Monthly Archives: August 2006

Nuklear Age

I’ve noticed lately that I barely have any time to spare for my leisure stuff. Sure, I read (although a bit slowly of late), and I get to listen to a lot more radio or books on CD during my commute than I previously had, but keeping up on TV watching is getting to be a chore, and my internet reading has fallen way off. But nothing has gone so badly as the webcomics. I’m down from about 20 per day on average to none in nearly three weeks, basically since the new job started. I’ll need to catch up soon, too, lest I have no idea where I was on any of them. (Well, okay, I know the date, but it still seems like a good idea.)

Among my handful of favorites is Brian Clevinger’s 8-Bit Theater, which on top of being reliably funny is what inspired me to finally play Final Fantasy all the way through. He spent a lot of months dropping hints about and then eventually published a book, separate from his webcomic presence but purportedly with the same humor. But it was out of a minor press, so I shrugged, Atlas-like, and moved on with my life. Until one fateful day at the used bookstore[1], when I spotted it on the shelf. For, admittedly, a ridiculous amount of money, since it was half-price off a truly ludicrous $42.95. But, y’know, I was probably never going to see it cheaper, or ever again for that matter, so I struck, snakelike.

No, that’s stupid. I mean, even if snakes picked things up by striking at them, how would it get out of the store? It can’t very well shoplift a book, what with the lack of backpacks or baggy shirts, neither could it pay, what with the lack of pockets. Hell, it takes pretty much all of their ingenuity to get all the way down the jetway and onto the motherfucking plane.

I guess my point here is, I got the book.

First of all, I have a complaint. The editing is atrocious. I mean, there are random grammatical oddities that I could get past, and there are places where what should be an s is randomly an a instead, like the spellchecker was never engaged or something. I could get past those too. I could even get past the homonym misspellings, probably. There are two things I cannot get past though. One is the various tics and things related to invented technology, regional dialect spelling to imply accent, etc. You can’t really play with that stuff in a book where the reader can’t trust the editing to be done correctly, because the reader is left to guess which things are on purpose and which aren’t. But most egregious of all, on a semi-regular basis, past tense verbs are presented as present tense. ‘The rocket blast off into the sky’ instead of ‘…blasted off…’ Is that some kind of local to Florida thing that I’ve never heard of, or would it drive everyone as crazy as it drove me?

Despite all that, I was able to get into the story. Nuklear Age is a prose version of comics about the adventures of Nuklear Man and Atomik Lad and their friends and nemeses. Influences from Batman to the Tick are obvious every time you turn a page, not to mention randomly inserted parodies of all kinds of modern fantasy and science fiction completely unrelated to comics. The humor is hit or miss, but more than enough hit to keep me laughing. Some of the characters are cardboard, though I think I’ve established that doesn’t bother me. A few are layered and nuanced, and they were enough to let me latch onto it, have someone to root for, and generally enjoy the ride. Except…

Old Usenet lore has it that the mark of doom for a book is when you utter the seven deadly words, “I no longer care about these characters.” At that point, the book is no longer for you, and you should stop reading it forthwith. It’s probably fair to say that I’m not good at following that adage, or at least that I’m not good about recognizing in myself when I stop caring, or when I should. Be that as it may, it’s not the issue here. Rather, I’ve found something that might be deadlier to one’s enjoyment of a book even than that.

What happens when you find out that the author no longer cares about these characters? Or worse, never did? It’s possible to care negatively about characters, or to care and still allow bad things to happen to them, sure. But to simply not care at all, and just use them as a means to an end that has little or no relation to their circumstances, to their depth as characters? Maybe I’m naive, and most authors don’t care about anything beyond making some kind of point, and the people they use to get there are just pawns invented in their mind to be tossed away or raised to queens at will. If so, at least most of them hide that from me. I’ll keep reading the comic, and I’d probably read another book he put out, if I could find it for cheaper than this, at least. There’s some skill there, even if it’s unpolished at the moment. But I’ll certainly not do it without someone else assuring me that the end goal is a bit less puerile this time.

Because the last 100 or so pages of this book? Imagine being kicked in the crotch repeatedly, but you know you can get through it because of how good it will feel when you’re no longer getting kicked in the crotch, and that thought alone, as simple as it is, is enough. But then, if it turns out you never do stop getting kicked in the crotch? It’s kind of like that.

[1] One Fateful Day at the Bookstore would probably make a good title for my biography.

Snakes on a Plane

I know what you’re thinking. I’ve been talking about Snakes on a Plane since even before Jon Stewart heard about it, and now it’s been out for a week with nary a peep from me. I’ve been trying (unsuccessfully, so far) to resolve the spam issue hereabouts, and that has been taking almost all of my attention. It sucks, but there it is. (Incidentally, spammer people. I delete all of it. It’s not going to help you any to put it here. I guarantee you send me more spam in a given week than I get hits, even if all of my readers were gullible idiots. What you are doing is useless. It’s not going to make you any money. I promise. Please stop. Or when you get indicted and are being transported to the trial, I may very well… but I’m getting ahead of myself.)

What you have to understand is how very, very tired I was. Running on low sleep from dealing with new job, 90 minutes of commute per day, grandfather in the hospital, and still trying to have some semblance of a personal life. So by 10 PM on Thursday night, I was already more than able to go right to sleep. Staying awake for an extra couple of hours to watch a movie instead, that was the stuff of insanity. And yet, it was motherfucking snakes on a motherfucking plane, man. How am I supposed to turn that down?

Well, it’s like this. I have a history, when it’s late and I’m tired, of falling asleep. Shocking, I know. But I even mean when I have every intention of staying awake. It’s a combination of comfort and darkness that is usually unbeatable by my higher brain functions. And I was a lot more tired than usual. The point of all this is to make it clear that when I say I stayed awake for the whole movie, that’s not just some idle aside which should have been obvious before you ever started reading. I was motherf-. Well, I was really tired, is my point.

Even despite all my protestations, I’ll admit that this isn’t the finest endorsement ever. But really, how much better of an endorsement could I give than the title of the movie? Well, for one, I am able to confirm that there were moth- *ahem* snakes on that plane. And they bit people in all kinds of excellent places. And a wide variety of two-dimensional characters were in danger of dying at any moment, and often did. Scripted lines and situations alike were laugh out loud funny, and if you didn’t really care what happened to most of the characters, well, that’s kind of okay, because the point is the spectacle of it. It was, in short, the very archetype of an action/horror movie.

Now, go see it.

The Descent

I have not been to the theater in freaking forever. It sucks. I have things I plan to see, and then I fail or get delayed by events and circumstances. Like, there’s this intersection near my house that’s under construction, right? And it has a right turn lane separated from the main road by the triangular concrete embankment? Only, due to construction, that thing is currently doubling as a hole in the ground. As I was driving by it one day, I imagined that thing where your car is dangling over empty space and you can’t back up or go forward, and you’re all trapped and helpless? It was no good. Then, just a few days later it rains for the first time in, so far as I can remember, the history of Texas. Naturally, people can’t drive in rain, and as I’m going by the intersection, this young couple has lived out my premonition. And it’s raining, so of course I had to stop and help, ’cause that just sucks. Net result: car freed after there were four people helping, my lower back hurt for about 48 hours, and I accidentally tracked mud all over the carpet at my destination. If I’d been planning to go from that destination to see a movie, but had been prevented by the stopping to help and then the cleaning the carpet? This would have been a perfect example of my point.

So, yeah, events and circumstances. Maybe I’ll get caught up, but usually I fail to, which is why I hate to get behind. For instance, this weekend I saw a completely unrelated current movie instead of one of the two or three from the past few weeks. But, see, it was a horror movie, and if I don’t get to those right away, a) who will? and b) they might be pulled early due to poor numbers, in that people keep screwing me over by liking movies about gay cowboys eating pudding instead of teenage camp counselors being murdered by pudding. (Y’know, basically. Thematically.)

Thusly, I saw The Descent, a British movie; you can tell by all the British accents, and by how the bulk of the film in the Appalachians contained neither overalls nor banjos to any degree at all. After an opening scene fraught with both tension and tragedy, we pick back up a year later with our band of intrepid and extreme female adventurers meeting up to explore a cave system and bring their sisterhood closer together than ever before. Only, instead there’s a cave-in followed by the mysteries of the earth, which mostly include dire personal revelations punctuated by bloody murder. From, you know, human cannibals evolved to underground living over thousands of years. I mean, I complained about the lack of banjos, but I have to admit these people do understand the basic nature of the Appalachian region.

Take one small part The Cave, one small part Carrie, and stir it into a bowlful of How the Blair Witch Got Her Groove Back, and you have this movie here, about which I regret absolutely no part of my experience. Watch especially for the dramatic framing in the last several scenes, about from the point where our heroine Sarah steals River Tam’s pose at the end of Serenity until the very end. If it wasn’t for the fact that I’m sure the director intended them to be serious moments of character growth and breakthrough instead of the sheer hilarity that they actually are, I think I could have a new best (film) friend.

A Feast for Crows

Way back toward the end of last year, I got the fourth Song of Ice and Fire book. I was nowhere near ready to read it yet, even by my piles of to-read books standards, but on the other hand, sometimes books will be more discounted in the first few weeks than later on in the first few months, and it was anyone’s guess when I would be ready to read it. Thusly, action! In the form of buying a book from a bookstore, I mean, which some people might fail to characterize as an action-laden event. Nuts to them!

Let’s fast forward to a few months later, when I am in fact ready to read A Feast for Crows, fresh as I am from my rereading the rest of the series. Actually, though, that would be useless. ‘Cause, hey, look, there’s a book I haven’t read yet. How am I supposed to say anything meaningful about it? Answer: By going just slightly further ahead into the future, which is to say my recent past, when I finished the book. I’m a problem solver, you know. That’s how I got re-employed and all. Well, sort of. That is the field into which I got re-employed, though it’s possible that the talent also played a role in resolving the joblessness, too. Post-event analysis is a job for people who are not me, though.

Anyhow. Good book. I was wrong in my prediction of it being Sansa’s, though I certainly feel the girl has improved to a tolerable character. Considering that other people who improved to merely tolerable in previous volumes are now downright likable and interesting, I choose to take this as a good sign. Really, though, the book is Cersei’s. Despite certain unrelated characters and events, the bulk of the story is about the way she handles rulership of a kingdom shattered by war, famine, and soon the winter of endless zombies (perpetual motto: We’re going to be huge in the next book, honest!) Without going into spoiler-laden details, allow me to just say that I found her arc (and all of the arcs that whirled around hers, most notably Jaime’s) entertaining from start to finish.

Thematically, it’s every bit as dire as the title proclaims. Our continent of Westeros is teetering on the brink of eternal night, and even now, basically nobody realizes anything is particularly wrong. On the one hand, I’ve enjoyed the blindness theme immensely. On the other, the duration of it, despite being reasonable from a plot perspective, is starting to grow to Jordanian proportions. You can only have so much anticipation sans payoff before it starts to become burden instead of a delicious tease.

The next book, due out sometime in the next 6 months or so? Maybe? contains most of the characters I enjoy the most (although there are certainly a couple I enjoy in this one, lest you think this is actually a complaint), so I’m pretty excited for it to come out. On the downside, if I understood the structure of this pair of books correctly, not enough time is passing in the world for the amount of time that’s passing out here in real life between books. To cover what was supposed to be an unreferenced five year gap in events, Martin is going to have spent six or seven years in writing between the two books. Although the pace appeared to have picked up by the end of this one, that is still very much not an efficient timeline, and what with the rash of mysterious soap opera diseases that have been striking authors down lately, well, that makes me all the more concerned.

Mostly unrelatedly, I bet the new yearly Erikson is out. I ought to look into that.

Burnt Offerings

I had this whole big plan, I remember distinctly. Stay away from the vampire nearly-porn stuff for a little while. Alternate between the stack of hardbacks and the stack of graphic novels, knock out several reviews in a reasonably short time as a result. And, okay, the last part is likely to occur, or at least no less likely. But the problem with being on a plane (aside from all the motherfucking snakes, I mean) and not checking any bags is that it’s not worth it to try to bring along an unwieldy and damageable graphic novel when you could bring along a cheap paperback instead. And so, regrettably, I have read another tale of the exploits of Anita Blake.

Regrettable is an easy word to throw around in this context. For one thing, the vampire porn classification is getting to be more overt with each one I read. On the inside, sure, obviously, but I’m talking about the covers. Time was, I could pretend like it was detective fiction that happened to include the undead, and all was well. But it’s just really obviously porn to even casual passersby at this point. My street cred, always a precarious proposition at best, is taking a real hit lately. And then (getting back to the book’s steamy innards) the porniness quotient, vampire and otherwise, has risen as steeply as I was afraid it would after the last one. If the descent continues, it will be a romance novel next time, and the one after that should have its own special section in the used bookstore where the children can’t reach it.

Here’s the bad news, though. The paragraphs above do not contain my largest complaint about Burnt Offerings. Sure, okay, I was able to buy into it when our heroine graduated from ‘able to raise zombies’ to full on necromancer, with power over all of the dead. And I thought it was kind of cool in the first few books when all of the loose ends came together in a couple of climactic chapters despite seeming a Gordian mess just pages before. But now the girl is getting into all kinds of ridiculous abilities that are simultaneously overpowered and nonsensical, and simultaneously the plots are starting to feel like Ms. Hamilton has a page limit that she’s accidentally bumping up against (perhaps due to all the new and delightful sex?), which causes her to wave her wand of plot resolution and end the book on a dime. Not a good dime, either, one of those buffalo wooden dimes that are fake and worthless in every way, and by the end of the stock show you just find them laying on the street because nobody cares enough to hold onto them. Hell, not even that good. We’re talking buffalo nickels, here, people.

Oh, in case you care, the plot was about the visit of the vampiric master council, who are apparently in charge of all things vampire? Only, I guess not really, since they’ve never been mentioned before and seem to have little or no influence in America, just the Old World. That, and a pyrokinetic is maybe setting some fires around town, so Anita should help with that, since… well, for some reason. Maybe necromancers can squirt a lot of…. while I was typing that, the thought took an unfortunate turn in my head, so I’m going to stop now. Later, in what I hope will be a large number of months from now, fear for me when I get around to reading the next one, if it’s anything like this. ‘Cause, wow.