3 other letters - no letter gets higher preference, no matter how many names are covered by that line), you will just give them your card, they will scan a barcode on it, and the appropriate label will print, so you can be helped anywhere. It should be faster.
I propose that they also start using paid staff only in registration instead of volunteers. If this is simply not possible, they should at least use experienced and reliable volunteers. Everyone is excited to be at the con, we understand, but that's no reason for you to run around chatting instead of getting all these people through the line.

The 501st -
definitely not bank
Rowdiness. Things were unusually wild this year. On Friday night one of the elevators in the Hyatt stopped working. I heard lots of rumors regarding why, but they all involved a con-goer damaging the elevator. The Hyatt elevators also had little monitors in them that ran advertisements - one of these was stolen from an elevator early in the con. Attendees broke into the Comic Artists' Alley one night and stole a lot of merchandise (this one really pisses me off, too - comic book artists are not the wealthiest people in the world, which makes stealing directly from them extra low). And in the worst example of rowdy behavior of all, someone in the Hyatt broke out his hotel room window, which fell to the ground outside and smashed a friend of mine in the face. He was lucky - he just suffered a little tenderness on the bridge of his nose. The guy next to him was not so lucky, and got cut up by it. Rumors abound on this incedent too, but apparently the guy who broke the window claims that he "accidentally fell against it" (um, yeah right). Sounds to me like he just needed a fast excuse to avoid spending the night in an Atlanta prison.
Rowdiness was so abundant at the con that I even heard a rumor that guys dressed like Stormtroopers robbed a bank on the first day of the con, placing a bag that they claimed was a bomb in the middle of the lobby, which was actually full of cogs. I googled all the obvious keywords, and it seems this one was just a rumor - obviously a Stormtrooper bank robbery would have made the news, just like that Darth Vader bank robbery about a month ago. Still, it speaks to the general rowdiness of the con this year that people were very willing to believe that something this crazy would happen.
In this situation, it seems to me like Dragon*Con simply needs more security. I won't criticize the effectiveness of the security they have, because I'm sure they do the best they can in a fairly thankless job. If they aren't on the paid staff, however, they should be. Considering the hotel damage, Dragon*Con should really consider having security calm down rowdiness in all public hotel areas, including the elevators, just to make sure they don't create so much bad will that the hotels refuse to host the con. Obviously security can't be in the rooms stopping crazy guys from breaking windows, but there are a lot of places where they can make things better.

Mean people. It's crowded. It's smelly. Everyone is drunk, or sleep-deprived, or malnourished, or all three. Would it kill you to be nice?
My biggest complaint here is jerks who crowd handicapped people out of the elevators. I genuinely hope the people who do this are in a wheelchair one day. It could happen to anyone, and some people deserve that kind of justice.
Second runner up - while riding the meanest elevator we were on during the entire convention, we stopped on a floor where people begged us to let one more person on so he could go up to his room and get medicine that he needed. The elevator was crowded out to full capacity - one more person and the doors wouldn't be able to shut. After the drunk bitch at the front of the elevator told them no, Superman (yes really, a guy dressed like Superman) got off and told them to send their friend up. The guy did not get on, however. Instead, he and his friends stood outside of the elevator, arguing with the dumb bitch who told them no. They felt like this was the right time to fully explain his entire medical situation in an attempt to make her feel guilty (by the way, have you ever tried to make a drunk bitch feel guilty? It never works). From the middle of the elevator, I shouted "just get on!" They did not. Superman was so offended by them that he got back on, and we took off without them.
Moral: shut the hell up and get on the elevator when Superman gives you his spot. You lose the moral high ground rapidly when you try to hold us all hostage with guilt and whining. Not to mention, your spot on the elevator.

Something else that makes the elevators
miserable? Um, us. And our giant
Elevators. Have you noticed how many times elevators come up in the list of things that sucked? They are a gigantic hassle. They also seem to be the site of most of the rowdiness and mean behavior. There was the Hyatt employee mentioned in the Nice People section above who rode one of the elevators and forced everyone to play nice. It's really too bad that there couldn't have been more guys doing what he was doing. The elevator problem is worse because it's basically unsolvable - there are only so many of them, and during busy times they can't handle all the needs of the guests fast enough.

Lessons learned:
The Masquerade. Not worth it. It was fun, and people really liked our Katamari Damacy costumes, but it takes up so much time.

You can only stand so many cold sandwiches. We always bring food, drinks, chips, and snacks to the con to save a little money. This year we brought about half the bread, cheese, and snacks back with us (apparently we got just the right amount of sandwich meat, though, because it was gone). It's a nice idea, but everyone seems to wear out on sandwiches much faster than they think they will. Hauling some of it back home is kind of a pain, so next year we will bring much less.

So that wraps up my 2-part review of Dragon*Con. Even with the bad things that happened, I bought my pre-registration on site this year and am already thinking about costumes for 2011. Even at it's worse, Dragon*Con is still Mardi Gras meets Halloween, and if you can't find a reason to love that, there is something seriously wrong with you.

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Dragon*Con Part 1: Where I've been and what happened there.

Samantha from The Gypsy Nomads
Thursday: Arrived at the con very early so that we can take advantage of the early registration. We headed over to the Sheraton for registration immediately after getting checked in to our hotel room. When we got there, the line was not so terrible - we were inside the registration room and halfway down the zig-zagged line right away. Yay!
Two hours later, I was registered. Two and a half hours later, Amanda was registered, because the first letter of her last name is too popular. Registration took longer this year than it did last, even though we started off registration far ahead of where we started last year. The way registration is laid out is partly to blame, but the slowness seemed to be largely the fault of the volunteers working registration being chatty and slow, and somewhat incompetent.
We had an adjoined room at the hotel with 7 people total in our party - of those, the 4 who arrived at the con latest spent about 4 hours in registration. It was the worst year for registration so far.
We meet up with Jason, one of my friends from the steampunk message boards, which we've been looking forward to. I'm pleased to learn that he is just as friendly in person as I thought he would be.
That evening, there were a few shows scheduled, and I realized that the Gypsy Nomads were playing. Of the bands that I checked out prior to the con, this was the only one I was interested in seeing. I was not disappointed.

My sketch from Ted Naifeh
Friday: Got up early because I was determined this year to costume on Friday, Saturday, and Sunday. Got my shower and put on the best of my steampunk outfits, and headed out to see the True Blood panel. It was fantastic. I especially loved Nelsan Ellis who plays Lafayette on the show, who has turned a character that is apparently the lamest of gay stereotypes in the books into a fascinating character on the show. Turns out that he's from Bessemer, Alabama and graduated from Jess Lanier high school. My school's football team used to play them! I wonder what year he graduated? Kristin Bauer who plays Pam is actually a really sweet lady; Sam Trammell dresses exactly the same as Sam Merlotte which is a little weird. Apparently he is playing himself on the show, although constantly being nude seems to be less a part of his real life.
After the panel we register for the masquerade, and I have to wait for the comic artist's alley to open. Amanda and I spend some time walking around and checking out costumes. It finally opens, and I go right away to buy one of the limited edition laser etched yo-yos that Doktor A is selling. Doktor A loves Amanda's steampunk outfit, and she is thrilled! I also request my sketch from Ted Naifeh, because it's always good to ask early in the con. My request: steampunk, female. No further directions. Ted Naifeh loves my steampunk outfit, and I am thrilled!
Amanda and I then go get in line for the Quantum Leap panel, with Scott Bakula and Dean Stockwell. It is packed out, which is kind of nice considering that the show was quite a long time ago. Scott Bakula has some seriously excited fans, who have a banner that says "Oh Boy!" and a number of other props that I don't fully understand, including a cut out of Bakula with Christmas tree lights in the eyes. At any rate, they are pretty entertaining on their own, which is good because the panel is sort of sleepy and low key. Bakula seems nice, Stockwell is not that talkative and is really showing his age, although he's quick with the jokes at Bakula's expense a few times, in a good-natured, buddy kind of way.
I go back to get my sketch from Ted Naifeh. It is amazing, easily the best sketch I've ever gotten at a convention. He says he wished he asked me more about what kind of character I'd like before he sketched it out; I tell him that I wanted him to come up with an interpretation all his own, and I'm glad I did. We chat a bit about steampunk and as usual, Ted and Kelly Crumrin (who is always there with him) are delightful to chat with.
Friday night we think about attending one of the events, but end up just hanging out, moving between the hotels and socializing.

Carey and Amanda with the Airbender group
Saturday: Up early again. Amanda and Carey get ready for the parade, and I get to sleep in just slightly longer than them. Pretty soon after they leave to be in the parade, I leave to watch the parade. The weather was amazing - cool, a bit breezy, but perfect for standing around in the streets of Atlanta. The parade turns out to be huge. In addition to the amazing costumes, there are a few floats including a pirate ship, and a Netherworld float with a giant creature that moves. There are also a few bands. Nice. It's becoming a lot more like a major parade every year. Maybe next year the steampunks will work out a float shaped like a dirigible or an air-kraken or something.
After the parade I go back up to the room and put on my steampunk gear, and spend a little time seeing the rest of the Comic Artist's Alley. When Amanda is done getting her picture taken with her parade group, we meet up for lunch, then she goes back to the room to shower while I continue to run around the Arist's Alley. Then I get in line for the Adam Savage autograph session and Amanda eventually joins me. Things get a bit tense when the line moves just minutes after she leaves the line to meet friends who are supposed to be just outside of the line area (they are not). She gets back inside, though, and we both make it up to see Adam Savage. He is really friendly and takes a few pictures of some of the more technical costumes. Sweet!
Afterwards we do some shopping, and buy Dragon*Con shirts. The design is awesome this year. Then we go catch the Gypsy Nomads at their Concourse show (this is a 30 minute show in the open area of the Hyatt). They are awesome again. We go back to the room to eat and hang with friends for a while, and both realize we are much more tired than usual at Dragon*Con this year. Too many early mornings, I guess. We eventually decide to go out and get some tea at the coffee shop in the Hyatt, and end up going to the food court between the hotels to watch people walk by while we drink tea. Considering the rest of our group is drinking alcohol and hanging out in the very crowded Marriott, we come off as the old ladies of the group. Oh well. We eventually do get over to the Marriott, but only stay about an hour and then go back to the room. Soon after returning we learn that Carey has lost her badge in the Marriott. Amanda makes calls in the hotel to see where a lost badge would be picked up. I start texting Chris to check the price of replacement badges on his iPhone, and also campaign him and Madie to contribute a bit of money to help Carey out if she can't afford to replace the badge. She doesn't, and her badge is never turned in to the lost and found. Sad.

Sunday: I finally sleep in a little bit. Amanda and I do some more shopping, and then head over to the Steampunk Makers' Exhibition where people are displaying various cool steampunk items they have created. I see a number of the Alabama steampunks there, which is awesome. My online friend Jason is one of them, and he has a nice assortment of items on exhibition. We take lots of photos. We also learn that someone broke out a window in the Hilton, and the glass falling out bashed him in the face. He's a bit bruised but otherwise ok. A guy standing near him was not so lucky, and got pretty well cut up. We discuss how the con is oddly rowdy this year. After an hour at the Exhibition we head back to get ready for the Masquerade.
Steampunk Makers' Exhibition
The Masquerade is somewhat well organized. We start off with too many people in a small space, but they do get us sorted out into groups eventually and get us into a larger room where we can sit and rest. Den mothers take us on runs to and from the restroom, and bring us water. We finally get our moment on stage in our Katamari Damacy costumes. I am the first one out, and people cheer. I'm so happy! Madie is the last out, pushing the Katamari ball, and people really go wild when they see we have The Prop. We take turns pushing it around the stage. My mask turns sideways and I can't do much about it until I'm done with the ball. Later on when we're watching the Masquerade on Dragon*Con TV in the room, Chris says "I wondered what was up with that. I thought maybe you were just trying to maintain eye-contact with the audience". It does sort of have that effect - I'm glad it played well. Also glad we didn't fall off the stage. It's over quick, and then we can go backstage and relax. I find myself glad that I loaded up my bag with Rice Crispy Treats before the Masquerade. The Masquerade seriously needs to start providing a deli tray or something - it was a really long time to spend sitting around in costume, waiting. The den mothers are awesome and continue to bring water, and come around with a few Oreos as well. We wait. We watch the bands that will be playing later set up on a stage behind the Masquerade stage. We watch the Masquerade on a screen. We watch Rogue from the Cruxshadows chew and watch the same screen. It's a bit dull.
We don't win anything at the Masquerade, which I sort of expected. Amanda, Carey, and I decide to stick around for the photo session after the Masquerade. They put us out first because our giant inflatable ball is in the way. As soon as we get on the little stage for pictures, someone yells "you guys are my very favorite!" and I really don't care that we didn't win. Someone else yells out "why weren't you in the parade this year?" It's fantastic. I don't want to do the Masquerade again, but I'm glad that the costumes made people happy.
We go back to the room and have sandwiches, and everyone but me and Amanda go to the Cruxshadows show. We load up all the stuff we can do without for one day and get a bellhop to take us down to the car. It seems so strange that it's already Sunday night. We are up so late loading that we get back from the car right after everyone else has come in from the Cruxshadows. They had a good time - Madie, Lauren and Amanda danced on stage. Carey and Chris stuck together and put a stop to any attempts at moshing.

We sleep as late as we possibly can on Monday, check out, load up the car, and do some last minute shopping. We pre-register for next year, and overhear a con employee telling someone that registration should be better next year as they are looking to revamp it. Fingers crossed. We eat lunch, check out the art show a little just before it closes, and then hit the road back home. Hard to believe it's already over.

Favorite costume I didn't get a photo of at the Con: Possessed Terry and Arlene from True Blood. Two people who just sort of look like Terry and Arlene put on black-out contacts and hit the floor. Simple, brilliant, effective. Gone too fast for me to photograph.

Nerdiest comment of the Con: The guy who told me that Braveheart was too historically inaccurate for him to tolerate. Not because William Wallace was not actually from the highlands. Not because that funny part where the Irish join the Scottish against the British was completely made-up. No, he can't tolerate it because back in that time period, no one would have had a mouth full of healthy white teeth. The few teeth any of these men would have had left in their head would be filthy and disgusting. All of us geeks have the details we like to quibble over, some little deviance from the source material that gnaws at us and prevents us from just relaxing and enjoying the show. This is the first time I've met someone who can't understand why the movie-going audience might be a bit distracted by ugly mouths during a heroic epic.
We did, however, both agree that Christian Bale would totally rot his teeth out if the role called for it. He's way more dedicated to his art than Mel Gibson.

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Amber Spyglass finished; Scott Pilgrim and the road to DragonCon

I've been putting off this review because I'm getting ready for DragonCon, which basically means that I'm spending the entire month of August being anti-social while working on costumes. If it makes you, the people I might normally be socializing with, feel better, I am also neglecting house cleaning and am not getting involved in any books on the list right now.

So. The Amber Spyglass was the longest book in the His Dark Materials trilogy. It also felt the slowest to me. Perhaps this is because I was beginning to feel the push towards DragonCon, and my mind was elsewhere, but it seemed as if it wasn't doing anything all that extraordinary by comparison. There were a number of characters, and even creatures, added that seemed shoe-horned in just to provide a plot device. The exception to this was the new race that is seen, the mulefa, which exist in a separate world from any of the worlds that have been traveled so far. The mulefa provide some perspective because they are the only race that know of Dust without the aid of science. They are also extremely strange looking, which at first seemed kind of pointless to me, but does serve to make the point that intelligent creatures are all "people" - that creatures found in another world, no matter how strange they appear, have a quality that open-minded humans would recognize and be able to feel empathy for. This, of course, is the quality of creatures that attract Dust.

Overall, the trilogy is very good, even if the final book slows down a bit. I love the final moral of the story - seeking knowledge is good, suppressing knowledge is the greatest evil.
Until after DragonCon, I am reading the Scott Pilgrim graphic novels. Comic books are always good fillers when I have other things going on, because I can read them in those little moments when I would otherwise be holding still with nothing to do. I saw the movie and loved it, and am enjoying the graphic novels very much. In this case I'm also following a friend's rule: whenever you have a choice, see the movie before reading the book. This way, you will be more likely to enjoy them both. It worked for her and The Watchmen.

Monday, August 16, 2010

Scott Pilgrim vs. the Generation Gap

Things that are awkward: trying to describe the movies that I saw this weekend to an older female coworker.

Her: What did you go to see?
Me: Inception.
Her: Is that the one about the woman trying to get pregnant?
Me: No, it’s a sci fi film.
Her: Oh, what’s it about?
Me: (pause to think how to explain this to someone who confused it for a film about trying to get pregnant) It’s kind of like the Matrix. But not really. (Internal monologue “that was dumb…”) It looks unusual, like the Matrix does.
Her: Oh, I didn’t understand the Matrix at all. I took my nephew to those movies, and I didn’t understand a thing.
Me: Yeah, Inception is kind of confusing to.
Her: So what else did you see?
Me: Scott Pilgrim vs. The World. It’s based on a comic book. It was really good.
Her: Oh, I’ve heard of that one. With the girl with the red hair and the comic strips on TV?
Me: …Um, yeah.


Coming soon - my review of The Amber Spyglass, the final book in the His Dark Materials trilogy.

Saturday, July 24, 2010

The Subtle Knife finished; The Amber Spyglass started

The Amber Spyglass, Deluxe 10th Anniversary Edition (His Dark Materials, Book 3)(Rough-cut)Having finished The Subtle Knife, I hardly know what to say about it. It's extremely good. Just like The Golden Compass, I read it fast and enjoyed it a lot. Just like The Golden Compass, it's a young adult novel that respects its audience rather than talking down to them.

Just like The Golden Compass, there are definitely elements in which the Church is challenged. I feel reluctant to mention that, because it's the kind of thing that may turn people off to the book (of course it's easy to forget, especially for those of us that live in Alabama, that many people are turned off by books that promote the church). I still think it's a very good story that I would recommend to people whether or not they are Christian, because 1. good storytelling should be available to everyone, and 2. you can take it. Seriously. The challenges to the Church are not that bad, and if they cause you to question things that people have done in the name of God, things people still do in the name of God, would that be such a terrible thing?

Of course, I also want to reserve judgment until I finish book 3, because the books leave you wondering what the outcome will be.

But this isn't why I don't know what to say. I don't know what to say about it because discussing the plot gives away so many elements of The Golden Compass, and the moments of revelation in this series are so stunning, it would be a shame to spoil any of them.

So, what's safe to say is - Lyra learns more about Dust. She travels between worlds, but the reasons for the different worlds are supported by current theories of physics (which makes it a lot nicer for me than, say, popping through paintings). She meets a boy named Will, and before long he's just as important as Lyra. There are more witches, which is a good thing. Someone dies, and it's heartbreaking.

Overall, small questions are answered and big questions remain, and it's sometimes difficult to tell which adults are good or evil, although I suspect that anyone who is decidedly for Lyra is good, and anyone who is against her is evil. There is one adult whose loyalty to Lyra is not clear, and everyone keeps trying to guide her to him, but I'm just guessing that based on his past action, he's no better than the adults that are clearly against her.

See what I mean? I can't tell you anything specific about these books without spoilers. Read the books! Don't watch the movie! They are page turners, and they are exceptionally well written. You won't regret it.

Sunday, July 11, 2010

The Golden Compass finished; The Subtle Knife started

The Subtle Knife, Deluxe 10th Anniversary Edition (His Dark Materials, Book 2)(Rough-cut)I really liked The Golden Compass.

It’s kind of impossible to talk about it without mentioning Narnia, and if you know about me and my reading list you know that I did not like the Chronicles of NarniaThe Golden Compass felt like an anti-Narnia, which is also how many critics have seen it. I knew this going in, but I didn’t read it with the intention of seeing the relationship to Narnia, and it’s not like it matches up one for one with the Narnia series or anything. It’s more like the story kept doing things well that I always wished the Narnia stories had done better.

There’s only one child-hero, Lyra, and she acts exactly like a normal human child; one of my big complaints about the Narnia stories is that all the good kids are too obedient, too responsible, too resilient in the face of trial and tragedy. The Narnia kids become an obvious – and unrealistic – caricature for the way C. S. Lewis thinks kids ought to behave. Lyra, on the other hand, is very realistically portrayed, in a way that reminds me of Huckleberry Finn more than anything else. She lies. She fights. She disobeys, she gets ferociously angry at times, and she is quick to unleash her anger on anyone, child or adult. But at the essence of her actions is a basic sense of what is right, which she feels strongly and naturally. It demonstrates the same native sense of morality that Huck Finn exhibits when he chooses to help Jim to freedom, even though he knows it is a crime and believes that this crime will damn his soul to hell.

Perhaps the only difference is that Lyra would decide that doing the right thing could never damn a person's soul, and therefore anyone who thought it would must have gotten it wrong.

She demonstrates a personal moral sense that is missing from the Narnia series; Lyra has no need to consult with a god-lion in order to choose her actions. But she is also a believable character in a way seldom seen in children's adventure stories; instead soldiering through hardship without complaint or reaction, Lyra feels the difficulty of her journey but finds strength in her tenacity and courage. It was incredibly entertaining, and I can't wait to finish the next in the series.

That next book is The Subtle Knife, which I have started. Where The Golden Compass takes place in another world, The Subtle Knife begins in our world. See what I mean? Narnia.

Tuesday, June 29, 2010

His Dark Materials trilogy started

The Golden Compass: His Dark Materials
I've started The Golden Compass, first in the His Dark Materials series by Philip Pullman.

I've never seen the movie version of this book, and I don't know much about it. When the movie came out there was a minor media fury over whether the story contains "hidden" messages against the Catholic church. I've never really believed in hidden messages corrupting people - if you have a message to get across, you'll most likely just say it, not hide it. Also, Pullman's feelings about organized religion aren't exactly a secret.

At any rate, I'm not the kind of person who thinks that criticizing religion is a bad thing, nor do I think it's inappropriate for kids. I'm a little interested to see if these religious themes stand out to me.

I'm also seeing some reflections of Narnia in the story so far. Not just the talking animals - that sort of thing shows up in a lot of stories, and is certainly not particular to C.S. Lewis. I was just discussing The Chronicles of Narnia with a friend of mine, and how Susan was not allowed to go back to Narnia because she discovered makeup and boys. Basically, puberty, womanhood, and an interest in sex exclude her from the kingdom of heaven. This has been criticized quite a lot, by such notables as J.K. Rowling and Neil Gaiman (no link for Neil because I couldn't find this online: if you want to know more just read his story The Problem of Susan, which you can find in Fragile Things).

The hero Lyra in The Golden Compass is a tough, somewhat tomboyish girl, but is beginning to show an interest in makeup and clothes at the part that I'm reading right now. It kind of reminds me of Narnia by contrast - in the book that happens last chronologically, Susan has basically become too interested in womanly things - this is presented as something that happened because she's no longer a child. Lyra is still very young and it's very early in the story, but she's showing an interest in womanly things. This is certainly the way I remember things happening when I was young. Girls like to look womanly. It's pretty normal for girls to want to wear makeup and have nice clothes, even at an early age.

I'm not sure I want to make an anti-Narnia argument for The Golden Compass just yet. Instead, I'll just say it's been pretty good so far, and I think that in this children's story it might actually be ok for a girl to wear makeup. The storytelling is engaging and I've been reading through pretty fast. More news when I'm done!

Sunday, June 27, 2010

Fight Club finished: spoilers in abundance

Spoiler alert! If you have never seen the film Fight Club, this review will completely ruin it for you. This review is for the book, not the movie, and is operating under the assumption that you have probably seen the movie. It gives away - very early on - information that would spoil either the movie or book for you, assuming you've experienced neither, which must mean that you were born yesterday. You've been warned; proceed with caution.

Additionally, extensive credit must be given to Neil Gaiman. I wouldn't know about all these gods if it weren't for his very engaging use of them. Thank you also, people of the Internet, for researching the gods that Mr. Gaiman writes about and compiling it all onto one web page. I have to do almost no research, thanks to all of you.

I have read Fight Club faster than any book in this list. For one thing, it is among the shortest and quickest reads in the list so far - if not the shortest. I think it gives the individual Narnia books a run for their money in brevity.

Also, I couldn't put it down.

For the purposes of this review, I'll be calling the main character of the book the Narrator - coincidentally, this is also how he is credited in the film. Some people like to call him Jack. In the book, it's Joe. Joe's raging bile duct. Joe's complete lack of surprise.

It doesn't make a difference to me whether it's Joe or Jack - neither of these are his name, which is made quite clear in both the book and movie. But still, you just know that some movie executives sat around in a room and decided that Jack was a better name than Joe. Jack would market better.

Reading Fight Club the novel brings my already developed interpretation of Fight Club the film into a much sharper focus. My interpretation is that Tyler Durden is a trickster god, and as tricksters love to do, he seduces the Narrator. It's not hard to do; just show a person a way of living he's never thought of before. Here's a bit of information that I picked up from somewhere that I can no longer remember, delivered in a style so reminiscent of a Tyler Durden philosophy that it's actually pretty cheesy: one of the dangers of being an American who is taken hostage is that we never expose ourselves to the other side's point of view. Why is our side right and the other side wrong? We don't know. We're just utterly convinced that our democracy is the best way that things can be. The other side is so wrong - whatever that other side is at any given moment - that we never expose ourselves to their ideas. They are wrong. Why waste time figuring out what they think when it's so wrong? So Americans who are taken hostage are subjected to lengthy challenges to their system of government. They are told it is wrong, and why. They are told the other side is right, and why. They have never been subjected to these types of arguments before.

And sometimes they become convinced, just because they can't argue back.

This happens to the Narrator. Does he have a reason for not getting into a fight? For not giving up everything he owns? For not living in filth? No, and so this means it's a good idea. If you can't disprove it, it must be right.

As a trickster god, Tyler Durden is especially good at convincing the Narrator. Tyler is never openly acknowledged as a god, but look at the man. He's the most fascinating thing in any room he occupies. And he creates chaos. Not because it's good for society, not because it breaks people free from their possessions (in the book, possessions are not made into a villain of society nearly as much as in the film). These are excuses he makes up as part of the seduction. He creates chaos for the sheer enjoyment of creating chaos, because it is food and drink to him. In the book, Tyler tells the Narrator about the brown recluse spider, and how its poison dissolves human skin. I'm reminded of Anansi Boys, a book by Neil Gaiman about the West African/Caribbean trickster god Anansi the Spider. That book makes notes of the many bizarre and torturous things that spider venom can do. It says that spider venom does this because spiders think it is funny.

Tyler thinks destruction is hilarious.

Tyler wants to destroy everything. Soon, so does the Narrator. Tyler wins him over with class struggle anger, and so the Narrator wants to destroy art museums. He wants to destroy fancy things that he will never be able to afford to enjoy. He wants to destroy every resource that isn't necessary for his personal survival. The Narrator is not anti-consumerist - he's anti-human.

It would be nice if noticing his selfishness made the Narrator realize something was wrong. It would be nice if Project Mayhem - which strips its members of their individuality, made him realize that things had gone too far. What really catches his attention is when Tyler leaves him, and breaks his heart - leading to the big reveal that Tyler is in the Narrator's body, and that to everyone else in the story, the Narrator is Tyler Durden. Only when he knows that Tyler is riding his back like the voodoo god Elegba, possessing his body for longer and longer amounts of time - only when he realizes that he may disappear and become Tyler - does the Narrator see the other side of the argument. Only when he realizes that he is losing his own body does he want his personality and his individuality back.

The book doesn't end like the movie. I won't fully give this part away, but it's not as dramatic and beautiful - no buildings falling, no fairy tale kiss. The ending in the novel also makes more sense. I always felt like the movie abandoned the plot in exchange for a dramatic ending - how are the Narrator and Marla going to survive past the ending in the film? The book ending isn't fully believable, nor is it as fun, but it does provide more closure.

Overall, the story is an epic myth condensed for the modern attention span. Gods do what they always do, because our mortality makes us curious and vaguely interesting to them. Once in a while they mess with us out of boredom. They abandon us when they become bored with that. Occasionally, if we are lucky or clever, one of us can defeat them.

Thursday, June 24, 2010

Fight Club started

Fight Club: A NovelWhat a misleading post title. No, I have not started a fight club, but I did pick the book Fight Club by Chuck Palahniuk up from the library today.

I've seen the movie, of course, and I'm very opinionated about it. I actually like the movie, which makes this one of the few things I like and am also opinionated about. I just don't think a person should develop a philosophy about anti-consumerism based on a film in which consumerism is fought with death and destruction. Especially when it's a studio-backed Hollywood film. Especially when there are official licensed t-shirts for the film. Especially when you can get a two-disc collector's edition DVD of the film.

Hey, don't get me wrong. I love two disc collector's editions. I'm a geek; I am the collector of which they speak. I just think there's a lot of irony in the people who are against excess loving a movie that has produced quite a lot of excess. What would Tyler Durden have to say about all this?

Also, it's a satire. A dark comedy. Not to be taken seriously. All of the blowing things up was the clue there, in case you were wondering. Blowing things up was purely for comic effect. This model was not intended for actual use.

So I'm eager to see how I feel about this book, because I have not even begun to get opinionated about the film, but I want to save it all up for the final review. A friend of mine opined that you should see the movie first when you can because if you read the book first, you won't enjoy the movie as much. Probably a good point. It worked for her and Watchmen, anyway (speaking of excessive multi-disc special editions which I am opinionated about).

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Mort finished; comic book break; StarShipSofa

I finished reading Terry Pratchett's Mort. Basically, Death take on an awkward boy named Mort as an apprentice, the boy develops a crush on someone he is meant to reap, and shenanigans ensue.

It was hilarious. I've begun to recognize spoofs on the Lord of the Rings trilogy in his writing. Not that knowing this is necessary to appreciate it - Terry Pratchett's stories are funny regardless of your level of experience with fantasy.

So as usual, Discworld remains a source of good comic relief when things get a bit too serious on the other end of the reading list. When I took on this list to begin with I was a little worried at the large number of novels required to complete the still-growing Discworld series. Now I'm pleased to know that there are enough of them to provide much needed breaks throughout the project.
I'm taking a brief hiatus from the list to read some books in the Fables comic book series, by Bill Willingham. I got gift cards for my birthday, so I got volumes 9 and 10. I highly recommend this series if you have never read it. It's about fairy tale characters living in our world because they were driven out of their own by an unknown adversary. Here, they struggle with governing an extremely diverse populace, planning ways to defend their current land and possibly return to The Homelands, and simply managing the problem of keeping the humans from figuring out who they are. It's very well written, and the art is very good. The cover art by James Jean is spectacular. The cover art is eventually taken over by João Ruas - I haven't gotten that far in the series yet. It looks pretty amazing as well. Check it out!
I also recently discovered a podcast called StarShipSofa. Isn't that the most fantastic name? The podcast defines itself as an audio sci fi magazine. The episodes that I've listened to so far include readings of sci fi short stories from noteworthy writers (although not always read by those writers). That alone would be enough reason to keep me coming back, but there is also literary review, news, and an enthusiastic Scottish host. I listen to lots of podcasts, but this one is now topping my list of listening priorities. Click the link above to check it out.