Archive for September 2009

Cool Things Happen All The Time   1 comment

A cool thing just happened.  I work at a library, and cool things happen at libraries all the time, so I shouldn’t be surprised, and I’m not, but I am pleased.  People often donate books and other media items–cds, dvds, magazines, videotapes, and even games to the library.  Somebody donated Trivial Pursuit DVD Saturday Night Live Edition board game to the library.  And inside the box are the playing pieces–8 members of the SNL cast as mini-plastic figurines.  I don’t even recognize them all–the likenesses aren’t very good, but I do recognize John Belushi’s samurai and Beldar the Conehead and the Land Shark.  The schoolgirl with glasses has got to be Gilda Radnor.  The guy in the Superman pose might be Chevy Chase.  I very seldom watched SNL, but I remember it fondly.  It was the very best reason for staying up late on Saturday night. 

That isn’t the only cool thing that has happened this week.  Thursday night I went to a sneak preview of the movie Surrogates and took my son James along. Father/Son bonding. Very cool.  Enjoyed the movie too.  Saw a friend there and had a fine long conversation with him.  I haven’t been able to go to a sneak preview for years, although the occasional ticket has been available.  It was just plain fun.

Thursday afternoon I came  home to find my dungeon design masterpiece–Gristlegrim–the random card dungeon that is never the same–had arrived from publisher Jim Shipman.  If you are an author who has seen your work in print, then you must know what a joy it is to see something of yours finally manifested in a finished product, especially if it’s something you’re really proud of.  If you’ve never  had this pleasure, all I can say is that I’m sorry for you, and hope someday you can experience it. 

Wednesday I picked up the Conan the Cimmrian #14 comic and discovered that it had the first ever Joe Kubert illustrated Conan story in it.  Joe is one of the most awesome fantasy artists of our time, and to have him do a Conan story, although actually his story was about Conan’s tough old mother and a Cimmerian boy named Kulin, was just a treat for an old fantasy fan like me.   

Those are just a few of the really cool things that have happened to me this week.  There are others that are too private to talk about.  There are some that are too mundane to mention, like that fabulous egg burrito I had for breakfast this mornng. 

You know, the saying is “Shit happens!”, and it does.  There are plenty of bad things going on in the world, including the fact that my body just flat out hurts all the time, but you know what, I don’t care.  Don’t drag me down, folks.  Cool things happen all the time! 

If something genuinely cool has happened to you recently, why don’t you  mention it in a comment down below?  I’d love to celebrate it with you.

end.

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Posted September 26, 2009 by atroll in Uncategorized

Surrogates   3 comments

I saw the sneak preview of Surrogates last night.  It was fun.  A bit of a small crowd.  Certainly the movie was more enjoyable than GAMER although it had a similar theme.  Gamer was about people being run as robots–Surrogates was about Robots being run as people.

I’m not going to review the plot.  There is murder.  There are cops.  There’s a conspiracy.  The fate of the world is at stake.  It is all rather predictable really.

But the cinematography is good.  It is fun to watch.  Check your brain at the door, sit back and enjoy a movie that’s half Terminator and half Bullitt.  We have met the Terminator and He is Us.

One thing the movie did real well was raise questions in the viewers’ minds.  At least it made me think of lots of questions.  The movie stars Bruce Willis.  I kind of wish Bruce would retire–I don’t want to see movies about middle-aged and geriatric heroes.  As usual with Bruce Willis movies, he takes a licking and keeps on kicking.  He gets beat up pretty good, more than once.  His surrogate gets blown to pieces and crucified.  Question 1: WHY does Bruce Willis always get beaten up in his movies? Is he a masochist? Does he only take parts where he can get beaten up?  It’s all done with stunt doubles, make-up, and cgi.  Is he a pseudo-masochist who likes to look like he’s been beaten up, but doesn’t really want to experience it?  Or is it us?  Do we go to Bruce Willis movies to see him get beaten up?  Do we expect it?  Is that why we put up with his ugliness and mediocre acting talents–because we know we’ll get to see the shit kicked out of him?  Hmmm?

Question 2:  If you didn’t have to be human, would you be? If you could be a good-looking robot with full sensory experience of the world, would you be?  Should such surrogates be reserved for the disabled? Would the government even let us have surrogates? Wouldn’t they keep that technology for cops and soldiers and the obscenely rich?  Would you need a surrogate’s license in order to operate one?  If living through a surrogate was so great, would you ever be willing to go back to being human?  Or would you resent  your mortal flesh?

Question 3: Who takes care of all the flabby, unhealthy people lying in their VR couches vicariously living in the real world?  Why don’t most of them simply die off in a few months? Are they all wearing diapers? Are they lying there all day in their own urine and feces?  Why don’t they all get sick and die?  Do they have iv’s dripping nutrients and saline solution into their veins? Do they disconnect and feed themselves 3 times a day, or 30 times a day?  Do they forget to eat and just die of starvation and dehydration?

Question 4:  Is perception reality?  If you think you’re making love to a hot blonde, does it matter that it’s really a fat slob somewhere in a VR couch faking it?

Question 5:  If everyone is a surrogate, what really happens to morality and society?  Is the person responsible for the surrogate’s actions?  If one surrogate assaults another,  has a crime been committed?  What do you do with convicted criminals?  Do you send their surrogates to prison?  Are people in prison allowed to use surrogates?  The movie said that crime would go down, but would it really?  If one could do anything one wanted without fear of injury or death, what would keep one from committing any crime one wanted to?

Question 6:  Surrogate quality?  The robots came in different price ranges with different capabilities.  We saw some that were little better than department store mannequins, and others that were godlike cyborg fighting machines.  It’s still a world of haves and have-nots.  Wouldn’t there be resentment from the have-nots?  Wouldn’t they go out of their way to break, disable, and destroy the surrogates of the richer classes? Would that lead to robotic class warfare?

Question 7:  Is there life insurance or medical insurance for surrogates? Property insurance? Has to be, right?  These machines would cost more than $100,000 apiece to create and maintain, but they were getting destroyed on a pretty regular basis. 

Question 8:  What about identity theft?  What’s to keep criminals from breaking into people’s houses, strongarming the operators and taking over their robots, then using them for crime? The devices were set up so that all one had to do was put on the eyepads and be in the chair?  For that matter, the surrogates were all controlled by radio, what’s to keep people from monitoring them and jamming them?  Want to cause havoc?  Jam somebody’s frequency so he loses surrogate controll.

Question 9:  Feedback.  In order for people to truly experience what their surrogates are doing, there has to be feedback to the human brain.  The brain would have to get signals that it interprets as real in order to operate the bodies by thought as we operate in the real world.  That would mean the brain that could feel pleasure could also feel pain.  Wouldn’t that be a deal-breaker for the whole idea?

Question 10: What would happen to the world’s population?  With people mostly opting for surrogate sex instead of real sex, there would be a major drop in the production of children?  People would still be dying, but not many would be created.  My guess is that in 20 to 40 years of surrogate existence, the world population would be reduced by 99%.  With that kind of reduction, our high-tech civilization would come to an end–unable to support itself for sheer lack of workers.  Either truly intelligent robots would be developed, in which case Earth becomes a machine civilization before the year 2200, or tech levels fall back to the Middle Ages before the Age of Industrialization.

And that’s just ten questions?  There are lots and lots of issues in the movie, either expressed or implied, that I haven’t gotten to.  One of the questions raised was privacy and control.  Surrogates, operating via radio, could be monitored and controlled, just like cell phones are today?  And they could be shut down with a simple radio command–it shows that in the movie.  How would you feel if you knew that your actions could be watched and shut down at any time by someone watching through your own eyes?

In a world of superhuman robotic surrogates, the only people with any freedom are the ones who opt not to use the metallic alteregos.

Well, just for fun, please pick a question and leave your answer in the comments below.

end

Posted September 25, 2009 by atroll in Uncategorized

Gamer   Leave a comment

Four of us went off to see a movie Sunday afternoon–the action thriller, GAMER.  It was a bit of an adventure.  I started by getting lost in Tempe, Arizona, a place I thought I knew.  Turned out that the movie wasn’t at the theater I thought it would be at–that place has been shut down.  A movie theater shut down right in the heart of downtown Tempe, Arizona’s largest college town–who’da thunk it?  But, a phone call later, I was back on the right trail, and I got to the right theater in time to see the movie.

First of all, I gotta say, Tempe Marketplace right off McClintock and the 202 freeway is a beautiful place.  I want to go back and explore, and hang out there some time.  If I do, I should take money.  It’s definitely upscale.  Now for a quick review—

As usual, critics miss the point of a movie like this.  Didn’t get their payola, I guess. The movie works on at least 2 levels.  On the adult level it’s a satiric commentary on modern society with its fascination with games like Halo and The Sims. On the horny teen age boy level, it’s a kickass action film with all the video game violence, good guys and bad guys, and boobs and bullets a kid could want.  I’m amazed that critics bring no context to the film.  Gamer is the love child of Rollerball and the Matrix.  It explores the theme of the hero versus society.  It also has a nice take on how to conquer the world if you’re just one man. This movie was no worse and no better than The Dark Knight, but Batman got treated a lot better critically because he’s more of a cultural icon. Gamer holds the mirror up to our insane, hedonistic society, and it’s not a pretty picture.  Having said all that, I kind of liked it anyway.

I guess I’m a bit of a prude, but I have problems with the way people talk these days.  There’s just too much fucking profanity in everything.  See what I mean.  However, I realize that is how people talk.  Fucking is part of everybody’s vocabulary.  It doesn’t mean fucking–it means extra emphasis added here.  So, there was some language in Gamer, but about 1/3 of the way through the movie, the story, silly as it was, cancelled out the way people talked.  Gamer is a cautionary tale, and a bit simplistic, but it’s the kind of story I like.  A hero has to go into the underworld to save his family, his life, and  his people.  The 30 battles of the Slayer game are Hell.  If you didn’t know, all the fire should have been a tip-off.

The more I think about the movie, the more I like it.  It had a strange ending though–one of those shallow endings that make you think the hero has triumphed and all will be right with the world.  Except that if you have two brain cells to rub together you know that isn’t true.  One bad guy meets poetic justice.  Corruption is exposed in high places.  But is it expunged?  I don’t think so.  Gamer is a dark warning of what our high-tech world is coming to–a bit over the top, but the warnings are never exactly on the money.  The real world is a lot subtler and more insidious than any 2 hour movie can successfully portray.

And if you don’t like to think about your movies, then it’s a thrill ride pure and simple, baby.  Wheeeeee!

End

Posted September 21, 2009 by atroll in Uncategorized

Graduation Day   10 comments

I am not a camera person.  I should take pictures to spice up this blog.  I have a digital camera.  I could do it.  The blog would be better with a few pictures in it.  I know all that.  I’m still not going to do it.

Does that say something about me?  Yes, probably several things.  I”m lazy, but we knew that.  I don’t care about public opinion.  And, I’m perfectly capable of doing the wrong thing, and/or taking the easy way out.  Character flaws? Undoubtedly.  I just wanted you all to know that I’m  aware of my anti-social tendencies and character flaws.

But enough self-examination.  Today, September 16, 2009, is a joyous occasion, and I’m here to share that joy with you.  Today I had my last treatment for prostate cancer.  I”m done.  I’m cured.  Or at least as cured as modern medical science can make me.  The Good Samaritan Oncology Department gave me a diploma to prove it.

[Insert picture I’m not going to take here]

_________________________________________________________

 

It’s printed on flimsy paper, the kind that really needs to be framed behind glass to look best.  It says:

Certificate of Graduation

from

The Department of Radiation Oncology

Presented to:

Kenneth St Andre

Congratulations!  This certifies that you have satisfied

the requirements of your treatments,

including:

Tolerating Cold Hands

A Hard Table

and Holding Still.

In recognition of having met these requirements of the Radiation

Oncology department, we wish you a swift recovery from the

treatment.

Take care and we will miss you!

——————————————————————————————

The certificate came tied with a blue ribbon and part of a gift package including a fancy bag with handles, a gift in a box, a tiny tube of Aquaphor skin lotion and a coupon for a dollar off if I want to buy more of this fine unguent.  There was also the Fall 2009 issue of CARING4CANCER magazine which I don’t intend to read.  The gift in the box turned out to be a figurine of a boy (estimated age 5) with a sad-looking gray bunny seated on his knee and being cuddled a bit.  [Insert 2nd picture I’m not going to take here.] Cathy said the bunny looks like it has indigestion. (grin) This is obviously a metaphorical representation of Compassion.  (The bunny looks more resigned than comforted, but perhaps I’m projecting my own emotions here.)

And I rang the bell.  The oncology department has a bronze bell hanging in the main office that cancer survivors get to ring at the end of their treatment.  You may believe I rang it fairly loud and long.

There were some other cancer patients sitting in the office waiting for their treatments.  One of them looked like he was on Death’s doorstep.  Poor guy! I’m walking away free with presents in my hands and a spring in my step, and he’s sitting there in a wheelchair waiting.  Another message from the universe–there but for fortune go I.  Otherwise known as Count Your Blessings.  I do count.  Believe me, I do.

It was a fairly small graduation party,  I had Alicia, Rex, Jennie, and Marla walked in at the last moment.  Goes to show–I’m not all that important–everybody else was busy elsewhere.

And so, I’m done, I’m cured, hooray!  Life goes on.

I have some odd beliefs.  I believe that God didn’t make the universe–God is the universe.  I believe that the universe sends you messages if you’re just perceptive enough to understand them.   Halfway through the treatment, Alicia turned on the CD player so I could have my daily dose of rock and roll.  The first song played was “It Seems Like A Very Long Time”.  Yes, the last three months have seemed like a very long time.  But it hasn’t been so bad.  The next song was “Easier Said Than Done” but the important line is “Tell him he’s the one!)”  So the universe was telling me I”m the one, and that it seems like a very long time.  Well, I’m glad to know that I’m the one, and I do hope I have a long time left.

You’re the One, too.  We’re all the One!  Never doubt it!

And that concludes this adventure in medicine.  I now return to my regular life.

end

Posted September 16, 2009 by atroll in Uncategorized

Alternate Unrealities   3 comments

The alarm came on this morning and startled me so much that I fell out of my car, and also fell out of that reality.  That was a good thing, actually, as that dream was getting weirder and weirder.

Let’s talk about dreams as a form of entertainment.  Real dreams, at least my dreams, aren’t much like dreams described in novels or shown in movies.  They are usually not sequential, and they seldom make much sense, especially after I wake up.     However, I regard them as entertainment and frequently take delight in some of the things that happen to me .

Do you ever dream about knowing things instead of experiencing them?  Last night’s dream was one of those.  It may have been a continued dream from earlier in the evening, or earlier in the week?  Does it ever seem to you that you’re repeating the same dreams night after night?  That’s another thing that happens to me.  I dream that I’m dreaming the same dream I dreamed three days ago.

Last night I dreamed that my son and I were attending a science fiction convention in Scottsdale, Arizona.  I have attended plenty of sci fi conventions there in the past.  I knew it was Scottsdale even through it looked more like West Phoenix.  I was staying in a luxury hotel, which I only saw from the outside in my dream, but it was not the convention hotel, so I had to drive back and forth.  Most of my time I was driving my car, wondering what was going on at the convention.  At one point my son and I were driving downtown on Camelback Road–in fact, I was always on Camelback Road in my dream–a thing I just knew–and I went blind.  Everything just went dark and i couldn’t see beyond the windshield of the car–I could see inside it, but not outside it.  Somehow, I didn’t crash.  I slowed the car gradually and stopped, opened my car door, and looked out, and the world came back.  Everyone else had apparently slowed and stopped too.  This was a worrying dream, because my son was in the seat beside me riding shotgun when it happened.  I don’t want to kill or injure my son in a car crash.

Just before I woke up I was alone, and driving west on Camelback Road, approaching Scottsdale Road, and I couldn’t slow down, and the light rail train was on the tracks right in front of me.  A crash was inevitable, but the alarm went off, I woke up, and didn’t crash.  I’m always glad to wake up before the crash.  It all felt almost real–I didn’t know I was dreaming until the alarm woke me up.  The odd thing is the light rail doesn’t run north and south along Scottsdale Road, and I knew that too, but there it was.

I just wish my dreams would be more like movies, and more controllable.  I want to go to Middle Earth in my dreams, not to alternate Scottsdale.

end

Posted September 15, 2009 by atroll in Uncategorized

Oh to be 12 again!   2 comments

and I say that not just because I’d like to unload 50 years, but also because the entertainment world seems to be optimized for young teens right now.  There is such a wealth of great entertainment aimed at them that I’m blue with envy.  More about that later.

I always love it when I finish a book, especially a book that doesn’t make me cheer for the protagonist.  I could just put those turkeys down, but a certain kind of intellectual pride usually makes me carry through, even on bad books, to the finish.  Such is the case for The Stoneholding by James G. Anderson & Mark Sebanc.  It’s the start of a new fantasy epic to be published by Baen.  It’s the kind of book that gives young writers hope, and old writers ulcers.  It’s another fantasy epic.  The forces of evil are rising.  The forces of good are assailed on every side.  Not only that, but the forces of evil have everything going for them–manpower, cunning, magic,  The forces of good are basically complacent and stupid, but good-hearted.

Why I love the novels of Glen Cook–none of his characters are stupid.  Why I don’t like The Stoneholding–all of the characters are stupid.  This book is written for 12 year-olds who have never read a fantasy epic before.  They might like it.  I’d say it echoes Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings or Brook’s Shannara books, except both of those authors are so much better writers. 

But let me give the book credit for the good things it does.  1.  There are some very pretty maps at the beginning.  2. It incorporates poetry into the story–really bad poetry that doesn’t scan most of the time, but still, give the authors points for trying. 3. It names the hero after Superman.  His name is Kal.  Kalaquinn, actually, but they mostly call him Kal.  Kal-El, is of course, Superman’s true name.  And Kal, our hero, is going to have to turn into Superman if he’s to succeed in saving the world from the rising power of Chaos.  Enough griping.  I’ve finished the book.  I rate it a C minus as novels go.  I’m giving it to the library.

In other news, when I got to work this morning I found a new graphic novel waiting for me.  It’s Artemis Fowl: The Arctic Incident written by Eoin Colfer and Andrew Donkin, illustrated by Giovanni Rigano, color by Paolo Lamanna, published by Disney.  For those who haven’t heard, the Artemis Fowl books have been the second-best thing in children’s fantasy literature for the last 5 years or so–right behind Harry Potter.   Artemis is a teen-aged evil mastermind, and the stories are written (mostly) for subteen boys.   They are clever stories, mixing magic and high technology in equal doses.  Each page has a secret code written in the margins–a simple substitution cypher that children can handle.

The art for the Artemis Fowl graphic novel is small, dark, and a bit twisted.  It looks like it’s computer generated and computer colored.  Suitable art for a cyber-age like our own.  It is not free-flowing  feast of primary colors like Superman.  There is more than a hint of manga influence with talking heads in every panel, but seldom do you see a whole body in action.

The first question that occurred to me was “why did a series of children’s books for the pre-teen set get translated into graphic novels for teens?”  Could it be that the graphic novels are harder to read than the original books?  I believe this graphic version of Artemis might well be harder to read and enjoy than the printed books.  Nevertheless, I will give it a try.

Still, I’d rather be reading Conan.  Artemis Fowl, very clever stuff, is boyish adventure for a boyish audience.  I feel like I’m about 50 years too old to properly enjoy this.

End

Posted September 14, 2009 by atroll in Uncategorized

The Return of the Black Company   1 comment

I have a tendency to start these blogs by cheering for someone–someone whose innate generosity or desperate business decisions causes good things to happen to me.  Today’s cheer is for Tor Books, who have retained me on their review list even though I’m not on the Nebula committee any longer, and haven’t been for a long ,  long time.  You just keep sending me free books, Tor, and I’ll keep taking them.

Yesterday Tor sent me THE RETURN OF THE BLACK COMPANY.  It is a large trade paperback that contains two Black Company novels: Bleak Seasons and She is the Darkness.  These are books one and two of GLITTERING STONE, and they originally came out in 1997.  They’re not eligible for any awards, or even nominations, but I’m happy because my old friends of the Black Company have sought me out once again.  I probably read these books 12 years ago.  It’s hard to remember, and I’m in no position to seek out my book diaries of the 90s, but I won’t mind reading them again, because Glen Cook is just so damn good as a writer. 

This seems like a good place to stop and take note of what I’m reading right now.  One of my main jobs here at the library is to weed the collection–especially fiction.  I’m doing Mysteries right now, and I’m almost finished.  Two Rex Stout books didn’t make the cut recently: Black Orchids and Before Midnight.  These are both Nero Wolfe books.  I have read a few Nero Wolfe mysteries, and enjoyed them.  Archie Goodwin, narrator, private eye, and all-around right hand man tells the stories.  Nero Wolfe solves the crimes.  It’s a sort of Holmes and Watson arrangement, although Wolfe is a good deal lazier than Holmes ever was.  Sherlock, at least, used to like to get out to the scene of the crime.  Wolfe makes the crime come to him.  Anyway, these two books will be leaving the Century collection, from sheer lack of appreciation.  Before they vanish into the Friends book sale, however, I will read them.  I can take as long as I want, because  they’re not in the collection any longer.  That’s just another undocumented benefit of being a librarian.

Also here waiting to be read are LADY OF SHERWOOD by Jennifer Roberson and PRIESTESS OF AVALON by Marion Zimmer Bradley.  Jennifer is an acquaintance of mine. I’d like to say she’s a friend, but the truth is, fate never put us together enough for me to claim her friendship.  I know her; she knows me.  She is a fabulous writer.  I’ve read most of her books, but missed this one, so now it has appeared before me, and it’s on the list of things I must read.  It’s pretty much the same story with PRIESTESS OF AVALON.  I was acquainted with MZB also back in the day.  She lived in Berkley, and I lived in Phoenix, and we both attended lots of western states science fiction conventions.  Our paths would cross on panels from time to time.  We both loved fantasy, and our mutual interests and acquaintances would draw us together, even though we really had nothing in common and no reason to associate.  I read THE MISTS OF AVALON when it first came out–I am a big student of Arthuriana.  Missed PRIESTESS.  I will correct that oversight.

Books in progress: I have finished THE CITY DESTROYER by Norvell Page.  It is a Spider novel, and now that I’m done with it, I’m suprised at how bad it was.  The characters have no depth at all–so many cardboard characters running through their paces.  The time period of the novel seems to be the mid-1920s–character still recognize the protagonist as a war hero from World War I.  I have 2 more novels included in this Spider omnibus from Baen, but it has definitely slipped to the bottom of my reading list.

I am also about 3/4 of the way through THE STONEHOLDING.  The writing is competent and pleasant, and the characters grow as you read their story, but it’s all taking too darn long.  I have read 75% of the book, and we’re still on the first day of action.  What a long and crowded day it has been, but hundreds of pages to describe the events of a single day–seems a bit much to me.

In the Tunnels and Trolls world I have started a new online game for members of Trollhalla.  Anyone can join it at any time.  This is a game for mega-characters.  The smallest monster likely to be seen will have a monster rating of 100.  The dragons that they are going after will have monster ratings in the thousands.  Anyone know of a good online dice roller?

And I didn’t get to watch Ranma last night.  The rest of the family wanted the television for other purposes.  I know they watched Sherlock Holmes on tv while I played Runescape and finished the latest quest there.  It was pretty easy.  I like that.  God grant that whatever quests I make for my own players be that simple and clear.

end

Posted September 11, 2009 by atroll in Uncategorized