Wednesday, May 31, 2006

Ten Books

A forum I lurk at (and sometimes post) posed a question: what are ten books you like and why do you like them? Not necessarily your favorite books, and they should be from different times in your life. I thought I would give it a shot. What ten books do you like and why? Here's my list:

  1. Watership Down by Richard Adams– I read this every few years. I was in the seventh grade when I discovered Richard Adams’ tale of survival, friendship and courage – told from the perspective of rabbits. I scoffed when a teacher recommended it; I was nearly crying when I finished it. I love the stories, the language, and how Adams created a richly painted world that mirrors ours; one where all you need is friends to rely on, hope to carry you through the rough times and a place you can call home.
  2. To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee – I wish she would have written more novels. I read this twice in high school and once a couple of years ago.
  3. The Spy Who Came in From the Cold by John LeCarre– For me, LeCarre's best novels are about the old, burned out and bitter Cold Warriors – those who do the unspeakable so that we (the rest of the world) can sleep soundly in our beds. On the surface, Alec Leamas, the disgraced anti-hero of this novel, is sent back out “into the cold” for one final mission: bring down Mundt, his rival in the East German secret service. What always brings me back is how it’s so much more than a simple revenge story: we’re not so different from our foes, friendship and love have little place in the world of Cold War espionage, and there are no lengths a government won’t go to in order to protect its secrets.
  4. The Lord of the Rings by JRR Tolkien – This one makes my “read every few years” list. I love that Tolkien created a living, vibrant world, where different cultures mix and, at times, clash. Granted, some of the characters are little more than cardboard cutouts and archetypes, but my favorite aspect of the story is how two simple farmers bring down the greatest evil in the world.
  5. The Civil War by Shelby Foote – I’m not sure I’ll ever be able to read this series again, but if you want epic, there it is. Foote starts you from the beginning – you meet the key players, the political landscape and then the battles begin. The thing I enjoyed most about this series is that unlike many history books, Foote really brings the people alive; this history is like reading a novel (a very, very, very, very long novel).
  6. Where the Red Fern Grows by Wilson Rawls – Recently, I noticed a copy of this at the bookstore; I picked it up and thumbed through it. I put it down when I started getting verklempt at the end, and tried running away before anyone noticed. Same reaction I had when I was 10. Darn sad books! If you can get through the end of this book without tearing up a bit, then I think you’re a rock, but this was one of my favorite books when I was growing up. I like books that cause strong emotional reactions, and this one does it in spades.
  7. Shibumi by Trevanian – I like this book because I don’t really have to think too hard while reading it. The hero, Nicolai Hel, the world’s greatest assassin, lover, spelunker, and Go player, runs afoul of a monolithic corporation that essentially rules the world. All hell breaks loose. Damage is done. Revenge is sought. Everyone lives happily ever after. What’s not to like? The outrageous, larger-than-life characters make this book one of my favorites.
  8. The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy by Douglas Adams – Any book that answers the nagging question of life, the universe, and everything is all right with me. Any book that explains the myriad uses of a towel belongs on my bookshelf. The gleeful absurdity of the story reeled me in. Strangely enough, I still haven’t seen the movie.
  9. Where The Sidewalk Ends by Shel Silverstein – I remember pulling this out, running to my mother’s lap and getting her to read “I’m Being Eaten by a Boa Constrictor” time after time. Of course I was 22 at the time . . . not really, but giggling to the little poems in this book is one of my earliest memories and something that I treasure.
  10. Chasm City by Alastair Reynolds – The key to great science fiction is to not focus on the physics, the kewl spaceships and the uber-powerful rayguns that can level cities, but to focus on the things that make a story great: the characters, the plot, the scene. I wish that more sci-fi writers (for both TV and written word) would remember that. Sure, you can throw in explanations for the cool doodads here and there, but give me a compelling mystery as told by a bodyguard seeking revenge for his (former) employer’s murder, and you have a pretty kick ass novel. This is the second, and my favorite, book in Reynolds’ Revelation Space series.

Tuesday, May 30, 2006

Mutant Explosion

When I saw the trailer, I figured we were either in for a train wreck or a pretty decent movie. Normally, I'd wait until video and banish it to my "movies that didn't suck as much as I thought they would" category, but since I'm nothing if not a dutiful geek (and therefore a completist), I saw me some X-Men: The Last Stand over the weekend.

I've always been fascinated by jugglers; I think it's amazing that someone can keep all those chainsaws in the air without dropping them, but there's a little part of me hoping that at some point, one will slip and we'll have a sight to see. This was my big problem with the movie: too many chainsaws in the air.

Just because we're different doesn't mean were not human. Love conquers all. If we stand together, there's nothing we can't accomplish. I love my gay -- errr, mutant son. Brett Ratner managed to set up each of these plotlines, and in fairness, he did resolve them. However, it wasn't very satisfying, since you needed a scorecard to keep track of all the characters running around. I was getting confused, and I read the comics for 15 years.

I don't really blame the director too much here: the action scenes were well done and fun to watch, but while Bryan Singer handles the character and plot development better than the action, Ratner definitely brings the big action to the screen well.

The basic plot: pharmaceutical company develops mutant "cure", so Magneto gets pissed and raises an army to slap the government around and announce that mutants aren't taking anymore crap from any humans. Meanwhile, the house of Xavier is a little shaky: the X-Men are now Storm, a withdrawn and depressed Cyclops, and the inexperienced Colossus, Rogue, Iceman and Shadowcat? Ariel? Sprite? Kitty Pryde? (They never really said her codename). I believe this would have made a serviceable and fairly satisfying film, but it looks like the studio made a few "suggestions" designed to set things up for future films.

So suddenly, we have Phoenix; we have Angel and his father, who developed the "cure"; we have Henry McCoy, the Beast. All these characters and plots zip around the screen and they come crashing together in the end in a rather unsatisfying explosion of CGI. Had they gone with fewer characters and one or two less plotlines, this would have been a much better movie.

But despite all this, I didn't hate the movie. It did move along well, and the action sequences were well done (Kitty vs. the Juggernaut is a definite highlight; in fact, Vinnie Jones as the Juggernaut was an inspired bit of casting); however, I believe that had Bryan Singer finished the trilogy as was originally planned, this would have been a better movie and a stronger conclusion to the series. But Singer was drawn off to make Superman Returns and Ratner, originally slated to make Superman, took his jobless ass and made X-Men.

So if you're looking for a good check-your-brain-in-at-the-door movie, X-Men is a fine choice. It's no Snakes on a Plane, but what is? If you liked the character-driven stuff from the other two X-Movies, consider yourself warned. And if you do see it, stick around until after the credits end. You'll thank me later.

Tuesday, May 16, 2006

Give Him the Heat, Ricky!

Jose Canseco has a new hobby.

I heard this on Jim Rome today; I almost wrecked the car I was laughing so hard. Imagine Jose Canseco with his 450+ major league home runs, marching up to the plate to face a 30-something accountant-pitcher bringing his blazing 60-mph heat. Oh yeah -- Canseco is using an aluminum bat.

The last thing some poor infielder is going to hear is PIIIINNNG!

Friday, May 05, 2006

Walking the Dog on a Night Like This

It’s May 1 and I’m wearing a stocking cap. I’m not sure if it’s going to help, but with the rain pouring down and a dog hopping around while crossing all four legs, I’m going outside. And my raincoat? The really good one that I use for camping trips? It’s doing a fine job keeping the trunk of my car dry.

Maybe an umbrella, you ask? Nope. I’ve long distrusted umbrellas, since those breezy college days, when winds would blow off the plains and rush between the campus buildings, creating little wind tunnels that would rip umbrellas from unsuspecting hands, or if you were prepared, the wind would just turn the umbrella inside out. Do this enough times and you don’t have an umbrella – you have a frame with little nylon tatters hanging from it. Mother Nature can be a real bitch sometimes.

So I open the door to the howling winds, preparing for a long, cold soak, and Trudy stares out the door, cocks her head and looks at me like I’ve lost my damn mind.

“Go out? In this? Are you crazy?” Her little brown eyes seemed to say.

I dragged her out of the house, because by God, if I’m getting soaked, then so is she.

We made it to the gate in my backyard before she stopped, took care of business in the yard, and started pulling me back to the house.

By this time, I’m looking around for the Four Horsemen, because this never happens and I’m thinking that the world is truly coming to an end. Trudy lives for the outdoors. She stares out the windows longingly. She loves sniffing at every blade of grass, every wayward leaf, every acorn or piece of trash on the streets (mainly she’s looking for food).

Lightning? No problem? Thunder? She’s stone deaf, so while I might be cringing and hoping the next blast of lightning isn’t aiming for me, she’s gleefully oblivious to me sparking like a roman candle. Wind? I could be blowing around the block like that cow in Twister (I can’t believe I actually watched it this weekend, and more importantly, I can’t believe I actually saw that piece of crap in the theaters – twice), and Trudy would be trying to take a dump in the crazy old man’s yard. She’s equally ignorant of plummeting temperatures and ice storms.

But a little rain, and she’s hauling ass back into the house.

Who knew? Maybe these smart pills are working (I know that fusion generator in the basement didn’t build itself and I sure didn’t do it. I’m not sure where she found the deuterium, and really, I don’t want to know). Maybe she’s just gaining wisdom with age.

All I know is that on a night where most sane people would be staying indoors keeping warm and dry, I was standing outside in a jacket and stocking cap, trying to coax a dog into staying outside to relieve herself.

Who needs the smart pills now?


  • Female kickball player. Must be available this Sunday afternoon. Preferably someone who's not afraid to catch a large red rubber ball.
  • Someone to remind me why I put up with this crap every freakin' spring.
  • Something for my headache.
  • Copious amounts of alcohol.
  • Ten hours of sleep.
  • More booze.