Episode 131: The Riddle of the Sands, chapter 26

In which Carruthers discovers what "seven" means.

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Because it's all about stories around here, however they are told to us.

When both girls were home, our movie viewing went way up. That seems possibly counter-intuitive but they have extensive collections and we all like to force movies on each other which simply must be seen. I present to you here the good, the bad, and the ugly (or shallow).
  • Dr. No: the first of the James Bond movies, this is a pleasure to watch for the introduction of many now-institutional elements. The "gun barrel" credits, theme music, Sean Connery, the first "Bond" girl (Ursula Andress), and hip visual style all have been carried on and modernized over time. Surprisingly this movie was produced on a low budget, which is quite a contrast to the ramped-up, legendary high budgets that are now lavished on Bond movies. The time it was made also makes it somewhat of a time capsule presenting what we might call "socially unaware" attitudes about race and gender. Well worth watching in it's own right as an entertaining spy story.
  • Gattaca: In the near future, everything is determined by your DNA analysis, beginning with your parents' choosing to give you life. Several of us had been meaning to watch this for some time and we all liked it with much conversation resulting over the next few days. This will be part of the "movies you might have missed" series.
  • Crazy Heart: save yourself some trouble and watch Tender Mercies instead. Jeff Bridges does a creditable job of portraying washed-up country singer Bad Blake, who calls Waylon Jennings to mind for those of us who know about his hard life. However, this movie skates along the surface and rarely dips below that to show us anything new about motivation or character. Bad's life changes seem to come fairly easily, especially his romance with the much-younger journalist played by Maggie Gyllenhall (which produced many cringe-inducing moments for us all) and the super-supportive attitude of former band member, Tommy Sweet (Colin Farrell). The music is good and it isn't a bad movie. It just isn't what it could have been.
  • Mary and Max: an eight year old Australian girl and a 40 year old New Yorker strike up a pen pal friendship that carries them over 20 years. See my review here.
  • Angel - Season Five: not a movie, but it was on our home screen. Rose and I dedicated a fair amount of time to finishing the last season of Angel and it became a homecoming ritual that I enjoyed a great deal as we polished off an episode almost every weekday. I mention it because the last episode of the series stunned me with how perfectly it worked. I'm not sure that Joss Whedon would appreciate my saying it, but Angel offered an unbelievably Christ-like sacrifice for his fellow man in order to give the forces of evil a jolt. It occupied my mind for several days because of that.
ALSO, I haven't remembered to mention it here, but I've been running a daily series of movies you might have missed. I'm on #24 as of today, but probably will wind up with about 40 of them.

You can find the entire listing here.


    Lagniappe 35: The Power of Pause

    The Power of Pause
    (listen or download from link above)

    A little something extra about pausing to recharge your batteries.

    Get the book here: The Power of Pause: Becoming More by Doing Less

    According to Webster
    la·gniappe \ˈlan-ˌyap, lan-ˈ\
    Etymology: American French, from American Spanish la ñapa the lagniappe, from la + ñapa, yapa, from Quechua yapa something added
    Date: 1844
    : a small gift given a customer by a merchant at the time of a purchase;
    broadly : something given or obtained gratuitously or by way of good measure


    My Top 2 Blogging and Podcasting Tips

    I've been blogging for six years and podcasting for three. My goodness, where does the time go?

    During that time, I have been asked by others for tips on both blogging and podcasting. The tips for both are the same as I rarely focus on the mechanics of getting the thing done.

    Tip #1
    Be yourself. Follow your passion.

    There are tons of bloggers out there. But there is no one like you, so let us meet the real you.

    Enthusiasm waxes and wanes over time for any activity. If it isn't one that you truly care about then your blog will fade steadily away as other matters come along and it gets shoved to one side. Sharing something you truly care about keeps both you and your audience interested. Nothing can replace true enthusiasm and you can't fake it.

    Tip #2
    Be a good neighbor.

    Link back, acknowledge contributions from others, and don't ask for favors that you aren't willing to do for someone in return. If you aren't sure if someone will mind you showing their stuff, then ask for permission (this applies to artwork more than anything else, but some writers will show a copyright on their pages ... notably authors and food blogs.)

    This is a no-brainer, right? Like holding the door open for someone or saying, "please" and "thank you."

    You'd think so, but there are some folks out there ... some very big name folks, surprisingly ... who don't do this. When you're blogging, you are part of a community. No matter where the community, including cyberspace, manners still count. And people do notice, believe me.

    I know this because I have many very good neighbors. A very few of those who provide very good examples for us all include:

    Lagniappe 34: Science and Science Fiction

    Science and Science Fiction
    (listen or download from link above)
    A little something extra with Michael Flynn's thoughts on science and science fiction.
    Get the book here: The Forest of Time and Other Stories
    According to Webster
    la·gniappe \ˈlan-ˌyap, lan-ˈ\
    Etymology: American French, from American Spanish la ñapa the lagniappe, from la + ñapa, yapa, from Quechua yapa something added
    Date: 1844
    : a small gift given a customer by a merchant at the time of a purchase;
    broadly : something given or obtained gratuitously or by way of good measure


    Blogging Around: The "Book Reviews I Greatly Enjoyed" Edition

    Robert A. Heinlein: In Dialogue with His Century — Michael Dirda reviews this biography of Heinlein.
    It's important to stress Heinlein's undoubted importance as a genre writer because much of this first installment in William Patterson's two-part life focuses on a man who never intended to publish fiction. Indeed, Patterson -- editor and publisher of the Heinlein Journal -- views his subject as culturally far more than just a writer. As he says, in his sometimes flowery way: "The story of Robert A. Heinlein is the story of America in the twentieth century." Patterson even asserts -- and will presumably discuss more fully in Vol. 2 -- that Heinlein "galvanized not one, but four social movements of his century: science fiction and its stepchild, the policy think tank, the counterculture, the libertarian movement, and the commercial space movement."

    Frames — The Paragraph Farmer reviews this murder mystery and manages to work in the word "confuzzlement" (yes, I noticed!).
    This is nominally a murder mystery, but you can't read three consecutive paragraphs in the book without encountering a cinematic reference of some kind. Sometimes the allusions are unobtrusive, but more often than not, they read like what you'd get if everybody in a room were trying to outsmart each other. These characters have a patter.

    A Phantom Lover — Dust & Corruption calls our attention to this Victorian ghost story that has modern psychological sensibilities.
    Mr. Oke is a nice enough guy, but bland and uninteresting. Mrs. Oke...Alice...is different. Exotic, beautiful, intense, and intelligent, she's also obsessed with the story of an ancestor who had a passionate affair with a local poet. Said ancestress later murdered, assisted by her husband, the poet, for unclear reasons. And now Alice seems to be having an affair with the poet's ghost.

    Mistborn — SciFi Catholic does such a good job talking about The Mistborn that it almost makes me want to forget I stopped reading halfway through because I just didn't care about the characters and pick it up again. Almost. Most people love this book so go read the review and don't listen to me.
    At least recently, most books I've read that are this grim are both less positive in their themes and more disgusting. Sanderson demonstrates that a skilled writer can build a believably grisly world without getting mired in its decadence. He creates characters who have suffered a great deal yet managed to maintain some level of integrity even though most of them are thieves, the only occupation that allows them to rebel against the Empire. The story is one of heroes and survivors who continue to put their faith in goodness even when confronted with great wickedness.

    Supernatural Reality: Stoker's Dracula Hidden in Plain Sight — Black Gate has a brilliant piece about what Dracula was really about. Dracula is a favorite book of mine and this piece hits home, although this focus never really occurred to me. A brilliant, must-read piece even if you don't plan on reading the book (though, of course, you should).
    Rare is the literary critic who looks at the recurring theme throughout the book of the difficulty modern man faces in accepting the supernatural as reality.

    From its first page to its last, this is what Stoker is most interested in shaping his story around. The book has become so ingrained in our culture that millions who have never read it have absorbed the gist of the plot from the past century of adaptations, rip-off’s, and parodies in film, television, theater, and books.

    This is part of the reason why the concept is missed, but the greater reason is the one Stoker illustrates time and again in his book – we deliberately ignore what we can’t comfortably explain.

    The Godless Delusion — subtitled "A Catholic Challenge to Modern Atheism" and so it was very interesting to see how former atheist The Curt Jester's review pointed out some of the flaws in the authors' challenges to atheists. His points are well taken and, as a former agnostic, I concur with his general comments. However, the book sounds worthwhile overall and Jeff Miller (The Curt Jester) goes into a good amount of detail.
    This book is certainly an excellent resource for those who want to refine their argument when talking with atheists or to just get a firm understanding of just how contradictory radical materialism is. For those honest atheists who consider truth more important than congratulating themselves by calling themselves brights — then this is well worth reading. I certainly wish that I had been introduced to the arguments contained within this book much sooner in my own life.

    The Oprahfication of Religion — Steven D. Greydanus reviews the movie Eat Pray Love. However, he clearly has read the book and this piece contrasts and compares both, while simultaneously reviewing both.
    Don’t expect much attention to central Hindu ideas like karma and reincarnation, in any case. Even Eastern religion is all very well up to a point — or, as Liz’s Balinese medicine man puts it, “Not too much God, not too much selfishness.” It’s the Oprahfication of religion; the movie is ultimately no more authentically interested in Hindu or Indian culture generally than it is in Italian culture. Liz’s time in India is spiritual tourism, as her time in Italy was culinary tourism; it’s all a self-help consumerist approach to world cultures.

    Roberts is both an asset and a liability — an asset because we can’t help liking her and a liability for the same reason. One of the book’s more winsome qualities is a sense of self-critical frankness that the movie can’t bear to apply to our adorable Julia. This is a problem from the outset, since the movie has no idea why Liz is suddenly so unhappy in her marriage after eight years with her husband. (In the book, Gilbert describes her husband watching her “fall apart for months now, behaving like a madwoman (we both agreed on that word).” Nobody wants to see Roberts behaving like a madwoman, but the down side is that her discontent seems rooted in nothing.

    The Lifecycle of Software Objects by Ted Chiang — I'm a Ted Chiang fan and this SF Site review of his new book both interests and worries me.
    There are, essentially, two strategies. You can cherry-pick key moments along the timeline, describe those moments in detail and allow the reader to imagine what might fill in the gaps. At its most extreme, this means offering just the beginning and end of the process. This strategy allows full novelistic depth for those points along the line, but at the expense of any full representation of, and hence awareness of, the time scales involved.

    Alternatively, you can present a synopsis of the entire period. This gives a clear impression of the time scales involved, the various forces that come into play shaping and directing the flow of history. But it necessarily skims across the surface, refusing the depth that allows us to share the individual experience of the historical momentum.

    This dilemma becomes more pronounced, of course, the longer the period that has to be encompassed by the story. And this dilemma lies at the heart of the new novella from Ted Chiang, the longest and perhaps the weakest fiction he has published to date. He proposes that Artificial Intelligence is not something to be created fully formed, but needs to be raised as a child is raised. To that end, he must necessarily follow the education of his "digients" over decades, and all within just 140 pages. His solution is a mixture of the two strategies, though as so often happens in such circumstances, highlighting the worst elements of both.

    False Religions. The Church of Tehlu. — Will Duquette is undertaking an interesting enterprise. Aside from reviewing various books he reads, he is also examining their treatment of any established religion within a book's world. Fascinating. This piece examines Patrick Rothfuss’ novel The Name of the Wind.
    The essential question to ask about any religion, fictional or otherwise, is “Is it true?” Some fictional religions are intended to be true within the fictional world, and some are not. I’ll use the world theosphere to connote the supernatural reality of a fictional world.

    So, is the Church of Tehlu true within the theosphere of Rothfuss’ world? ...

    We're Alive - returns August 23 for season 2

    What? You haven't listened to We're Alive? No time to waste then in catching up with this excellent audio drama. (Yes, it's got zombies. That is just part of the audio goodness awaiting you.)
    A small riot in LA has spread past its containment. Three reserve soldiers are called to their deserted duty station. Believed to be the last remaining armed servicemen in the area, Michael, Angel, and Saul witness the true cause of the riot; people are starting to change and attack each other.

    Armed with only what they can carry, they set out to secure an apartment building and rescue survivors scattered amongst the shattered remains of civilization.

    In a world turned upside down, every day is a struggle, as those who have taken refuge in “the tower” find out that their safe haven is under constant threat. In this place, however, the strengths of those who stand together, might just be enough to live long enough to see things start to change.


    Episode 130: The Riddle of the Sands, chapter 25

    In which Carruthers doubles back.

    (download or listen via this link)

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    Episode 129: The Riddle of the Sands, chapter 24

    In which Carruthers shows his skills at riposte.

    (download or listen via this link)

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