Tuesday, August 28, 2007

Oh and also...

I will be unplugged for the next few days as I venture to Chicago for the annual archives geekout extravaganza. [Although really, what I'm most excited about seeing is this.]

The Dain Curse

What will I do when I've read all of Dashiell Hammett's books and stories? Read them again, I suppose, because I don't want to stop reading them...

I just finished reading yet another of his novels, The Dain Curse (1929) -- which was originally serialized in Black Mask before being slightly reworked as published as a novel. The original foundation of the story shows through, as the novel is broken up into three distinct parts, all revolving around the same girl: Gabrielle Leggett/Collinson/Collins/Dain, who may or may not be under the grip of a family curse.

The story goes through many twists and turns (involving diamonds, robbery, murder, cults, drug use, sex, human sacrifice, adultery, etc.), as well as a set of interlocking mysteries that build and telescope into one final answer. Like many of Hammett's stories, not every loose end is tied up, and many aspects of the plot don't fit together, but as a reader, you just don't care. The characters, particularly Hammett's unnamed detective The Continental Op, are what the action is really about.

If you haven't read Hammett, and you have any love at all for mysteries, detective stories, or fun, well-written pulp, you must check him out. And although The Dain Curse is a little all over the place, even for Hammett, it is still worth dipping in to.

[And click here (and scroll down) for a gallery of some of the different covers The Dain Curse has been graced with over the years. I love this.]

Saturday, August 25, 2007

Horror Poster Art

I just finished reading Horror Poster Art (2004) edited by Tony Nourmand and Graham Marsh. I have a great love for movie posters, especially pre-1980s posters. I also love horror movies (as you can tell from the list Dr. M and I have been watching). Combining movie posters and horror movies into one book was a winning combination.

Normound and Marsh broadly define "horror" in their retrospective of movie posters, including movies that could also fit into the categories of suspense or science fiction. The book is nicely produced with beautiful full page shots of posters and well written blurbs about the directors, movies, and artists featured in the book. They also don't limit themselves to US or UK versions of posters, and include many examples from Japan and Eastern Europe. Incidentally, I learned that Poland has the craziest movie poster tradition I have ever seen in my life. Check this collection out -- you will not be disappointed.

Wednesday, August 22, 2007

Rinkitink of Oz

The tenth book in L. Frank Baum's Oz series is the very non-Oz Rinkitink in Oz (1916). We can blame the lack of Oz in this Oz book both on Baum's documented general lack of interest (except of course, financial interest) in the long-running Oz series, and the fact that the bulk of the book is actually an adventure story that Baum wrote in 1905.

To make up for the lack of Oz in the story itself, Baum begins the book with a geographical placing of the islands of Pingaree, Regos, and Coregos (where the story takes place) in relation to the land of Oz. They are kind of nearby it. He also ties the story in with the land of the Nome King (who we have visited before), and as always ends it up with a big banquet in the Emerald City.

Although I think the lack of Ozzyness is a little silly in an Oz book, Rinkitink of Oz is actually a very nice little adventure story. It involves a young prince of a prosperous island nation named Inga. His parents and all the citizens and wealth of the country are taken away by evil warriors while he is taking a nap up in a tree. He then sets off with the pudgy king of a neighboring island (that's King Rinkitink!) and his talking goat, along with three magic pearls he got from his father, to save his parents and his people from working as slaves in the mines and fields of King Gos and Queen Cor.

This quest eventually leads him to the land of the Nome King where he has to save himself in various trials as he works to free his parents. Just when things are getting exciting, Dorothy gets beamed in by Ozma to save the day and bring everyone back to Oz for the obligatory banquet. This time we get a laundry list of our favorite characters, but no real interaction between the new characters and the old group.

This story follows Baum's familiar pattern of a young child and an adult to which he or she is not related going out in the world to save something or somebody and meeting up with danger and adventure along the way. And obviously this formula works...

[Read the whole thing here. Do it! Or else just read the Wikipedia description, you lazy thing.]

Monday, August 20, 2007

Documenting Our Pee Party

Dr. M's bathroom break series on Film Watching Robot is really one of his greatest ideas ever. What is more fun than stopping a movie to go to the bathroom (or grab another beer or such), and then taking a picture of the TV when the movie is paused? The only thing that could possibly be more fun would be spending $60 on this toilet bowel costume and then never taking it off. [There is actually a dazzling display of odd costumes on that site, my favorite probably being the fart meter.]

Check back often for further pee pauses!

Thursday, August 16, 2007

First Lensman

I just finished reading First Lensman (1950) by E. E. "Doc" Smith, which was culled by the lovely Choo from her duplicates pile and lovingly placed on my pile of sci-fi to be read. First Lensman is the sequel to Triplanetary, and continues the Lensman series. Although it is the second book in the series (which, according to Wikipedia was the first group of science fiction novels conceived as a series), it was actually written last. The series originally started with the last four books, which were published in Astounding Stories. After their success, Smith reworked an earlier story into the novel Triplanetary, and then wrote First Lensman to connect Triplanetary to the other books.

So: many people don't like First Lensman as much as the rest of the series, since it is essentially an afterthought. Since I haven't read the four books that make up the original series, I'm going to have to say that I thought First Lensman was pretty good.

After saving the world from the iron-hungry Nevians in Triplantary, Costigan goes back to work with Virgil Samms and the rest of the rough-and-ready, very honorable, very manly, honest and trustworthy gang. They realize that they are going to have to create a Galactic-level force to monitor the universe, keep down the bad guys, and have everlasting peace. But how are they to do this when they can't understand half the aliens they meet? Enter in the Arisians, the ancient "good" race that has been orchestrating Civilization as we know it. They have finally found a man who is worthy of wearing their special Lens: Virgil Samms. He goes to their planet, gets this little lens thing on a wristwatch, and suddenly he is able to telepathically communicate with any other intelligent being.

As First Lensman, Samms chooses other people who are strong and good enough to wear their own lens, and sends them to Arisia for their induction. He naturally thinks that his smart, brave, intelligent, and totally foxy daughter Virgillia Samms (who mostly goes by Jill) would be a perfect Lenswoman. Jill, however, comes back from Arisia with a surprise -- she didn't get a lens. As she explains:

Women's minds and Lenses don't fit. There's a sex-based incompatibility. Lenses are masculine as whiskers -- and at that, only a very few men can ever wear them, either. Very special men... Men with tremendous force, drive, and scope. Pure killers, all of you; each in his own way, of course. No more to be stopped than a glacier and twice as hard and ten times as cold. A woman simply can't have that kind of a mind!

Ah well, at least she's got her looks. [And some totally awesome body language reading capabilities that are practically good as mind-reading. Seriously very fun.]

The bulk of the book deals with the build-up of the Lensman force and its fight against the political machine in North America that is trying to disarm the Lensman and destroy the Galactic Patrol. Plus some really rough outer-space drug trafficking.

Smith is great when he does what he does best -- action sequences, new technologies, and descriptions of other planets and aliens. The writing slips a bit when romance is in the air, and the political stuff can get a little dry, but overall there is a lot to like here. Not the least of which is the totally rocking cover on this 1970 edition of the book.

[Back cover here, if you are a cover completest like me.]

Tuesday, August 14, 2007


I've got a couple nights to myself while Dr. M explores the great white north -- having a few days in the apartment alone is both really fun and kind of boring. What is fun about it is that I can indulge in all my bad habits, but the downside is that my bad habits aren't very interesting. And Dr. M wouldn't even say anything about them were he here. Actually he would most likely encourage them.

Bad habits I have explored so far:

1. Have another cocktail.
2. Look at a million celebrity blogs.
3. Play online games like DailyPuzzle, TextTwist, and Zuma until my eyes hurt.
4. Stay up too late reading.
5. Put off any errands that involve getting into my car.
6. Not writing out a grocery list. Yet.

See -- boring. Maybe I should try heroin? Lost weekend? Take up smoking? Secret identity? I somehow feel like I'm wasting my days of alone time. Maybe tomorrow's bookclub will get a little out of control....

[the image above comes from a image search for "bad habits," which honestly doesn't turn up as many funny pictures as I expected...]

Monday, August 13, 2007

Power Down

If you live in Austin and have an account with Austin Energy, you should totally sign up for the Austin Energy PowerSaver program -- all you do is give them your contact information and agree to conserve energy between 4:00pm and 8:00pm when they contact you (which will be up to ten times during the summer). For that you get a nifty kit including: weather stripping, outlet sealers, two compact fluorescent bulbs, and a nightlight. For free! I just got mine, and am currently enjoying the energy efficient glow of my first compact fluorescent bulb. Don't you like free stuff? And conservation? Of course you do.

Now turn off that light.

Saturday, August 11, 2007


First a little background on my next read, Gifted by Nikita Lalwani (release date September 11, 2007). We all know how much I love LibraryThing, right? Well, now I love them even more since I received a free advanced reader's copy of this book through their Early Reviewers program. I think this program is awesome not only because I love to read anything on earth and I like free stuff, but also because they use crazy LibraryThing algorithms (with other factors like number of reviews and expressed interest) to match readers up with books. Those algorithms must have worked in my case, because I really enjoyed reading Lalwani's debut novel.

Gifted is the story of Rumi Vasi, a young math genius, and her family. Rumi's parents immigrated from India to Wales, where her father, Mahesh is a mathematics professor, shortly before her birth. Mahesh and Rumi's teachers notice that she has a great talent for mathematics. When the teachers suggest that Rumi be put into a gifted program at school and enter Mensa, Mahesh decides to create a strict program for Rumi's education on his own, as he strongly believes that anyone can be a "genius" if they separate themselves from distractions and push themselves to excel. This program moves Rumi into more and more advanced studies, but also isolates her from her fellow students, her family, and herself. Rumi eventually sits for her exams to enter Oxford University at the age of 14, but the pressure is mounting and it is evident that something will have to change for Rumi.

Although the storyline sounds predictable, Lalwani's writing makes it very fresh and intriguing. She avoids some of the pitfalls of coming-of-age novels by alternating the perspective from Rumi to Mahesh, to Rumi's mother Shreene. All the conflicts in the book are nicely balanced (daughter vs. father, teenager vs. adults, intellectualism vs. popular culture, Indian vs. Welsh, husband vs. wife, tradition vs. innovation, etc.), with no single aspect threatening to take over the narrative and push it over the edge. The climax and ending of the book were just right -- satisfying without explaining too much, and meaningful without being overly dramatic. This was an excellent read, and I look forward to reading more of Lalwani's work in the future.

Thursday, August 09, 2007

He's not heavy, he's my box

I am working on a giant project at work that involves moving, lifting, opening, dumping, shifting, filling, and inventorying a couple hundred boxes. I started it yesterday and should (nearly) finish tomorrow. Today every muscle in my body aches, even my finger muscles. I don't think those have ever ached before...

This is enough typing for my poor fings. Hopefully I am still mobile tomorrow.

Wednesday, August 08, 2007

The Cuisinart family is coming for you!

Here is another addition to my set of oddly staged Cuisinart advertisements. This one is mostly creepy because everyone is staring right at us with their freaky smiles. It is also creepy because it is the same family from this other ad. Where will this family eat next?

Tuesday, August 07, 2007


I am still recovering from a mega-family-visit-fun-fest. Photographic evidence available here, should you need something to pass the time.

Wednesday, August 01, 2007

A Change is Gonna Come

My latest random book read was A Change Is Gonna Come : Music, Race, and the Soul of America (1998) by Craig Werner. In this book, Werner discusses black music in America and its relation to the political and social movements from the 1960s through the 1990s. Although I found much of the content of this book to be interesting, Werner's writing style threw up a big brick wall that I had a hard time getting beyond as I read the book. Plus I stopped halfway through to read Harry Potter.

So, here are some of my problems:

Werner is obviously qualified to write this book. He is a professor of Afro-American Studies at the University of Wisconsin, and has written many books and articles in this subject area. He is also a white guy from the Midwest and (from some asides in the book) appears to be an ex-hippie. This shouldn't disqualify him from writing a book about black music in America, but because of the nature of the book (often informal, drawing broad conclusions about artists intentions, social movements, cultural views), I think his personality (including his race, age, and experiences) should be more integrated into the book and not just mentioned in passing in the preface. And it made me cringe on more than one occasion when he told us how black people were feeling at a certain time and place, without citing any actual black people.

Werner is a little overly dependent on a few key metaphors to tie his narrative together: primarily "the moan" (as in the gospel moan), and "call and response." Does everything related to all African-American music really have to be brought back to call and response? Even Phil Spector gets the metaphorical treatment:

"... [t]here wasn't much real call and response between Spector and his singers. In the end, that left Spector himself isolated and blue. When Spector's musical genius passed over the borderline into paranoid silence and isolation, no one was in a position to call him back." (p. 40)

This quote is also a pretty good example of the overly enthusiastic prose that Werner falls into over and over again -- particularly at the beginning or end of a chapter, or when he is trying to transition between one thing and another. He makes these sweepingly broad statements using really florid and awkward language, and often tries to fit in one of his key metaphors to boot. A few examples:

"Disco was without question the most powerful forum for women's expression during the seventies." (p. 207)

"Intensely aware that fluidity requires openness, Seal refuses to dictate how his songs should be interpreted." (p. 323)

And my absolute favorite:

"[Ani DiFranco's] guitar -- and she may be the most powerful rock guitarist since Jimi Hendrix -- has been fighting all along." (p. 343)

The Ani DiFranco comment highlights another weakness in the book -- his discussion of the 1990s. This is to be expected, since he wrote the book in the late 90s, there wasn't a lot of distance between himself and the music he was discussing. Still, his love of DiFranco, Hanson, Boyz II Men, and the Spice Girls date the book a wee bit. He also has a tendency to move away from black artists in this time period (although he really seems to have listened and read about a lot of rap and hip hop, you can tell it isn't really his thing -- especially when he writes a few chapters about Bruce Springsteen's career in the 1990s instead).

Also, Werner seems to have had the idea that he should discuss female musicians in this book, but instead of integrating them into the text, he has a tendency to (with the exception of big names like Mahalia Jackson or Aretha Franklin) either note that women were important to a certain genre without devoting much space to discussing individual artists, or just give a laundry list of artists and songs from a certain era.

Finally, Werner often pushes his analysis of individual songs and artists to extremes, drawing conclusions about their meanings that seem to go way beyond the intentions of the creator or the impressions of the audience (I mean, is every song in the world imbued with political meanings? Really? Can't a black person occasionally write a love song that is just a love song and not a cry for freedom?). But in contrast with this overly academic style, Werner throws in a painfully informal and "hip" writing style. He often calls artists and political figures by their first names (a major pet peeve of mine -- if you don't personally know someone famous, either refer to them by their last name, or use their full name. And for God's sake, never refer to Martin Luther King, Jr. as Martin), and uses slang and colloquialisms that are a little out of place.

Obviously I'm having fun picking apart Werner's writing style. There were still some good things about the book -- including his discussion of music and the Civil Rights Movement, a history of the major Soul labels in the 1970s, and all the quotes from artists that pepper his book. This is definitely a history of black music for white people (in one section he helpfully tells us how to pronounce RZA and GZA). In the end, I'd say its worth reading, but you might not have that much fun reading it.

[Pictured above is Mahalia Jackson with Elvis Presley and Barbara McNair.]