Monthly Archives: March 2012

The Lies of Locke Lamora Read Along, Week Four

This week’s introduction is courtesy of Little Red Reviewer, who is hosting the read-along. She says it far better than I could.

It’s time again for The Lies of Locke Lamora Read-along.   This week’s questions are courtesy of Ashely over at SF Signal.

Make sure to tweet Ashley at @ohthatashley and let her know how much you are enjoying the readalong. If you never listened to the SF Signal podcast, I highly suggest it, they do some awesome stuff, including having our favorite dark fantasy author as a Sword & Sorcery discussion panel member.

In other Scott Lynch News, he’s got another super spiffy behind the scenes bonus on his Livejournal , and he recently did an interview on the Sword and Laserpodcast. Oh, it gets even better!  Next Wednesday evening, he’ll be doing the AMA (Ask Me Anything) on the Reddit Fantasy subreddit

1.      In the chapter “A Curious Tale for Countess Amberglass” we learn of the tradition of the night tea in Camorr. I found that not so much fantastical as realistic – how about you?

Looking back over this section, one line really jumped out at me.  It’s from Dona Vorchenza when she says, “Give advice at forty and you’re a nag. Give it at seventy and you’re a sage.”

But that’s not really answering the question, is it?  I find the night tea fits in with a lot of the rest of the novel.  Dark things happen at night.  Secrets are shared and traded.  And horrible things happen to certain characters.   So, it only makes sense that the tea would happen then as well.

2.      When Jean meets with what will become the Wicked Sisters for the first time, the meeting is described very much like how people feel when they find their true work or home. Agree? Disagree? Some of both?

Some of both.

3.      Salt devils. Bug. Jean. The description is intense. Do you find that description a help in visualizing the scene? Do you find yourself wishing the description was occasionally – well – a little less descriptive?

Again, Lynch has this masterful skill of giving us just enough details to let the imagination fill in the rest of the details.  Earlier in the novel, this was fun because it allowed us to visualize the world he was creating.  Here, it allows us to fill in details of the horrible fate meeting Bug and Jean.  It reminds me of Pyscho and the famous shower scene where Hitchcock achieves more by the rapid cuts and allowing the imagination to take over rather than by actually showing the details.  A lot of people will swear to you that they see details in that scene that just aren’t on the film.

4.      This section has so much action in it, it’s hard to find a place to pause. But…but.. oh, Locke. Oh, Jean. On their return to the House of Perelandro, their world is turned upside down. Did you see it coming?

Given the fate that Nazca met, I figured the only one safe to make it to the very end is Locke.  But I’m not even counting on him making it out of the book.  (Or at least I wasn’t.  I’ve finished so I know how…and here come the SPOILER police to stop me from ruining it for those of you who haven’t finished it yet)

5.      Tavrin Callas’s service to the House of Aza Guilla is recalled at an opportune moment, and may have something to do with saving a life or three. Do you believe Chains knew what he set in motion? Why or why not?

I don’t necessarily knew Chains knew specifically what he’d set in motion.  But I think he had an idea something like this would happen.

6.      As Locke and Jean prepare for Capa Raza, Dona Vorchenza’s remark that the Thorn of Camorr has never been violent – only greedy and resorting to trickery – comes to mind again. Will this pattern continue?

I think Locke is like an animal–if he’s pushed into a corner and the only way out is to fight, he’ll fight. But he seems like he’d far rather rely on his own ingenuity and planning to get out of a situation that resorting to brute force.

7.      Does Locke Lamora or the Thorn of Camorr enter Meraggio’s Countinghouse that day? Is there a difference?

In Locke’s mind, they’re still separate identities.  But in terms of the threads beginning to tighten around him and people figuring things out, that may not be the case much longer.

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The Passing of Earl Scruggs

I was sad to see the news this morning that legendary bluegrass artist Earl Scruggs has passed away.

I’ve had the privilege of seeing Scruggs in concert a couple of times during the Ryman’s annual Bluegrass series and enjoyed his show each time.  As I said then, I wasn’t always familiar with Scrugg’s music or his influence on the genre, but I still enjoyed the music.   Even as he got older, Scruggs still knew how to entertain an audience and he also knew that you saved your most familiar song for last–he ended each show on “The Ballad of Jed Clampett” which some of you may know from the Beverly Hillbillies.

Scruggs was a true legend and one that will be missed.  Thanks for all the great music and memories!

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Booking Through Thursday — Literary Mirror

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A while ago, I interviewed my readers for a change, and my final question was, “What question have I NOT asked at BTT that you’d love me to ask?” I got some great responses and will be picking out some of the questions from time to time to ask the rest of you. Like now.

Ted and Sarah both asked similar questions about relating to characters:

Ted asks:

Are there any fictional characters whom you have emulated (or tried to)? Who and why?

Bookish Sarah asks an interesting assortment of questions:

What literary character do you feel is most like you personality-wise (explain)?

I suppose this could be the time to pull out the embarrassing stories of my younger days when I was a bit obsessed with Spider-Man.  In fact, I’d play Spider-Man pretty much all the time, even when out shopping with my family.  In fact, I’d “shoot webs” on anyone in my path, probably very much to the chagrin of my parents.   So, on that level you could say I once emulated a literary character.  And yes, I have grown up and no longer do that.  Well, at least not when anyone else is around.  I have “shot webs” at people in traffic, but that’s only me in the car and an easy way to take out the frustration of being cut off.

As for a literary character I feel like I’m most like, I’m not sure.  My friends and family might say Scrooge or the Grinch before both experienced their transformations in the respective stories.  Namely because I can get a bit cranky and grouchy at times.   But as for one character who I really equal, I’m not entirely sure.

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The Book vs the Movie: Flowers for Algernon, Charly

It had been years since I’d read Daniel Keyes original short story “Flowers for Algernon.”  It was part of my middle school reading curriculum and I recall liking, but not necessarily loving the story.  At the time, I was aware there was the expanded novel of the story and a movie based on it, neither of which grabbed my attention and demanded to be read or seen.

Fast forward more years than I care to think about to last year.   After years of languishing on my to-be-read list, I finally picked up the novel Flowers for Algernon and was enthralled.  I consumed the book, chronicling the journey of a mentally handicapped young man who is given a revolutionary surgery and becomes a genius only to have it all taken away, in two days.   Where the short story had failed to engage me, the novel fully engaged me.   The first-person perspective of Charlie, the man who receives this gift only to see it taken away when the procedure proves to not to be permanent moved me on a lot of levels.

It left me contemplating a lot of things long after the final page was turned.

And so it was that I decided I wanted to see the movie version of the book at long last.  I was hoping it would be available on Netflix streaming but it wasn’t to be.  Instead I added it to my queue but it quickly got bumped out by other films including lots of movies in which stuff gets blown up real good.

As part of Turner Classic Movies Oscar month, the movie aired a couple of weeks ago and I set the DVR to catch it.  I have to admit I was equal parts eager to see it but also nervous about seeing it. I wasn’t sure the movie version could ever live up to the book…and after seeing it, I have to say that sadly, it doesn’t.

Don’t get me wrong–the movie is still a good one and had I never read the original source material I might have enjoyed it more.  Might being the key word here.  While Cliff Robertson gives a superb performance as Charlie and shows the character growing and changing as a result of the experimental surgery, I still think on the whole the movie lacks a lot.

For one thing, there are a lot of montages.  I realize that you can’t take every step with Charlie as you did in the book, but it feels like the movie really short changes the journey Charlie undergoes as his intelligence increases.  Cut for time is the storyline about how Charlie’s growing ability alienates the guys he works with at the bakery.  In the novel, Charlie slowly rises from janitor to a loftier position as the surgery takes hold and he slowly comes to realize the guys he thought were his friends were actually having some cruel laughs at his expense.  The cruel laughs are still there in the first half of the film, but not the other half of the storyline.

The only real acknowledgement of this is a scene in which Charlie proves he can run the bakery’s machinery just as well as those who have tormented him.  Charlie does mention later that the guys at the plant got a petition up to get him fired, but it feels like the movie really dropped the ball on this one.

Another montage shows Charlie going off the deep end, buying a motorcycle and growing out a goatee.   For lack of a better word, he becomes a hippy.  The sequence with Charlie following this path is almost laugh out loud funny.   It definitely places the film as a product of the 60’s.

The problem is I don’t think this is necessarily what the director was going for here.   It don’t think the sequence was meant to inspire guffaws of laughter from me.

The novel and short story are told in the form of journal entries by Charlie, allowing the reader to go along on this journey with him.  As Charlie grows intellectually and emotionally, we are allowed to see how he’s changing–his triumphs and frustrations.  As he slowly falls in love with his teacher Alice Kinnian, the novel allows us to experience Charlie’s frustration at not being able to express that to her and getting her to feel the same well as well.*  While the movie addresses some of this, and Robertson does a masterful job of conveying this in his performance, in the end the movie as a whole falls well short of really allowing the audience to understand Charlie as well as we do in the book.

*It reminds me of another Charlie from the classic Star Trek episode “Charlie X.”   

In the end, while I like Charly, I doubt I’ll ever watch it again.  But I definitely plan to re-read Flowers for Algernon at some point.

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Review: Spider-Man: The Original Clone Saga

Spider-Man: The Original Clone Saga
Spider-Man: The Original Clone Saga by Gerry Conway
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

For many fans the whole Clone Saga is a turning point in the history of Spider-Man.

For a long-running storyline (the collected editions run five volumes!) that was so universally reviled, it’s easy to forget that the whole clone debacle began a decade before as the run-up to and celebration of Amazing Spider-Man #150.

Those dozen or so issues are collected in the first half of Spider-Man: The Original Clone saga and reading them again, I’m taken back to a time when I first found Spider-Man on the Electric Company. While I didn’t read any of these issues when they were first published, the style of art and storytelling contained here reminded me the issues my parents and grandparents purchased for me during my formative years. (It also reminded me of the Power record entries “Mark of the Man-Wolf” and “Spider-Man and the Dragon Men,” both of which I listened to relentlessly as a child).

At a dozen or so issues, the entire Clone storyline works well enough and writer Gerry Conway keeps pulling out one surprise twist after another in the life of Peter Parker. Gwen comes back, the identity of the Jackal is revealed and Spidey must face off against a clone version of himself. It’s all so absurdly, brilliantly over the top fun that you can’t help but just enjoy the ride for what it’s worth.

Unfortunately, the second half of the storyline included is an indicator of where things would begin to go so horribly, horribly wrong in the mid to late 90’s. Collecting a storyline from Peter Parker, The Spectacular Spider-Man that involves Carrion, a genetic weapon developed by the Jackal, is far less interesting and entertaining. The 70’s Spidey stories had a sense of fun and humor to them, even with some fairly dark events unfolding on the page. These stories have less of that sense of fun to them and drag down the entire collection.

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Review: The Pregnancy Project

The Pregnancy Project
The Pregnancy Project by Gaby Rodriguez
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Gaby Rodriguez grabbed headlines with her senior project.

With the knowledge and blessing of her mother, boyfriend and senior project committee, she faked being pregnant in order to better understand the stigma and societal reaction to teen mothers.

The Pregnancy Project is a look back at the project, what Gabby learned about herself, her family, her school and society as a whole and her reaction to her post-reveal fifteen minutes of fame.

Recommended by Unshelved’s Friday book recommendations, The Pregnancy Project is a fascinating, compelling story of how teenage pregnancy is viewed in our society. Rodriguez addresses the trials she faced as well as the questions of how her friends, family and peers would react when they found out it her pregnancy wasn’t real. Gabby spent a lot of time thinking through how she would physically change if expecting, but she didn’t factor in the emotional changes and toll the project would take.

The book, while interesting, doesn’t seem to go deep enough into the implications of Gabby’s plan and it’s impact on her long-term. Like a DVD commentary for a recent release, not enough time has elapsed to give those involved the distance needed for deeper analysis.

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The Rock-A-Fire Explosion

Thanks the power of Netflix streaming, I was able to check out the documentary The Rock-afire Explosion over the weekend.   It was a  fascinating way to spend just under 75 minutes and I highly recommend it.

For those of you who may not have been children of the 80’s, the Rock-afire Explosion was the animatronic, in-house “band” at Showbiz Pizza restaurants.  A competitor to Chuck-E-Cheese,  Showbiz had a rapid rise and fall during the early 80’s, full of games (both video and otherwise), rides, pizza and the show.  I can recall the catchy commercials that aired during my Saturday morning and afternoon cartoon viewing with the catch phrase, “Where a kid can be a kid.”   Growing up, I visited a few of the restaurants either as a treat with my family or celebrating a friend’s birthday.

And while I’m sure I enjoyed it, Showbiz didn’t create all that huge an impression on me.   But to others, like those featured in this documentary, it had a huge impact.

The movie looks at some of the band’s biggest fans as well as the entrepreneur behind the robots, Aaron Fechter.   Fetcher’s company designed, built and sold the robots that made up the band that had such a huge impact on the people involved, including Chris Thrash, a guy from Alabama who I’d describe as the world’s biggest Rock-afire Band fan.  Thrash has purchased and maintains a working Rock-afire Band at his home and created renewed interest in the animatronic robots when he choreographed some popular songs by the band and put them up on YouTube a couple of years ago.

The story is a fascinating one for a couple of reasons.  The first is the passion that the fans have for the band.   The investment of time and money that Thrash has put into the group is staggering.  While the movie never comes out and tells us how much Thrash paid for the robots, a quick Google search indicates the last time a full band sold on E-Bay, the starting price was $14,000 (and that was in 2008!) .  And I’m not sure if that was a new or used set of the robots.

The other thing that fascinated me was a line from the movie where Showbiz was opening store after store and, on the surface, appeared to be wildly successful, but all the time was losing money at a rapid pace.   The aggressive roll-out of stores and expansion of the chain ultimately proved to be its own undoing, as did a move to buy out Chuck-E-Cheese when that particular chain was in trouble.

Of course, you can still go to Chuck-E-Cheese today.  Showbiz is a distant memory and the Rock-afire Band lives in the memory of fans as well as some boxes as Fetcher’s warehouse in Florida, where he’s waiting on just the right time to make the sale of the final full band produced.  (Though a couple of the shows were sold to restaurants in Jordan.  So maybe the show is big there…)  Fetcher’s belief that the band is about to make some kind of resurgence and be huge again is interesting.* While I agree that many of us out there may have some nostalgia and think it’s cool to see a YouTube video with the band singing the Black Eyed Peas, it’s not something I’m going to invest a lot of time or (more importantly) money in beyond that.

*One thing that I think wound up being the show’s undoing was Fetcher’s lofty goals.  Instead of having one or two shows that were rolled out and sold to the entire chain, he and his creative team were rolling out a couple of shows a quarter at the height of the Showbiz popularity.  I like the concept that you have fresh content being rolled out, but then again you have to look at the huge expenses that would come with creating and distributing the shows. 

But throughout the film, Fetcher and Trash both hold out hope that the revival is just around the corner.

On some level, I can feel for them both.   As a Doctor Who fan, I clearly recall the wilderness years when there were no new episodes being produced and the idea that the show would ever return to television looked fairly bleak.

The idea that there are other fans out there who get just as passionate about their own particular thing as I do about Doctor Who or UT sports, is compelling.  As is the story of the rise and fall of Showbiz and the band that sang there.

If you’re looking for something different to try on Netflix streaming, give this one a try.

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The Lies of Locke Lamora Read Along, Week Three

This week’s installment of The Lies of Locke Lamora Read-Along is hosted by Bryce from My Awful Reviews.   Thanks to Bryce for the great questions!

Week 3 covers chapter five thru the end of Interlude “The Half Crown War,” so if you’ve got any questions of your own that you’d like to post, make sure they stay within that time-frame. Also, please refrain (I know, it’s tough) from posting anything until Saturday, so we can all stay on the same page.

Now that we’ve got that out of the way, here are this week’s questions. Enjoy!

1. This section is where we finally get to sneak a peek at the magic in The Gentleman Bastards books. From what we read, what are your initial impressions ofthe magic Lynch is using? Is there any way that Locke and Company would be able to get around the Bondsmage’s powers?

One of my big complaints with certain fantasy novels is the magical systems become too easy an out for the writer.  Got the heroes trapped on a cliff and don’t know how to get out?  Bim, bam, boom! Use magic and we’re out of it.  I don’t mind magical systems, but I prefer them to be thought out in advanced with limitations and consequences to their use.  And I don’t like them be the magic “get out of plot thread” jail free card that they can be when used by lazier fantasy writers.

Lynch’s magical system follows the rules for magic that I prefer–one that is clearly defined but isn’t a get out of jail free card.   And I think that right now, the magical system is in place as one more speed bump for Locke to overcome (or not) in this quest to pull of the scam he’s currently working.

2. Not a question, but an area for rampant speculation: If you want to take a stab at who you think the Grey King might be, feel free to do it here.

Well, I’ve actually finished the book so I’ll skip this one.

2.5 (since 2 wasn’t really a question) Anyone see the Nazca thing coming? Anyone? Do you think there are more crazy turns like this in store for the book? Would you like to speculate about them here? (yes, yes you would)

I can say that I didn’t see her death coming.  I figured Locke would have to find a way to wriggle out of the nuptials but I didn’t figure he’d get out of them because of the way in which she meets her death.  (And it’s a pretty icky way to return her to her family and friends.  I winced a bit when I exactly how she was killed.   There’s not really a good way to die but this one seemed more brutal than the usual fantasy novel death.

3. When Locke says “Nice bird, arsehole,” I lose it. EVERY TIME. And not just because I have the UK version of the book and the word arsehole is funnier than asshole. Have there been any other places in the books so far where you found yourself laughing out loud, or giggling like a crazy person on the subway?

As I said above,  I winced when I found out how Nazca died.  And there are some moments that had me smiling or internally wanting to high five Locke and company.  But most of the time I was at home, alone reading the book so no one saw my reactions.   Except the cats.  And they only used it as blackmail material for cat-nip and cat treats.

4. By the end of this reading section, have your opinions changed about how clever the Bastards are? Do you still feel like they’re “cleverer than all the rest?” Or have they been decidedly outplayed by the Grey King and his Bondsmage?

I’ve always felt like they’re cleverer in the sense that they find a weakness or a blindside and exploit it.  And I get the feeling that the Grey King is similar to that.  He’s able to find weaknesses in the GBs and use them against our heroes (or in this case our protagonists because I’m not sure I’d necessarily say the GBs are classic heroes).  I also wonder if Locke really knew what he was getting himself into by going up against them.  Was he fully aware of the resources that the Grey King and the Bondsmage have?

5. I imagine that you’ve probably read ahead, since this was a huge cliffhanger of an ending for the “present” storyline, but I’ll ask this anyway: Where do you see the story going from here, now that the Grey King is thought to be dead?

Yeah, I read to the end of the book.  It really picked up momentum from this point forward.

As for the Grey King, I kept hearing him say “I’m not dead yet” in my mind.  (An allusion to Monty Python and the Holy Grail)

6. What do you think of the characters Scott Lynch has given us so far? Are they believable? Real? Fleshed out? If not, what are they lacking?

Locke and Chains are both well defined.   The rest of the character and the universe feel lived in, but they’re not quite as detailed as Locke or Chains.  And that’s a good thing.  Too much detail and knowing the backstory of every single person would make this far too long a book!

7. Now that you’ve seen how clever Chains is about his “apprenticeships,” why do you think he’s doing all of this? Does he have an endgame in sight? Is there a goal he wants them to achieve, or is it something more emotional like revenge?

I think Chains has made his errors along the way and wants to ensure that his apprentices don’t repeat those mistakes.

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Booking Through Thursday — Somebody Else Does It Better

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A while ago, I interviewed my readers for a change, and my final question was, “What question have I NOT asked at BTT that you’d love me to ask?” I got some great responses and will be picking out some of the questions from time to time to ask the rest of you. Like now.

Patricia asks a particularly insightful question:

Ever read a book you thought you could have written better yourself?

Does fanfic count?

Of course there are stories I could have written better. A couple of examples spring to mind from my real world book club. One is Time Slave, a horrible novel that I use as an example of why some books go out of print. I’m not sure I could have saved the book, but I think we’d be better off had it not been written or published at all. (Maybe it should never have been published. Let it exist as a manuscript only). And then there’s Archangel, a book that I truly didn’t like. It felt like a classic Star Trek episode minus the interesting characters and storylines. I kept hoping Captain Kirk would show up and phaser everyone just so something interesting would happen.

On the other hand, I do have to give credit to the authors of these and other books that I think could be written better. They did what I haven’t done–wrote a book, got it edited and published.

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The Walking Dead” Before The Dying Fire

If you were hoping for a little zombie mayhem, this episode more than delivers.  Lots of familiar faces become zombie food and we get a couple of big reveals, including what Jenner whispered to Rick last year.

As I said last week, having read the comic books I had guessed the twist that everyone is infected.  However, the implications of this should be interesting to see play out next year and in years to come.*

*Given the ratings of the season finale, there will be several years to come I’m sure.

Also of interest for next season are a lot of other questions.  For example, how long until the group rebels against Rick’s new leadership style?   At this point, he’s killed his best friend and kept information from the group for a long period of time.  Rick says he’s looking to find a way to survive beyond the day to day zombie survival, but what will that look like and while will it entail?  It will take a harder edge than we’ve seen in Rick before, though I get the feeling that season two has pretty much killed the Rick we saw when he first woke up in season one.

Also, I loved the teases for season three–both the mysterious figure who saves Andrea and the glimpse of the prison.

A good season finale that left a lot of questions open for next season and will make the wait for fall seem a bit longer.  The good news is that between now and then we get new episodes of Mad Men and Breaking Bad.

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