Before I get into the stories I plan to discuss this week, let me take a moment to say that a Coursera class called Cardiac Arrest, Hypothermia, and Resuscitation Science is surprisingly interesting. And useful. For instance did you know there is a reference to CPR in the bible? Did you know that the guidelines changed in 2012 and mouth to mouth may not be necessary? The class may not sound like it belongs in an entertainment column but given the number of medical shows on TV, don't you want to be able to point and laugh when they get resuscitation medicine badly wrong? Class started this week so if you are interested you should be able to catch up without getting super stressed. You can learn more about the class here: https://www.coursera.org/course/cardiacarrest
I finally, after months and months, finished Moby Dick. This is a book I have always avoided as I heard it was much to long-winded and technical. It is, a little, but parts of it are much funnier than I expected. I particularly liked the chapters where Ishmael is complaining about terrible representations of whales in art, then moves on to less terrible and finally not too bad. My favorite bit was the description of a painting that showed whales lined up like a log jam, while polar bears frolicked on their backs. I would love to see this phenomenon in person.
I've also always been told Moby Dick is a big metaphor, but I reckon I missed whatever it is. Something to do with God, but whether God is represented by the whale, Ahab the obsessive one legged captain, Ishmael, the ship they sail on or the ocean itself I have no idea. If I learned anything from the book it could be summed by these words – enough with the revenge already. Seriously, if a whale eats your leg, or locusts eat your crops, bullfrogs fall from the sky and damage your new SUV why, why, why would you seek vengeance? I was trying to figure out what the oldest “revenge is a bad idea” story and came up with Cain and Abel. Never chase a whale that eats body parts and never smite your brother just because God is not a vegetarian.
Anyway, I really enjoyed the beginning, with Ishmael meeting and becoming fast friends with Queequeg. Even the parts in the middle that describe everything in excruciating detail are interesting, especially if you were previously unfamiliar with what goes into the slaughter of whales. If you are a supporter of animal rights you will be appalled to know this practice is still going on in parts of the world. It would be nice to read the novel and think everything in it was of historical interest only.
Moby Dick is in the public domain and I got my copy for the Kindle for zero dollars and zero cents. http://www.amazon.com/Moby-Dick-White-Whale-ebook/dp/B004TRXX7C/
From the long and complicated I jumped straight to a small and simple story by an author who thrives on long and complicated. Mile 81, a Kindle Single by Stephen King, takes place at a rest area that has been shut down. A boy who longs to be old enough to hang with the big kids investigates the hangout of the real big kids (high school as opposed to middle school), finds a bottle of booze, tries it out, then passes out. While he is unconscious bad things start to happen on the the highway right in front of the rest area. Not surprisingly these things are super scary and mysterious. I enjoyed this story very much, but the ending was kind of fast and somewhat out of the blue. Of course Mr. King has never been the master of excellent endings, so I can't really hold it against him. If you're a fan and you're up for a quick, bumpy ride of a story you could do worse than give this one a shot. As far as I know it's only available at Amazon. http://www.amazon.com/Mile-81-Kindle-Single-ebook/dp/B005COO1X6
Another short story that entertained is this offering from Strange Horizons. Called Estranged and written by Bruce Holland Rogers, it tells the tale of a divorced couple who go through some significant changes. And by changes I mean that she turns into a toaster shortly after the divorce. Then things go from there. It reminded me a little of Cory Doctorow's Someone Comes to Town Someone Leaves Town, with the character whose mother was a washing machine and whose father was a mountain. Surrealism can be annoying but I loved this story. http://www.strangehorizons.com/2000/20000911/Fiction_Estranged_Rogers.sh...
This week's bonus treat is an old chainsawsuit by Kris Straub. It's about the dangers of releasing animals into the wild. http://chainsawsuit.com/2008/04/21/strip-355/
I am deeply unhappy with the current state of Dr Who. I am not a fan of the new Doctor, the writing, or the new season arcs, which all seem predicated on some kind of puzzle that is neither interesting nor satisfying. I can only tolerate it by pretending I'm watching fan fiction and the real thing will be back sooner or later. It's these kinds of thoughts that led to me sadly searching my cable offerings, trying to find anything that was featuring David Tennant, my favorite Doctor. I found a horror film that I had meant to watch a year or so ago and had completely forgotten about.
Fright Night is a remake of the 1985 horror film of the same name. This new one was written by Marti Noxon (Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Angel, Madman, Glee) and directed by Craig Gillespie. It begins with a commercial for Fright Night, a Vegas show featuring Peter Vincent (David Tennant), a sleazy looking Goth magician. Then we pull away from the television to discover a vampire is in the house, slaughtering everyone.
We soon meet Charley Brewster (Anton Yelchin) who seems pretty happy with his lot. He has a terrific girlfriend, Amy Peterson (Imogen Poots), a loving mom (Toni Collette), and loads of friends. He also has an ex-friend, “Evil” Ed Lee (Christopher Mintz-Plasse), that he has left behind as he lost interest in the things they did when they were younger. Now Charley is annoyed, and maybe feeling a little guilty, as Ed approaches him and blackmails him into looking into the disappearances of several kids from their school, including the one who was caught by the vampire in the opening scenes.
Charley reluctantly makes arrangements to meet at the home of the most recent missing. When he gets home from school he finally meets Jerry (Colin Farrell), the new neighbor whose junk his mother has been complaining about. Charley is immediately suspicious, not so much because he thinks Jerry is a supernatural creature, but because he doesn't want anyone attracting his mom's attention.
Charley's meeting with Ed ends poorly, with Charley stomping off and Ed continuing his investigation on his own. It's not long before he encounters the vampire, with a predicable result. Charley is a little freaked when Ed doesn't show up in school and starts his own investigation. Soon he has found out enough that Jerry goes after his entire family and Amy, Charley's girlfriend. They flee to Peter Vincent's place to seek his help, but run into more trouble.
The casting in this film is outstanding. Toni Collette is always fabulous and Imogen Poots shines as Amy. Anton Yelchin and Christopher Mintz-Plasse are both excellent, but for me it was David Tennant who stole the show. He's extremely funny as the drunken, cowardly and scornful Peter Vincent. Sandra Vergara as Ginger, his assistant/girlfriend, has great chemistry with him. Their hate/love/hate relationship works very well, with a lot of sparks, and objects, flying. Colin Farrell is also in prime form as Jerry, the mundanely named vampire. He has some great lines, delivered with terrific timing. Unlike some people, I think the very best horror combines humor and horror. There is lots of scary, suspense in Fright Night, and lots of bravery, but my favorite parts are all funny.
This is the official trailer but it is a little spoilery, so be warned before you watch it. You may want to skip it and go directly to the film itself.
The official trailer does not have nearly enough David Tennant in it, so I give you a clip from Comic-Con that is all David, all the time.
This week's bonus treat is a Three Word Phrase comic from Ryan Pequin. It's about a kidnapping that goes awry. http://eatmorebikes.blogspot.com/2013/04/dropped-out.html
(Quick reminder – I am back in school so columns will be catch as catch can.)
I was flipping through my Kindle the other day, the best way for me to read because I can make the text as big as I like, and I realized I had read a few more books this year that I thought I had. I've been trying to get through Moby Dick, which I started at the beginning of the year. I'm only about sixty percent through, so I should probably finish it around Thanksgiving. In between marathon sessions of reading about whale anatomy and obsession I've read a few other books.
White Cat by Holly Black
White Cat is the first book in the Curse Workers series. As you can surmise from the name it's set in a world where some people have magic, which they use to manipulate those around them. It's close up magic, not like the Cups and Balls, more like you need to be close enough to touch the recipient of your magic. The curse, which can actually be a good curse, is delivered with skin to skin contact, so curse workers can wear gloves to keep from inadvertently using their abilities. Curse working is illegal, so most of the workers are aligned with big crime families.
Cassel Sharpe is a teen who is the only member of a family of curse workers who has no abilities. His mother uses her magic to help her in her career as a con artist and Cassel has learned how to take advantage of people from his family. As the story begins he is dreaming of a white cat. He awakens to find himself on the roof of his boarding school. He is promptly kicked out of school and embroiled in a series of confusing events, which all seem to be related. White Cat is another terrific, fast paced book from Holly Black, who has gifted us with Tithe, Valiant and the Spiderwick Chronicles. You can read an excerpt here: http://books.simonandschuster.com/White-Cat/Holly-Black/Curse-Workers-Th...
The Monk: A Romance
If you're a fan of long-winded, archaic, hyperbolic writing you'll love The Monk, by M.G. Lewis. Written by a very young author (nineteen at the time of publication), this Gothic novel is a little extreme. Each paragraph begins with a long poem, none of which are to my taste, and each story has another story imbedded in it. We start off learning about a monk, who is AMAZING. He is so wonderful that the entire city flocks to hear his sermons. Before long we are encountering a pregnant nun, a woman disguised as a man, the ghost of a nun, kidnapping, treachery, supernatural resurrection, sword-fights, deals with evil spirits, sexual assault, and lots of people professing their love for one another. The Monk was written at about the same time as Frankenstein, and has some of the same language quirks. As it is well out of copyright you can get it for free at several sites. There are lots of formats available here: http://www.gutenberg.org/ebooks/601. I grabbed it from Amazon because I am the laziest person in the entire universe.
A Vindication of the Rights of Women and The Subjection of Women
I read two books about the denial of rights rights, which were interesting, but somewhat depressing. They were written by Mary Wollstonecraft, Mary Shelley's mother, and John Stuart Mill. A Vindication of the Rights of Women by Ms. Wollstonecraft was written in 1792 while The Subjection of Women by Mr. Mill was written in 1869. Despite being written three quarters of a century apart they deal with many of the same issues, some of which are still problematic today. I would have thought we would have made more progress in that time. The more recent book is slightly more hopeful. The arguments are well presented and thought provoking. They are both available for free online. http://www.gutenberg.org/ebooks/27083 http://www.gutenberg.org/ebooks/3420
This week's bonus treat is from Allie Brosh, who has returned to Hyperbole and a Half after a long absence. She has been suffering from major depression and has not been able to post. She wrote and illustrated a fantastic description of what her life has been like over the past year or so. If you or anyone you know have been or are depressed you will find much that is familiar. And if you are one of the lucky ones whose brain chemistry is perfectly balanced you'll get a good idea of what it can be like and what not to say. http://hyperboleandahalf.blogspot.com/2013/05/depression-part-two.html
(Quick reminder – I am back in school so columns will be catch as catch can.)
It's the time of year when some of us are super busy getting our gardens ready for our tomatoes and peppers, or taking our dogs for long walks, or sitting under cherry trees watching the petals swirl around us like a pink snowstorm. Which means that squeezing in reading time might be a little harder than usual. In that spirit I present a few more short stories that I enjoyed or at least was fascinated by. You can read these without having to invest hours and hours of your precious time.
The Bookmaking Habits of Select Species by Ken Liu is not a traditional story with a beginning, middle and an end. The format is what you might expect from the title; short encyclopedic entries about various entities from around the universe and how they preserve their history, myths and cultures. Each of these entries are intriguing and make me want to read more about the species. http://www.lightspeedmagazine.com/fiction/the-bookmaking-habits-of-selec...
By the same author, and also from the magazine, Lightspeed, is another terrific story called The Perfect Match. Featuring some companies you may recognize, it is about a young man whose life is smoothed over and enhanced by his personal AI called Tilly. She suggests everything to him, women to date, food to eat, places to go and music to listen to. But is there a darker side to all this “help”? This story made me cringe a little but I still loved it. http://www.lightspeedmagazine.com/fiction/the-perfect-match/
Cat Rambo is the author of Five Ways to Fall in Love on Planet Porcelain, a story that managed to surprise me so much I had to stop reading and sit staring into space, horrified, trying to process what I had just read. It's about a woman named Tikka who “is a Minor Propagandist for the planet Porcelain’s Bureau of Tourism”. The people on Tikka's planet are in fact made of porcelain, so you can imagine how much more fragile their hearts are. Falling in love seems like it would be a terrible risk. This is a beautifully written story that made me want to read more fiction set on Porcelain. http://www.kittywumpus.net/blog/2012/12/24/five-ways-to-fall-in-love-on-...
Strange Horizons brings us Selkie Stories Are for Losers by Sofia Samatar. This story is told from the perspective of a young woman who is still traumatized by an event from her childhood involving her mother. She is now working in a restaurant with another server called Mona, who has her own mother issues. I saw a ton of people talking about this story online when it first came out but the title put me off so I put off reading it. If you, like me, really enjoy selkie stories and don't think they are for losers don't worry, you will likely adore this story.
I Have Placed my Sickness Upon You, by Karin Tidbeck, isn't the story I thought it would be. Published by Strange Horizons, it's about an extremely depressed woman who tries an experimental new treatment, which involves a goat. (A pygmy goat, possibly the cutest goats of all.) The goat is supposed to act like a scapegoat, taking her depression from her, but what will happen to the goat when Anna is finished with her therapy? This fascinating story raises questions about the ethics of using animals for medical testing, the nature of mental illness, and the trustworthiness of medical professionals. It is a bit of a cliche but this story really did make me laugh and cry. http://www.strangehorizons.com/2013/20130304/sadgoat-f.shtml
This week's bonus treat is a comic from Nathan Bulmer about a high school dropout. Despite his lack of education people still flock to him for ideas. http://eatmorebikes.blogspot.com/2013/04/dropped-out.html
(Quick reminder – I am back in school so columns will be catch as catch can.)
Long time readers may remember how much I liked Cory Doctorow's YA novel Little Brother, which my science fiction/fantasy class happened to study this past week. The timing was especially nice because the sequel to Little Brother, Homeland, was recently released, making this the perfect time to read the two novels consecutively.
Homeland picks up a couple of years after the end of Little Brother. Marcus has had to drop out of school after both of his parents lost their jobs. His student debt is snowballing, what with interest and fees, and he hasn't had any luck finding a job. (His previous job was eliminated when the ISP he worked for was shut down.)
As the story begins Marcus and Ange are at Burning Man, having an amazing time, until they run into an old alley/enemy. Masha, looking paranoid and run-down, has a ton of Wiki Leaks style data she wants to leave with Marcus, with the instruction to make it public if something happens to her. Which it does, almost immediately. Marcus' nightmare nemesis, Carrie Whitestone, (Severe Haircut Woman) shows up on the playa, followed by some burly thugs. Shortly thereafter there is an explosion and in the ensuing confusion and mayhem Masha is hustled away.
Marcus has PTSD from his initial run in with Whitestone and her goons and isn't mentally or emotionally prepared for another encounter. He is immobilized by her appearance and Masha's disappearance and puts off deciding what to do. Ange is not thrilled with his indecision so the two of them get to work on a plan that will hopefully keep everyone safe.
Meanwhile Marcus goes to work for an independent political candidate, Joe Noss, managing his web presence. Joe's campaign manager knows Marcus' back story and warns him if she finds one whiff of hacking or other computer scandal she will fire him on the spot. Marcus isn't just afraid of being water boarded again, he's afraid of losing the only job he's had for some time. Being the only working member of his family is a tremendous responsibility.
While Little Brother focused on the police state, surveillance and torture, Homeland branches out and tackles the financial crash, maltreatment of protestors, Anonymous, activism and more. Just as in Little Brother he supplies quite a bit of information to the reader, including some data on modding 3-D printers. (My oldest son has one and I'm very interested in looking at possible uses for the machine.) Much of what he has to say echoes stories that have been in the news for the last couple of years, which makes the novel that much more disturbing.
While there is plenty of information there is also plenty of what makes a great YA novel. There is love, tension, danger, knotty problems, complex characters and hope. You can totally skip all of the technical stuff and still have a terrific story. On the other hand you have the opportunity to learn all kinds of things, both good and terrible. Some of it I took with a grain of salt, like how Marcus and Ange are drowning in student debt. I looked up the price of attending their schools and did the math and am not quite sure how you would end up with a lot of debt with the low prices of their schools. It's not like they're going to Hopkins or something. On the other hand the novel is set in either a near future or a slightly different time-line, so maybe that explains it.
If you get nothing else from the book you might like the cold brewing method of coffee making which Cory describes in detail. Some members of my class tried it out and are fans.
You can read an excerpt here: http://www.tor.com/stories/2012/07/homeland-excerpt or download the novel here: http://craphound.com/homeland/ Remember, you can download it and buy it. I downloaded it so I could read it right away and bought a copy for one of my kid's birthdays that is coming up in a few months.
This week's bonus treat is a novelette from the Tor website. Called Portrait of Lisane da Patagnia and written by Rachel Swirsky, it's an intriguing story of art, magic and madness. http://www.tor.com/stories/2012/08/portrait-of-lisane-de-patagnia
(Quick reminder – I am back in school so columns will be catch as catch can.)
One of the best things about the science fiction and fantasy class I am taking is how it forces me to read, or reread stories and novels I either couldn’t bring myself to finish or didn't like the first time around. Last week we took a look at Ursula K. Le Guin's groundbreaking novel The Left Hand of Darkness.
The last time I tried to read this book I don't think I got past page two. It's a little on the impenetrable side at the beginning. It's all alien words and description, which made me feel like I'd be happier reading a geometry text book. Of course this time around I realized that the entire book isn't like that, just the beginning. Once I was past the start everything was fine.
LHOD takes place on a planet called Gethen, nicknamed Winter. It's in an ice age and in the summer the residents complain of the heat if the temperature gets up to sixty degrees Fahrenheit. There isn't much high caloric food – not much meat and no dairy – and the inhabitants have to eat several times a day.
Into this frigid land comes Genli Ai, an ambassador from a loose federation of planets. He is here to negotiate the idea of Gethen joining the group, which will result in trade and other positives for the planet. As the story begins Ai is preparing for a meeting with the king. He has been prepping with the Prime Minister, called Estraven, but everything falls apart when the King banishes Estraven.
I've seen quite a few people complain that the novel has no plot. They think it focuses on gender issues only (which I will explain in a moment) but I heartily disagree. LHOD includes a thousands of kilometers chase across the ice without enough food or supplies, more than one murder, betrayal, government experimentation, and a mad king. That seems like lots of plot and excitement to me. I've also heard a couple of complaints about the ice trek, saying it was dull and took too long. Some important character revelations and growth take place during the journey, so it's important on that level, but it's also a race against death from starvation or exposure. I'm the kind of person who finds that sort of thing suspenseful. But then I like reading stories about mountain climbing and trying to find the Northwest Passage.
There is also plenty of exposition and lots of explanations of how things work on Winter. The people of Gethen, who are human, have no gender. They stay in a neutral state until they go into kemmer, which is when they are ready to either father a child or become pregnant. Kemmer lasts a few days each month and the same person can be a father one time and a mother the next. One of the characters states that when you take sex out of the equation there will be no rape and no war. There are little forays across various barriers but no full on wars as they exist in the rest of the settled universe.
In the fascinating introduction to the book (which you should read even if you don't actually read the novel) Ms. Le Guin describes LHOD as a thought experiment. She also discusses the nature of science fiction and writing. Later she wrote an essay called “Is Gender Necessary”, followed by another essay called "Is Gender Necessary? Redux", in which she talks about how gender relates to the novel and comments on errors she made, like using the word “he” to describe the inhabitants of Gethen.
If you weren't alive when the book was written it may be hard to imagine how LHOD could be groundbreaking. Much of what it has to say about gender is no longer new. But imagine that one of the characters on Mad Men were reading it and maybe you can get a feel for how important and thought provoking the novel really is.
This week's bonus treat is a novelette from the Tor website. Called Swift, Brutal Retaliation and written by Meghan McCarron, it tells the story of a family suffering from grief and rage. Two sisters are haunted by the ghost of their older brother, who was an angry prankster before he became ill and doesn't seem any happier now that he has passed away. It's a beautifully told story with characters that make you want to snatch them away from their parents. http://www.tor.com/stories/2012/01/swift-brutal-retaliation
(Quick reminder – I am back in school so columns will be catch as catch can.)
After taking a break for a couple of years I tried reading another book by Dean Koontz. I used to really like his work, especially enjoying Watchers when it first came out. But I had to take a break when some weird political stuff started leaking into the stories, making them tedious and difficult to get through. Hoping that things had changed I checked a few more out of the library and dove into What the Night Knows. It was a bit of a mixed bag.
The story is not terribly complicated. The reader can get a feeling for what is going to happen in the first couple pages. A cop, who is not on official business, is at a mental institution, trying to interview a young teen who recently slaughtered his entire family. Covino, the police officer, also has questions for the murderer's attendants, leaving his contact info when he exits the asylum.
Covino is the sole survivor of the massacre of his parents and siblings; an event that is extraordinarily similar to the murders the inmate just committed. I use the word extraordinary because the man who killed Covino's family is dead, so couldn't have had anything to do with this new slaughter. To make a long story short, Covino is convinced that his wife and children are going to be killed the same way his parents and children were.
His new family is bewilderingly perfect. His wife is brilliant, a talented artist and is calm and perceptive. His son's only possible flaw is obsessing a little too much about becoming a Marine while the two daughters are well read, adorable, precocious and go to bed on time without arguing. As a reader we're supposed to be super worried about these guys but it's hard because they are sooo amazing and wonderful and flawless that I kind of have to wonder if he's just imagining them.
The writing is a little erratic. Parts of it are unbelievable (and I don't meant the supernatural elements), parts of it are scary, parts are silly and some parts are very well done.
My favorite bits were interactions between Naomi, the middle child, and a super creep sent to prepare the way for the big night of family murder. Naomi is a romantic who loves portal stories and the super creep is easily able to convince her that she is about to finally escape the mundane world and take her rightful place in a wondrous land. Naomi's readiness to up and light out for the territories struck me as the most authentic thing in the novel.
What the Night Knows is not a terrible book. It doesn't have nearly as much of the weird lecturing and snottiness that some of Mr. Koontz' other recent work have. (I tried another one of this books this week and there are at least three sly jabs on every page, making it extremely difficult to slog through.) There is some suspense in the story and getting from point A to point B is fairly interesting, even given that we can see point B in the first couple of pages of the novel. If you're going to be stuck somewhere with nothing to do and you happen to find this book you might as well read it. But I wouldn't go out of my way to pick it up.
This week's bonus treat is from Teri Pettit, who has a wonderful collection of paper dolls on her website. This one is a young lady from 1885 who has a fabulous wardrobe. Just print, cut and play. Or you could let your kids do that, if applicable. http://tpettit.best.vwh.net/dolls/pd_scans/hp/nellie_holder.html
(Quick reminder – I am back in school so columns will be catch as catch can.)
It's spring, which means it's time to start thinking about going outside while it is still light. Maybe no more going to work in the dark and coming home in the dark. Whether the weather is letting you out of your winter cave or still taunting you from outside, you can still brighten up your residence with some papercraft.
These white paper lilies from HP Creative Studios are elegant. Each pdf has the materials you need to make one flower, so be sure to print as many copies as you want lilies. http://www.hp.com/hho/hp_create/party_kits_decorations-decorations-lily....
If you'd like a little more color in your posies you might prefer these fuchsia flowers, which come in four parts: leaves, petals, stem and tags. http://www.hp.com/hho/hp_create/party_kits_decorations-decorations-fuchs...
The Canon Creative Park (one of my favorite papercraft sites) brings us a new bunny to celebrate the season. It's a Holland lop, which means its ears hang down instead of pointing up. http://cp.c-ij.com/en/contents/3157/holland-lop/index.html It's a soft brown with some white. If you'd a white bunny whose ears stick up then try this link: http://cp.c-ij.com/en/contents/3157/rabbit_saito/index.html Here is one more rabbit. This one is brown and white. It's sitting up, either begging or trying to figure out what is going on above it. http://cp.c-ij.com/en/contents/3157/03397/index.html Finally, if you would like a smaller rabbit, try this Netherlands Dwarf. It's gray and white and looks kind of surprised. http://cp.c-ij.com/en/contents/3157/netherland-dwarf/index.html
The Make Craft blog has a great gift box in the shape of a carrot. It's just the right size to hold a few small pieces of candy, or some marbles, or some change. It is very cute. http://blog.makezine.com/craft/how-to_carrot_treat_boxes/
In the better late than never category I offer this Year of the Snake 2013 papercraft from the faltmanufaktur blog. It consists of five snakes, one a kind of powder blue, one a forest green, a white snake that you can you color whatever hue you like, mostly white with violet bits and pieces and finally a deep red. They are in the traditional Loch Ness monster pose, making nice upstanding loops with their bodies. http://faltmanufaktur.wordpress.com/2013/02/10/happy-new-year-of-the-sna...
From the same source we have some great bunny templates for Easter. You can make a garland of rabbits, place cards, bunny masks (ears and whiskers) for eggs, and some plain old bunny decorations. They range from adorable to surprisingly elegant. http://faltmanufaktur.wordpress.com/2012/04/03/a-freebie-for-easter-bast...
Birds are springlike, right? So it's perfectly legit to make this adorable Angry Birds paper toy. You can shoot the birds up to eight feet, courtesy of Kamibox. The template includes three pigs and three birds; yellow, red and the black bomb bird. http://www.kamibox.de/PDF/Angry_Birds.pdf
If you're in the mood for an ultra complicated bit of papercraft you might want to take a look at this super cute garden shed, which has all kinds of different pieces. Some of the accoutrements include a wheelbarrow, rain barrel, watering can, tiny little gardening tools, and lots of different kinds of plants. https://picasaweb.google.com/papermodel2/Garden
This week's bonus treat is from Gigantosaurus. It is a beautiful story, filled with smaller stories, about Chinese immigrants living in Idaho City in the mid 1800s. Called A Tale of Guan Yu, the Chinese God of War, in America and written by Ken Liu, it jumps back and forth in time and between no nonsense straightforward storytelling to mythology. It's a long read but it still ended too soon for me. I would love to see a full length novel with these characters. It's up for a Nebula award.
Quick reminder – I am back in school so columns will be catch as catch can. I'm disgusted by a trend I've noticed recently. Shows that are about smart women who work in the sciences have started running episodes that are supposed to make the scientists “reconsider everything they think they know.” It's boring and the two different shows I watched that used this motif recently consisted almost entirely of cliches.
Bones, the first one I saw, started with the title character being shot. While she is unconscious she has an encounter with the spirit of her mother, who is hanging around in some kind of spiritual way station, presumably just waiting for someone she knows to drop by. All through the episode Bones kept drifting in and out of consciousness and in and out of the space where her mother was supposedly hanging out. (I guess her mom hasn't had anything to do for the last couple of decades? She's just been sitting in the waiting room reading the ghostly equivalent of Sports Illustrated and People Magazine?)
Of course she gets a message to pass on to her dad; it's de rigueur for these situations. Something similar occurred in last week's episode of Body of Proof, which was ostensibly about demonic possession. (Blargh.) Megan Hunt also gets messages, although it's not clear who is passing them along. This is supposed to be super mysterious evidence of life after death or whatever, designed to prove to the scientists that they have been wasting their entire lives and should go and dabble in superstition instead of facts. Ugh. I find it insulting and I've only noticed it happening with the lady scientists. Did Quincy the medical examiner ever have to go through this nonsense? I think not.
It's not that I think science and the supernatural can't mix; they can very well. (Or semi-well, as in the recently canceled Saving Hope.) But using only clichéd elements to build your extra-worldly story is disappointing and dull. If you want to write a scary story then make it a novel scary story. Do we care if a supposedly possessed girl (it's almost always a girl) suddenly does a bridge stretch? I think not. Many of us learned to do them in grade school. We may be too old and our joints too stiff to do them anymore but we know they are not a signal to call in the exorcist. If someone does decide to do a Poltergeist edition of NCIS let's hope it's got some original elements.
This week's bonus treat is from Strange Horizons. Called Middle Aged Weirdo in a Cadillac and written by George R. Galuschak, it's a story that looks at the thin line that can exist between good and evil. It features a demon and a teenager who meet when the demon gets lost. I was fascinated by trying to figure out the motivation of the characters. I kept changing my mind about what they wanted or were up to. It's also very funny, obviously in a dark way. http://www.strangehorizons.com/2010/20100412/weirdo-f.shtml
Quick reminder – I am back in school so columns will be catch as catch can. I managed to squeeze a little free time out of my ridiculous schedule this past week to watch a film I've been wanting to see for a little while. I am a giant fan of Jennifer Lawrence and seem to like her more and more every time I see her work. (Soon I'll have to go into rehab to avoid falling in love with her.)
Winter's Bone is a stark thriller starring Ms. Lawrence in a role that has something in common with her role in the Hunger Games. Her character Ree, much like Katniss, is struggling to keep her family together while living a poverty-stricken, hardscrabble existence. Like Katniss her mother is nearly catatonic and, like Katniss, she is caring for a younger sister. She also has the care of a younger brother, a horse and a boatload of dogs.
They are barely making ends meet – or almost making ends meet, as Ree has to ask her neighbor to take in her horse, which they can no longer afford to feed. Things are bad enough before Ree discovers that their father is due in court very soon and has put their cabin and the property up as collateral for his bail. If Ree can't find him and get him into court her family will lose their house and land, leaving them penniless and homeless.
The search for him is the textbook definition of ridiculously difficult. She is threatened at every turn and stonewalled when she manages to get through an encounter safely. Ms. Lawrence is impeccable in this role, stoic when she needs to be, loving with the kids and her mother, and tough as rhino hide when dealing with all of the terrible people that are in the way of her quest. Her style of acting is so natural and fluid that you could think you're watching a documentary, except there is none of the awkwardness that ordinarily comes with a documentary. (Everyone else is also good, especially when they are being super scary.)
One of the things I appreciated the most is the lack of sexual threatening. In many films or television shows a strong woman will be put in her place, shown she doesn't have any power, by being sexually assaulted or threatened. For instance in last week's episode of Banshee one of the crooks menaces one of the hostages before dragging her away with the obvious intent of sexual assault. It's the easiest, laziest, most cliched way of intimidating/harming/breaking down a female character. Unfortunately there are still plenty of network/studio executives who insist that all strong female characters be made to cry on screen. But Ree is not treated the way women in pop culture too often are. She is treated as a person, instead of a commodity. (It's sad that I am so excited about something that should be a given.)
The setting of Winter's Bone is grim. It is stark enough that the setting is practically a character itself. It's a quiet thriller, full of suspense, that is significantly more engaging that many thrillers filled with fighting, running and shooting. (Not there isn't any of that in this film; it's just presented differently.) The story and the location reminded me a little of Lauren Myracle's book Shine, which also takes place in a poverty-stricken part of America that has been impacted by meth.
This film is bleak but it's also brilliant. It picked up two awards at Sundance. It's unfortunate that it didn't get the kind of marketing push some other movies get.
You can watch the trailer here.
This week's bonus treat is an imagined monologue by Mike Lacher which is essentially a rant from the typeface Comic Sans. It is railing against those who loathe it and cackling with glee over its assumption that it will be around forever. http://www.mcsweeneys.net/articles/im-comic-sans-asshole