Friday Book Club: Announcing Our Read For March!

SWT-Book-ClubsThe last book in our three-month series on Humor Writing is 700 Sundays, by Billy Crystal.  This a poignant autobiography about Billy Crystal’s early years with his family.  He talks about the roles music, baseball, and performing comedy had in his family, and he talks about his relationship with his father, who died young of a heart attack.  700 Sundays is based on the one man play Billy Crystal wrote and performed on Broadway.  It won a Tony in 2005 for “Special Theatrical Event”.  If you are in the Sacramento area, come visit us on 2/23/14 at Arden Dimick Library in Sacramento, CA, at 2PM for an in-person discussion of this sometimes heart-breaking and often very, very funny book!

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In honor of the occasion, here’s a clip of Billy Crystal from an earlier time in his career, as the marvelous Fernando in Saturday Night Live!

This Week’s Arrow: “Time of Death”

MV5BMTYzNDYxMTkzOF5BMl5BanBnXkFtZTgwODUzMjMxMDE@._V1_SX640_SY720_Holy crap, you guys, I have ALL THE FEELS.  I’ve always had a certain grudging sympathy for Laurel, who kept the ball rolling for years only to turn into the loser of the world, and now she actually made me all teary.  Also, Felicity is sad.  I repeat, Felicity is sad.  This is not OK.  Sad Felicity makes my heart hurt.  I feel like E.T. going “Oooooouch…”.

So here’s a pretty scattered look at the ups and downs of this episode.  It’s scattered because I’m still recovering.  First of all:

Dude, there is an awful lot going on in the show right now.  They may over-stuffed things a bit.  There were scenes in which so many people told so many lies of omission, implication, or just, you know, bald-faced lies so quickly to so many people that it was like a French farce of lying.  I seriously thought that at one point the Queen Mansion might just collapse into a sinkhole or possibly explode or at least be hit by lightning, because of the vast preponderance of epic bullshit going on.

Thank God nothing awkward is happening with the Lance family (she said, sarcastically)

Thank God nothing awkward is happening with the Lance family (she said, sarcastically)

Plus, there are approximately 1000 plot lines all of which are getting more and more interconnected.  They can’t possibly all happen at once, so someone is always short-changed.  Has Diggle gotten anything to do or say since he rescued his ex-wife in Russia?  Can we please, please, give this guy something to do other than be a comforting voice of sanity and a token Person of Color?  I know people have to wait their turn for screen time (Roy is apparently locked in a closet until next week) but this is getting ridiculous.  More Diggle, please.

Since there are so many, many things to talk about let’s focus on Felicity and Sara.  I liked it that Felicity is jealous – but she’s not primarily jealous because Oliver is having a semi-romantic relationship with someone else.  Oh, I’m sure she’s jealous of that, but that’s the not the source of her malaise.  She’s jealous because Super-Sara is super.  Sara is good with the science stuff.  She’s good at fighting.  She can relate to Ollie and Diggle in a way that Felicity can’t.  Felicity can’t even hate her, because Sara is also great at being nice to Felicity.  She appreciates Feleicity’s talents, she asks before she touches the equipment, she encourages her to work on building self-defense skills, and she’s just basically a decent person to Felicity despite having her own grounds for jealousy.  Although her calling Felicity “cute” is a little passive-aggressive, I don’t think she intends it condescendingly.

It makes sense that Felicity would question her role on the team right now.  Her crush is doomed (or so she thinks).  She and Ollie have lingering tension because she revealed his mom’s secret, so her role as the person who provides emotional support is shaky.  Her tech skills have been unreliable lately so the one quantifiable thing she has to offer is in doubt.  Frankly, if I were Felicity, I would have packed my bags and headed off to date Barry months ago.  But Ollie reassures her that “She’ll always be his girl”.

Felicity is firmly in the "Little Sister Zone" but she seems OK with that for now.  The painkillers really take the edge off.

Felicity is firmly in the “Little Sister Zone” but she seems OK with that for now. The painkillers really take the edge off.

What I like about this arc is that Sara and Felicity absolutely refuse to be catty to each other.  Think how often we get the “women fight over a guy” story.  Sara and Felicity have larger goals.  They need the team to work.  Plus, they are both fundamentally nice people.  What I don’t like is that everyone treats Felicity like an adorable small child.  Felicity, I’ve been in the little sister zone.  When you know that’s the most affection you’re gonna get from your beloved, it’s tempting to hang out there.  But you’re not “cute” and you’re not a “girl”.  For God’s sake, you’re a brilliant, competent adult.  Make people treat you like one.  And keep up on learning self-defense – Sara seems like a good teacher and everyone should know some basics, even when they don’t hang out with vigilantes in a high-tech basement.

OK everyone, jump on the comments.  What did you think about Ollie telling Laurel that he’s “done chasing her?”  The photo of Sin – contrived, or adorable, or both?  Can we just have a show about Sin and Thea?  Their super-power is snark!  Isn’t The Clockmaker a great villain?  Will he escape justice and wreak further havoc?    Make it happen!  Is Sara doomed since she told Sin that Sin will never have to get along without her?  Let’s see – Sara has reconciled with the family, escaped the League of Baddies, and she and Ollie are getting along so, I’m gonna go with…yes.  Sara is toast.

Wednesday Video: Pacific Rim Goes Radioactive

WednesdayVideoLook, we all knew Pacific Rim wasn’t going up for a Best Picture Oscar, but for it to be completely cut out of all the  special effects categories is a shame.  Here’s a great fan video to show you just how fun that monster vs. robot movie was!

C’mon Oscars.  You can’t tell me that flying dragon fighting a robot with a sword wasn’t pretty cool.

And for the more sentimental among us, I thought this video used the song “Mirrors” to good effect in showing a relationship between two drift compatible people (Mako Mori, played by Rinko Kikuchi, and Raleigh Becket, played by Charlie Hunnam).

Just because I love it, here’s a clip from Pacific Rim of Mako kicking Raleigh’s ass – and extra points to Raleigh who is so thrilled to have his ass kicked.  I’m just gonna have to watch the whole movie again, aren’t I?

History’s Hidden Heroes: Lynn Conway

220pxLynn_Conway_July_2006Building a career in computer engineering is a difficult thing to do once, but Lynn Conway did it twice!

Lynn Conway built her career for the first time when she was recruited by IBM in 1964.  At IBM, she helped invent dynamic instruction scheduling (DIS).  Those of you who have followed this blog for a while know that when I try to talk about computer science, my eyes start spinning around my head and I have to lie down.  But as far as I can tell, in the simplest terms, what she did was make it so that you could give multiple directions to a computer in various orders instead of being locked into a single order.  This was a crucial stage in the development of modern microprocessors.

Conway was assigned a male gender at birth and was living (unhappily) as a man when she was hired by IBM.  In 1968, Conway was fired by IBM when she disclosed her intention to fully transition to living as a woman.  Conway was also divorced by her wife and lost custody of her children.  The rest of her family disowned her.  Conway persisted in completing her transition, and began a new life as a woman.  She started over completely, with no one close to her knowing that she had lived part of her life with a male identity.

In this next phase of her career, Conway co-authored the book Introduction to VLSI Systems, which became the standard chip design textbook.  She has been an instructor as well as a designer, working with Xerox, Memorex, MIT, and the Department of Defense.  Conway’s work alongside Carver Mead was so important that it’s been called “The Mead and Conway Revolution”.

Eventually Conway realized that Mark Smotherman, a computing professor, was putting together a website full of information about the IBM project that Conway had worked on, and that this might end up “outing” her.  She came out gradually to family and friends and ultimately went public with her story.  Today Conway has reconciled with many members of her family, including her children, and she is a prominent activist for the rights of transgender people.  You can find more about her career as a computer engineer and an activist at her webpage.

Guest Post: Anne Leonard, Author of Moth and Spark

Moth and Spark.hi res coverToday we welcome author Anne Leonard, who’s book, Moth and Spark was released on February 20.  This book is a fantasy novel with a romance at its center.  I’ll be reviewing it on March 4, 2014, but meanwhile here’s a wonderful essay from Anne Leonard on how her academic life informed her fiction:

Life as a Student and a Writer

How does my academic life overlap with my writing life? What’s interesting for me about this question is that as I dig deeper into answering it, I learn stuff about myself that I didn’t know. The thing about personal history is that as you change as a person, the influence of your past changes too. I appreciate different things about events than I did when they happened.

I have four degrees. But they are all in significant ways different from each other. My B.A. was in liberal arts from St. John’s College, which is a very small school (there were about 90 people in my graduating class). The curriculum consists of reading primary texts instead of secondary texts in every class, and everyone takes the same classes, which makes it possible to have discussions with anyone on campus about a book. So I read Homer and Euclid and Kant and Newton and Chaucer and . . .

This was great for someone like me, who was interested in all sorts of things and would have had a terrible time deciding on a major in a traditional school. Some of the reading influenced me in the way that any book influences a person; it becomes part of an experience and it imparts knowledge. But it also gave me a broad frame of reference and an understanding of the history of Western ideas. More and more as I write, I go back and look through books that I read then, sometimes for story ideas but also as a reminder that ideas and cultures build upon each other and I’m not writing in a vacuum. College was not just about education; it was also about becoming a member of a community.

After my B.A., I got my MFA in fiction writing. It’s kind of obvious how a degree in writing influences a fiction writer. But more than just learning craft, I learned how to talk about writing. I think it’s where my style began to really develop into its own. There were also a lot of required literature classes, including literary criticism, so I got exposed to fiction and poetry I hadn’t read before, and to ideas about reading as a process. I also taught undergraduate composition and creative writing, which made me very aware of how I wrote and read. Thinking about how I interact with texts helps situate me in what I’m writing.

The Ph.D. in English literature continued to focus my ideas about literature, but with an emphasis on criticism and scholarship. I realized somewhere along the way that I didn’t want to teach in higher education as it exists in the US today, and I didn’t want to spend all my time writing about other people’s books when I could be writing my own. It didn’t seem at the time like getting a Ph.D. was doing much more to help me as a writer than reading books on my own would have. But in just the last few months, as I’ve been immersing myself in the online community of readers that didn’t exist at all back in the 90’s, I’ve realized that it really helped me think about how people read: what assumptions they come in with, how their personal background shapes what they take away from a book, where cultural biases exists. We talked about these things in classes, and I read plenty of articles on the subject, but it looks really different now when I see actual reaction to books “in the wild.” (And now I’m thinking I need to write an article on the subject….You can take me out of scholarship, but you can’t take scholarship out of me.)

After my Ph.D., when I needed a job and wasn’t going to do the teaching route, I landed in a paralegal position, which turned out to be work that I was really good at and mostly liked, and after a few years I was writing documents for attorneys to sign. Then it seemed silly not to make much more money by being able to sign them myself, so I went to law school. The only academic writing I did in law school was on exams and in legal writing classes. This was difficult writing; I had to learn another genre. It helped me become much more sharply aware of ambiguities and lack of clarity in my writing. This was obviously helpful when I got out into practice and was writing motions on a pretty much daily basis, but it turned out to be very useful in doing the edits to Moth and Spark as well. It’s always nagging at the back of my head in my current writing, too. Law school also served me well because for the most part, law is about the resolution of conflict, which is also what novels are about.

Occasionally I wonder about what would have happened if I had not gone on to a doctoral program after I did my MFA, or if I had just quick working for three years to write and borrowed the money for that instead of going to law school. I don’t know what either my life in general or my writing in particular would look like if I had not spent so many years in school. It’s an impossible question to answer. Separating my writing life from my experiences, including school, is like separating the front of a coin from its back.

One of the unifying aspects of my four degrees is that they have all, in varying ways, touched upon the relationship of the individual to society, the connections between self and the outside world. This isn’t something I’ve consciously articulated before. Thinking about relationship between me and the world is important to me as a writer, because it engages with questions about themes, plots, conflicts, and audience, among others. That awareness of self and world shows up in everything I write. And that matters.

Anne Leonard

Anne Leonard

Friday Book Club: The Many Lives of The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy

SWT-Book-ClubsThe Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy is a classic book with a long, strange life in many forms.  Here’s just a few of the ways you can enjoy Douglas Adams’ weird and wonderful mind:

Radio

Hitchhiker’s started life as a BBC radio broadcast in 1978.  There were six episodes.  It was not expected to be a hit, but it did so well that it was rebroadcast twice that year and then released as a record.  A second series was released in 1980.

Novels

Next came the novels.  After the third novel was released, the series was described as a “trilogy” and when the fourth novel came out it was described as a “trilogy in four parts”.  Eventually five books were published:  The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, The Restaurant at the End of the Universe, Life, The Universe, and Everything, So Long and Thanks for All The Fish, and Mostly Harmless.  Douglas Adams wanted to write a sixth one, because he thought that the fifth book, Mostly Harmless, ended the series on too dark a note.  But he died before the book was written.  Enoin Colfer wrote a final book, And Another Thing, with the endorsement of Adams’ widow.

Cover - Hitchhikers Guide

Television

BBC ran a six part TV series based on the radio show in 1981.  A sec don series was discussed but fell through because of, among other things, disagreements about budget.  In 2003, some excerpts of the books were filmed as part of The Big Read program.

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And…back to radio!

The BBC did another, updated radio show in 2005.  In case that’s not enough to delight your ears, there are also several LP versions and audiobook versions.

Hitchhiker's guide

Film

Douglas Adams spent years trying to get a Hollywood film version of Hitchhiker’s made but he died before the 2005 movie was finally released.  It came out to mixed reviews and differs from the books a lot, playing up the love triangle aspect between Arthur, Trillian, and Zaphod.  It starts Martin Freeman, Mos Def, Sam Rockwell, and Zooey Deschanel.

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For a complete list of all the spin offs and adaptations, go to your friendly Wikipedia, where you will find enough Adams to keep you busy forever!  There are comic books!  There are video games!  There are radio scripts and stage plays!  And, of course, there are lots and lots of towels for sale!

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Book Review: Dead Weight: The Tombs, by M. Todd Gallowglas

8178367I’m always nervous when I review something by an author I actually know, because if I hate it the ensuring conversation might be…awkward, although I’m finding that most authors appreciate any honest review, as long as it’s constructive.  Happily, I loved this book and can honestly give it a glowing review with the caveat that some of it was a little confusing, possibly because it’s the first installment in a series.

Dead Weight:  The Tombs is the first in a series of short books about The Faerie War between humanity and faerie.  We won, but it’s a tenuous and scary peace.  This story is set in San Francisco and one of the strongest aspects of the story is that it uses a clear sense of place to convey the vast devastation and social changes that occurred as a result of the war.  When I read that Washington D.C. was a crater, I was annoyed (at the Fey, not at the author).  When I learned that Telegraph Avenue in Berkeley was gone, along with the rest of Berkeley, I was PISSED.

The star of this story is the world-building.  There’s a huge sense of history without labored exposition.  The culture is fascinating – all the little details ring true.  The action is intense and violent and gory in a gritty way.  The main character is presented in the least sympathetic possible light and yet completely wins our sympathy.  He likes movie quotes, as do I.  I was particularly amused by his attempt to fight off a fey soldier by quoting a famous speech from Pulp Fiction, before remembering that the speech consists of made-up scripture, not actual scripture (he has better luck when he switches to The Lord’s Prayer).  Other characters are intriguing but not fleshed out at all.  This is the first installment and it feels like an installment as opposed to a complete work.  It’s a good installment, but you’ll want to understand what you’re getting into before you dive in to avoid frustration.

The reader is thrown headlong into the middle of a complicated, non-liner story without much exposition.  I found the main storyline easy to follow but there were aspects of the beginning and the end concerning identity that confused me.  This might be because I wasn’t paying enough attention, it might be because the writing isn’t clear, or might have been a deliberate choice of the author because more books in the series are coming along with more information and further developments.  This did not mar my enjoyment of the story overall and it made me very curious about further developments.

I loved this story because it was original and interesting, it was gripping and emotionally involving, and it got a lot of work done (in terms of establishing a main character and a complicated world) very quickly and effectively.  It moved fast and was vivid and kept me going from page to page.  I felt like I could see everything happening in front of me – the descriptions were brilliant, and I loved the use of language.  As far as the cohesiveness of the plot, that we won’t know until we get to read more, which I’m looking forward to doing.  I mean, I’m REALLY looking forward to it.  This was one of the most original and exciting things I’ve read in a long time!

Guest Post: M Todd Gallowglas, author of Dead Weight

MTG_HEADSHOT_COLOR_720_facebookToday we’re thrilled to have a guest post from M Todd Gallowglas, author of Dead Weight.  I’ll be reviewing the first installment of Dead Weight tomorrow, but in the meantime, here’s some thought from the author himself about how magic works in his series.  His words begin below the image of his book.

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When working on the first draft of what would eventually become DEAD WEIGHT: The Tombs I showed the opening to one of my English teachers. She wasn’t a Creative Writing teach. Rather, she was more of an English Lit. teacher, though, at the time, she was teaching Grammar and Rhetoric of the Sentence. (Incidentally, one of the hardest classes I’ve ever taken.) Our first conversation after she read that draft went something like this (slight SPOILER warning):

Teacher: You have a wonderful imagination, and I love how you seamlessly weave in your own made-up fantasy ideas into the reality of your story.

Me: What made-up fantasy ideas? (I was confused because I pretty much took everything in that first section in Boy Scout’s flat right out of folklore.)

Teacher: Like the prowies.

Then I told her that I hadn’t made up prowies, not even the name. Prowies are one of the traditional names for Red Caps, a type of wicked faerie that maintains its strength and power by dying its hat in human blood, hence the common name, “Red Cap.” She was astounded. We spoke for the entirety of her office hour about the rich traditions of Irish folklore and mythology, and how I needed to make up very little (at least for this story), as my cultural heritage provided more than enough background material.

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After that meeting, I went to class. Driving home from school that night gave me plenty of time to think about what my teacher and I had talked about. Now, up to that point in drafting Dead Weight, I’d done pretty well at holding true to the faerie legends and myths that I was putting into the story. However, I had taken some creative license in order to keep things logical and consistent within the universe of my story. The more I thought about it, the more I realized that by doing this, by making everything logical and line up, I was actually doing my story a huge disservice. In all truth and honesty, by doing so, I was actually destroying the integrity of my story.

Not only is Dead Weight a war story, it’s a war story where the enemy is the faerie of Irish legend and folklore. While the faerie have some laws and traditions, these are not even remotely consistent with anything from our world. Science? Physics? Not even remotely consistent for these creatures in their world. What’s more: these creatures and beings carried their own reality with them into ours, so that trying to combat them by our conventional knowledge and wisdom would be, at best, an effort in futility.

I’ve noticed a trend in fantasy fiction where writers, especially newer writers, have taken to making the fantastic elements of their work, especially the magic, work by a set of “rules.” People talk about “believable” and “consistent” magic “systems.” I’d even started down that road in my Tears of Rage books, with the dominions and miracles and such. Here’s the thing…in fantasy, much of the time, we’re trying to emulate the great tales of mythology and legends from our world’s past. The problem with that is, these tales we’re emulating aren’t internally consistent. Magic works not because of some pre-determined set of “rules” or a “system,” but rather because it’s magic – it’s wild and unpredictable and crazy and terrifying because the world our ancestors lived in was wild and unpredictable and terrifying.

So, as I drove I thought some more (I had about a two hour commute from school to home). How much more intense would it be to put our logical rational world up against the chaotic and unpredictable world of Faerie of ancient Ireland? Especially if I stopped trying to change those elements from the old tales and make them logically consistent within the frame work of the story. Yeah, I know doing so runs the risk of violating Sanderson’s first law of magic. Call me a rebel, or a traditionalist, or a traditionalist rebel…all depending on your point of view.

Here’s the ultimate bottom line of what I’m getting to in this post in specific, and Dead Weight as a whole: with a world full of rich traditions of strange, weird, and creepy stories, why are we constantly trying (especially in a lot of urban fantasies) trying to reinvent the wheel? In fantasy, why are we so eager to sanitize the mysterious and terrifying parts of the traditions we’re drawing from to make internally consistent systems? Don’t get me wrong, I am a big fan of many of these works, but I also think we could use a little more of the fantastic in our fantasy. A few more of those stories that really reach back to the traditions of our various mythologies, back when we had no rules because the world was a dark, chaotic, and terrifying place where magic was a wild force of nature, best left alone, because it couldn’t possibly be contained by a set of rules.

Years later, as I’m releasing Dead Weight, I’m doing my absolute best to hold true to the vision of a chaotic jumbled mess of a war between the logical and consistent world of the United States in our near future and the unpredictable and uncontainable world of the faerie of Irish legend.

M Todd Gallowglas wrote his first fantasy story for a creative writing assignment in the third grade. Ever since, he’s loved tales that take the reader to the far future or mystical worlds of his own creation. High school was a convenient quiet place to hone the craft of writing adventure stories…while he should have been paying attention in class. Todd received a BA in Creative Writing from San Francisco State University. Throughout his time in the program, several teachers tried to steer him away from writing that nasty “genre” stuff. However, they underestimated just how much his brain was hard-wired for telling tales of the magical and fantastic, and their efforts to turn him to literary fiction came to nothing. Find out more about his books and his skewed philosophy of the world on his website: http://www.mtoddgallowglas.com

Intrigued?  Here’s a link to the book’s Amazon page:  http://www.amazon.com/dp/B00I6UB1P4

Friday Book Club: Douglas Adams Saves the World

SWT-Book-ClubsThis month in book club we’re reading The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy.  If you have a comment on the book, leave it here, and better yet join us on 2/23/14 at 2PM at Arden Dimick Library in Sacramento for a book discussion and movie screening!

Douglas Adams is most famous for the Hitchhiker’s Series, but his favorite book was Last Chance to See.  In this nonfiction work, Adams traveled the world with Mark Carwardine (a zoologist) in search of endangered species.  The book accompanied a BBC radio documentary about their travels.

Adams and Carwardine

Adams and Carwardine

Carwardine said, “We put a big map of the world on a wall, Douglas stuck a pin in everywhere he fancied going, I stuck a pin in where all the endangered animals were, and we made a journey out of every place that had two pins”.

Last_Chance_to_See_Harmony_front

Twenty years later, Mark took Adams’ friend, comedian Stephen Fry, on a second trip to see how the endangered species were doing.  This TV documentary (also called Last Chance to See) can be found, among other places, at the Sacramento Public Library.

Adams did not confine his environmental efforts to Last Chance to See.  He was particularly active with the organization Save The Rhino.  In 1994, Adams participated in a hike up Mount Kilimanjaro while wearing a rhino suit to raise money for the organization.  The organization hosts a yearly lecture by prominent scientists in memory of Douglas Adams’ work.

Here’s Stephen Fry and Mark Carwardine sharing some memories of Douglas Adams, the birth of Last Chance to See and it’s impact on Adams, and some footage of Adams in the rhino suit:

Wednesday Video: Wishing everyone a loving Valentine’s Day

I-am-an-AllyThe first time I heard this song I cried so hard I had to pull over (I was in the car).  Here’s Mary Lambert singing “She Keeps Me Warm”.  Have your tissues ready and then go hug somebody!

And here’s a bonus video, “Same Love”, by Macklemore and Ryan Lewis.  This came out in 2012 and Mary Lambert wrote the chorus which she later used in her own, full-length song.  This is a beautiful video.  I don’t understand why some people just don’t get it.  Stay strong, LGBT people.  I’m honored to be an Ally.

Book Review: Needles and Artifice, by The Ladies of Mischief

needlesartifice_coverNeedles and Artifice is a joyful romp through steampunk with a group of women who love to invent, adventure, and knit.  The story is mixed with knitting patterns.  While the story is not the best writing ever, it sure is fun, and the designs are lovely!

The plot concerns the problems of Ana Roisin O’Hare and her true love, Kristoff,  who find themselves under attack by Kristoff’s twin brother.  Ana calls on all her friends for help.  There’s Miss Joanna Obscura, who was terribly injured in a lab accident but makes inventions that help the Ladies communicate long distance. Caldonia is a botanist, Alyssa is a courtesan, Coraline is an airship captain, Mirian is a ranch owner who happens to be raising some surprisingly useful sheep (their wool is perfect for knitting), and Theodosia is an explorer.  Together these Ladies do some knitting, drink some tea, and kick lots and lots of ass.

rivet-spats

The story has the odd feeling of starting in the middle and ending rather abruptly – possibly because the adventures began and continue on the blog The Ladies of Mischief.  This is a story written purely for fun, and it’s indeed a fun romp that had me running to the blog for more.  It’s not a very well-developed story, and the characters aren’t well-developed either although they are a kick.  If you aren’t into steampunk, it will probably leave you flat – but for me, it was an airy lark.

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As far as knitting goes, I had to pull in some expert help because I can’t knit thus the patterns mean nothing to me.  What I did appreciate was the abundance of lovely photos.  I imagine they are very helpful when trying to make the project, and I just liked looking at them – they are fun designs and helpful to me in trying to think of cosplay ideas.

I consulted with my Mom and her Knitting Group, and they said that the patterns may be too hard for beginning knitters,  They liked the fact that the patterns include lots of helpful tips as they go along.

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If you are a knitter or into feminist steampunk adventure, you will have a blast with this fun, creative, and beautifully put together book – I love the photos and drawings.  As far as knitting goes, the ideas are fun, useful, and involve a great deal of variety, including several things that could be worn day to day as well as more esoteric offerings (I have my eye on the spats).  As far as story goes, I recommend this for when you are sick or tired or stressed, and just want something light and adventurous to lift your spirits!

The Lego Movie: Everything Really Is Awesome!

hr_The_LEGO_Movie_10Go see the Lego Movie.  Go right now.  Here is who should go, and why:

1.  Young children.  If your kid is old enough to sit through a film without running around the theater, then they are old enough to love this movie.  I went on a rainy day with kids all over the place, and they seemed to be completely caught up in the story.  In the screening I went to, at one point a little kid in the theater loudly yelled “No!” just as the movie character did – he was that into it.  But it’s not intense or scary, and it’s squeaky clean, so even very young children can go.  Even kids too young to follow the plot will love seeing all the plastic figures flying around.

2.  Older children.  I went with two ten-year olds.  They were ecstatic.  They were old enough to get the humor and the story thrilled them.

3.  Jaded teens.  OK, I haven’t field tested this on a jaded teen yet.  But while they’ll leave the theater with you saying, “Yeah, whatever, I guess it was OK, can I go now?”  they’ll love the meta aspects of the movie – which are legion.

4.  Grown-ups.  I can’t remember the last time I went to a movie and had so much fun.  I literally shrieked with laughter.

The opening sequence in which Emmet, our Everyman/Lego gets ready for the day and goes to work has so many jokes crammed into it, both verbal and visual, that I wanted to watch it over and over again – and the movie rarely slowed down after that.  The closest thing I might compare it to is the sequence in which Mike and sully get ready for the day and head to work in Monster’s Inc.  The whole movie is visual madness but I never lost a sense of scale or physicality.  The jokes are meta and marvelous.  The end is touching in a way that truly surprised me.  I don’t think anyone I went with saw the end coming, and that’s a rare thing in a movie these days.

I thought it was somewhat rich that the movie spends a lot of time trashing the big business mentality when Lego is, of course, a big business, as is the movie studio.  But one of the things I liked about the movie is that it had a certain balance at the end.  Someone on TV Tropes pointed out that the movie praises originality, but the more inventive designs fall apart easily, like they would if you built them from pieces from different sets with no regard for symmetry or structure.  Emmet is able to combine originality with knowledge of instructions, so he brings a combination of chaos and order to the Lego world.  I thought that was an amazing insight – thank you, TV Tropes!

I try not to read reviews before I write my own, but I couldn’t resist reading some for The Lego Movie.  What I found is that all the reviewers find something else to talk about.  The movie isn’t just visually layered but also thematically layered.  So you can talk about how the movie both subverts and applauds the Hero’s Journey, or the attacks it makes on big business, or it’s treatment of imagination and skill as things to be treasured and nurtured.  You can talk about parenting, or the value of friendship, or you can talk about this movie as toy commercial, and whether maybe it’s saying that all those care flu kits Lego marketed for years were missing the entire point of what makes Legos fun all along.

Look, there’s nothing not to like about this movie except that you might have some sensory overload and you’ll spend the rest of your life humming the song “Everything is Awesome” until your head blows up.  Even the tragedy of your exploding brain is a small price to pay for the joys of this movie, which packs on such an array of mayhem that I’m pretty sure everyone on the team was really drunk on Vodka and Red Bull the whole time.  But it’s not just empty visuals.  We really care about the characters and what happens to them.  And there’s some pretty sharp (and very funny) satire in there.  This movie is smart, and emotionally involving, and subversive, and did I mention smart?  If, by any chance, you’re one of those people who can’t believe a movie about Legos could be any good, do yourself a favor and just go see it.  Trust me.

Friday Book Club: Douglas Adams Threw the Best Parties

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This month, we’re reading The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, by Douglas Adams.  Got thoughts?  Leave ’em here!  Or better yet, if you’re in the Sacramento area, come to the Arden Dimick Book Club, at Arden Dimick Library, Feb 23, 2014, 2PM!

Douglas Adams was born in 1952 and died much too young in 2001.  He lived in England all his life.  Adams was a slow writer, once famously saying, “I love deadlines.  I love the whooshing sound they make as they go by”.  He had a hard time breaking into comedy writing until the radio series version of Hitchhiker’s Guide became an unexpected hit – it went on to become a series of novels, a TV series, a movie, a comic book, and a computer game,

Douglas Adams was friends with some amazingly cool people.  If he threw a party, you wanted to be there.  Case in point:

1.  He was friends with the lead guitarist for Procol Harem (Gary Booker).  At one of Adams’ parties, Gary played the full four verse version of Whiter Shade of Pale.

2.  He played left-handed guitar and on his 42nd birthday he got on stage with Pink Floyd and played two songs with the band.  He was friends with Pink Floyd’s guitarist, David Gilmore.  References to Pink Floyd show up in several of his books.  Look, here he is!

3. Lala Ward, who played one of the companions in the show Doctor Who, was a close friend of Adams and he introduced her to his best friend, Richard Dawkins, the scientist and prominent atheist.  Dawkins and Ward married a year later.  This is a total tangent, but I have to let you know that Lala Ward has an asteroid named after her.  It’s ‘8347 Lalaward’.

4.  Douglas Adams was friends with the members of Monty Python’s Flying Circus, especially Terry Jones and Graham Chapman.  Adams appeared on Monty Python twice.

OK, see that's really more creepy than funny...Adams in Python sketch

OK, see that’s really more creepy than funny…Adams in Python sketch

5.  Douglas Adams wrote several scripts for Doctor Who and collaborated on a show with Tom Baker.  Tom Baker, of course, played The Doctor on Doctor Who, alongside Lalla Ward.  Tom Baker and Lalla Ward were married for a while but divorced, at which point Adams introduced her to Richard Dawkins, thus ensuring a perfect chain of geekyness that would not be rivaled until David Tennant, who played the 10th Doctor, married the daughter of Peter Davidson, who played the 5th Doctor.  OK, that last bit doesn’t have anything to do with Douglas Adams, I just think it’s cool.
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