Friday, September 30, 2011

Ringworld - by Larry Niven

Ringworld... it's a world that is also a ring
I am not even going to bother reviewing this book. It's number 44 on NPR's list of the top 100 sci-fi/fantasy books of all time. Nerds everywhere agree, it's worth a read. But, here is where they are wrong. If you are going to read anything by Mr. Niven, you are going to read The Integral Trees and then its sequel The Smoke Ring.

East takes you out, out takes you west, west takes you in, in takes you east; north and south bring you back.

What I DO intend to talk about is phonetics and the concept of invented cuss words.

There is something perversely satisfying about saying the word "f*ck". Whole documentaries have been made to that effect. Other science fiction sagas have invented expletives with varying degrees of success. Some have even chosen to swear in an existing language not native to its core audience. Of all the myriad invented oaths, only one has ever really done the job: Frak.

You might think it's because it's the most similar to the F-word proper, and you are correct in part. I firmly hold to the opinion, because it is the correct one, that it is phonetically appealing as a curse word.

There is something deeply satisfying about the sounds of K's, T's, and hard C's. Possibly why the "C Bomb" is the pinnacle of the swearing pyramid. It grates on the ears, it's violent, and when you create a new curse, one meant to be interchangeable with the great F, you need to retain a measure of harshness.

Tanj. The word Mr. Niven invented was tanj...

"Tanj you! You tanjing tanjer!"

That sounds wrong, it's too soft. It glides to a slow stop instead of exploding to a violent end. It sounds like something I would order at an Indian restaurant. "An order of Aloo Tanj Paneer, if you don't mind".

It's meant to be an acronym-swear word, like FUBAR or SNAFU, but it's used like "f*ck". No one ever says "Fubar you!" or "Get to the snafu chopper before I fubar you up!".  Even those acronyms have the decency to contain an expletive.

Tanj - There Ain't no Justice

In Mr. Niven's defense, audio books weren't a commercial offering until sometime after the founding of Books on Tape in 1975. He didn't have to consider how obnoxious it would be to hear a somewhat nasal voice say that word a couple of dozen times. In his post-books-on-tape era work, his swearing was better, "Copsik" and "Checker". I think he learned his lesson.

Oh, and one more thing. A highly advanced society builds a habitable environment on a ring-like structure in outer space and seemingly disappears only to [highlight the spoiler] have it turn out that it was built by a previous society of humankind. [end]

Go tanj yourself, Bungie.

You should read this book with your eyes.

You should not listen to this audio book with your ears.

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Speaker for the Dead - Graphic Novel

U mad, bro?

Speaker for the Dead is among my favorite novels of all time, so I jumped at the chance to buy the Marvel Comics graphic novel. It's probably considered sacrilege by the masses, those many floundering fools, but I think it surpasses Ender's Game, a phenomenal book in its own right.

The story is rich with guilt, brokenness, loss, pain, faith, longing and hope.

Andrew Wiggin, once "Ender" to all of humanity, is faced with a new challenge. Due to planet-hopping and the wonders of relativistic space flight, Andrew has seen the passage of 3,000 years while only having lived another 20 or 30 years since he saved humanity from the Bugger menace as a child. Now, a new race has killed a human and Ender rushes off to the colony world Lusitania to investigate the death and attempt to get to know the strange aliens known only as Pequininos or "piggies".

I realize that a several hundred book will have to cut content in order to meet the needs of a much smaller graphic novel, but did they have to cut out EVERYTHING?

Golly, that looks like it has lots of pages! (side note: you can buy me a signed copy of this edition and become my new best friend)
Major characters were reduced to minor rolls to leave room for Andrew to be on almost every page. He is less the star of the story, and more a force of nature that changes everything he touches by the mere fact of his existence. His friendship with the AI known only as Jane is downplayed to almost nonexistence. The early scenes in the novel when he parts ways with his sister and closest friend, Valentine, were removed completely, robbing the reader of an insight into the cost Andrew has to pay to serve a greater cause.

Novinha and her children were almost exclusively in the background, which would make future graphic novels much more difficult as Andrew begins to take more of a back seat and Miro, Jane, and others step into larger roles. The redeeming factor here is that the graphic novel has the potential to introduce a new audience to a fantastic story, and perhaps whet the appetite for the novel and its sequels.

You should read this if you are able to forgive the absence of crucial elements.

If you haven't or won't read the novel, you shouldn't read this.

The Code of the Woosters - P.G. Wodehouse

I mentioned in an earlier post that a sale at Audible enabled me to get my hands on a few new audio books to hold me over until "new credit day" when I will likely begin the Tales of the Black Company saga. The Code of the Woosters was among the three shorter books used to fill the void until Thursday.

The Code of the Woosters is one of several stories of the life and misadventures of Bertram Wilberforce "Bertie" Wooster and his valet, Jeeves. Set in pre-WWII England, the story follows Bertie as he is swept up in the problems of the extremely rich and insufficiently wise. Such drama includes, but is not limited to, being denied meals prepared by his aunt's amazing chef, having to convince antiques brokers to sell silver "cow creamers" at lower prices to his collector of an uncle, and keeping his loved ones happily affianced thereby eliminating the threat of marriage for himself. Jeeves, the brains of the operation, is busily set to saving Bertie from his own bungling of these stressful situations.

I presume many people have had little or no exposure to these tales. I must confess that my first encounter was through the British TV show Jeeves and Wooster, starring the equally amazing Stephen Fry (Jeeves) and Hugh Laurie (Wooster).

Hugh Laurie as "Bertie Wooster" and Stephen Fry as "Jeeves"

And yes, you uncultured ass, that is TV's "Dr. House" on the left. He is British. He is a comedian. Shame on you for not knowing (and kudos to him for being great at drama too).

You can see this pair in another great British comedy, A Bit of Fry and Laurie.

It's 9/27/2011 and every episode is streamable on Netflix today!

I firmly believe that the Brits have a better understanding of comedy than most Americans. I would go so far as to say that, once I am elevated to the place of power that is my destiny, I will see to it that everyone will be mandated to watch British comedy or will be publicly flogged. Those doing the flogging will be the many out of work American sitcom writers, since their "services" will no longer be required. Not to say that all American sitcoms are bad, just most of them, enough to staff a small army of "punishment distributors" out of the "writing staff".

A cow creamer, two engagements, a chef, a policeman's helmet, a fascist, newts, burglaries, blackmail and broken noses. This fast-paced, witty book has it all.

If you love real comedy and a profound mastery of English, you should read or listen to this book.

If you believe Friends was the pinnacle of humor, you should not and you should not breed.

Monday, September 26, 2011

Agent to the Stars - by John Scalzi

Thanks to a great sale at Audible, a service that I endorse to all commuters on a level that should earn me a kickback or two from said service, I picked up a copy of John Scalzi's Agent to the stars, read to me by Wil Wheaton, an actor best known for his work on a program titled Star Trek: The Next Generation.

He played the charming, be-sweatered young man known to all as Wesley Crusher.

I suppose that since it has been eighteen years since Mr. Wheaton portrayed this character, it might be unfair to reference it willy-nilly, but that picture makes me feel superior to Wil, even with my professional acting experience being limited to a bastardized Christmas Carol/Cirque du Soliel mash-up as Scrooge's nephew and the star of the comedy pre-show. I had to do many things that one might consider embarrassing, but I never had to wear the above costume.

The book!

Agent to the Stars follows the life of a mid-level Hollywood agent who has just been given the client of a lifetime, an entire alien race. In their study of humanity, this race of gelatinous beings who communicate by what amounts to farting at one another have realized they need help being spun in a positive light before making first contact. It falls on the shoulders of this agent to discover a way, in secret, to introduce humanity to aliens while his clients go crazy and a tabloid reported tries to sink his career.

Here's the part where I retract my previous low-blow to Mr. Wheaton and replace it with a "bravo, sir".

He did a fantastic job reading as the various characters and was a contributing factor in the breaking of my "save it for the commute" rule for audio books.

I'm a big fan of Mr. Scalzi, particularly Old Man's War and its companion novels. This book was a departure for what I would consider "Scalzi Proper", but it was still a lot of fun.

If you have read Scalzi before, and are looking for a quick and easy read that will make you chuckle, you should give Agent to the Stars a read/listen.

If you have never read any Scalzi, read Old Man's War.

Drive - 2011

Before I dive in to my review, let me say that I never saw the movie poster until this moment, and the sentence "From the producer of 'Wanted'" would have been enough for me to write Drive off for all time, and I would have been robbing myself of a delightful experience.

Drive (or, how to have 100 minutes of movie with only 20 minutes of dialog) was a staggeringly good crime drama about a young man who is, by day, a Hollywood stunt driver and local mechanic and, by night, a getaway driver for area criminals. Upon becoming entangled in the life of his neighbor and her young son, he finds himself in circumstances much larger than he signed up for as his entire world comes crashing down in a deluge of death, destruction and dangerously daring driving.

The style of this film completely blew me away. I am a major nerd for good lighting, and this had some of the best I have seen in years. Add to that the moody soundtrack, moments of insane violence, and a unique dashboard-and-windshield-perspective during the high-speed antics and you have a recipe for a movie that keeps the viewer on the edge of their seat.

One thing that may have been overlooked by a casual viewer was that this was, in point of fact, a superhero movie. Our hero has everything you need to fit that mold.

Costume: Check
Power: Check (sort of)
Damsel in Distress: Check
Alter ego: Check (sort of)

The costume in question involves aviator sunglasses, a toothpick, leather gloves, a hammer and the most memorable jacket of all time. I would love to see a sequel or prequel to Drive about the exploits of The Silver Scorpion Jacket.

I even gave you the name of the movie, Hollywood... what's stopping you?

My wife and I, being the amazing people that we are, could not get the this song out of our heads while watching the movie.

If you enjoy ultraviolent, stylized dramas about crime, you should see this movie.
If you think that movies with violence are abhorrent, you should not see this movie.

Beverage-Air BM23C-B Direct Draw Beer Refridgerator (or the 1980's equivalent model)

First an foremost, praise to and the many bargains and rare finds you can obtain through that service.

I acquired the kegerator for $100 back in the summer of 2010. It's roughly 30 years old, and its newer counterpart retails for about $1,200 - $1,500. It being a $100, largely neglected, piece of equipment, I understandably had some technical troubles. The compressor fan would jam until I bent each blade into a new shape that wouldn't catch on other parts. The unit would suddenly stop cooling (ruining a 5 gallon batch of beer). It had, on occasion, delivered a minor electric shock to me when I would mess around with components.

The modern BM23C-B

I had it unplugged for about 3 months since there was no beer being brewed in the last trimester of my wife's pregnancy. I plugged it in 2 days before I intended to keg my latest batch of homebrew only to have it trip a breaker. This upset me greatly since my breaker box is located in what I lovingly refer to as my "dead hooker basement". It's the type you would expect to see on the news after hearing the phrase: "Local man arrested after the an anonymous tip led to the discovery of the bodies of seventeen women in the basement of his suburban home." A basement not at all unlike this:

Internet example of a creepy basement. I decided not to search for the term "dead hooker" at work.

After I bravely reset the breaker, I went back to the safety of my main floor and began again. This time, I turned off the kegerator thinking it must be on the same breaker as our new mini-fridge that we recently acquired for keeping baby bottles upstairs. Having worked as an electrician for a year, I have seen stranger wiring jobs than a circuit upstairs having a few outlets downstairs. I unplugged the mini-fridge and went back downstairs to turn on the kegerator and what happened next can only be described as a lesser 4th of July celebration exclusive to the gap between fridge and wall.

I quickly shut off the impromptu and anachronistic celebration and hovered over the area looking for signs of a fire. There was none. I then examined the rear of the device looking for the culprit. The wire that powered the compressor fan was so old that it had hardened and cracked in at least 7 individual places that I could see.  There were "arc marks" all over the compressor, and I was filled with a dread that I had killed my mighty kegerator.

The next day, I set about the task of replacing the wire in question and was met with more than simple success. Not only did the kegerator work, but it worked better than ever. It no longer sounded like a single stroke diesel engine when the fan was running, and it reached the temperature I desired in approximately 30 minutes.

I cannot put this more plainly. No other fridge in the history of keeping items cool in a contained space can compare. It's clearly almost impossible to kill the thing, and can run strong for at least three decades.

If you want beer on tap where you live/work/play, and you have disposable income, you should buy one today.

If you want beer on tap where you live/work/play, and you do not have disposable income, you should lurk on craigslist, ebay, or your preferred previously owned retailer site until you can track one down.

Monday, September 12, 2011

My Left Foot - 1989

Daniel Day-Lewis can out-act any chump in Hollywood! (with a couple notable exceptions to that blanket statement)

Many of us have come to know, admire, fear, or respect Mr. Day-Lewis for his impressive performances in movies like There Will Be Blood.  But, 22 years ago, he gave an Oscar-winning portrayal based on the real life story of Christy Brown, a young Irish artist/author born in the 1930's with Cerebral Palsy. 

If you have ever known, met, or seen a person with cerebral palsy, you will be absolutely floored by his performance. Told in flashbacks, you get to see his journey from a young man incapable of communicating with his family to an adult who has mastered painting, writing, speech, and the consumption of whiskey(like any good stereotypical Irishman).  He so flawlessly mimics the speech and motion of a person with cerebral palsy that it is easy to forget that he is a healthy man with full control of his faculties.

The pace of the movie is on the slow side, but the amazing acting by the entire cast more than makes up for the occasional lull in the plot. I was also taken aback by the love, acceptance and involvement of his entire family.  Even in today's "enlightened society" there is a whole lot less love to go around for people who are different from ourselves. There are many touching scenes where family members proudly show that Christy is not an incidental member of their family, but a key, critical, loved part of the whole.

If good acting is your cup o' tea, you should see this movie.

If you want a director like Michael Bay to blow up Dublin 6 ways to Sunday, you should watch something else (and kindly don't breed)

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

TiMER - An indie film that DOESN'T make you vomit in your mouth

First of all, my apologies. I know you rely on my profoundly developed opinion and I have let you down.

Now that my [forced] apology is behind us, and you know you are going to forgive me, let's dive in to TiMER.

The basic premise of the movie sounded like a decent genre-mashing good time. There exists a device one may have implanted with a timer displaying days, minutes and seconds in a countdown. Said device is blank unless your "soul mate" also has one. If that's the case, then the display will begin counting down to the moment when the two of you will meet and find true love in one another. This could be almost instantaneous, or decades down the line.

This "Sci-fi Dramedy" follows the life of a woman in her late 20's whose timer is blank, and her sister who is set to meet the love of her life in 15-20 years. It manages to raise very good questions about love, trust, casual dating and reckless promiscuity and never ceases to keep your attention.

It's not a gut-busting, roll on the floor and pee your delighted bladder out all over the carpet comedy. It's not a serious, search your soul for meaning drama. It's not an epic sweeping tale of the distant future where machines harvest your organs for their robotic version of pleasure. It is, however, a solid movie.  There was even a moment that made my wife laugh so hard she woke our sleeping infant, I kid you not. Let's see how it scores on my newly made indie movie checklist of wins and woes.


Interesting Plot - Check

Good Soundtrack - Check

New to the viewer talent - Check


Needlessly "arty" - nope

Unrealistically weird characters to whom the viewer cannot relate or connect - nope

Painfully obvious low budget - nope

You should watch this movie if you like good movies

You should not watch this movie if you don't wish to wake nearby sleeping infants.