Thursday, November 30, 2006

Nightmares vs Bargaining

Thursday, November 30, 2006 1
I've been watching the first season of Buffy the Vampire slayer between stuff from Netflix and it is interesting going back having seen all seven seasons of Buffy and five seasons of Angel. You just know more stuff.

Interesting tidbit of the day: In the Season 1 Episode "Nightmares" one of Buffy's nightmares (fears) is that the Master will break loose and he will bury her alive. Flash forward to the first episode of the sixth season after Buffy sacrificed herself to stop Glory, Buffy is dead and she is buried. But when Willow's spell brings her back to life, Buffy is buried alive. There's some continuity! And it was only natural due to the story arc, but watching the early episodes knowing how everything turns out is interesting.

The Book Depository: Part IV

111: The Blood Knight - Greg Keyes. The Blood Knight is the third volume in Keyes's A Kingdom of Thorn and Bone series. It took me longer to read the first hundred pages of this book than it did the remaining three hundred. I just could not get into the story despite being thrown into action and some battles and a bit of mystery. Keyes slowly reveals some of what came before, so if you are fuzzy on what happened in The Charnel Prince, I suggest that you take the time to go back and read it. What we do know is that Prince Robert has taken over the throne of Crotheny, having assassinated most of the royals except for Queen Muriele (now captive) and Anne Dare (on the run). Robert is also dead...yet somehow alive. Got that?

Good. Now, Anne Dare is seeking an army to take back her throne and the Briar King is still on the loose doing lord knows what but making brambles grow where he walks. Leoff, the composer, is in prison because a symphony he composed inflamed the peasants against Robert.

Now, Stephen, the former monk has been captured by slinders, creatures of the Briar King and he has a long journey in front him. Anne sends Aspar, her holter (forest ranger, let's say) to find Stephen. With Anne are Cazio, the hilarious foreign swordsman (think Inigo Montoya) and Neil, the knight. Still with me?

No? That's okay. After we get past the first hundred pages Keyes really draws the reader in and he hooked me with the richness of the world. I forgot my frustration and was enveloped in Crotheny and the magic and oddness of the world. Keyes is doing interesting things with the high fantasy genre and this series and it is worth reading to see how he develops it. That isn't much of a recommendation, but describing the story at this point is nearly impossible because Keyes has a shifting viewpoint (like that of George Martin) where the characters are barely interacting with each other and doing vastly different things that you can not quite figure out how they will intersect and form the core of the story to come. The most interesting thing is that he has taken a group of characters the reader has come to view as "good guys" and I have a very strong feeling that he is starting to turn one or two of them to "bad guys" even though the characters themselves haven't changed...but the situations have and it's an odd turn because you can see a couple of characters starting to line up on different sides without them realizing what is happening.

By the end of the book I was sold and am eagerly awaiting The Born Queen. It's worth the effort to get through the opening.

112: A Short History of Myth - Karen Armstrong. I read this book because it is the first volume in the Myth series where popular authors (I think popular) tackle various myths (Margaret Atwood takes the first myth in the Penelopiad). The title of this book tells you everything you need to know...it is a short history of myth. Armstrong (A History of God) breaks the slim volume into sections based on historical era and covers the evolution of how humanity has viewed and used myth and what some of those myths were.
And I almost fell asleep reading it. Honestly, I didn't care. That's not a knock on Armstrong, but more that the subject matter of an academic overview of myth is dry stuff, especially since we're not reading the actual myths here. Move along, nothing to see here.

113: Honored Enemy - Raymond E. Feist and William R. Forstchen. Honored Enemy was originally only released outside the United States as part of the Legends of the Riftwar series that took place during and around the time of the Riftwar series. Feist was not able to come to a deal with his US publisher for more than 5 years until finally, the series is coming to the United States. First up is Honored Enemy.

Set 9 years into the Riftwar it features no characters we would know from the main series but instead tells of Hartraft's Marauders, a band of soldiers tied to Yabon, but with autonomy to operate behind the lines of the enemy and do as much damage as possible. The Kingdom men are fighting the Tsurani from Kelewan, but when a band of Moredhel (Dark Elves) pin down both the Marauders as well as a platoon of Tsurani under Asayaga, the enemies must join together in temporary truce or fall to the Dark Brotherhood.

I didn't expect much from this book. Feist's Riftwar Legacy, based on computer games, was rather bad and if it took five years to get published in the US how good could this one be?

Apparently, very. Honored Enemy is a strong story of two enemies working together through mutual distrust and cultural differences to stay alive. The story is told through the viewpoints of Dennis Hartraft, Asayaga, and occasionally from Borvai, a moredhel chief pursuing the humans.

Feist does well with collaborations as his Empire trilogy with Janny Wurts was very strong and this book with William Forstchen is also strong. There is good characterization and development of Dennis and Asayaga and the pace of the story is swift enough that we get past the fact that this is only a small episode in the scale of the Riftwar and features no major player. But it's a good story, perhaps even a ripping yarn which Feist so proudly told early in his career.

Wednesday, November 29, 2006

NaNo 2006

Wednesday, November 29, 2006 3

Movies

Ordinary People (1980): I think this is the movie that beat out Raging Bull at the Academy Awards and for that I held a little bit of resentment towards it, but Ordinary People is a good movie. It is a very, very different movie than Scorsese made, but once the movie got rolling and I was able to figure out just what is going on, Redford's movie gained power. Ordinary People is about loss and how the death of a son can tear a family apart and how everyone deals with loss in a different way. Starring Donald Sutherland, Mary Tyler Moore, and Timothy Hutton, the star here is actually young Hutton as the remaining son in the family. I expected to be bored here and unimpressed, but Ordinary People is better than people give it credit for (even given the slew of awards it won).

Fever Pitch (2005): Jimmy Fallon is a huge fan of the Boston Red Sox. Say, obsessed. He meets and falls for Drew Barrymore during the off season when she has no idea about his obsession but during the season their relationship is strained. Based on a novel by Nick Hornby, this was shot during the 2004 season with the assumption that Boston would lose (the novel is about a relationship based around a team that can't win the big one, like Boston), but Boston's World Series win changed the ending of Fever Pitch. This is a comedy, but it is not really over the top. There is some silliness, but much more heart.

In Her Shoes (2005): Another underrated movie. This one was directed by Curtis Hanson (L.A. Confidential, Wonder Boys, 8 Mile) and in the hands of anyone else it would probably be called a chick flick, but Hanson turns this into a good story. Cameron Diaz and Toni Collette star in this movie about two sisters. Diaz was always the pretty, party girl and Collette grew up responsible and a lawyer. Diaz spends her time out getting drunk and moving from house to house and ends up crashing at her sister's house. The lack of thoughtfulness or consideration given by Diaz causes Collette to kick her out and Diaz goes from Philly to Florida to live with their grandmother whom Diaz just found out about. It's a story about family and love and sisters and really, it's just a well acted well directed movie that was just good and enjoyable. Shirley Maclaine co-stars.

Gandhi (1982): Three hours of outstanding work by Ben Kingsley. This is one of those movies that after seeing it I wondered why it took me so long to watch it. Kingsley is Mohandas K. Gandhi, a London educated lawyer who faces discrimination when he travels to South Africa to work as a lawyer. There he is not a respected man. He is a black man. When he is thrown off of a train because he would not go to third class even though he purchased a first class ticket he begins his crusade for equal rights for Indians in South Africa, but then in India. Gandhi is reborn, in a sense, and this rebirth transformed India and touched the world. Gandhi takes us from the first days of Gandhi's work through the end of his life. Outstanding movie.

Never Say Never Again (1983): Of course the first non-Pierce Brosnan Bond movie I watch is the one that is not part of the official canon, is a Thunderball remake, and was made by another company because of a dispute about the rights of Thunderball. Naturally. So, we have an aging Sean Connery in his last role as James Bond (this is addressed in the movie has Bond seems to have lost a step or two) trying to stop SPECTRE from launching two nuclear warheads they stole during a test flight of dummy warheads. It is all pretty silly, but the movie was decent enough. Nothing that makes me say "yay Bond" as I imagine the new Casino Royale will, but it was not bad.

Tuesday, November 28, 2006

The Book Depository: Part III

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107. The Adventuress - Audrey Niffenegger. For those readers who loved The Time Traveler's Wife, please move along. This is nothing like the novel. At all. The Adventuress is a novel in pictures along the lines of her previous book The Three Incestuous Sisters. On alternating pages there is a spare amount of text and a picture of the action. This is not spare like Don DeLillo's novel The Body Artist, but spare like a children's book which gives an idea of the action but the image is everything. The image here is everything, but this is as far from a children's book as can be. The subject matter is adult. The novel (in pictures) follows a young woman who was not born, but was made. There is kidnapping, attempted rape, the girl cocooning herself and giving birth to a cat, a love story with Napoleon and death. I imagine there is an audience for this, but I'm not it.

108. Gathering Blue - Lois Lowry. Gathering Blue is Lowry's follow up to her award winning The Giver. Gathering Blue kind of sort of inhabits the same world, though there only one brief passage in the book that connects it to The Giver, but it is part of a loose trilogy which includes The Giver. Where The Giver had a society that was filled with technology, Gathering Blue goes the other way. Kira, our heroine, lives in a village where there is very little technology. Her world has suffered some sort of calamity in the past. Kira's mother had to fight to even keep Kira because Kira was born with a deformed leg and with that deformity it was assumed she would not grow up to be able to work in the village. Kira has proven many wrong, but when her mother died of a sickness, Kira's world changes. She is taken to apprentice to be a Weaver because she has skills with threads and she is given the task of mending the robe of The Singer. With this Kira learns more about her world and herself and the truth about the village. Gathering Blue is a very good book for the YA audience, but it is not quite as powerful and moving and important as The Giver.

109. On Writing - Stephen King. Two parts memoir, one part writing lesson. That is what Stephen King gives us here. The first part of the book is King giving us episodes from his life as a boy and a young man and then as a young writer to illustrate how he became the writer he did. There is also a bit of a lesson about who King was before he sold Carrie and before the paperback rights to Carrie were sold. I found it very interesting. The second section is King actually talking about writing. There is some very good information here, in particular King has a thing about action verbs and advises against passive voice. That makes sense because every English teacher/professor I have met had a thing about passive voice, though they never explained it as well as King does here. King also has a problem with adverbs. This second section is worth reading. The final section may be of most interest to long time fans of King because he covers the period after he was struck by a truck and nearly killed. Overall: Excellent book for fans of Stephen King and for folks who want to read the thoughts of a best selling author on writing.

I have not read much King - just the four stories in Different Seasons (the stories that became Shawshank, Stand By Me, and Apt Pupil, plus one other which was probably creepier than the first three) and the first three Dark Tower novels. I view King the same way as Charles Dickens. I'm sure there are entire English Departments suddenly rising up in protest, but Dickens and King were both incredibly popular writers of the time. I do not know if Dickens was viewed as "Literary" at the time or if that distinction was even made, but he was a writer for the masses. One college professor loved to recount the story of people waiting at the docks for the next edition of the newspaper to come out so they could get the next installment on a serialized Dickens novel. Tell me that's not the Stephen King of 200 years ago.

110. The Elric Saga: Part I - Michael Moorcock. This omnibus edition collects three of Moorcock's Elric novels: Elric of Melnibone, Sailor on the Seas of Fate, and Weird of the White Wolf. This was my first introduction to the character of Elric, though not of the Eternal Champion concept that Moorcock has been working on for decades. Elric is a sorcerer king, and an albino with very weak blood who keeps himself strong through sorcery. Through treachery Elric loses and regains and loses and regains the throne of Melnibone and goes on various adventures eventually gaining the black runesword Stormbringer which has a power of its own and feeds on souls and compels Elric to act in ways he detests, but it gives him strength and he finds himself somewhat subservient to the power of the sword. This is classic fantasy with plenty of adventure and action and battle. I will say little about the view of women in these three books as the women all seem to be dependent on men and fall into bed rather easily. It is a bit much, but like I said, this is classic fantasy: the boy's club.

Sunday, November 26, 2006

weird

Sunday, November 26, 2006 0
This is so weird! I had a post about some books I finished as a draft for a week because I didn't finish it last weekend and I didn't get a chance to finish it until now.

So, I figured that it would still post as an entry today. It didn't. It posted a couple of entries down as an entry on the 18th. Go figure.

So, The Book Depository II is here.

NaNoWriMo Update - 45k

I hit 45,000 words on my NaNo novel earlier today. I'm ahead of pace to finish my 50,000 words before the 30th, which will give me some breathing room. This has been a successful weekend on the writing front. Some ideas have been pretty good, I think, others less so but I needed to keep writing.

I don't think I'll be done at 50,000 but I will have accomplished the goal of NaNo, so I'll be proud about. Hopefully I'll finish fairly soon after and then the printed out novel will go in a shoe box for two months while I work on some short stories I have brimming in my mind and then I'll be ready to look at the novel again and see what I can edit/revise/cut/add/trim/move/etc. I know I'm dialogue heavy in places and could use more description from the first person perspective I am writing in. I've done fairly well to keep the passive voice out of the novel, but I'll be looking for that and try to get action verbs in the story to move things along. I've been concious of that, at least.

45,545 words so far.

I'm thinking that in revisions I'm going to jettison part of the diary format. I'll keep first person perspective, but the diary entries is killing me. Moreso because there is no real structure to the diary format as far as I can tell. There is no good reason why entries begin and end in certain places except that it is where I stopped for the day. It just doesn't work.

Tuesday, November 21, 2006

NaNoWriMo Update

Tuesday, November 21, 2006 0
I've passed 33,000 words on my NaNo and I am a little bit behind pace to get to 50,000 words. The pace, from day 1, is 1667 words per day. To reach the goal I need under 2000, which is good, so I'm working on it but I've lost the fast pace I had early on when I was on pace to reach 70,000 words.

But, it's coming along.

And, I have a new Book Depository post in the works. Just need to write a little bit more about Octavia Butler's vampire novel (and man was that depressing. You try writing in that same genre after reading a master's work like what Butler produces.)

Saturday, November 18, 2006

The Book Depository: Part II

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104: The Clan Corporate - Charles Stross. I have come to believe that it is only with every other book of The Merchant Princes will Charles Stross deliver a good book. The reason for this, I suppose, is that I had heard that Stross was originally planning a trilogy and Tor required the novels to each be split, so every two novels was originally concieved as one book. That is the story I heard, and if that is true, and it feels true, then it means that each book is only half a story. It also explains why The Hidden Family was so much better than The Family Trade and why The Clan Corporate felt empty and almost like very little actually happened to advance the story. This novel felt like it was setting up the second half of the book (due next year and titled A Merchants Revolution).

Blah blah. So what is the book actually about? Miriam, the tech reporter from our world who we met in the first book and who turned out to be part of the noble ruling class from an alternate mirror world to our own which uses some of our technology, but is otherwise lo-tech...well, Miriam discovered the existence of a third world which is approximately a hundred years behind our own with a different set of history and she set up a company to give her family a different revenue stream than the drug trafficking they had been doing.

Well, when we start The Clan Corporate Miriam is suffering under the restrictions her family has put on her because they do not really trust her. Meanwhile, the United States Government has an informant from that noble ruling family and is working to put a stop to this drug trafficking and they also view this as a rogue state which presents a danger to the United States.

There should be so much going on here in this novel, but there really isn't. The Clan Corporate does not take off at all.

Which means that hopefully A Merchants Revolution is better.


105: Fledgling - Octavia E. Butler. Fledgling is Butler's final novel before she died and it is a vampire story. But, it isn't like other vampire stories. The heroine is a 53 year old vampire who looks like an eleven year old girl and is still a child in vampire society, but she has otherwise the intelligence and mannerism of an adult.

The novel follows Shori, the young vampire as she recovers her memory. We first meet her after she has been brutally attacked and without much of her memory. She slowly recovers knowledge of what she is and who she is, but much is left unknown. With the help of a human, who becomes her symbiont, Octavia Butler draws the reader into a world of vampires unlike any we have previously experienced before in fiction. This is not Anne Rice and this is not Joss Whedon. This is something vastly different and it is outstanding.


106: The Best American Nonrequired Reading 2006. I have been getting progressively more and more disappointed with each Nonrequired collection that comes out. The first one was outstanding and I still remember a couple of the stories (Journal of a New COBRA Recruit? Genius!). The first collection had some clever and funny pieces that were unlike any traditional short fiction I had come across. Each subsequent collection became somewhat less clever and less funny. I know this isn't Best American Humor Writing or anything like that, but some of the fun had been taken out of the collection. Not sure where it went. Every now and then there was a story or a piece that really connected and there are essays and stuff mixed in and there is some good quality here. Some of the nonfiction here is excellent, in particular the excerpts from a soldier's blog while serving in Iraq. But really, I'm a little disappointed here.

Friday, November 17, 2006

NaNoWriMo: Writers Beware

Friday, November 17, 2006 0
Ann Crispin (author of three rather good Star Wars novels and other SFF) has written a blog post about the potential danger of NaNoWriMo. One would not ordinarily think that NaNoWriMo poses a threat but what Crispin is writing about is scam agents and scam publishers. Folks writing NaNoWriMo may seek to get their work published in the coming months and if they do not research who they are submitting their work to, they may end up scammed by those seeking to con the writers out of their money.

I don't think I would fall into this trap, but not because I think I am smarter than everyone else. On the off chance that I would submit a manuscript to a publisher I would do a good deal of research to make sure that my story fits that publisher and hopefully not fall into a vanity publisher. Research is our friend.

Crispin is the Chair of an organization called Writer Beware, a resource for writers to learn about what to look for so they don't get scammed.

Joe's NaNoWriMo update: I'm just under 29,000 words.

The Book Depository: Part I

102: The New Rebellion - Kristine Kathryn Rusch. This Star Wars novel is getting closer to the New Jedi Order series which changes the nature of the Star Wars Universe. Only three novels written by Timothy Zahn stand between this book and Vector Prime. Once again a threat which could be the greatest threat the New Republic has ever faced has surfaced. This time I actually believed it, which is a plus. Because of a bombing attack at the Senate which killed several Senators and injured many more (including President Leia Organa-Solo), former Imperials have been able to become elected to the Senate in greater numbers than before. Leia has to deal with the immense distrust she feels for the former Imperials and hold herself back from (in my opinion) starting down a path to be like the Emperor in crushing dissent. Evidence for the attack points to her husband, Han Solo, and touches on his past as a smuggler. Luke Skywalker is hunting down a former apprentice of his who is somehow involved in this as a Force user is also responsible for the killing of millions of lives. All of this ties together and there is more plotting and schemes here than one can shake a stick at.

You know, when I put it like that the book does not sound half bad. To be honest, The New Rebellion is not a bad story, but I found it dry and somewhat dull. I suspect Rusch is a good author and she has apparently won nearly every major SFF award out there for her contributions to the genre, but the novel was not good enough to merit a recommendation and it lacked the feel of adventure and excitement (which I firmly believe can still be found in political wrangling, so I don't want just wanton adventure) and other Star Wars authors have succeeded in this (Matthew Stover, Karen Traviss, Ann Crispin, etc). And I pass.

103: The Forever War - Joe Haldeman. The Forever War is a Hugo and Nebula award winning novel which transfers Haldeman's real life experience of Vietnam and brings it to a future war setting set out in the Universe. We get new recruits, some of the elite from Earth in 1997 set out to train for a war that will take them hundreds of light years away from their home planet, which means that while they will be newly rich when they return (interest accruing over hundreds of years), everything they know will be gone. In a sense that may be part of the experience of the Vietnam veteran where having experienced a year or more of something so alien, the normal life the soldier returned to felt like something different than what he left.

Haldeman writes in short chapters, giving us just enough information to grasp the training and the experiences of the men and women, but not enough to spend too much time on pointless training exercises and excess combat. He shows us glimpses and somehow it is enough. It works, and perhaps it should not.

Joe Haldeman wrote this novel when he returned from Vietnam and he figured that the late 1990's would give the opportunity for soldiers who fought in Vietnam to be military officers in the military still, so there is that tie. Even though we are now a decade past the original setting of the novel Haldeman did not make any changes later on, accepting the novel for what it was. Even knowing that nothing like this was possible ten years ago (which could hurt science fiction storytelling), Haldeman's novel feels authentic because it is the soldier's experience he is giving us and not just a science fiction story that would be dated. The setting matters because of the Vietnam tie in, but given a similar conflict or a fictional conflict, The Forever War could just as well be set thirty years in our future. Either way, it is a damn good novel.

Tuesday, November 14, 2006

The Prestige

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A magic trick consists of three parts. The first part is called the pledge where the magician shows us something ordinary. We know that something is going to happen, but we are seeing something common. The second part is called the turn and this is where the magician does something with the ordinary object and we do not really know what has happened. The final part is the prestige where the magician shows us something amazing. We try to figure out the secret but we can't because we are not really looking and we don't really want to know.

This is the basic premise of a magic trick as explained in the opening of The Prestige. Throughout the film the characters are attempting to set up better and better magic tricks but what this is telling is actually that The Prestige itself is set up like a magic trick: meaning that there is a three act structure to the movie with a pledge, turn, and prestige.

Here is the pledge: Christian Bale and Hugh Jackman are both magicians. Bale is the one with the most talent, but he is not a showman. That he is so good at magic is his asset, but he cannot play to the crowds very well. Hugh Jackman is the opposite. Jackman is a master showman and with the right trick he can have the crowd feeding out of his hand. The only trouble is that Jackman is not exceptionally original with his work. But rather than simply be competing magicians, Bale and Jackman hate each other and cannot let go of their grudge (the film reveals the origins of the grudge, but I will leave that for the viewer to discover). They actively work to sabotage each other and upstage the other's tricks and performances. This is the pledge. This is the something ordinary that director Christopher Nolan shows us. Then he delivers a turn and a prestige.

The simple truth is that Christopher Nolan does not make bad movies (Following, Memento, Insomnia, Batman Begins). As good as his other work has been, The Prestige is one of his best, though I do not know exactly how to grade or rank them. The structure of this movie is such that we are constantly reevaluating what we know about the characters, their motivations, and their actions. Simple things like hero and villain do not really apply and while making a movie about performing magic tricks could easily devolve into examinations of the tricks, the actual magic tricks are almost beside the point. The point is getting to be able to perform better than the other guy and to ruin the life and career of the other guy. But each character has very personal and different motivations from the other and Christopher Nolan does a fantastic job in keeping the focus of the film evenly on the two characters. This is a movie that would reward multiple viewings and would likely change our understanding of certain events throughout the movie. As we learn more everything changes, but not in the sense that the director is pulling our collective chains and jerking us around to be clever. The concept of the three act magic trick provides the structure and the dueling magicians provides the reason as the movie itself is a game of one-upsmanship between Bale and Jackman.

The Prestige is a damn good film and one which after leaving the movie theater my wife and I spent the car ride home discussing different variations on what exactly happened and what that meant for scenes earlier in the movie. There was more discussion on the movie than we have had about probably any other movie, and that I am still thinking about it several days later means that it left more of an impression that other movies.

What I am saying here is that The Prestige is easily one of the best movies of the year and that you need to go out and see the movie. Run, do not walk to the theater and buy your ticket.

Best Pictures

Wendy posted about her goal of seeing the remaining 30 Best Picture winners she has not seen before the 2007 Academy Awards broadcast. I thought that was a good goal, but because I really don't want to focus solely on Best Picture winners I don't think I'll try to match that goal.

I have 34 remaining to see. Ordinary People will be arriving from Netflix tomorrow and Ghandi and Terms of Endearment are currently in the queue. That will leave me with 31. But since I am adding a couple of movies from each of several lists to my queue, it will likely be a while before I really make progress on the next part of the Best Picture list.

This is what I have left to watch:

1927/1928: Wings
1929/1930: All Quiet on the Western Front
1930/1931: Cimarron
1932/1933: Cavalcade
1935: Mutiny on the Bounty
1936: The Great Ziegfeld
1937: The Life of Emile Zola
1938: You Can't Take It with You
1939: Gone with the Wind
1940: Rebecca
1941: How Green Was My Valley
1942: Mrs. Miniver
1944: Going My Way
1945: The Lost Weekend
1946: The Best Years of Our Lives
1947: Gentleman's Agreement
1949: All the King's Men
1950: All about Eve
1951: An American in Paris
1952: The Greatest Show on Earth
1953: From Here to Eternity
1956: Around the World in 80 Days
1958: Gigi
1959: Ben-Hur
1962: Lawrence of Arabia
1963: Tom Jones
1966: A Man for All Seasons
1967: In the Heat of the Night
1968: Oliver!
1973: The Sting
1979: Kramer vs Kramer
1980: Ordinary People
1982: Ghandi
1983: Terms of Endearment


Naturally all of the modern movies are off of the list, but I think I've made decent progress. The next time I add some movies to my queue I would be adding the earliest three. That's how I am going to work this. The three newest followed by the three oldest. If I keep it up I'll meet in the middle somewhere around the good version of All the King's Men (the reports of the 2006 version are not favorable)

Sunday, November 12, 2006

Lost: The Midseason Miss

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Last night* the episode of Lost was billed as "The Best Episode of the Season". That billing is a lot to live up to, but if nothing else, Lost has been very good at giving us moments that hook us to the next episode and there have been several shocking revelations and events throughout the first two seasons. This episode is the last episode until February 7 and then the show will run 16 consecutive episodes until the end of the season. No more of the "run three new episodes, then two reruns" that the producers have been sticking us with since the beginning.

Season Three has been a fairly disappointing season so far. I know we just had the killing of Mr. Eko and he was a great character, but for all the build about Michael leaving the island with his son and the Antarctic listening station and Desmond's history, and Jack, Kate, and Sawyer being held captive by the others . . . the early part of the third season has mostly failed to deliver entertaining television and it has not provided answers to many questions. Or, perhaps it just has muddled along, stringing us along as always and this time I am getting tired of it. Just an episode ago I was willing to give J.J. Abrams the benefit of the doubt, but he is losing me.

Last night's episode is what nearly pushed me over the edge to not returning in February. Midway through the episode my wife turned to me and observed that she wasn't sure what was going to happen, but they were running out of time to do something big. The end of the episode had Jack performing surgery on Ben (Henry Gale from last season), the leader of the Others and Sawyer having a gun to his head while Kate screamed at him to fight back. Good stuff. And then Jack turned things around on the Others and gave Kate the opportunity to escape but she didn't want to leave without Sawyer and after Jack screamed for Kate to run the episode ended.

What? That's it? I have to wait three months for the resolution to that? Do they want people to watch the show? *sigh*

Every idea I had for this episode ended with somebody dying. I figured Sawyer, but Kate would have been a more interesting choice. Actually, Sawyer would have been a good choice because then Kate could turn cold and be a twisted vengeance seeking survivor for the rest of the season. Kate being killed could probably do the same thing to Sawyer, and Sawyer is already plenty bitter so it wouldn't change the monotone Josh Halloway needs to emote for the character.

But a Run Kate!?

Sandy has been slowly checking out sooner than I have, but Lost is not the best thing on television and to be honest, an episode of America's Next Top Model is far less frustrating than an episode of Lost. Not to mention that I will be caught up to Season 6 of 24 when it premieres in January (I believe) and that show is the best thing on television (with apologies to Battlestar Galactica).

You know what Lost is becoming? The 4400 with better acting.

*This entry was written on thursday but I was not able to post until today. I was far too lazy to to re-write this to change the references to "last night".

Monday, November 06, 2006

in which i submit to my first interview

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*reprinted without permission*

Frustrated Writer: So, I hear that you are trying to write a novel. That true?

Joe: Yes, sir. I am participating in National Novel Writing Month and am currently writing my first novel. I think it is going well so far.

F.W.: So what makes you think you can write one, huh?

Joe: Well, I have always had a somewhat hidden and mostly unspoken goal of writing a novel and I had not made any progress on that goal in more than a decade. With NaNoWriMo I was given the motivation and a deadline to try. I don't think that I can write one better than published authors, but I want to write something and finish something.

F.W.: Wait, so you haven't even finished it yet and you're already telling people about it? Isn't that a bit presumptuous?

Joe: Perhaps, but I figure that telling people could give me additional motivation. If I keep it all to myself than nobody would know if I failed to reach a word count goal or if I just quit. But if I told somebody than in some sense I would be accountable.

F.W.: What is this "novel" called? Have you even given it a name?

Joe: I'm calling it Diary of a Vampire right now, but I have The Vampire Diaries in my mind as a possible alternate title.

F.W.: *snorting* Your novel is about vampires?

Joe: Yes.

F.W.: That's not literature.

Joe: I'm just trying to write the best story that I can and make it something that I would be interested in reading. Hopefully other people will be interested, too, and after revisions some small publisher will give it a shot.

F.W.: It's not literature, though. It's not a real novel.

Joe: I would respectully disagree, though perhaps not about the Literature part. Hopefully my story will be entertaining and lord willing be something that people want to pay money to read. That's the greatest literary respect I would want to hope for.

F.W.: I fear for the literary soul of America if you are the future of writing.

Joe: Thank you.

F.W.: I hope that your computer battery overheats and sets your computer on fire before you make back up copies of your work and you lose everything.

Joe: And also with you.

Movies: October 30 - November 5

Wallace and Gromit: The Curse of the Were-Rabbit (2005): This first full length feature Wallace and Gromit film was very well received by critics and it was long awaited by fans of the Wallace and Gromit animated shorts. This is claymation at its finest and tells the story of Wallace (human) and Gromit (dog who is smarter than most humans) as they try to stop rabbits eating up the gardens of their neighbors before the giant vegetable competition. There is quite a bit of humor and while the humor does not feel quite so overwhelmingly British as the shorts do, the jokes did not connect quite so well with me. Wallace and Gromit is an impressive piece of movie making, but it was an overall unsatisfying experience. Others, I am sure, will love it.

A Prairie Home Companion (2006): Welcome to Minnesota. This movie takes a behind the scenes look at Garrison Keillor's radio show of the same name on the fictional last night of its broadcast when their radio station has been bought out by a group in Texas (not that some other network wouldn't pick up the show, being a nationally syndicated program, but that's a different point). The movie is a combination of behind the scenes reminiscing and wackiness as well as the on stage production of the show. The cast features Keillor and some of the real life cast of the show along with Meryl Streep, Lily Tomlin, John C Reilly, Tommy Lee Jones, Lindsay Lohan, Woody Harrelson, Maya Rudolph, and Virginia Madsen. Folks, that cast is reason enough to watch the movie. I've heard a handful of episodes of Keillor's show and I suspect long time listeners will get more from the movie, but this cast directed by Robert Altman in what is likely one of his last movies (Paul Thomas Anderson was on set as a back up director in case Altman was unable to finish), it's a decently entertaining movie and worth the 100 or so minutes of your time. It won't make you say "woo", but I enjoyed it.

The French Connection (1971): I think the car chase where Gene Hackman is trying to keep pace with an overhead train in the middle of the city is somewhat overrated. It was exciting and impressive and well shot, but at the same time it was a let down because, well, it is a car chasing a train. The train does not dodge. Hackman weaves in and out of traffic, but the chases in Ronin or the Bourne movies were more exciting. Otherwise, a good movie, Best Picture and all that, well done and Hackman is a great actor. It did not move me.

I decided to delete my recording of Unleashed (2005) after watching the first 25 minutes. Decent fight sequences, but I could not muster up enough effort to care for the characters or the movie and Morgan Freeman had not even appeared yet.

Sunday, November 05, 2006

NaNoWriMo

Sunday, November 05, 2006 2
I had heard of National Novel Writing Month for a couple of years now but never really considered entering. Writing a novel is one of those goals that I had had for years but never seriously thought I would do. In college I wanted to be a writer and wrote a couple of short, short stories but nothing more than five pages long and none of them very good. At least I don't think they were. I never really knew what to do with a story even if I had one. No real point to any of them. I was writing for myself, but not really. I was piddling around and not much more than that. Sometime in there I just stopped and did nothing for more than five years. A couple months ago I started another short story, wrote a page, was happy with what I wanted to do with it, and got busy at work and it didn't go anywhere.

On October 30 I found a link to NaNoWriMo and realized that it started in two days. I got all excited for some reason, an idea popped in my head, and I decided to go ahead with it. Why? Well, I pulled this from the FAQ on the message board.
If I'm just writing 50,000 words of crap, why bother? Why not just write a real novel later, when I have more time?
There are three reasons.

1) If you don't do it now, you probably never will. Novel writing is mostly a "one day" event. As in "One day, I'd like to write a novel." Here's the truth: 99% of us, if left to our own devices, would never make the time to write a novel. It's just so far outside our normal lives that it constantly slips down to the bottom of our to-do lists. The structure of NaNoWriMo forces you to put away all those self-defeating worries and START. Once you have the first five chapters under your belt, the rest will come easily. Or painfully. But it will come. And you'll have friends to help you see it through to 50k.

2) Aiming low is the best way to succeed. With entry-level novel writing, shooting for the moon is the surest way to get nowhere. With high expectations, everything you write will sound cheesy and awkward. Once you start evaluating your story in terms of word count, you take that pressure off yourself. And you'll start surprising yourself with a great bit of dialogue here and a ingenious plot twist there. Characters will start doing things you never expected, taking the story places you'd never imagined. There will be much execrable prose, yes. But amidst the crap, there will be beauty. A lot of it.

3) Art for art's sake does wonderful things to you. It makes you laugh. It makes you cry. It makes you want to take naps and go places wearing funny pants. Doing something just for the hell of it is a wonderful antidote to all the chores and "must-dos" of daily life. Writing a novel in a month is both exhilarating and stupid, and we would all do well to invite a little more spontaneous stupidity into our lives.
So that's why. Because if I don't try I'll never do it.

Books 97 - 101

I delayed a few reviews and the books started piling up, so I'm just going to give a little overview of the last several books I've read. I reached my goal of 100 books in 2006 so we'll just see what I end up with.

97
: Matriarch - Karen Traviss. The fourth entry in her Wess'har Wars is another satisfying one. When we left off we found out that Shan Frankland was alive, that even being left in the vacuum of space was not enough to kill off the c'naatat parasite that has made Shan nearly immortal. At the very end of the previous volume we discovered that the two who were responsible for the nuclear attack with the attempt of destroying all c'naatat but resulted in the genocide of the bezeri were handed over to the remaining bezeri for punishment. Since the bezeri are aquatic creatures Shan's two mates, the human Abe and the Wess'har Aras, both infected with c'naatat, decide to deliberately infect Rayat and Lindsay Neville. I cannot express how shocking this event was knowing what we know of these two characters and knowing what we know of c'naatat. Matriarch continues the storyline where Traviss shows us the culture of the bezeri and unloads one heck of a twist, and the Eqbas Vhori (a much more militant Wess'har culture) is preparing to send a ship to Earth to rehabilitate the ecological damage humanity has done to the planet.

Still better than most science fiction I have read, Karen Traviss continues to astonish as she runs her storylines in different directions that one would expect. She is harder on her characters than most authors would be willing to be. This is how you write science fiction, folks.

98: The Nuetronium Alchemist: Conflict - Peter F. Hamilton. Hamilton finishes the second volume (or fourth if you're reading the paperbacks, each volume has been split due to length) of his Night's Dawn Trilogy and at this point Hamilton defies description. Truly. He's expanded his story so much that I could mention that somehow most of the people who have died have had their souls stuck in this in between place and now they are able to return and "possess" the living. This has resulted in a plague upon humanity and humanity needs to learn how to solve this issue or face extinction. Others races have succeeded, others failed. There are numerous storylines going around this issue, some of the possessed, others not, and some just touch upon the possessed but is really about something else and it is hard to say how this all fits together. It's a decent read, but it has begun to become overwhelming.

99: Mistborn - Brandon Sanderson. I thought Elantris was one of the more exciting fantasy novels to be written recently and happily that one was a standalone, a rare feat in fantasy these days. Mistborn is the first volume of a trilogy, but I'll forgive Sanderson for that. The reason I am in such a forgiving mood is that the book is damn good and he takes a fascinating focus for the novel.

So much of epic fantasy has the same basic storyline: unknown farm boy/kitchen boy is pulled into a quest to save the world. Turns out farm boy is the prophecied hero and has noble lineage which is is not aware of. Farm boy saves the world and defeats Dark Lord.

Sanderson asks: What if the Dark Lord doesn't lose? What if the Dark Lord wins? In Mistborn this is exactly what happens and there is a thousand years of subjugation before the beginnings of an uprising begin.

It's good. It's very good.

100: Prep - Curtis Sittenfeld. It's almost chick-lit, the story of the four years at Ault Prepratory School for Lee, a freshman girl who we follow as she matures and doesn't mature and lives her life at a prep school. Lee is a scholarship kid among kids with very wealthy families and she is insecure because she is no longer one of the smartest kids...all of them are smart. This could be chick-lit, but Sittenfeld is a very good writer and tells a strong story and this is just a good book.

101: Kitty and the Midnight Hour - Carrie Vaughn. I won this book (and Vaughn's second book) in an online contest and I didn't really want to. I was just entering all of the contests run by this guy and hoping I'd win the good fantasy contests, but I won a couple of werewolf novels. Great... The books sat on my shelf for several months and I finally started the first one last week. Two days later I was done. Turns out Carrie Vaughn tells a good story of a werewolf who is a late night radio DJ and one night she unintentionally spends the entire show not playing music and taking supernatural type calls from the listeners, dispensing advice. She thinks it'll get her fired, but the show is a hit and her producer wants her to do this all the time. At first she plays the show as if she knows a lot, but doesn't reveal her true nature, but things change. What Vaughn does a great job of is describing the pack structure of werewolves and behavior and Vaughn has written a solid novel and I am actually going to read book 2 Kitty Goes to Washington. I'm not even interested in vampire and werewolf books, but Vaughn has changed my mind. I'll read her work.
 
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