Saturday, October 13, 2018

Book Blogger Hop Halloween Edition! - October 12th - October 18th: The Longest Boxing Match in History Lasted for 276 Rounds

Jen at Crazy for Books restarted her weekly Book Blogger Hop to help book bloggers connect with one another, but then couldn't continue, so she handed the hosting responsibilities off to Ramblings of a Coffee Addicted Writer. The only requirements to participate in the Hop are to write and link a post answering the weekly question and then visit other blogs that are also participating to see if you like their blog and would like to follow them.

This week Billy asks: You are suddenly transported into a future time in which (horrors!) books are unknown. How would you explain books, and how wonderful they are, to the people of that time?

Is writing still known? Because if writing is still known, I think that books would be relatively easy to explain - something containing a lot of writing that usually has either a story or stories in it or contains explanations of factual information. This definition relies upon other concepts like "stories", "writing", and "information", and if those concepts have also been lost, then we will have to back up further and start with those. On the other hand, if humanity has lost the concept of what a "story" is, then they may be so far removed from what we regard as "human" that books would end up being impossible to explain. Anything short of that sort of disconnect would probably be possible to overcome.

Previous Book Blogger Hop: Hamilcar Barca Was Born in 275 B.C.

Book Blogger Hop     Home

Monday, October 8, 2018

Musical Monday - Magic by Olivia Newton John


#1 on the Billboard Hot 100: August 2, 1980 through August 23, 1980.
#1 on the Cash Box Top 100: August 2, 1980 through August 16, 1980.
#1 on the U.K. Chart: Never.

Magic was the second chart-topping single from the Xanadu soundtrack, although this one topped the two U.S.-based charts and the other one - the title track to the movie - only topped the charts in the U.K. This is also the second time that Olivia Newton John has appeared on the 1980s Project, although it will not be the last.

Looking back, it seems like the 1980s were defined by artists like Michael Jackson, U2, and Madonna, but in the first couple of years, Olivia Newton John was a dominant force in pop music. To a certain extent, her persona projected here, with the white fringed romper and cowboy boots coupled with her nigh-ethereal floating hair, is what Madonna and Cyndi Lauper were reacting against. One can make the argument that Olivia Newton John reacted against this persona herself later.

But in 1980, this was Olivia Newton John in all her glory, and her star power was such that she was able to take a fairly mediocre song from the soundtrack of a terrible movie and drive it all the way to the top of the U.S. pop charts and keep it there for three weeks.

Previous Musical Monday: Use It Up and Wear It Out by Odyssey
Subsequent Musical Monday: The Winner Takes It All by ABBA

Previous #1 on the Billboard Hot 100: Its Still Rock and Roll to Me by Billy Joel
Subsequent #1 on the Billboard Hot 100: Sailing by Christopher Cross

Previous #1 on the Cash Box Top 100: Its Still Rock and Roll to Me by Billy Joel
Subsequent #1 on the Cash Box Top 100: Take Your Time (Do It Right) by the S.O.S. Band

List of #1 Singles from the Billboard Hot 100 for 1980-1989
List of #1 Singles from the Cash Box Top 100 for 1980-1989
List of #1 Singles on the U.K. Chart for 1980-1989

Olivia Newton-John     1980s Project     Musical Monday     Home

Saturday, October 6, 2018

Book Blogger Hop Halloween Edition! October 5th - October 11th: Hamilcar Barca Was Born in 275 B.C.

Jen at Crazy for Books restarted her weekly Book Blogger Hop to help book bloggers connect with one another, but then couldn't continue, so she handed the hosting responsibilities off to Ramblings of a Coffee Addicted Writer. The only requirements to participate in the Hop are to write and link a post answering the weekly question and then visit other blogs that are also participating to see if you like their blog and would like to follow them.

This week Billy asks: It's getting close to Halloween. If you HAD to read one of these two genres, which would you prefer -- urban fantasy, or horror, and why?

I don't really read much of either genre, but I've probably read more urban fantasy than horror, so I guess I'll go with that.


Book Blogger Hop     Home

Thursday, October 4, 2018

Review - Hawkeye: My Life as a Weapon by Matt Fraction, David Aja, and Javier Pulido


Short review: Clint Barton is Hawkeye, and his life seems to mostly consist of trying to help people out with their problems and getting terribly injured as a result.

Haiku
Okay, this looks bad
But its just a normal day
In over my head

Full review: My Life as a Weapon is the first volume in Matt Fraction’s series about Clint Barton, also known as Hawkeye, a non-super powered super-hero who spends most of his time with the Avengers. The stories presented in this series are about what Hawkeye does when he is not working alongside Iron Man, Thor, and Captain America, and it turns out that the answer is mostly “gets in way over his head and gets injured”.

The interesting thing about Barton is that he’s pretty much simply an ordinary person with an extraordinary talent for archery. He isn’t super strong, he isn’t super durable, and he doesn’t have any high-tech equipment to help him out: He is, as is pointed out in the first pages of this volume, just a guy fighting crime with a weapon that dates to the Paleolithic era. The fact that he often stands shoulder-to-shoulder with medically enhanced super soldiers and literal gods while fighting cosmically powerful threats that could destroy all of humanity and doesn’t die in the process is probably the most remarkable aspect of Hawkeye’s existence.

Fraction begins each of the first three parts of this volume with Barton saying to the reader, in what amounts to a voice over narration, “Okay, this looks bad”. Each time Barton follows this up with an admission that the situation doesn’t just look bad, it actually is bad. Each time Barton proceeds to get the crap beat out of him, in some cases almost immediately thereafter, in others he can stave off the inevitable for a bit, but he winds up unconscious at least once in every sections of the story, and twice in two of them. In one incident, Barton ends up severely injured and hospitalized for an extended period of time. The running theme that underlies everything else in this volume is that the human body is simply too fragile for the life that Barton is leading. Despite his somewhat half-hearted protestations otherwise, Barton often gets himself into trouble because he thinks more like Captain America than he would care to admit. Though he often tries to adopt the pose of being indifferent, Barton always gives in to the pleas for help aired by those he comes into contact with, or, as in the case of Pizza Dog, acts to help those who happen to be near him when they are in need. His aid is often accompanied by his complaints, and is always well-meaning, but another theme that runs through this volume is that Barton is just not very good at solving problems. Fortunately, for the most part, the villains in the book aren't really all that much better at planning schemes. Much of the volume involves Barton essentially bumbling his way into foiling schemes formulated by criminals who are, at best, marginally competent themselves.

In the first section, Barton first winds up in the hospital as a result of literally falling off of a building, and upon being released he almost immediately walks into a local mob boss and his "tracksuit Mafia" evicting Barton's neighbors from their apartments when they can't pay the rent he recently tripled. Hawkeye's solution to the problem turns out to be to march down to the illegal gambling den that the mafia boss haunts and try to pay the rent for everyone in the building, and when that fails, try to fight his way through all of the boss's henchmen (which goes about as well as one would expect). This story is intercut with scenes of Barton demanding that a veterinarian treat Pizza Dog after the dog had been hurt very badly by being hit by a car, all the while insisting that Pizza Dog is not his dog. There is a rather obvious parallel drawn in the way the story is framed between Pizza Dog, who is thrown out into traffic by the tracksuit Mafia after it comes to Barton's aid, and Barton himself, and Barton's need to have Pizza Dog survive suggests that Barton knows this. In the end, Barton forces the mafia boss to sell him the building for a rather generous price (although one does have to wonder why Barton has $12.7 million in cash on hand), while the mafia boss protests that he did nothing illegal. In fact, the only person who has done something overtly illegal in this part of the story is actually Barton, but the reader is clearly supposed to side with him, as his illegal acts are in support of a noble cause, while the tracksuit Mafia's perfectly legal actions were intended to make people homeless.

The next section features Kate Bishop, who had once held the title of Hawkeye, as Barton tries to figure out what the warning signs in carney code that have been cropping up across town might mean. Barton figures out who the villains are when he and Bishop attend a gala performance of "Cirque du Nuit", and the story starts to resemble a traditional super-hero story except that Barton leads off by getting knocked out, captured, and then jumping out of a window into a swimming pool. It is up to Bishop to save his bacon, and while Clint rallies late to defeat the ringleader of the band of thieves, this is almost an anti climatic moment following Kate's heroics. Further, Barton manages to screw even this victory up, as he makes some rather powerful enemies in the process. This section further cements the pattern that Fraction's stories about Hawkeye will follow for the most part: Barton stumbles into a sticky situation, maneuvers his way through it by the skin of his teeth, and manages to somehow screw up the win.

The third section follows pretty much this established pattern, with Barton finding himself in a high-speed car chase through the streets of New York after he went out to get some tape and picked up a woman for a quick afternoon fling instead. She, of course, turns out to be on the run, and Barton manages to get knocked out, has to call upon Bishop for assistance, and winds up running through pretty much his entire inventory of gimmick arrows fending off their pursuers. True to form, Barton manages to get knocked out and captured again, and true to form, Kate saves the day. This section features two interesting twists - first, Barton never finds out what his paramour did, why she is on the run, or who exactly is pursuing her, and consequently neither does the reader. This further reinforces the almost bumbling nature of Barton's non-Avengers heroics. Second, Barton manages to unknowingly throw a wrench into his relationship with Bishop, and as usual, his screw-up is the result of his good intentions.

The final section of the main story is a two part piece that is probably the most "super-heroish" of anything in the volume. Barton is whisked away from a rooftop party by S.H.I.E.L.D. and sent to Madripoor with the organizations Amex Black and instructions to recover a videotape in which Barton was filmed committing a political assassination. This story is convoluted, full of twists and turns, with a veritable gallery of nefarious villains cropping up, as well as some unexpected allies. As I noted earlier, this story line adheres most closely to the the traditional "super-hero" style, and yet it is also the least satisfying section of the book. The plot is overly convoluted, and even though the situation ends up more or less where the good guys want it to be, the way they got there is so byzantine and depends on a couple of unexpected and entirely unpredictable developments that one is left wondering what the actual plan was. On the one hand, having no discernable plan seems entirely in character for Barton, but on the other, it seems entirely out of character for S.H.I.E.L.D., especially when one considers just how critically important Agent Hill insists that the mission is to everyone involved all the way up to the President of the United States. leaving this oddness aside, the real flaw in this story line is that Fraction simply doesn't play fair with the reader. The "big reveal" that comes at the end of the story makes several key scenes and conversations that happened earlier into nonsense. In short, Fraction was only able to preserve his surprise by not merely hiding information from the reader, but by having characters have discussions with one another that simply make no sense for them to have.

The final pages of this volume are dedicated to an installment of Young Avengers in which Barton, in his Ronin persona, tests Bishop as she is set to take over the mantle of Hawkeye. For her part, Bishop is dealing with some complicated romantic feelings for fellow Young Avengers Patriot and Speed, and is somewhat distracted throughout the story. To be blunt, this portion of the book is simply not as good as the rest, and even the artwork, which is fairly standard for comic books, feels jarring and out of place after an entire book of Aja and Pulido's almost impressionistic artwork in the main portion of the book. Putting an unrelated story at the end of a graphic novel collecting several issues seems to be a pattern for Marvel, and in my experience the added story always seems to fall short of the main work, and this book is no exception to that rule.

Hawkeye, as a non-super-powered super-hero, is somewhat unique among the Avengers, and this volume is somewhat unique among super-hero stories. Fraction, Aja, and Pulido have taken what could have been a bland and uninteresting character and breathed life into him by emphasizing his very mundane nature, and in the process highlighting what an exceptional individual he is as a result. Fraction is one of the few writers working in comics today whose work I will buy simply based upon his involvement in a project, and this volume is an example of the reason why that is so.

Subsequent book in the series: Hawkeye: Little Hits by Matt Fraction, David Aja, Francesco Francavilla, Steve Lieber, and Jesse Hamm

Matt Fraction     David Aja     Javier Pulido     Book Reviews A-Z     Home

Monday, October 1, 2018

Musical Monday - Use It Up and Wear It Out by Odyssey


#1 on the Billboard Hot 100: Never.
#1 on the Cash Box Top 100: Never.
#1 on the U.K. Chart: July 26, 1980 through August 2, 1980.

As I have noted before, by 1980, disco was dying - at least in the United States. In fact, in the U.S., one might argue that disco was already a corpse by 1980 and everyone was getting ready to start putting the nails in its coffin.

In Europe, and by extension, the U.K., on the other hand, disco would thrive for some time in 1980 and beyond. This is somewhat interesting given that Britain was the home to a couple of music scenes that were fairly extreme reactions to disco, the most prominent of which was punk. Even so, disco lasted far longer as a musical force in the U.K. than it did in the U.S.

That said, this song seems to me to be a pretty good example of both why disco became popular in the first place, and why it had such a relatively short shelf life. Use It Up and Wear It Out is an incredibly danceable song, with a good beat and a driving bass line. It is peppy, happy, and everything anyone would want on the dance floor. It is also incredibly forgettable. There is simply nothing to hold on to when the song is finished. The lyrics are insipid, the beat and bass line are great, but there's nothing else to the song in a musical sense. Almost everything that might have made this song memorable has been stripped away in favor of making for a better groove.

As they were so often wont to say on American Bandstand "Its got a good beat and I can dance to it", but in this case, that's pretty much all there is to the song.

Previous Musical Monday: Xanadu by Olivia Newton-John and the Electric Light Orchestra
Subsequent Musical Monday: Magic by Olivia Newton-John

Previous #1 on the U.K. Chart: Xanadu by Olivia Newton-John and the Electric Light Orchestra
Subsequent #1 on the U.K. Chart: The Winner Takes It All by ABBA

List of #1 Singles from the Billboard Hot 100 for 1980-1989
List of #1 Singles from the Cash Box Top 100 for 1980-1989
List of #1 Singles on the U.K. Chart for 1980-1989

Odyssey     1980s Project     Musical Monday     Home

Saturday, September 29, 2018

Book Blogger Hop September 28th - October 4th: Mani, the Founder of Manichaeism, Died in 274 A.D.


Jen at Crazy for Books restarted her weekly Book Blogger Hop to help book bloggers connect with one another, but then couldn't continue, so she handed the hosting responsibilities off to Ramblings of a Coffee Addicted Writer. The only requirements to participate in the Hop are to write and link a post answering the weekly question and then visit other blogs that are also participating to see if you like their blog and would like to follow them.

This week Billy asks: Do you sneak a peek at the number of views your posts have gotten?

Not usually. For the most part, I don't care about how many views a post gets, and I don't really trust the software to give me an accurate count anyway. For example, when I have checked the numbers, I've noticed that the reported total for the blog as a whole frequently seems to exceed the combined reported totals for all of the individual pages of the blog, which is obviously incorrect (or something odd is going on that I just don't understand). I haven't bothered to figure out these sorts of anomalies, because I don't care enough to put in the effort. I write this blog mostly for myself, so if anyone else gets anything out of it, that's just a serendipitous bonus.

Subsequent Book Blogger Hop: Hamilcar Barca Was Born in 275 B.C.

Book Blogger Hop     Home

Monday, September 24, 2018

Musical Monday - Xanadu by Olivia Newton-John and the Electric Light Orchestra


#1 on the Billboard Hot 100: Never.
#1 on the Cash Box Top 100: Never.
#1 on the U.K. Chart: July 12, 1980 through July 19, 2980.

Sometimes a movie tries to capitalize upon the cultural zeitgeist of the moment. These efforts almost always seem to fail, because by the time a move can me made, the moment has already passed. In 1975, C.W. McCall had a number one hit with the song Convoy, but by the time a movie was made that was inspired by the song, it was 1978, and "trucker chic" was already becoming passe.

Xanadu was clearly made as an attempt to try to capitalize on the popularity of disco clubs, the most prominent of which was the almost mythical Studio 54. But by the time the movie was released, Studio 54 had been closed for six months, swamped under by tax evasion charges brought against the club's two owners. From a commercial perspective, disco was a dying genre of music. To further hamper its potential for success, Xanadu was linked not just to disco, but to the specific subgenre of roller disco, which had an even shorter shelf-life than disco had.

Despite all of this, and despite the fact that the movie was a flop of epic proportions, somehow Xanadu ended up with a fantastic soundtrack full of glittery pop songs that managed to climb the charts, some all the way to the top. Even so, this video kind of exemplifies everything that went wrong with the movie: The song is catchy and fun, Olivia Newton-John is scintillating, her bouncy hair is almost an entity of its own, and the choreography and staging is an absolute disaster.

Everything about the staging of this mass dance number is poorly executed. There are too many people on screen. People whip through the camera's gaze almost at random, skating into and out of frame for no apparent reason. The specific choreography that starts at 33 seconds in is completely atrocious, making a collection of fairly good dancers seem awkward and clumsy. The number hops from one group to the next - now we have a group of women dancing, next some guys in feathered hats and suspenders appear doing some proto-boogaloo, now those guys are dancing with women in 1940s inspired dresses, next a couple dancing on a raised dais while Olivia stands on a tiny attached platform, now we cut to a couple on a tightrope, then to some guys dancing on roller skates, now another guy will jump over those guys on his roller skates, and on and on and on. At one point a circus performer shows up suspended by her neck from the ceiling while she spins. Why is she there? Who knows? Everything in this entire number is confusing, incoherent, and exhausting.

Through it all Olivia Newton-John tries as hard as she can to make this work, but even her best efforts are only able to mitigate the terribleness of this mess of a video. The song is pretty good though.

Previous Musical Monday: Its Still Rock and Roll to Me by Billy Joel
Subsequent Musical Monday: Use It Up and Wear It Out by Odyssey

Previous #1 on the U.K. Chart: Crying by Don McLean
Subsequent #1 on the U.K. Chart: Use It Up and Wear It Out by Odyssey

List of #1 Singles from the Billboard Hot 100 for 1980-1989
List of #1 Singles from the Cash Box Top 100 for 1980-1989
List of #1 Singles on the U.K. Chart for 1980-1989

Olivia Newton-John     Electric Light Orchestra

1980s Project     Musical Monday     Home

Saturday, September 22, 2018

Book Blogger Hop September 21st - September 27th: The Thermodynamic Temperature of the Triple Point of Water Is Approximately 273 Degrees Kelvin


Jen at Crazy for Books restarted her weekly Book Blogger Hop to help book bloggers connect with one another, but then couldn't continue, so she handed the hosting responsibilities off to Ramblings of a Coffee Addicted Writer. The only requirements to participate in the Hop are to write and link a post answering the weekly question and then visit other blogs that are also participating to see if you like their blog and would like to follow them.

This week Billy asks: Do you like to finish one book before starting the next or do you read several at once?

I should read one book at a time, but in reading, as in most other things, I am very bad at doing what I am supposed to. I usually end up reading at least two, and reasonably often three or four books at once. The most common reason is that whenever I an reading a short fiction collection or anthology, I always end up reading some other book as well, but I also frequently end up reading more than one book because I am simply impatient to get started on another book that has caught my attention. I sometimes find myself trying to read a new RPG book or graphic story at the same time that I am reading a novel or two as well. Basically, I often end up reading between one and five books often enough that any of those numbers would be what passes for normal for me.

Previous Book Blogger Hop: King Shapur I of Persia Died in 272 A.D.

Book Blogger Hop     Home

Monday, September 17, 2018

Musical Monday - Its Still Rock and Roll to Me by Billy Joel


#1 on the Billboard Hot 100: July 19, 1980 through July 26, 1980.
#1 on the Cash Box Top 100: July 12, 1980 through July 26, 1980.
#1 on the U.K. Chart: Never.

In 1980, disco was in its death throes. One reaction to disco was the punk movement. Another was the related "New Wave". Billy Joel's stripped down back to basics rock from his 19080 album Glass Houses was yet another.

Its Still Rock and Roll to Me is phrased as a conversation between an aging rocker and his agent who wants his client to update his image to remain popular. The repeated refrain "its still rock and roll to me", in the context of the era in which the song was released, is an almost defiant rant against the then recent trends in music and an insistence on a return to the roots of rock. Given his later success with the 1950s doo wop inspired album An Innocent Man, this seems almost prescient.

Previous Musical Monday: The Rose by Bette Midler
Subsequent Musical Monday: Xanadu by Olivia Newton-John and the Electric Light Orchestra

Previous #1 on the Billboard Hot 100: Coming Up by Paul McCartney
Subsequent #1 on the Billboard Hot 100: Magic by Olivia Newton-John

Previous #1 on the Cash Box Top 100: The Rose by Bette Midler
Subsequent #1 on the Cash Box Top 100: Magic by Olivia Newton-John

List of #1 Singles from the Billboard Hot 100 for 1980-1989
List of #1 Singles from the Cash Box Top 100 for 1980-1989
List of #1 Singles on the U.K. Chart for 1980-1989

Billy Joel     1980s Project     Musical Monday     Home

Saturday, September 15, 2018

Book Blogger Hop September 14th - September 20th: King Shapur I of Persia Died in 272 A.D.


Jen at Crazy for Books restarted her weekly Book Blogger Hop to help book bloggers connect with one another, but then couldn't continue, so she handed the hosting responsibilities off to Ramblings of a Coffee Addicted Writer. The only requirements to participate in the Hop are to write and link a post answering the weekly question and then visit other blogs that are also participating to see if you like their blog and would like to follow them.

This week Billy asks: What author do you not read and why?

There is a small group of authors who I simply don't read, mostly as a result of the recent "Puppy" kerfuffle in science fiction struggles. To sum up the "Puppy" brouhaha, a group of authors got mad that they weren't getting nominated for the Hugo Award, dubbed themselves the "Sad Puppies", added some rather racist and sexist commentary to their grievances, and got together to form what essentially amounted to a politically-driven slate to bloc vote themselves and their friends onto the Hugo ballot. Though this was not technically against the rules, it did violate some rather strong established norms against this sort of vote manipulation. They weren't helped by the fact that prominent members asserted things like "women and minorities who have been nominated for and won awards did so only because of affirmative action", displayed a remarkable lack of knowledge concerning the actual nominees they were complaining about, and generally made asses out of themselves. Several of the more prominent members of the group are openly homophobic, while other just limited themselves to launching crude homophobic insults at their critics. One high-profile Puppy stated that the natural inclination people have upon seeing two gay men together was to want to beat them to death with tire irons, while another has expressed admiration for Anders Brevik. They are, taken as a group, reprehensible people.

Then people started reading the finalists they had gamed onto the ballot, and this was the worst thing that could have happened to their literary reputations.

It turned out that the primary reason that these authors were not getting nominated for the most prestigious award in genre fiction was not some sort of conspiracy against them, or a bias against white authors, or straight authors, or even conservative authors. It was because their work was simply not good. The works the Pups put forward, ostensibly the best writing that their members could proffer, struggled to reach mediocrity. Some were simply downright terrible. What's more, most of them found different ways to be terrible. Some of their stories were turgid and slow. Some of their stories were dopey and racist. Some of their stories were adjective and adverb-laden gibberish. Needless to say, their work fared poorly in the final Hugo voting.

I gave their work a chance. It wasn't good enough to merit trying it again.


Book Blogger Hop     Home

Thursday, September 13, 2018

Review - Stories from the Iliad and Odyssey by G. Chandon


Short review: A prose translation of Homer's two epic poems the Iliad and the Odyssey.

Haiku
Translated to French
Then translated to English
With some Roman gods

Full review: Stories from the Iliad and Odyssey is an English prose translation of a French prose interpretation of the two famous ancient Greek poems by Homer. While the original poems were decidedly adult in nature, the versions presented in this book are aimed at younger readers, presumably to serve as an introduction of sorts to the classic works. Both poems have had chunks cut out of the narrative in this translation, although the basic stories remain unchanged. Several full-color plates depicting events from the stories are interspersed through the book.

The Iliad section comes first. It is, of course, the story of a brief period near the end of the ten year siege of Troy by the Greeks, culminating with the showdown between the Trojan hero Hector and the Greek hero Achilles. Due to the frequent interference of the Gods in the war, one of the oddities of this translation becomes quickly apparent: while the names of the heroes are all Greek, the various deities are referred to using their Romanized names. Consequently, the book refers to Achilles, Agamemnon, and Ajax on the one hand, and Jupiter, Mars, and Venus on the other. For some readers this may not be as jarring as it was to me, but every time I read about Minerva showing her concern for Patrocles, it just seemed to so odd to me that it pulled me out of the story a bit. Some of the better bits of Homeric imagery are left out of this version: for example the description of the various contingents of the Greek and Trojan armies is omitted, as well as the scene following Patrocles' death in which Achilles is made into a glowing tower of light by Athena to frighten the Trojans. In short, just about anything that is not directly related to the main storyline is left out, which reduces the poem to a fairly simple narrative. Simplifying the narrative probably makes the book more accessible to younger readers, but it does have the unfortunate side effect of eliminating a fair amount of interesting elements from the story.

The Odyssey follows the Iliad in the book, and like the first section, this portion is dramatically simplified. The basic structure of Ulysses' voyage is kept intact - his encounter with the cyclops Polyphemus, his visit with Aeolas, his struggles with the enchantress Circe and a couple of his seafaring travails - including Scylla, Charybdis, and the Sirens. However, many of Ulysses' adventures are simply removed from the story - he and his men do not run afoul of Helios by eating his sacred cattle, he never journeys to the land of the dead, and so on. Some of the scenes were probably excised from both poems because they didn't show the heroes in a light that would be appealing to the sensibilities of 20th century readers - the scene in which the twelve servant girls in Ithaca who slept with the unruly suitors are hanged is removed, as are a couple of instances in both stories in which the heroes behave in what would best be described as a piratical or particularly bloodthirsty manner (although those scenes that are necessary for the story in which the heroes do this have been left in). While I understand the need to truncate the tale to make it palatable to the intended younger audience, I think that this shortening process is unfortunate as Ulysses' resulting journey seems far too short and much too straightforward.

Despite both poems being shortened in this translation, this remains a decent introduction to Homer for a young reader. One note that must be made is that the language is somewhat stilted. This is probably a byproduct of the fact that it is the translation of a translation, and it was written in a time period in which formal and stylized language was expected. Even so, there isn't anything in this version that should be too difficult for a pre-adolescent reader to grasp, understand, and enjoy. While someone who has already been exposed to a more complete version of these poems, this may seem annoyingly incomplete, but for a reader for whom this is their first encounter with Homer, this version, being in prose, is probably a good place to start.

G. Chandon     Book Reviews A-Z     Home

Wednesday, September 12, 2018

Random Thought - The Misery of the Hustler, and the Joy of Being a Fan

Or, we live in two worlds, and trying to cross the streams is asking for nothing but trouble.

This post is inspired, in large part, by a well-justified Twitter rant Seanan McGuire went on about a month ago. The first tweet in the thread can be found here for anyone who wants to go read it in its entirety. The short version is that Seanan and a group of her professional colleagues were at San Diego Comic Con having a conversation in a public space and a random dude jumped in to try to pitch his own work and did so in a fairly sexist and tone deaf manner. The part of the rant I want to focus on is this one:
Mr. Hustle promptly went into his pitch. And the reason I say that this was PUA techniques, and not a lack of social awareness, is that he knew it was a pitch. He called it a pitch, called it a hustle, said several times "this is why I came to con."
Seanan's story kind of dovetails with another that I recently observed, this time from Hillary Monahan concerning someone who moved in her writer circles. The first tweet in that thread can be found here. The short version of this story is that an aspiring author spent their time networking to "move up" the ladder of writerly contacts, discarding "lower tier" authors when they had been able to move "up" to more successful authors and then began name-dropping in order to get published, apparently wildly exaggerating the extent of their relationship. The specific part of Hillary's thread to focus upon is this:
If knowing people is a boost, pissing people off with power and influence . . . does a lot more to your career than that boost.


If you want to befriend authors, you should.


If you want to scale us while you scramble up a ladder, fuck you.
Once again, the focus is upon trying to cultivate relationships, not for the purpose of cultivating relationships, but for the sole, and seemingly exclusive, purpose of career advancement. The issue isn't forming a network of professional contacts, the issue is pretending that you are socializing with people for the purpose of cynically using them for career advancement.

I even have my own story in this vein: A couple of years ago I was at Gen Con and ended up playing a game of Cards Against Humanity in the hall of the convention center with a large group that included the redhead, most of the members of Five Year Mission, their spouses, and a couple of other people. It was late in the evening - late enough that the halls of the Indianapolis Convention Center were mostly deserted. While we were playing, a random dude walked up to the group and proceeded to try to pitch us on the game he and his buddies were trying to Kickstart. First he proceeded to denigrate the game we were playing, and then he spent a half an hour droning on about how great the card game he and his friends were producing was despite the fact that we were pointedly ignoring him after about the first five minutes of his pitch.

The reason I want to focus on these stories is that this sort of behavior seems to be all too common, despite the fact that it is unlikely to ever work and will probably result in an exasperated pro and an unhappy fan. Now, I'm not going to tell anyone else how to be a fan, but going to a convention with the goal of cold pitching your brilliant idea (or manuscript, or screenplay, or whatever) to a random famous person you recognize at the event is simply a recipe for disappointment. In short, the people who do this, who go to a convention (or a writer's group, or a reading, or any number of other similar spaces) with the notion that they will "hustle" themselves into the publishing industry are probably not having as much fun as the people who just show up to be fans and are probably deluding themselves as to their likelihood of success to boot.

The root of the problem in all of the examples is treating what is intended to be a social interaction as a commercial one. I am reminded of Dan Ariely pointing out in his book Predictably Irrational that humans don't live in one society, we effectively live in two. One society is the commercial world, in which we engage in professional transactions with others, trading labor for money, and then money for goods and services. When you go to a supermarket and buy food, or hire a tow truck to come get your car when it breaks down, you're participating in the commercial world. You pay them, and you get stuff in return. But humans also live in a social world of family and friends, and you interact with them very differently. If your car was to break down, and you asked a friend to come and help you fix it, you wouldn't tell them afterward "hey, to thank you, here is $50 for your time". You wouldn't go to your mother-in-law's house and leave her a cash tip for making a particularly good dinner. You might offer to take your friend out to dinner, or send your mother-in-law a thank you note, but you wouldn't pay them with cash. And if you did try to pay them with cash, they would probably be at least confused, and probably offended1.

When someone shows up at a convention or a writer's group or some similar event with the intention of locating a conveniently placed famous person (or potential customer) and trying to pitch their idea to them, they are trying to cram a commercial exchange into what pretty much everyone else expects will be a social one. This is why this sort of behavior is so very off-putting, why this sort of approach almost never works, and why approaching such venues with the intention of simply engaging in a social exchange results in a much better experience for everyone. When I think of the many guys (and almost all of them seem to be guys) who do this, I am struck by how much frustration they are causing themselves. They are taking what should be an enjoyable experience - attending a convention and meeting the creative people who make so much of what they profess to enjoy - and transforming it into a series of disappointments. They miss out on the joy of being a fan, and in some cases, on the human experience of having pleasant and friendly social interactions with other people. Their mercenary intentions have eliminated their ability to see the dual world they live in, and left them with only the cold comfort of existing solely within the commercial world.

In the end, this post is about expressing just how freeing it is to simply be a fan. I don't have stories to pitch, or books to sell, or a brand to promote - I don't even have ads or any other monetizing mechanism on this blog2. There is simply something glorious about being able to go to a convention with no ulterior motive of any kind. To bring this back to the first example in the post, I have met Seanan McGuire: She signed a couple of books for me and we talked about some of her other books. I got to hear her recount her story about the guy with the lizard in his leg and her story about the boa constrictor (at least I think it was a boa constrictor) that bit her arm. I got to hear her exchange stories about frogs and reptiles with Ursula Vernon. I also ended up having lunch in a group that included Ursula Vernon. I could do all of this without trying to figure out how I was going to launch myself at either McGuire or Vernon in order to pitch a comic book script.

If you multiply that experience by a couple hundred, you can get a sense of how many experiences I have had as a result of simply being a fan with no further expectations. Over my years of attending conventions, I have made many friends who are authors, editors, and even publishers. I have wound up having lunches or dinners with them, playing board games with them, or just sitting in a hotel bar and having long conversations with them. Several of the people I have made friends with keep in touch so they can be apprised of the adventures of the littlest starship captain, a few have even sent her gifts. If I had attempted to go to conventions in order to hustle some business instead of cultivating these friendships, there is a tiny chance I might have been able to get a story or something published somewhere, but I would have missed out on so many truly enjoyable interactions as a result. Even if all that had resulted from my fannish attendance at things like conventions and book readings had been sitting in the audience and listening, then the result would have been more rewarding than selling a couple of stories.

Just being a fan is freeing. Just being a fan is fun. Just being a fan is rewarding. Just being a fan is joyous.

1 This sort of mixing of the social and commercial is problematic in the other direction as well. Think back to those times when a salesperson tried to behave like they were your friend in order to make a sale and how off-putting that felt. This is also why people tend to react negatively to friends trying to sell Amway or Primerica products to them - these kinds of businesses advise their members to treat their circle of family and friends as a market for the company's products, essentially advising people to use their social circle as a source of commercial contacts.

2 On occasion, someone gets mad about something I've written and loudly proclaims that I must have "just written it for the clicks", or they declare that I have just lost them as a reader, and my response is to suppress a laugh. I don't make any money off this blog, and I have no plans to change that. I don't really care how many clicks a post gets or how many readers I have. Anyone who wants to stalk away mad is welcome to and it won't bother me a bit.

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Monday, September 10, 2018

Musical Monday - The Rose by Bette Midler


#1 on the Billboard Hot 100: Never.
#1 on the Cash Box Top 100: July 5, 1980.
#1 on the U.K. Chart: Never.

Movies have an enormous impact on popular music. The Rose is not the first movie-related song in the 1980s Project, but I would venture that it is the first that got a major boost out of its association with a movie due to the fact that reason for the belated success of Suicide Is Painless on the U.K. Chart remains a complete mystery to me. The Rose was featured in and released on the soundtrack of the 1979 movie of the same name, and clearly benefited from the association, probably assisted in part by the boost from the Golden Globe wins and Academy Award nominations that the film garnered.

I should note that the boost runs the other direction as well - the success of the songs Coward of the County and Another Brick in the Wall (Part II) provided the impetus for the creation of movies based upon them. Granted, movies based upon popular songs are often not particularly great, or even good, but as we will see in the next few weeks, bad movies have been known to push even mediocre songs over the top on the charts.

The story of The Rose is a thinly veiled loose retelling of the life story of Janis Joplin. The movie was originally intended to be titled Pearl, which was the name of Joplin's final album and a nickname she used for herself, but opposition from her surviving family members led to the change of name and some changes to the story in order to distance it a bit from Joplin. Given the fact that almost every discussion of The Rose includes a explanation about how it is loosely based on the life of Janis Joplin, this attempt at distancing the fictional work from the singer clearly didn't work very well.

Previous Musical Monday: Coming Up by Paul McCartney
Subsequent Musical Monday: Its Still Rock and Roll to Me by Billy Joel

Previous #1 on the Cash Box Top 100: Funkytown by the Lipps, Inc.
Subsequent #1 on the Cash Box Top 100: It's Still Rock and Roll to Me by Billy Joel

List of #1 Singles from the Billboard Hot 100 for 1980-1989
List of #1 Singles from the Cash Box Top 100 for 1980-1989
List of #1 Singles on the U.K. Chart for 1980-1989

Bette Midler     1980s Project     Musical Monday     Home

Saturday, September 8, 2018

Book Blogger Hop September 7th - September 13th: 26 U.S.C. § 271 Deals With the Tax Treatment of Debts Owed by Political Parties


Jen at Crazy for Books restarted her weekly Book Blogger Hop to help book bloggers connect with one another, but then couldn't continue, so she handed the hosting responsibilities off to Ramblings of a Coffee Addicted Writer. The only requirements to participate in the Hop are to write and link a post answering the weekly question and then visit other blogs that are also participating to see if you like their blog and would like to follow them.

This week Billy asks: Have you ever visited the location of a book you have read?

Not intentionally. I mean, I've read books set in London, and I have been to London, but I didn't specifically go to London because I read about it in a book.

Another issue is the fact that many of the location that appear in books that I read either don't exist or aren't really accessible using current technology. The asteroid belt might feature prominently in James S.A. Corey's Expanse books, but I can't really go there, and traveling to Lloyd Alexander's Prydain is simply not possible.

Subsequent Book Blogger Hop: King Shapur I of Persia Died in 272 A.D.

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Wednesday, September 5, 2018

Random Thought - Five Things

There is a meme going around Twitter asking people "If you had to recommend 5 [of X things] to really get a feel for you and your tastes what 5 would you pick?" Rather than let my responses to these queries be lost to the winds of Twitter, I have compiled them here. I considered putting a little explanation as to why these particular entries are on each list, but I decided that this would be contrary to the spirit of the meme. Here are my responses:

Five Books:

The Farthest Shore by Ursula K. Le Guin
The Grey King by Susan Cooper
The High King by Lloyd Alexander
Jack of Shadows by Roger Zelazny
The Lathe of Heaven by Ursula K. Le Guin

Five Movies:

Dragonslayer
Excalibur
Flash Gordon
Jason and the Argonauts
Krull

Five Television Shows:

Babylon 5
Farscape
Hill Street Blues
Parks & Rec
Star Trek: The Original Series

Five Role-Playing Games:

Dungeons & Dragons, 1st edition
Dungeons & Dragons, 3rd or 3.5th edition
Generic Universal Role-Playing System
Hollow Earth Expedition
Mouse Guard

Five Tabletop Board Games:

Constantinopolis
Firefly
Lords of Waterdeep
Mice & Mystics
Sentinels of the Multiverse

Five Video Games:

Alpha Centauri (including Alien Crossfire)
Crusader: No Remorse (followed by Crusader: No Regret)
Master of Magic
The Summoning
Temple of Elemental Evil (the modded version put out by Circle of Eight)

Five Battles:

Battle of Arbela (331 B.C., also known as the Battle of Gaugamela)
Battle of Lepanto (1571)
Battle of Marathon (490 B.C.)
Battle of Missionary Ridge (1863, really the entire Chattanooga Campaign)
Battle of Poitiers (1356)

Note: These lists vary in small ways from my original Twitter responses. In those cases, I decided after reflection that a different response was better than my initial response.

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