Sunday, December 28, 2008

Tis The Season!

Ahh, winter in Japan. Not a snowflake in sight, and people lining up for fried chicken. I love it!


Tradition. Big word. It's hard to talk about tradition in Japan, because I can't tell the difference between tradition, fad, and habit--I'm in a prety isolated situation, here, and my wife is not necessarily a representative sample of Japanese society. BUT...

One thing I can tell you. A Happy Kentucky Christmas is the BEST tradition in Japan.

I can't tell you how it started for sure. Apparently, the story is that when KFC first came to Japan, it was Christmas time and their campaign cenetered around happy White People (tm) eating fried chicken in front of the Christmas tree. The campaign must have been very successful, becuase it resulted in two things: A very successful KFC in Japan, and a big equal sign between Christmas and Fried Chicken.

Japan now eats chicken on Christmas. Not just KFC--grocery store chicken, convenience store chicken, everywhere sells fried chicken. However, KFC is the big winner...people line up for hours, around the block. They buy $50 roasted chickens. They make reservations a month in advance for their Chicken buckets. (They..I should say We. I am a JOYFUL participant). And on the big day, they hire traffic contollers to guide thecars into their tiny, 12 space parking lots.

I'm making NONE of this up.

Chicken on Christmas. Yum YUM!

Click Here to read the rest.

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

What The Hell...???

From The Mainichi Daily News:
Is Us President-Elect Obama Really Black?


Read it. Just...Read it.

I can't even begin to....

AARRRHHHGGGHGHGHHHGHHGHHGHGHGHGHGH!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
Click Here to read the rest.

Monday, November 10, 2008

Theater of Cruelty

I had this nice long post prepared, about how Japanese entertainment is essentially based on the idea that entertainers aren't really people--that they are slaves to their producers and are forced to do pretty much anything the TV stations want (Look up Nasubi sometime...).
I had points and different examples and reflections on what my wife calls the "celebrity tax".

I don't need it anymore.


Because I saw this:

Those are 1 and 2 year old children, racing with backpacks loaded with 2 kilos (4.4 pounds) of mochi.
People think this is funny, and they think it is cute...

I reckon they're just getting the kids ready to be a geinojin.

What a country...
**Update** Here's another link, that says pretty much everything I wanted to say.

Click Here to read the rest.

Thursday, October 30, 2008

The great reformation

Man. We've been redecorating...and it sucked. But it's done, and I'm actually quite pleased. My back hurts, and my arms are sore...but our apartment is all spacious, and clean, and well arranged.
I also have a nice little desk, now, with room for all my little doo-dads and shaving goods and such.

The great travail is over, my friends, and I am back on top of my game. Click Here to read the rest.

Sunday, October 19, 2008

This Can't end well, Redux

There are persimmons rotting in my kitchen.

This is not, as might often be the case, an accident. Not a result of sloppy housekeeping or poor choices at the grocery store.

This is intentional.





I came home from work the other day to find a string of peeled persimmons hanging from the laundry rack in the middle of the kitchen (Space is limited, we make do as best we can).

I didn't say anything. I've learned not to question such things, as I know they will be out eventually.

So, eventually, my wife informed me that our neighbor (always a generous supplier of fruits and vegetables from her parents' garden--no small thing with Japanese prices) had given us some persimmons. At this point, the subject having been broached, I ventured a question.

"And, ummmm...Why are they hanging peeled from the laundry rack?"

"I'm drying them." Ahhh.. I knew that my wife likes persimmons a bit on the aged side--she only buys them from the grocery store when they've been marked down a couple of times and the fruit flies are starting to rub their tiny hands in anticipation.

"And why aren't thy hanging, say, by the window in the little alcove where I won't keep running into them and getting persimmon juice on my arm?"

"Because I need to see them!"

Of course.

So there are persimmons hanging in my kitchen until they get all wrinkly.

The problem is, they have been hanging there for three days now, and there are no wrinkles. There is a puddle of persimmon juice on the floor, yes, and a growing aroma of aged fruit. One of them has even sort of...melted...around the string holding it up, so that it looks like the the white nylon rope is springing out of the fruit like some kind of shish kebab. But no wrinkles.

So I hold my tongue. I will say nothing, not even when the inevitable happens and the fruit flies come and we tie the smelly mess up in a plastic bag and pitch it (the only alternative is too horrible to contemplate...). Why do I say nothing?

Because my wife is a wonderful, loving person, who takes care of me when I need it--which is all the time. Because even though we didn't actually say the words, that old stuff about "sickness and health, richer and poorer (daft and clever)" holds in our house.

Because she'd kick my ass if I so much as made a peep about the undoubted catastrophe that is coming to our kitchen.

Because I love her.
Click Here to read the rest.

Thursday, October 9, 2008

This Can't End Well

Please, read this MDN article carefully, and see if you are as terrified as I am.



A Japanese robotics company is making a robotic suit to help increase the mobility of the elderly and physically disabled. A wonderful idea. Except that the company is called Cyberdyne, and the product is called HAL.

Seriously.

Am I the only one with images of screaming centenarians strapped into killer robot skeletons run amok?

Or do I just read too much SF?

Click Here to read the rest.

Thursday, September 25, 2008

Fat Men Can't Sit Seiza, Vol. 2: The Funeral


AS has been mentioned, my wife comes from a very strongly Buddhist family. Three uncles are monks, and her late Grandfather was a high ranking priest at the Ryuko-tokuji temple. My first major encounter with my new family's religion was at his funeral.

Here's the story. (This is a long one...and kind of sad. But not too much.)


Not long after my wife and I first moved in together, her grandfather passed away. It wasn't unexpected, but it was of course a very difficult time. For me, however, this marked one of the strangest days I can remember.

If you have never been to a Buddhist funeral, they are really quite impressive. This one may have been more so, due to the man's status as a monk. Wearing black suits and dresses (only the older members of the family, or members of the order, wore Kimons), we went to the funeral home. There were flowers decorating the building, of course, and decorations with plaques form members of the community who had known the man all his life. Inside, there was a large altar, a stair-step arrangement of shelves of diminishing size. It was draped in white cloth and covered in lanterns, flowers, and statues of the Buddha. In the center was a large, black swathed picture of Tomomi's grandfather. In front of the altar was a small white box, about 4 feet long. Arranged around this were various bells, drums and incense burners for the priests to use in the ceremony.

Soon, the service began. We all sat near the altar, and the priests arranged themselves in front of the altar. They began to chant, beating the drums and ringing the bells. The family members, all holding buddhist prayer beads, joined in the chanting of the sutras, and I followed along as best I could. When the sutras were finished, each family member stood and went to the front, where a small pinch of crumbled incense was touched to the forehead and then dropped on a charcoal brazier.
It was extrememl;y solemn,and impressive, and above all funereal.

Then, it was time to take the body to be cremated.

We went to the crematorium. Everyone rode a bus provided by the funeral hall. The ride was long, and the beer I had drunk was starting to leave me, so I felt a little out of sorts.

The crematorium was in a beautiful little forest, on the side of a mountain. I was impressed, until I got inside.

And this is where things get...surreal.

The Crematorium lobby was a stark, echoing cave of a room. The walls were tiled in white, and the far wall had massive, iron doors set into it. Between the four doors were tiny, pathetic little vases with old, drooping plastic flowers. This was the only concession to the real function of the place--there was no further attempt at solemnity, or at addressing the fact that this was a place of mourning.

The coffin was set up to one end of the room. The guests all lined up in a semicircle around it, and the priest said another sutra. Then, we all shuffled past, lighting a stick of incense and putting it on the small white box. There was a plastic window in the lid, so family members could see the departed one last time.

Finally, when everyone had finished, out came the crematorium attendant. He was a huge, sweaty man, standing over 6 feet tall and dressed in an white shirt (unbuttoned to the third button) black dress pants and white sneakers. He loaded the coffin into the oven and led us to the waiting room.

We found cold, institutional seats in a drab room, a TV set high on the wall, and a vending machine. There was an attached Japanese style room with tatami mats and a low table, where the children in attendance promptly started up a game of cards, and the adults broke out the refreshments. I was sitting in a corner, trying not to attract attention, and trying not to think too much ("How long does it take to burn a body? Do I smell smoke, or is it my imagination? Why doesn't anyone notice how ugly this place is?").

Soon, my wife's uncle brought over a case (A CASE!) of beer, opened it up and said "Jim! Drink! For you!" and put an opened beer can in my hand. I tried to nurse it, but some kind of weird time warp saw me sucking down four beers in the two hour wait.

Eventually, the attendant returned, and then came the part I had forgotten about. The interment.

Back in the lobby, the remains were laid out on a metal gurney. It was the first skeleton I had ever seen, and in my half pissed state it was deeply uncomfortable. Then, they started handing out the chopsticks. If you didn't know, after a Buddhist cremation, the family takes special chopsticks and uses them to place the bones into an urn. Once everyone has done this, the closest relative then picks up the adam's apple and places it in the urn.

As the chopsticks approached, I started to panic. Not only was I not very good with chopsticks in general, I had been drinking, and these things were huge--over a foot long, and about an inch thick. I was terrified I would fumble them and cause a horrible scene.

I hung back, just wanting to watch, but my wife pulled me forward, and I took the huge sticks in hand. When it was my turn, I was numb. I kept staring at the bones, blackened and broken by the heat. Finally, I found a small piece and managed to get it into the urn without dropping it. I almost cried with relief.
When everyone had finished, and the adam's apple was in the urn, there were still bones on the gurney so the attendant put them into the urn himself.
(It gets a little gruesome after this. You're warned.)

Apparently, the cremation process wasn't as clean as I thought, because the bones were stuck to the gurney. The attendant had some trouble getting them up, so he got a large iron spatula and scraped the bones into a pile. Of course, a lot of them broke in the process, so he had to get a little shovel and a broom, sweep them up and dump them in. I just watched in shock. There was so little...ceremony to it. I really wasn't prepared for this.

The final shock was the lid. It wouldn't exactly fit, so...even thinking about it makes me a little ill...so the attendant took the shovel and the spatula and pushed the bones. They crunched and shattered and made room for the lid to go on.

The urn was sealed and wrapped and that was it.

We all went home and I was given a crash course in my new life.
Click Here to read the rest.

Friday, September 19, 2008

The Terpsichorean Muse...

I like music, I think I can say honestly. I'm not a huge music geek, but I've, you know, heard things. I love me some Tom Waits, and Beethoven, And Marty Robbins. I love it all.

But every once in a while I find something special, that flips my happy switch and makes the whole damned thing seem so much nicer.

Here're a few of those for me.

My Happy Songs. Let Me Show You Them.
(Warning, Youtubery ahead)



First up, we have the world's first Virtual Pop Idol (Ahhh...Japan) Miku Hatsune, with the Levan Polkka:


It just makes me grin like an idiot, is what it does. More traditional versions are good, too.


Next up is The Ukulele Orchestra of Great Britain, with a whole hat full of WIN.

It hits me right about HERE.
Their gala version of Life on Mars is fantastic, too.


Last up--maybe my favorite song of all time.
The Gourds, with a little help from Snoop Dogg. (NSFW language)

Seriously. Epic, EPIC music.
(N.B. I just changed the video to get a better quality song. The video's retarded...just listen. Listen REAL GOOD.)
So how about you? You got any happy music?
Share!
Click Here to read the rest.

Sunday, September 7, 2008

Empire in Black and Gold, A review

Well, I finally finished my copy of Adrian Tchaikovsky's (a.k.a. Adrian Czajkowski - What are you trying to hide?! Or are you just betraying your Polish heritage to play up the possible name recognition/familiar pronunciation the alternate spelling provides? HMMMM???) new Fantasy novel Empire in Black and Gold. As has been said, I won a signed copy:

(See, he even put a little wasp...But why is there a bird there? I don't think there's a bid in the entire novel...).
So, now's the time. My Review!


Patented, solid-as-a-rock three word review: Shoulda been better.
More than three word review:
Empire in Black and Gold is an epic adventure fantasy set in a unique world, with compelling characters, an exciting premise and convoluted story. Set in a place called the lowlands, our protagonists must confront a massive empire that has slowly been swallowing all the scattered lands of humans. Finally, the Wasp Empire is at the doorstep of the Collegium, a city of learning and technology, and only one man and a few of his students recognize the threat for what it is.
There's my book blurb.

Empire in Black and Gold is a fantasy novel that, right off the bat, tells you it's out to avoid cliche like the plague. No fairies here, no dwarves or ogers or dragons. No, this land is a lod of humans...kind of. The humans of the nameless world (first point against. What's the place called?) are divided into "kinden", rather than races or species. The "kinden" are all named after insects--we've got Beetle-kinden, Ant-kinden, Mantis-Kinden, etc.

At first, this seems like some kind of arbitrary naming system; like maybe the Wasp Empire just adopted the wasp as its standard, perhaps. Not so. It turns out (eventually, muddily--point two against. I'm still not clear how the insect thing works.) that the humans of this world have somehow melded with the giant insects who also inhabit it (yes, giant insects, which barely figure into the plot at all--point three against! Use the bugs!) and taken on some of their characteristics. The Mantis-kinden have long, bony spikes sprouting form their arms, deadly grace and bloodlust. The Spider-kinden are graceful, can climb up walls, and are adept at manipulating people and political institutions (just like spiders. . .What?) and the Beetle-kinden are solid, have a lot of stamina and are cunning artificers (Again...what?) This is a central element to the story--the conflict between the kinden is as important as the conflict with the Empire. In fact, in many ways it is more important. No, wait. In this book, it is the ONLY conflict.

I have to be honest, I don't even know how to begin reviewing this book. It's a muddled mess of a story. Actually, there isn't a story to speak of. The characters are always moving, and there is some kind of development, but the plot isn't there. There's no arc, just a straight line that somehow turns into a circle. The characters are introduced, the Empire begins to menace, the characters are captured, there is a daring rescue, the characters move somewhere else, there is another threat, it's handled, the book ends and basically says: Buy the next book to see what happens! (Did I mention this is a series? "Book One of the Shadow of the Apt"--and I won't even get into the "Apt" thing yet.)

It's frustrating because there actually is a lot of interesting stuff here. The bug thing, like I mentioned, has tons of potential, but is left utterly out of the story. Why are there people like this? Why can some bug people fly but others can't? Why are there physical manifestations for some kinden, like the spines on the mantis kinden, but not others? Explore it! And show us more bugs--don't just say "There might be giant mantids in this forest, be careful!" and not show us a giant freaking mantis!

And the history. . .there is so much history hinted at. The book takes place in a post-industrial-revolution world, and this was a real revolution. The world was once ruled by the magic-using Moth-kinden, with the Spider-kinden and Mantis-kinden helping, but they were overthrown by the "Apt" races--the Ants, Beetles, and Flies--who can use machines. So now there's all kinds of hate between the In-Apt (Moth, etc) and Apt. The Beetles are the strongest at machinery; they have flying machines, huge mining operations, repeating crossbows (WHAT?!?) and they are of course in conflict with the nature loving Moths, Mantis and Spiders. That sounds like some good story stuff. . .why not devote more time to exploring the history?

Of course, I can answer that--there's going to be more books. Gotta save some plot for the rest of the series! The problem is, I have absolutely no desire to go and buy the rest of the books. I just didn't care enough about the story. I mean, I actually can't identify the main conflict of the first book. There was no denouement to speak of. The characters did develop, which is good, but...fantasy needs plot. It needs some kind progression to keep the reader coming back for more. When the progress towards a clear end stops, the reading stops (c.f. the last couple of WoT books). This book only succeeds in introducing the conflict for further books to explore; there is no real conflict for the book itself. In the end, absolutely nothing has changed between the beginning of the book and the end, except that two of the characters have sex, one of the characters discovers that another is the father she never knew, and one of them believes in magic. The world situation continues, and the books conflict turns out, in the end, to have been meaningless.

I think that's the bottom line. I won't get into the ridiculous science (sniping flying enemies from a flapping-wing flying machine...with a BOW?!?) the impossible technology (repeating crossbows?!) or the awkward sex-scene set up ("I have a mystical way of helping you discover your untapped potential...IN MY PANTS!") and just say--it takes more than a good, original idea and an agreement to write a sequel to make a good fantasy author, Mr or Mrs Editor.

p.s. After finishing this, I decided to search out some more info on Mr. Tchaikowski. It appears he's a cartoonist and RPG game designer....and the next book is coming out. Eeep. Well, if I win another contest, I'd be happy to review it...
Click Here to read the rest.

Monday, August 25, 2008

Oh, me...

So I had a busy week. Meh. I hate, you know, actually working.
But now it's over, it's back to the grind, and I am now officially studying for level 3 of the JLPT.
I don't know why, my buddy over at Lost in Ube (By the way, thanks again for the application form) mentioned it, and I thought "Hey, why not." So now I'm all studying and stressing and stuff.

I mentioned this to my kind-of-but-not-really boss, and he tells me about his Chinese wife--she came to Japan 7 years ago, knowing 0 Japanese, studied three hours a day for two years, and took the Level 1 JLPT. She got such a high score she got a full scholarship to a Japanese University.

Two years.
I've been here for more than 4 and I haven't even taken the level 3.

God damn it.

Any study tips?

==============

I've been trying to make a dictionary for my Zaurus. There's all kinds of information about how to do this...in Japanese. So now, I am studying for the JLPT, learning to program in Ruby, writing several short stories, and learning how to make dictionaries for my PDA.
Any bets on which one I'll give up on first?

Yay, short attention span!
Click Here to read the rest.

Saturday, August 16, 2008

Did I forget to mention...?

My story, "The Dueling Ground" was rejected by Abyss & Apex. Not a huge surprise...but the comments I received were puzzling.

The editor said " There's some beautiful language, but the opening has the character
pondering something that's happened, which means the story doesn't start
in the true narrative present."
Now, of course it was totally great to get a compliment like that, but...what, exactly, is the problem with not starting "in the true narrative present"? I've never heard of that before...
Hrmmmm.....

============

In other news, the Zaurus is taking over my life. I'm learning Linux, I'm learning Ruby programming to help me understand computers better, and I'm digging into the guts of the thing to figure out how it works. Oh man. Mild obsessions...story of my life.

A frustrating thing...the "grand open source community" is kind of hard to get into. There are tones of pages and sites devoted to the information, but they all have the same info, presented in ridiculously convoluted and/or illegible ways, and they all seem to pre-assume all kinds of deep working knowledge of the systems involved; there is no real intro, no newbie sites, no in-depth FAQs.

This is why Linux will never take over windows--in order to figure it out, you have to deal with other users....and there's no QA monitor making sure they can actually communicate in comprehensible English.

Come on guys, let's get it together!
Click Here to read the rest.

(Insert clever title about cleaning here) with the Laundry!

A while back I mentioned that I was reading The Atrocity Archives by Charles Stross. That was the first novel dealing with The Laundry, a secret British agency dealing with threats to national security that fall on the more...esoteric...side of international espionage. And by esoteric, I mean "squamous and rugose", nudge nudge wink wink.

Since that time, I have also polished off the second novel in the series, The Jennifer Morgue (including the story "Pimpf"), and "Down on the Farm", a short story in the same world, available for free on Tor.com.
So, I figured it was time for a review--so here's a big ol' heaping helping of laundry for you!

Well, my (not really at all) patented 3 word review: Craptons of fun.
My More-Than-Three-Word Review:

First, perhaps a word about the "big idea." The Laundry books/stories are comic/dark fantasy/spy/action thrillers. The general concept is that all the major governments of the world have special secret agencies, blacker than the blackest CIA ops, that deal with security against demons, darkness, and the gibbering beasts from outside of time. They do this because, in the world of the Laundry, math=magic, and as computers=math, playing around with computing can summon up big nasties from other planes. And of course, governments don't like that kind of thing going on without their say-so.

The Laundry is the British version of this supernatural MI6, and the stories Stross has written all deal with a guy "named" Bob Howard, an agent/computer hacker/dark wizard (though the wizard bit isn't at all like you'd imagine) who is dealing with all the nasty business that can get stirred up when people dabble with higher math.
That's why I never studied calculus, people. Math is EVILLLL.
Anyway.

Basically, it's all about mixing tropes--Lovecraftian horror, cyber thrillers, spy novels, and good old fashioned action. The main stories, The Atrocity Archives and The Jennifer Morgue are actually written with an eye to the styles of famous British authors: Len Deighton and Ian Fleming, respectively.

So, that's the big idea. So what about the stories?

Starting with The Atrocity Archives, Stross has created a persistent world that is perhaps more engaging, and more fruitful, than almost any in the comic/dark fantasy/spy/action thriller genre. Which, you know, might be pretty sparse, but still.

These books are a lot of fun to read, and as you go from one to the next you can see the growth of the characters, the maturation of the writing, and the deepening of the world right before your eyes. Apart from a bit of a boys club atmosphere in the first novel, the characters seem real, and likable, and all kinds of interesting. The plots move right along, and they lovingly play with cliche in ways that make you forget you've seen similar stuff before.

I can't really speak much to the parody/homage angle of the first story because I'm not at all familiar with Len Deighton's work, but the Bond stuff in The Jennifer Morgue is all kinds of cool. And even though it is forced within the story, it never feels forced to the reader. Very smoothly done.

I have only one real problem, and that pretty much evaporates after the initial reading of The Atrocity Archives--Charles Stross brings his vast computing knowledge to bear on the writing of this novel, and I do not share that knowledge. There's enough theorem name dropping to arm a Master's Thesis, and while I like the net, I don't like to take the time to fire up google to see if my novel is making stuff up or if there really is something called a "Dho-Nha geometry curve". Of course, you can still engage in the story and enjoy it without worrying about that kind of stuff, but it comes up. A lot. And it makes you wonder what you're missing out on when you don't recognize 60% of the names you read...or maybe that's just me.

So, in the end, try them out. They're lighthearted at times, thrilling at times, and almost always fun.

That's what I think. Maybe you don't agree. Wanna make something of it? Go ahead, comment.

Click Here to read the rest.

Sunday, August 10, 2008

Old Man's War, a review

So, after finally getting around to reading John Scalzi's big breakthrough novel, I wanted to take some time and parse my reactions. Here's my review.

Three word Review: Mostly Kicks Ass.

More Than Three Word Review:
John Scalzi's 2005 novel, Old Man's War, shouldn't be anything new to you. After all, Mr. Scalzi has become a big name in SF fandom with his (highly recommended) blog Whatever, his reviews available at AMC.com, and tons more. He just won the Hugo Fan Writer award (Congrats to that) and he was nominated for the Best Novel award in 2006--for this novel. (He didn't win, but he did get the John W. Campbell Award for Best New Writer that year.)

So neither Mr. Scalzi nor his series-introducing novel are unheard of. Which leads to the question, why did it take me so damn long to read the damn book, dammit?

Timezones. Or the international dateline. Coriolis effect?

Dunno, but anyway, I did finally get around to it. And I really wish I had done it sooner.
Old Man's War introduces readers to a world Scalzi goes on to explore in further novels The Ghost Brigades, The Last Colony, and Zoe's Tale. The central conceit of these novels is that the Earth has begun to colonize the stars, and the forces charged with defending humanity's place in the universe against all the big, nasty monsters that want to eat us is essentially made up of old farts.

I say conceit because, actually, the idea seems at once compelling and yet utterly pointless; I'll get to that in a minute.

Old Man's War
introduces us to John Perry, a widower from Ohio who signs up for the Colonial Defense Forces, and goes off to join the fight on his 75th birthday. In space, he meets a lot of new people, goes through a pretty cool rejuvenation/enhancement process, and kills lots and lots of aliens.

Along the way, of course he meets a girl (rather, girls) and of course he saves the day--this is a pretty heroic story, after all. But most of all, John Perry acts as our guide to the new realms of ideas Scalzi has opened up. We join him as he learns for the first time how humanity has beaten the galactic speed limit of C (i.e. it hasn't); why cute little deerlike aliens are never to be trusted (they like meat...); and how to kill inch-tall, spacefaring people (go Godzilla on their asses). Perry is our wide-eyed proxy, and he takes us on a hell of a journey. it's well worth the trip.

The book, and Scalzi's work in general, has gotten lots of comparisons to Heinlein, especially Starship Troopers. I think that's at least partially intentional, and completely fine. Nothing wrong with writing like a grandmaster of the genre, not even in reference to one of his less respected works (plenty of people think the work in question is pretty much a defense of fascism...but not all of them.)

There are similarities in the books--for example, the exploration of the effects of constant fighting on a person's psyche; the trauma of lost friends, and life after; the inevitability and necessity of war, and thus the nobility of those who sacrifice themselves in its service. But I find Old Man's War a much more fulfilling, and a much more readable, novel. The characters are more authentic, and the situations much more experiential, than Starship Troopers, mostly because any political content is in the background; this is very much an adventure novel, a semi-hard SF book, and it mostly rocks.

Of course, the book isn't perfect. It focuses a lot on the "Gee-whiz, them aliens is nasty" at the expense of arc, and the character development is incremental, at best. The thing that bothers me the most about it, and it really hardly bothers me at all, is that the whole concept of an army of 75-year-olds really isn't that important. At no point in the story did I think, wow, these guys are really different from all the other military recruit-characters in military SF stories. The kind of maturity, world-wisdom, etc. one would expect from 75 years of life doesn't really pop up at all...which, I guess, might have been intentional. The only time that this kind of history plays an essential role in the story is when Perry is describing his dead wife to another character--and, while this is essential to the continuing story (I guess...), it doesn't really need a 75 year-old; 30 year-olds can be widowed, too.

It just bothers me that the whole concept really isn't that essential to the plot, it's just a neat idea.

But really, there's nothing wrong with that. It, like other elements of the story, serves as an introductory point to this brave new world of Scalzi's, and the world is interesting enough, and exciting enough, to warrant the introduction. The continuation of the series, and its continued popularity and critical praise, is a sure sign that the depth that might be missing in this book is sure to develop; even if it doesn't, Scalzi's writing and worldbuilding are just too fun to miss.

In the end, I have to give this book a solid recommendation (not that it needs one from me) for one simple, but telling reason. Within minutes of finishing it, I desperately wanted to read the next book--I had to know what happened to John, and Jane, and the island of humanity in its sea of enemies. That hasn't happened to me since the first time I read Ender's Game, or The Eye of the World.

That's some pretty good company to be in.

All the opinions here are mine, and not yours. If yours are different, that's fantastic! Celebrate diversity! And take it somewhere else!
Click Here to read the rest.

Friday, August 8, 2008

So very, very shiny.

So I am now the proud owner of a Sharp SL-C3200 Zaurus PDA.
It's so pretty it makes the world bend around it a little bit, like a gravity well of shiny, touch screen goodness.
A singularity of Linux based enterductivity (see what I did there? Mixing up entertainment and productivity? Yeah, I bet you did.)
This thing...this thing...christ. I can't imagine why this thing didn't take over the world. It can do EVERYTHING a "casual" usuer needs! Word processing, spreadsheets and presentations, video and music playback, online capability (with a wireless card) and a metric crapload of potential. Sure, it's not the fastest thing in the world but the tech is already 3 years old--if they tried hard, they could make it all kinds of zippy.
And it fits in my POCKET.
In the three days I've had it, I've read three novels, a to0n of Manga, and practiced Kanji all in the palm of my hand.

Damn. I'm all tingly...


======================

Speaking of reading three novels, I finally got around to reading Old Man's War by John Scalzi. Seeing as how I've been reading his blog for a couple of months now, I figured it was about time, so I loaded the free ebook copy I got from Tor.com and read it in about 5 hours.
It's not long, but man, was it good.
Review shortly.

======================

Hypocrisy, (n), see George W. Bush
Yes, China, stop all those illegal detentions and torture and stuff. Cause, you know, America is WAAAAY better than China.... Click Here to read the rest.

Monday, July 28, 2008

A subtle change of the wind, boding....?

Hmmm. My Wife has got a new job, making essentially the same as I am. She will be working slightly longer hours, but the stress of her new job will be much less than her current one, and much more in tune with her interests. All in all, this will be a huge improvement for both of us. We will be saving more money, and still be able to travel and buy a car and all kinds of benefits.

Which makes me oddly nervous. I can see no negatives here, so my subconscious is making some up and not telling me about it.
Eeee, I hates it.

===========


Otherwise, life trundles along. I ahve been reading comcs lately, esp. Hellboy. I like Hellboy. He's a good guy, and not in the old fasioned comic book/hero way. he's the kind of guy I'd like to hang out and eat pancakes with.

Also, I have been listening to the "2001:A Space Odyssey" audiobook. It's a classic story, and I have seen the movie a couple of times, so I'm not too lost, but man...it's dull. DULLLLLLL. I get the feeling that Sir Clarke was all caught up in the birthing glory of space exploration, and wanted to spread his excitement rather than tell a story. I mean, wow...why, exactly, is it so important what they ate? And why is the action with the asteroid so important?

Maybe I'm just too stoopid.

===========

I still haven't heard from A&A in re: my story. Damnit.
What's a man gotta do to get some responses around here?
I know I should rewrite some of my older stories and get them in circulation, but man. I want some closure on this deal.

===========


I'm getting this. The wife said ok. And now that we're getting rich, it won't hurt at all.

Oh man. I am soo damned excited. Click Here to read the rest.

Thursday, July 3, 2008

Hmmmm...

So I don't know what got into me yesterday. Weird. Maybe I need to get more vitamins.
Anyway, I'm not taking it down--it's not so bad, I reckon, but hey...

==================

I decided to extend my tenure on the FSFHOWW. Maybe it'll help. I sure would like to get something published. I've been waiting for a reply from Abyss and Apex for a while. Come on guys!

Really, I need to stop screwing around and get my latest story polished and posted. It would be nice to get some help on that one. It has potential, I think. It's a Japanese Ghost Story. I would really like to work more Japanese culture and concepts into my writing, but it almost feels dishonest. I live here, but I'm not Japanese...but there's so damn much White Guy fiction out there already! Won't I just be propagating the White Male Hegemony by contributing to the surfeit of privilege with which we Caucasian Men are showered? Click Here to read the rest.

Saturday, June 28, 2008

My Cup Runneth Over

So I've been reading a lot. Reading books both good and bad--keeping them straight is a bit of a task sometimes. But mostly good; I figure, if I want to write, I have to know what writing is.

Right now, I am in the middle of:
The Atrocity Archives, by Charles Stross.
dhalgren, by Samuel R. Delaney
Down the Mysterly River, by Bill Willingham (this one is available for free on Wowio, but they are currently down for global retooling--so, you know, check it out sometime.)

I plan on doing a pretty detailed review of most of the books I read from now on; it's good brainwork. So look here for a review of the Stross book in the near future. After that, I'm thinking of doing a sort of cross-analysis/comparative review of dhalgren and Gene Wolfe's Peace. It may just be that I read them in close succession, but they seem to have a lot in common. In my head, they are taking on this antipodean relationship--opposite poles of the inner life of man in extremis.

--------

My productivity spurt continues apace, with more short story work and two critiques at the Online Writing Workshop for SF, fantasy and Horror. Where's all this coming from?
Where can I get more?
I really hope I can start posting novel chapters soon. I worry about it, though; I've not got the best attention span, and a novel is a big undertaking. Part of me wants to continue with short stories a while before I go for the big leagues.

Hrrrm.... Click Here to read the rest.

Friday, June 27, 2008

Critters

I'm from Kansas. we've got our share of little things crawling around...Grasshoppers, army worms, toads, turtles, snakes....tons.
But we don't have this:
video

It's a cute wee crab! I call him crabby. Of course....fast little guy, inne?

They're everywhere. I even saw a couple that wandered into a shopping mall...Guess that's what you get living less than 500 meters from the Ocean. Funny how I've never seen a mouse here.
------------------


In other news, I have suffered an enormous jump in productivity. I have, in the past week, written an entire Japanese Ghost Story, several pages of notes on a a novel and the beginning of that novel...
It feels funny. I am approaching a level where I actually think I might be getting good enough to publish. Knock on imitation wood... Click Here to read the rest.

Sunday, June 22, 2008

Ummm...What?

So, I was browsing around a bookstore, and I found...
This:



Fair enough...It's a dictionary of demons and devils. It's got lots of uses--Writing, Gamers, Demonists. Nothing wrong with that. But...
Take a close look at the left-hand side. As the saying goes, one of these things is not like the others...



Yeah. Martin Luther is apparently now a Demon and or Devil. Now...I wonder how that happened? I mean, unless this is a translation of a 16th century Catholic guide to the nastiest people on earth. What do you reckon? Some residual ancient Catholic prejudice? Hmmm...
I looked up the entry, but my Japanese isn't good enough to understand just what they were thinking, putting the father of the Protestant Reformation in a guide to demons. It did feature a nice picture of Old ML looking shifty eyed and nasty (I would have gotten a snap, but I was already getting nasty looks for snapping pics in the bookstore.)

I'm not even going to get into the MIB... Click Here to read the rest.

Of course

The exercise I set for myself came to nothing; or rather, it came to an idea for an entire short story. Which kind of defeats the purpose of the exercise, but makes me happy nonetheless.
At this point, I have so many ideas and so few results. What's a boy to do?

Here's an idea: get off your ass and write. Click Here to read the rest.

Saturday, April 26, 2008

My First Review

Little Brother by Cory Doctorow
This is the first time I've actually tried to write a review, so forgive me if I seem out of my depths. However, I thought I would give it a shot, seeing as how I got an advanced copy of the book and all.
Little Brother is the latest novel by Cory Doctorow, author of Someone Comes to Town, Someone Leaves Town; Eastern Standard Tribe etc., is a coeditor of the immensley popular weblog BoingBoing. This latest novel is the story of 17-year-old San Francisco High School Student Marcus Yallow, aka W1n5t0n. He and his friends are, among many other things, in the wrong place and the wrong time during "the worst terrorist attack this country has ever seen", and are caught up in the DHS's sweep during the immediate aftermath. The story is essentially that of how Marcus uses his computer savvy and passion for personal privacy and turns them into a crusade against the growing totalitarianism of the DHS in San Francisco, whose presence becomes increasingly felt in every aspect of daily life in the traumatized city. The events of the story, and the ways that they effect the characters are frighteningly plausible. People being harrased and even "disappeared" by the US government are, sadly, not the realm of Science Fiction, though thankfully they have not reached the proportions depicted in this book. They very well could, however, and this brings me to the real purpose of this book.
I think it is clear, and not at all a mark against the book, that Mr. Doctorow's main goal was to give young readers a kind of primer on ways to avoid, subvert, and counteract the growing surveillance culture and paranoia that are sweeping the US. It gives very clear guidance toward resources that can help readers not only get information about vital issues of privacy and individual liberties, but also take action to protect those very things. This is laudable and, sadly, ever more urgent. I hope that the readers of this book will take the lessons to heart, and follow the example of the main character in not allowing authority to become total authority.
But.
But, but, but...
The lessons given are good ones, but in many points they move beyond mere signposts and almost become polemics. The information contained in the story almost masks it at times, and the narrative suffers because of that shift in focus. For example, I was utterly removed from the story by a comment about Microsoft requiring "blood money" from game developers, and the extended discussion of "razorblade companies" surrounding it (p. 94 of my copy), true as the statements are. The hyperbole seemed utterly out of place, and the explanation felt more like a lecture than the internal monologue of a 17-year-old boy. Or the sudden lesson on Baynesian Statistics (pp. 109-11); given in the first-person, it felt totally out-of-place. They were important, I realize, but hard to swallow in the context of the story, especially as first-person narrative. I find it hard to accept that anyone actually talks like this, much less a teenager in the midst of such a catastrophic upturn of the normal order. The loss of engagement in the story is a pretty serious one, which in many ways detracted from my experience of the book.
Another criticism I have, and one that is less serious but still somewhat irksome to me, is the frequent surfacing of what I found myself calling "The World According to Cory".
I was a reader of BoingBoing for several years, and I found that many times this book (expecially in the first 140 pages or so) shifted into what might very well have been a digest of posts on that blog. We had the nuking of RFIDs (and frozen grapes); ARGing; fascination with Harajuku and the Japanese Teen Subcultures found there; a deep dislike of Micro$oft; Linux Love; TOR...in short, stuff I used to read about on BoingBoing (incidentally, the reason I stopped reading BoingBoing was the sudden, bewildering inclusion of M$ advertising within posts. WTF?)*. There's nothing wrong with that, per se, but a lot of the time I felt it really added nothing to the story (why do we need to know that W1n5t0n wears "ankle-high Blundstones from Australia"?), rather, it was a way for Doctorow to discuss the stuff he clearly feels is important and, perhaps more importantly, fun. I was honestly surprised that Creative Commons wasn't mentioned. Now, I happen to agree with Mr. Doctorow in most of his opinions on these matters, though I personally feel that Harajuku teen fashion is ridiculous. I just think that it made the book extremely difficult to immerse myself in. In fact, I had to force myself to read past these points, and did not actuallly care about Marcus/W1n5t0n until page 141. At this point, Marcus's mom tells him about how truly desperate his father was right after the terrorist attack, when both Marcus's parents thought he was dead. He finally begins to realize that other people are actually effected by the events going on around him, and he finally begins to seem like a real person to me, rather than a mouthpiece for the anti-securityasshole crowd (of which I am a member). 141 pages is far, far too long to wait to become engaged in the POV character in a novel, and I worry that if many other people have the same reaction I did, the truly important things that this book has to say will go unread. At the end of the book, I was truly glad I had read it, and I hope that others will take the time to do so.
I guess that in my final analysis of the book, I have to say that the first half or so felt to me too much like a series of lectures strung together by bits of story, and the last half was a well crafted, engaging and VERY IMPORTANT book.
But that's probably just me.



*See how jarring out-of-place commentary is?

[Edited for Jetlag Compensation.] Click Here to read the rest.

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

W.I.P.

My current works in progress....

A steampunk/pirate novel set in a fictional world where the Great Old Ones are a simple part of daily life. Inspired by a Tom Waits song...huh?

A short story based on/adapted from the Old High German epic poem Das Hildibrandslied.

A horror story about death and deals and life beyond the grave.

A short story about Jesus and Oedipal rage,


And learning Japanese...

Shit, I get tired. Click Here to read the rest.