Summer Reading List 2009

I’m taking a page from Ken Newquist‘s book (or rather, his blog and podcast) to present my Summer Reading List. As we’re well into the season, the list includes books I’ve read since late June, those I am currently reading, and those I intend to read before summer comes to a close. The last of these three lists is—to put it lightly—mutable, as which book I pick up next is subject more to whim than design.

Pages Past

  • Shambling Towards Hiroshima by James Morrow. During World War II, a B-movie actor is hired to play the part of a giant, fire-breathing lizard in order to convince the Japanese to surrender or have a trio of Godzilla-like creatures unleashed on their cities.
  • The Touch by F. Paul Wilson. The third installment of The Adversary Cycle tells the tale of a doctor who suddenly gains the ability to heal with a touch. It wouldn’t be a medical thriller if there weren’t a terrible price to pay. This isn’t my preferred genre, but I enjoyed The Keep and The Tomb, so I thought I’d continue the cycle; The Touch isn’t anywhere near as creepy as its predecessors, but it’s a pretty entertaining tale.
  • Glasshouse by Charles Stross. In a far-flung future where technology makes changing your gender, race, and even species as commonplace as changing your shirt, and humanity has been through a great Censorship War, Robin wakes with no memory of his past and a killer on his tail. How much of what makes you you is determined by your physical being, your memories, and your relationships with other people? This was really a fascinating read.
  • His Majesty's Dragon by Naomi NovikHis Majesty’s Dragon (Temeraire · Book 1) by Naomi Novik. During the Napoleonic Wars, the H.M.S. Reliant, a British naval vessel, captures a French ship and siezes a most unusual cargo: a dragon’s egg. When the dragon hatches and bonds to Will Laurence, the Reliant’s captain must leave the Navy behind for His Majesty’s Air Corps. I love Novik’s writing style and the relationship that forms between the dragon, Temeraire, and Laurence is beautifully executed. This is definitely my favorite book of the summer so far.
  • Anathem (Audio) by Neal Stephenson. The audio version of this lengthy tome consists of twenty-eight compact discs and took me eleven weeks to complete. As Chris Miller pointed out to me, Neal Stephenson doesn’t so much write novels as essays stitched together with bits of story. Much time is spent explaining how the world in which Anathem takes place is different from our own, complete with excerpts from The Dictionary (4th Edition, A.R. 3000) that mark the beginning of each of the eleventy-three thousillion chapters. Anathem follows Fraa Erasmas of the concent of Saunt Edhar as he ventures out into the sæcular world during (and after) Apert. And to explain every term in that sentence would require more space than I’m willing to devote to a single bullet point right now.

Pages Present

  • Lamb by Christopher MooreLamb: The Gospel According to Biff, Christ’s Childhood Pal by Christopher Moore. The Bible doesn’t go into a whole lot of detail where the first thirty years of Christ’s life are concerned, and now Levi (who is called Biff) has been resurrected by the angel Raziel to fill in the gaps. Chris Miller and I will be discussing this somewhat-apocryphal gospel on a future episode of The Secret Lair.
  • The Strain (Audio) by Guillermo del Toro and Chuck Hogan. Vampires!
  • Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell (Audio) by Susanna Clarke. Magicians!
  • The Way of Shadows (Book 1 of The Night Angel Trilogy) by Brent Weeks. Assassins! (Sorry: wetboys.)

Pages Future

Finally, here is a fourth list, which may be considered a bonus by some and entirely excessive by others. I have been using GoodReads to track my ever-expanding library and hummingbirdlike reading habits, but there are a number of similar sites and as I become aware of one I can’t help but set up an account and import at least a portion of my books, just to see how it compares to the others. Here is a list of said sites (I don’t claim it is comprehensive, and if you know of another please leave a comment with a link to it.) that I’ve been using recently, in the order I joined:

  1. GoodReads. Very well put together. The interface is generally very intuitive, though management of group “shelves” could be enhanced. GoodReads is, unfortunately, ad-supported.
  2. Readernaut. My favorite of the bunch so far. Pages aren’t as “busy” as those on GoodReads or LibraryThing and there’s a lot of flexibility around tweaking books (I especially like that I can upload my own cover images). Pages tend to render poorly on some installations of Internet Explorer. Readernaut is not currently ad-supported.
  3. Shelfari. My least favorite by quite a large margin. I’m not a fan of the default “shelf” layout and though the add/edit book interface is nice and streamlined, it is also rather limited. Shelfari is ad-supported.
  4. LibraryThing. I haven’t played with this one very much, but I do like that there is space for BookCrossing IDs (though it’s been months since I last logged in to BookCrossing) and they seem to pack in a lot of information about individual titles. LibraryThing is not ad-supported, but offers both free and subscription-based models, so I can only assume that the size of my library (as a free user) has a limit.

World Dryer Corporation to Pre-Vandalize Automatic Hand Dryers

World Dryer Corporation Logo
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In a press conference held Monday afternoon, a representative from World Dryer Corporation (a subsidiary of Carrier Corporation) announced that all automatic hand dryers produced by the company would be manufactured with pre-vandalized operating instruction labels.

“We estimate that nearly 98% of all installed automatic hand dryers are vandalized within 24 hours of installation,” said Scott Tidwell, Vice President of Public Relations. “This initiative will save hundreds, possibly thousands, of vandal-hours per year.”

Vandal-hours the company hopes will be put to use creating new, original means by which automatic hand dryers can be defaced.

“We’ve seen the same tired old phrases scratched onto our labels for at least twenty years,” said Tidwell. “There’s just nothing new in automatic-hand-dryer-vandalism world. We’re going to change that. Starting in October, the vandals are going to have to step up their game.”

World Dryer Model A Series
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Until 2002, when the company introduced the new pictographic instruction label to select markets, nearly every automatic hand dryer in every McDonalds, State Park and WalMart restroom was defaced in exactly the same manner; it is this standardized vandalism that World Dryer will reproduce.

“Once we re-tool the manufacturing facilities, every dryer with the classic text-based instruction set will advise people to push their butt and rub their hands gently ‘under arm hair’,” Tidwell said. “The final step, of course, will be to ‘wipe hands on pants’.”

When asked whether automatic hand dryers featuring the pictograph-style instruction labels would be modified with text instructing users to “Push Button” and “Receive Bacon”, Tidwell responded in the affirmative, but indicated that such dryers would probably not be produced until early 2010.

Shares of Carrier Corporation’s parent company, UTC (NYSE: UTX) closed at $56.11, down 0.23%, after the announcement.

Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen (2009)

Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen (Teaser Poster)Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen (2009)

Starring Shia LeBeouf, Megan Fox, Josh Duhamel, Tyrese Gibson, John Turturro, Kevin Dunn, Julie White, Ramon Rodriguez, Isabel Lucas, Hugo Weaving, Frank Welker and Eeyore

Directed by Michael Bay

SPOILER ALERT: These innocent-looking words may transform into evil, plot-revealing spoilers without further warning.

Michael Bay is often the object of much scorn and derision for directing films that favor style over substance, assaulting the audience with flashy special effects and booming soundtracks while seeming to eschew such things as character development and  coherent storytelling. In spite of this, Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen made thirty-seven bazillion dollars ((Net.)) over the course of its opening weekend.

Did I say “in spite of this”? I meant “because of this”.

The reason Michael Bay’s second Transformers movie made a metric ton of money despite reviews that are almost universally negative is simple: Michael Bay understands that the modern movie theater is tailor-made for big, explodey, in-your-face films featuring frenetic action and jaw-dropping special effects that push the audience right to the edge of sensory overload and keep it there for nearly two solid hours. Bay’s brand of filmmaking has all the elements that compel me (and millions of people like me) to step up to the ticket counter and plunk down eight or nine (or ten) of their hard-earned American dollars in exchange for a hundred and twenty or so minutes of larger-than-life, mind-numbing eye candy.

Mock me if you will. Call me a philistine. I’ll gladly cop to that charge. Why? Because when the theater shakes to the rafters each time Optimus Prime’s massive metal fist smashes into a Decepticon’s face it completely drowns out the sound of cell phones ringing. When a flaming meteor pummels a giant aircraft carrier, I can’t hear the people behind me—you know the ones; the couple who insist on maintaining a running narrative throughout the entire film—yeah, I can’t hear a word they’re saying, nor can I hear the baby crying off to my right. As an added bonus, those giant transforming robots beating the bolts out of each other in a fight sequence so fast-paced my eyes and brain can barely keep up renders me all but unable to even notice the jackass in the next row updating his Facebook status from his iPhone. It’s sheer bliss.

Compelling characters? Subtle, nuanced performances? Thought-provoking narrative? Please! That stuff has no place on a forty-foot-wide screen rendered in so much digital brilliance that I can count the sympathetic protagonist’s eyelashes as the camera zooms in for a close-up during his heart-wrenching, Oscar-worthy monologue. When I want to watch a film from a visionary director that provides some insight into the human condition—the sort of intellectually-stimulating high-brow cinema-as-art drivel I’ll be talking to my well-read friends about over chardonnay and canapés—I’ll buy the DVD and watch it at home. Where it’s quiet. Where no one is kicking the back of my chair. Where the only jackass with a cell phone is me.

Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen is a triumph of cinema-as-spectacle. That said, it is also an awful, awful movie. All that stuff about sacrificing ((Or just plain ignoring.)) a decent story in the drive to push action to the forefront; it’s all true. Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen is a film that, like most everything Michael Bay has ever touched, makes me want to give him a high-five and then drive my knee into his tender, private bits.

The part of me that can switch off my critical brain and just enjoy the awesome sight of 40-foot-tall robots transforming into vehicles and then back into robots, all the while beating the ever-lovin’ hell out of each other doesn’t begrudge Bay one nickel of the admission price. The other part of me—the part that still geeks out over those transforming robots but cringes when one of those robots displays very obvious testicles or when the formerly-badass leader of the Decepticons is reduced to a groveling lickspittle at the feet of The Fallen or when the movie turns into Decoys 3: Alien Robot Seduction—that part howls for Michael Bay’s head on a pike.

Revenge of the Fallen obeys some bizarre, twisted balance that I will call Bay’s First Law, which can be simply stated as follows: For every moment of awesome, there must exist an equal and opposite moment of awful. ((Bay’s Second Law: An object, particularly a vehicle, at rest will disgorge its passengers in motion—slow-motion.))

Awesome Awful
Transforming robots. Come on, that’s right up there on the list of The Coolest Things Ever. Non-transforming robots. I’m looking at you, Ravage and The Fallen. Seriously, a robot that looks like a giant chrome kitty? Who the hell is that going to fool?
Robots in disguise. This might be a little redundant, but it bears repeating: robots that can transform into cars and planes and tanks and motorcycles are made of awesome! ((But I’m still annoyed that Optimus Prime has a mouth.)) Robots in disguise…as humans. No! No, no, no! A thousand times: no! Once you give Transformers the ability to assume non-mechanical disguises you ruin them forever! You need look only as far as the Dinobots to see ample evidence of this.
Devastator. What’s cooler than a car transforming into a giant robot? How about six or seven contruction vehicles combining to transform into a robot so big it can’t even stand upright? Devastator. What’s not cool about a robot made of seven construction vehicles? How about a pair of testicles made of wrecking balls, dangling between said robot’s legs despite the fact that none of the vehicles comprising the robot had a wrecking ball?
Jetfire. The SR-71 Blackbird may be the coolest plane in the history of aviation; the only way to make it cooler: transform it into a giant robot… …but not if that robot is my grandpa! He has a beard and a cane, for cryin’ out loud! Oh, and here’s something you probably didn’t see coming: he can teleport. Dude, if you can teleport, why do you need wheels or wings?
More Transformers. Revenge of the Fallen has a bunch of new Transformers, both Autobots and Decepticons. More giant transforming robots = more giant transforming robot fights. And that is cool. Yeah, but…two of those new ‘bots (Skids and Mudflap) are best described as racist caricatures, while Arcee, the only female Transfomer, ((Don’t try to think about why a Transformer ought to be female; your head may explode.)) is killed after only one line of dialog. Definitely not cool.

Then there are the humans, who exist solely to allow the budget some breathing room and to remind the audience that the Autobots have to watch where they step. Bay still drools over Mikaela (Megan Fox) with his camera, ((Megan Fox’s lipstick remains unsmudged whether she’s dry-humping a motorcycle or after two days of hauling her shapely backside across the deserts of Egypt, pursued by murderous Decepticons. Cover the Autobots in that same lip gloss and they’d be pretty much invincible.)) while Sam (Shia LeBeouf) remains the hapless, confused hero and his parents (Kevin Dunn and Julie White) provide much-unneeded comic relief.

Whether they be searching for the elusive Matrix or stumbling (literally) through a painfully-long drug joke on an unnamed college campus, anytime the humans occupy the screen without the titular transforming robots present they drain a little more of the awesome out of the movie. Thankfully, there’s enough left that I’m waiting for my next opportunity to sit in a multiplex auditorium and have my senses overloaded by all of Michael Bay’s transforming sound and fury; even if, at the end, it signifies nothing more than meets the eye.

Tumblr: Even More Random Than This

I use my Tumblr blog (or Tumblog, I guess) as a repository for random brain-farts and a dumping ground for the occasional photograph I take in my travels; it also contains some snippets of conversation that I find amusing. In other words, it’s an “everything else” blog.

I suppose you could argue that I could just post all that stuff here, and I’d be hard pressed to come up with a convincing argument to the contrary. Suffice it to say that I enjoy a certain compartmentalization of my inanity.