Oh, Frabjous Day! Callooh! Callay!

February 8, 2008 - 2 Responses

Last night, I stayed up far later than was advisable so that I could finish Frank Beddors’ Looking Glass Wars. I simply could not stop. The final third of the book sunk its claws into me with the ferocity of the Cat. (Oh, don’t groan…I just couldn’t resist.) Beddors’ book was a fun, rollicking, and thrilling excursion through exciting realms, from the splendor of Heart Palace, to the grittiness of Victorian London, to the post-apocalyptic world of Redd’s rule. In short, a jolly good read.

WARNING: Mild Spoilers Ahead

Looking_glassGiven that the book is almost entirely action/adventure, I was pleasantly surprised to find the character development and situational responses had a ring of authenticity and originality. At no time did I feel that the characters were one-dimensional or too wooden (with the glaring exception of Redd, but more about her momentarily). I loved Alyss’ struggles (both internal and external) upon re-entering Wonderland. Her disorientation, her sense of belonging to neither of her worlds, her determination set against her realistic doubts, her concern for those in the “real world” (how sad that it wasn’t until she had left them behind forever that she finally realized she truly loved the Liddells). Some readers may feel that all of this was handled too quickly and facilely, but I think it could have happened no other way. With Redd, the Cat, and the Cut breathing down her neck, Alyss must deal with her turmoil quickly and instinctively or literally lose her head.

The only real disappointment for me in this book was Redd. She was too coarsely and single-mindedly EEEEEVVVIILLLL to really be scary. Someone that diabolical and brutal simply must be brought down in the end. For me, truly frightening villains are those that are subtle and a bit seductive. Someone who can wheedle and charm and gather otherwise reasonable people to their dark cause. The only weapon in Redd’s arsenal was brute strength, and when it turned out that Alyss was plainly more powerful than her, that was that. Hopefully, when we next meet Redd (obviously in the sequel Seeing Redd) she will have expanded her game a bit and pose a more interesting challenge for Queen Alyss.

I’ve never really had much of an interest in Lewis Carroll’s books (apart from the delightful poem “Jabberwocky” and the charming Disney film). Now, however, my curiosity is piqued, and I may just have to add them to my enormous To Be Read list. After Seeing Redd, of course.

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Ph’nglui mglw’nafh Cthulhu R’lyeh wgah’nagl fhtagn.

June 9, 2007 - 2 Responses

If I wasn’t sitting in a library right this moment, I would be SQUEALING with delight.

From Dreamland Toys comes this package of pure scifi joy:

My Little Cthulhu

Yes, friends, that is dread Cthulhu. Isn’t he just the Cutest? Don’t you just want to kiss his big evil forehead? And he comes complete with 2 screaming victims. But if that’s not enough carnage for you, you can purchase the supplementary My Little Victims set which boasts “realistic dismemberment action” and features a cultist, a loony bin patient, and a Librarian!

If you prefer, there is also an angry, red version. (He doesn’t look nearly as cuddly, though.)
Angry Cthulhu

I somehow feel I owe John Kovalic an apology for having never heard of him before now.

You’d better get one now, because you know they’re going to sell out. From Paizo.

Title translation: In his house at R’lyeh dead Cthulhu waits dreaming.

Please, sir, I’d like some more

June 6, 2007 - Leave a Response

DelishBuki just sent me a Washington Post article about one of my favorite fantasy obsessions, bento boxes. I have dreams of packing healthy, delicious lunches for the two of us, artfully displayed in lovely lacquer bentos. Of course, the reality is that I usually can’t drag myself out of bed early enough to make toast, let alone pull together an actual meal. Still, it’s nice to fantasize.

Here‘s the WP article.

My favorite Bento related site is the aptly named Cooking Cute. I highly recommend it for a little culinary dreaming.

Yummy.

Following the Silver Thread

June 5, 2007 - Leave a Response

I just finished reading Rumo and His Miraculous Adventures by Walter Moers. It was… well… kinda… Rumoabout… sorta… it’s really hard to explain. It’s about war and death and life and growth and adventure and intrigue and science and the unknown and, above all, love. Reading a Zamonian tale is almost like stepping into a whirlwind; there’s really no use in struggling to figure out where you’re heading. Just give up control and let Moers take you where he will, following the characters from one improbable event to another, taking every possible avenue, exploring stories within stories within stories. For the most part, I really enjoy this frenetic style of storytelling. It almost fells like a reinvention of the type of fairy tales spun by the Grimms. That being said….

This book is far more violent than I anticipated. If you’re expecting the whimsical atmosphere that permeated Moers’ previous foray into Zamonia, The 13 1/2 Lives of Captain Bluebear, you should rethink your outlook. There’s a lot more death, pain, and suffering in this outing. In fact, those are really the dominant themes in Rumo. So much so that I found it a little trying at times.

Still, it’s definitely worth a read. Rumo himself is a bit static, but his supporting cast is superb. A shark grub with 14 arms and a shady past; an army of dead Yetis; an ancient, gregarious tree; a nocturnomath (of course!), a homunculus, and a magical sword inhabited by not one but two diametrically opposed souls. And so, so much more. (I haven’t even mentioned the villains!)

A Burr under his Saddle

May 31, 2007 - Leave a Response

Phillip Pullman, author of the splendid His Dark Materials series, is apparently not afraid to speak his mind. And he’s not too happy right now. He recently lambasted television broadcasters for creating consumer-driven children’s programming rather than culturally enriching and/or educational shows. He states that “the ideology of ‘profit before everything’ in children’s television is toxic”. Man, he doesn’t beat around the bush, does he?

AKA Golden CompassAnd that’s not all he has to say. He also warns authors that fiction that doesn’t tackle moral dilemmas runs the risk of being trivial and vapid.

Here’s my favorite bit:
“Taking children’s needs seriously is not different from taking every human need seriously. It is absolutely central to a true and humane vision of the whole of life.”

Anyone who’s read His Dark Materials knows that this is a man who puts his money where his mouth is. What? You haven’t read HDM yet? What are you waiting for?! Go to your library now!

Here‘s the full article.

Thanks to Bookshelves of Doom for the heads up on this story!

You’re killing me, here

May 29, 2007 - One Response

Since long before I ever set foot in one of its storied museums, I have fostered a fantastical love for the Smithsonian Institute. Just the very idea of it fills me with starry-eyed science geek admiration. An enormous complex of museums, each devoted to a different area of culture and science, situated in the most beautiful part of our nation’s capital. Just a stone’s throw away from that other swoon-inducing building, the Library of Congress. But the best part of all is the mission set down by James Smithson, that it be “an establishment for the increase and diffusion of knowledge”. For us, you and me, free of charge, to help us grow as individuals.

Castle

I had an entire sequence of dreams about working for the Smithsonian in any number of capacities (depending on my interests at the time). Historian, archaeologist, biologist, geologist, librarian, archivist. Looking out over the grounds from my office in the Castle, as I work on my latest treatise or research. (Hey, it’s my fantasy, I can have an office anywhere I want.)

So, it is with all my heart that I say to the Smithsonian: BAD DOG! Seriously, I’m getting a little tired of reading about corruption, stupidity, and cowardice at the nation’s grandest intellectual institution. These past few years have been just cringe-worthy.

May 2003: The Museum of Natural History moves an exhibit of photographs of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge to a more obscure location and changes captions, just as the argument about oil drilling becomes particularly contentious. via Washington Post

June 2005: The Museum of Natural History allows a screening of a creationist documentary, despite its policy that it will not show films that are religious or political in content. via WP

April 2006: The Smithsonian’s new business arm signs an exclusive film deal with Showtime, restricting the access of filmmakers not affiliated with that company. via WP

May 17, 2007: The CEO of Smithsonian Business Ventures leaves amidst congressional inquiries into SBV business practices, including exorbitant expense accounts and sweetheart promotions. via WP

May 22, 2007: The Museum of Natural History (again!) is accused of toning down an exhibit on climate change due to the perceived political climate. via WP

I could go on, but I think I’ve made my point. (I’m also starting to make myself a little nauseous.) Now, I know it must be difficult running a ship as large and complex as the Smithsonian, especially given the forces at work in D.C. However, SI has a responsibility to the American people. So, shape up, dammit. Don’t make me come up there.

Worth a Thousand Words

May 22, 2007 - One Response

Digitization initiatives are currently very hot property in the world of libraries and archives. Like many other people, I find the photographic digital projects to be the most effective and entertaining.

tinybow.jpgMy newest find is the UCLA digital collection entitled Changing Times: Los Angeles in Photographs, 1920-1990. UCLA has gathered and scanned over 5000 images from the photographic archives of the Los Angeles Times and Los Angeles Daily News that reflect the history and growth of the city over a 70-year span. Seen here.

In it, you can, of course, find photographs of Hollywood’s glittering assemblage. Greta Garbo filling out her citizenship papers, Errol Flynn squiring his various wives, Henry Fonda and Jimmy Stewart enlisting for military service in WWII. Or this shot of Clara Bow on her way to court in 1930.

Beyond the Tinseltown glitz, though, are some wonderful glimpses into 20th century history. I am particularly fond of the image of women spinning rabbit fur into yarn as part of a WPA project. (1938)RabbitYarn

And the group of oldsters getting arrested for an illegal game of penny-ante gin rummy. (1950)DesperateCriminals

You can either browse topics using a drop-down menu or search using keywords. I only wish you could search by time period. Now go on over there and waste a few hours in visual stimulation. Here’s the link again: UCLA

Time, peaceful as a hurricane eye

May 19, 2007 - Leave a Response

This year, the Library of Congress has instituted a new cultural award, The Gershwin Prize for Popular Song. The prize “celebrates the work of an artist whose career reflects lifetime achievement in promoting song as a vehicle of musical expression and cultural understanding”. The distinction is, of course, named for George and Ira, and the winner is expected to “exemplify the standard of excellence associated with the Gershwins”.

RhyminSimonFor the inaugural year, LOC has decided to award the prize to Paul Simon. And a better choice I could not have imagined. Simon’s work is breathtaking in its scope and originality. His melodies, especially his more recent works, often have unexpected construction and harmonies and range from the exquisitely complex to the achingly simple.

For me, though, the real joy in Simon’s music is his utterly fantastic, evocative lyrics. Sometimes a single line can create an immediate and powerful image in my mind. You would be hard-pressed to find finer poetry in America today. I could rhapsodize endlessly, but I think I’ll just share a few of my favorite morsels instead.

The Mississippi Delta was shining like a National guitar.  Graceland

I have squandered my resistance for a pocket full of mumbles,
Such are promises.
 
The Boxer

Effortless music from the Cameroons,
The spinning darkness of her hair,
A conversation in a crowded room going nowhere.
The open palm of desire
Wants everything.

Further to Fly

A teardrop consists of electrolytes and salt.
The chemistry of crying
Is not concerned with blame or fault.

Sure Don’t Feel Like Love

There is a moment, a chip in time,
When leaving home is the lesser crime.

Another Galaxy

For information about the Gershwin Prize, visit LOC

For more info about the award going to Paul Simon, visit the Washington Post

Now hie you to your retailer of choice and get Rhythm of the Saints or You’re the One or Surprise. You won’t be sorry. You can trust me and the LOC.

I hope for Peace and Sanity…..

May 18, 2007 - One Response

….it’s the same thing.

Pulitzer Prize-winning author and oral historian Studs Terkel turned 95 on Wednesday. To celebrate, he’s published a new book entitled The Studs Terkel Reader: My American Century. In November, he’s got a memoir coming out, Touch and Go. Slowed down by old age? I don’t think so.

StudsTerkelThis morning, I decided to become more familiar with this American icon, so I downloaded some recent interviews with the gent. And I listened…..and listened….and listened. What a fascinating individual! Intelligent, funny, well-spoken and bold. It’s amazing how much this man can cover in the span of one 50-minute interview. Literature, music, history, politics, civil rights, cinema; from McCarthyism to Katrina, Mahalia Jackson to Bob Dylan. And it’s not a rambling, disjointed diatribe but more like a fluid, natural progression of thoughts that stems from an innate understanding of culture and history. He seems to possess a beautiful and all-too-rare awareness of American life, both past and present, and the interconnectedness of it all. And he speaks out fiercely and unabashedly about what he believes to be false or unjust. I’m just gob-smacked and giddy.

It looks like all the other books on my To Be Read list will have to wait a little longer. I’m heading to the library (on my day off) to pick up some Studs Terkel. And maybe a little Satchmo while I’m at it.

Bless me, Little Mother

May 17, 2007 - One Response

This spring, when the drudgery of the semester was finally at an end, I decided to take my mind on a little vacation and revisit David & Leigh Eddings’ Elenium series. (Okay, so maybe the semester wasn’t quite over and I should have been doing work, but c’mon cut me some slack.)

RubyKI’ve never understood why the Elenium (and its sequel the Tamuli) get treated like the redheaded stepchildren of the Eddings universe. Don’t get me wrong, I love the Belgariad, but for some reason I always seem to come back to Sparhawk’s adventures. Maybe it’s the manly camaraderie of the Church Knights, the droll, wry humor that every character exhibits, or the blessed absence of feminine petulance (read: Ce’ Nedra). I just know when I pick up one of the Elenium, I’m going to have a good time.

Right now, I’m plowing through The Ruby Knight. How can you not love a book that features an encounter with a deadly succubus? I mean, really, there just aren’t enough succubi in literature these days. And then there’s the necromancy. Huzzah for the raising of the dead!

Now all I need is a frosty glass of stout served by a buxom, giggling wench and my vacation will be complete.