Tuesday, November 30, 2010

How I Spent My Five Day Break

Day One:  Thanksgiving
Like most Americans, I spent Thanksgiving/Slapsgiving feasting on a cornucopia.  First up, at noon o'clock, we went to Keisha's grandma's and enjoyed her wonderful homemade stuffing, which she elects to only make this one day of the year.  Everything else there was also made from her own hands (save the sweet potato casserole Keisha brought), and as always, everybody was stuffed by meal's end.  Afterward, the menfolk all headed down to the garage and sat around and talked while the womenfolk stayed in the house to look through sale bills.  Up came a vicious rainstorm, and 'ere long the pitter patter on the tin roof had us all a-sleepy.  I finished my current Wired magazine and had a bit of a rest.

At four o'clock came my family's feast.  I really wasn't too hungry, but there was plenty of wonderful food, so I had to help myself again.  Mom's specialty is pineapple baked ham, which was amazing.  There we all congregated in the kitchen and living room and spent a rainy, sleepy Thanksgiving evening together, filled with holiday bustle, conversation, and football.

Finally, I got my little red car back, which had broke a month ago due to a faulty starter.  With it, I returned to Stewartland and settled in for a night of Fallout.

Day Two:  Black Friday
To be a good husband, I told Keisha that she should go to bed early and I would run to Wal-Mart at midnight o'clock to pick up the few things she wanted from there.  Besides, it had been snowing, sleeting, and raining, so there probably wouldn't be too many people out.  She acquiesced, and after three hours in the Mojave Wastelands, it was time to head out for a quick run.  I was naive.  There wasn't a single spot open in all of the parking lot, and folks were walking across the street just to get inside the sacred grounds.  So I headed back home and said I'd go out in the morning and look while she shopped elsewhere.

Well, there weren't any "steam mops" left at 9:00, so I went back home and played more Fallout.  Actually, I cleaned for about an hour or so, ate lunch, read some of The Desert Spear, and then sank into Fallout.  Keisha got home about noon thirty, and then we put up Christmas decorations for the rest of the afternoon.

Day Three:  Lazy Saturday
We wanted to spend a day doing nothing productive.  Part of me enjoyed this idea, but part of me didn't.  Still, I agreed, and we got up about 8:30 and relocated to the couch.  Keisha fell back asleep.  I played Fallout until lunch.  Then we finished off Season 3 of How I Met Your Mother (one of the funniest shows out there that I'm loving and wish I would've started earlier).  Then Keisha made some homemade bread and I made a homemade broccoli soup.  Then we finished off Season 1 of Battlestar Galactica and soon it was bedtime.

A perfect, lazy day, though we did give the dogs a bath and clipped each of their nails.  So, maybe not completely lazy, but still, close enough.

Day Four:  Church Sunday
Praise band practice at 8:15 went well for not having normal practice on Wednesday.  Sunday School at 9:30 was interesting, too, where we continued our discussion in Matthew (currently Chapter 8) and talked about prayer and faith and Jesus calming the winds & waves.  Church church, 10:30, was a great time of worship (I think our church is slowly coming to grips with worshiping a Creator that's deserving of worship) and a message that stepped on everybody's toes.  Afternoon was some cleaning, BSG, Monk, Fallout, and a nap.  Keisha had some Sherlock Holmes stories she wanted me to read aloud, so I started "A Scandal in Bohemia," where she fell asleep and I lay there and unsuccessfully tried to nap for an hour.  Then night church continued the study of Philippians.  Afterward, the Community went bowling, where I did surprisingly well (117 and 120 something).

Day Five:  NPD Monday
Since business has been a little slow with the ole MLC, we've dropped to 32 hr work weeks while we wait out the storm.  At first a little nervous (I mean, I'm essentially getting a 20% pay cut for the time being), I've been reassured by many people that this'll pass and things'll improve.  So yesterday was my second No Pay Day.  Keisha and I went and bought groceries, which took most of the morning, and then we spent the rest of the afternoon deep cleaning the kitchen and living room.  Since we're not making as much, I've re-evaluated our budget and we're trying to work on spending for practically everything, including groceries and meal planning for the week ahead.  So far, so good.

Alex & Rachael came over last night, where we cooked some tacos and sat around and ate and communed.  Then the ladies did their thing and me & Alex played some banjo.  Soon it was bedtime, and the pouring down rain made me sleepy.

I got in some reading over the break, plenty of video gaming, some movie watching, and some television season viewing, most thanks to Netflix and friends.  There'll be a review or two or three over the next few days, and I'll be checking through my Google Reader backfeed to get caught up.  Now, onto December.

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Writing Wednesdays: The Reformed 1.8

I'm not too crazy about this installment.  I do like some of the thoughts Sienne has, but the infodump from Dr. Andrews is a) too much dialogue, b) odd sounding, and c) boring.  Still, it is what it is for now.  Editing may come later.  And if you've missed any, click here to catch up.  Thanks for reading!
February 29, 2020

All things considered, it worked. Sienne was cured. The disease that had ravaged her body for nearly two years was now gone, erased with a process called Reformation. She no longer desired the things she once had. The simple thought of raw meat turned her stomach. Apathetic, she did not want to live, not after what she had done.

Her heart pumped blood through veins regrown. Her lungs breathed in and out, oxygen to carbon dioxide. But she felt more dead now than she had when she was a zeta. As a monster, she lacked true emotion, or human emotion. Animals express fear. Panic. But do they know what it is to regret? Does guilt rock their souls? Is a bear sad after it kills and eats an elk? Was what she did even comparable? Now that the disease was gone, the true horror of her actions hit hard.

After that morning in the lab she’d been inconsolable. She was given a sedative and had been kept under lock and key since. When they realized the serum removed the sickness, Drs. Couric and Andrews set out immediately for more trials. Sienne was kept a secret, alone in her room for much of the time.

She thought she knew pain before when she was dead, but that was nothing. Physical pain was a joke. Another bolt through the inner tissues of her stomach likely wouldn’t even cause a reaction. Needle sticks and fiery electricity. It was all nothing compared to the weight of her deeds. How they cut heavily into her psyche, carving and digging deeper with each passing second. How could she live with that?

The transformation from zeta to beta, as she was now being called, was like waking up from a terrible nightmare only to discover that it was true. Every foul and horrible piece of it. Her body looked part zeta, part human. Pale, translucent flesh clung to her bones, covered in scrapes and scars. A patch of peachy skin filled in the hole the harpoon bolt had put in her stomach, its color out of place on her body. Many of her veins were visible, blue and black just beneath the surface, pressing out like bulging wires in a too-tight sleeve. And the hollowness in her gut now demanded filling, albeit from a different source.

She sat at her bedside table and sipped at the broth she’d been given, staring blankly down at the strewn about sketches. They were all angry scribbles, thick black lines of chaos and madness, but Sienne thought she could see patterns in the charcoal. When she was finished, not even half of the broth diminished, she returned to her bed and lay staring out the window.

She was aware of a soft knocking on the door, but she didn’t bother to move. What was the point?

“Sienne?” asked Dr. Andrews soft voice. She made no reply. She heard the woman move about the room. A rustle of papers. A clank of a spoon. Dr. Andrews appeared at the foot of the bed. “Sienne, you need to talk to me. This attitude is not healthy.” She stalled, opening up the silence for Sienne to take the opportunity. It passed without a second thought.

“I can’t imagine what you’re going through right now,” she said, her voice soft and distant. “My daughter, Kallie, when she died I didn’t think I could press on, right after the bombs fell. I didn’t see the point in going on, but Kent, my husband, made me. He pushed me, through the smoke and fog of everything, and we eventually ended up here in the Hub. It’s been almost two years. I still feel her absence, but life goes on. It has to.

“You would think after the zetas killed my daughter that I would be the last person to want to help them, but that’s not in my nature. I’m a doctor. I care about people, and despite what others say, the zetas are still people. They can’t help what’s happened to them no more than a person plagued with cancer or someone with a mental handicap. I felt it was my duty to find a cure for them. Turned out I wasn’t the only one, and it wasn’t long before I met Grant.”

Sienne listened, but Dr. Andrews’ words did not hold her captive. What was one woman’s opinion worth? And why was she telling her this?

“We’ve both worked long and hard for this, Sienne, and we’re finally finished with our research. We’ve changed others now. It’s working. Soon we’ll be able to go public and change even more. Together, we’ll put the world back to how it was, but we need you, Sienne. I need you. I just want to help you, if you’ll let me.”

Dr. Andrews had no idea what Sienne had done, and she didn’t feel like opening up. But others? If there were more like her, new betas, then maybe she could talk with them. See how they’re coping. See what they’re like. She sat up; Dr. Andrews jumped.

“I want to meet them,” Sienne said. “The others.”

“Of course, darling. And when you’re done, maybe you and I can sit and have a nice, long talk. I am a psychiatrist, after all, and I really do care about you. Can we do that?”

Sienne didn’t want to talk, not to Dr. Andrews. The woman was nice, but she had no idea what it was like. Still, if it could help her... Did she even want help? “Sure,” she said. “Why not?” But she knew she would keep some secrets until the day she died. Again.

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

On Language and "Ode to an Apostrophe"

Oh Apostrophe,
Thou art full of glory and splendour.

How grand you shine,
(thinly veiled rhyme)
as you substitute V for e'er.

For what would don't be
omitting just thee,
but a do and a not? 'Tis true.

And could've, would've,
should've, might've, must've,
all exist because of you.

Thou art not limited,
to language inhibited,
and it's this I'll love all my days.

Possibilities boundless,
in you letters soundless,
like nor'easter takes a T and an H.

For what can I do
but cave in and misuse
our infinite array of words?

How much can be said,
with a nod of the head,
or a ' and a ' and a '?

Most noblest of symbols,
how other ones tremble
in your presence they quake and they cower.

You hang in the air,
'twixt letters, how dare
anyone think they have power

O'er you?  For you are alone,
ensconced on your throne,
until eternity unravels.

And then when it does,
with a bang and a buzz,
to you all dead letters travel.

And as they begin
to chop, twist, and blend
together after catastrophe,

You'll create something new,
what else would you do
my forever, lovely Apostrophe?

So I was thinking about words and how I string them together to make sentences.  Then I was thinking about letters and how I string them together to make words.  Then I was thinking about the apostrophe and how it sometimes replaces letters and I was wondering what it's limits were.  I mean, in shorthand, there are no practical limitations, right?  I abbreviate government as gov't to this day.  There I'm eliminating six letters.  How horrible, I think.

And then there's 'ere and e'er.  I love these two words.  They're beautiful sounding and perfect in function.  And the My Morning Jacket song lyric everything'd be great/ everything'd be good/ if everybody gave/ as everybody should.  How awesome of a word is everything'd

Plus, when we speak, we throw around apostrophes like nothing.  I suppose this could be a regional phenomenon, varying with location, but still, I'd argue that each brogue has its own clipped words.  And I daresay none would disagree with me.

But this has got me wondering, can an apostrophe substitute more than just letters?  What about entire words?  Could a writer remove all the supplementary text and just leave the meat and potatoes?  And who the heck would wanna read it if they did?  I, for one, love the constant changing English language.  Its rules are baffling and abused, but I'm of the opinion that if a writer can successfully do so, then they have the power to do it, so long as it makes sense.  For what are words but things that have power because we collectively give them power?  What would the apostrophe be if folks stopped using it?

Just for fun, I tried speaking without contracted words the other day.  I didn't last very long.  It's too ingrained in my vernacular, I suppose.  Just thinking out loud.

Note:   I'm not saying I'm for the cutting down of words and letters to get an abbreviated society.  This, I fear, would be a dreadful mistake.  Personally, I loathe internet language.  Things like LOL and BRB drive me crazy.  When I get a text message written in complete disregard to the rules, I scratch my head and try to understand.  I believe that George Orwell's predicted newspeak from Nineteen Eighty-Four is the very textual way we communicate now.  I strive my best to refrain from this, and to respond to these types of messages with complete sentences.  Of course, from time to time, I succumb and need to save myself 1.3 seconds of typing by using an abbreviation.  Still, for the most part, this sort of thing drives me up the metaphorical wall.

Monday, November 22, 2010

A Wizard of Earthsea, a Review

Ursula Le Guin is a name any fantasy reader would be familiar with. Her critically acclaimed Left Hand of Darkness was both a Hugo and a Nebula Award winner, and is now considered one of the SFF Masterworks. Outside of the Hanish universe where LHoD is set, Le Guin's rather famous for her Earthsea novels, of which begins with A Wizard of Earthsea.

A Wizard of Earthsea was written in 1968 and is the first book of the Earthsea cycle. It is an early coming-of-age fantasy novel that follows the life and development of a powerful young wizard named Ged. When Ged's wild magic saves his small village from destruction, rumors of his power spread throughout the island of Gont. 'Ere long, Ogion the Silent, another famous wizard, appears and wants to take the boy under his tutelage. For Ged, who's always dreamed of being grand and famous, his life will never be the same.

Reading A Wizard of Earthsea, it's obvious that many of our modern fantasy writer's have borrowed ideas from Le Guin. (Though, to be fair, I'm unsure whether Le Guin created many of the following, or if she, too, borrowed from others.) For example, names are extremely important things in Earthsea. If a wizard learns the true name of something or someone, he will gain absolute control over it. Because of this, naming is an important aspect to the magic system. (I'm thinking of Eragon, Jim Butcher's Dresden Files, and even the glorious Pat Rothfuss' Name of the Wind.) Also, young Ged travels to a school for budding wizards, where he learns the rules and ways of wizardry. There he runs into a bully and the two have a less than friendly relationship. (Uh, Harry Potter and, gulp, The Name of the Wind.)

Now, these two things don't necessarily dampen my impressions of any of the examples mentioned above, but they do have me thinking. How crucial is Ursula Le Guin's Wizard of Earthsea to fantasy? Also, how many other older fantasy worlds have been borrowed from? (Tolkien will remain unmentioned.*)

The real question is does Le Guin's world hold up? Is her story worth the read? Was I entertained? The answers are yes, yes, and yes. The writing is simple and easy, perfect for any YA-curious readers or someone looking for something light. The plot is rather predictable for the most part, but it still was paced well enough that I wanted to know if my expectations were correct. There are some scenes that are spectacular, getting to see the actual magic work and witness its repercussions. Ged is a hero with flaws, but he's relatable, too. And I never really felt bored reading, even though the book is forty-two years old.

Yet, at the same time, the novel is dated. I can't say Ged has taken up a spot in my favorites as far as heroes go. I can't get past the cliches that jump out at me. Still, the geography and lands of Earthsea were actually pretty cool, and I enjoyed discovering the new world with Ged.  Le Guin does a wonderful job with the sea and the islands.

Overall, A Wizard of Earthsea is an incredibly short read. Its story is fast-paced and exciting, full of excellent scenes and a semi-interesting protagonist. If you're interested in reading an older fantasy, one that may have greatly impacted some modern fantasy writer's minds, then check out Le Guin's classic. I'm not sure when I'll read the sequels, or if I even will, but this compulsive read was entertaining.

*Of course, by doing this I have mentioned him.

Friday, November 19, 2010

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Part 1, a Review

In case you didn't know, a tiny budget movie came out last night at midnight o'clock.  It quietly sneaked its way into theatres all across the globe, daring to hope a return on investment and a pleased audience.  Very little fanfare was made for this film, as countless people have joined the ranks of logic and science, shunning the very mention of magic.  Only die-hard, B-movie folks were excited, but their excitement reverberated throughout the realms of Hollywood.  (What the heck am I talking about?)

Actually, there was much ado about The Deathly Hallows, Part 1, and I imagine cinemas across the world filled with sights similar to what I beheld last night.  I did not dress up, as many were wont to, unless you say I went as a modern American muggle, which I suggest you don't, but I did see plenty of creative outfits.  It appeared that the magic of Harry Potter was turned on a bit early.  The nerdfest was endearing, the packed out crowd in the IMAX theatre a regular mixing pot.  People of all ages, races, creeds, and intelligences (high school kids that scream stupid profanities are low on this list) made gentle chit-chat as the 3-hr wait ensued.  And when the lights dimmed, the crowd erupted, and for the next 146 minutes I was spellbound.

I won't spoil the movie and say what's in the film and what's not, but I will say that the movie was mostly true to book.  I understand some things have to be converted and translated to make a movie appealing.  That's well and good.  Plus, I understand that Mrs. Rowling herself gave an okay to the changes, so if she's happy, I'm satisfied.  There were several things, mostly regarding the use and misuse of polyjuice potions and Harry's invisibility cloak, that were off, so to speak, but it worked well with the events of the movie.

(Possible Spoilers)  Okay, I lied.  I'll speak a bit on what I liked and didn't like.  If you don't want to read this part, skip down a bit to the end o' spoilers bit.  I liked the battle in the sky between the Harrys and the Death Eaters, but I didn't like how nonchalant Hedwig was played off there.  Her death in the book is tragic.  I like how evil Voldermort is portrayed in this film, and his scenes are all great at establishing how horrible of a villain he is.  I liked Godric's Hollow, and Bagshot was crazy-wild.  I felt like the Malfoy's Manor scenes towards the end should have been expanded, but the opening with Burbage was awesome.  I really liked the interlude cartoon of "The Tale of the Three Brothers."  The artistic view on that was brilliant.  I wish there had been more back-story revealed on Tom Riddle and Albus Dumbledore.  The Ministry scene was funny and cool.  How I loathe Umbridge.  (End o' Spoilers)

The Deathly Hallows, Part 1 starts off on a sad note, laying the groundwork for what's to come.  In fact, this movie is much darker and grittier than any of the other films of the series, so much so that it almost seems like its in a class of its own.  All of the actors performed admirably, of course, and the directing by David Yates was beautiful.  I really liked the tone that this movie carried, and the weight of the film was felt by the audience.  Set design was also spectacular, as were the costumes and special effects.

As a Harry Potter fan, was I happy?  Satisfied?  Absolutely.  Apart from the expected crowd reactions -- spontaneous applause at certain points, laughter, commentary -- and the stifling heat, The Deathly Hallows, Part 1, was everything I'd hoped it'd be.  It cut off right where I expected it to, with emotions put through the gamut and a seemingly cliffhanger end.  If Part 2 is as good as this opener, which it will be, then color me excited.  Heck, color me excited anyway.

Thursday, November 18, 2010

(Harry Potter) So Much to Say, (Harry Potter) So Much to Say, (Harry Potter) So Much to Say...

I don't know what to write about.  I've got so many different tangents I could go on, each deserving a post.  There's a book review of Wizard of Earthsea I could post.  There's some various musing.  But I'd be lying if I said Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows isn't top of my brain right now.

I have that giddy, excited feeling bubbling away inside, knowing that tonight I shall get to feast mine eyes on a glorious sight.  I mean, how can someone watch those trailers and not feel like a little kid again?  How does that poster not make your lips salivate?

For that matter, how the heck can people not like the Boy Who Lived?  As far as I'm concerned, Harry Potter is one of my top favorite series out there.  Ever.  Sure, it might be because I was eleven when The Sorcerer's Stone came out and that I grew with the gang as they grew.  So what if my imagination was wrapped in their world for the next decade?  Yeah, I went to the midnight release of Hallows when the last book came out.  Yeah, I bought two copies so my wife and I could each read it.  Yeah, I broke down and lay in a fetal position crying for two days straight after finishing the last page, upset that there were no other books left for me to read, and I only came to myself after a tiny elfin fellow walked out of the closet and took a pee on my head.  Nobody gets to pee on me!

See, the point is, I grew up with Harry.  Ron.  Hermione.  Rowling may not be the world's best writer, but the lady is great in her craft.  Many times she had me laughing out loud at something someone said or did.  Her imagination was boundless.  Her stories captivating.  Her mysteries grandiose.  I could sing praises to Rowling and her boy wizard, but I feel they would be echoes in a global canyon.

If this film is halfway as good as the last few have been, and as I've been led to believe from the sweet trailers, then I'll be pleased.  And I've no doubt that it'll be good.

I'll leave it at this.  I'm going to watch The Deathly Hallows Pt. 1 tonight at midnight.  In Imax.  I should hopefully be in bed 'ere 3:30.  I'll be getting up at 5:40 to go and meet Will & Alex at Starbucks at 6:00 for some theological talk and world-viewing.  And tomorrow is Clint's birthday, so we'll be Chuck-E-Cheesin' it up tomorrow night after work.  It's very likely that I'll have a film review tomorrow.  Very Likely.

Anyone else watching the midnight show?

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

ResAliens #4, a Review

Residential Aliens, a "speculative fiction [magazine] from the Seven Stars," is a bi-monthly publication that caters mostly to an electronic audience.  The niche ResAliens has is that it is a spiritually infused magazine, and its stories have a "moral or spiritual thread that appeals to the broad and varied interests of fans of speculative fiction."  (Note, this doesn't mean that the authors are Christians, as is commonly associated with the word spiritual, but the stories themselves deal with this motif.)

"Fishing the Moons of Jupiter," by Jason Rizos, tells an interesting and entertaining story on a deep-space fishing trip.  Morris, the protagonist, used to be a crab fisherman back on earth, but through various circumstances, wound up getting a job with a space crew to do some fishing work for an elusive worm.  The Hephaestus Worm has a liquid-hot, magma belly, and it is highly sought after because of its ability to produce a clean source of incredible power.  Unfortunately, the worm is also very difficult to catch.

The dialogue between Morris and his team is quick paced and realistic.  In parts, it's like watching an episode of Deadliest Catch (as mentioned in the opening note from Editor John Ottinger III), and the reader gets a great sense of how well these characters like and know each other.

Overall, this short story was intriguing enough to make me wonder about the current state of the world and how advanced it was if it is doing deep-space research now.  The worm was fascinating, and the fishing scenes were tense and enjoyable.  Plus, the ending was great.  This is an excellent quick read, and possibly my favorite from the collection.

"Overgrown," by Stoney Setzer, reads just like a standard, pulp sci-fi story.  Pink goo from outer space and a curious scientist make an unconventional, but deadly, monster.  This story was fun to read, but I found it lacking compared to the excellent first one.

"Immortals," by Leah Darrow, was frustrating to read because I so wanted to know more about what was going on.  The story never reveals why some things are, but then again, in the end, it's not important.  This was a very enjoyable read, focusing on the idea of immortality and a society where death is almost a thing of the past.

"End of Eden," by Shane Collins, is a straightforward post-apocalyptic short story that deals with two survivors trying to eke out their way to safety.  The prose was vivid and tragic, the pace quick, the science ingenious, and the overall gist a gritty ride.  I really enjoyed this piece.

"Salieri," by Marina Julia Neary, could almost be true.  It's a beautiful story with many themes going on, and in some ways it reminded me of Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell.  Two young pupils at the University are both at the top of their class, and their relationship is... interesting.  I think this may be my second favorite story from this collection.

"The King of Infinite Space," by Jason Reynolds, seems odd and out of place in this volume.  It was certainly my least favorite read, in part due to the almost contrived ending, surely familiar to anyone with an ear for urban legends.  Also, the speculative aspect of this story fell very flat in respect to the rest of the included stories.  Perhaps if this was in a different collection or first in the table of contents then I wouldn't have been as disappointed, but as it is, I wasn't too impressed with this, even though it was smart and well-written.

The final story, "The Testament," by Michael C. Lea, is another great one.  Through court testaments, we learn of the events that led to the death of a researcher and why her death matters (and to whom).  This piece was fascinating and kept me hooked up through the ending.  This story definitely makes the reader think, and it was a fun tale to read and discover what was going on.

Overall, ResAliens #4 is a highly enjoyable collection of spiritually sci-fi stories.  Most had me thinking about different things after I finished, and that's one thing I look for in fiction, especially short fiction.  While I want to be entertained, I also want to think, and these stories do both very well.  If you're hungry for some good, short fiction, why not try Residential Aliens?  I think it's easily worth the asking price of $2 for the digital download (click here if interested). 

*FTC thingy and a Note:  I received a general email from ResAliens #4 guest editor and acclaimed blogger John Ottinger III, of Grasping for the Wind, if I'd be interested in reviewing the current issue, and I happily agreed, intrigued by the web-zine's premise.  Thus, I paid nothing for this collection of stories.  Also, I was not asked to endorse the magazine or praise the stories, but I felt both were worthy of it.

Monday, November 15, 2010

The Iron & Wine Concert Write Up

First, my expectations were high.  Iron & Wine is one of my favorite bands.  Sam Beam, lead singer, songwriter, and genius behind the group, is hard to beat.  His voice blends just-over-a-whisper to high falsetto without the slightest nuance of a problem.  His lyrics are evocative, calling up imagery deep within the mind that leaves the listener scratching his head and wondering what it means.  Plus, his beard is awesome.  I love the mellow, acoustic sounds that Iron & Wine is known for, and there have been many a day when I've listened to only I&W on my ipod. 

So, with expectations through the roof, I was eager to get to the concert. 

Venue:  The Pageant, St. Louis
Status:  Sold Out
Opening Band:  White Mystery
Main Act:  Iron & Wine
Time:  8:00pm, 11/13/2010

We--my friend Adam and myself-- had standing GA tickets.  The crowd was mostly younger folks, people around my age or younger, I'd say.  And we were basically touching the arms of our standing neighbors.  The opening band was a brother & sister duo strikingly similar to the White Stripes, though the brother played the heavy drums and the sister the raunchy guitar.  There wasn't a song one that I cared for, and I was wondering why a band such as this was opening for Iron & Wine anyway.

After half an hour or so, White Mystery finished and we waited a few minutes for Sam to appear.  He came out, alone, picked up a guitar, and began singing.  Opening with an a cappella rendition of "Flightless Bird, American Mouth," soft and subtle, I knew the night would be something special, that I was in the presence of a musical wonder.  The crowd was hushed and the excitement nearly palpable, and we all loaned our ears over for the rest of the evening.

Following the quiet intro song, he dove straight into a gentle "Trapeze Swinger," a song haunting and beautiful.  Next came "Evening on the Ground," "Naked as we Came," and "Upward over the Mountain."  After these initial five songs, Sam announced that his new band would join in to finish out the night.  This was the first show they've done together and we'd be the guinea pigs.

Basically, the next hour and a half was completely revamped and redone I&W songs.  Two new songs were debuted.  Plenty of familiar classics were played with.  And it's this very act, the ability to take familiar songs and change them around and have fun with them, that blew my expectations out of the water.  "Sodom, South Georgia," was by far the highlight of the night.  Contrasting with the slow, tragedy that is the song, Beam and the band played an amazing version that built to an explosion of crescendo 'ere it was over.  A wild mandolin rift, funky electronic tones, and the beautiful guitars all came together to make an already awesome song even better.  Another great remake was "Woman King."

Another reason why the concert was great was because it looked like everyone was actually having fun on the stage.  The new band and Sam had a few goofs, but they all pulled it off perfectly, making even the errors sound fine.  And some songs almost sounded like Iron & Wine meets Radiohead, which was doubleplus good in my book.  Watching the band experiment and jam on some songs ("Wolves") was pure bliss.

So even though I stood for over three hours in total, and even though I was pressed up against complete strangers for most of that time, I would gladly do it again.  Seeing Iron & Wine in concert was a thrilling experience, and being so close to the stage made it all the better.  If you've a hankering for some good music, music that sounds wonderful and is smart in the writing, then you should be listening to Iron & Wine.  And if you want to go to a concert that'll be hard to forget, check out Iron & Wine on their current tour.

Thursday, November 11, 2010

For Veterans Day 2010

For Veterans Day today, I'd like to bring attention to my brother, Jake, who is currently serving over in Afghanistan.  My brother has been written about every so often here on Rememorandom (here), and its no secret that I love and respect him tremendously.  He's about fourteen months younger than me and has been in the military since he was eligible, which was around six years ago or so.  Jake is not only active in the national guard, but he also works at the local outpost, doing mechanical stuff on trucks and whatnot. 

His first son, Ian, was born in the fall of 09.  Come January of 2010, he was to deploy for his second tour, this one in Afghanistan instead of Iraq.  He would be gone for a year or so, with one brief stint of R&R break.  This time around, Jake's doing stuff with military escorts and is on the road most of the time.  (I think this makes me even more nervous than when he was in Iraq, but then again, I try not to think about it much.)  He's scheduled to come home in January or March, and I pray for his safe return.

Brother, thank you for serving our country.  Thank you for going where so many will not.  I'm sorry that you've had to miss your so many of your son's Firsts.  I'm thankful that there are people like you willing to give whatever is called for for the US.  And to all the other veterans out there, you have my eternal gratitude. 

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Writing Wednesdays: The Reformed 1.7

Part eight of "The Reformed."  Click here if you've missed any.  Thanks for reading.

June 11, 2021
    The kid tried to keep his cool, but Kent could tell he was still shaken up.  His head was leaning against the window, eyes staring off into nothing.  Traces of vomit from where he got sick were speckled around his shirt collar.
    The attack had gone relatively smooth.  They let the SUV idle as the zeta moved on down the sidewalk, dragging one leg behind it.  It stopped less than a mile from them, its head cocked sideways and looking at the front doors of a First National Bank.  “What’s it looking at?” asked Mercury.
    “Beats me.  C’mon.”  He applied the liquid deoderizer on his skin, rubbing in the lotion everywhere.  When he was finished he passed the bottle to Mercury.  “We’re going to sneak up on it and kill it.  Just like a lion that stalks its prey, we’ll be swift, quiet, and deadly.  Don’t say anything once we’re outta the truck.  Got it?”
    Mercury nodded.  “What about weapons?”
    “We’re good on those.  Take your pick.”  He opened a crate and revealed a personal cache.  Assault rifles.  Shotguns.  An axe with a pike on its end.  Even some grenades.  Varden Clark had supplied the expedition very well.  Mercury looked the weapons over and pulled out a pistol, a .50 caliber desert eagle.
    “You know how to use it?” Kent asked.
    “What’s to know?  Point and pull the trigger.”  
    “Remember who my father is, Kent?  Varden Clark.  Of course I know how to use a gun.”
    Sarcasm.  Kent just couldn’t get enough of it.  Mercury handed the deodorizer back to him.  They quietly exited the SUV, leaving the doors open.  They kept to the sidewalk, sticking close to facades and running between building faces.  All the while, the zeta stood staring off at the abandoned bank.
    They were close to the zeta now.  Kent could smell its decayed flesh.  He put a finger up in front of his lips and nodded to Mercury.  He gripped the handle of his axe, feeling the familiar grooves beneath his fingers.  Sure, it was a cliche to use one, but the thrill it gave him lopping off a head was worth it.  His mouth was overrun with saliva, eager to be back in the kill.
    The world around him faded.  He sprang from the wall like a caged animal being set free.  Dimly aware of Mercury behind him, he fought the urge to roar a battle cry.  The boy was not his concern.  Only the monstrosity in front of him mattered.  
    Murderer!  He thought as he closed the distance.  Demon!  The zeta was starting to move, but it was as if it was drenched in syrup.  Kent was faster.  The axe was up, gripped in death-locked fists.  Awareness was still blooming on its face when Kent swung the heavy blade, separating the head from the body in an easy swoop.  
    Before the corpse hit the ground he was swinging again.  It didn’t matter what he hit.  He felt bone and flesh breaking beneath him.  He straddled the body and continued chopping, like a man splitting logs.  Like Lizzie Borden having fun on a Thursday morning.  
    The thing that lay below him was barely recognizable when he finally stopped.  
    Mercury had a look of absolute terror.  The gun was dangling loosely from his right hand, unused.  
    “You okay?” Kent asked, wiping the sweat from his face.
    Mercury stared at him, mouth hanging open, eyes wide.  And then he was retching.  Pink and orange all over the manicured green lawn of the First National.  Kent watched for a moment and then started cleaning his axe on the grass.  When the kid was finished, they headed back to the SUV without a word.
    Now, not even fifteen minutes after the attack, Kent’s actions were replaying in his mind.  He’d completely lost himself back there.  No wonder Mercury didn’t have anything to say to him.  He didn’t have anything to say to himself.  After seeing the zeta, it was like his mind was taken over by malice, bent on destruction and abandoning all reason.
    Part of him was appalled at his anger.  The rational part wanted to say that he’d been stupid.  What if another had appeared?  He’d been completely blinded by his anger towards the zeta.  Yet, like all the times before, this reasonable voice was a whisper compared to the other part of him.
    The part that longed to do it again.

Tuesday, November 09, 2010

Random Meanderings: Books, Concerts, and Questions

1.  Is the word "suck" socially accepted now?  I know it's ingrained in my vernacular, but still, when I use it around my boss or the pastor, it seems strange?  The first time I heard my grandmother say it I nearly died.

2.  Anybody else have trouble spelling beaurau beaureau beureau *spell check* bureau?  Gets me every time.

3.  If you take a vacuum cleaner and put the hose in your mouth and turn it on would it kill you?  What if you plugged up your nose and then did it?  Cause I imagine your lungs and stuff getting sucked up or going crazy.

4.  Don't you hate it when you wake up and your ear feels like it's got water in it?

5.  Is there a rule that says once one vehicle messes up, then the other one is doomed to the same fate?

6.  Even though I've had Brandon Sanderson's The Way of Kings since its release date, it's been sitting on the shelf just waiting for me to pick it up ever since.  It's not that I don't want to read it, but I want to read it when I can fully devote time and attention to Sanderson's awesomeness.  It seems like a waste, but just knowing I have it now means I got all the time in the world.

7.  So, if a ____ and a _ ___ go to the ______ for ______, then ____ slips _ ____ a ____, what would happen?  I mean, it'd have to be messy, right?

8.  The great debate of what to read next is here.  I have so many things I really want to read, I just don't know where to go.  Ken Scholes' Lamentation has been waiting very patiently; I got a fresh stack of Hellboy's to devour; I'm feeling like a good classic, maybe One Hundred Years of Solitude or The Brothers Karamazov; non-fictional Truman Capote's In Cold Blood has been beating on my brain's door, and so has Abraham's The Long Price Quartet; oh, and the twenty issues or so of Fables to cram in 'ere issue #100 hits shelves later this month.  Instead of all of these, I've picked up Charles Portis' True Grit, a novel that's been in my possession for so long I don't remember when I first tried to read it, and a review copy of sci-fi webzine Residential Aliens #4.

9.  It's good to have Conan O'Brien back doing what he does best: being awesome.

10.  I'm going to St. Louis this weekend to see Iron & Wine in concert.  It's been a while since my last concert, and I'm super excited about this one.

11.  I'm thinking about entering io9's Environmental Writing Contest.  Click here for info.

12.  Yeah, I've already got my HP7 midnight tickets for the imax.  Can't wait.

Monday, November 08, 2010

The Gospel According to Jesus, a Review

The Gospel According to Jesus, by Chris Seay, is a very thought-provoking book. It's a slim read, barely 200 pages, but it packs a lot in its easy-to-read prose.

The premise of the book is that Seay is concerned with how American Christians fail to understand key terms to the faith, like "righteousness" or "justice." A survey was commissioned that gave dismal results that Seay's concerns are justified. The rest of the book deals with this issue.

On the surface, this idea does not intrigue me in the least bit. Definitions are relatively fickle things, and one may have a different idea of what "righteousness" means than Seay or the study. Still, as I progressed through the book, I found myself captivated by what I was reading.

Seay has a heart that longs for Christ. He wants this feeling to shine through all who claim to follow Jesus, and the book largely deals with this. How would Jesus treat the poor? The sick? The environment? The greedy? Jesus would show them all a loving, compassionate side that we are unfamiliar with, and Seay makes his points well.

I read this book with a pencil in hand, underlining sentences that struck a chord. Looking back, there were plenty. Seay has a way with allegories or metaphors that really make sense of what he's trying to say, as well as what Scripture is saying.

There were a few things in the book that I was a bit wishy-washy on, but on the whole, The Gospel According to Jesus is an excellent read for the critically-thinking Christian. Its ideas are things that should be taken to heart and pondered on.

This book was provided to me by Thomas Nelson Publishers and Booksneeze in exchange for an honest and fair review of the product.  

Friday, November 05, 2010

The One Year Choose Your Own Ending Devotions, a Review

The One Year Choose Your Own Ending Devotions is designed to go hand-in-hand with the Hands-On Bible NLT (reviewed here).  I was intrigued at the possibility of a "Choose Your Own Ending" situation, so I requested a review copy, and soon the book arrived at my house.  While the target audience for this devotional is kindergarten age or around, I thought this would be a great tool to use for church activities and for whenever we have kids.

The layout of the devotional is simple.  For every day of the year there is a daily devotional.  Each one presents a short scenario, usually told in two or three paragraphs.  Then some Scripture is read and the reader is asked to think about how an ending should go in relation to the bible verses.  There's also some follow up questions or points to drive home the meaning.  In addition, many of the days have activities or ideas to do to really help make the illustration clear.  Each day has the following format.
  • Story (An unfinished story awaiting a conclusion)
  • Read (What scripture to read)
  • Think (Things to think about)
  • Do (Activities to make the point clearer)
  • Pray (How/What to pray about related to the story)
  • Memorize (A daily verse taken from the passage read)
  • What's the Point?  (Drives home the point)
At the back of the book is a "suggested" ending for each devotional.  I found it fun to make up my own ending and then see how closely it resembled the "suggested" ending.  There's also an index for daily memory verses and daily passages read.  

Overall, The One Year Choose Your Own Ending Devotions is a sleek book that's perfect for family devotions, especially with children.  I really enjoyed the devotions I did.  The stories will capture the kid's attention, force them to think, and learn to understand the bible.  I think this is a devotional I'll be using with my own children, and I think anyone interested in a family devotional should consider this one.

**The One Year Choose Your Own Ending Devotions was given to me by Tyndale House Publishers in exchange for an honest and fair review on my blog.

Thursday, November 04, 2010

Book Reviews Three: Astonishing X-Men & G.W. Frog

Astonishing X-Men Volumes 1 & 2, by Joss Whedon & John Cassaday

The X-Men were what got me into comic books. As a kid I'd watch the animated series and read whatever X-Men comics I could get my hands on. Wolverine. Iceman. Gambit. All the heroes I could ask for. As I grew, I still loved the Marvel staple, but I somehow got disconnected from the comics. I loosely followed what was happening, but not enough. 

Years passed, and a lot happened in the Marvel Universe. I read the titular Civil War trade paperback, but none of House of M. Apparently the X-Men had so many convoluted arcs going that the series needed a hardcore reboot. The one to take the helm was none other than Joss Whedon, a man fully capable of telling the tale. 

So I picked up the first edition of the new Astonishing X-Men, Gifted. Emma Frost and Scott Summers have decided to reform the team, intending on astonishing the world. Along with Wolverine, Beast, and Kitty Pryde, the X-Men set out to do just that. And as soon as they do, a remarkable cure for the mutant gene is found, ripping the world (and the team) apart. 

Joss Whedon's plot was smooth and fluid, as his always are. Each character was well written, given enough individuality to make them stand out. The dialogue was also fun.  Joss Whedon crafts great characters, and it is the team's characterization that is the most enjoyable for me to read. I like the dynamics between the heroes, especially Emma Frost and Kitty's dislike for each other. 

In the art department, John Cassaday does an amazing job. This could be the slickest art for any X-Men comic I've ever read. The colors were rich and vivid. The drawings were exactly what I want in a comic, especially one with superheroes in it.
One of my favorite characters was Beast. His design is awesome, and I think the Cassaday did an excellent job with him. Also, his personality is deep, and Whedon pegged him dead on. Plus, he's actually pretty cool now, acting "beastly" even. Quite a bit different than how I remember him from the old stuff. 

Volume Two of Astonishing X-Men, Dangerous, wasn't as good as the first, but still enjoyable enough. The story continues what was started in Gifted, but only loosely connects back to the events that happened. Instead, the X-Men face a new foe, one that knows all their moves and formations and is extremely powerful.

This collection revealed a bit more about the world outside the mansion. We learn about Genosha and the Professor's whereabouts and some of his past. We get a little more insight to S.W.O.R.D. and S.H.I.E.L.D. This worldbuilding was nice to have with the team, though minimal.

The Astonishing X-Men let me re-live the sweetness of the X-Men again, and I thoroughly enjoyed the first volume. The next arc, Torn, is being requested for purchase (by me) at the library, and I hope they get it. For any fans of the X-Men, I easily recommend Whedon and Cassaday's Astonishing X-Men.

G.W. Frog and the Circus Lion, by George W. Everett

G.W. Frog and the Circus Lion is a sweet and fun story about an elderly lion that is concerned about losing his teeth. When he confesses this to his friends, they decide to remedy the situation.

I really enjoyed G.W. Frog and the Circus Lion more than I thought I was going to. At first glance, it looked like a lot of text and some of the illustrations didn't look finished, so I was unsure how my young brother-in-law was going to like it. I waited for him to come over to my house, and for bedtime, I lay in bed and read him the story. He liked it plenty (I even questioned him the next morning and he said).

The only slight problem I had was how a few pages were formatted. It confused me a bit while reading aloud. I guess some pages are meant to be callouts from something on the opposite page, but I'm unsure. I feel this may could cause kids to stumble when reading themselves, but not very much. 

G.W. Frog and the Circus Lion is a great kids book that teaches wonderful lessons, offers a fun story, and serves the purposes of entertaining & educating kids. It fits perfectly on the shelf with the rest of the kids books, which I’ll be using for my own come next year.

I received G.W. Frog and the Circus Lion from the author in exchange for an honest review, which I have provided here.  The obligatory pumpkin pie offering that I requested was not included.

Wednesday, November 03, 2010

A Broken Starter and Free, New Springsteen

So my car's starter is basically broke.  It's been long coming, and now that cold weather is here, it's arrived in full bloom.  I called a few places today to get estimates.  $342.49.  $256.00.  $379.85.  And all this when I'm in a "let's pay off the debt with the extra money we're making from Pampered Chef and subbing."  Fortunately, my uncle is quite knowledgeable about vehicles (I am not), and he's the manager of a tire & shop down home.  So I called him up and asked what he could do for me.  $104.00.  That's without labor, which all the other quotes included, but he figures we can put it in ourselves and save the labor cost.

But, to make things better, NPR is currently streaming fifteen tracks (almost an hour of free music) from Bruce Springsteen's newest album, The Promise.  Gotta say, the Boss just gets better and better the more I listen to him.  How I want to see him in concert one of these days.  The man's supposed to put on legendary concerts, and I wanna experience one.  Anyway, if you would like to listen, follow this link to hear the album.

Now, back to fretting about finances, budgets, God, vehicles, engineering, war, and the multitude of other things that weigh on my mind.  Oh, and Fallout, too, cause that's on the brain-tube right now.

Tuesday, November 02, 2010

A Poem, Some Musing, and Six Halloween Pictures

"dark goes the night, smooth goes the date"
by logankstewart

change my clothes
out i go
a date tonight have i

long it's been
since my last sin
so long.  adieu.  goodbye.

lick my teeth
feel the slime
a blade goes in and out

you gasp "oh"
at my crime
blood falls from your spout

eyes go wide
from the cold
of steel on flesh on bone

hands dam up
staunch the flow
but you're already gone

quick as sin
toss my knife
in someone else's truck

see me smile
in waning light
unfortunate, their luck

wipe my hands
in the dirt
and off to eat i go

a date to get
a meal to split
and no one in the know.

I don't know what it is inside me that enjoys this sort of stuff.  It's not that I have hidden desires or twisted ideas.  I think, perhaps, that maybe it's the only way I can come to terms with the craziness of the world.  I've always been fascinated by the darker (see "On the Darker Side of Songs," "On Morbid Curiosity") things in life, though, oddly, I can't movies like Saw and Hostel.  There's just something unnerving about violence, something so gritty and horrible that it makes me sick at my stomach.  The dichotomy of my music tastes is astounding; I'm either listening to folky, acoustic tunes, which are often peppered with Darkness, or I'm listening to Contemporary Christian music.  It makes no bloody sense!

So if this is the case, then why do I find the recesses of my mind adventuring in such realms?  I'm happy.  I love life.  I'm not a disturbed person, and I have no horrific past that is buried below my surface.  I'm calm, patient, compassionate, nothing like the unsavory sorts from many of the songs and stories I hear/read.

Is it the passing of Halloween and the imminent autumn-like weather that turns my mind towards dark and heavy thoughts?  Is it from playing Fallout or reading The Passage?  I don't know what it is.  I think, perhaps, I'll blame it on....... Nic Cage.  Why not?  He's a fantastic guy.  I mean, have you seen Raising Arizona?  Okay then.

In Halloween's wake, I have some pictures.  There’s a Dr. Horrible pumpkin, which anyone that loves Joss Whedon should know, and anyone who's ne'er seen the wonderfulness of it should watch immediately and then be in the know.  It took about two hours or more to carve, and I was ready to quit before I was finished.  There’s a BOO Ghost, carved masterfully by the beautiful, pregnant (obligatory) wife.  It's cute.  There’s a close-up of Stella.  (We somehow never managed to snap one of Sofie close-up.)  There’s a full shot of both dogs, one as a flying monkey, the other as the wicked witch.  Keisha made both outfits.  And there’s my world-famous mullet champion picture, which I love, since the mullet is my actual hair color and blends seamlessly in with my sideburns and beard.

Monday, November 01, 2010

The Passage, a Review

Earlier this year, Justin Cronin's much acclaimed novel The Passage was released.  The book was hyped to be The Book of the year, offering such a fine and well-written story that all who read it would be left in its wake with their mouths open and their eyes begging for more.  The movie rights were bought before the book even had time to rest itself on the shelves.  Sequels were planned.  I knew I wanted to read the book, so I jumped on the wait-list at the library.  The library ordered eight copies, I was number 26, and the waiting began.

The Passage is mostly compared to Stephen King's The Stand.  Cronin's work is epic in scope and in the telling, spanning over a thousand years in points of the plot with a character list well in to the double digits.  There are three interconnected plots going on in the novel, and all three work together to create a tale that's bleak in the outlook.

Plot One begins in the near future.  Many changes have happened in America, and most of them seem like reasonable/believable changes.  New Orleans is basically one large factory now.  Traveling between states may require documentation.  But scientists are still searching for a cure to many diseases and provide longevity.  One, Dr. Lear, thinks he may have found the answer.  The US Army takes an interest in Lear's work, provides funding, joins the team, and the new partnership dives headlong into research & development.  Test subjects are collected and the world takes a turn for the worse.

Plot Two takes place almost one hundred years later.  It is the major plot of the book, covering about 70% of the 769 pages, and now the American world is a desolate, rusting wasteland.  The outbreak of the virals put an end to nearly all life, and those that have managed to survive so long have done so in fear and anxiety.  In California, a resemblance of life and culture exist in the Colony, the Last City, but it's one of despair and utilitarian in nature.  Things are slowly going downhill, and they know that one day soon their batteries will stop working and the lights will fail to come on.  Then nothing will stop the virals.  But, when a small girl walks into the Colony one day, alone and unharmed, a wave of unrest drops on the survivor's like a bomb.

The Third Plot is very sparsely told.  It's set over a thousand years after the outbreak.  Everything is revealed through journal entries or letters.  The impression is that someone in the future is reading these notes on the American Quarantine Zones, though the identity is never revealed.  Cronin will sometimes use a chunk of journal entries to pass through several days for the protagonists, and while passive in tone, it generally works well.

One of the joys of reading The Passage was that Justin Cronin is a fantastic writer.  His descriptions summon up imagery easily.  His prose reads fluidly, action-filled when needed to be, and sizzling on the burner when called for.  There were scenes that had me nervous to read because I knew something was going to happen, and I liked the characters so much that I didn't want anything to happen to them.  Some scenes are genuinely creepy, some funny, and some so fast-paced that it's hard to catch your breath.  Yes, Justin Cronin knows how to write.  

On the other hand, he may know how to write too well.  I felt that some of the character's were expounded on too much, especially minor characters that appear only once or twice.  It was almost as if Cronin didn't want to leave any stones unturned.  Also, some of the daily expressions used seem a bit overdone (Flyers!), but the world he's crafted is believable and the curse works.

I'm not sure exactly how to classify The Passage.  In some parts it's horror.  In others its definitely science-fiction.  Even more, it's fantasy.  The blend of genres creates a remarkable tale that has me interested in reading its sequel whenever it comes out.  All in all, the book is a very good read.  It's well-written, thought-provoking, and leaves you wanting more.  I can easily recommend Justin Cronin's The Passage to anyone looking for a good book to read.