Fail-eo

So normally I write on here about books, and games, and overall geek stuff. Well really, I haven’t posted in a while, so I’m going to take a little bit of a different turn with this post.

As some of you know, I decided at the beginning of the month that I was going to give eating Paleo a swing. I would do it for a month, then ease up while at GenCon (because ZEST!). If I liked it, and did well with it, I’d get back on track with it after my vacation.

Well so far, so good. Until today. Today really illustrated to me a big part of my relationship with food, and how my brain is wired to want the junk. So far, I’d cooked a ton of delicious wonderful real foods. I’d stayed away from the crap, and even resisted the siren calls of donuts and Chick-Fil-A and the cheesecake brownie a well-meaning client brought for me. I brought my own food to a friend’s swim party, and even though I broke down and split a slice of pizza with Natty Ultra, I didn’t feel guilty (probably because I was in the pool for two hours). So what changed today?

I ate well for breakfast, leftover frittata, and lounged around a bit before going out shopping. Mistake #1 was not eating more before I left. Mistake #2 was not having water or snacks on hand when I knew I would be out for a while. Mistake #3 was shopping for food, after everything else. I was starving. So that brings us to mistake #4: Long John Silvers.

Ugh.

You would think that after just ten days of eating whole foods, it wouldn’t be such a big shock going back to the old habits. But damn, that food tasted horrible. And it sat in my stomach like a rock. I even got a Pepsi. And it was like fizzy syrup. Which is basically what it is anyway, but to me soda had always been the best beverage in the world. Not anymore.ljs

I realized while eating my crappy food and feeling worse and worse why I broke down and got it in the first place. When I was a kid, going out and running errands usually meant cheeseburgers. My PopPop always got me Burger King every Monday after school. When I got older and was running around on my own, with my own money, a trip out shopping always meant that I brought something home to eat, because of course after all that shopping I’d be too hungry to cook when I got home. And that’s what I felt today. I thought about it and actually salivated at the thought of coming home with my prizes (including, ironically, an immersion blender to make Paleo mayo) and having some fries and a soda while I played video games.

How disappointing.

Now this is good eating!

Now this is good eating!

So I made up for it tonight by mad cooking. I marinated chicken for tomorrow’s dinner, and whipped up some Maple Spiced Walnuts and Proscuitto-Wrapped Frittata Muffins from the Nom Nom Paleo cookbook (which is awesome. Her blog is great too!). Oh and I made paleo Strawberry Lemonade too.

Back on track for now, but I have definitely learned a lot today. BE PREPARED. And keep nuts in your purse.

(I still love cheeseburgers though.)

The Windup Girl: Way Too Wound Up

Another book post, originally for my Recent Sci Fi and Fantasy class. I toned the snark, though I really have it in spades for this book.

Oh, and spoilers.

This is one of those cases where, even though my personal feelings may get in the way, I am going to try really hard to be constructive in my comments about this book.

The world-building in The Windup Girl is extremely detailed, building a futuristic-yet-old-fashioned Bangkok from the ground up. You get a deep sense right away about what has happened to this world to make them rely on methane gas and deal in calories as well as money. The problem for me personally was that this wasn’t a world that I really wanted to visit. Normally I love visions of real places twisted and reimagined for a certain future or an alternative past. That is part of the escapism that comes with reading books, after all. But Bacigalupi’s Bangkok was not a welcoming place to escape to. I mean, of course the places in books aren’t always pleasant. I wouldn’t want to visit Panem or Divergent’s Chicago any time soon. But even though the settings were foreboding, the stories of the people that lived there were rich and enticing enough to draw you in. I suppose that I really didn’t want to visit Bangkok because I didn’t want to spend time with the people that lived there.

I didn’t form connections to any of the characters. To me it just seemed like most of them were there to propel the politics of the story forward, and that was it. I don’t feel like Emiko, for being the title character, was featured nearly enough. And Anderson, who you would think would also be more important, doesn’t get enough page time either. I didn’t care to read about Jaidee and Kanya, though I know that they were necessary to forward the political plot of the book. And I also didn’t care about Hock Seng, who also I believe features in the short story “The Yellow Card Man”. In fact, I kind of wanted him to die at the end. Not too fond of Hock Seng. In the end I wanted this book to be more character-driven and not agenda-driven, to be more about the actual windup girl and her struggles, and the calorie man and his struggles. I didn’t quite buy Anderson’s weird interest in Emiko, then writing her off so quick, going back and forth between looking like he actually cares and then throwing her out with the trash, only to be nice to her again when presented with the opportunity. I could write a whole separate post on that one, but I’m choosing not to.

While I can appreciate the time and craft that went into the intricate world of The Windup Girl, after finishing the book I was just left with a vague impression of “what just happened” combined with “did I miss something?” I didn’t care that Bangkok was ruined. I didn’t care about the government change or the multiple slaughters and past genocides. To me all of this was so vague, combined with too many foreign words and different historical references that I just felt lost the entire time reading. And that is not something that I like to feel when reading a book.

(I think I tried to be constructive here. Really I tried.)

The Name of the Wind: Yeah, My Life DOES Deserve a Song.

wind cover

So for this semester in my pursuit of the F for my M.A., I don’t have to post my thoughts in my blog. But since I also have to be slightly more analytical and formal, I thought I’d post here as well, with my original essay but extra fun bits thrown in just for the blog crowd. This time around we’re tackling Recent Science Fiction and Fantasy. Our first victim: a little ditty called The Name of the Wind, by Patrick Rothfuss.

The Name of the Wind was always one of those books that I would pick up, turn it around in my hands a few times, read the back cover, and put back down. It incessantly caught my eye when I worked at Borders and would shelve in the Fantasy section. But I never got around to actually giving it a try. I always enjoy a great epic fantasy, especially one like this that is told in such a lyrical, dramatic way, a bard’s tale if you will. But I am also a fan of the humble, and while Kvothe is definitely human and makes many, many human mistakes, he is also (and maybe rightfully so) a bit on the arrogant side. And people like that usually turn me off, both in fiction and in real life. In fact, this book may be a great example of what not to put on the back as a snippet. On the back of the version I have (the big trade paperback from the library), in between the blurbs from other writers, is part of what Kvothe says to Chronicler to start out his story:

I have stolen princesses back from sleeping barrow kings. I burned down the town of Trebon. I have spent the night with Felurian and left with both my sanity and my life. I was expelled from the University at a younger age than most people are allowed in. I tread paths by moonlight that others fear to speak of during day. I have talked to Gods, loved women, and written songs that make the minstrels weep.

You may have heard of me. (53)

Reading this always instantly turned me off to the main character. Now that I’ve read it, I understand more, but I can also see why people may get turned off by Kvothe at the same time.

Was surprised at all the fan art! Here's one I really like by Marc Simonetti. Find it here: http://marcsimonetti.deviantart.com/art/The-Name-of-the-Wind-123640928

Was surprised at all the fan art! Here’s one I really like by Marc Simonetti. Find it here: http://marcsimonetti.deviantart.com/art/The-Name-of-the-Wind-123640928

What I appreciated most about this book was the style. I’ve always been a fan of the more lyrical, song-like language and descriptions (dare I even say, a little purple prose thrown in here and there). I tend to write like this sometimes, so I appreciate it when it is well-done in other places. The format the Rothfuss uses, that of a story within a story, also lends itself to the style. For all the things that Kvothe has become, he is, in his core and blood, a performer. If he were telling a tale about any other hero it would have the same tone and slight exaggerations. But he is telling it about himself, which puts the performing qualities into a bit of a different light. Most people, when telling a story about themselves, may embellish a little, but I feel that most of us usually try to cast ourselves in more of a humble light. Not so with Kvothe, but when you are born to do great things, I suppose that comes with the territory. You can tell that he’s trying not to brag, but when someone talks about doing fantastical things in more of a matter-of-fact way, you still get a degree of awe mixed with disbelief. Kvothe realizes that he is no ordinary man, and tries to tell his story the way a more ordinary man might tell the story of his life. But it still comes across with enough nonchalance to possibly make the reader not like him very much.

The format of story-within-story is clever because it makes you wonder some about the overall narrator. Kvothe is telling the story of his past to Chronicler, but who is telling the story of present-day Kvothe telling his story?

On a personal note, there is one thing I really enjoyed about The Name of the Wind, and that was how Rothfuss wrote music, and the playing of music, and the feeling of music swelling within Kvothe. In scenes like after his parents’ deaths, when Kvothe is wandering around the forest on his own, with music as his only solace, the descriptions of how he plays was very natural and organic: “I began to play something other than songs. When the sun warms the grass and the breeze cools you, it feels a certain way. I would play until I got the feelings right. I would play until it sounded like Warm Grass and Cool Breeze” (128). Since my current WIP is centered around music, it showed me a great example of how to describe music when it is so important to the character.

*Okay, here is some extra snark and love just for blog readers. One thing that personally annoyed me about this book was Kvothe’s name. I just couldn’t say it in my head, and stumbled every time I saw it. He even says in the book how to pronounce it (supposedly it sounds just like the word “quothe”, but I still had a hard time with it. If you have to put in the book itself how to pronounce your main character’s name, I kinda feel like it’s a little too much of a mouthful. Or at least give the poor guy a nickname. I mean, when I first read about Daenerys in Game of Thrones, yeah it’s a little hard to get around. But she often becomes Dani, so that even when you see the name Daenerys, you think Dani. I do that in my book Blood and Ambrosia (not it’s not out, still working on that part!): my main character is Larkeyae, which no one I’ve met can every say. But she’s really just Larke for most of the book, so it’s okay. Not sure what kind of nickname you can make from Kvothe though. He’s just stuck.

One other thing that super tickled me about this book, and this is for all the gamers out there. Right in the beginning, when Kvothe is trying to pretend that he’s just an innkeep named Kote, someone thinks they recognize him. Kvothe suddenly almost falls, and then tells them that he once took an arrow to the knee… Now this was published a few years before Skyrim, so there’s not really any correlation. But come on, you know you really can’t hear “arrow to the knee” anymore without thinking of a Skyrim joke.

Okay, back to the more formal!*

I am glad I have finally gotten to read this book, and definitely want to read the next one. The Name of the Wind has all the qualities that good epic fantasy should have: sweeping landscapes, a compelling hero, a robust mythology, and a threatening, lurking Evil. Couple this with a style that seems both new and familiar at the same time and you get a book that manages to stand on its own next to the greats.

 

Yeah I would do this too.

Yeah I would do this too.

Works Cited—Rothfuss, Patrick. The Name of the Wind. New York: DAW Books, 2007. Print.

Snow: NOT a Winter Wonderland

snow

I’ve gone through a complete cycle of emotions after reading Snow, by Ronald Malfi. At first I couldn’t stop comparing it to one of the earlier selections I’ve had to read for my Monsters course, that being Breeding Ground. Since I wasn’t really fond of Breeding Ground, I decided that I didn’t like Snow. Then, while pondering my dislike of Snow, I realized that Snow really wasn’t that bad. Then it started to snow for real around here (just a spit, but still) and I decided that I don’t like real snow, but that Snow the book was growing on me. I’ve now concluded that Snow was a decent one-time read, with characters that I actually liked somewhat, a unique monster, and enough shooting and explosions to keep me moving toward the somewhat satisfactory ending.

I don’t really like recapping the story in my posts: these are really supposed to be all about the monsters, but I also realize that not everyone who’s reading this has read the book, so here’s the tiny recap: Main dude down on his luck is stuck at the airport over Christmas because of a terrible storm in the Midwest. He meets up with a woman who is also stuck, and together with another random couple (read: CANNON FODDER) they rent a four-wheel-drive and attempt to drive from O’Hare to DeMoines, Iowa. Of course they can’t see, the roads suck, they almost hit a creepy dude in the road and end up stuck in this town, that they quickly find out has been taken over by translucent snow-creatures with sickle-hands that turn humans into pod-people-puppets or eat them. Survival ensues.

The monsters Malfi created in Snow I thought were pretty unique. You kind of infer by the end of the novel that they’re either some sort of alien or from another dimension (there’s a weird electric-eye-cloud-possibly-portal that floats around that I’ll get to in a minute). The monsters are hard to see on their own; they appear as drifts of snow, with maybe a weird shimmer here and there, and they don’t always behave like snow. Mainly, they move. Normal snow usually only falls, not move and swirl independently. Mutant snow would be terrifying on its own ( I think about how bad East TN is about snow, even when it’s not even an inch. These guys would shit their pants around mutant snow); but the truly scary part is when the snow gets close. It can concentrate just enough to solidify its arms which have nasty sickle blades as hands. They hook these into your shoulders and move you out, then they move in. In the book they’re described as “skin-suits” or “puppets”. That would scare the bejebus out of me. So you have mutant snow tornadoes, puppet people, oh and the beasties can band together and make a giant snow monster. Eat your heart out, Abominable Snow Man!

Now I have to talk about the similarities between Snow and Breeding Ground. Weird monsters, plucky band of survivors, funky weather, and a weird fascination with sex. But Snow does all these things in a much more believable, not as weird way. I liked the characters a lot better in Snow. The main guy, Todd, fully admitted to being a bit of a douchebag, but was trying to make things right by his son. He had a lot more depth than Matt did. And when Todd finds himself attracted to Kate, the woman he meets at the airport and hitches a ride with, he questions his emotions and calls himself out for being dumb and thinking with his lower regions in the middle of a catastrophe. At least he’s unattached and isn’t mourning his pregnant girlfriend that just died the day before. Stupid Matt.

At least the funky weather makes a lot more sense in here. You KNOW the creatures need it to be cold; the book is called SNOW for Pete’s sake. When the clouds started to look funky I was worried that it would never get more than a nod like the weird weather in Breeding Ground. But then we see the electrical-storm-cloud thing, that tends to move. You find out that it acts like a portal, and is most likely communicating directions to the puppet people. It also has rendered all the electronics in the town useless. Good thing Todd brings his trusty laptop!

My phone works Bro!

My phone works Bro!

Finally, what the heck is it with people in terrible situations thinking about their past sexual relationships? Is it the fear of death that makes us think of the act of creation? I have never been in a situation where I’m about to be eaten by a giant spider or ridden by a snow ghost, so I can’t say that isn’t what I would be thinking about. But I just found it jarring in this book, and whenever one of these sections popped up, it took me out of the story. Trying to relieve the tension maybe? I don’t think that’s a good way to do it.

Oh, and I forgot to mention. The snow makes kids’ faces implode so they are completely just a bubble of skin. Creepy and gross. More so than anything else in the book.

So Snow has pretty creepy monsters that are definitely unique enough to stand on their own, even if the actual premise of people surviving against crazy creatures wanting to end the world isn’t all that original. I will never look at snowdrifts or kids in those huge bubble parkas in the same way ever again.

Towns across the Midwest all saw something similar.

Towns across the Midwest all saw something similar.

Relic: Plants Make You Craaaaazzzyy!!!

The Relic by David Moscati

Relic seems like such a classic kind of story, it should be done more often. You get a touch of Indiana Jones, mixed with Theseus and the Minotaur, to equal Night at the Museum. With body parts. Sounds good to me! ( Oh and there are SPOILERS!)

I love stories having to do with mysterious cultures and their monsters/gods. Relic’s monster comes from a thought-to-be extinct tribe in the Amazon, a curse centered around an old idol discovered and shipped to the New York Museum of Natural History. The monster comes along with it, a beast that could be ape-like, lizard-like, or big cat-like (the book including the cover hints at something like a pissed-off gorilla with raptor claws, while the movie has this apey-lizardy thing that looks badass). It makes its home in the labyrinthine tunnels under the museum, stalking its prey. This giant scary ape-lizard hunts you, rips you apart and then noses around in your brain to eat this tiny little delicate part that is almost like a drug to it. It’s like a chocoholic with preternatural strength going nuts in a Godiva store and ripping everything apart just to get to the cherry cheesecake truffles, because they’re addicted to them. Only there’s not as much human carnage.

Relic2

The book never gives a great description of the monster itself, almost pulling a movie trick of keeping the beast in the shadows. Even when Margo finally confronts it in the end she doesn’t get a good look at it. I really enjoyed the way the monster looked in the movie (though the movie itself isn’t all the great). It looks truly horrifying, and can definitely rip you in half without batting an eye. The fact that there is almost human intelligence behind all that power and hunger, and you can see why everyone in the museum would be terrified. All of the science behind the monster’s creation lost me a little bit though. It has to do with these specific plants that grew in the area where the tribe was from, and the enzymes from the plant were like a virus that mutated the tissue, or something crazy like that. And that enzyme was similar to the hormone secreted by the hypothalamus that the monster needs to nosh on in order to survive. Basically, the plants mutate animal tissue. Or human tissue. In the book, none of the brilliant scientists ever figure that out, except for one guy that of course wants to use it (enter Book Two). I liked in the movie at least they figure out at the end that the monster used to actually be a person.

The setting itself is great too: a huge, old museum, built on top of an even older structure full of twisty tunnels is the perfect setting for a more modern monster story. It reminds me of the old monster story of the Minotaur, roaming around his maze, stalking his meals while they haphazardly wander around getting more lost by the minute. The monster is obviously not lost. It’s not until Pendergrast produces blueprints that the monster loses some of its power.

All in all I enjoyed Relic. While I am not rushing out to read Reliquary, I think the book stands on its own as a different take of the monster in the maze story, with an actually unique monster in the middle.

The Thing: Proving I’m Still a Big Wuss

john_carpenter__s_the_thing_by_thomwade-d30n8g5

It’s Halloween. Yay! I love Halloween. Pumpkins, ghoulies, little goblins coming to my door for candy (though I only got 4, bummer!). I got to dress up in some cute witchy couture for work. I love it. So of course what’s a better day to watch a scary movie like John Carpenter’s The Thing?

Any day. I hated watching this movie.

I didn’t hate the movie. Actually now that I have seen it, I will say that it is extremely effective at what it does, and it is very well done, especially for the time that it came out. But…I knew I would hate watching this. I knew that I would get scared. I didn’t expect to feel like I was going to get sick, but maybe that was my own damn fault for eating dinner during the first ten minutes. Before the bloody chunks started to fly.

While Ash in Alien may have complemented the alien for being the perfect organism, that android probably never ran into the Thing. The Thing is actually the perfect organism. It can assimilate you and become a perfect replica. It’s genius. You never know who its going to be, or what. It just can’t be something inanimate. It can sneak among your group, laugh to itself as you accuse each other of being monsters, then pick you off one by one. And if you don’t burn the entire thing…well let’s just say don’t let the body parts run away.

I’m getting nauseous just thinking about this.

thethingmac

One image sticks out to me, and it’s a mirror of the image that made me cry when I saw the remake/prequel when it came out in 2011. In John Carpenter’s version it’s even more haunting, because it’s dead. We think. Maybe. But it’s this grotesque shape, too many arms, too many fingers, drenched in goo. The face is two faces, like cojoined twins joined at the cheek, sharing one tongue that snakes between them.

God that’s a horrible way to live. Can you imagine if you still had conscious thought while that was happening to you? Well I think that’s what’s implied when we see the same mashed-together faces in the new version. They’re moving and screaming and you can just tell that they’re in agony.

Wow. This is the hardest blog post I’ve ever had to write. I am usually not this big a weenie, and can handle an okay amount of gore. But, while I didn’t cry watching this (like I did with the other one), recalling my revulsion is just making my  stomach really hurt. And I’m regretting those Swedish Fish I snuck out of the Halloween bucket.

photo(2)

I am a big wuss and I cannot lie.

 

So, okay, in short, excellent movie. Kurt Russell is epic as always. I wanted him to get all Jack Burton on the Thing’s ass. Wilford Brimley minus his mustache took me a minute. But he was also epic. The monster is gory, gross, sneaky, and kind of wins in a way at the end of the movie. But you don’t really know. Because its very ambiguous. I’d like to think Kurt Russell fried the bastard. That’s what I’m going to tell myself when I go to bed after taking some Tums and hugging my teddy bear.

Those of you in my Monsters class may remember when we were asked the question “what is the scariest monster to you?” The Thing is that for me. And it still is.

The Wolfman: Still Better Than the Movie

wolfman 2

You’ve heard it a million times before: the book is always better than the movie. I wasn’t quite sure if the same held true for a movie novelization book, based on the actual screenplay of the movie. In the case of The Wolfman, novelized by Jonathan Maberry, the old adage still holds true. And to make sure I could actually say that, after I read the book, I watched the movie.

Let me start with the book, and of course the monster, our dear old friend the Wolfman. The idea of the werewolf is one of the instantly-known monsters, right up there with vampires and witches. The story is set in the late 1800s, giving it that distinct Gothic feel that classic monster stories deserve, at least in my opinion. I felt that Maberry really tried to make the story feel older, and give it that decidedly Gothic air. The language he used for the most part felt right for the time period, but still simple enough and not too flowery for modern readers. There was only a phrase here or there that made me stop and think, “Hmm, that doesn’t sound like something he would say.”

Lawrence Talbot’s transformation into the monster was painful to read, and rightfully so. When the man’s bones break and reform, his limbs and mouth elongate, I was squirming in my seat trying not to picture it in my head or hear the sounds that must have made. And once the transformation was complete, there really isn’t a shred of human left. He turns into a giant wolfy monster man that is as comfortable on two legs as he is on four, that is made to slash and kill and feed and not give a damn who or what he’s slashing and killing. And I am glad for that. Werewolves should be that way, not just giant versions of what’s in the wild. I don’t always agree when the lycanthrope can still think semi-rationally. They are killing machines, working for a cruel mistress in the moon, and they really shouldn’t give a rat’s ass about anything except blood and food. Now I have to mention the movie here for a minute. I loved how they portrayed Lawrence’s transformations, especially when he’s in the asylum strapped in the chair. You hear those nasty popping sounds, see the stuff crawling under his skin, and the blood that comes out when his jaw reforms and his claws pop out. But once he’s fully transformed…I don’t know, I thought his face would be more terrifying. I guess this is another nod toward the original, but I didn’t think with all our moderness that in the end the Wolfman’s face would still kind of look like a guy in wolf makeup. And I thought Anthony Hopkins’ makeup was better, but maybe it was because he was grey and not black. I don’t know. I will stick with my own imagination on this one, because that is a much scarier version.

wolfman meme

In the end, I think the idea is there, and the story really pays homage to the classic, and captures all the scary elements that you think of when you think of werewolves. It’s dark and bleak in that classic Gothic way, and delightfully gory to boot. But don’t bother with the movie. Read the book, and let your own mental images of the Wolfman color your dreams.

P.S. Fun fact for those who have seen the movie: Talbot Hall was filmed at the same location they used for Pemberley in Pride and Prejudice. Maybe instead of Pride and Prejudice and Zombies it should have been Pride and Prejudice and Werewolves. Darcy as the Wolfman? Food for thought 🙂

Now picture this all busted and dark and gloomy.

Now picture this all busted and dark and gloomy.