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Friday Fun! (Busy Week, Happy Halloween)

October 29, 2010 2 comments

Oh boy what a busy week it’s been!  It was great to get to see Team Unicorn last Saturday night, even though not all of us could be there.  The pizza was yummy, and Kristi’s apple cake was absolutely scrumptious!  We played Apples to Apples, and it was great to see how well (or not well) we all knew each other.  On Sunday E and I took our friend Nina out for her birthday to an excellent Thai restaurant.  All of the food was simply amazing.  My appetizer was this goat cheese, walnut, and grape pate.  It was to die for.  Then for my main course I had lemongrass tofu with jasmine rice.  And our drinks!  They were so fabulous.  My first one was a gin drink and came with this cucumber garnish.  Then after that we all had blackberry sours.  I think I may have found my new favorite girly drink, haha.

The beginning of my week was full of grad school.  I finally went to a full session of class healthy enough to participate.  That was good!  Then I had a big paper to write, which was what most of my time was spent on.  Last night, I went out for live music and karaoke with my friends.  Nina and I sang Poker Face, and it was awesome.  I have 1 paper, 2 projects, 2 handouts to design for my students, 1 cataloging assignment, and TAing online until the second week of December between me and graduation.  I can’t wait!  But I’ll definitely be busy in the meantime.

I hope you all have super happy Halloweens, no matter how you decide to celebrate. :-)

Book Review: The Windup Girl by Paolo Bacigalupi

October 28, 2010 5 comments

View of a city skyline with megadonts in front.Summary:
In this steampunk vision of a possible dystopian future, carbon usage and genetic engineering caused the world to nearly collapse.  Whole nations have been lost to starvation due to exorbitant prices charged by the genetic engineering calorie companies and also due to the rising seas from global warming caused by carbon usage.  Domestic cats have been wiped out by cheshires–genetically engineered cats that can appear and disappear, just like the cat in Alice in Wonderland.  Thailand, through strict military enforcement of calorie and carbon consumption, has managed to hold back both the sea with a sea wall and starvation.  The Thai work diligently to rid their nation of windups–genetically engineered living creatures.  As Buddhists, they believe these windups have no souls.  Within this world we see glimpses of five very different lives.  There’s Anderson, a foreigner from Detroit who claims to be running a factory but is actually a calorie company spy.  His manager, Hock Seng, is a survivor of the Malaysian civil war where Muslim fundamentalists attempted to kill all the Chinese immigrants.  Jaidee and Kanya work for the Environment Ministry, also known as white shirts.  They are the military enforcers of all the environmental laws, but they are struggling against the Trade Ministry that wants to open their borders back up to foreign trade.  Finally, there’s Emiko.  She is a Japanese windup girl.  The Japanese created windups due to a severe lack of young people to care for the old.  She came over both as a secretary and lover of her owner who had to do business in Thailand, but he then decided it would be cheaper to leave her behind than to take her on the return trip.  She now is a spectacle in sex shows in the ghetto of Krung Thep.  These lives slowly intertwine, and through them, Bacigalupi shows how easily civil war can erupt.

Review:
I fully admit that this book was out of my comfort zone.  I don’t normally read books on political intrigue and intertwining lives.  I tend to stick to ones that talk about one individual person, and that’s what I was expecting from a book called The Windup Girl.  That’s why I took the time to write a detailed summary, so you all would have a clearer picture of what this book is about than I did.  This is another one of those books that I almost gave up on early in.  Bacigalupi doesn’t take the time to truly set up the world.  Things have names and are briefly or not at all described, so you have to fill in the gaps yourself.  I think if I hadn’t read steampunk before, I would have been at a loss.  For instance, he never explains exactly what a dirigible is, although we know they are sky ships.  It is not until the end of the book when one gets blown up and a character refers to it as a creature that it becomes apparent that they are living creatures used as sky ships.  This is just one example of many ways in which the world building is sloppy.  It takes until solidly halfway through the book for a clear picture of Krung Thep to emerge.  Additionally, this is one of those books that tosses around non-English words where English ones would entirely suffice.  For example, all of the foreigners are called farang, not foreigners.  It makes sense to use a Thai word where there is no English equivalent, but it’s just superfluous to toss them around when there is one.  Technically these characters are supposedly speaking entirely in Thai.  We know that.  Bacigalupi doesn’t need to throw Thai words in periodically just to remind us.  Still, though, I kept reading beyond the first couple of chapters, mainly because I bought the book on my Kindle app, and I don’t tend to waste money.  In the end, I’m glad I kept reading.

Although the setting and world building is rough, the story itself is quite interesting.  Many perspectives are offered on these issues that potentially could become issues in real life.  What are the rights and roles of genetically engineered living beings?  Is nature the way it’s always been better or genetic engineering the next step in evolution?  One of the pro-genetic engineering characters states:

We are nature.  Our every tinkering is nature, our every biological striving.  We are what we are, and the world is ours.  We are its gods.  Your only difficulty is your unwillingness to unleash your potential fully upon it. (Location 6347-6350)

It is an interesting question.  Will our next phase of evolution happen in the traditional manner, or is the next phase actually us using our brains to improve?

The Buddhist concepts sprinkled throughout the text are also quite enjoyable.  The characters struggle to maintain their belief in karma and reincarnation in spite of the issues of windups.  It clearly depicts how religion must struggle to adapt to change.  Additionally, the concepts of fate and karma and how much one can actually do to improve one’s lot in life are explored in an excellent manner through multiple characters.  It reminded me a lot of how the Dark Tower series explores the similar idea of ka (fate).  One sentence that really struck me on this theme was:

He wonders if his karma is so broken that he cannot every truly hope to succeed. (Location 8388-8393)

I was just discussing a similar concept with a friend the other day, so it really struck me to see it in print.

Additionally, the ending truly surprised me, even though it’s evident throughout most of the book that a civil war is coming.  I always enjoy it when a book manages to surprise me, and this one definitely did.

Overall, although Bacigalupi struggles with world building, his intertwined characters and themes are thought-provoking to read.  I’m glad I went out of my comfort zone to read this book, and I would recommend it to anyone who enjoys the themes of fate, evolution, nature, karma, or political intrigue.

3.5 out of 5 stars

Source: Amazon

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Adoptionversary!

October 27, 2010 10 comments

One year ago today, I picked up my kitty, Ayla, from the MSPCA. Two days earlier, we chose each other.  I was looking around, trying to decide on an adult cat.  Ayla was cute and timid.  She seemed sweet, but a bit overwhelmed.  I was trying to decide between her and another cat.  I opened her cage, and she timidly stuck her head forward and licked my hand.  My heart melted.  She’d chosen me.  Who could refuse that?

When I first brought her home. She was so tiny!

When I first brought her home. She was so tiny!

Although the first couple of days were interesting getting to know each other, she’s quickly become my furry best friend.  Ayla keeps me company at night.  She meows excitedly at the door when she hears me getting home.  She plays with me.  When I got the stomach flu, she put her paws up on the edge of the toilet and licked me while I was puking.  She snuggles me and purrs.  She’s the perfect, sweet, snuggly kitty-cat match for me, and I’m so glad we found each other.

Ayla now. She loves to steal my boxes.

Ayla now. She loves to steal my boxes.

Movie Review: The Human Centipede: First Sequence (2009)

October 26, 2010 4 comments

View of people and limbs through a glass.Summary:
Two American girls on a road trip through Europe get a flat tire late at night in Germany.  They walk to find help, and stumble upon the residence of Dr. Heiter, a first-class surgeon who separates Siamese twins.  He promptly kidnaps them, along with an unfortunate Japanese tourist, and announces to them that they will become part of a first-time experiment.  He will fuse them together mouth to anus to create the human centipede.

Review:
This independent film mixes two great horror movie classics–kidnapping and a deranged doctor–and combines them into a great idea.  It doesn’t quite attain the heights such a great idea should have, but I can easily see it becoming a cult classic.

Dieter Laser, who plays Dr. Leiter, does an excellent job.  His facial expressions are magnificently creepy.  He is actually German, so his German is perfect, as well as his German accent.  Akihiro Kitamura’s performance was also well-done, particularly given that he mostly just gets to yell in Japanese and whimper.  The actresses who play the two girls–Ashley C. Williams and Ashlyn Yennie–have painfully annoying voices.  It was a blessing that they were the two end sections of the human centipede, because it shut them up.

Given how incredibly idiotic and annoying the two girls are in the beginning of the film, I can’t help but suspect that the writer was trying to make us feel less sympathy for them.  Possibly with the hope that it would soften the blow of the gross idea?  Maybe.

As far as the grossness inherent in three people being sewed together mouth to anus, they could have taken it much further than they did in the film.  Only bits and pieces of the operation are shown, and the human centipede wears bandages so strategically that you don’t really see much of the actual connection.  It’s more about the viewer imagining it than actually seeing it.  Although the scene where the front unit of the human centipede (the Japanese man, Katsuro) must first *ahem* use the restroom post-surgery is quite gross, it is simultaneously hilarious.  If you have a bit of a quirky sense of humor, the horror and gross-out factors of this film are greatly lessened.  In fact, I found The Fly to be much more disturbing and disgusting than this film.

Overall, if you enjoy gross-out, B-level horror films, you will have a fun time watching this movie.  It’s short, interesting, and different.

4 out of 5 stars

Source: Netflix

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Series Review: The Dark Tower Series by Stephen King (spoiler warning)

October 25, 2010 5 comments

Introduction:
I post series reviews after completing reading an entire series of books.  It gives me a chance to reflect on and analyze the series as a whole.  These series reviews are designed to also be useful for people who: A) have read the series too and would like to read other thoughts on it or discuss it with others OR B) have not read the series yet but would like a full idea of what the series is like, including possible spoilers, prior to reading it themselves or buying it for another.  Please be aware that series reviews necessarily contain some spoilers.

Crow in front of silhouette of man.Summary:
“The man in black fled across the desert, and the gunslinger followed.”  This famous opening line begins the distinctly American fantasy epic tale of Roland the gunslinger’s quest for the Dark Tower.  In this fantasy, there are multiple parallel universes, referred to as whens and wheres.  The one Roland inhabits that is home to the Dark Tower and beams that keep all the worlds together and operating functionally just so happens to distinctly resemble the old American wild west.  Gunslingers in this world are like the knights of the round table in old England, and Roland is the last of his kind.  He’s on a quest both to reach the Dark Tower and save it and the beams, as Three doors.they seem to be breaking.  Through the course of his quest, Roland draws three new gunslingers and a billy-bumbler to become his ka-tet–his family bound by ka (fate) not blood.  These new gunslingers all come from America, but from different whens and versions of America.  Eddie is a heroin addict.  Susannah is an African-American woman from the 1960s who is missing both of her legs from the knees down and has Dissociative Identity Disorder (more commonly known as multiple personality disorder).  Jake is a boy from a wealthy family in NYC that hardly pays attention to him.  Oy is a billy-bumbler; a creature from Roland’s world that looks a bit like a dog with a long snout and a curly tail but is able to talk.  After training and bonding together, they continue on their quest for the Dark Tower.  A quest that leads them through old ruined cities in Roland’s world, gangster territory Spooky train.and rural Maine in America, a countryside farming community where almost all births are twins, and much much more.  The ultimate questions of ka, how the worlds are bound together, and just what role this gunslinger has to play in all of it loom at the center of this epic tale.

Review:
The interesting thing about the Dark Tower series is that each book has its own unique vibe, feel, and style to it, yet they together work to make up a complete whole that has its own unique feel to it too.  Because of this, certain entries Purple glass ball.in the series may appeal less to some people than others.  For instance, I did not enjoy Wizard and Glass, because it was essentially a slow-paced wild west romance story, yet I know some readers enjoy that entry immensely.  Similarly, I love Song of Susannah for both its horror and the way King structured it using song stanzas to correlate with the sections of the book, yet I know some people who found it too dense for one entry in the series.  The thing is though, to me, the Dark Tower is more about the experience of reading the series as a whole than the individual books.  I’m perfectly willing to work through a book or a few chapters that aren’t quite the genre I prefer, because I know that will change up later on and whatever is being discussed is important to the story as Building in a field.a whole.  It frankly is interesting to read a series that explores so many different genres within itself.  It makes the whole concept of parallel worlds more believable as each area they go through feels different.

The characterization at first seems simplistic.  There’s Roland the gunslinger.  He’s got a one-track mind in pursuit of the tower.  He’ll do anything to reach it, even if it’s questionable.  Is he justified in his vehemence?  It’s hard to tell at first.  Similarly, the man in black who he is originally pursuing is extraordinarily one-dimensional.  He is just an evil magician, and that is all.  Similarly, when Eddie, Susannah, and Jake are first drawn into Roland’s world, they are also one-dimensional.  Eddie is just the junky.  Susannah is the crazy woman with multiple Park bench in blue fog.personalities.  Jake is a lonely, frightened little boy.  Yet as the series progresses, King gradually develops the characters to be rich and multi-dimensional.  Their characters are so intensely vivid, including even Oy, that I actually found myself crying as bad things happened to various members of the ka-tet.  Eddie overcomes his addiction, as well as the emotional wounds inflicted on him by his older brother to grow up and become a true man.  Susannah does not lose her multiple personalities, but she learns to work with them.  They are a part of her, and she grows to accept that.  She stops being bitter about her accident and her lot in life and comes to be self-sufficient and caring of those around her.  Jake quickly grows to become a confident young man who cares for his ka-tet, but especially Oy and Roland.  Finally, Roland gradually learns to open himself up to relationships.  Although Rose in the foreground. Tower in the background.the tower still calls to him, he finds himself questioning if maybe the ka-tet is better than the tower.

The horror elements in the series definitely live up to what one would expect from King.  There are disgusting moments, such as a man sick from the weed drug in Roland’s world that makes users go insane.  There are also truly terrifying moments such as when a baby boy turns into a spider and eats his own mother via her breast.  Then there are mentally disturbing themes such as the children who get stolen by the wolves and are returned with their brains completely ruined.  It is later discovered that their brain power was fed to telepaths in service of the Crimson King who is seeking to destroy all the worlds.  Whatever flavor of horror suits you best, you will find it in the series.

The themes of love and building your own family and being at the hands of fate are what truly carry the series, though.  These themes are what make the reader care about the horrors that are happening to Roland and his ka-tet.  They’re what makes it possible to suspend disbelief about multiple worlds being held together by a tower, a rose, and beams.  The ideas of self-sacrifice, serving your purpose, and caring for others who ka has brought into your life are powerful and subtly expressed.  To me the whole concept of making your own family is the most endearing part of the series, and I loved seeing it portrayed in such a subtle, tender manner.

Of course what really brought the series to a whole new level for me is the ending.  It blew me away.  It was completely unexpected.  Roland reaches the tower after having lost his ka-tet.  He goes in and climbs with each floor displaying items and smells to represent each year of his life.  He reaches the top door and pulls it open only to realize, horrified at the last moment, that he is being pulled through back to the desert where the series began.  The voice of the tower speaks to him about his journey.  That he’s done it before.  That he’s learning a little each time.  It points out that Roland realized his mistake in not taking a few moments to pick up the horn of Eld, so this time, it is strapped to Roland’s side, where it wasn’t originally.  For a moment Roland remembers what has just occurred, but soon he just feels it was all a mirage.  A heat-induced daydream of finally reaching the dark tower.  He continues on, ending the series with the same sentence it began with.

Personally, I feel that this puts the series in a whole new light.  Who exactly is this Roland that he is so important that he has to redo this quest until, presumably, he gets it right?  Why did King choose to tell us about one of the times he didn’t get it right?  What did he get wrong?  What lessons is Roland supposed to be learning?  Will Roland ever escape the cycle or is it some sort of hell punishment he’s doomed to repeat forever?  Of course, it all reads a bit like the belief in reincarnation and learning something each life cycle.  In any case, it made me personally want to immediately start rereading the series, searching for clues about the repetition of the journey.  It brings the series to a whole new philosophical level that truly elevated it in my mind from a fun fantasy to an epic.

Overall, there are parts of the series I didn’t enjoy, and due to the vast variety of genres represented in the series, most people will probably dislike or struggle with at least bits of it.  However, when the series is put together and all the pieces click together in your mind, it becomes an unforgettable, completely American epic.  A wild west fantasy is unique, and the themes and philosophical questions explored underneath the entertaining prose make for something even deeper than that.  I am incredibly glad I took the time to read this series, and I would recommend it to anyone.  It is well worth the time invested.

5 out of 5 stars

Source: borrowed, Harvard Book Store

Books in Series:
The Gunslinger, review, buy it
The Drawing of the Three
, review, buy it
The Waste Lands, review, buy it
Wizard and Glass, review, buy it
Wolves of the Calla, review, buy it
Song of Susannah, review, buy it
The Dark Tower, review , buy it

Friday Fun! (Those Reviews? I Swear They’re Coming)

October 22, 2010 2 comments

Hey guys!  So the Evil Whore Month From Hell (or EWMFH as it’s now known on twitter) continued on this week despite my best intentions and attempts.  Sunday night, my friends Nina and E came over, and while we were hanging out I said to them, “ugh, my throat is kinda sore. I hope I’m not getting sick.”  To which I was told to eat copious amounts of garlic.  I did.  It didn’t work.  Tuesday night I ended up leaving class early so I could get to bed early.  I thought that would ward off the sickness.  It didn’t.  I ended up staying home sick and sleeping for literally almost 24 hours straight on Wednesday.  Sigh.  I’m still kind of sick, but I’m on the getting better end.  On the plus side, my online professor gave me a week extension on a paper I had due last week, so that’s good.

Allow me to geek out for a moment.  Last Sunday I went to the optometrist’s to get new glasses to replace the ones that are currently being held together with superglue.  Unbeknownst to me, they were having a huge sale.  You guys, this meant that for the first time in my life, I got to get super high-quality glasses.  I’m in heaven.  I can’t wait to get them!  I got two pairs, actually.  It’s good to have a back-up pair just in case, oh, I don’t know, you fall down the cement stairs in front of your apartment and instead of having someone there to help you find them and superglue them back together you’re alone and trying to fix them while mostly blind.  Hey, it could happen.  So anyway, I got these sexy black/squarish frames with silver things on the side that look kind of like the claddagh.  Then I also got squarish wine colored frames with rhinestone flowers on the side.  (Just one on each side).  I’m going to be fashionable for once! Yes.

I’m looking forward to my weekend.  I’ll be trying on the loads of new clothes I bought online tonight and having a girly fashion show of them with my friend E. Tomorrow, I’ll be seeing my librarian buddies (Team Unicorn) for a pizza/gaming party, and Sunday I’ll be going out for dinner for Nina’s birthday.  Busy, busy, busy.  But I promise to get some reviews written and scheduled for next week!  Ye olde Wolfy is returning.  Swear.

Book Review: The Dark Tower by Stephen King, (Series, #7)

October 19, 2010 13 comments

Tower in the background of a field of roses.Summary:
Roland and his ka-tet face their greatest challenges yet.  First they must successfully save the rose in NYC.  Then they must find each other, and Susannah and Jake need to escape the low men who would harm them.  Also on their list before continuing to pursue the Dark Tower is to stop the breakers who mean to destroy the beam, thereby leading the worlds to ruin.  Can they save the beam?  Will Roland reach his beloved Dark Tower with his ka-tet whole or shattered?  Will he reach it at all?  The Dark Tower looms with a far greater presence than ever before, calling to both Roland and reader commala-come-come.

Review:
Now I understand why people who’ve read the entire Dark Tower series rant with showers of praise about it.  This final entry in the series totally blew my mind.  The settings were perfectly drawn and easy to visualize.  The multiple plot lines were all complex and yet simultaneously easy to follow.  I cried multiple times reading this book, including in public, and those who know me know that I generally don’t cry at stories.  All of the characters of the ka-tet are treated with full-formed character development.  They are richly drawn, but it is also easy to see how they have grown and changed throughout the series.  The multiple, inter-locking worlds of Roland and his ka-tet suddenly snap into place in the reader’s mind, and suddenly everything is nearly as clear as it probably is for King.

This book is quite long, but it didn’t feel like it.  I wanted to read it nearly constantly, yet I had to put it down periodically due to the emotional wringer King was bringing me through.  It’s been so long since I read a series that wasn’t either a trilogy or a serial romance that I’d forgotten how emotional it can get to have a long, fully realized tale told with characters you’ve grown to know and care for.  These people read as real people, and the world feels real.  It makes me want to go look for my own unfound door to journey to a parallel reality.  Even though at first I kind of laughed at the idea of a rose and a tower and beams somehow controlling and seeing over multiple worlds, at some point I bought into it.  I suspended my disbelief, and that’s exactly what a spinner of tales is supposed to be able to help his readers do.

What made me truly fall in love with the story and make me want to instantly start re-reading the series over again from the beginning is the ending.  I wouldn’t give it away and ruin the experience of discovering it yourself for anybody, so just let me say, it totally blew my mind.  I did not see it coming.  It made my perspective on the whole tale change, which explains why I want to re-read it so much.  (Maybe next year).  I can also say that the ending makes reading the rest of the long series entirely worth it.  Definitely don’t give up on the series part-way through.  Continue all the way to the end.

If you’ve been reading the Dark Tower series and are uncertain about continuing, absolutely do.  I don’t hesitate to say that the last entry in the series is tied for the best and will totally blow your mind.  I highly recommend the whole series, but I especially encourage anyone who has started it to finish it.  It’s well worth your time.

5 out of 5 stars

Source: Harvard Book Store

Previous Books in Series:
The Gunslinger, review
The Drawing of the Three, review
The Waste Lands, review
Wizard and Glass, review
Wolves of the Calla, review
Song of Susannah, review

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