Tuesday, July 31, 2012

The Clan of the Cave Bear

The Clan of the Cave Bear (Earth's Children, #1)The Clan of the Cave Bear by Jean M. Auel
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

Forgive me for not liking this book. The subject matter was intriguing (I was an anthropology minor as an undergraduate), but I just could not connect with the main character. The preponderance of asides was kloogy and interrupted the flow of the story. Honestly, my anthropology textbooks were far less boring. The prose seemed too "clean" and florid for the subject matter, as well. I give it a reluctant two stars for the subject matter and some little bit of (largely inaccurate) knowledge one might gain from it. Unfortunately, this fragmented information isn't enough to hold the book together. Nor is the plot. Nor are the characters. "Clan of the Cave Bear" falls apart like a poorly-excavated fossil.

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Sunday, July 29, 2012

Watership Down

Watership DownWatership Down by Richard Adams
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I was introduced to Watership Down through the TSR roleplaying game, Gamma World. Though the novel didn't scratch my teenage itch for bunnies with laser rifles blasting renegade warbots, it did scratch the itch for something a bit more meaningful, a bit deeper than that. Maybe I'm a sap, but I found some spiritual appeal in the book, particularly in Fiver's growth from near-psychotic runt to leader. I guess I saw something in myself in Fiver. Fast forward a few decades to a few weeks ago when my oldest son, now getting ready to go to college, said: "Everything I learned about bunnies I learned from Watership Down!" Parental mission accomplished!

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Friday, July 27, 2012

The Tipping Point: How Little Things Can Make a Big Difference

The Tipping Point: How Little Things Can Make a Big DifferenceThe Tipping Point: How Little Things Can Make a Big Difference by Malcolm Gladwell
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This is sort of a treatise on the butterfly effect on a sociological scale. While the examples used seemed to spread out in all directions, I think that Gladwell was able to keep everything under one theoretical umbrella, with some wrestling. I'd be interested to see if Gladwell's observations tie into Hierarchy Theory on some level, and I suspect they do. There may also be underlying elements of stochasticity that effect the outcome of tipping point dynamics, though James Gleick would be a better judge of that. All-in-all a very interesting read about outliers, word of mouth, and epidemics.

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Everlost (Skinjacker, #1)Everlost by Neal Shusterman
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

For starters, let me say that 1) I listened to the audiobook narrated by Nick Podehl (whose voice acted as a great soporific as I was trying to drive across the US with my family - thankfully the rock we took in the windshield outside of Denver kept me awake) and 2) I'm not the biggest fan of children's books, and this is definitely a children's book.

I found the central conceit intriguing: Those who die, but don't get "where they're going" find themselves in limbo. The rules are different here. Pain doesn't exist, adults are nowhere to be seen, and fortune cookies *always* tell the truth with 100% accuracy.

The execution (pardon the pun), however, I found lacking. The book was slow at the start. Too slow, with too many stops and asides to explain the setting and the rules of Everlost. I really didn't feel strongly about the characters, except for a minor character by the name of Pinhead, who seemed the most "layered" character of the bunch. Frankly, I'd love to hear a story set in Everlost from Pinhead's POV.

I wanted perspective, so I asked two of my kids, age 16 and 13, what they would give it on a 5 point scale and was asked if they could use a 10 point scale. "Sure," I said. My 13 year old gave it a 7. Not a ringing endorsement from him (he's more of a biblioholic than I am!). My 16 year old declined to give it a score, but said "It's pretty funny, but I can't tell if it was trying to be funny or not."

". . from the mouths of babes . . ."

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Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Conan the Usurper

Conan: Conan the Usurper (Book 8)Conan: Conan the Usurper by Robert E. Howard
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Robert E. Howard watered down with too many unnecessary adjectives and overtly archaic constructions. Not the best of the old Conan paperbacks, though it's adequate for a needed sword and sorcery fix. I like L. Sprague de Camp's work when it doesn't involve reinterpreting and editing Howard. Conan isn't such a primitive inexorable force when you continually point out that he's a primitive inexorable force.

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Monday, July 16, 2012

Sentences, Beautiful Sentences

Woke up to Ogallala this morning. The gas station had a sign posted over its front door that read "You are Nowhere". Thanks to the Ogallala Chamber of Commerce for saying it for me. but that still doesn't excuse gas at $3.89/gallon. Next time, I fill up in Kearny unless I hear the Children of the Corn music playing at the pump.

Before we hit the road, I had a moment to squeeze in some reading from The Norton Book of London, which my daughter bought for me last Christmas, since she knows that London is my second favorite city in the world (Oxford is my favorite, so far). I'm reading this book (along with one other) as combined entertainment and research for a world-building exercise I'm doing. Funny that inspiration struck in the wheat fields of Western Nebraska after I had dallied about London in my mind. More on that some other time. That's a project that's only in the sketching stages. My real writing effort is currently being spent on my Science Fiction novel, "Solistalgia".

I have to share this sentence I read this morning from the book. I love a great sentence. I have, on my Amazon wishlist, a book about great sentences. Were it not for my beloved NPR, I would never have heard this interview by the author. Now, I've always been partial to a good sentence, but since hearing the interview, I have been on the lookout! So I was pleased, in the middle of Nowhere, to see the following evocation of 1930's London from the Evelyn Waugh book Scoop in this morning's readings:

"From Hyde Park Corner to Piccadilly Circus the line of traffic was continuous and motionless, still as a photograph, unbroken and undisturbed save at a few strategic corners where barricaded navvies, like desperate outposts of some proletarian defence, were rending the road with mechanical drills, mining for the wires and tubes that controlled the life of the city."


And nearly three years after posting this, I discover this beautiful sentence, from Frederic Gros' A Philosophy of Walking: "Only children know the miracle of nostalgia without a past."

Perfect. Absolutely perfect.

Saturday, July 14, 2012


OjingogoOjingogo by Matthew Forsythe
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Utterly surreal and slightly abstract, Ojingogo is, to me, exactly what a graphic novel should be: A story told not only in exactly the right visual exchange, but told in the only way possible. This book could not have been represented by words without becoming trite. It is a testament to the power of the graphic novel to convey, succinctly,that which cannot and should not be conveyed by writing. In the words of Depeche Mode: "Words are very unnecessary, they can only do harm".

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Friday, July 13, 2012


FlamesongFlamesong by M.A.R. Barker
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Four attempts and 26 years. That's how long it took me to finally complete MAR Barker's monumental "Flamesong". The world is incredible: intricate, alien, vast, internally consistent. But the late Barker's means of relating this intricacy, through long monologues at the most unlikely times, make it a difficult read. Several information dumps later, I wish that the book just had a separate glossary and timeline, rather than the long interruptions of what was a fairly decent plot. I must admit though, that I was a little wrankled by the sheer convenience of plot - especially running into a key noble figure in the middle of the desert. I really wanted to love the book, but found myself only liking it. Perhaps this is because it read more like a strongly edited role playing game session in what is an absolutely fascinating campaign. If the encyclopedic elements could have been removed or introduced in a more natural way, this would have been a four star review.

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My family and I are taking off for a couple of weeks, so I doubt I'll be roaming the blogosphere much. I'm looking forward, though, to some time off from the Day Job (TM) with long stretches of Nebraska, Nevada, and various other places in-between our destinations to write and read. People always worry about their kids learning to drive, but I'm quite happy that my wife and I can turn some of the driving over to our two oldest boys. Heading for Utah, then California, then back home to Madison to recover from the trip. See ya on the other side!

Saturday, July 7, 2012

"Water . . . water . . . Oil . . . Oil . . . Room service . . . Room service . . ."

Name that movie . . .

Not too long ago, I posted (boasted?) about the amount of rain we had here in the Mad City.

I spoke too soon.

I lived in southern California during the early '90s - my parents still live there - so I know a little about drought. I was a willing participant in the "If it's yellow, let it mellow, if it's brown, flush it down" campaign. Not happy, but willing. I've seen my share of wildfires, most notably being just over the mountain from the Yellowstone fires when I lived in Wyoming, which resulted in our town being invaded by moose and grizzlies, as well as a lot of smoke and ash. I know hot. I know dry.

But this is getting ridiculous. We've lived in Wisconsin for 16 years and today I did something, for the first time since we've lived here, something I never would have thought I'd find myself doing living in Wisconsin a block off the lake . . .

. . . I watered the grass.

Now, every bird and squirrel in a mile radius seems to have found my little watering hole. I've got cardinals, robins, hawks, crows, sparrows. I feel like Alfred Hitchcock has moved in down the street. And there's no relief in sight. At least the temperature is set to drop. Next week, it should be at least reasonably warm and bone dry, rather than hellishly hot and bone dry. The last three days here have been among the six hottest days ever recorded in Madison. Global warming, here we come!

Friday, July 6, 2012

Exquisite Cadaver

Years ago, I discovered a game invented by the surrealists early in the twentieth century. The idea is to spontaneously create a sentence based on a grammatical model structure. I learned the model sentence as "The exquisite cadaver shall drink new red wine," though I have heard other variations on the same.

Breaking the sentence down into its grammatical components, one gets: Article, adjective, noun, verb, adjective, adjective, noun. While playing exquisite cadaver with my family (one of our favorite things to do together, incidentally), we discovered that we prefer to add a preposition between the verb and second adjective. Once you have the structure, a piece of paper for each person, and a writing instrument for everyone, you're ready to play. Everyone starts by writing an article ("a," "an," or "the") at the top of the page. The person then folds the word back over the top of the paper so that it cannot be seen, then hands the paper to the person next to them. Once everyone has handed papers over, each writes down an adjective, folds the paper over, hands it to the next person, and so forth. The idea is not to give too much thought to the word one writes down. Just write something, anything, and pass it along.

Most of the time, the result is garbage. Once in awhile, though, the group comes up with something that *almost* makes sense. Once in a great while, the cosmos are kind and distill upon us a sentence that really does make sense. No matter how nonsensical the resulting sentences, though, the results (which should always be read aloud and with a straight face, if possible) tend to warp one's mind into new thought patterns, new shapes of thinking. The other night we played a couple of rounds as a family, resulting in twenty sentences, most of which were, as expected, garbage. But here are few that kind of, sort of, in some twisted way, if you let your subconscious fill in the gaps, almost, possibly, nearly make sense:

"The incestuous thermometer defile parallel to fuzzy rusty breadcrumbs"

"The androgynous script commiserated within vivacious Lebanese skinny jeans."

And, my favorite:

"The obese infidel dallied after metallic wart-covered sewer pipes."

Enjoy the game, and if you see me at a convention and need something to do, I have a hard time resisting a good round or two or ten of Exquisite Cadaver!