Friday, February 27, 2015

Five Fandom Friday: Characters (And People) I Would Name My Kids After

5 Fandom Friday is a weekly geek meme from The Nerdy Girlie and Super Space Chick. This week's topic is: names!

Even though I'm lukewarm on kids (happy to work with them, also happy to not actually be responsible for them), I am a fiend for names. There aren't enough inanimate objects in my life that I can name—I have my main computer (Regan, after the girl in The Exorcist, because trying to remove Windows was akin to an exorcism), my netbook (Samwise, because he is literally half the size of a regular laptop and will go with me wherever), and my smartphone (Mimir, as I use him access all of the wisdom and answers of the Internet while I'm out). Even the candle I burn on my windowsill as a mindhack to keep me focused has a name (Georgina, just because). My now-junked car was Yoda (he was green, and a Toyota) and my previous laptop to Regan was Priscilla (just because). 

I like naming things! So I don't need to have kids to have a top list of names I would give to babies or cats or plants or whatever.

5. Thena

Naming anything after a deity smacks of hubris, but a variation on the name seems fair game to me. Athena is the best at everything and has been my favorite member of any ancient pantheon since I was in elementary school.

4. Rehoboth

Okay, so this is totally just the name of the beach I vacationed at with my family as a kid, but I think it's a lovely name. I totally used it for the name of an RP character back in the day. (Did anyone else ever play on Alleria? Or, I'm sorry...Aelyria?)

3. Raskolnikov

This name was bestowed upon a cactus in college who ultimately didn't end up faring too well. But he is one of my favorite characters in literature so at some point I'm sure I'll name something after him again! Maybe a pet, so then I can call him "Rascal" for short.

2. Hypatia

Again, with the Greek. But Hypatia was an actual person, not a deity, and she was a supergenius badass.

1. Fontana

And what entry today would be complete without a shout-out to Star Trek? I let out an Annakin-style Big No when the first report of Nimoy's death hit my Facebook feed. A few of my friends already have a cat named Spock (a girl cat, weirdly enough), so I would like to pay tribute to one of the unsung women who made Trek great: D. C. Fontana.

LLAP, friends.

Thursday, February 26, 2015

Trek Thursday: Plato's Stepchildren

#35: Plato's Stepchildren

In case you forgot: This is the episode where Kirk and Uhura kiss. They kiss because a race of beings with god-like telekinetic powers are bored and need something to play with.

Alexander is one of my favorite alien-of-the-week characters. He's the only person left on this planet with anything resembling a moral compass, which is impressive considering he's spent who knows how many years being the butt of everyone's jokes. That's usually the stuff school shootings are made of. It's Alexander that really helps this episode make the jump from "okay" to "good."

It's also a nice touch that the aliens' powers are hindrance to their development in other ways: their eugenic focus on mental prowess has been at the cost of the robustness of their physical bodies (hence why they want a skilled doctor like McCoy around).

Otherwise, the Greek theme comes off as a bit unnecessary. There is nothing about their lives that is inherent to Plato or his Republic; at least Apollo in "Who Mourns for Adonais?" was, literally, Apollo and thus had grown used to Greek trappings. So much of the episode is watching Kirk and Spock being tormented by Parmen, the ruler of the planet, that it makes for some filler that is a YMMV situation; for me, there wasn't much mileage to be had at all.

The crowning sin of this episode, though, is the end. Kirk and Spock manage to get some telekinetic powers of their own (it's in the food) so they can stand up to Parmen and give him a lecture about ethics and how Starfleet and the Federation will be back to check up on them, but...that's it. These people are probably some of the more vile alien races encountered and Kirk just lets them get away with it? That is the difference between a good episode and a great episode.

Tuesday, February 24, 2015

Etsy in Wired: "How Etsy Alienated Crafters and Lost Its Soul"

There is a piece in Wired making the rounds about Etsy's current condition and future outlook. Is Wired considered serious, responsible journalism these days? I just think of it as the lime-green attention-grabbing Futurist magazine that sure looked a lot crazier than the other typical airport reading fare. It really felt like they were trying to market to me, which is troubling considering that in February of 1996 I was just 9 years old. Maybe it just resembled the old KidSoft magazine/CD sampler too much?


There was one graphic designer in the 90s, and she was making a killing.

But I can wax nostalgic over the early days of Wired another time. This is a post about Etsy. 

I have expressed my displeasure with Etsy before, particularly with their decision to allow "collectives" and "small manufacturers." The outrage wasn't because I don't think collectives should be allowed on Etsy. It was because this was a sneaky way for Etsy to allow their big money-makers, the overseas resellers and camouflaged sweatshops, a loophole in. Etsy absolutely trades on the image of being quirky and handmade, but whether or not that image is true to reality anymore is up for debate. 

Let me be clear: I am not faulting Etsy for getting bigger. When you're fulfilling a particular niche and (in the beginning), fulfilling it well, success and growth is a logical consequence. But how Etsy handled that growth is an example of what not to do, and that's the larger point I think Dobush is trying to make.

I'm not bitter about there being a lot of stuff on Etsy out of principle. Success for Etsy means having a lot of stuff. I'm bitter about "tests" and "tweaks" that happen without warning; I'm bitter about reseller shops being coached into having acceptable profiles rather than kicked off the site; I'm bitter about the broken sorting algorithms that can't seem to control for the same three shops cluttering up the first pages of a search (unless you search for something very weird and specific); I'm bitter about not being allowed to publicly criticize or call out shops in the forums; I'm bitter about people being muted for doing so. If you dig a little into Etsy's reviews on GlassDoor, you'll see that there's some shady, or at least mismanaged, stuff going on in HQ. Totally unsurprising.

I'm also bitter about Etsy constantly pushing the "quit your day job!" narrative, insisting that everyone who used Etsy could turn their hobby into an independent business. It's not true and it's disingenuous to imply otherwise. The fact that this is a continuing part of Etsy's image (the featured sellers on the front page seem to be featured more to foster this illusion rather than because they make something truly unique or interesting) irks me because it is akin to lying. I guess that's how the marketing cookie crumbles.

I don't expect Etsy to sell my jewelry for me. And I'm lucky: many of these issues that I'm bitter about actually have zero effect on my sales. There's not a single item that's moved from my shop that's been sold on its jewelry merits; everyone who buys from me is either a nerd or is purchasing for a nerd, and there is no nerd jewelry like mine coming from AliBaba or anywhere else.

Even if Etsy's poor decisions don't necessarily affect my bottom line, I've still been looking for an alternative for a while now. At first I thought Zibbet might be worth it, but their slow boat of fail has been listing for quite a while—plus it doesn't help that their CEO is very active in a creepy fundamentalist Australian church. Reddit marketplace looks promising—my nerdy people!—but I don't know if my business (such as it is) will be accepted as a seller. I put some things on Storenvy but the interface is clunky, whether you're shopping or whether you're selling. The Kokoba display at The DaVinci Center has been a success so far (I think!); more wholesale inquiries at museum gift shops and tables at carefully-selected craft fairs and conventions might be the future of this little cottage craft. I don't want to be reliant on Etsy, and I don't want to give them money when I disagree so strongly with the direction they've taken the site, and the ripple effect it's had on their free advertising: the indie biz and crafters who prop up the Etsy image while drowning under the deluge of resellers and mass production. 

Let's hope the next Big Thing happens, and soon. The time is ripe. 

Saturday, February 21, 2015

Five Fandom Friday on Saturday: 1 Book and 4 Beads I Bought But Haven't Read/Used Yet

This week's 5 Fandom Friday is right up my alley. I'm late in posting it because yesterday was horrible, and busy, and horribly busy.

I am a compulsive shopper and collector. This is the worst when it comes to two things: books and beads. Books have always been my weakness, from a young age—it's better now that I've become a public library champion. Beads came later, but there is a scarcity involved with some of them that isn't inherent with books. I think a lot of us beaders go broke buying up way too much stock of beads we love "just in case." (I regret nothing, though.) So here is one book I have yet to read, and four strands of beads I have yet to use (either at all or in their entirety), listed in order from oldest to newest.

5. The Illuminatus! Trilogy by Robert Anton Wilson and Robert Shea

Out of all my books and beads, this is the one that has remained unread and unused the longest. I bought it because a boy I had a stupid crush on in high school liked it. (Though I wonder now if it was a crush or some weird nerd envy about wanting to be "that smart," who knows, everyone's a mess in high school.) I tried, I made a valiant effort, but I don't think 17-year-old me was really ready for this madness.

In fact, this is exactly the book I was thinking of tackling when I made my 101 in 1001 "read books I haven't read yet" goal but I was so intimidated by it that I went for other books instead. This is one of those books that has intimidated me by virtue of teenage me not being able to finish it. I was able to conquer my fear of A Clockwork Orange last year. Maybe that means I'm finally ready for The Illuminatus! Trilogy.

4. These glass flower beads

These are just something I found at JoAnn's when I first started getting into beading. I bought just one full strand (that is, 16" of them) and I haven't done much with them except a pair of non-mathematical earrings. They might be good as an XOR gate in a full adder bracelet or necklace. It would be a weird clash between a natural, slightly feminine flowery theme and a very artificial and "unnatural" concept, but maybe that would make it interesting. Hm.

4. These funky agate chunks

I bought these at the Silk Market in Beijing in 2010. I wish I had bought all the strands I saw there, because I haven't seen anything cut quite like this, but one strand is better than no strands! I wanted to make something funky and unique out of them, as a memento of my trip to China (I climbed The Great Wall! I ate scorpions at the night market! I crashed a Lunar New Year party at a restaurant and was treated to a veritable feast when nothing else was open!), but I haven't had ~the perfect idea~. I think I might use one of them as a focal point in a Viking knit bracelet, but that's a project that will have to wait until I can get these beads from my parents' house in the states.

3. These faceted agate beads

Yeah, these striped agate beads from the first geo-shopping post five years ago. I still haven't had ~the perfect idea~.

1. These faceted blue rondelles

The newest of my acquisitions, these were a one-off purchase that I split with a coworker at the bead store. I used some of them in a piece I didn't photograph. But I still have a whole bunch left, enough for a least one more project, and considering that I bought them sometime in 2010 or 2011, it's high time I finished up the measly half a strand.

What projects do you need to finish up? Any suggestions for my bead box scraps here?

Thursday, February 19, 2015

Trek Thursday: The Cage/The Menagerie

#36: The Cage/The Menagerie

In case you forgot: In "The Cage," the Enterprise (captained by Christopher Pike) encounters the planet of Talos IV, inhabited by a race of powerful psychic aliens who have been collecting specimens for years in hopes of eventually repopulating the barren surface of their planet. They want humans there, too, and decide Pike will be good breeding stock with the woman they already captured 18 years ago, but ultimately he escapes.

By the time "The Menagerie" rolls around, Pike has been badly, horribly incapacitated by a fire (and perhaps suffering from the disease that killed all the "grups" in "Miri," from the looks of it): he is confined to a tiny zamboni and can't speak, only able to flash lights to yes or no questions. Somehow Spock (who served under him back in the day) finds out about this and decides to take Pike back to Talos IV, where he can live out the rest of his life unfettered by his broken, useless body. I'm lumping these episodes together as one unit, because I think to do otherwise would be redundant.

As I mentioned before with "No Man Has Gone Before," it's always fun to see the pilot of a show, to see what the original idea was and to think about what it might have been, and "The Cage" is no exception. I kind of wish we'd had Jeffrey Hunter's Christopher Pike for the series, instead of the Shat and Kirk, but in retrospect Hunter's death in 1969 would have made filming the movies impossible, and then we wouldn't have The Wrath of Khan, so it is what it is.

Aside from its novelty, "The Cage" is solid sci-fi fare, with a surprising amount of pathos. Pike and his crew only get away because the Talosians let them, and they (the Talosians) make it quite clear that without any humans, they are doomed. Vina's transformation at the end ("Now you see my true form!") is touching, too.

 As for "The Menagerie," it has everything "The Cage" has going for it, plus some great mystery set up (at least in Part I) with Spock hijacking the Enterprise. By the end, there's some nice bookending, too: in "The Cage," Pike had talked to his doctor about being tired of the responsibilities of a starship captain and wanting to settle down somewhere. In "The Menagerie," the Talosians allow him to do just that.

Most of the bad here comes in with "The Menagerie." If this is the enlightened future utopia, why does the Federation still have the death penalty at all? And why is Talos IV so off-limits? There's no other race of creatures with godlike psychic powers so expressly forbidden to Federation, but the Talosians don't seem that much more powerful. "The Menagerie" in particular drags, mostly because you know they're using footage from the pilot to pad out the two-parter to keep the shooting on schedule. It was probably exciting for audiences at the time, but in the age of the Internet, everyone's already seen the first pilot on its own and the episode suffers from redundancy. Much as Spock insists that his tale is too incredible to be believed otherwise, wouldn't everything about Talos IV be in the file that the Commodore shows to Kirk?

And if the Commodore on the Enterprise and shuttlecraft is an illusion, just how far do the Talosians' powers stretch? The implications of that are frightening. Not to mention that Vina and Pike's happiness are more or less dependent on the Talosians remaining eternally benevolent. What happens if one of them gets a bit cranky?

I'll also add the simple observation that all it takes for a woman to find Talos IV a suitable alternative to real life is a threshold level of ugliness; for a man, it's near total incapacitation. No commentary, just putting that out there.

Tuesday, February 17, 2015

February Read Play Blog: Video Game Character Date

Read Play Blog is a meme about video games and books, posted every 16th of the month. Bloggers are encouraged to answer a discussion question, and recommend a video game that is similar to a book they liked. Hosted by Happy Indulgence & Read Me Away.

This week's question: What video game character would you take on a Valentines date?

What's the difference between a Valentine's Date and a regular one? Assuming nothing much, I have to say there aren't any video game characters I feel would be a fun date. What is a date, even? I met JV while I was still in high school and being in a relationship meant I got to sidestep that whole awkward dating thing.

An afternoon out with a badass freerunner like Ezio or the Prince of Persia might be fun....if I could keep up. Otherwise Three Dog from Fallout 3 is pretty chill. I'd love to have a few beers with him!

Recommend a game with your favorite couple!

I don't about with my favorite couple, but as a couple, Little Big Planet and Super Mario Galaxy are a lot of fun. And there is, of course, Diablo 3. As JV is an avid gamer (more than I am, to be honest), a good coop element is a huge draw in a game.

Currently playing

Minecraft is a game I play in phases: a lot for a while, then almost not at all for a while. Right now I'm in the on-again phase of my Minecraft relationship.

Monday, February 16, 2015

Music Monday: The Barbarettes

It's been a while since I've found something worth sharing on Music Monday, but when I stumbled across these girls I knew I'd have to post about them ASAP.

May I present South Korean doo-wop group, The Barbarettes!

They don't just do covers. Here's their most popular single at the moment.

Sunday, February 15, 2015

Five Fandom Friday on Sunday: Best Friends

I'm late on the train with this 5 Fandom Friday, too. Originally about the top 5 couples that you "ship," I avoided it because I'm allergic to fanfiction and romance.

I understand wanting to celebrate and even interact with a narrative you've enjoyed and maybe even internalized, and I also understand the desire for smut, so I'm okay with fanfiction existing somewhere out there in the vague and and hazy ether of the Internet. But it's a thing that is definitely Not For Me, and it chafes me that 50 Shades of Grey and The Mortal Instruments (series that started life as Twilight and Harry Potter fanfiction, respectively) are setting up an inherently Ooribosean closed model: no new input, just constant regurgitation of the same or all-too-similar worlds because that is what the fannish hivemind will buy.

More than that, it bums me out that people would rather spend their creative energy playing with someone else's toys, so to speak, than to create new ones. Imagine if everyone slaving away over their 90-chapter Draco/Harry slash was instead slaving away over an entirely new story. (Not that writing fanfiction precludes you from writing original material; I know people who write both.)

There is an academic "pro fanfic" angle you take, and I grant that—authors have been cribbing off each other since novels were invented, "steal like an artist," etc. I respect that, and I say it still doesn't negate the inherent ick factor of fanfic (fanfick?) for me.

My unpopular geek opinion!

So all of this is to say I was not really excited about this week's 5 Fandom Friday, and then I saw other ladies in the Female Geek Bloggers community posting different interpretations of it, and it became much more palatable! I present my take on it: my top 5 Fictional Best Friendships.

1. Dante and Randall

Whether they're in black and white, working at Mooby's, animated, running the Quick Stop and video rental, or in color, you just know that Dante and Randall's friendship will survive anything. Plus their relationship reflects a lot of real-life best friends: both have character flaws and strengths that complement each other and ultimately help each other grow. Randall's cavalier, "fuck this shit" attitude and confidence helps Dante take risks and move out of his comfort zone, while Dante's responsibility and maturity reign in Randall's impulsive immaturity. More importantly, they care a lot about each other and (nearly) always do their best to help their buddy grow into a better version of themselves. These guys are like the OGs of BFF-hood.

2. Daria and Jane

What 90s kid couldn't relate to the detached and sarcastic Daria? I've been compared to Daria on more than one occasion, I presume because of my glasses and tendency for snarkiness. Their girl friendship was noteworthy for being based on mutual interests and shared character traits rather than catty gossip and boy-chasing. Unfortunately the writers took Daria and Jane's rock-solid friendship down a hackneyed, cliched path when they spent a few episodes on the outs because of a stupid boy, but in the end, uteruses triumphed over duderuses. 

3. Enid and Becky

Comics Enid and Becky, at any rate. I've never seen the movie, and I don't know if I want to because I get the impression that a lot of the nuance and tenderness of the novel was cut in favor of wacky on-screen shenanigans. They were a proto-Daria and proto-Jane, but also different. A lot of the conversations they had were echoes of ones between myself and my best friend. Unlike Daria and Jane, though, their friendship seems to start dissolving once they graduate high school. Sad, but probably more realistic than Daria and Jane's future.

4. Nancy, George, and Bess

Okay, maybe not the most heartwarming of friendships here. Just solving mysteries together like badasses. These were some of my favorite books when I was a kid; at some point after I finish the TIME Top 100 list, I'd like to reread these all again, just for shits and giggles. Fun fact: these books are where I learned the word "amateur."

5. Jeff and Shirley

While Troy and Abed's Cloud Cuckoolander antics were many fans' favorite part of Community, after Season 3's "Foosball and Nocturnal Vigilantism" Jeff and Shirley became my favorite pair in the group. I wish Yvette Nicole Brown had stayed on, because I would have loved to see more of Shirley, as well as her friendship with Jeff. They weren't BFFs by any stretch, but they could have been if the show hadn't been under constant threat of cancellation and if Brown hadn't ultimately left it. After all, they've known each other for longer than anyone else in the study group. Their reconciliation over the foosball table and the tyranny of the German exchange students was something like a friendship version of kintsugi: the Japanese art of fixing broken pottery with precious metal lacquer. 

Who are your favorite fictional BFFs?

Thursday, February 12, 2015

Trek Thursday: Let That Be Your Last Battlefield

#37: Let That Be Your Last Battlefield

In case you forgot: Another legendary episode. The Enterprise finds itself mixed up in some alien race relations. Two aliens with half-black, half-white faces (one of whom is The Riddler) are running amok on the Enterprise, until Kirk solves the problem by giving them a whole planet instead.

Space racism is bad, mmkay?

But on a serious note, the Enterprise inadvertently getting itself involved in another planet's politics is a pretty solid hook, especially when not all of the aliens involve recognize the sovereignty of the Federation. This is work for diplomats, not starship captains, but Kirk does an admirable job of doing a job he hasn't be trained for.

Kirk, Scott, and Spock's initiation of the self-destruct mechanism (rather than have the Enterprise and her crew beholden to some strange alien power) is some major Hero points, though you have to wonder if they polled the rest of the crew first. "In the event this guy won't relinquish control of the Enterprise, are you willing to go down with this ship? Y/N."

The end, with Bele (The Riddler) and Lokai chasing each other for the rest of their lives, is very reminiscent of "The Alternative Factor," though made all the sadder because there is absolutely nothing to be gained by their protracted conflict. At least anti-Lazarus was sacrificing himself to save the universe.

But part of what makes this episode legendary (aside from the dopey make-up) is that the Aesop in this one is pretty hamfisted; though again, considering the timeframe when this aired, it was certainly an anvil that needed to be dropped. Sometimes it seems like it still is. The downer ending, while a powerful caution about the power of hate, does raise some uncomfortable implications for me; it seems to suggest that anything resembling a dialog or justice about race relations will only lead to civil strife and eventual doom. (No one ever explains how the Federation got to be such a post-racial Kumbaya sort of organization in TOS, and maybe you can debate that it doesn't actually exist....!) I guess I wanted to see Kirk side more heavily with Lokai and found his diplomatic neutrality kind of off-putting.

Wednesday, February 11, 2015

What I Read: La Petite Bijou

This review is for you, international/polyglot readers/bookish trend watchers! Patrick Modiano's 2014 Nobel Prize win (hopefully) means that some of his lesser-known works are going to get English translations, but as of this review, there is no English translation. I read it in Swedish for a class assignment, and so the following review is based on that translation. I hope to get a copy of it in the original French, soon, to see if my opinion changes any.

Also, I'm totally cheating and presenting an English language version of my Swedish homework assignment. Deal with it.

When you read a book in a foreign language, it feels like a gauzy veil between yourself and a theater performance. You can hear voices, see silhouettes, and maybe understand the entire story, but it lacks nuance: meaningful gazes, facial expressions, and other subtle details disappear. Details that can make the difference between an "okay" story and one that's amazing.

Likewise, you're removed from a story when you read a translation. Different languages have different finesses, even when they're more or less similar. When Voltaire wrote, "Mais il faut cultiver notre jardin," at the end of Candide, how should that be translated. "But we must cultivate our garden."? "But our garden needs to be tended."? How can you translate the precise expression "il faut" from French to [English] and retain the same meaning, the same tone? So you can say that when you read a translation of a story, you're not really reading the story, but a translation of the story.

So when I say that I've read Patrick Modiano's "La Petite Bijou," I mean that I've read a translation through a veil, twice removed from the original. It can be debated if I actually have read the novel, but that's something else entirely.

In a sentence, "La Petite Bijou" is about a few days—maybe weeks—in the life of a young Frenchwoman in Paris, Thérèse. She works as a nanny, meets a guy and a girl, and sees a woman who looks like her negligent, dead mother. That is, without spoilers, almost everything that happens in the story. Of course there's more in a novel than "what happened" and it becomes crystal clear that "La Petite Bijou" isn't a story, but a portrait. Of Thérèse, obviously, but also of Paris, and Parisians, and maybe an entire French generation: lost and alone, with a strong desire to be heard. Understood. Recognized. It's a portrait that Modiano paints with relatively few words, light as a haiku. His style is graceful, executed with an almost surgical precision. I absolutely appreciate Modiano's technique and recognize an impressive talent.

However, I have to admit that I feel a little cheated. (Spoilers!!) The novel ends in a hospital after an overdose: Thérèse wakes up in the premature infant unit, metaphorically newborn but also metaphorically unready and weak. But such an ending only works if we have an idea of what will happen next, how Thérèse will conduct herself in the future, and Modiano is incredibly stingy with clues. Will she try to meet her mother ("her mother")? Will she take le bac and enroll in the school for Oriental languages? Were those actual, important goals that she had, or were they only passing fantasies? Does she have a future in front of her, or will she continue her descent into madness? We don't know. We can only guess, and therefore it feels like an incomplete portrait.

Tuesday, February 10, 2015

My New Band, Volume 1

My day job (or well, one of them) is proofreading science articles. My contract says "editor" and that's what I tell people I do, but really I spend most of my day adding Oxford commas, changing hyphens to en dashes, and making sure the authors use a proper degree symbol instead of a superscript lowercase "O" or something else equally bizarre. I'm not editing for content or style in a really meaningful way, or on the body that decides which papers are accepted or rejected, which is what people usually think of when they hear "editor," so "proofreading" strikes me as a little more accurate.

Anyway, I keep a collection of odd and amusing turns of phrases in a game I call "My New Band." Sometimes I share them on Twitter, other times I send them to my boss, and other times I just keep them to myself. I don't know why I didn't think to share them here until now. It certainly seems like a ~bloggable~ topic. Who knows, maybe I'll even get around to coming up with album titles and art for all of my imaginary new bands!

What I assume is my typical blog demographic.

Here's Volume 1. Confidential to all you aspiring rockstars out there: you're welcome.

1. Behemoth Toxicities

I feel like this would be a metal band. I don't know what kind of metal, because I know there are approximately 98271 different subgenres, but it would be metal.

2. Ultra Junior

As if, thanks to Super Junior, this could be anything other than an Asian boy band.

The three stages of "Sorry, Sorry:" you like, you hate it, you have an inexplicable and frightening love of it.

3. Squat Down Situation

I can't decide if this would be a hip-hop group or a jam band. But it would definitely be one of them.

4. Bright Sunday Dongo

Definitely one of those hippie-esque "world music" bands that I like more than I care to admit. Possibly bluegrass. I think a didgeridoo would definitely be involved.

and finally, the bingo bonus goes to:

5. Heterotic

This is a band that, as it turns out, actually exists. I Google random words and phrases from papers a lot to check for spelling and capitalization, and lo and behold this was the rare time when the first hit was a music video. Reproduced here, for your pleasure (if you're into electro/synth/mellow out stuff):

Thursday, February 5, 2015

Trek Thursday: The Mark of Gideon

#39: The Mark of Gideon

If we kill him, we could play Settlers of Catan on his shirt!

In case you forgot: What is perhaps the most Catholic race of aliens of all time abducts Kirk because their overpopulated planet needs to find some way to die.

A race trapped in a tragic, unpleasant longevity is such a good hook. (See: The Man from Earth, the "Requiem for Methuselah" TOS episode, etc.) So is Kirk being brought to a fake Enterprise. And while they may be filler, watching Spock deal with Federation and Starfleet bureaucracy  is so much fun I don't care that the scenes are mostly filler.

But the good hook is lost as soon as we learn that the Gideons ~value life too much~ to use any kind of contraception. You'd rather your daughter contract a deadly disease and die rather than put her on the pill? I just....what? That is what relegates this episode to Category III ("mediocre") instead of Category I ("amazeballs") for me. Of course alien races are going to have different cultures and priorities and beliefs but that one is just so logically inconsistent I can't. Also, if space is such a priority, wasting a whole bunch of it to construct a fake Enterprise seems, well, a waste.

Wednesday, February 4, 2015

What I'm Reading: Under the Volcano

I've been working on this one for a while. In fact, I've been putting off posting about it because I wanted to get deeper into the story before coming to any conclusions. At three-quarters of the way through, I'm still not sure if I'm up to the challenge of writing about this book, but I'll give it a shot.

Image courtesy HarperCollins

Under the Volcano is a throwback to the dense and quote-unquote literary selections on the TIME Top 100 list. The last one I read before this was White Noise, which is...a thing. But it's light and easy to read. Before that was A House for Mr Biswas, which was thoroughly unimpressive. I'm glad to be back into "literary" territory. Or maybe literary isn't the right word.

In stark contrast to A House for Mr Biswas, Under the Volcano is an interior novel, an entire story filtered through people's inner perceptions and reactions. There isn't that cynical distance that Naipaul keeps as he traces the arc of Mr. Biswas's sad, short life; this is a very personal novel. And unlike both White Noise and A House for Mr Biswas, there is a higher level of syntactical complexity. It doesn't quite reach the density of something like Beloved, but it's more like Beloved than anything else I've recently read. You can't zip through Under the Volcano. You wouldn't want to, either—there are some exquisite descriptions and inner narrations in here that should be savored.

This is the kind of reading I love. I love to be challenged like that, to have lots of complexity that requires reading and re-reading and long pauses to digest and think.

When I read a book, I'm always on the lookout for a quote or two that I can pull, for my own reference (I like to collect quotes) as well as for use in my reviews. Everything in A House for Mr Biswas was too pedestrian and dull to be worth sharing out of context; there were a few bits of dialogue here and there in White Noise that I enjoyed but which didn't seem to be worth noting. With Under the Volcano, my problem is that I don't know where I could possibly end the selection. I would just be quoting the whole thing. Even the selections I could more or less excise are just so long, they don't really belong in a fly-by-night blog review by a nobody.

But on to the story. What is it about? In a nutshell, the book is about Geoffrey, an alcoholic British expatriate in Mexico in the late 1930s and the people around him: his estranged ex-wife, a childhood friend (or is that ex-friend?) from France, his half brother Hugh. So far, what's happened is that Yvonne (the ex-wife) has returned to Geoffrey to try to work things out; Hugh is visiting on leave between sailing jobs; on their way to another town for Day of the Dead festivities they've run into Jacques, the childhood friend, and they've all decided to go to the carnival together.

Simple on the surface, but there are deep waters in this book. Each chapter shifts perspectives from one character to another—Geoffrey, Hugh, and Jacques, primarily—so that the reader gets a healthy dose of backstory and interior monologue.

No one is perfect, but no one is entirely unsympathetic either. Everyone is human: flawed, certainly, but recognizable as a more or less likable or at least understandable human at the end of it. The level of detail and clarity of the portrait sketched depends on the character. Geoffrey's perspective is the most interesting, in terms of language, but he is also about as coherent as you would expect from someone off their mind on mescal and tequila. The most clearly articulated portrait is that of Hugh, an idealistic artistic type still coming to terms with reality, and the sad truth that it's most likely that he won't amount to anything—appropriate that the person with the strongest sense of self and identity and adhesion to labels is the one whose biography is the most straightforward. Jacques is somewhere in between the two: without the same centered identity as Hugh but not as lost and hopeless as Geoffrey.

This is the kind of book that made me tackle the TIME Top 100 list in the first place. I'm definitely going to have to find more Malcolm Lowry after I finish this book tour.