Monthly Archives: March 2012

Coming Attractions to the Blog

First, some house keeping. For those of you who are awaiting my second look at Perdido Street Station (and the rest of Bas-Lag), I’ll get to it in the coming months. I haven’t found the time to reread it recently. If you are looking for a response to recent comments, I’ll address them when I finally get around to a future post.

Right now, I’m in the midst of reading Urasawa’s Pluto. This series is excellent and I will post my thoughts about the entire series after I complete it in a few week’s time.

I’ve also just completed reading volumes 17 and 18 of Fairy Tail. I loved both volumes immensely (I know, I’m a fanboy). In lieu of doing further review posts because they will all read, “This is awesome, you should read it now,” I’m going to write a post (or series of posts) that encapsulate my love for the series (and maybe some analysis as well).

This style of post is also likely going to be used on Naruto and a few others in the future.

In other matters, I want to explore OELs in a little more depth than I’ve done. So, if any readers have any recommendations, please let me know in the comments.

Finally, I aim to do another post on writing.

Until then, later.

 

 

Suvudu’s Cage Match Rant

Who would win in a war between the United Federation of Planets and the Galactic Empire? How about Naruto versus Natsu? What about Suvudu’s homage to March Madness?

I’ve grown to detest these little thought games in recent years. Don’t get me wrong, Suvudu’s Cage Match was great fun in its first year, but it has gotten progressively less interesting with each year. And come on, could Jamie Lannister really beat Cthullu (or even Hermione Granger for that matter)?

Part of my problem is, to be honest, the fact that (as the Cage Match shows) the more popular character wins. Jaime Lannister did not go as far as he did because he could realistically beat any of the characters he faced. He won because he has more fans who voted for him than his opponents.

The root of the problem is, of course, the continual debate over which franchise is better: Star Wars or Star Trek? Often times, the debate degenerates into a question of technological superiority. Who would win a war between whatever factions (like the Federation against the Empire). At the end of the day, this all comes down to sputtering attempts to argue whose favorite Star Blank is better. How exactly perceived technological superiority is supposed to prove anything is beyond me, however.

Even scientists have gotten in on the act. Kaku, in drawing examples from popular culture for his Kardeshev illustration, uses the Federation for Type II and the Empire for Type III (and the Borg, too) civilizations. But is Kaku using the actual source of power or the size of the space polity?

At the end of the day, no matter my own personal level of annoyance, there has to be something valuable for those fans who enjoy participating in these thought games, these crossover wars. Perhaps it is a sense of victory when you, as a fan, can prove why the Empire will crush the Federation, why Ichigo could beat Yuuske, and why whichever character from A Song of Ice and Fire will make a deep run in Suvudu’s tournament this year (like every year).

PBS 2 and Reading Issues

This post is in response to two articles I read this morning. First is this week’s ombudsman column on PBS’s website looking at the effects of changing POV and Independent Lens‘s time slot from Tuesday to Thursday, and second, is an article on Huffington Post looking at concerns over high school reading level. Both raised interesting questions that I want to address.

First of all, I agree with Gettler’s comments that PBS has gutted its public affairs programming over the past several years after the last election (not that I think the election has anything to do with it). While Bill Moyers has returned in some capacity, his Journal along with Now and many other interesting and excellent public affairs programming have either been cancelled or truncated (as in the case of Need to Know). Why is this?

I don’t know. I suspect that politics does play a role in PBS’s decision to “revamp” their public affairs lineup. Public broadcasting has always been under threat, especially from a right wing that sees liberal bias throughout much of PBS’s programming. This perceived bias inspires Republican members of Congress to propose gutting government funding for public broadcasting. So, it is understandable that PBS shifts in order to protect itself.

I get the protection angle, and I sort of understand the programming block rationale, too. That said, I do think that two hours of Antiques Roadshow back to back might be a little much. The problem is that Thursdays (and also Fridays)  on many stations are reserved for local programming. With the two documentary shows now airing on Thursday, that knocks out an hour of possible local programming.

I won’t pretend to know what most PBS stations’ local programming look like. KWBU had none, KNCT has a few (of which I don’t watch), KLRU had an awesome lineup when I lived in Austin (especially Austin Now and Downtown), and KQED had an excellent assortment of local programming when I was there (hell, I still watch This Week in Northern California). I don’t know what other amazing local programs are out there, but it is a shame to think that some them will be canceled to make room for IL and POV.

In addition to politics, I think it also ties into keeping viewership. Why do you watch PBS? Why did you stop watching it? How can PBS win back its viewers and attract new ones? I don’t know, maybe in a future post I can explore some of my opinions on that.

Moving on to reading, according to the Huffington Post article, most high school students who read typically read texts rated at being barely above 5th grade level. Okay, this raises a lot of questions for me.

For one thing, how do they ascribe reading levels? Does that apply to the complexity of the text or to just the sentences? What about the complexity of a work? How is that rated? What about analysis?

Now then, the article plays a trick on the reader. The books that are read are rated at around 5th grade level (nor what works are at what level). That says nothing about what the readers themselves are capable of.

Some of the comments tend towards the idea that the poll is, perhaps, part of a  larger maneuver to sell products. I don’t know if this is true or not, but it would not surprise me.

Part of the issue with teaching reading is, I think, how it is taught. Teach critical thinking and analytic skill far earlier than it is done today. And focus on making reading a fun and enjoyable experience rather than a chore.

But, the educational system is not alone at being at fault for the decline in reading. The kids themselves have the choice to read or not to read outside of school. And their parents can be an example and read to their children. The children of readers are readers themselves. The teacher, the educational system is not a substitute parent. They are not nannies, governesses, and tutors.

I did not intend for this post to get this long. One of my core issues as a voter is education. So often I am disappointed by the various solutions raised. Largely, I think, because I question whether we, as a society, are raising equal citizens or just workers.

Three Quick Reviews: Nightwing and Flamebird, Superman: The Black Ring vol. One, and Batman: The Gates of Gotham

So, I’ve got three graphic novels to review today. Let’s begin with Superman then Batman.

Nightwing and Flamebird by Greg Rucka et al

I checked this comic out largely because I am a fan of Greg Rucka’s work on Checkmate. And I am pleasantly surprised to say that I enjoyed this story.

This story is part of the New Krypton arc that dominated various Superman comics for several years before the New 52. While Superman is off keeping Zod in check on New Krypton, his allies are protecting Earth.

This particular story covers the adventures of Nightwing (Chris Kent) and Flamebird (Thara Ak-Var) as they pursue Kryptonian sleeper agents employed by Zod and try to avoid the agents of the anti-Kryptonian Project 7734.

The story is good, especially the conflict between the heroes and Ursa. And the development of Chris and Thara’s characters through the arc is quite interesting.

I have a few issues with the story though, Ursa should have been more of a main antagonist rather than leaving half way through (to be replaced by Project 7734). And Flamebird is a little too similar to the Phoenix for my taste.

The art is very good, but I’m not a fan of the cover art. I don’t think the style really works, and it looks a bit deformed.

Superman: The Black Ring vol. One by Paul Cornell et al.

Of the three graphic novels on hand, this is my favorite. This is Lex Luthor being awesome. The quest elements mixed in with an ironic humor makes every chapter a joy to read.

The art is great and well done. And the various villain appearances are appreciated, especially Grodd and his spoon.

My only complaint- that the story ends.

Batman: The Gates of Gotham by Scott Snyder et al

I’m a fan of Snyder’s American Vampire and have wanted to check out his work on Batman. This miniseries is interesting and well done. But I do have some issues with it.

My big complaint is the backup feature at the end of the main storyline. Why exactly is the Nightrunner origin story here? It has nothing to do with the main story (unless it is to explain what Bruce is up to during the crisis).

My favorite part is the interaction between the members of the Bat family. I’ve grown to be fond of Damian Wayne, and the dynamic between him and the other members of the Bat Family is hilarious. Especially his caustic relationship to Tim Drake.

The art work is very good, and I like the steampunk take on Gotham City and the Architect.

Well, this is it for these reviews. I may have some more in the weeks to come. But, you should definitely check these out.

Second Looks

I’m never satisfied with initial readings. For me, understanding and analysis is an ongoing process. Each new reading of a text reveals new details that were not caught on previous readings. This is, for me, the great thing about reading.

The reason I’m bringing this up is because I’ve gotten interesting comments over the past few days that have got me thinking. Did I do justice in my review of Trigun? Did I leave things unsaid, incomplete in my Bas-Lag Reading Project?

My feeling is that I need to go back and take another look at Trigun. And I’m about due for another read of Perdido Street Station.

So, when I have the time, I’ll start getting on those.


My next post is going to be a review of Nightwing and FlamebirdSuperman: The Black Ring Volume One, and Batman: The Gates of Gotham.

 

The Walking Dead Season 2 Finale

Wow, from a rather lackluster second half premier to this amazing season finale, The Walking Dead has been a roller coaster this season. But, the season finale is perhaps one of the best season finales I have seen in a long time and builds up a level of excitement for the fall that I have not had in years.

Now, in a previous post, I point out my hypothesis that the problems the series faced in the second season are related to the episode count. Each season is likely going to cover one story arc. Was Herschel’s Farm a little too long? Yes, but the series kicks it up when it needs to. Which is a strength. Hopefully, it can keep it up into a third, fourth, and however many seasons it has.

The last three episodes of the season are excellent and reminded me why I enjoyed the series in the first place. And the finale had me absolutely enthralled. From the barn burning to the final shot of the looming prison, it is all excellent storytelling.

And kudos to Laurie Holden and Andrew Lincoln for their acting.

But, there are some issues in this finale as well. Lori is increasingly becoming about as annoying as Shane becomes. And what is up with Carole? Yes, this confrontation needs to happen, but it could have been executed better.

That is, however, my only complaint about the episode.

Now that this season of The Walking Dead is over, I want to read the comic series. Hopefully, the local library can get more copies in.

Two Days of Rant, Day Two: Foot in Mouth, or Jumping the Gun

One thing about criticism originating on the net that irritates me to no end is the tendency to jump the gun. The world we live in now demands instant comment, instant views often before all of the facts are known. This sucks because a lot of bullshit does not get corrected when it needs to. Now, some errors are corrected, but how many?

Take for example the Shirley Sherrod incident from 2010. While she was vindicated in the end, for several days she was absolutely vilified in the press. A woman was forced to resign from her job because of a bullshit story. Luckily for her, it did not take long for her to be vindicated, but how many similar victims are not so lucky?

And, there is the Red Hood and the Outlaws controversy at the beginning of DC’s New 52. Yes, the depiction of Starfire looked sexist, but six issues in and Starfire is not the bimbo fanservice that she initially appeared to be. As a serial comic book, it takes time to build up characters and story lines. Now, how many people even know that their initial reactions to Starfire are disproved by later issues?

Do not get me wrong, one of Starfire’s roles is to provide fanservice. It always has. And, depictions of women in comics and a lack of women comics creators are still issues that desperately needs to be addressed. But it should be done in thoughtful and well researched ways.

Now, this brings me to the continual controversy of whether or not R. Scott Bakker is misogynistic. I now go on record and state that I read The Darkness that Comes Before several years ago and have not read anything else by him. Do I think he has a problem with women? I honestly am not sure. Is it sexist to have as the lone female protagonist a prostitute? A prostitute that does have at least one very disturbing sex scene that borders on rape? I remember that she is a strong character, but does that strength of character negate (or is negated by) the nasty things that happen to her?

It has been years since I have read that book. I am not sure whether or not he has a problem with women (and with LGBT). Bakker’s comments on his criticism can be taken as either: 1) he is playing around with his readership’s expectations and pushing the boundaries of what is acceptable or 2) he doth protest too much. It could also be a case of readers not being able to divorce writer from work. Not everything a writer writes comes from the inner recesses of his or her soul. Not everything is autobiographical.

The problem, in the end, is controversy and debates do not last long. While remnants of the nihilism and fantasy debate still lingers a year after it first flared to life, the argument largely lasted about a month or two. Is that enough time to really interrogate the subject from all angles? Personally, I hate having to jump guns. I like to stew my thoughts on a subject for a while. I acknowledge that my first impressions are usually wrong and that it takes me time to come to better approaches. Pity there is so little stepping back and thinking.

Two Days of Rant, Day One: PBS +

Today is a departure from my typical posts, but I wanted to rant about PBS for a bit. For those who do not know, PBS is the American version of public broadcasting. The thing is, PBS relies on viewer contributions in addition to a limited amount of government, corporate, and philanthropic funding. Now, my feelings about PBS are mixed. I still believe that PBS’s children’s programming is still the best out there (hell, Mr. Rogers’s Neighborhood is still excellent). But, I think in some areas, PBS is falling severely behind in some of its mission.

My big beef is increasingly PBS’s public affairs programming. PBS lost out when it canceled Now and Bill Moyers’s Journal. Both programs were amazing in their indepth reporting (Now) and interesting and surprising conversation (Bill Moyers, of course when is any conversation with Bill Moyers not interesting?) I cannot say much about Need to Know, except to say that it is a pale successor to both shows. And do not get me started on The Newshour. It lost me during its “coverage” of the health care reform debate and the Honduran Coup. The only leg up it has on its competition is the occasional arts coverage.

Speaking of the arts, this is where PBS does still maintain some relevance. Earlier in this century and in the 1990s, I may not have said that. I mean Bravo had some decent arts coverage when it was actually a good channel. When it aired indie and foreign film, had documentaries on the arts, etc. And the same is true of A&E. I freaking miss Breakfast with the Arts and all of the lost cultural programming that A&E had. You know, when it was Arts and Entertainment?

Art 21 is an excellent show. It should be on far more often than its biannual seasons. And to be honest, PBS really should focus far more on the arts.

Is PBS still relevant in history and science programming? Much like with the arts, it is a difficult question. When Discovery, National Geographic, and History are actually doing what they should, PBS does come up short. Each of those three channels could devote a massive amount of time on subjects that PBS simply does not have the time to cover. But, right now, all three cable channels are devoted to crap. And good luck trying to find anything decent on digital. History International has basically become, like Bravo, a dumping ground of shows no longer rotated on History.

I like Swamp People, but I would also like stuff like Engineering an EmpireBattles BC, and television like that.

Is PBS still relevant? I think its relationship is inverse to what its cable competitors are doing. The children’s programming, as stated earlier, still excellent (although it could target older kids). And its art/history/ science programming is still very much needed as the cable competition chases the all important reality dollar. My frustration is not that PBS is irrelevant, but that it can do so much more and does not. It needs to be bold to succeed, but given the current climate, boldness is seriously lacking.

Quick Review: The Cold Commands by Richard K. Morgan

Maybe I made the mistake of wanting to read The Steel Remains again before reading its sequel, The Cold Commands. Then again, maybe The Cold Commands is not that good of a book.

We are talking about a trilogy. The name of the series is A Land Fit for Heroes. Now, The Steel Remains made for a pretty excellent standalone novel. It did not need a sequel. But fantasy lives and dies by the series, so there needs to be two more books to make the traditional trilogy.

My problem with The Cold Commands is that it is filler. And repetitious filler at that. The blurbs talk about the Ilwrack Changeling. Well, he does not appear in this volume. All that is accomplished is a messed up set up for the journey to find his Ghost Isle and the Kiriath city that serves as a sentry post.

What is accomplished in this volume? Every single protagonist does the exact same damn thing they did in book one. And the Dwenda are up to the same tricks.

While the elements that made The Steel Remains excellent are present in The Cold Commands, there is not enough to take away from the realization that so much of this middle book is filler that could easily have been cut.

This is a shame. I wanted to like this books, but I just cannot bring myself to. Instead, all that remains is bitter disappointment that this novel could have been better.

Missing Science Fiction Readers

I read a post recently on SF Signal by Jason Sanford. The article questions the relative absence of science fiction readers compared to science fiction movie goers. Why is science fiction film so popular and yet science fiction prose not as popular? I agree somewhat with Sanford and many of the comments, but I think the reasons are multiple.

For one thing, people do not read books as much as they used. This is especially true of science fiction readers. Increasingly, the typical science fiction reader is migrating towards video games (which is also heavily science fiction). Now why is there a migration?

Who knows. I do not know if there has been a lot of research done as to why reading has declined among young people (and boys in particular). I think that if reasons can be found, then perhaps, we may see a positive change.

An issue that Sanford points out is that there is little YA or children’s science fiction currently being published. And of the current fare, a lot of it is dystopic. Now, I am not sure if dystopia is the best kind of literature for young people to read. I personally think a mixture of positive and negative is perhaps the best.

But what is science fiction anyway? I think a few comments had the right idea in wondering what types of science fiction are being read. How are mass appeal science fiction titles doing? How are the more intellectual or academic science fiction titles doing?

Are current trends in science fiction alienating current and potential readers? I can see how some recent trends can alienate certain kinds of readers. And given how insular and exclusive science fiction fandom  can be, it would not be surprising that there are issues on the horizon.

But is this all, possibly, much ado about nothing? Like Gardner Dozois often points out in each summation of his long running anthology series: reports of science fiction’s death have been greatly exaggerated.

This reminds me of a post a few months ago about the death of fantasy. I was skeptical in that debate, and I am only a little less skeptical here. I do think that science fiction is in far greater trouble than fantasy. But I suspect this may be nothing more than a temporary downturn and gradual evolution of the genre.

The danger is, I think, of science fiction being split into two factions that do not read each other. One faction accusing the other of not being “real” science fiction and the other not even knowing the other faction exists. This needs to be avoided, but I fear the division has already begun.

So, is science fiction on death’s door? No. Science fiction is evolving. Now, does this evolution portend good or bad things? That remains to be seen. But no matter what happens, I believe science fiction will still be here, in one form or another, well into the future.