Tuesday, May 19, 2009

A very long weekend...

So this was a very busy Victoria Day long weekend for me, and it didn't even involve fireworks.

Friday evening some friends and I attempted to see the new Star Trek film again, this time in IMAX!!!--but the show was already sold out. So we opted for X-Men Origins: Wolverine instead. I'd heard bad and mediocre reviews, and wasn't expecting much, but it wasn't horrible. Not particularly great, but not horrible. Hugh Jackman did a great job with what he had to work with. Liev Schreiber also did a good job with even less to work with. Ryan Reynolds shone as Deadpool for the 5 minutes he had onscreen, even if they took a few liberties with the character. I choose to ignore what they did with him in the climax, and instead hope for an entertaining spin-off flick at some point. (I'm a fan of the "Merc with a Mouth", especially when he's in the hands of a good writer, and I think Ryan Reynolds is well-cast as the wise-cracking ass-kicker.) Gambit was okay, but he could have been removed from the story entirely with no effect (all he really does is get in the way).

The plot itself is pretty dumb: an early scene has a group of mutants, including Wolverine, doing black ops for the US military. They dismantle the private army of an African diamond trader within minutes, just to get the hunk of meteorite he's been using as a paperweight. Really, I think one guy with a suitcase full of $100,000 US could have done the job more easily and with less mess. Ah well, they can't all be Iron Man.

Saturday was a day spent in restaurants. I went for lunch with some friends from my undergrad D&D days whom I only see about twice a year (one of them, who lives in Calgary, was in town for the weekend). Then I went out for a friend's girlfriend's birthday at Ivanka's in downtown Burlington. A very classy, and intimate place. Afterward we hit a Tim Horton's, the only coffee place that was open.

Sunday was a day spent in costume. In the morning some friends and I attended a Promenade and Picnic with the Toronto Steampunk Appreciation Society. We browsed St. Lawrence Market in Toronto for antiques, and I found some interesting pins for my military-style jacket. One Russian dealer had a table full of old Soviet Red Army surplus, so I picked up some goggles and a KGB box-style flashlight. I also found an old Kodak folding camera. I'll post photos soon. The evening was the usual LARP thing.

Monday was a day of labour. I spent much of the morning weeding and mowing my lawn, and discovering the army of mosquitoes that have occupied my backyard fence. I've noticed several spiders have weaved webs all around the outside of my house. Although I almost tore them down, I realized that each web trapped several scores of mosquitoes. Whereupon I calculated that every mosquito the spiders get, is one less in my house. Thus I forged a verbal contract with the arachnids: stay outdoors and you are free to feast on as many mosquitoes as you wish.

Unfortunately, the spiders aren't able to deal with so many of them so I might be forced into drastic measures. Perhaps the use of Raid or some other weapon of mass insect destruction.

In the afternoon, some friends and I went hiking in Christie Lake Conservation Area in Dundas. We spent a lot of time exploring the ruins of Crooks Mill and the dam of Christie Reservoir. I'll put up photos of those soon as well.

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

They Fight Crime!

A common TV series pitch--or parody of one--is taking an "odd couple" and placing in them in situations where they solve mysteries and defeat criminals. This trope is called They Fight Crime, and examples include Numb3rs ("He's an FBI agent; he's a math professor. They Fight Crime!") and Blood Ties ("She's a Canadian police detective who is slowly losing her sight. He's a vampire. They fight crime!").

From Jaka, there's this neat meme:

1.) Go to TheyFightCrime! and find a crimefighting pair that makes you swoon.
2.) Go to the Hero Machine and illustrate your duo!
3.) Repeat as necessary or until your mom tells you it's time for bed.

I'll illustrate one I did, but first, guess this famous media property. You'll be surprised who it is--I certainly was! Answer after the images below:

"He's a battle-scarred veteran of the war in Afghanistan! He's a substance-abusing dilettante grad student! They Fight Crime!"

"He's a leather-clad guitar-strumming photographer who believes he can never love again. She's a virginal insomniac bounty hunter who hides her beauty behind a pair of thick-framed spectacles. They fight crime!"
PhotographerBounty Hunter 2

And the odd couple mentioned above?

Dr. Watson and Sherlock Holmes.

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Finally stopped Browning around

So, Random House has finally announced that Dan Brown's next novel, The Lost Symbol (formerly known under the working title The Solomon Key), will be released in the US and Canada on September 15th, with a precedent-setting first run of five million copies.

Based on the plots of Digital Fortress, Angels and Demons and The Da Vinci Code, let me try to divine the plot of this one:

  • We will have a tweedy hero, a man of letters but who can also run fast and jump down from heights if necessary. Since we already know this is the third Robert Langdon novel, this is an affirmation, not a prediction.

  • The story shall begin with a mysterious murder that sets off the plot.

  • The mystery of the murder will involve "symbology", which will drag Langdon into the plot.

  • The plot will involve a conflict between two conspiracies. One will be an established publicly-known organization that features in several real-life conspiracy theories. The other will be a historical or pseudo-historical group that also features in real-life conspiracy theories, but in reality is either long-defunct or harmless.

  • Langdon will quickly be paired with a young, attractive woman who is versed in some academic or practical discipline relevant to the plot, and physically capable enough to join him in mad dashes and rolling falls from great heights, but not capable enough to fight off the assassin. There will be no other female characters of significance.

  • Oh yes, there will be an assassin, likely directly responsible for the initial murder, and possibly others throughout the novel. He will attempt to add Langdon and his companion to his hitlist. The assassin will be typified by either "exotic" ethnicity (ie, swarthiness) or a physical handicap of some kind, as well as sadism and dogged persistence. SPOILER ALERT: The assassin will die.

  • The assassin will be working for a high-ranking member of one of the conspiracies, the mastermind of the main plot, but this puppetmaster's identity will be concealed until the climax, even from the assassin. SPOILER ALERT: The mastermind will die.

  • As Dan Brown is a strong adherent to the Law of Economy of Characters, the mastermind will be a significant character introduced in the first third of the book, who will be portrayed as one of Langdon's greatest allies during the bulk of the book. Statistically he is likely to be a white male, most likely late middle ages or older.

  • Meanwhile, the "obvious" villain will turn out to be a red herring and likely assist Langdon at or after the climax.

  • Langdon will be pursued by the authorities for most of the book, complicating his efforts to solve the central conspiracy and avoid being killed by the assassin. At the conclusion, the authorities will recognize their error and clear Langdon of all suspicion.

  • There will be intricate puzzles or riddles Langdon and his allies must work out to solve the central conspiracy. This will involve running around various landmarks of a city with a lot of established real-world history. These puzzles will either be so simple as to be laughable, or counterfactual to the real-world evidence.

  • Through Langdon and other characters, Brown will pontificate on historical theories or analysis of culture that are sure to rankle any professional or scholar (or relatively well-read layperson) of the field in question: some refer to this as being "Dan Browned".

If I'm found to be correct, I'm going to find someone to write an online app that just churns out Dan Brown plots and make me rich.

Thursday, April 16, 2009

The Gernsback Continuum

Mindful of the fact I don't seem to read enough these days, I've set myself a challenge: to read all of the 2009 nominees for the Hugo Award for Best Novel. The Hugo is one of the top prizes a science fiction author can receive, and they awarded annually at Worldcon, the annual convention of the World Science Fiction Society. As an added bonus, this year's Worldcon, Anticipation, will be in Montreal, and I'm thinking about going.

This year's nominees for Best Novel are:

  • The Graveyard Book by Neil Gaiman, a juvenile fantasy in the vein of The Jungle Book that has already won the John Newbery Medal.

  • Little Brother by Cory Doctorow, a young adult novel about a group of teenagers fighting the attempts of their government to curtail personal freedoms in the wake of a terrorist attack. Think of the movie "Hackers" only a) the methods and technologies described are heavily grounded in realism and b) the enemy is a government security apparatus overstepping its bounds and shifting blame for its criminal activities onto libertarian-minded tech-saavy adolescents, instead of an evil corporation.

  • Saturn's Children by Charles Stross, a space-opera tale of sentient robots, continuing to live, work and play in a solar system-spanning society, long after their human Creators (i.e., us) have died out.

  • Anathem by Neal Stephenson, about monastic societies that preserve knowledge and learning in the face of societal collapse, and conflict with the secular authorities about what knowledge should be revealed. (The basic premise sounds similar to the venerable science fiction classic, A Canticle for Leibowitz.)

  • Zoe's Tale by John Scalzi, whose plot is contemporaneous with the third novel in his acclaimed "Old Man's War" universe, The Last Colony, with events related from the perspective of the titular 16-year-old protagonist.

Thus far I've read The Graveyard Book and Little Brother, and am almost halfway through Saturn's Children. Initial impressions:

  • Graveyard Book is textbook Gaiman, with an original premise, interesting, well-detailed characters, a moving plot, and a somewhat lacklustre ending. It's definitely recommended--even on his worst days Gaiman writes circles around the rest--but I didn't find it as compelling as say, American Gods or Neverwhere.

  • Little Brother is extremely fascinating, but also extremely didactic, and reads more of a combination of libertarian political manifesto and how-to manual for subverting government surveillance than novel. In other words, it's the novelization of Doctorow's personal ideology as regularly expressed on his site and the BoingBoing shared blog. Some might see that as interfering with the narrative, but science fiction is about exploring ideas. Using novels as soapboxes didn't stop Robert A. Heinlein from winning five Hugos either.

  • Saturn's Children is an engaging read so far, but not exactly compelling or innovative. To his credit, Stross considers SC to be the weakest of his last six novels (all nominated for the Hugo) and hopes to improve his record for most consecutive nominations without a win

  • Typical for him, Stephenson's book comes close to a thousand pages of dense prose and fabricated terminology, so I'm thinking I'll have to listen to Anathem on audiobook.

  • I don't feel right reading Zoe's Tale, the fourth book to be set in the "Old Man's War" setting, without some background so I'm going to attempt to read the other three first. I will certainly work on the first one, Old Man's War, as it is considered a modern sf classic.

Incidentally, Stross's blog post on his nomination seems to set the same tenor that all the authors have expressed: All of them are falling over with praise for each other (well, except maybe Stephenson, who doesn't seem to blog). Part of me wants to be at Worldcon when the award is announced, on the chance they'll all be there, and will go into a big group hug as the winner is announced, and cry tears of joy collectively (because there's nothing sexier than half a dozen geeks tearfully embracing--and I speak from experience).

More updates to follow!

Tuesday, March 03, 2009

Flats and Sharps

A survey of some recent music news that has interested me. I also have a home improvement update that I'll post later.

After Forever, one of my favourite bands, has broken up:

Dearest Fans,

After nearly 15 years and with heavy hearts, we have decided to call an end to a great and exciting time as After Forever. We are extremely proud of what we have accomplished, and especially of the road we took to get here. After Forever has never been a band that repeated itself; we always tried out new things, even though many of them were certainly done at a risk. We think that that has been one of the reasons we’ve always enjoyed enormous support from all our loyal fans.


We know that this will be a big disappointment to you, dear fans, and it makes it that much harder for us. You have always given us your all and it was our pledge, in turn, always to give at least as much back to you for as long as we exist. In this moment, that’s unfortunately just not possible, so we'd rather leave you all the albums and gigs we achieved with maximum input...We'll miss you all.

Most Sincerely,

Floor, Sander, Joost, Bas, Andre and Luuk

After Forever was part of the Netherlands' metal scene, a particular branch of gothic metal and symphonic metal sounding acts led by clean-voiced female singers. Fellow travellers included Within Temptation (who courted the most attention in North America by adopting a more mainstream, Evanescence-like sound), The Gathering (although they transitioned from an atmospheric death metal band to a moody alternative rock, almost shoegazer sound), and Epica (founded by After Forever co-founder Mark Jansen).

After Forever was successful in Europe, but didn't really get the cross-Atlantic attention the other bands above did, likely because of the more progressive rock elements of their sound. But these elements, along with Floor Jansen's talents as a vocalist, made them one of my favourite bands. Sharon den Adel (Within Temptation), Anneke van Giersbergen (The Gathering), and Simone Simons (Epica) are all very capable of singing with a resonant, clean soprano (or mezzo-soprano). Floor not only outshines them in this capacity (q.v. "Monolith of Doubt"), she can also add a rough, rock edge when appropriate (a la "Face Your Demons"). I had the pleasure of seeing After Forever live over a year ago, and Floor has great performance charisma as well. I've seen The Gathering live, and watched videos of the other two, and don't get nearly the same presence that Floor gives off. Floor is a real-deal rock singer; the others are more like stage ornaments with pretty voices.

Watch for the high note at 2:57.

Floor really rocks out on this one, especially the bridge.

Farewell, After Forever. You'll be missed.

On a higher note, Italian gothic metal band Lacuna Coil, another favourite of mine, have a new album out in April, and hopefully their tour hits Ontario at some point. (Lacuna Coil have more of a straight-ahead rock/nu metal sound, and being Italians, an over-inflated sense of drama.)

Also, my hands-down favourite band, Dream Theater, have a new album coming out this spring, followed by another Progressive Nation tour! I think between all these concerts and the Stratford Festival I'm going to be pretty broke this summer...

Monday, December 22, 2008

The Greatest Gift of All...

So, in defiance of his own election platform, Prime Minister Harper is giving eighteen of his BFFs an early Christmas present:

Career broadcaster Mike Duffy is headed to the Senate as Prime Minister Stephen Harper confirmed Monday that he is filling all 18 current vacancies, triggering a debate over patronage as the fate of his government hangs in the balance.

It's good to know that given the looming financial crisis and increased demand on food banks this year, Harper's bringing a little Christmas cheer into some people's lives:

Appointees will receive a $134,000 annual salary indexed to inflation until they retire or reach age 75, followed by a very comfortable pension — and both are indexed to inflation.

Because adding $2.4 million a year to the parliamentary payroll shows firm, effective economic leadership during this crisis. What's the word for that? Anyone? Early 90s one-hit wonders EMF, did you have your hand up?

Yes, precisely.

Friday, December 05, 2008

Parliament in the Penalty Box

You would think that the current clusterf*** in the House of Commons might break my blogging hiatus. It's been a busy week for me, though, so I've been limited to brief paragraphs on Facebook and trying to stay on top of the whole charade.

I could summarize what's been going on but I think I'll just link to others who've already done a good job with that, including Mad Jenny and interestingly, The Yarn Harlot, who gives a very clear and non-partisan summary of the scenario (thanks to Azura for the tip).

I have my own personal opinion on the matter, of course, but I respect the right of others to disagree and present their own arguments in defence of their stance.

Except when they lie.

This is Bob Dechert, Member of Parliament for Mississauga-Erindale, and a member of the Conservative Party of Canada.

Mr. Dechert has been among the more vocal members of the Conservative caucus (including the Prime Minister) in denouncing the Liberal-NDP coalition. In doing so, he misrepresents our system of government by calling it a "coup" on his website, and referring to it "as close to treason and sedition as I can imagine" in the international press.

According to his biography on his campaign website (whose direct link was removed from the homepage overnight for some reason), Mr. Dechert is a lawyer with over twenty years of experience in Canadian and British law. He has no excuse for not knowing how our parliamentary system of democracy works. Thus, I felt compelled to send him the following letter:

Dear Mr. Dechert,

I understand in times like these, partisan rhetoric can become passionate or even inflamed above the usual level of political discourse. This does not excuse our elected representatives from misrepresenting our system of government to the citizens, as you have done.

I would expect a man of your experience in both Canadian and British law to understand how our parliamentary democracy functions, instead of throwing around inaccurate terms like "coup" on your website, or "treason" and "sedition" as reported here in the International Herald Tribune: http://www.iht.com/articles/2008/12/05/america/canada.php

I thought a "conservative" was one who respected our ancient institutions and traditions, not one who held them in contempt. There are more rational ways to argue your position without willfully obfuscating the laws and traditions of this country.

I've spoken with Conservative Party members who do understand how our system of government works. They have legitimate arguments against the coalition. But if Mr. Dechert and Prime Minister Harper and their fellow travellers believe this sort of stance is "conservative", well then George Washington was a loyal subject of His Majesty King George III.

I might try to summarize my views on the matter later but for now, Rick Mercer gets to the heart of it for me:

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Free Sarah Palin!

At Red Tory I came across this great take on the McCain campaign's double-standard:

I'm sure Ms. Brown is as motivated (if not more) to defend her profession as her gender, but still a great point, nonetheless.

Friday, September 19, 2008

The funny things authors say

Shorter G.P. Taylor, English vicar and author of the Shadowmancer Quartet of fantasy novels:

"It worries me that children are becoming interested in Wiccan and neo-pagan ridiculousness. I hope that my books bring them back to proper Christian ridiculousness. My Muslim and Jewish readers agree with me."

Friday, August 01, 2008

She really is a Strange Little Girl...

Slayer's "Raining Blood"

Tori Amos' cover version