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Tuesday, July 17, 2007

Harry Potter, Dead Characters, and Other Spooky Stuff (Updated)

So, the full Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows book has leaked and now fans are scurrying about to find out who lives, who dies, and what happily ever after looks like in the Potterverse. I won’t be one of those trying to discover the ending, although I am curious to see how JK Rowling ties up her many loose ends.

The funniest part about me reading the book, though, is that I can’t stand some of the characters that I’m supposed to love. Harry is a little jerk. He started as a sympathetic character and then grew up to be a teenager--in a way, I can’t help but feel that Rowling tapped into the same vein of whiny adolescence that made Luke Skywalker seem so irritating to me when I was a kid. Then there is Dumbledore with his so-obvious favoritism and unmatched ability to put the lives of children in the school in danger--let’s just say that I don’t understand how this intellectual featherweight is considered to be such a wise person in the Potterverse.

There is one character that I’ve grown to appreciate, though. Snape may have a bit of evil in him (or, maybe, a big bit of evil), but he has consistently done what he could to keep Harry safe. Whatever his native instincts, he does continue to do his best to do what is right (that last bit in The Half-Blood Prince notwithstanding). He’s cranky, snippy, vengeful, occasionally mean, and hardly pleasant--but he’s gotten a raw deal from Harry and his gang of snot-nose-know-it-alls from the beginning. It’s tough to be Severus Snape, but he soldiers on, and that counts big to me.

Since I won’t be indulging in he ultimate spoiler, I have only my imagination to give me clues to what Deathly Hallows holds for me. For example, unlike many, I do believe that Dumbledore is dead and that he will stay that way. It would be cheap (and it would cheapen the emotion that some people felt when he died in the last book) to conjure up some parlor trick to bring him back. I insist that he stay dead because the alternative would possibly ruin the series for me.

I don’t believe that Harry will die. He isn’t quite a messianic figure, so his ultimate sacrifice isn’t necessary for the book to wind up with a satisfactory ending. Aside from that, the kid deserves a chance to grow up and experience life outside the shadow of ultimate evil that has hovered over him since the beginning of the series. Given the growth of Snape, I do think that he will die. I think he will die in service to the gang of snot-nose-know-it-alls--perhaps saving the life of Harry or one of the others--in some way that completes his redemption and perhaps even gives Harry a moment of thought about the assumptions he had made and the small cruelties that he and his friends had shown the teacher.

As a bonus, though, I think one of the friends--either Hermione or Ron--will be killed at some point in the book. It’s the Kleenex moment that the series has been crying for; a moment that will put an emotional spin on the series that no one will forget.

But what the hell do I know? I’m just a guy who thinks that JK Rowling did a damned fine job of creating a little world of magic that has been enjoyable as a minor, occasional escape. Good for her (and good for all the kids that might have been bit by the reading bug because of Harry and the rest of the crew).

None of which explains why this guy was following me with his Evil Satellites of Doom during my visit to St. Augustine this past week. Creepy bastard.

Update: Speaking of creepy, this has to be somewhere in that conversation. Ewww.

Wednesday, June 20, 2007

For the Record, 20 June 2007

For the record, I would like to note that I still find it amazing that OJ “If I Did It” Simpson would ever even consider publishing a “fictional” confession to the murder of his former wife and that other guy. Let’s go to make believe land and pretend that Simpson isn’t the murderer that we all know him to be. In that case, publishing the book is a ghoulish way to play on the deaths. What kind of sickness would make you write a fictional account of your ex-wife’s murder? A fictional account that you insist was just a way to help ensure your kids’ futures (which does make some sense since, after this, I’m pretty sure those kids are going to need ongoing--and very expensive therapy--to get them through life).

Now, let’s come back to the real world, where we’re pretty convinced that OJ killed Nicole and Ron Goldman and then made a slow-motion run for the border complete with fake mustache, passport, and a bit of a bankroll. In this case, the publication of a pseudo confession is idiotic. It shows a continued and callous hatred of the families of the victims, a complete disregard for what this must look like to Simpson’s own kids, and a kind of arrogance that seems to confirm most peoples’ beliefs that there are really two justice systems in America: one that exists for us poor folk and one that gives the wealthy and the famous like Simpson (and Blake and the occasional Kennedy) a free pass when they go around killing folks.

Now, that said, is anyone surprised that the book finally leaked? I don’t think so. Because as ghoulish as OJ is, the public matches him. When it comes to eating up the stories of the bloody famous, the stories--fictional or not--always come out because someone is willing to pay for it.

And, for the record, while it might have been a particularly effective way of killing the guy, supplying the spark to a guy who has just covered himself in petrol isn’t going to win any PR awards and doesn’t help the image of a certain “less than lethal” weapon. I feel for the family, although the poor, dead bastard who died brought on his own death.

Speaking of records: anyone who uses a Celine Dion song as his or her presidential campaign song automatically loses my vote. For the record, Madrugada’s “You Better Leave” might be a better choice for the opposition party.

Just sayin’.

We should all be paying attention here: the record paints a convincing portrait of the importance of religious tolerance in any society.

For the record, good things happen, too.

I’ve been on record for some time as believing that one of the best solutions to the southern front of our immigration problem is a vibrant Mexican economy and better governance. Something closer to parity in opportunities would ease immigration worries tremendously. That parity seems pretty unlikely, though, doesn’t it?

For the record: Adam “Pacman” Jones + friends w/ guns + strip clubs = bad things. You might imagine that he would have learned that lesson by now. You would be wrong. Seriously, not joking even a little bit: Pacman is a troubled young man who needs to learn not only how to handle himself in the public eye, but also how to distance himself from his current group of friends. Unless he changes his ways, his “entourage” is going to ruin his football career--and that’s the best case scenario. Worst case leaves him dead or in jail for a very long time.

And you can quote me on that. Not that it’s very quotable or anything, but I was pretty sure I needed a strong statement to end the post. Which I’ve totally ruined with my explanation.

Damnit.

Thursday, May 31, 2007

About A Thousand Splendid Suns

Let’s just say that it looks like something Ayaan Hirsi Ali would appreciate tremendously. And that’s a good thing.

The review definitely doesn’t make A Thousand Splendid Suns sound as good as Kite Runner--which was one of the finest novels I’ve read in the last few years--but it does make it sound well worth reading.

Sunday, November 12, 2006

Variable Star: Well, It Ain’t Heinlein

When my buddy Jerry told me about the “new” Heinlein novel that was coming out, I was excited. When I read that it was a “collaboration” consisting of a series of notes and an unfinished outline that was fleshed out into a full story by Spider Robinson, I was concerned. Then, when I read the book, I was simply disappointed.

Variable Star is all Heinlein in the larger plot points. In the story arc of the young Joel Johnston, the touch of Heinlein is evident. And, whether they came from Robinson’s imagination or Heinlein’s notes, there are little points littering the story that either tie it to others that Heinlein wrote or were used in similar ways in other stories. Heinlein fans will find it impossible to miss some of the references.

The plot, though, isn’t fleshed out as well as an authentic Heinlein book; and, worse, the story isn’t told as well. The characters don’t have the distinct flavor, the conversations don’t have the same refined edge, and, ultimately, the whole thing tastes like a sort of mediocre imitation. Where Heinlein never seemed to have a problem with expressing his thoughts without vulgarity, Robinson seems to delight in a sort of juvenile use of bad words. For that matter, the puns and “clever” bits are all sophomoric and wholly out of place.

Worst of all, though, is the dull and shallow description of 9/11 and the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. Heinlein himself was never opposed to a little political speech, but I always found his thoughts interesting and thought provoking. Robinson, by contrast, just grates with the abrasive discussion that shows an almost childish view of our country’s current political situation. That it is stuck in a work that has Heinlein’s name so prominently displayed makes the sin all the worse.

I won’t speculate as to what Heinlein would or would have thought of his country’s actions post-9/11. I imagine that, like most people, he would have found things both admirable and disturbing in his government and his fellow citizens. But I have a hard time imagining him writing something like this:

“Shortly after Captain Leslie LeCroix returned home safely from the historic first voyage to Luna, fanatical extremist Muslims from a tiny nation committed a great atrocity against a Christian superpower. Suicide terrorists managed to horribly murder thousands of innocent civilians. The grief and rage of their surviving compatriots must have been at least comparable to what we all feel now.

“Intelligently applied, that much national will and economic force could easily have eliminated ever such fanatic from the globe. At that time there were probably less than a hundred that rabid, and by definition they were so profoundly stupid or deranged as to be barely functional. It was always clear their primitive atrocity had succeeded so spectacularly only by the most evil luck.

“We all know what the superpower chose to do instead. It crushed two tiny bystander nations, killing some dozens of actual terrorists, and hundreds of thousands of civilians as innocent as their own dead loved ones had been. The first time it was suggested that nation’s leaders had perhaps known about the terror plot and failed to give warning. The second invasion didn’t even bother with an excuse, even though that nation had been famously hostile to terrorists. Both nations were muslim...”

It goes on in that same manner, both poorly written and head-scratchingly wrong in its characterizations of our enemies (Less than a hundred world wide? All so profoundly stupid or deranged as to be utterly dysfunctional in the real world? Has Robinson read anything about the terrorists, their followers, or their supporters in the Middle East?) and our reasons for pursuing war in both Afghanistan and Iraq. More aggravating to me than the politics and marginal writing, though, was that the conversation was so completely out of place with the scope of the tragedy facing the people in the novel and just as out of place as a discussion about the results of that tragedy.

My ex-wife liked puzzles. One of the cool things about puzzles is that some of the companies that make them use the same die cut to make multiple puzzles. So, you could take two puzzles and put them side-by-side and exchange pieces between the two. The effect of the randomly-replaced puzzle pieces was jarring. Robinson’s critique of American foreign policy post-9/11 was just as jarringly out of place as those purposefully-mutated puzzles, only with Robinson there is no good excuse.

It’s worth noting that I’ve never enjoyed Robinson’s work. Fan’s of his work will probably enjoy the book immensely, just as there will be Heinlein fans who disagree (vehemently) with my view. For me, though, this is a perfectly good Heinlein plot spoiled by an inferior and much less interesting writer. Robinson seems a nice enough fellow and he has had his own success in the field; I certainly don’t wish him ill. But this is a project I wish he hadn’t taken on--a faux-Heinlein that doesn’t do the plot or the memory of the Grand Master justice.

Update: And here we find what would have been a brilliant idea for the book.

Handing them to a dozen different authors, each of whom then writes a novella, might have been interesting.

Friday, January 27, 2006

Comcast’s Free OnDemand Movies and Is The Tattered Cover Trying to Break My Heart?

Unemployment and having my desk next to the television have lead me to dip into Comcast’s free OnDemand movies. See, they have all the content that you have to pay for, but then they have a bunch of movies and old stuff that you can play for free--and, neato, it will pause, fast forward, and rewind almost as if you were watching it on your VCR. Of course, most of the stuff is of questionable value, but that doesn’t stop me from watching it.

That’s because I’m not afraid to recognize the good in really bad stuff.

Except Weekend at Bernies 2. Where I’ve been forced to recognize the bad in really bad stuff. It’s made me question whether the first one really was as good as I remember.

Damned, evil Weekend at Bernies 2.

None of which changes the fact that one of Denver’s coolest stores is making a change that may not be for the best. At least, it’s not for my best.

Tattered Cover, which truly and honestly may be the best book store in the world, is shuttering its three story Cherry Creek store (and the restaurant, the Fourth Floor, up top) because it couldn’t afford a new lease with the owner of the building.

That store has been there for about as long as I’ve been alive. I’ve accidentally gone on a date there. I’ve enjoyed the place for both the breadth of its offerings and for the fact that it is my favorite place in the high-cost and slickly-developed Cherry Creek shopping area. Tattered Cover isn’t just a store, it’s an institution.

But, for economic reasons, the store is moving to a new location off of Colfax. How can this be a good thing? I’ll wait to pass my final judgment on the place until I’ve seen it, but I have a hard time imaging that it will match the feeling of the original since, God knows, the downtown store didn’t manage the trick. Not that it will be bad, just that there is something not quite right about the place. To be fair, it might be the lingering aroma of some of the residence-challenged patrons.

If you know what I mean.

Hopefully the move works out well, hopefully the new store is wonderful, and hopefully the owner has made a good decision. The truth is that I’m emotionally attached to the old store in the old building, so it would be hard for me to recognize change as being a good thing.

Wednesday, November 16, 2005

Review: Dog Train

Dog Train Cover
I’d never heard of children’s’ book author Sandra Boynton before I heard about Mark Lanegan’s contribution to a just-released book and CD combo. Mark Lanegan--I may have mentioned him before--the man who writes odes to heroin, whose songs explore death and broken relationships in some of the most stark and melancholy ways imaginable.

That Mark Lanegan was going to be singing music for kids (along with a cast of other oddballs). Of course, there was a strange level of excitement in happening upon the book at Barnes and Noble this past weekend. But it was excitement tempered by fear: would his song make children cry or shudder in fear? And, just as disconcerting was the idea of a duet with Weird Al and Kate Winslet. Before I jump into a full review, let me just say that one of my fears was well founded and one completely baseless.

The book doesn’t actually present a story--it’s a collection of songs with corresponding lyrics and illustrations. While I have little room for judging how successful the presentation will be with kids, I can say that it is quite successful with adults. Just sitting on my desk at work, in an office of just ten people, there were three people who said they were going to order the thing--one for his son, another for a friend’s children, and the last for her husband.

If kids like it as much as their parents do, Dog Train should be pretty successful.

The book is broken into three parts with the first being big illustrations and partial lyrics, the second part with music and complete lyrics, and the third comprising a little information about each of the artists. For example, Mark Lanegan, we learn, is an “evocative, infinitely cool singer and songwriter, much sought after for his distinctive low-down voice, and his remarkable vocal and stylistic range.” Which sounds about right if you aren’t going to write about jails and rehab.

As a package, it’s fun stuff. The music is the thing, though, isn’t it?

And the music is good. It starts out with the Spin Doctors’ tongue in cheek “Tantrum” and goes through a series of songs ranging from utterly outrageous to simply beautiful. I found myself giggling during John Ondrasik’s disturbingly catchy “Penguin Lament” when he croons, “Little legs cannot stride so we rock side to side, side to side, side to side, to move. We can’t even fly!”

Just as good are Blues Traveller singing the title song, “Dog Train,” Alison Krauss’ gorgeous “Evermore,” and the light bluegrass “Dragonfire” sung by Rob Hyman and Eric Bazilian. In fact, while the songs trend towards simplicity, this isn’t just dumbed down kid entertainment, and that is all the better. I can’t help but think that some parents will rejoice simply because this is kid-friendly music that they won’t mind playing.

The range of performers is impressive, the laughs genuine, and the sound quality good.

But what about Mark Lanegan and the strange Weird Al/Kate Winslet pairing?

The duet, “I Need a Nap,” is out of place on this disk. It comes across as a parody of Disney movie music--and that isn’t meant in the nicest possible way. The rest of the songs are funny and original with, perhaps, the exception of “Boring Song” by Steve Lawrence and Eydie Gorme, which is short and good-natured where “I Need a Nap” is merely tedious. That’s the bad news.

The good news is that Mark Lanegan, if he weren’t covered in some pretty odd tattoos, could probably moonlight singing kids’ songs. His voice is warm and light, his tone is wry but not overdone, and the song (as, I believe all of them were, written by Sandra Boynton) is charming. It’s a bluesy tale of a bear and his sneakers--an addictive song with a funny punch line.

I bought the CD because I’m a completeist, but I was happily surprised by the music and the humor. I don’t know that I would recommend it to any adult who has overdosed on irony or cynicism--the urge to sneer would be too great--but for any grown-up who wants their children to listen to good music or who can enjoy kid flicks unashamedly, this could be a quality Christmas gift this holiday season.

Kid friendly, Zomby approved.

Visit Boynton’s Web site.

Thursday, October 27, 2005

Late Night Reading

It’s late night, and I’ve just finished packing and printing out my boarding passes for tomorrow’s flight. I settled in to read a little before going to sleep, and the reading material of choice is The Atlantic. Even though the magazine seems to be drifting further to the left, I tend to find a lot worth enjoying in its pages. The food articles are wonderful, in particular, as are the book reviews.

I like the book reviews because the trend toward the bloodthirsty. Blunt, economical with words, and often right on the mark. Here’s the ending for the review of Raising Boys Without Men.

Someday American women may realize that the great achievement of civilization wasn’t Erica Jong’s zipless fuck of yesteryear. It was convincing men that they had an obligation to contain their sexual energies within marriage and to support--economically and emotionally--the children they created in that marriage. You go, June Cleaver!

Priceless and perfect.

Now, back to reading…

Wednesday, October 12, 2005

Insomnia Moment

I had intended to go to sleep a few hours ago. I got caught up reading Khaled Hosseini’s The Kite Runner instead, wandering my way through most of the book and finally getting to the point where I need to go to sleep.

Just one more chapter, I swear…

Anyway, so far the book is not only beautifully written, but it is heartbreaking and cruel and compelling. I realized that one of the reasons I kept reading was that I so desperately wanted something good to happen--for, somehow, the protagonist to make amends for his sins.

So, yes, just one more chapter. I swear.

Tuesday, August 16, 2005

Brilliant

The g-phrase bought me a copy of Bernard Goldberg’s 100 People Who Are Screwing Up American (and Al Franken is #37). So far it’s an enjoyable, easy read with more substance than I had expected.

A sample:

They [America bashers] love some hypothetical, idealized America--one that would redistribute wealth and outlaw gas-guzzling SUVs and celebrate every aspect of “multiculturalism” and tolerate every kind of thought and behavior. But they don’t--God forbid!--love the America that we actually live in. Only a simpleton could love that America!

I have a feeling I’m going to enjoy this book.

The g-phrase says that Goldberg’s writing reminds her of me. I’m taking that as a pretty high compliment.

I’m not sure how Goldberg would feel, though…

Tuesday, August 09, 2005

In Case You Were Wondering… (III)

1. Andy, (possibly) Matt, and I will be deciding the location of the Rocky Mountain Blogger Bash tomorrow night. So be looking for the announcement of the venue (along with directions and stuff) Thursday morning.

There is still time to let us know that you’ll be coming (especially if you plan to buy me shots--and I know you do).

2. “Carry Home.” If I ever write a screenplay, I want this song to be on the soundtrack of the multi-gazillion dollar mega hit that I’m sure to have penned. It’s a cover of the Gun Club song, although it takes on an entirely new feel in Mark Lanegan’s version. The rest of the CD, I’ll Take Care of You, is just as good and well worth the purchase.

I thought it would be nice to share.

3. I have fond memories of the ol’ blog-city version of ResurrectionSong. Which is only one of the reasons I’m going to point y’all to Combs Spouts Off--the other of which is that he engages in telling me how wrong I was about some of my Best of Heinlein picks and comes up with some good answers of his own.

4. So the Mayor Ito of Nagasaki thinks that nuclear deterrence as a strategy for keeping the peace is a bad thing. Man, I’m feeling a serious 80’s vibe on this one; it’s almost worth ignoring.

But he asks and I feel obligated to answer for myself (your mileage may vary).

“We understand your anger and anxiety over the memories of the horror of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks. Yet, is your security actually enhanced by your government’s policies of maintaining 10,000 nuclear weapons, of carrying out repeated subcritical nuclear tests, and of pursuing the development of new mini nuclear weapons?” Ito asked.

The answer, of course, is yes. Yes, I do feel safer knowing that my country has the power to project its will incrementally from diplomatic pressure in the UN to a single SEAL team involved in the most surgical of missions to the punishing air strikes that kept Libya quiet for so many years to the kind of military expedition that can topple the majority of the world’s governments in just a matter of weeks to the threat of nuclear devastation that ensures that people take our words seriously.

Honestly, there isn’t another country in the world that I would trust with that much power and I hope that Americans realize that it is always in our best interest to keep our government on the shortest possible leash. Using the right tool to support our international interests is vital; but the knowledge that we have an impressively stocked tool chest most certainly is a comfort.

For that matter, I think that it could be argued that the only thing that kept the Cold War from becoming hot enough to destroy Europe in another World War was the nuclear deterrent. 

Wednesday, August 03, 2005

Heinlein’s Best?

The Moon is a Harsh Mistress
So Cutter got me thinking: what was Heinlein’s best novel?

Was it The Moon is a Harsh Mistress--a brilliant political and social commentary wrapped up in an exciting story about revolution? How about Stranger in a Strange Land, his best-known book? The amazingly wide-ranging Time Enough for Love is not only a massive book, but it encompasses so many different genres of fiction all tied up into a coherent science fiction theme.

Friday deserves mention as does Job: A Comedy of Justice. But many people prefer the earlier period where it would be foolish to ignore Starship Troopers. The g-phrase is partial to her battered and well-loved copy of The Door Into Summer. And Have Space Suit--Will Travel may have been my favorite book as a young teen--unless it was Tunnel in the Sky. Or Starman Jones.

Sadly, after all that, I’ve probably missed a book that could easily qualify as Heinlein’s best--and if that had bee all he’d written, it would have qualified as an amazing legacy.

As for me, my very favorite is still The Moon is a Harsh Mistress.

Unless it’s Time Enough for Love...

Monday, July 18, 2005

Just 100?

When Bernard Goldberg settled down to write his book, 100 People Who Are Screwing Up America: (and Al Franken Is #37), keeping the honor down to 100 had to have been a tough job. But, frankly, any list that has both Michael Savage and Michael Moore on it has to be worth looking into.

I went on my monthly book buying binge this weekend, so I won’t be able to pick it up this billing cycle. Next month, though, this one moves to the top of the list.

Read an interview with Goldberg on NRO.

Thursday, June 09, 2005

He Could Have Been Remembered

H. Beam Piper took his own life 1964 and not many people have ever heard of him, and a good portion of his books are out of print. It didn’t have to be that way.

Back in the mid-80’s, a friend of mine gave me a stack of Piper’s books to read. He knew that I loved speculative fiction books, knew that I was a fan of Heinlein (especially his juveniles), and thought that I would be happy reading books like Little Fuzzy, The Cosmic Computer, and Federation. He was right.

Piper wasn’t quite to the same level as Heinlein, but his books were involving and fun. As a man obsessed with history (in fact, he would much rather have written historical fiction), his books always seemed to work within their own historical context. In fact, The Cosmic Computer, which I just finished reading for what must be the fifth time, could almost have been one of Heinlein’s juvenile books. The main character is a youngish man learning to be a leader; he is confident, intelligent, driven, and just a little wet behind the ears.

While Piper didn’t capture the small moments as well as the best authors, and while sometimes the passage of time and the breaks between scenes can be confusing, his ideas were well worth exploring. He wrote about vivid characters, far off planets, and grand adventures of discovery. Politics, pirates, and the past were all the things that caught my imagination and wouldn’t let go.

Most of the Piper books that I read weren’t mine; they had belonged in my friend’s vast library. When he passed away--as much a victim of his own self-destruction as if he had committed suicide like Piper, himself--the books were gone. A few years ago, though, I started trolling eBay and Amazon’s used books to find the books that were out of print. Little Fuzzy and the Lord Kalven stories are back in print, and my collection is mostly complete.

Sadly, it’s a small collection. He died shortly after he made the transition from pulp magazines to novels and he wasn’t what you could call prolific. Let this be a note for you science fiction fans out there: if you haven’t read his work, they are well worth tracking down.

I’ll be starting in on Federation tonight with a little tiny bit of sadness. I’ll be thinking about both Piper and my friend--thinking about how they both died well before they should have. They died before they fulfilled their promise.

Federation is a brilliant compilation of some of the short stories that make up a specific period of Piper’s future history, but there should have been more. Piper is gone and, sadly, mostly forgotten.

It really didn’t have to be that way.

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