Saturday, December 19, 2009

Witty's Year End Book Review 2009

Just as a reminder, this isn't a list of new books that came out from 2008 or 2007, these are simply the best books I've read this year.

Best Fiction Book

Being a little busy in the job-hunting and college-class-taking this year, I didn't get many chances to sit down and enjoy a novel or five.



Best Non-Fiction Book

Presidential Character: predicting performance in the White House, James David Barber.
My college studies at Florida were geared for a Journalism degree, which didn't work out as I'd hoped. But class requirements included a good number of Political Science classes, and in one of them (either a class with Professor David Conradt on comparative political systems, or another class on Famous People which had me comparing FDR, Churchill and Rosa Luxemberg... yeah, go figure) this research by James Barber came up. Barber had worked out a system of psychological profiling for Presidents, based on work histories and biographies of those that came before. He became famous for predicting Richard Nixon's decline/fall during Nixon's first term, and his subsequent reviews of following Presidents (Ford, Carter, Reagan, Bush the Elder).
Barber is responsible for establishing the two measurements for Presidents - Positive/Negative and Active/Passive - creating four types: Active/Positive (constant policy actions, positive and flexible view of Presidential power and decision-making), Active/Negative (Lots of policy actions, but with a narrow, inflexible and sometimes corrupt view of power), Passive/Positive (little initiative, relying more on Congress or on society as a whole to go their way, but eager to provide leadership as a statesman or captain at the helm), Passive/Negative (very little true initiative, only leading out of obligation). Interesting side note: the first four Presidents on the list - Washington, Adams, Jefferson, Madison - fit each type. Quick, figure out which was which. :)
Given my political leanings (and my ever-growing animosity towards certain current-ex-vice-Presidents who ruled behind the curtain) I've been digging around for Barber's work for ages. I finally spotted Amazon selling a 4th edition (textbook for a college course again) and ordered one. Thanks to Barber's book, I've gotten a better understanding of how we should rate Presidents... Bush the Lesser? In my estimates he's a Passive/Negative - more a pawn of other political forces than his own, more intent on the perks of the Presidency than actually leading (enjoying a birthday celebration while Rome burned uh New Orleans flooded, for example). The book also helped nail Dick Cheney (who as you look closer at the Bush the Lesser admin was a true co-President than anyone before him) as an Active/Negative (a true heir to Nixon, which is terrifying).
Hmm, I should leave that for my other blog. But still, this is a great Poli Sci book and a lot of libraries ought to carry it.

I still suggest the No Plot? No Problem! by Chris Baty, as this is vital reading for the NaNoWriMo event.


Best Graphic Novel Series, This Year

Instead of a novel, this year I've taken a liking to a crossover event series.
DC Comics' Blackest Night primarily written by Geoff Johns and penciled by Ivan Reis, is still in production, Issue 5 so far out of 8 issues. And a lot of background is needed here...
Long long time ago, there were major comic book publishers: National/DC and Marvel were just a few. They used to publish their superhero titles with little interaction between their established characters... but then one day Superman teamed with Batman... and then Justice Societies got together... and then the World War ended and superhero comics were attacked for unhealthy morals and everything went to Western and WWII titles... and then superheroes came back, but with new origins... and then the new Flash literally ran into the old Flash and proved there were alternate universes... and then DC heroes formed a Justice League while Marvel started Avengers within the now-expanding comics universe in each publisher's realm... and by the 1980s it all got convoluted because writers and editors with each book weren't keeping up with everyone's else work, and conflicting mythologies and plotlines were cluttering up stories where the fans expected clarity and continuity.
So DC Comics decided in the mid-1980s to rewrite their universe with a Crisis: update it, kill off cumbersome galleries of side characters, streamline the history to make it compatible with the real world, everything. They killed off major characters - Supergirl, Flash - and rewrote existing ones with brand-new origins - Superman, Wonder Woman, Hawkman, slew of others. It got so popular that Marvel countered with Secret Wars as a crossover, and then DC published a few crossovers to keep their universe interactive (and to make money). And thus were the crossover comic events born.
But where Crisis tried to clear up everything, it actually made things worse. Origin rewrites for some characters - Hawkman in particular - were delayed and conflicted with other stories. DC's solution? More crossovers! But in the process, existing characters were re-written again - in particular Green Lantern being turned into a villain called Parallax - and more killed off. In attempts to attract readers, the publishers started more and more crossovers - to encourage purchasers buy multiple titles - and in order to justify the crossovers being MAJOR UNAVOIDABLE EVENTS OF ULTIMATE DESTINY - those crossovers kept killing more and more characters.
But all this character killing created problems. For one, the publishers - both DC and Marvel were guilty of it - were bumping off what proved to be marketable, likeable characters. When replacement characters proved unlikeable, flimsy excuses and retcons were used to bring dead characters back. The biggest publisher stunt ever was the Death of Superman... all because it was too quickly followed by a plotline of multiple Supermen leading up to Supes' all-too-expected ressurection. The other problem with all the superhero deaths was that by relying on it too often as a plot device - oooh, we're killing a character! oooooh, we're bringing a dead character back! - it became too cheap a gimmick. Readers got jaded by all the death to where rather being a shocking, humbling moment in a comic universe's storytelling, it was mocked, parodied, and expected. Everyone now expects a superhero's girlfriend to end up in a fridge... which is both sad and sick. Oh, by the way, they killed Captain America a few years ago... and where the mainstream media made a big deal out of it, fans knew he was coming back sooner rather than later... Oh, and Batman's dead too. Yawn.
Which leads up to Blackest Night. Written by Geoff Johns, currently the guy responsible for the destruction of DC Comics, Night is playing off the threads of ideas than ALAN MOORE HIMSELF toyed with back when he worked for DC in the 1980s. Moore had during his brief stint there tossed out idea after idea that deconstructed, rewrote, and expanded the superhero mythos in ways you couldn't even imagine... and almost all of it never happened. Twilight of the Superheroes remains one of the best-known "lost" works in popular culture, with only bits and pieces - the Armageddon 2001 crossover, the Kingdom Come Elseworld miniseries - emerging as bastardized versions. Night is playing off a storyline Moore created for a Green Lantern anthology, wherein legendary Abin Sur is confronted with prophecies regarding his eventual death and the fall of the Green Lantern Corps itself. It was Moore's attempt to explain why Abin Sur was flying a spaceship when Lanterns are perfectly capable of flying solo: the prophecy weakened Abin's faith in the ring, and paradoxically led to his death (allowing the ring to pass to Hal Jordan of Earth). Johns read the story, and decided that the other elements of that prophecy - namely, the fall of the Corps (which would mean the fall of the universe) had to be played out. Hence the coming of Blackest Night.
Johns has basically, over the past 5-7 years, been revamping the entire DC Universe yet again, trying to undo the wreckage caused by Crisis on Infinite Earths by bringing out more Crises after another - Identity Crisis, Infinite Crisis, Final Crisis. Each one actually killing off more characters than before, infuriating readers with bizarre character derailments, bringing back dead heroes with more bizarre explanations, each one actually causing MORE damage to an increasingly unworkable multiverse.
But it turns out Johns might have planned this all along. Make things worse in order to make things better... and so far the idea is bearing interesting fruit... Because it might fix the problem with comic book deaths once and for all.
Night is basically Johns' answer to all the comic book deaths we've suffered over the last 40 years, in fact. Every character killed during the past series of Crises are RISING from the grave, but as zombies... No, wait, while you think "Hey it's been done" this time these zombies are different. Powered by Black Lantern rings (a whole rainbow of Lanterns have exploded on the scene), the undead superheroes are attacking their still-living colleagues by provoking emotional responses... using the moment of peak emotion to kill their prey and in true zombie fashion turn the fallen into more Black Lantern zombies. All in an attempt to resurrect a Death demon called Nekron... who seeks to destroy the emotional light of the universe (basically ALL LIFE) to return all to the black void. Deal is, Nekron just revealed he is not only powering the newly dead, but that he had a hand in allowing previous heroes - Superman! for example - to return from the dead with Nekron's taint... meaning they all Came Back Wrong... From what I'm gleaning off the plotline, Johns is seemingly wiping the slate clean, bringing back ALL dead heroes (and villains) for the purpose of this miniseries, and then using the mechanics of the Black Lantern's strengths and weaknesses to hammer out a method in the future (once all is set right) of killing certain characters and giving them an out of getting resurrected later.
What's enjoyable about this miniseries is that finally someone is looking at the bigger picture of how haphazard the universe-fixing attempts were, and how stupid and eventually fan-crushing the whole Comic Book Death meme has played out the last 15-20 years. Just as long as Johns gets it to make sense in the last issue...

Unavoidable Book That Spells Doom for Humanity

There's actually been a lot this year: all of them far right screeds. All of them wrongly made best-sellers (more out of marketing and fan-driven quantity than actual quality). I'm not linking to any of them. Suffice to say, just avoid the Personal Narrative political bio/philosophy titles for the past 3-5 years. You'll thank me.

Best Book by Someone I Know and Corresponded with via Email on an Occasional Basis

Kinda hard to list one this year: being out of the library profession, I haven't kept up with Petrucha's latest. I do know Nantus is getting a second book reviewed in the galley stage, meaning a print release soon. 'Course, I've been busy meself...

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

NaNo Update 12/15/09

I'm finishing up the novel, but now without the deadline - and with an A+ Cert exam I gotta cram for due next week - I'm finding it hard to keep up with the pace I had in November... sigh.

Meanwhile, I'm looking at creating another Best Of year-end list... with a few changes.

Monday, November 30, 2009

Holy Hyperbole! I survived NaNoWriMo!


It's true, it's all true, check out my page...

And the worst part is, the novel itself isn't done: the 50,000 words has covered roughly 2/3s of the tale, maybe even half... there's still a lot to put in, crazy stuff to be sure...

Bwhahahahahaaaaa...

Congrats to any others who read this blog who have partaken of the NaNo.

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

NaNo Update 11/24/09

30,000 plus words. 3/5th of the way done.

Need to focus! I can get 3,000 words done tonight, maybe 4,000 if I push it...

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

NaNoWriMo Update 11/18/2009

Holy cow. I actually got 15,000-plus words at the moment!

This is the latest into the month I've yet found myself still typing. Last couple of times my writer's block had kicked in hard by now. This is good for me.

Yesterday I did 5,000 words, and that's even with the distraction of the new Star Trek movie on DVD. So all I need are a few more days like that, I might even make the 50,000 word count!

Thursday, November 5, 2009

Writers Block In the Age of NaNo

Nanowrimo is on.

I have only 95 words at this point.

I need to write 1,667 words per day to get to 50,000 by the end of the month.

Someone please get over here with a shotgun and an egg timer to get me motivated please.

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

It begins... again! NaNoWriMo in one month

Now that I'm mostly unemployed I might actually have time to do this... sigh.

Saturday, September 26, 2009

Carl Sagan Has Been Modified

Caught this on Mightygodking (and apparently it's achieved memetic mutation):

|


Can you imagine waking up to this video/song in the morning, and having your brain upload the chorus (A still more glorious dawn awaits / Not a sunrise, but a galaxy rise / A morning filled with 400 billion suns / The rising of the milky way)?

My head would have exploded.

This is, for those who don't know, a video editing mash-up of sorts of Carl Sagan's epic COSMOS series from 1980. I was ten at the time of its broadcast, just learning myself about the world around me, awareness of the globe, of history and literature and space and time. And here came Sagan, presenting astronomy and physics and mathematics (and even biology to explain how humanity can even conceive and think of the universe where other animals can't) in simple, easy to learn concepts. I think he caught a lot of flack from hard scientists for 'dumbing down' as it were those scientific fields. The critics were wrong. Sagan probably did what few scientists, and indeed what few philosophers and theologists, could do: he helped explain where we (humanity) were in the vast cosmos (a small blue dot on a thin sunbeam).

The mixer's website is here. He has downloadables for MP3 and MP4/iPhone formats. I seriously recommend dropping ducats in his hat: this is an awesome work. Links to others who have made their comments and awe known are here and here and over there in the vast cosmos of the Intertubes.

Lyrics posted below. Highlights are mine, where the song touches my imagination the deepest. (The song starts with Carl Sagan apologizing for his attempt to sing. He begins to whoop and caw like a bird, which is edited into a sampled backbeat.)

Lyrics:

Sagan:
If you wish to make an apple pie from scratch
You must first invent the universe

Space is filled with a network of wormholes
You might emerge somewhere else in space
Some when-else in time

The sky calls to us
If we do not destroy ourselves
We will one day venture to the stars

Chorus:
A still more glorious dawn awaits
Not a sunrise, but a galaxy rise
A morning filled with 400 billion suns
The rising of the milky way

The Cosmos is full beyond measure of elegant truths
Of exquisite interrelationships
Of the awesome machinery of nature

I believe our future depends powerfully
On how well we understand this cosmos
In which we float like a mote of dust
In the morning sky

But the brain does much more than just recollect
It inter-compares, it synthesizes, it analyzes
it generates abstractions

The simplest thought like the concept of the number one
Has an elaborate logical underpinning
The brain has its own language
For testing the structure and consistency of the world

Chorus

The sky calls to us
If we do not destroy ourselves
We will one day venture to the stars


Hawking: (Rolling in like a rap artist cohort, like Snoop Dogg to Dr. Dre, singing counterweight)
For thousands of years
People have wondered about the universe
Did it stretch out forever
Or was there a limit

From the big bang to black holes
From dark matter to a possible big crunch
Our image of the universe today
Is full of strange sounding ideas

Sagan:
How lucky we are to live in this time
The first moment in human history
When we are in fact visiting other worlds

Chorus x2

The surface of the earth is the shore of the cosmic ocean
Recently we've waded a little way out
And the water seems inviting...

(mind blown)

Friday, September 11, 2009

Well, Once Again...

...The 3-Day Novel didn't pan out. Got 4.5 chapters done.

But I can now plan out getting at least one chapter a day done. Well, once I get a few more days cleared out...

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

2009: 3-Day Novel

I'm trying it again this year.

I'd created an online blog just as a place to type out personal motivationals (get to work, dammit!) and I think this time I've done a better job of creating characters, set pieces, plot...

Knock on formica, I start this Saturday.

Saturday, July 11, 2009

Why Harry Potter?

In 1997, based on a search in OCLC WorldCat, there were 83 English language books written about magic that would be considered Juvenile fiction (search term - Su: Magic Juvenile Fiction).

One of those books was Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone, published in the UK. The US market would get the book in 1998 (retitled with Sorcerer's Stone), published among 90 such fictional works.

This book would go on to sell 300,000 copies by 1999 in the UK and roughly 11 million (hardback AND paperback) in the US; top bestsellers lists; spawn a series of equally mass-selling books - nay spawn an entire industry of toys, foods, and other books; get made into blockbuster movies; and basically turn childrens' literary publishing into a financial behemoth as hundreds of other would-be Rowlings scribbled out pale imitations to cash in (with only a handful - Lemony Snicket comes to mind - showing any originality deserving our love).

The deal is, why? Why this book? What was it about the first Harry Potter book that made it so popular?

The reasons why are that firstly Rowling created memorable characters and memorable settings, and secondly like any good author Rowling stole (c'mon. Every artist a cannibal, every poet a thief...) from the good and/or great storytellers that came before.

The earliest comparisons Rowling got were to another well-known children's author, Roald Dahl, whose classics (Matilda, James and the Giant Peach, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory) were detailed child's-eye-view-of-the-world tales replete with adult (and child) grotesques. Are there any true differences between Matilda's uncaring parents the Wormwoods and Harry's Aunt Petunia and Uncle Vernon Dursley? Draco Malfoy and Veruca Salt are practically siblings (hate to think of them as boyfriend/girlfriend shudder. Oh God I hope there's no fanfic on that). Dolores Umbridge and Mrs. Trunchbull have to fight it out as Worst Teacher Ever. These characters are archetypes: bad parents, spoiled children, officious and uncaring bureaucrats, and all of them bullies to boot. Note too the detail of names, how they roll off the tongue as literally defining each character and yet made colorfully off-beat.

Rowling also borrowed heavily on a form of literature better recognized in England than in the US: that of the Boarding School coming-of-age tales. Such tales were prevalent when boarding schools dotted the British landscape, mainly the Victorian and Edwardian periods. Post-WWII era with a decline in such schools being replaced by regular public-funded schools also meant a decline in such stories, replaced by standard coming-of-age tales. Boarding school stories focused on basic themes: friendships made, bullies defeated, sporting events won. Said sporting events usually cricket or football (no broom-riding sports I'm afraid, old bean).

It might surprise, but Rowling also steals from a British author more popular than her: Agatha Christie. Potter books are - for the most part - plotted like murder mysteries: Whodunnit? (also How'd They Do It? and Why'd They Do It?) Who's stealing the Philosopher's Stone? Who opened the Chamber of Secrets? Why after 13 years is Sirius Black coming after Harry Potter now (or is he...?), and how is he doing it? Who really betrayed Harry's parents to Voldemort? Who put Harry's name in the Goblet of Fire? What's Voldemort want with the Department of Mysteries? Who is the Half-Blood Prince? What are Horcruxes? And the most important question of all: When will Josh and Donna make out? Oh wait wrong fanfic obsession... And that was resolved halfway through Season 7 anywho, but I digress.

Last but not least, the real reason Harry Potter sparked so much interest: Rowling followed the basic rules and plotlines of the Monomyth. And while Joseph Campbell's critics can argue that over-reliance of the monomyth as simple plot structure has led to a lot of crappy fiction, you can't argue when it's done right (Star Wars, the Matrix, even Star Trek). And Rowling gets it right. It also doesn't hurt that she follows a lot of fantasy-themed elements set down in The Encyclopedia of Fantasy, a reference that was in the works just as she published the first Potter book.

She created foremost a world that is both mundane but magical. Obviously, she created a Hero (Harry Potter) but also loyal Companions (Ron Weasley and Hermione Granger) who provide the Hero with vital tools: Ron gives Harry access to the Weasley family who act as advocates and guides to a Wizarding world he's unfamiliar with (as well as providing a surrogate home the Burrows) while allowing Ron opportunities to shine separately from his successful older brothers; Hermione provides knowledge and problem-solving skills that otherwise would lay dormant. There are additional Companions as well, notable among them Hagrid, Neville Longbottom and Luna Lovegood. Harry has his Mentor in Albus Dumbledore, although Remus Lupin and later Sirius Black provide Mentoring as well. And there's the Pariah Elite formed as the Order of the Phoenix, the wizard resistance formed to fight Voldemort and his Death Eater minions. And Snape... I'm tempted to place him as a Threshold Guardian, but arguably as the most complex character Rowling created pinning Snape down to any one Role is tricky. One more obviously is that Rowling created a Dark Lord (literally) in Tom Marvolo Riddle AKA Lord Voldemort, who threatened both Wizarding and Muggle worlds (The Land) with Plight... and like all Dark Lords he may be powerful but can be maddeningly blind to obvious flaws in his various plans to rule/destroy the world. Voldemort violates Rule 6 nearly every book he appears. Sheesh. Oddly enough, Voldemort never evens tries to violate "Rule 34. I will not turn into a snake. It never helps."

With the pieces in place, she follows most if not all of the monomyth rules faithfully: the Call to Adventure comes with that first letter from Hogwarts (addressed to the abused Harry's "Cupboard Under the Stairs"). The Refusal of the Call isn't Harry's fault: his aunt and uncle despise Wizardy and hoped by abusing Harry they would crush it out of him. Supernatural Aid comes via Hagrid who ensures the Call to Adventure is heeded, and Hagrid is the first to escort Harry into the Wizarding World (Diagon Alley) and help him locate tools (Wand, Owl, School Supplies) to assist in his survival. The Crossing the First Threshold and the beginning of the Road of Trials are basically Harry's first journey to his new school Hogwarts, during which he meets his Companions (Ron, Hermione and Neville) as well as Enemy/obstacle Draco Malfoy who acts as a bully and minor threat for most of the overall series. Draco is merely a representative of the True Threat Voldemort, reflecting Voldemort's bigotry and sadism but unable to truly achieve the malice of his Dark Lord. Past this, the book series is replete with Thresholds to pass and overcome, and various Belly of the Whales that Harry must survive: Entering the final chamber to confront the person stealing the Sorceror's Stone; Entering the Chamber of Secrets to save Ginny; Entering the Shrieking Shack to save Ron and confront Sirius Black (and the Truth and Atonement with the Father that Sirius represents); Entering a labyrinth that would lead to Voldemort and the Death Eaters at the end of the Third Trial of the Triwizard Tournament; Entering the Department of Mysteries to rescue Sirius Black but instead facing a trap; Entering Tom Riddle's childhood cave to recover a Horcrux; and with the last novel Entering an otherwise impenetrable goblin bank to steal a Horcrux, Entering the Room of Requirement to locate another Horcrux, and Entering the Forbidden Forest to finally confront his own Death (?) at Voldemort's hand. That's a lotta whale bellies.

There's Apotheosis with Harry's self-sacrifice at Voldemort's hand in the final book, but that leads to the Boon, the wisdom and knowledge gained in the Afterlife. With the Boon (knowledge that Harry is no longer a Horcrux, and the realization that Voldemort doesn't have true mastery of the Elder Wand) Harry considers for a moment the Refusal to Return, then acknowledges he must Return to bestow the Boon to everyone else by destroying Voldemort once and for all. He returns to the mundane world but is Master of Two Worlds (the World of Magic and the World of the Afterlife), and exults in his Freedom to Live by showing he was and remains unafraid of Death, unlike Voldemort who fears Death and is destroyed by his own Killing curse.

There's probably a more detailed way (probably a whole book) of fitting the Harry Potter series into the Monomyth structure (I didn't even touch on the Goddess stuff), but the point is Potter-as-Monomyth works. And despite all the complaints about the Monomyth, it DOES create easily-read, easily-recognizable tales that appeal across the broad spectrum of storytelling (well, at least within Western/Eurocentric Literature). That's why Harry Potter got to be so popular 10 years ago, and why it's still popular today, and why it may yet remain popular 100 years from now.

Thursday, July 9, 2009

After the 4th of July...

...It's downhill to Christmas and New Year's from here.

Where does the time go? Oh, right.

Zzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz... snore... zzzzzzzzzzzzzz

With a movie en route, Harry Potter post forthcoming.

Thursday, May 7, 2009

Geek Days Are Here Again - Trekkie Edition

I've mentioned elsewhere how much of a Geek I am. Tomorrow will be a day I get my Geek on, a special day, a red-letter day.

One, it's my birthday. Two, it's the release of the Star Trek: The Reboot movie.

I need to note how much of a cornerstone Trek is to the Geek culture. There are a slew of different Geeks in the world - Tech Geeks, Anime Geeks, History Geeks, Political Geeks, High Fantasy Geeks (LotR geekdom started years before Trek did), Sports Geeks - and in some ways Trek touches upon them all. Fans of the West Wing noticed how the show brought out the scifi Geek in them and duh it's just Star Trek In the Oval Office, with Bartlet as Kirk, Leo as Spock, CJ as Uhura, Josh Sam and Toby as Scotty Sulu and/or Chekov, and Donna as Yeoman Rand (with the Republicans as Klingons). And the inverse of that is how the Original Series came as a parable of the Cold War era, the utopian ideal of JFK's New Frontier, with Starfleet as the West, Klingons as Russians, Romulans as Chinese. Star Trek VI is practically a Trek revisionism to the collapse of the Soviet Union: Praxis' explosion as Chernobyl, Gorkon as Gorbachev (destabilized via coup rather than assassinated), script filled with quoted references to Cold War dialog (my twin brother at this point still doesn't get the "Only Nixon Could Go to China" reference), the Khitomer Accords akin to the opening up of Eastern Europe and the Fall of the Berlin Wall.

Everything else in Geek culture owes something to Star Trek. Even Star Wars, a cultural behemoth in its own right. Trek was the first science fiction show to have dedicated conventions that actually got noticed (usually mocked from the 70s to the 90s) as a cultural phenom in their own right. Trek made geeking out over Tolkien and Hobbits more high-brow (snerk): before Trek, obsessing over Middle-earth was something kept to university coffee houses and halfling-weed-scented basements. Trek culture meshed and still meshes with Superhero Comics culture. Quoting from Trek is now so common people don't even blink or snicker when they do. Wearing Trek outfits outside of movie theaters and convention halls doesn't seem so weird anymore. We've even got serious (well as serious as current circumstances allow them) political commentators noting how much Obama is like Spock (that Obama shows signs of being an unabashed Geek (only a Geek would pose like that in front of a Superman statue) in his own right helps)... and that supposedly humorous Onion article that posits the BSG finale got Obama emotionally distraught? Probably was more accurate than the satirists thought... but I digress.

People who wouldn't even think of themselves as hardcore Trekkies or even hardcore Geeks could still quote heavily from the series magnum opus, Wrath of Khan - and not just Shatner's overemotive "KHHHHAAAAANNNNNN!" I'm talking knowing what a Kobayashi Maru is, that the Klingons have a proverb about revenge being a dish best served cold, that Ricardo Montalban didn't wear a chest prothesis for that outfit (yeah ladies, Mr. Rourke was BUFF).

Normal people know how to pronounce "nuclear wessels." People driving 90 MPH on the highway get pulled over by cops telling them they're speeding over Warp Factor 9. Regular people know Sulu got married... well, yeah, still don't know how he's gonna squeeze out a daughter though... Shakespeare is getting translated (back) into the original Klingon. Doctor Who knows of Spock as a TV character (which ruined the hell out of all those damn epic Crossover fanfic stories that had the Enterprise crew Trekkin with the Doctor! NOOOOO).

This is the Internet Age. Brought to you by computer nerds, bringing you information over the tubes, fashioning all Internet Traditions. And don't forget all those engineering techheads who designed mobile phones. Of course Star Trek is going to be all over this place. Soon, all will be Trek.

(Flashes the Vulcan greeting). Party Hard, fanboys!

Saturday, April 25, 2009

NFL Draft Day Blogging 2009

Hola, to all three people who might even know this blog exists. :)
Today's a huge day for me as a Bucs fan, I'm gonna be following the NFL rookie draft this afternoon. I'm gonna see about liveblogging it, which means constant EDIT updates to this particular post. I'm gonna see if I can do it, and how many updates I can do before the computer decides to kill me for overloading its CPU...

Some notes beforehand, I've made my predictions (based mostly on the Bucs NOT trading down from the 19th spot, something they're hoping to do) and am now waiting to see how far off I am in mah guesswork.

I'm primarily hoping the Bucs go for Percy Harvin as a need pick for WR. But I'm not blind to the Bucs' needs at DT and DE, so if the team goes there (possibly DT Peria Jerry) I won't have any problems.

What I will have a problem with is if the Bucs go with selecting a rookie QB like Josh Freeman with the 19th overall pick. Half the scouting boards (including that pompous ass Mel Kiper) have the Bucs going that way even though 1) Bucs have a decent roster of veteran QBs already and 2) Bucs have needs elsewhere. These jokers can't even argue that picking Freeman would be a Best-Available Pick (as opposed to Filling-Need Pick) because Freeman is ranked around the 50th spot with most scouting boards. These scouts seem to think the Bucs are screwed at QB because they don't like Leftwich or McCown or Griese. Phooey on that.

Early notes: Detroit has locked up the first overall pick to QB Dennis Quaid, uh Matt Stafford. Teams looking to trade up include the Giants who are hoping to snag WR Darrius Heyward-Bey before he goes to other WR-starved teams. Arizona has WR Boldin on the trading block, and apparently are dropping their demands so much that a smart team could snag Boldin, keep a decent early pick and still get a rookie they wanted. So DON'T expect the Bucs to make that move. ;-)

Draft officially starts in 4 hours. I will post UPDATES! Stay tuned.

Update - 3:42 PM. Currently at a Buffalo Wild Wings. Wireless works. Laptop now on battery power. See how long it lasts.
Most of the talk on the car radio was on the ridiculously rich contract Stafford got, and for the locals arguing about the need to trade down with the two teams most wanting to trade up (Arizona, NYGiants).

4:52 - Big shock with the Jets trading up to get Sanchez. Big question now is how this affects the next QB on the list (Freeman). With DE Jackson going ahead of other big names at the DE spot, there's a possibility the DE lineup will see a lot of activity with the next 12 spots...

5:37 - Didn't realize Denver needed RB. Wonder if the Bucs have a shot at LB Cushing... Biggest shock so far is still the Jets trade, but seeing some of the DEs slip from Top 5 to tenth and eleventh means there'll be more defensive end players on the board to tempt the Bucs...

6:01 - I call riot. FREEMAN?!?! WE TRADED UP FOR FREEMAN?!?!?! WE NEEDED DT! WE NEEDED WR!! WE COULD HAVE TAKEN OLB FOR GODS SAKE!!!!! GAHHHHHHHHH!!!!

It's official. We suck.

9:00 - I doubt the Bucs can work out a trade to get back into the Second Round, so this is it for the day. My grand experiment in liveblogging the event kinda goes nowhere and I end up frustrated with the team once again. Sigh. It's a good thing there's a Star Trek movie coming out on my birthday I can geek out over in two weeks...

Saturday, April 18, 2009

So I obsess over a few things

I'm a geek. You might not have noticed by now but... yeah I kid. All four of you noticed on Day One.

I'm a comic book geek, movie geek, scifi geek, Trekkie (yes, I accept the term), XPhile, lit geek, cat geek, cheese geek, tall-long-haired-brunette-with-huge-tracks-of-land geek (I have a fetish, so? especially if she looks great in a Wonder Woman cosplay uniform), and sports geek.

I know that last bit sometimes doesn't square with all the other geekdoms - well other than the cheese and the tall brunettes with yabbos geekdoms - but, yeah, I get it from my mom's side of the family (poor Grampa was a Cubs (or was it teh Braves?) fan, Mom knows ever syllable of the War Eagle fight song). And having grown up in the Tampa Bay region from 1977 on, I got hooked early to the Tampa Bay Bucs pro football team (having them go to the playoffs when I was nine started the fan crush). So yeah, I follow a lot of football, college and pro.

I also obsess over the annual NFL rookie draft.

Not everyone gets the draft, I know. It's a hyped-up non-event in their eyes. No game is actually played out. No one really wins, or really loses (unless you're the Browns or Lions or Raiders, they haven't drafted smart in years!). It's a real-life version of Fantasy Football where REAL team owners get to select newbies to fill out their rosters, nothing more.

Except, except, except... There's a reason thousands of fans do follow Draft Day, or at least the First Round.

How the teams draft can tell you how the coaches and owners are thinking about their team's chances for the coming season. Who a team drafts can tell fans what to expect, what holes in the team line-ups needed to be filled. Like a few other team sports (baseball and hockey for example), pro football has a whole line-up of diversified player positions that require specific skills, so a team drafting a Wide Receiver with their first overall pick is telling fans they're trying to upgrade their passing attack. Like basketball, football draftees can immediately see playing time on the field their rookie year (baseball and hockey both have farm systems in which rookies can hide for years before seeing pro-level play time), so a top draft pick can become an immediate star first game of September.

Another thing is that NFL Draft Day is a time when both the college level fandom and pro level fandom intermix. College football fanaticism is actually bigger than the pro game (more schools, more regions, more history), and not all college fans are pro fans (and vice versa). Draft Day is when fans from Wake Forest can gather to watch a top-rated Defensive linesman can get taken by the Green Bay Packers, or the Oakland Raiders, or the Cincinnati Bengals (poor guy) or the New York Jets (whose fans will boo him anyway. Lord, those guys would boo the Pope if they could).

Draft Day IS a day for the fans, because it gives fans a chance to gather at local watering holes (or at a team's draft party, or AT the draft in New York City itself) and bicker and whoop and praise and curse the team they follow.

It's a HUGE day for me, because like I told you earlier the Bucs are mah team. And from 1984 to 1996, the Draft Day was really the only real fun day a Bucs fan could have, trust me we were THAT bad a franchise those years. So yeah, I'm into the draft.

This April 25th, I hope to gather with a few Bucs fans in the bay area (perhaps Oldsmar, there's a Buffalo Wild Wings there that might have wifi handy), and maybe even liveblog it from this blog. Hope you don't mind... but it's not like I've got a lot of reasons to write about librarianship these days...

Monday, April 13, 2009

Time flies when you're plugged in

It was ten years ago this month when The Matrix came out.

As a Gen-Xer who measures time by cultural milestones, this is yet another moment where I sit back and realize that DAMN I'm getting old. My 20-year high school reunion kinda worked the same way.

How can I describe 1999 (or 1985 for God's sake) to those who weren't there? That was a crazy-ass year. Everyone, well every geek, was waiting for Star Wars I - The Phantom Menace to come out that summer: a brand-new website called Countingdown.com was practically created to flash a timer waiting for the day we'd see Anakin Skywalker start on his destiny. The only summer film that looked to compete with the Force was this Austin Powers sequel. There was this buzz about a small indy project called the Blair Witch Project that had this weird-ass website of background info. Meanwhile in the real world, politics was getting all screwy with the Clinton Impeachment over Blowjobs fiasco that was wiping out Republican leadership instead of the Clintons themselves. Bush and Gore were lining themselves up as the de-facto party choices for 2000. There were Melissa Worms and Napster and everyone waiting for Y2K to erupt on New Year's. Stephen King nearly dies in a hit-and-run accident. Enron starts messing with California's energy supply. And on April 20, 1999... that was a bad day all around.

Into all of this came The Matrix. For all we knew or heard about this film, it had something to do with computer hackers figuring out something, not sure what, about the universe and reality in general. Nobody I knew who were into films had much information on what this was about. Warner Bros. was kinda releasing this film with almost little fanfare, in early April of all times rather than the more lucrative summer months as though they wanted it done and out of the way before Star Wars cleaned up the market.

For meself... Two hours after going in, for myself, every geek I know, and every geek I knew existed out there on the planet, had to have exited that film with OUR FREAKING MINDS BLOWN!

It had hackers saving the world (nice ego-stroking there). It had questions about reality, about our senses, our perceptions. It had proto-goth culture mixed with techno-shoot-em-up culture mixed with Far Eastern mysticism and every form of kung-fu (Jedi, wire-fu, gun-fu, hack-fu, wtf-fu) you had ever seen. It had Christian parables and messanic overtones. It had Keanu Reeves saying "Whoa" and actually SELLING THAT LINE! It had Hugo Weaving owning the title of "Badass" (even in good-guy roles like Elrond!) for the next decade (would half the people who even moderately tolerated V For Vendetta even been that way if it didn't have Hugo Weaving's near-perfect dark voice as the anti-hero?). It had Laurence Fishburne as Morpheus, out-mentoring Yoda in some of the best kung-fu sparring you'll ever see. It had Joey Pants as the one sensible jerk in the whole universe ("Why didn't I take the Blue Pill?"), who of course turns out to be a total -ssh-l- because in a war against the Machine you need to accept the Red Pill and accept the reality that we are all brains in batteries.

Those who came after this movie came out can't begin to understand how the Matrix warped our geekhood. We came to quote from Morpheus and the Oracle more than Yoda. It also hurt that when the Phantom Menace finally came out - Jar-Jar??? Mitichlor-whats? Anakin crushing on Padme even though he's clearly 8 years away from hitting puberty? What??? - that a lot of geeks felt betrayed (ten years later, IT STILL HURTS) by Lucas' lack of understanding his own vision (the geeky response of The Phantom Edit tells you all you needed to know: if only Lucas had the supporting staff he had back during the 70s-80s trilogy, people like Gary Kurtz at producer and Lawrence Kasdan at screenplay who could have pulled back on Lucas' worst indulgences, the prequel trilogy could have been SO AWESOME).

So here we are, 10 years later. I'm getting to 39 years old, plugged into a computer messing with blogging and Facebook and a bunch of other things other than having an actual, you know, social life, pretty much like the USENET threads and emailing of days past. Has anything really changed?

Oh, and there's a rebooted Star Trek movie coming out. Gasp drool worship. Some things definitely never change...

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

St. Patrick's Day reminder WITH SPOILERS

Remember your Marquis of Queensbury rules. Um, just who was the Marquis of Queensbury anyway?

The link is to the most famous scene from John Ford's classic romance film The Quiet Man. Ahhh, every St. Patrick's Day I break out the DVD and watch this film. The romance involved isn't so much Sean Thorton (John Wayne) courting the fiery redhead Mary Kate Danaher (Maureen O'Hara), it's director John Ford being in love with Ireland itself. Ford was the son of Irish immigrants, and the theme of "Those Who Are Irish, and Those Who Wish They Were" pops up a lot in his films. Actually, I kid: Ford's recurrent theme throughout his films was Community, be it an actual town, an outpost of U.S. Calvary, or a band of brothers of some form.

Alert: here on there be SPOILERS, I do give away a lot of the film's plot. Still and all you should see the film, it's near perfect.
Here, the community is Innisfree, an idyllic coastal village two steps removed from Brigadoon or Avalon. Thorton is returning to the home of his parents from the United States, bringing with him wealth but a troubled soul. He wants to find heaven, which Innisfree has become for him, and he just wants to settle in his father's abandoned house and grow roses. Conflict immediately rises up when he repurchases the property from the Widow Tillane, drawing the ire of "Squire" Will Danaher who coveted the land (and the widow). Thorton had also come across Will's sister Mary Kate ("O that red hair of hers is no lie") and becomes smitten with her (and she with him), but being American is unschooled in the then-Irish customs of matchmaking and courtship. Will, as head of his house, refuses to let bygones be and allow his sister to even look at Sean. So the townfolk of Innisfree, coming to think of Thorton as "the best man in Innisfree" (another reason Will Danaher hates him), decide to help out by tricking Will into thinking the Widow Tillane won't marry him until Mary Kate leaves his house. The ruse works well enough to lead to Sean and Mary Kate's wedding... but then Will Danaher finds out he'd been tricked and refuses to pass on Mary Kate's dowry. Sean, having his own small fortune, doesn't see the bother: Mary Kate, knowing the money is her sign of independence from her brother, is infuriated her new husband won't fight for her rights. Their passionate love turns to equally passionate anger, and the Innisfree folk share the doldrums. It's just that, other than the Protestant minister who follows the sport of boxing, no one knows that Thorton had accidentally killed a fellow boxer during a fight ("For what? Lousy stinking money.") and has been guilt-ridden about throwing a punch ever since.
Things come to a head when Mary Kate shames Sean by running away: finally angered up, Thorton chases after her and drags her from the railroad station. Having interrupted a squabble already in progress, the train crew and just as quickly the whole town of Innisfree come arunning to witness the confrontation. Thorton openly calls Will Danaher out for the dowry in front of the whole community, and when he refuses Thorton calls the marriage quits. Now embarrassed that his sister could be shamed by the annulment, Will tosses the money at Sean's feet and curses him.
Sean takes the money and heads straight to a nearby kiln. Mary Kate meets him there and opens the oven, letting her husband toss her dowry into the fire. He's proven he has the backbone to stand up for his love: she's proven she had no interest in the money, just only the integrity of being his wife. All demons are resolved except one, and that leads to the epic donnybrook between Sean Thorton and Will Danaher.
The fight quickly proves to be more comedic than tragic: Will is physically fit enough to trade blows with the more professional Sean, and the two quickly figure out it's not really a fight to the death. What really happens is that the town of Innisfree is rejuvenated: the town elder (played by the director's older brother Francis) literally springs from his deathbed to watch the fight; the local police are more interested in tallying bets from other agencies; the Protestant minister wagers (a bit unfairly as he knew Thorton's rep) with his visiting bishop; and the Widow Tillane finally expresses her love for the bull-headed Will. The film ends with a reaffirmation of the community (and a shot of Will Danaher and the Widow Tillane on the courtship cart), with all the major cast members waving Hello to the audience.

Did warn you about the SPOILER, but you should still see the movie. As I mentioned earlier, it's John Ford's love letter to his old family's homeland of Ireland, and of the four Directing Oscars he'd garnered over his career I'd wager the one he got for Quiet Man had to be the one he most prided on. If you see enough of Ford's films, you'll notice he works like a canvass painter: scenes staged with almost snapshot-framing precision; vast landscapes in incredible detail (every director loves to film in Monument Valley: Ford's the only one to ever do that place justice); characters posed (sometimes rather stiffly) as for portraits to hang on museum walls. The Quiet Man is Ford at his best. It was filmed almost all on location (a rarity in those days when it was cheaper to film in California and pretend it was Toronto: now it's the other way around), and Ford's eye captures the beauty of the landscape. The cinematographers (Winton C. Hoch and Archie Stout) also won Oscars for their work on this film as well. The location scenery caught in Technicolor was so gorgeous that it actually causes a problem: for certain shots Ford had to film 'outdoor' scenes on a stage, and the switch is so noticeable (especially during a horse race and especially the rousing fight) that it jars the viewers. It's the film's biggest flaw.

You can tell it's a love letter because the film is really an American's dream of an ideal Ireland. People of Innisfree may be improvished but they're happy. Most mentions of the Troubles are practically asides: the local Sinn Fein plotters are more concerned with the next lager than with blowing up buildings. There's an elderly gent in some scenes, upper class gentry, and I think he's meant to be an implanted English lord. There's a running gag of seeing this guy in the background completely oblivious to the going-ons, while the Catholic priest played by Ward Bond and the leprechaun-like matchmaker played by Barry Fitzgerald are the true town leaders. The film ends with the mostly Catholic townfolk cheering on the Protestant minister in order to convince his bishop to let the minister stay: only an Irish-American long separated from the religious divisions that still rack Ireland and Northern Ireland would conceive such a scene back in the 1950s.

What makes this movie near-perfect is also the cast: the biggest problem in a lot of Ford's films is that the actors' performances tend to be a bit stiff, but in the Quiet Man nearly everyone is relaxed and you can tell the cast are enjoying themselves. The performance that will shock you the most is John Wayne's: while he's usually the hero and 'gets the girl' in a lot of his films, the Quiet Man was the first one (maybe the only film) where he's genuinely a romantic figure first and action hero last. His acting alongside Maureen O'Hara, especially the tender scenes, and the wordless flashback to his boxing accident showed actual acting chops. Usually it's John Wayne starring as John Wayne: here's, it's John Wayne as Sean Thorton. That Wayne didn't even get nominated for an Oscar for this role remains one of the Top 10 Injustices in Hollywood History (it ranks below Edward G. Robinson never getting an acting nomination at all, and above Annie Hall beating out Star Wars for Best Picture).
Maureen O'Hara, by the time of this film, was one of Hollywood's most beautiful leading ladies, probably the most beautiful redhead in film history. Her performance in Quiet Man is all passion, nearly combative with every character but with firm purpose and with genuine desire. Her pairing with Wayne here is considered one of filmdom's greatest romantic performances ever (Speilberg payed homage to the kissing scene in E.T.).
As for the rest of the cast, well. Ford was well-known for working with a standing company of regulars, and for each of them this was a good time for them to dust off their comedic skills. Victor McLaglen is usually a clownish figure in a lot of them: here it's put to good use as the bullying brother who needs a good bop on the nose to put him in his place. He received a Best Supporting nomination here. Equally up to the task were the likes of Ward Bond (who serves as narrator as well as the head priest Father Lonergan) and Barry Fitzgerald (as the matchmaker Michaleen Ole Flynn). You have to watch Fitzgerald's slow burn when he finds the newlywed's bed in shambles. The rest of the cast was pretty much related to everybody else (Maureen's brothers played the young priest and/or one of the Sinn Fein drinkers, uh plotters). As another sign of this being John Ford's love letter, his older brother Francis gets a lot of prime scenery-chewing, and at the end Francis gets the only solo shout-out to the audience.

My film-viewing fare tends towards science fiction and action thrillers. The Quiet Man is one of the few romances I even openly admit to having seen, and one of two I own on DVD. 'Cause there's nothing wrong with that: it's one of the best movies ever. Makes you wanna finish up filing for a passport so you can go visit Innisfree!

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Checking in 02/2009

Still job hunting.

There's not much else to say or do at the moment, other than to say that for all the resumes I've sent out there's a lot of waiting time for any responses...

There's also the US Census jobbers: I had taken the civil service exam, passed it, but now I'm waiting for the call if it ever comes.

Sigh. Tons of.

Thursday, January 29, 2009

Form of Things Unknown

Pardon for the last post, I was trying to get something aligned between this blog and the Technocrati site. Don't think it worked...

Currently, I'm still job-hunting, checking out every opening in the state of Florida for librarian spots, and kinda keeping an eye open on the other states as well. Otherwise, not much else to report other than pleading with God about my hair... double crowns, YOU had to give me double crowns...

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Technocrati post

Technorati Profile

Technorati Profile

LibraryThing

I added the LibraryThing gadget to this blog, as you may note to the right of the screen here. :)

This is still an incomplete list, as there's still about 3-4 shelves of books I need to cart to my computer so I can plug in the ISBN numbers to insert the records. But now I've got something to do in between emailing resumes everywhere...

Thursday, January 1, 2009

New Year's Resolutions 2009

1) Aw, gee, pondering for a moment... oh yeah, GET A JOB

2) I hereby resolve to get my weight back down to 275 lbs. I was there briefly and need to get back there again.

3) I hereby resolve to work on one short story or one book chapter per week. Get something good finished, maybe published.

44) I hereby resolve to actually finish a NaNoWriMo. I finished a 3-Day Novel contest to some satisfaction, now I gotta finish the other challenge.

555555) I hereby resolve to, you know, actually get my resolutions resolved. Ayup.