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Tuesday
Jan122010

A letter from a nerd in need...

 

At Nerdbloggers, we offer many services to the nerd community.  One of our most popular and most needed is our Nerd Therapy service which we use to address the many, many psychological problems seen throughout the nerd community.  If you have a problem you would like out help with, please don't hesitate to write.

 

Dear Nerdbloggers, How can I recover from having my childhood memories raped by an out-of-control film director?  --John in Burbank

 

     John, as a nerd therapist, this is one of the most common issues brought before me.  Since your letter doesn’t go into specifics, I’ll have to make some assumptions based on past experience.  Common sources of Childhood Memory Rape Related Anxiety (CMRRA) include the Star Wars prequels, Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull (George Lucas, serial childhood-memory rapist), and The Transformers movies.  I'll assume that you aren’t one of the men and women who grew to adulthood between the release of The Matrix and The Matrix Revolutions as those poor bastards never even had a childhood to speak of. 


     The temptation in cases of CMRRA is to go with GOI (or “Get Over It”) Therapy.  This is where the therapist screams “Get Over It!” at the patient as loudly as possible while hitting them repeatedly with a plastic lightsaber. (A variation for those traumatized by the J.J. Abrahms re-launch of Star Trek is to poke the patient with a plastic Bat'leth while screaming  "tlhap Dung 'oH!" at them in Klingon).  Though satisfying and fun for the therapist, I've seen little evidence that GOI actually works.  Instead, I'd like to suggest a therapy I've had good luck with in the past. 


     The problem with recent sequels, re-makes, and re-launches isn't necessarily that they are bad films.  The problem is you are not seeing them with the same naive and wide-open eyes that you watched the original films with.  When we are young, everything seems new and fresh.  We don't realize that this awesome new film is a regurgitation of centuries old archetypes, themes and motifs.  We are so willing to suspend our disbelief that we ignore glaring plot holes, sub-par acting, and unrealistic dialog in exchange for neat gadgets, cool special effects, and daring adventurers--especially if some of the adventurers are chicks in metal bikinis.  Heck, I remember coming back from seeing Star Crash as a child and telling my parents it was the best movie ever made.  It wasn't.  Wasn't even close, but to my young eyes it was fresh, exciting and funny, and Caroline Munro was the hottest woman in the world  (not sure that last part wasn't true--see photo evidence below)

.  

    So, try re-visiting whatever film(s) that caused your trauma with a young, innocent person by your side (a brother, sister, cousin, etc.  I'm not recommending kidnapping a small child and making them sit through G.I. Joe). You just may find that the experience allows you to see the movie in a different light.  That you can begin to appreciate that it isn't bad, just different and that, just maybe, you are no longer the audience the film was intended for.  If that happens, move on.  Avoid re-makes and sequels and seek out fresh, new franchises not built on the brittle skeletons of past successes.  Or, just maybe, you will still think the film sucks and it will drive you deeper into your depression.  If that happens, write us back, maybe we can write you a prescription for some Soma.

 

Friday
Jan082010

Daring Heroics, Dastardly Deeds, & Space Rock

How’s this for nerdiness: as an undergrad, I took a literature class called Icelandic Saga. It was a great, memorable experience.  My classmates were all into it, especially the connections with fantasy lit.  My college mentor was even teaching.  Yeah, all four of us had a blast. 

Anywho . . . speaking of sagas, just read a good one:  THE SAGA OF HAWKWIND.

Don’t know the Hawklords?  And you call yourselves nerds.  Okay, here’s a brief summary of the Sparknote version of the Cliffnote version of why one of the world’s most under-rated bands should be discussed on Nerdbloggers.  Since its inception, Hawkwind has delivered some the most innovative and compelling space rock known to man.  Their live album Space Ritual captures the early glory.  (And yes, that is Lemmy from Motorhead on bass.)  Hall of the Mountain Grill and The Warrior on the Edge of Time are other highlights.  Contributing to, and occasionally performing with, the band is none other than the master of science-fantasy literature: Michael Moorcock.  The album Doremi Falso Latido is based upon Moorcock’s novel The Black Corridor.  And then there’s the ultimate treat of The Chronicle of the Black Sword which, of course, is based upon Moorcock’s Elric Saga.  I would say that it just doesn’t get better than that, but it does.  There’s the recording of the Black Sword tour – Live Chronicles – which may be one of the best live albums ever recorded.  They based songs upon works all of the great speculative writers ranging from Asimov (I Robot) to Zelazny (Damnation Alley).  I could go on and on and on, but you get the idea.  The Hawks (well, Dave Brock and current friends) are still churning out good stuff to this day.  Their thirty-plus-years story is truly a saga.  And that’s what Carol Clerk presents in The Saga of Hawkwind (Omnibus Press 2004).

From what I remember from my class, a saga usually preserves the tales of great deeds from the past.  Clerk’s chronicle follows Hawkwind from before its earliest inception.  She follows Dave Brock and company as they struggle across 1950’s and 60’s Britain and Europe performing blues, busking, and jazz.  They’re lots of interesting rock history along the way.  For example, I’ve been listened to Hawkwind for over twenty years but never knew of the meeting between Brock and Eric Clapton, when Brock showed Clapton how to play some chords.  Or that Jimi Hendrix watched Hawkwind’s legendary free performance at the Isle of Wight and later dedicated a song to Nik Turner – that silver guy – when he did his set.  The book is filled with juicy little bits like that.  Clerk devotes a chapter to every historical step Hawkwind ever took.  At over thirty lengthy chapters, that should give you an idea of the history in there. 

One thing I admired about the book was also something that bothered me at times.  Clerk’s objectivity cannot be disputed.  Right from page one, she informs you that the history of the band is complex and often conflicting.  The same story is remembered differently by different band members or observers; sometimes stories about certain members are remembered by some while vehemently denied by others.  The bothersome part, however, is that the book is all about the infighting and disputes, petty and profound, that occurred within the band.  Ultimately, Brock, who is one of the mythic legends looming large within the pantheon of my all-time favorites, is given a chaptered titled “God, Satan, or Just Captain of the Ship.”  It was troubling at times to read but revelatory.  It reminded me that all artists are essentially human.  In fact it is that struggle that can distinguish between the good, the bad, and the ugly.  The history of Hawkwind definitely trudges through all three.

The Saga of Hawkwind is a hefty tome.  The hardback copy I own is over five hundred pages.  I bought the Kindle version which, however, has been updated and expanded and is even longer!  If I had a quibble with the book, this would be it.  You are sometimes reminded of the daunting size of the book.  Like the sagas of days gone by, Clerk focuses on genealogy.  She has constructed a lineage of the band and its connections to others bands and provided a history of every member who has served with the band from their birth till their joining.  While this is not a problem necessarily with the key figures, it does interrupt the narrative when your reading about the problems of a certain tour then, right in the middle, break to read about who so-and-so is, where he was born, went to school, and what bands he worked with before finally meeting Hawkwind.  Sometimes the book is too comprehensive.

Aside from their speculative fiction leanings, Clerk reveals the role this band played in the development of punk (Johnny Rotten of the Sex Pistols was a huge Hawkwind fan) and dance music.  The volume is filled with stories of the heroic and the petty, and that honesty keeps the story real and relevant.  There’re also great photos throughout the band’s long, varied history.  Despite its flaws, which are few, The Saga of Hawkwind is a straight-forward, interesting look at an important, over-looked band. 

Wednesday
Jan062010

Review of Word on the Street

 

 

 

Word on the Street

 

Out of the Box Publishing

 

MSRP: 24.99 USD                                                        

 

Available for around $20 through online retailers

 

 

The Spin: “The Hilarious Tug of Words”

 

 

The Story: Word on the Street is a simple word game played on a board that is shaped like a long, narrow street and divided into squares. Letter tiles are placed down the center column of the board. Throughout the course of the game, players will say and spell words based on cards that are drawn and pull the letters in the words toward their side of the street. A team wins when they have pulled eight letter tiles off their side of the board.

 

The Play: The brief description of the game above almost covers the entirety of the game. Players divide into two teams and choose to play with the easy or difficult cards. The cards have conditions on them that the players will use to generate a single (though not necessarily singular) word. For instance, the card might say “Method Actor.” The team whose turn it was would have thirty seconds to decide on an actor, say it, and spell it while moving the letters in the name one square per time used toward their side of the board. In the above example, the team might say “Brando” and move the B, R, N, and D toward their side of the board (vowels and some other letters are not on the board from the start).

 

Players must spell the word correctly and both the spelling and the appropriateness of the word can be challenged by the other team. We play the spelling rule pretty loosely and only penalize the team if the misspelling helped them, not if it hurt them (not sure how nice we are being there).

 

Proper nouns are allowed assuming they are appropriate for the card, as above, and all English words including plurals and hyphenated words are allowed. This is far less strict than many word games and we appreciated the looser feel.

 

The combination of simple game play and the 30-second timer make the game fast-paced and sometimes a bit hectic.

 

My Take: I really enjoyed Word on the Street. I played it with both our regular groups and with some students from one of my courses and it went over well with every group. As I left the last game session, one of the players said “you need to give Word on the Street” a good review. Well, here it is. The game is quick and fun. It is simple and easy to explain which means it works well with casual gamers and new gamers.

 

My only complaint is one I've mostly had with trivia games over the years. Some of the cards are too wide open, meaning way too many words would work. The one that came up in our first game was “Name of a Street or Boulevard.” I'm not sure what word the other team could have said that could not have been justified. It reminded me of the Planet Hollywood trivia game where players went back and forth naming actors or movies that matched specific cards. When the card said “John Ford Films” or something, the game worked great and rewarded the players with the most knowledge. When it said “beautiful actress,” it bombed because a team could justify any answer: “Well, I think Whoopi Goldberg is stunning!” Luckily, not too many similar cards have come up since that first game and it is really only a problem when one team lucks into a majority of the wide open cards.

 

That small complaint aside, I have no trouble recommending Word on the Street to our readers. The back and forth action on the board feels fresh and unique, and I expect the game will be played at our house for many years to come.

 

Components: I'm rarely unhappy with the components from Out of the Box. Word on the Street is no exception. The tiles are heavy and have a great tactile presence. The board is attractive. The cards are good, not great, quality, but considering that they don't get handled or shuffled often, they should last through many plays.

 

Score: 4 out of 5

 

Pros: Easy to teach, good for a variety of groups, attractive on the table

 

Cons: Some unbalance cards

Monday
Jan042010

Sailing the Aether with Abney Park

I’m biased. I love music with a science fiction and fantasy slant. To be honest, that’s what first drew me to Abney Park. I saw them at DragonCon in 2008 where the program described them as a steampunk band. (Steampunk is a subgenre of science fiction that hearkens back to the works of Jules Verne and H.G. Wells in terms of setting, technology, and tone.) I became a fan the moment I listened to Lost Horizons.

Click to read more ...

Monday
Jan042010

Review of Kachina 

The Story: Kachina is a tile-laying game loosely themed around the idea of battling Hopi spirits. Players take turns playing tiles to the board that represent various spirits. All of these have numbers that represent the strength of the tile while some also have special powers. The central idea is to place a tile so that it is the dominant spirit in a row or column. If the player manages to do this, he or she gets points equal to the number of tiles in the row or column.

Click to read more ...