Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Gulliver's Travels

It's been ages since I've read Swift's Gulliver's Travels, certainly not as an adult. And I don't think that the edition I read as a child contained the last two parts. I was amazed how much I did remember, like the description of the wasps in Brobdingnag.

It's a book that can be read purely for entertainment and the outlandish people and countries Gulliver visits make it a great book for lovers of fantasy. But you ignore the satire and social commentary at your own risk. Swift was a sharp-tongued observer of his time and he uses Gulliver's adventures to discuss his views of humanity and politics.
Gulliver Exhibited to the Brobdingnag Farmer by Richard Redgrave

Gulliver starts out convinced that his society is superior to others, but he's quickly disabused of that notion. Everyone he meets is amused, horrified or at least highly critical of the things Gulliver has to say. As a result, Gulliver grows equally critical of his native country and finally of humans in general. He cannot stand the company of humans (Yahoos) and prefers to spend his time with horses after his visit to the country of the Houyhnhnms (highly intelligent horses).

Unless you are very well versed in history, I would recommend reading an annotated edition to help understand all the allusions Swift makes.

My 37th book for the Library Challenge and the 3rd for the Ireland Challenge

Sunday, August 28, 2011

Angel Heart

I hadn't seen that movie for years, although I own the DVD. So when I decided to watch it last night, I did wonder if it would be as good as I remembered. It is and it still freaks me out. That elevator and that woman all in black sitting in the church...I actually had nightmares featuring the elevator.

It's beautifully photographed. I found out that Michael Seresin also worked on Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban, which I equally admired for its brilliant cinematography. Trevor Jones wrote a haunting score that you won't forget in a hurry.

And speaking of memorable: Robert DeNiro only has a few scenes in the movie, but he steals each and every one of them. That man can make eating an egg look threatening

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Einstürzende Neubauten

Seltener Vogel (Rare Bird) by Einstürzende Neubauten
Here's a translation of the lyrics

Einstürzende Neubauten are among the most innovative German bands. Their style is absolutely unique. They have used all sorts of things to make their music: jackhammers, fire, cardboard boxes, rubber bands, vanadium spanners, an empty water tower (by thumping and kicking the walls from inside), several different engines, styrofoam, cracking knuckles and grinding teeth and a number of custom made instruments build from scrap metal and other junk.

Seele brennt (Soul is Burning) is one of my favourite songs. It's haunting and I love the way it creeps up on you, from whispered lyrics to Blixa Bargeld's screams. Translation here

This one is probably more accessible that the other two:

Check out how the engine sounds come together to form the rhythm. The German part of the lyrics is "Das Lied schläft in der Maschine" - "The song sleeps in the machine".

Tuesday, August 23, 2011


If people had known the word superstar, then Franz Liszt would have been called that. He gave an amazing amount of concerts in his time and people fell into Lisztomania (a word coined by the ever sharp-tongued Heinrich Heine.

Oliver Hilmes follows Liszt from his time as a wunderkind to his last years spent between Rome, Weimar and Budapest. If you want to learn about Liszt's music in depth, then this is not the right book. But if you want to learn about his life, then it's definitely a good choice. Hilmes has a way of making the people he writes about come alive for the reader and Liszt certainly lead an interesting life.

I have read reviews that complain that it's a gossipy book, but sources are never blindly accepted and the reader is usually given information needed to judge the sources himself.

I enjoyed the many photos and illustrations the book has to offer, the caricatures in particular.. With his unique style and his way of effectively promoting himself on stage, he was a gift to any caricaturist.

Hilmes has written a number of biographies and if you want to (and read German), you can start with this Liszt biography, go on to Liszt's daughter Cosima Wagner, the Lady of Bayreuth (there's an English edition) and end with Cosimas Children, although I haven't read this one yet.

Liszt by Oliver Hilmes is my 36th book for the Library Challenge

Monday, August 22, 2011

I killed a book

I just destroyed a book, fully on purpose. The Librarians of Time and Space may abandon me in L-Space without a ball of string if they hear of it. So I better explain myself.

I want to make a notebook. I'm going to frankenstein the book I just tore up and an old leather coat that's a. too small for me and b. a brown that looks good on books, but not on people. Also, I still have more paper left from my diploma thesis than I will use in the foreseeable future - I don't even own a printer.


I don't know if it will all work out the way I have planned this and it's entirely possible that I will end up throwing it all away. Or out of the window. But if it does work out, it will be cool.

Here's an awesome build report for a Necronomicon that inspired the whole idea.

Thursday, August 18, 2011


Ah, peer pressure, I bow down to you.
I have no idea why I have so many d6. The blue and purple ones really kicks ass, though, especially when playing Chez Geek/Goth/Cthulhu - they roll a Noisy Nookie every time (=you have sex so loud that all the other players have to discard their sleep cards).
The blue and green d10 were the first dice I bought and I wouldn't trade them for anything. They rock and have saved my life many times. And of course there's Happy Thulhu, which is a must for every Cthulhu session. Failed sanity rolls are so much more bearable when you imagine yourself being covered in Happy Thulhu barf.

Monday, August 15, 2011

Cthulhu Gaslight: In the Service of the Crown, Part 2

Dramatis personae:
Daffyd (Dai) Iffans, retired soldier of the British Indian Army (Rifle Brigade), now part-time writer for a Socialist newspaper, with an interest in the East End
Catherine (Cat) Kincaid, journalist and daughter of a well-known scientist

The place: London
The time: April 1890

Ian McEwan: Solar

Michael Beard is a Nobel prize-winning physicist who has much less success in organising his private life. Between wifes, lovers and lovers of wifes even his professional life slowly sinks into chaos.

There are many comic moments in Solar, one even made me laugh out loud in public, but when all is said and done, it's a bleak book. Not only because of the underlying theme of climate warming and ebergy crisis, but also because it's basically a study in self-destruction. Entropy and chaos are a major theme in the book and while it looks for a while that Beard has managed to bring order to his life, it all breaks down in the end.

He is not a character that I found easily likeable, but I did recognise some of my own less flattering character traits in him. Wondering what I would do in the place of a character is always fun for me, so it did make an interesting read (although not a really comfortable one).

Solar by Ian McEwan is my 35th book for the Library Challenge.

Wednesday, August 10, 2011


Haarmann is a graphic novel about the German serial killer Fritz Haarmann. It's done in beautiful graphite pencil drawings, very detailed and very fitting for this story. It's told pretty much faithfully to the true story and it concentrates not only on the murders Haarmann committed, but also on the lives of the people around him and the effort of the police to cover up the murders as much as possible - once they finally do investigate them. Haarmann was an informer and at first, the police was very reluctant to accept him as a suspect, despite strong evidence pointing to him.

Haarmann comic

The book also paints a very vivid picture of life in Germany in 1924, which was not at all easy for many people, in particular in the poor district where Haarmann lived. He was well known for selling meat and clothes cheaply and while it was never proven, there are strong hints that he may have sold human flesh.

My grandmother still knew the song about Haarmann by heart: Wait, wait but a little while, then Haarmann will come for you, with his little axe and he will mince you too..." It was immensely popular in various versions and you can listen to it on Youtube.

Haarmann is my 35th book for the Library Challenge

There are also several movies about or at least inspired by Haarmann and the most impressive in my opinion is Der Totmacher, based on the transcripts of interviews with Haarmann that were held to ascertain his criminal responsibilities.

It needs to be watched twice. The first time around, you will have eyes only for Götz George as Fritz Haarmann, he's absolutely amazing in that role and more than a bit scary, despite or because of the friendliness of his character. The second time around, Jürgen Hentsch in the much less conspicuous role of Professor Schultze will make just as big an impression. He's pitch-perfect as someone who has to walk a line between professionalism, disgust and fascination. Do yourself a favour and watch the movie in German, with subtitles - it's a movie about two people sitting at a table and talking, any dubbed version will have lost the main part of the performance.

Tuesday, August 9, 2011


Simpel is 22 years old, he loves to play with Playmobil and he takes his stuffed toy Monsieur HaseHase (Bunnybunny) everywhere. His 17 year old brother Colbert is taking care of him and while looking for a place to live in Paris, they come across a couple of students looking for people to share their flat. The students quickly find out that living with Simpel can be challenging...

I've been meaning to read this book for a while now, ever since it was the choice of the teen jury for the German Youth Literature Award. Usually, those books are excellent (not something to be said about the choices of the adult jury) and I wasn't disappointed.

Many of us are uncomfortable around persons with intellectual disabilities and the people Simpel encounters are no different. At times, his brother tries to make Simpel act "normal", with disastrous results. Things are usually easier when Colbert tells the truth about Simpel up front - although Simpel has a gift for stating uncomfortable truths people may not want to hear (but maybe should hear).

There are some hilarious passages in the book that made me laugh out loud and I particularly enjoyed Monsieur Hasehase, who has a mind of his own and a knack for getting Simpel in trouble. The ending is a bit too good to be true, everything falls into place and I really doubt that things will be so easy - but a story has to end somewhere. And if it's at that perfect moment, why not. The book doesn't pretend that things will stay that perfect forever, after all.

Simpel by Marie-Aude Murail is my 34th book for the Library Challenge

Sunday, August 7, 2011

In the Presence of Mine Enemies

I enjoy what if-stories and alternate histories, so I have no idea why it took me so long to find Harry Turtledove. He was recommended to me on the same day by Padre and a friend of mine and my friend loaned me In the Presence of Mine Enemies. Who am I to argue with that kind of synchronicity.

The book takes place in a fictional Germany that has won WWII (and WWIII) and is pretty much the only superpower left. But when the current Führer died, he is replaced by a man who is a reformer - his ideas create quite an uproar and lead to civil unrest and even an attempted coup d'état.

All this is told from the perspective of Heinrich Gimpel and his family, who are Jews, hidden away in plain sight. The Nazis think they were successful in killing all Jews, but in truth many pass as Aryans. The secret is revealed to every Jewish child at his or her 10th birthday.

I liked the whole idea of this and there are many situations in the book that show just how difficult it would be to lead such a life, although I think that in truth it would be every more difficult and would place even more of a strain on the people forced to live this lie.

The people start to demonstrate against the SS who try desperately to keep in power against the wishes of the new Führer and those scenes are really exciting and thrilling to read. There's a sense of history happening, right in front of the characters and they know it. I'm sure that everyone who was there when the Berlin Wall fell, for example, felt that way. The cries of "We are the people!" in the book are definitely a nod towards the demonstrations that were a big part of the eventual fall of the GDR and the whole story has strong parallels to the fall of the Soviet Union.

I was a bit puzzled to find Odilo Globocnik as the leader of the coup d'état . Yes, I know, it's an alternate history, but it just didn't feel right. Other historical figures lead a different life, but they were still living in their own time, not a completely different one (the book is set in 2010). The same goes for Ilse Koch, who appears as a school teacher.

One thing that annoyed me were the German phrases. It was probably done to add some more realism, but couldn't the editors please find a native speaker to proofread? Even a dictionary would have helped (it's pfennige, for example, not pfennigs). Printing the German words in italics also makes me read them as particularly emphasised, which they were not supposed to be. I don't know if it is only me or only people who speak German, but I could have done without that.

Those minor criticisms aside, I found the book to be very enjoyable and thought-provoking. If you have in interest in history, I would absolutely recommend it.

7th book for the Science Fiction Challenge

Saturday, August 6, 2011

Perseids 2011

The Perseids are here again. This year, the peak of the shower will be in the night between August 12 and August 13, a Saturday conveniently. 100 meteors per hour are expected so even though it will be a full moon, we should get to see a lot of them. The peak time will be at 9am, but any time between 2am and dawn will be a good time.

So find yourself a dark place with a good view of the sky all around, bring a blanket or maybe a deck chair, some warm clothes and enjoy the show.

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

Urban Harvesting

I've been thinking about gardening a lot. I grew up with a big garden and I miss it very much. This year, I planted potatoes, Swiss chard and string beans on my balcony and I'm probably going to try and grow cabbage in the bean flowerpot once the beans are harvested. I also plan a raised flower bed for next year.

While I was looking at urban gardening websites for tips on what to grow in small pots and how to grow it, I came across Mundraub - a website where people share the location of fruit trees that are on public land, in parks ect. and can be freely harvested by anyone.  I love that idea. I've been picking blackberries, raspberries and elder berries that grow on public land for years, it's amazing what you can find.

Neiborhood Fruit does the same for the US. I couldn't find a similar site for the UK, but there are many local Abundance Groups. That's a slightly different concept. People ask the Abundance groups to come and pick their fruit tree, orchard ect. to prevent the fruit from going to waste. It's then distributed to organisations like homeless shelters. And here are some links for Australia.

Make sure you are not trespassing. Ask people for permission, many really are glad to have all those apples/plums/cherries taken off their hands (and are happy to receive some jam or whatever you do with the fruit in return). Take only what you need. Pick only fruits that you know. Share and have fun!