Monday, August 31, 2015

Parcivillian -- Part 2 (a local color post)

Elliot Behling, Delek Miller, and Stav Redlich

So... Parcivillian.

It's really difficult to do something like make introductions in the middle of any kind of live performance. After I asked the bassist, Delek Miller, about doing an interview, about which he was very excited, he rounded up the other guys so that we could figure out when. We did manage to do that, but I didn't really get their names at the time, except for Delek's, because he put it in my phone. All of that to say that proper introductions did not get made until the following Monday when we met for coffee at my favorite cafe, Flying Goat. [Seriously, I love Flying Goat and am thinking about doing a piece about them at some point. They have this spicy mocha thing which is the veritable bomb.]

The first thing to note, and this really surprised me, is that these guys are, and there's no other way to say it, young. Delek and Elliot just graduated from high school, are both 18, and are heading off to separate colleges. Stav, at 17, is still in high school. Based on the quality of their music and the fact that they were performing original material, I had expected them to be older. It makes them, as a group, all the more impressive. Also, I suppose technically, the band is actually only Delek and Stav. Elliot plays the violin in some of the songs, but he's not fully integrated as part of the band despite the fact that Delek and Elliot are best friends and have know each other for eight years or so. It's no coincidence that their friendship began with music and has been the center of it all along.

Actually, nearly everything about this group is surprising to me. Considering how young they are, you have to wonder (or, at least, I did) how long they've been "together." When did the band start? Now, see, considering how good they are, I expected the answer to be something like, "Oh, we've been doing this since we were freshmen," or something like that, but, no, they've only been playing together as a band (meaning the length of time since Stav and Delek started doing all of this) about a year. A year!

Which might not be so surprising just for the ability to play songs together, but they've been together for only a year, and they have all this original material. Good original material. Actually, good is an understatement. At any rate, I had to ask about that:

Me: How did y'all get started on doing original material so early? ...Y'all are right out the gate original stuff, and I'm really curious about that.

Stav: I started off in fifth grade kind of playing covers, doing the thing, all the pop kind of covers, and, then, comes about eighth grade and you hit puberty [everyone chimed in knowingly at this point and there were comments about girls (when I say "everyone," I include myself)], so I said I don't want to play just everyone else's stuff. I don't want to cover all the time, so I started to write songs. I had a bunch of ones I think now are just the cheesiest things ever [Me: It happens.], but you go through the cycle, and I started finding ones that I really liked. When we all started to play together I had two or three songs already written that we still play today. I brought them to the band and they liked them and, from then on, we started writing together. Delek would bring me a bass line, or a guitar line for that matter because he plays both, and I'd be, like, "cool," and then I'd come up with the melody, put some lyrics in there and, then, Elliot does his thing, so it all comes together.

Delek: For playing together and writing original stuff, we just started playing and, then, I knew that [Stav] wrote songs and he kind of was a little...

Stav: ...shy about it...

Delek: ...shy about just going for it, so I said, "Just do something." So we did one song just like that. I told him to just moan or just mumble, and it just happened. Personally, we've all just liked his original stuff. Covers are really fun, too, but I like doing the original thing. I like the creative process. And I think they share that, too.

The conversation moved from there to musical influences, which I would like to cover here, but I'm going to pass over as it would just end up being a list of bands and musicians that I mostly can't offer an commentary about. At some point, I might revisit the subject with them in a way that will allow me to turn it into a more interesting subject, because there are a people on the list that stand out even to me.

Eventually, we got to this:

Me: Where do you see yourselves going? Do you have any kind of concrete plans? Do you have any kind of vision? What do you want to see happen, both individually and as a group? Where do you see your music going? What do you want to do?

Stav: I want to play music for my career. I don't want to do anything else.

Me: Well, you've got a good start. Not many people your age are doing what you're doing.

Stav: As far as where I want to go, I am going to obviously have a plan B. Producing interests me. Psychology interests me. So I'm going to go to school. I'm going to get a major in something. But, as far as band and music goes, I'm just going to keep writing because I love to be able to express that part of myself and share it with whoever wants to listen. And just keep playing music until something happens or, if nothing happens, still keep playing music. That's my plan. I don't have an expectations. I'm not, like, "Oh, my God, if this doesn't work out, I'm going to kill myself." It's very much like "what happens happens," and if nothing happens, I'm going to keep playing music. As far as playing with these guys, it starts off with touring and playing live, recording when we can, spreading the word, letting as many people know as we can about our music, where we're playing, all that kind of stuff. As far as long term, I want to do this. I found a group. I've never played with anyone that, kind of, gets me as much musically as much as Delek does. We have a good sense of the genre we want to play and it fits and it works. We write really well together, and we play really well together. Same with Elliot. Elliot brings a whole, really cool, unique aspect to the group that I think is great to have. To be honest, some songs don't need violin, but a good chunk of them do, so it's good to have that option. [Delek and Elliot] just wrote a song together, recently, and brought it to me...

Delek: Instrumental...

Stav: Instrumental, verse, chorus kind of deal, but, like, immediately, I was able to find a melody and some lyrics...

Delek: And that's on the spot. Like five minutes.

Stav: That's the kind of stuff I want to be doing all the time. And I don't care if I'm in a studio from 5:00 in the morning to 10:00 at night. I want to do this... As far as I'm concerned, the music is all that matters. Bringing joy to other people. As long as other people like it and I'm enjoying what I'm doing. I'll never write or play music I don't enjoy. I'm solely in it for the music. That's what I've found about Delek, too; he's willing to make sacrifices for the sound, no matter if he has to step back a little bit, hold out boring notes on his bass, he knows when to bring stuff in and when to pull stuff out. It doesn't matter who is in the background or who is in the foreground; it's all about the music, and that's what I love about playing with these guys.

Delek: It's almost like the music is a separate... It's like we're a band, and there's the music. And we're playing the music, but it's a separate... It's its own entity the way we approach it.

Where I want to go? I want to keep playing with them. We've found something that not very many people get to find. It's one of those things to know when you've found something really good. Like someone who really gets what you're doing, and you really get what they're doing, and the approach is really harmonious. Also, I really like producing. I mean, I want to produce. Even if I'm in a band, I'll still produce on the side. If the band doesn't happen, then I want to produce as a career. But I want music... I need to be in music.

Elliot: I've wanted to play violin since I was two years old, and I don't mean that at all as something to brag about. I started at five so, basically, it's just always been a part of me. That will never stop; I will always continue playing.

I'm going to cut this post off at this point, mostly, because it's long enough. Next post will deal with the name of the band and how it relates to the other big question I asked them. And, just to be clear, Elliot did talk during the interview, but, since I'm not just transcribing it, I've cut out most of the side comments to keep the essential information concise. Which sounds like he didn't say anything essential, but that's not true, either. Often his comments were agreeing with someone else or expanding on something someone else said, but I can't include everything. That's why there will be another post. And, actually, another one after that.

For now, I'm going to leave you with one of their songs. This one is probably my favorite one. Just follow the link: "Left Behind"

Friday, August 28, 2015

Metal Art: part 3 (a local color post)

Yeah, you can go back to the previous two Mondays if you missed those posts.

That's all I have for now. There are a few more I know of that I haven't gotten pictures of yet, but they really are scattered around, so I'm sure there are many I haven't found.

Wednesday, August 26, 2015

Michael Franti (a local color post)

My wife and I went to see Michael Franti & Spearhead recently. He's kind of a big deal around here since he's local. Well, localish. From  the Bay area, at any rate. However, even being a big name around here doesn't translate into a huge concert like with some big, popular group or artist. The concert was smallish and cozy and tons of fun, but I am wondering how many of you have heard of him.

Oh, wait! I bet you'll recognize this song:

Or, maybe, this one:

Those are excellent songs, right? And you've probably heard of one of those, because they've been featured in all kinds of movies and TV shows. In fact, the first time I heard "The Sound of Sunshine" was in a movie. Or a TV show. I don't remember. I do remember needing to look it up, though, and finding out my wife was already familiar with Franti. Or something. It's been a while.

Let me make something clear: This is almost the only mainstream concert I've ever been to. I would actually say it's my first, but my wife insists that the Deana Carter concert we went to back in '97 counts as mainstream, so I guess this is my second. This is not to say that I haven't been to a lot of concerts, because I have; it's just that they've all been Christian concerts. It's a different experience for me to go to something like the Franti concert.

But, man, it was so much fun! Despite the woman who spilled her drink on my wife, and the old white asshole dude who was dancing all over people so that everyone had to move away from him and allow him, like, a 4' radius so that he wasn't stepping on people (I think he's the reason the woman spilled her drink on my wife), and the other old white asshole dude who kept backing into my wife despite the fact that we kept moving back to get away from him (by the end of the concert, he had almost 6' feet of space in front of him because he just kept backing into us (seriously, what the heck? How much space do you need?). Despite all of that, and the overwhelming smell of weed, it was an awesome concert and a great performance.

Franti is a musician I can really admire for more than just his skill at music. His belief in equality for people strongly parallels my own, and many, many of his songs have to do with that. As my wife says, he splits his music between love songs (like the two above) and political activism songs, and all of them are good to great. And most of his music is just fun. It's fun, and it says something, which is kind of rare.

So... I guess what I'm saying here is that, if you've never listened to Franti, you should give Franti a listen. He has some great music. If you ever get the chance to see him in concert, you should definitely do that! He was great. He brought kids up on stage to sing with him at multiple points during the concert, and that was really cool. He walked down among the crowd several times, which was COOL. He just put on a good show with great music. How can you say no to that?

Tuesday, August 25, 2015

Clone Wars -- "Jedi Crash" (Ep. 1.13)

-- Greed and fear of loss are the roots that lead to the tree of evil.

[Remember, you can sign up to join the Clone Wars Project at any time by clicking this link.]

This episode opens with one of those huge, spectacular battle sequences. We don't get those all the time in Clone Wars because, I'm assuming, of the time and expense in producing them, which, I know, sounds weird for animation (it's just coloring, right?) but is true nonetheless. And I do understand that they're "just animated" (but, after all, that's what CGI is, too, and this stuff is basically the same), but they're still spectacular.

This is another episode which features on a fan favorite Jedi from the movies: Aayla Secura. I think when you look at the character, you can easily identify why she's such a favorite. heh

This is an interesting episode in that Anakin and Ahsoka are coming to Secura's aid, but Anakin is badly wounded and it's Secura and Ahsoka who have to rescue him. Amidst many, many complications. Including incorrect hyperspace coordinates which, as Han Solo told us, can lead to flying right through a star. Um, yikes! Because that's right where they're headed.

This episode centers on a philosophical question, which the series does from time to time:
Does fighting for peace justify fighting? As one of the characters says, "It takes two to fight." It is a legitimate question with no good answers. After all, Jesus said, "Turn the other cheek." It may be something that's easier done by an individual rather than by a whole society, though, because how can you choose to let an aggressor subjugate or enslave a group of people unopposed? The show doesn't try to answer the question; it merely poses the conflict between the two ways.

I think that's the mark of a good show, though: It poses the questions and doesn't try to tell you how to think about it, just that you ought to think about it. So, yeah, what if someone did a throw a war and one side just didn't show up? Is that even a possible thing? Maybe not, but maybe it could be.

Monday, August 24, 2015

Parcivillian -- Part 1 (a local color post)

Recently, my wife and I went to an open mic night at a local-ish tavern-ish place. This is not a thing that is part of our normal routine. It is so far outside of our normal routine, in fact, that it isn't something we'd ever done before. But it had been a rough week, and I was looking for something fun we could do for dinner that night, something cheap we could do for dinner that night, and a free open mic night seemed like a good option. I mean, the worst that could happen would be that all the participants would suck, but even that can be entertaining (like the ukulele who sang an original song that heavily featured pickles and olives), and, you know, there was always the possibility of some real gems.

We were late.

We had some business to take care of before we could head to the place, business that took longer than we'd anticipated. So, rather than get there early enough to eat before the open mic event started, we got there in time for the event to start, but we were both pretty ravenous by that point, so we got a table rather than going into the venue. Fortunately, it wasn't far from the big open doors to the building the event was in, so we could hear what was going on. And, well, they started late, too.

Eventually, we finished eating, and went down to the open mic thing. Except that I had to take our left over food out to the car, so she went on in without me. (Where, amusingly, she immediately began to get hit on by an older gentleman who kept flirting with her even after I got back, almost as if I wasn't even standing there. (Yes, my wife is a "hottie."))

At this point, I need to explain something:
My wife and I have very different approaches to music. Very frequently, songs will grab me the first time I hear them. For instance, "With Or Without Me" was instantaneous. I didn't even hear the whole song or hear it well. It came on the radio that was playing in the background, and it caught my ear, and I did that whole shushing thing to everyone around me so that I could hear the song. It was, at the time, the best song I'd ever heard. I knew it right away.

My wife never has that reaction to music. She's someone who has to grow into loving a song. Usually, it takes her four or five times of hearing something before she even begins to like it. And she's the musical one! It can be disappointing for me when I bring her some new song I've just heard that I think is great and she gives it a shrug and a "It's okay." Which is what I expect, but, still.

So... I had to take food out to the car. When I got back, the band that was playing was in the middle of their final song and, as soon as I walked up to my wife, she grabbed my arm and said, "I really like this song." That got my attention. Of course, my first thought was that she must have heard it somewhere before, because, you know, she wouldn't like it if it was the first time she'd heard it. But we didn't know what song it was.

After the band was finished, I sort of snuck up on one of them, the bass player, and asked him about it. Guess what. It was an original song! So, yeah, it grabbed my wife the first time she heard it (and I liked what I heard of it, too, even if I didn't hear the whole thing), and I was even more impressed.

Which brings me to the punch line, so to speak:
I tracked the bass player down again and asked him if they'd, Parcivillian, would like to get featured on my blog. It was an enthusiastic "yes!" This is not that feature. This is just the story leading to the feature. In the mean time, though, please hop over to their facebook page. Right there at the top is a video of the song my wife likes so much. It's called "One Kiss."

Next week, I'll be back with more about this new band.

Friday, August 21, 2015

"Dagon" (a book review post)

Having already read "Call of Cthulhu," it's easy to see that this story, "Dagon," is an earlier iteration of Lovecraft's most famous story. In many ways, "Dagon" reads as an early draft, just an early draft that ended up published. Clearly, this idea of a massive body of land rising from the depths of the ocean floor was not one Lovecraft could get out of his mind.

Even with the similarities, there are things about this earlier story that I think work better. "Dagon" is about a man lost at sea. He's drifting alone in a little boat in the middle of the ocean and certain that he's going to die. Upon waking one day, he finds that his boat is no longer drifting but has struck land. Except that it hasn't "struck" land, because, when he sits up and looks around, he finds that the land has risen up under him and his boat is stranded, land bound.

Lovecraft's description of the risen continent is exquisitely detailed with sensory information. The smell of rotting fish and other sea... things... that are equally stranded upon the new rocky plain. The lack of anything to block out the sun. The desolate waste of the sea floor suddenly exposed to light. And our lone man tramping across it to find out if there's any way off.

Of course, in true Lovecraft style, all of this is told in flashback style to explain why the man feels as if his death is imminent. And this is the part of the story that doesn't work for me. While the part on the island is interesting in its landscape and the thing that happens, once he escapes, there is no reason given within the story that there should be anything to worry about after.

I understand that the tension in the story is the man's fear about dying because of what he saw, but doesn't ring true. Especially so considering what happens at the very end. How does it relate to the rest of the story?

It's an interesting story, and the part with the risen continent is well worth the read, but I wasn't impressed with the story overall. I think there could have been much more tension without it being done as a flashback.

Wednesday, August 19, 2015

Moonless (a book review post)

Generally speaking, I would say that the amount of description an author uses in a book is up to the author. Generally. It just depends upon how much detail the author wants the reader to have to supply and how important those details are to the story.

For instance, The House on the Corner has a lot of detail in the descriptions about the places, especially about the house, and time period because those things are important to the story. Shadow Spinner has less detail, almost none, about places, like Tib's house, and time period because I wanted the reader to be able to fill in those details based upon his/her personal knowledge so that Spinner would feel like it was happening anywhere and anywhen.

Which brings me to my point: There are some genres that require heavy description, and anything historical falls into that. It's the detailed description in historical fiction that allows the reader to enter into some other time period. Moonless fails in every way to provide any kind of description that allows the reader to enter... whatever time period it's supposed to be set in. "Jane Eyre" is not a time period but the closest the author gets us to establishing an era for us, and that's a phrase in the product description. All we get from the book itself is the vague sense of a big house and a horse and carriage.

In fact, there is so little description that when the gathering of people -- and we have no idea who's involved in this gathering, just the vague sense of a crowd -- gather for the evening's entertainment, it has the feel of a school assembly, including teenagers flicking spitballs at each other. I'm pretty sure this is not the atmosphere the author wanted to evoke.

Then, there's the issue of the girl, herself. All we get about her is that she's not pretty. There is some indication that she's awkward or ungainly or something, but all we know is that she considers herself ugly. Except, when she goes to her room for the night, she looks in the mirror and, suddenly, she's beautiful. Personally, if my appearance changed so drastically during a... whatever kind of performance it was... I would wonder what was going on, but the protagonist pretty much just takes it as, "Huh. I'm beautiful, now."

And, of course, there is insta-love, because what historical, paranormal romance and go without insta-love? Even when the protagonist believes the object of her affection is a murderer and, possibly, wants to murder her. Now, let me tell you, that is a recipe for attraction.

But, you know, even with all of that, I was willing to keep reading. Right up until the love interest/antagonist(?) showed up in her bedroom to watch her sleep.
Wait. What?
What book are we in?
Yeah, that's when I was done. Finished. Through. Whatever.
I didn't have time for Twilight, and I don't have time for some cheap Twilight knockoff, either.

So here's the part where I'm honest: I didn't finish reading this book. I gave it my best effort, but I couldn't do it. Maybe it gets better, but it would have to get a lot better, magnitudes better, to make it worth struggling through.

Tuesday, August 18, 2015

Clone Wars -- "The Gungan General" (Ep. 1.12)

-- Fail with honor rather than succeed by fraud.

[Remember, you can sign up to join the Clone Wars Project at any time by clicking this link.]

This episode is modeled after all of those World War II prison break movies and TV shows. Count Dooku, Obi-Wan, and Anakin have all been taken prisoner by a group of pirates, and they're trying to escape. The only problem is that they keep getting caught by Hondo, the pirate leader just as they're about to get away. That whole part of  the story is quite amusing, especially since Anakin and Obi-Wan are forced to work with Dooku since they are all chained together. So to speak. Not real chains, you know. Some blue glowy stuff.

On the other side of things, Jar Jar has come to bring a ransom from the Republic to get Dooku to face charges. They don't know that Anakin and Obi-Wan have also been taken prisoner. To be clear, Jar Jar was not supposed to be in charge of this mission. He was sent along because he gets sent on anything like this where they need someone whom Palpatine looks at as expendable. However, a faction of the pirates betray the Republic (and Hondo) and shoot their ship down. As a senator, Jar Jar becomes the highest ranking member of the survivors.

This is actually one of those Jar Jar story arcs that is unenjoyable, but it might be largely due to the fact that Jar Jar has a substitute voice actor for this episode, and he just sounds... well, he sounds dumb, and that's saying a lot for Jar Jar. Look, I like Jar Jar, but Ahmed Best has a particular quality to what he brings to Jar Jar that this other guy, B. J. Hughes, just didn't have. Rather than being Elmo-like, Jar Jar just seemed like he'd been kicked in the head 20 too many times.

What it boils down to is this:
Half of the episode, the escape half, was a lot of fun. Especially once Obi-Wan and Anakin found out that Jar Jar was there and were trying desperately to escape before he found out that they's been captured. However, the Jar Jar sections were probably the worst pieces of the season so far. Fortunately, there aren't many bad parts, which makes arcs like this one stand out even more.

"You reject my hospitality, refuse to wait in your cell, and, now, you're going to insult me?"

Monday, August 17, 2015

Friday, August 14, 2015

The Windup Girl (a book review post)

Imagine a world where genetic engineering is just getting started. Oh, like this one with our new glow-in-the-dark animals. (You have seen those, right?) Just a little farther ahead than we are now, though, and a brilliant scientist decides to make a Cheshire cat for his daughter for her birthday. It has complete camouflage abilities and can seemingly fade in and out of existence as it moves around. Sounds like a cute idea for a little girl who loves Alice in Wonderland, right?

Except... Except the Cheshire was just an augmented house cat, and it's new genetic abilities carried over in breeding almost 100% of the time. Within a few years, regular house cats had become extinct and replaced with a creature with uber stealth technology. The ultimate hunter. Birds, at least what we generally call song birds, had also become extinct.

They learned their lesson, though, and subsequent genetic creations were made to be sterile and given a hitch in their movements so that they looked like windup toys when they moved, hence The Windup Girl.

Paolo Bacigalupi has created a fascinating world with Windup Girl. It's detailed and textured in a way that few books are, and he does it without stopping to explain all of the science(fiction) to the reader. There's no break in the story where he stops and has someone explain how things work just so that he can show off how creative and cool he is for having ideas. The characters accept their world as real and, therefore, so do we.

The story is told in present tense, which is not something I generally enjoy (because, with many writers, it seems forced), but it works here. Mostly, I didn't notice it once I got going, and it provides a clean break for the very few flashback sequences which are, of course, told in past tense.

The characters are all very interesting but not all of them very likable. In fact, some of the protagonists actively work against each other, but there aren't really any "bad guys" in the story. Or rather, maybe all of them are bad guys. They all have their own motivations and agendas and there's no one thing that any of them are trying to defeat or overcome.

The book is a fascinating read with some very interesting ideas in it. It sucked me in pretty quickly. However, possibly because of the lack of a clear conflict, I wasn't satisfied with the ending. By the time I was about half way through, I began to worry about the ending, because I couldn't really see a path for him to bring  the characters through, and once I hit the three quarters mark, I was sure that I was right and that the ending would be the weakest section of the book for me, which it was. Well, except for the character who starts talking to a dead guy; that really came from out of nowhere, and I had a hard time with that character once that started happening.

Overall, I'd say it's a great read. It's good enough that I want to look into Bacigalupi's other books. Which I will.

Oh, also, the edition I read has two associated short stories at the end. I liked "The Calorie Man" quite a bit, but I didn't care for "Yellow Card Man." "Yellow Card Man" is centered on one of the characters from Windup, the character I liked the least (although I think he was supposed to be one of the more sympathetic characters), so I actually struggled to get through that one, even though it was just a short story.

Wednesday, August 12, 2015

"The Tomb" (a book review post)

"The Tomb" is Lovecraft's first published fiction. It's also the earliest written of all of his published works. It shows. Lovecraft has a tendency toward wordiness as it is, which works well in most of the stories I've read so far. His words, his many words, set the tone and give his stories a certain weight they wouldn't otherwise carry. However, he's not able to pull that off with "The Tomb."

"The Tomb" opens more as preachy than descriptive. It's Lovecraft giving us a philosophy of life that I have to believe is his and that, to some extent, this particular character is his representation of himself. He's a character obsessed from childhood with a tomb on the property on which he lives. The tomb is locked with a huge chain, but the door isn't quite closed, which taunts him because he can almost see in, but he can't get in.

The rest of this will have spoilers. You've been warned.

The kid grows up with a habit of sneaking out of the house at night and sleeping outside of the tomb door and dreaming strange and weird dreams. Which lasts until he gets old enough to suddenly know where the key to the lock is hidden. Yes, one day, he just knows.

From that point forward, he goes down into the crypt each night and sleeps in a special, empty coffin and gains all kinds of secret knowledge that cause him to become even more estranged from his family and the people in the town.

Skipping some of the details, here, eventually the protagonist is put into an asylum. This raises the question: Was what the protagonist was experiencing real? Did it happen or did he just think it happened? I think we're supposed to side with the protagonist, but there are too many gaps for me to buy into the story the protagonist is telling us. Without that buy in, the story falls flat and is kind of shrug worthy.

Still, if you want to get the full Lovecraft experience, I think it's instructive to see his progression, so the first story he wrote is essential to that. Otherwise, even though I've still only read a handful of his stories, there are certainly better ones out there and this one can be skipped.

Tuesday, August 11, 2015

Clone Wars -- "Dooku Captured" (Ep. 1.11)

-- The winding path to peace is always a worthy one, regardless of how many turns it takes.

[Remember, you can sign up to join the Clone Wars Project at any time by clicking this link.]

I think I can safely say that this is my favorite episode, so far, of the first season. That, in and of itself, is interesting to me, because, while I remembered this episode from my first watching of the series years ago, I didn't remember any of the things about it that made me love it so much this time.

One of the purposes of showing us the Clone Wars, according to Lucas, is so that we can see the relationship between Anakin and Obi-Wan and how close they were. So that we can see the betrayal and, actually, trauma involved for Obi-Wan in the confrontation on Mustafar. Obi-Wan says, "You were my brother!" But we really have no experience of that.

This episode gives us that experience. It's the first Anakin/Obi-Wan episode, since almost all of the other episodes have really revolved around establishing Ahsoka and her relationship with Anakin. This is a full on Anakin/Obi-Wan adventure, and it's pretty awesome.

It opens in the middle of a plot to capture Count Dooku which involves Anakin allowing himself to get captured. Then, Obi-Wan comes to rescue him, which is where we pick up the story. There's an immediate argument between the two about why it is that Anakin is the one that always has to be the one to be captured. It's really a classic sibling argument, and it had me chuckling. But it gets better.

As soon as they finish the argument, they come across Dooku and he makes a comment about how Obi-Wan has had to come and rescue Anakin. Again. They don't show it, but you can just about imagine the eye roll going on with Anakin.

Dooku escapes, by the way. The title of the episode is not precisely what you might think.

Anakin and Obi-Wan spend the whole episode bickering and, well, acting like brothers. It's a nice dynamic and provides some good moments. Plus, there's the continued banter, started in Attack of the Clones, about Anakin and his inability to retain a lightsaber.

This episode also introduces another of my favorite recurring characters: Hondo Ohnaka. Hondo is a Weequay pirate who Obi-Wan and Anakin run into from time to time. Or maybe I should say they have run-ins with him from time to time. At any rate, Hondo and his band of pirates are always good for a bit of amusement.

This is a great episode and one that doesn't carry over any previous story lines, so it makes a great jumping in point.

"They are devious and deceitful. And, most importantly, stupid."

Monday, August 10, 2015

Metal Art (a local color post)

You know, I'm not going to go into any explanation about this other than that it's art that can be found scattered around the town of Sebastopol. One block in particular is rather packed with it. I believe the creator lives on that block, but I'm not actually sure of that. At any rate, here's a look.
More next week!

Friday, August 7, 2015

"The Call of Cthulhu" (a book review post)

More than anything else, Lovecraft is known for Cthulhu. That, in and of itself, is extremely interesting because, other than a few other mentionings of the... creature, "The Call of Cthulhu" is the only story he ever wrote about the monstrous deity from the far reaches of space. I would say it's because of the 80s RPG except that that game only came about because "Cthulhu" was already a thing. Even TSR tried to use the character as a deity of some sort in one of their D&D publications.

In fact, I think all of the popular culture reference to Cthulhu have led to a misconception about who or what Cthulhu is or was. Not that I'm going to tell you, because you should read it. Just know that Cthulhu is not just some demon from Hell. It's more complicated than that. "In his house at R'lyeh, dead Cthulhu waits dreaming."

The story itself seems to be typical of Lovecraft's style, meaning the action happens to characters other than the protagonist, who is only researching events that have already happened. Sometimes, as in the case of "The Call of Cthulhu," this raises the tension and suspense. Why? Because, as we find out early in the story, our protagonist is expecting to be murdered, and his research into his uncle's supposed accidental death tells us why.

So here's the thing: I don't quite get why "The Call of Cthulhu" has taken on such a mythic quality. It was good, but I wouldn't say it's great. It's certainly apparent that there is a huge tapestry of mythos that this one story was pulled from and, evidently, Lovecraft had some of that worked out. Of course, I'm not very far into my reading of Lovecraft, yet (I've only read about half a dozen stories, so far), so, maybe, it's the other mentions in other stories that really build up the "legend" of Cthulhu and have made so many other people want to build on it. That said, even Lovecraft said this particular story was only "middling."

At any rate, it's certainly worth a read if, for nothing else, just to see where all the Cthulhu stuff came from. And, honestly, I think the whole cult of Cthulhu aspect is much more frightening than Cthulhu itself. Who, after all, is going to kill the protagonist? Assuming that happens, of course.

Wednesday, August 5, 2015

An Attack Against the Consciousness of Humanity (or The Angst of Reviewing) (an IWSG post)

Having been the recipient of multiple author tantrums as a result of reviews they didn't like, you'd think I wouldn't be surprised anymore by this kind of behavior. Amazingly, sometimes the meltdowns are so extraordinary that even I'm surprised. Not long after the whole Dilloway Incident was "resolved," a friend emailed me to point me at another author, another indie author, having an even more explosive tantrum about a negative review.

It seems that a reviewer had called his book "pretentious," and he didn't take very kindly to that. Well, he didn't take kindly to the whole thing, especially the 1-star rating, but that particular word, pretentious, seemed to draw particular ire. He called her an idiot who just didn't understand his book. In fact, he called her a lot of things. And, then, he called a lot of people a lot of things as people came to her defense and her right to have not liked his book. He called so many people so many things that goodreads eventually pulled his profile and his books from the site. [They are back, now, which makes me curious as to whether they put them back or if he just made a new profile.]

As the comment thread got longer, he lashed out at pretty much everyone, even people who tried to defend his right to be upset about receiving the negative review. In all of the flailing and raging, two things stood out to me:
1. He said (and I wish I could just go pull the quote but it appears his comments have been removed from the comment thread) that anyone who would give his book a 1-star rating was not anyone whom he would want reading his book to begin with.
2. Giving his book a 1-star rating was an "attack against the consciousness of humanity." [That quote I saved at the time, because it was so outrageous that I didn't want to forget it.] You know, because his book is all deep and meaningful and shhhtuff.

He went on from there to talk about how people who give his books bad ratings, or any indie book, are killing the soul of the world. Personally, I'd say that is a little more than pretentious. All of his comments were like that, lofty and pretentious, so, if his novel was anything similar to his comments, she was probably accurate in calling the book pretentious. [Incidentally, the "misunderstood artist" is one off the asshole archetypes that Aaron James identifies in his book Assholes. This guy who was just "defending" his book fit the definition like a glove. "You just don't understand me!"]

The thing that gets me in all of this is the whole "target audience" idea. The "you didn't like my book, so you're not my target audience and shouldn't have been reading it in the first place" idea.
Unless you, as an author (or any kind of artist), are personally going to hand out copies of your work only to people of your own choosing, people you somehow just know will like it, you don't get to pull that whole "you're not my target audience" crap.

You put your work out for the public, and you live with the results. Period.
Or you don't put it out there.

You want to know what I think is an attack against the consciousness of humanity (and is killing the soul of the world)? All the crap being shoveled out into the marketplace, mostly by, yes, indie authors. Crap that we are then expected to admire and praise.
"Oh, look at the little poopy!"
"It's such a cute little poopy!"
"Just look at the texture and that smell! So exquisite!"
I'm sorry (no, I'm not), but that stuff just hurts my brain. Just, please, call it what it is:
"Dude, that's a pile of shit."

Okay, so, maybe, don't be so crude, but the weight of pretense surrounding indie authors and how good their books are is... well,  it's overwhelming.

And, you know, unlike most of you (almost all, in fact), I've tried. Because I'm an indie author and I want people to take a chance with my books, I've tried to do what I think is the right thing and support other indie authors by buying and reading their books. But I think I've hit my limit.

So far, with only a few exceptions, I have powered through even the worst books because I haven't felt like I should review a book I couldn't finish; however, I've come to believe there is some validity (more than just "some") in saying, "This book was so bad that I couldn't finish it." And, so, this latest indie book that I'm reading is so bad that I can't finish it. But that's not what did it. No, it was not just that it was a "bad book" that was the proverbial straw that killed the camel.

What was it then? Well, when I got to the part where my eyes fell out because I couldn't believe what I was reading (and having your eyes fall out just hurts, okay), I went over to Amazon (after laboriously cleaning the carpet fuzz off of my orbs and working them back into my head) to check the reviews of the book. There were a lot of reviews, close to 100, and more than 90% of them are 4- and 5-star ratings, with only one of them being under a 3. My first thought was, "Maybe, it's just me." But, then, I started reading the reviews and all of the reviews (all the ones I read, and I read seven or eight of the 5-star rated reviews) were... The reviews were not "good" reviews. They were not 5-star rating reviews. They were reviews that said things like:
"The beginning of this book was really hard to get through but it got better."
"I had a hard time accepting the insta-love."
"The characters seemed flat."
And, see, the reviews were all from names I recognize as author bloggers. Clearly, it was a case of not wanting to give someone they knew a bad rating.

That's just wrong. There's no other way around it: It's wrong. It's lying to readers who come in and see something like 70 4- and 5-star ratings and think they are buying something that's quality work when it's obviously not. Just because it is the author's "best effort" doesn't mean it's good or quality material or worth having on the market.

So, yeah, I'm pretty much done with indie authors except for those (very) few that I have found I already like. I'll be putting up a tab (hey, it might be there already as you read this, but it's not there while I'm writing it) pointing out the indie books that I think are worth your time; beyond that, I won't be sifting through other indie books trying to support other indie authors who
1. aren't doing anything themselves to support other indie authors (and)
2. aren't putting out anything worth reading, anyway.

However, if you want to run the risk of having me review your book, I will take requests. (I'll put up a tab for that, too (which may also already be there.)

Look, what I'm saying here is this:
It is not an "attack against the consciousness of humanity" to give a book a bad review (unless you're just doing it to be mean or spiteful). What is an attack against the consciousness of humanity is to lie in a review just to make someone feel good or to keep from hurting someone's feelings. Reviews are not for authors; they're for readers. You are doing an injustice to those readers when you don't tell the truth because you're worried about how the author is going to take it. You're also doing an injustice to the author, but that's a whole other topic (and one I've already talked about (not that I haven't talked about all of this before, anyway)).

This has been brought to you in part by the IWSG.

Tuesday, August 4, 2015

Clone Wars -- "The Lair of General Grievous" (Ep. 1.10)

-- Most powerful is he who controls his own power.

[Remember, you can sign up to join the Clone Wars Project at any time by clicking this link.]

Generally speaking, we travel through the Clone Wars with Anakin and/or Ahsoka. Frequently, Obi-Wan is around, although he isn't so often the focus, though we do get some of those episodes. Only rarely do we depart from those characters entirely. This was one of those episodes.

The Jedi are still after the escaped prisoner from the previous episode, but it's Kit Fisto who has picked up the trail... right to Grievous' lair. Like his own private hideout. Which is, not surprisingly, mostly a monument to himself. Seriously, Grievous has statues of himself in his lair. And all the trophies from all the Jedi he's killed.

Of course, it's a trap.

But who's the trap for?

Continuing with the theme of betrayal, we get to see it from the other side in this episode. But, then, that's how the Sith operate.

We also get to meet the former Padawan of Kit Fisto, Nahdar Vebb, now a Jedi Knight. Vebb is also Mon Calamari, so the only thing that could have made this episode more complete would have been for Vebb to have said, "It's a trap!" Alas, he did not say that. He does provide us with a lesson of why Jedi strive not to give into the lust to use power, though.

As what amounts to a standalone episode, this is a very good one. Not only do we get to see Kit Fisto in action, but we get some pieces of Grievous' backstory. And we get to see him at his toughest, when he's cornered. There is a reason he's killed so many Jedi.

"Wait. Where's the other Jedi? ...oh, no."

Monday, August 3, 2015

Broken Idols

There are topics we all avoid talking about. Not that we all avoid the same topics, but we all have topics we avoid. The topic of Bill Cosby is one I have been avoiding for a good while now. And, maybe, I wouldn't feel like I have to avoid it if I hadn't mentioned him on my "Of significance..." page, but he's there, and what we know about him now doesn't change the impact he had on me when I was younger. It does make me feel squiggly about having him listed there, though, but it seems worse to me to try to pretend that he did not impact my childhood at all.

I was introduced to Bill Cosby by my cousin, Sam, when I was probably around seven. Okay, that's not exactly true; actually, I was introduced to Cosby through Fat Albert and the Cosby Kids,
which I watched on Saturday mornings when I was little. "Little" meaning five and under. It wasn't a favorite, but I did watch it. I did not have an awareness of "Bill Cosby," though; it was all about Fat Albert.

But, when I was seven or so, my cousin shared with me his collection of vinyl Cosby records. We would sit in his room and listen to them for hours and laugh and laugh and laugh. My cousin had memorized all of the Noah skits and would spontaneously break into the routines anywhere he thought it was going to get him some attention and some laughs. Incidentally, it was while listening to those records that the Fat Albert thing clicked into place, and the stand up routines on the records were so much better than the cartoon. I never really watched it again after that.

The big moment was when I was in middle school and Bill Cosby: Himself aired on HBO. It was a Saturday morning the first time I saw it, I was the only one up, and, actually, I have no idea why I was watching that instead of cartoons. I got up early on Saturdays for the sole purpose of watching cartoons, but, for whatever reason, that morning I did not; I watched Himself.

I laughed so hard at the part about going to the dentist that I woke my parents up and my mother thought I was dying. At least, that's what she said. The show was brilliant. I own it on VHS. Hmm... yeah, I still own it because, as I said, I've been avoiding the topic.

A few years ago, I pulled it out and showed it to my kids for the first time. It was one of those here's-something-I-loved-as-a-kid things, and I want to share it with you. They, of course, loved it. "The beatings will now commence" was heard around the house for weeks, and there are still mentions of the chocolate cake for breakfast.

And, now... Now, I just wish I had never shown it to them at all, which makes me sad in ways that I can't express.

Fortunately, I never really watched The Cosby Show. I had already quit watching TV by the time it was on the air. Sure, I'd stop and watch a few minutes of it if it happened to be on when I was walking through a room, but it wasn't a thing I did. My high school years were largely devoid of TV. Small mercies, that.

When the rape allegations came out, the best description of what I did was holding my breath, just hoping that they weren't true. It's one of those things where you know the opposite of what you want is going to be the reality, but there's no proof, yet, so you just hope. And hope...

Of course, now, we know that he admitted to all of this years ago. He admitted it, and no one did anything. No one did anything. No one did anything about it at all. Not for the women he'd already raped and nothing to stop him from doing it again. Excuse me, but what the fuck? And, probably, although there's little chance he'll be able to get away with doing this again the future, nothing is going to happen to him now. Okay, yeah, his reputation is ruined, which might be the worst punishment he could have, but it's probably not the justice his victims want. Or most of us.

For me, the worst thing is that, at some point (soon), I have to sit down with my kids and have a conversation about this. Probably with that VHS tape sitting on the table right before we throw it away.

But I can't erase the impact he had on younger me and, unfortunately, it doesn't make his comedy not funny. It's one of those places where you have to separate the art from the artist, to some extent, and just cope the best you can. The worst part is that he did actually do a lot of positive things, especially for education in the black community and, to a large extent, this completely undoes all of that.

I don't really have a conclusion to this beyond what I just said. It's just that the fact that I have Cosby listed as one of my influences as been gnawing at me, so I felt like I needed to say something. I'm not going to remove him from my list -- that would a lie -- but I will add a link to this post for any future readers.

To say that I am mad would not be inaccurate, but, mostly, I'm just sad. And confused. I mean, assuming it's the truth (which I doubt since he also did stuff to hide his expenses in regards to the women from his wife) that he and his wife had an understanding, why would he need to resort to drugs and rape? He was Bill Cosby! I'm sure he didn't need to force himself on women. That he did is just... unfathomable to me.