Monday, December 27, 2010

A Storm of Swords

Some Starks finally died! Whoa! But then, of course, they were magically revived into living-corpses by Rhollor, Lord of Light. The magic is really real, just in case any readers were hoping to lean more toward history than fantasy. Oh well. I really liked the scene in book 2 where some pyromancers (eyes roll) are trying to explain their mystical spells, and Tyrion translates "spell" as "clever trick." I liked that. It's gone now. Pyromancy works, so, yeah... those dragons in the title? The ice zombies? Those are real, I guess.

Plus now that magic is real, the (numerous) dead main characters can be revived under magical conditions. Revivification always exacts a costly toll in literature.

This post's theme word is quisle, "to betray, especially by collaborating with an enemy."

Saturday, December 25, 2010

'Twas the night before Christmas, and...

Take a listen to this fantastic reworking of "The Night Before Christmas." The rhymes! The orifices! The terror!

If you are not already listening to the Drabblecast, you should start. Norm Sherman is incredible, the stories are clever and creepy in turns, and the production is enjoyable. (Again, Norm Sherman is incredible.)

This post's theme comic comes from Amazing Superpowers:

During the night before Christmas...

Merry Christmas to all!Even the sneaky gnomes who write in the snow on cars overnight.

This post's theme word is virga, "rain or snow that evaporates before hitting the ground." Just the thing we don't want on Christmas morning.

Friday, December 24, 2010

Food, glorious food

I have really been enjoying the delicious array of food available here. Just look:

This post's theme word is thaumaturgy, "the working of miracles or magical feats."

Monday, December 20, 2010

Cookie messages

Before disappearing into the maw of holiday snacking, the gingerbread cookies say:A timeless message, delivered in the delicious manifestation of warm, soft cookies.

Whilst I had the gingerbread-cookie-medium visiting, I dared to ask that timeless question: exactly what is Ernie from Sesame Street?
Now we all know.

This post's theme word is vatic, "of or related to a prophet or a prophecy: prophetic."
This post written like James Joyce. I guess he concerned himself with vatic cookies?

Friday, December 17, 2010

A Clash of Kings

My mad inhalation of George R. R. Martin's work continues.

Apparently magic is real? The last book seemed to describe events in a magic-free universe, but some chapters of this book have the reader witness magic happening, so I guess magic isn't just hearsay and trickery.

I like how this book ends with the non-deaths of some main characters: we thought they were dead. Then we discover they're not! I wonder if this is a reaction to reader/editor response to the first book's dramatic deaths.

The next book will tell...

This post's theme word is McKenzie, "someone who attends a court trial as an adviser to one of the parties. This person works not as a legal representative, but as an informal adviser. Also known as a "McKenzie friend". " The plot featured many McKenzies, although the number of different characters' schemes and double-crosses gave these inscrutable motives for their advice.

Monday, December 13, 2010

A Game of Thrones

In the course of my sci-fi reader meanderings, I came across a highly-recommended series that remained unread. After sampling some pages, I decided to try it out and started reading George R. R. Martin's A Game of Thrones.

That was several hours ago. The whole 800 page book is behind me now, and I'm pausing to breathe and sleep.

My first-pass review: it is soooooooooooooooo good. The story is engaging, the writing is good. There are memorable sentences and phrases. The plot is unpredictable, since no way did I forsee that one of the characters built up as a main feature would be killed. Ouch. Dramatic.

On to the next book in the series...

This post's theme word is labrys, "a symmetrical double-headed axe." He swung his labrys fiercely.

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

I'm getting old?

Every day I wake up and get [some of] the news from the radio and reading online. This makes me grumpy about the world. (See the "whinge" tag.) Everything is broken and wrong -- our "news" deliverers are unabashedly biased. Governmental organizations hide information from the populace and oppress us with unreasonable Big Brother-hood from the TSA, the Toronto police, the legislature, the executive. The world these days! -- it's not like it was back when I was young! -- whine whine whine grump grump grump.

Pretty much anything that would be mentioned in a voice-over at the beginning of a disutopia movie is true. Propaganda everywhere is designed to keep us confused and docile. (Even to the point that I am not entirely convinced this is a bad thing.)

Even inspirational statements like "Even if what you're doing feels small, you still have to have faith in the grandeur of it all." fail to inspire me. I am frustrated. I feel like there is very little I can do to improve the world, and very little I can do to make it worse, too -- I have no impact on anything. Nevertheless, I feel it's important to act with dignity and try to do good work. What else can I do? Being the change I want to see in the world (à la Gandhi) is not enough.

The only thing that makes me feel better about the status of the world is to completely ignore it. I am lucky in that "ignore the outside world" is nearly part of my job description as a grad student. I will feel better as soon as I leave the house and get away from this global-news mindset.

Ivory tower, whoo!

This post's theme word is sesquipedalian, "pollysyllabic."
This post written like Cory Doctorow.

Monday, December 6, 2010

I, Robot rhetorical device

I came across a clever bit of writing that particularly tickled my fancy while reading Isaac Asimov's I, Robot. Its self-aware authorial voice was reminiscent of David Foster Wallace. (Or perhaps, given their respective places on the timeline, it was prescient of David Foster Wallace.) On page 148 of the 192-page-long edition I read:
Francis Quinn was a politician of the new school. That, of course, is a meaningless expression, as are all expressions of the sort. Most of the "new schools" we have were duplicated in the social life of ancient Greece, and perhaps, if we knew more about it, in the social life of ancient Sumeria and in the lake dwellings of prehistoric Scotland as well.

But, to get out from under what promises to be a dull and complicated beginning, it might be best to state hastily that Quinn...
What an excellent device! I would like to be proud enough of my writing to refuse to remove the dull bits, and instead simply acknowledge them as dull and move along.

This post's theme word is nihilarian, "one who does useless work."
This post written like H. P. Lovecraft. Although if I include the extended quote, it's Isaac Asimov.

Saturday, December 4, 2010

I, Robot

Isaac Asimov's delightful I, Robot has almost nothing to do with the eponymous movie. It is a set of charming vignettes detailing the early years of the development of the "positronic" robot brain, smarter than humans and equally self-aware. The only difference is that the robots are bound to the Three Laws of Robotics:
  1. A robot may not injure a human being, or, through inaction, allow a human being to come to harm.
  2. A robot must obey the orders given it by human beings except where such orders would conflict with the First Law.
  3. A robot must protect its own existence as long as such protection does not conflict with the First or Second Law.
These rules are "impressioned" into robot minds straight off the assembly line. There are repeated assurances from many robot-building authorities of mathematical proof* that a robot brain would fail catastrophically (disabling the robot) before it could break any of the three laws. I, Robot is about the various ways in which the previous sentence does not mean what you think it means.

This involves strange robot behavior, of course, and the troubleshooting humans attempting to diagnose and repair the problem. Some mistakes are due to the nature of the three laws: they are broad and leave much to interpretation: what qualifies as harm to a human? physical pain? emotional anguish? can preventing long-term harm justify causing short-term harm? Some mistakes are due to conflicts between the laws, despite their rules of precedence: when laws conflict in a complicated way, so much of the robot's brain is absorbed in resolving the conflict that the robot behaves drunkenly.

Robots require human robopsychologists to assess, diagnose, and provide therapy. Robots are surprisingly human in their deviousness, in their psychological hang-ups, and in their reasoning. This human treatment of the subject of robots reminds me of Stanislaw Lem's The Cyberiad; robots with human problems are the source of much comedy in both books.

It's short and fun. Go read it!

*I'd like to see that proof!

This post's theme word is epanorthosis, "the immediate rephrasing of something said in order to correct it or to make it stronger. Usually indicated by: no, nay, rather, I mean, etc." Quite useful in issuing precise orders to robots.
This post written like Isaac Asimov! I often feel that my thoughts form in the style of the latest writer I'm reading: here is a datum supporting that suspicion.

Friday, December 3, 2010

Starry, starry moose

We made gingerbread moose and stars.
Hey diddle, diddle, the cat and the fiddle, the moose jumped over the moon...

This post's theme word is pibroch, "martial music with variations, to be played by bagpipes." The holiday moose frolicked to a pibroch in the snowy meadow.

Thursday, December 2, 2010

Old Year's resolutions

Welcome to the last month of 2010. New Year's resolutions are common; I'd like to execute an uncommon plan. For December. This is a plan with an immediate deadline. Over the long course of a year, New Year's resolutions can become fuzzy and get lost. Things build up, to-do lists lengthen.

I propose to shorten them. To zero. By the end of December, I want to finish my to-do lists, either by achieving the items or by declaring them forfeit in to-do-bankruptcy. Wrap up projects I've been delaying. Write (or delete) the 90 draft blog posts hanging around. (Ha! Pity yourselves, readers.) Answer long-lingering emails. Mend clothing. Finish the semester.

Let's do it, people.

This post's theme word is doggo, "still and quiet" (adverb).
This post written like Cory Doctorow.