Friday, December 31, 2010

Yes!

#100: "Stonehenge", by Bernard Cornwell

And with that, I'm swearing off doing anything so absurd ever again.

Monday, December 27, 2010

Ninety-nine

I feel I shall have to find a Flake now. Yum, yum.

#97: "Eberron: City of Stormreach", by Keith Baker, Nicolas Logue, James "Grim" Desborough, and C.A. Suleiman
#98: "Pathfinder Companion: Adventurer's Armory", by Jonathan Keith, Jeff Quick, Christopher Self, J.D. Wiker and Keri Wiker
#99: "Alice's Adventures in Wonderland and Through the Looking Glass", by Lewis Carroll (book twenty from The List)

Just one more to go...

Friday, December 24, 2010

Mamma Mia!

Some months back, I was forced to watch "Mamma Mia". The things we do for love...

Anyway, I didn't hate it. In fact, there was quite a lot to like about it. The music was of course what one would expect, and most of the cast were fine.

With one key exception. Simply put: Pierce Brosnan can't sing. At all.

Now, even this might be fine. Give him a small part, with just a handful of lines, and you're fine. But no. Instead, he's given the most significant of the three male roles, such that he has to carry several songs. And he just can't.

Basically, that one bad decision ruins the entire film.

(And it's not like you can really get away with bad music. In theory, some musicals could manage that, and be carried by the plot, the characters, or a general sense of well-being. But the entire selling point of "Mamma Mia" is the music. That has to be right, and it just isn't.)

So, I won't be watching "Mamma Mia" on DVD again. I might be persuaded to see it on the stage, if I really must, but not on DVD.

#94: "Dragons of Eberron", by Keith Baker, Scott Fitzgerald Gray, Nicolas Logue and Amber Scott
#95: "Wrath of a Mad God", by Raymond E. Feist
#96: "Rides a Dread Legion", by Raymond E. Feist

Monday, December 13, 2010

Ooh, tense!

Yesterday morning I finished the very funny "Catch-22", taking my running total for the year to 93 books. This is a mighty total by any measure, but it does leave me some seven books short of the century, with a mere 19 days remaining this year. Worse, I now need to average more than two books a week to reach the goal.

(In fact, I need to average around 125 pages per day to complete the goal. But that's oversimplifying somewhat: not all pages are created equal.)

On the plus side, I now have only one more week of work this year, and there's only two more band practices before that takes a break also. So, I should be getting some additional time to read the remaining books.

So, it's all a bit tense. I'll update as I go...

#92: "Eberron: Forge of War", by James Wyatt, Wolfgang Baur and Ari Marmell
#93: "Catch-22", by Joseph Heller (book nineteen from The List)

Thursday, December 02, 2010

Snow Day 3?

Dammit, I really want to get to work! I'm going crazy here.

I'm going to try to get the car out again in half an hour or so, but if I can't then I guess I'm stuck here.

Wednesday, December 01, 2010

The Michael Bay of the Writing World

I was asked to say something about why I didn't like "The Da Vinci Code". Given that I also didn't like "Angels & Demons", I think I'll cover that as well.

The thing is, it's not that these books are badly written. You can see the list of books I've read in the last two years, and there's no denying that there's a load of dross on there. And Dan Brown's works aren't significantly worse than some of the others.

Besides, I do think that the comparison is apt: as with a Michael Bay film, a Dan Brown novel doesn't need to be well-written, provided he keeps the pace up, and fills it with enough exciting events to distract you from the vapid nonsense involved. And so everything happens at a hundred miles an hour (even the endless chapters talking about art or science). There are people running here and there, revelations on every page, secrets and lies, things being hinted at and not revealed until later...

It's exciting.

The problem is, I do have a brain, and it doesn't just switch off. And in both "The Da Vinci Code" and "Angels & Demons", the idiocy reached a level that I couldn't just ignore.

As I've mentioned before, I don't like it when people in the church start talking about science. As a rule, they don't have the grounding to know what they're talking about, or if they do then they over-simplify things for their audience to a point where it stops being anything like real science.

I also don't like it when scientists start talking religion (e.g. Dawkins). Again, they too often don't really understand their topic, or perhaps deliberately get things wrong for effect (more on this later). Basically, if you're going to talk about both, you really need to understand a fair amount about both, and very few people do.

Dan Brown's works are filled with endless expositions on art, science, religion and history. But it's bad art, bad science, bad religion and bad history.

The scene that first brought this to the fore was in "Da Vinci...", where Langdon has gone to see his colleague Leigh Teabing to discuss the Holy Grail. Whereupon about three quarters of the plot of the book is laid out in a huge chunk of exposition. (Actually, about 100 pages of exposition - I'm amazed he got away with it.)

Anyway, we proceed to have these two supposed high-end academics laying out the secret history of Jesus' wife and children, the vilification of Mary Magdalene, her line marrying into the French royal line, and then becoming extinct, and the Holy Grail being a vagina, and...

And as we go, we repeatedly have these experts saying, "Of course, X and Y and Z..."

But the thing is, X is just wrong, Y is a lie, and Z is maybe true if you really stretch the known facts.

But because these are 'experts' (even if they're fictional characters, and even if at least one of them is an expert in an entirely fictional field), people who don't know better will simply believe them. After all, if an expert says it, it must be true, right? And he couldn't put it in his novel if it wasn't true, could he?

Or, better still, how about the scene in "Angels..." in which Langdon is told about an experiment that 'proves' Genesis could be possible. (Of course, that itself is a nonsense - if you assume an all-powerful creator God, then of course it is possible; if there is no such creator God then Genesis is irrelevant anyway.)

Anyway, to prove Genesis is possible, our scientist has created "something out of nothing". Fair enough.

So, he took a particle stream (um, isn't that 'matter'), and fired it along a particle accelerator at speed (um, isn't that 'energy'), and then fired another particle stream along the accelerator in the other direction (more 'matter' and 'energy'), and proceeded to collide them (more 'energy'). And the result was... matter was created.

Something out of nothing? Um, no. That would be "something out of something else". Which is well-understood scientific principle: E = mc^2, and all that. ("Angels & Demons" even gets the science wrong in the 'fact' section preceding the novel itself. At least "The Da Vinci Code" didn't manage to annoy me until the first word of the novel proper.)

Then there's the logic failure: a key part of the plot of "Da Vinci..." revolves aroung the search for the "sacred feminine", the female counterpart to God. Fair enough. It also posits that Jesus was just a man (albeit a prophet), who had children by Mary Magdalene. Also fair enough.

But then, when Langdon finds the bones of Mary Magdelene at the end of the book, he feels compelled to kneel and pray at the feet of the goddess.

Um, what?

Surely, if Jesus was just a man, then Mary was just a woman, and their children would be... well, children. And wondrous as all that is, where exactly is this supposed goddess?

Bit of a failure on the 'logic' front, there, I think.

And so it goes. On the surface, these books are a quick read, they're exciting, and they have a bit of 'smarts' to them. It's just that as soon as you scratch the surface that you find that, well, it's all surface.

At least "Revenge of the Fallen" only takes two and a half hours to get through.

700th post

I just noticed that the previous post was #699. Which makes this the 700th post to this blog.

Of course, one number is basically the same as any other, so it's a largely meaningless milestone, but still...

House Gets Nasty

I should warn you in advance - this post contains spoilers for the most recent episode of "House" (or, at least, the one most recently broadcast on Sky).

I watch "House" every week, but I'm not really a huge fan. As far as I can tell, it's largely a mystery show that the audience simply has no basis on which to participate - if the medicine is accurate (which I very much doubt), then you can only guess what's going on if you yourself are an expert in obscure medical conditions; if the medicine is not accurate, then nobody can take part. Of course, there's the 'fun' of watching House bully and insult his staff, and the interactions between the characters, and... you know, I just don't get it - those things really aren't as compelling as I'm told.

Still, it's entertaining enough, I guess.

However, like many other shows, "House" has a number of recurring themes - Foreman is arrogant about something until House slaps him down (although... isn't Foreman supposed to be the boss these days?), Chase has loads of women after him, Taob is cheating on his wife or she's cheating on him or not...

And this week, we had a recurrence of my least favourite, the one I call "poke the fundies" - a religious patient comes in, House proceeds to belittle and mock his faith, and forces him to reject some part of his beliefs, and then the disease is cured.

Now, here's the thing: I have absolutely no problem with challenges to my beliefs. My reasoning is that if my beliefs are sound, then they will survive whatever challenges are put to them; if they are not sound, then I'm better off without them.

But there's a big difference between 'challenge' and 'mockery'. If you simple ridicule and mock, there is no discourse there, and there's no meaningful response possible. Take something out of context, point and laugh hard enough, and you can make anything look ridiculous, whether it is or not.

This week, "House" crossed the line. Our patient is first shown at the start of the show being crucified. He starts vomiting blood, and you hear someone say, "Get him down from there."

It transpires that the character's daughter had cancer, and he made a deal with God - every year she lives, he will nail himself to a cross. (I'll not start on that particular bit of madness.)

They then short-circuit the usual diagnostic process, and quickly determine that there is one treatment, which of course involves the use of embrionic stem cells. So, naturally, the patient refuses - his beliefs don't allow him to use such a treatment, due to the connection with abortion.

So House tries to mock the patient into giving up his beliefs, then he tries to use his bully pulpit to get the patient to take the treatment anyway, and then finally he lies to the patient, telling him his daughter isn't cured, that God lied, and that therefore the character should take the treatment.

So he does.

Yay, House!

But here's my problem: there's nothing there. It's just assumed that House is right. There's no discussion whatsoever of the ethics of the treatment, which are very definitely not clear-cut*. There's absolutely no character growth. The patient doesn't decide whether his life is more important than his faith - he's lied to and tricked into making a choice he probably wouldn't otherwise have made. House learned nothing, the other characters learned nothing, and we learn nothing.

Except perhaps that this is a show I don't care to watch any more.

* Incidentally, I say that despite believing that we should proceed with the development of such treatments. But it's a very complex issue, and simply dismissing any concerns as being irrelevant is unacceptably dismissive, at least as far as I'm concerned.

Snow Day 2

Yesterday was an awesome day. After my initial guilt at not getting to work, I spent the day painting, reading, cleaning, and generally getting caught up on things. I also took a wander up to the doctor's to put in a repeat prescription (nothing serious - mostly just stocking up just in case). En route, I helped a couple of people get their cars out.

All in all, I was really happy with my day, went to bed nice and early, ready to get back to work today.

Six inches of snow fell overnight, and I had exactly two chances of getting my car out: fat chance and nae chance. It's especially annoying, since the next street over was cleared for the buses, and my car is about fifteen feet from it, but is completely stuck.

And lots more snow is falling. I don't know when I'll be able to get back, and until then the work just keeps piling up.

Today is not going to be such a good day, I fear.

#91: "Smoke and Mirrors", by Neil Gaiman