Thursday, April 12, 2007

The Entertainment Rundown.

So, I used to talk about what I was reading, watching, listening to, and generally doing all the time on this blog, and then I thought to myself "Maybe I should talk more about beads and business." But then the problem became that when I was having a low creativity week, I wouldn't post at all, and that was boring. So I'm going to try to find a happy balance.

Lately I've read a lot, picked up some new how-to books, and watched a few decent movies. I thought I might share my opinions on them with you, so maybe you might be tempted to go out and read or watch them yourself.


I have a bit of an addiction to Tamara Silver Jones's fantasy forensic novels. Unfortunately, she only has three of them. I read the first one (Ghosts in the Snow) probably a year and a half to two years ago and said "Huh, that was cool" and made a mental note to keep an eye out for future work with her name on it. Then one day recently I was at the used book store and found Valley Of The Soul and then discovered that hey, there was a book between the two of them, called Threads of Malice. So I had to take a trip to B&N to get that. Then I summarily devoured each book. I really enjoy her books for a couple of reasons: one being that gruesome mystery novels are a guilty pleasure, and the fantasy setting makes them all that much better. But the main reason is that they're actually well-written. The author has a solid narration style that never interferes with the flow of the story, interesting characters, good mysteries, and a nice meta-plot that ties the books together.

Best of all, she avoids my biggest pet peeve with mystery novels. In any mystery series that doesn't involve a cop, and maybe even some of the ones that do, it's just ridiculous to imagine that so many people who are connected to the main character could not only die, but be murdered in a mysterious fashion. I mean, honestly! You'd think eventually people would stop being friends with the protagonist and his or her family would disown him or her and everyone would distance themselves, all for fear of being the next murder victim. All ranting aside, the author wisely made the character a castellan whose duties include investigating murders in a rather large geographical area. I highly recommend these books as a good read for anyone who enjoys mysteries or fantasy.

My other recent novel experience was somewhat less enjoyable. For a while now I'd had my eye on Windhaven by George RR Martin and Lisa Tuttle. I am, after all, a pretty big fan of Mr. Martin's Song of Ice and Fire series. Unfortunately, Windhaven is absolutely nothing like those books, and really was not that great. I still read it all the way through, in my usual obsessive "do nothing else until I finish this book" manner, but I wasn't enthralled. The writing was not very strong, and because the story covered the life of a character from early childhood to ancient cronehood, there were many large gaps between sections, which I felt weakened the story. I also felt like the book never got quite deep enough. In a way, it reminded me of all of those rather meditative sequels to the Earthsea Trilogy, but without the benefit of being written by Ursula K. LeGuin. I really can't recommend it.

I'm working my way through The Dragon Chronicles which has been sitting on my shelf for a long time (I think I received it as a holiday present, and since I tend to get a lot of books as gifts, it got lost in the shuffle). Like many more successful illustrated storybooks, such as Lady Cottington's Pressed Fairy Book and the immensely popular Dragonology, the book tries to present itself as a modern reprinting of an ancient book, which has of course been pooh-poohed by modern scholars, etc etc. Where The Dragon Chronicles fails is that it is utterly and completely unbelievable. The above mentioned books succeed because they mix enough reality and tongue-and-cheek humor into their work that you play along, suspend your disbelief, and enjoy the art and story. Now, I am no expert in the Dark Ages, but the countries and people mentioned in this book all sound entirely fictional. On top of that, the scientific knowledge displayed by the wizard in his notes on the dragons are far, far ahead of what anyone knew 1500 years ago. This book would succeed, in my mind, if it had marketed itself as the pure fantasy it was meant to be. I half-suspect that the note at the beginning was tacked on by the publisher in an attempt to cash in on Dragonology's popularity. If so, shame on them! They should have trusted their book's ability to stand on its own, rather than cheapening it with a poorly-implemented marketing trick.

I have a large stack of new books to go through, including a novel and two how-to books that I want to test out before I review... So I suspect you'll be hearing about more books in the next week or two.


The only film I've seen in the theatres lately is 300, and I think I already talked about that here. However, I'm still doing the Netflix thing, so I'll talk about a couple of notable films that I've seen recently.

Kakurenbo is an animated short. It's only 25 minutes long, which lead me to wonder why I would waste a spot in my queue on something that was less than half an hour. However, the reviews were positively glowing, and I needed some good anime to restore my faith after having watched some real tankers in the past. Well, it was so good that we watched it on a Tuesday, then took it to gaming the next day and everyone watched it before the game. They all enjoyed it, too.

The title refers to the game of hide-and-seek, and this story is about a dark variation of that game in an abandoned part of town said to be inhabited by demons. Because the story is so short, obviously I can't say much more about it without spoiling things. What I will say is that the art is beautifully done, with great backgrounds, wonderful colors, and really cool character design. The music was bizarre, which fit the tone of the story well. And if certain elements of the story were predictable, well, it was still a lot of fun to watch. At only 25 minutes long, it's definitely a nice thing to watch at a party. I highly recommend it for anime fans.

Just this week I watched a movie called Seven Swords, which may or may not be a Chinese version of Seven Samurai. Although it had some really interesting weapons on display, including the titular swords, and a few good fight scenes (I really enjoyed the one with two guys having a sword fight in a narrow corridor), over all it was not that great. The story, such as it was, jumped around a lot, the characters were poorly developed, and the sexuality was kind of rough and icky. Also, the villains could not have looked more stereotypically evil if their banners had said "OMG! LOOK GUYS! WE ARE SO EVIL!" Which, for all I know, they might have been, because my Mandarin isn't very good yet so I couldn't read the characters on them. Seriously. Chinese Goths. They would have looked more at home in the medieval flashback scenes of Underworld or Night Watch.

I'm also finally almost done watching Futurama on DVD. This is why I don't watch TV. Any show that I really do enjoy, like Firefly or Futurama, gets canceled. This show is uproariously funny, especially for a geek like me who grew up on sci-fi. I think that's part of the reason it failed. Where The Simpsons is very mainstream in it's humor, so much of Futurama is geared towards young geeky people. Everyone else probably "didn't get it." Alas.

This post is full of links to books which I would categorize as Cool Things, so I'm going to be lazy and not post an additional Cool Thing. Please tune in tomorrow for Fashionable Friday, which may end up being more hot than cool! :D

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