Thursday, January 28, 2016

Book Review: The Better Angels of our Nature

Steven Pinker's The Better Angels of our Nature: Why Violence has declined is a really good example of why I try to read non-fiction on a regular basis. The thesis of the book is simply that as a species, humans are less violent now than we were in the past, regardless of what the news, politicians, or anyone else says.

The book, although a little dry and hovering at just over 700 pages, works to prove that historically, we had a much higher tolerance for violence than we do now, and that if you take into account the percentage of an effected population rather than the simple number of people killed, people are killing each other a lot less now than they did in the past.

This doesn't mean that no one is killing anyone else, or that all violence is going to disappear sometime soon, it simply means that on a societal level, we aren't being as violent as we used to be.

The book is definitely one that opens up conversation, and the reviews all seem to either love it or hate it, but for me it was an interesting look at our history of violence towards each other, with an optimistic look to the future (Pinker does not suggest a perfect future, but a much more tolerant one).

A Fascinating Read.

Monday, January 25, 2016

A Month With Batman

Sorry that this comes nearly a month after I finished my Batman-themed Reading Challenge for December, but here we go:

In December I read thirty one volumes of both Batman and Batman related stories from the recent “New 52” relaunch over at DC comics.

The stories definitely worked better when read together, and with the exception of a few crossovers with other DC characters (The Flash, Wonder Woman, and Superman all appeared in the first trade of Batman: The Dark Knight) the stories were largely contained to Gotham, with a few fieldtrips by various Gothamites thrown in here and there as they worked to solve various mysteries.

The two main crossovers, Night of the Owls, and Death of the Family were both incredibly well done, and left me wanting more as the stories really built up the tension level and felt like they would have a lasting effect on the story.

Favourite part of the series: The introduction of Bat-Cow in Batman and Robin – yes it was silly, but also a nice reprieve from the darkness that fill most of the titles

Least favourite part of the series: The Switch in Batgirl from writer Gail Simone to Cameron Stewart, the entire tone of the comic changed, but seemed unwilling to separate itself from the main Batman title or from Birds of Prey, both of which worked quite well with Simone’s Batgirl and not quite as well with the new, stumbling through college Cameron Batgirl

Creepiest Moment: The recently returned Joker taunting Damien in Batman & Robin, wherein (sorry for the mild spoiler), he does something so creepy with his face it stuck with me for days – or maybe the proposal the Joker makes in Batgirl, actually, there is an awful lot of creepy going on in Batman comics.

Will I read more: Absolutely – at this point I’m sitting about one collection behind the current issue for each title and the overall story is a lot of fun!

Will I choose the Distinguished Competition over the folk folks at Marvel
: Although the Batman comics are pretty great, I’m actually really enjoying the world-building sensation of reading all of the Marvel Now! titles over the last few months, I think I’ll keep up with Batman, but in terms of the majority of my comic reading right now?

Make Mine Marvel.

Tuesday, January 19, 2016

Book Review: Wrath of the Furies

Steven Saylor's fifteenth novel featuring the character of Gordianus the Finder, and the third of his Ancient World prequel series, finds 19-year-old Gordianus in Alexandria during the midst of the Mithridatic Wars (89-87 BCE).

A Big part of what I've always loved about these books is how well Saylor immerses the reader into these strangely familiar, but often alien settings. Gordianus works, in effect, as a private detective, and each of the novels works as a mystery on its own. His latest, Wrath of the Furies (2015), nearly splits the standard narrative in half, with the majority of the novel being narrated by Gordianus, and the rest being a reading of the secret diary of an old acquaintance of Gordianus'.

As with the previous two prequel novels, the mysteries are still quite good, but the action has been dialed up, as a 17 to 19-year-old Gordianus ends up running and jumping a lot more through the course of these stories.

For this novel specifically, I had almost no previous knowledges of King Mithridates, his wars, or the key historic event that happened during the novel, which, for me, dramatically increased the tension throughout, and has got me much more interested in reading historical fiction set in the Ancient World.

Monday, January 18, 2016

Movie Review: The Revenant

Following my yearly attempt to watch as many of the Oscar nominations as I can before the event, yesterday I went with friends and family to see this years top nominee, The Revenant.

Directed by Alejandro González Iñárritu, who won best director last year for Birdman, the film initially had a lot going for me:

1) I'm a pretty big fan of Westerns

2) As a half-native child myself: I was excited to see a half-native supporting character in the film

3) Although Birdman wasn't my favourite film last year, it was incredibly shot, and I wanted to see how the director would move from largely interior to exterior shots

4) As a fan of horror films, I'm quite familiar with both Revenants in film (The Crow) and literature (Beloved, by Toni Morrison), I'm quite a fan of the character returned from the dead looking for revenge.

The film takes place in 1823 and follows a scout called Hugh Glass (DiCaprio), who, after being mauled by a bear, witnessing the murder of his son, and being left for dead, tracks down the men who did him wrong.  Although the film was incredibly shot and unbelievably immersive (the bear attack was some of the most shocking and intense filmmaking I've ever seen), I found the film wanting.

So here were my problem with The Revenant:

For me, the story was brutal and ugly, and again, as a horror junkie, I'm not unfamiliar with these types of stories, but The Revenant seemed unable to elevate itself above the narrative.

I'm sure it was a rough shoot, and was respectful of the First Nations peoples it showed, but I kept thinking throughout how much better the film would have been if it had stuck closer to the actual story; such as the fact that the historical Glass had no son, did not attempt to kill the men who left him for dead, and did some incredible things in his 320 km (200 mile) trek back from his own grave to Fort Kiowa.

In many ways, I feel like I'm part of the target demographic of the film, but in the end I couldn't find a way to connect with the story.  Really amazing visuals, but otherwise the story left me cold.

Friday, January 15, 2016

It's Oscar Season!

On Thursday this year's Oscar nominations were announced, and as I spend the rest of my year watching films featuring Zombies, Spaceships, or Unicorns, I tend to spend January and February watching a number of critically acclaimed Dramas.

This year, having already watched Mad Max: Fury Road, The Martian, and the delightful Brooklyn, I've only got five musts, The Big Short, Bridge of Spies, The Revenant, Room, and Spotlight. Afterwards, I tend to work my from most to least nominations, in terms of films I plan to see.

I'll do my best to review the films as I see them, and hope to see at least the eight films nominated for awards that I haven't already seen.

Tuesday, January 12, 2016

Book Review: The Snow Queen

Adaptations of fairy tales can be pretty fun - showing a story the audience has known since childhood and reflecting it back to them through a different lens can highlight aspects of the original story they may not have seen before, and lifting the entire story and setting it in another context can work amazingly as well.

Joan D. Vinge's The Snow Queen (1980), takes the original Hans Christian Andersen story and places it in a science fiction setting, on a planet called Tiamat. As with the original story, it follows two young children through a journey that tests their friendship, separates them, and shows the power of love and forgiveness in relationships.

There was a lot I liked about this book - the planet in which the story takes place alternates between technology and tribal rule every 150 years, the palace intrigue reminded me an awful lot of Dune (Frank Herbert, 1965), and the concept of Sibyls, as in the oracles of Ancient Greece, transferred quite nicely into the SF setting.

The story moves quite quickly, and is filled with all sorts of fun intrigue and concepts, but in the end I felt that the author actually stayed too close to the source material, allowing me to see where the story was going well in advance. A fun book to read, but not one I've ended up keeping on my shelves.

Sunday, January 10, 2016

Boston Post Two

So quick warning about Boston - Although the Bunker Hill monument is a must, the 294 steps up a spiral staircase you travel to the top on can be hard on the knees, so pace yourself and maybe don't do it right after you've walked the entire freedom trail (also excellent, but a lot of hills both ways).

In the end, I've really enjoyed my trip; ALA Midwinter was great, I took part in a Speed Mentoring event, hit one of the Socials, and got overwhelmed in the Exhibit Hall (as does everyone, including the vendors, I imagine).

I didn't do quite as much reading as I had hoped (I should finish my first book this morning - probably at the airport), but saw some pretty amazing stuff, met some wonderful folks, and got to try the original Boston Cream Pie - which is AMAZING!

I've had this dish a few times in Canada, but having now had the original, I can honestly say I had no Idea.  Just delicious!  And don't worry, for my readers who know I'm off sugar - this was my January treat, so no more sugar until Valentines.


Saturday, January 9, 2016

Boston Post One: Travels with Connor

A Merry Hail from Boston!

Having travelled 3335 kilometres SE (or 2071 miles for my American friends), I arrived in Boston Thursday night, ate some Schrod and Boston Cream Pie at the Parker Omni House and then spent yesterday checking out the city.

Also I brought along a Funko Pop! figure of Connor, the main character from Assassin's Creed III, to help show me around the Town.

Our first stop was the amazing Boston Tea Party Ships and Museum Experience - which, even to my Canadian sensibilities, was pretty spectacular.

Defeating me at Nine Men's Morris
Travelling in the Underground

Taking Care of Some Business....

Tuesday, January 5, 2016

Packing for a Conference

So here we are, 2016 and I'm already packing for my first (and only) major trip of the year.

Boston, MA

Packing for a three-to-four day conference has a few challenges, but as this is my fifth kick at the cat, I thought I would pass on a little advice.

Step one is get some help - now to be clear, I'm still saying you should pack your own bag in accordance with the rules and regulations of most major airlines, but having someone (in my case, my lovely wife) looking over what you are doing will make sure you've got all your bases covered.  I, for one, like to begin packing with the various books I plan on reading, while my wife begins with socks and underwear.

Step two is to try and pack as small as possible, unless you are staying for a week or more, you should be able to pack everything in carry-on, rather than checked luggage (although to be fair, I'm speaking for myself, maybe you do need extra stuff I'm not aware of yet).

Finally, and this may just be the librarian in me speaking, make sure you've got enough reading material for your entire trip, and have some of it accessible for waiting in line, waiting between flights and my personal favourite, waiting for your bus, taxi, or shuttle on the other end!

Friday, January 1, 2016

Happy New Year's 2016

Happy New Year's Everyone!

Sorry I've been away since just before Christmas, but I was spending a well-deserved rest at home with my wife and kids.

The last two weeks have been pretty great, with a fun Christmas, all sorts of new goodies, and yes, a daily reading of Batman to help keep me in touch with the various going ons in Gotham.

Hope Everyone out there is having as wonderful a holiday season as we are at the ol' Bookmonkey residence!