Monday, September 28, 2009

Titan Maximum

Just watched the pilot for Titan Maximum on Adult Swim. has been hyping this show for a month, so it was clear they felt they had something special here.

And yeah, it was pretty funny. The following clip was easily my favorite two minutes of the show, but there was plenty of comedy gold to be had in the pilot.

The giant robot genre is a big fat juicy target for satire, so I have little doubt that if the writing remains this good, the show will be around for a while. For the full pilot, click here.

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Book Reviews: Tesla, Monsters, and Mad Militaries

In the last few weeks I've managed to finish 3 books. I feel vaguely literate again. Here's a brief rundown...

Samantha Hunt's The Invention of Everything Else
I first heard about this book a year or so ago when I heard an interview with the author on NPR. The premise sounded interesting--a novelization of Nikola Tesla's last few weeks on earth, during which several real events in his fascinating life are recounted. Though I am by no means a Tesla expert, any scientist worth his salt should at least have some awareness of who he is. In a righteous world, anyone who uses alternating current (which would be pretty much everybody who uses electricity) would know who he is. He was and remains, arguably, one of the most under appreciated inventors and engineers of the last few centuries.

So that's why I read the book. Tesla was a interesting dude. Hunt's depiction of him as mad genius is probably not all that far off the mark. Her depiction of Thomas Edison as an business-savvy non-genius is also probably not too far off the mark. The fictional characters with which they interact, however, are a little harder to embrace. They're better than mere caricatures, but I didn't really find myself caring about them all that much.

This book tries to be a lot of things. It's a bit biography and historical fiction, some romance, and even a dash of science fiction. Some readers may find this inability to classify the book frustrating, some may find it endearing. I find myself falling more into the latter camp--the book isn't exactly literature, but it was clever and entertaining. Just as I found the descriptions of whaling the most fascinating aspect of Moby Dick, I found the descriptions of Tesla's rise and fall as one of the world's greatest inventors very gratifying. If the novel had been composed exclusively of Tesla-centric chapters, it would have received a solid A from me. As it was, I found the chapters that didn't involve Tesla reasonably well-written, but a bit distracting. I'll leave it at a B, and recommend the book to anyone who wants to learn a bit more about Tesla but is too lazy to pick up a real biography any time soon (like me!).

Kelly Link's Pretty Monsters
I read Kelly Link's Magic for Beginners a few years ago. Two of my favorite stories from that anthology were "The Faery Handbag" and "Magic for Beginners". I finished Pretty Monsters a week or so ago and two of my favorite stories were "The Faery Handbag" and "Magic for Beginners."

So apparently this anthology was being marketed as a book for "young adults," but I'm really not sure how different these stories were from the previous volume. I'm not complaining about the repeated stories (the only repeated stories, incidentally); it was actually a pleasure to read them again. "Magic for Beginners" is especially good--a twisty tale of metafiction that leaves the reader needing to read it again. Other stories range from fairly light fantasy to borderline horror. Link has a fantastic imagination, an aptitude for throwing curve balls in her story telling, and an excellent ear for dialogue, particularly children's dialogue. Perhaps it's this last gift that makes these stories for young adults. The protagonists (or victims...what have you) are all children or teenagers, so I guess that's why the book was siphoned into the young adult genre.

So I guess I'd recommend you'd give this book to a young adult you know, but read it yourself first. I'd also recommend Link's Magic for Beginners, which I thought I'd blogged about already, but apparently not. I'd give that one a A-, whereas Pretty Monsters is almost as good with a B+.

Jon Ronson's The Men Who Stare at Goats
Clearly, I have my finger on the pulst of America. Or at least Hollywood. Literally the day after I picked this book up, I discovered it has recently been made into a movie starring George Clooney, Ewan McGregor, and other famous actor types. Now I honestly have no idea how TMWSAG could possibly make a good movie, but it was an excellent piece of nonfiction.

The book is Ronson's account of his adventures exploring the scary side of the US military. Not scary dangerous, but scary crazy. The title refers to a secret building in Fort Bragg where men were apparently trained for years to kill (or at least "drop") a goat just by staring at it. Ronson eventually tracks down the one man who apparently did it, a civilian who now practices on hamsters. He also talks to generals who think they can walk through walls, form psychic spies, and the people ultimately behind the Barney song torture.

In THEM: Adventures with Extremists, Ronson relied on his Jewishness to maintain the tension of being an outsider (and potential victim) in the groups he was exploring. Here, though it's seldom mentioned, he uses his Britishness to gain access to people who might not be as open with an American journalist. Ronson follows every lead to discover who the key players have been in the paranormal--or at least pseudoscientific--side of the military over the past 40 years. Much stems from a military document the suggests creating a First Earth Battalion, which suggests that soldiers should essentially be "fighting" their wars with music, hugs, and cute animals. The top brass initially took these ideas to heart, and then that heart was Cheney-fied. The result led to new forms of torture and military tactics that will either make you want to laugh or cry.

That's where Ronson's writing style comes in handy. He's funny--often laugh out loud funny--which is necessary to soften the blow of what we're actually reading here. Some of the stories he describes take place decades ago, so it's easy to say, "Oh, they did some crazy shit back then!" But when he brings his story into the Gulf War and you realize that certain people in the military are as crazy as ever, it made my stomach hurt a little. So kudos to Ronson for writing a book that was entertaining, informative, and more than a little bit sickening. A-

Monday, September 7, 2009

Mmmm....Sky Cake

I do not have enough time in my life to keep up with stand-up comedy. I'm vaguely aware of who's popular at any given time, but I'm not familiar with any particular jokes or sets. But I make an exception for Patton Oswalt, who's 2007 album Werewolves and Lollipops was pretty damn funny.

He's back with new material on the recently released My Weakness is Strong. Some of the bits fall into what I would consider stand-up cliches, including impending fatherhood and airlines. Even as someone admittedly unfamiliar with stand-up, this seemed like well-traveled territory. Grant you, I still laughed at it, probably because I've had my own impending fatherhood fears, and airlines will always suck.

There are also riffs on things that will undoubtedly date this album, including Oswalt's work on Ratatouille and Barack Obama. Again, pretty funny, but will it still be funny 5 years from now? Not so much.

But plenty of other bits are timeless and funny, including Oswalt's takes on depression, walking in on an orgy while house hunting, and his history of religion. Oswalt is at his best when he's at his most cynical, and he doesn't get much more cynical than this atheist's attempt to compress religous history into one scathing allegory, called Sky Cake.

Overall, not quite as funny as Werewolves and Lollipops, but still one of the funniest dudes out there right now. I suppose I don't really have a basis for comparison, I just know I laughed my way through this album.

Friday, September 4, 2009

Paddling Ghost

I mentioned in an earlier post that Dan Deacon's album Bromst has been creeping up on my all year. His electronic music isn't for everyone, but for whatever reason, this album hit a sweet spot with me. Of all the excellent songs on the album, the following video is for one of the weirdest (though still pleasingly frenetic in its energy). Who would have thought that the video for a song called "Paddling Ghost" would actually feature a paddling ghost? And apparently a paddling pirate ghost at that...