Friday, August 31, 2007

DMCA - Why it reeks of moldy cheese...

By now everyone has heard about the RIAA and their efforts to maliciously destroy thousands of people financially by sending out spurious lawsuits in addition tot he handful of actual piracy lawsuits that they are entitled to. Included in this, is their efforts to destroy a business in Russia that obeys every single one of Russia's laws in regards to copyrights, and pays the licensing fees for the sales of MP3 files.

A somewhat unnecessary evil, but one that is there nonetheless.

But, hey, I'm not a music-geek, that's my wife. I read books, specifically science-fiction books, and you know, us sci-fi geeks, well we're smarter than that. Our content providers love us, because they love sci-fi as much as we do, and all any of us want to do, is to have more sci-fi out there for all of us to enjoy.

Or at least, that's what we thought.

Apparently, the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America (SFWA) doesn't. Boing-Boing has an article up by Cory Doctorow concerning a recent DMCA takedown notice the SFWA sent to the file-sharing sent SCRIBD.

What's better is that these take down notices were given on behalf of some folks who had not authorized their works to be removed.

Additionally, this removal very well could have damaged Mr. Doctorow financially because his business model depends on the freely given novels to direct traffic to his for-pay works.

Frankly, this confused me. After all, the SFWA is not a licensing association. They are a writer's association. More like a union than an industry organization like the RIAA. I see nothing on their website which describes a function of their mission as being copyright watchdog.

What is more interesting is that Dr. Andrew Burt, the VP of SFWA responsible for all of this, is a computer scientist, and previously he had convinced the SFWA to hand over a large sum of money so that he could develop and attempt to sell to publishing houses a piece of software designed to basically damage unauthorized electronic copies of novels.

Ultimately, it never went anywhere.

Anyways, part of his re-election 'campaign' was that he would return those funds to the SFWA. Yet, while reading these things this morning, I noticed something in one of the emails that Dr. Burt was sending back and forth with Trip Adler, co-founder and CEO of SCRIBD. Specifically the following paragraph, from the second email:

I'm glad to hear you're working on one piece of a solution. I'm not sure what algorithm you're thinking of using, but I'll be interested to hear more about it. (I developed an algorithm to identify copies via statistically unlikely phrases. Happy to go into details if it's of use.)
To quote the Church Lady, "Well isn't that special?"

To me, that bit in the parans looks incredibly like an advertisement for the sale of his algorithm, or at best, an effort to get it in use somewhere. Once one site uses a piece of software like that, it makes it easier to sale to other business entities.

I'm a firm believer that whenever there's something odd going on, there's a good chance that money is involved somewhere and how, and this stinks of it to me.

Of course, I could be wrong. It's entirely possible that Dr. Burt isn't using these DMCA takedown notices as an effort to push the use of his algorithm. After all, one of the other things that I'm a firm believer in is that anything is possible, there's just a lot of things that are not very probable.

Review: State of Fear

Back in 2004, Michael Crichton released a novel entitled State of Fear. It was a fictional story dealing with global warming and the related environmental movements. Additionally, because it presented so many facts which contradicted Al Gore's movie, it was met with fairly onerous reviews and criticisms from climate scientists.

I can admit, I haven't read all of Mr. Crichton's novels. In fact there are more that I've not read than that I have, and you may also be wondering about its inclusion in the reviews section of this website, dedicated as it is to science/speculative fiction.

So, let's deal with that right off the bat. Mr. Crichton is a science fiction author; much more so than David Weber or anything labeled Star Wars. His stories are based on recognizable science, taken a step further than what we've got today. We're talking real honest-to-goodness science here, things such as genetic engineering or nanotechnology. Those are the realities which make up Michael Crichton's writing, and why, though they are found in the "fiction" section of Books-A-Million, are in all actually firmly science fiction. Frankly, I think it's that lack of space ships that keeps him out of the geek sector of the store.

Additionally, this is not a review about the science and content of this book. This is a review of it, and how well it works, as a piece of fiction. I'm not going to be discussing the science, global warming, or climatic climate change here. If that's what you're after, sorry that you got dragged here via Google for that. Hope you stay and finish the review anyhow though.

Anyways on with the review, as noted, State of Fear was written by Michael Crichton and as a hard cover clocks in at an impressive 567 pages, and that's before the author's notes, the two appendices and the bibliography (which brings the total page count to 603). And yes, this is a fictional novel with appendices and a bibliography—didn't you read the paragraph above this one? He's dealing with real science here. So, what do the marketers have to say about this book? Well, here's the blurb:

In Paris, a physicist dies after performing a laboratory experiment for a beautiful visitor.

In the jungles of Malaysia, a mysterious buyer purchases deadly cavitation technology, built to his specification.

In Vancouver, a small research submarine is leased for use in the waters off New Guinea.

And in Tokyo, an intelligence agent tries to understand what it all means.

Thus begins Michael Crichton's exciting and provocative techno-thriller State of Fear. Only Crichton's unique ability to blend scientific fact with pulse pounding fiction could bring such disparate elements to a heart-stopping conclusion.

This is Crichton's most wide-ranging thriller. State of Fear takes the reader from the glaciers of Iceland to the volcanoes of Antarctica, from the Arizona desert to the deadly jungles of the Solomon Islands, from the streets of Paris to the beaches of Los Angeles. The novel races forward on a roller-coaster thrill ride, all the while keeping the brain in high gear. Gripping and thought-provoking, State of Fear is Michael Crichton at his very best.

Well, after reading the 400 words which made up the blurb for Dragon's Fire, this was quite a welcome respite. Though at the same time, I had to wonder if whoever was writing this blurb wasn't just reaching for something, anything, to say about the book. Additionally, after reading this novel, I'm not certain that I would call it his "very best." I'm 100% certain that it wouldn't convince me to buy this book, as the only reason I read it is because I'm in North Carolina on vacation, without dedicated Internet, and I've already read all my books, and this happened to be in the rental.

As for the plot, this is a classic thriller, where the main POV character is kept in the dark about things, which of course means that the reader is left struggling to understand. The events that are occurring here are merely showcases for the science which he wishes to highlight though. It's the science, and Crichton's expectations on where that science is going, which are the real stars of the show.

But, readers can't relate to science, unless you happen to be my older brother who has a doctorate in physics, but he's just odd. So, this story, like all good stories, has characters. The main character is one Peter Evans, a lawyer for a rich philanthropist, who just happens to also be working for an organization called NERF. Truth be told, I can't remember what that acronym stands for anymore, and can't quite seem to bring myself to hunt for it. Needless to say, it's an environmental organization. Besides Evans we have George Morton, the rich philanthropist, Sarah his personal assistant, Jon Kenner the intelligence agent described in the blurb, plus his side kick, and then the head of NERF, Nicholas Drake (the de facto antagonist for the novel, or at least as close as it comes to one). And then there were the secondary and tertiary characters. This is a somewhat large cast, and a few times, I found myself wishing for a Dramatis Personae that I could look through to remind myself who certain characters were.

Unfortunately, beyond a simple listing of who the characters are, there's not a whole lot to say about them. There's no great massive change to the characters, they don't undergo some startling transformation or even a less than startling one. As I said earlier, the science is the star of this show, and it shows.

Despite being labeled a 'thriller' huge portions of the text is taken up with expositionary dialog detailing the current knowledge and state of the global warming phenomenon and the climate of fear associated with it that is fostered by the political and media complexes here in the West.

Complete with data charts and footnotes.

And how I wished that was actually a joke.

Frankly, it dragged the book down, and there actually came a point when the author realized this, and took the expositionary text out of dialog, and presented it in paragraph form for the reader.

It almost felt like being in school again. And I discovered that I still disliked paleontology, geology and environmental science.

The settings were varied, and wide ranging. Look in the blurb, it lists every one. Well, they also visited San Francisco and the Redwood forests, the former to further the plot, the latter as a vehicle for more of that expositionary text.

And if you've not caught on now, expositionary text is not good. In fact it is very, very bad. It's the author of a novel, telling the reader something. I don't want to be told something. If I did, I'd be reading a textbook or a Journal.

Other important information about the setting is that it was set in 2004, which explains why all the graph data stops at the year 2000 or so.

Ultimately, I was less than thrilled about this novel. It read like a science journal which someone had dressed up with an action-adventure plot in order to get people to read it. Then there's the fact that the main character is a lawyer, who is running around the globe doing these insane, James Bond style missions. Now, I know I'm big on the Hero's Journey and all, but this setup really pushed my ability to suspend disbelief.

So, we have a weak plot, weak characters, and way too many pages of expositionary text. As I write this, I'm left struggling to think up something good about this novel, and the only thing I can think of is the content that it is trying to get out to the masses-mainly that we still don't know enough about the Earth and its climate.

And while, it is not a mind-numbing experience, it is definitely, not that good of a novel, regardless of what someone thinks of the science behind it.

In the end, I have to give State of Fear a 0.4 out of 4.

Thursday, August 30, 2007

Flow-walking Inferno

OK, this is one of my handy-dandy, Star Wars essays. Additionally, it involves spoilers for the recently released novel by Troy Denning entitled Inferno. So, if you don't care about Star Wars or you have not read Inferno and care about spoilers, well, then go play here. They're fun.

Still with me? Great! Wonderful. Find some aspirin. Or Ibuprofen. If you drink, find whiskey.

Now be prepared for some mental gymnastics which are still giving me heartburn and headaches.

Anyways, today we're dealing primarily with the prologue of Inferno and its usage of Flow-Walking as a construct to (as Jacen puts it) corrupt our favorite Jedi Knight, Tahiri Veila.

Flow Walking has been a source of annoyance to fans since its introduction in the Dark Nest trilogy (DN3). Within that trilogy Jacen uses it to view the past as Rayner struggles to survive the crash of the Tachyon Flyer and we know there that Rayner remembers seeing Jacen when Rayner's survival is discussed. Additionally, he uses it to force Leia to be at a certain place at some indeterminate point in his future, so that he can send her information from her past (his present) to her.

Confused yet? Headache? Dizziness? Maybe a touch of nausea? It's Flow Walking--those are the natural side effects of thinking about it.

Anyways, this new power in Jacen's hands erupted discussions across the fandom - well, it might have been limited to TheForce.Net Literature board but still it erupted discussions. Folks who endorsed the return of Anakin Solo pointed at this as yet another way for his survival and/or resurrection or both (hey, it's time travel). Those who did not, pointed at it, and said that there was no way that it could logically modify the past as we have it written in the text of the various novels. Personally, I did not know on which bridge to sit. After all, I'm a firm believer that the insane and pointless way they made Anakin Solo disappear from the narrative was the stupidest decision any editorial committee has made in the past decade (I would say two decades, but editorial influence on the X-Men franchise back in the early to mid Nineties made some really, really stupid decisions that I don't feel like reviewing to see which were dumber), and while I would love, and see numerous ways to, change it, at the time I kind of had to agree with the nay-sayers about time travel in Star Wars. Basically, I agreed that time traveling within the franchise could/should not change anything we see explicitly or implicitly stated in a novel's text.

Then with the release of Legacy of the Force, Jacen used it to spy on the slaughter of the Jedi Temple. Interestingly enough, the author (I think it was Karen Traviss in Bloodlines, but I'm not 100% certain) broke the rules of Flow Walking by allowing Jacen to be some location in the past that he could not be in the present (the new Jedi temple in LOTF is a glass pyramid rather than the spired building of the Prequels so when Jacen watched Anakin Skywalker slaughter the younglings, he was standing in what was either a wall or open air). This is 'fixed' in Inferno by Jacen claiming that their bodies then are "anchored" to the present with the assumption being that Jacen could travel around a lot more if he unanchored his body. Additionally the whole be in the same place for the present and the past is rather hard to reconcile with physics, because location is not necessarily a matter of latitude & longitude coordinates on a planet, as it is a point in space, and since planets are doing that whole moving thing all the time (not to mention stars, stellar groups, galaxies, galactic neighborhoods and the universe in general), it'd be hard to get in the exact spot for flow-walking.

Of course, this could be a simple matter of a) Jacen lying to Tahiri, he is a Sith after all or b) Jacen not quite knowing how this power works.

Me, I think it's both.

Jacen lying to Tahiri about how he THINKS this power works. So, with the possibility of lying taken out of consideration, let's just assume that Jacen believes that he needs to be in the same place to do his Flow Walking, that it is more of a limitation on his power imposed by his own sense of self than any firm limitation of the Force and Flow Walking. After all, he identifies the Jedi Council Chambers of the LOTF time frame with the Council Chambers of the ROTS time frame and is able to travel to them with no problems, despite the differences in location (not only on the planet itself, but in the exact coordinates of the universe as a whole). Since Jacen believes in the limitation, but doesn't necessarily think through all the inherit problems of being in the exact same spot as something was in the past, he just needs to be in a location which he relates to the location of the past.

And with the background information done, onto the actual meat of the article...

So, in the opening scene of Inferno we have Jacen and Tahiri Flow Walking back in time to Anakin's death. Jacen does this in order to corrupt Tahiri, and bring her in on his side, in effect turning her into a spy for him, so that she can continue to get her 'fix' of seeing Anakin in the past.

Before I begin, let us remember that the prevalent theory for Flow Walking was that it could never change anything that happened in the past. So, once an event was shown to us via written text, it could not be modified by Flow Walkers. This was the argument used that Anakin could not be brought back to life. Of most importance is the fact that Jacen explicitly tells Tahiri this while they are in the past. He states that they are unlikely to alter the present, but he thinks that it is impossible.

Now the important scenes in the prologue for our discussion today are thus:

"It's us doing harm that worries me" Tahiri replied. "What if we change something we shouldn't--something that alters the present?"

"That's unlikely." Actually, Jacen should have said impossible. Any change they made in the past would be corrected by the Force, and the flow would return to its present course. But he did not explain that to Tahiri. He needed her to believe they were taking a small but terrible chance, risking temporal catastrophe to deal with her unresolved grief. "I won't let you do anything wrong. Just relax."


Even through a pressure suit's auditory sensors, Anakin's voice sounded weak and anguished, and it was clear that he had known even then he was about to die. A growing tightness began to form in Jacen's throat, and he was surprised at the effort of will required to make it go away. Jacen had loved his brother--and apparently still did--but he could not let his emotions draw him into the past. As he had warned Tahiri, any reaction at all would make them easier to see, and if the other strike team survivors suddenly started to recall a pair of blurry, pressure-suited apparitions at the battle, someone might realize he had flow-walked here with Tahiri--and that would make her useless to him.

and finally,

Knowing by the sullen weight of the Force--and by his own breaking heart--that they were being drawn ever more deeply into the past, Jacen pulled the older Tahiri back to his side. If they were still there when the kissed ended, Tekli would certainly see them. In thirteen years or so--when Jacen and Tahiri returned to their own time--the Chadra -fan would begin to recall seeing them here in their pressure suits. Once she reported her memory flashes to the Council, the Masters would realize that Jacen had flow-walked Tahiri back to the battle and begin to ask themselves why, and his plan would be ruined.

What's most interesting here is that despite Jacen's protestations that the past cannot be altered, the whole reason for their trip is to force Tahiri in the past to give Anakin the kiss she denied him. Think about that. Jacen claims they can't change the past yet their trip was designed to do just that. And they then succeed.

Despite the common wisdom regarding Flow Walking (if anything concerning Flow Walking can be construed as wisdom) we now have explicit canon text showing where the past has been changed. Despite Jacen's own claim that they cannot change the past, they do specifically that. Their whole mission to the past is in fact to do that.

I've read thousands of books in my lifetime. I have a collection of well over four hundred books, probably closer to five these days (and that's not counting my comics). I've read all manner of books, some which I have thoroughly disliked. Yet I don't think I have ever wanted to smack my head against a hard object within the PROLOGUE until I had read Inferno.

How's that for an endorsement?

But wait, it gets better!

I have a disclaimer to make here. It was at this the point where I wanted to put the book down, and drive back to the B Dalton in Asheville's mall (I bought Inferno on vacation in NC, and was staying just outside of Waynesville, so a trip into Asheville was not a minor thing, plus the mall had already closed) and demand a refund. And then jump from the second floor landing (where B Dalton is at in that mall) and pummel myself against the floor.

Multiple times.

Maybe holding sharp pointy things while doing so.

And don't forget, we're still less than twenty pages into the book. And by twenty pages, I'm including the title page, the copyright/publisher information the Dramatis Personae and the acknowledgments. Basically, the prologue begins on 13th literal page and finished on the 20th one (with one literal piece of paper counting for 2 pages).

Now, Jacen in his internal dialog (i.e. he's talking to himself, like a good little Sith Lord should) worries about Tekli getting new memories of seeing Flow Walkers upon his return to 40 ABY with Tahiri. His worry is that seeing Flow Walkers appear in her memory would make her talk to the Council, rendering Tahiri useless to him as a spy. Yet he seems oddly unconcerned about Tekli's memory of the kiss changing in the same manner. Because, don't forget, she's watching Anakin and Tahiri at this point in an effort to follow Anakin's lead and get Tahiri out of the way.

That thumping noise you hear is my smacking my head against the desk as I'm writing this. I Flow Walked to the present from the past while reading this novel, to make sure that I did that while writing this article. And again as I'm re-reading this the morning after writing it before I post it on No Krakana.

But that logical nuance aside, let's notice the fact that he's worried about her getting new memories when he returns, not at the moment that she might possibly see them.

So, what this tells us is that Jacen believes that the timeline will remain unchanged from the original events in 27 ABY until his return to 40 ABY. Everything that occurred previously will still do so, despite whatever changes Jacen has made. Then suddenly, upon his return to 40 ABY from the past, the present will shift and alter to accommodate those changes, while those being changed will retain their previous memories and recognize the change for being a change.

Which is an odd thing, since there is supposedly only a single timeline which they flow walk up and down on. Therefore any changes which Jacen makes in the past, should instantly be accounted for, and the present should alter around that. But hey, it's Star Wars, high fantasy and everything, so let's go with Jacen knowing what he's talking about this time, after all the text supports that he does here, as Tahiri remembers not kissing him, she remembers kissing him, she remembers that she used to think she didn't kiss him and she remembers that she went back in time and forced herself to kiss him.

Now can you understand why I was looking for blunt objects to beat about my head with?

We have Jacen and Tahiri going back on a mission, which Jacen clearly states to her is impossible to do, and they succeed. Why, oh why, does Tahiri not recognize the inherent... well stupidity and contradiction in Jacen's statements/actions here? My guess is the tendency for the YJK/JJK characters to be somewhat brain dead while under Denning's pen. Don't get me wrong, I happen to like Denning's novels and his writing style, but sometimes... well, all the time, the YJK/JJK crew do incredibly stupid things in his books. Things that leave me wondering just where is their intelligence and/or common sense. Tahiri is a Jedi Knight! She should have at least a smattering of intelligence and common sense, as well as the ability to logical connect a thought and a corresponding action which she is about to tak-

OK, I'm back, having taken some ibuprofen and gotten a nice cup of coffee, and am now ignoring Tahiri's blond moment which is commonly called the post-NJO EU.

And now that I'm once more on track with this article, let's not forget the butterfly effect. I like this theory which is basically everything that happens can and does cause unforeseen repercussions. The tiniest change for one person, might have huge ramifications to other lives that that person may or may not touch due to the past or the present or whatever.

By Tahiri changing whether or not she received/gave that last kiss could do untold modifications to the timeline, just because it is a change. The simplest, and most direct change possible, is one voiced by Tahiri herself. She wonders if having received that last kiss, would it make Anakin's death easier for him. My question would be would it make him fight harder to live? The kiss is a change, and like it or not, a girl is a powerful driving force in male biological and psychological drives, and that kiss would have woken those drives in Anakin.

Jacen makes a point to consider that Anakin's voice sounds like he is EXPECTING to die once he sends Tahiri away with Tekli. It is this pessimistic view which could have been ultimately responsible for his death. It is this pessimistic view which that kiss could and would change. Anakin might make a considerable effort to live. He might actually believe that he can survive and come back to her. Such a belief would make a world's of difference in how things turned out. Or at least could.

But I'm wandering from my original point again...

Basically, what this whole thing boils down to is a question on just how mutable the timeline is.

Can the past be changed via Flow Walking to the past?

Can the future be fixed by Flow Walking to the future?

Those are the two main questions we have. The first was answered in the affirmative during the DN3 where Flow Walking was first introduced. We know that Jacen affixed the future when he chatted with Leia near the wreck of the Tachyon Flyer.

Amusingly enough, it can be discerned that Jacen changed the past when we went back in time and gave Rayner the strength to climb from the wreckage. Of course, since we are given those views for the first time in DN 3, it could be assumed that Jacen was predestined to go back in time, since he had already done so. Likewise, that was the argument given on how Jacen was able to change the past during DN 3 (i.e. he changed it because he had always changed it and he couldn't change other things in the past, because he hadn't done so).

Of course now, that argument can no longer be used. We now have canon proof that Flow Walking allows the walkers are able to modify the past that we have literally seen in a novel. They have changed events that have already happened. Things that we can say with 100% certainty that he was not predestined to change, because the first time we saw it happen, he wasn't there changing the past.

Queue the heated discussions once again.

Since both questions were answered in the affirmative, the argument shifted to believe that there are levels of mutability which the Force would allow to happen. Basically, it's being said that the overarching flow of time is immutable, and that only specific, minor changes can occur, and that if the change is major, then it would not be allowed to occur, that the Force would somehow stop it. They get this from Jacen's notion that the Force would correct any change.

How they get this, I'm not sure, as I didn't receive that at all. From what Jacen thinks, my understanding is that once they return things will be modified to fit the past that they had thus created. Everyone would be aware of the modification to the past, aware of their new memories, aware of the change, but the present would have been changed, regardless of the change.

Additionally, the thought that the Force somehow decides what level of change is acceptable boggles my mind. Even above and beyond the normal boggling inherent in keeping track of Flow Walkers. After all, what can be considered a minor change? Could Jacen conceivably take a small step back in time to Kashyyk and set Luke's StealthX to explode once it left atmosphere? It's a small change that would ultimately have large implications against the narrative.

Likewise, the small change of Tahiri getting the kiss could have much larger implications over the nearly fifteen years between Star by Star and LOTF. We don't know what changes have happened. Besides the YJK's memories of the kiss, we can't know what else has been changed, at least until the changes have been revealed.

Ultimately, we just don't know.

And in the end, we don't--we can't--know what can or will be changed next.

Wednesday, August 29, 2007

Review: Bridge to Terabithia

The movie to this book was released recently, and a tidbit of research into what it was about in order to decide if I should take my 4 year old to it left me with the desire to read this particular book.

Also of particular note is that this is a Newberry Award winning book. For those that don't know, the Newberry is an annual award to a children's book for the most distinguished contribution to American Literature for Children. Personally, I'm still irked that the Harry Potter series does not have one of those golden seals on their cover. After all, that book series has done more for children literature (mainly by getting children to read) than anything else recently.

But that's neither here nor there, so on with the review.

Bridge to Terabithia was written by Katherine Paterson in my birth year of 1977 (I'm assuming this because that's the earliest copyright date in this edition). I have an illustrated edition (and by "have" I currently mean I checked out of the library, and am basing my review on this particular copy-but I do intend upon getting a copy of this novel to read to my boys), that's in hard cover, running 128 pages. Illustrations are done by one Donna Diamond. It contains the following text as a blurb:

All summer, Jess pushed himself to be the fastest boy in the fifth grade, and when the year's first school-yard race was run, he was going to win. But his victory was stolen by a newcomer, by a girl, one who didn't even know enough to stay on the girl's side of the playground. Then, unexpectedly, Jess finds himself sticking up for Leslie, for the girl who breaks rules and wins races. The friendship between the two grows as Jess guides the city girl through the pitfalls of life in their small, rural town, and Leslie draws him into the world of imagination—a world of magic and ceremony called Terabithia. Here, Leslie and Jess rule supreme among the oaks and evergreens, safe from the bullies and ridicule of the mundane world. Safe until an unforeseen tragedy forces Jess to reign in Terabithia alone, and both worlds are forever changed.

In this poignant, beautifully rendered novel, Katherine Paterson weaves a powerful story of friendship and courage.

Okay, first off, the blurb gives away a major plot point of the story. While it does not come directly out and state "hey, this happens" the phrase "unforeseen tragedy forces Jess to reign in Terabithia alone" leaves little to the imagination. But beyond that, the blurb itself is not that bad, but it reads more like a short synopsis of the novel rather than a marketing blurb to get me to spend my hard-earned money on the book.

The plot is classic tragedy; one not that far off from the stuff found in the works of Shakespeare. Boy meets girl, they bond, death comes, and one must live on. It's a heart wrenching story, especially when you consider the simple fact that the protagonists are only 11 years old. Of course, it's in the power of that tragedy which the story and the plot work. It's the power of that tragedy which forces Jess to change and grow.

And speaking of Jess, since he is the POV character, he gets the majority of the character development here. He is the one that changes from the boy who was running scared to someone worthy to rule in Terabithia. Of course, like all sudden and startling shifts in POV, Jess does not like this, and when he is coming to terms with this change, he thinks some of the most powerful lines that I've read in many years:

He, Jess was the only one who really cared for Leslie. But Leslie had failed him. She went and died just when he needed her the most. She went and left him. She went swinging on that rope just to show him that she was no coward. So There, Jess Aarons. She was probably somewhere right now laughing at him. Making fun of him like he was Mrs. Myers. She had tricked him. She had made him leave his old self behind and come into her world, and then before he was really at home in it but too late to go back, she had left him stranded there—like an astronaut wandering about on the moon. Alone.

I'm not sure why that resonated with me so well, but it describes perfectly how his POV shifts because of Leslie and what happens to her. It is not so much that she forces him to grow up, but she forces him to change. She introduces him to the world beyond the mundane chores and rote book learning of his previous life. She shows him the power of imagination and the beauty and innocence and magic inherent in this life.

On Leslie's side of things, I'm fairly certain she gets the short end of the stick in this novel. She's a city girl dumped into the country, where she constantly stumbles about, because of differences in what she knows, and where she now is. Yet, she is powerful in her own right for the knowledge, imagination and magic which she expels the same way most people exhale. Unfortunately, she is ultimately just a plot machine designed to push Jess along, to make him change, so she does not get to change that much herself. But it is a credit to Mrs. Paterson that she is able to weave so much life and vitality into a dues ex machina that this grizzled old reader actually cared for her.

The descriptions in the novel tended to be terse, and short. Oddly, we're given plenty of descriptions of the real world. We're told about the cherry tree and the rope. We're told about Jess' cow and her field. We're even told about the slates of wood nailed together to form a fort out in the middle of the woods.

What we're not told though is the other side of things. We're not told what the kids see while they're in the woods which make up the kingdom of Terabithia. We know from dialog (both Jess' internal thoughts and Jess and Leslie speaking) that they're imaging great and wonderful things, but those things are never shown. It's a subtle twist, and one that I can only assume the writer did so that the reader imagines what the kids are imagining.

Since this is an illustrated edition, I should probably mention them here. They are simple, grey tone illustrations, nothing spectacular, but they're not hideous modernistic interpretations of the story either. The problem with them is that for the most part, they seem lifeless. While they are all of equal quality, the most dynamic and most living illustrations are the last two (found in the chapters No! and Building the Bridge). These final two, display some of the most profound portions of the storyline, and while they contain hints of the static and lifelessness of the earlier illustrations, the content matter associated with them is powerful enough to breathe a hint of life into the pictures.

Themes are an interesting thing. Too often in today's literature we aren't given a theme. It's escapist fantasy where the heroes go through the motions to solve the problem of the day. Or it could be that I'm not reading deep enough into the stories, as the theme was quite obvious here: friendship and courage. Heck, they don't even try to hide it, and put it full on into the blurb.

The entire novel is about friendships and courage. Facing fears, whether it's standing up for someone, crossing a stick placed over a creek, or simply forgiving someone for dying, the subtle aspects of courage are as much tried and tested as the full on, in-your-face, Fear Factor style tests. The reason those tests works so well though, is because of the friendship built between Leslie and Jess.

Ultimately, I liked this story a whole lot. It is a quick read for an adult as I finished it in about 5 or 6 hours. It did come in at 128 pages, but there were a good dozen or so illustrations, some of which were full page, plus because this was a hardcover, and a juvenile book, its font size was slightly larger than an adult's novel. If I had to hazard a guess, I'd say there are at most 45K words. Yet brevity notwithstanding, this is a great story, which is more important than word or page count any day of the week. After all, I'd rather spend my twenty bucks on a 128 page good story than a 500 page book which barely can be classified as the written word.

I think it might be because I can relate so well to the characters that I enjoyed this novel so much. I was one of those bright kids that was able to daydream during class and still get perfect grades. I was one of those kids who had their written work read to the class. I was one of those kids who spent more time drawing and reading than playing sports. I've always had a vibrant imagination, one that I have often wondered was not to vibrant, and too willing to impose itself upon my worldview. Yet my own personal problems with chronic daydreaming aside, the power of imagination is one that is not often pushed enough. It's not often given a chance to grow, especially in today's society where children who act different from some oddly defined norm, and pushed onto mind-altering prescriptions. Not that surprisingly, since a lot of the story revolves around awakening Jess' own imagination, there's a paragraph which sums this push for imagination perfectly:

And when he finished, he put flowers in her hair and led her across the bridge—the great bridge into Terabithia—which might look to someone with no magic in him like a few planks across a nearly dry gully.

Personally, I hope to never get so old and set in my ways, that I don't see the great bridge into Terabithia.

This book gets a 4 out of 4.

Tuesday, August 28, 2007

Ani-Monday on August 27

Well, I finally managed to watch Ani-Monday again last night so I actually get something to say about it this week.

Unfortunately, because I was out getting my dinner at almost 10 o'clock last night, I missed the first third or so of Noein. That's a complicated show, and I fear I may be totally lost with the details. I think I can catch up on the over-arching plot line, but next week will be the ultimate deciding factor on that. The good news is that it is out on DVD so I should be able to get my hands on a copy (and yes, that's another hint Pi).

Tokko though, I did manage to watch from beginning to end. Additionally, it's not quite as complicated a show as Noein so I was able to infer what's happened during those two missing weeks. Basically, it looks like Shindo's symbiote has been awakened, and he's now unofficially a part of the team dedicated to destroying the phantoms. This episode he faces his inner demon, and Sakura helps him through it. It's basically a lot of character development through fights in Shindo's mind. All in all, a strong episode.

As usual, I ignored the two episodes of Street Fighter II.

Next week, we get more episodes of Noein and Tokko and I get to continue ignoring Street Fighter II.

Monday, August 27, 2007

Monday Morning Rambling, only a few hours late this time...

My vacation is almost over, therefore I will soon be back here providing quality content concerning speculative fiction. Sadly, I missed the first bit of Noein though I am managing to watch the entire episode of Tokko. I'm having to play catch up a bit, as I've missed two weeks worth of episodes, but that's okay.

On the review front, I have a decent amount of content coming your way. I've got 4 reviews written, two more to write, and am in the process of reading an additional two novels which will get reviews up here. So expect those to start coming out soon. Additionally, my review of Inferno will be up over at theForce.Net/Books on Tuesday (provided I managed to do everything on that CMS right).

Beyond that, there's still a lot of movies that I want to go see, including Stardust, and the latest Harry Potter novel. Then there's the highly amusing Dragon Wars that's supposed to open September 14th. Frankly, I'm not sure if I should be laughing or not with this movie -- I'm scared that they're actually taking their plot seriously.

Also, of interest is Ben 10. For those that don't know, Ben 10 is a cartoon series about a boy named Ben who finds an alien device which gives him superpowers. Anyways, there has been a teaser trailer for a live-action movie playing on Cartoon Network recently, it can also be viewed at Much to my wife's dismay, I'm highly interested in this movie. I enjoy the cartoon, and am really interested in the various things that I've read on the 'net about this.

Anyways, that's all for tonight, I have a busy day tomorrow, and do hope that the review on TheForce.Net gets pushed out correctly tomorrow...

Saturday, August 25, 2007

Review: Dragon's Fire

Dragon's Fire is the latest novel of Pern. The world created by Ann McCaffrey about dragons, and their unending battle against the insatiable organism, dubbed Thread. This particular novel was written by both Anne McCaffrey and her son Todd. It ran 366 pages, which seems to be about average for Mrs. McCaffrey's novels.

The blurb is somewhat long, but here it is:

Bringing fresh wonders and dangers to light in the skies of Pern, Anne McCaffrey and her son, Todd McCaffrey—who demonstrated his writing talents in the bestselling novels Dragon's Kin and Dragonsblood—return with their second collaboration: a thrilling adventure of discovery and fate.

Pellar is an orphan taken in by Masterharer Zist. Though born mute, Pellar is a gifted tracker, and when Zist sets off to take over as harper for Natalon's coal-mining camp, Pellar—along with his fire lizard, Chitter—joins him on a secret mission of his own: to find out if reported thefts of coal are the work of the Shunned, criminals condemned to a life of wandering and hardship.

Halla is one of the children of the Shunned. Though innocent of their parents' crimes, these children have inherited their cruel punishment. Lack of food, shelter, and clothes is their lot; hope is unknown to them. And what future would they hope for? Without a hold to call their own, there will be no protection for them when the lethal Thread inevitably falls again. Life is particularly tough for Halla. Her family gone, she must fend for herself. Yet despite the brutality of her surroundings, Hall is kind and gentle, devoted to those more helpless than she.

As depraved as Halla is good, Tenim is in league with Tarik, a crooked miner from Camp Natalon, who helps him steal coal in exchange for a cut of the profit. But Tenim soon realizes there is a lot more to be made from firestone, the volatile mineral that enables the dragons of Pern to burn Thread out of the sky. Tenim doesn't care what he has to do, or whom he has to kill, in order to corner the market.

Cristov is Tarik's son. Dishonored by his father's greed and treachery, the boy feels he must make amends, even if it means risking his life by mining the volatile firestone, which detonates on contact with the slightest drop of moisture.

When the last remaining firestone mine explodes in flames, a desperate race begins to find a new deposit of the deadly but essential mineral, for without it there can be no defense against Thread. But Tenim has a murderous plan to turn tragedy to his own advantage, and only Pellar, Halla, and Cristov can stop him—and ensure that there will be a future for all on the world of the Dragonriders.

Wow, that was long. Let's be quite clear, that was obscenely long. My legs would grow tired if I had to stand in the store to read all that. It is 404 words long. I'm not sure what they were thinking when they thought it would be a good idea to have a blurb over 400 words long, but it's not. Chop it in half, folks. Be kind to us old guys who spend too much time in bookstores and libraries already.

Now, with my complaints about the never ending blurb out of the way, I'll begin in on the ever changing plot. The problem is that there's not a true plot here. It reads more like the recordings of a series of happenings, to the four characters—who oddly are all children.

Of course, these children are all uber-children. You have the wonderful tracker-harper who can't talk; the mining prodigy; the nice girl and of course the evil teen. I was almost literally rolling my eyes while reading some of these characterizations. What' saddest about it, is that I'm unsure if it's Anne's or Todd's hand which is doing this. I've read both of their earlier works, and I don't think I can quite remember characters coming out this bad from anything else of theirs that I've read.

The setting is Pern, during the Second Interval, about fifteen years before the Third Pass. If that doesn't making any sense to you, I suggest visiting Wikipedia and reading up a bit about the Dragonriders of Pern. If it does make sense to you, then you'll realize that we're further back in the timeline than the original novels written by Mrs. McCaffrey. This is an odd thing here. Pern has been around for decades. Anne McCaffrey has spent thousands of words on describing things, and building this world. Her son, now basically inherits all of that work. He doesn't have to describe the dragons in great detail, because those of us who've read all the previous novels already know what they look like.

I could regal you with text here about the theme of the novel, or maybe tell you how wonderfully or poorly the book is written from a mechanical point of view, but I won't.

Instead, I'll drop on down into my closing notes. After all, I'm writing this on my laptop, while on vacation, and it's the third review I've written today. And sadly, I still have one more to go, though that might end up waiting until tomorrow.

Anyways, this is a Pern novel that, well, just didn't work. It just lacked something. And that something is not necessarily the Dragonriders themselves (as they aren't a big part of this story), because the MasterHarper series of novelettes worked wonderfully as stories, and they don't have that much of a presence of the DragonRiders in them either.

Frankly, I'm almost scared of the future of this franchise, especially if this is the quality that we can expect from future installments from Todd McCaffrey. Which if it is, is truly sad as I've read better work from him.

Dragon's Fire gets a 2.3 out of 4.

Tuesday, August 21, 2007

Monday Morning Rambling, just a day late...

Well, it appears that I forgot to note that I was going to be in the mountains of North Carolina this week. What that means is less time online. I'm currently sitting in a free wifi hotspot posting this, but I don't have a whole bunch of time.

I'll update as time allows, and I do have the following reviews in the works, Titan, the Rosetta Codex, and Dragon's Fire.

Unfortunately, I missed animonday last night, as apparently the sci-fi channel isn't carried here. Much annoying that, so there's nothing on that score for anyone.

There are spoilers for Inferno the next Star Wars LOTF novel up over at Enjoy those if you like spoilers, ignore them if you don't.

That's all the time I have for tonight.

Friday, August 17, 2007

Dark Knight

This site has more images from the Dark Knight, the upcoming sequel to the truly awesome Batman Begins.

They sure do look pretty, sums up my thoughts. Though I still have reservations about those really big guns on the front of that silly looking bat-cycle. Oh well, we'll find out just how awesome this movie is soon enough.

Thursday, August 16, 2007

More news on the SCIFI Front....

Apparently, ABC has taken a page from NBC's playbook. After the success NBC had with an American remake of the British hit The Office, ABC has now decided that it too shall steal show ideas from overseas. Apparently, ABC is dealing with an Americanized version of Life on Mars staring Star Trek & Stargate alum Colm Meaney (source).

This show is about a cop who gets transported back in time to the 1970's while hunting for his kidnapped girlfriend. It has a solid basis in speculative fiction, so I may watch an episode or so.

The next bit of news I found interesting this morning was the possiblity of a remake of Fantastic Voyage. The interseting thing is that, contrary to popular belief, Asimov did not write Fantastic Voyage. He wrote the novelization of the movie. It's just that the book was released six months prior to the movie, leading to the confusion. Anyways, Roland Emmerich is said to be helming this movie, and one can only hope he does a better job than he did with The Day After Tomorrow.

The final bit of news is, well to me, the most interesting. SCIFI.Com reports that Jeff Carlson is about to publish his debut novel, entitled Plague Year. The simple, one-line synopsis provided by Mr. Carlson in that linked interview for this book is thus:

The story takes place a year after a cancer-treating prototype broke loose and devoured all warm-blooded life below 10,000 feet elevation.
It's an interesting take on things, and one that I'm actually interested in reading from the interviews with the author at the link above. It's already at Books-a-Million (in paper-back happily enough) so I'll have to see about slipping down there and picking it up. Though that may have to wait until September.

Wednesday, August 15, 2007

The Matrix or WoW?

An interesting article is up over at the New York Times entitled Our Lives, Controlled from Some Guy's Couch.

Basically, some big-brain has created a mathematical formula which indicates that there's a fairly high certainty that we're all a computer simulation. Some free-running form of Second Life or Spore in order to watch how we evolve and react and grow.

Of course that begs the question, is the person who created our simulation - in a simulation of his own? And that question can be extrapolated up and down (when you consider that it's expected for us to have computers powerful enough to perform such simulations by the middle of this century).

So, which MMORPG would you rather be playing in?

Tuesday, August 14, 2007

Yeah, well.... I didn't watch it last night...

Much to my own chagrin, I failed to watch Ani-Monday last evening on the television. When I got home, I fed my youngest son, and he then dropped off to sleep on my lap (and he was in dire need of sleep) so I was stuck in my chair during dinner, and my mind has been wandering a bit of late.

So by nine at night, I had this somewhat nagging feeling that I was forgetting something. So I went to Chick-fil-a and got a large thing of sweet tea to see if that helped. Not surprisingly, it did. The nagging feeling was subsumed by the rush of that sweet nectar, provided by those cows who can't spell.

At least until 11:15 when I sat down at my pc, and double-clicked my anime folder to watch the newest episode of Code E.

I then proceeded to smack my head once or twice, as the realization that I had forgotten ani-monday slammed into me. And I was really hoping that I would be able to watch an entire season of a television show on the television.

Of course, that is not what irked me most. What really got me, is that I remembered that hey, SciFi Channel has this nifty broadband website called SCIFI.Com/Pulse which sends streaming video of their television shows to users. Including the non-original fare, such as Star Trek: Enterprise. So, I thought, in my naivety that they would include their animated shows in that as well. After all, it makes sense to me.

Well, apparently what makes sense to me, does not make sense to the powers that be over at There is no way to watch missed episodes, and of course these animated shows are the only thing on the SciFi channel that aren't repeated two dozen times in the course of a week.

It's almost enough to make one sigh. I hope that the Anime Network would get used in more markets. Unfortunately, I think the idiots at the various cable channels believe that since they have the Cartoon Network, that that's good enough for animated fare. Oh, what I would do for cable a la cart. There is nothing more that I want than that. Not to have to get this huge package of channels which I don't care about (yes, I'm talking about you, History Network, C-SPAN and ESPN!) and be able to actually just pick and choose those channels that I would actually watch. My thumb would no longer have to flick between 70 channels, but rather the two dozen which my family actually use.

Alas, my pipe dreams aside, my apologies for missing this anime, and thus not having any real content for you to read today.

Monday, August 13, 2007

Monday Morning Rambling...

Ah, it's another Monday morning. A beautiful time, when all is right with the world, everyone is at their happiest, and chipper is par for the course.

My handlers are now telling me that that's Friday, and directing me to get my first cup of coffee prior to writing from here on out.

So, I've gotten my cup of coffee, drained half of it, and am now in a much more reasonable state of mind to talk about speculative fiction, and this blog.

So, the first thing is the usual Ani-Monday. We get episodes of Noein and Tokko again tonight, so we're good to go on the televised anime front. Additionally, for everyone who missed the premier of Flash Gordan last Friday night, it will be on at 4:30 EST this afternoon on Sci-Fi.

Of course, that begs the particular question of why you would want to watch it. I caught the first hour of the premier when it aired the first time, and well... I stopped watching, and jumped on the computer, not even noticing when my wife changed it from the science fiction to her Law & Order. Usually, my head perks up when even the sound of science fiction being flicked onto the screen while she's channel surfing - so let that go to show how much I was impressed by the series.

Of course, the story could have gotten better after I stopped watching, so I can't honestly say if it was a good show or not, but I don't think I'll be going out of my way to watch it.

On the book front of things, I've read one of the novels I got out the other day (The Rosetta Codex) but I've not written the review for it. Yes, I was a bit lazy last week, or more accurately, I had other things popping up, demanding attention. Then I've started on the second of those four novels, Titan by Ben Bova. Additionally, the next Star Wars novel is scheduled to be released on the 28th of August (the day after my triumphant return from vacation), but quite often when they're scheduled for the last Tuesday of the month, they'll not show up until the first Tuesday of the next month.

Comic book wise there are still a few graphic novels at Books-A-Million that I want, unfortunately, I've spent my budget on things for this month (at least I will have once I've purchased Inferno). I'm not 100% certain when the next Legacy TPB will be released, but I should probably get on top of that.

Movie wise, I've still not gone to see the new Harry Potter movie nor Stardust. Multiple reasons for that, one being that whole budget thing, and the other is I have two kids, and we just recently went to see Transformers. I hate to say it, but those movies may have to wait until the dollar theater, and a time when I can take my eldest to them.

The upcoming fall TV season does look promising for fans of speculative fiction. In addition to the stuff which Sci-Fi is producing, we have the following on the schedule, and all have a serious scifi/fantasy tilt to them:

Returning shows:
  • Heroes
  • Bones
  • Smallville
  • Supernatural
  • Ghost Whisperer
New Shows:
  • Reaper
  • Pushing Daisies
  • Bionic Woman
Channel color code: NBC, ABC, CBS, CW, FOX
And those lists don't even include things I might not have heard about (a strong possibility with the small amount of TV I actually watch), the cable channels, or mid-season replacements. I love the amount of speculative fiction based shows that are appearing, I guess it is time for the Geeks to inherit the Earth and all, though it makes me wonder what would have happened if Fox had waited until today to produce the failed series, Firefly. Then I realize that since it's Fox, they would have still tossed it from night to night, ensuring that it could not produce loyal viewers, because no one would ever know what day or time it would appear. The television version of the lottery. Frankly, I have to wonder if someone in the programming department of Fox just hates spec-fic shows, because whenever they have a good one on their hands, they do their best to kill it (re: Space: Above and Beyond, Dark Angel, & Firefly).

Finally, the anime field is still somewhat dearth of good shows. Of course, since it is the summer season that is to be expected. I'm three episodes into Code-E and am quietly amused, and hopeful. I downloaded the full season of Tokimeki Memorial Only Love, a slice of life, drama series based upon a dating sim game. It has a number of amusing portions, but is not anything overtly wonderful. I may grab the last few episodes of Idolmaster Xenoglossia that I've missed in the hopes that the storyline has gotten better, or at least to give me something to watch. Then there is always Sky Girls TV. I downloaded the first two or three episodes of this, but was seriously unimpressed with the animation, and since I had something else to do, I turned it off and never got back to it. So I might give that another go, especially since it's supposed to be science fiction.

Also, I may have to give School Days another try. I'm not 100% certain why I stopped watching, but I think it may have been just to realistic in its portrayal of teen angst and that hormonal induced stage of crushes and first love. I've learned a bit about this series since I dropped it. Of most interest is the fact that in the game it was originally based upon, there (as is always the case in these things) multiple endings. In a couple of these endings one or more of the characters would die. The most often scenario was the 'losing' girl committing suicide. If this ending is chosen for the anime it would make for odd watching, as such a show would be powerful to viewers, but I'm not certain it would pass the test for animated fare here in the States. After all, there's still that annoying bias that animated = children.

And I think that's all the rambling for No Krakana today.

Wow, I'm verbose in the mornings, ain't I?

Sunday, August 12, 2007

New Star Trek Movie Poster

It's time for some news for that OTHER sci-fi franchise which people dress up as characters from, and go to conventions for.

No, not Firefly, Star Trek.

Amusement aside, it's being reported around that there's a new poster for the next Star Trek movie. Apparently, it's being handed out at VegasCon this weekend (at least I think VegasCon is this weekend, I can't keep up with those things). Anyways, not that important - what's important is that it's a new poster. It has a release date of Christmas day of 2008, and implies that the title is going to simply be Star Trek.

Friday, August 10, 2007

Covering a Revelation

The Official Site has revealed the cover to Legacy of the Force #8, Revelation.

The full link is here, but they don't provide a lot, not even the back cover blurb. Of course that's reasonable, since we should get some good things happening in Inferno, and Fury.

Well, maybe not necessarily good, but something should happen.

My personal thoughts on the cover is that Jacen just looks off. His chin is too small, the shadows are in the wrong places. This gives his whole face just a mismatched look. And then he's also a hunchback, or at least looks that way.

Behind Jacen, we get a bunch of TIE Fighters and a lone X-Wing, and then some explosions that may or may not be a Mon Cal cruiser. Which of course makes me wonder just how the Empire is going to get involved here. And on which side.

Oh well. We'll find out soon enough. God help us.


Okay, because I'll pretty much randomly grab any anime with a 1 next to its name, I downloaded this, not really paying attention to it. Thus, it sat on my harddrive for maybe two weeks, unused, and nearly forgotten.

Well, the wife went to a mom's night out last night once the boys were in bed, and so after doing a bit of work, I realized that I had nothing to do. I'd already watched all the animes I'm watching for this week. So I hunted through, and found one that I hadn't watched.

Moetan (wiki! but AnimeSource has a better synopsis of the anime).

Frankly, I should have stopped as soon as I saw the word "moe" in the title. For those of you who aren't familiar with the anime scene, moe (pronounced "mo-eh") is Japanese slang, and well, I could either give it a short, incomplete definition for it here, or send you over to wikipedia where you can learn something. So here you go.

Anyways, this particular anime, started out life as a series of books, designed to teach English. Not an illustrious beginning for an anime, but hey, good things have come out of worse concepts. I just can't think of any right now.

But, back to Moetan. The man character is Ink, and about half-way through she becomes a Magical Girl (魔法 少女 mahō shōjo). Ink is a typical shy moe character. In fact, the creators appear to be shoving every moe characteristic they could think of onto her. She's clumsy, smart, forgetful, shy, and wears a sailor's fuku. She's a high school student, but looks like she's an elementary school student (that's for the loli freaks out there). The only two moe characteristics they missed were glasses and the characteristics of a cat.

Now, I can admit, I've watched some magical girls in anime. Things such as Nanaho, and who hasn't seen at least one episode of Sailor Moon. Yet, this seemed to be mocking the constructs of magical girl episodes more than anything else. Or at least, I felt that way, because I was snickering and laughing the entire time Ink was being introduced to the world of being a magical girl. Most speficically, everything seemed to be spoofing Nanaho.

Ultimately though, it was only humourous at that point, and the story itself didn't engage me at all. Too bad too, because if they could have kept the humor without it delving into overt stupidity (such as when she spoke her 'flight' spell, and her tool transformed into wings, which attached to her butt, and flew her around town that way) then it may have been a fun series to watch.

Thursday, August 9, 2007

Review: The Cat Who Walked Through Walls

I want to start this off with a bit of clarification, I love Heinlein. There's not a story of his that I've read yet that I haven't intrinsically enjoyed. This particular novel, while not an exception, is probably as close to not enjoying that I have came across while reading Heinlein.


Well, read on.

Anyways, if the title isn't clue enough, the review this week is for Heinlein's novel The Cat Who Walked Through Walls. It was published back in 1985 (three short years prior to his death in 1988 from emphysema and heart failure), and was one of the last novels which he wrote. The back page has this as the blurb:

Robert A. Heinlein has written some of the bestselling science fiction novels of all time, including the beloved classic Stranger in a Strange Land. Now, in The Cat Who Walked Through Walls, he creates his most compelling character ever: Dr. Richard Ames, ex-military man, sometime writer, and unfortunate victim of mistaken identity. When a stranger attempting to deliver a cryptic message is shot dead at his dinner table, Ames is thrown headfirst into danger, intrigue, and other dimensions where Lazarus Long still thrives, where Jubal Harshaw lives surrounded by beautiful women, and where a daring plot to rescue the sentient computer called Mike can change the direction of all human history.
I'm of two-minds about this blurb. Truth be told, I'm not 100% certain that without the name Heinlein right there at the front, that it would have been a strong enough blurb to get me to pick up this book, and as I have often waxed eloquent in this place, that's the entire point of the blurb. Any blurb that does not live up to that ideal, well, it's just a waste of ink. The main problem with this blurb is that, unless you're incredibly familiar with Heinlein's work, you're going to need Google or Wikipedia in order to understand the last sentence. After all, who remembers just where Lazarus Long comes from?

Did you follow the link? I had to. I recognized Hrashaw from the book he was from, but I hadn't read any of the Lazarus Long novels (hey, Heinlein wrote 32 novels, and not all of them are still in print, I can be forgiven for not having read them all).

So, in the end, I have to say that that blurb failed in its effort to get me to buy the book. Rather the strength of author's name was what made me purchase it. Just bad form.

Now, on to the plot. Well. Uhm... You know, for the first half (or maybe two-thirds) of the novel, I would have sworn that this was a traditional action adventure story, something similar to his awesome story Friday. Well, after I reached a certain point, I realized that it wasn't going to be that. After all, when the story should have been ramping up towards the final conflict, they spent time talking and having sex. Don't get me wrong, the conversations they had were great, and thought provoking, but they did nothing for the plot.

And then the finale... well, this book has been out for twenty-two years, so I'm going to do something I don't often do, and put things that could be viewed as spoilers in this review. Basically, see that blacked-out portion, if you've not read this book, it will ruin the ending for you.
The finale battle, the end, well, we didn't see it happen. It was a recollection, within the recollection (the story was set first-person, so basically he was telling the story of these events to someone) and not something that we actually got to see in the context of the actual narrative. Though, since he was sitting there dying, I guess the failure of the narrative structure could be due to the narrator losing his train of thought. Of course, that said, it could just as easily be Heinlein himself, rambling on, and then realizing he only had two thousand words left to get the ending out.
Now, that you've been fully spoiled, and I've ruined the ending for this book, on with the review.

The characters are well, odd. The main character, and narrator, is Dr. Richard Ames. As listed above, he's an ex-military man and writer, oddly, exactly like Heinlein himself. While, I don't think that I would consider him Heinlein's most compelling character, he is a strong protagonist, and decent narrator. In some circles, it's assumed that he's an alter-ego for Heinlein himself, and I can see where that thought comes from, of course that doesn't detract at all from the character. The love interest is Gwen Novak. She's his date, when the messenger listed in the blurb is shot dead at his dinner table. They then quickly marry, and... well, I'm not sure what the well would go for there. Anyways, Gwen is a character from an earlier Heinlein novel as well, one entitled The Moon is a Harsh Mistress. Gwen often works as a catalyst for Ames, driving him forward, in terms of plot, and in terms of the goals of the organization for which she works.

Of the rest of the characters in the book, the only one that really stood out in my mind would be Pixel. The cat for which the novel is named, and yes, she walks through walls. When Ames asked how, the response was, she just doesn't know that she couldn't do so. Her greatest feat, is that she just appears where the narrator is. Why? Well, that's never adequately explained. It just is. It's a paradox, an example of Schrödinger's cat.

Settings were beautiful. Heinlein isn't as verbose as say Ben Bova when dealing with descriptions, but he manages to describe things perfectly for the needs of the story. It's in first person, so you're not expecting the details as you would receive from an omniscient narrator. Basically, the settings are the Moon, an habitat orbiting the moon, an alien planet and a farm in one of the grains states. There's nothing really wonderful, or amazing about the descriptions but at the same time, they're not horrid.

Finally, the theme. As I stated earlier, this started out life as a generic action-adventure-mystery story. Yet as it neared the third act, it dissolved into something else. Of course, like all later novels, there's a strong right-wing bent to things, with Heinlein taking special care to mock those who believe they are entitled to things, and those who in general act and react with bad manners. And like all his novels, there is a very strong libertarian and anti-authoritarian bent to things. With the main character taking the time to deny requests from the organization Novak works for, because he felt they were working against his personal values. Additionally, he brings in the concept of the World as Myth. And despite what Wikipedia says, I despise the thought of calling the simpler term World as Myth, Pantheistic solipsism. Pantheistic solipsism is more convoluted and does not quite bring over the same concept as World as Myth.

Regardless, World as Myth is a concept which Heinlein himself proposed, and worked through in this, and his other future history novels. Of course, with the amount of time I spent day dreaming up worlds and universes and other odds an ends while a child, I'd hate to ponder the number of universes I spawned according to this concept.

Overall, I was not overly impressed with this particular novel. It was well crafted, but that lag in the plot, and what I can only view as the sudden abandonment of the plot by the narrator, irks. As I said at the beginning, this novel is the closest I have ever come to not liking a Heinlein novel. It managed to stay firmly on this side of that line, but it was still closer than I had expected when I picked up the novel. Closer than I had ever expected out of a Heinlein novel.

In the end, I have to give it a 2.8 out of 4.

Wednesday, August 8, 2007

... Who remembers Johnny Quest?

Who remembers Johnny Quest?

Basically, this cartoon was the brainstorm of the sixties, had a resurgence in the eighties, and another one in the nineties. The nineties version was the most successful, actually spawning a comic book series in addition tot he cartoon which ran on Cartoon Network.

Well, according to this article, Warner Brothers, in their unending wisdom and desire to make sure that every classic franchise is mutilated and desecrated and despoiled, has decided it is now time to turn this cartoon into a live action series.

The only worse possible choices of cartoons to be made into live-action series would be the Flintstones, Scooby-Doo and Thundercats.

Oh wait...

Review: Meet the Robinson's

I'm thinking that I'll probably just give up on the review for The Last Mimsy. It's been a few weeks since I saw it, and I didn't take down notes, what with expecting to be on the ball and all. So, in an effort to be on top of things, I'm actually taking a few minutes to write this review a few hours after having actually watched Meet the Robinson's.

This is the 46th Disney animated film, and is based on an illustrated book titled A Day with Wilbur Robinson by William Joyce. Parents of small children may recognize that name in association with the Playhouse Disney animated series Rolie Polie Olie, an amusing, science-fiction based children's program. A simple plot synopsis is thus:

Wilbur Robinson ia an energetic teen who travels back from the future. He does so to convince an orphaned genius named Lewis not to give up on his first important invention, the memory scanner, which is in danger of being hijacked by a mysterious villain known only as the "Bowler Hat Guy". Bowler Hat Guy is followed by, and takes orders from, Doris, a mechanical hat from the future which helps, or makes, Bowler Hat Guy obey it.
Truthfully, on my first thought, I didn't think this was that great of a movie. Yet the more I think about it, the more I realized that this was just a very subtle movie in what it was trying to show. There is a serious science-fiction bent to the movie, that, in my opinion, one must be a geek to truly appreciate. Everything from the whole time-travel, flying cars to the mysteries of the hippocampus. Yet for all this subtleness in the hard science fiction arena, the plot is overly simplistic. There wasn't a single surprise that I didn't catch before it happened. My big question for the whole thing though, is this subtleness an attempt to be clever, or just poor story-telling. Frankly, at this point, I think it could go either way.

The characters in this film are fun, in a somewhat simplistic sense. I don't have a whole lot to say here, as they are fairly one-dimensional. The villain is a villain. Lewis is the reluctant hero. Wilbur is the cocky trouble-maker. Of course, this does give some benefits to things. The villain, known throughout most of the film as the Bowler Hat Guy, is as vaudeville as one can get and still be in color. He's thin and spindly, twirls his mustache, and in general, everything about him just says: villain.

As always, the voice acting is top-notch. Disney pays top dollar to get great voice actors, this film included actors such as Angela Bassett, Adam West and Tom Selleck. I know the anime industry here in the States can't do this, but how I wish they did.

The settings were basically the present and the future. The present was normal, brick buildings, cars, the usual sort of thing, and of course, the Dinoco Dino, except in green this time. But the future... oh the future. I fear for the future now. After all, according to this movie, the future is an art deco nightmare, of bubbles, curves and pastels. In my many years of watching SciFI movies, I've seen many, many possible futures. Everything from the dystopian visions found in Judge Dredd to the horror of Taco Bell being the only government-approved restaurant (and what does it say about me, that my two examples are Stallone movies?). Yet, I don't think I have ever been as horrified about facing the future, as I was when the thought that it could be art deco presented itself. It made me shudder. I'm a bit scared of nightmares even.

Much to my own chagrin, I'm still up in the air on whether or not I like this movie. It's an incredibly odd beast. Not as fun as Cars or Toy Story, yet at the same time, it's not as science-fiction minded as such things as Titan A.E.. I'm not sure what exactly this is trying to be. In one moment, it's light-hearted fun, but never gets as fun as Cars, while at other times it's hard-science fiction, yet even then it doesn't quite get all the way into full SciFi. Frankly, I think the movie would have been served by the decision to go fully one way or the other.

And while writing this line, I realized where I had seen this exact way of switching between light-hearted goofiness and SciFi before: Rolie Polie Olie. I knew intellectually, that the guy who wrote the story this movie was based on also created that children's series-yet the implications of that fact on the movie itself, and on how it will play out did not sink in. Rolie Polie Olie is a show for toddlers, and is built up on that same mixture of easy going fun and science fiction.

Don't get me wrong, it's not a bad movie (such as Santa Claus Conquers the Martians) it's just not necessarily a good movie.

In the end, the things I like about this movie, aren't quite enough to pull up the low score I have to give this based on the things I dislike. So, I have to give it a 1.7 out of 4.

Tuesday, August 7, 2007

Ani-Monday on August 6

Well, we were back to our regularly scheduled series last night on Ani-Monday.

As usual, I ignored the Street Fighter II series which came on at 11, focusing my time and energy on Noein and Tokko instead.

First though, a word about the end caps to the commercial breaks. This week finally featured some new ones. Including one from what I believe is Read or Die; an OVA which is supposed to be on Ani-Monday in the future, and is one of the things which I'm really looking forward to. How can I not? It's an anime about books and a super-powered librarian.

The plot really does sound better than I'm making it sound up there.

Anyways, the translated clips still lack the humor from previous weeks, but it was nice to see new ones show up. I am wondering about those freaky, black-and-white drawing things, which show up during commercials for Ani-Monday. Why not use something a bit more, related to anime than something as random as those things. Heck, nothing says anime like a girl in a sailor fuku, so why not spend the money wasted on those things, and design a better logo-character. After all, they'd get more attention, if it was a moe, meganekko sailor-suited girl, than whatever they are.

And no, I'm not providing links to what those two terms mean. Research is good for the soul.

Anyways, Noein was still dealing with the repercussions of Haruka being taken to the future. We flipped back and forth between the future and the present, watching Yuu have a mental breakdown in both time frames. Over all, it explains a lot of what's going on. The voice actors have settled in better here, or else I'm just getting used to them torturing the delivery.

Over in Tokko we're now out of the answers phase, and into the part of the plot where bad things happen to confuse the main character, even though he supposedly was given all the answers. Yes, it really is as confusing as it sounds. Fortunately, as a viewer, we know more than the main character, so we have a better idea of what is happening. Additionally, we don't have the whole issue on whether or not to believe what he's being told, we as viewers know that it's true. Of course, he really doesn't have a choice in that matter, as the bad guys certainly believe in him.

So, basically, we have some answers. We got some violence. My wife got to hear a blond anime girl tell the main character that she would "cut his *@%$ing head off." My wife then asked, why the character just didn't curse, and I had to start explaining cable's tendency to censor itself, despite the fact that it is not subject to the FCC's decency rules.

Not sure why, but she went to bed at that point. Personally, I find the relationship between the FCC, Cable television channels and broadcast television channels highly stimulating. It's right up there with reading War and Peace or really anything by Tolstoy.

Monday, August 6, 2007

Monday Morning Rambling...

Another week has now come to us, bringing with it all the joys and hopes which only speculative fiction can provide. Okay, I can admit, it's way too early on a Monday morning, and I'm trying my best to be positive as the coffee does its magical workings on my nervous system. If I start twitching soon, then I'll know I've had enough. Until then, more of that delicious black goodness, please!

Anyways, this week, we have the usual mixed bag of odds an ends.

Ani-Mondays is back to showing Noein and Tokko this week, so that's tonight. Hopefully, it will be a while before we see another movie as horrid as Highlander: The Quest for Vengenance.

I've given up on writing a review for The Last Mimsy, as I've not gotten it even started yet, and I didn't make any notes on my thoughts about it the way I had done for Transformers. More on this, when I post my review of Meet the Robinson's later in the week (probably Wednesday), as I wrote about it at the start of that review while writing it review yesterday. Additionally, I'll be writing up a review of Heinlein's The Cat Who Walked Through Walls sometime this week.

As for those essays on Heinlein and society that I've been talking about nigh upon a month now, I'm still looking at them and I really want to do them, but I end up staring at the monitor blanky kind of drooling when I realize that I still love the concepts, but cringe at the workload. What can I say, I have a definite lazy streak, watching anime is much more fun than doing research for what amounts to an essay for an English Lit class. I wasn't that fond of Lit when I took it for my degree, I'm still trying to figure out just how it is that I convinced myself that writing that style of essays for fun would be a good idea.

And that particular note, brings me back to what started this all: Star Wars. It was my love of Star Wars EU which caused me to open up a blog on the EU featuring reviews and essays, and that will always be a prime aspect of this site and myself.

Anyways, this talk of articles reminds me of my next idea for one, though it is primarily for TheForce.Net. What I'm wanting to write about is the usage of the term "talifan" and the impact it causes on fan/creator relations and the dialog between them. Though I think that this particular essay will also be able to be cross-posted on my political based blog The KrashPAD.

Beyond that, I'm about half way done with the Rosetta Codex and hope to have that review up by the end of the week. After I run through that book, I'll start on Titan by Ben Bova next, also, don't hesitate to make suggestions on things you'd like to see here, or have me read. I can admit that unless I get suggestions otherwise, I'll probably stay in a more or less 'safe place' on the books I purchase, as I'm cheap, and only want to buy things I know I'll read again (though I'm much easier on what I check out from the library, as I've mentioned before, the spec-fic collection there isn't that great). Do note, that I'm not promising to take your suggestions, just that I'll take them under consideration.

A final note, soon, I'll be on vacation in the woods of North Carolina.

So, in recap:

  • No to reviewing The Last Mimsy
  • Yes to reviewing Meet the Robinson's
  • I promise I'll have the review of The Cat Who Walked Through Walls up this week... or next
  • Ani-Monday tonight features Noein and Tokko
  • I still want to do those essays on Heinlein and society
  • I now have another essay to do for TheForce.Net
  • Rosetta Codex is about half way done
  • Don't hesitate to suggest things for me to read.

Friday, August 3, 2007

Review: Hitohira

I've got a confession to make. As anyone who has read through these blogs may have guessed, I love sci-fi be it books, or movies. Additionally, I love comics books and cartoons. I am the quintessential geek.

So, of course that means I love anime.

Now, with my express love of scifi and big explosions, one would think that giant robot or fighting anime is my thing. That I would be ecstatically watching the Gundam series or Dragon Ball at every possible chance.

Well, that's where the confession comes in. I'm not that ecstatic over them. Sure, if they're on, I'll make the effort to watch them, but my favorite anime tends to be slice-of-life, drama or even romantic comedy anime, things that are more character driven, than muscle-driven. I love things like: Noein, Coil: A Circle of Children, AirTV, Kanon and Manabi Straight.

Which may explain why I enjoyed Hitohira so much. Frankly, I wasn't in the drama club, I had no interest in stage acting (yearbook all the way here), so when I first grabbed this anime and watched it, I was not expecting that much. Actually, back when it started, I was still in denial about my love of slice-of-life/drama animes.

Hitohira is the story of Mugi Asai. The Hitohira page on Wikipedia has this as a plot synopsis:

Drama Research SocietyHitohira revolves around a group of young high school students, the primary characters of which are either in the Drama Club or in the much smaller Drama Research Society. At the center is the main heroine Mugi Asai, a shy girl entering her first year of high school. Early in the year, Mugi is unsure on what clubs she should join, but is soon spotted by the Drama Research Society's president Nono Ichinose after she hears Mugi's astonishingly loud voice. Nono pressures Mugi into joining the club and eventually Mugi cripples under the pressure and joins. At first Mugi did not think it was going to be so bad, but she eventually learns that the Drama Research Society is going to put on two plays this year, and Mugi must act in both plays in several roles due to the low number of club members. Over time, Mugi's personality changes due to the club members' influence on her.
Yes, I'm to lazy to write that up on my own, so I happily steal if from Wikipedia. That's what it's for. It started life as a manga (of which there are currently 4 volumes in Japan) and was translated into a twelve-episode anime by the animation studio XEBEC M2.

Cast of HitohiraThere are eight major characters in this anime, Mugi, being the lead. In addition to her, are the four other members of the Drama Research Society, the president of the Drama club, an exuberant freshman named Kanna Chitose who is a member of the official Drama club and then Tōyama Kayo , who is a member of the photography club, and was Mugi's best friend during middle school. Rounding out the first year students of this anime, is Nishida Kai -- Mugi's classmate and another member of the Drama Research Society.

Twelve episodes is not a lot of time to flesh out the cast, but they did a decent job here, with all the first-years, plus Nono (the president of the Drama Research Society) getting a majority of the characterizations. I realize why the other characters suffered in this regard, as having to spend the time to flesh out the entire cast would have extended this series beyond what the story could truly support, so I'm happy with what we were given in that regards.

Mugi and NonoThe animation itself is beautiful, and features what I believe is the best fireworks scene that I have ever seen in an anime. The characters are well-drawn, and are done so rather consistently. Likewise, I actually like the character designs. Sure the school uniforms are a bit drab, what with all the brown, but in the end, that merely draws attention back to where it truly belongs, the characters and the story arc.

Ultimately, I would not mind a second season of this series, showing Mugi's continuing adventures as she tries to overcome her shyness. Of course, while that is fine for a seinen manga, I'm not certain it would work well for the anime adaptation of that manga. Of course, I have been wrong in the past. After all, I thought the Highlander anime movie couldn't suck as bad as Highlander II: The Quickening.

Like I said, I liked this anime. There was no big explosions or giant robots. There wasn't even a big super-powered fight. It was just a group of students, trying to overcome themselves.

I give it a 3.9 out of 4.

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