Monday, November 30, 2009

You did it

Dear Abraham,

You did it! By George, you did it! I can't believe you did it, but indeed you did.

Kindest Regards,
Colonel Pickering

PS Proof:

Now join me in a brandy or whatever the devil it is we drink.

Thursday, November 26, 2009

Thanksgiving with Carl Sagan Music Videos

Nothing says "Happy Thanksgiving" quite like a musical remix of Carl Sagan quotes. Nothing says "Happy Thanksgiving" like the above video. And yet, please allow me to give it a try: Happy Thanksgiving, everyone. Enjoy your turkey/ham/duck/pork roast/tofu/clams and be thankful, or else.

Friday, November 13, 2009

Another NaNoWriMo Update

First on the platter, I have installed a little word-count meter on the right that I snagged from the NaNo website. You'd think they could have gone with a look that was at least remotely attractive. Mind you, there are many many blog themes and looks -- so I guess they aimed to make the widget ugly for everyone, all the time.

Number two on the list: as of this writing, the word-o-meter stands at 23,029 -- with a little still in the tank for the rest of this day. I am not as far ahead as I was, or would like to be, a product of my first major crisis.

Trouble started on the ninth, when I procrastinated until, well, at least 10:00 PM, when I wrote my first word. The next day was even worse. But, I somehow squeaked by, writing a little over 1,200 each day. Two days ago, the eleventh, was a total flop. I managed a jaw-dropping eighty-three words. Woo! I guess I hit what you might call the "sophomore slump" of novel writing. After my initial excess, but still too far from the finish line to see it, I lost my nerve and my desire.

But, hey, I bounced back, with over 2,000 words yesterday and another solid day today. My NaNo sails are now, once again, propelled by a steady wind of enthusiasm. Hell, high water, or even a combination of the two could not stop me. In fact, all that steam might be good for me.

Monday, November 9, 2009

Review: Gift From the Stars, by James Gunn

Gift from the StarsMy rating: 2 of 5 stars
Don't quote me on this, but I seem to remember reading a little blurb on the dust jacket that said something like, "This book tells the story of how first contact with aliens would really happen." God, I hope not.

A disillusioned aerospace engineer happens upon the design plans for an alien aircraft inside a book he finds at a used book store. He sets about building this thing and, a decade or two later, he is off to unknown islands in the sky. He is accompanied through all this by the book shop's owner, a generally annoying older woman who has a bad habit of relating their crazy experiences to famous books.

She sails through space on a mysterious spaceship designed by aliens and later spends considerable time in their "lairs," yet she can't seem to tear her mind from the pages of "Alice in Wonderland" and the similar. There is nothing inherently wrong with a character occasionally mentioning hallmarks of literature, but Gunn's approach only annoys the reader and disrupts the story's flow.

So, yes, this is some goofy stuff, not recommended to anyone looking for a serious sci-fi experience. At the same time, I can't recommend this to fans of humorous or absurd science fiction, either -- it takes itself far too seriously.

Try as I might, I can only see Gift From the Stars as a poor attempt by James Gunn at recapturing the relative fame and glory attained in the Seventies by The Listeners.
View all my reviews on Goodreads>>

Sunday, November 8, 2009

Video: "The Three Little Bops" Cartoon

I just have a video to post for today, but it's a good one: a jazzy take-off of the classic "Three Little Pigs" story. I'd seen it before, a few months ago, and today decided to dig it up for your amusement and mine. Enjoy -- I know I did.

Saturday, November 7, 2009

Review: Election, by Tom Perrotta

ElectionMy rating: 2 of 5 stars
I am sure I would have liked this more had I not recently re-watched the movie. For some reason, last week my sister broke out the 'ol VHS tape, popped it into our combo player and we plopped down and watched that familiar favorite. And for some reason, I had the urge to read the novel on which it was based.

Too soon. The two versions are rather similar and the occasions on which they differ tend to favor the movie. I get the impression of "touching up," as if the people behind the movie were mostly happy with the story but still felt it needed some tweaking. I am inclined to agree with them. The ending especially, the part that they reworked the most, was very weak and disappointing in the book. I suppose I like it that Mr. M and his wife stayed together but I am glad they cut the whole section on his career as a car salesman. I won't even mention his reconciliation with Tracy -- what was Perrotta thinking?

The book has nothing to offer that is not in the movie. Usually, in the old "Film Vs. Print" never-ending battle, the book has the advantage of length. It can flesh out, expand on concepts and scenes that the movie people are forced to glaze over or leave out completely. But this is a very short, light read, in which Perrotta leaves the philosophy to the old dead guys.

And -- dare I say -- I feel some things were handled much better in the movie. The characters, for example, sparkle more on-screen: we see just how big of a cut-throat bitch Tracy really is, Paul is even dopier and more naive, and even Mr. M gets a shot in the arm from Matthew Broderick's worthy performance.

It is still a good story, but I can't shake the feeling that this book was written mainly for the opportunity of turning it into a much better movie. Hindsight, you know.

View all my reviews on Goodreads >>

Friday, November 6, 2009

NaNoWrimo Update

The picture on the left demonstrates a few very important things: my outdated tastes in Internet memes, my love of cute pictures of cats, and my steadily climbing NaNo word count. Stupid cats are stupid, so I suppose I should mention that, as of November 5, I have 12,145 words in my NaNoWriMo piggy bank (read: "word document").

And people said it was going to be difficult! Ha, I laugh at those imaginary people and put proverbial pen to proverbial paper everyday for at least 1,667 words. I have been keeping track of my daily word count and I will break down all of the data in a post at the end of the month. For now, suffice to say that I started out with a bang, 5,000 words on the first day, and have been coasting along since. Perhaps I will have another big push this weekend but it's not necessary: I am around 4,000 words ahead of schedule as it is.

As for strategy, I have none. I have relied on Write or Die a lot, but that is the only tid bit, the only piece of wisdom I have to offer. Everything else has just been bare-bones Write Write Write. You have read it thousands of times before in "How to Write" guides (though they usually throw in a few more tips just to justify their existence), and so have I. But who knew Neil Gaiman, Stephen King, and Carol Behrman were on to something? Who knew the best way to write is to write?

It has not been an easy experience, this Nah-noo-reye-moh, but it has not been terribly difficult. Reading blogs about NaNo, and reading on the main site that over 80% of last year's participants failed to reach 50,000, I had my worries. I could have crashed and burned -- and hey, it could still happen -- but somehow this fine-looking stud has pulled through. Barring disaster, I will finish handily, maybe a few days ahead of schedule. Which is great news, both for the, you know, satisfaction of a job well done, and the possibility of having a real, live copy of my novel, courtesy of I just learned about that offer today and it has proven to be a strong motivator. Nothing justifies your countless hours of writing a book like a tangible copy, that you can flip through, touch, and hold whenever you'd like.

Monday, November 2, 2009

Halloween and Fundamentalist Christian Comics

Every year on the last day of October we Americans celebrate Halloween -- by dressing up in goofy costumes and either: A) walking from house to house, collecting candy, or B) going to a party and getting stinking drunk. Fun times are had by all, though things weren't always so jolly.

When the United States we know and love was just a little tyke, the Puritans and other strict Christian groups ruled the land. Not surprisingly, they weren't too hot on the whole paganism and devil thing. Dressing up as such despised creatures as witches and devils won you no favors -- sometimes things really didn't work out for you, as Arthur Miller always tells me at parties when he's had a few.

I would thank God that such displays of ignorance are dead and buried, but well, first there is the problem of atheism; and then there is the problem of John T. Chick and his company, Chick Publications. My sister and her friends each received one of Chick's lovely cartoon tracts in their candy bags this Halloween. Entitled "Happy Halloween" (you can read the whole thing at that link -- it seems all Chick tracts are viewable online), you would expect something a little on the light side what with the name and the cheerful-looking witch on the cover.

Instead, we learn about a little boy named Timmy, who goes to a haunted house with his friends and ends up being hit by a car. "At least he's in heaven, right Mrs. Baxter?" If only, kiddo! But Timmy rejected Jesus Christ, and, even though he was a nice guy and all, well, tough shit -- I don't make the rules. So he'll burn in a lake of fire for eternity and all that -- I dozed off a little -- but there's still hope for you! So think about Jesus really hard, read that Holy Book, and don't forget to buy a few hundred more Chick tracts. And, you know, knocking off a few Catholics while you're at it couldn't hurt your chances.

I leave you with my favorite page from this booklet. It was a tough choice but, really, how could anyone write "Welcome to the Abyss, Timmy!" and not burst into laughter?

I also suggest reading some of the other Chick tracts. There's a wide variety from which to choose and, when you're not cringing from the thought that the person who wrote them was completely serious, they can be pretty funny stuff.

My Shot at NaNoWriMo 2009

I've known about NaNoWriMo, the popular writing project that encourages you to write a fiction story of at least 50,000 words each November, for a few years now. It is completely informal, with no entry fee or prizes -- other than the satisfaction of a job well done. The contest seems particularly centred around the website, which features a lively forum, a regularly-updated blog, and other goofy things. The chatter has branched off extensively onto personal blogs and social networks too, and I imagine most people reasonably familiar with the Internet know about NaNoWriMo. I hear there are also a lot of in-person groups and meet-ups around the US -- my local library is hosting on several occasions though I think I'll pass.

Last year I made a very lame, abortive attempt at competing, getting no further than a thousand words and giving it up in a day or two. But now, well I guess I feel more prepared and less intimated by the high word count. Around about the last week of October I decided, definitively, that I would give it another go. So I started outlining, working on an idea, called Henry's Fear, I've had rattling around up there for well over a year.

Sparing the details, two days in and I have around 6,600 words, a good start by any account. Now twenty-eight days and 43,400 words stand before me, and I feel ready to go. Writing a novel: I suppose I can put it on a list of things I've done, to comfort myself on my deathbed, but mostly I just want to write it so I can read it. And maybe I can con one or two people into doing the same.

At any rate, my participation in this event may cut into my posting a little, but never fear! I will definitely write on my progress, and I plan for one or two book reviews. As for The Aeneid, I don't feel quite qualified to write a review of this foundation stone of Western literature but I'll have to write something about it. And lastly, I hope to write about our August visit to Gary Dumm's house, the cartoonist who produced much of the artwork for Harvey Pekar's comic books.

If all else fails I'll be back to my regular posting schedule -- if I ever had such a thing -- by December 1. Now I charge back onto the NaNo battlefield, so wish me luck and may finger cramps stay the hell away from me!