31 March 2011

This n' That



26 March 2011

Books: Beyonders: A World Without Heroes by Brandon Mull (2011)


I had not read Brandon Mull’s Fablehaven series of fantasy books for young readers, but like much that has come out since the rise of Harry Potter, you knew it fell somewhere between that series and the more adult fantasy of say J.R.R. Tolkien. As a reader of this genre, I’ve become pretty critical of writers attempts at World Building this genre demands. Rowling was able to create a universe that was interesting, fun for all ages, tinged with a bit of darkness. She was very smart to let the series, as it progressed, to become more adult.



As I read Beyonders (and the only reason, let’s be honest I read it was because I got an ARC at the store), it has all the usual fantasy tropes, and it does have a bit of darkness to it, especially if this is designed for readers 10 and up. While the violence is spread out over its 446 pages, it does contain passages that you don’t usually see in the age group, such as characters torn to bits by dogs, or the torture of Jason, main character, with a venomous snake and a sensory deprivation chamber (and clad in only a slim sort of loin cloth).



Jason Walker, our hero, is earnest, brave to the point (at times I felt) of stupidity, but charming none the less. The story revolves around him stumbling into a parallel universe of Lyrian, where he encounters a land devoid of no heroes, as the evil Maldor rules the world. As he tries to find his way home, he becomes involved with Galloran, the last man who attempted to destroy Maldor with the Word (an ancient phrase that will undo the evil). Seeing potential in Jason, Galloran convinces the earnest teen to journey through the lands in search of all the syllables that make up the Word. He also encounters Rachel, a girl who is also from his world. Together, they head out on a perilous journey to find a way home and defeat Maldor.



So, while Mull hits all the fantasy buttons, why does it not work? First, perhaps, he borrows so much from other works like The Lord of the Rings series, Homer’s The Odyssey, Harry Potter and even Percy Jackson (I was reminded so much of how Jason and Rachel’s repartee where like Percy and Annabelle’s) that the story falls flat. Rachel, a much more interesting character, gets left behind in the action for some reason that is not fully explained (though you get the sense that women in this universe are second-class citizens as much as they are in our world) and I never believed that Jason, at age 13, spoke or acted like a 13 year-old. His actions, his thoughts, his speech pattern clearly dictate that he is more adult than a teen.



As the beginning of a trilogy, the story is not resolved, and characters like Jason and Rachel are left with cliffhanger situations until the next book. The series will work for the tweens, as long as they expect nothing new from the genre, because it is not the next step in the evolutionary process of young-adult fantasy that Harry Potter was or, even, Percy Jackson.

22 March 2011

Former SNL star is an idiot

When she was on SNL, Victoria Jackson always seemed to play characters that were a few tacos short of a combination platter. Who knew that some 25 years, she would prove that it was no shtick. She really is dumb and oblivious to reality. Well, it’s nothing new, per se. It was obvious while she had comedy timing, she obviously was never going to read a book above, say the James Patterson level.

They say that the folks who run Religion go after the young, the old and the weak minded. Young, because if you lie to them long enough, they’re hooked like a junkie is to crack. Old, well, they are old. People who are near the end of their lives are again easily caught up in a web of lies by these people. They become the dealer again who is supplies the crack; death is at the door, do you want to leave without paying for your sins (as in cash donations to Religion, Inc ). And the weak minded because learning things, understanding logical, critical thought is seen as ways to the DEVIL.

So, Victoria Jackson, upset that Kurt and Blaine kissed on GLEE last week, wrote an article in something called the World Net Daily, which sounds like one of those tabloids that claim Jesus works at Mel’s Diner.

What?

Really?

It does claim that?

Okee Dokee

So she wrote that “Everyone knows that two men on a wedding cake is comedy skit, not an ‘alternate lifestyle.’” She also added that it was “sickening” to see the boys kissing. “And besides shoving the gay thing down our throats, they made a mockery of Christians - again.” What she was referring to was comedian Kathy Griffin playing a Sarah Palin type character. She goes on to add: “I wonder what their agenda is? Hey producers of GLEE - what’s your agenda? One-way tolerance?”

She was on CNN’s Showbiz Today after this article came out, and she sat there with her Bible and claimed “I just wanna know why the liberals are pro-Muslim and pro-gay. Muslims kill gays. That’s what’s confusing to me. The only thing I can think of is that the Muslims hate God and the gays hate His word.”


Wow.

Who the hell is she? I mean, for the last decade or more, the conservatives have gone out of their way to attack “celebrities” like Alec Baldwin, Janeane Garofalo and others who come on political talk shows, or round-table discussion panel programs like Bill Maher. They’ve claimed at times how an actor or a singer can know anything about politics, or religion or the price of tea in China. Now, its okay for some former SNL “skit” writer to the same. And while she was on Showbiz Today with this latest rant, she has appeared a few times on Fox News. So you know they think she’s super cool.

The thing is, Religion, Inc after centuries of brutal, jugular, iron fisted control of the human race, is finding itself increasingly boring, pedantic and not necessarily needed that much anymore. Still, because it has been around so long, I don’t see it ever really going away. And even I believe it can be helpful to those who need comfort, and even if the Bible is one the greatest single fiction books on the planet, it does offer a reasonable way of living: do no harm, and love everyone.

Secularism, for all its randomness, its oddity and yes, depravity (see Rush Limbaugh), is what we should really strive for to balance out the horrible schism Religion, Inc created when a group of white, old men got together a hundred centuries ago to figure out a way to control a mass group of people. I’m sure it was suppose to be a bloodless take-over, but then the pesky Crusades happened and its been downhill ever since.

As a nation, and as a world, we need to realize that life is moving on, and that the phrase “evolve or die” is very real thing. Religion has suppressed people for so long, has kept ideas, new thoughts hidden away because they feared that if someone learned that Christianity is built on a house of cards, people would realize they’ve been culled, like sheep. And besides, evolving is not in a word in Christianity’s vocabulary.

The way I see it, her version of Conservatism and religion -much like Glenn Beck and others of that ilk - plays on fear and thrives on lies and dishonesty.

Anyways, for Victoria Jackson, and those who follow such a dark, and inhuman agenda, have forgotten we gay people have been around since the dawn of time. We’ll always be around. And we are tired of being made the scapegoat for your “beliefs.”

So I ask: is the religion of these conservatives like Jackson so fragile that they need the state to prop it up, to tell us how to pray and think? Is that what they stand for? Is that their America?

And as for her comments about Muslims -despite reality that only a small percentage of said Muslims might be “terrorist” - let me remind her of American history, via Steve Gilliard:

“It was the liberals who opposed the Nazis while the conservatives were plotting to get their brown shirts or fund Hitler. It was the liberals who warned about Spain and fought there, who joined the RAF to fight the Germans, who brought democracy to Germany and Japan. Let us not forget it was the conservatives who opposed defending America until the Germans sank our ships. They would have done nothing as Britain came under Nazi control. It was they who supported Joe McCarthy and his baseless, drink fueled claims. Without liberals, there would be no modern America, just a Nazi satellite state. Liberals weak on defense? Liberals created America’s defense.”

Victoria Jackson is just the latest long-forgotten celebrity to attack what she does not understand, and claim Jesus and the Bible are where her words come from, so you can’t call her a bigot.

But I can, and I will. You know nothing about any gay person’s struggles, you know nothing about what it takes to live in a world where your treated like dirt, a second-class citizen. You hide behind some dusty old words that had little meaning then, and even less now. You praise the asshats of the Conservative Right because your afraid to live and think for yourself.

Victoria Jackson, you are a pathetic old woman, trying to relive some glory, some halcyon day you never had when you were nothing but a stereotypical blond twit on SNL. You hide behind a tome of questionable reality, and you pass judgment as if you think some how, anyone, would care what the hell you think.

You vanished from the world when you left SNL.

We didn’t miss you.

09 March 2011

Books: Spooner by Pete Dexter (2010)


For Pete Dexter, Spooner is more a memorish novel than anything else. He spins a tale of one Warren Spooner, who sort of haplessly blunders through life, firing through life almost unwittingly.

Dexter admits that the novel is loosely based on characters and events from his life, so sometimes you have to wonder where real life and fiction begins, intertwines and then ends as page through the book -such as the case of young Warren breaking and entering and then peeing in his neighbors shoes.

The author, known for thrillers such as the award winning Paris Trout, paints Spooner in a colorful, often funny way. And while there are a number of disturbing disasters in Spooner’s life, just when you think the book was going to get dark, Dexter slips in a pratfall or something even more odd to lighten the mood.

At first, I kinda of saw Spooner more like Forest Gump, sort of slow and maybe a bit unstable. He seemed to stumble through life, starting a career in baseball that is, predictably, ruined by injuries. He has failed marriages, and then almost by accident (as it sometimes happens), he stumbles head over heels into a writing career (newspapers and then novels). But as the novel progressed, you begin to see an interesting, very human man who lives a calm, almost serene life -borne, no doubt, by a caring stepfather.

If there was one fault, it would be the novel is a bit overlong -even if it’s a pseudo-memoir. According to the author, he had to cut 250 out of the book to make it work better. At 459 pages (for the paperback), it could have used a bit more trimming, especially in the middle when the story begins to sag.

Its well written, humorous and, at times, heartbreaking. Still, it took me forever to read it. Glad I did, because it is worth the time, I just wished the pace was more smoother.

08 March 2011

Mud




Sanderson delays final Wheel of Time book

In the tradition of late Robert Jordan, who would promise a release date for the latest entry of the endless Wheel of Time series, and then pull the rug out, Brandon Sanderson -who is finishing the series - has announced a delay of the last book in the his 3 part finale.
A Memory of Light, originally scheduled for November 2011, will be delayed until late February or early March 2012. Sanderson's only reason seems to be he would not "feel right about" getting it out in November -even though he says he can have it finished by then.
Artists.
Anyways, with George R. R. Martin finally releasing the next novel in his Song of Fire and Ice series this July, at least the fans have something to look forward in 2011.

06 March 2011

Rango

With Rango, Paramount Pictures, director Gore Verbinski and actor Johnny Depp have come up with a worthy parody of the Western genre since Mel Brooks did it with Blazing Saddles back in 1976.

The script, by John Logan (story by Logan, Verbinski and James Byrkit), mines every trope of the western genre, from the films of John Wayne and Clint Eastwood through the halcyon days of the TV format that featured many of the same plot devices used in this film and gives it a new spin in an often clever and humorous way. While not a kiddie film (it features some slapstick humor to keep them amused), it is none the less, and entertaining commentary on the genre itself. Which begs the questions, do kids understand the importance of the western to their parents and grandparents, after the format virtually vanished from film and TV over 4 decades ago?

Sure, we’ve seen the genre from time to time, but it no longer holds the mystic it once did. And I’m not saying this CGI film will resurrect the format -it went away for a reason- but it is nice to revisit it from time-to-time.

The voice casting is good, with the always reliable Johnny Depp bringing a tone of weirdness to even this film. Isla Fisher is wonderful, and brings a conviction to the role as the voice of Beans. Ned Beatty, who had a turn in Toy Story 3 as (villainous) Lots-O’-Huggin’ Bear, gives another great performances as the Mayor of Dirt. And while Bill Nighy and Abigail Breslin are getting the kudos for scene stealing, for me it was Harry Dean Stanton and Timothy Olyphant who stole the picture.

With Rango, Industrial Light and Magic -know mainly as a visual effects company- doing the CGI in this film, they may now compete with DreamWorks Animation and even Pixar for photo-realistic CGI animated films. It’s eye-popping and brilliant to look at.

And maybe, with its $38,000,000 opening weekend, it will show that not all animated films have to be in 3D. This is a glorious film that uses the standard 2D to great effect.