Monthly Archives: March 2012

Camelot

There was a time when I became fascinated with the Arthurian legend.  Part of that fascination grew from my high school’s drama department putting on a production of Camelot my sophomore year coupled with it being in vogue for English teachers to assign reading of the Mary Stewart Merlin series.   I devoured the Merlin series and the summer between my sophomore and junior year I picked up The Once and Future King.

I also attended my high school’s production of Camelot, for which I got extra credit in English.  I probably would have attended anyway.   See, the runner up to play Lancelot didn’t take the casting news well and a couple of weeks before the scheduled opening date, he decided to throw a monkey wrench into the works.   He did this by burning some of the sets.   The good news is the fire was contained quickly with no one hurt.   But it meant having to postpone the show and we had to use our rival high school’s auditorium for the production a few weeks later.

When I matriculated to the University of Tennessee, I got involved with the Wesley Foundation.  The year before I got there, they had put on a production of Camelot, directed by my best friend* and featuring a lot of the people I got to know and love during my time at UT.  I helped out as stage manager for a couple of other productions, but I still wish I’d been able to see some of my friends in the Arthurian roles.

*And if you’re in the Knoxville area or just want to hear some great interviews about local theater, you really should check out his podcast, Sounds of Knoxville Theater.

A lot of these memories came back to me yesterday when I saw Camelot again, this time at the Canon County Arts Center.**    The music, the songs, the story, the sets, it all just brought back good memories.   My only complaint was the song “Fie on Goodness” was skipped in the performance, but otherwise it was nearly perfect.

**A great venue for some excellent community theater.  I love theater in the round and this one is three-quarters in the round.   I love how the directors use the space and the intimacy you feel with the production.  There’s not really a bad seat in the entire place, though I do have my preferred section.

And yet as I watched it unfold, I couldn’t help but recalling who I knew from the Wesley Foundation and the high school production in their various roles.  I had forgotten some of the details and it’s always a treat to see different choices made by other artists on the same material.   I was also struck by how the play creates many visual moments through song and the actors’ reaction to things happening off stage (the big jousting tournament that Lancelot wins that begins the unraveling of Arthur’s dream, for example).

The show made me want to go back and revisit the Arthur legends I read in high school.

I may just have to add those to my already huge pile of books to read.  Of course, I also found another book to re-read while there.  In a couple of weeks, there will be a production of Tales of a Fourth Grade Nothing, one of my and my wife’s favorite books growing up.  We’ve already got our tickets to go see it and now I’m tempted to re-visit yet another old friend.

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The Lies of Locke Lamora Read Along, Week Two

Welcome to the second week of The Lies of Locke Lamora read-along.  This week’s host is Susan over at Dark Cargo.  Thanks for hosting this week!

This segment covers Chapter 3 through the end of the Interlude: The Boy Who Cried for a Corpse.

1) Do you think Locke can pull off his scheme of playing a Midnighter who is working with Don Salvara to capture the Thorn of Camorr? I mean, he is now playing two roles in this game – and thank goodness for that costume room the Gentlemen Bastards have!

When the Midnighter was first introduced, I thought something was up.  I have to admit Lynch pulled a nice surprise by having the person revealing Locke is a fraud to be Locke himself.  It almost makes me think that Locke may prove to be too clever for his own good.

I do think he can and will pull it off.   However, I do think we’ll find a hiccup along the way that Locke doesn’t expect to see coming.  And does anyone else think this situation is just begging for a make-up or wardrobe malfunction?

2) Are you digging the detail the author has put into the alcoholic drinks in this story?

A couple of summers ago, I read three quarters of the Long Price Quartet.  (I’ve got to get to book four.  It’s on my TBR shelf, ironically near where Lies was sitting!)

One detail included in that fantasy series was descriptions of the various dishes eaten by characters.  It really helped me connect to the series and the world-creation because, let’s face it, all of us eat and drink.   I find myself having a similar reaction to the drinks described in Locke.  They help the world-building aspect of the book without feeling like I am being overwhelmed with details.
3) Who is this mysterious lady Gentlemen Bastard Sabetha and what does she mean to Locke?

So far, she seems a lot like Maris on Frasier or Vera on Cheers.  I’m wondering if she’ll be spoken of in the book and a definite influence on things but never seen center stage as it were.

4) Are you as creeped out over the use of Wraithstone to create Gentled animals as I am?

In a word, yes.

5) I got a kick out of child Locke’s first meeting with Capa Barsavi and his daughter Nazca, which was shortly followed up in the story by Barsavi granting adult Locke permission to court his daughter! Where do you think that will lead? Can you see these two together?

It made me wonder how Nazca fits into the game Locke is playing.  What’s the benefit he gains my courting her?  He seems too focused on the game at hand to be distracted by romance.

I have a feeling this will not end well for her–and probably not just a broken heart.

Or could it be that she’s playing Locke as well?

6) Capa Barsavi is freaked out over rumors of The Gray King and, in fact, us readers are privy to a gruesome torture scene. The Gray King is knocking garristas off left and right. What do you think that means?

It seems like we’re getting some foreshadowing of things to come for Locke.  (I’m actually a bit ahead of where this week’s read along finishes off, so I’m trying to make sure I don’t include any SPOILERS….)

7) In the Interlude: The Boy Who Cried for a Corpse, we learn that Father Chains owes an alchemist a favor, and that favor is a fresh corpse. He sets the boys to figuring out how to provide one, and they can’t ‘create’ the corpse themselves. How did you like Locke’s solution to this conundrum?

So there are some rules to the game.  Or was it more Father Chains just making it harder for Locke?  It brings up the question of would Locke kill someone to get what he wanted and/or needed.

Locke’s solution is just a lower grade version of the con he’s pulling with Don Salvara–Locke appearing to be something he’s not to get what he wants.  In this case, it’s a dead body and there aren’t any elaborate disguises or plots within plots going on.  It’s almost like we see the big con and then in the flashback, we see how Locke built up from this smaller version to the larger version in play as the novel unfolds.

As for Locke’s use of the dead body not only to meet the requirements of Father Chains but also to make back a little money, it all seems to be in keeping with what we’ve established about Locke.  He only sees people and things in terms of how they can benefit him.

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Booking Through Thursday — Learning

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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 asks:

Have you ever used a book to instruct someone of something or is there anyone for whom you would like to do that? (I don’t mean a text book for a class, but a work of fiction or non-fiction that would get a certain message across either through plot or character). What is the book and what do you wish to impart?

Books, like all art, are a product of their era.  I’ve recently started reading the Dirk Pitt series by Clive Cussler and have been struck my certain attitudes, sensibilities and habits characters display in the novels.    Reading the Pitt series, I’m reminded of Ian Fleming’s original Bond novels.  There are certain attitudes and vocabulary used in the original Fleming novels that, quite frankly, wouldn’t make it into a mainstream publication today.   (See Live and Let Die, for example).  But they’re in there because they were part of that era and a reflection of it.

I think that is where books or movies of a certain era can help us understand things that era better than just reading about it on a history page.  It’s why I get annoyed when certain groups try to make The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn politically correct.   Are there words used in there that we shouldn’t use today? Yes.  Are there attitudes and treatments of people that we find incongruous with today’s standards?  Yes. But that doesn’t mean we should strip them out, remove them or deny they happened.  To do this is to deny history and to condemn ourselves to repeat it.

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The Walking Dead: “Better Angels”

So the big death I expected to happen last week actually happened this week.  

Last week, Dale shuffled off this mortal coil because of a zombie attack.  This week, Rick is forced to kill his best friend Shane.  Shane has decided he’s a better husband to Lori, father to Carl and leader to the group than Rick is.  And on some level, Shane is right that he could be a better leader in the new world order.  It’s just a shame that he couldn’t figure out how to play well with others and actually be a leader once Rick got back.

Of course, Lori didn’t help things either.  Going out to Shane and saying, “Yeah, the baby could be yours” sent Shane over the edge.  And the fact that Rick is so much more concerned with the needs of the group than being a father to Carl when Carl needs him most also doesn’t help.*

*I’m not sure if Shane ever realized that Rick did go and talk to Carl in the barn.   

And while not as shocking as Dale’s death last week, Shane’s death does raise an interesting question–how did he become a zombie when he wasn’t bitten by one?  I have a feeling the revelation from the comics–that everyone can become a zombie upon death unless taken out with a head shot–is about to be revealed next week.  That’s probably the revelation that was whispered to Rick last season by Jenner and may be why Rick had such a hard time with the decision to kill Randall.

If it is, then the reasoning for keeping him alive works better.  If not, well, then it could be that Shane was right all along.

 

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Review: Blackest Night

Blackest Night
Blackest Night by Geoff Johns
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

I’m sure I’ll annoy Green Lantern fans everywhere by saying I don’t honestly see what the big deal about this cross-over event is.

I should probably preface that by saying that I’m more a Marvel than a DC reader, so part of this could be my own natural bias coming into play. And part of it could be that I haven’t read every single issue of Green Lantern leading up this storyline, so I could be at a huge loss on picking up the nuances of the tale.

That said, I found this storyline tedious and a bit off-putting. I’d heard a lot of buzz about it and figured this comic book line had to be better than the tedious Green Lantern movie we got last year.

Yeah, not so much.

It’s got some good art and it’s engaging at certain points. But overall, this didn’t do a lot for me.

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Review: Essential Web of Spider-Man, Vol. 1

Essential Web of Spider-Man, Vol. 1
Essential Web of Spider-Man, Vol. 1 by Louise Simonson
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Just as it’s odd to see movies I originally saw in theaters cropping up on AMC and Turner Classic Movies, it’s equally strange to find large collected editions of comic books I read and collected as a kid turning up on the shelves of my library or book store.

Case in point–“Web of Spider-Man,” a comic that I not only purchased issue number one many, many moons ago but one I had to scour the shelves of my local store to find.

The issue is a pretty pivotal one in recent Spidey-lore, featuring the return of the black costume and Spidey’s eventual defeat of it using the sound waves from the bell tower. What most of the adaptations since that time omit is a rather pedestrian subplot and battle with the Vulturions, a group of criminals who have stolen the Vulture’s flying tech and are now terrorizing New York City. While the black costume disappears after issue one (at least the alien symbiote version does), the Vulterions hang around for an issue or two. This collection of the first eighteen issues of the comic plus one cross-over issue of “Amazing Spider-Man” and two extended annuals also features such classic Spidey adversaries as Doc Ock, the Vulture and the Kingpin as well as a few newly invented friends and foes, many of whom are largely forgettable once you’ve jumped to the next issue.

Taking the chance to re-read this early run of “Web” reminds me that sometimes we shouldn’t revisit the things we loved in our younger days. They may not hold up to the memories we have of them. That’s the case with “Web of Spider-Man.” Part of the blame could be a revolving door at writer and artist, leading to an inconsistent feel to this twenty or so issue run. And part of it could be that it was at a time when there was a glut of Spider-Man comics on the market and creatively Marvel didn’t have the juice to sustain them all.

That doesn’t mean there aren’t a few gems in here. As I said before the first issue is fairly pivotal and the last issue collected here gives us some hints of things to come. The best stories are one-offs written by all-around great writer Peter David, one of which involves the Hulk and Spidey’s subconscious. However, there were a lot of stories I found myself skimming through as this “essential” collection moved along. This is especially the case in the two “Secret Wars 2” stories included here about the Beyonder turning a building to gold and Spidey having to rescue those inside. This reminded me of why I began to weary of comics at this point in my reading and collecting career–too many tie-ins that weren’t creatively justified and seemed more like a cash grab than something being done for story telling reasons.

This collection left me yearning to revisit some of the early days of Stan Lee and Steve Ditko when the stories were all relatively self-contained. I may have to dust off those collections and give them a try.

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Lies of Locke Lamora Read Along: Week One

ImageIt’s week one of the Lies of Locke Lamora read along, sponsored by The Little Red Reviewer.

1. If this is your first time reading The Lies of Locke Lamora, what do you think of it so far?  If this is a re-read for you, how does the book stand up to rereading?

I’m reading Lies not only for the read along but also for the Obscure References SF/F book club.   It’s my first reading, though I tried to read it a couple of years ago when it first came out and it just didn’t quite grab my attention at the time.  This time around, I’m enjoying it a lot more and have found it a bit easier to get into it.

2. At last count, I found three time lines:  Locke as as a 20-something adult, Locke meeting Father Chains for the first time, and Locke as a younger child in Shades Hill. How are you doing with the Flashback within a flashback style of introducing characters and the world? 

In many ways, it reminds me of Lost, which is one of my favorite TV shows of the past couple of years.  Since this appears to be a novel about the Gentlemen Bastards pulling cons, watching Locke at different ages and stages of being able to pull off these cons should be interesting.   I also think it will be interesting to see if and how the flashbacks inform each other–for example, will Locke learn from the mistakes he makes at a young age.  Or will he keep repeating them in new ways as the story progresses?

3. Speaking of the world, what do you think of Camorr and Lynch’s world building? 

One of my barriers to enjoying epic fantasy is world building run amok.  I don’t mind an author creating a rich tapestry of world, but when we have to describe every leaf on ever tree, it gets a bit tedious.  Or every step of the epic journey.  (I blame you Tolkein!)  So far, Lynch has given us enough to build a world and make it interesting, but not so much that he’s over-describing or filling page after page with endless details that aren’t really necessary.   While the sequence of the ladies dancing with the sharks could be seen as padding, I like what it informs about the world and Lynch gives us enough details to help us see what’s going on in the mind’s eye but not so many that it’s become too much.

4. Father Chains and the death offering. . .  quite the code of honor for thieves, isn’t it? What kind of person do you think Chains is going to mold Locke into?  

I’ll just say I think they’re called the Bastards for a reason.   I have a feeling Locke is going to grow up to be fairly selfish.

5. It’s been a while since I read this, and I’d forgotten how much of the beginning of the book is pure set up, for the characters, the plot, and the world. Generally speaking, do you prefer  set up and world building done this way, or do you prefer to be thrown into the deep end with what’s happening?

It can go either way.  I think it has to occur organically from within the story.  I

6. If you’ve already started attempting to pick the pockets of your family members (or even thought about it!) raise your hand.

I can’t honestly say that I have!

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Review: A Conflict of Interest

A Conflict of Interest
A Conflict of Interest by Adam Mitzner
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Adam Mitzner’s A Conflict of Interest features cover blurbs comparing it to Scott Turrow’s Presumed Innocent.

And in many ways, those blurbs are right. Like Innocent, Interest features a conflicted, first-person protagonist involved in a legal battle that is a test of his personal and professional ethics. However, as the novel unfolds, it quickly becomes apparent that not only did Mitzner borrow the style of Turrow’s debut legal thriller, he also borrowed a few of the plot points along the way.

It’s a shame really because for the first half of A Conflict of Interest I found myself thinking that Mitzner could be the next great voice in the field of legal thrillers.

At his father’s funeral, Alex Miller meets Michael Ohlig, a friend of his parents. Ohlig is in the cross hairs of the U.S. government for an alleged brokerage scam and hires Alex to represent him. The one stipulation Ohlig has is that Alex can’t tell his mother. Miller agrees and is assigned a young, up and coming potential partner, Abby to help defend Ohlig.

Meanwhile at home, Alex’s marriage to his wife has hit a but of a lull. The two have a five-year-old daughter, but much of the passion has gone out of their marriage. As Alex struggles with the distance he feels from his wife and his feelings surrounding his father’s death, he finds himself engaging in an emotional affair with Abby, even though such a thing is strictly forbidden by his legal firm.

Of course, there’s more to Ohlig than meets the eye. Throughout the first half of the book, Alex keeps coming back to a feeling he has that Ohlig is innocent. Certainly, Ohlig professes this and stands by it, refusing to allow Alex to pursue a plea deal and wanting to get up and defend himself and his brokerage firm.

The first half of the novel is compelling, page-turning and fascinating. It’s once we get to Ohlig’s first trial and the first huge twist in the story that the A Conflict of Interest begins t unravel a bit. The court room scenes are good but they lack the bite of the novel’s opening pages. They also lack the interest of whether Alex will continue his affair with Abby or choose to back to his wife, whose affections and support run hot and cold.

It’s once the trial starts that revelations begin to come fast and furious, some of them earned, but many feeling like they were taken from the pages of Presumed Innocent, including the ultimate resolution of the Alex and Abby story thread. (I can’t say much more without giving away huge SPOILERS).

It’s a shame really because for the first half of the book, Interest feels refreshingly new. It’s just in the final half that the book collapses under its own weight and offers a few too many moments of deja-vu from other legal thrillers.

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Booking Through Thursday — Sequel

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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 asks:

Which non-series book would you most like to read the sequel to? Do you have any wishes for what might happen in it?

I’m kind of split about this one .  Would I love the opportunity to spend time with some of my favorite characters and settings again?  Yes.  Do I want a sequel that may not be as good as the original?  Probably not.

In the day and age when it seems like every book that comes out is part of a series or a sequel, I think there’s something to be said for the stand alone novel that tells a complete story and the author is content not to revisit the universe or characters again.  Sometimes it’s nice to know I’m picking up a book that will be the whole story without having to wade through a trilogy or an on-going series.  Not that I don’t enjoy the long term commitment as well.  But I like a balance of both.

I think that too often, authors and publishers get too focused on writing the next great franchise of novels, that they fail to put out a solid product.  I recently read Cinder, which had the intriguing hook of being a steampunk Cinderella.  However, the book lost me because it was working too hard to stretch out the concept and universe to a new series of novels.  Would it have been wrong for the author to tell a good story and tell it completely and then see if it warrants a sequel or series?

And then you’ve got the example of Robert Jordan who stretched Wheel of Time to such a length that he died before he could finish it.

As a Stephen King fan, the one good thing that came out of his being hit by a van a few years ago was the fact that he realized he’d better write the end of the Dark Tower series because he could pass away and leave it incomplete and his readers hanging.

So, no I can’t think of a non-series book I’d like a sequel to.

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“The Walking Dead” — Judge, Jury, Executioner

When you timeshift series, you run the chance of certain surprises being ruined.   That’s the case with this week’s installment of The Walking Dead,where thanks to the Internet, I knew a major character was going to shuffle off this mortal coil by episode’s end.

Based on some SPOILER material I’ve seen floating around on-line, I assumed it would be a certain character who died early in the graphic novel’s run.

So, imagine my surprise when the show pulled a fast one of me and killed a character I didn’t expect to see die–even though I knew someone was going to die at episode’s end.

Put it another way–holy cow, they killed Dale!

I know a lot of people have been critical of the pacing of season two, wanting more zombie attacks and less conversation between characters.  But last week’s episode and this one showed that Walking Dead is more than just a show about surviving the zombie apocalypse.   It’s about how humanity could and should survive in the wake of the world changing in a radical way.

Last week’s fight between Rick and Shane was interesting in how animal and zombie-like it got.  The two stop exchanging words, ideas and exchange blows, grunting like zombies the longer it went on.  In the end, Rick refuses to leave Shane behind to die as Shane did to Otis earlier this year.*  But Rick is still willing to consider the idea that he’s going to have to kill Jimmy in ordrer to protect the farm from, for lack of a better term, the Others.

*Anyone else get a feeling that the setting up of the noose in the barn is going to have a payoff before the season’s end? Maybe not Jimmy, but could it be Shane?

This week, Dale argues in favor of keeping Jimmy alive and that by executing him, Rick and company are no better than the zombies they’re fighting against.  It parallels this with Carl’s storyline in which his moral fabric is slowly being worn done by the new world order and, possibly, exposure to Shane.  His willingness to torture a zombie in the swamp showed this and it was a nice touch that the zombie Carl helped free from the mud was the one who came back to kill Dale.  Again, this is one of those moments that I think will come back in the next two episodes and may help Rick see just how dangerous an influence Shane is on his son.**

**Of course, we can still argue over whether or not Shane is “right” here in the new world order.  But he is kind of a bully and I don’t believe he wasn’t attracted to Lori on some level before Rick’s “death” as he said last week. Shane seems to see the world as he wants to see it and may have re-edited events to ease his own conscience.

And then, there’s the death of Dale, who served as the conscience of the group and persuaded Rick and the others that killing Jimmy wasn’t the right call.  Without Dale around, will we continue to see the group fracture?  Or will his death bring them back together?

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