Sunday, January 28, 2007

The Profane Game

Sunday, January 28, 2007 0
Well, this is just stupid fun: The Profane Game. It's a pretty simple game where you enter profane language into a text box and see how many you can come up with in a minute. Stupid fun.
I got twenty five the first time I played and I did enter a couple that really should be considered a cuss, but it wasn't recognized by urban dictionary so it didn't count.

It's more difficult than it seems because of the time constraint.

Saturday, January 27, 2007

Eight Below (2006)

Saturday, January 27, 2007 0
Eight Below is a Disney flick starring Paul Walker and Jason Biggs and a pack of dogs. It's set in Antarctica and Walker stars as a guide on one of the base camps on the frozen continent. Early in the movie we see about the bond between Walker and the dogs and that is setting up the ultimate disappointment when the camp is forced to evacuate the camp and there is not time to get the eight sled dogs and the people in charge will not let Walker go back because the dangerous weather. But Walker cares deeply for the dogs. They are left chained up at the base camp and he knows they won't be able to survive.

But this is a Disney movie. The dogs manage to break off the leash and the rest of the movie is cut between the dogs surviving in the frozen wild and Walker trying to get back to them.

Yes, there is plenty of cheese and the Disney soundtrack is clearly telling us what to feel in certain parts, but there is quite a bit to like here.

There are eight reasons to enjoy this movie. The dogs. The humans are all essentially worthless and it would be a better movie with all dogs, but we have to have human "stars". The real story here is in the dogs trying to get to safety and to survive in the wild.

The dogs are the real stars of the movie and there is more heart and sadness and joy in watching the dogs than in the wooden acting of Paul Walker and the overacting of Jason Biggs. But that's fine. We get exactly what we expect from this movie. It was pleasant and enjoyable and the dogs are worth the rental.

Go into this with lowered expectations and the two hours will go by just fine. It's not bad at all, but it certainly wasn't the movie to bump Dreamgirls out of an Oscar nomination either.

Star Wars and Grammar...

The opening crawl of Return of the Jedi just passed and it mentions that Luke is going back to Tatooine to rescue Han from the clutches of the vile gangster, Jabba the Hutt.

But...shouldn't it be Jabba, the Hutt? With a comma? I mean, there are more Hutts out in the galaxy than Jabba. Jabba had to come from somewhere. So, leaving the comma out suggests that Jabba would be known as The Hutt. As in the first and foremost Hutt anywhere. And, in a sense maybe he is because he is a big time player in the underworld, but at the same time even the title could be separated with a comma.

Jabba, the Hutt.

No matter whether you are thinking about "the Hutt" as a descriptor for what exactly Jabba is or as a descriptor for who exactly Jabba is, there should probably be a comma.

Please return to your regularly scheduled program.

Titles and Templates

Over the next while there may be changes going on with this blog. For my three readers who aren't related to me, don't be alarmed. I'm just playing with code. It's like playing with fire only without the heat or the burning sensation.

The title is changing, though I don't know if "Adventures in Reading" will be a keeper.

The big thing is the template. Bottom Line: I want to change my template. Badly. I tried last week but it seems that Blogger has switched from HTML to...something else. What does that mean? To computer literate people it probably means a lot. To me, it means that the little things that I do know how to change in my template...well, I don't know how to change them anymore.

There is a drag and drop option for the template, but that works in a limited sense because I can't get the dueling sidebars going. I can probably figure out how to get everything added to the one sidebar, but it's that second sidebar I want because who really wants to scroll down a half mile (because I post in miles now) to find out what I'm reading or who I'm linking to?

Granted I'm deluding myself somewhat because the impact of these changes is minimal in the sense that I'm not John Scalzi with a large number of readers. I track my stats. I know I've got a small handful.

Do I need a three column layout? Of course not. But I like it!

We'll see if I can figure this out. Otherwise I'll just change my template and go with a two column format and see what adaptation I can do from there.

Friday, January 26, 2007

gimme

Friday, January 26, 2007 0
Suddenly I have free new shiny things to review!

I enter various online contests for free books and the last time I won I got to discover Carrie Vaughn and her world of Kitty. Surprisingly good. Wouldn't have expected it, but now I want to read more Carrie Vaughn.

I won a free copy of an ARE of Vicki Pettersson's debut novel The Scent of Shadows. Some sort of supernatural fantasy without werewolves, witches, or vampires. Looks interesting. Light and Shadow. Eternal Battle. Tipping Point. Immortal War. And no vampires. Worth a shot. Just need to turn in a review to Eos by Feb 18.

Then during an e-mail discussion with my wife, I mentioned that I hadn't received any review requests from Buena Vista Home Entertainment since I was late with my Narnia review. She said she actually had a dream last night that I received three or four copies of Cinderella 3 to review and since each copy was different I had to watch them all. She suggested I check my hotmail spam and see if they contacted me. Well, it wasn't in my spam, but I did miss an e-mail from January 22 from BVHE and they have offered a review copy of Cinderella 3 if I can review the flick by February 2. I can. And, I will. But I can't believe she dreamed that I got a review copy of this flick and I really did!

So that's what I've got going on. How bout you?

Tuesday, January 23, 2007

Dying of the Light (1977), by George R. R. Martin

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Dying of the Light was the first novel published by acclaimed fantasy author George R. R. Martin. Martin is better known as the author of the fantasy series A Song of Ice and Fire. Dying of the Light is a science fiction novel set on a dying world called Worlorn. Dirk t'Larien is summoned to the world by a whisperjewel, a promise made by his younger self to his former love Gwen Delvano. But Gwen is bound to another man, a man bound to a different code of conduct and different cultural mores. Getting his love, who may not love him any more, to leave Jaan Vikary for Dirk is only half the problem. The other half of the problem is dealing with another human culture, from another world, on a world which those laws do not apply. Dying of the Light is a clash of cultures, science fiction, and could be considered something of a Western.

George Martin opens up a sprawling, lawless landscape on an alien world which feels like it could quite possibly exist. Martin gives out enough information that one could believe that all of these human cultures spread to the stars could possibly be real. Martin gives us authentic feeling cultures that are distinct and raw and those cultures clash in Dying of the Light.

That's really what Dying of the Light is, an examination of culture clash in a lawless outback. There is a very large amount of exposition and explanation of what these cultures are and how they interact. Dying of the Light is small on action, though near the end we get to the action and the chase sequences.

This is perhaps the greatest flaw of George Martin's debut novel. He spends too much time explaining and not nearly enough time showing. For what he was so great with A Song of Ice and Fire Martin is sadly lacking here. The characterizations are strong in the sense that the characters are distinctly drawn, but they are weak because it is difficult to care for a single character because these characters just stand around and explain their cultures to each other and that does not work so well for a novel.

Reluctantly I cannot recommend Dying of the Light. It is a novel that has a lot of promise and showed that Martin had the potential to put together what he later did with his fantasy series. It also showed that he had a ways to go yet.

Monday, January 22, 2007

Earth's Moon to Disintegrate

Monday, January 22, 2007 0
Well that's just false advertising. CNN reports that the moon will start to disintegrate and then I start to worry about the tides and little moonlets raining down and making like Deep Impact or something, but then I keep reading and this lunar event will occurin . . . 5 billion years or so when the Sun expands and turns into a Red Giant.

So, I've got time, right? We can deal with the global warming thing and pollution and terrorism and electing a Democrat to the White House first, right?

Personally, I would be more concerned with the Earth's orbit slowing, and this line from the article:
If the sun's photosphere reaches Earth, our planet too will experience drag and spiral into the Sun to be incinerated.
But as I said, I'll worry about other things first. Like paying next month's rent.

Sunday, January 21, 2007

Dawn, by Octavia Butler

Sunday, January 21, 2007 0
In the first volume of her Xenogenesis Trilogy Octavia Butler introduces us the wreckage of an Earth we once knew, but no longer. Nuclear Holocaust. It happened. Millions and Billions died. And then the aliens came to rescue the survivors.

Lilith Iyapo is one of the survivors. The novel opens with Lilith being Awakened and interrogated. She does not know where she is or who her captors are. Turns out it isn't the Russians or some other group, but rather the Oankali, an alien race come to save humanity but also to change humanity and change themselves in the process. Told through Lilith's perspective we are given a very personal and narrow reaction to finding oneself isolated on an alien ship and being told two hundred and fifty years have passed and that the aliens have mostly cleaned Earth and intend to recolonize the planet with human Oankali hybrids.

Lilith is to be the mother of this new civilization but she wants nothing to do with it, of course. She knows this would be the end of humanity but what choice does she have?

Dawn is a novel about first contact, what it means to be human, humanity, genetics, and at times sexuality. With two more novels set in this trilogy, Dawn is an ambitious opening volume to the trilogy with a lot of story left open to interpretation and Butler never quite tells the story the reader expects. Keeping the viewpoint narrowed on Lilith, we are given, as we are in her other novels, a very particular perspective and a strong female lead.

As her other work is, Dawn is a very fine science fiction novel. While more overt science fiction than later novels (or Kindred, for that matter), Dawn is a novel worth recommending even to those who might not necessarily enjoy science fiction (though I would recommend Kindred or Parable of the Sower first).

Saturday, January 20, 2007

The Complete Peanuts: 1961-1962, by Charles M. Schulz

Saturday, January 20, 2007 0
Happiness is a collection of Peanuts strips. The Complete Peanuts is a twice a year collection of two years of Charles Schulz's famous comic strip. I love these early strips. Quite a few of them I recognize from my Peanuts Treasury which I had as a child, but there is a good deal of wisdom and angst in these strips. Through these strips we see the evolution of the Peanuts art and the evolution of the characters. We see dialogue which would later be part of the A Charlie Brown Christmas special, but really, it's because in my childhood Peanuts was a slice of life.

Thursday, January 18, 2007

Hurt

Thursday, January 18, 2007 0
I don't think I will embed music videos in my blog very often, but I was thinking about what some of the best songs I've ever heard are and I realized that very few actually come to mind. I suspect that there would be a couple dozen where I'd say "oh yeah! That's a great song!"

But Hurt by Johnny Cash? Great song and great video. Coming in the months between the death of his wife and his own death, Hurt is minimalist pain at its finest. Intercut Cash the old man with a younger vibrant Johnny Cash and images and video of his life and his wife looking over his shoulder as he sings this song of pain...

Damn.

I heard the song for the first time on my way home from work. I was stopped at railroad tracks and the road was otherwise empty it seemed. Then comes this crushing, beautiful song.

That last minute of the song, when June is introduced and the pounding of the piano gets ever louder and more insistent...

Story Idea: No Lost Civilizations

Reading CNN.com I came across an article about a new ruin found in Peru and how it could unlock clues regarding the Chachapoya people.

It made me think: What if the Spanish came but did not bring disease? Or, what if the natives were immune to disease? What if all of these lost civilizations did not die off but somehow managed to co-exist?

What might the world look like now and what sort of stories would come out of that sort of history?

I can't write it. I don't have the imagination nor the research for that. But it could make a good story.

The Interrogators, by Chris Mackey

The Interrogators by Chris Mackey and Greg Miller is a first person account of Army interrogators just after September 11. The book is written from Army Reserve Sergeant Mackey's perspective and through his eyes we learn about some of the training interrogators go through and then their experience in Afghanistan. Mackey discusses the various interrogation methods used by the Army and how strictly they stayed to the Geneva Conventions even though President Bush declared the Conventions did not apply.

Mackey served his year in Afghanistan from the start of that war and he notes in the book what was not permissible when they began the war was acceptable when his war ended and he notes in the epilogue how he views the slippery slope from the mild forms of interrogation his unit engaged in could become Abu Grahib years later. The methods Mackey viewed as the last resort became the starting point for the interrogators who came after.

The Interrogators is not simply a narrative of Mackey's career. It focuses as much or more so on the other interrogators in the unit and the men and women Mackey led in interrogation. He discusses technique and what sort of resistance they faced from prisoners and how advanced some of the resistance techniques were.

This is an engrossing book and at times I wondered if he should be sharing all of this, but I imagine most of the reading public will not be interrogated by the Army and even knowing the game that is being run does not make one immune to it.

Either way, The Interrogators is an excellent book about Army interrogation and while it cannot dispel the image of the brutal interrogation tactics Iraq has been known for, it does show a different side of interrogation...not a kinder, softer side, but one which has respect for the law and for the Geneva Conventions. It also shows the stress and the exhaustion interrogators put themselves through.

Worth reading?

Absolutely.

Saturday, January 13, 2007

Spook, by Mary Roach

Saturday, January 13, 2007 0
After reading Mary Roach's debut book Stiff: The Curious Lives of Cadavers I was very interested to see what she would come up with next and bring her unique perspective to. Stiff was fascinating as Roach detailed exactly what happens to a body as it decomposes, and what uses corpses have been put to over the centuries and today.

Spook: Science Tackles the Afterlife is the newest book by Mary Roach. In Spook, Roach is trying to discover the existence of the soul so she goes after various aspects of people researching or believing in the soul or ghosts. Some proof that there is life after death. There is some sections that are interesting, but overall Spook is frustrating. The book, and each chapter, is ultimately inconclusive because if there was proof of life after death then this book would not be necessary except to show what else has been tried. Instead, Roach tries it all.

Some of what made Stiff so interesting is here in Spook: Mary Roach dives into subjects she knows nothing about and will talk to anybody about anything to learn more about it. She's not shy.

Overall, though, I was disappointed. I didn't feel I learned anything and I was not as entertained as I hoped to be. Where Stiff had concrete facts and information to impart to the reader, Spook has none of that and this is what makes Spook ultimately unsatisfying.

Friday, January 12, 2007

Agent to the Stars, by John Scalzi

Friday, January 12, 2007 0
Tom Stein is your average up and coming Hollywood agent. He has one client, a dim witted actress who is just hitting big, and a back list of other clients who are barely worth the effort to remember their names and he would be just as happy to be rid of them for various reasons specific to each client. Tom gets his wish when his boss invites Tom into his office for a rare opportunity: The boss of the agency would like Tom to dump the bulk of his clients in order to take on a new one. While that sounds wonderful, an agent really is only as good as his client list and dumping the list is a risky move for an agent who just had his big break. But then Carl, the boss, drops the bomb. The new client is not a person. The new client is an entire alien race just making first contact with humanity. The aliens know that the best way to be accepted by humanity is to be shown in the movies in a sympathetic way and it is an agent that can make this happen.

One more thing. The aliens do not look like lassie or ET or even like the bugs from Starship Troopers. The aliens more closely resemble a pile of jello which smells like a dog’s fart. But they are very friendly and wish to, well, come in peace. These aliens learned about humanity through the signals of Hollywood movies and television shows which beamed up into space. While this has caused a problem in separating fact from fiction, it has permitted several from the gelatinous mass of alien goo to learn to speak English and communicate on a level humans can understand and appreciate. Tom Stein simply needs to figure out how to best introduce the aliens, with a spokesalien named Joshua, to the world.

This may have been John Scalzi's first attempt at writing a novel, but it was clear even from this fun exercise that Scalzi is a skilled writer and put together a more than competent novel with his first effort. This explains why he was able to sell his first effort (though he sold it second. His second written novel, Old Man's War, sold first). Agent to the Stars is a funny romp through Hollywood, the world of agents, and even to an alien spacecraft. Agent to the Stars is filled with humor, sharp dialogue, fart jokes, and even some sadness. Mostly: Joy. Joy for the reader because Agent to the Stars is pure pleasure to read, but probably also Joy for the author. Scalzi had to have a blast writing this book and coming up with an alien race which communicates by rank odors.

Agent to the Stars is the third Scalzi novel I have read, after Old Man's War and The Ghost Brigades, and while it is as different from those novels as is possible in science fiction, Agent to the Stars is a delightful novel and I mean that. I felt full of delight while reading it. You should, too.

The Black Company, by Glen Cook

After reading The Black Company I think it is clear that a certain Steven Erikson, author of the fantastically good Malazan Book of the Fallen, owes a rather large debt to Glen Cook, author of The Black Company. Several ideas about the Bridgeburners, Cadre Mages, naming conventions, and even the Ascendents seem to stem from ideas that Glen Cook put down on paper in the early and mid 1980's. The Black Company is narrated by Croaker, the surgeon and annalist (keeper of the Chronicles of the Black Company) of the Black Company. Croaker is putting down in the annals the various deeds and history of the Company while he is serving and he tells us the story of the Company being betrayed in the South and so accepts a commission with The Lady. The Lady has been considered a great evil in whichever world the novel happens to be set in, but evil depends on perspective and the Company is a mercenary company. The Company heads north.

Told as a novel on the march, fighting some battles, but more often showing life in the barracks and life on the march, The Black Company shows us the experience of these extremely competent soldiers as the encounter mini-dieties (The Ten, once human and now more than mortal beings serving The Lady) on their route north and they try to fight a war which is slowly being lost by the other commands.

I’m doing a poor job explaining The Black Company. Here’s the deal. The Black Company is a straight forward telling of the Company in a world which may be reminiscent of Erikson's Malazan world. But Glen Cook tells the story straight without branching off in a dozen different directions in the hopes that the reader will follow. This can be viewed as an introduction to Steven Erikson, but it is also an outstanding fantasy novel in its own right. Take your pick. Either way, The Black Company is a dark, bleak novel of soldiers on the move and we get to meet the soldiers just as we would in a traditional military narrative. Despite being in a fantasy setting, The Black Company feels authentic.

Despite my inability to review or even describe the book, I give The Black Company a strong recommendation for fantasy readers everywhere. This is military fantasy at its finest.

Thursday, January 11, 2007

Gilead, by Marilynne Robinson

Thursday, January 11, 2007 0
Marilynne Robinson's second novel won the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction in 2005. Gilead is an epistle, a letter from an Iowa pastor in his late 70's to his young son. John Ames hopes that his son will read the letter some day as an adult and perhaps better understood what sort of man his father was. John Ames gives theological study and explanation of his own father and grandfather and the world they grew up in.

It's a slow moving novel, but very well written and quite moving because this is a man who has lived a good life but knows he is dying and because his son is so young he will never really get a chance to know his father.

No matter how good the novel may or may not be in the eyes of some readers, I would honestly give the novel the Pulitzer Prize for the last paragraph of the jacket copy.
Gilead is the long-hoped-for second novel by one of our finest writers, a hymn of praise and lamentation to the God-haunted existence that Reverend Ames loves passionately, and from which he will soon part.
A "God-haunted existence"? I would love to know who wrote that copy. He or she deserves an award.

Wednesday, January 10, 2007

The Sad Story of a Book Left Unreviewed

Wednesday, January 10, 2007 0
Author John Scalzi consoles his new novel The Android's Dream when it learns it will not be reviewed by the San Francisco Chronicle. Scalzi is a funny, funny man (and one hell of a good writer) and I can't wait to read The Android's Dream.

I have his first written novel Agent to the Stars on lend from the library right now. It's one of the numbered and autographed copies. Can't wait to start that one, either.

Cavalcade (1933)

Sigh.

Last night I started watching the 1933 Best Picture winner Cavalcade. It starts out with some fanfare and musical overtures as films from that era tend to do. Then the actual movie started. And I cringed. It felt as if the director took some actors who were previously in the silent pictures and moved them into the talkies. Well, that's only partly true. The two men where fine, if stiff. The two women were horrible overactors. The lady who was probably the female lead had this terrible habit of starting her line facing the male lead, then twirling to face the camera and deliver the rest of her line. The supporting actress, a maid, insisted on using theatrical hand gestures to her face to show her distress. Big gestures.

I lasted fifteen minutes. I think I need to hand in my "movie geek" card now since I obviously cannot respect the classics, but Cavalcade did not hold up after seventy years. I know that's a long time and movies have come a long way and I should be happy I'm even getting the chance to see this movie, but I don't have the time to watch something that I find so dreadfully dull and overacted.

I gave Cavalcade the old college try, but it was not worth my time. I don't think this is just a case of the acting of the era, at least I hope not since I do have a couple of Best Pictures from that era left to watch. I wonder what else came out in 1933.

Moving Pictures, by Terry Pratchett

The tenth Discworld novel is Moving Pictures by Terry Pratchett. Pratchett takes on Hollywood, here called Holy Wood, and the movies as the death of the guardian of a particular door and the lack of a replacement begins to cause reality, our silver screen reality, to seep into the Discworld. People begin to have these Big Ideas about making moving pictures and Pratchett, with his usual wit and humor, gives us references to movie classics as citizens of the Disc begin to make movies...in their own twisted Discworld sort of way.

Moving Pictures took quite a few pages to really begin to engage me in the story and the humor, but once it did I thoroughly enjoyed this Discworld novel. While not as good as, say, Mort, or one of the early witch novels, Moving Pictures is a decently good story and far more enjoyable than that dolt Rincewind (who, granted, has started to grow on me. Must be the luggage).

Nothing really critical here to say or examine because I find it almost impossible to discuss the plot of a Discworld novel as Pratchett is all over the place in a way that would cause most novels to fail. Yet Discworld succeeds.

Favorite Character Here: Gaspode the Wonder Dog.

Second Fav Character: Laddie (a idiotic Lassie like dog who has not been gifted the power of speech and intelligence through the magic of Holy Wood).

Good boy, Laddie!

Saturday, January 06, 2007

Book Swim

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Bookswim is being touted as Netflix for books. The service is not online yet, but the premise is identical: you pay a monthly subscription fee, pay no shipping, and Book Swim will mail you the next book on your list.

Funny, except for the mailing part I get the exact same service from the Hennepin County Library by managing my account online and reserving books. I put reserved books "On Hold" so that I can read through the ones I have at home (currently 9 books) before my next book becomes available. Then I remove the suspended hold and lo, my next book quickly becomes available.

I stop by the library on my way home so I don't even go out of my way to stop by the library (except on saturdays, but that's just for pleasure).

Oh yeah, I don't pay for the service my local library system gives me.

The only advantage that I see Bookswim having is that it claims to have New Releases. The local library may have a new release on a purchasing request and thus delaying the arrival of a book which isn't the most popular item, and then the popular items tend to have long hold lists. Want to read Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows when it comes out? Well, don't wait to put your hold down because there are already 1502 holds on that book. It might be published this summer and at the moment there are only 26 copies on order (I expect that number to climb).

So, if Bookswim can get me Harry Potter 7 the first week it comes out then maybe there is some merit to the service.

Maybe.

But maybe not. If Harry Potter 7 has 1502 people in Hennepin County, not counting Minneapolis which has its own library system, wishing to reserve the book at least 7 months before it might possibly be released, then why do I think that Bookswim, a nationwide service, would be able to handle the volume needed to get everyone the book they want in a reasonable amount of time that surpasses the free library service.

And then there is the question of how they will make money. I assume most people do not read as fast as I do (10 or so books a month on average), but like Netflix, Bookswim would have to make money on low borrowers because the mailing cost of a book, even shipped media mail (which thus slows down the shipping process) is more expensive than metering a DVD through 1st Class Mail. So, higher shipping costs. The service needs to be cheap enough to get people to want to use it. That would be less than $20 a month, probably closer to $10. But at $10 a month they need people who will rent 1-2 books a month at the most. I would kill the service but I wouldn't be able to have enough books out a time. I imagine. Sure, I wouldn't have to leave the house to get my book, but if you manage your time and reserve books online, you can stop by on the way to or from work to drop off a book and pick a new one up.

If the popular titles will have a waiting list at Bookswim, and also at the library, then I don't see that even that aspect of the service would be of benefit.

I'll stick with the library, thank you very much.

And if I need to purchase a used book, rather than rent a used book I can always use
Half.com
Bookins
Paperback Swap
Frugal Reader

So really. Tell me, Bookswim. How does your service benefit me?

Sithly

I re-watched Revenge of the Sith this morning. It provides fewer thrills than it did when I first saw it in the theatre, but the flick is still pretty good. Ewen McGregor's Obi-Wan Kenobi holds the movie together. The sense of regret he projects towards the whole Clone Wars and towards Anakin at the end...it really is quite moving. When Kenobi tells Skywalker that "I failed you, Anakin. I failed you." I believe him. It's not wooden like other aspects of the new trilogy. When Kenobi tells Skywalker not to attack one last time and then Anakin does, and loses three limbs in one shot and Kenobi yells that Anakin was supposed to be the chosen one...it works. Forget the hokeyness of the Anakin / Padme love story, the Kenobi / Skywalker relationship works and right then we know why Obi-Wan lives alone on Tattoine. It's in part to look after look, but also because of the pure regret of failing Anakin Skywalker somehow.

Joe's Best Movies Viewed in 2006

The Exorcism of Emily Rose (2005)
Serenity (2005)
Grizzly Man (2005)
Cinderella Man (2005)
Hustle & Flow (2005)
A History of Violence (2005)
My Date With Drew (2004)
Clerks II (2006)
Walk the Line (2005)
Why We Fight (2005)
Patton (1970)
Inside Man (2006)
Life Stinks (1991)
Flags of Our Fathers (2006)
A Prairie Home Companion (2006)
Gandhi (1982)
An Evening With Kevin Smith 2: Evening Harder (2006)
Father of the Bride (1991)
Thank You for Smoking (2006)
Cars (2006)

Note the two Kevin Smith flicks on my list. Honestly, if he released Jersey Girl this year it probably would have made my list, too (the movie's not that bad. Fairly cute and I love the Sweeney Todd bit at the end).

Joe's Worst Movies Viewed in 2006

Me and You and Everyone We Know (2005)
Chicken Little (2005)
Soul Plane (2004)
Bewitched (2005)
The New World (2005)
King Kong (2005)
Conquest of the Planet of the Apes (1972)
Battle for the Planet of the Apes (1973)
Bananas (1971)
Everything You Always Wanted to Know About Sex (1972)
1941 (1979)
Thunderball (1965)

Just Not Good.

Thursday, January 04, 2007

Joe's Best Reads of 2006

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Mad ShipRobin Hobb

A Feast for CrowsGeorge R. R. Martin

HyperionDan Simmons

No Country for Old Men
Cormac McCarthy

KindredOctavia Butler

Death Comes for the Archbishop Willa Cather

Memories of Ice Steven Erikson

City of PearlKaren Traviss

Parable of the Sower – Octavia Butler

Crossing the Line – Karen Traviss

Parable of the Talents
– Octavia Butler

Marley and MeJohn Grogan

Acts of FaithPhilip Caputo

So Big Edna Ferber

Old Man’s War John Scalzi

The Forever War Joe Haldeman

Fledgling – Octavia Butler

House of Chains – Steven Erikson


Two things: First, I really should at least blurb all of these novels. These are the 18 best books out of the 134 that I read this year. Blurbage? Second, I feel like I'm doing John Scalzi a disservice by not including The Ghost Brigades on this list. It was on the second tier of the Best Reads (which still includes some damn good books) and it veered onto this list and off of it a couple of times, but I just got more satisfaction from Old Man's War. The Ghost Brigades may be the better written novel (which Scalzi admits), but Old Man's War gave me more visceral enjoyment.

Joe's Worst Reads of 2006

Claw of the Conciliator – Gene Wolfe. After the promising start of Shadow of the Torturer, Gene Wolfe lost me. And not Lost like there is an island with castaways. Lost like what the hell just happened to the good story? And what's with Severain getting with any female that makes eye contact with him?

Railroaded – Whitfield Grant. Not a bad effort and it felt like a rookie effort. It's a lawyer book, and I'm not crazy about lawyer books John Grisham not withstanding. But my problem was that his hero was too perfect. If there was an ocean scene I bet he would have walked on water. And I know part of the point was to have a positive role model from a black protagonist, but it was just silly.

Darksaber – Kevin Anderson. Sir, give me my Star Wars back.

Out of the Silent Planet – C.S. Lewis. How the hell did the man who wrote Narnia and The Great Divorce write this tripe?

Sword of the Lictor – Gene Wolfe. And yet I read book three. It's not like things got better. They got worse.

A Short History of Myth – Karen Armstrong. A little too scholarly, a little too dry, a little too long even though it was just a little book.

A Confederacy of Dunces – John Kennedy Toole. The most obnoxious narrator I've read. Too much absurd dialogue and description from everyone. It's not just Reilly.

The Fortress of the Pearl – Michael Moorcock. I'm sorry Master Moorcock, but this was the most pointless Elric / Multiverse novel I've read and you invalidate the whole story by having Elric forget most of what he just did. A short book that read long.

The Tombs of Atuan – Ursula LeGuin. It made me want to give up on Earthsea. Need I say any more?

Wednesday, January 03, 2007

The Book Depository: Part X

Wednesday, January 03, 2007 2
131: Alice Adams - Booth Tarkington. This Pulitzer Prize winning novel from 1922 is the sort of thing I would normally hate. I put down The Age of Innocence for some of the things contained in this novel: high society and classism, pretensions of upward mobility in society, and being with the "right" people. Yet I ended up enjoying this novel. Why? Well, because of Alice Adams. Not the book, the title character. Alice used to be her era's version of the "It" Girl in her community. Beautiful, from a good family, and style perfect. But with her father's lack of rise in income comparable to those of her friends and peers Alice's star has fallen. She is desperate to get it back but is also loyal to her family. Her desperation mixed with the understanding of her father's situation makes her an immensely likeable character even as she is attempting to be part of a crowd which I detest as a reader. This is a comic novel, though I would not go so far as to say it is "Laugh Out Loud Funny". Alice goes through a period of growth and her desperate maturity is charming. That's the word of Alice Adams: Charming. Considering that I find many novels of this era to be a bit dreary, Alice Adams is a charming novel and far more enjoyable than I had anticipated.

132: The End - Lemony Snicket. Here it is. The final volume in A Series of Unfortunate Events. The End. After setting the Hotel Denouement on fire and escaping with Count Olaf, the Baudelaires find themselves stuck on a boat in the middle of the ocean with the nemesis Count Olaf. Thus begins the end. Or, The End. Whichever. With the wit and sly remarks which over twelve previous volumes we would be fools not to expect, Lemony Snicket tells one last Baudelaire tale and it is, of course, and Unfortunate Event. To expect a gleeful happy ending would be to misread everything the narrator has told us thus far.

Instead we have the Baudelaires struggling to keep their moral compass pointed in the right direction. Because of the events forced upon them they find themselves committing acts that could be considered villainous despite their best intentions to use those acts for good. But might not villains have best intentions? Snicket here shows us a grey area of morality which he has been slowly leading his characters for twelve volumes from the start where we can clearly see the Baudelaires as righteous heroes and we still do, but if we take the time to examine all of their actions without context (and sometimes with context), they are not all pure. But they are human. Snicket tends to give us caricatures of various personalities throughout the books, except for the siblings, and he continues to here, but what we have is an interesting story about this series of unfortunate events.

The End is perhaps the perfect end to the series. It fits with everything that has been presented so far and the ending rings true to the characters and the tone of the series and yet is not wholly downbeat.

133: House of Chains - Steven Erikson. Erikson returns to the Raraku Holy Desert with House of Chains as Sha'ik (Felisin Paran) has her army set to face an invasion by the Malazan Empire with an army led by her sister, the Adjunct Tavore Paran. Tavore does not know that her sister is now the leader of the whirlwind, all Tavore knows is that Felisin is no longer in the prison mine Tavore left her in. Tavore sets two agents to find Felisin's path.

But before we can get to the story about the impending battle between the Whirlind Goddess and the Malazans Erikson opens with an entirely new character: Karsa Orlong, a Teblor Warrior. For the first couple hundred pages we follow Karsa as he leaves his village with two warriors under his command and through his success and rare defeats he grows stronger (you know all those heroes from legend and other novels from other authors? Karsa is likely greater than all of those combined) and stronger and then we realize that Karsa is with Sha'ik as a bodyguard and that Erikson was bringing us up to speed in how this great warrior became part of Sha'ik retinue.

As the fourth book in a series most authors would let us follow the same group of characters from book to book but Erikson opens up new characters and new settings and makes them feel real and distinct and raw. At the start I wondered who this Karsa Orlong character was and why I should care, but after a while I was wrapped in his story. This man, this Teblor, may legitimately challenge a God. Or several gods.

Erikson would never limit the scope of his novel to simply two events. Oh, no! We have the Karsa Orlong Story, A Claw and a Red Blade searching for Felisin, a new T'lan Imass and a Tiste Edur on some sort of quest with an unknown goal, a Malazan sergeant named Strings on the march with the army heading to Raraku and oh yeah, Strings happens to be the Bridgeburner Fiddler, the Bridgeburner assassin Kalam heading towards the desert, Apsalar and Crokus (from Gardens of the Moon) questing for the Throne of Shadow and then set on something else, Ascendents, Intrigue in the leadership of Sha'ik's following, Shai'ik's adopted daughter Felisin the Younger, the fallout of the massacre of the Chain of Dogs (Deadhouse Gates), and the Fist Gamet.

Phew. It is tiring to try to list everything that Erikson is doing with House of Chains and this is standard for one of his novels. There is even more to the book but to go into greater detail would ruin some of the pleasure in discovering what is going on and what we think is going on, and what the characters suspect might be going on. It's crazy.

It's also a damn good novel. I tend to prefer the ones which have a greater emphasis on the Bridgeburners (Gardens of the Moon and Memories of Ice) so the Fiddler / Strings and the Kalam sections were the most interesting here (besides something at the end which I absolutely will not get into), but Erikson is spinning a story so vast that it takes several hundred pages to grasp what he is doing with this individual novel let alone with the series and how it connects with the previous novels and possibly the future novels. One could argue that Erikson needs an editor badly, but everything in the novel is building to something else and we just may not realize it until much later. There is also a real pleasure in reading these epic tomes of The Malazan Book of the Fallen and seeing how Erikson is fitting the puzzle pieces together.

Normally I have no intention of going back and reading an entire series, let alone one which each volume is at least 600 pages and is projected to be ten volumes, plus several novellas, plus another five by a second author who helped Erikson create this world, but I think that I would read earlier events differently knowing what happens later (and in some cases earlier because Erikson messes with some chronologies, like the early Karsa chapters are set even before Deadhouse Gates but the later chapters are set after Memories of Ice). This is an impressive work of fantasy.

134: Guilty Pleasures - Laurell K. Hamilton. Guilty Pleasures is the first of the long running series (now over ten volumes) of Anita Blake, Vampire Hunter. Here we are introduced to Anita, a twenty something woman (I believe her age is mentioned as 24). Anita Blake is an Animator: She raises the dead. But she also kills vampires and her nickname is The Executioner. She has killed 14 vampires before the novel starts. She is contacted to help solve the brutal murders of other vampires. Anita does not want to take the case because she kills vampires, she does not work for them. But, we would not have much of a novel if she doesn't take the case.

Hamilton introduces us to Anita and to her world and the various inhabitants: wererats, vampires, animators, zombies, ghouls, freak parties, and other oddities.

This is a hard boiled world and Anita is a hardboiled woman. Change her gender and she would fit in as a character in any Raymond Chandler novel or others of the hardboiled detective genre. Except for the vampires. That is what Hamilton is writing here.

She does it well. What I know of Hamilton is that her novels are laced with sex and erotic acts, but Guilty Pleasures features none of that. As I understand it, Hamilton only adds to that facet of her work with each subsequent novel (which may explain her ever increasing sales). Guilty Pleasures is just a good fantasy detective horror mystery novel and is a good story.

I was not enraptured with Hamilton's work here, though, and while I may or may not read a couple more books in the Anita Blake series, I feel no compulsion to do so. Guilty Pleasures is a decent enough novel, but not spectacular. Hamilton moves the plot along quickly with short chapters and a dialogue and internal monologue style that fits the genre and the character, but Guilty Pleasures did not move me to proclaim Hamilton's greatness from the mountaintops (as John Scalzi, Karen Traviss, and Octavia Butler more recently did).

Read at your own discretion and without a strong recommendation.
 
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