Archive for January, 2014

We Go – not lit related at all

January 29, 2014

A couple of things have hit the news in the past week or so that really stood out to me. One, on a bit of a low note, was China’s lunar rover, Jade Rabbit, dying on the moon.  The second is that Opportunity has been on Mars for ten years now, and is still uncovering new things. Now, there could easily be a nationalistic thing here, with how long NASA’s rover has lasted on Mars, and how successful they have been, versus their Chinese counterparts. I think that would be misdirected, though. To me, it seems as if we have – as a race -always been about exploring. Taking that next step, forever attempting to chase down the horizon.

Except that horizon has already been chased, by and large, on this planet. We still have the sea floor, and we’ll get there some day, too. But where the next great frontier is  will be above us, away from us, towards the reaches where horizons do not exist. there is just the reach of space. In many ways, I think our reluctance to really fund NASA, to shovel money at them and tell them to GO, to inspire, to really start trying to take these next steps has been one of our greatest failures as a nation for the past thirty years. We have sat on our laurels, pointing to our history of manned flight to the moon, to our shuttle program, and then/now to our rovers. All the while, scaling back our explorations because we can’t use it to lord over a big bad enemy across the ocean. When the weaponization of space because less of a necessity (real or imagined) we quit caring. We lost sight of the real point for setting goals for explorations.

Because it is there. Because we will need to go there. Perhaps not a need as in a physical necessity. We may be able to continue finding ways of creating whatever we want/desire right here on this planet. We might all be able to have sixty-five inch televisions, eat the finest food from the nicest restaurants, and drive the nicest cars. Maybe. But there is a need that goes beyond that, an imperative to explore.

We could be on Mars within five years if we wanted to dedicate the resources to it. And compared to the resources we routinely dedicate to finding better ways of killing each other,  the resources for a trip to Mars are not even that large. We could put a base on the moon within two years. And we should. And I’m sure we will. At some point. When we overcome the inertia of not moving, of not chasing the horizon. When we return to our true nature of going, of seeing what’s just beyond the reach of our vision. There is an entire solar system out there, and then more beyond. Some day we will have to start checking out the rest of the neighborhood.

 

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Book Links

January 28, 2014

Dean Koontz had a hangout on Google+ the other day. Go here if you’re interested. I’m not a big fan of their video player, it keeps wanting to close when I switch tabs and try to come back to it later, but from what I have listened to in snippets and pieces, it seems like a good one. It’s also a long one (~54 minutes) so you’ll have to set aside a chunk of time to watch it entirely. I sort of wish they would have just an audio version for us folks who maybe don’t h ave a killer internet connection and who don’t want to put up with buffering, lag, and everything else. Or google can get their own high speed installed in more places (preferable).

Have a cup of coffee, chat about Murakami. This is actually one of a serious of articles about Haruki Murakami. This one’s about a jazz cafe turned book cafe where Murakami fans gather and gab. I liked it, but I’m a Murakami fan. So…

And here’s a link I haven’t put up before, but probably should have. It’s an organization for independent book stores. I always have a B&N link with stories I review, because I’m really not a fan of Amazon’s practices related to the book industry,but I should push the independents more, too.  For a vibrant community, and a healthy industry, support your local book stores.

Book Links

January 22, 2014

Slow week so far. Been hard finding anything I particularly want to write about, and the week has been chock full of tediousness with various kid related activities.

12 Historic Literary Bars.  alternatively named: Places Hemingway Was Publicly Drunk

Literary Scarves.  Cute. Not really a fan of them, but I like the idea.

Retro posters to save our libraries.  I wonder if that includes the bookless library in San Antonio.

All Your Poems Belong to..ME. Apparently there was quite a bit of plagiarism going on last year. So it’s not just Shia stealing from other people to make a buck…

Book Links

January 20, 2014

Pew has a new poll out about e-readers. Most people still read actual printed books. About 28% of people have read an e-book.  They also say that half of America owns a tablet or e-reader.  I’m not entirely sure what you’re supposed to take from that. Tablets can be used for so much more than reading, that part of me has serious doubts that anyone gets a tablet for reading a novel on. You get it for movies, for skyping, for screwing around the on the interwebs. If you get something like the Surface with a keyboard, you can even be productive with one of the things.

50 Novels to make you a better person. So, if you’re not a good person, I guess this is for you. I’m not sure if they’ll actually make you better or not. If you take the time to read all 50 of these things, you’re just not going to be intereacting with other people as much. So there’s that. 50 books to cripple your social life.

I don’t know why, but as I get older I have started to care more and more about history.  Maybe it’s an appreciation for our race’s progress. Maybe it’s an existentialist grab to replace belief in divinity. Maybe I’m just becoming a bigger and bigger bore. I don’t know. But I do know that  The British National Archives is digitizing the diaries of a bunch of British soldiers from World War I. So, if you’re a bit into history, or war, or reading the secret thoughts of men you don’t know, check it out. Might be interesting.

Dead Set by Richard Kadrey *spoilers*

January 17, 2014

I’m not sure there is a whole lot I can say about Dead Set that has not already been said by other reviewers or  Kadrey’s fans, but I’ll try to say something.  From a quick Google search to make sure I was not entirely delusional, there is a definite Alice in Wonderland feel to the piece. By feel, I mean it seems to follow large chunks of Carrol’s story as a map guide. There is the swallowing of a pill – a candy given to Zoe during a metaphysical trip to Iphigine (apologies for any spelling mistakes, as I’m going from memory on them). There is a travel down a rabbit’s hole, as Zoe physically wanders through the sewers to make a literal, physical trip to the land of the dead. There is bizarre, dream like landscapes, twisted and contorted, as well as human/animal hybrids, and strange malformations. There is angry queen who rules over the land, who Zoe must take on and defeat in a far more literal and violent fashion than Carrol provided us.

This is not a bad thing. I am not saying it is derivative, but Kadrey fits himself in nicely with the history of of stories of people journeying to distant, fantastic lands (think Gulliver. think road novels.) and coming back changed, grown, to see the world differently, usually for the better. The journey Zoe takes allows her to move past the death of her father, who she saves, along with pretty much everyone else, in Iphigine, and to connect again with her mother, to push past the barriers constructed by their grief and loss. She does not just view her mother differently, though. Returning from her trip to the dead, from defeating a queen, she approaches life more confidently. She has less fear. She sees people as people instead of as groups of definable types, as she was prone to do earlier in the novel when she began her first days at a new school.  For the first time since her father’s death, perhaps in her life (who knows – the novel doesn’t specify, though she at least had a couple of friends from her previous school), she is able to not just seemingly connect with a person or two at arm’s distance, but to welcome them into her life whatever the repercussions may be (even liking them).

where I think the novel succeeds most gloriously is its portrayal of Zoe’s mother. Here is not a willfully neglectful parent. The newly single mother concentrating solely on her new life, leaving her daughter to fend for herself.  No, the mother is portrayed as a mother, albeit one who is suddenly confronted with a myriad of difficult choices and conflicting priorities, who is doing the damned best she can. And her daughter is really not very helpful being so closed off. This provides one of the few tripping points I had with the novel, though. Instead of allowing the mother to just trust her daughter at the end, when she is given this spectacular story of why and where she’d been for a week, Zoe must have proof. And gets it with a polaroid of the vengeful son seeking retribution for Zoe having killed his mother, the queen. A final physical confrontation between the two? Fine, I guess. It’s needed. But it felt a bit tacked on, a bit unnecessary. And Zoe having to have proof to convince her mother she had t old the truth weakens the mother a bit, right at the end when it was most unnecessary. But then adults are supposed to be ineffective and somewhat impotent in these stories. If they were not, then there would be no coming of age, no growing up, for the main characters.

All in all, it’s a good read. It’s a bit of a departure from the hard, nasty fun of Kadrey’s Sandman novels, but clearly exists within the same universe, the same dimensional tear in the literary world. It would not have surprised me a bit to have had Sandman Slim appear from the broken mirror rather than the sun, and then the queen would have met a much different fate.

Barnes and Noble Holiday Sales

January 15, 2014

Barnes and Noble’s holiday sales were a mixed bag. The sales at their actual stores were pretty similar to last year (fell .2%), but nook devices fell through the floor. This isn’t surprising since they’ve quit putting out new Nooks. Given the choice between an old Nook or a new whatever, it’s not surprising that people took the whatevers. I thought the meat of the article was the last paragraph, where Huseby (CEO of B&N) made a comment that digital content was the “lifeblood of digital business” and that the company was busy making progress in linking their content through other devices – in other words, apps.  the first quote is obvious, your print content isn’t going to be the lifeblood of digital business, but it seems important that he didn’t say it was the lifeblood of Barnes and Noble. It also seems as if B&N is committing to the push away from the hardware side and pushing harder into the software end. they realized that they don’t need a device of their own, if people with ipads, surfaces, notes, etc. can and do click on their apps to buy their books through their store.

Also, I have to think it’s a helluva lot cheaper to make a really good app and then plough extra money into the company. Also, as I’ve linked to before on here, digital sales of stagnated a bit. They roared up for a few years, eating up a chunk of book purchases, but it hasn’t continued its rapid ascent this year. Is this temporary or is there just that much of a desire for printed copy that we’ll see this hold for several years? I don’t know, but it means B&N can probably do very well if they work on maximizing their profits at their brick and mortar stores, while laying a better infrastructure for a strong digital presence in the future. I think B&N has this distinct advantage over Amazon. There have been countless articles about people wandering through bookstores, browsing at the books, only to leave and buy it cheaper from Amazon once they’ve read a few pages and know they like it. there is no reason this couldn’t work to B&N’s advantage. Make it easy to walk through a store, find a book you like, then purchase the digital edition. People could do it now through their phones or whatever without leaving the store.  Find a way to encourage this and make it easier.

So, the sales numbers were a bit of a mixed bag, depending on how you look at them. While the Nook devices took a beating, in a world where I can go and grab a $50 tablet from Meijer, I think getting out of the hardware side where profit margins are shrinking and competition is growing is a good idea. Put your limited funds to better use elsewhere.

All Your Holmes Belong To Us

January 13, 2014

Well, most of them, anyway. This popped up a few days ago and I never got a chance to say anything about it, so I’m saying something now. A judge recently declared that a big chunk of Conan Doyle’s work is, in fact, part of public domain. Though, not all of it. There were ten stories published after 1922 and those are still verboten to anyone out there who wants to write about Sherlock, who wants to pump out some fiction of their own. Now, I think this is the stuff that you can’t use. If there is something mentioned in them, and only in them, you can’t use it for your own stuff. Though it’s probably easier to just consult this list of things that you can use.

So, why do I make a post about this? Have I written some kick ass Holmesian story that I can now flog to every mystery mag I can find? No, not really. It’s more that I just hate copyright law in the US. I hate that Mickey Mouse still can’t be touched by anyone. It’s bullshit. This stuff is put out there, and part of a healthy artistic society is re-appropriating stuff that is old and putting a new spin on it. Making it breath again. When was the last time Disney did anything with Mickey Mouse that was worth the five minutes it took to look at it and realize it wasn’t worth your time?  Maybe Epic Mickey, but I don’t think so. It was sort of fun, but also sloppy and with some serious control/camera issues. So, not even Epic Mickey. Has Mickey even done anything in the past twenty years? Has he had a movie? I can’t think of anything big and Mickey. So why does Disney cling so desperately to it just to put college kids into those god awful foam suits every summer and threaten to kill’em should they rip off their mouse heads within view of the public?

At least Holmes has the movies lately. The television shows. And they do something different with it. I’m not a fan of the two modernized television shows, but it’s something different.

Anyway. So, this is sort of big news. what I find most interesting about this whole sordid affair is that while his estate has zealously protected copyright, Doyle didn’t seem to be nearly as fervent about it in his life time. A ton of Holmes stuff was done in his lifetime, from movies to stage plays. Maybe letting it drift into the public domain, and allowing the public to finally take it and run with it is just the right thing to do. as for if I’m looking forward to more Holmes stuff…I’ll have to see what the Holmes stuff is. But at least folks have a chance now.

Book Links

January 10, 2014

Frankly, a bunch of numbers too big and too numerous for me to really get into. If you’re curious about how many people are sending their little literary babies into the world, though,  here’s an article you’ll want to read.

Reading is a workout for the brain. Yeah. Not exactly surprising for anyone who reads, but at least now we have some more evidence that reading is literally good for you.

Hey, someone 3D printed a slip cover for a book. Check it out.  It looks pretty cool, not something I’d pay extra for (sorry folks) but if you have the cash and Chang-rae Lee is one of your guys, something like this could be up your alley. Regardless of whether or not you would buy it, still pretty cool.

And The Atlantic has a a great article on Marian Bantjes. She’s a designer who does a lot of great looking stuff with lettering.  Worth the read.
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Steambox – who asked for this?

January 8, 2014

the Valve Steam Box appears to be getting closer to being unleashed upon the world. A little back ground.  For anyone who doesn’t know, isn’t in the scene or whatever, there is a PC gaming service called Steam. You buy games from their website, and download/play them with their software.  It’s hugely popular for probably one reason: they sell games dirt cheap. The only problem, if you can call it that, is that they are PC games. To bridge this gap they are now bringing out Steam Boxes, an attempt to bridge PC gaming and console gaming. You’re supposed to be able to easily hook this thing up to your television, and build your gaming library with Steam.

Here’s my problem: why?  If you have a computer that can handle steam, you probably have a computer that can be hooked up to your television. so, just hook it up to your television. There are plenty of videos on youtube to show you how to do it.  Want a controller for it? Buy one. Amazon has a bunch of them. In a couple of days, it can be at your door. No problem.

Now, maybe you don’t have a computer that can use Steam or be hooked up to your television. Maybe it makes sense to just buy a steam box to open up access to computer games. Except from the article above it says the cheapest steambox looks to be $500. That’s not cheap to me. If you’re throwing $500 down to play computer games…why not put that  $500 towards an actual computer that  can do more than just game?

So who asked for this? A moderately expensive neutered gaming system that will be largely redundant with  your other computer sitting in your living room.  Maybe this is something necessary for Steam to grow, but I just don’t see the need for it. I don’t understand the hype for it, or any of the want, when the majority of its purpose can already be filled by oher machines you’re likely to already have in your house.

 

The Shining Girls by Lauren Beukes

January 5, 2014

The Shining Girls by Lauren Beukes is a wonderful, intoxicating read. She takes a murder thriller, and puts a deft spin on it, working in time travel, obsession, and the power of sexuality. Thinking back on the novel, sex plays an increasingly large role in the narrative. All of the victims are sexually strong women, in control of their lives in every way. The one exception is the one woman who no longer “shines,” falling into drug abuse and mediocrity as an artist. She, also, is the least satisfying kill for Harper, the serial killer who jumps around time, killing off women who “shine,” who have a special quality that  lifts them above the rest. They are gifted.

Talking about sex in The Shining Girls, for much of the novel sex and violence are explicitly tied together with the killer. He jerks off to places where he kills his victims, his erections are noted, the release and the energy of the killing passages could be overlaid a bodice ripper, and the songs would be eerily similar. Harper’s violence is tied to his sexuality, taking its place. It’s evidenced further by the only time he considers giving up the serial killer business is when he establishes a physically intimate relationship with a nurse that he considers his equal. What is interesting is that he considers her his equal largely because he sees her as being as cold, deceptive, and manipulative as he is. Their intimacy is less a shared experience than of two experiences running parallel to one another. based on deceit, of the willful playing of expected roles, both seeing the other as being innately false but finding their attraction in this falsehood. It was not surprising when one crossed a line and Harper brutally murdered his lover. though this was also Harper’s most disorganized killing, building towards nothing, no purpose besides reacting against a betrayal he couldn’t abide.  His lover had drugged him and looked into The Room.

The Room is essentially a trophy case that maps out the killings that would make up Harper’s life. It should be noted that Harper’s lover did not react to the room with revulsion. She did not find Harper suddenly terrifying, a monster in human skin. She offered to work with him, to be his accomplice, to be Bonnie to his clyde, holding up the robust futures of young women and taking them for himself.  She was more alike him than he knew, and for a brief moment, before he killed her, it may have been the one frankly honest communication to pass between them.   So why did Harper kill her? Was it the betrayal or was it the loss of power? With his regular killings, power is a key aspect for Harper. Snuffing out these bright lights, taking them for himself, the idea of being in control is  for him quite stimulating. Perhaps this is the true reason he kills her. By drugging him, and slipping into the one room he has forbidden her from, she has done an ultimate act of power taking. The only way for him to regain any of it is to brutally snuff out her light.

It is this loss of power induced rage at the realization that one of his victims, Kirby, has survived that ultimately leads to Harper’s own demise. He gets sloppy. He gets personal. He consistently loses his fights when it gets personal, seemingly unable to deal with anything he can’t detach himself from.

This isn’t to say that sex isn’t intrinsically linked to power for the other characters. For all of the women who shine, sex is powerful for them, as well. however, it is a power they exert over themselves and weave into their lives rather than a power that is forced over others. One woman is a lesbian at a time and place where lesbianism wouldn’t be the most popular life choice. Another forgoes a lesbian relationship because she knows it isn’t what she ultimately interested in. Another woman is keenly aware of the sexual politics played at her work, and is careful in plotting her course and fending off advances – as well as the repercussions of fending off such advances. And Kirby desires sex, but on her terms, turning down suitors who offend her, holding back when she isn’t sure if another has the same desires.  Sex is a part of their lives, in ways prominent parts, but they are only parts, and they have their place.

As always, here’s the Barnes and Noble link to buy the book.