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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