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--What is Black Champagne?
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--Blogger Archives: June 2005-
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Movie Reviews (118)

Five Most Recent Film Reviews:
--War of the Worlds
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Book Reviews (55)
Five Most Recent Book Reviews:
--A Maiden's Grave, by Jeffrey Deaver
--A Clash of Kings, by George R. R. Martin
--The Seventh Scroll, by Wilbur Smith
--L is for Lawless, by Sue Grafton
--Dead and Dying Angels, by James Mangum

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Articles Galore
--America vs. The World
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See All 234 Articles

Fiction -- Full Story Index
Fantasy Short Stories
--A Paladin's Lesson
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Horror Short Stories
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--On Wings of Night
And many more...

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Diablo II
--The Unofficial Site>
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Phrase of the Moment -- PotM Archive
--Phrase: "Is this movie ever not on?
--Usage: When flipping channels and seeing a movie that always seems to be on.
--Origin: I'm not sure who started it, but Malaya and me have been saying it for months, whenever one of us is channel surfing and hits one of those low brow action films that seems to be on at least five times a day between USA, AMC, TNT, Spike TV, and various other redundant cable networks.
--Notes: We've developed this into a science over time, but the best application yet came in late June 2005, when I was cutting up salad in the kitchen and Malaya was channel surfing. She issued the usual, "Is this ever not on?" cry, and I guessed, Commando? first, and when she said no I tried Gladiator and she burst into laughter. Other popular choices are Silence of the Lambs, Pulp Fiction (pointless when bleeped for TV), The Godfather I & II, Predator, etc. The odd part is what a grab bag of films they are, ranging from masterpieces to complete junk along the lines of Swayze's immortal Road House. I figure it's just what the networks could buy the rights to cheapest, since they know we idiots will watch any damn thing they put on the teevee, but maybe that's why I'm not a genius network program director. (More on this subject here.)
-- June 26, 2005

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Sunday, August 14, 2005  

The Beginning of the End

Thus far I've enjoyed the comments option on this site in its new (is 160 posts still new?) format. I get slightly less email now than I used to, but far more overall feedback, and I think the readers enjoy throwing in their two cents or seeing what others say. And I can add my thoughts to a post after it's gone online, or reply immediately to reader comments. Surprisingly, no flame wars have erupted, and I've never had to delete any posts for excessive profanity or hatred or whatever, towards me or anyone else.

Tragically, I just discovered (courtesy of the Blogger feature that mails me every comment as it's made) that the plague has reached our shores. Yes, the first comment spam has appeared, like a painful red dot on your genetalia. You can see it as the 5th comment on this week-old post; nonsense key words that link to some sort of real estate scam site. Since the Blogger-provided tools for controlling spam and other comment problems are extremely limited, I'm basically limited to 1) not allowing comments at all, 2) deleting individual ones when I see them, and 3) crossing my fingers and hoping that spam bots don't start ruining every post with endless piles of their steaming offal in the comments section.

I'm going with option #3 for now, with #2 held in reserve.

Saturday Shopping and Dinner

Saturday began with cleaning. We'd been putting it off for a while, and the condo was looking a bit filthy, so starting around noon we got right to it. Malaya does the vacuuming since it makes me sneeze and the cats hide, I shake out the throw rugs, and then she does the bathroom while I do the kitchen. The kitchen is larger with more stuff to clean, but very little of it involves mildew, hard water stains, or poo, so I think I get the bargain there. So while she was spraying bleach and wearing gloves I mopped the floor, wiped down all of the cabinets, cleaned out the oven and put in new aluminum foil, washed under the burners, moved stuff around so I could scrub the counter tops, wiped off the top of the refrigerator door, cleaned out the toaster and toaster oven, and so on. Fun was had by all.

After that we decided we'd worked hard enough to deserve a reward, so we headed out to the mall and Todai for lunch. Except that I've been wanting some new shirts and shoes, so we went by a sporting good store, where the shoes were not what I wanted. They didn't have any shirts I wanted (at a price I was willing to pay) either, but they did have some decent basketball style shorts at 2/$20, so I got a couple of them. I've been unhappy with my workout shorts for a while, and finally got a pair of Nike bball shorts at TJ Maxx ($14 I paid, retail $45.) They're very silky (polyester) material, mesh with a couple of reinforcing layers beneath them, drawstring elastic waist, etc. I wasn't sure I'd like them, but after one trip to the gym I am so sold. The material breathes, they lay very loose, they feel very light and slid over my thighs so I don't feel like I'm lifting them along with my legs, and they don't get all sweaty at the waistband. So I got two more.

I want to get some more of the dry weave type shirts, since I have one t-shirt like that and 2 long sleeve shirts for colder weather (One of which is the tight elastic UnderArmour/manporn style I keep meaning to blog about since I wonder if that stuff is in style in any other countries, or it's just a US jock thing.) and they are so great to work out in. Cotton is fine for walking around in, but when you're sweating and standing in it, it gets all cold on your back if you sit down, it's wet and takes forever to dry, etc. It's not so bad at the gym, but in Kali class cotton T's are death, since we exert in flurries, then stand for a while, then work hard and sweat, then stand, etc, and it's very blech to my skin and to others who have to touch me.

The problem is that those shirts are all $20 each, at least, in sporting stores. More like $30 or $35 usually, so I'll have to keep checking the discount leftover stuff that shows up at TJ Maxx and Ross and hope I get lucky. They have some, sometimes, but usually just in huge sizes or horrible designs.

The shorts were 2/$20, and with tax my bill was... $21.65. Get used to that number.

After that store we headed to the mall, and split up. Malaya was after red thongs *cough* and I wanted to look for sneakers, and maybe some workout shirts. I found lots of shoes but none I liked for a reasonable price. I did get on some shirts though, with the 5/$20 sale at Champs, and another store right across the concourse from it. I mostly just wear solid color t's, in a variety of colors, and since most of mine are looking faded I picked up 5 in the first store, for... $21.65. (I'd list the colors, but you don't care and they're in my closet in the bedroom where Malaya is sleeping so I can't go check. Dark blue, dark red, dark green, gun metal, and white. Something like that.) I then walked across the way to the second store which had the exact same price offer (minus a penny), and picked out 4 more, then couldn't find a 5th in a color I wanted, and realized that they had tank tops and wife beaters for the same price, if I wanted to mix and match. So I put a green shirt back and got a white and a black tank top. I haven't owned a sleeveless shirt since I was like 9, but I often want cooler shirts for the gym, and they were on sale. If you're wondering, yes, you can factor in that information, cross-reference it with the skintight long-sleeved workout jersey I got last week, and safely deduct tht I'm feeling pretty okay about the results of my weight lifting and exercise regime. And no, no pictures today. Maybe some other day, because I'm a goddamned himbo, and himbos aren't paid to think.

With all of that shopping done, we met back on the top level and headed to Todai's, a glorious Japanese/Asian buffet place. Malaya likes it for the sushi, and she pretty well massacred the saba (That is not our meal or our photo blog.), eventually sending me back up to get the last three on the platter after she began to feel guilty about wiping it out twice. The ironic part is that I don't dislike all sushi, but I can't stand saba; it's raw mackerel and it's so fishy-tasting I just gag.

I had one piece of sushi; shrimp over rice, since I mostly gorged myself on miso soup, vanilla shrimp, teriyaki chicken, fried rice, fried noodles, tempura, and more. I'm fortunate in that I don't have a lot of stomach capacity and that I get full quickly, since it helps keep me from being a fat little piggy. But sometimes, usually at buffets, I really wish I could go all Kobayashi and take in about three days worth of calories in one enormous meal. As it was I hardly got to taste the sushi, dessert, fresh fruit, crab legs, etc.

All during the meal I was distracted though, and not just because the 40ish mom at the next table had a very low cut cleavage top on that plunged at least four inches further than anyone wanted it to. Malaya said she could see nipple from her sideways view, while I just did all I could to avoid looking in that direction. The fact that she was leaning over the table and sitting right beside her 7 or 8 y/o son didn't help things either. Doesn't she have a mirror in her house, or what?

No, my distraction was due to the fact that Champs Sports had exactly the shoes I wanted, but they were $80, which was more than I had intended to pay. I can afford it, and I buy new shoes about once a year, so it's not like I won't get wear out of them, but it just seems exorbitant. No one had shoes like I wanted for cheap though; just plain sneakers, and I really like the Nike Shox style, where there's no shoe right below your heel; just compression plastic things to the sides. I've had a pair sort of like that since my birthday back in June, and they are so great for wearing to Kali, where we're standing on cement for 2+ hours. The ones at Champs were even dark blue and silver, just like I'd been wanting (for no particular reason).

I told Malaya about the shoes and the price, and when she insisted that we go back down there after dinner, I didn't argue with her. Unfortunately, when we got there I spotted another pair that were even more what I wanted (also Nike Shox, but with a better design) and they had no price tag on them. Korean salesboy with his dyed red hair said he thought they were $99, but might be on sale for $79, which is how much the first pair I'd spotted cost. I couldn't help myself, and asked him to bring out a pair of each in size 9.5.

That's a topic worth a digression, since I used to wear a size 10, and often found my shoes too tight. I'd sometimes have to go to 10.5, or trim my toenails daily and wear thin socks until new shoes stretched out a bit. Yet over the past week when I've been trying shoes and not buying them, I was usually haunting the clearance section, and trying ones not in my exact size, and by trial and error I found that 9.5s and even 9s fit me perfectly, while 10s seemed a bit large. I was trying them from all different brands too, so either the 9 y/o Indonesian girls Nike and Adidas and Reebok fill their sweatshops with are getting lazy with the quality control, or every sneaker manufacturer recently increased their shoe sizes slightly, or my feet are shrinking. I don't want to think about it anymore.

Shoe boy returns with 2 boxes; they had both in my size (damn), the second pair were not on sale and would cost $99 (damn again), the more expensive ones felt better (damn thrice), and Malaya agreed that the more expensive ones looked much cooler (damn fourth). Adding to my "those cost too much" damn-lemma, Malaya out of the blue said she'd pay for half of my shoes if I wanted the $99 pair. I told her not to, she insisted, she mentioned her recent raise, and I promptly rolled over like a good himbo and said, "Okay." So now I've got shiny new shoes that cost me $50, and I'm pretty happy with them. We got them home and I wore them for a bit of sunset Kali, then came inside and cut down some new shoe inserts to fit, and they're just about spring air perfection.

I can't find an exact pair online, but these are the same shoe type, if you're curious. Mine are dark blue where those are black, and mine have a white highlight around the swoosh, but other than that... Trust me, they're far sexier in person, plus they match the blue and black gym shorts I got today, and very nicely match the electric blue piping on the gray bball shorts I got last week. Not that I would ever pay an instant of attention to that sort of thing, being a himbo man.

The red g-string is quite nice too, I must add in closing. Doesn't really accessorize with my shoes, but since I wasn't the one modeling it, that's not a big problem.

Also, my complaints about not eating my weight in the buffet were made, but it's now nearly 3am, more than 9 hours after we had dinner, and I'm still not hungry. I went in on an empty stomach too, with maybe 1/3 of a bowl of oatmeal and a glass of water all day before Todai. I can't eat as much as I used to, but I stay fuller for longer after I do, which is probably a pretty good trade off given that I no longer have the "never gain weight" metabolism I possessed when I was 18. I may not eat again today, honestly.

Saturday, August 13, 2005  

Gay Child Checklist

Everyone else has already blogged about this creepy "Is your son at risk of becoming gay?" checklist, and they're all making great sport of it. I just shook my head when I first saw it, and was surprised that it was news; haven't the Fundie Christian groups been pushing this sort of crap for decades? Apparently this particular list is new though, and since making jokes about it is like shooting fish in a barrel with an AK-47, I wasn't going to bother posting about it. I decided to anyway, since I had some thoughts I hadn't seen elsewhere.

The list most people are enjoying is this one: Is My Child Becoming Homosexual?. It's got seven points to check, including gems such as:
1. A strong feeling that they are "different" from other boys.

2. A tendency to cry easily, be less athletic, and dislike the roughhousing that other boys enjoy.

6. A tendency to walk, talk, dress and even "think" effeminately.
I do wonder where they get the idea that all gays grow up artsy types? Just how many Rupert Everett movies have they seen anyway? I've personally known more gay guys who were jocks or biker dude types, but that's an issue for another day. I'd also like to figure out why they put "different" and "think" in quotes; I don't see any need for special emphasis on those words.

That bullshit aside, I'd like to see some gay website run a survey of their readers to see how many hit on the 7 tendencies listed in this article. Any gay readers here can feel free to chime in in the comments, anonymously if you wish, of course.

Of course if the ultimate horror comes true, and you, a good Christian parent, suspect your son might be a future bone-smuggler, they've got advice that will turn that genetic destiny right on its head. How to Prevent Homosexuality! Surprisingly, it's pretty limp advice. So to speak. There are seven points (Why 7 again?), but all of them pretty much boil down to having the boy spend time around his macho father, (Including seeing his huge, naked penis in the shower. No, really, search for "Dad has a penis" on that page.) or any other macho man the mother might enlist to cure her "prehomosexual" child. I love that term, by the way. So are other kids "preheterosexual" and just as easily-swayed to the dark side, if nefarious gays like those who infest the Boy and Girl Scouts get to them at an early age?)

Anyway, I'm drifting off on this bizarre topic, but I wanted to post this primarily since it's funny, but also to highlight the absurd way some ultra-conservative Christians think boys grow up to become gay.

You Must Be Young and Wealthy to Read This

So says this PCWorld article.
...compared to the average Internet user, visitors to Web logs, or blogs, tend to be younger and to belong to a wealthier household, a study has found. Blog visitors are also more likely to shop online and to connect to the Internet using a broadband connection, according to the study "Behaviors of the Blogosphere" conducted by comScore Networks. Unsurprisingly, blog visitors are also more active online, visiting almost twice as many Web pages as the average Internet user.

ComScore defines blogs as "mostly amateur online diaries." In terms of unique visitors, ranked first in the first quarter, followed by,,, and By visits, DrudgeReport came in first, followed by,,, and
That's all well and good, and I'm sure those sites are all quite busy. Unfortunately, going by the article's own definition of a "blog," none of those sites qualifies, with the possible exception of Free Republic, a right wing group political blog. They're basically defining an online journal there, not a blog, since lots of blogs cover politics, or sex, or the media, or sports, or whatever, without ever having any online diary aspects to them.

Drudge is a news site with millions of links, Fleshbot is a news site that skews towards sex, Gawker is a celeb news blog, SlashDot is a geek news and weird stuff site, and Fark is the same as SlashDot, minus the content and intellect. There's not an online diary among them.

The article goes on to talk about average income, age, how many sites viewed, and so on, but I'm not real confident in their conclusions, since I'm not confident in their methodology.
The most popular type of blog is the political one, according to the study, which was sponsored by blogging software and service vendor Six Apart and by blog publisher Gawker Media.
So Gawker and blog software site readers read blogs and Gawker. What a surprise!

I don't know of a site that lists top online journals, though I'd think would be #1 on that, given that she seems to be on Good Morning America or in the NY Times every other week, as they continue to run articles about bloggers who lost their jobs for blogging about them, as Dooce did like 5 years ago. The Truth Laid Bear hosts a supposedly-accurate top blog listing, with traffic numbers and such, though I couldn't tell you why half the top posts on their main page are from self-loathing hack Michelle Malkin. Interestingly, Daily Kos dominates the top spot on their list, with more than double the traffic of any other blog, and that list includes several listed on top in the PCWorld article. They don't categorize Drudge Report as a blog either, since it's not listed at all, though the Drudge Retort, a left wing answer to the right wing Drudge Report is listed, in 34th place, currently. And no, this site isn't on their list. Not even close. (Although, perhaps you have to sign up with them or something, since I searched for several blogs that I know are quite busy, and none of them came up either.)

Friday, August 12, 2005  

Painful D2 Emails: Part 04

I make jokes about and quote the dumb ones, but they're not all like that. In fact, most of the mails are okay, or better than that; complimentary or helpful or packing useful news tips, etc. Here's a nice one that came in tonight, for example:
Magic Find Guide

I just want you to know, I really enjoyed your guide. Best I have ever seen. Very Good Job.....
I'd put in a link to my old MF guide, but since I don't want to go look, it's 2 versions of the game old now, and if you care you've probably already seen it, I'm not going to. On the other hand, this was the next email in, and well... just look at it.
plz read cd key has been diabled

hey my cd key ahs been disabled i dunno y it doesnt mean i hav no money and i cant afford another cd u hav to disable it :( my dad is very angry and tryign very hard to raise the money for me plz can u send me a cd key plz i beg u y me out of all people my name is paul thank you end to the cd key plz thanx alot bye.
Whatever could have happened to the poor lad's CD Key? I refer you to a news post I made some hours before his email came in, in which I quote a post on the Blizzard website:
We have just closed more than 36,000 accounts for cheating on More than 28,000 CD keys tied to these accounts have been disabled from Realm play on for one month, and more than 3,000 CD keys have been permanently disabled from Realm play due to repeat offenses.
In other words, Paul here cheated badly enough to get caught, got his CD Key banned, and is now begging for another one. Because after all, why should he suffer any consequences for his actions? That's not fair. It should go without saying that we run a D2 fansite, we are not Blizzard, and I don't have any CD Keys other than the one that came on my version of the game, which I purchased back in 2001.

I blocked out the domain name of his email address, but it's one of two surprises about his mail. 1) His email isn't, and 2) he's not American! The email sender is John (his dad, I assume) and his ISP is Australian.

It's often remarked upon that English has become the world's language, to an extent no other single language has ever been. I'd like to point out that the l33t, largely-illiterate version of it has truly become the Internet's underaged troll language, and that you can't hardly tell emails from begging 14 y/o idiots apart, whether said idiots reside in Norway, Oz, France, Korea, or Texas. (Emails from older kids or adults in those disparate areas are different though; the ones from non-native English speakers, especially non-US ones, are usually far better written.)

Thursday, August 11, 2005  

Must they talk?

Watching some of the preseason game between SD and Green Bay right now, and I'd forgotten just how insipid football play by play guys are. I don't even know the names of the guys doing this game, but they've used the word "consistent" at least a dozen times in half an hour, and never with its actual meaning. They apparently mean "play well" when they use it, but as they say, "He needs to become more consistent." or "Their offensive line play has been very inconsistent." it sounds sort of ridiculous.

Green Bay's pass defense was consistent last year... consistently shitty. So by saying they need to become more consistent... at what, exactly? Being burned for huge gains? Missing tackles? They need to "improve," kids. That's something different.

The announcers have also trotted out every hoary cliche half a dozen times so far. San Diego was horrible in 2002 and 2003, and their quarterback, Brees, was a large reason for that. They improved greatly last year, winning 12 games before laying an egg in the playoffs, and a large reason for that was Brees, who played very well almost all season. Did he improve his consistency? No! He went from sucking to playing well.

The announcers keep bringing it up though, (as they did every single time I saw a SD game last year) because they want to talk about how Brees came into camp after the disastrous 2003 season, and talked to the coaches and said he would be better, and talked to the players and said he was going to lead them, and so on and so forth. It's a good story because SD turned around and had one of the best records in the league, but what if they'd gone 5-11 instead of 12-4? Would one announcer have trotted out the anecdote about Brees' newfound resolve and leadership and confidence even in the face of sucking adversity? Of course not, and I'm sure dozens of players make similar statements every year, only to continue sucking in obscurity. Yet the announcers repeat the story about Brees saying it as though it's some sort of revealed truth from scripture.

The other beauty of the announcers is that once they've decided upon their narrative line, nothing will sway them from it. Since Brees improved and is now a good QB, anything he does must be a sign of his incipient brilliance. Even bad things. If he misses a pass downfield it's because he now has the confidence to throw it there. If he takes a sack it's because his wisdom in reading the field told him nothing was open and he was wise to go down rather than throwing an interception. Just now the Chargers had a 3rd down and 5. Brees looked left, looked right, and then dumped it off to the running back, (the easiest play for a QB, and one every QB does when he can't find anything better to do with the pass) which led the announcers to rhapsodize over how wisely he'd read the field and how he never would have made that pass two years ago. If Brees had struggled last year and the Chargers had lost, the announcers would have been all over him for settling for a short little dump off pass on 3rd and 5, when he should have found someone open downfield and not settled for the safety route, etc.

This sort of thing reminds me vividly of why I generally prefer reading intelligent writing about football to watching it. Or at least watching it live, when I can't FF over all of the insipid announcer time-filling bullshit. And I like football! It's the only sport I'll watch on TV even when one of my very few favored teams aren't playing.

Movie Trailer Fun

Movie Trailers!

  • The teaser trailer for Domino didn't do much for me, and I thought the whole "fashion model girl turned bounty hunter" was a bit ridiculous, inspired by true events or not, but I have to admit that I really enjoyed this new full length one. It starts off slowly, with lots of annoying voice over by a very English-sounding Kiera Knightley, but once they get into the plot complications and show some action, it starts rocking in a very quirky sort of way. I'm usually one to criticize trailers for giving away far too much of the plot (See Island, The.) but this one strikes a nice balance; telling us enough to get us interested without spilling all the beans.

  • Elsewhere, there's allegedly a full Aeon Flux trailer online, at last, but it's on some godawful Mtv player thing that I can't get to work, even after I turn off my pop up blocker. I guess it's inevitable with corporate partnerships, but the overcomplcation of movie trailer delivery is an increasing scourge upon the Internet. About every month there's a new one on AOL's Moviefone that's simply unwatchable; you've got to DL some proprietory AOL software, you've got to allow invasive cookies, and even if you do all of that it plays in a tiny window and looks like shit. Eventually those show up on the official movie website in decent quality, but it sucks to wait; in fact I have a cable modem expressely so I do not have to wait.

  • That aside, I'd also like to recommend the Lord of War trailer, though I doubt I'll see the movie myself. It's about Nicholas Cage as an international gun dealer, but there's really no way to judge the tone of the film. The trailer plays it as a sort or screwball comedy, with him jetting into one dangerous tyrant's regime after another and selling lots of bullets and guns without a shred of morality about his actions. That's contrasted with a pleasant American suburban homelife with a wife who knows nothing of his real job. Yes, just like every spy movie made in the last decade. It's inevitable that Cage's worlds will collide, and I suppose it could be fun when they do, but I rather suspect there will be lots of faux sincerity as he's motivated by his wife to suddenly discover a conscience. Maybe he'll even give away a plane load of guns to some noble freedom fighters somewhere, to counter act his sales to the evil oppressor. But I sure hope not. (I must admit that I have no idea how I'd wrap up the script to this one either. It's a cute set up, but where do you go with it from there?)

  • I had some hopes for The Transporter II, since the early teaser was cute and lively, but it's looking more and more mediocre with every film clip and international trailer they release.

  • Nightwatch still looks interesting, and the image quality of the trailers has increased immeasurably since the first one that came streaming from some Russian site, but since I've been hearing about it for over a year I'm getting sort of sick of the concept, and I'm very sick of the endless delays US movie fans seem to suffer with every imported film. The damn thing came out last summer in Russia; how long does it take to thorw in some fricking subtitles anyway?

  • Lastly, I've got to rave a bit about the new Tony Jaa movie. Ong Bak was a cheesy film with colossal fight scenes (I gave it a 7.), and this one looks to be about the same. In fact the only sneak review I've seen online says as much, but whatever; the new trailer is the absolute shit if you enjoy martial arts. Sure, I can see holes in a lot of the moves, and it's frequently obvious (especially in slow motion) that the guy about to be hit is waiting for it; but it's still got a lot of fun stuff. And I'm sure that we'll all enjoy it, when some film studio gets around to releasing it in the US in fall 2007 or so.

    Golf Ain't Easy

    The fourth and final "major" tournament of the season is just beginning in golf, and before it started there were nothing but articles about how Tiger Woods was almost sure to win, how he'd finished 1st, 2nd, and 1st in the three majors so far this year, how his game was once again by far the best in the world, and so on and so forth. So how did he do in his first round? He shot a 5 over par 75, and is sitting pretty in 112th place. That 50/50 field bet against Tiger is looking pretty good now, eh?

    Book Reviews: The Wizard of Earthsea, by Ursula K. LeGuin

    This is an extremely long blog post, but since it's all going to be one page in the reviews section once I set it up there, and since all of the reviews are based on each other, and since I didn't want to break it up into six different posts, oh well. You know where your page down key is if you need it, right?

    Ursula K. LeGuin's Earthsea series (initially a trilogy, now up to six books) is a classic of fantasy and a series (at least the initial trilogy) that every fantasy fan should read. You can do it quickly too; the first four books are no more than 180 pages each, though they aren't exactly a quick read, and the sixth one isn't much longer.

    LeGuin's world of Earthsea is somewhat thematically similar to Tolkien's LotR, in that they both feel very real and authentic, and are tinged with sorrow and loss and sacrifice. If you want slam/bang action fantasy where the good guys triumph with super spells and swords, and the bad guys are evil and scheming and get theirs in the end, you will find Earthsea a great change of pace, and you will probably not enjoy it very much. LeGuin's series is much more about the smaller details, and the journey, and the hardships and sacrifices a man (or woman, in the later books) must make to be great and to do good for his people. Her stories are more about personal growth or redemption through great acts, rather than about the acts themselves, and the heroic deeds are usually being done out of necessity, when there is no other choice. Young heroes eager for glory and power bring evil ends upon themselves, and rash actions are usually punished just as they are in real life.

    LeGuin is kind of a big bang writer, (I explain that style of fantasy here.) except that her bangs aren't that big, and she doesn't really try to make them big. In her books you get pages and pages of documentary-style coverage of people living in the middle ages, making food, sailing a boat, walking around a mountain in the rain, etc, before there's finally some action and excitement. If you get into the stories and the world and the characters, it's satisfying to read about their every act, and you care more when they finally face some danger and do something heroic. If you don't, you get bored and skim a lot and wonder why anyone likes this material.

    For example, here's a recent review of the first book in the series, from an reviewer.
    A Poor Man's Harry Potter, July 17, 2005
    I tried to get through this first book but just couldn't manage it. I was bored to tears. I presume Rowling was familiar with the basic idea of a young man going to wizard school and finding out who he really was, but Rowling did it brilliantly while Le Guin was just plain awful. I presume it was so popular when written because there just wasn't a lot of fantasy for fans of the genre. I'm amazed that it's still in print.
    Now this 1 star review is not finding much agreement, with just 1 out of 14 people finding it useful, but while I disagree with him, I can definitely see his point. Harry Potter is a modern children's book, with a much-simplified morality. All of the humans and main characters are either good or evil, and they act very consistently. There's virtually no introspection, nothing troubling for the reader to think over, and good guys to root for with all of your heart (unless you want to be post modern and dislike Harry just because he's such a square little goodie goodie).

    Earthsea is a much more adult (and therefore old fashioned) series, (the first trilogy was written around 1970) with tons of ambiguity, characters full of doubt and failings, realistic characters with both good and bad aspects to them, and a distinct lack of splashy, special-effect type spells. Magic in the land of Earthsea is much more about personal will and research and knowledge; a mage needs to know the words of the enchantments, but how well the spell works is much more about how the individual mage ties the words together, and how his own power and will forms the magical act. The magic in this world is not fun and games, it's dark and dangerous and must be performed only when necessary, and even then worked with great care. There is much philosophical talk about the balance of magic, and the plot of the third book involves everyone in the world slowly losing their mind due to a mad wizard tampering with the boundaries between life and death.

    In short, you don't read these novels for the fun times and magical showdowns and battles between good and evil. Most of the battles take place within the hearts of individuals, and no one is truly good or evil; everyone has elements of both in them, and they must constantly work to see that the good triumphs. It's very much like real life, and that is precisely what so many modern readers don't seem to like about Earthsea. People want fun escapism, they want kings and lords and ladies, they want epic battles where good triumphs, and they want magic that solves problems instead of creating new ones.

    I can vouch for that myself; I first read the original trilogy when I was in grade school, and while I liked it, I was also confused and depressed and bored by a lot of it, and mostly just wanted the dragon battles and mage battles and such to go on. I would have gone insane for the Harry Potter series at that age, (if it had existed back then) since I didn't have the patience or the maturity to really enjoy the intelligence and adult themes behind the simple actions in Earthsea.

    I also had very different reactions to the characters and events, based on my age. I can remember reading book one back then, and being as bored as Sparrowhawk was on the mountain with Ogion. I didn't want to learn what he was teaching (peace, harmony, introspection), I wanted to go to Roke and learn real magic and kick ass. Once at Roke, I was 100% with Sparrowhawk as he picked a rivalry with and grew to hate Jasper, learned faster than he should have, and then nearly killed himself by overreaching with an enormous enchantment. Reading it now, I see Sparrowhawk as a fevered little knucklehead who has no idea of his place and needs to be taken down several notches, Jasper as a snarky asshole, but one who speaks a lot of truth when he constantly deflates Sparrowhawk's vastly-inflated ego, and Sparrowhawk's tragic near-death as a very necessary event, one that probably kept him from going as mad as the evil mage in book 3, and possibly destroying the world with his ambition and lack of common sense.

    And who knows; when I'm 50 or 60 and read them again, I might get an entirely different meaning based on my life experience up to that point.

    Here follow my short reviews of each book in the series. I highly recommend reading the first three, in order of course. Your local library will have them or can order them, if you don't want to hunt them down in a used paperback store. Whether you read the rest of the series is up to you, depending on how much you enjoy the first three. If you don't love them, stop there, because it's not getting any better after that.

    Book 4 is very divisive, and it's discussed in detail below. Books 5 and 6 aren't bad, though they're sort of rewarmed versions of books 1-3, with more "kitchen sink drama" and far less action and excitement and magic.

    Important! The following scores are all relative to each other. All of these scores and reviews were written at the same time, in August 2005, after I had just read books 5 and 6, and skimmed over the first 4 to refresh my memory. I give several of these books mediocre or even low scores, but that is only in comparison to the other books in the series. The 4.5 I give Tehanu here doesn't mean it's necessarily worse than other unrelated books that I've given 5s and 6s to, though.

    These reviews contain minor spoilers about the plot set ups for each book, and reading about the plot of book 3 (for example) will tell you something about what happens in book 2. I don't see anyway to avoid that without making these reviews completely superficial, though.

    To the individual scores, in order of publication.

    Book 1: A Wizard of Earthsea
    Plot: 7
    Concept: 8
    Writing Quality/Flow: 6/7
    Characters: 6
    Horror: 5
    Humor: NA
    Fun Factor: 6
    Page Turner: 6
    Re-readability: 8
    Overall: 8
    The first book in the series is A Wizard of Earthsea. This one introduces us to the main character (at least of the first three books), Sparrowhawk, AKA Ged. He's a young boy when the book begins, born to a blacksmith father and a dying mother, and born with an intrinsic talent for magic. He first shows his talent at a young age, nearly killing himself with a spell far beyond his abilities, briefly apprentices with a very quiet and peaceful mage, then heads on to the mage school on Roke. There he is driven by pride and a lust for knowledge, gains in skill faster than any mage ever has, and nearly kills himself by working a mighty enchantment that backfires.

    Maimed and slowed by the injuries, he eventually gains his wizard's staff and heads out into the world, where he hopes to avoid the shadow creature that entered the world when he cast his ill-advised spell, and eventually, after several narrow escapes, realizes that he must hunt down the shadow being, rather than running from it.

    The book is basically about accepting responsibility for your own actions, growing to be a man, behaving wisely and not rashly, making sacrifices for those you care about, and so on. It's an enjoyable book, and a great introduction to the series, setting up a fascinating character, and interesting world, and introducing us to LeGuin's take on dragons (they are awesomely-portrayed in Earthsea).

    This book also includes one of my biggest complaints about LeGuins's writing; the mercilessly-overt foreshadowing. She's not that bad about doing it all through the story, as some authors are, but on page one of the first book in the series she says this is a story about Sparrowhawk, from before he became great and renowned and did X and Y and Z. Right then and there, on page 1 of the first book, she not only tells you that Sparrowhawk is going to survive the challenges he faces in that book, and that he'll surmount them completely and become famous and powerful and wonderful. She basically gives away the conclusion of the first two books in one sentence! I'm not repeating what that line says here, since it would be infinitely spoiler, but I'm not sure why I'm bothering not to when the author herself did it right off the bat.

    Book 2: The Tombs of Atuan
    Plot: 5
    Concept: 6
    Writing Quality/Flow: 6/7
    Characters: 6
    Horror: 3
    Humor: NA
    Fun Factor: 4
    Page Turner: 5
    Re-readability: 6
    Overall: 6
    Book two takes place a few years after book one ends, and while it is largely about Ged's quest to find the other half of an ancient ring that's been broken and lost for over 800 years, he's not the main character in the story. For most of the book he's not even onscreen, as we spend time with Tenar, a young priestess in the Hardic lands, islands occupied by a different culture than the dominant people in Earthsea. On her large island Tenar lives as a Dalai Lama-esque reincarnated princess, one who is held in great regard but who has little actual power. As she finds out during the course of the novel.

    Ged doesn't actually appear until nearly a third of the way through the book, and the first 50+ pages are instead about Arha and her life as she serves the dark and powerful Nameless Ones, who are sort of earth spirits that inhabit an ancient labyrinth beneath her temples. When Ged eventually appears she sees him in the dark tombs below the surface, and locks him into the maze, where he will surely die. He is a curiosity to Arha though, and she can't help feeding him enough to keep him alive while speaking with him to learn of other lands and other cultures and philosophies.

    Eventually he tells her of his quest, and his presence precipitates a schism between Arha and the high priestess who actually holds most of the power, while supposedly serving the young girl/reincarnated goddess. Arha finds herself identifying more and more with Ged and questioning the religion and philosophy she's been raised in, and eventually must make a choice between staying there and letting the foreign mage die, or giving him the ring and fleeing with him to a strange and distant land.

    This novel has by far the least action or adventure of the first three books, and is actually quite similar to book 4, in terms of nothing really happening until the conclusion. It's all talk and thought and introspection, rather than action or fighting or dragons. It's still a good book, and more thought provoking the more you think about it (Once you have the maturity to enjoy it for that; I disliked it when I was a kid.), but I can see an impatient reader skimming pages by the dozen, just wanting to find out if Ged escapes the damn labyrinth with the ring or not.

    Book 3: The Farthest Shore
    Plot: 7
    Concept: 8
    Writing Quality/Flow: 6/7
    Characters: 6
    Horror: 4
    Humor: NA
    Fun Factor: 5
    Page Turner: 6
    Re-readability: 6
    Overall: 7.5
    Book three takes place more than a decade after the events in book two. Arha is nowhere to be seen in this novel, and Ged is now Archmage. He's done numerous great deeds since recovering the Ring of Erreth-Akbe, but unfortunately those are not detailed in this book or any of them. We just hear about them when other people think why he's so great.

    A new crisis faces the islands of Earthsea though, as reports continually trickle into Roke of magic no longer working on distant islands, of people losing their minds and running mad through the streets, of singers forgetting the words to ritual songs, and so on. A young prince has come bearing such tales from his own powerful island, and Ged immediately sees something in him that no one else does, and elects to take the lad with him when he sets forth, alone, to try and discover what is happening to Earthsea.

    They sail off, over the objections of most of the other senior mages, and go through various adventures (none of which are especially exciting). The book is pretty depressing, really, as it depicts one miserable and hopeless person and island after another, as Ged and Arren travel aimlessly around the world, steadily losing hope as the sickness that is poisoning the minds of every living man begins to work on them. It's very tricky to write from the perspective of a depressed and hopeless person without making the reader depressed and hopeless themselves. In this book, LeGuin does a very good job of letting us know just how morose Prince Arren feels... perhaps too good a job.

    The plot eventually picks up when a dragon seeks out Ged and Arren, bringing news of their enemy and where he might be found. A grand confrontation beckons... until when it finally occurs, there's far less to it than the reader might have expected. Imagine if in Harry Potter 7, when Harry finally faces Voldemort... they talk for a while and Harry convinces Voldemort that he's been misguided in his evil all these years, and that he should just lie down and die and he'd be happier then. And Voldemort agrees, leaving Harry alone to try and fix the hole in the world that's sucking everyone into madness and despair.

    The book has somewhat of a surprise ending, when Arren turns out to be far more than he appeared to be, and all of Ged's cryptic musings on how he'll be remembered more for discovering Arren than for his own deeds are explained in heroic fashion.

    Book 4: Tehanu
    Plot: 4
    Concept: 5
    Writing Quality/Flow: 7/5
    Characters: 4
    Fun Factor: 2
    Page Turner: 3
    Re-readability: 4
    Overall: 4.5
    Tehanu is the real turning point in the series. I first reviewed it long before reading books 5 and 6, and wrote a full review of it with scores somewhat different from these. My opinion of it hasn't changed since then, but I did redo the scores to make them relative to the other books in the series.

    This novel was written 1991, nearly two decades after the 3rd book in the series, and when I first read it I was heartbroken. I had long loved the first three novels, despite all of their slowness and introspection and lack of action, but this one took that to a new level. There is perhaps one page of action and excitement in this entire novel, it comes at the very end, and it's hardly there at all; with the crucial action climax to the entire very, very slowly developing plot basically taking place off screen.

    That's intentional though, as LeGuin set out to write a very different book, one without a plot or structure or tension, as such things are usually described. The first three books in the series, #2 especially, spend a great deal of time detailing the sort of events that aren't mentioned in normal fantasy adventures, and often feature the sorts of characters you never see in those books either. Peasants, housewives, powerless sisters of powerful mages, and so on. They're seldom even integral to the plots; they're just there for background or realism, or to give a PoV not usually encountered in such books.

    This is taken to an extreme in Tehanu, where almost the entire book is about a widowed peasant woman and the fire-scarred orphan girl she takes in. They are dispossessed from her late husband's home when her layabout son returns, they walk across the mountains with some weird, lurking guys subtly menacing them, and they settle in the home of the old, dead wizard where they scratch out a living with a few goats, some chickens, and a peach tree. Eventually Ged returns, an event that shows us this novel is set just hours after book 3 ended, but he's now broken and powerless, having spent his might to heal the rift in the fabric of the world in the end of book three.

    And he's not there to rest and return stronger than ever; he really has lost his power, and frankly it's damn depressing to watch him moping around a goat pasture, unknown and unloved by the local villagers, with his entire life behind him and years yet to live. Some of the reviewers have said it's heartbreaking to see a beloved character like Ged reduced and weakened; almost like watching a parent die. You can take that comment two ways: 1) It's realistic and brilliant writing to make people feel so strongly about a character, and interesting to see one in a way you never do in other novels. 2) Readers don't read fantasy novels to suffer and feel miserable when the characters they love are crushed and humiliated without hope of salvation. Which philosophy you agree with will largely define how you feel about this book.

    As I said, I hated this story when I first read it, back in the 90s, but have since come to appreciate it, though I can't say I actually like it. The first three novels in this series were written by a younger LeGuin, one who was putting her own stamp on the fantasy world, but who was essentially Tolkien-esque in having everything of importance be done by men, and skewing her tales around the great deeds of men. By the time she wrote Tehanu she was a "born-again feminist" and had a very different philosophy about life, and wrote Tehanu almost as an experiment, to see if she could construct a full novel without a single thing that your average reader expects in a fantasy novel. No kings, no wizards, no battles, no romances, etc. It's just old, poor peasants scratching out their life on the far, far side of their former glory.

    All the novels in Earthsea are quite solemn, with great responsibility and importance heaped upon every event, and I like that approach, so long as there is enough other interesting stuff to offset the very slow pace and very introspective style. It's not really a style I search out, but a good writer can make it work, and LeGuin does. Tehanu could have done that as well, but LeGuin seems too committed to proving she can write a novel in which nothing important happens. She's written it, but whether that's a good thing or not is very open to debate.

    Her approach has, as you might expect, divided her fans. As I discuss in my old Tehanu review, the reviews are all over the place, with more 1 star than 5 star reviews among the most popular, and reviewers denouncing it as passionately as others defend it. You may want to read Tehanu just to see what all the fuss is about, but there's a dualism there as well.

    1) People who have never read any of the series might enjoy this one to start off with, since it doesn't require any previous knowledge of the characters, and it wouldn't bother you seeing Ged so weak and old. On the other hand, if you didn't know anything about the world or the characters, why would you trudge through 200 pages of this kitchen sink drama that's sadly lacking in drama?

    2) People who have read the first trilogy will enjoy this to see what's become of the old characters, and it's interesting to see LeGuin's new take on her own world. On the other hand, you'll know what you're missing when there's no plot or action or conflict in this one, and you'll find it impossible to keep from comparing this one to the first three, which you will most likely think much superior.

    Book 5: Tales from Earthsea
    Plot: 5
    Concept: 6
    Writing Quality/Flow: 6/6
    Characters: 5
    Horror: NA
    Humor: NA
    Fun Factor: 5
    Page Turner: 6
    Re-readability: 6
    Overall: 6.5
    Books 5 and 6 were written a decade after book 4, and that's definitely to their good. LeGuin's feminism isn't gone, but it's been tempered by reality and life experience, and she's not out to prove a point this time. Book 5 is a collection of short (and not so short) stories set at various times and places in the Earthsea world, and while none of them are especially good or exciting, none sink as deeply into mundanity as book 4 did.

    There are stories about dragons, about the founding of the wizard school on Roke, about how and why women are no longer permitted to learn the higher forms of magic, and even one with a scene from earlier in Ged's life, though it's unfortunately not a scene of one of his great deeds. Nothing about this book really sucks, but nothing about it is very good either. It's more consistent with the tone of the first three books though, while still dealing in a more realistic and balanced fashion with the male/female interaction. Women aren't all the main characters this time, but they aren't entirely pushed away to the irrelevant side as they were in books 1-3, and they aren't living an utterly boring and simple life, like they were in book 4.

    I don't think this one would be of much interest to someone who hadn't read the whole series though, and you will at least enjoy it far more if you've read the rest, and know what holes in the narrative and history it's plugging.

    Book 6: The Other Wind
    Plot: 6
    Concept: 6
    Writing Quality/Flow: 6/6
    Characters: 7
    Horror: NA
    Humor: NA
    Fun Factor: 4
    Page Turner: 5
    Re-readability: 6
    Overall: 6.5
    The sixth and final (for now) novel in the Earthsea Cycle is similar to the third book, in structure. Something is fundamentally wrong with the world, but this time it's affecting the dragons, and the dead, rather than the living humans. Dragons are returning to the lands of the east, raiding and burning crops and houses, as they try to drive the people away (rather than simply eating or burning them). In addition, the dead seem restless, and the more sensitive and wise people suspect there is a great sickness lying over the world.

    If book 4 was about feminism coming into a patriarchal society, book 6 is about ideas of reincarnation coming into a heaven/hell view of the afterlife. Lebannen, the first king over the lands in more than 800 years, needs to marry. The conqueror king of the Hardic lands has sent his daughter for Lebannen to marry. Lebannen is incensed by this, feeling trapped into a marriage with a woman who does not speak his language or know his customs, and who is the daughter of a much less powerful king, one he could crush or ignore, if he so choose.

    The meat of the plot has Lebannen and a few advisors, including his would-be queen, riding around and making parley with dragons, while they worry about the larger issue of the unrest in the land of the dead, a physical place in the world of Earthsea. As the plot unfolds, progress is made in dealing with the angry dragons, and Lebannen grows warmer towards the mysterious veiled girl he may have to marry while she begins to learn his language and makes efforts to make him like her. Aiding greatly in everything is Tehanu, the fire-scarred young girl of the 4th book, who... turned into a dragon at the end of it. Yes, turned into a dragon.

    It seemed absurd at the time, but as the mythology of Earthsea developed more over books 5 and 6, stories came about that humans and dragons were initially one creature with the ability to change between the forms. Dragons had nothing and were free, humans were greedy and enslaved by their greed, and over time humans grew more and more separate from dragons, until all memory of their common origin was lost. (I can easily see a reader finding this just too ridiculous to accept, and not being able to get into the story at all because of it.) One or two people every generation are still born with the ability to transform though. Funny, you'd think word of that would have gotten around a bit more.

    Furthermore, the humans of the archipelago, the main characters in the Earthsea books, believe in an afterlife where there is nothing but a dry, dead land, filled with the aimless and emotionless dead. It's a horrible place, where lovers pass on the street without recognizing each other, and nothing ever changes. Sort of like the waiting room at the DMV. The Hardic people though, including Tenar, who came along with the ring in book 2, and the princess/future-queen in book 6, believe in reincarnation, and think dying with the beliefs of the archipelago people is a horrible fate, since they will never be reborn (and apparently they're right, as far as the book goes in resolving this choose-your-own-destiny theological quandary).

    The climax of the book involves the king's party working to end the locked state of their afterlife land of the dead, and finding a way to become one with the other people, and discovering why no dragons ever fly through the land of the dead. It's a largely philosophical problem, but at least this book has a plot of sorts, and a love story, though it's rather uninvolving. Lebannen and his queen to be hardly interact, and they are indifferent towards each other throughout, until suddenly when the plot requires it they are completely devoted to each other and ready to die for their love.

    I do have to give LeGuin props for thinking up a major world-threatening plot that wasn't just based on an evil wizard (again) or attacking dragons, or attacking Kargs, or other common things. It's damn hard to threaten your world and all of the people in it again and again without repeating yourself or your villains, and she mostly managed it, with a healthy dose of theology and philosophy thrown in. My mediocre score isn't based on that; it's more due to the events during the book being pretty boring, as they lead up to the enormously important but still not very exciting climax.

    Tuesday, August 09, 2005  

    German Gangster Rap?

    Interesting NY Times article (that you'll probably need to register to read) about the growing popularity of German rap artists, especially the newly-popular gangster rappers, who are succeeding despite (because of?) their albums often being put on restricted lists that keep them from being advertised or sold to anyone under 18. The whole thing is a good read, with the odd fact that lots of the neo-Nazi skinheads are turning into gangster rap fans, despite the fact that the biggest rappers are the children of immigrants; people the skinheads would probably stomp with their jackboots, in any ordinary situation.

    I'm going to quote from a bit about the language barrier though, since that was my first thought when I heard "German rappers." I don't know much about the German language, but I do know that it's full of outrageously long compound words that would seem virtually impossible to work into a rap.
    German rap has traditionally ceded ground to imports from across the Atlantic. Though some German hip-hop groups found success in the 1990's, German, unlike French and English, is not a language that accommodates the genre, say some artists.

    The language features many combination words with an avalanche of syllables that don't rhyme well together, Bushido said. That impairs a rapper's ability to let loose a smooth and creative flow. That, combined with inferior production quality and beats, kept young people listening to rap imports, said Eric Remberg, the head of label Aggro Berlin, who prefers to go by the monicker Specter.

    German rap's newfound success is partly a result of improved production quality and better lyrics, and partly a realization that Germany has its own problem neighborhoods, where failed integration and social hardship are part of the daily struggle, Specter said.
    Where there's a will there's a way, I suppose, and perhaps they can work in proper nouns to rhyme, since those aren't changed in German and can be shorter and easier? Gotterdammerung with Mao Tze Tung, for instance.


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