Sciencey Stuff

If you’ve followed my blog for any length of time, you’ve quite possibly come across the fact that when I first when to college I was a Music Education Major, and when that kind of fell apart after a fairly short time, I ended up going back to school and I have a B.A. in Psychology.

After starting out majoring in the arts, and then going into what is a softer science, even in college I tried to avoid the hard sciences like the plague.  And yet, I’m fascinated by all kinds of science.  One of the web comics that I read on a regular basis is XKCD, which is very science driven and very funny (if you check out the website, be sure to go to the What If? section, which is one of the high points of my week every Tuesday or Wednesday when he uploads a new question).

I came across a really interesting article recently talking about the Fermi Paradox, and if you’re interested in science, or even just Science Fiction writing, it’s well worth a read.  Here’s the link to the post.

Turning bad into good.

I don’t know if I’ve said this on my blog anywhere before, but I know I’ve said it in life.  I believe that if you look at your past, and think about the worst things that ever happened to you, you can ultimately find that something good ended up happening as a result of the bad.  And while I fully believe it to be true, there’s a big problem with it, and it’s really a simple problem: time.

Unlike the books that I read so many of (albeit fewer these days than I’d like), we often can’t see how something bad will turn into something good within the 10 or so hours it might take to read an average book.  It often takes months and more likely years before something good can come from something bad.

As an example, early in college I had – what I thought was – a fairly serious relationship with a girl that I really cared for.  Things fell apart and it sent me into a fairly bad depression, probably the worst episode of depression that I’d had to that point in my life, and arguably still the worst that I’ve had to this point.  One of the things that suffered was my focus on my classes.  I was still a good student, but I had lost a lot of my drive towards being a music teacher.  But while that fell apart for me, I later ended up studying Psychology, which I really enjoyed, and I ended up ultimately getting my job where I work now, which leaves me more time than I’ve ever had in my life to bowl and spend time with my friends.  In some ways it might be a bit of a stretch, but I choose to look at it as a very bad moment of my life leading into something ultimately good.

That said, last weekend I had another fairly bad incident, a DUI.  For a lot of people, this would be a crippling incident, and I readily admit, it’s not going to be easy to get through.  Fortunately, I have a very understanding family willing to help me through the situation, a boss who is understanding and willing to stand by me through this time, a job where I’ll be able to work around my court times, and good friends who would run through a brick wall for me, much less do something as simple as pick me up from time to time so I can go to bowling.

So while this is easily a bad moment in my life, I’m choosing to focus on the good parts that will come from what happened, both in what I have in my life, and what I’m going to do from this time forward to try and improve my life.

You can’t always control what happens to you in your life, all that you can do is try to put yourself in a situation where something good can happen to you.  And when something bad happens, you have two options; you can either let it lead to despair, or you can rise with the occasion and let it lead you to something better.  For one of the first times in my life, I’m going to skip the gap that normally takes a couple of years and focus on the good things right away.

Here’s your dissenting opinion.

Here we go again talking about sports.  The past few days the sports world has been abuzz because of comments made by the LA Clippers owner Donald Sterling.  For those who don’t know what happened, here’s a very quick summary.  Several months ago Sterling was talking to a woman that he knows, and he said that he didn’t appreciate the fact that she posted pictures of herself with Magic Johnson.  Sterlings exact words from the recording were as follows: “It bothers me a lot that you want to broadcast that you’re associating with black people. Do you have to?”  (From the ESPN article found here.)  As a result of his comment getting out, Sterling was banned from all NBA related activities, find $2.5 million, and NBA Commissioner Adam Silver has said that he plans to ask the other NBA team owners to vote to make Sterling sell the Clippers.

Now, from my understanding, this comment was made in Sterling’s home, and a recording was released several months later.  Per Wikipedia, Sterling was suing the woman who released the recording, and she said that she would “get even” with him.

Lets do something that not many other people seem to be doing, and take a look at exactly what he said. It bothers him that someone he knows is associating with black people.  Not a nice thing to say, but I’m sure you could find far more racially offensive articles from the past week, like this article talking about a fan throwing a banana at a soccer player in Spain.  That’s far more offensive to me, but apparently not to the public at large, in part because it’s from Europe, and in part because it’s soccer, a sport most American’s don’t care about.

Let’s take a look at Sterling while we’re at it, according to Wikipedia, Sterling is 80 years old.  This isn’t excusing what he said, but it does lend some context.  We’re a far more integrated society today than we were when Sterling was growing up.  When he was younger, interracial relationships were more rare, and it’s understandable that they might make him uncomfortable.

Secondly, he said he wasn’t comfortable with the girl associating with “black people.”  There are plenty of other more offensive racial terms that he could have used instead of “black people.”

Lastly, lets look at the punishment.  He’s being find $2.5 million, again we go to Wikipedia, which says that his net worth is something like $1.9 billion.  So yeah, it’s a big fine, but it’s not exactly going to send him to the poor house.  Next, he’s banned from anything to do with the NBA, including attending games or even attending a practice, I think this is going a bit too far.  He’s already a fairly quiet owner by comparison to others (Mark Cuban of Dallas comes to mind), and while he hasn’t done a great job of running a winning team over the years, I don’t think there were ever any stories about him not paying players, or refusing to sign black players, so as far as that’s concerned he’s done his job more than adequately.

And now we get to the most damning part, at least as far as I’m concerned.  Silver is going to try and get the rest of the NBA owners to vote in an attempt to force Sterling to sell the team.  He’s the longest tenured owner in the league, and over the time that he’s owned the team the NBA has grown astronomically larger and more popular.  I don’t know exactly how much, but he’s probably had something to do with that behind the scenes.  I think this sets a bad precedent for the other owners.  This is a very, very, small thing, and they’re trying to force him to sell the team.  What happens in a couple of years when the aforementioned Mark Cuban says something to offend someone, is he going to be forced by the other owners to sell the team?  What happens the next time a coach questions a league decision?  Will the commissioner put pressure on the team to fire the coach?  What about when it’s found that a player told a joke with the N word in it when he was a freshman in high school?  Is he going to be suspended?

This whole controversy boils down to two things.  One, we’ve somehow managed to sterilize our culture to the point where having an opinion that differs from the “politically correct views” in any way shape or form means that anyone who might possibly have been offended any time in the past 50 years has every right to crucify you for what you said.  And two, Adam Silver is brand new as a commissioner in the NBA, and he wanted to do everything he could to make sure that people realize that he is the commissioner and he has the power.

Is Sterling a perfect person, no, he isn’t.  But I doubt that he’s anywhere near as bad as he’s been made to seem.  We’ve all vented about things from time to time, and we’ve all said things that are politically incorrect.  If you took a soundbite of the worst things we’ve said in our private moments, nobody would have a job.  In the past week, I’ve heard plenty of things that are far worse than what Sterling said.  Quite frankly, I’ve said more offensive things than what Sterling said in the past week.  This is a stupid situation that got absurdly out of hand.  If I was Donald Sterling, I’d fight this every step of the way, sit court side at the next Clippers home game, and tell Adam Silver to take his lifetime ban and shove it up his ass.

But that wouldn’t be politically correct would it?

Important: Altered Perceptions. A Charity Anthology for Mental Illness

Adam:

I’m a fan of Rob’s books, and I’ve known about his issues for a while now. If you’re a fan of any of the authors I think this is a fantastic chance to see something you wouldn’t see every day. Even if you’re not a fan, it’s a fantastic cause.

Originally posted on Monster Hunter Nation:

A bunch of us writers are doing a charity anthology to help out a fellow writer in need.

https://www.indiegogo.com/projects/altered-perceptions#home

Rob Wells is an author, a peer, and a good friend of mine. A few years ago Rob’s life fell apart because of severe mental health issues, and he’s been putting it back together ever since. Imagine your brain having your fight or flight reflex constantly switched on, and being unable to switch it off. Rob has constant panic attacks, depression, and severe OCD that pushes him to self harm. His mental health issues cost him his job and severely hampered his writing career.

Over the last few years I’ve watched Rob face these challenges and keep on pushing through. I think the best thing that happened for him was getting a service dog, because no matter how imposing the world was, Annie the calming dog was always there for him…

View original 1,037 more words

The Prisoner of Heaven

This is the third book in Carlos Ruiz Zafon’s series of books that revolves around the Cemetery of Forgotten Books.  The first two in the series being The Shadow of the Wind and The Angel’s Game.  It’s not a typical series because you can really read the books in any order, they’re all separate stories, but they’re set in the same time and have many of the same characters.  At least that’s Zafon’s intent.  And while the first two books easily fell into that style of story, I don’t think you would appreciate this book as much without having read the first two.  But I’ll get into that more later, on with the review.

Book StatsThe Prisoner of Heaven

278 pages

Drama

Characters

This book is centered on two of the characters from The Shadow of the Wind, which isn’t a bad thing, because the main arc of the story is telling us about Fermin Romero de Torres and his life story.  I loved Fermin in The Shadow of the Wind, I actually thought that one of that book’s few weaknesses is that Fermin was the most interesting character in the book despite being a side character.  All of the characters in the book feel like real people, and that’s easily the strongest thing about the book.

Setting

Barcelona in the late 1950’s, with flashbacks to the 1940’s.

Plot

The plot of this book is interesting, but it’s also the weakest part of the book.  Basically, it’s a long flashback to talk about Fermin’s past, as well as a way to try and tie the first two books in the series together more.  I enjoyed the plot, but without having read the first two books it wouldn’t have been nearly as entertaining.

Enjoyment

I had a good time reading this book, but didn’t enjoy it quite as much as the first two.  Zafon’s characters are the strength of the story, and the translator once again did a fantastic job, you’d never know that this was originally written in Spanish.  The biggest problem with this book is that it’s almost entirely filler to connect the first two books in the series.  It did a lot to set up some ideas that will be explored in the fourth book, but it really feels like this book is just treading water for most of the pages.  I still enjoyed it, and I’ll still check out his next book, but I wasn’t blown away by this one.

Overall Grade

Less of another book in the series, and more backstory to try and combine the two other books into one story, but it’s still a fairly quick and entertaining read.

7/10

77 Shadow Street

When I decided that I wanted to read some Dean Koontz books a while ago, there were two that I purchased, this book and Your Heart Belongs to Me.  I read Your Heart Belongs to Me a couple of weeks ago and wasn’t terribly impressed, and this book didn’t do much better for me.

Book Stats77 Shadow Street

451 pages

Drama

Characters

This book follows the residents of the Pendleton, a very large residence built in the late 1800’s that was split into quite a few condos in the mid 1900’s.  Of the 20 or so characters, there were two that actually stood out to me, and it’s probably largely because they’re the two children in the book.  Winston (called Winny in the book) is a young boy who reads a lot and is shy around most people.  Iris is a young girl who is autistic and also reads a lot.  Although those two come to mind first when I think of the characters, there really isn’t much about them that stands out.  The only thing that should really stand out is Iris’s autism, but in one of the more tense sections later in the book, she is able to calm down when faced with everything that triggered her panic earlier in the book, completely ruining the point of her having that aspect of her character.  The other characters are completely forgettable, and even having just finished the book about an hour ago I don’t think I could list half of their names.

Setting

The book is set in 2011 and most of the story takes place in the Pendleton.

Plot

On a random day like any other, some very strange things start happening to the residents of the Pendleton.  They start seeing apparitions and hearing strange noises.  As the book continues, they are transported to a very strange version of the Pendleton where nightmarish monsters are all around.  The story of the book is just the people trying to stay alive.

Enjoyment

First off, after having now read two of Koontz’s books, I can see that he constantly tries way too hard at creating artistic prose.  While he’s trying to sound profound and deep with his language, it comes across as pretentious and extremely overwritten.  This is a recent book of his – published in 2011 – and I wonder if Koontz even has an editor anymore, if he does I don’t think he listens to them very much, at least when it comes to sentence level editing.

The idea behind this story is really interesting, but there are several major problems that I have with it.  The first is that there are simply too many characters.  You don’t have time to get to know any of the characters that well.  Because of this they all come across as being very flat.  The second is the way that the characters discover what is going on around them.  It seems like everything that is going on is something that the characters knew beforehand, so there is very little discovery, and more of the characters simply saying what they already knew.  This leads to very poor foreshadowing throughout the book, because there really isn’t any.  One of the main parts where you learn what is going on in the story comes from a conversation between two people who aren’t even going through any of the events in the story.  They’re two people who live in the Pendleton, but who were out eating while all this was going on and weren’t pulled into the events.  The last problem that I have with the book is similar to a problem that I had with Your Heart Belongs to Me.  Most of the book makes it seem like there is a supernatural element to the story, but about 80% of the way through the book, he gives it a plausible scientific explanation.  The problem with it in this book is that it only covers half of what is going on, the monsters that we see.  There is also a time travel element that is left completely unexplained.

After reading two of Koontz’s books, I’m not impressed and probably won’t be looking into any more of his writing.

Overall Grade

A decent story idea plagued by forgettable characters, overwritten prose, and poor foreshadowing.  I can’t give this book too much of a suggestion.

3/10

Sound tasty to you?

This may be one of the most tasteless things that I’ve posted on my blog, but it made me laugh for most of yesterday and a good deal of today, and it’s talking about current events, so it’s always fun.

Apparently Jeffrey Dahmer’s childhood home is for sale, and has been up for sale for a while now.  And while that’s entertaining enough, apparently PETA considered buying the house and turning his house into a vegan restaurant.

Immediately upon hearing that there were plans for turning it into a restaurant, my first thought was about asking people if they would want to eat there.  When I asked my co-workers if they would want to eat there, their reactions ranged from complete disgust to morbid curiosity.

Personally, I think the Dahmer House Bar and Grill has a nice ring to it, and I’d love to eat there.  Beyond the novelty of simply having a restaurant there, think of the marketing ideas.  Who wouldn’t want a t-shirt that says “I had dinner at Jeffrey Dahmer’s house.”

I think you could go a little further with it, turn it into a sort of theme restaurant as well.  Put liver and onions on the menu, sweetbreads (thymus gland or pancreas), chitterlings (intestines, usually pig), or haggis.

I know I wouldn’t be the only one interested in eating there, and I’m sure there are plenty of other people with a sense of humor as dark as mine who would have to make at least one trip there.  So how about you?  Would you eat there?  And while I’m on the subject, do you have anything you would add to the menu?

Night

Night is one of those books that I talked about a couple of weeks ago as having finished reading, but not posted a review for.  If you’re curious, the other two books are Dawn and Day, also by Elie Wiesel.  I first heard of these from the podcast Do I Dare To Eat A Peach, and I thought the book sounded interesting.  And being myself, that led to me buying all three books once I found out that it was a trilogy.  Although I really should say that it’s considered a trilogy, because the three books aren’t connected by anything other than the themes and ideas that they deal with.

Book StatsNight

120 pages

Non-Fiction, Drama

Thoughts

I’m cutting right to the chase here.  This is a book where the author talks about his early childhood which ended very abruptly when he was sent to a concentration camp in Germany.  And as such it’s not the easiest book to read, but at the same time, the language keeps it from being as powerful as I think it could have been.  Wiesel uses very simple language (at least the translation that I read had very simple language), and it comes across as bland.  If you compare this to The Things They Carried by Tim O’Brien, they’re written at very similar levels of language, but this book doesn’t do nearly as good of a job in the description.  In O’Brien’s book, it really feels like he took the time to find the perfect word, and it led to very simple, but beautiful writing.  In this book, the simple language feels like it was the first thing that was written down, and there was never anything done to make it seem like it was anything more.

But while I thought that the writing was bland, it’s obvious that there is a lot more to a book than just the individual words on the page, and while the tale told in this book is an important one, it was far less effective than it could have been because of a previous experience in my life.  For my Cross-Cultural Psychology class in college, we had an assignment where we had to experience something about another culture.  For one of my places to visit for that class, I went to the Maltz Museum of Jewish Heritage.  I enjoyed my time there, learned a lot and did well on the project.  But of all the things that I saw in the museum, there is one thing that stuck with me more than anything else.  In a side room where they had articles from the Holocaust, they had a short looping video that showed some people who had been in the concentration camps.  I say people out of respect, because in the video they looked more like slaughtered pig carcasses waiting to be butchered further.  They say that pictures are worth a thousand words, and that image is one that will stick with me for a long time.

This is an important book, simply because it takes the time to discuss a topic that should never be forgotten, but if I’m going to look strictly at the quality of the book, I have to say that I wasn’t terribly impressed with the level of the writing.

Overall Grade

A unique perspective on one of the worst parts of human history, but the overall quality is dragged down by the poor level of writing.

5/10

Words of Radiance

Time to do a bit of catching up on reviews for books.  It’s an odd thing for me, usually I try to have a review up within a day or two after I finish a book, and definitely before I finish reading the next book on my stack, but over the past couple of weeks I’ve gotten backed up.  I’ve actually finished 4 books that I haven’t written a review for (although three are very short).  Well, this book is the first of those that I’ve yet to talk about, and the rest will be posted in the coming days.

Book StatsWords of Radiance

1080 pages

Fantasy

Second book in The Stormlight Archive, sequel to The Way of Kings

Setting

This book is set in the same world as The Way of Kings, although we’re shown a few more parts of the world, both through the Interludes throughout the book as well as in watching Shallan’s travels as she goes to the Shattered Plains.  As with the first book, everything involving the setting is very richly described and well thought out, without being obtrusive and overshadowing the characters and plot.

Characters

There are a few new viewpoint characters in this book, but we’re primarily focused upon the same characters from The Way of Kings.  In particular, while the first book focused on Kaladin, this book focuses more on Shallan, and several of the chapters are flashbacks showing her backstory.  I enjoy all of the characters in the series, but I particularly liked Dalinar in this book.  More than any other character he grew in the first book, and it really shows with his resolve in this book.

Plot

This book continues where The Way of Kings left off, with Shallan and Jasnah trying to get to the Shattered Plains to warn the Highprinces there of the possible threat of the Parshmen.  We’re also shown more of Kaladin and Bridge 4 as they adjust to being bodyguards rather than menial slaves, as well as the continued war for vengeance on the Shattered Plains.

Enjoyment

I’m was vague with the plot section, because it continues from the first book, and I don’t want to accidentally spoil anything in that book for anyone who hasn’t read it yet.  I enjoyed the book, I loved the story that was set up in the first novel, and I love reading the continuation of it here.  But I did have a couple of minor issues with it.  The first is Shallan’s backstory, it was interesting to read, but I don’t think that it really answered some of the questions that I had about her past.  In some ways I think that it would have been better had we started with the most recent flashback, and then moved further back in time the way that the movie Memento does (side note, if you haven’t watched this movie, go watch it right now, yes, even before reading the rest of my post).  I say this because the most important event of her backstory (in my mind at least) took place earlier than even the first chapter about her backstory.  But we’re not shown it, so Shallan is constantly referring to an event that we never really see, I think having her flashback chapters going backward in the timeline would have worked just as well to tell her story, while doing a better job of building tension within the story and leading to a much better punch towards the end of the novel.

The other main issue that I had with the book was the last section.  Like The Way of Kings, this book is broken up into 5 larger sections, with Interludes in between.  This is going to sound very odd when talking about a book that’s 1080 pages long, but the ending felt rushed.  With tWoK the larger story was mostly wrapped up at the end of section 4, with section 5 serving as a large trailer for what was going to happen in book 2.  In this book, it felt like there was a mad rush to get everything that needed to happen in this book in place done.  I thought that a couple of important details in the last section were glossed over too quickly.  And one of ideas that (I think) will be a central point of book three was set up in about 2 or 3 paragraphs towards the end of the book.

I think that both of my quibbles with the book are things that will be forgotten once the rest of the series is complete, especially since there is such a deep world and story set up by these first two books.  I’m still in love with the characters and world, and that is more than enough to get me to buy the third book on the day it comes out, just like I have with the first two.

Overall Grade

This is a step back from the first book, but even a step back from The Way of Kings is a great book that is well worth reading, especially if you enjoy Fantasy.

8/10

The Way of Kings

So after posting a quick update Monday about my blog’s anniversary and my bowling from last weekend, I decided it’s time to sit down and write up reviews for the books that I’d read during the 2 week hiatus that I had without posting.  I was reading during that time, as I almost always am, I just didn’t post a review of a book, and there’s a simple explanation for that.  I was reading 2 very big books, and I thought that I had already had a review up for the first book, only to find out that I was sadly mistaken in that regard.  That book of course is The Way of Kings, the first book in Brandon Sanderson’s Stormlight Archive, and it’s a doorstopper like no other.

Book StatsThe Way of Kings

1003 pages

Fantasy

First book in a 10 book series

Setting

I’m going to start with the setting for this book, because it’s one of the most unique settings in any book that I’ve read, and also one of the most well thought out settings.  I talked about the setting in the list of questions that I had for my 30-day book list (I wrote about this book for topic #19, Most Interesting Setting).  Along with the things that I mentioned in that post, I have to talk more about the depth of the world.  Re-reading this book showed me just how well thought out the history of this world is.  Through the conversations that the characters have, you learn so much of the subtle history of the world, especially the differences between the cultures.  There are huge differences in how the different cultures view warriors compared to scholars and craftsmen.  But the best part about the depth of the world is that you’re never beaten over the head with it.  The differences in the cultures of the world also lead to dozens of conflicts between the characters.  Even if the characters and the story in this book weren’t as strong as they are, the setting depth alone would make it worth reading, and that’s very hard to do with a novel this big.

Characters

The book follows 4 main characters, within 3 primary storylines.  The main character of the book is Kaladin, a young man who has become a soldier despite having trained under his father as a surgeon.  Kaladin is a very rebellious young man, who sits on the border of respecting authority while constantly chafing against those above him.  I think that every young person (especially young men) can identify strongly with Kaladin and his struggle against authority.  Dalinar is a highprince who spends the larger part of this book going through a midlife crisis because of visions that he has been seeing.  He doesn’t know what the visions are, only that they are showing him scenes from the past that he believes are relevant to the conflict that his country is engaged in as the book goes on.  While Dalinar believes in his visions, his son Adolin believes that Dalinar is going insane.  This creates an interesting conflict as Adolin is torn between upholding his father’s honor while questioning his sanity.  The fourth main character is Shallan, a young woman who is a skilled artist and aspiring scholar.  Shallan’s story is the most different of those in this book, but it was still interesting to me as it worked largely to build the depth of the world that I talked about earlier.

Plot

6 years after King Gavilar is assassinated, the war to avenge his death has stagnated.  The highprinces who have agreed to destroy those responsible have settled into a familiar rhythm of seeking wealth rather than vengeance.  But while they play games, a much larger threat looms over the world.  Yeah, that sounds generic, but I don’t really want to spoil the plot too much.

Enjoyment

There’s an awful lot going on in this book, and while I talked in very vague terms above to try and avoid spoilers, it’s all very fun to read.  Another interesting thing about this book is the structure of the novel itself.  The book is broken into 5 sections, and between each section we’re shown several Interludes, smaller stories that feature various characters throughout the world.  The most interesting of the Interlude characters is easily Szeth-son-son-Vallano, the assassin who is responsible for Gavilar’s death.  He is a Truthless from Shinovar, a slave to whoever holds his Oathstone, and at the beginning of the book at least, the most skilled warrior on the planet.  Szeth is bound to do what he is told, but he resents his actions more and more as he is forced to kill most of the monarchs around the world.  As much as he’s a minor character, Szeth alone makes this book worth reading.

Along with the quality of the story, there are also illustrations throughout the course of the book.  Many of these are Shallan’s sketches of the world around her, while others are maps of the areas in which the story takes place.  The illustrations are all wonderfully done and add another layer of depth to an already wonderful book.

Arguably the only downside to the book is that it ends with several very big cliffhangers, but since the second book is out as of two or three weeks ago, it’s really not that big of an issue.

Overall Grade

An amazingly deep world filled with realistic characters, relatable conflicts, and a strong story makes this book a wonderful beginning to a series that I’ll be looking forward to reading every time a new book comes out.

10/10

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