Thursday, 27 December 2012

Ready Player One, Ernest Cline - Review

Ready Player One

This is the final in my Eclectic Readers Challenge for 2012, and as a last hurrah it is your favourite genre time...

I went for Science Fiction (this could also be classed as Young Adult and I think it easily could be both) as this is a genre I go back to an awful lot when choosing books to read. I had also heard alot about Ready Player One and I wanted to see for myself what all the fuss was about.

Ready Player One is set in 2044 and the real world is not a nice place to be. High level of unemployment, slums and desperate people trying to live out an existence. However, there is a good side to this world the Virtual World that almost everyone is part of and lives in OASIS. Designed by James Halliday (who I'm not sure is based on but it could be a Bill Gates or Steve Jobs cast from a different mold) OASIS is everything and nothing. Children go to school via OASIS only virtually meeting their classmates but school here is free and obtainable by anyone - all you need to do is jack in to the school world (for free) and you have the same chances and abilities and everyone else.

Most of the rest of OASIS is monatised to some degree i.e. to transport to different worlds you need virtual money (fully exchangeable with real world money).

The protagonist Wade Watts is from the poor end of town, with no parents being cared for by a disinterested Aunt his escape and only chance at a real life is through OASIS and his one passion is to win the prize setup by Halliday before his death. The prize is all his fortune and control of OASIS and all the questions, clues and challenges are deeply routed in Halliday's obsession with the 1980's. 

This sets the tone of the book, it is an adventure set in the virtual world of OASIS against the real world bad guys out to seek control of OASIS. Can Wade and his friends win through and who will find the final clue to open the last gate and win the prize.

Not only is this book a great adventure story set in a fantastic future it is a great ride down memory lane into the pop culture of the 1980's. John Hughes films, arcade games and many many other references bring this world and story to life.

The writing is fairly basic (hence why I think it sits defiantly in the Young Adult genre) it still is a great read especially as a child of the 80's (born in the 70's, grew up in the 80's started drinking in the 90's...)

I would recommended this book.


Saturday, 1 December 2012

Suede - Dog Man Star, 1994

1994 was a significant year for me. I had finished high school the previous year, moved out of home, enrolled in the University of Canberra in an Environmental Science degree (never finished), met a bunch of new friends - forged some better relationships with old friends and generally started on the journey of adulthood. But that year also saw me form some of the foundations of the things that interest me and made me... well me.

Science Fiction: through watching marathon sessions of Star Trek the Next Generation, Deep Space Nine and meeting some other fans and devotees (I wasn't the only one and I wasn't strange or weird)

Education: Sure I never finished my first degree but I learnt that this was a world I wanted to return to at some point... and I did and still do now and then...

Music: Collecting (buying) new CD's, Mix Tapes from a very good mate, hanging out with bands as a very cheap roadie and mostly listening to it for "hours and hours"

One album that really defines 1994 to me is Suede's Dog Man Star

I had heard some of the tracks from there initial self titled album Suede and enjoyed them. However, for me Dog Man Star will be my first Suede album and the songs are embedded in my mind as quintessential Suede. Which is quite strange as this album is probably not as raw as Suede and saw the departure of Bernard Bulter - who I still associate with that Suede sound (even though they have produced a hell of a lot more songs since Bernard left then before it still IS the sound of the first two albums) that captures (to me) the original spark that mark them as one of my top bands.

I suppose I haven't really thought too much about Suede and the music and sound and feeling of 1994 for a long time. Then a friend posted a link to an article by Brett Anderson (singer/songwriter and main man of Suede) all about Dog Man Star and his thoughts on each of the tracks. 

Reading Brett's thoughts on the album and each track both brought back the memories of that time and place for me and the realisation of what a completely brilliant album this was and is. 

I remember the rough concrete ceiling of my room in ressies, the cell like den where I could put on Dog Man Star plug in my head phones and drift off into Brett's world of speeding cars, the streets of London and observations of life mixed in with the piano and guitar riffs that add gentle touches of beauty. I remember walking through the Uni grounds as one of the New Generation searching for my place in the world.

I would lay on my bed starring up at the beer bottle lids I had pressed into the roof in the shape of my favourite things Star Trek, The Cure, The Wall and Suede. Drifting off to a world where all my wishes and dreams came true. The room where I discovered more about sex then anywhere else, where I drank, ate and experimented with drugs. The place where I became a young man and left my boyhood behind.

Some of my best memories around this time are through music and friendship (both near and far) girl friends and mates, lovers and drinkers and getting letters and parcels from Zles...

Zles - a friend from early high school days, a musical partner (both playing and sharing), joined (in a state of what can only be described as insanity) the Navy and moved to Melbourne for training. We started letter writing to help each other stay sane in our journey into the world, swapping stories, dreams and music (through mixtapes) and many practical jokes and tom foolery.

I remember walking to class, via the mail room, with a very Christian classmate. I collected a fat envelope from Zles, imagining the usual 20-30 page letter and eager to see what would await me later in the day when I could grab a cold beer, quiet space and plug myself in for the read I opened the letter. Peering in I noticed something strange between the pages, not quiet knowing what it was I pulled it out. A soiled condom! 

My classmate gasped and I shoved the offending item back into the envelope and muttered something about a crazy mate and shoved the letter into my backpack hurrying to class saying no more on the matter.

When I did finally get to read the letter (and on the last page I might add) Zles told me the condom was filled with shaving cream and put in as a joke... well at least that's what I will believe to this day!

Music was important to me before 1994 and it remains long after, but this was the year I went to bars with  bands, I hung out at rehearsals and real band members asked me what I thought of this or that song. This was the year I had to go on stage - mid song - and hold the lead singer/guitarists mic stand together (after he broke it) so he could play the lead break and pound out the last few notes of the final song. The year I watched the Far Gone Beauties with Bronwyn Bishop (yes that one) at the Uni Bar. The year I wrote most of my lyrics in a dark room with a multitude of new and old music pounding in my ears, a sweet drop of liquor on my lips and dodgy ball point in my hand.

1994 was a good year, thanks for the memories Brett and co...

Dog Man Star has played constantly in my ears while I wrote this dredging up the memories and visions from some many years ago - 18 to 36, twice a life-time and so much more and I wouldn't have it any other way. I am what I am because of years like 1994.

This still life is all I ever do
There by the window quietly killed for you
In the glass house my insect life
Crawling the walls under electric lights
I'll go into the night into the night
She and I into the night

Is this still life all I'm good for too?
There by the window quietly killed for you
And they drive by like insects do
They think they don't know me
They hired a car for you

To go into the night, into the night
She and I into the night

And this still life is all I ever do
There by the window quietly killed for you
And this still life is all I ever do
But it's still, still life
But it's still, still life
But it's still, still life

Monday, 12 November 2012

Scared Little People

I'm not really "in" the You Tube world... sure I have posted a few videos of my daughter and my life (including a silly film clip of one of my bands songs!)

However, I do dabble and I like to follow a few creative Vloggers as you have seen from the last post one of them is Charlieissocoollike. Charlie's "I'm Scared" video has sparked something across You Tube. Many other Vloggers are coming out in support of Charlie and posting about how scared they are and how they worry about what people will think or write about their video.

Charlie's good friend Michael Aranda posted this reply to him a couple of days ago and I think it is really good advice. We, as humans, always feel worried about what people think about them. We all do, we just deal with them in different ways.

It feels me with great pride as a human to see so many people respond to Charlie in support and to tell the world, they too are scared.

I'm really Scared
Everybody is scared
Re: I'm Scared
For Charlie
For Charlie - the beard'ed one Alwayswheezy
Oh just look at the WHOLE DAMN PAGE of responses... Now that kind of response is scary...

From one person, in a big City (London) reached out with one short video and got so much support and love from all over the world... I think that really answers his fears and speaks of a whole new possibility... maybe we should fear the scared little people?

I'll leave you with a great "b-side" from The Cure... Scared As You

Saturday, 10 November 2012

Open Letter to Charlie McDonnell

Charlie McDonnell from Charlieissocoollike posted this earlier today... go on watch it, I'll wait...

This is my letter to Charlie


You don't know me, for starters I live in Australia on THE OTHER SIDE OF THE WORLD from you and for follow-up I'm twice your age and for these reasons, and probably more, we are not acquainted in any way. However, I watch you on You Tube (not in the stalker way although I don't post comments). I watch you because you make wonder little videos that often get inside my head for days.

There is also another reason I watch you. You are doing what I know I would have wanted to do if things like You Tube existed when I was your age (and younger). I understand your need for acceptance and people to "like" you. I have done many things in my life to "be that guy" to have people like me and want me to be around them.

I have played in bands, been on stage, worked on film and videos to be someone and to be something, yet I have now realized that I need to do these for me first and everyone else second. I've gotten older, yes, but I have also become more comfortable with me and doing things for me.

For years I would be the fall guy for anything that needed to be done. "Oh you need someone to act/play/direct/stand in/hold that/do that...? Sure I will do it!" I was always ready to be there and do what needed to be done, no matter what that did to me and those around me. I found I was often burning candles at both ends, working 60 hours a week, doing university and acting in a play because I felt I needed to be needed... That has changed.

I'm not saying that those things don't matter to me, I still love and want to be on stage, in the limelight and play music, act, direct and be involved in things. I want to do it because I want to do it. Not because I'm doing what someone else expects me to do and certainly not to make people like me. I love getting the praise and adulation (hey I'm an extrovert and I love the attention) it's just that now I will do it because I want to.

There comes a point in life when you can spend the time to sit and think things through for a bit, it's then that you realise that it's not what you do that makes people like you it's who you are. Holding yourself up for criticism from the masses is not helping to create you, it's breaking you apart.

Charlie, some of your best video's are when you are you and you are being you... that's what brings people back that's what makes you a better person. Sure you can always do better, and that is a great place to be at, mediocrity is breed from complacency, innovation comes from striving forward. However, there is nothing wrong with doing the best you can TODAY even if tomorrow could be better.

When we recorded our EP it captured our music for that day, that instant, that moment. Sure about six months later, after playing a few gigs and not being in the stressful setting of a studio costing us money, our songs got better. We were tighter as a band, the songs become part of us as a unit and not individuals we kicked arse! Do I still listen to the CD? HELL YEAH and I love it! It is and will forever be THAT moment in time, that was the best we could have been, THEN. I accept that.

What it all comes down to is you being happy and confident with yourself. The You Tube masses are not the important people here, I'm not (remember I don't know you), your friends, family, girl-friend... are the ones that really count and the most important person in your life is... YOU. Love yourself, believe in yourself and BE yourself.

Ask yourself why did you really start on You Tube? Was it really to get people to like you? Or was it to get you to like you?


The Hobbit - J.R.R Tolkien - Review

So for the penultimate in my Eclecetic Reader Challenge 2012 and for my Classic Book I and reviewing The Hobbit by J.R.R Tolkien

I have chosen to use the image of the copy I read, the 1978 Guild Publishing edition bound in faux (or real??) leather. I think this is also the first and only book I have read for this challenge using a physical book... although I must admit to reading the last few chapters on the Kindle as I really wanted to finish it in a lunch break.

Before I start my review I will also admit that I did start to read Jane Austin's Northanger Abbey as my Classic... and I really did try, I used the annotations and studied up about her and her writing style. It just bored me to death... I will finish it someday but today is not that day... sorry.

So instead I went for a book that technically I have read before, years ago as a teen - I think I am OK to use this as a re-read as that was more than half my life ago and many thousands of books ago. I will also admit that I really had no idea what was going to happen next while reading it - aside from Bilbo did get back to the Shire, I was very much along for the ride.

The Hobbit is one of those classic books that people talk about alot. But how many have read it recently and has it really held up all these years later?

First up, it really is a great piece of fantasy writing. It has all the right bits, a young inexperienced adventurer going out to see the wild world, a wizard, dwarves and elves, bear-men, spiders, wolfs, goblins and Gollum. A magic ring is found as we travel over high mountains, into caves and tunnels and through dark deep forests, to find the fabled treasure and (the very necessary) dragon.

There are many books that tell a similar story, and I have read quite a few of them, but none tell it so innocently as Tolkien. I am reminded that this was written in 1937, there were no games of Dungeons & Dragons being played by high schoolers on Mum's kitchen tables, no movies featuring swords and sorcery and certainly no Geroge R.R. Martin. It is written with nothing to prove and everything to give.

The Hobbit is not driven by the typical fight scenes of modern fantasy, in fact (although necessary) the fights are really not that important, at least in the blow by blow sense of other books. It truly is about the adventure of one small Hobbit and the very real difference he made.

If I had to recommend a first fantasy book to someone I often say The Magician by Raymond E Feist (very much a Classic in it's own right) but I think that may change, depending on the audience, as The Hobbit with it's easy style and no nonsense "real" hero is probably a better choice.

Simple, brilliant and a real classic. 4.5/5

Sunday, 4 November 2012

eBook is better than The Book

I was asked to be part of an eBook panel at the local Library. You can see more about it here or an article here. I have previously spoken about the Digital Future in an Open Government Forum and tend to be out spoken about the Digital Economy and the future use of technology especially in Local Government.  Libraries being an integral part of Local Government I was more than happy to provide some insight into a topic I love.

The ePanel had guest presentations from two local authors Ralph Grayden and Allison Tait.  Ralph's book Page Three is only available in eBook and Allison, an accomplished journalist, is currently finishing off her first novel which will be available as an eBook.

Library staff also presented on the new technology available, eBooks can be borrowed as well as many different eReaders or other devices. As well as how the library connects with the community through Social Media and out-reach via the Mobile Library.

I was asked to be part of a debate, an us against them (being the audience) on which is better, The Book (NOT the Bible) or eBook. I was on the affirmative and a copy of my opening statement is below for your pleasure. Enjoy. Comments welcome.

eBooks is better than The Book

In 2000 Stephen King experimented with the publication of his short story Riding the Bullet online since then eBooks have become just as popular (and in more ways more popular) than The Books.

In August 2012 Amazon UK stated they are selling more eBooks than hardback or paperback books in Britain. The Kindle was only released in the UK 2 years ago, it took the US 4 years to reached that point in 2011. 

Lets go back a bit and have a history lesson... the Printing Press was invented by the Catholic Church in 1440 by 1500 it was throughout Europe.  So if we say printing and printed books (The Books) have been around for 500+ years.  It only took eBooks 2 years to replace them as the most popular method for buying books through Amazon UK. 

So eBooks are more popular than Real Books...

eBooks are available all the time at any time.  How many times have you been waiting for a new release to come into the shop or come back to the Library?  Or what about that hard to find copy of a back issue book by your favourite author? 

All it takes is a quick search, click of a button and instantly the book appears in your eReader, Tablet or computer (most at a reduced cost to boot!)

So eBooks are easier to obtain and cheaper!

What about people with vision impairment how can eBooks be better for those people?  With most eReaders or eBook software you can adjust the size of the text with a few simple buttons suddenly the same version of the book can be adjusted to meet the needs of many readers.  There are even eReaders and eBooks that can convert the text of a book into spoken word... again from the same version of the book...

So eBooks are more accessible.

Dont get me wrong, I dont only own eBooks in fact many of my eBooks I also own as The Books... Why do you ask?... well let me explain.

I read and collect comic books, Marvel to be precise, I store them in acid free plastic bags in a box stored on a shelf in my study, with a selected few ready to be placed in frames to hang on my study wall as art work (rare covers, signed etc).  I also have my collection with me on my iPad.  Whats more its this digital collection that I read to protect my investment.  I dont buy them twice (my wife wont let me) instead Marvel (in their wisdom) provide a free eComic version with the purchase of the physical comic.  So for the same cost I get a physical copy to keep and a digital copy to take with me and read...

This is also the case of several of my novels and fiction collection, often the author will release a version of a popular book in eBook format, either free or at a low cost, so I can keep my physical copy on my shelf and take the digital version with me - anywhere.

So eBooks protect rare and special books.

I also have digital versions of my favourite books the books you come back to year in year out.  I can take them away with me on trips or to work for a rare lunch break.  I can read them on the train, plane or (when not diving) automobile.  I currently have 50+ books on my Kindle ones Im reading, going to read or just want to have in case I need to read them (again in most cases).

 I am also a habitual multi-book reader often having 3 or more on the go at once.  Book marks fall out little fingers (I have a two year old) often steal them to play with and you lose your place.  Not so with eBooks my Kindle remembers where I am up to its a simple measure of just opening the book and there you are at the place you last read it.

So eBooks are more convenient.

I am reading Northanger Abbey at the moment a version with all sorts of additional information about Jane Austins writing and the time period etc.  The book is full of annotations and extra/additional information.  With The Book I would need to flip back and forward find the annotation and then the page I was on.  With the eBook I select the annotation; it takes me straight the note and then another button puts me back to where I was.  No fuss.

My Kindle also has a built in dictionary, if I dont know the meaning of a word I can go to it, and immediately the definition appears, I can select more information or a greater explanation if needed as well.

You can even highlight sections, write notes with my Kindle and leave the text of the book safe and free from markings.

So eBooks offer much more.

I have to admit something... my dirty little secret... I love to read trashing Science Fiction novels branded ones like Star Trek and Babylon 5... I know I look like such a worldy and high brow person and sitting with my Kindle on a train you assume Im going to be reading Umberto Eco but in reality I am reading the equivalent of a Mills and Boon for geeks!  But no one else knows that cause with an eBook you cant see what I am reading...

So eBooks offer privacy...

Are eBooks better than The Book... the facts dont lie they are more Popular, easier to Obtain, Accessible, Convenient and offer protection, more features and privacy. The Book may not be dead, but eBook sure puts the pressure on.

Saturday, 3 November 2012

Chick Days - Raising Chickens, Jenna Woginrich - Review

Another in my 2012 season or reviews for the Eclectic Readers Challenge, Non-Fiction...

For my non-fiction book I had a range to choose from, I have read books about the Digital Economy, Sustainability, Tourism Trends, business, marketing... but they were all work related and not really for fun... But we recently came into some Chickens... Well Chicks, two week old Bantam's one white Chinese Silky the other a cross breed Silky and all thanks to my daughters pre-school.

The School had a little project running, they hired an egg hatcher-device and cage - got about a dozen eggs which hatched over 1 week. They kept the chicks for 2 more weeks as an educational tool for the kids. Boy, did the kids love it! They got to watch the eggs hatch, then help the chicks to learn to eat and move and learn about animals caring for them. Wonderful really.

We had talked about getting chickens for sometime. The back neighbour has been building a chicken coop and we wanted a smaller one for out little yard, bantams was the answer for us and the school batch had two! It was as if fate wanted us to have them! So indeed at the end of the project the chicks could either be bought by parents or they would go back to the company and be sold as pullets... we bough the two bantams.

Now I had chickens as a child myself (well my family did) and I did study Agriculture at High School - even ran an experiment on egg production and protein levels of food so I knew a bit about chickens before reading Chick Days, but even this old dog learnt a thing or two from the book.

The layout of Chick Days is very simple, easy to read and most of all, FUN!. Woginrich is so obviously in love with her girls and that affection bleeds out from the pages of the book not only in the fabulous photography by Mars Vilaubi but in the text and layout. This book takes you from the inception of the idea of getting chickens, through the first week days of raising chicks to pullets and layers and goes in depth to which breed is best for your needs.

I'm so glad we have our little 4 week old chicks, who are chirping away in the room next door (still too young to be outside yet - another 3 weeks to go) and I'm sure I would have been fine to get them started and up to laying without reading Chick Days, but I think my world and my chickens are better for it.

Great tool and read.


Tuesday, 30 October 2012

Deploy the Midget

So  have mentioned before I am (was?) in a band... We made a CD a few years ago and in my spare time I made a film clip for one of the songs from that Album... Enjoy...

You can buy my music from CD Baby or iTunes of you want... :)

State of Fear, Michael Crichton - Review

So I'm up for the next one in the Eclectic Reader Challenge - Thriller/Suspense with an author who's books I have read many time - but not this one...

Michael Crichton is a great pick it up and read it any where kind of writer - to me anyway. I know he did a lot of research for many of his books and he seems to write like he knows what he is talking about.  However, in this book he got too political and totally missed the mark - at least as far as the science goes.


Eco-Terrorists are to blame for global warming and the "fear" of climate change. Climate change, according to the world of State of Fear are a big business, a business of raising funds for climate change supporters who are basically ripping off Government and well meaning philanthropic mega rich.

While for most of Crichton's books I can look aside from the "science for the stories sake" in this book it was too hard to not get the political agenda. Crichton clearly manipulated real scientific data to suit the needs of his story - which if you read the Wikipedia article - upset some leading scientists who's work was mentioned in the book.    

Leaving aside my personal views on climate change and natural preservation, the story is fast paced and has some thriller aspects when you don't know who to trust and what the "truth" really is.  Crichton is a very easy read, in that the story takes you along you don't have to fight it, and he does create some good characters and situations.

All and all I feel that this book was let down by the politics of the topic - if you replaced the core idea with something (hell anything) else I think the story would have benefited.


Thursday, 23 August 2012

Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?, Phillip K Dick - Review

Eclectic Reader Challenge - Science Fiction....

I have moved back on track with the challenge, with a genre that could be described as one of my all time favourites... Science Fiction.

What made this more of a challenge than other genres was finding something that I wanted to read and hadn't - then I saw Philip K Dick on Amazon and Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? and suddenly realised I had never read that... why? I have no idea... it must have slipped past my radar... I even have John Scalzi's The Androids Dream which in many ways is a homage to PKD. I also love the movie Blade Runner which is based on Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?

Firstly I am glad that book and movie are different in many ways - I found the book equally exciting (in the action parts) and engaging. It raised a lot of questions about the world of Dekard more than are raised in the movie - very different premise and here is where movie and book separate. In the book universe the Earth is becoming uninhabitable after nuclear war and humans are encouraged to settle off world to continue the human race. Each settler is provided with an Andy (android) who are basically there salve.  Sometimes Andy's escape seeking to find freedom back on old Earth. This is where Dekard and his fellow bounty hunters come in. Bounty hunters work in association with the local law enforcement (but not part of them) and there role is to retire (kill) these escaped androids.

Due to the nuclear dust and fallout many animals and insects are simply extinct and owning a real live animal is seen as a social status. So much so that many who cannot afford the real thing buy robotic replicas - Dekard's sheep is one such animal android. The human population revere the religion of Mercer who daily battles to climb a mountain while being attacked - again and again he strives forward. Emotions can be controlled through a box providing the full range of feelings - set and scheduled for when you need them. An endless TV show of 'guests' and talk to keep you occupied and unaware of the world turned to dust and kibble.

Many humans are now sterile and going mad due to the nuclear fall out - those are not able to leave the Earth and are stuck here to slowly die. It seems in space no one is mad, sterile or dumb.

There are many questions raised in Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? - what makes the androids so different from humans? and what does it mean to a world where the living (animals) are revered so much yet killing androids is seen as a job that deserves a bonus for each success?

Dekard's world turns upside down tracking the newest android refugees - with almost human attributes the only difference - the only way to tell android from human is to test for feelings. The latest version of android almost fools even the best test and Dekard's feelings for one android almost cost him the mission and his life.

This is a brilliant piece of Science Fiction and yet I am not sorry I hadn't read it sooner. I will read it again but for now I just want to live with the ideas that are raised and wonder what the world would truly be like after a nuclear winter and would we too cling to religion that controls our feelings and long for home off the Earth with android salves?


Saturday, 11 August 2012

Creeping Creeps

So there has been a lot of talk on the net lately about the incident of harassment at Readercon this year.

Readercon Public Announcement

All this has had me thinking about fans and fandom and conventions... and most notably my first meeting of Wil Wheaton at Supernova in Melbourne - now to get it clear up front I didn't freak out or go all fan crazy at him - in fact I made sure I was polite, honest and respectful or his personal space. But that aside I had the pounding heart rate and blood rush of excitement - because hey I have followed this guy's blog, twitter, books, film and television career for so long I do honestly feel like I know him - or at least that part of him that is in the public eye. I also had some sense of entitlement to meet him - I had driven 10 hours to Melbourne, bought the con ticket, paid the extra to be able to get an autograph and lined up for a not short period of time... I had also brought my copy of The Happiest Days of Our Lives with me.

Lets step back in time a while - we find myself, wife and two friends, after our drive to Melbourne and the tram trip, at the convention centre...

After we arrived and got our wrist bands, and lined up... we waited for what seemed eternity to be allowed into the hall - I had checked out the map and knew where the autograph ticket could be bought - then saw the line... it ran the length of the hall. I decided (rightly or wrongly) to wait and see if it died down, instead lining up for Brian Michael Bendis (who was tweeting like crazy and even replied to my picture of his line up). We then hit the stands always watching the line for autographs to lessen - it never did.

So biting the bullet I moved to the end of the queue and shuffled forward. That took up a good 2 hours time waiting in that line... but it was worth it - I had come all this way to meet Wil (and Summer Glau but we are re-living my Wil experience here people!) and a simple wait in line was not going to stop me - especially when my wife would bring me pizza and coke!

After getting my tickets we moved across to the signing area and noticed that Wil's line was empty (he was due back in an hour) so we moved into another line - this time at the front! I must say the con volunteer who was manning that line was a hoot! We talked exchanged Twitter accounts and generally had a nice time chatting and waiting for Wil to start his next shift.

Here is where I managed to hold my shit together and (hopefully) came across as a normal human being!

Wil came out - said a fond hello to Chandler Riggs - he moved to his seat set aside his hand sanitizer and arranged the pens, checked with this assistant about something then looked up straight at my wife and I, smiled and nodded us forward.

I smiled back, laid my con photo down and copy of The Happiest Days of Our Lives "Hi Wil, I'm not sure if you can but I would like this signed instead" I gestured to the book. Holding in-check my inner fangaism.

Wil geeked out!

He grabbed the book hugging it close to his chest "My book!" I'm sure he almost squealed "My book has come back to me. You know I had this at my house! My wife wrote the front cover! I cannot believe this has traveled the world and come back to me!" He may have sqeed then I'm not sure.

Trying to keep the conversation going I said "Yeah I follow Anne on twitter, man she is funny!"

"My book!" He almost had a Golum look in his eyes - I was actually worried I was not going to get my copy back, he was still hugging it tight against his chest. I had a vision then of his running his pen over the con photo before racing back out to the guest area - taking my book with him.

Then taking a deep breath he placed the book down, open the cover, flicking through a few pages (maybe a tear welling in his eyes) and settled on the title page, pen now at the ready. "Who is it too?"

"Ben and my wife Anji" (I spelt it for him) I finally got to introduce her (she had been avoiding eye contact with the crazed Wil and talking to his assistant). "Hi" she said (keep the strange man happy, running through her mind)

Wil, still smiling, wrote

To Ben & Anji - 
Thank you for taking care of my words
Wil Wheaton

That explained it all and made me realise that fans, like us, and our actions (buying a book from a guy on the internet) can mean just as much to the artist/creator as their work means to us. Our buying this book that he created, self published and even posted out meant so much to him and his career as a writer.

I managed to keep my shit together the day I met Wil - Wil on the other hand didn't have a chance the day he met his love, his work, his life carried in the hands of a fan...

Note: some literacy licence was used in writing this post... truth may or may not be totally represented.

Note (the second): John Scalzi has a great guide for fans (and others) to avoid creepiness on his blog Whatever

Friday, 10 August 2012

Horns, Joe Hill - Review

Eclectic Reader challenge - Horror. I know I have jumped a few but I really wanted to read Horns it has been on  my night stand for months and I could put it off no longer!

I have really enjoyed reading Joe Hill - his debut novel Heart-Shaped Box was one of those books that blindsided me with it's intense and dark theme. His collection of short stories 20th Century Ghosts was equally brilliant and I can't stop reading his comic Locke and Key.

Horns is still in that dark horror zone and although from first impressions it hasn't effected me as much as Heart-Shaped Box the theme and character have been with me since I finished it last night.

The premise of Horns is basically dealing with loss of a love one - our protagonist Ig's long term girl friend Merrin had been murdered almost a year earlier - he was the prime suspect with a weak alibi and intent (she tried to break up with him earlier in the night). We find Ig on the eve of the anniversary and a strange thing has happened - he has grown horns from this head, people tell him there darkest secrets and with a touch he knows all their sin. He can also persuade people to commit the sins they desire. He is the devil.

Ig starts a quest to find out who really killed Merrin.

The story jumps backwards and forwards in time, filling in the back story which basically leads the reader along with Ig to final climax and confrontation. This is almost formulaic, in that it has been done before - there is nothing earth shatteringly new in the story or even Hill's writing - there is also nothing wrong with it! In fact it is a brilliant read - I had many a session where I just didn't want to put the book down... I had to read just one more chapter.

A great dark horror story, however if I had to recommend a Joe Hill book I still can't go past Heart-Shaped Box maybe the theme of a musician ring truer with me, maybe it was the time and place. Maybe I build Horns up to much with it sitting by my bed for so long. Still it is not a bad book and I did enjoy it.


Mr Midshipman Hornblower - C S Forester - Review

The next installment in my Eclectic Reader Challenge - Historical Fiction

I have always enjoyed the Hornblower TV series (when it was on at any rate) and was interested in seeing what the original text was like. Considering the series began in 1937 I was keen to see if it held up...

I decided to start with the Prequel (written in 1950) Mr Midshipman Hornblower, why? mainly because I wanted to start at the beginning of the story as opposed to the first book released... I don't think it really mattered - I just wanted to!

Set in the period of the French Revolutionary Wars this book is a series of short stories detailing Hornblower's eventual rise to Lieutenant. While Hornblower is a character the events and history is real - the power of the English Navy is awesome as they battle against not only France but Spain in both the Atlantic and Mediterranean Sea. This was the time of Nelson, a few short years before Napoleon and to keep it in perspective the US only commissioned it's first 3 Navy vessels in 1794, the year Hornblower joined the Royal Navy.

The stories in this collection included;

Hornblower and the even chance
Hornblower and the Cargo of Rice
Hornblower and the Penalty of Failure
Hornblower and the Man Who Felt Queer
Hornblower and the Man Who Saw God
Hornblower and the Frogs, and the Lobsters
Hornblower and the Spanish Galleys
Hornblower and the Examination for Lieutenant
Hornblower and the Noah's Ark
Hornblower and the Duchess and the Devil

The stories are well written with some fast paced action and lots of sailing... so much sailing and rigging and main sails and other sailing stuff I know little about... I understand why so many sailors like the Hornblower series! However even with this sailing and ship motif there is enough of a story line to keep a landlubber like me interested - so much so I am keen to get started on the rest of the Hornblower books.

This is a great way to learn about history through the eyes of a (not so average) semi-hero - a young man growing and learning about the Royal Navy, war, ship to ship battles and the struggle of command.

I am happy to recommend Mr Midshipman Hornblower and look forward to following his adventures again.


Saturday, 9 June 2012

The Magic of Recluce - L.E. Modesitt Jr - Review

The latest in my Eclectic Reader Challenge - this one ticks the box for Fantasy...

I have kinda gone off track as I could not find an Historical Fiction book to read but I will...


This saga is the first (written by L.E. not in the timeline of the universe) of the books set in the magical world of Order and Chaos magic welder.  The story sees a young man, Lerris, sent out from the safe island of Recluce, where he just didn't fit in with the total Order.

The rest of the world lies in a grey area where powerful Chaos mages rule offsetting the Order of Recluce.

This is the journey of understanding as Lerris earns more about the difference between White (Chaos) and Black (Order) magic and the mysterious and Grey magic.  Lerris it turns out is a powerful Black magician who can also weld a mean Black staff... There is cause and effect (too much Chaos leads to more Order and vice-versa) so for the pure Order island of Recluce there must be an opposite pure Chaos. Lerris find himself having to restore some Order in the world of Chaos, but what will he loose because of that fight...?


I have always been meaning to read more of Modesitt and really enjoyed the Imager series - he always seems to be able to come up with alternative magic and fantasy as a genre tends to have magic core to its heart.  Recluce is true to that statement - the magic is very different and opposed to each other.  Which creates a perfect platform for the traditional good v bad (order v chaos).

While I enjoyed this book I have not been able to get into the sequel - set in a different time to the first - I find I am more confused then able to enjoy the story... maybe it will get better the more I read but I'm not sure I have the time to try much more...

This book 3/5...

Wednesday, 2 May 2012

The Hunger Games, Suzanne Collins - Review

The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins - another review in the Eclectic Readers Challenge 2012

Hunger games.jpg

I was loaned these books from a friend - The wife saw the movie recently and wanted to check out the series that inspired it and I needed a book for the Eclectic Readers Challenge - Young Adult.

This genre is one that I like - Susan Cooper, Cory Doctorow, Scott Westerfeld among others are hiding out on my book shelves. I like the easy readability of these books as well as the adventure and feel that most young adult books have. If you haven't read one of these since teenage-hood I highly recommend you jump back in - and abandon yourself to the story.

Back to the review... many may be aware of the series from either the books or the major movie - so I will keep this first part fairly short.

This is set in the future after some catastrophe has turned North America into mostly a wasteland with humanity held up in 12 districts which support the Capitol, in a quasi-salve state.  Many years earlier a 13th district existed but after a failed attempt to seek independence from the Capitol it was bombed and in retaliation the Hunger Games started as a way to remind the remaining districts that the Capitol rules. The Hunger Games require each district to send 2 tributes (aged between 12-18) to fight it out - with only 1 winner allowed - the rest must die. The series follows Katniss, Peeta and Gale (the teenage triangle often found in the young adult genre - just get with the program!) as their world is turned apart and seemingly innocent actions cause the whole world to start to change.

This immediately made me think of the Japanese film Battle Royale (and I am not the only one... however, I am not going to enter that debate.) I am happy to believe that the author really didn't see the movie before writing this - and after all it is a very different story with only slight similarities. Here endth the debate.

I have also chosen to review the whole series of three books - not to make out that I am some genius at reading but that fact remains with large font and spacing these books might be 400 pages each but probably contain less words then one George RR Martin !!! Man that guy can write!

So what did I think of The Hunger Games, Catching Fire and Mockingjay? I think firstly it is well written - the target audience will be able to read this easily - it deals with some difficult issues, death, family, separation and acceptance of your role in the world. The main characters, while being flawed, show strength that comes from something real - by this I mean they are not glowing vampires or love struck werewolves but normal (ish) teenagers who are made to extraordinary things in dangerous times. Worlds are turned upside down, loyalties are questioned and in the end a choice must be made.

I understand why this series is well liked and would encourage any read or any age to read this as it is a great story with good characters, action, love and all the other good bits... without being too graphic or "grown-up" (with that I mean no sex and remorse over the violence).

Suzanne has done a sterling job with this series, so often young adult books can feel 'dumbed' down, Suzanne has managed to keep the heavy subject matter true to younger readers while still being enjoyed by the umm older/mature/experienced readers like myself.

I will give this series 4/5

Monday, 30 April 2012

Avengers (2012) - Review

Really enjoyed the movie. I saw the midnight screening in 3D (should have gone 2D but friends... you know how it goes..)

Now I am a bit of a Marvel fan - I collect Iron Man comics and have dabbled in Avengers and Captain America as well as some of the 'events' like Fear Itself, Civil War and the new Avengers Versus X-Men. I have enjoyed all the Marvel movies starting with Spiderman through the lead up films to Avengers - Ironman 1 and 2, Captain America, Thor although I missed the re-launched Hulk (must watch that sometime). So in summation I really wanted Avengers to be good, great even. After all I have invested time, money and emotional energy into this world.

Look at the above image and please tell me why is Nathan Fillion on this poster? hahaha! Oh and Don Cheadle...WTF? Click image for where I found the image...

I was NOT disappointed - from the start they got it right... they got Joss Wheadon to not only write it by direct the movie as well. He has that special ability to keep the raw fanboy correctness of the Marvel Universe but temper that with great story writing and film techniques. Each of the main characters has enough screen time to tell their story - they are all equally important to the whole while also being true to themselves.

The action was well done - not too much fast edits (which I hate) - I could follow the flow of the fights (even with those stupid 3D glasses that I cannot wear my glasses underneath - yeah 3D with built in blur). The script had humour and realism (well as real as you can be with a giant green man, a couple of Norse Gods, billionaire in a suit of armour, a man out of time and black widows arse).

I guess I could be described as a fan of Marvel and as such should by view be seen as a true reflection of the movie - am I too blinkered by the glow of my minds wish for it to be great? Maybe. But somehow I think not. For me the Avengers was everything I love about comics and comic based movies while at the same time being just a brilliant piece of film entertainment. 5/5

Saturday, 28 April 2012

Memoirs of a Geisha - Arthur Golden

Third in the Eclectic Readers Challenge 2012

Third up in the Challenge is Romance... I put off just re-reading Time Enough For Love by Robert A. Heinlein oh it would be so easy to just stick with my favourite genre(s) of Fantasy and Science Fiction... but I must NOT!!! So instead I asked the wife... what romance book should I read... I expected something from Jilly Cooper - the horse porn lady (note: not porn with horses but soft porn involving people who also have horses... no bestiality at least that's what she tells me...)

No instead she handed me Memoirs of a Geisha by Arthur Golden. This book has special meaning to us as it was the reason we went to Japan for our honeymoon - wife's choice after she feel in love with the Kyoto world of pre and post WWII through this book.

Memoirs of a Geisha: A Novel

At first I was intrigued by the writing style - this book is written from the POV of the Geisha growing up with poor, loosing mother, father, sister, being sold into a world that is alien to most European background people (isn't the Sex trade?? - I realise it can be more than that but you can bid to take a girl's virginity...). All these feelings and insight are written by an American man... and it was so well written I had to keep reminding myself that this was not an autobiography but a work of fiction - it just felt so real.

I think it also helped having been to Kyoto, having had a brief encounter with a Maiko (trainee Geisha), walked the street and stood in front of famous tea houses... I could almost taste again the wonderful ramen soups and hear the click clack of the wooden shod Geisha walking past us... 

Memoirs is not a true romance novel, or at least not the way I see them in my head (I'm thinking Clan of the Cave Bear here...) no this is a much more subtle book. Sayuri's is often a sad one - torn from her family into a "better life" she takes the challenges on and shows her true potential becoming a phenomenal Geisha in a time when the world almost lost them forever.

Japan's rich culture, which is often harsh to western eyes, has some many levels and is full of grace and depth. I enjoyed reading this book equally for the trip down memory lane and the story itself - yes a romance kept me interested and wanting to read more to find out what happens to Sayuri, while yearning that she finally gets the love she both wants and deserves.

I can't say much more then read this - go to Japan then read it again... well worth it.

Killing Floor - Lee Child - Review

Another review in the Eclectic Reading Challenge 2012 - Crime / Mystery Fiction

Lee Child's Killing Floor is the first of the Jack Reacher novels, which are international best sellers and very popular novels...
Killing Floor

I've never read anything by Lee Child and thought that I should start at the begin - the first Jack Reacher novel. I have dabbled in this genre before which some of the well know authors like Flemming, King (a lot of his are mystery's and not just horror), Conan Doyle... etc. I also like Crime fiction even the ones writing by fictional authors like Castle... So I was not going into Killing Floor without some fore knowledge of the genre.
First thoughts of the book was - I know why people enjoy reading Child's work, it was easy to read, fast paced with action and relationships. It was not high prose or complex characters this was a great read that let you enjoy the story (I think this is where I am suppose to write Journey - but I'm not on a reality TV show so I wont).
Basically if you are up for a quick read without too much thought or complex story lines to keep track of, this Child is an author you can go with.
I will be looking up more Jack Reacher novels as I think I could get to like this no nonsense, ex-marine, crime/mystery man... and I hope he one day gets to find someone to love...

Wednesday, 1 February 2012

Bio of a Space Tyrant - Piers Anthony - Part 1

This is a six part series that follows the Tyrant of Jupiter, Hope Hubris. The first five are written as journals by Hope each detailing an important part of this life. Each of these introductions and conclusions by Hope's daughter. The sixth book details a story line from Hope's sister Spirit and covers details when the siblings were apart.

Refugee - Begins with the Hubris poor family and there conditions on Callisto and follows their escape to Jupiter. The group is attached several times and most of the adults are either raped or killed by pirate raiders. The children are left to fend for themselves and try to survive.

LinkPiers has created a mirror to the world of the mid 1980's in space. Many of the planets, moons, asteroid belts and locations represent different parts of the world (in the then) today. Wikipedia has a full listing of the locations and there worldly counter parts. He deals with many of the issues that are prevalent in the world, poverty, rich versus poor and even the Cold War.

In this first book we find our protagonist caught up between the rich and poor of the moon Callisto. His family are forced to move to the working dome after Hope and his sister Spirit defend there older sister Faith from the unwanted advances of a rich son. Choosing to escape to the prosperous Jupiter (based on North America) the family go on a daring trip across space in an over crowded bubble.

This journey is reminiscent of the current trips refugees take to get to Australian shore and probably more dangerous in the cold vacuum of space.

Piers details a new (to me) propulsion device a gravity drive - not great on the science but basically a field is created around the bubble giving that mass it's own gravity apart and separate from the gravity around it. Thus the bubble can be propelled through space using only a small amount of energy (thrust) from a simple drive. The bubble also spins which is important for some of the action in this book and boy is there action.

For those weak of stomach or not into violence then maybe skip some parts of this book - however in it's defence the violence and rape is about overcoming adversity and how the human condition can cope with tragedy and pain. It is about survival and the sacrifices people will make for family and friends in order for some to survive.

This book is well written and you move through it quickly, well paced scenes and insight into the mind of the boy who will become the Tyrant.

One thing you don;t have the any knowledge of the Tyrant and what he will become as these notes are written from the perspective of the boy at the conclusion of this book not from some faraway grandfatherly figure. At the end I wanted to know more about how this boy/man a refugee from the outer limits becomes the Tyrant of Jupiter.

Great read 4/5
I read the Kindle version available at time of writing for $2.99

Wednesday, 25 January 2012

Passwords and Children

A recent post on Boing Boing regarding teenagers sharing passwords with friends and significant other has raised some questions with me - mostly based around my daughter and the world she will grow up in.

Now I regard myself as someone who at least is aware of most of the technology and the advances that it offers to our lives - I advocate for the use of new tech at work and I am always looking at ways to improve what we do. I love the fact that for Christmas using a Smart Phone, Skype and WiFi Daughter was able to show Nanny all her new presents and talk to Nanny's face... this is now simple tech - available to everyone with a broadband connection and a few cheap devices.

But what about the future? What will my daughter grow up with and what will count as 'normal' or 'expected' in her life. Maybe it is my recent read of 1984 that has raised this, but what will be safe for her? I read alot about internet security and identity safety - do the current generation of young adult really understand that what is on Social Media sites is owned by the site? So they realise that Big Brother (the corporate world) is watching everything they do and say. Targeted Marketing is nothing new but so much more powerful with the use of Social Media and information data warehouses that are built from them.

Even this humble blog is not safe from it. The Google ads that are on this site are targeted to the posts that I write... If I write about my guitar lessons you see self help guitar ads, or guitar sales. This is what Google does best by the way and not necessarily a bad thing - but when does it become too much and what do we need to do about saving the future so that our children grow up safe...

I boil it down to trust. Like the article quoted in the Boing Boing post parents need to develop ways to create trust with their children... and so should these super corps with their customers and clients... Remember there are always alternatives and sometimes we just have to walk away...
There are different ways that parents address the password issue, but they almost always build on the narrative of trust. - The NYTimes
Another articled linked from Boing Boing details how parents can normalise password sharing. So will we require daughter to share her passwords with us? Not sure... will we want to be 'friends' or part of her social media networks? At this stage Yes! I am part of my nephews and nieces networks and even though I don't interfere I can see what they are doing and sometimes pass on private messages when I think it is appropriate. But will I need to access their private accounts? I don't think so - that is a trust issue and while privately they could be sending messages or doing things - that should remain their business...

My wife and I have separate bank accounts and a joint account for the normal life expenses - we have separate passwords and access to these. I don't have or want her passwords for her Social Media pages and sites and she likewise - the trust we have in each other is formed by that. I don't feel I need to have that part of her. That is her private business - If I need to post something about us or her I have my own accounts to do that.

We will need to be aware of these challenges as Daughter grows up... and I hope we do the right thing by her - but I am prepared to fail at some of it and hit the mark with others... That my friends is LIFE.

The full New York Times article

Sunday, 22 January 2012

Nineteen Eighty-Four - George Orwell

This is the first of my 2012 reader challenges, Literary Fiction - which Wikipedia defines as

The term is principally used to distinguish "serious fiction" which is a work that claims to hold literary merit, in comparison from genre fiction and popular fiction (i.e., paraliterature). In broad terms, literary fiction focuses more upon style, psychological depth, and character. This is in contrast to Mainstream commercial fiction, which focuses more on narrative and plot. Literary fiction may also be characterized as lasting fiction — literature which continues to be read and in-demand many decades and perhaps centuries after the author has died.
Under this definition I chose to read Nineteen Eight-Four by George Orwell... which (surprise to some) I have never read.

I'm not going to compete with the great reviews of this book, I am no Isaac Asimov - instead I am going to focus no how I felt when reading this book and what my life, the media and other influences have affected my reading.

So I assume you have followed the link to Isaac Asimov's review or at least you know some the history to this classic book - quick summary. Following on from Animal Farm 1984 is the continuation of the Soviet theme of a world controlled by 3 super countries, strict controls govern everything and the party is all powerful. Big Brother is always watching...

The thing I had to get over when reading this was that to the audience in 1948 this was all new. This was horrifying and totally unheard of. For me this was a great story a great idea but one I have been introduced to many times before. Brazil is one of my all time favourite movies and yet it borrows so much from Orwell - much I have never even knew about. I knew what Big Brother was (not the TV show) but the idea of the Government watching you. Cory Doctorow's Little Brother again uses this theme (download for free) instead for a younger audience - highly recommend this.

Needless to say 1984 did not cause me to have sleepless nights - unless you count the fact I HAD to force myself to put it down to sleep! The fear did not build inside of me - I am used to the idea of Government complete control... not in the way that I am happy for it - far from it. But the idea is not new.

So the constant reminder that this was so new and different, say to my parents generation, kept me thinking. What if I read this first, before seeing the popular culture references, before film and television... Maybe it would have been harder for me to understand the world - maybe it was a better (easier) experience for me.

I understood the concepts Orwell writes about, the Government control, the fear-control, the restrictions, the small rooms (almost communal living), the telescreen for a wall (some people have them already with the large TV's). This was not at all unfamilar and I was therefore able to slip into the story. Into the world of Winston Smith.

Enough I have written that part to death... on to the book itself.

As afore mentioned I read this fairly quickly, having to stop to eat, sleep and that dreaded work... me thinks if all those other things had less importance it may have been read in one sitting - I think that qualifies that I liked the book.

Orwell's style is very easy, third person but only following Winston and his sad existence within the tight confines of control. Orwell has not just placed his story in a different or potential world, he had created this universe - an alternative reality. The Appendix on "The Principals of Newspeak" is akin to Tolkien's Elvish language (a stretch I know but it has a similar vein). In other words he didn't just plonk the characters into the world they are the world and the world is them...

But this world is our world - or at least the potential world from the view of 1948, and it is the familiar things that makes the difference. The pub on the corner, the artefacts Winston 'finds' and the country side all let the reader know that Airstrip One is England.

The way this modern (for the books release) world is hinted at make 1984 more real and less of a fantasy. I can see that Orwell really wanted to stop the tide of the Socialist and the evil he saw it represent.

Unfortunately in this current world the opposite side is almost making Airstrip One a reality. Big Brother has started to watch us, the media spreads the fear through shows like Today Tonight and A Current Affair. Is text speak Newspeak? Corporations and not Government have much of the control over the world. We might not see it as clearly in Australia as in some other countries - however the way the mining companies are working to create fear over things like the mining tax show that they have some power...

I believe that reading 1984 was a MUST, however I would not change the timing - I think I got more out of it because I knew and understood the world Orwell writes about. I didn't have to waste time getting my head around the concepts. 1984 is a world I want to avoid and I hope you do too, but one I like to read about... if for no other reason then to remind myself what I want to avoid.

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