Saturday, February 18, 2006

To whom it may concern

Are you someone who has wanted to try LSD, but live in a country where it is illegal, or have concerns about its health risks? Well, worry no longer! Here's a foolproof way to get the mind-bending effects of America's favorite hallucinogen without the mess. First, wear glasses almost constantly for fifteen to twenty years. Next, adjust them* so that one lense is just slightly closer to your eye than the other.

The results will impress you. When you stare at a stationary object, it will appear to both approach and recede from you simultaneously. Objects will prove to be closer to or farther from you than you initially thought, leading to comical mishaps around the workplace. Final results are not yet in, but I'm hoping I'll get to hear disembodied voices soon.

Just finished reading the book "Thud!" Thanks to Brad for the recommendation. Terry Pratchett is yet another author who has been on my radar forever; I first heard of Discworld back around junior high and only in positive contexts, but never got around to reading it. Thud! was really enjoyable; at heart it's a comic fantasy, similar to Robert Asprin's Myth series which I enjoyed as a youngster, but with a very keen satirical edge.

What's most impressive about Thud!, at least to me, is its almost subversive handling of racial tensions in urban centers. Oh, here the races are dwarves and trolls, but ever since Tolkien wrote about elves and dwarves we've been comfortable understanding fantasy races as substitutions for real-world ethnicities. The book is mainly from the point of view of Sam Vimes, the Captain of the Watch, and despite the medieval setting he oversees what is clearly a modern police force, complete with audits and a diversified workplace and a media strategy. His careful and frustrated handling of mounting racial tensions accomplishes the goal of all great satirists, to tell us something about the real world while making us laugh.

I detest puns, and Pratchett relies on them a bit too much for my taste, but the overall level of humor is relentlessly strong here. He never loses a chance to slip in a parody or sniping conversation or humorous thought; many of the best laughs in the book come from things Vimes tells himself. There's also a sweet subplot regarding his relationship with his wife and especially his son, Young Sam, but it never overshadows the general humor of the story.

I picked up two books today that I will almost certainly not finish by their due date. One is "Enigma of Arrival" by V. S. Naipul; this book was recommended to me by a VP of Weathernews, my other Bay Area job offer, and what I've heard of it sounds interesting and quite modern. The other is "I Married a Communist" by Philip Roth. It's the sequel to "American Pastoral," one of the best books I read in college, and also received very good reviews (though not another Pulitzer). Anyways, both should be good, but neither will be as quick a read as Thud!, plus I just installed Planescape: Torment, so that will be eating away a good chunk of my life.

I haven't written about this yet (I think), but I'm slowly making my way through Neil Gaiman's Sandman comics. They're quite good. I've never really been into comics; I've read some manga and the "Bone" comic in recent years, but growing up I never bought any. That didn't stop me from being aware of the X-Men and Spider Man and more, of course; through sheer cultural osmosis they touched even a pop culture pariah like myself. Anyways, I really enjoyed Gaiman's "American Gods" and had heard good things about Sandman from a surprising number of sources.

Oh, slight topic hop. I'm really into Firefly and Serenity, as you probably know, and when I heard Whedon was releasing comics for Firefly, I decided to get them. I went into a comic store for the first time in seven years, and bought something for the first time in my life. I've picked up a bad financial habit, though, and feel weird about spending a chunk of time in a store and buying something that just costs a few dollars. So I looked around the store to find something sufficiently expensive that I wouldn't feel like I was wasting their time when I checked out. The first two issues were released while I was still in KC, and I picked up the two Ghost in the Shell books to complement them.

The third issue was released after I moved here, and after some looking around, I decided to pick up "Preludes and Nocturnes," the first Sandman book. It was all right. Even Gaiman, in his introduction, basically says it isn't very good; everyone agreed the story was just hitting its stride towards the end of that initial arc, when Death is introduced and Dream breaks away from a traditional arc to do some pondering. So I didn't regret getting it, but didn't feel compelled to rush out and buy the second book.

More recently, when I was talking with Chris about the Emperor Norton musical, he told me he had heard of Norton's story before; after some thinking, he remembered that it was from a Sandman comic. What he described sounded great, so I decided to go ahead and continue. The San Jose library system has most Sandman books, so I've worked my way up through the fifth one, "A Game of You." It's really good, almost custom-written to please me. I'm fascinated by dreams and dreaming and questions of reality and time and meaning, and Gaiman is unafraid to wander around that territory. Not every comic is ABOUT dreams, really, but there's a dreamlike quality to everything that isn't. It's all very literate and thoughtful, solid stuff all around. My only real complaint is that the character designs are a bit too 80's for my taste, but that's getting better with the more recent ones.

Unfortunately, book number six ("Fables and Reflections") is unavailable at the library; all the copies have been lost and billed. So I just ordered a copy from Amazon, along with my Serenity DVD. Once I get over this hurdle I'll return to the library for the rest. I'll probably post something more focused once I'm through all of them.

Happy Presidents' Day Weekend, everyone! Play safe!

* A variety of methods are available, although the author has found the most efficient solution is to ride face-first into a fence at high speed.

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