Running Down The Hill

Back in ye olde early dayes of this blog, I actually had (and occasionally hewed to) a weekly schedule:

Monday:		Books
Tuesday: Politics
Wednesday: Humorous observations about yogurt
Thursday: Games
Friday: Movies

Of course I had a child since then. Now nearly all the movies I watch, books I read, and games I play feature anthropomorphic mice, reassuring the watcher/reader/player that pooping in your pants once in while doesn’t necessarily preclude you from being a Potty Champion.

As for politics, I think I moved from the “laugh so you don’t cry” stage to the “cry so you don’t move to Finland” stage about two years ago. And, anyway, I’ve pretty much made every single possible joke about the current administration. Except, perhaps, this one:

Knock knock

Who’s there?

George W. Bush

Oh, god. Still?

Yes, for 14 more months


So, yeah. You can see why I stopped.

Still, I wrote about a book yesterday, and I’m planning to review a game Thursday, so why not go hog wild and stick to the schedule for old-time’s sake. Besides, I’ve already subjected everyone I know in real life to this harangue, so you’re my only remaining audience.


I know I’m not going to change anyones mind on this. But still. Come on. Please?

It’s not that I don’t like Clinton–I do. Honestly, I think she’s the most presidential person in the race, for either party. Some people say she’s unelectable, but I don’t believe that for a moment. And hopefully Kerry taught us the peril of nominating someone based on their supposed “electability.”

But holy smokes, I am so sick of this dynasty crap. Bush? Then Clinton? Then Bush? Then Clinton? If Hillary wins she will likely be re-elected as well; when she leaves office, this nation will have been ruled exclusively by two families for 28 straight years–an entire generation! In 2020, no one under the age of 30 will remember a time when neither a Bush or Clinton was running the joint. And you know Jeb will be waiting in the wings. What’s the point of having a democracy if we only use to to elect monarchs?

Some of my friends patiently sit through my tirade and then rebut, “I agree with you in principle, but it’s unfair to hold a quirk of history against Clinton.” Maybe not, but we ought to elect presidents based not only on their qualities, but also on what is the best for the nation. After all, it’s supposed to be a government of laws, not of men (or women). In other words, we need to look beyond the fact that Hillary may be the best-qualified for the presidency, and ask what electing another Clinton or Bush will do to the institution of executive branch. We have the 22nd amendment, and constituencies enact term-limit legislation, to prevent just this sort of situation; we wouldn’t even need the 22nd amendment and term-limits if we could just exercise some self-control in cases like this.

So, in conclusion: vote Gravel. Or Obama. Or Richardson, or Edwards, or Dodd–hell, I don’t care. But don’t vote for Hillary. And just so we’re clear: I’m totally not joking about this. There’s no way I’ll vote for Hillary in the primaries. Not a chance. I’d sooner cast a write-in vote for Ben Dover.

Of course I’ll be the first to pull the lever for Clinton if it’s Hillary v. Rudy in the general election. Standing on principle is noble, but Giuliani eats power for breakfast and shits crazy in the afternoon.

Books: Red Mars

Red Mars, the first book in Kim Stanley Robinson’s sprawling epic about the terraforming and colonization of Mars, is epitomized by two passages.

The first is found on page 102, shortly after the first settlers arrive on the barren planet:

The stacked crate walls made a ramp to drive the tractor off the lander. They didn't look strong enough, but that was the gravity again.

Nadia had turned on the tractor's heating system as soon as she could reach it and now she climbed into the cab and tapped a command into its autopilot, feeling that it would be best to let the thing descend the ramp on its own, with her and Samantha watching from the side, just in case the ramp was more brittle in the cold than expected, or otherwise unreliable. She still found it almost impossible to think in terms of martian g, to trust the designs that took it into account. The ramp just looked too flimsy!

Any author, writing about Mars, would describe the physical aspect of low “martian g,” with astronauts bounding about and lifting enormous enormous crates with the greatest of ease. So too does Robinson. But he delves much, much deeper than that, exploring the psychological aspects of martian g. The ramp just looks too flimsy!

Robinson hasn’t just written a saga about people who go to Mars; he contemplates what it would actually be like to live there. Each of the book’s eight parts are told from the point of view of one of the “First 100,” the team that makes up the initial landing party. Made up of geologists, biologists, physicists, architects, agriculturalist, and others (there’s even a psychologist to keep them sane), the First 100 is tasked with paving the way for future settlement, by transforming the planet into something habitable (if only bearly) to humans. This project is so monumental that only the first stages are documented in Red Mars; the sequel is called Green Mars because of the establishment of flora; and the thickened atmosphere gives the final book, Blue Mars, its title.

Here’s the second passage, which appears two pages after the first:

Now [Nadia] could wander in the dim ruby light of sunset, her old jazz collection piped from the habitat stereo into her helmet headphones, as she rooted in supply boxes and picked out any tool she wanted. She would carry them back to a small room she had commandeered in one of the storage warehouses, whistling along with King Oliver's Creole Jazz Band, adding to a collection that included, among other items, an Allen wrench set, some pliers, a power drill, several clamps, some hacksaws, an impact-wrench set, a brace of cold-tolerant bungie cords, assorted files and rasps and planes, a crescent-wrench set, a crimper, five hammers, some hemostats, three hydraulic jacks, a bellows, several sets of screwdrivers, drills and bits, a portable compressed gas cylinder, a box of plastic explosives and shape charges, a tape measure, a giant Swiss Army knife, tin snips, tongs, tweezers, three vises, a wire stripper, X-acto knives, a pick, a bunch of mallets, a nut driver set, hose clamps, a set of end mills, a set of jeweler's screwdrivers, a magnifying glass, a11 kinds of tape, a plumber's bob and ream, a sewing kit, scissors, sieves, a lathe, levels of all sizes, long-nosed pliers, vise-grip pliers, a tap-and-die set, three shovels, a compressor, a generator, a welding-and-cutting set, a wheelbarrow ...

This is an extreme example–there’s only one other itemized list like this in the novel–but, even so, long tracts of the book feel similar. The research Robinson put into this book is staggering, but it’s as if he feels compelled to recount every fact he uncovered in his studies, and at times this makes for a volume as arid as the Martian landscape. (And lest you think “It’s okay! I’m a big science nerd! I’d love to read a detailed explanation of how they sprinkle black dust on the Martian poles to raise the albedo and melt them!”, be forewarned that Robinson goes on at length about every aspect of Martian settlement. For example, thirty pages are devoted to psychological theory and the intricate relationship between introverts, extroverts, stable, and labile personality types. No kidding.)

Despite Robinson’s occasional bouts of logorrhea, I quite enjoyed Red Mars. One thing I noticed: as the chronology of the book got farther and father from the present, Robinson has to rely more on imagination than research, and the novel feels less and less like a textbook. Thus, about halfway through, the nitty-gritty of terraformation begins to take a backseat to the politics of the burgeoning Martian society. By the final 200 pages, it’s almost pure space opera. “Science-fiction” is not only the genre to which the novel belongs, but an apt description of its progression: it starts as science, and slowly slides across the spectrum to fiction.

Written in 1993, some of Robinson’s predictions already look naive in retrospect. The chances of us settling Mars by 2026, for instance, are slim indeed. But in other ways, the book feels perfectly suited for the times. Much of the book grapples with the positive and negative effects of globalization (though the “globe,” in this case, is only half the diameter of our own). Not to mention the difficulty imperialistic powers have in occupying a distance, sandy land occupied by people who object to the interference of outsiders and trans-national corporations. The book would be an allegory for the early 21st century, were it not written in the late 20th.

In many ways, Red Mars reminds me of its fantasy counterpart, The Fellowship of the Ring. To appreciate both, you have to wade through a lot of sometime laborious backstory, and many times you can’t help but think that you’d rather have read the book than to still be reading it. But your appreciation for the sheer amount of effort and inventiveness the author put into the story keeps you turning pages, and, by the time you’re done, you feel like the novel was more of an experience than just a read.

Or perhaps it’s just enough to say this: though getting through the first 600 pages of the Mars trilogy was sometimes a chore, I am still eager to read the remaining 1,400. That’s saying something right there.

NaNoReMo 2007: Catch-22

The die is cast. The 2007 NaNoReMo book, as decided by you, will be: Catch-22.

Wait, what? Really? Wow, I would not have predicted that. In fact, I don’t even need to use the conditional tense: I did not predict that. I was sure it was going to be 1984 or Catcher In The Rye. Shows ya what I know.

But Catch-22 is great–one of only two books on the list that I haven’t read already.

I’ll send out a syllabus next week. In the meantime, you may want to think about picking up a copy.

Brave New World

Opened my mailbox yesterday to find this catalog:


The dystopia envisioned by generations of science-fiction writers arrived at some point, but no one really seemed to notice.

The Bad Review Revue

Hot Rod: “Started to go bad about the time someone in casting said, ‘You know what? I’ll bet America is just about ready for the comedy stylings of Sissy Spacek.'” — Kyle Smith, NEW YORK POST

Good Luck Chuck: “A comedy so lame its plot could’ve been swiped from a Bazooka Joe wrapper.” — Chris Nashawaty, ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY

Dragon wars: “Some of the most ambitious crap I’ve ever seen.” — Marc Savlov, AUSTIN CHRONICLE

The Invasion: “Made by the kind of beings the first three Body Snatchers movies warned us against.” — Gene Seymour, NEWSDAY

The Last Legion: “We can only hope that the title of this misbegotten swords-and-sandals adventure is prophetic.” — Frank Scheck, HOLLYWOOD REPORTER

The Game Plan: “Generic to the point where it might be called Sport-Themed Disney Girly Movie All Rights Reserved.” –Geoff Pevere, TORONTO STAR

United States Successfully Exports Remaining Democracy

President Bush's program to export democracy to the Middle East reached fruition yesterday, as the last of America's dominant political philosophy was shipped to Manama. "Don't say I never gave you nuthin', Bahrain," Bush joked during a ceremony at a Washington D.C. "Ship 4 Less" outlet, during which he carefully placed the remaining democracy in a cardboard box filled with packing peanuts. After the parcel was sealed and given to a UPS deliveryman, Bush delivered some prepared remarks to commemorate the occasion. "The United States had democracy for over 200 years; it's time to let some other deserving nations have a crack at it," he said. "Nobody likes a democracy hog," he added to laughter. Bush vowed to continue his campaign to export liberty, and pledged to begin outsourcing the pursuit of happiness during his third and fourth terms in office.

NaNoReMo 2007

As you may recall (lord knows I do), I spent last November attempting to plow through Moby Dick. It was supposed to be a clever spin on National Novel Writing Month, the idea being that it would be easier to read a book in 30 days than write one. Rarely have my prognostic powers proven to be more incorrect. Knocking out my 750,000-word fantasy novel about obese wizards would have been a cinch compared to getting through The Dick.

Or so I am forced to assume, as I didn’t actually complete the book. Fortunately, I think my daily progress reports reduced my readership to approximately one (hi Mom!), so no one noticed when I scotched the project.

As with most fiascoes, I blame my failure largely on you. I had hoped that people would join in the endeavor, reading the book along with me and adding their own insights to my daily posts. Let’s ignore, for the moment, the fact that I didn’t get around to announcing my intention to spend November reading Moby Dick until 11:45 PM on Halloween, leaving you no time to secure a copy of the novel. In fact, let’s just ignore that fact forever, shall we?

Anyway, I’m you’re not going to make the same mistake again. This year I am announcing the reading material well in advance, so we can all do this together. (** Spoiler**: it won’t be the second half of Moby Dick.)

In fact, I’ll even give you a vote as to what we read. Here are the 10 novels I am considering. For each, indicate if you want to read it for NaNoReMo, would read it for NaNoReMo, or absolutely won’t read it for NaNoReMo. (If you will not read any of these books, or just don’t care to participate in NaNoReMo, just click here to see the results so far.)

** Voting has ended; click here for results **

I limited the choices to “American Novels,” for no compelling reason (I figure the Bush administration pretty much naturalized 1984). I also tried to pick books that were a tad more accessible than Moby Dick (not hard, given that Fort Knox is more accessible than Moby Dick). Specifically, I tried to pick books that were less than 500 pages, and, if not necessarily “easy-to-read,” at least not “grueling-to-read.” And, before you ask: To Kill A Mockingbird and The Great Gatsby were omitted because I’ve read both in the last five years.

Now let me tell you my preferences, in an effort to influence your decision (he says, as if he’s not just going to throw out all the votes at the last moment and decide that we’re all going to read back-issues of Heavy Metal …)

The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn: My top pick my a healthy margin. I figure most folks of my generation haven’t read it in 20 years, and most folks of subsequent generations were prevented by The Naughty Word Police from reading it at all.

The Adventures Of Augie March: Clearly I am in the mood for adventure. I don’t know the first thing about this book, but, in doing my research for NaNoReMo 2007, I found it at the top of nearly every list of “Great American Novels.” Intriguing. Violates the < 500 pages rule, though. Catcher In The Rye: Read it in college, didn’t think it lived up to the hype. Of course, as a dedicated counter-counter-culturalist, I would have come to that conclusion regardless of the quality of the book (see also: Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance). Would like to read it again as an adult (i.e., free of the obligation to come to a different opinion that everyone else for the sake of faux individualism).

Those are my front-runners, though I’d be happy to read any of these. Let me know your thoughts. We’ll keep the poll open until the 8th–that will give those who want to play along at home plenty of time to get the selected book from the bookstore or library.