Saturday, August 30, 2014

Book Review: Lyonesse II

About twenty pages into Jack Vance's Lyonesse II: The Green Pearl, I started thinking that the book would end up an awful lot like the 1981 film Heavy Metal.  Both feature a mystical sphere of evil, which corrupts those who use it, and in the earliest chapter of Vance's follow-up to to his wonderful Lyonesse I: Suldrun's Garden the story does actually follow the set up of Heavy Metal to a large degree - person gets the pearl, pearl corrupts them, someone else kills them and takes the pearl, repeat.

What I'm really loving best about Vance's stuff however, is the fact that he starts with a relatively simple fantasy concept (magic item), and then inserts it into his larger world, showing how the various wizards, nobles and even common men of his world are affected by the item and deal with its potential for corruption.

Like the first book in the series, the story plays with high fantasy concepts as well as fairy tale concepts and blends them together into a really intriguing story, one that I'm definitely planning to complete with the award-winning conclusion to the trilogy, Lyonesse III: Maduac, which I'll be reading next month.

Really neat stuff.

Also a quick side note - the knight on a giant cat image shown on the cover is representative of some stuff that happens in the book, you just have to wait a while for it to show up.

Thursday, August 28, 2014

Bookmonkey, Mountain Man pt. 2

Hello good readers, I'm back from the back of beyond and have become all rough and tumble.

Or at least, able to pose as mostly rough and tumble while gazing into the distance.

All right, I'll admit it wasn't my axe, and the coffee was instant rather than percolated, and my cool Superman shirt was "aged" when I got it, wait - you know what never mind.

I went out camping, did some horseback riding and walked with some wolves, yup, good old Canis Lupus (Grey Wolves), and specifically a fine fellow called Scrappy Dave, who you could also visit at the Northern Lights Wildlife Wolf Centre in Golden, BC.

I'd be crazy to admit I wasn't a little nervous around them, but they were actually a lot of fun to be with as long as we listened to our guides and were respectful of the wolves.

Although I only read a few books on the trip (reviews on those later), it was pretty great overall, and I had a birthday to boot!

Thursday, August 21, 2014

Bookmonkey, Mountain Man

So I'm off to the mountains pretty soon, don't worry I won't forget you, I'll just have a small break between posts.

Read on friends, read on.

Monday, August 18, 2014

Reverse Engineering a Bacheror of Arts Degree - Attempt #1

One of the joys of having children five years apart is the ability to take the lessons learned with the first kid and see if they have any application with the second (often not the case).

Right now, for example, my oldest daughter has recently finished her undergraduate degree and my youngest is currently headed into her last year of high school.  This gives me the opportunity to revisit the whole "Requirements for a Bachelor of Arts" degree again.

Basically, the calendar of whichever University the prospective student is planning to go to outlines what courses they need to take to get a degree, the problem is the advice is scatted across a number of different pages and sections and can easily feel overwhelming, so I thought I would take a look at the current requirements (2014/15) through the lens of my older daughter's course selection (which obviously worked out as she has a degree).

Now there are a couple of things I have to keep in mind, for example my youngest is not likely to take the same courses my oldest did as she doesn't want the same kind of degreee, and my oldest chose to double-major so there will be some modifications necessary to fit the interests of my youngest.  In addition, she (the youngest) doesn't have a major chosen yet, (which is pretty common even for first-year University students), so I have to keep the outline vague for now.

It's nice to know I can find things to do with my spare time since I finished school.

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

Book Review: The Centauri Device

Picking up M. John Harrison’s 1974 Science Fiction novel The Centauri Device, I was pretty excited, as the book was only 185 pages long and seemed to have an interesting premise. It follows a space-trucker who is being drafted by various sides of a massive war to help them control an ultimate weapon, only he has absolutely no interest in them. Think of it like Star Wars: A New Hope (1977), but without Luke and with Han Solo as the main character – not the Han who decides to pitch in at the end (sorry for the mild 37-year-old spoiler), but the Han from the beginning, who could care less about anything other than staying ahead of his debts and finding work.

The novel followed themes I would read again in Transmetropolitan, a world where everything seems messed up beyond all recognition (and yes I know there is a useful acronym for this but both my Mother and my teen daughter read my blog, so deal with it).

Of the various factions attempting to get the help of the main character, two come from armies which are nothing like their contemporary counterparts, and the world is such a bizarre collection of sensory overload that it was often easy to get confused as to what was going on.

Like Alfred Bester's The Stars, My Destination, the book plays with a lot of standard SF story points, but unlike that book, I think only those really interested in reading the more arcane works of classic SF would find it a worthwhile read.

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

RIP Robin Williams

Last night I read that Robin Williams had passed.

Like just about everyone I know, I've been enjoying Robin Williams films, television and standup pretty much my entire life.  From the early days of Mork and Mindy to some really great drama, he found his way into an awful lot of my favourite stuff.

He'll be missed.

Sunday, August 10, 2014

Series Review: Millennium

One of the joys of watching classic television with my kids is it allows me to revisit personal favourites of my own childhood.  When they were younger we watched all of classic Star Trek (including the cartoon and a number of the movies), and I found the show held up extremely well to multiple viewings, and even the outdated effects didn't obstruct my kids enjoyment of the engaging story lines and characters.

For the past few years my wife and youngest daughter have been watching The X-Files together, and as they got closer and closer to the point where I stopped watching (end of season 6), the more excited I've become to finally catch up on a show I left behind years ago.

But being the orderly guy I am, I suggested that before they hit season seven, we check out the short-lived sister series Millennium (1996-99), which focused on Frank Black, an ex-FBI agent who had the ability to see inside the mind of killers and worked now as a consultant with an organization called The Millennium Group.

Starring Lance Henriksen as Frank, the show focused on both a "killer of the week" type story like many procedurals, but also chose to examine the millennial fear that existed in the era leading up to the year 2000.  What I loved about the show at the time was how Frank balanced the dark and horrible aspects of his job with a family life, and how (introduced early in the first season) his young daughter also seemed to have a similar ability to his.

Although the show ended after only three seasons, there was a finale built into the seventh season of Tthe X-Files (which I haven't seen yet), but the show works well on its own, with each season having its own distinct feel and a number of really creepy standout episodes.

Saturday, August 9, 2014

Book Review: The Long Mars

This week I read the final novel in Terry Pratchett and Stephen Baxter's Long Earth sequence, The Long Mars.

As with the previous two books in the series, The Long Mars focuses on a near future world where technology has allowed mankind to "step" from our world to parallel Earths, only unlike in most parallel Earth fiction, these new worlds are largely unpopulated.

What I've loved about the series is how it plays with exactly how this sort of dramatic increase in resource would effect our world - if you move dozen (or even millions) of parallel Earths away from home and create your own town, why would you owe taxes to your home country?  If you can travel millions of worlds away, what could be billions of worlds away?

In The Long Earth, one of those worlds is simply called "the gap" in that version of Earth there actually isn't any Earth at all, simply a void where our planet should be - so certain scientists begin the process of building space stations there.  One of the real challenges of  space exploration is escaping Earth's gravity, so the ability to simply step into a space where the Earth isn't dramatically changes the resources required to explore our solar system.

In the end I loved this book, it was a lot of fun, and does feel like the end of a sequence, it plays around in both space and time (one of the story lines covers more than a decade while the others are limited to a few months) my only mild complaint about the book is that on page 287 there is a spoiler for Kim Stanley Robinson's Red Mars - although to be fair, that book was published 19 years ago, so part of the blame may lie with me.

Wednesday, August 6, 2014

I Moved (my cubicle)

After a prolonged wait, I was finally given the go ahead to move to my new cubicle today, which was pretty great.

Now I'm about forty feet west of where I was before, with a slightly better view and am also technically forty feet closer to my house, so my commute may have just gotten a little shorter.

Now I've just got to get used to my new space, lay out all of my various trinkets and get back to the daily grind!

Monday, August 4, 2014

Book Review: Lyonesse

One of the true challenges of reading High Fantasy, being fantasy stories set in imaginary worlds with epic events surrounding their main characters (for example, The Lord of the Rings), is finding titles which do not simply rehash the popular fiction already out there - for example, The Sword of Shannara (1977) is pretty clearly a knockoff of The Lord of the Rings, although its sequel, The Elfstones of Shannara (1982) does some pretty interesting and fascinating things that continued through the series.  

As a longtime reader of the sub-genre, I have to say a lot of it is pretty repetitious, and for every great novel I find, there are sure to be five or six fairly low grade stories waiting for me in the wings.

Luckily for me, Jack Vance's Lyonesse is definitely one of the great ones.  The story follows a large number of characters through the events surrounding a princess who refuses to play the role outlined for her by her birth.  As that could also describe Disney's Brave (which I enjoyed, but as a family film), let me be clear, Vance has created a pretty in-depth and amazing world with multiple kingdoms, powers and beings, all of which have their own motivations and stories, and most importantly all of which fit together to tell a story that ranges from humorous and romantic to incredibly bleak and tear-jerking.

I actually picked the book because the third in the series Lyonesse: Maduac, won the World Fantasy Award in 1990, and I'm slowly but surely making my way through the list of winners. Vance is also well known for his series The Dying Earth and if it is anywhere near as good as I found Lyonesse, I'll be sure to be checking that out as well.

Sunday, August 3, 2014

Movie Review: Guardians of the Galaxy

This afternoon my family joined the rest of North America (apparently) and checked out the newest Marvel film Guardians of the Galaxy.

Directed by James Gunn (director of one of my favourite horror-comedies, Slither), Guardians of the Galaxy (GotG) was something I wasn't really expecting from Marvel these days, a stand-alone feature.

I mean sure, it has a few cameos from the other Marvel films (characters, plot points, and props), but as much as I loved The Avengers (and I really did), it really worked best if you had viewed all of the films leading up to it, while GotG could be watched by pretty much anyone, whether they had seen the other Marvel Cinematic Universe films or not.

The action was fun, the story was sweet, and considering the film had five leads, you got to spend enough time with each of them to care about them as characters, which was a pretty nice treat.  Yes, there are a lot of extra treats for Marvel fans in the film, but seriously, this may be one of the better Marvel films to start someone on, showing them the types of stories that the film Studio can tell.

Friday, August 1, 2014

Spent my Wednesday Laying Sod

Having spent most of the last year having my house and yard fixed up (redid concrete, installed sump and weeping tile, etc), we finally hit the last stop yesterday, laying sod.

The job itself wasn't too bad - we had a lanscaper come in and prep the ground first, so all we had to do was carry rolls of prepared sod to the yard, unroll them, and connect them together like a giant Tetris board.  The problem was we had eight pallets of sod to deliver, which ended up much heavier as we went along.

In the end, after about 10 hours, we did the entire lawn (front and back) and my reward is grass rather than dirt out my windows, and a pretty sore everything.

Now back to reading!