Monday, April 25, 2011

Ambassadors of Death/Inferno (spoilers!)

The Ambassadors of Death is very creepy. The silent astronauts, living on radiation, freaked me out. It actually gets less scary when they take their helmets off. The story is slow and may have been better if told in only six or five episodes, but it's still worth watching for the atmosphere and the cool spaceship models - those scenes aged quite well.

William Dysart as Reegan is a villain without any conscience while General Carrington acts from a sense of duty, a nice contrast. The story centres around the strong xenophobic streak the human races undoubtedly has - it's a problem ven when interacting with other humans and I'm actually deeply pessimistic when I think about us meeting actual aliens.

One of the influences here is The Quatermass Experiment, which I can recommend, both the 1953 original and the 2005 remake. Both were filmed live, that alone makes them interesting to watch.

Inferno is a mirror universe story and I have a thing for those, I just love the "what if..." thought. I also like that the mirror universe really is doomed, along with all the people and that the Doctor cannot save any of them. The last moments of the world are terrifying.

I had a laugh out loud moment when mirror-Lethbridge Stewart appears for the first time. Probably the only evil twin in history who is clean shaven.

Also: the building with the most fire extinguishers ever.

Day of the Daleks

The Third Doctor meets the Daleks for the first time in a storyline that explores the mechanics of time travel. 'Changing history is a very fanatical idea.' says the Doctor at one point and I would have to agree. It's easy to come up with a lot of moments in history that look like they should have gone differently, but you have to be very sure of yourself to actually go ahead with changing them.

The story is fast-paced and entertaining, with many great moments. I love the scene where Captain Yates pulls rank on Sergeant Benton, which you can see here at about 6:00:


The Dalek time machines look a lot like classic Trek tricorders. And this was the first time I heard someone use the word Quisling outside of WWII context.

Sunday, April 24, 2011

3rd Doctor

After finishing the Tom Baker years, I went back and started on the Third Doctor. I'm three seasons into the series now and I'm enjoying myself immensely. There's just so much to like: Jon Pertwee's dapper and sharp-tongued Doctor, Robert Delgado as the Master and particularly Nicholas Courtney as the Brigardier. He has the poise to carry a swagger stick without looking ridiculous - not something many people manage. He also takes all the aliens and weird stuff in his stride, the man probably has his picture next to "unflappable" in the dictionary.
Episode reviews later, I'm off to watch Day of the Daleks now.

True Faith



True Faith by New Order. I remember seeing the video for the first time on MTV (you know, back when they used to play music) and it remains one of my favourite videos ever. Note the person signing the lyrics in ASL (I think, or is it BSL?).

Saturday, April 23, 2011

Lackadaisy

I was cleaning out my bookmarks and came across the Lackadaisy webcomic. I found that years ago but never got around to reading it, but it's so worth it.

The time is 1927, the place St. Louis and the people are cats. To quote Lackadaisy's FAQ: When dealing in sociopathic criminalism and gratuitous violence, how could it not be cats?. If you like noir/Prohibition era stories, then give Lackadaisy a try. It's very well researched, which I always love, and the artwork is amazing. I've read it twice now and I can't get enough of all the details.
The story ranges from light-hearted to very serious and emotional indeed. The characters are well-rounded and I quickly developed a special liking for Viktor and the slightly insane Freckle.

I just wish Lackadaisy would get updated more frequently, but then you can't rush art. And there's a forum where little gems like this get posted to help with any withdrawal symptoms.

Friday, April 22, 2011

Meteors

The Lyrids are at their peak tonight. Go out and watch if you can! The moon makes it a bit difficult this year, but watching the night sky is fun even without meteors. Bring a pair of binoculars and see what you can find. Spacedex has more useful info.

Violets for a Dead Girl



Violets for a Dead Girl, my favourite song by Chamber-L'Orchestre De Chambre Noir

Thursday, April 21, 2011

Total Recall

We watched Total Recall a few days ago and I was really pleasantly surprised. I had seen it once before and I had enjoyed myself, but that had been almost 20 years ago.
The movie has aged well, the special effects mostly still look pretty awesome. Hooray for miniatures. There are also very cool CGI effects, for example when Quaid blows his cover while going through Mars customs. See if you can spot Marc Alaimo (Gul Dukat for the Deep Space Nine fans).

One thing I love is how ambiguous the story is about whether the things Quaid experiences are real or not. If you listen carefully, you get hints as to what will happen in the last third of the movie very early on and again later - more than a hint actually.
"Don't fuck with your brain, pal. It ain't worth it.", says one character. He's probably right, but it's a lot of fun watching Arnie do it.

A Personal Matter

Bird is a young man who dreams on going to Africa. The start of the novel sees him in a bookshop, buying a map of Africa, while his wife is giving birth to his child in the hospital. By the time Bird gets to the hospital, it's clear that his son has been born with a Encephalocele (warning: the photo is pretty graphic) and will probably not survive the next few days. The doctors make it clear that even if the child does survive, it will never lead a normal live and while no-one ever says it out loud, the unspoken agreement is that it's better to let the child die.
Bird runs away, hooks up again with an old girlfriend, drinks too much, looses his job and pretty much refuses to make any decisions. The books follows him for the next few days and chronicles his journey towards acceptance of the situation and taking responsibilities.

A Personal Matter is an autobiographical book. Kenzaburo Oe does indeed have a son who is developmentally disabled and he and his wife were advised to let the child die. They did not and Hikari Oe is a successful composer today and has played a role in other books written by his father, who says that he is trying to give his son a voice in them.

The thought of facing a situation like that scares us all and it's even worse because we suspect that we may react like Bird does: looking for the easy way out, abandoning our responsibilities. It's not a book that is easy to read and there are no characters that are very likeable and it's a book that demands that the reader gives it some thought, the moral dilemma presented here is complex and not easily solved. I have read the German translation, but the rhythm and melody of the Japanese original makes itself felt nonetheless.

I was struck by how passive women are presented here. Bird's wife never is told what exactly has happened to her child ("some organ damage" is the most she hears) and has no part in the decision. His girlfriend is still suffering from her husband's suicide a few years ago and while she seems to take control of the situation, she's just a sounding board for Bird while he tries to come up with a solution for his problem. Part of it may be just Japanese culture and the fact that the book was written in 1964, but it still caught my eye.

If you want some food for thought, then I highly recommend this book.

22nd book for the Library Challenge

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

The Body in the Library

It's become a classic of crime literature: a body found in a library. Agatha Christie's take on it is a brilliant one and once again she manages to surprise me. Although I did remember one twist of the story before it came, but I was happily unaware of the identity of the murderer until the end.
It's a Jane Marple novel, but Miss Marple is only one of several detectives, private and official, who are trying to solve the murder. While they do their work, the reader is presented with a portrait of the British upper and lower classes, sometimes laugh out loud funny.

More serious is the predicament of Colonel Bantry, in whose library the body has been found. Since it's the body of a young woman, people of course start to gossip and the news spread like wildfire. His wife calls for Jane Marple to solve the case and to prevent any lasting harm to their reputation. But somehow I think that it is already too late - even with the murderer found and arrested, the story is much too juicy to stop telling it and to stop hinting at the Colonel's involvement. I can just picture the women at some tea party or other, telling each other that there was something fishy about the whole case and that they never trusted the Colonel ect.

21st book for the Library challenge

Monday, April 18, 2011

Hello! ma ragtime gal...

source, the short One Froggy Evening is copyright 1955 Warner Bros.-Seven Arts, Inc.

One Froggy Evening - I completely forgot about this. A classic.

and i came across my favourite Bugs Bunny ever while linkhopping on Youtube:

Watch on Youtube

Sunday, April 17, 2011

Towards Zero

It's been a while since I have read any Agatha Christie books. I pretty much grew up with them (for some reason the Miss Marple books are usually found in the children's section of German libraries) and thanks to selective amnesia, I can read the books more than once. I used to think that I had read pretty much everything she has written, until I started reading "The Life and Crimes of Agatha Christie". I was so wrong.

So when I found "Towards Zero" in the library, I checked it out - definitely a book I hadn't read before. I have never managed to guess the murderer in one of Christie's books and Towards Zero was no different, although all the clues are there. There are a ton of red herrings, twists and turns in the story and very convincing characters. The murder takes a while to happen and the victim is a surprising one, but you know form the start that something awful will happen (even if you didn't know already, given the author). The atmosphere is very tense and it stays that way until the very end. I think it's one of the best Christie books I have read.

Apart from the mystery, it's also a beautifully done portrait of a society that no longer exists, it's something I always enjoy when I read her books. You can learn a lot by reading the books carefully about daily life in pre-WWII Britain, at least the upper class-part of it.

The edition I have has the most awful cover I have ever seen for an Agatha Christie novel. Who thought that this would be a good idea?
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20th book for the Library Challenge

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Inside Hitlers Bunker

You may have seen Downfall/Der Untergang, the movie about the last days of Hitler and the Nazi regime. It's based on Joachim Fest's book Inside Hitler's Bunker, along with some other books. I've read the book before and I would definitely put it on any reading list about the Third Reich.

The book focuses on Hitler of course, but it also tells of the way the other people in the bunker spend their last few days, like Joseph Goebbels (who commited suiced with his wife after having his children killed with cyianide). People dance and drink, desperate to forget for a short while the situation they are in, and the best method to commit suicide is one of the most discussed topics. 

The audiobook manages to create a chilling atmosphere that drew me  completely into the story. It's a journey into despair, denial of reality and descisions made when a delusion followed for decades has come to an end.
The voice actors are excellent, keeping everything very matter of fact, but intense at the same time. There are some sound effects like artillery barrage that help recreate the mood inside the bunker, very sparingly used and more effective because of that. The last few sentences are spoken over the sound of a mass of people cheering and applauding Hitler- a very eerie effect that I won't forget in a hurry.

19th book for the library challenge.

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Wild Child

Wild Child by T.C. Boyle is a novella/short story about Victor of Aveyron. I've had a fascination with the so-called feral children for ages, so I knew the story of Victor quite well before reading Boyle's book. It's less a portrait of the child, but more a look at the society he gets thrown into when he is captured. People are fascinated and some even feel for the child, but only as long as Victor more or less behaves himself. There always comes a time when he doesn't and then he is given away, passed around like a wild, exotic animal.

It's something that has interested people for a long time: what does it take to make a human being? Do we have something that makes us human right from the start or do we need other humans to become one? So Victor is experimented upon, more to prove theories than to really give him the place him human society he deserves, even by Itard who is the most well-meaning and understanding of all the teachers Victor has. In the end, even he gives up because Victor doesn't fulfil his expectations.

I seriously doubt we would do much better with Victor, even with all the progress we have made in understanding how children develop. There are feral children found even today and in many cases, they can be taught basic skills, but complex language and many other skills needed to live a life on their own are mostly beyond them. It seems that in those extreme cases at least, there are things that cannot be learned once a certain point has passed. It also seems that we are just as helpless as what to do with those children as we were 200 years ago. Many have made just the same experiences as Victor: treated as an intriguing case and then placed in some institution once they were no longer interesting. For some modern cases of feral children, see Genie or Oxana.

18th book for the Library Challenge

Sunday, April 10, 2011

Things to do in Hamburg

IMG_5930

Buy a day pass for 5,50 Euros, go to Landungsbrücken and take the ferry to Finkenwerder and back. It's a round trip of about one hour and you'll get to go out on the Elbe, see parts of the harbour and if you're lucky, there will be plenty of big container ships and maybe the occasional sailing ship. Or just a gorgeous sunset.

IMG_5929

Artemis Fowl and the Time Paradox


I love the Artemis Fowl series, the books are funny, clever, fast-paced and it's fun to watch the characters come up with solutions for the complicated problems (they often caused themselves). The Time Paradox is no different:  Artemis has to go up against his 10 year old self and a young Artemis Fowl is a serious opponent, even for himself.
Opal Koboi was too good a villain to let her go and I enjoyed meeting her again. The only thing I wanted more of was Butler, he's easily my favourite character and he doesn't have that much to do in this book. But he has some good scenes that made up for it.

I really wish people would stop compare Artemis Fowl to Harry Potter. The fact that the main character is a young boy is abut the only thing the books have in common. Yes, there's magic in both series, but it couldn't be more different.
Colfer took all the mythical races and turned them into something quite different - the dwarfs are definitely not for the faint of heart. I love the idea of a high-tech fairy people. This is a big part of what makes the Fowl series so enjoyable for me. I'm often bored by fantasy literature because so many authors are content with ripping off Tolkien. But some authors really give the fantasy world a twist and those are the books I enjoy. Terry Pratchett and Tad Williams for example have created very memorable versions of the elf and dwarf-world and so has Eoin Colfer.

17th book for the Library Challenge
1st book for the Ireland Challenge

Saturday, April 9, 2011

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Library in a Garden

There's a quote attributed to Cicero (among others):
"A library in a garden! The phrase seems to contain the whole felicity of man."

Whoever said it, I'm sure he would have loved the Huntington Library.
You get to see a Gutenberg Bible or a Bukowski first edition or the gorgeous Birds of America by John James Audubon and when you're tired of books (it could happen, I guess), you walk out into this:
400px-Huntington_Japanese_Garden
I think I'm in love.

Library Roleplaying

I paid a visit to the Young Adult branch of the Hamburg public libraries last week and I discovered that they have a small roleplaying section. How cool is that? It's mainly D&D and Das Schwarze Auge, but they also have some World of Darkness books and a subscription to three different LARP/RPG magazines.

I've been toying with the idea of buying some RPG books for my school library. I'm just not sure what to get. Since the books are pretty expensive, I will need to decide between D&D and DSA and I'm leaning towards DSA. The new D&D editions are not available in German and the old ones are not cheap.

I would love to get GURPS, but it seems that there are only English sourcebooks. Shadowrun is probably something that would appeal to some of the kids AND there's a German edition (plus sourcebooks ect.), so that's on the list. Vampire would be cool, but the German version is out of print. I had no idea how much easier it is to get RPG books if you don't need to rely on the German versions!

If any of you have more ideas for RPG games that you think would work, let me know. The kids that come to the library range in age fro 5th to 9th grade, but it doesn't have to be suitable for all ages of course.

Edit: ha, D&D4 has been published in German after all!! And has anyone ever played Cyberpunk or Traveller?

Monday, April 4, 2011

Fiasco Part 2

I needn't have worried. Fiasco was awesome and we had a blast. For those who don't know how it works: there are different playsets that offer characters, relationships between those characters, things the characters want to do, objects they have and locations for the story to take place in. You choose a few of those and then go ahead with telling the story that comes to mind. After a few scenes, you choose some events that will truly fuck the situation up (the Tilt) and tell some more of the story until you arrive at the Aftermath, where you establish how your characters will come out of the whole thing. That is then told as a series of one-sentence scenes, like a montage in a movie.

We used the Los Angeles 1936 playset – think Chinatown or L.A. Confidential. After some dice rolling, we came up with a crime boss with a dirty cop on his paylist. The cop extorts money from a nightclub manager, who employs a recently immigrated singer from Germany, who had a one-time fling with the crime boss. We also had a bar of gold with a serial number and a swastika, a Mauser pistol, a Jigsaw Gothic mansion overlooking Hollywood and we wanted to find out about the town's dirty past. We rigged a die for that last item because we all thought that it would fit the rest of the setup.

We decided that the Nazis were trying to buy themselves some influence (hence the gold, in the possession of the singer) and that a party was given by the owner of the mansion, Judge Strauss. Invited were all our characters, just about everyone who is anyone and the German consul.

Albert, the crime boss invited because the consul wanted to talk business, but he was more interested in seeing Sonja, the singer, who had just turned down his proposal of marriage. He brought along the dirty cop, Gabriel, to keep an eye on things and Sam, the nightclub manager, was catering the party – at least until he overheard a conversation about the gold. Sonja and Albert had a small fight, Gabriel stepped in and offered to “take care” of Sonja, which resulted in some goons taking Gabriel outside and roughing him up. We ended up with Sam listening to a secret meeting between the Judge and the consul and getting discovered and Sonja and Albert in the process of getting together again. At least until Gabriel came back in and took a shot at Sonja, since she was clearly no good for his boss and he wasn't about to take a beating for some hussy.

We then rolled the Tilt and added “An out of control rampage” and “Confusion and then pain”. With Sonja's brains all over the table, people panicked and things weren't helped by the shoot-out between Gabriel and Albert. Albert was shot, the Judge's wife was collateral damage and a fire broke out when tables with candles were toppled. Which was lucky for Sam, who was just about to be tortured by the consul to find out who sent him to spy. The distraction of the mass panic was all he needed to free himself and to get out of the mansion, probably killing the consul in the process (we let him fall into the sword of a suit of armour because … why not). Gabriel also got out and since the police were already on their way, he tried to hot-wire one of the cars parked in the driveway.

When we rolled the Aftermath, we found that Gabriel would die, but Sam would come out of the whole mess with his life, but not much else. So we let Gabriel see the package of explosives (maybe placed to kill the consul, who knows) just that fraction of a second too late. Sam tried to get the police or the press of the FBI to listen to his story about the Nazi gold, but no one was interested and we watched the club go from the place to be to a boarded-up failure.

It was an epic fiasco. At first we were a bit at a loss, but as soon as we came up with the idea of the party at the mansion, things started to come together. We all added ideas and had a lot of fun getting our characters in real trouble. Dead characters are not out of the game, but get to tell their story in flashbacks, which served to really establish the relationship between Albert and Sonja in our game. I did some research of my own to get a map of 1936 L.A. and some photos of the places mentioned, just to add some flavour to the game and I liked that most of the locations were real (or Noir-quotes). And if I ever play another RPG set in that time, I so want a Dusenberg Torpedo Phaeton.

We absolutely plan to try out more playsets, probably London 1593 next – although Objective Zebra looks very promising as well. If you like roleplaying (or maybe improvisation theatre) and if you like it when things don't work as planned for your character, then I highly recommend Fiasco to you. We were four players which worked very well, but Fiasco can also be played with three or five players. All you need is the Fiasco sourcebook, a playset (those are free) and some d6 in two colours.

Check out Boathulhu, our second Fiasco