Thursday, December 24, 2009

A Christmas Carol - Part 2

Last year I started reading A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens. This year I went and saw the new 3D movie starring Jim Carrey!

I highly recommend it, just not for children as it is quite spooky. The 3D is excellent, the computer animation even better than The Polar Express (made by the same people as the Disney's A Christmas Carol, and Beowulf [2007]), and the acting, MoCap or not, is very well done. My one main complaint is that it didn't have as many plot threads as the classic Alastair Sims version had (although I think those were made-up for the 1951 movie anyway). Instead, it had a rather long and nonsensical action sequence for the Ghost of Christmas Yet to Come. Oh well, it could have been worse: It could have been a series of senseless action sequences with about three minutes of actual plot like Polar Express.

If I had to rank my favorite versions of A Christmas Carol, I would still place the Alastair Sims version at the top. Second place, though, is a toss-up between A Muppet's Christmas Carol and the Jim Carrey version, with the muppets generally coming out ahead. However, if they ever make a home theatre system capable of displaying the 3D movie as well as the cinema can, then I may have to re-evaluate my list.

Oh, and I still haven't gotten around to reading the last bit of A Christmas Carol, but I know someone who's getting a hard copy for Christmas. . .

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Abrams' Trek

I won't go into any length with this review as a.) it would be a waste of both space and time - perhaps in some sort of continuous way - and b.) it is already covered very well over at Ex Astris Scientia.

However, I will say two things before handing down my judgment. First off, they've extended the engineering section of the Enterprise in order to give the ship an unsightly crotch bulge. Why, I don't know. Perhaps JJ is a fan of Slash fiction?

And my second comment: Red matter?

'Nough said.

My conclusions:

Don't watch JJ Abrams' Star Trek if:
- you liked Star trek in any of it's previous incarnations
- you like movies that make sense
- you like fresh plots

However, go ahead and watch it if:
- you like things that move and/or are shiny
- you like poorly done (and overused) time travel plots
- you need a reminder why you should never work for Mr. Abrams

Rating */5 because I liked Simon Pegg.

Friday, October 9, 2009

To Kill a Mockingbird With One Stonehead

I've been listening to a lot of news-talk radio lately. I prefer my news to be less David Sazuki / Al Gore centric. At any rate, a particular story caught my attention (read it, that article is actually quite a fair overview of the subject). Apparently the mother of a student at Toronto's Malvern Collegiate Institute wants Harper Lee's famous novel, To Kill a Mockingbird, banned from the school library because it contains the racially offensive 'N' word.

Really? You want to ban one of the greatest anti-racism works of the 20th century because it portrays an accurate representation of Racism? You think that by revealing the wrongs in society, even those perceived to be behind us, the message itself becomes bad? That it somehow promotes or propagates the evil?

Well, upon further review, it seems the problem is larger than I first thought. I was never aware that there was any controversy surrounding Harper Lee's novel. But, unfortunately, it seems the book has been banned many times before. Although, it should be noted that objections to the novel centered more around the depictions of rape central to the plot, rather than the language that is now considered politically incorrect, until racial attitudes began changing in the 1970's.

Does anyone else ever feel like we're living in a Ray Bradbury novel?

Or perhaps it's more like a George Orwell novel? Certainly the social movement to redefine certain words and terms as politically incorrect (i.e. taboo) smacks of Newspeak. But what political correctness hasn't managed to do yet is to actually erase the 'N' word from the public consciousness. Who hasn't heard it, even just in passing, thanks to rap music? Blocking access to responsible discourse on a matter does not make it go away. In fact, ignorance may lead to naive acceptance or at the very least to conditions that foster resurgance of the very problem you blindly hope would just go away.

But here I am blithely tip-toeing around the word itself. Let me give you an example of a responsible use of the word:

'Nigger' is a derogatory term that has passed from regular use in the English language because it is offensive to a group of people and its use is generally considered taboo. It refers to people whose level of melanin pigmentation is within the higher range for humans and their skin is therefore darker. Usually one or more of their ancestors originated from the continent of Africa, although this is not universally true. Historically, this term was used by Caucasian owners toward their slaves. After slavery was abolished, the term continued to be used by racists. Any non-member of the group who uses the term 'Nigger' is now suspect of being racist whether the term was used as a slur or not. My advice: don't use the 'N' word.

(Hope that doesn't get censored. . .)

Of course, when writing about historical events, or even current matters involving racism, it would be irresponsible to gloss over the reality of the actions and language used.

Here is a set of quotes by a famous Canadian, former Prime Minister John G. Diefenbaker, that I think are fitting:

". . . he who does not know the past can never understand the present, and he certainly can do nothing for the future."

"Freedom includes the right to say what others may object to and resent... The essence of citizenship is to be tolerant of strong and provocative words."

Today, word has emerged that this latest outburst of insanity has been averted. But for how long, and what of those institutions that continue to ban such books, to suppress knowledge, and subvert future generations? To all those who insist on censorship, on giving up the right to freedom of speech and thought, I have one thing to say:


Edit (05/01/2011) - I have recently discovered that I was not the first to compare the censorship of To Kill a Mockingbird with the world of George Orwell's 1984.

"Recently I have received echoes down this way of the Hanover County School Board's activities, and what I've heard makes me wonder if any of its members can read.

"Surely it is plain to the simplest intelligence that “To Kill a Mockingbird” spells out in words of seldom more than two syllables a code of honor and conduct, Christian in its ethic, that is the heritage of all Southerners. To hear that the novel is "immoral" has made me count the years between now and 1984, for I have yet to come across a better example of doublethink.

"I feel, however, that the problem is one of illiteracy, not Marxism. Therefore I enclose a small contribution to the Beadle Bumble Fund that I hope will be used to enroll the Hanover County School Board in any first grade of its choice."

- Harper Lee in a 1966 'letter to the editor'.

Thursday, October 1, 2009

YouTube Star Trek

In celebration of a horrendous case of writer's block on a rare day off from the harvest, I present the following as an homage to my inner nerd who just needed a YouTube break.

First off is a video montage to the theme of Weird Al's White and Nerdy: Star Trek's White and Nerdy (original video here). Poor Data.

Star Trek meets Monty Python

Picard's favorite TV show

TOS crew reaction to new Star Trek (Take that JJ!)

Alternate ending of Generations

Data farts in the turbolift

Movie mistakes 1

Mistakes 2

Mistakes 3

Mistakes 4

Mistakes 5

The Sexed Generation

Thursday, August 13, 2009

Eragon: an essay on what it means to be cliche

Although it obviously didn't leave much of an impression, I did watch the movie Eragon shortly after it came out on DVD. What I do remember was that I didn't really like it, though I can't remember why. But I do recall the many reviews that state that the movie is a cliched ripp-off of classics like the Lord of the Rings and Star Wars.

With that in mind, let's just say that I never felt a burning desire to read the book.

Then, a couple of weeks ago I chanced upon two separate versions of the book in my favourite place to shop for books: the bargain books section of Mcnally Robinson. One edition was a large white paperback with a picture of a dragon's eye for $3.99 and the other was a large, slightly scuffed up movie tie-in paperback for $2.99. For that price I couldn't resist although I still had doubts that the book would be worth it. So I chose the movie tie in edition.

I'm glad I bought it. In my opinion it wasn't overly cliched or poorly written. At 15, Paolini already had a better vocabulary than I have now, yet I never found the usage to be poor. Some critics have invoked the dreaded term purple prose (dreaded only because no one has ever actually heard of it before outside of a college literary lecture) in regard to Paolini's writing. I must admit, I just don't see it. At no point did the language seem overwrought to me, nor was the 'flow' of the narrative interrupted. And this from a reviewer who has, in the past, abandoned the reading of some books for just that reason.

To cite an example from the second book of the cycle, Eldest, Paolini at one point describes drops of water on a leaf as 'cabochons'. Cabochons are rounded, highly polished gemstones (as opposed to facet cut gems). I think the descriptor is both relevant and appropriate within the narrative, but others apparently do not.

And what does it mean to be cliche by the way. Sure we've seen dragons and dragon riders in fantasy before but these are more good old stand-bys of Fantasy than cliche. A Fantasy novel does not require dragons or dragonriders, yet if we were to suddenly say, "Enough, don't write anymore books with dragon's or dragonriders in them!" wouldn't the genre be missing something? And where would the madness end?

"No one can use swords. Take out all the wizards. Horses are for cowboys, not fantasy heroes. . ."

Would it even be Fantasy anymore?

Now that's not to say that there can't be innovation within the genre. Naomi Novik found a new twist on that theme by setting her Temeraire series during the Napoleonic era rather than a fictional psuedo medieval world. But Eragon is no less 'good' because of the slightly more traditional setting. In fact, the world of Eragon, a magical continent called Alaga√ęsia on an unnamed world, has been fully conceptualized and developed, including a very nice map drawn by the author himself. It isn't even strictly eurocentric as the author based the landscape on his native state of Montana. The government is highly centralized and hardly feudal in the traditional sense. (one nitpick here for Mr. Paolini, should he ever read this blog: The leader of an empire is an emperor, not a king!)

Okay, so I'm fairly forgiving when the fun factor outweighs the trite factor. But let's face it, there's nothing new under the sun. Shakespeare was stealing from existing sources when he wrote his plays. Even Star Wars is based on the structure of the "hero's journey", a pseudo outline supposedly distilled from various classic tales. In fact, it's even been claimed that there are really only seven stories, everything else is just details.

I tried reading a snarky review of Eragon that used terms like 'Gary Stu' and 'gormless'. Unfortunately I think the reviewer was more concerned with being snarky than in giving an honest review. In her defense, she was simultaneously reviewing the movie and the book. Yet she seemed to miss the point far too often. For instance, she claimed that Paolini was lax in his research because Eragon's poor, starving family had a multi-room, wood floored house with a stove, yet real medieval peasants would have a small, one room shack with a dirt floor. I might have agreed with her if this had been a story about real medieval peasants. . .

And finally, lets not forget that it has been 10 years since Eragon was published. Paolini started writting the story when he was 15. It has been reported that he didn't intended for the book to be published, writing, instead, for his own personal pleasure and drawing heavily on his favorite stories by other authors. No wonder it ended up the way it did.

Conclusion: Perfect? No. Completely original and innovative? No. Entertaining and compelling? Yes.

Rating ****/5

Relevant links:
wiki: Criticism_of_the_Inheritance_Cycle (

Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Quick Update

Wow, no reviews since Friday the 13th, and the first one at that! Both my readers must have assumed something happened to me ;)

I have been working on a few reviews, but I have had other projects on the go. I still haven't thought of anything to say about Lady of Mazes that is worthy of Schroeder's work. . .

Read it. You won't be disappointed.

You may have noticed that I've changed the book listed under 'Currently Reading' without changing the 'Just Finished' listing. Well, that's because I have pretty much given up on The Elysium Commission by L. E. Modesitt Jr.

This is also the first time I've listed two books that I'm currently reading, although that more realistically portrays my habits. I should also point out, in case you were wondering, I do read quite slowly.

And yes, I'm reading The Sword of Truth books because I've seen The Legend of the Seeker. It's a decent show.

Friday, February 13, 2009

Judging a Book. . .

Yes, that old adage; "Don't judge a book by its cover." Yet I find myself falling into that trap quite often when browsing for 'something' new. This is especially true of my favourite place to shop, the bargain books section of McNally Robinson.

Which leads me to today's slightly off topic review, the book covers of Stephan Martiniere. It turns out that for years he has been covertly manipulating me into buying books that might otherwise have gone unnoticed. Sometimes they're good, sometimes, not so much. I believe the first book I bought with one of his covers (although another may have slipped through unnoticed before then) was The Risen Empire by Scott Westerfeld. An excellent book that was followed by a rather dissapointing sequel, The Killing of Worlds, which also sported the artwork of Mr. Martiniere. Actually Westerfeld wrote them as one book (hardcover) before his publisher got greedy and split it into two pocket sized paperbacks each for the price of a full book. (They probably claim it would have been too big for the paperback binding.)

I was actually suprised at the number of book covers I own that were created by Martiniere. Some are more impressive than others. For instance, I don't think I would have ever connected the cover for the book, Heavy Planet by Hal Clement, to Stephan Martiniere before seeing it on his website. The book was an interesting read. It collects that author's stories that set on the jovian planet Mesklin which has a gravity up to 700 times heavier than earth.

I think a classic example of Martiniere's style can be found on the cover of Building Harlequin's Moon by Larry Niven and Brenda Cooper. The novel was a pleasant diversion, though not really all that memorable. Great cover though.

As a book, Newton's Wake by Ken MacCloud was slightly more interesting. The cover is pretty good too, although the spaceship is the wrong shape.

Of course, the best book by far that is contained by Martiniere's artwork is Karl Schroeder's Lady of Mazes. I won't say anything about it now because I am working on a full review for this book. Thank you, Martiniere, for introducing me to the works of this fine author.

I've also picked up Ringworld's Children by Larry Niven, but I've read the other books in the series so probably can't blame the cover on that one. I haven't read it yet.

Here are some of my favorite Martiniere covers:

Cover for Mainspring by Jay Lake

Cover for Escapement by Jay Lake

Cover for
Infoquake by David Louis Edelman

Cover for MultiReal by David Louis Edelman

Cover for
The Price of Spring by Daniel Abraham

Cover for
An Autumn War by Daniel Abraham

Cover for
The New Space Opera by Gardner Dozois and Jonathan Strahan

Cover for Singularity Sky and Iron Sunrise by Charles Stross

Cover for
Queen of Candesce by Karl Schroeder

Cover for Skinner by Neal Asher (French edition)

Cover for The Peace War by Vernor Vinge

Cover for Marooned in Real Time by Vernor Vinge

Cover for
The Dragons of Babel by Michael Swanwick

Cover for Terraforming Earth by Jack Williamson

Cover for
The Silver Ship and the Sea by Brenda Cooper

Cover for
Elom by William H. Drinkard

Cover for
A World Too Near by Kay Kenyon

Cover (reworked) for
Writers of the Future Volume 24?