Here’s to L: the worst blogger in the world

That’s a reference to Bernie in “Nottinghill”, aka the Earl of Grantham.

I need to start using images on this blog, and I need to make serious attempts to update it. And, I need to read more books. So for a quick catch up to remind myself what is up:

Reading:

    “Uprooted” by Naomi Novik. I am burned on her Termeraire series but decided to try this book. Unfortunately for me, it looks like it’s going to be a series.
    “The Laundry Files” series by Charles Stross. Finished the first 2 and want to read the 3rd. Held up by the fact that we have moved and not unpacked our mountain of book boxes. Also, these are M’s books and he is not a great believer in organizing his books.
    Various books by Lynn Flewelling. I hope. I’m not sure why I keep buying the Nightrunner series books. Fondness held over from high school, I suppose. The third book disinterested me but I still bought the 4-5th. Not that I’ve read them. I feel stupid.

I should read:

    Various books by China Mieville. Why haven’t I? Rhetorical question. No good reasons, only bad ones. That is to say, I’m lazy and I need dragons in my books.
    “The Ocean at the End of the Lane” by Neil Gaiman. I have a signed copy and I pulled myself together enough to go to a book signing. Why haven’t I read this yet.
    “The Martian” by Andy Weir. Do I want to read it before or after M drags me to the movie theater to watch the movie? Will I join the legions of people who say, “I saw the movie. I don’t need to read the book”? Oh, the horror.
    Work-related articles. NOoooooo

Movie – “The Avengers: Age of Ultron”

I really enjoyed the Iron Man, Captain America, and the first Avengers movie. Okay, and I thought the first Thor movie was hilarious, but I haven’t seen the second one yet. It was a forgone conclusion that I wanted to see this movie. M was not enthusiastic about seeing this movie, stating that he felt like the Avengers movies were too ensemble and getting to be ridiculous and feeling like they were stretching to get their villains.

M didn’t read superhero comics the way I used to so yes, Ultron sounded ridiculous to him while my thought process was more along the lines of, “Ah yes, comics. This totally makes sense.”

The problem was that I am going to have to agree with M.

As the movie progressed, I was feeling less and less engaged. I’m not sure if it was the increased sized of the cast, the number of cameos, the feeling that things were being retcon-ed, or what. I just didn’t enjoy the movie as much I thought I would. Everyone was trying to be clever and snarky, and it didn’t fit with everyone’s character. Some things didn’t make a lot of sense. I thought Iron Man’s new computer’s voice had too many inflection in the tone. The perpetuation of the mad scientist trope annoyed me a bit, even if it fit.

I had a good time watching the movie, but it made me feel like I was done with the Marvel universe movies. I don’t look forward to them with any sort of gleeful, anticipatory rush anymore.

Movie – “Big Hero 6”

I was so pleased to see this movie a few weekends ago because:

  • Pixar movie!
  • It had been out for a month so there was almost no one in the theater!

  • The short before it, “Feast”, was adorable. I loved it, and I empathized with the dog and its need to eat delicious things. It reminded me a bit of a Golden Book named, “The Pokey Little Puppy,” what with both of them having dogs that ate delicious things. Needless to say, that was my favorite Golden Book.

    Anyways, I had no idea what “Big Hero 6” was going to be about besides ‘robots’; I just wanted to cash in on my movie credits with M before I lose the opportunity to even out the L:M movie ratio.

    Without going into spoilers, it was very cute. Hiro is a clever kid with no motivation who becomes driven to do bigger and better things because of his older brother’s influence. It’s set in a future San Franstokyo, which pretty muchy looks like San Francisco smushed together with a fanboy’s idea of what Japan is like: hills, trolleys, Asian buildings, cherry blossoms everywhere. It’s absolutely not Japan, just an ambiguous metropolitan city. A strangely clean metropolitan city.

    Big ol’ plot holes and very easy to figure out what’s up, but it’s not geared towards people my age, right? Kids would love this, and their chaperones would find a lot of things amusing, I think. Very cute, not particularly violent, and life’s lessons learned.

    Movie – “Interstellar”

    M made a point about how I needed to do more things with him, things that he enjoys. Since I nixed 2 things, movies I’m not interested in (but he is) are something I’ve acquiesced to see. The first movie I caved to watch was “Fury.” I’m not going to talk about that one for a bit because wow, that was bleak. I spent a lot of time hiding behind my jacket.

    I’m not into movies related to space or science fiction, which strikes me as odd because I used to love Star Trek TNG and DS9, and one of the first piece of sci-fi or fantasy (barring fairy tales) I read was “Flinx in Flux” by Alan Dean Foster.

    Anyways, I was not interested in “Interstellar” and I was really against seeing it because I heard the science was bad. M really hates bad science related to fields he understands, and I didn’t want to sit next to him while he huffed and puffed in fury. But, he really wanted to see it, so we went.

    It was the first time I’ve been in a movie theater so quiet. The movie itself was muted, which wasn’t shocking, and no one was whispering, eating loudly, or texting during the movie. Everyone was extremely absorbed in what was going on in the movie. It was stark and sobering to watch.

    I thought it was good, actually. I wouldn’t watch it again, but it was worth watching in the theater.

    Book Interlude: Low Town – Daniel Polansky

    I am not pleased with this book after about 50 pages and am going to return it. It feels awkward, jumbled, and it lacks cohesion for me. I didn’t feel any satisfaction or curiosity as I read the book.

    But, the biggest thing that annoys me about it is that the main character talks about this set of peoples that live in a specific slum, immigrants from another country. They’re described as short, squat, swarthy, and heathens. Then the protagonist talks to one of these immigrants in their language. It’s broken, and the author romanizes the language with (translations) and the language is Chinese.

    And with that, I am done. Just, done.

    He could have used broken English to line out how the protagonist doesn’t know the language well, but he opted to use Chinese. If he used romanized Hindi, Arabic, or something else I wouldn’t recognize, this might not be a big deal to me. I realize this is two-faced. But I recognized it, and I’m annoyed. It’s not a fantasy book anymore and I am really angry.

    Returning the book this weekend and using the money for another book I’m sure I will enjoy more.

    The Girl With All the Gifts – MR Carey

    I hate buying books in hardcover. The dust jackets are easy to tear or dent, they’re are too unwieldy to read with one hand while grasping a strap on the T, they can’t be placed in with paperbacks by author because it wrecks my nice even line of books. Oh, and they cost more. Drives me nuts, but I still purchase hardbacks when I am too excited to wait.

    Our most recent visit to a bookstore had this book on display, and I had to get it because I was almost positive that MR Carey was Mike Carey, who wrote a lot of comics but most importantly to me, the “Lucifer” comic and the Felix Castor series. Turns out it was him.

    “The Girl With All the Gifts” is a post-apocalyptic book whose reason for being post-apocalyptic is a spoiler. I don’t want to say too much because all the reveals are important. This means I can’t really talk about the book.

    Let me just say that I felt compelled to finish reading the book. I don’t want to say “enjoyed” because there were a lot of things that made me uncomfortable, things that I acknowledge as being something governments/people might do. I had to see what the conclusion would be, and was satisfied. I accept that it’s a viable ending, but I didn’t love it. To love it would mean that I was happy at the end, and I was not happy.

    I don’t know if I would recommend it to anyone I know, not because I think it’s bad, but because it’s very different from what my friends like to read. It’s a post-apocalyptic book about survivors fighting monstrous things, whether it’s themselves, their ideas, or the thing that made the world fall. There’s not a lot of hope and light in it.

    Final thoughts: Would read and put on a shelf. Probably would not re-read, but definitely would not sell/donate it.

    Movie – “Edge of Tomorrow”

    M loves to go to the movies. M likes to wheedle me into seeing movies I would normally refuse to watch. I watch a lot of (sometimes bad) movies with M.

    “Edge of Tomorrow” was not one of them, I am glad to say. M is so smug right now.

    It looked like it was going to be too violent and gory for me, but science fiction gore is significantly cleaner than current-affairs gore and so I was fine. No visible bone breaks, no bloody, bone-cracking deaths, etc. M has pointed out that I watch “Bones” while eating dinner and it doesn’t make sense for me to say I hate gore. Look, seeing the aftermath of violence is totally different than watching said violence being performed with blood and innards splashing about.

    “Edge of Tomorrow” is an adaptation of the sci-fi novel “All You Need is Kill” by Hiroshi Sakurazaka. It’s been adapted into a comic of the same name written by Ryosuke Takeuchi and illustrated by Takeshi Obata. I haven’t read a translation of the novel, but I did a quick skimming of the comic and I think the movie is much, much better. The pacing is awkward in the comic, and there’s too much think-time in the protagonist’s head for me to enjoy. Also, I feel it’s difficult to get a full sense of motion from a comic versus a very well done special effect and stunt in a movie.

    The premise is that the alien invasion of Earth resulted in… okay nevermind. It’s a “Groundhog Day” apocalyptic alien movie where Tom Cruise must repeatedly die in order to become Tom Cruise (the most apt quote ever from from /u/ViolentlyCaucasian on Reddit. Spoilers abound around that link). Yes, he does ride a motorcycle in this movie.

    It’s a fun film. The characters are great, the action is great, none of the deaths felt gratuitous, etc. The ending was a bit meh, but whatever! I was satisfied at the end. A+++ would watch again.

    Rivers of London (series) – Ben Aaronovitch

    I picked up the first book, “Midnight Riot” (UK release is named “Rivers of London”) because it was in a list of recommendations from Daniel O’Malley in the back of his “The Rook: A Novel”, which I greatly enjoyed. Initially, I wasn’t sure if I liked “Midnight Riot” or not, but then I missed my T stop because I was too busy reading and that settled it.

    I went to Porter Square Books the following day and picked up the next books in the series, “Moon Over Soho” and “Whispers Underground” in addition to enough cookbooks to overload my bag. I feel that this bookstore merits a specific naming because it had every single book I was looking for that day, and how cool is that? It’s a magic bookstore that has books that I want to read.

    So this series is an urban fantasy set in London, and is the cap on my belief that the best (English language) urban fantasy nowadays is not written by Americans, but the English (and Australians… and Canadians). I should just say non-Americans?

    Another thing this series brings up is the lack of racial diversity in the other urban fantasies I’ve read. First off, the man character is obviously ethnic and this fact is brought up constantly. He interacts with a lot of different races and religions because it’s always going to happen in an urban area, and everyone will act and dress differently. I like it. At first, I thought the author was tossing the racial difference of the protagonist around a lot, then I decided that it was important.

    It shows a shocking lack of reality when urban fantasies in the USA feature characters that are uniformly white, or interact with mostly white characters. Look at Los Angeles, New York, Boston, Washington DC. How is it possible to only interact with Caucasians, or even people who haven’t lived in the USA for generations? And then apply that to books. How are the only people you see, know, etc white? It’s not logical, and it could possibly indicate some race issues in books and our reading habits.

    Is it because we’d rather read about characters that are white? Is it the set default we imagine when we picture a character, even if we’re not white? I feel a sense of complicity in this … white washing is too strong of a phrase and not quite right, but I cannot think of another… of the genre because I mostly read books with a European (specifically, Irish) fantasy bent. Generally, I do not read a lot of urban fantasy with Asian myths in it, but I cannot decide if it’s because it was neglected in the genre or if my strong feelings against exoticism result in me selecting against it.

    Anyways! The “Rivers of London” books are great reads. The protagonist, Peter Grant, is a police officer that gets thrown into the midst of magical dealings when investigating a police case. Interestingly, his superiors know that magic is possible (and they dislike it), and push him off to be apprenticed to the last known English wizard, Lord Thomas Nightingale, a relic of a by-gone age made even more apparent when the reader learns that magic was supposed to be on a serious decline.

    Lord Thomas Nightingale handles the supernatural part of law enforcement, and had not been called into duty for years until the case, and Peter himself, was flagged. From then on, Peter begins his schooling (and his experimentation) in the subject of magic, whether it is casting spells, meeting the human personifications of the rivers of London, seeing the effects of previously unknown dark magic users, or experimenting in methods to blend his previously modernized life with his new one.

    As it turns out, magic and technology do not get along.

    The plots were intriguing, and the tie-ins with history and pop culture references were always good for smile and wikipedia moments. My favorite one involves Peter asking Lord Nightingale about the largest object he used a spell on. The answer was, “A Tiger”, but it’s not the feline kind; it’s a Panzerkamfwagen. (There was a special joy in this reference because M loves history and has been playing “World of Tanks” for the past year. He got the reference immediately.)

    I think what I enjoyed the most about these books is that I felt like I had not encountered all of the ideas before. It felt good to read them and think, “Oh, I like this idea a lot” as opposed to skimming over bits that match another plot or world.

    There weren’t any overflowing descriptions that seem to have become the staple of urban fantasty, and I loved the sparser wordings. I am not a fan of an outpouring of descriptive words, akin to word vomit, and so I was pleased to enjoy imagining the world as I read without having to read overblown efforts to describe everything.

    I cannot wait for the next book to come out. My only dilemma is, do I buy it in hardback for immediate gratification, or do I wait for the paperback so it matches the rest of the books on my shelf?

    Neil Gaiman, Reading and Signing

    It took a lot of courage for me to go to this event at the First Parish Church in Harvard Square, and I was close to not going. M encouraged me not to wimp out, so we drove in (instead of taking the T, a good choice in spite of a $15 parking fee), and visited Burdick’s (chocolate shop) and a bead shop for a potential craft project I will never finish.

    There was a line of people holding yellow tickets at 15 minutes til the event, so we hopped in line and observed nerds dressed in their nerdy best as the line crept into the church. Most of the pews in the center of the church were filled, but I spotted an empty family box on the side of the wall. We were joined by a mother-daughter pair, the daughter wielding an enormous hardback of Sandman to be signed. Turns out, the family box was an excellent choice because we were on the side that got to go up to get our stuff signed first.

    The intro by Bret Johnston was dry, wry, and clever. It’s never really occurred to me about how much influence Neil Gaiman had on so many people until that intro.

    Q&A was amusing. The readings were great, and I enjoyed them. Wish I could do voices and intonation changes like that. M commented that after the reading, he was looking forward to reading “The Ocean at the End of the Lane.”

    Signing was pretty nice. I watched Neil Gaiman sign a proffered Sandman issue. I may have snorted a laugh when he colored in the eyes with the silver marker and drew powerlines out of them. As for me, I got a gift copy of “Stardust” personalized, and M got a hardback of “American Gods” signed. M also got a handshake. Alas, I did not, but I am pretty sure I am 99% relieved and 1% worried about what I looked like to not get one. Perhaps M looks more like a nice personage full of bonhomie, whilst I look like a nervous wreck who might collapse at the first sign of attention.

    Anyways, A+! Would do again if he changes his mind about this being the last book tour.

    Snuff – Terry Pratchett

    I’d like to thank co-workers A and B (‘A’ for the American and ‘B’ for the Brit, god I am so clever) for having a conversation a few months ago that enlightened me enough to understand a joke that came up in “Snuff.”

    The conversation went something like this:

    B: What’s a “fanny pack”?
    A: Those little bags old people wear around their waists.
    B: They’re called “fanny packs” in the US? That sounds really bad.
    A: Why?
    B: “Fanny” is slang for… uh… female genitalia.
    A: Oh. Yeah, I can see that. What are they called in England?
    B: They’re called “bum bags.”
    A: …. that does not sound much better than “fanny pack.”

    Now I need to ask B if there’s something about cheese prices in England, because I’ve read 2 books that cracked jokes about the price of cheese in England. This cannot be a coincidence.

    Anyways, “Snuff” is about Commander Sam Vines and a vacation in the countryside where the manor of his wife’s family is located. This is the first book I’ve read with him in it, so I didn’t recognize any of the characters, though Terry Pratchett’s writing makes everything seem comforting and familiar if you’ve read any of his other books. I just dove in and read.

    I enjoyed it a great deal, with its concerns with class and race distinctions as well as the jokes inserted along the way. Clearly there were some related to genitalia.

    What else can be said about the book? It’s a Discworld book! That pretty much sums it up. The main character goes on to experience things, deal with issues that can be applied to present-day life, and there are puns and ridiculous jokes abound.