Tuesday, 26 March 2013

The first rule of Zombieland: Cardio

I must first off state that alas, we will not be talking about zombies today. Maybe one day, as let's face it, the theoretical Zombie Apocalypse is a very serious issue and our responses to such event should be discussed. And thanks to so many directors, we have a lot of source material, rules and general guidelines to follow. As demonstrated in Zombieland, where I get the above quotation (obviously). But it's the reference to cardio in general that is the reason for this quotation being used as the title. For this entry is very, very tenuously touching on a form of exercise. Ish. I think.

Today, we're talking about freerunning. And why?

Felicia Day.

The geeky lady of supreme awesome, of Dr Horrible's Sing-Along Blog and The Guild fame, tried her hand at freerunning in her video blog, The Flog. Initial verdict - Felicia Day attempting parkour is very gigglesome and cute, freerunning looks awesome, can I take it home with me? And why isn't there a place like the Tempest Freerunning Academy (where Felicia Day attempted parkour) in the UK.

Disclaimer Note: At the time of writing, I have not sufficiently trawled Google to find out if there is a similar freerunning institution in the UK. That comes later...

Anyway, back to...something of a point.

Usually I talk about some kind of historical precedent for freerunning in my life. There isn't one really. I have three major sources for it, that's about it. 1) An episode of CSI:NY involving freerunners. 2) The video game Mirror's Edge, that I watched people playing but never played myself. 3) The Bond movie Casino Royale, which featured noted freerunner and founder of parkour, S├ębastien Foucan. In my lifetime though, many people have told me that I would very enjoy freerunning. And watching Felicia Day attempting it (one particularly amusing part beginning at 1:55 in the video in particular), I thought "I can do that".

And it is very, very tempting to give it a go.

Now at first I thought "You know, this could be good. Freerunning/Parkour (whichever you want to call it, I like interchangability though) is free. Free exercise. This is good." Then I thought, "Wait a sec, my Converse probably aren't the best footwear for freerunning. I might need to invest in some new trainers or something." But regardless of these tangential thoughts apparently appearing for the sake of padding this out, I'm giving freerunning some serious thought. I mean, I discovered that a friend of mine, one of the fabled Writerverse, found a roller derby league nearby. Even if there aren't freerunning groups in the area...well, screw it. Don't need a group to run and jump around the worlds. And it might make my morning walks to work a lot more interesting. Might even shave some precious minutes or seconds off the journey time. Who knows, eh?

In the spirit of random babbling and giving readers sufficient material to read for the investment of their time, I'm going to talk about a couple of tangential things - American Warships, a movie I caught the end of today and Jericho, a short-lived TV series that I have on DVD and am slowly working my way through.

American Warships. Direct-to-DVD movie, released in 2012, starring Mario Van Peebles and Carl Weathers, released by a film studio called The Asylum. I discovered that The Asylum make "mockbusters" in tandem with the release of summer blockbusters and American Warships is their response to Battleship.

Let's set the scene. Battleship stars Liam Neeson. Budget: US$209 million. American Warships had a budget of US$1 million. To say that American Warships is hilariously bad is putting it mildly. It's gods awful. The special effects are emphasis on "special". The dialogue is laughable, the acting...well, give them credit, they're doing their best with the material at hand. And let's face it. They're being awful very, very deliberately. Which makes this movie...hilariously bad but brilliant in its gods awfulness. I've not seen Battleship, but I just get the feeling I'll prefer American Warships. Just a hunch. But just to emphasise in case you do watch American Warships...IT'S FRAKKING TERRIBLE. We're clear on that? Good. On to Jericho.

I was bequeathed Jericho, the "Decisive Boxset" that has both seasons. It lasted one full, twenty-two first season, then a fan-campaign earned it a seven episode second season to resolve the cliffhanger ending and lingering storylines. So far, I've watched the first season and three episodes of season two. And I must say, I rather enjoy it. I question how much longevity it may have had, but regardless I think it's rather good. Some of the storylines/character relationships are painfully obvious, but they're executed well. And the character of Johnston Green (played by Gerald McRaney) is one hell of a badass.

I should probably mention what's about...

Jericho centres around the eponymous town in the quaint state of Kansas. The prism through which we come to know this town is Jake Green (Skeet Ulrich), the wayward son of Jericho Mayor Johnston Green (the aforementioned Gerald McRaney). Jake returns to Jericho just in time for...well, the end of America. Twenty-something nuclear devices, detonated in twenty-odd major US cities, crippling the United States overnight. The series focuses on the day-to-day struggles of the people of Jericho, while delving into the mysterious conspiracy surrounding the "September Attacks", which are shown through the very shady new guy in Jericho, Robert Hawkins (played by British actor Lennie James). It's an ensemble(ish) cast, but it's the Green family - Jake, Johnston, Johnston's wife Gail Green (Pamela Reed) and his son Eric (Kenneth Mitchell). There's a lot of internal and external intrigue, confounded by the aftermath of a nuclear strike. It's an intriguing mixture and like I say, I'm rather fond of it. So I highly recommend watching it. Also, in series two, Esai Morales (who I know mostly as Joseph Adama in Caprica) is pretty damn awesome.

And on a final note, a Song of the Mind entry. It's something very new to me. This evening new, in fact. I was listening to a song by The Pretty Reckless and encountered these guys in suggested videos. The video involves a lots of fire. I fear there's a tiny bit of Targaryen mixed in with my Stark blood...

(Song of the Mind: Fire with Fire - The Letter Black)

Tuesday, 19 March 2013

Curled Up Next to the Fire: The Nano Flower

As usual, there's been a slightly lengthy period of silence between my last bout of squeeing (my gushings on the legend that is Peter V. Brett), but it can be argued that this entry is very tangentially linked to that event. For this is, as the title suggests, the literary segment. And this entry in the literary segment concerns the third book in the Greg Mandel Series, authored by Peter F. Hamilton. In addition to sharing the same first name, I had the pleasure to meet both men at the same bookshop.

Anyway, enough random blabbering. Time to get on with the literary critique babbling.

I have previously rambled about the Greg Mandel Series here, talking about the second book, A Quantum Murder. Given that A Quantum Murder took place not too long after the first instalment, Mindstar Rising, I was expecting a similar length of time between the second and third books. To my pleasant surprise, The Nano Flower takes place some seventeen years after the events of A Quantum Murder, placing it circa 2061.

So, some in-universe context. Julia Evans is no longer a tempestuous yet shrewd teenager at the helm of one of the largest companies on the planet. She is a shrewd, level-headed mother of two, whose husband mysteriously disappeared eight months previously. Greg Mandel has long since retired from the private detective game and has four kids of his own, with number five on the way. Now a humble orange farmer, he and his wife Eleanor are quite happy to stay out of Julia's complicated world of corporate espionage.

Until Julia's errant husband manages to have a strange flower delivered to his wife. In the space of one strange delivery, Greg finds himself dragged back into the world he had hoped to have left behind.

Classic premise for the trilogy finale, eh? The quest to follow the breadcrumbs left by Julia's husband bring the old team back together for one last glorious fling, in which they chase down not only the errant husband, but also an astounding new technology that could change the face of humanity's future.

By far, The Nano Flower has the largest scale of all the Greg Mandel novels. It finds our erstwhile hero jetting around the world and even out of this world, to the Crown Colony of New London - an asteroid painstakingly placed in Earth's orbit by Julia's company, Event Horizon. And compared to the previous two books, The Nano Flower is a lot grander in scope. It knows it's the finale and it's pulling out all the stops. For one thing, tekmercs. It's a phrase that had been bandied about since Mindstar Rising and I'll be brutally honest, it had never been fully explained to my satisfaction until the third book, when one of the main characters, Suzi (a friend of Greg Mandel's from his years fighting PSP oppression in Peterborough), turns out to be a tekmerc. Through her and her encounters with rival tekmercs, we finally get a neatly rounded picture of who these people are and what they do.

We also get to see Greg pull off a lot more stunts with his psi abilities. At least I'm fairly certain we were never introduced to the use of eidolonics in Mindstar Rising. Either way, The Nano Flower was the big finish. Even if I hadn't known it was the last of the Greg Mandels, even if I had read at the time of its first release in 1995 (when I was six and so could not have had any hope of grasping a single one of the novel's concepts), the feel of it screams the last hoorah before the curtain drops. And it's a very enjoyable and quite satisfying end to the series. There's no obvious doors being left open, it feels pretty much solidly, 100% resolved. In part this is also reflected by my pet favourite subject of novels, setting. The United Kingdom of the Greg Mandel Series is a broken tropical country, recovering from the brutality of a classically misguided socialist government. And now, circa 2061, it feels more...together. Even with a political backdrop of Welsh secessionism, it feels that Great Britain has adjusted to the effects of the Warming. They've recovered from the PSP and they're dealing with the fact that they're a tropical country. As well as being the big finish, The Nano Flower leaves the reader with the distinct impression that this future Britain, once so battered and fractured, is a whole nation again. And as a wise maiden said in the movie A Knight's Tale, all things should end with hope.

So there we have it. Final verdict summation - The Nano Flower is an enjoyable and satisfying, albeit on occasion a tad outlandish, conclusion to the Greg Mandel Series. The next Peter F. Hamilton offerings in my reading list are Great North Road and The Reality Dysfunction. Two daunting looking tomes. Might take me a good few months to get through them. You'll all just have to stay tuned, dear readers.

Friday, 1 March 2013

Do you mind if Joe Abercrombie sits next to you?

I'll just point out that the title was not directly spoken to me, as Joe Abercrombie was actually sitting in front of me. But these were the first words I heard uttered by Peter V. Brett, American fantasy author and after hearing him talk last night, all round general DUDE. It is somewhat shameful to admit, but I have not read his books yet, but the first one is sitting in my bookcase, all manner of signed, awaiting its turn in my neat little stack of books I have to read.

Now for some time-honoured context.

My dearest friend Oracle is a huge fan of Peter V. Brett. In fact, we reasoned she was the biggest fan in the room last night. So when I discovered that he was going to be in Bath doing a book signing, I had to tell her. She had to get tickets. And thus, by the curious quirk of temporal mechanics, the uninitiated found himself sitting next to the biggest (self-confessed) fangirl in the room. I'd like to clarify, absolutely nothing wrong with that. And then, when the aforementioned Mr Brett walks into the room, it just so happens that British fantasy author Joe Abercrombie is in the building too. And takes the seat in front of me. Fun fact, this is the second time I've been at an author talk/signing event with Joe Abercrombie in the audience. The first time was when the GRRM Reaper himself, George R.R. Martin was in Bath nearly a year ago. Since I titled the blog post following that event with a direct quotation from the GRRM Reaper, this blog comes with the words of Peter V. Brett.

As I have admitted to my shame, I've not yet read his work. And he was coming out of the tail end of a cold, so intermittent coughing precluded the notion of a dramatic reading from his latest book, The Daylight War. Which is actually no big deal, because he jumped straight into the Q&A session and...he's a very interesting guy and what he had to say about his books and his writing processes hooked me enough that I am exceptionally confident that I will enjoy his first book, The Painted Man. Which is, as aforementioned, patiently waiting on my book shelf.

The biggest thing for me, though, is not the effect he had on me, but the effect I learned he had on my friend's life. Which I won't go into, but it is incredible. I thoroughly enjoyed meeting Peter Brett, but last night was her night. I had mine when I met George R.R. Martin and in the same night met Thief, who I continue to foolishly blunder about with and make a complete ass of myself. And she hasn't gotten rid of me yet. Must be doing something right.

So he had this profound impact on my friend and when she tentatively revealed this...I don't think I've seen a man looked more touched in my life. It is one of those moments that will forever be etched into my mind. Let's face it, a part of every writer dreams of being able to make a difference to someone's life, to know that their writing, their characters have empowered someone or helped them through something. It's strange. Something doesn't have to happen to you to have a profound impact. Watching my friend meet her hero and the deep and touching moment that followed...that one's staying with me for a good long while.

Now I mentioned that Peter Brett is a general, all round DUDE. Allow me to elaborate on this point. I said that he was coming down from a cold. He admitted this, he apologised for the lack of a reading and let's face it, he was persevering with a book tour regardless of a physical ailment. That's dudish factor number one. Number two came from what I can only describe as a rather belligerent, self-entitled member of the audience who hadn't read his books at all and seemed to only be there because it was a book reading and thus a society event worthy of his time. And while this man pretty demanded a reading from Peter Brett, he held his own, kept his cool and politely explained that a reading wasn't something that could come under the heading of "winging it". Since he didn't have one prepared and had the highlighted cough, he declined. Now I'm in the service industry. I deal with far, far too many people like this self-entitled gentleman. So I can relate to and respect how he kept his cool and stood his ground. And kept very good humour about it. Add this to the deep and profound impact he had on my friend, it all equals an absolute DUDE who, even without have read his writing, I respect and think is utterly brilliant.

So there we have it. If we take nothing else from this, take this - Peter V. Brett is a dude. On that basis alone, go out and buy The Painted Man. Read it. Enjoy it. Buy the other two books in the Demon Cycle series. It's what I'm going to do. Right after I plough through my ever-growing pile of books to read...