Facebook

Twitter
Search Nerdbloggers:
Nerdbloggers RSS
Saturday
Aug152009

Who’s Afraid of the Big Bad Wolfe?

I have a confession.

I am forty-two years old. I have been reading science fiction and fantasy for at least thirty. In all that time, I’ve read many of the classics, I’ve loyally followed several authors, and I’ve read much stuff of questionable merit. In all that time, however, I have never read anything by Gene Wolfe.

Oh, I knew about him and read much about him and his work. Now that I think about it, that may have been the problem. I’d always heard how his works were “literary” and defied the genre in which they were published. There’s also lots of discussions concerning allegory and religious symbolism, particularly within the volumes comprising The Book of the New Sun. None of this scared me. I’ve read Moby Dick, for crying out loud. And then there’s the use of archaic and exotic words, again mostly within The Book of the New Sun. That didn’t frighten me, either. I’ve read Stephen Donaldson’s The Chronicle of Thomas Covenant the Unbeliever – twice. (Yes, I had to keep a college-level dictionary in hand both times.)

I still don’t know what kept me away, unless maybe, it was the “mythic” reputation that surrounded Wolfe’s works. When I’d mention reading any of his stuff to anyone, I would either get a firm “I love it!” or a sudden, almost overwhelmed wash across the poor soul’s face and a half-whispered “couldn’t do it.” It’s not dissimilar to talking about tomes like Moby Dick or The Fountainhead. At one point, about 10 years ago, I bought a used copy of The Shadow of the Torturer. As a fan of SF & F literature, I felt an obligation to try to make it through the book. I had done the same thing with Moby Dick in college. As a Lit. major, I felt I had to read it. After three attempts in about twice that many years, I finally did it and loved it. I felt the same about The Fountainhead. I finally broke down and read it. I quite enjoyed it as well. I don’t know what became of the Wolfe book. I lost track of it on my shelf, and it ultimately vanished entirely from my collection.

I never read it.

Life went on.

Every year, I try to attend two or three SF & F conventions, and one of my favorites is DragonCon. I get giddy with anticipation as the days draw near when they begin releasing their guest list. This year . . . Well, you don’t even have to guess whose name I saw first on the initial list. Let’s just say that when I saw it, I felt something that could only be compared to shame. Then I asked myself how I could call myself a true fan having never read works that have won the World Fantasy Award, the Nebula, the Locus Award.

So I began.

I ordered a second-hand copy of Wolfe’s The Shadow of the Torturer, the first volume of The Book of the New Sun. I’m now over halfway through it, and I love it. I more than love it. It’s one of those books that I look forward to picking up again. I become so absorbed in the tale of Severian, the torturer, I forget that I’m actually reading. Before I had finished the third chapter, I was at my computer ordering the rest of the books.

The language in the book is fluid – like prose poetry at times. And the archaisms do not interfere with the work at all. (Okay, maybe in the first chapter when you’re not used to them.) While reading Donaldson, the words interrupted the flow of reading at times; they seemed more like added speed bumps than part of the road. Not so with Wolfe. If anything, the words add to the atmosphere of the piece. It’s almost as if you can feel the inexorable doom of the world while the red sun hovers in the sky.

Severian’s world is in our far future, yet you can’t help but feel you’re reading a medieval romance. There’re guilds and halberd-carrying guards and walled cities. Occasionally, however, some sort of ship will fly over. There’s talk of traveling among the stars, but that was long, long ago. The distinction between technology and magic no longer exist.

But what’s most remarkable to me is the narrator/protagonist, Severian. He’s a dishonored torturer, who is forced into exile beyond the only world he’s ever known. He is definitely not a typical hero (or anti-hero as today’s trends seem to favor). Besides being a torturer, he’s down-right unreliable. At the beginning of the book, he tells us that he has a perfect memory. Shortly thereafter, however, he states that he is insane. And then he seems to forget when he has told certain information. In one discussion, he even contemplates the fact that lies become truth over time.

So what’s the truth in this story? I don’t know, yet. I may never know, but that’s okay because that’s a powerful message in itself. The tale itself is beautiful and beautifully told. Sometimes that’s enough.

Anyway, I can confidently say that I will finish Wolfe’s wonder-filled The Book of the New Sun, and I’ve a feeling I’ll be reading more, too, like the Books of the Long and Short Sun, the Soldier series, and the Wizard Knight duology. I’m just sorry I waited so long to begin. Gene Wolfe is deserving of every bit of his praise and then some. So, take my advice: there’s nothing to be afraid of.

 

Thursday
Aug132009

Casting for "A Game of Thrones", so far...

 

Casting for HBO's long-form television series A Game of Thrones has moved along quite rapidly since the initial announcement of the casting of Peter Dinklage as Tyrion Lanister.

My favorite casting so far is Mark Addy as Robert Baratheon. He has been around a while, but most people are familiar with him as the father on the US sitcom Still Standing and as Dave from "The Full Monty". He should have an easy time playing the hard partying, self-loathing, whore-mongering king of the realm

Sean Bean, an immensely talented actor from Britain, who has already delved into this genre with much fanfare, will be playing the beloved Eddard Stark. This is probably the most important role from the get go since Eddard Stark is really the guy whose actions the books revolve around--especially early on, and casting someone like Bean is a strong sign that HBO is going to pull out all the stops for this series.

Harry Lloyd has been cast as Viserys Targaryen, slimy brother of Daenerys Targaryen. Lloyd is best known for his role in Robin Hood the TV series.

Jennifer Ehle has been cast as Eddard's wife Catelyn Stark. Ehle, a Meryl Streep clone, is probably best known for "Pride and Prejudice" a TV series that she won a BAFTA for in 1996. Again, I think this will be a good casting, though admittedly, I'm not as familiar with her as the other actors I have mentioned. Catelyn will be a hard role to play. She has a lot of grief and will require an intense performance from the actress. I look forward to seeing how she does.

The role of Joffrey Baretheon and John Snow will be taken on by two relatively unknown child actors, Jack Gleeson, with Kit Harrington, respectively. Both are really important parts, particularly that of Jon Snow, who is central to the storylines taking place in the north.

Throw in the fact that George R.R. Martin has announced on his own blog that there have been six more cast members signed but yet to be announced. Of the six, one is Jaime Lannister, another Theon Greyjoy-- two characters that you love then loathe from book to book. I will keep you posted as they are announced. Filming starts in October.


Wednesday
Aug122009

Review of Harry's Grand Slam Baseball Game

 

 

 

 

 

Harry's Grand Slam Baseball

Designed by Harry Obst

Published by Out of the Box Publishing

MSRP: $9.99

  

 

The Spin: “Each Player manages a team and plays cards that simulate actual baseball plays”—from back of game box.





The Story: Harry’s Grand Slam Baseball Game “recreates” a nine-inning (or more) baseball game with cards that have effects based on happenings from real baseball games. The offensive and defensive events are in the same deck, which is shared by both players.




The Play: Harry’s is an exceedingly simple game. Players have hands of three cards that they draw from the same deck. The deck has a set of offensive plays (single, double, triple, home run, walk, hit by pitch, error, wild pitch, passed ball, stolen base, and balk) and a set of defensive plays (Ground Out, Strike Out, Fly Out, and Double Play). It also has some cards that can be used to a benefit on offense or defense (Sacrifice Bunt, Pitch Hitter/Relief Pitcher).

The two players choose which one is the home team and the visitor starts on offense. On a player’s turn, he or she simply plays a card from a hand of three, moves the runner and/or records outs, and then the other player goes. The cards themselves act as the base runners and are positioned around the bases of the small die-cut infield that comes with the game. After three outs have been recorded, the team’s half of the inning is over and the two teams switch sides. If a team is in the lead at the end of regulation the game is over. If not, the teams go to extra innings.

The interesting element of game play is that other than at the end of every third innings, players do not reshuffle their hands. So, tension is created by the fact that the awesome defensive hand that you have will any moment become a terrible offensive hand. Also, since players must play a card each turn, one is often forced to play a card that benefits the opponent. I’m not sure which is worse—having to play a hit on your opponent’s half of the inning that drives in a run or having to play an out on your offensive set with the bases occupied.


My Take: There isn’t an overwhelming amount of strategy. This isn’t a simulation by sport’s game standards certainly. It is a light card game that is themed around baseball. The theme is rock solid though. The game mostly follows baseball rules and any player without basic knowledge of baseball will be lost. That said, this isn’t APBA or Strat-o-Matic. It is to those games what Crazy Eights is to Contract Bridge.

I found this game to be a wonderful, light filler. As a baseball fanatic, having a quick-playing baseball-themed game really scratches a particular itch. Since there is hardly ever a tough choice, the real fun is watching how the game plays out.

The Components: Harry’s Grand Slam Baseball Game is part of Out of the Box’s Heirloom Game series. As such, the components are amazing. The game comes in a small tin box slightly larger than double deck of cards. Inside is an exact replica of the original Harry’s from 1962—box, cards and ruleset. In addition to the original rules, the game contains larger, better organized rules that aren’t as detailed but cover most of the situations players may encounter. There is also the aforementioned infield used to mark outs and base runner positions and, most impressive, a great tri-fold scoreboard with working dials used to track both score and inning. The entire package is attractive and the quality adds to the playing experience.


Score: 3.5/5



Pros: Fast Playing, well integrated theme, great production value

Cons: very light on strategy, limited number of choices

 

 




Wednesday
Aug122009

The Madden Curse

 

So you have the 7th overall pick in your league's fantasy draft, and after a quick run on RB's for the first six rounds you are left without any sexy options at that position. It is way to early to draft a QB, so you go straight to the top of the WR list. Well, Larry Fitzgerald seems like a pretty nice option. He had 1431 yards receiving and a blistering 14 tds last season. The Cardinals re-signed Boldin and kept veteran QB Kurt Warner despite some flirtations with retiring. Fitzgerald is a no brainer, right? Think again. The infamous Madden Curse has found its way over to Fitz and if I'm in the position to get this guy or Andre Johnson, I'm going with Andre, because history does NOT favor this monstrous receiver.

2000- Barry Sanders adorns the cover - RESULT - Retired 7 days before training camp, leaving the Lions cupboard empty.

2001- Eddie George - RESULT - For the first time ever, Eddie George didn't rush for over 1000 yards and the Titans, one year removed from a Super Bowl birth, didn't even make the payoffs.

2002- Dante Culpepper - RESULT - Threw more interceptions than touchdowns.

2003- Marshall Faulk - RESULT - The worst statistical year of his career to this point, was never the same again after this.

2004- Michael Vick - RESULT - Broke leg early in the season, missed most of the year. Went on to explore other career opportunities in underground dog fighting.

2006- Donovan Mcnabb - RESULT - This is the first guy that has had a real career AFTER gracing the cover of the game. He still plays and will be a good QB even this year, but in 05 he had a hernia and played badly and in pain all year, where the Eagles finished a dismal 5-11.

2007- Shaun Alexander - RESULT - Broken foot led to Shaun missing most of the season. FTR, three years later, no longer in the league at the age of 31!

2008 - Vince Young - RESULT - For his career, 22 TDS and 32 INTs in a whopping 29 starts.

Ray Lewis is the only defensive player to be on the cover of the game and is also the only player so far to avoid the "Madden Curse". Brett Favre kinda avoided it by retiring and coming back to play for the Jets, with an ok season, but really wasn't anything to write home about. I am curious to see how this all turns out for the Cardinals, but I do know this: I'm happy I have the third pick of my draft where I can safely avoid John Madden's latest victim and not look silly and superstitious doing so.

Tuesday
Aug112009

Next Exit: Deathlands

 I love truck stops.

Not the get-your-food-and-gas kind of truck stop. They’re convenience stores, no matter how big they are. No, I mean the honest-to-goodness-get-your-food-gas-shower-and-any-kind-of-electronic-device-you-can-think-of-kind-of-place. I’m talking about the kind where you can have a sit-down meal, the kind where you can buy all kinds of Harley Davidson and Native American paraphernalia.

That’s a real truck stop.

Before we go any further, you must know I’m not, nor have I ever been, a trucker. I’m not an extensive traveler. I’m not some kind of truck stop deviant lurker either. I am a science fiction fan.

Honestly, I love truck stops primarily for their books, music, and movies. Truckers love good 60’s and 70’s classic rock. They seem to enjoy classic war and western movies, the kind Clint Eastwood used to star in. And they love good books. We’re talking action/adventure stories, classic westerns, and a decent smidgen of science fiction and fantasy. And they like James Axler’s Deathlands.

Deathlands was born of the post apocalyptic craze back in the 80’s. Axler became the house name for the series after the original writer, Laurence James, died. The story follows Ryan Cawdor and his motley company as they make their way across the ruins of America 100 years after a massive nuclear exchange. There’s lots of action, lots of mutants, and endless possibilities. (Though, I must confess, in the hands of some of the lesser writers, the tales can be a bit redundant and boring.) Being the post apocalyptic junkie I am, the books have always appealed to me. How could you not love those covers – especially the ones by Mark Herring?

However, I must confess I never got around to reading them.  Why? Well, the older ones are hard to find, unless you’re willing to pay a collector’s price for them. (Which, I am sad to say, I am currently doing.) And for another, the series is up into the eighties right now. That’s a lot of reading. How do you catch up?

The answer came to me at a truck stop: Graphic Audio CDs.

The first time I saw them, I thought they were simply another set of audio books. (Truck stops have lots of those, too.) I have tried several times to listen to audio books but just couldn’t do it. It always seemed too passive for my imagination. I put it off and put it off, until I finally read the back of one. Their slogan hooked me: “a movie in your mind.” According to the case, the cds had a full cast, sound effects, and a score. Definitely didn’t sound like an audio book, so I thought I would give it a try.

My initial reaction cannot be put into words really. It was one of those intensely personal reactions, something that clicks deep-down inside you. I can’t even begin to think about putting it into words, so let me just say “Wow.” Had I not been wearing my sandals at the time, it would have knocked my socks off. It was all true: the full cast, the sound effects, the score. And the stories were pretty awesome, too.

The actors are the key, however; Richard Rohan in particular, who narrates and portrays Ryan Cawdor. They provide a depth and insight to the characters that you just wouldn’t get from a standard audio book. The effects are awesome and rev up the action so that it feels like you’re there in the thick of it with bullets whizzing by your head and smacking disgustedly into those near you.

Again, I’m no trucker, but I’ve become quite addicted to them. I don’t have long stretches of listening time, but I will go through a chapter or two running errands to Wal-Mart or the grocery store. I even find myself volunteering to go get a gallon of milk late at night. I’ve even listened on the exercise bike.

Now, Deathlands will not be for everyone. They are rated M for mature audiences, and believe me, they deserve it. Lots of violence and harsh language and, in the earlier ones, sexual content. If they were films, they’d be a strong R at least.

(By the way, I’ve discovered that you don’t have to listen to the stories in order for the most part. However, I would recommend listening to the first ten or so just to get the full back stories on the main cast of characters.)

Graphic Audio produces a host of other titles if Deathlands is not to your liking. There’s Axler’s Outlanders, westerns, and series by R.A. Salvatore, Elizabeth Moon, and Simon Green. There’s even comics. They’ve adapted DC’s epic 52 and some Batman, Wonder Woman, and Superman stories. They’re even doing Pendleton’s classic Executioner series.

Unfortunately, not all of us live near truck stops. I don’t. The closest one to me is over a hundred miles away. You can go to Graphic Audio’s website and order them. They have CD and MP3 versions. You can also download them to you computer. There are stores on the internet, some even sale used copies. I get mine off of a store on ebay (user id causinhavokinwv). At truck stops they run about $16.99, which is not bad for a seven hour production. Every story is unabridged. If you order, of course, you’re going to have to pay shipping. Downloading is the cheapest way to go.

Still, there’s nothing like traveling down the road and seeing that gianormous billboard telling you there’s a truck stop ahead. It can be your next exit to adventure.