Tuesday, January 31, 2012

A Novel I will be reading through a web browser

The famous (infamous?) Ryan North linked to this tumblr: http://btothef.tumblr.com/

I can't imagine this project being anything other than awesome, and I will be following along.  Oh and this is actually written by Ryan North so it should be fun to read in that respect.

That is all.

Thursday, January 26, 2012

ShoStoWriMo and other things

Just thought I'd make a new blog entry, since I've apparently been doing one a week or so thus far this year.  I think?  Anyway why not keep up with that trend?

An idea I thought of earlier this week was to do something I call, "ShoStoWriMo".  Now, very likely this acronym already exists on the Internet somewhere, and maybe you can guess what it stands for: Short Story Writing Month.  I'm not joining in any pre-existing challenge (again, I'm sure there is one), but rather giving one to myself.  The challenge: write 4 short stories in a month, one per week, and publish each of them regardless of quality / whether or not they're actually complete.

The idea behind this challenge is simply to get me to write a story and post it online.  I've written / started far too many things that I say I'll post but never do.  So this time, I have to - even if I don't end up finishing a story.  My target month for this is April, but I may push it back to May - we'll see.  I just wanted to throw it out there.

Other things
There's not too much - except it's All-Star weekend here in Ottawa.  I really wish I had tickets to see the game, but I will have to settle for watching it in HD at home (because I just got HD, you see, only a month after getting an HDTV).  If I can I will also record the skills competition, but that is depending on whether I can get my technology to cooperate with me (I don't have a PVR with my HD box, but I do have a DVD-R).

As a result my podcast this week will be peppered with random All-Star game trivia.  Now I have to go and research some of this trivia while also picking music.  What have I gotten myself into?

Saturday, January 21, 2012

Review: Heir to the Empire 20th Anniversary Edition

According to Goodreads, it took me 9 days to read Timothy Zahn's Heir to the Empire (20th Anniversary Edition); this is probably a considerably shorter time than when I first read the book, which was I believe 15 years ago or so when I was 12, and at the height of my Star Wars obsession.  Obviously, this was not a tough read.

This review is actually not concerning the book itself, but rather the presentation of the book and all of the elements associated with it being a 20th Anniversary Edition.  I figure that most people have read this already (or maybe not; I could be vastly overestimating the number of Star Wars fanatics that are reading this blog), so there's no point in going over the story.  Suffice it to say, it's about a new, smart villain and his attempts to bring the Empire back to glory five years after the huge loss suffered at Endor in Return of the Jedi.

To start with, the book looks absolutely beautiful.  Don't take my word for it - just look at the book jacket, and the hard cover concealed beneath.  A lot of care has gone into making this thing look really nice, something you don't often see (I mean really - do we ever see XX Anniversary Editions of classic works?  Not usually).  It's a hard cover book, obviously, and it displays rather nicely on a book shelf.  I almost don't want to display only the spine when I shelve it later, it's so nice.

Heir to the Empire 3 Heir to the Empire 2

On to what drew me to the book in the first place: the comments in the margin.  I mean, tons of books have different editions throughout the years with fancy covers; but what made this a must-have for me was that sprinkled throughout the text were little tidbits of information from Timothy Zahn.  Comments like how he decided to start the novel with a scene on a Star Destroyer, because that's what all three original movies had done.  And also various comments about how Thrawn (the villain) fits the qualities of a good leader, thought processes during original outlines, "Tuckerisms", and so forth.

Heir to the Empire 1

There were also a small handful of comments from Zahn's editor for Heir, Betsy M?.  Let me just say that I drew no insight at all from her comments.  They make her sound like your standard middle-aged woman who doesn't know a thing about Star Wars, the way that an ignorant mom might say "Stop playing Nintendo!" when their kid is clearly playing an Xbox; she is the Ralph Wiggum to Zahn's Lisa Simpson, gleefully announcing "When I grow up, I want to be a principal or a caterpillar."  I think the most condescending comment comes at the end of Chapter 12, where Zahn presents somewhat of a cliffhanger ending:

"Bestselling writers often use the literary device of the cliffhanger to grip readers.  How many times have you stayed up far too late at night because something enthralling happens at the end of a chapter and you simply have to find out what happens next?  Tim brings the use of the cliffhanger to a high art in Heir.  I defy anyone to put this book down after a closing line like Leia's."

So I think you can guess from my comments that this book would have been better off without her margin notes.  It's too bad, because it's a huge missed opportunity to give us some extra insight into the editing process for this book.  In the end, she's also redundant, as the one insightful comment she does make is repeated by Zahn a little later.  Oh well - nothing's perfect, I suppose.

There's also the matter of an extra novella after the novel, written by Zahn exclusively for this book.  It's nothing special, and details one of Thrawn's exploits shortly before the events of Heir.  It was a neat enough read though, but I think also the book could have done without it.  The margin comments were draw enough - I don't think people were likely waiting for the promise of a new novella to buy the book.

Lastly though, the story still IS a fun read, and is quite possibly still the best piece of Extended Universe fiction for Star Wars out there.  It's not high class literature by any means, but it's paced extremely well and you can definitely get a "movie" feel while you read it. 

For Star Wars: Heir to the Empire 20th Anniversary Edition, I give 4 out of 5 stars.

Friday, January 13, 2012

2012 Priorities

I'm going to straight out save myself from not fulfilling "New Year's Resolutions" by calling them my priorities for 2012.  SO THERE DEAL WITH IT

My priorities for 2012 are probably not unlike many other peoples', with the key difference being I am me and not other peoples.  Uh, yeah.  Anyway, my priorities:

1) Weight Loss
I started the year with a bang, losing 8 pounds - of course that was mostly due to an ugly stomach flu.  Considering I don't count on having a stomach flu every month, my priority here is to come up with an organized and realistic-according-to-circumstances plan and to actually execute it.  Using 284.6 as my start weight, I hope to go down to at least 250.

2) Writing
Look, I'm not a fiction writer - that much I've learned and established over the last two years.  I just don't have the motivation - or more likely the focus - to put together a well-crafted story.  Maybe I'll bang out a couple of ficlets here and there, but my priority for 2012 is writing for my podcast.  Nothing extensive, but the goal here is 1-2 posts per week about music in some form or another.  Also lesser priority is writing at least once a week here about something.

3) Sorting out leisure time vs work time
I don't mean this as in recognizing "Oh, I go to work Monday-Friday during the day that's my work time" - rather, I mean taking care of things around the house that need doing, maintaining a podcast/music blog, and that sort of thing, before I waste time by playing NHL 2004 or watch a movie.  Luckily I already don't waste very much time sitting in front of a computer at home, so it's the TV watching that needs to be curbed.

4) Be better with money
Pobody's Nerfect, as Marge Simpson might say.  This isn't so much a priority I wish to discuss publicly, but is listed here for completeness' sake.  Basically though, this is more about saving more money and spending less, but pretty much everybody should be doing that anyway.

So no specific goals, but I just thought I'd get them down somewhere.

Thursday, January 5, 2012

The Lord of the Rings: A Review of a Piece of Classic Fantasy Literature

January 5, 2012: that is the day that I completed my first-ever reading of the Lord of the Rings trilogy.  I ate up Fellowship of the Ring, took a bit more time with The Two Towers, and slowed to a painful crawl with Return of the King.  In a way, I just about mirrored Frodo's journey with The One Ring.

Note that while I say I finished reading Return of the King, I didn't actually read the appendices - who the hell has time for that?  Mainly I wasn't interested in them, especially after the massive denouement that is Book Six.  Here, then, are my thoughts on each book, reduced to a single paragraph.

The Fellowship of the Ring (Books 1 and 2)
Technically, I read the first 11 chapters of Book 1 a few years back but got (understandably) frustrated with the writing and the dense subject matter.  I still skipped over many of the songs and lengthy history lessons, and quite frankly I didn't miss anything.  It would be one thing if Tolkein included some foreshadowing in the songs (he didn't; I looked it up in Coles Notes SO THERE), but these are largely there to provide depth to Middle-Earth.  Honestly, I got depth enough when I was imersed in his haunting descriptions of The Old Forest and the Barrow-Downs.  Other than the snoozefest that was The Council of Elrond, a lot was happening in this book and I felt the descriptions were super immersive and well I liked it okay?  Four stars.

The Two Towers (Books 3 and 4)
I went into this thinking that this would be my favourite of the three books, since it was my favourite of the three movies.  Not so - I'll ruin it now, Fellowship was my favourite, which shocks me considering so much more plot-wise was happening in Two Towers.  While I appreciated that Tolkein seemed to have sped up his narration and cut down on the songs, I didn't get as into this as I did with Fellowship.  I think I got really bogged down by the descriptions of the Battle of Helm's Deep - it was hard to follow, and I think that other than random elves showing up the movie handled it a lot better - but I think the best part of this book was Book 4, with Frodo/Sam/Smeagol.  Three and a half stars.

The Return of the King (Books 5 and 6)
This was just incredibly difficult for me to read in some parts, and I don't know why.  The battle scenes were epic and pretty well translated to screen so that I could more easily follow them than Helm's Deep, but when Tolkein got into some lengthy passages my eyes just glazed over more than a Tim Horton's doughnut.  For Book 6, the chapter describing Sam's heroic efforts to rescue Frodo was awesome, but the journey to Mount Doom was a chore to read.  I think it took me three hours to read two chapters.  And then - even once the chief task was completed and the Ring is destroyed - we spend a heck of a long time walking back through Middle-Earth in the most boring fashion.  The saving grace for this book was The Scouring of the Shire, which was an awesome chapter - even though Sarumon is a complete dick.  Three stars.

And there you have it, my brief review of The Lord of the Rings.  My next book to tackle is the 20th Anniversary Edition of Heir to the Empire by Timothy Zahn, which I am much looking forward to.  It's a hardcover beauty with author commentary in the margins.  So I will largely be reviewing the presentation of the book, rather than the book itself.  Heck, I can give you the review of the story right now: it's awesome, and you should read it.

Tuesday, January 3, 2012

Why Movies and Books are The Same

I am so bad at this Blogging Business - I was going to have three well-thought-out posts about movies/books and try and have something somewhat similar to an intelligent discussion.  Well, I got one post out of the bag, and got busy with work, podcasting, and life in general.  Oh and I got sick somewhere in there, too (and STILL released a podcast on New Year's Eve).

So now I'm scrapping my original plans, and giving you my reasoning (or at least, the best reasoning I can remember) for why film is essentially the same medium as print.  What a crazy notion!  I'm probably not even going to try framing this as an intelligent debate, either.

The main reason I came up with this argument in the first place was I was trying to classify film and books under different mediums: film is visual media, and books are intellectual.  But wait, we use our eyes in both, don't we?  And films can jumpstart our brains just the same as a book, right?  So they must both be visual media!  So then I thought some more (sometimes, a dangerous prospect).

It's my view that the movies are simply a forced perspective narration, just the same as books - and this is why film adaptations are almost always inherently different from the source material.  With books, authors have the luxury of picking any view point - our minds can paint the picture, so to speak.  Unfortunately for film, we're stuck with one unchanging perspective (with a few experimental exceptions, I'm sure): third person.  There are minor variations (sometimes, we are omnipotent and others not) but for the most part, this is how a movie must be presented.  Wait, did I say omnipotent?  I am pretty sure I meant omniscient.  If only we were omnipotent viewers, we could change some frustratingly bad movies.

As I said just last paragraph, this is the only reason (well, that's a lie, there are other reasons that don't prove/disprove my point) that books and their film adaptations are different.  The ones that closely match probably do so because the narrative in the original book is in the third person; often, I find that third person limited offers the easiest adaptations.

I think that was my general point, and I wish I had made it better the way I originally intended.  But I just needed to get it out there.