Saturday, April 19, 2008

Not something you see every day.

Unless you're Leon Redbone. And he would be about five kinds of awesome anyway. Check this out. At about 1:57 and 3:19 you can see a man wearing an eye-patch... and playing a tuba. I thought that was hilarious.

Sunday, April 13, 2008

Great snakes!

I read the first Nero Wolfe novel, Fer-de-Lance, (I'm planning to read them in chronological order this year) and found it to be about what one would expect. The mystery itself wasn't the best of them all, though the plot was sufficiently unique to provide some enjoyment. The book's denouement clearly showed the influence of British mystery novels of the early 20th century and Archie was not quite who he becomes later in the series. The relationships are all a bit different; in most of the books Archie is the only one permanently employed by Nero Wolfe. In this one Saul Panzer and others are on the payroll too, and Archie is less deferential and complimentary to him. Inspector Cramer doesn't make an appearance; I'll be interested to see which book he turns up in first. All in all, a rougher, more unpolished but still recognisable Nero Wolfe story. Probably most jarring is Archie's use of an ethnic slur. He doesn't strike one as being the type to do that in later books, so encountering it here after becoming familiar with the character is a bit of a shock. Still, despite the flaws, I can see how this book and these characters were promising enough to grow into the institution that it did.

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Listening to: King's X - Dogman - 03 - Pretend
via FoxyTunes

Tuesday, April 08, 2008

Asimov he's not.

I read a couple books on the suggestion of Unshelved. They were... okay, I guess. Half the SF I try seems to be hardly more than adolescent male fantasies given a boost into the future and some spaceships and aliens for colour.

Pandora's Star and Judas Unchained are no different. It isn't explicit more than a couple times throughout a couple thousand pages, but the society is described as hardly having marriages worthy of the name, pornography is accepted as suitable for broadcast on television (or super 3-D vision or whatever it's called) and the whole galaxy is perfectly at home with lots of consequence-free coupling. Oh, and everyone gets to live forever and stay 22 years old in appearance indefinitely. I exaggerate; it's really only the 80% of the population that counts as upper class.

Which is a pity, because the story itself is fairly interesting and there are a couple sympathetic characters. I started to feel sorry for them having to put up with being in these books. The plot is about how an alien has infiltrated human society and manipulates the humans into contact with an aggressive alien species in an effort to cripple them both so that the hidden aliens can rule the galaxy. It's really a three-sided battle between the alien, the small group of humans who know what it's up to and the oblivious masses trying to fight the aggressive aliens and stop the humans claiming subversion from within, since they think that's nothing more than a lunatic terrorist group.

The best characters are the criminal mastermind who is recruited to work with the humans who know of the hidden alien and the detective, genetically designed to be as efficient as possible, who is assigned to hunt him down. Still, with the degree of nonsense, I can't recommend it in good conscience.

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Listening to: Marzipan f/Strong Bad - Strong Bad Sings and Other Type Hits- 13 - Sensitive To Bees
via FoxyTunes

Book friends

I found another blog through LibraryThing (at least, I think that's how it was... it's been a while). And, after a decent trying out interval, I'm putting her blog up on the list of links. Not that my doing so is some sort of momentous mark of sanction and approval, but when I do decide to do so I think it's only polite to point it out so everyone who reads my blog can begin enjoying another blog.

And, I haven't asked which it is in this case, but it seems "Anstruther" can be a place or a name.

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Listening to: Concerto Vocale - Come inanti de l'alba ruggiadosa (Il primo libro de madrigali a 6 voci)
via FoxyTunes

New features.

I'm playing with the new feature in Blogger (currently only in draft) that allows one to future date a post and have it not appear on your blog until said date arrives. The last two posts before this one are out of order because I fiddled with their times a bit. I know, I know, not a big deal here, but if I ever get my other blog caught up (don't hold your breath!) it'll be useful there.

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Listening to: Audio Adrenaline - Bloom - 07 - Free Ride
via FoxyTunes

Fraulein Braun

The Complete Peanuts series is one that I would buy if I had a million dollars. That is to say, I really enjoy it, but I'll always be able to think of a book I'd rather have before I'd buy these books. So I was getting them from the library when they started being released, but I'd forgotten about them for a while until I ran across one the other day while at the library. Luckily, it was next in the series after the ones I'd already read.

The other thing about this series is that I find the early strips far more interesting than the later ones. The conventions aren't set in stone and Schulz was still experimenting with characters. Among other things, Charlotte Braun (the female Charlie Brown doppelgänger) is still present, Sally Brown hasn't arrived yet and Linus is still considered to be a baby to some degree.

Peanuts
eventually went downhill and became as repetitive as any of the other 30+ year-old strips in your newspaper (paging Family Circus), but the early stuff is the work of genius. It'll be interesting to see if there's a clear shark-jumping moment or if the change is gradual enough to be without any sort of defining moment. I'm betting on the latter.

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Listening to: Weird Al Yankovic - White & Nerdy
via FoxyTunes

Ancient History

Literally. I finally finished reading Herodotus' The Histories and it was very, very good. It's a bit of a difficult read since it is written in a style that isn't familiar to modern eyes, but the stories are interesting even if the translator of my edition didn't believe half of them. Herodotus is known for being one of the first writers (along with Thucydides) to distinguish between what he saw himself, what he thought was evidence of reliable witnesses and spurious stories and hearsay. He talks up Athens quite a bit, (he is a native) but he's also quite willing to give a lot of credit and respect to the Spartans and their role in the defeat of Persia. I haven't seen 300, and I don't really plan to. (The comic book it was based on wasn't any great shakes.) But some of those famous lines ("Then we shall fight in the shade.") were fun to read in the original and I have a better understanding of the chronology of the war than I did previously.

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Listening to: Cake - Motorcade of Generosity - 02 - Ruby Sees All
via FoxyTunes

Sunday, April 06, 2008

"PG Wodehouse and Tolstoy"

Barrayar gets its one implausible thing out of the way early and suffers from adding another at the end unsanctioned. Our heroine has given up her life on her homeworld and travelled to the planet with which she has just fought a war and marries her one-time enemy. This isn't the implausible bit, really, because it actually happens in the book that precedes this one. The man she marries turns out to be a relative of the dying emperor and the one man said emperor trusts to be regent until his grandson comes of age and can ascend to the throne. No, we're still not there yet; that's from the previous book too. She and her new husband then decide that they're going to use this opportunity to overthrow hundreds of years of culture and change the ethical system on the planet to something more enlightened. Okay, it's a bit much, but I'll accept one stretch.

Later on, when she leads a commando raid into the heart of an enemy-occupied city, that's when it all gets to be too much. All things considered, it's not a bad book, though it ought to have been combined with the previous one (Shards of Honor) from the get-go. (It has since they were written, you can find it as Cordelia's Honor now.) The world (galaxy?) is well-crafted, there is a nice balance between the unexplainable and the credibly explained and the dialogue is reasonable. I'll keep going with the series for at least another book or two, especially since the character that's so popular with everyone was only just born at the end of this book. And it was much better than the next two sci-fi novels I read.

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Listening to: Kenny Wayne Shepherd - Live On - 13 - Where Was I?
via FoxyTunes

Mediocre Wodehouse

Which almost always indicates early Wodehouse. A Man of Means is a short collection of six stories originally published serially in Pictorial Review. They were also, apparently, a collaboration with a man named CH Bovill, something I had not elsewhere run across in Wodehouse's work.

The book itself wasn't too bad, the language had a familiar sparkle that one recognises from having read the Jeeves stories that came later, but it did lack the polish it later attained. The plot, like most Wodehouse plots, was predictable and yet still enjoyable. The story is the trials and tribulations of a man who unexpectedly comes into money. One of my favourite bits comes at the beginning where our hero beards his employer in his den to ask for a reduction in his salary so that he can put off his unwanted marriage a bit longer; a very Wodehousian touch.

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Listening to: Kenny Wayne Shepherd - Live On - 04 - Last Goodbye
via FoxyTunes