Saturday, December 31, 2011

Best of 2011

Well, since it seems like everyone is doing of of these "best of" I thought I'd do one too. I have to say, definitely a good year, despite the economic troubles here at home, great things were accomplished around the globe. Libya was liberated from its dictator, and will hopefully build a democracy for its people. Kim Jong-il kicked the bucket (not a year for dictators, I guess).

As for me, I have a few favorites of things that I discovered (or just really, really enjoyed) in 2011.

Best movie
I didn't see very many movies this year; Hollywood didn't have much to offer. The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo (US version) would have to be the best one, and after that, Cowboys and Aliens. Yeah, two dramatically different films. I did enjoy Captain America, though I didn't see it in theaters. Loved Loki from the movie Thor. As you can tell, I'm totally stoked to go see The Avengers next year.  

Best TV show
The Venture Bros., of course. Their fourth season has to be the best so far, and loved their special Jacket. Sadly, it's going to be another two years before we'll see new episodes. Honorable mention for The Big Bang Theory and Mike and Molly. I don't watch much TV, but what I do watch is usually, what I like to think, is the good quality stuff.

Best music
This one is a toughie because I've discovered so many great songs and artists, so I'm going to name the top ones that I enjoyed the most and my favorite song of theirs.
  • Emilie Autumn - Swallow 
  • Adele - Rolling in the Deep
  • Claire Maguire - The Shield and The Sword
  • Florence and the Machine - Cosmic Love (Though, I just heard Heartlines and it's amazing. Just about all her songs are fantastic.)
Yeah, I know, all female artists (but note, good artists, none of that auto-tune crap). Can't say I found many male artists this year that I like, they all sound soft spoken and boring. I don't see what the hype is about Coldplay, they really don't sound that great (Florence did a beautiful cover of one of their songs, tho). Yet, one of my favorite vocalists is Dave Gahan from Depeche Mode. Now that is a voice I can listen to all day.

I should add that I do like some of WEEP's stuff (headed by Doc Hammer), but it's not for the vocals, but rather, the composition, which is this blend of retro new wave soft rock punk and synth. Yeah, that's a mouthful. If you haven't listened to the song "Worn Thin", I definitely recommend that.  

Okay, so before I derail too much...

Best book
The Skinner by Neal Asher -- bet that wasn't a surprise.

A close second is Evolution's Darling by Scott Westerfeld. I didn't review this book since it's been out of print for over ten years, but excellent "what it means to be human" kind of book. But there's a twist: Is it possible for a human to no longer be considered a person?

It's actually part erotica, which I normally don't read, but the Westerfeld takes an interesting approach, from the robot's PoV, and how the robot analyzes, while stimulating, the sex act. It doesn't sound interesting, but it really was. The title comes from how robots/AI are in constant change, can update ("evolve") themselves as often and at anytime. Whereas humans are limited to generations. Thus, AI is the darling of evolution. If you stumble across this book in a garage sale or used book store, I highly recommend picking it up. 

Best buy
Because we all like to buy things for ourselves, and this T-shirt from Threadless is my all-time favorite.

Well, here's to a happy New Year and many more good things to come!

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Movie Review: The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo (US version)

Yep, another less-than-Christmasy review, haha. It's been a gritty Christmas all around (actually, it's been a wet winter here).

I haven't read the book or seen the Swedish version of this film, so I can't make comparisons -- though a good film should be able to stand on its own.

Quick run-down: Mikael Blomkvist (Daniel Craig), a tarnished journalist, is hired by a retired CEO of a family corporation to investigate the disappearance (and possible murder) of his grand-niece Harriet, a 40-year-old mystery. Mikael teams up the asocial computer-hacker Lisbeth Salander (Roony Mara), and together, they dig up some nasty family secrets.

Yes, the content in this is very dark and disturbing. A major theme in the movie is violence against women, as we see Salander (not exactly "see", per se) anally raped by her guardian that the state issued to her (because apparently she was deemed "incapable" to take care of herself), as well as trying to catch a killer of women.

Though, this film isn't all gloom n' doom, there are some chuckles, and we watch Lisbeth's and Mikael's relationship bud. And Lisbeth's character was amazing, loved her because she never allowed herself to get knocked down. Yeah, I'm all for girl power and girls that can kick ass. But she also has layers to her, though she may portray a badass on the outside, there is a vulnerable side as we see she struggles against the state and in letting people into her life. The movie did an excellent job showing this as did the actress.

All the actors were good, actually. None of the roles felt pained or out of place. The soundtrack was also particularly good.
And if I may make a quick comparison to Black Swan, another disturbing film, while I enjoyed Portman's performance and the overall creepiness of the film, I never really felt anything for Portman's character. Whereas with Lisbeth, there was a determination that I admire and could see myself watching TGWTDT over and over again, despite the painful content. Black Swan I've only seen once that's good enough for me.  

To name a negative of TGWTDT, I found it hard to understand Daniel Craig at the beginning of the film, he seemed to mumble or the audio just wasn't capturing the actors words. But that was only an issue in the beginning.

But after seeing this film, I'm compelled to check out the foreign version as well as read the book (probably check it out at the library).

Rating: 5 out of 5 stars

Thursday, December 22, 2011

On Similes: She's like a pile of turds on a summer's day

I'm in a writerly-giving-advice mood. The little editor inside my head has been working overtime, poor bastard.

Notice how the simile in the title, besides being completely odd, doesn't tell you what the subject (she) *is*. She's like a pile of turds on a summer's day, but what *is* she, per se? This has been an issue I've noticed ever since the great writing guru known as Rez pointed it out. Most similes don't actually tell you anything. It's all beating around the bush.

To put it into perspective (with my brilliant analogy):
Say I hand you a cup filled with hot brown liquid. You ask if it's coffee, and I reply, "It's like coffee."

I think we can agree that that response doesn't tell you what you're actually drinking -- in which case, I wouldn't drink it if I were you.

That doesn't mean similes are bad, though, I like to use them sparingly -- but that's just me. There is an easy fix for this, and that's adding in what exactly the simile is referencing, because you can't compare two things if you don't mention one of them.

So we would say: She's disgusting like a pile of turds on a summer's day. Now we know what she *is* (disgusting), and thus the simile helps to build on that knowledge, which is, disgusting in what way.

Next time: Cliches!

Saturday, December 17, 2011

Book Review: Six Pump and Other Stories

Yeah I know, dystopia tales aren't exactly "Christmasy". But why not add a little grit to the holiday season? (it adds texture, you know)

This is a collection of ten tales by Paolo Bagigalupi (my first time reading him), and I'm going to do something different and grade each story on its own merits, because there's always a few hits and misses in these story collections. *Warning: Possible spoilers/rants ahead*

Pocketful of Dharma - This is the story about a boy named Wang Jun, living in poverty, happens upon a datacube that holds something significant -- and others are willing to kill to get it. 

Not a bad story, it had a bit of a slow start, starting with a description of a living building. But despite following this kid around as he runs from the bad guys, I really didn't care for the MC. Mostly due to a lack of personality; nothing more than a urban urchin. Though the ending was a redeeming factor, one of those "what happens next?" I know some people don't like those endings because they lack a resolution, but at the same time, it allows the reader to decide how things go -- and depending on your disposition, it may turn out well or poorly.

Rating: 4 out of 5 stars

The Fluted Girl - Now this story I loved, in fact, best story in this entire collection. What really compelled me to read this story in one sitting (and these aren't exactly short-short stories), was that I wanted to know what the heck a fluted girl was in the first place. The fluted girl is forced into this servitude along with her twin sister, and surgically worked on to become the prized possessions of a mistress, who is inflicting her own fate upon them. The characters are interesting, have personality, though, the fluted girl is a little flat, but that's okay since you want to find what exactly she does. Sort of twisted world where surgical modification, and not just boob jobs, but completely reworking the entire human body, becomes a means of entertainment. Very creepy. Once again, it has the "what happens next?" ending, which still works, I think.  

Rating: 5 out of 5 stars

The People of Sand and Slag - This was a story that could have been really good had the author not copped out. The set up is that we have these modified humans who can survive the toxicity of Earth, and yes, they can eat sand as well as regenerate whole limbs. They come across a dog, who managed to survive despite the harsh conditions. They quarrel as to whether they should eat or keep the dog. They keep it, and even though its a hassle, the MC develops some warm feelings toward the creature. The MC questions death -- why someone would even want to die, rather than to live forever -- and whether they can still consider themselves human.

But all this philosophical stuff is dashed away when the author pulls the "people are assholes" ending; I don't need to read a story to know that. They get tired of caring for the dog and eat it. Yeah, just like that. Even if the dog had to die, at least show that having the dog had some sort of impact on the MC. Maybe the MC decided to respectfully bury the dog, like it was a person, rather than meat. You know, something more meaningful.

Rating: 2 out of 5 stars

The Pasho - A Pasho is a wiseman, history written on every inch of his skin. Now the MC, a new Pasho, returns home to his dry and dusty homeland where the people keep their blades sharp. The grandfather doesn't care for his grandson's newly appointed position of spreading knowledge, especially when that knowledge comes from the very people they use to slaughter. Grandfather refuses to change his ways, and plans to start war. So what does a a well educated young man do? Does he use his vast knowledge to convince his grandfather of the good things these people have done? Nope. Instead, we get the cop out ending, because it's so much simpler to kill somebody, right? Unfortunately, it does not impress, especially this reader.

Rating: 3 out of 5 stars

The Calorie Man - We follow Lalji as he goes on a mission to find the calorie man, a person he may be able to turn the tide against the genetic pests that haunt their world. Everything is grown and produced by the calorie companies, leaving humanity at their mercy.

Now this story has some silver lining, and we get some fighting action, too. But I had the same issue that I did with  Pocketful of Dharma, I just didn't really care about the MC. And I'm thinking this is an issue with Bagigalupi's writing in general, as I've heard the same complaints about The Windup Girl.

Rating: 4 out of 5 stars

The Tamarisk Hunter - Lolo hunts for water that hasn't been regulated by the government, and even plants new springs in the hopes they'll prosper and he won't have to move up north and leave is all he's ever known behind.

Now this story was terrible on several levels. First off, it's written in present tense, and the issue with present tense is that it comes off waaaaay too choppy. For example, in present tense: "I go to the store and I buy some cookies."
While in the past tense, you'd say: "I went to the story and bought some cookies". 

Say both of those phrases out loud. Now which one flows or sounds smoother to you? I bet it's the phrase in past tense, right?

The next offense of this story is that the narration is told in such a distancing way, which doesn't help me to become involved the MC's plight. And then, in the end, when Big Daddy (a throw back to Big Brother) comes a knockin', the MC does nothing. Maybe he would have done something, but the story ends and we'll never know.

Rating: 1 out of 5 stars

Pop Squad - At the beginning of this story, I was indifferent toward the MC because he goes around with a crew and kills children and arrests their mothers because people are no longer allowed to breed in the future -- why breed when everyone lives forever?

But as the story develops, the MC really starts to think about what compels women, and the men who donate the sperm, to cut themselves off from society in order to procreate. Now this MC felt real, he has a conscience, though he doesn't quite fully grasp it, and intelligence. And unlike Bagiglupi's other character's, he doesn't opt for the asshole option when he tracks down, on his own, a woman and her child. It reminded me a lot of Decker in Blade Runner, when Rachel asks if he'd hunt her down. He responds, "No, no I wont...but somebody would."

Rating: 5 out of 5 stars

Yellow Card Man -  Our MC, Tranh, is a Chinese refugee who nearly escaped with his life after revolutionaries took over in his homeland of China. Now he has to survive in a foreign land, oppressed, hungry, and alone. Oh, and the Windup Girl makes an appearance in this story.

Oh gosh, once again, an MC that I did not care for. Not one bit. Worse of all, he goes for the asshole option. I get that there are assholes out there, I just don't want to read about them -- and if they are an asshole, give me a damn good reason why. Personally, I rather see a character choose the more creative option, it may not be fair, but it's better than cop out, I-don't-know-how-to-end-this-story-any-other-way. Lame, lame, lame.

Also, Bagigalupi, stop writing in present tense because you don't know how to do it very well.

Rating: 2 out of 5 stars

Softer - Oh-my-god! A story that isn't dark and depressing -- who would've thought? This story is about a man who kills his wife, not on purpose, just one of these spaz moments, and then soaks with her corpse in a bath tub. Oddly enough, even though this character didn't have a sympathetic past, I actually found him very relatable; he was well-defined and that's how characters should be. Methinks Bagigalupi tries too hard, forcing foreign characters into his stories, and they end up being more stock than real.

Rating: 5 out of 5 stars (seriously, this story was a breath of fresh air)

Pump Six - Ah, now we come to our title story, and usually, the author saves the best for last. Well, maybe Bagigalupi thought this was his best, but for me, it was meh. I think because I've seen this done before, or at least this concept. Hell, Ayn Rand did it in Atlas Shrugged, just without the spec fic elements. The MC in this story is stuck in a world where the human population is slowly degrading (i.e. everyone is becoming stupider) and they're the only one with enough sense to see it. Yet, the MC is helpless.

However, the MC wasn't an asshole and I found him interesting, and at least he tried to do something, although I think he could've done more. I mean if I were him, I'd try to find other people with respectable intelligence in the hopes of rebuilding society. But I suppose that would be something for a novel.

Rating: 3.5 out of 5 stars

So, if I were to take an average...3.45 stars, though I'll round down and say 3 stars overall. That's not to say Bagigalupi is a terrible writer (but he is terrible at present tense), he's got some world-building chops and obviously understands other cultures and how to weave them into his stories. It's just his characters, overall, are not very well-written. And like I said before, this is a complaint I've read in Amazon reviews of The Windup Girl, which doesn't make me terribly interested in reading it -- I don't care how many awards it won. I'm not interested in reading an entire novel and not giving a damn about the characters.

Friday, December 9, 2011

Speak like K Stew

Notice anything different?

I had a random moment yesterday and decided to revamp the blog, a change is good once in a while. I find it amusing that I went from a cool color scheme to a warm colors (with a dash of teal). Probably play around with it some more. Wish the backdrop pic was bigger so I wouldn't have that ugly line, but that's nothing a little photoshop magic can't fix.

Anyway, for the sake of doing something on the blog (I do have another book review coming up - yay!), thought I'd share some more funnies from the awesome Key of Awesome.

And if you think that's a gross over-exaggeration of K Stew, check out this interview of her at Comic Con 2009.

Saturday, December 3, 2011

Sick of this! (and W1S1 update)

No, I'm not sick of W1S1, I actually really enjoy the challenge and it's been great so far! You can visit the official W1S1 blog, here.

So, what are my stats for this month?

Stories written: 3-4(?) (all of them flash ranging from 400 words to under a thousand; one I'm not quite counting because it turned out to be more of a vignette than a story)
Stories submitted: 14
Stories accepted: 0
Stories rejected: 14 (several of these were re-submissions of rejected stories)

Not bad, eh? I'm going to try Writer's of the Future again this quarter. Last quarter was my very first time submitting to them, and I was surprised at how quick they were to respond -- and reject it, haha. Other than that, going to enjoy the madness that is the holidays, and hopefully complete Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion (it's such a fun game! though I do miss the post-apoc feel to Morrowind).

Anyway, keep on writing!

And as has become tradition, I have a YouTube vid to share. :) One of my favorites, too. Enjoy Lev's "Sick of This", I think some of you might relate -- I certainly did!

(btw, does anyone else hate the new YouTube look?)