November 24, 2013

Jeff Smith's "RASL": No Bones About It

RASL means “Romance at the speed of light”.

That’s not shown until the end, so maybe me telling you that now is a spoiler.  If that is true, I apologize.  I don’t think so, because for me, that was just a throw-away line, but Smith uses it as the title of the book.  I’m not sure what to make of RASL the concept, nor RASL the book.

I liked it, but that’s incredibly subjective.  I read the whole thing pretty much in one sitting, so the story pulls you along.

There’s just that thing.

It’s not Bone.

I loved Bone.  I wouldn’t have read this if it were not for the author’s previous work, but had I read it in a universe where Bone did not exist I might be judging it differently.  Fortunately, I don’t live in that universe. I made all my friends read Bone.  I don’t think I’ll do that with RASL.

And that’s a shame for Smith, because that is going to be the point of comparison for this book, until he tops it.  I’m glad that this is so different in a way.  It shows that Smith is a powerful creative artist who can switch genres easily, even if that switch is from fantasy to science fiction.   He’s awesome, he created Bone.  And RASL.

So here’s the bottom line.  Read this book if you like science fiction, with a heavy dose of Tesla thrown in.  There is a good melding of the actual past with the possibilities that we search for in the lab and in our imaginations.  The characters are interesting and the work is nicely self-contained. If you were hoping for Bone II, this is not it.

There’s no rat creatures.  Stupid, stupid, rat creatures. 

On Brian Vaughn's "Saga", so far

A couple of weeks ago, I heard that Neil Gaiman had a new Sandman book out.  I don't fancy myself a comic fan, but I have read a lot of comics for someone that doesn't claim to be a comic fan.

Basically, I'm telling you this because I didn't go into the store with the intention of buying this book.  The Gaiman book was sold out, and I left my first visit to a comic store in maybe ever empty-handed.  I was walking away, trying to think if there was a place to buy the newest Harvard Business Review and lamenting that the local chain book shop closed two years ago.  Needing something to read while I ate lunch, I went back to the shop.

Talking to the comic book guy, I asked him for a recommendation of a book to read, specifying that I wasn't into superheroes.  There was a display up front, where some issues were being sold for a dollar. The first issue of this Saga was what he grabbed, telling me that this is a book enjoyed even by people who don't read comics.

I saw the name Brian Vaughn on the cover and I asked the guy what else he had done.  I knew the name from somewhere.  It turned out that he was the guy behind Y: The Last Man.  Because even though I don't read comics, I had read the whole run of that particular series.

So I bought that issue.  Then I got the collected volume one and two from my library, and read through them.

I like the series so far.  It is star-crossed lovers, in space with magic.  The problem is that I don't really know where it's going.  The main characters are objectors who come from races that have been at war a long time, and it is narrated by their daughter who is born in the first issue.  It is a nice set-up, but there is so much that can go wrong that I am wary of too soon proclaiming this genius.  I'll hedge, and say it is pretty good, so far.

November 16, 2013

I like my coffee to taste like coffee

Our city water is over-chlorinated. When we bought the Mr. Coffee machine, it came with a built-in water filter. With every day use, it's efficacy declined, but it was still better than the water, which lowered the quality of the coffee that is the desired output. After a week or so of using, I can say that these equal the original filter that came with the maker when we bought it in the spring. The original said that you should replace it every month, and it took five months of daily use for me to notice that it wasn't up to the original standards. I can't give these as much credit, but the build seems the same.

A note. I couldn't find these in person, so I came to Amazon. The site sells a filter set-up that has the frame and the filter. That is unnecessary. If you keep the frame that came with your coffee maker, you just need these thin, flat discs. If you follow the guidelines, it's pretty cheap. I won't follow the guidelines on replacement unless absolutely necessary.

I am a fan of: The Band "Japanther"

Japanther is one of the top five bands to ever put down chords, with a beat in the back, and to lay lyrics all over the whole thing. That so few people know this fact is a travesty. This album is one of the stronger of their albums, in my opinion. It is only surpassed by their earlier "Dump the Body in Rikki Lake," and equaled by the more contemporary "Tut, Tut, Shake your Butt". For an arty two-piece from New York, they know how to rock, but more importantly, they can write interesting songs.

I'm a big fan of: The 2014 Rocksmith video game

Here's the long and the short of it -- Rocksmith, in this and in the earlier edition, makes its easy to practice your instrument. I bought a guitar and I was working my way through chords from a book, but it was taking forever. I also had no confidence. I bought the previous edition of this game, and everything picked up. I was on chords and arpeggios and was rocking.

I liked it so much, I bought a bass, and I have been playing that along with my guitar (don't let anyone steer you otherwise, the bass is the instrument of the Gods). The old version worked, and made me want to play, but this one is even better. The songs are different, the interface is better, and it learns along with you. It is both a game and the ultimate teaching tool. If it weren't for this game, I wouldn't be looking for another guitar to replace my cheap beginner axe, nor would I ever have bought my bass.

Rocksmith is the ultimate game. Not only is it entertaining, but you learn while using it. I am old enough to remember the early computer games that tried to make typing or math fun. They didn't really work because the endeavor at the base was not inherently fun. That's the difference here. Rocksmith quantifies your abilities, and pushes you, and you get better every time you play. My wife earlier today said that she was thankful that this was the game that I wanted to play (as opposed to popular war sims etc). I'm thankful that Rocksmith exists for me to play.

November 5, 2013

Hard to read for interesting reasons: Reading Barthes's "Mythologies"

I found these kind of hard to read.  Not hard in the way that a lot of philosophical texts are in that they drop a lot of jargon on you that the author created to define terms that other authors have already defined but that you are unaware of because you had not gone through your first round of reading the whole of philosophy yet; more like hard to read because of boredom.  I couldn’t figure out why.  They are short little texts, no more than ten pages.  The premise is sound, basically pulling apart the mythos behind everyday objects.

Doing some thinking led me to think of a couple of major reasons.  First off, the essays in the book are a touchtone for some very mid-century French objects and ideas.  If I was familiar with most of what Barthes writes on, it is only in passing and some of my favorite writers are his countrymen from this period.  It felt disconcerting, but it is what I image it will be like to read a Chuck Klostermann book fifty years hence – familiar but uncanny.  Basically, my only context for what he is writing about is what I am reading at the moment.  That fact does not allow me to see anything from a new angle; it is only from Barthes’s angle that I see it.  By not being able to create my own interpretation of the validity of Barthes’s ideas, I am left alone to trust that he knows what he is talking about.

And I’m pretty sure he does, because in the texts that are unmediated solely by a Barthes’s eyes, he does have some unique insight that I have not thought about on everyday objects.  There is an essay on cleaners that is rightly noted, and I think my explanation earlier serves a reason that it is noted.  There is a later essay on cars that rings the same bell.

The other reason that this felt hard to read is that what he is doing is no longer new, if it ever was.  The edition I had ends with a long theoretical essay on “Myth Today” that explains his approach, which is adding another layer to Sausseaurain semiotics.  The problem with reading such an essay and the derivative works is that now Barthes’s influence is such that it doesn’t feel new at all, and is part of the discourse.  Overall, I’m glad I read it, and I am happy that I read it now instead of back in graduate school as an assigned text.

November 4, 2013

Over the Top: Paging through "Punk Rock Jesus"


In the future, there’s this all-around gifted scientist.  She’s already won the Nobel Prize, and there is some research she’s working on that will create plants that use many times more the CO2 than regular plants.

Somehow, the only person who will fund her research is a meglomanical super-rich guy who wants to clone Jesus and show him growing up as part of a reality show.

There’s also the young woman who was chosen to carry the Jesus clone who is in over her head, and there’s an ex-IRA assassin who has promised to never kill again.

The Jesus character grows up isolated, and rebels, and gets really into punk rock, and tries to start a revolution.

It’s all over the top, and it feel like it’s trying too hard.  The art’s good, but the storytelling is lacking. I say this as someone who randomly found the title on a shelf who loves punk rock and mocking the Christian savoir. 

The premise goes too far, and that’s assuming that there is a historical Jesus (something dealt with, but may be a spoiler situation.)  Murphy still has some good work in him, so I look forward to what he may do next, but not this.
And I’ll digress, my biggest complaint here, as with some other sci-fi influenced stuff is that if you are creating a world that is based off of the current one that we live in, the reader has to be able to recognize the world as a logical historical extension of the current world.  The one in Punk Rock Jesus just doesn’t work for me, though others may like it.  It is a very subjective thing, but one that I have no answer for.