Wednesday, January 29, 2014

Following Fantasy Series

Over the years I've read a lot of Fantasy, whether part of a shared world (DragonLance), or of the stand-alone variety.  The problem is that very few fantasy books stop at just one title.  Case in point - I've just finished up reading Orson Scott Card's Tales of Alvin Maker series, which is comprised of six books, but does hold out the promise of a seventh.  Following taht I'm currently going for my first run through Roger Zelazny's Chronicles of Amber - which is such fun I'm likely to revisit it again in a few years.

Every month I try to make sure I read at least one book from each of my favourite genres; Fantasy, Horror and Science Fiction (SF), but although Horror and SF both have plenty of series, Fantasy seems to be almost nothing but series.

On the positive side I can invest a lot more in the characters in a Fantasy series than I can those who only appear in a single novel, but at the same time, while I'm trying out a large number of different Horror and SF authors, I find that over the course of a year I'm reading as few as two or three Fantasy authors, as it takes me months and months to get through their series.

I don't really have a solution to the problem, because I love reading these series, but sometimes I wish I could just find a nice collection of Fantasy short stories, and that would be enough.

Monday, January 27, 2014

Dealing with Donuts, or doughnuts

Late last night I got home from the Midwinter Meeting of the American Library Association in Philadelphia, PA.  The event was great, I had a lot of fun and met a lot of professionals from all over the US, in addition to attending various meetings, checking out the vendor displays and visiting various sites of interest in Philly.

Then of course there was the quintessential debate I had as a Canadian in the states.  How do the donuts compare to my Canadian experience?

I know this may sound silly to some readers, but up here in Canada we take our doughnuts (correct Canadian spelling) seriously, and although I grew up with both Robin's Donuts and Country-Style Donuts, when we refer to doughnuts up here, we mean Tim Hortons (pictured right).

So I knew when I visited Philly, I would have to compare the doughnuts I grew up with along side two specific competitors, Dunkin' Donuts and a small business called Federal Donuts.

Dunkin' Donuts (which appear on virtually every other corner), appeared to be the closest competitor in Philadelphia, I could be wrong, having stuck mainly to the downtown core, but these restaurants were everywhere (pictured left)

Also the lineups were crazy and if I walked into any business drinking a cup of Dunkin' Donuts coffee, I would inevitably get approached by strangers asking me where the nearest Dunkin' Donuts was located.

The coffee at Dunkin is pretty good, but the donuts were something else all together - first of all the batter itself was sweet, the first donut I tried was a standard Chocolate dip, and it tasted kind of like a donut mixed with a chocolate bar, very sweet for my norther sensibilities, and although it wasn't really my cup of tea, I can see how addictive a sweeter donut could be.

Federal Donuts, on the other hand,  was pretty hard to find (the nearest location to my downtown hotel was about a 20-minute walk), and deciding to save my Dunkin' experience for later in the trip, I went to Federal on my first morning in Philly.

The donuts there (pictured, along with a coffeee and my book), were some of the best tasting I've had in the last ten years.  Although Tim Horton's doughnuts used to be baked in store, since 2006 they've been pre-made in Ontario and are shipped out to be finished in store, and you can definitely tell the difference.  These donuts were freshly made and simply delicious, no matter which ALA event I was at, I could not stop talking about how great these donuts were.

Do they measure up to the doughnuts of my Canadian childhood?  It's hard to say, nostalgia is tricky that way, but I will say that they are about as close as I can hope to get, so if you happen to get to Philly, they are definitely worth a try - just get there early, as they close up once they sell out their daily batches.

Friday, January 24, 2014

Bookmonkey meets a Book Monkey (sorry, Book Orangutan)

As a huge fan of tales of terror and the supernatural, you'd better believe that I would be stopping by the Edgar Allan Poe National Historic Site if every I found myself in Philadelphia - which thanks to my attendance here at ALA Midwinter 14 is exactly where I found myself!  What really surprised me however, was the fact that I would finally end up with a photo of myself to put on this blog (for newcomers, I've been doing this for about four and a half years, but have so far stayed out of the pictures).

Anyway, while visiting the site, I entered the kitchen and found myself in a crazy situation; here I was, your old pal Bookmonkey, and there he was, a monkey from one of my favourite books (all right, an orangutan from one of my favourite short stories).  

So there you go, me and my monkey.

Wednesday, January 22, 2014

Genre Character of the Week: Mitkey Mouse

The hero of exactly two short stories (Star Mouse (1942), Mitkey Rides Again (1950), respectively), and one children’s book (Mitkey Astromouse (1973), Frederic Brown’s Mitkey Mouse begins his life as a simple lab mouse (pictured left) and eventually ends his journey as this week’s genre character (er…genre mouse).

Named for the famous mouse by a German doctor working in the States, Mitkey went on a journey to the moon in his first story (1942), and while there he was granted a massively increased intelligence by the beings who lived there and was sent home. Upon his return and speaking heavily accented English (the only kind of English he had ever heard), Mitkey attempts to find a new place on Earth for his kind, a place humans may give up to mice and together the two sentient races could work towards building a grand civilization (Mitkey plans to rename the new mouse homeland Moustralia).

Without spoiling the first story, Mitkey returns in a second story eight years later where he finds that not all hyper-intelligent mice are as kind as he had hoped…

What I like best about Mitkey is his sort of everymouse appeal, trying to work best to better his life, and that of all mousekind, Mitkey is truly a hero of small proportions.

Monday, January 20, 2014

Things I've Noticed: I'm heading off to Philadelphia

So later this week I'll be heading out to my first midwinter meeting of the American Library Association, located this year in Philadelphia, PA.

Although I'll be spending a lot of the event checking out various sessions and meetings, I'm looking forward to checking out a number of the sights (including JFK Plaza, pictured right), foods, and (hopefully) various used bookstores.

So, if anyone has been there before, and knows of various spots/foods I gotta try, let me know and I'll try to fit it all in!

Wednesday, January 15, 2014

Movie Review: Her

Last night my wife I went out to see the new Spike Jonze film, Her

Short review – the film is pretty great and you should go see it.

Longer review – The main focus on the film, which takes place in the future, but no too far in the future, is the relationship between a man named Theodore Twombly (Joaquin Phoenix) and the new operating system on his computer (voiced by Scarlett Johansson). In the world of Her, a new Operating System has just been released which included an intuitive Artificial Intelligence (AI) as its core. Theodore, who begins the film in a state of autopilot after a devastating divorce, purchases the system and begins a relationship with the program that quickly moves from friendship to love.

The film works both as a relationship story between Theodore and Samantha (the name the OS gives itself within moments of being uploaded) and as a pretty good idea of how humans and AIs may likely interact when they first meet. A lot of the concepts the movie brings up are examined positively in Ray Kurzweil’s 1999 nonfiction book, The Age of Spiritual Machines: When Computers Exceed Human Intelligence, and negatively in Sherry Turkle’s 2011 nonfiction book, Alone Together: Why We Expect More from Technology and Less from Each Other (also, the idea of a computer/human relationship was examined in the 1984 film Electric Dreams, but not quite as seriously as this – also the AI was created in that film by spilling Champagne across a computer, rather than through design). All in all the movie is about people and relationships, and in the end, that’s really the most important stuff to focus on.

Tuesday, January 14, 2014

Book Review: Looking Backward 2000 - 1887

Usually when I'm reading science fiction that involves tire travel to the future, things do not go as well as I would like: alien invasions, catastrophic plagues, or massive natural disasters, so you can imagine how pleased I was to come across this little book (written in 1888) called Looking Backward: 2000 - 1887, by Edward Bellamy, where the future actually looks just fine (considering the "future" in the book is in the year 2000).

I actually came across this book while looking for another book; Mack Reynolds' Looking Back from the year 2000. which is part of my current project to read all 100 books in David Pringle's Science Fiction: The 100 Best Novels.  While looking for the book in various library catalogues, i kept coming across the one from 1887 - which makes sense and the later book is a follow-up to the earlier one.

In the book (the original one), Julian West, a young man from Boston in 1887 is transported to the year 2000, where everything is actually going pretty well.  Yes the book is definitely a description of a socialist utopia, but as a socialist, I'm kind of okay with it, and to be fair, reading the book got me pretty excited to check out the 1974 follow up by Mac Reynolds.

Sunday, January 12, 2014

First Impressions: Resident Evil 5

Continuing with my habit of playing games on my PS3 that were popular three or more years ago, I've spent the last weekend playing the 2009 video game, Resident Evil 5.

Years ago when I first came into contact with the Resident Evil series, it was through the original Playstation game Resident Evil 2, wherein you played through the same story twice first as a rookie cop named Leon and a college student named Claire, who have overlapping stories and the first example of long-term planning I've come across in gaming - wherein if on your first play through you use up all the resources available in certain locations, there will be nothing left for you to use on your second time through the game as the other character.

After playing my way through Resident Evil 2, I got a lot more interested in the zombie sub-genre of horror, and have enjoyed all of the movies as they've become available on DVD.  I hadn't actually touched any of the other games in the series however, until this one.

The pacing of Resident Evil 5 is quite different than that of 2, for starters the "zombies" are actually infected humans and are therefore much cleverer and faster than the majority of the creatures in the earlier game.  I will happily admit I got stuck for a long time in the first stage of the game as I couldn't quite put together what the game designers wanted me to do and had to look for tips online to figure my way past.

Otherwise the game is pretty fun, the setting is interesting and once I got a handle on the how the controls worked I began moving my way through the story at a pretty good clip. The scares are definitely there, and although the plot seems a little overly complicated for my taste, it's still a fun way to play a great horror story in a well-established series.

Wednesday, January 8, 2014

Back to School!

Hi Everyone - tonight I start my final term of school for my MLIS - for the next four months I'll be learning about online reference and management (people, not information), and I've got to say I'm pretty excited.  By this point I'm pretty comforatble with how the courses work and am looking forward to the term with an eye on how best to use my new knowledge out in the workforce.
Sorry for the short post - I'll have a longer one later in the week!

Monday, January 6, 2014

Fables or Zombies? What's a Bookmonkey to do?

Sometimes a Christmas present can be a double-edged sword - not literally (well, yes, technically I suppose you could get a double-edged sword for Christmas, but that's not what I meant), but metaphorically, like the $20 Playstation Network gift card stocking stuffer I received.

The problem is, there are actually two games I'd like to get.  A few months ago I did a post on the Telltale game The Walking Dead which I really loved - a game focused less on the run and jump aspect of the majority of video games and instead on building trust and relationships was a really neat idea, and one of my favourite gaming experiences of 2013.

So then when I found out the same company was creating a new game based on the Vertigo series Fables (which is one of my favourite comic book series, period), I got pretty excited.  Early reviews were really positive and you get to play as Fabletown's sherrif, Bigby Wolf (who I've posted about here) and I've always been a sucker for the world created by Bill Willigham.

So things looked pretty simple, spend my $20, get a Fables game - awesome.  Only then I found out that Telltale games was releasing a second season of The Walking Dead and this time you get to play as Clemintine (the girl that the main character works to protect in the first game), so now I'm in a tricky place:

Do I pick the Fables, or the Zombies...

Sunday, January 5, 2014

Things I've Noticed: My favourite comics of 2013

At the beginning of 2014 I look back and realize that although I wrote a lot about the various books, games, movies and television shows I enjoyed last year, I didn't really talk about the current comics I was reading.

As I am, traditionally, someone who tends to focus my comic book reading on trade paperback collections - where a run of comics (for example, issues 1-7) of a series are collected in one book, I tend to be four to six months behind the current story lines of whatever I'm reading.

Last year however, I did check out two new series, Marvel's new Guardians of the Galaxy title (written by Brian Michael Bendis), and Afterlife with Archie (written by Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa) and I've got to say that both are pretty amazing.

Not at all familiar with Guardians of the Galaxy before I started, I'll happily admit that I began collecting this series as to get an idea of what to expect in this years upcoming adaption of the material - the fact that it was written by Bendis was a strong point in my choosing of it, but once I read the first few issues I was sold.  The art is fun, the story works a lot like classic Star Wars and Buck Rogers, and I can't seem to stop smiling while I read it.

Afterlife with Archie was recommended to my by one of the helpful staff at Happy Harbor Comics in Edmonton, and it basically combines Archie Comics with a zombie outbreak - working very hard to keep itself a fair representation of both the world of Archie Comics and a classic Zombie story.  This comic is  incredibly fun, and after trying the first issue, I knew I had found a new favourite title.

Both series are currently ongoing, and if you haven't tried them yet, I strongly recommend you take a look.

Thursday, January 2, 2014

New Year’s Resolutions: Bookmonkey Style

As we prepare to wrap up 2013 I’m looking forward to a busy beginning of 2014 and then a whole lot of time. I’ll be finishing up my Master’s degree in April and then I’m going to be out of school for the first time since I went back to do my undergraduate part-time in 2004.

So in the spirit of New Year’s Resolutions, I’m going to come up with a few things to make my post-graduate school year a great one.

I’m going to increase the number of books I read a month: Until I started Library school in the fall of 2011, I read, pretty consistently, ten books a month, every month, not counting comics and various magazines, but with the increased demand on my time that school caused, I had to drop down to seven books a month. Add to that the fact that I have about ten plastic bins of paperbacks in my garage and a lot of books throughout my home I’ve been meaning to get to, and I’m pretty confident I have both the materials and the drive to get my numbers back up to my pre-Grad school levels.

Past that I'm going to try to do all the usual New Year's resolutions - get a little better with my cash, diet, and what not.

So there you go - feel free to hold me to it.