Thursday, May 29, 2008

Your Next Favorite Fantasy Series

This is the blurb in the Onion A.V. Club that initially got me interested in Patrick Rothfuss's debut novel, The Name of the Wind:

1. Patrick Rothfuss, The Name Of The Wind (Daw)

When fantasy series have become as ubiquitous as Harlequin romances (and twice as predictable), a debut novel like The Name Of The Wind is more than a breath of fresh air. It's a reason to live a few more years, until Patrick Rothfuss gets the rest of the story of Kvothe, apprentice mage turned legendary outlaw, into print. Combining the academic setting of Harry Potter, the tortured heroism of Frodo, and the bittersweet apocalyptica of A Song Of Ice And Fire, Rothfuss' first novel in the Kingkiller Chronicles weaves a rich, fluid, irresistible world. The Name Of The Wind is the perfect midwinter escape—although the 2009 publication date for the next installment should serve as a warning: Read slowly.

High praise indeed. And the full review of the book on the same site is even more glowing, but I'm not linking to that here because it's a)pretty long and b)a bit spoilery. The back of the book itself is also loaded with high praise from the likes of Terry Brooks, Anne McCaffrey, and Orson Scott Card.

But what did I think of it? Let's just say that I'm generally a slow reader. It's not just that I don't have a lot of time to read, but when I do read it tends to be pretty slowly. When I left to visit Evelyn Is Not Real and Clyde Squid this past weekend, I had tons of music and podcasts to listen to during the trip, several magazines to catch up on, and this book. The only thing I ended up doing is reading this book. I read this book for about 8 consecutive hours until I finished it when I was stuck in the airport the other day. I didn't want it to end.

The comparisons in the mini-review are quite apt. If you're tired of waiting for the next A Song of Ice and Fire book, look no further. The Name of the Wind is considerably more focused considering it's about one character, and there's a reasonable chance the author will finish the series within the next couple years or so without dying, since he's a relatively young dude and this was, amazingly, his first novel. This isn't to say the book is without flaws--there are a couple lines that address the reader directly that I found somewhat annoying, though they were perfectly acceptable within the narrative structure of the book. It also takes a while to really ramp up, but if you can get past the first 100 pages or so (which aren't bad, but are still mostly prelude), you're good to go. Those quibbles aside, it was one of the most entertaining reads I've had for a while. It can be exciting, amusing, heartbreaking--everything a good adventure tale should be. Highly recommended as a fun summer read.

Thursday, May 22, 2008

Who wants to be a hero?

Just finished watching this documentary last night. I wouldn't say it was hilarious as Trekkies, but it was entertaining. Now, on the one hand I should be the last person to poke fun at 'these people'... I mean I have somewhat questionable hobbies (OK, I'm a nerd), but man, these peeps are a little above me.

I like my wife's comment about the film, "If these people didn't have their fantasy land to escape to, we would probably way more psychos running around killing people."

Think that dressing up like a knight and bashing skulls in is a good time? Well, if you live in the DC area, you are in luck. Darkon.

Think you deserve to join the ranks of Darkon? Go to the Ye Olde Name Generator and answer a few questions.

Thought I'd see what my name would be. Malnakur, Protector of the Hole of Glory.

Wow, wonder if that makes Clyde Squid jealous?

Monday, May 19, 2008

Things you can find in a diaper

Eric is the proud father of a happy, healthy baby, so he is probably very well acquainted with diapers. And because he is a molecular biologist, he has long been familiar with their contents. After all, Theodor Escherich isolated the bacterium that bears his name from the diapers of happy, healthy, German babies all the way back in 1885. He noted that it grew very well on all kinds of food—a convenient property for a laboratory bug. And the rest, as they say, is history... a history very engagingly presented in Carl Zimmer's new book Microcosm: E. coli and the New Science of Life, (Amazon) which I highly recommend.

Zimmer's book has something for everyone who is interested in or acquainted with this famous bacterium. Those who, like myself, primarily know E. coli as a tool will recognize several names along the way and learn a great deal about how it came to be such a powerful resource for us. Many will be surprised to learn how controversial some activities we take for granted (transfection of exogenous genetic material into bacteria, for example) were 20-30 years ago. Readers who have very little biology background need not fret, of course. Carl Zimmer is an excellent writer (check out his blog, The Loom) who introduces all the material carefully. Only some very basic knowledge about DNA, proteins, and bacteria is necessary. Zimmer will carry you the rest of the way, from bacteriophages and flagella all the way to synthetic biology, GM crops, and gene circuits.

Whether you work with E. Coli every day or just cringe when you hear those words on the evening news, Microcosm will be an engaging, rewarding, and informative read. And it just might reassure Eric that something good and useful can be found in those smelly diapers.

Friday, May 16, 2008

Comfort Food for Your Ears

Sometimes--perhaps a lot of times--a band or musician finds a formula, and they stick to it. This can mean one of two things. They're either consistently good, or consistently bad. This post is about some guys that fall into the former category.

The first, Jonathan Richman, is someone pretty much everyone has heard, whether they realize it or not. Just tell someone, "He's the guy who was singing throughout There's Something About Mary" and most people will say, "Oh, that guy." Of course, pretty much anyone who knows about the American music scene beyond top 40 knows who Richman is--he's been around for decades, starting with the Modern Lovers and continuing solo (except for Tommy the drummer). Richman's songs range from sweet, to sad, to novelty, to political, to everything between those ranges. His live shows are unforgettable. I still feel a little sick that I missed out on his latest shows in Boston (which apparently sold out instantly). I challenge anyone to walk out of a Jonathan Richman show and not feel like the world is a better place.

I could wax on for a while about why I like Jonathan Richman, but that's not really what this post is about. J.R. recently came out with a new album, Because Her Beauty Raw & Wild, and I realized something as I was listening to it that it's got a lot of the same...themes as his last album, Not So Much To Be Loved As To Love. Both have a song in French, both have a song in Spanish, and both have songs about artists. Actually artists are a recurring theme for Jonathan. This album brings us "No One Was Like Vermeer" and on the last album we had "Vincent Van Gogh" and "Salvador Dali." Richman also likes songs about parties and the beach, and on this new album we get a double whammy with "Our Party Will Be On The Beach Tonight."

Am I complaining? No. There are plenty of other interesting songs in between the rehashed staples, but I honestly think I like some of the rehashed staples best. Jonathan Richman doesn't have to reinvent himself to maintain his awesomeness. Much like another band that, as far as I'm concerned, is pretty under-appreciated: Nerf Herder.

Their newest album, IV, which came out a few weeks ago, surprised me for two reasons. First, it exists. Honestly, I had no idea these guys were still around. Their last album came out six years ago. Second, I really, really liked this album on the very first listen. Musically, Nerf Herder is no more complex than The Ramones, but dang if these guys can't write a catchy tune. But most importantly, these guys write songs for us, the nerds of the world. "High School Reunion,", "Garage Sale," and "I'm Not a Loser" all hit pretty close to home. Of course, when the name of your band is a relatively obscure Star Wars reference, you have an image to uphold. The apparent single from the album (see nightmarish video below) isn't my favorite song, but it'll give you a taste of their style at least.

Again, no new territory here. These guys are good at writing catchy, punky, funny songs about rejection and being a social outcast. They really don't need to be more than that. I heartily endorse both these albums, whether they're your first tries with these artists or your fourth.

Now, can any of you music nerds out there tell my why it's pretty ironic that I'm praising Jonathan Richman and Nerf Herder in the same post?

Thursday, May 15, 2008

Consider Your Mind Blown

I try not to post too much interweb stuff, but this short animated film just happens to be on the internet, and it must be seen. Seriously. Wow. That's all I have to say.

Tuesday, May 13, 2008


I watched The Inside with my Mallet friends. One left during the middle. It is unrepentant sickness. And that includes fucking brilliant camera tricks that John Carpenter could only dream of. When is the last time you ever jumped out of your seat without realizing you were about to?

I loved it: the French are slowly overtaking the Japanese in the genre of uncomfortable, barely watchable horror. I can't wait for these directors' remake of Hellraiser!

I recommend it highly...if you're a sicko...

Offspring's Back

The new anti-Iraq war Offspring single, Hammerhead, rocks. I had wondered what happened to them, since this video and song are so great.

Sunday, May 11, 2008

Retro Review: Buffy the Vampire Slayer

The other night, meine Frau decided she wanted to watch something on DVD with me. This happens approximately once every 4 or 5 months, so I told her to pick whatever she wanted. What she wanted was the DVD we got for free from sending in coupons from cereal boxes: Buffy the Vampire Slayer. Just so we're clear, this is the 1992 movie starring Kristy Swanson as Buffy, not the TV series starring Sarah Michelle Gellar. The TV series is awesome--Annette and I bonded over the TV show, and we've watched every episode. The movie...not so much.

I'd seen the movie shortly after it first came out many years ago, but I really didn't remember much of it. I was in for some surprises. First, the movie was actually written by Joss Whedon. For some reason I always assumed JW just liked the idea of the Buffy movie and decided he could write a TV show about it, but no. It was all him from the beginning. And the movie definitely has some great Whedonesque lines in it. Second, though the movie's stars, Swanson and Luke Perry, pretty much dropped off the face of the earth in the mid-90s, the supporting cast was surprisingly strong. There's a phoning-it-in Donald Sutherland as Buffy's watcher, Paul Reubens in arguably his best non-Pee Wee role, and Rutger Hauer, who looks like he'd aged 30 years since his role in Blade Runner (which had been filmed 10 years earlier). Hauer, who could be hypnotizing in some of his films, was almost undoubtedly drunk during every scene in this movie. The biggest surprise was two-time best actress winner Hillary Swank in her first feature film role, as a ditsy valley girl with killer lines like "Get out of my facial!" Then there's Ben Affleck's uncredited role as "basketball player #10". Don't blink or you'll miss him.Though technically released in the 90s, this movie has "80s" stamped all over it. From the fashion to the big hair to the often eye-roll inducing dialogue (wow am I glad Joss Whedon improved), this movie had to have been dated before it was even released. Now it's amusing on a whole different level. And the special effects are "special" the way some Olympics are "special". It looks like one episode of the Buffy TV series had a bigger effects budget than this movie. Rough stuff.

So is it worth watching? Or watching again, for those people who haven't seen it for 15 years? Unless you're a huge Joss Whedon fan are have a high tolerance for 80s camp, probably not. I actually enjoyed it quite a bit, but I won't be watching it again for at least another 15 years. Or at least I'll watch the whole TV series again first, to remind myself how awesome this character is, and that Joss Whedon is one of the best writers working today. The dude had to start somewhere.

Friday, May 9, 2008

Personal BSG Update: Done With Season 3, Watching Season 4

I finally finished Season 3 of BSG, and I'm almost caught up with Season 4. I have all of the episodes of the latter on my DVR.

Who still has VCRs? And of those, who wants tapes of Season 4? I'm debating buying a DVD recorder, but I question whether I can get it to work with my ancient TV. Thus, I'm also debating buying a new TV...

You really, really should see this shit.

Saturday, May 3, 2008

Retro Review: Ratcatcher

So besides a few TV shows on DVD that I'm trying to catch up on, I also have a small number of movies that have yet to come out of their plastic wrap. Some I've seen, but not for a while. Some I basically purchased on spec. They're from several different decades and several different genres. Over the next few months I'm hoping to catch up on those and write quick reviews if I deem them review-worthy.

I started tonight with Ratcatcher, the 1999 debut feature film by writer/directer Lynne Ramsay. I'd never seen it before tonight, and I basically got it on a whim after reading a bit about the movie and the director.

Though certainly not something that would appeal to mass audiences, the movie is definitely worth watching for anyone who enjoys quality film making. Set in 1973 Glasgow during a garbage strike, the movie follows a young boy through a summer of ups and downs in a poor, urban neighborhood. There's not much of a plot to give away here--as I said, this isn't a mainstream film. A good portion of the film's appeal is the imagery. Some of the images from this movie have been burned into my brain, like young James's first bus ride, or his friend Kenny's pet mouse taking a special trip. Though filmed in color, the palette consists primarily of browns and grays. When we do a see a "real" color, it usually packs a wallop.

I'm assuming most of the cast were and are unknowns--this was the only movie for nearly all of them. I was actually surprised to see that on the IMDb. Considering how little dialog there is (and everything is mercifully subtitled, since the thick Scottish accents are difficult to understand), the sheer breadth and depth of the emotions conveyed is remarkable.

This is, by most standards, and artsy-fartsy film. But it's beautiful, and powerful, and I'd recommend it to anyone who wants to see some quality before we're bombarded with this summer's watch-it-and-forget-it blockbusters. I'm looking forward to watching Ramsay's short films that are included on my version of the DVD (from the Criterion collection).