Tuesday, July 31, 2007

Three movies, one man

Writing with a headache is nearly impossible. So, here are the latest movies I've checked out.

Ratatouille. The juxtaposition of a rat wanting to work in a kitchen—a place where the sight of a single furry, four-pawed body scurrying around means eminent restaurant-death—is more than enough to base a Pixar film on. So we have a rat that can cook, a boy that can't, and a restaurant to be saved from the likes of a vulture (also known as Anton Ego). It's a lot of fun, with colorful characters, food that looks realistic, and several laugh-out-loud moments. I was surprised at how fast the plot moved, and overall enjoyed it very much. Definitely a winner and a huge step up from 2006's Cars.

Monty Python and the Holy Grail. Haven't watched this since I was in high school, and I am happy to report that, much like a fine wine, this comedic gem has only gotten better and better. Really, if for some strange reason you haven't seen it, please do so. Soonish. And bring me a shrubbery!

Blood Diamond. A dramatic thriller that has two men on the search for a blood diamond during the Sierra Leone Civil War. These are the sort mined in war zones and then sold to finance the conflicts. It's a very powerful film, often even hard to watch at times. We're shown a country that survives on brutality, child soldiers, and the power of control. Even Danny Archer (played by Leonardo DiCaprio) begins to actually see the devastation happening all around. Unfortunately for him—and many others—it's too late to change anything. Much like Hotel Rwanda and those infomercials that come on at three in the morning, this is a film that tries to shed light on subjects often ignored. Will it, ultimately, change anything? I have my doubts. But there's always hope because I can't think of a scarier thing than a country and its people co-existing with Civil War. Well, maybe a little boy with a M-4 assault rifle...

Monday, July 30, 2007

Neverwhere - Review

Neverwhere by Neil Gaiman

A quick summary stolen from back cover: Richard Mayhew is a plain man with a good heart--and an ordinary life that is changed forever on a day he stops to help a girl he finds bleeding on a London sidewalk. From that moment forward he is propelled into a world he never dreamed existed--a dark subculture flourishing in abandoned subway stations and sewer tunnels below the city--a world far stranger and more dangerous than the only one he has ever known...

How I'd sum it up to another reader: Well, it's Gaiman's first published novel, a work that he crafted from an urban fantasy television series of the same name. It begins with a rather passive man, Richard, finding a wounded girl, Door, on the side of the street one evening in London. By helping her, his existence vanishes faster than he could blink. Soon, he's on a quest to help the young girl understand why her entire family was murdered and to get his life back. Bad guys pursue him, and some even pretend to be his allies. It's a quick and speedy journey through a world not that much different from the London above, but filled with strange characters and even stranger rituals.

The cover sez and shows: London, Above and Below. Both look pretty grim and would never fly in a vacation pamphlet. Hey, kids! Pack your black eyeliner and skulls! We're going to London! Yay!!!!!1!!!!1!

Number of dragons, wizards, and reluctant farmer boys: Zero, but there is an angel and some rat-speakers. Can't be too picky, y'know.

Hardest name to pronounce in my head: Islington, but not really.

Best part: Croup and Vandemar. They are seemingly demonic assassins out after Door, but are now pursuing anyone that gets in their way. Mr. Croup is the more well-spoken of the two, often going the extra length to sound pompous rather than intimidating. Mr. Vandermar on the other hand...well, he's a bit simple-minded. Likes to hurt people. As a team, these two work well off of each other and end up stealing a lot of scenes away from Richard for themselves. Fun, creepy villains that make your skin crawl. Perfect. Because, honestly? Gaiman never really made me care for the "heroes" of Neverwhere (i.e., Richard and Door), but the villains are just so captivating that I am drawn to them immediately.

Worst part: The book is most certainly character-driven. The plot is straightforward, with zero veering. I was hoping for something a little more complex rather than "we are here, we need to get there, let's follow this path" sort of thing. I was also hoping for more stylistic prose, much like in American Gods, but I found the text to be very lacking. Very basic, very bare.

Random thoughts and theories: First, a disclaimer. I've never been to London and so I probably missed a lot of little neat things that Gaiman did with his underground world. I loved how a lot of the landmarks actually became people. Such as The Angel, Islington turning out to be an actual angel surviving in the sewers of London Below. And the Floating Market is a cool trick that, for the life of me, I can't seem to remember where the idea of such a thing first took hold of me. It felt really familiar to read. Or maybe I've played too many roleplaying games.

If said book were a ride at a Disney theme park: You know what? I haven't the faintest idea.

If in school its grade would be: B+

Come on, write us a haiku:
Watch for doors tha' open
Worlds below and beyond us
Where the rat-folk walk

Overall, y'all: It's a fun read, but by no means anything superb. Lots of action though Richard does little himself until the very end. Kind of a coming-of-age tale except Richard is all grown up already. Still, a wonderful cast of characters that'll keep you guessing about whether they are on Door's side, Croup and Vandemar's side, or something completely their own. The plot unfolds like a fairy tale: utterly predictable. Villains are villains, and good guys are wholesome. However, it is an entertaining journey into a Gothic-heavy London underground that will keep readers flipping pages. And for fans of Gaiman's The Sandman, there's plenty of dark wit floating around in these characters' heads. Enjoy, I say.

Books I might or might not compare to: King Rat by China Miéville, Un Lun Dun by China Miéville, and The Night Watch by Sergei Lukyanenko

Some linkage: The Very Small but Quite Significant Neverwhere Page and Neverwear clothing line

Thursday, July 26, 2007

Artwork preview

Head on over to Murky Depths to check out a .PDF file of the Table of Contents for their first issue. You can see snippets of the artwork that accompanies each story, and I'm really diggin' the one for my piece of flash fiction "67442." This is the first time I've ever had commissioned artwork to go along with my story. I'm very excited to see the final piece. Issues are going out to contributors and subscribers some time during the first week of August. Eep! Yay artwork!

You don't want to miss out on this one, folks.

Some DS games

I haven't had my Nintendo DS for very long, but I've already started growing my collection of games. Some I definitely enjoy more than others, and one of them I have no idea why I bought it because I quickly discovered I don't enjoy the sort of gaming experience that it offers. Anyways, here's me thoughts:

Mario Kart DS - Classic gameplay that is even more addicting on the handheld. I've played a few games using the WiFi connection (and some dude in China really kicked my butt using stupid Bowser), and am slowly working my way through all the little bonus challenges. There's a ton of options here, the music is slight but good, and racing has never been so good. Seriously, a gem, one I'll continue to play for many, many days.

New Super Mario Bros - I think that as the years continue to pass by and next-gen systems become nexter-gen systems that I'll never play that I'll always remain an old-school gamer. Meaning, I like my Mario, Zelda, and Metroid 2D games the best. Something so pleasing about them. Anyways, here we have a 2D/3D sidescroller that is just as much fun as its previous incarnates. You run and jump your way to the end of the level, collecting gold coins along the way, and travel across a map in order to save the princess. The level design is colorful and creative, and as a bonus there's more than two handfuls of mini-games to keep you entertained using the touch screen. My mother's favorite is the one where you have to sort red bombs and black bombs to their alloted containers without messing up. She's actually quite good at it.

Castlevania: Portrait of Ruin - Another old-school gamer game that is a lot of fun. Big, huge castle to explore with two different characters. Lots of items and missions to accomplish. Cool graphics, non-important storyline, and awesome boss battles. Though, currently I am lost and don't know where I'm supposed to go next. That's okay. I can walk around and slay baddies for hours. Or at least until my battery needs charging.

Animal Crossing: Wild World - I can't even figure out why I bought this. I think, possibly, maybe, who really knows, that I thought I was buying a Harvest Moon game. You know, the farming simulation thingy. Instead, I got the Sims with all the fun ripped out of it only to be replaced by animals with enormous heads, a town more dry than a patch of sand, and tasks that would bore a dead guy.

Puzzle Quest: Challenge Of The Warlords
- My latest addiction. I can't think of a simpler way to describe it other than Bejeweled with fantasy RPG elements. And yes, that's all it takes to hook me. Everything you do is based around a game of Bejeweled: moving around the map, fighting monsters, acquiring steeds, making items, and learning new magic spells. Yet, it never gets tiring (though the music certainly does).

Two games I know I want the minute they are released: The Legend of Zelda: Phantom Hourglass and Contras 4 DS.

Tuesday, July 24, 2007

Glen Angus, RIP

I just read the news that Glen Angus, an amazing artist, died suddenly on July 19 from apparent complications due to an aneurysm. I've always admired his work, and will continue to do so, and it is just very sad to see such a great talent gone from the field. He recently worked very hard to get his autistic son the proper and more timely care he needs.

By far, my most favorite piece he created was his Filling Valhalla A-Z poster. Marvelously detailed. I now realize that he also drew many of my favorite playing cards from Magic: The Gathering. I'm sure I'll notice more of his work now that it is too late to tell him how great they are. My thoughts are with Glen and his family.

Monday, July 23, 2007

ASIM Best of Horror - Review

My review for the Andromeda Spaceways Inflight Magazine: Best of Horror e-anthology has just gone live over at Tangent Online. But FYI, I really only had to read and review one story in it. Oh, the workload drownith me. Heh.

I'm also reviewing a bunch of stories in the Andromeda Spaceways Inflight Magazine: Best of Science Fiction e-anthology, which is still being worked on.

In other news, I read Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows over the weekend in a span of 24 hours. I suspect I slept about six of those hours, but you get the point. Not ready to talk about it, still digesting. I know some things really didn't click with me, and now I just have to determine why.

At least now I can get back to the fun that is Neverwhere by Neil Gaiman.

Thursday, July 19, 2007

Emmy in a Box

In phallic news, Justin Timberlake and that other dude get an Emmy nod for their "Dick in a Box" SNL Digital Short for the Outstanding Original Music and Lyrics category. No wintry holiday is complete without a viewing of the genius that is "make her open the box."

Click the link to see the video again. And then hope for the best. This should totally win. I'm completely serious.

Wednesday, July 18, 2007

Giving up

I had to stop reading a book this week, and I hate not finishing something I've started. We're midway through the year, and looking back I see that there are already a couple of abandoned books on my shelf. The latest one?

The Birthgrave by Tanith Lee.

Which is a shame because I have absolutely loved everything else I've read by her. This was her first published novel, firestarting her career back in the late 1970s, and it's just not that great. Granted, I think novels have evolved into much more complex beasts with each passing decade, but there's just something so completely unbalanced in The Birthgrave that it can both hold my attention and quickly turn me away. I'll do my best to talk about a book that I only got 115 pages into before removing my placeholder, staring quizzically at its cover, and then, without a second look, placing it back on my shelf.

So, the sword-and-sorcery story goes like so: a nameless woman wakes up inside a volcano, escapes to be thought of as both a cruel and kind goddess, and then is off on a quest with an entourage of brutes and beasts to discover who she exactly is. Everything is told from her perspective, us being her, us being lost and confused and wide-eyed to those asking for things, begging for babies, screaming out of rage. While the opening chapter is quite engaging and gets things rolling, it isn't long before a tepid pace is set with little to no direction ahead. Things happen, she reacts, more things happen, she reacts. It just felt unfocused, and with no one else to really care about it began to grow frustrating. Lee writes extremely well, but it's clear that her earlier work suffered from overtly boring descriptions of the same things. I can only read about the weather and mountains so many times before I go stir-crazy.

I was looking for what I enjoyed so much about Don't Bite the Sun and Drinking Sapphire Wine in The Birthgrave. A strong, likeable main character, a fast-paced plot, and a host of thought-provoking ideas. Maybe this take on female stereotypes was fresh and exhilirating back when S&S was uber popular, but now I just didn't enjoy it.

And with so many other books calling my name, pleading with me to break their spines and sift through their pages, I am no longer interested in finishing books that I do not enjoy. Life is too short. And I own too many [insert curse word]ing books. But here's an interesting tidbit. It took me close to three weeks to read 115 pages of The Birthgrave, but since putting it down and picking up Neverwhere by Neil Gaiman I've blown through half the book in two days' time.

Also, maybe later on, I'll take a quick look at some of the other books I've given up on in 2007 and why I did so.

Monday, July 16, 2007

The Dante Club - Review

The Dante Club by Matthew Pearl

A quick summary stolen from back cover: Boston, 1865. A series of murders, all of them inspired by scenes in Dante's Inferno. Only an elite group of America's first Dante scholars--Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, Oliver Wendell Holmes, James Russell Lowell, and J.T. Fields--can solve the mystery. With the police baffled, more lives endangered, and Dante's literary future at stake, the Dante Club must shed its sheltered literary existence and find the killer.

How I'd sum it up to another reader: Well, it's this murder-mystery novel filled with historical characters, places, and events but still completely an original work of fiction. There's a police detective, but he's sort of in the background despite being the first African-American copper since the Civil War ended. No, the real clue-seekers are truly the brains of the operation: poet, scholar, teacher, doctor--all of them literary snobs. These are the members of the Dante Club, and they want to find whoever is committing these gruesome acts of murder not just to keep the streets of Boston safe but to protect Dante, the man himself and his work, from further harm. They won't do it quickly though. It'll be painstakingly slow and studious, with a sharp attention for details.

It's easy to compare it to other such history-laden romps like The Da Vinci Code by Dan Brown, but Pearl's work is ten steps above. It might not have as many cliffhanger endings at every chapter break, but it certainly holds one's attention all on its own.

The cover sez and shows: A faded image of the Boston of old, complete with a university tower rising in the distance and a few splotches of blood throughout.

Number of dragons, wizards, and reluctant farmer boys: Not a single one, but that was sort of to be expected.

Hardest name to pronounce in my head: Pietro Bachi.

Best part: The murders. Pearl, being a Dante scholar himself, knows the material of Dante's work and handles the translation of torture and punishment from cantos to real life with a sense of respect and authoritative precision. They are cruel and disturbing. Hauntingly unsettling. I'll admit that I'd have liked to have seen more levels of Hell interpreted, but the ones that were are still fresh in my mind.

Worst part: Some of the characters were quite hard for me to set apart. Longfellow and Lowell, namely. Their names were too similar, and eventually all of the members of the Dante Club began to sound alike. Also, at times, Pearl's prose became too wordy, too heavy with theological musings and so forth. I also found the reveal of the killer's identity to be somewhat of a letdown. Here I was expecting to find a man that lived and breathed Dante, that would kill for him, that did kill for him, but the murderer turned out to be something completely different.

Random thoughts and theories: Being Matthew Pearl's debut novel, The Dante Club is most certainly a smart and engaging tour through a historical time when the power of words, of Dante's words, were both powerful and deadly. I loved all the details, especially when it came to dissecting the many cantos and sonnets, searching deep inside them for any light at all.

If said book were a ride at a Disney theme park: It'd be a more suspense-laden trip through all of Liberty Square in the Magic Kingdom.

If in school its grade would be: A-

Come on, write us a haiku:
Bostonians love
Their Dante spoken with pride
Just not the new dead

Overall, y'all: It's a decent mystery novel, and will definitely appeal to any reader that has the slightest interest in Dante and his work. Some parts are bogged down by too many talking heads, but if you can get past that then a grand epic murder-mystery spanning all of Boston lies ahead. The Divine Comedy, split open for all to see. Just remember: Abandon all hope, ye who enter here

Books I might or might not compare to: The Da Vinci Code by Dan Brown and The Rule of Four by Ian Caldwell.

Some linkage: Buy the book at Amazon, or check out his latest release, The Poe Shadow.

Sunday, July 15, 2007

Novel gazing fun

Some people are musing about the first and last lines of their novels. I've started a bunch of those cruel beasts, but have yet to finish one. I'm working on changing that. So, for lack of anything better to post, here's the opening lines of several novels-in-progress.

From Fireworker (dark fantasy):

I was awake when the perfunctory whistle of acrid notes echoed throughout Taam Mur.

From Makahl (sword and sorcery fantasy):

Brown, sunless branches stretched and shrouded the protruding rocks that marked the entrance to Heakol Gulumn.

From Moonship to Morrow (futuristic sci-fi):

The liftshaft hummed and climbed fourteen floors.

From Summersong (space opera on speed):

The Kakien cargo ship, Summersong, docked on Rabb Four's sole landing field, a circular speck of desert that did little to stand out.

From The Periwinkle Prince (high fantasy):

"Blue?! Whaddaya mean he's blue?!"

From The Spellcrafters (high fantasy):

"Defend yourself, boy!"

None that really do much. I like to start with action and setting. Action is key, and possibly the best starting point as it ultimately leads to something else happening. The problem with some of these above is that they're fairly bland. They have action, and yet they don't really do anything other then get things going. I'm actually not a huge fan of novels opening with dialog so it'll come as no surprise that I really hate those last two listed. I also, apparently, like to namedrop. Ugh.

Lately, I've been feeling that everything I write is crap. I hope this is just a bump in the road. It's really slowing me down.

Tuesday, July 10, 2007


I had some chocolate molten lava cake (with a hidden pocket of fudge inside it!) today, which means, yes, it's been a successful day. If anything, I am ready to burst. That is all for now. More to come later.

Sunday, July 08, 2007

More movies!

Let's see what I've checked out this week...

Waking Life. I really wanted to like this, I really did. It's a digitally rotoscoped and animated film, kind of like A Scanner Darkly, and it follows a young man that seems to be constantly stuck in a state of lucid dreaming. From there is weaves this way and that through overly dramatic philosophical discussions on life, the state of being, and existentialism. There's a couple neat tricks used with the animation, but other than that I just couldn't get into it.

X: The Destiny War. I actually watched this first back in high school after a weekend of Akira and Ghost in the Shell. Given what came before, I thought it to be a decent film that had some interesting aspects to it. Now, many moons later, it's still a solid and fun film. Plot is fairly straightforward, but the best parts are the action-heavy battle scenes, which eventually lead up to the coup de grâce involving Kamui and Fūma.

Borat: Cultural Learnings of America for Make Benefit Glorious Nation of Kazakhstan. Yeah, this wasn't that good. Maybe it's not my sort of humor--the kind that works only off of making other people uncomfortable or humiliating them--and our wide-eyed protagonist really got on my nerves by the middle of the movie. I did, however, enjoy the chicken.

Up next, Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix!

Saturday, July 07, 2007

In M.E.A.D.!

Ah-hah! All around funnyman Steve Wilson's latest My Elves Are Different comic takes a turn for the mundane humor. You know, like how I do it in MyLifeComics.

Click for a bigger image!

Thursday, July 05, 2007

A cool fort!

Beth Wodzinski, esteemed editor of Shimmer and my most favorite of editors since she published my very first short story, built a fort from a bunch of pillows while she recovers from a sprained ankle. Guess who gave her that suggestion? Me. I hope you didn't get that question wrong.

Anyways, it looks to be a formidable structure despite the fact that a garden gnome managed to somehow fail at protecting those inside. Needs a moat of chocolate pudding though. And maybe a couple of stationary guards armed with tridents. Now we're talking! Man, I want to build a fort...

Tuesday, July 03, 2007

Carrie - Review

Carrie by Stephen King

A quick summary stolen from back cover: The story of misunderstood high school girl Carrie White, her extraordinary telekinetic powers, and her violent rampage of revenge, remains one of the most barrier-breaking and shocking novels of all time.

How I'd sum it up to another reader: Well, published in 1974, it's the book that launched King's career and made him a superstar in little time. Not his greatest work and certainly the least polished of anything I've read in a few years, but still a fun and straightforward thriller. It didn't feel scary at all, especially from being told in its epistolary structure, but I found the building suspense to be the most enjoyable aspect of Carrie, making the events of Prom Night so much more sweeter.

The book is about Carietta White, a closeted and emotionally abused soul, who begins to realize the telekinetic powers boiling inside her during her first period. She's teased and humiliated, and finds little comfort from fellow schoolmates and her own mother. Sue Snell, a girl who initially teased Carrie with chants of "PLUG IT UP," comes full circle and feels terrible about what she's done. To make up for it, Snell insists that her boyfriend take Carrie to the prom and to show her a good time. Carrie is wary, but gives in; but when two buckets of pigs' blood is dumped all over her at her most endearing moment, she snaps. And nothing can stop a girl with a cracked state of mind. For anyone who was ever bullied in high school, Carrie's retribution against her classmates is both horrifying and justifiable.

The cover sez and shows: Half a face of a snarling, teenage girl. Everything is coated in red, which I could either take as a play on the pigs' blood thing or a disturbing accident involving Carrie's period from the opening chapter. Let's go with the first idea there, for the sake of being sanitary, yes?

Number of dragons, wizards, and reluctant farmer boys: Well, Carietta White isn't exactly a wizard but maybe sort of close...

Hardest name to pronounce in my head: Henry Grayle. Otherwise, no toughies here.

Best part: I absolutely loved the story of the shower of rocks that little three-year-old Carrie caused one summer after spying her neighbor's exposed breasts. Er, dirtypillows.

Worst part: The writing, at times, leaves a lot to be desired. Clearly, it shines of King's stylistic and flaunting prose, but it occasionally dips into subpar territory. The snippets and excerpts from later published books or interviews were distracting and could have been chopped for more meaty details during the action scenes.

Random thoughts and theories: The ending left me a bit fuzzy. Just before Carrie White fades from existence, she uses her powers to have Sue Snell miscarry. Was this done for revenge? Or as an act of kindness? I believe the movie ending differs greatly from this one, but I've yet to see it. Can anyone recommend it?

If said book were a ride at a Disney theme park: It'd be a pretty disturbing ride.

If in school its grade would be: B

Come on, write us a haiku:
Pigs' blood for a pig
She'll flex her way through Prom Night
They reap what they sow

Overall, y'all: It's a decent read, but not the first Stephen King novel I'd tel anyone to check out. That would be Bag of Bones, which still freaks me out to this day.

Books I might or might not compare to: The Shining by Stephen King and The Neverending Story by Michael Ende

Some linkage: Buy the book at Amazon, and check out all the errors people found in the book.

Monday, July 02, 2007

New online fiction

Well, July is here which means a bunch of new issues for online zines. Here are some of my favorites that y'all should check out:

Clarkesworld Magazine - Issue 10, July 2007, with fiction by Cat Rambo and Darren Speegle.

Helix - Issue #5, Summer 2007, with fiction and poetry by Eugie Foster, Samantha Henderson, and Jane Yolen, among others.

Farrago's Wainscot - Part III: Summer, with fiction and poetry by Beth Bernonich, E. Sedia, and Catherynne M. Valente, among others.

Lots of good stories. I especially enjoyed Darren Speegle's "Transtexting Pose," a weirdly neat story of a young girl's special project.

Sunday, July 01, 2007

Two new favorite games

I've been playing a lot of Munchkin and Settlers of Catan lately. These both are quickly becoming my new favorite tabletop games. I'm really loving Munchkin for its simplicity and sheer amount of silliness. The Duck of Doom? Genius. Plus, it's a great group game that just about anyone can learn within a few turns. With so many sets already in existence it's always going to be a different experience each time.

Now, Settlers of Catan is a very different game. Gone are the puns, jokes, and over-the-top humor. Instead we have a game of micromanaging and deep thinking. It's a battle of resources and land, and each game is different thanks to a board made up of randomly assorted tiles. So far I haven't won once, but I'm still having a good time. A player wins by reaching a set number of victory points which are earned through a bunch of different tasks such as building the longest road and gathering the largest army. It's fun and complicated. Unlike Munchkin, a Settlers game can take up to three hours to play.