Monday, April 30, 2007

Mixed Monday

Read this fascinating piece on the blurbing industry. It notes that reviewers are often surprised at how out of context their comments are taken. The lesson is, if you ever seen a single word blurb or the use of an ellipsis, you should consider that blurb to be compromised. This issue is entirely separate from the authors that blurb a little too often. Stephen King and Alan Furst are prime examples.

Scifi fans will want to read this interview with Richard Morgan. One thing to note is that Morgan appears to think that only lefties like his books, and that conversely right wingers read Hamilton and Asher:

But then the vast majority of the fans I’ve met in the US so far seem to fit pretty cleanly into the left/liberal category. (Seems unlikely they’d enjoy my work otherwise, right?). So maybe it’s just that the conservative element is more vociferous in the US, and that in fact there are any number of Tory-voting SF readers back in Britain, quietly buying and enjoying writers like Peter F. Hamilton and Neil Asher, and simply not bothering to get agitated about leftist scum like me. Could that be right? Anybody’s guess, really.

I think this is exaggerating for effect, but I think he is flat wrong. Most scifi fans I know, even those with strong political leanings will gobble up all three of those authors without a concern for the author's politics. That's just a side point, the interview is quite good.

The bookstore is everywhere

In Roger Dodger, Scott Campbell's character advises his charge that sex is everywhere, and that you merely must look around. While I have cannot confirm this assertion, I can say that good books will come your way if you keep your eyes open. I am in the habit of stopping into the NE Broadway Goodwill on my walk to my car. On my last visit I found Rick Perlstein's Before the Storm: Barry Goldwater and the Unmaking of the American Consensus. The woman behind me in line let out a gleeful shriek and said she loved Barry Goldwater. Rather than getting into a debate on his merits, I complimented her choice of Shutter Island and the Club Dumas. On my prior visit, I managed to find a copy of Manhunt, the story of the Lincoln assassination and the subsequent hunt for the killer.

I was even more surprised to spot the classic Korean war account, This Kind of War, while standing in line at Safeway. The book was sitting on the Easter Seals fund raising table. Most of the time, you will find romance novels, Agatha Christie paperbacks and assorted popular fiction. But every once and again, a gem will be amongst the dross.

Of course the best place to find a good read is your friend's bookshelves. Just watch out if they write their names on the front page. Those folks get testy if you don't return them lickety split.

Sunday, April 29, 2007


I had no idea that James Fallows was blogging. And here he posts some scary evidence of Shanghai air quality.

It's great when Jonathan Yardley praises a book. He can whip up enthusiasm like no one else. He can eviscerate just as well as seen here. Then there is Hagedorn's prose. In her acknowledgments she makes particular mention of the Wall Street Journal, "where I learned how to write well," a quite astonishing boast in and of itself but all the more so when one considers the more than 500 pages of evidence to the contrary.

Post Secret continues to amaze. If you haven't seen it, it consists of anonymous messages printed on postcards. They tend to the deeply sad, like this one, and this one, but then you get a suspicious message like this one to liven things up.

If you can find the Flemish beer Duchess de Bourgogne, then buy it and drink it immediately. It is such an interesting flavor. I was chatting about it with another customer at Beaumont market and she said that if there was a beer tree, this beer would be the fruit.

Friday, April 27, 2007

Friday items

HLK sent me some songs from a Richmond band called KWD. The songs are pretty good, although there is a tad much voice effects for my taste.

Multnomah County Library now has RSS feeds for new releases. This has probably been around for a little while, but I saw it the library newsletter.

If you are interested in getting a free online horror story magazine, click here. It is coming out in 2008.

If you have ever hoped for a story about aliens invading England in the middle of the English Civil War, then you are in luck.

One of my favorite magazines when I was a tweener was Dragon magazine. Despite having not picked one up in over 15 years, it makes me a little sad that publication is ceasing.

Something Iraq and Vietnam have in common

I was wondering if the war in Iraq was going to produce a book similar to H.R. McMaster's Dereliction of Duty. In that excellent volume, McMaster argues that the military failed to do its duty and to stand up to the smart but quite wrong civilian leadership. Well it appears that Lt. Col. Paul Yingling is the first to take a shot. In this Armed Forces Journal article, he rips the general officer corps a new one. Tom Ricks has a summary in the Post.

As much as one would like to pin the war on Rumsfeld (or McNamara in the past), the problem is systemic:

The intellectual and moral failures common to America's general officer corps in Vietnam and Iraq constitute a crisis in American generalship. Any explanation that fixes culpability on individuals is insufficient. No one leader, civilian or military, caused failure in Vietnam or Iraq. Different military and civilian leaders in the two conflicts produced similar results. In both conflicts, the general officer corps designed to advise policymakers, prepare forces and conduct operations failed to perform its intended functions. To understand how the U.S. could face defeat at the hands of a weaker insurgent enemy for the second time in a generation, we must look at the structural influences that produce our general officer corps.

Of course McMaster himself could be the Iraq McMaster, because he is also Col. McMaster and has served in Iraq as well, and is now advising Gen. Petraeus. Although I am unsure, I think Yingling served as McMaster's deputy in the 3rd Armored Cavalry Regiment in 2005.


Despite my concern over the Millions negative review of the Yiddish Policemen's Union, I am excited that Michael Chabon is coming to the Burnside Powell's on Tuesday May 8. Look for me standing on the corner of Burnside and 10th with a bunch of roses in my arms and weeping uncontrollably.

It is worth noting that the professional review houses love it. So I am getting excited all over again.

Thursday, April 26, 2007

Scary monsters

I've longed for a truly scary read. Not a real life scary read, like the End of Oil, which is on my library book pile. No, I want a truly scary story. There aren't a whole lot of stories which make me want to keep the lights on. Some of Lovecraft's fiction fits the bill. Certainly early King fir the bill with the Shining, Pet Sematery, and 'Salem's Lot. But there isn't a whole lot else. I tried MR James, but didn't get all that into his tales. There is plenty of disturbing stuff, with horrid treatment of people, but not that much scary stuff.

On some Amazon list I found out about a book called Ghosts by Noel Hynd. So far it is OK, when he talks about spooky things, he is effective. When he talks about the characters, he is mostly boring. Lots and lots of (what seems to be) not so useful exposition. The reviews are compelling me to press on, but I may need to skim ahead for some scarier ghost scenes.

Update: Movies have it easier. And being a kid helps. For example, when I was a lad, few things scared me as much as the Space Vampire/Vorvon on Buck Rogers.

Uh oh looks like someone has a case of the corporates

While every work culture likes to dress up mundane tasks and concepts with fancy language, acronyms and jargon, there is something particularly annoying about corporate culture. I think the blog King of the Cubicle captures it in this post on the odious term "secret sauce."

Most job oriented jargon is meant to serve the purpose of excluding outsiders and making a task seem more significant or challenging. Corporate jargon is worse than most because it tends to confuse in it's attempt to be "sexy."

Wednesday, April 25, 2007

It's a long way across all of this black

As soon as I saw the news about the potentially habitable planet being discovered, I thought it would be good to talk about scifi colonization stories. But then I realized I don't really like them that much. Kim Stanley Robinson's Red Mars didn't do much for me. I recently picked up CJ Cherryh's Forty Thousand in Gehenna and Foreigner, but they are less about colonization than coming to deal with the local environment. OK, so they are about an aspect of colonization.

For the most part, I like future stories about established societies in space rather than brand new ones. There must be good colonization stories, but I can't think of any off the top of my head.

Wednesday morning

NBK sends this animated movie about a Nazi robot attacking a port in the USA. It's impressive and entertaining. The comments note that the Ark of the Covenant is somewhere on the dock.

This scares me. Max at the Millions has a negative review of the new Chabon.

Here is a review for a new science fiction novel by Elizabeth Bear that says very little about the book but gets me interested through sheer enthusiasm and nostalgia for good books in drug store book racks.

Spirit World has a piece on beer cocktails including the tiger tail, part stout, barleywine and lager.

Here is a cheeky piece arguing the merits of the entertaining but not enthralling novel. For me, most mysteries fall into this category. While I am reading it, it is great fun, but I can put it down immediately. If I pick up something like Atonement, I know I will be unable to think about much else.

Also via NBK (sort of) here is Beatallica playing a Garage Dayz Night. They play Beatles songs with Metallica influenced lyrics and a singer that sounds just like Hetfield. Good stuff.

Tuesday, April 24, 2007

Marian, I think I'm drowning, this song is killing me

My view of covers is essentially Manichaean. A unceasing tide of crappy covers is barely held in check by a few brave good covers. Stereogum helpfully illustrates the point. Read this post on a bunch of REM covers which includes an MP3 of Burning Hell by a member of the excellent Drive By Truckers. The same post links to this blog, which has its goal to discuss every REM song. It has some interesting info on my current REM fave, Maps and Legends.

With the good must come the bad, and Stereogum delivers in spades. This band serves up a truly awful cover of Good Vibrataions. It was merely crap until the sotto voce "she's so sexy" destroyed any chance of enjoying the evening. I think Stereogum is overly generous by calling this the worst Beach Boys Cover of All Time. This is surely in the top five worst covers ever.

Pick it up

The ironically titled White Man's Burden is a critical appraisal of Western foreign aid and intervention in the developing world. I loved his Elusive Quest for Growth, and I am surprised to say I like the new book even more. Scifi fans will be interested to know that Richard Morgan also likes the books and has used them as research for his novels.

The book argues that the West takes a paternalistic approach to the developing world that it rejects in its own societies where problems are solved through accountability and feedback loops. Everyone seeks a silver bullet to solve huge problems, but it doesn't work.For example, it is hard to impose structures like markets, which provide such loops. Why so hard? Because markets as the West sees them developed in a Western cultural context. Anything in the developed world will have to make local sense to work.

The author, William Easterly, is hard on the left and the right, condemning direct intervention in the neoconservative form as well as aid packages that do nothing. Its not all doom and gloom. He notes that small scale programs do work and get rid of real problems like sources of disease or reducing sick days. He argues for reducing rather than eliminating problems, as this is feasible and can be tackled by smaller more effective groups.

Monday, April 23, 2007

Halberstam RIP

One of the nation's greatest journalists is dead. David Halberstam died in a Bay Area traffic accident today. He is best known for his work on politicians trying to manage war, the Best and the Brightest is one of the greatest indictments of the Vietnam war effort. I highly recommend you read Once Upon a Distant War by William Prochnau. This book describes how Halberstam and other journalists came to realize how badly Vietnam was going.

Halberstam'ss War in a Time of Peace describes the post-Cold War/Pre-Bush 2 attempts to properly use force as foreign policy tool. It isn't as good as Best and the Brightest, but it is quite good.

Although he is best known for his national security policy writing, he also wrote about sports and the civil rights movement. I have his book on 1950s America on my too read pile.

He was at work on two books a the time of his death.

Jonathan Yardley had a live chat on Halberstam on Tues Apr 24. When asked why people love Halberstam books, he had this to say: One of my pet theories is that readers have built-in BS detectors that enable them to recognize insincerity in writers. David was sincerity to the core. He believed in what he wrote, and that conviction conveyed itself to readers. That, I think, is the key.

Very short books

One thing of which you can be sure. Good New Yorker articles get turned into books. John McPhee, Elizabeth Kolbert, Adam Gopnik and others have parlayed articles into excellent nonfiction books.

The New York Review of Books has decided to skip the whole extending process and just publish the articles as small books. I just read one, Bill Moyer's Welcome to Doomsday, over lunch. Thank goodness I got it at the library as I would be a bit cheesed if I had paid eight bucks for a 15 minute read. The essay, about the impact of evangelical thinking on environmental policy, would be all the more useful with more information. Perhaps aware they are charging a bit much, the NYRB is offering all eight of the books for a reduced price. To be fair, I happen to have read the shortest one, but most of them are about 100 pages of large type.

Im watching my back, I'm awaiting my visitation

I find if I fail to bring a back-up book on a trip, I won't like the book I am reading. This weekend certainly fit the pattern. I brought the survival tale Skeletons of the Zahara, which for whatever reason didn't grab me. I live in mortal terror of being without a book and I was in coastal Oregon, which is not rich in bookstores. Not feeling hopeful, I stopped in one of those all remainder bookstores you find in outlet malls and to my gleeful surprise I spotted Charles Stross's Atrocity Archives, which I have been meaning to read.

I initially avoided the book because it sounded a little too much like a mix of Declare and the Kings of Infinite Space. I loved both books and figured the Stross book couldn't do better. Well, I read quite a few of his other books and then got a good recommendation and decided to proceed. I'm glad I did. Its highly entertaining and while sharing some similarities with the books above, is very much its own novel.

The book is told from the perspective of a British Man in Black. The idea is that certain mathematical formulas can be used to tunnel into other dimensions where many Very Bad Things lurk. The Laundry tries to suppress this knowledge and combat incursions where necessary. The hero and his coworkers pursue this goal while combating their own bureaucracy which becomes most displeased when funds are misused.

The flaw in this book is actually the story. The central mystery is interesting, but devolves at the end to some highly cliched elements (damsel in distress, the selfless heroism of the secondary military character and so on). Even with this complaint, this is fun read and I recommend it.

Here are some related Stross freebies. A Colder War is a sequel to Lovecraft's at the Mountain of Madness. His Missile Gap has also just been made available.

Sunday, April 22, 2007

Sunday night

Joanna sums up the trouble with Hershey jumping on the dark chocolate bandwagon: It reminds me of the popular kid in high school who jacks off all semester and then shamelessly assumes half the credit for the “group” project done by his studious and diligent lab partner. Not cool, Hershey’s. Totally not cool.

One of the best things about Lost is talking about Lost. To add to your fodder, I recommend you check out the following sites. James Poniewozick at the Time TV blog (Tuned In), has excellent commentary the day after a new episode. The TMZ site has amusing minute by minute reviews of each episode as well as lots of hate for Charlie and love for Locke and Ben. The best I have seen can be found on the Houston Chronicle TV blog called Tubular. The analysis is incredible. I recommend you read all three post-show to amaze your friends.

This short bit hints at a potential decline of the super-reviewers at Amazon. Don't trust them. Trust me instead.

Check out this walking tour of independent bookstores in NYC, with the (unironically?) named Unoppressive, Non-Imperialist Bookstore.

Friday, April 20, 2007

You're the one they never pick

What to do when your genre never makes the big awards? Start your own awards of course. The Sidewise awards are for alternate history novels. I was all set to scoff, but found myself taking notes about some of the books.I have a love/hate relationship with the genre. There is a lot of crap, but also some quite good reading there.

Alternate history is considered a sub-genre of science fiction, as a key element of sf is its speculative side. The unifying concept of the genre is that at some point, history diverged from our timeline. The novel then explores possible consequences of the change, or simply uses an interesting background to tell a story. I think the genre gets a bad reputation because too many of the stories focus on a meticulous exploration of an alternate timeline. That is interesting, but only so interesting.

Harry Turtledove is probably the best selling alternate history novelist, as this chart of his series illustrates. Turtledove is headed towards becoming the Robert Jordan of alternate history, writing overlong novels in never ending series. I quite liked his How Few Remain, which postulates the South winning the Civil War and the adversaries fighting a re-match in 1881. He then followed this up with EIGHT sequels (+ 2 projected ones) taking the two enemies into a re-imagined World War 1 and 2. I gave up after a while as it became too tedious. He has another multi-volume series that has aliens invading Earth in the middle of World War 2. Great concept, but it went on too long.

Fortunately there are nice short alternate history novels out there. Among the more literary are Pavane, which assumes Catholicism won in England, and the Plot Against America. Fatherland is a great thriller, and I think Resurrection Day, a mystery set in a post-Cuban Missile Crisis goes nuclear US, is underrated.

I recently picked up Weapons of Choice, which has to be the goofiest sounding concept of the last few years. In 2021, the US and allies go up against a rising Islamic power in Indonesia. Taking a cue from the Final Countdown, a time experiment sends them back to world war 2. Yay for the USA but it turns out the Axis gets help too. As silly as it sounds, this one gets raves.

Put this one on your list

I remain under-read in Eastern European fiction. I have had a good experience with older books like Bridge over the Drina and the Radetzky March. Then there is the Good Soldier Svejk, a sprawling anti-war satire. I liked it but, at the time, I didn't get all the fuss. That one is massively popular in Europe, but a professor claimed it was the least funny in English. He based this on reading it in Polish, Magyar, Serbo-Croatian, Czech, German and English.

Now I think I need to do more exploring. I've just finished an excellent novel from a Hungarian author named Sandor Marai. The book, Embers, is short and very simple in plot. An aging Hungarian general waits to meet the best friend of his youth, with whom he has not spoke for 40 years. Half of the book consists of the General unloading his thoughts on his guest. This has no right to work, but it does.

The heart of the book is philosophical examination of friendship and what people owe their friends, families and lovers. The General details his entire life, the tragic event that defined most of it and how he has come to understand it. He has some of the best descriptions of what friendship means, what duty means and how we deal with people different from ourselves.

I read one review that compared the style to that of Ishiguro. Certainly the characters are similar. These are 19th century people living in the mid-20th century. Despite their strong feelings, they act properly, hold quite a bit back, even from themselves. I think this reserve prevents the book from turning into the emotional free for all that a modern version would take.

I will certainly read more Marai. A movie has been made of Embers. This should go down well with the Merchant and Ivory set. Patrick Stewart portrayed the General in a BBC radio play. That would be something to hear.

Thursday, April 19, 2007

Your so cute when you're frustrated

OK, I am all about separating the artist from the art. But just so you know, Yann Martel can be a self absorbed Class A jackass. You may have heard how he is going to mail the Canadian PM a book to read each fortnight. Well this Canadian blogger has a hilarious take down of Martel's ridiculous op-ed. (via bookslut)

Oh yeah, he admits he ripped off a Brazilian author for the basic idea in Life of Pi. Which makes the comment in the above blog more sad than funny.

Martel would no doubt dislike Tyler Cowen's argument that the American indirect funding of the arts is the most effective means of supporting art.

Cover me, come on and cover me

There are few delights as rich and satisfying as a cover which can stand next to the original. We can toss out the entire genre of punk covers, which can be described as the same song played faster and less well. A good example is the Atari's cover of Boys of Summer. Grrrr.

We can also leave aside the sound alike cover, like 311's take on the Cure's Love Song. If you don't pay attention their version sounds like it might be the Masters of Moroseness themselves. Boring.

Here then are covers where the artists manage to present them as something new.

Lemonheads - Mrs. Robinson. Unlike its followers this early up tempo cover works very well. While it loses some of the humanity of the original, it does a nice job of turning it into a rock song. Perhaps looking back in horror, Dando tried to turn the tide with his decidedly down tempo version of the Misfits Skulls.

Johnny Cash - Hurt. OK, beyond obvious I know. I only include it because I had a conversation with someone who said that one of the only good songs of the last 15 years was Johnny Cash's Hurt.

After the Fire - Der Kommissar. Sometimes all it takes is a new language, and presto, new song. And I much prefer After the Fire's spy themed video to Falco's green screen running in front of police car video.

Sonic Youth - Superstar. Tough one. I for one can only listen to the Carpenters when they do Christmas carols, so the fact that I really like this is an accomplishment. The video has Sonic Youth in formal wear which is a treat.

Metallica - Whiskey in the Jar. All this one does is add the Metallica chunka-chunka sound to the Thin Lizzy take on the Irish standard. Kirk Hammett's playing is essential here as well. And just so you know Last Caress is a Misfits song, and is all the more creepy for Danzig's jolly delivery.

Wednesday, April 18, 2007

Not enough for a post

(via Ross Douthat) Tom Wolfe describes the latest over-moneyed class, hedge fund managers. One shudders. They are so crass, that slightly older money won't let them into their clubs. If you driven to apoplexy by their ways, recall that they will be the first devoured in the coming zombie war.

If you have ever considered not wearing your seatbelt, read this. Yikes.

This long piece on Lee Child increased the temperature on my cooling enthusiasm.

The Hot Zone guy has a new book. No Ebola though, sorry.

Here is how your city might do better in a pandemic.

Ticking away the moments that make up a dull day

The Big Clock is a great noir novel that should be more widely read. Due to an unlucky set of circumstances, George's boss orders him to find a person of interest. Bad news: the person of interest happens to be George. If he is found, he will probably be killed, if he goes for the obvious escape, he will get divorced. So he tries to play it down the middle. The tension is excellent, and the role that paintings play in the plot is inventive and humorous.

The author, Kenneth Fearing, was involved in left-wing politics, so it is not surprising that the story can also be read as an indictment of corporate life and politics. When we first meet George he is bored senseless of his work, despite his high position. The boredom turns to terror when he learns the lengths to which his superiors will go to protect themselves.

George is not a terribly appealing character. He drinks too much, manipulates his staff and repeatedly cheats on his wife. For the movie version, he is perfectly good guy who has a single lapse that gets him into trouble. The boss is made into more of Scrooge as opposed to a representative of a corrupt organization. As is normally the rule, read the book first. The book was also remade into No Way Out, with obvious changes.

Waiting for something that will never arrive

In the mid-80s I listened almost exclusively to the Ramones. I still very much like the band, but probably listen to the songs every other month or so. Still I was eager to see the documentary End of the Century, a 2003 movie that covers the entire career of the band. The movie includes all the band members, although Joey and Dee Dee died before the release. It also has a number of interviews, the most interesting of which is Joe Strummer. Fans of the Ramones or the Clash will probably have read his opinions by this point, but it is fun to see his enthusiasm on film.

The band members themselves are a bit more shocking. Dee Dee is a wreck in all his interviews. In an early one, he comes off like Nigel from Spinal Tap. Others portray Johnny as a martinet, and he comes off as callous in his interviews, coolly disparaging almost everyone else. Joey and the various drummers seem more or less normal.

Due to the length of the career, 21 years, the movie doesn't delve too deeply into any one subject area. The closest attention, rightly so, is given to the formation and initial launch of the band. The first reaction was largely negative, but the buzz continued to build. Another major plot thread is the internal war between band members. Johnny vs. Joey, Dee Dee vs. everyone else and so on. The very best scene of the movie shows an onstage battle about which song to play next.

The big question with the Ramones is why they never achieved chart success. Like the Pixies, they inspired other bands to great success and maintain a cult to this day. The documentary points to the backlash against punk as one reason for the failure, but the conflict over what to make also seemed to be a problem.

All in all, this one is probably for people who like the Ramones or want to learn more about the band. For some reference points, here is Johnny Thunder and the Heartbreakers doing Dee Dee's heroin song, Chinese Rocks. Here we have Dee Dee's hustling song 53rd and 3rd. Here we have the Chili Peppers covering Havana Affair.

Actual Ramones videos: Psychotherapy, Rock and Roll Radio, and Teenage Lobotomy, live.

Tuesday, April 17, 2007

So many left undone

As I age, I am more and more prone to giving up on a book if it doesn't work by page 50 (200 in fantasy novels.) While I may be missing some gems, I think I my net book enjoyment per year is higher. Here are some that were voted out of the book queue this year.

Saturday by Ian McEwan. I quite like McEwan, so I was sad to find this one unengaging. It just felt so limp compared to some of his other works. In order to atone for this, I've just ordered his Cold War spy book, the Innocent.

Tripwire by Lee Child. A non-thrilling thriller. So sad. I'm not ready to give up on Child and will still read Running Blind.

Scribbling the Cat - Alexandra Fuller. The writing is evocative. I felt as if I was standing in Africa myself, but I didn't feel that compelled to continue. I admit, I read so many reviews of this one that I got the gist of the story and didn't care to read much more. I think I'll read Don't Lets Go to the Dogs Tonight instead.

Ice - Vladimir Sorokin. This one sounded interesting. Someone is kidnapping blue eyes blond Russians and whacking them in the chest with axes made of ice. Those that survive are congratulated and told they are now awake. It may speak more to Russian audiences (the awoken include a prostitute, mobster and a drug addled youth - the new Russians?) I found the prose so spare as to be empty. Not even the promise of a tie-in to Tunguska kept me going here.

I am willing to listen to reasons why I should have continued.


This Will Ferrell is inappropriate in an unusual way. But it is very funny. (thanks CG)

Lost and found

One of the great pleasures of book shopping is finding a lost treasure. Ideally I would like to stumble on something at the bookstore. I don't think this has ever happened to me. Instead I look to reviews, essays and other sources of book information. Neglected Books is dedicated to recommending forgotten books. A number of these are no doubt forgotten for good reason, but I wager many are unjustly forgotten.

Finding some of the books mentioned will be a challenge. Many are long out of print and will take a strong search. I recommend working with a good used book store or using your library's Interlibrary Loan Service.

For lesser known but easy to obtain books, have a look at the New York Review of Books Classics list. I am currently reading the Big Clock, a mystery from 1946, republished under the Classics imprint. Its quite solid.

Monday, April 16, 2007


The Road gets another victory lap by taking the Pulitzer for fiction. The Looming Tower, which I have been meaning to read takes the nonfiction prize. And kudos to the Oregonian for getting another win.

Get out your hankies

Because here comes Atonement. The trailer is here. Difficult to say how it will be, but the visuals look good. I recently started Saturday and couldn't quite engage it. I think I will have to back catalogue with this one.

Love my way, it's a new road

Steve has long promoted Roger Zelazny's Lord of Light. Having found Zelazny's Lord Valentine's Castle (EDIT: as a commenter points out LVC is by Silverberg, so I made a double mistake -- .) ,a bore, I was more than a little leery of Steve's recommendation. Silly me, Lord of Light is one of the most interesting science fiction novels and despite being published in 1967 it feels as fresh as if it was released this year. The content, structure and style of the story set the book apart.

Although the initial characters appear to a mix of Hindu and Buddhist divinities, the reader quickly learns that these are enhanced Earth refugees on a new planet. Some of them have used technology to gain powers and have taken the names and roles of the Hindu pantheon to rule the rest of humanity. They even develop technology to move consciousness into new bodies, allowing for re-incarnation. One of the powerful, named Sam, opposes them and he takes the role of Buddha, so as to use ideas to undermine his enemies.

Rather than build towards the single climatic battle, each chapter shows a way in which successive incarnations of Sam find ways to oppose the powers that be. It is unclear how long time takes in between each story, but it has the flavor of a legend in which the hero periodically returns to fight evil. It also presents the idea of war as water, slowly eroding the enemy. The tide may retreat, but it always comes back, and so does Sam.

The book's prose is lovely and is written in dreamy style, not unlike a more grounded Lord Dunsany. My background in Buddhism is quite limited, but from my uneducated viewpoint, it has the feel of a Buddhist text as well.

This one can be found in the remainder section, which may scare you. Consider it a bargain instead.

Friday, April 13, 2007

For your musical diversion

Time was, soundtracks had hidden treasures, rare songs by your favorite artists. Nowadays you can just go to Itunes and burn a CD called Soundtrack songs I used to have to buy ten CDs to get. Now from an economic perspective, it is obviously a better solution, but life isn't just a spreadsheet. The joy of the hunt is, if not dead, at least less challenging.

Here are some good songs from the soundtrack days:

Ramones- I Want You Around. As this video shows, in Rock N Roll High School, PJ Soles lights up a spliff and suddenly the Ramones are playing this in her bedroom. This might be the only good Ramones ballad.

REM - Romance. You can get this on Eponymous, (out of print?) an early best of collection. The song was from a soundtrack the band didn't name out of embarrassment. I'll save you the IMDB search, it's Made in Heaven.

Joe Strummer - Love Kills. The theme song from Sid and Nancy. So it is really happy as you can imagine. The video features Gary Oldman as Sid as he visits Mexico.

Pavement - Painted Soldiers. A Spiral Stairs song. In the video he fires the rest of Pavement and replaces them with Veruca Salt, a conceit somewhat adapted in Grandaddy's El Caminos in the West.

Everlast - I think I'm Going to Die Today. This one is from Arnie's devil movie. A good song.

In a related category we have the bonus new song on the greatest hits collection/live album. Case in point, the Rolling Stones High Wire from 1991. It's catchy, but hardly a great Stones song. However, these verses seems rather relevant today:

Our lives are threatened, our jobs at risk
Sometimes dictators need a slap on the wrist
Another Munich we just can't afford
We're gonna send in the 82nd Airborne

We walk the highwire
Putting the world out on a dead lie
And hoping they don't taste the shell-fire
Of hot guns and cold, cold lies

More nerdy fun

Following up on the earlier history of computer role playing games, here we have the next part, the platinum and modern ages (1994-2004). I was hoping he would slip an electrum age in there, but no such luck. This one includes Knights of the Old Republic, which not surprisingly is a Star Wars game. This game and its sequel are less than 20 dollars a piece, and they provide a much more interesting story than you find in the film prequels. Which isn't that great a feat I suppose.

Here is one for the older nerds. Back in the day there was a computer magazine called Computer Gaming World. One of the columnists was named Scorpia, and she wrote about role playing games in a snarky way. She now has a blog and still writes about role playing games.

While we are living La Vida Nerdy, I may as well mention the board game Battlelore. Take a look. If you are repelled, you probably won't like it. If you are interested, I say get it. For the last three months I have played two or three times per month, which is excellent for a board game.

Thursday, April 12, 2007

Portland Book Fair

Portlanders! Start saving your book buying dollars for the May 4-May 5 Rose City Used Book Fair. A number of local dealers will have booths and will be selling books that range from bargain volumes to rare and collectible volumes. Wrigley-Cross, which I thought was entirely virtual, but actually has a Troutdale storefront, will be there, as will Murder By the Book and others. There will be seminars for more serious collectors, but they are calling it an "unpretentious" book fair, so browsers and low spenders are welcome as well. Entry is $2 or $1 with food donation.


Kurt Vonnegut died last night. I always liked his overtly science fiction novels like Cat's Cradle. For a lot of snobby types, Vonnegut is a great gateway author to the smarter side of science fiction. suspect many boys get their introduction to Vonnegut through the scatological drawings in Breakfast of Champions. It's been ages, but I recall loving the short story collection Welcome to the Monkey House.

I guess now might be the time to pick up Timequake, which I meant to read some time back.

All you need is a strong heart and nerves of steel

Casino Royale is the best Bond movie yet. It takes its subject matter seriously, remains true to the spirit of the books, uses humor without resorting to camp, and alternates between effective action and subterfuge.

The story is based on the first Fleming novel, in which Bond moves from agent to elite double oh, with attendant license to kill. Bond is presented as a smooth talking killer, who has yet to develop some of the refined tastes displayed in other books and movies. Bond has to learn to fight his basic reaction which is to reach for a weapon and begin inflicting harm.

In addition to learning subtlety and patience, Bond has to learn to surrender a good chunk of his humanity. The final act of the film takes place in Venice, and the the red clad figure running through Venice alleys is an obvious Don't Look Now reference. And like Donald Sutherland's chase, Bond's chase ends in death. In Bond's case, it is the shattering of any chance of his having a normal, human life.

This ties into the overall narrative arc of the Bond novels, but much more quickly than was handled there. It will be interesting to see if they continue to work on Bond as a character in the next movie.

Character aside, the action in the movie is innovative and thrilling. When Bond chases a terrorist lackey through a Madagascar construction site and a foreign embassy, I was enthralled. In most Bond films, the action is so over the top to be laughable. Here when Bond makes a leap, it looks scary and it looks like it hurts.

The movie also has its humorous elements, such as when Bond is mistaken for a doorman and a pompous fool hands him his keys. The movie does not take a humorous approach to the material itself. When a movie sets an ironic distance to itself, it is hard to take any of it seriously or to engage in it. Dropping the campy, winking style of much of the recent films was an excellent decision. Eliminating the Cold War context is a tad sad, but necessary. It is too recent for a period piece.

It's worth noting that I would never have guessed that one of the Hunger Strike boys would be singing a Bond theme song in 2006. Could Eddie be next?

For a laugh, check out the pissing and moaning over at Daniel Craig is Not James Bond. The members really vent some pointless steam in the forum item "What was the worst bit in Casino Royale For You?"

Wednesday, April 11, 2007

Wednesday morning notes

Lee Iacocca is mad as hell and is no longer taking it.

Check this out. The LA Times has a Homicide report which details each murder in the city. As the article notes, it is no wonder so much noir comes out of LA. It reminds me of the book New York Noir, which is a compilation of tabloid photos of murder victims from the 1920 to 1950s.

Back in my China days, I used to flip through the Lonely Planet South East Asia on a Shoestring guide, dreaming of a trip from Vietnam to Indonesia. That trip never came to pass, but I did gain a fascination with the durian, supposedly the smelliest worst tasting fruit on earth. Now a Thai scientist has taken out the stink and people are up in arms. You can get durian ice cream at Polly Ann's ice cream in San Francisco. They rotate flavors, so it may not be there when you get there. With up to 50 flavors available at any time, they have a wheel you can spin to help you choose.

Tuesday, April 10, 2007

How can someone so young sing words so sad?

Apparently the emo kids are freaking out the peeps in North Dakota. Death Cab kills.

From the earlier days of feared subcultures, check out this history of computer role playing games (1985-1993). Relive those Bard's Tale, Wizardry and Ultima memories.

A good blog is back

Belgravia Dispatch is back after a long period of downtime. It continues to have some of the wittiest if bitter commentary on the world situation. In this piece on how the talking heads would have reacted to American sailors being nabbed by the Iranians he writes:

Who would have had a freak-out and totally lost it first, one wonders: Bill O'Reilly? Glenn Beck? Lou Dobbs, off the Tom Tancredo-ish nativist brew for a second or two?.....And, just a couple hours before, Wolf Blitzer's Situation Room would have been rife with buzzing electronic maps, on which frantic, 'John Madden Meets Sun Tzu' magic marker scribblings would have feverishly charted the possible invasion paths into Iran to mount the daring rescue.

He also has some nice words about the Press's reaction to the Pelosi trip.

What might have been

Among the numerous tasty tidbits in Rip it Up and Start Again is the fact that much of the basis for Gary Numan's songs came from his unfinished scifi novel. The sound of Cars is of course futuristic, but the lyrics start to make more sense as part of a larger paranoid concept. Listen to the Foo Fighters cover of Down in the Park, which would seem to come from the same source material.

The whole idea make me think of which bands authors would have made, if they never succeeded in publishing their novels. Here are some thoughts.

John Scalzi - The Ramones. As an author, Scalzi has taken the classic Heinlein approach to science fiction, with a developed Earth based space empire, military conflict and an inherently positive attitude and made it his own. Had this not worked, he might have looked back to Heinlein's heyday in the late 50s and early 60s and updated the garage sound of the days with a updated outlook.

Oscar Wilde - Morrissey. No comment necessary.

Guided By Voices - Anthony Trollope. I think that Robert Pollard might be Trollope reborn. Both are insanely productive, Pollard put out an insane nine releases in 2005-2007 alone. Trollope affronted literary tastes by viewing writing as a craft. By writing for a set period each day, he could pop out an 800 page novel every year or so. Both worked in humble trades, teacher and postal worker, while pursuing their art. And both strain the fan with their work. Pollard's shows easily last 3+ hours and a short Trollope is in the 500 page zone.

Every horror writer - Samhain. Adolescent fascination with blood, violence and Satan, goofy covers, and a disproportionate sense of importance are the shared characteristics of these two groups. Like the odd horror novel, Samhain could kick out a gem or two, but mostly we have dross.

Thomas Pynchon - Devo. Like Pynchon, Devo bases much of their work in critical theory and postmodern analysis, but with liberal doses of humor. Pynchon extends his analysis into hard science as well, which Devo limits primarily to imagery.

Monday, April 09, 2007

He increases the number of clocks by exactly one

Sweden's very own I'm From Barcelona (cheeky!) have written a pleasing little ditty about one of life's little challenges. The song is about the debate one has with oneself about how late you can stay in bed in the morning. Classic. Now we just need a song about procrastinating at work in the morning while you check email, chat with co-workers, fetch cup seven of coffee and so on.

Door stopper fantasy novels

The decision to read a fantasy novel is fraught with reading opportunity cost peril. Thanks to Tolkien, nearly every author feels the need to tell their tale in three+ volumes (Ian Graham's Monument is a pleasing single volume exception). And many of them are not worth the time. The Darkness That Comes After mocks one of the greatest offenders, Terry Goodkind, in this lengthy and amusing post. And finally, even in the case of a book worth reading, one can reasonably only a few series per year.

Fully committed, I am now going to complete the Prince of Nothing with the terse by fantasy standards (400 pages!) Thousand Fold Thought. I am also going to try my hand at the hyper-praised Lies of Locke Lamora. This take provides some a nice level headed perspective. Multnomah County Library shelves this in the literature section, so maybe I can count this as a non-fantasy read.

As I ponder my fantasy list, Nerd World brings yet another book to my attention. Fantasy Book Critic comes out on the positive side for this one. And the Darkness That Comes After serves up yet another possibility. What's a fantasy junkie to do?

You gotta get ready for the big payback

Thank goodness it was Easter egg hunts, candy and bunnies for me this weekend. After reading Gert Ledig's Payback, I needed some cheering. Gert Ledig was a German World War 2 veteran who fought in Russia and also survived the bombing of German cities. In the Stalin Front, (also known as the Stalin Organ) Ledig wrote about war in Russia. Payback reflects his bombing experiences.

The story takes place in one day and involves the crew of American bomber that is shot down over the unnamed German city as well as anti-aircraft crews and citizens of the unfortunate city. The book follows a number of characters, many to their deaths by horrible means.

There are lots of anti-war novels out there, but this one stands apart with its moral distance. Neither side (American bomb crews vs. German soldiers and civilians) is portrayed as hero or villain. Both sides are portrayed as victims of a war they can't control. People behave badly, spouses are abandoned, a girl is raped, and civilians beat someone to death. Ledig presents war as limitless violence with no respite or hope. The title is also ambiguous. Is the Payback to the Germans or the Americans?

Ledig uses an effective pathos device to amplify the horror. When a character dies, he writes mini-bio about the life of that character up until their death. Before the death of a German fighter pilot, we learn about how he painted his sons room and the games he liked to play with him. A dead woman is revealed to have had sparkling wine twice, once on her confirmation and another time on a vacation. This device again emphasizes the massive cost of war.

If you want more on bombing, take a look at Dresden, and the Bomber War, which come down on bombing cities was morally ambiguous but overall the right thing to do. Then you should take a look at Among the Dead Cities which argues that while the bombing was militarily understandable, but in the end morally wrong.

Sunday, April 08, 2007

Closer than my peeps you are to me

I received no Peeps this year for Easter. Just as well, as after my company's Peeps eating contest, I think I will abstain for awhile. I would like to have received one of these Jacques Torres eggs though. Fortunately, I did get some See's.

If you like self help books, particularly with a sprititual lean, you should have a gander at The site details a service by which you can receive summaries and key points from your fave books of wisdom. I use that phrase, because the service also includes key text from great philosophers and the major world religions. As for me, I'd like a service that would randomly send me science fiction quotes (in audio) like "He's no good to me dead," or Kirk shouting "Khan!" That would totally raise my spirits.

The Book Covers Blog disses both I Am Legend and the book's most recent cover. Double fie on them for liking the old lame cover.

Here Ian McEwan talks about his new book and why he likes scientists more than humanities types.

You may have heard of the coyote which boarded the Portland light Rail System. In Chicago, they go to Quiznos.

For the little ones

Those who buy or check out books for kids should have a look at the Books For Kids blog. It is run by a children's librarian and the reviews are quite nice. Speaking of kid's books, we just checked out a They Might Be Giants book. The book presents four of their kid's songs in poem format and has a CD with the same songs. The book is called Bed, Bed, Bed, but the version of the song is slower and tempo and sung by a different person that on the CD No, making it a B-side of sorts.

Friday, April 06, 2007

All you do to me is talk talk

Tom Stoppard fans should take a look at Aaron Petrovich's The Session. Like Stoppards' work, this is word play built into a story. It's billed as a novella in dialogue, which means in effect it is a play. That said, part of the fun would be lost if it was performed by a duo. The identity of the speakers is not established except through the conversation and the rapid pace makes it confusing just who is speaking. The story concerns a pair of detectives investigating a lecturer who has been torn to pieces, and the narrative builds on the two banter back and forth about just who or what did it. I suspect the best way to encounter this is book is to hear the author read it himself, as is possible here in PDX on April 25th at Reading Frenzy.

Now hang me out to dry, you've wrung me out too many times

(note: if you are looking for the song, here's the video be sure to check out We Used to Vacation as well)

The New York Sun is calling for Vice President Cheney to run for President. This is a great idea. After the Dem primaries are settled, the Dem nominee can catch up on some reading, visit those he or she has lost contact with and maybe work on the golf game. Seriously though, read the editorial as it is unintentionally hilarious.

Let's put our heads together, and start some new music up

I thought that the Dirt would be the best rock book I read in 2007, but I was wrong. I am currently reading Rip it Up and Start Again, Postpunk 1978-1984 and it is masterful. The book's thesis is that postpunk was a creative forward looking reaction to backward looking punk. The movement was also intellectually oriented, often being grounded in political, literary or artistic theory.

In each chapter, author Reynolds takes a few bands related due to philosophy and geography and explores how they got started in music as well as what thinking drove their creative process. The chapters are wonderfully balanced between the band's philosophy and the juicy stories of living the rock life. Each chapter is short enough that if you are bored you can read it quickly enough to get to the next, but is also long enough to tell a story.

If you have any interest in the period or the bands, you will learn more about the bands you like and find more music you will want to find. If you can, get the UK version as it includes a few chapters nixed in the US version.

The author's website has a 26 page discography for those who want to search for new music. There is also an esoterica section which includes facts which didn't seem to make it into the book. Don't take this for how the book reads, this reads like unedited notes.

Among the bands covered are Devo, Joy Division, the Human League, Adam and the Ants, Public Image Limited, the Fall, Throbbing Gristle, and the Sisters of Mercy. And piles more.

And in super great book news, his next book is called Bring the Noise, 20 years of Writing About Hip Rock and Hip Hop. I've always wanted a sherpa for hip hop and I think this might be what I seek.


The Slate review of Grindhouse has somehow increased my already massive interest with this line: "there are moments that feel like a throwback to seeing Pulp Fiction in a crowded multiplex in 1994, with the audience gasping and giggling in delighted unison at the wild plot twists and goofy patter."

It's true, seeing Pulp Fiction (fresh back from China and with limited movie watching) was quite the experience in 1994.

It looks like this one can be a bit stomach churning as this line hints: "The gore is deliberately fake-looking and absurd, but that doesn't make it any less yucky to watch Naveen Andrews pelt Bruce Willis with a bag full of severed human testicles."

Inventive! If you've missed the trailer, here it is. You will either salivate or be instantly opposed.

Thursday, April 05, 2007

Consuming mass quantities

So, my company has a Fun Committee and said committee had an Easter party today. As part of the celebration we had a Peep eating contest, and for my sins, I joined it. I thought that perhaps I might be a contender until I saw a Round 1 opponent cram 10 Peeps* into his neck, in a mere 30 seconds. In my round, I ate a paltry 8, while another fellow ate 10. The poor bastards had to go to round 2 and eat as many as peeps as possible in 10 seconds. I suppose they felt the need to outperform their prior exertions as the winner managed six more in his allotted time. I feel sick right now.

I'm pretty glad I didn't make it to round 2, as the first and second prizes was a gift certificate to Big Town Hero. (third prize is you're just a jackass.) I shouldn't be surprised at this either. When I entered the holiday treat contest with my really rather good almond butter balls, I took 3rd prize. For my efforts, I got a cake tin and some cake mix and frosting from the dollar store. I suppose that was the don't quit the day job message.

*The wikipedia entry describes the sport of Peep jousting. And check out a chef from the Culinary Institute of America showing you how to make home-made Peeps.

Done it before, probably do it again

Occasionally, I have a perverse reaction to book recommendations. The chances of me reading a book decrease with each repetitious recommendation. I have an old friend who constantly recommended Richard Russo's Straight Man. Now there was every reason for me to read it. For one I really liked Russo's Empire Falls. For another, the book is both literate and humorous. But no, I perversely for years avoided reading it.

Having finally read and loved the book, I can see my actions are thematically consistent with the book itself. Like other Russo characters, the hero, Hank Devereaux Jr. is a man dissatisfied with his position in life. He He hasn't published anything in 20 years and is realizing the small school he thought was the lauching pad for his academic career, is in fact his career. He has ended up where he is in part because of his propensity to goad others. He started down the path of the academy to spite his philandering and abandoning father. He tweaks his colleagues just because he can. And he surrounds himself with misfits, perhaps out of love for their own gentle oddities.

I've made the book seem serious, which it is on the thematic level. It is also a hilarious read. Not in the crack a smile sense, but in the laugh out loud sense. In addition to a study of midlife crisis, the book is also a satire of academic life. The petty politics, the strident and zoned out students, the creeping corporatization and the fads are all humorously exposed. One of Hank's (male) colleagues in the English department rejects books as phallocentric and will only teach sitcoms. He is also called "Orshe" by the rest of the staff due to his reflexive response to every use of the pronoun "he."

This book is a rarity and I am thrilled to see that Russo has another book, Bridge of Sighs, due in late 2007. Yes, it includes a middle aged man in the Northeast, but as the titles alludes, it is also set in Venice.

Wednesday, April 04, 2007

And it doesnt look that way to me

Peter Bagge writes funny, R. Crumb-esque comics for Reason magazine. Given his employer, you can guess that it is political and libertarian at that. What I like about them is that Bagge is funny while he politely points out the weakness of argumentation on both the left and right. What's more he actually puts a surprising amount of policy recommendations into his comics. While it isn't a substitute for more detailed analysis, his sympathetic and pragmatic take on the homeless, Bums, is a much more reasoned take than the leftist paternalism or right wing hand-washing we normally see. In Beware the Brown Peril, he hits right wing scaremongers and left wing protest hijackers.

It's possible that I like the cartoons so much because they constantly attack my number two bete noire, rigid ideological thinking. The only thing worse is self-praise. If I am silent while you sing a paean to yourself, it is because I am trying not to use swears.

Two out of three ain't bad

Lee Child's Killing Floor and Die Trying are awesome reads. I am sad to say that the third novel in his series, Tripwire, is at best a mediocre read. While reading it, I was in the ideal thriller reading environment, sitting on a chair in a condo facing the beach. If a thriller doesn't work there, it is a bad sign. This book diverges from the format set in the prior two. The first two are action-oriented with many characters and fast paced plot. This story is a mystery which takes place on a much smaller canvass. This slows down the story quite a bit and ended up losing me.

Another problem is that one of Child's great stregths is misused. His description of how one accomplishes a technical task, like picking locks or casing a building for breaking and entering. His descriptions are indepth, no matter what the topic. In this book, he ends up describing any matter of boring topics such as how rooms and houses are decorated.

I'm not going to give up on Child as the first two books were so excellent, but if the rest of the books are most like Tripwire, then I am going to be really sad.

Michael Dibdin, RIP

English mystery novelist Michael Dibdin has died, at the age of 60. As this link explains, his Aurelio Zen crime novels are as much explorations of modern Italy as they are crime novels. He also wrote a number of stand alone novels including the excellent Last Sherlock Holmes Story, which involves Jack the Ripper.

Tuesday, April 03, 2007

The perils of rock and roll decadence

I used to think that I could not be shocked by tales of celebrity shenanigans. Well, I was wrong. After a few recommendations I read The Dirt, the story of Motley Crue. For most of their career, the behavior of these people (Mick Mars excepted) is flat out appalling. As Nikki Sixx notes, if they were not famous they would have been in jail. I'm pretty sure that if you saw any of these people in their heyday, you would hate them immediately.

If it was written in the 80s, it would probably have been unreadable. As it was written after the end of their Crue career, the tone is more reflective. With the help of Neill Strauss, each chapter is written by a band member or a hanger-on. This was a great choice. For one, we often see where band members have different takes on the same event, or they think the other guys were unaware of behavior. Mick Mars, for example, states that no one knew he was really drinking large glasses of vodka, instead of water, pre-show. In the next chapter, another members notes that Mick always pretended to drink water. The narrative approach also humanizes these freaks. You can hear Tommy Lee talking with his frequent "It was all good, dude."

There is self-criticism among the bragging and celebration. You get a sense they are looking for absolution. One of the more despicable members, Nikki Sixx, attempts to atone for his awful behavior to nearly everyone around him. Vince Neill is more like Lars in Some Kind of Monster, less reflection and a lot less growing up. That may be a defense, as he has some of the worst overall experiences. All of the band members face a heavy personal cost for their fame, and that provides some level of sympathy for them.

Some people will be repelled by the book, but I found it fascinating. This is what Behind the Music would have been like if HBO did it, instead of VH1.

Monday, April 02, 2007

Getting better, worse, I can not tell

I think I am never going to be that excited about Neon Bible. Sigh. As NBK told me earlier today "Help Me Interpol, You Are Our Only Hope." And let's not forget Excellent Italian Greyhound.

While we wait, enjoy Pieces of the Sun and Starlight, which are new, and Pavement Saw, Ibi Dreams of Pavement, and In the Morning which are not. Re: Starlight, I'm really bummed I passed up Muse tickets.

Monday afternoon action

Hey! Want to read another article about how a Bush appointee has screwed up a fine American institution? No? Then don't read this op-ed about the Smithsonian. On the plus side, change is afoot and people are aware of some of the issues I have noticed on recent visits.

Here is an interesting article on books that that servicemen and women are ordering in Iraq.

Henry Kamen has written yet another big book on Spain and the Guardian has a glowing review. I can't allow myself to purchase it until I have at least started his book called Empire. I've had it for at least four years.

Borders has a brief, but still amusing, interview with Christopher Buckley.

Sandra at Book World really likes Flannery O'Connor. I have to admit I have not yet read her, and I know this makes me a bad Southerner. The blog post makes me want to read her soon.

I hate "My Humps" very much, so I was amused by this cover by Alanis Morrisette. (thanks CG) It has been nearly 15 years so I can admit I actually like Ironic.

In case you missed it, the Hugo nominees are out. If the rest are as good as Blindsight, then we have some good reading ahead.

Top five scifi badasses

While the mystery genre does a great job of creating individual badasses, science fiction is the place to go for organized bad asses. The genre is replete with tough guy outfits, but there are some that rise to the top.

5) The Mandalorians. In the late period these guys got a little weak, but in the early days it took a nation of Jedi to hold these guys back. That little baby Boba Fett wore their armor, maybe so we wouldn't hear him cry like schoolgirl when he tossed into the Sarlac.

4) The Fremen. Not content with defeating the supposed top badasses in the galaxy, the Sardaukar, the Fremen go on to conquer the galaxy. And unlike the rest of the list, instead of using space ships, the travel on giant worms.

3) Special Circumstances. Even socialist paradises like the Culture occasionally need to bust some heads. Unlike the theocracies and authoritarian regimes above, they don't want people to know about it. So for uncover backstabbing, destabilization and general mischief, the Culture turns to Special Circumstances. While not as outwardly destructive as some, they achieve much with few resources.

2) The Envoys. A friendly name for some nasty bastards. In the Takeshi Kovacs novels, the Envoys are super soldiers who have been neurologically enhanced. They think and move more quickly than regular humans, are stronger and have perfect recall. And limited morality apparently.

1) The Paratwa. What's worse than a super-soldier? How about a super soldier with two separate human bodies that share one consciousness? These little horrors were the last step in the destruction and evacuation of the Earth. If you haven't read Liege Killer then do so right now.

Honorable Mention: The Ghost Brigades. Can't really discuss them without spoilers unfortunately.

Sunday, April 01, 2007

It ain't as easy as it looks, coming up with all those hooks

I haven't looked in awhile, but I am pleased to see that the full video of Big Audio Dynamite's Medicine Show is available online. Note ex-bandmates of the Clash including Joe Strummer have roles as cops (and are gunned down by Mick Jones). John Lydon makes a brief appearance in the gun battle as well. While that is my fave B.A.D. video, my top song has to be Looking For A Song.

Nerd World is talking about the top ten nerd songs. Like one of the commentators, I am amazed that In My Garage is not on the list.

Oh man, this new cover of Stop Me If You've Heard This One Before makes me want to cry. If you require a aural palate cleanser, listen to the original. Or you could completely switch gears and listen to Megadeth.

What have I become, my greenest friend?

Damn, looks like Kermit has dethroned Johnny Cash as master of the Nine Inch Nails cover. Thanks NBK.