Saturday, January 31, 2015

Chicago Day 3

Cramped, dusty and requiring a ladder to reach
the top = Used Bookstore Heaven
Okay, so Day three in an easy to follow 10 point list:

1) Woke up early, took great shot of the Cloud Gate
2) Had Breakfast at the Pittsfield Cafe - like stepping into historic Chicago (also super tasty!)
3) Saw Jason Segel talk about his book Nightmares!
4) Heard Jason Segel refer to The Goonies as "his people"
5) Wrote Yesterday's blog a day late
6) Immediately liked him a little bit more
7) Attended a board meeting with some lovely folks from the Reference and User Services Association (RUSA)
8) Walked to my hotel, then back to the RUSA Social, then to the Spectrum social (all in all about 10 miles)
9) Hit my third Used bookstore in Chicago (pictured right) and found a classic horror novel I've been looking for for about five years.
10) Chatted with my family over FaceTime and 

Wrote this blog for you!

Chicago Day 2

Hopefully, the forlorn look of this De Brazza's
Monkey helps you feel pity for me
Okay, I'll be the first to admit this is technically Day Three; but as I spent so much of Day Two on my feet I had a bath last night and then crawled into my bed and fell asleep.

So here's Day Two with Day Three to Follow Later Tonight!

Day Two I started out by hitting registration at ALA MidWinter, which was pretty easy as I registered online ahead of time and because I caught the first bus, so there were about six people in line ahead of me (for context, there are currently around 10,000+ people attending the event).

Afterwards I followed my wife's suggestion and headed down to the Lincoln Park Zoo, and specifically both the Ape and Monkey Areas.

On the way back to my hotel I checked out the Original Mr. Beef (and yes, it is definitely worth the side trip) and then hit the Exhibit Hall - if you've never gone to an ALA Exhibit Hall opening, I strongly recommend it - lots of Library Folk, often free food (and sometimes drink), and just a great way to meet and greet all sorts of people.

According to my Activity tracker I walked 17.6 kilometres yesterday (which is roughly 10.9 miles for my American readers), and was therefore exhausted at the end of it all.

Later tonight - what I did today!

Thursday, January 29, 2015

Chicago Day 1

I'm currently in Chicago for the 2015 Midwinter meeting of the American Library Association, but as with many people travelling to the Second City, I have a few things to get done first...

So it's my First winter day in Chicago and what do I do?

Hit some used-book stores of course.

First up was a promising Fantasy/Horror/Science Fiction store called Buckets O' Blood.  The store was easy to find, tiny and unfortunately for me, lacking in the horror-novels-I-don't-already-own department (a common problem when you have more than a few boxes of horror novels in your garage, and basement, and in your study...)  If you're in the area it is well worth checking out, and I was happy to see it had much more than the common V.C. Andrews, Stephen King, Dean Koontz, Anne Rice selection most stores have, it just didn't have anything new for me.

Luckily for me, the next story was Open Books (pictured right), which, in addition to having a number of Charles de Lint books I was looking for (always a fun twist to have the Canadian fantasy reader come across a number of hard to find books by his favourite Canadian Fantasy author in the United States), by shopping there I also contributed to a great cause, which you can read more about here.

Next up, I finally righted the wrong I committed last time I came to Chicago and made sure I got to try some authentic Chicago deep dish pizza.  I went to Lou Malnati's and tried the Chicago classic (Made with Lou's lean sausage, some extra cheese and vine-ripened tomato sauce on Buttercrust.™) The pizza was incredible, and I'm already working at ways to ensure I branch out and don't simply eat there for the rest of my stay.

Tomorrow, The MidWinter Meeting Day 1.

Tuesday, January 27, 2015

Book Review: Nightmares!

Here's what you need to know about Nightmares!, the 2014 YA novel by Jason Segel and Kirsten Miller, it's pretty great.  The story involves some effective scares, a look at how dreams and nightmares can work, and a surprising amount of interpersonal and family relationship issues for a book aimed at Elementary school kids.

The book focuses on Charlie Laird, an eleven-year-old boy who has recently moved into his new stepmother's home with his father and younger brother Jack.  Since moving in with Charlotte (whom Charlie has dubbed "The Stepmonster"), Charlie has been having the same nightmare every time he falls asleep - which moves the book into some pretty creepy territory right there (Think Dreamscape, A Nightmare on Elm Street, and The Prince of Darkness territory, but toned down for younger readers), and add to it his difficulties getting along with his new family, and you get a surprisingly meaty story.

The book moves at a great pace, keeping you interested and invested in the characters and for me, moved from a "Hey this is pretty fun" to a "Darn it, I have to wait until September for the sequel!?!" kind of mindset.

Well worth the read.

Thursday, January 22, 2015

Genre Character of the Week: Thomas

One of my favourite things about speculative and genre fiction is how something so strange and different can be made relatable by a great author and a receptive reader (or viewer or player, depending on the medium).  Whether an alien, machine, or even a simple shape

In my latest video game obsession, Thomas Was Alone, developed by Mike Bithell, the main character is a red rectangle called Thomas.  Although Thomas has no face or voice, and is indeed, simply a red rectangle, the game's narration anthropomorphizes the little guy into an intriguing character desperate to help himself and his friends move through a strange and sometimes alarming world.

The game is a pretty simple platformer/puzzle game, wherein you move Thomas and a growing number of his friends through each maze-like level, but is brought to life through great visuals, music and a whimsical narration that demands the game be played with sound, rather than silence.

I'm not quite finished the game yet, but at the rate of five to ten levels a day, I'll be finished soon, and honestly, it ends up being an experience I'm likely to want to replay in the future.

Tuesday, January 20, 2015

Book Review: The Dungeon vol. 4, The Lake of Fire

As I've now finished volume four of Phillip José Farmer's The Dungeon, subtitled The Lake of Fire and written by Robin W. Bailey, I think I'm finally getting the hang of the series. Each new writer looks at the stuff that came before, and then moves the main characters to an entirely new setting, hopefully putting them back the way they were when the writer began his particular entry in the series (not an uncommon issue for comic book writing, come to think of it).

Some of the writers have been pretty great at this, my favourite being Charles de Lint, who split the group in book three allowing the story to bounce back and forth between the groups, only to reunite them in the last chapter before sending them on to the next world.

Volume four takes place mostly in a hell-like world (including devil and demons) and actually tests the characters beyond mere survival, which in itself was pretty neat, as well as reminding the reader that although Major Folliott is our main character, every other member of the group has their own goals and intentions, which should all be taken into account as well.

The fourth book was a pretty strong entry in the series, and has me looking forward to checking out book five.

Sunday, January 18, 2015

My Yearly Oscar Regimen

Last Thursday the nominations went out for the 2015 Academy Awards.  This year many of the titles were pretty obvious choices, but there were a few surprises here and there.

For me, watching the Oscars has long been a pretty fun way to keep tabs on a bunch of good to great movies that have come out over the last year - not all of the greats, and yes, each year there are some sure-to-be picked and sure-to-be ignored titles that I loved, but regardless, I've found that for the most part, if a film gets a nomination it's a pretty good recommendation that I may enjoy the film.

So this year I actually started out ahead of the game, having already seen three of the Best Picture nominations before they were announced (Birman, Boyhood, and The Grand Budapest Hotel), so my plan for the next few weeks is to try and get out to see the rest.

Today I took the family to see The Imitation Game, which was excellent, well worth the watch, and may end up on my "To Own" list.

Past the Best Picture Nominees, I generally try and watch the rest of the film in order of 

1) Availability (sorry Documentary Short Films - I've never had any luck tracking you down)

2) Number of Nominations; so after seeing the Best Picture nominations Foxcatcher, Interstellar, and Mr. Turner will all move to the top of my to see list.

3) The great folks at the Edmonton International Film Festival have put on the Short Film Nominations (both Animated and Live Action) for the last few years, and it's a great way to see a bunch of neat films as well as knock two whole categories off my list before the big event.

I generally try to drag friends or family along to the various film as it gives them incentive to hang out and watch the Oscars with me in a month, and also because going out to see movies is more fun with company.

If you've never tried seeing Oscar Nominations before, I say give it a shot - the films may move you out of your comfort zone a little, but what the heck, isn't that often the point?

Monday, January 12, 2015

First Impressions: American Horror Story Freakshow

Four episodes into a series I figure I can begin to make some comments.  So lets talk about American Horror Story: Freakshow - and yes, I'm fully aware that for most people the season has just one episode left, but I saved up my episodes on the good ol' DVR and only started watching last Friday - that way I'll be finishing with the rest of you.

Taking place in 1952 Florida, the series departs a little from the previous seasons (each of which told their own story, but with a largely overlapping cast of actors), in that it has very little to do with the Supernatural - no haunted house from season one, or demonic possession from season two, and definitely no witchcraft from season three.  

Nope, what this season has is the sideshow, the carnival freakshow in the twilight years, after the second world war and therefore after a time when people had seen enough of the strange and deformed.  Clearly borrowing a lot from Todd Brownings Freaks, and maybe a little from both the HBO series Carnivale and Katherine Dunn's novel Geek Love (which is in itself excellent and well worth a post here someday), AHS:Freakshow mixes together a love of the different with some pretty interesting twists.

First of all, I absolutely love the opening credits.  Next to the credits from season one (which told a lot of the story of the season, if the viewer knew what they were looking for), it is quite clever, working with old toys, a carnival theme and a genius use of stop-motion animation. 

The stories are a lot of fun; disturbing and lurid, but fun, and the evil clown introduced in the pilot may be one of the creepiest looking villains I've come across in a while.

The series uses modern songs for it's musical numbers, which take a little getting used to, but can be fun (not quite up to the level of the Stevie Nicks numbers in season three, or my personal favourite, the bizarre, out of nowhere version of Shirley Ellis' 1964 classic The Name Game, used in Season Two).

I'll definitely be sticking with the season through the end - the story is intriguing, the characters interesting, and as a long term fan of horror film and literature, this is something definitely right up my alley.

Friday, January 9, 2015

Things I've noticed: The Power of Sandwiches

Not my photo, but YUM!
To begin, I'm not any sort of social media expert.

I've been on Facebook since 2008, had a blog since 2009, did some coursework online and have coordinated a series of online interviews for a division of the American Library Association (ALA), but for all that I still don't know how to make Reddit work or how to represent myself on Pinterest, Tumblr or Instagram (although I do have a Flickr account!)

And last year I finally bit the bullet and started on Twitter (after a lunch at the 2014 ALA Midwinter Meeting in Philadelphia where people exchanged Twitter handles rather than business cards) and since then I've happily tweeted with 10 to 20 retweets or favourites to mark my twitter-based impact.

However, I have noticed is that if you reference a writer or a sandwich, you get significantly more views.  My current record for views is in the 2000s, and referred to the introduction of the recent Penguin Horror edition of Frankenstein.  Also sandwiches get a remarkable amount of feedback.

So there you go - tweet about writers or sandwiches, or perhaps writers eating sandwiches, and watch the retweets fly!

Wednesday, January 7, 2015

Book Review: The Dungeon vol 3. The Valley of Thunder

Three books into Phillip Jose Farmer's The Dungeon series, and I hit the first one written by Charles de Lint.  Following the further adventure of Major Clive Folliot and company through the extra-dimensional world (possibly) of The Dungeon, the third novel continues the quest to find Clive's brother Neville.

De Lint does something rather clever with his book (part of why I'm such a fan), and separates the group into two; allowing him to switch the narrative back and forth between chapters to resolve the current cliffhanger faced by each team.  This made for a much faster read, and as the groups moved through dinosaurs, spaceships, and a clear Tarzan-styled setting, it also allowed for a lot more range in the story.

Today I start on volume four, and I really hope the pace continues to increase as I'm finding the series a lot of fun.

Monday, January 5, 2015

Game Review: Red Dead Redemption

Yesterday I finished the PS3 game Red Dead Redemption (at 96.8% completion after a month, thank you very much), and overall, I'd have to say it's a pretty solid game.

The story moves ahead nicely, the visuals and music are really quite great, and except for the fact that virtually every group you can imagine is treated pretty horribly (Latinos, First Nations, Chinese, the Government, and women all come across very poorly in the game - not even Anthropologists are spared), and that some of the mini-games are crazy hard to do (five-finger fillet, anyone?), I would strongly recommend the game to people who are on the fence.

Also, although the cover of the game (pictured left), includes Zombies, they don't exist anywhere in the main game (although a couple of bites got me a little nervous), as Red Dead Redemption: Undead Nightmare works as a separate game, with all the same characters as the main game, but with the addition of zombies and various monsters.

So now I've got a couple more weeks of the old west, followed by season two of The Walking Dead game, and then I'm off to figure out what all the hubub about Mass Effect is...