Minor Thoughts from me to you

Archives for Entertainment (page 1 / 2)

Getting Reacquainted

[Adam & Joe at age 10

Twenty-three years ago, I was 10 years old, living in Norfolk, VA. My family worshipped at Norfolk Garden Baptist Church and I participated in the Awana program on Sunday nights, as a Pioneer.

Sometime during that year, I met Adam Volle. His family worshipped at a different church but chose to come to our church on Sunday nights, for our Awana program. We both memorized Bible verses quickly and became friends through our memorization contests and our shared love of Star Wars. We hung out at Awana each Sunday evening and at at his house during the summer.

Twenty years ago, Adam left Virginia. He spent time living in Mississippi and Colorado. I continued living in Virginia. He went to Shorter College. I went to the University of Pittsburgh. We both got married. I moved to Wisconsin and he spent time living in Georgia, Louisiana, and South Korea.

Over the years, we kept in loose contact with each other using AOL Instant Messenger (AIM). We IMed enough to have a vague idea of what we were each up to, but not enough to stay in close contact. During our college and immediate post-college years, we even managed to collaborate on a blog together.

As technology changed, our methods of staying in touch changed too. AIM died but we replaced it with a mix of email, Twitter, and iMessage to stay connected. Now Adam is back in the States, ready to begin another chapter of his life. We've been apart for 20 years and have decided that now is the time to get reacquainted and keep in closer contact. We're both fans of podcasting and are both narcissistic enough to think that other people might be interested in our stories. A podcast seemed like the logical next step.

We're getting Reacquainted through a series of podcast conversations. We've already talked about our time together, our respective high school experiences, and how our religious beliefs have changed. We'll be talking about how we met our wives, what careers we're each pursuing, and how our experiences have affected our political beliefs.

We're having a lot of fun together. Won't you join us as we get Reacquainted?

Adam & Joe now

Thoughts on *Dr. Strange*

"Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic." — Arthur C. Clarke

Doctor Strange used this quote in reverse. The movie eases the viewer into magic by smuggling in magic as just advanced technology. The Ancient One and Dr. Strange talk about cellular regeneration as Strange gets his first introduction to magic. By the time that the story moves into astral projection and the weirder forms of mysticism, we've already been lulled into accepting magic through our acceptance of the miracles of advanced technology.

The movie's weakest point is that the magical school is both too large and too small. During a couple of scenes, Stephen Strange is shown practicing magic with 15–20 other students. But when the time comes to throw down with evil, the fighting force is limited to the Ancient One, Mordo, Wong, and Strange.

It's strange that Strange gets thrown into battle so quickly, even as he's constantly told that he's nowhere near ready. Certainly the plot would dictate that Strange be the hero of his own movie, but it seems like an odd choice to show other students but not actually use them.

The surprise character of the movie is Strange's cloak. It shows a surprising amount of personality for a normally inanimate object. As a non-living side kick, it rivals BB-8 in expressiveness. I'm looking forward to seeing more of the cloak in future movies.

This may be one of Benedict Cumberbatch's best movies. He's one of those quirky actors that usually ends up portraying a variant of himself on screen. In this movie, he became Stephen Strange to an impressive degree. I spent the entire movie watching Strange, without ever once thinking of Sherlock or Khan.

Initial Thoughts About *The Force Awakens*

This isn't an actual review of the movie. Rather, it's a summation of the thoughts that went through my mind as I watched the movie for the first time. There will be spoilers, so you probably don't want to read it until after you've seen the movie.

I'll start by saying that I quite liked it. It felt like a Star Wars movie should. I took my two oldest daughters (ages 8 and 7) with me to see the movie, yesterday. We spent the last week watching the original trilogy (A New Hope, The Empire Strikes Back, and Return of the Jedi). This movie felt very similar in tone and atmosphere. After the debacle of the prequels, it was great to see real Star Wars back on the big screen.

The movie was well written, but not necessarily well plotted. I say this because it had too many elements of the original trilogy in it. It felt like good fan fiction in both the best of ways (gave you the same feeling that you had watching the original) and the worst of ways (gave you plot points that were similar to the original).

The beginning of the movie felt like A New Hope. A crucial secret is entrusted to a cute droid who immediately draw's the audience's sympathy. The droid, and it's unsuspecting keepers, are hunted by stormtroopers. Our initially naive hero lives on a desert world (Tatooine vs Jakku) and knows of the broader conflict but has never experienced it.

The end of the movie felt like Return of the Jedi. There was a mission to destroy a super weapon. A small team needed to infiltrate a facility to lower the shields protecting the super weapon. A larger group of pilots waited for the shield to drop and then proceeded with attack runs against the vulnerability. Even the command center sets were similar to the ones used at the end of A New Hope.

Everything about the movie was great, except for the fact that the plot was a rehash of things we've already seen. I was hoping for something new and got something familiar instead. It's not a fatal flaw and I'll still buy it and enjoy watching it. But it was disappointing.

There was at least one death of a main character. Someone's been to the George R. R. Martin / Joss Whedon school of main character death.

BB8 is a great addition to the cast of droids. He's super emotive and sympathetic. I'm already looking forward to seeing more of him in future movies.

I'm left with one overarching question: who is Rey? She's strong in the Force and the movies have conditioned us believe that the force is strong in the Skywalker line. But she was abandoned (kidnapped and sold?) on Jakku at a very young age and has no idea who her family is. No one gives any indication that she's related to Luke or Leia in any way. So who is she, how did she get left on Jakku, and who did she inherit her Force sensitivity from?

Disney made it very clear that the Expanded Universe (stories from the novels, graphic novels, games, etc) wasn't going to be canon. Still, I feel like this story drew from the Expanded Universe in very good ways. Here's a couple of examples.

  1. Han and Leia were married.
  2. They had a force sensitive son.
  3. In the EU, their children were Jaicen, Jaina, and Anakin. Ben, in the movie, is obviously named after a prior main character (Obi-Wan "Ben" Kenobi). The name is in the same vein as the EU and was well picked.
  4. The massive super weapon uses the entire power of a star to destroy worlds. In the EU, there's a ship call the Sun Crusher that also uses the power of an entire star to destroy worlds.
  5. Luke Skywalker opened a Jedi academy.
  6. Luke had at least one student turn to the Dark Side, forcing Luke into hiding both for survival and to reexamine his qualifications as a Jedi Master and teacher.
  7. In the EU, one of the Solo kids (Jaicen, I believe) turns to the Dark Side. In The Force Awakens, Han and Leia's son turns to the Dark Side.
  8. In the EU, one of the lost students was Kyp Durron, who stole the Sun Crusher and used it for evil. In The Force Awakens, the lost student is Ben (Kylo Ren), who's partially responsible for using the super weapon for evil.

When I saw Poe Dameron's squad of crack shooting X-Wing pilots, I wanted to hear someone say "Rogue Squadron" just once.

Harrison Ford was Han Solo. He hasn't lost a bit of the role. He was older, slightly less cocky, more experienced and had seen more pain. But he was every bit the Han Solo that we remember and love.

It was good to see C3PO again, but his role was pure cameo. Unfortunately, it wasn't critical to the plot in any way.

First Order? Republic? Resistance? I have no idea what the political order of this story is. The prequels went way overboard in political exposition. The new movie could have used a smidge more explanation. By the end of the movie, I was pretty sure that the galaxy had split into the New Republic and the First Order. The New Republic was officially leaving the First Order alone but was unofficially supporting The Resistance as they resisted the First Order's rule in their own backyard. This is pure supposition though, as the movie made no effort to explain what had happened after the Battle of Endor.

Luke was training other Jedi? Uh, what happened to them? Did Kylo Ren kill them all? The movie might have made an offhand reference to that. If not, where are they?

Chewbecca's suit was too new. It made him look younger, rather than looking older like everyone else.

Kylo Ren's turn to the dark side is exactly what Annakin's could have been, in a different, better, universe. There was emotional pain and angst, but it was so much better done. Ben looked like a hurting individual who had turned to the Dark Side as a source of strength. Prequel Anakin just looked like a whiny, creeper teenager.

Kylo Ren asked the spirit of his grandfather, Darth Vader, for help. Annakin turned back to the Light Side of the force at the end of Jedi. Was Kylo Ren asking a real spirit for help or just speaking as people speak at a grave side? Is the spirit of Darth Vader really out there? I assume he was just "praying" for strength, but Luke got guidance from Obi-Wan and Yoda often enough to make it just a little bit possible that Kylo Ren really had been hearing from Darth Vader.

Who was the old guy in the village, at the beginning? It seems like there was a back story there or he was a person of some importance. After being hustled off aboard Kylo Ren's shuttle, he completely disappeared from the movie.

The Star Destroyers, Tie Fighters, and shuttles looked bigger and badder in a believable way. Not that they were pumped up but that they were a truer representation of the platonic forms. In a way, they're what would have been in the original trilogy, had the filmmaking tech been better.

Everything looked lived in again. The ships, planets, and costumes in the prequels were way too bright and shiny. The best part about rewatching A New Hope was seeing just how scratched, dented, and worn everything in the universe was.

They found an actor for Kylo Ren that looks like he could actually be the son of Han and Leia. That's awesome. True, his hair came straight from the Hayden Christensen school of angsty Jedi teens, but he was trying to emulate his grandfather so it all works out.

I wonder what Mark Hamill's reaction was when he got his part?

  • "So, part of my script is missing."
  • "Hey, R2D2 has more of a role than me!"
  • "Does this appearance come with an actual paycheck or just the hint of one?"

That planetary super weapon can shoot how far? And you can see three other planets blow up from wherever that temple / bar was? I'm all about suspending disbelief during a Star Wars movie. I expect the physics to be wrong. But the physics of that weapon are so off the charts wrong as to shatter my suspension of disbelief.

Can we please have a movie that doesn't involve a massive, spherical weapon that needs to be destroyed? There could be plenty of plot and excitement in "just" fleet vs fleet action. The Expanded Universe had tons of great stories that didn't involve super weapons. They've already shown that they can use elements of the EU in the new movies. Let's take it a bit further and borrow some ideas of what other kinds of conflicts people can have.

A desert planet that's not Tatooine? I don't see the point. Just put it on Tatooine and be done with it. You know you wanted to. Jakku brings nothing to the story that Tatooine didn't already have. Except for saying "See? We don't put Tatooine in every movie". But that loses its impact when Jakku and Tatooine are basically identical.

Clearly, this was the right franchise for J. J. Abrams. Too bad he couldn't have done it five years ago, in time to save New Trek from him.

John Williams still has it. Good score.

This entry was tagged. Star Wars Movies

On Ant Man

Ant man, running with the ants

I rewatched the trailer for Marvel's Ant Man and I still don't understand the appeal of the character. At the most basic level, I find it hard to believe that shrinking to the size of an ant is all that useful of a super power. Sure, it becomes a lot easier to infiltrate the bad guy's lair. You can more easily act as a spy or sabotage really small things. But you don't magically gain in strength. Ants may be a lot stronger proportionally, but at the end of the day you're still a microscopic speck on someone's wall or kitchen counter.

I get Batman's appeal: a tech powered ninja detective. I see where The Flash can be useful: sprint in and out of sticky situations. Even without super strength, the ability to sucker punch your opponent 30 times in an instant is powerful. But minuscule size? I don't see it. It's not something that intuitively appeals to me as something that would make for a good story or a good movie.

I'm unlikely to see the movie unless it gets really good reviews.

This entry was tagged. Marvel Comics Movies

ESR Reviews Irregular Verbs and Other Stories →

Eric S. Raymond reviewed Matthew Johnson's short-story anthology Irregular Verbs and Other Stories. He used it as an opportunity to talk about the differences between SF, literary fiction, and other genres. It caught my eye because I've been doing my own ruminating on what SF is and what literary fiction is.

I will use Johnson's work to explore some of the boundary conditions of the SF genre—how it differs from literary fiction and from genres such as mystery and fantasy.

Because I'm going to be saying a lot about genres of writing, I want to be clear on what I think a genre is. It's two things: one is a set of expectations a reader has about the kind of experience an instance of the genre will deliver, the other is a set of genre-specific codes and expressive techniques that the genre writer uses in the expectation that readers will receive them as the author intended. Like all codes and languages, the purpose of genres is to make communication easier by allowing both parties to assume a repertoire of common referents. Genre art fails when the production of the writer fails to match the genre referents and constraints as known by the reader.

This analysis generalizes Samuel Delany's observation that SF is not merely, or even mostly, a way of writing; it is a way of reading, too. The same is true of other genres, in different ways.

We will also require the following definition of science fiction (due in its most developed form to Gregory Benford): that branch of fantastic literature which affirms the rational knowability of the universe, and has as its most particular reader experience the sense of conceptual breakthrough—of having understood the universe in a new and larger way. Every constraint in this definition is important; removing or relaxing any of them lands us in other genres.

It made for some interesting reading. I also learned from the discussion in the comments.

Against Steampunk

I've said a time or two that I don't like steampunk. I find it terminally silly and I can't understand the attraction of it. At all.

I posted last week how much I liked Norman Spinrad's definition of speculative fiction, in a recent issue of Asimov's. In that essay, he also expressed a dislike of steampunk. I appreciated his dissection of steampunk, as it confirms my own distaste of the genre. I liked it so much that I decided to share it with you.

Build a past with pseudo-Victorian technology that never was, much of which could never have worked, and extend it into the present or even the future. Instead of airplanes, dirigibles. Instead of electronic computers, mechanical "difference engines." Cars and trucks running on steam engines. Maybe even gas lighting instead of electric lighting. In many cases, public domain characters such as Sherlock Holmes and Queen Victoria dragooned into story service.

Now some of this fiction can be well written and amusing, though I must admit I am generally not amused by it, because I am generally not amused by Victorian nostalgia. But what it cannot be is speculative fiction, let alone "science fiction," because it is inherently retro fiction, whose entire esthetic is a nostalgia for a past that never was and mostly could never have been. It can only be nostalgic fantasy.

Again, there is nothing wrong with enjoying the reading of such stuff, as many people do, and there is nothing wrong and much that is therefore lucrative in writing it, nor any literary reason it cannot rise to high art. What is wrong is that, commercially, it tends to be marketed as "SF," and, indeed, as often as not, even "science fiction." What is wrong with that, literarily speaking, is that the speculative element, ipso facto, is phony Victorian technology that never existed because technologically speaking, it couldn't have actually worked.

Exactly. It's not silly because it is unlikely to work or doesn't work. It's silly because supposedly science loving people are fawning over "technology" that never will work and never could work. It's not science, it's faux science. It's anti-science. That's not fun, that's just a waste of time.

This entry was tagged. Science Fiction

What is SF?

I've called myself a fan of "science fiction" or "sci-fi" for years. I'm going to change that. I'm going to start calling myself a fan of "speculative fiction" or "SF". Why? Norman Spinrad.

Spinrad writes "On Books", a monthly book review column for Asimov's. In the July 2014 issue of Asimov's, he discusse the difference between speculative fiction and fantasy.

[L]iterarily speaking, fantasy is any fiction based on an element of the impossible that both the reader and the writer believe is impossible, that being the literary game. But literarily speaking, science fiction must be fiction based on a speculative element that does not knowingly violate the current scientific concept of the laws of mass and energy; the improbable for sure, the highly improbable, why not, but not the forthrightly known impossible.

Does the speculative element have to be scientific or technological? Not really. Literarily speaking "science fiction" is really an accidental misnomer for "speculative fiction"—that is, fiction with a speculative element of the currently non-existent but possible.

We generally count Orwell's 1984 as speculative fiction, whose speculative element is political. Or Theodore Sturgeon's More Than Human, whose speculative element is psychological. Or Bradbury's Fahrenheit 451, whose speculative element is cultural. The speculative element doesn't have to be scientific or technological. But speculative fiction does have to be something set in the future, at least in the immediate future, not the past, and not in a knowingly impossible realm of fantasy.

For a speculative element must be currently non-existent but perceived as possible, something that could exist—in the future.

So speculative fiction by its very literary nature does have to be set in a future, however far or immanent that future may be. The change or changes it postulates cannot be known impossibilities, because if they are, the story is inherently fantasy.

That's what makes it speculative fiction.

There is much that is called "science fiction" that is not science based, that is not truly speculative, and that, by this definition, deserves to be called fantasy. Spinrad believes this is a problem because it confuses "science with magic, wishful thinking with real possibility". We should, instead, look forward "with a visionary eye, heart, and mind to multiplex possible futures that are not merely futures that we will make, for better or for worse, but that we cannot avoid making, one way or the other."

This encapsulates what I have always loved about SF. Good SF acts a little bit like a car's headlights. It partially illuminates what's coming next and either excites me or warns me. It can give me an advance glimpse of the good times that are coming or an advance warning of the dangers that lurk just out of sight.

I want to refocus on reading true speculative fiction and not just "science fiction". I still enjoy fantasy and I still plan to read plenty of it. But it's the true speculative fiction that gets me excited and that I want more of.

This entry was tagged. Science Fiction

Review: Dominion Card Deck Generators

My wife and I recently became fans of Dominion. We like how every Dominion game can be different — different strategies, different pace, different level of aggression — based on which cards you choose to play with. There are 205 total released Kingdom cards. Each game only requires 10 Kingdom cards, so there are over 28 quadrillion potential games that we could play.

Some of those combinations will be lots of fun and worth repeating. Others will involve cards that don't go well together and don't lead to enjoyable games. I decided that it would be nice to find an app that could help me pick good game combinations and help me remember which ones I like the most. After searching through the App Store, I found three to try: Dominion Deck Builder, Dominion Vault, and Adept. I downloaded all three, to compare and find out which one would work best for me.

Adept

Adept: Kingdoms List Adept: Kingdom Cards Adept: Setup

Pros

I was initially disposed to like Adept. The layout is simple, elegant, and very readable. I like the clear icons, on the left of each row, to show which expansion the Kingdom card is in. I like the coin, on the right of each row, to show how much each card costs. And I like the color coding, to indicate which type of card it is (Victory, Treasure, etc).

My favorite feature is the Setup display. It shows how many Victory, Treasure, Curse, etc cards you need to go with your chosen Kingdom cards. Additionally, it shows the correct quantity of cards for a 2 player game up through a 6 player game. This is a really nice feature, to make it easy to not only pick Kingdom cards but to quickly know how else you need to set up your chosen game.

Cons

Visually, this is my favorite app out of the three, but it has a fatal flaw. The app will show you which card to put in your game, but it doesn't show any information about what the card is or what game features it enables or disables. Unless you have all of the cards memorized (and I don't), you'll feel like you're picking blindly. That lack of information makes this app a no-go for me.

Dominion Deck Builder

DeckBuilder: Choosing Expansions DeckBuilder: Chosen Cards DeckBuilder: Setup DeckBuilder: Card View DeckBuilder: Card FAQ

Pros

Based solely on app descriptions, this would be my favorite app — it's the only one to have both an iPhone and an iPad version. The interface is gorgeous, with plenty of high quality artwork taken directly from Dominion. You start by scrolling through a list of expansions and choosing which ones to use to generate your Kingdom.

Once you've generated a Kingdom, you can scroll through the chosen cards and see each one represented as a high quality image, along with which expansion it's found in. At the bottom, you can see the required setup for this game, complete with whatever token pieces, trade route pad, treasure cards, etc are needed. The information is very useful and the graphics make it absolutely clear what you're looking for.

Finally, you can view close ups of each card, to review how it works. If you tap on the card, you get a text description of the card and all of the minutia about how it can and can't be used. Tapping on the text takes you back to the card view. The "Done" button will return you to the list of all cards and the "Change" button will immediately swap the card for another randomly chosen card.

Cons

Dominion Deck Builder does have two drawbacks. It has limited support for configuring how your Kingdoms are randomly generated. You can choose which expansions to draw from. You can choose to always add Reaction cards if the Kingdom includes Attack card. You can choose certain card types to exclude all together. Finally, you can choose to track cards so that cards that have been chosen for one game won't be chosen again in a future randomly generated game. This can help you play through the various Kingdom cards and have a chance to experience everything at least once.

It's also hard to browse and find saved Kingdoms. The app comes preconfigured with all of the recommended Kingdoms from each expansion. These are presented in one giant list, alphabetically ordered. There's no way to view just Kingdoms from a particular expansion or just my custom Kingdoms. In fact, my custom Kingdoms are mixed in with the rest, making it hard to find them and zero in on my favorites, unless I remember their individual names.

Dominion Vault

DominionVault: New Kingdom DominionVault: Card Details DominionVault: Card FAQ DominionVault: Advanced Options

Pros

This app frustrates me. It's both the ugliest app out of the three and the most powerful app of the three. It opens immediately, to a randomly generated Kingdom. The display packs a lot of information. The far left side of each row shows an icon representing the expansion the card is found in. The middle shows the name of the card and the cost. The right side shows the type of card. The splashes of color on the left and right sides further serve to indicate which type of card this is. The setup section, at the bottom, tells you if you need any extra cards or pieces for this game.

You can tap on a row to lock it. If you do, you'll see a lock icon, in between the card type and the right pointing arrow. This is useful if you like part of a generated Kingdom but not the entire thing. You can quickly tap to lock the rows that you do like, then hit the refresh button to replace the rest with randomly generated replacements. Doing this will allow you to iteratively construct a deck that you do like.

You can tap on the right arrow to view more information about the card. All of the essential information from the actual Kingdom card is included. Additionally, you can press the FAQ button to view more detailed information about the card, including when it can and can't be used and exactly how it can be used.

The real strength of Dominion Vault is in the Advanced settings. You can choose which types of cards to include, require games to include cards that have extra Buys or extra Actions, and play with or without Alchemy specific rules. You can also track cards so that Kingdom cards aren't reused between games and you can choose how Black Market decks are generated.

Cons

Unfortunately, this app has almost as many things that I don't like as it does things that I do like.

Low Quality Graphics — The overall problem is that none of these graphics appear to be retina quality. The icons representing each expansion are very fuzzy and can make it hard to tell which expansion a given card comes from. The icons for Intrigue, Prosperity, and Hinterlands are particularly bad. The graphics representing the refresh button and options button are similarly fuzzy and low quality.

Hard to Use — When viewing the Kingdom, you have the option of tapping to lock a card or tapping to view detailed information about the card. Unfortunately, the default tap locks the card. Tapping anywhere in the row activates the lock. In order to view card information, you have to tap directly on the right arrow. This is not as easy as it should be and makes it harder than necessary to view card details. I'd prefer to have the behavior switched around so that tapping anywhere in the row shows card details and tapping on the right side locks the card. (And heaven help you if you try to tap the uppermost right arrow, miss, and hit the refresh button instead. You'll suddenly get an entirely new set of cards.)

Boring — The app doesn't have any graphics directly from Dominion. Instead of nice looking representations of each card we get bland textual descriptions. Sure, the information is there, but it's not attractively presented. The app also doesn't support many swipe gestures. It would seem natural to swipe up or down, to move between cards in a Kingdom. It would likewise seem natural to swipe left or right to toggle between the card details and the card FAQ. Instead, you are forced to navigate solely through button presses.

Verdict

I'm torn between Dominion Deck Builder and Dominion Vault more than I should be. I like the options available in Dominion Vault. It appears to be the app that would generate the best decks. But it's very hard to overlook the poor quality graphics and the usability problems. They really make the app seem cheap. If Dominion Vault had crisper icons (like the ones from Adept) that would help a lot. I'd also recommend making the individual rows larger (for easier tap targets) and finding a way to make it easier to view card details while still keeping the lock feature accessible.

I love the graphics in Dominion Deck Builder. That, combined with the iPad app, makes this the best looking of the three and the one that serves as the best companion to an actual on-going game. I'd like to see more advanced options for generating games and better organization options for saved decks. Give me that and I think this app would be about perfect.

I'm leaning towards using Dominion Vault to generate my Kingdoms and Dominion Deck Builder to save the Kingdoms, view them, and see setup details for each game. Preferably one of these two apps will step up and make the necessary improvements so that I can be completely happy with either one.

This entry was tagged. Review iPhone

The Heinlein Maneuver →

Shaun Usher posted a wonderful letter, from Robert Heinlein, on Letters of Note. Heinlein sent the letter to Theodore Sturgeon.

"I went into a horrible dry spell one time. It was a desperate dry spell and an awful lot depended on me getting writing again. Finally, I wrote to Bob Heinlein. I told him my troubles; that I couldn't write—perhaps it was that I had no ideas in my head that would strike a story. By return airmail—I don't know how he did it—I got back 26 story ideas. Some of them ran for a page and a half; one or two of them were a line or two. I mean, there were story ideas that some writers would give their left ear for. Some of them were merely suggestions; just little hints, things that will spark a writer like, 'Ghost of a little cat patting around eternity looking for a familiar lap to sit in.'

The entire letter is posted. It's great reading. Heinlein is my favorite author and this letter demonstrates why. He was very creative and I would have loved to have seen the full stories that he could have written from these ideas.

This entry was tagged. Robert Heinlein

Complex Napoleon Rivalry Heads for Its Waterloo →

This is a story that's ripped right from the script of a future Castle episode. Max Colchester writes, at the Wall Street Journal, about two reenactors who are fighting over the opportunity to portray Napoleon during a 200th anniversary reenactment of the Battle of Waterloo.

Mr. Samson is sorry that he is slightly less than an inch taller than Napoleon was. But he dismisses claims that Mr. Schneider is the spitting image of the general, saying that his rival's face is too thin to represent the older Napoleon. "Also he doesn't have the right embroidery on his saddle."

Mr. Schneider points out that, at 5-foot-7, he is exactly the same height as Napoleon. He also shares the French leader's distinctive nose. Napoleon "was born in 1769 and I was born in 1969," he says. "All of this makes my job easier."

But Mr. Schneider has been hampered by legal problems. He currently spends two days a week in jail near Williamsburg after pleading guilty to driving under the influence in 2008. He has taken 2013 off from traveling to Europe for re-enactments.

The American hopes to return in 2014, in time to be exiled to Elba. Napoleon was sent to the island off the Italian coast in 1814 after his army was defeated and he abdicated. Mr. Samson says he also wants to be exiled to Elba.

This, folks, is nerdery of a high level. I tip my hat to both gentleman (even as I snicker a bit).

This entry was tagged. Competition History

Why Quantum of Solace stinks and why Skyfall will be better →

I loved Daniel Craig's first Bond movie, Casino Royale. Consequently, I had high hopes for Quantum of Solace and was bitterly disappointed with what I saw in theaters.

There was a reason for that. Daniel Craig talked about it, in a recent interview.

It seems that the script is sometimes an after-thought on huge productions.

‘Yes and you swear that you’ll never get involved with shit like that, and it happens. On “Quantum”, we were fucked. We had the bare bones of a script and then there was a writers’ strike and there was nothing we could do. We couldn’t employ a writer to finish it. I say to myself, “Never again”, but who knows? There was me trying to rewrite scenes – and a writer I am not.’

It seems that Craig's next Bond movie, Skyfall, has a proper script. Perhaps I'll allow myself to hope that it's good.

This entry was tagged.

Sports Bars Turn the Dial to Videogame Matches →

This summer, "Starcraft II" has become the newest barroom spectator sport. Fans organize so-called Barcraft events, taking over pubs and bistros from Honolulu to Florida and switching big-screen TV sets to Internet broadcasts of professional game matches happening often thousands of miles away.

I don't have a good mental category for this.

This entry was tagged.

Review: *A Feast for Crows*

Image

A Feast for Crows by George R.R. Martin

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Fans had to wait five years after the publication of Storm of Swords (November, 2000) before they got their hands on A Feast for Crows (November, 2005). In my review of Storm, I mentioned that “the book was a non-stop parade of events, swirling ever more madly as the body count rose ever higher.” That pace couldn’t last and it didn’t.

Feast opens with a new locale—Oldtown—and new characters. It jumps from Oldtown to Dorn, another location that’s new to readers. It was, in some ways, a restart to the story. Once again, events pick up right where the previous book left off. This time the story focuses on the events and characters in and around King’s Landing. Cersei is awakened to learn about the murder of Lord Tywin Lannister. She fancies herself as the second coming of Lord Tywin and immediately assumes full power as the Queen Regent. She’s determined to make her mark on the Kingdom.

The War of the Five Kings is mostly over. King Renly Baratheon, King Robb Start, and King Balon Greyjoy are all dead. King Tommen Baratheon rules in King’s Landing and King Stannis Baratheon is mostly out of the picture, ruling in the North at the Wall. Queen Cersei sets about remaking King’s Landing and the king’s court in her own image.

An early quote in the book, from Lord Rodrik, establishes the theme and sets the course for the rest of the book.

“Crows will fight over a dead man’s flesh and kill each other for his eyes. We had one king, then five. Now all I see are crows, squabbling over the corpse of Westeros.”

It’s apropos as most of the book involves various characters maneuvering for influence, believing that the worst is over and all that’s left is to consolidate power and feast on the pickings. It’s a vital part of the story (it feels true to life) but it makes for a much slower read.

Many of the familiar characters are missing from this book. Martin originally intended to write one book but, as it grew and grew, that wasn’t possible. He told the stories of half of the characters in Feast for Crows. He saved the stories of the other half of the characters for Dance With Dragons. Many favorite characters are missing from this book; including Bran Stark, Jon Snow, Daenerys Targaryen, and Tyrion Lannister. With so much of the action happening King’s Landing, several other characters get short thrift: Samwell Tarly among them. That accounts for about half of the reason I gave this book 3 stars instead of 4.

I also struggled to follow the flow of time in this book. I couldn’t quite tell whether events were happening over a relatively short period of time (a matter of weeks or a very few months) or a longer period of time (half a year to a year or more). There seemed to be enough happening to justify a period of a year or so.

On the other hand, we heard almost nothing from the missing characters: no news from the Wall, no further rumors of Daenerys, and nothing at all from Tyrion. That seemed a little unrealistic given how much attention was paid to these characters in earlier books. It almost seemed like Martin was trying to avoid spoilers for events in Dance With Dragons.

Because I spent so much time wondering about the flow of time and wondering whether it was really possible for nothing newsworthy to be happening elsewhere, I lost a little bit of the suspension of disbelief. That’s the other half of the reason why I feel this book only deserves 3 stars instead of the 4 stars that I’ve given to the other books in the series.


As I’ve done for the first three books, I’m posting my own spoiler notes of what happened and where things stood by the end of the book.

Catelyn Stark, though dead, apparently spent most of the book leading a band of “broken men” around the river lands. She didn’t figure in the book, until she decided to hang Brienne, at the end.

Arya Stark lands in Braavosi and becomes an acolyte of the Faceless Killers. She’s still trying to figure out who she is, alternating between Cat, a seller of fish, and Arya of House Stark. She learns even more about how to observe the world around her and collect information. At the end, Arya kills a deserter from the Night’s Watch and Cat confesses to it. She drinks a bit of “warm milk” and wakes up the next morning, blind.

Sansa Stark lives in the Eyrie, posting as Petyr Baelish’s “natural born” daughter, Alayne. She helps to care for the weak and sickly, Lord Robert Aryn. Petyr eventually reveals that she is bethrothed to Harrold Hardyng, Robert's heir. If and when Lord Robert dies, Alayne will reveal her true identity and will lay claim to both the Eyrie and Winterfell.

Tyrion Lannister does not appear in the book. His story is told in A Dance With Dragons.

Jamie Lannister continues to be rehabilitated as the reader sees more and more of his true core of honor and fidelity to duty. When Queen Cersei begs him to become the Hand of the King, he refuses to renounce the lifetime vows of the Kingsguard. When confronted with the need to capture Riverrun, he manages to do so without violating his vow not to take up arms against the Tullys or the Starks. Disgusted by his sister’s recent actions, he refuses to return to King’s Landing to defend Queen Cersei.

Cersei Lannister rules King’s Landing as Queen Regent. She spends most of the book growing increasingly more paranoid about the people around her and manuevering to put only trustworthy people into positions of power. The result is that she makes increasingly more stupid decisions as she surrounds herself with complete dunces. By the end of the book, she’s managed to get herself arrested and imprisoned by religious fanatics that she herself raised to power. Sweet, sweet irony.

Daenerys Targaryen does not appear in the book. Her story is told in A Dance With Dragons.

John Snow does not appear in the book. His story is told in A Dance With Dragons.

Bran Stark does not appear in the book. His story is told in A Dance With Dragons.

Stannis Baratheon does not appear in the book. His story is told in A Dance With Dragons.

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Review: IGMS #12

I’m going to experiment with writing reviews of the magazines I read. I’m currently subscribed to two: Orson Scott Card’s Intergalactic Medicine Show and Clarkesworld. I find it very easy to read a magazine full of short stories and promptly forget what the stories were or which ones are worth remembering. In an effort to combat that kind of short attention span, I’m going to force myself to pay attention to what I’m reading.

I hope my experiment interests you and maybe, just maybe, you’ll be interested enough to subscribe too.

I’m still catching up on the back archives of IGMS, so I’ll start off with

Issue #12 of Orson Scott Card’s Intergalactic Medicine Show

  1. Over There by Tim Pratt

    When I was eighteen, I went on a quest to win back my true love. I trekked a thousand leagues across a strange world, helped by a ragtag band that grew into a mighty army, and in the end I faced down the nameless emperor who'd stolen my Gwen. I defeated him in single combat, swept Gwen into my arms, and brought her back to our world to become my wife.

    That was twenty-two years ago. For the past ten months, I've been cheating on my true love with one of my graduate students.

    This was a great take on the genre of heroic fantasy. What happens after you complete the quest, save the kingdom, win the princess and return home in triumph? As it turns out, nothing good. 4 stars, because I really enjoyed this and I like the way it subverts the genre.

  2. The Multiplicity Has Arrived by Matthew S. Rotundo

    A good story, based on the abstract of a paper, in an obscure journal.

    Given current trends, one may conceive of a moment in the near future when the Internet completely supplants memory, and by extension, history. From that moment on, that which is not on the Internet is not remembered, and may as well have never existed. Thus the Internet may begin to literally change the past as well as influence the present. Such a phenomenon would make the distinction between historical revisionism and actual events meaningless. What we call reality may be more malleable than we ever suspected.

    One may argue that our global society is already advancing inexorably toward this point, which may be called the Multiplicity.

    How might an unscrupulous campaign consultant (but I repeat myself) take advantage of such a thing? And what might it do to him in the end? 4 stars.

  3. Somewhere My Love by Stephen Mark Rainey

    At night, no light ever shone in any of the windows. But sometimes after dark, I would hear her voice echoing out of that old house, singing songs that seemed to me unearthly.

    Her name was Jeanne Weiler, and she was my music teacher when I was in elementary school.

    Of course, she was a witch.

    The power of music to change and affect people? The bond created between a mentor and a mentee? I’ll admit that I’m not quite sure what this story was about. It wasn’t bad but it wasn’t great either. I’ll give it 3 stars.

  4. The End-of-the-World Pool by Scott M. Roberts

    This was another story that I thought was largely forgettable. Without rereading it, I still have trouble remembering what it was about. 3 stars.

  5. Hologram Bride, Part 1 by Jackie Gamber

    Between 1908 and 1924, over 20,000 Asian women immigrated to Hawaii to marry Japanese sugar plantation workers. Strong restrictions in immigration laws forced workers to arrange marriages on photographs only. The U.S. Immigration act of 1924 abruptly stopped these arrangements, but by 1930 picture bride unions birthed over 100,000 offspring--a powerful presence in what would become the 50th state of the union.

    I loved the way this story started out. It takes the experience of mail order brides and translates it to an alien world. In the process, it makes the whole experience vividly real to the modern reader. Especially to this reader who has never experienced the wrenching dislocation that would come from being sent to a strange, alien, culture. Easily 4 stars.

  6. WEST by Orson Scott Card

    This is one of Card’s previously published short stories. A lone drifter, battling his own memories and demons, finds redemption by helping a naive band of outcasts, becoming a part of their “family” in the process. This being Card, it should surprise no one to find that the outcasts are Mormons and that the drifter eventually finds a home in the Mormon church. 4 stars.

  7. The Crack by David Lubar

    The first time Kevin noticed the crack, he was down in the basement looking for an old board game his father had stored away. At least it wasn't dark, yet. During the day, with the sun coming through the small, dirty window at the top of the wall, the basement was bad, but not awful. The air always had that wet, dark-green smell whether it was midnight or noon, but shadows didn't seem as deep during the day.

    A very short story with an overly abrupt ending. It seemed to be reaching higher than its grasp. 2 stars.

  8. Interview With Joe Haldeman by Darrell Schweitzer

    I didn’t feel like I really learned much new about Haldeman or his books, through this interview. A missed opportunity, good for 2 stars.

  9. Essay: American Idol by Kathleen Dalton-Woodbury

    Dalton-Woodbury compares the early season experience of American Idol to what an editor experiences going through a slush pile of submissions.

    Writers tend to think about submitting stories as a kind of luck-of-the-draw experience, but when editors look at the piles of manuscripts they have to get through, they pray that maybe there'll be just one in all of those piles that they can use.

    If you haven't watched American Idol before, I would like to recommend that you find a way to watch at least one episode of the early-season auditions, just to get an idea of what reading a slush pile might be for an editor.

    The similarities just boggle my mind, and I expect that as the show progresses and the contestants try to win the votes of the American public, the similarities will continue.

    Well written and compelling, what an editorial should be. 4 stars.

Overall, this was a good issue. There were several stories that I really enjoyed, which more than made up for the ones I didn’t.

This entry was tagged. Review

Recommended podcasts

After three months, Anna and I have finally grown confident enough about the stability of our lives here in Korea that we've entered into a contract for internet service in our apartment. This means I'm listening to podcasts on my iPod again after about six months' abstinence from them. Here are my favorites:

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Common Sense with Dan Carlin - It may surprise those who know me (or who have read any post about politics on this blog) that my favorite podcast about politics - indeed, the only one I still bother to regularly check - is by an independent centrist who supports socialized health care. But that's just proof of how great a communicator and honest a thinker Dan Carlin is: you don't have to agree with him to find his show consistently fascinating. Give it a listen.

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Dan Carlin's Hardcore History - Dan Carlin also has a second, far more popular podcast on the less contentious subject of History. Listen to the show once and you'll soon find that you've consumed the entirety of its program backlog and are now waiting in agony along with the rest of us for the next, traditionally late installment of the best monologue on the web. My favorite podcast.

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Reasonable Doubts - I've sifted through a lot that's on offer in the world of podcasts concerning the world's theologies and (later on, after I stopped believing) arguments against it. The three liberal, atheist professors from Michigan who run this show are the only (anti-)religious partisans with whom I still keep up. They are unabashed in their contempt for stupidity and ignorance among theists, but even while I myself was a theist I found them very willing to hear out other views and award them credit where it was due.

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Free Talk Live - I don't listen to Ian, Mark, or their revolving guest hosts very often anymore, but that's mainly because I agree with it too often and it's way too effective at pushing my buttons. The program's nightly reports on how much injustice is really going on in my native country often enrages me to a degree I am certain is unhealthy. That said, it's still a great show, mainly because Ian and Mark are not only utterly authentic but also inhumanly patient, never failing to live up to their promise to discuss whatever their callers want to talk about. Sometimes this results in utter hilarity, since the policy inevitably draws the craziest people our society has to offer. For instance, one regular is a believer in every antisemitic conspiracy theory out there.

All of them are available for free on iTunes.

Toy Story 3 Marketing

Disney put together some great viral marketing for Toy Story 3. I'm impressed.

This entry was tagged. Disney Toy Story 3

And y'know what? It kinda works

The Tripper

I'm about two years behind the times to be only seeing this now, but that's still pretty good for me, since it's not like I keep up with horror movies at all.

The above image is a teaser for the 2007 slasher film The Tripper, the plot of which is summarized on Wikipedia as follows:

"Free-loving hippies... escape to a modern-day Woodstock for a weekend of debauchery, only to be stalked by a radical-minded psychopath dressed and talking like Ronald Reagan."

You can't help but love the tag line ("Heeeeeeeere's Ronnie!"), a clear reference to The Shining. I can't think up a better one and I've been thinking them up ever since I read it ("This summer: BLOOD TRICKLES DOWN", "You Can't Just Say No", "Mourning in America", "There'll be no recovery from this", etc. Sigh. See?).

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Better entertainment than us is available

gonewriting

"Writing is 2% creativity, 98% not being distracted by the internet." - Anonymous

Words of wisdom which I am intent on following today, so no posts. Yet I feel a responsibility to those of you who depend on your Minor Thoughts commentary as you depend on bread and water, and therefore herein offer in substitute the limited number of blogs I personally visit daily or weekly.

Knowing even as I do that this will probably result in you never stopping by our website again.

Twenty-Sided Tales - Shamus Young is a Christian libertarian with a gift for humor who primarily blogs about video games - and even if you don't play them, what he has to say is worth reading. Young obtained internet fame with his now-completed "DM of the Rings" series, a free web comic that dares to imagine how Tolkien's famous Lord of the Rings saga might have played out if it was a Dungeons & Dragons game. Start your perusal of his site there, but be warned: once you start, it's hard to stop.

Slacktivist's Right Behind - The theologically-educated and very funny Slacktivist (Fred) has done a solid for the world by dedicating his analytical prowess to taking apart LaHaye and Jenkins's Left Behind book series. Highly-recommended if you've read them - you'll be amazed at how much you didn't catch that Fred does.

Paul O'Brien's If Destroyed, Still True - A blog dedicated to reviewing comic books (primarily ones starring the X-Men and related characters), wrestling matches, and the top ten British songs on any given week. As with all of the sites I list here, Paul O'Brien has a great sense of humor - but he's also the only online reviewer I bother to read because he's the only one I've ever encountered with an eye for the science of writing. Great examples (don't even worry if you haven't read the stories in question, just click): his reviews of Uncanny X-Men #439, #440, #433, and Wolverine #55.

Enjoy.

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Diversity in Ratings

Scene Stealer - The Web Is Pouncing on Hollywood's Ratings - NYTimes.com

The standard Hollywood ratings -- G, PG, PG-13, R and NC-17 -- must now compete with all manner of Internet-based ratings alternatives, some of which are gaining new traction through social networking tools.

SceneSmoking.org, which monitors tobacco use in movies, issues pink, light gray, dark gray or black lungs to films, depending on how smoking is depicted. Kids-in-Mind.com ranks movies on a scale of 1 to 10 in categories like "sex and nudity" and "violence and gore."

Movieguide.org issues ratings from a Christian perspective. A "+4," or "exemplary," means "no questionable elements whatsoever." A "-4," or "abhorrent," means "intentional blasphemy, evil, gross immorality."

The article goes on to talk about how people want to "fix" the MPAA ratings, according to various pet standards.

Why?

It seems like something great is happening. People that are passionate about different things -- and have different standards of acceptability -- are creating and disseminating their own ratings. Parents, or discriminating movie goers, who care about particular standards can use the ratings from a group that shares those same standards. There's absolutely, positively no way that Hollywood -- or the FTC -- can create a single rating system that represents all of those different standards.

There's a simple reason for that. One group of parents believes that nudity and coarse language is a natural and normal part of life. They believe that sex and nudity should be celebrated while their children should be protected from exposure to violence and aggression. There are other parents who would be horrified at the thought of their children seeing some bare skin but are perfectly okay with their children seeing movies that depict massive amounts of violence. Now, design me a PG-13 or R rating that makes both groups of parents happy.

I celebrate the diversity in ratings. I may even use one standard to evaluate which movies my children will be allowed to see and a completely different standard to evaluate which movies I'll see. Vive la difference!

Wizard Rock!

.wizardrock

I could post today about the end of Atlanta football star Vick's sentence, or how the fubar state of New York is now considering a totally insane 57% tax on its highest-earning residents - but I really wouldn't be a friend to you if I didn't instead take this opportunity to instead inform you about the recent phenomena that is Wizard Rock.

I learned about this wondrous (dare I say "magical"?) music subgenre from today's _USA Today _article on the subject, which profiled no less than four of the Harry Potter-inspired bands, including pioneer group Harry & The Potters.

Bands describing themself as part of this new movement generally seem to be of the punk rock persuasion, stylistlcally-speaking. Their lyrics range from the touching and somewhat maudlin, as in this little stanza by Draco & The Malfoys:

_He never gave me the attention he gave Harry

He never showed an interest in me

I watched him from afar, wishing I had a scar

So he would see the great wizard I could be_

...on to the more energetic (by H & P):

_Dumbledore, we all fight for you tonight

In our hearts we'll never let you die

Your love is keeping us alive_

According to USA Today there are now as many as 500 of these bands churning out similar numbers - and counting. So if you were wondering just what new kind of music scene will emerge to dominate this next decade's charts like Hip Hop in the 90's...

This entry was tagged. Entertainment