Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Started "Red Pyramid" - Rick Riordan (Paper Book)

Am reading "Red Pyramid" - Rick Riordan ( which is the first book of a 3 book series.

The book appears to be in the "Percy Jackson" universe - the base of operations (so far) is the east shore off Manhattan, where they refer to "other gods" being on the island (which is where the Olympian gods are based in the Percy Jackson series).

The Egyptian gods are featured here instead of the Greek (Percy Jackson) and Roman (The Lost Hero).

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Enjoying "Dangerously Funny - Uncensored Story of the Smothers Brothers" - David Bianculli (Audiobook)

As a child, I remember enjoying the Smothers' Brothers Comedy Hour on CBS.  However, in hindsight, I must have missed lots of the information flow of the show (drug references and political references would have been lost on the 3-6 year old I was during the show's run).

However, watching clips on YouTube, I can see how the show would have been appealing, and even moreso to an older version of myself.

"Dangerously Funny - Uncensored Story of the Smothers Brothers" by David Bianculli tells of what was going on, both on-screen and behind the scenes at this show.  I am astounded to hear how strong a character Tom Smothers has behind the scenes, compared to his naive on-screen persona - I was even surprised to find out that he is the older brother.

The barriers that were broken on this show regarding racism, religion and politics make it a truly groundbreaking television event.  It's sad to see the show only ran 3 years (3 big years 67, 68 and 69), but seeing the behind the scenes battles, it is likely the show would have been cancelled at some point - the damage among the principals was too great, Tommy, as producer, became quite militant and drew far away from the CBS executives - it is hard to imagine any hierarchy surviving that type of schism - somebody had to go.

The timing was truly unfortunate - in today's world, that show (which was still a ratings success) would have likely found a home on cable and ran a normal life-cycle (e.g. dying out when viewers tired of the show) not a removal due to corporate politics.

I think Tom and Dick Smothers can remain proud of their product - they could have run a more "normal" show, and had a longer stay on network television, but I doubt they would have been as fulfilled as they are from this one.  I also doubt anybody would write, let alone read or listen to, the story of the show 40 years later.  Few shows retain this level of interest after they leave the air.

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Finished - "Made in America" - Bill Bryson (Audiobook)

I hadn't really known what Bill Bryson's book "Made in America" was about.  It primarily focuses upon language development of American English, which proves a launchpoint to discuss details of the U.S. founding fathers, the Wright Brothers, life in the early colonies of the U.S. words taken from specific events, or times.

All in all, an interesting read.  As a non-American, it was a little heavy on the American worldview, however, given the thesis of the book, not really surprising or off-thesis.

I found his conclusions about political correctness odd - he does say it is laced with subjectivity, which is true.  He pointed out that some words like "manipulate" and "mandible" come from roots unrelated to the male gender, even if some on the politically correct side would like to erase all "man" labels.  He also pointed out that some of the wishes to remove "man" in all words (or all references using the word "black" like Blacksmith) is not necessary and only considerations where it is reasonable to infer that the existing word, through usage, would imply a gender differentiation (e.g. "Chariman" implying only males, while "Chair" being gender neutral).

What always amuses me about this debate is that the goal seems to be to create odd words, regardless of whether or not the "gender" was removed.  Why is "mankind" evil and "humankind" OK?  Or "Fireman" evil and "Fireperson" OK?  In both cases there still exists a gender-specific root, hu-MAN and per-SON - both of which would have drawn ire if they were the commonly used words.

I can't say that I like the PC movement as a "starter".  I might agree that "chariman" is male, but would be happy with "chairwoman" as the exact, parallel word for the female in that role.  I might also agree that "chair" is a suitable substitute for both.  I believe some form of gender-neutrality in language would evolve naturally - what I take exception to is that those who feel the need to force the change often wish to go much further in pushing a broad agenda than the words alone (e.g. looking at all acts of violence perpetuated by males as "natural male aggression" requiring prison,  while infanticide or violence perpetrated by females as "illness" requiring compassion; or expecting a 50/50 gender split in jobs, even if applicants are 10x more likely in gender A than B).

Sunday, December 12, 2010

Finished "Heroes of Olympus - The Lost Hero" - Rick Riordan (E-Reader)

Enjoyed reading "The Lost Hero" to my son.  He's taken a big interest in Greek and roman heroes, even to the point of getting library books out on the topic.  Nice.

The book marks a new series by Rick Riordan - a follow-up to the Percy Jackson books.  The series is definitely a sequel - Percy is missing, a new kid (Jason) shows up at camp Half-Blood with a memory problem.  He has powers and refers to the Greek gods by Roman names - curious.

The book read nicely, my son was enthralled - the only problem is that there is a wait until the next books - we "found" Percy Jackson late in the series, about the time of the movie, so we were able to run through the books very quickly.  This wait seems long.

--------------------Spoiler Alert -----------------

As is relatively obvious, there exists a Roman version of Camp Half-Blood on the west coast.  Apparently the demi-gods tend to kill each other, so they keep the camps separate and mutually invisible, with attempts to remove memories of any demi-gods that run into each other.  This is a nice way to introduce more larger than life heroes, without diminishing the existing heroes - well done Mr. Riordan.

Comics - "Shadowland" (Marvel Comics)

Enjoying the Shadowland mini-series from Marvel Comics.  Haven't read Daredevil in years, but when I found out they were ending his current series at issue #512, I thought I`d take a look.

Daredevil, clad in black, has set up shop in Hell`s Kitchen NY, in a Japanese-style castle, as head of the ``Hand`` (Ninja-mafia).   At this point in the story he`s blocked off part of the city and has imposed ninja-style martial law.  He appears possessed, and has publicly killed Bullseye, a long-time enemy, which certainly crosses a superhero line.

Strong support from other street-level heroes - Luke Cage, Iron Fist, Spiderman, Punisher, Moon Night etc.

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Finished - Comics - "Amazing Spider-Man" #637-640 (One Moment in Time)

I didn't gain any new respect for the creative genius of Joe Quesada.  I thought the "deal with the devil" he concocted to erase the memory of Peter Parker and Mary Jane Watson's wedding (from 1987) was poorly thought out and did real damage to the Spider-Man franchise - both in character development (what "hero" would make a selfish deal with the devil?) and by disrespecting the history of the character and fanbase (who really cares about serial story telling if the creators don't honour even the spirit of the "serial"?).

"One Moment in Time" re-visits that terrible storyline to close up loose ends, but tends to open up wounds.  The "revision" might have been a better story than the original, had it been originally written that way, as it removes the Mephisto bargain.  However, to heal the damage, it is not strong enough.

I understand the differences in outlook between creators, who want to make their mark, and fans, who need to have a continuity in the character and appreciate references to earlier events.  However, I think the balance is currently out of whack.  Storylines are being designed for trade paperback re-printing (e.g. 4-6 issues), which is fine, but illustrates that the focus is not on long-term character development, but focused on shorter individual storylines.

I think the writers need to acknowledge that the reason Spider-Man or other mainstream characters are only interesting to write because they have a distinctive character and history.  Treating these characters as "independent" to be used to further the short-term storyline might be fun, and might create a nice six-story arc, but ultimately kills the character by fragmenting the history and the consistency.  With Spider-Man alone, in recent years he was retconned to be part of a historic "spider-cult", giving him new powers and changing his basic "everyman" origins, his first real girlfriend Gwen Stacy was retroactively given a storyline wherein she willingly slept with Norman Osborn (the Green Goblin) and secretly had twins, before her untimely death at the hands of the Green Goblin in the early '70s and most recently, Spider-Man revealed his identity to the world.

All of these stories would be great as mini-series (e.g. out of continuity stories) - except the Sins Past Gwen Stacy story which never should have seen the light of day.

Several times Marvel has created alternate titles for this very reason - allowing new interpretations of characters in their own sandbox - Ultimate Universe is a great example of that.  However, the "real playground" is the mainstream 'Amazing Spider-Man' and the radicals want to play there.  Here is where the corporate voice should be strong - playing with the corporate character has consequences - adhering to continuity and not making permanent, radical changes to the character (unless they are part of the long-term strategy of the character).  Radical storylines and significant departures from the existing fabric need to be kept separate.  Change that "works" in these storylines could later be adopted into the mainstream books, but on a pace and direction of the mainstream titles.

I've been a reader of comics pretty steadily since the mid 70s.  I'm not arguing for a fixed continuity that monitors and needs to keep track of every detail, but a recognition that the stories are part of a series - that is the strength of the medium.  Time dilation is needed (otherwise Peter Parker would be in his late 60's), and there is no need to be fixed to keeping all details of a 50 year series of comics.  I think seminal events need to be maintained as they are character building points (e.g. death of Uncle Ben, death of Gwen Stacy, the marriage of Peter and MJ), and the past 4 or 5 years of stories need to be treated as gospel, given that that is really the recent past for the characters.  Stories older than 4 or 5 years can be gradually faded from continuity, but I suppose never completely erased (e.g. if he fought somebody, he probably should remember, but I think lesser characters could be updated or refined without a great loss of integrity).

I'd call this process "soft continuity", which should keep both fans and creative-types happy.  It will maintain a continuous character development environment, without creating a need for a PhD in spider-lore to write stories.

Thursday, December 2, 2010

Finished "Decision Points" - George Bush (Audiobook)

Wow - George Bush is a real problem - the U.S. should consider itself lucky to have survived.  I'm not sure if he is still awash in spin-doctoring in order to secure his place in history, or if he really wasn't aware of what he was doing during his 8 year tenure.

It's hard to imagine, even given the elapsed time, that the Iraq war can be considered a positive step or a choice that is anything other than foolish.  The Afghanistan war was a reasonable reaction to the 9-11 attacks on NY, and the world responded with troops and support.  By contrast, the U.S. couldn't even convince Canada to support the Iraq invasion.  For George Jr. to suggest that the world opinion was unanimous and that Saddam Hussein represented anything other than a sore in the Bush backside is ridiculous.  The timing, in particular, left a lot to be desired - imagine an intelligent response where Afghanistan was given priority and resolved to either a long-term stay (not the preferred outcome) or an actual free-standing democracy (the ultimate goal) and then using that as a base, it would be much easier to deal with Iraq in any reasonable manner from pressure to invasion.

The biggest problem I have is there seems to be little acknowledgment that having "strong feelings" of "relying on faith" is only part of decision making - there is a need to get and acknowledge other opinions.  Iraq is the biggest blunder, and he doesn't mention that the initial 9-11 response to Afghanistan produced targets in Iraq because Rumsfeld and Cheny didn't think there were enough targets in Afghanistan - a stronger sign of the parallel objective toward Iraq from election night onward.

The other non-acknowledged issue is the reaction that Bush had to the very narrow (and arguable) victory over Al Gore.  Wouldn't a normal person see the division in the country and make a compromise or conciliatory administration to heal wounds - wouldn't that have been a more positive presidency?