If You Thought Seven Dwarves Were Tough To Remember

((deep, raspy Movie Guy voice))

In a world where evil trolls lie in wait, thirsting for blood, and cruel goblins lurk deep under the middle-Earth, a great treasure lies at the end of an arduous journey…guarded by… a dragon.

They are not heroes… they are not mighty warriors. They are refugees on a quest to reclaim their golden birthright. But they've got a problem…  thirteen of them. Bad luck. 

They're about to change their luck… by taking on one more traveler, who has no idea what fate awaits him… right after a wild, crazy, and quite unexpected party. Underground.

Tom Cruise, in the role he was born to play… on a mission more impossible, a riskier business, than ever. He's the maverick, swashbuckling, barrel-riding thief who's out to grab for the golden Ring. Tom Cruise… isBilbo Baggins.

 

Thirteen Dwarves

[tags]The Hobbit, Peter Jackson, Hollywood, Dreck[/tags]

Schroedinger’s Ball: NYT Review

‘Schroedinger’s Ball’ by Adam Felber – The New York Times – New York Times
I have to admit, I’m a Fanatical Apathist, so I’m looking forward to reading Adam Felber’s new novel. I’m a little puzzled by this review in the Grey Lady, though – did the reviewer like the book, were they charmed enough to imitate the style, or just showing off that they “get” all the romantic metaphors possible with a solid background in quantum physics?
Anyway, it sounds pretty darn good for a WWDTM denizen, so well done Adam.

Take 20th-century physics, add Johann Strauss, the Waltz King, and you have
the first quantum operetta.


Or in this case, “Schrödinger’s Ball.” Adam Felber, a comedian, blogger and
silk-spun satirist (on National
Public Radio
and elsewhere), has written a romantic fantasy in three-quarter
time, as brainy as it is airy, and unhinged either way.


It is a jangle of provocative absurdities playing off a pair of lovers so
winning that readers, like the audiences at the old Hollywood romantic comedies,
will all but rent ladders to uncross the stars that guide and misguide their
affairs.


Just as other romances are strung from the vagaries of fortune,
misunderstanding, rift and reconciliation, this one clings precariously by its
fingernails to the Uncertainty Principle. A counterintuitive mainstay of modern
physics, this asserts that in the subatomic realm of waves and particles, to
observe a phenomenon is to alter it. “Schrödinger’s Ball” extends it, impudently
enough, to our own postmodern uncertainties.

Maisie Dobbs: Quite Boring, Actually

Maisie Dobbs
by Jacqueline Winspear

Honestly, I tried to like these books. I love “cozy” British murder mysteries, and have read every single Ngaio Marsh title, every single Dorothy L. Sayers book about Lord Peter, every novel and short story by Edmund Crispin, and yet I have the good taste to shun Agatha Christie, because a) she wasn’t as good a writer as the above authors and b) she didn’t play fair with her clues. I was looking for a new author to love, and had briefly flirted with a couple of authors (P. D. James: too violent. Patricia Wentworth: dull characters). So it seemed that a modern author trying a bit of “Golden Age” ‘teckery might be worth a read, even though I’d been sadly disappointed by another author’s series, Elizabeth Peters’ Amelia Peabody books.

Sad to say, Maisie Dobbs is a dud. The first book starts out promisingly enough, but our enterprising Miss Dobbs seems to have a lot of unusual abilities and arcane interests; she apparently has some sort of psychic or empathic abilities and can intuit a person’s emotional state by imitating their body language. Also, she’s a terribly up-to-date thing as far as transcendental meditation, Pilates, and other “modern” New Age pursuits go. Yes, these things existed in the 30’s; they were studied by a few cognoscenti in London and New York, and there were yogis living in Britain who taught meditation and other aspects of Higher Knowledge and theosophical thought. Yes, yes, yes. And our Miss Dobbs happens to be the protoge’ of the one man in Britain in a position to bring her into contact with the cognoscenti and the yogi and the creator of the Pilates method, so she can be 60 or so years ahead of Madonna.

I haven’t run across any references to the Kabbalah yet, though there’s still plenty of time.

The first book sets up Maisie’s story, introduces the characters that make up her world, and pretty much tells everything that ever happened to Maisie in very lengthy flashback chapters, and eventually she gets around to solving her first case as a solo practitioner of the “psychological detective’s” art. Also, a male character who will no doubt turn out to be a love interest is casually introduced.

Birds of a Feather (Maisie Dobbs Mysteries (Paperback))
by Jacqueline Winspear

The second book is the one I’m hung up on; I slogged through the first one, but lost interest in this one at about the halfway mark (I’m normally a fast reader, but these books are very put-downable). The plot concerns a young heiress who has disappeared; she seems to be involved with some other young women with varying and highly esoteric interests who’ve turned up murdered. I lost patience with the “psychic empath” feature of Maisie’s character, because it bore such an unfortunate resemblance to a plot point in a certain kind of science-fiction “fanfic” story called a “Mary Sue.”
That is, a young woman of unusual abilities who is clearly a stand-in for the author, except that she’s better looking, gets all the men, has an unusual mixture of odd abilities, and has psychic abilities to boot. Because of my background as a Highlander fan, and because I know a few people who write fairly well-regarded fanfic (at least in the small community of fanfic aficionadas), I’ve been exposed to some awful dreck promising works needing a little polish in the past (not talking about my friend Jill’s stuff; this was written by someone from Seattle years back).

I’m sorry, Ms. Winspear, I’d like to like Maisie more, but she reminds me of a character I encountered about 10 years ago who was immortal, beautiful, psychic, deadly with any kind of blade, expert in all martial arts, and had Duncan MacLeod, Richie Ryan, Methos, Joe Dawson, and some random k’immie guy wrapped around her finger. I’ll get around to finishing “Birds of a Feather,” but I won’t buy any more books featuring Miss Maisie Dobbs: she’s just too “Mary Sue Dobbs” for my taste.
For those who dare:
Mary Sue: The Stories
Mary Sue: The Drinking Game

Piracy In Suburbia

Musical Piracy

All in all, it was a perfect day here in Suburbia Nervosa. I had friends who were going to be at the Pirate Fest in Port Washington, WI, so my husband David and I had decided to drive up for a few hours. Since getting an early start wasn’t all that necessary, we lolled around drinking coffee, listening to the Saturday lineup on WBEZ (naturally, we listened to WWDTM) and eventually gathered a few odds and ends that included cameras, hats, sunscreen…
and books. One of my friends is a writer and would be signing copies of his latest book (and also the previous one), and the other friend lives in the area, but we’ve never had such a good excuse to meet up before (what? Yeah, yeah, most of my friends these days are online friends).

David set up the nav thingy on the Grey Ghost and we set off after stopping for some portable food at the nearby Caribou. Soon enough, the signs we were nearing Cheeseland were clear: the gigantic roadside stands hawking dairy products start at the border. So do the fireworks stands, and the tacky tourist traps roadside attractions are set attractively close to the highway
so that minivanfulls of children can whine “Maaaze… they have a maze and a giant apple, and you can sit on a statue of a cow. Mooom? Can we stoooop?”

We avoided these booby-traps for the navigationally challenged and carried on toward Port Washington, north of Milwaukee, where the Pirate Fest was in full swing. It seems like they’re tearing town the entire infrastructure of downtown Milwaukee and rebuilding all the snaking, looping, flying buttress-like highway interchanges from scratch. Note to self: if the sign says “exit closed,” they really mean it, because there’s at least one very high ramp that has been completely removed. If you took it, you’d have
about a half-second to admire the few of the river through your windshield before you plunged into it, grille-first.

Edna, our not-very-bright onboard nav system, did well until we got very close to the site, and then she took us on a random tour of the area along the fringes of the Wisconsin Power station on the lakeside. Eventually, without Edna’s assistance, we arrived and found a place to park. We were meeting up with one friend who was at that moment established in one specific spot, signing books, and we were meeting up with a second
friend who was roving. Fortunately, both were easily found, because Pirate Fest just isn’t that big. We wandered into the first tent we saw, strolled past some vendor stalls, and then I spotted the stall for Bilgemunky.com, a site that I knew my writer friend had swapped links with. So in short order we found my writer friend, and then right there was my other online chum, Wendy. All met up!

We got acquainted, wandered off separately to look at pirate stuff while the writer did his thing at the booth, watched the pirate ship mess about offshore, watched people, and so on. We all met back at the book booth, and Keith, the writerly friend, walked us over to a little restaurant farther up on the lakeside. Before leaving the Pirate
Fest area, they were getting people together for the costume competition, but they had no raised stage for this, so it was impossible to see anyone. 

I regret not getting closeup pictures of the very astounding costumes we saw, some of which were fantastically detailed and appeared to be as authentic as possible. There were some in costumes that were, charitably speaking, somewhat lower down on the evolutionary scale of piratical authenticity. And here and there, musical pirates were committing piracy music. Some of them weren’t bad.

There were also some people in costume who appeared to be merely marking time before the Bristol Ren Faire opens for the season in July.

We had a beer, enjoyed our time with friends, and then it was time to head back south. As luck would have it, we got on the road just as A Prairie Home Companion was starting, and also as luck would have it, it was a terrific show. Of couse, it was a tie-in with the upcoming Robert Altman movie, and so they had some of the film’s stars on the show, supposedly hoping to be made part of the permanent cast. It was pretty good fun, and then the musical
guests were outstanding; Doyle Lawson & Quicksilver,  and Shelby Lynne. Also, some extra singers ably performing great music with the “house” band. The music was all top-notch stuff. We got home just as the show was ending to find that the street next to the house had been blocked off with sawhorses… at first I thought it was because they were going to tear up and repave the asphalt, but
then we realized it was a neighborhood block part of some kind. It was odd to see all the tables and grills and things out there, but it looks like a good time was had by all here at home, too. However, it’s now a little after eleven PM, and the party sounds to have reached the point of loud drunken boastful lookitme ain’t-I-cool backslappery. I’m kind of wondering how long they’ll go on… especially ironic since the pirates up north seemed to be a fairly abstemious bunch, at least during the day; the beer tent
was almost completely empty when we were there. Go figure, the hearty debauch is taking place here in the boring suburban hinterlands, and not in the realm of leather-booted buccaneers up north.

There’s more photos in this Flickr set. And that’s about it for me, me hearties. Argh, and so on.

iTunes: William Shatner featuring Joe Jackson: Common People: Has Been [4:38]

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How Would A Patriot Act?

Next must-read book:

How Would a Patriot Act? Defending American Values from a President Run Amok

How Would a Patriot Act? Defending American Values from a President Run Amok by

How Would a Patriot Act? is one man’s story of being galvanized into action to defend America’s founding principles, and a reasoned argument for what must be done. Greenwald’s penetrating words should inspire a nation to defend the Constitution from a president who secretly bestowed upon himself the powers of a monarch. If we are to remain a constitutional republic, Greenwald writes, we cannot abide radical theories of executive power, which are transforming the very core of our national character, and moving us from democracy toward despotism. This is not hyperbole. This is the crisis all Americans—liberals and conservatives–now face.

In the spirit of the colonists who once mustered the strength to denounce a king, Greenwald invites us to consider: How would a patriot act today?

This is something that’s been on my mind for a while. I keep thinking of the accusations against King George III in the Declaration of Independence, and the hopeful but impractical list of impeachable offenses against President Georgie II… and thinking they sound a lot alike.

And here’s something that’s been bothering me: if the Administration has spent the last 5 1/2 years concentrating power in the Executive Branch, and has deliberately sidelined the Legislative (and possibly the Judicial) Branch, how does that square with leaving office as constitutionally mandated in 2008? Or is that part of the Constitution insufficiently protective of national security, too?

Oh, Now She’ll Be Insufferable

My wacky British chum Mrs Blubridge has been very quiet of late, but now she’ll be completely full of herself. My copy of GUS OPENSHAW’S WHALE-KILLING JOURNAL : A Novel finally arrived, and in the acknowledgements section at the back is this little item:

This book wouldn’t have left the dock without Gus Openshaw’s digital shipmates, the bloggers who took part in the hunt via the internet, offering support, advice, navigational aid, and in one case, access to NASA satellite feed to help locate the blubbery bastard. They are: Annie, Bard Sinister, Bastardess, Blueberry, Mrs. Blubridge, JCanuck, Trish Cavendish, Edna, Hester, Horny Ken, Oracle Ken, Smart Ken, KJ4ever, Labysnabys, Leibniz, Myrtle, Tallulah Plankhead, Walken T. Planque, PrincessR9, Puzzled, Sea-Rover, snuggs, Strawberry, Syphillitic Sailor, Trillian, Waxwing, and WendyfromChicago. Anywhere in the World Wide Web you folks drop anchor, Gus has got your rum tab.

After this, she’ll be well-nigh insufferable. She’d better not put on airs just because in the book, her name is hyphenated.

OH POO! Gus Didn’t Win The Blooker Prize

The 2006 Lulu Blooker Prize for Blooks

Bummer, the Whale-Killing Journal didn’t win the fiction prize. Bummer.

However, it looks like Gus’s stooge Keith will be coming to Wisconsin on a book tour, making a stop at the Port Washington Pirate Festival the weekend of June 3rd. That could be kind of fun to check out – it’s probably a lot like a Ren Faire, except with pirates. It’s just a little north of Milwaukee.

Naaah, that’s David’s birthday weekend,and he’s never shown the least interest in the WKJ…which won’t arrive until mid-April, darn it.

Gus Openshaw’s Whale Killing Journal: First Review

I’ve been reading the original Gus Openshaw blog for about a year and a half, almost two years now. It amounted to a serial novel, with comments. With a lot of other people, birds, and dead guys, I participated in the comments (I am in disguise, although it’s probably an open secret now as to my identity).

Since the end of the adventure some time ago, Gus moved on to another free online blog community, Mindsay.

A blog entry from last year may help make it less confusing. “No, is too much. I will sum up.”

First Review of the Whale-Killing Journal

Gus Openshaw notes on his Mindsay blog:

What does it feel like to get the first review of your book? Well, pretend you’re me a few minutes ago and you are about to read the following sent to you by your publisher. Now pretend butterflies are throwing punches in your stomach. Now read it {Note: Thomson is the name of a stooge who, because I might get extradited otherwise, stands in for me}:

Kirkus Reviews
Thomson, Keith
GUS OPENSHAW’S WHALE-KILLING JOURNAL
1-59692-172-2

A blogger-slash-whaler goes hunting for his prey in the Caribbean—where the waters are shark-infested, the crew is always on the verge of mutiny and absurd plot twists arrive with every other paragraph.

Thomson’s raucous comedy of errors is the tale of Gus Openshaw, a worker at a cat-food cannery who spends his summer hot on the trail of the “blubbery bastard” who swallowed his wife, child and right arm. Openshaw obsessively details his pursuit on his blog, and he’s a little surprised to learn that his readership knows of other obsessive, one-limbed whalers. (“I’ve been calling [the whale] ‘Dickhead,’ ” he writes. “Everybody always laughs and says that’s a witty reference. Hell if I know why.”) Joining him on the trip are a short-tempered, murderous cook, a deckhand who’s addicted to hull cleaner, the appropriately named Stupid George (who at one point heaves a harpoon handle-first) and Flarq, a Queequeg-like deckhand who draws “scrimshaws” of the events in the story (illustrations appear throughout). Thomson constantly subverts the narrative by concocting increasingly ridiculous turns of events—Openshaw’s sued for libeling Dickhead on his blog, after which he falls for the Princess of Whales, the ruler of a small whale-worshipping island who, in turn, happens to work for a black-market arms dealer who appears at crucial moments with, say, a prosthetic arm, or an F-15 fighter jet. Yet Thomson never loses his grip on the plot—he works hard to make the story hang together logically; the brief, blog-length chapters, meanwhile, keep the jokes punchy and entertaining. If Moby-Dick was a richly symbolic work about the whole of human experience, this is just an assortment of riffs on adventure tales, love stories and human idiocy in general. Thomson is no Melville, but there’s no question who’s the better gag-writer.

Dumb fun, smartly imagined.

Well, good for Gus. The next book is going to be a reality. I guess Pirates of Pensacola did all right. And if all the wacky commenters are going to be in the Acknowledgements, I suppose that might be a good enough reason to reveal my sekrit identity.

Which is probably embarassingly obvious, but we’ll continue with the pretense that it’ll be a complete surprise to everybody.

Bookses Good and Middling

The Sunday Philosophy Club : An Isabel Dalhousie Mystery
By: Alexander McCall Smith

Finished this one a few days ago. I had really loved the “Ladies No. 1 Detective Agency” novels by the same author, and I hope to encounter a new favorite series with this one. That wasn’t the case, but I did enjoy meeting Isabel Dalhousie and seeing a bit of her world. She’s a very deep person who spends a lot of time thinking about things philosophical, romantic, and mysterious. Ultimately it’s an unsatisfactory read, because philosophy gets in the way of logic. In the real world, a bizarre “accidental” death like the one in the opening chapter would be investigated, and there would be some resolution. In Dalhousie’s world, after a perfunctory mention of the police and the “procurator fiscal” (the Scottish official responsible for investigating deaths), there’s no mention of any official notice taken. So when Dalhousie discovers the truth, she decides for herself that the authorities need not be advised of it. She justifies it to herself, but a typical hard-headed Scottish detective inspector would n’t have let his or her own feelings in the matter color their report; they would have handed the case on to be dealt with and for justice to be handed down.

Still, it was an enjoyable read. I’ll read the next one when I see it.

Little People
By: Tom Holt

This turned out to be a disappointment. It started out to be a bit flaky and different and amusing, and then it continued on being flaky and different and amusing in a much too self-aware way for far too long. The premise was funny and interesting: a young boy sees a tiny little elf in his back garden, and has a couple more encounters in his life while he’s working out that his stepfather’s shoemaking factory isn’t run according to conventional modern labor practices. Then things go seriously awry.

There are some missed opportunities; there’s a conversation the main character has with an escaped “elf” that begged a followup nearer the end of the book. And some of the plot points that Holt makes a “given” in the world he’s created come and go at his whim – when it’s no longer convenient, things no longer happen in the way they did earlier in the book.

Finally, the tone goes on being a little too wryly arch long after the story has become pretty much a hopeless downer. If I wanted to read a pastiche of Douglas Adams-like snickering asides during a narration, I’d go and dig my copy of “Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Universe” out of whichever box it’s in. Adams was much better at it, and he used a narrative voice, where Holt uses first-person narration. Somehow, having your long-suffering main character bothering to add all the witty asides and snarky commentary while also getting on with telling his story just isn’t that funny after a while.

I’ve started another new book in the meantime. More on that later.

The X-Acto Map Collector

Chicago Tribune | Were treasured maps looted?

Check out this guy’s name: E. Forbes Smiley III. He’s a well-known dealer in rare maps – with a name like that, what else could he be? He lives in Martha’s Vineyard (of course). He was wearing a blazer when arrested (no doubt with a monogram or family crest embroidered just over the breast pocket). In another pocket of that blazer was a rare map that he had evidently just cut out of an old atlas at a Yale University library – a sharp-eyed librarian noticed an X-Acto knife blade on the floor near him and alerted security.
The Newberry is checking their collection now. So are other libraries that Forbes has visited in the last couple of years.

Every now and then, there’s a big case where old maps or illustrations or engravings are cut out of antique or rare books and end up on the rare documents market. This one probably made it “above the fold” media-radarwise because of Smiley’s status in his rarefied world.

Makes you wonder when you enter a shop of beautiful old documents and illustrations just how many of them came from the X-Acto colletion.