Wednesday, 31 March 2010

Obligatory return post

I~m alive. I want a shower and kitty cuddles.

And I MUST see that Star Trek movie. I woke up partway through and was very distressed! I didn~t want to spoil it for myself so I went back to sleep but gah!! Shiny!!

Monday, 15 March 2010

I love to travel

But I hate long flights and the day before leaving.  I have to clean and pack.  I hit the stores and got what I needed (and green nail polish!!! /girly mode), which included an amazing find of Scrubbing Bubbles!  I only recently managed to find something to clean out my pipes, and my tub was uber stained, and the Japanese cleaners weren't even beginning to cut it.  Yay for clean bathtubs!  Now I just need to clean Mal's tank, the litter box, the kitchen, the floors, and pack. o.O  I could probably get away with not hard-core cleaning the floors, but Lindsey's doing me a favor by staying here with the cats, so I don't want her to feel uncomfortable (since my house already smells like mould even when it's spotless).

Wah, I don't wanna!  I'm reading Paradise Lost right now, to which Jen said "I'm sorry!" except I'm really enjoying it!  I kinda want to just curl up with that and read for the rest of the evening.  There's a decided lack of curling room on airplanes... unless you're in business class, but alas I will never be able to afford that, and I'm thinking that was a one-time-only God-send when I got it last time.  I'm neither sick nor in agony right now, so I can soldier through economy (probably).

I was going somewhere with Paradise Lost, before I got distracted by rambling, and that was that I don't understand how it's written!  Usually, even if I don't really understand something, I can see how from a certain perspective or a certain background or twist in logic it would make sense.  This, I haven't got the foggiest.  Not all of it, but a lot of it, if you read just the words, it's gibberish! (not to the extent of the sound poetry crap I had to read my last semester of undergrad, but still gibberish)  There are no sentences, no apparent grammatical structures, words are pretty much just put in wherever, and there aren't even really lines (though there are random line numbers...), at least not in my edition, so that you could count syllables or feel a rhythm or anything to the words.  The word that strikes me as most accurate would be "haphazard."  But, for some reason that I don't understand at all, even though I don't always (rather rarely) know what exactly is being said, I get images.  If I detach myself from trying to puzzle out the meanings of the words themselves, I don't even realize what is prompting the images, they just appear in my mind.  I could quote all of one line (the line everybody knows, just not always from where), and that not properly, I couldn't tell you more on the style of words used, other than it's not modern English, even though I understand that version of English just fine (normally), but I could tell you the story as I've been seeing it in my head.  Wow is it an intense story!  And the scenes, the moments where the image is hanging in my head, and I'm not quite sure how it's going to unfold, just, gah!  I caught myself chewing on my thumbnail on the train on Friday.

I just started book V of XII.  I hope I finish it soon.  I don't think I'm going to have as much reading time over the next few weeks :P

I really should pack... or clean.  I even made myself a list to make it easier.  I hate this part of traveling.

Wednesday, 10 March 2010

The Communist Manifesto - Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels

Just to make it clear off the bat, it was pretty hard to read this as simply a piece of literature from the 19th century and not critique it based on historical events of the 20th century that basically showed that its theories don't work

It opens with a discussion of class conflicts, people above vs. people below or, as it summed up, oppressor vs. oppressed.  This turns into a discussion of the Bourgeoisie vs. the Proletariat or those owning capital vs. those who must sell their labor in order to survive.   It was published in 1848 by two German philosophers, which I think is important to keep in mind.  For one, according to them Germany had never reached the point of social development in which the bourgeoisie and the proletariat were formed enough for life to get bad enough to justify a revolutionary proletariat.  Germany political literature on socialism was a "schoolboy's lesson" of the French which the then aristocratic German government used to squelch the rising bourgeoisie, thus halting the growth of the proletariat.  That's not to say what the pamphlet had to say was irrelevant.

1848 was in the middle of the Industrial Revolution, which is why I say the date is important.  The problems addressed in regards to the oppression of the proletariat under the bourgeoisie were legitimate then.  Children were sent to work in mines and factories to help support the families who were underpaid, overworked, lived in awful workers' housing, and were generally exploited by those competing for profit from factories in the developing market.  There were no laws  protecting workers at the time, and any cursory review of history is bound to show that people, when they're not restricted by some form of law and when they're gaining some sort of profit, are nasty to each other.  Before the bourgeoisie came about, people in Europe lived under the rule of the aristocracy, those working the land paying taxes to the owner or lord of the land, those lords and owners owe allegiance to a monarchy.  This is also, in my opinion, a recipe for abuse of power, and the fact that it was violently overthrown in some countries is a pretty good indicator that power was being abused and people were unhappy.  Yet it seemed like this feudal set-up was almost idealized in the beginning sections of the pamphlet.

Later there is a discussion of Communism's relationship with the different forms of socialism and what the authors thought of the different forms, mostly concluding that they were Utopian or merely another way for the bourgeoisie to remain in control.  It did actually call in the end for social revolution, and seemed, in not so many words, to admit that any such revolution would necessitate violence.  What land owner is going to give up what they have peacefully?  It also called for an end to nations, since
The working men have no country.  We cannot take from them what they have not got.
For the sake of reference, and because I think it's interesting, I'm going to type out what the "measures of course" are that they talk about in reform.

1. Abolition of property in land and application of all rents of land to public purposes.
2. A heavy progressive or graduated income tax.
3. Abolition of all right of inheritance.
4. Confiscation of the property of all emigrants and rebels.
5. Centralisation of credit in the hands of the State, by means of a national bank with State capital and an exclusive monopoly.
6. Centralisation of the means of communication and transport in the hands of the State.
7. Extension of factories and instruments of production owned by the State; bringing into cultivation of waste-lands, and the improvement of the soil generally in accordance with a common plan.
8. Equal liability of all to labour.  Establishment of industrial armies, especially for agriculture.
9. Combination of agriculture with manufacturing industries; gradual abolition of the distinction between town and country, by a more equable distribution of the population over the country.
10. Free education for all children in public schools.  Abolition of children's factory labor in its present form.  Combination of education with industrial production, &c.,&c.

(Emphasis in bold mine)
 There was also argument for dissolution of family as we know it (under the bourgeoisie class structure).  The argument presented was that families are a means of income, all members work to get money for the family and the children are exploited.
Do you charge us with wanting to stop the exploitation of children by their parents?  To this crime we plead guilty.
  This is why I emphasized the bit about child factory labor in its present form, because no matter which way you cut it, if you're making kids work in factories, whether for the benefit of the family, the bourgeoisie, or the society as a whole, it's still exploitation.  It also argued for social education to be taken out of the hands of the ruling class, only that's one of the other parts I really don't understand (and that seems counter-intuitive) because the manifesto says that there will have to be a ruling body, a portion of the proletariat, so there would still be a ruling class.  Again, it doesn't really matter how you look at it, people in authority have influence over things they want to influence, and one of them will always be education.

In a further way of dissolving the family, it talks about creating a community of women, arguing that the bourgeoisie regard women as a means of production and employ prostitutes and the wives of other members of the bourgeoisie.  So in essence there already is one and the Communists would simply stop the hypocrisy of the current system and make it legal.

Later on it addressed forms of socialism it called Utopian and reactionary.  I know the intent of those words was probably meant differently, but to me they really fit my reaction to the theories presented here.  They're a reaction to the social changes that were taking place between between the 18th and 19th centuries.  Europe was feudalistic for centuries before, and before that parts were dominated by Rome.  It doesn't surprise me that people had such a strong reaction to what was going on around them at the time.  It also doesn't surprise me that they were impatient for change.

Parts of it struck me as opposed to progress, which I'm sure they would argue I say because I was raised as a part of the system they oppose.  This is part of why it strikes me as Utopian--it assumes human nature will gear itself toward sustaining mankind as a whole.  The arguments presented, about nations ceasing to exist, about hostilities between nations ceasing, assumes that the world, as a whole, has adopted Communism.  That would require all men (used in the sense of humankind) to be selfless.  There is no personal gain, and perhaps it isn't anti-progress, but in that case it assumes people will continue to advance without any personal reward, that they'll struggle through their education, that they'll build and discover and create completely selflessly.

I know The Communist Manifesto has been used by governments as a so-called framework for building societies, but any of the societies that come to mind as having used this fell far short of its intent, and the ones coming to mind are the U.S.S.R., China, and North Korea.  I'm not including countries that consider themselves Socialist.  Maybe they really did start out intending to make this ideal society, but I think people tend to get in the way of their own ideals.  In my Poli Sci classes in high school and college, my teachers talked about left wing and right wing meeting at their extremes, more like a circle than a 2D line.  It's not the only political theory, and it's not the newest one, but it's hard to deny that Hitler's version of Socialism (which could actually be considered Fascism), Stalin's version of Communism, and Mussolini's version of Fascism all look pretty similar.  Anyway, that was just to illustrate the fact that I think the ideas put forward in The Communist Manifesto were abused.

It's interesting to read as a historical text, though I think if you're going to read it with strong political opinions in mind you might as well not read it at all.  It was hard enough to get through under thirty pages with the events of the 20th century marching through my head and shouting "No, see that, they slaughtered people over that!" off and on.  The writing style is a bit too pretty, which made it hard to pay attention to what was actually being said.  There are contradictions in logic that take a lot of standing-in-someone-else's-shoes to puzzle out, and some that I was just unable to work through at all.  I think reading this you have to let go of whether you agree or disagree with its ideas.  It's pretty irrelevant, I think, whether or not you agree since in practice history has shown that it doesn't really work that way.  Of course, looking at it from that perspective doesn't do much for working through the text either.  It's a biased piece of literature, which, I think, makes it very difficult to read for anyone, because I think a lot of people are biased in one way or another.

Song of Roland

That was bloody. o.O  I have to say first, I love the word "smite," and I love how much this translation used it!

Song of Roland doesn't appear to have a known author - it apparently became a nationwide song.  According to the introduction by the translator (old French), it's not even very historically accurate (Charlemagne was 36, not 200, and the attackers were a different group altogether).  It's still an interesting window into the past, though.

Count Roland is the nephew of Charlemagne, as well as being his favorite.  The poem is the story of Ganelon's betrayal of his step-son, Roland, to the Spanish armies.  His reasoning is more revenge than anything else, but it's still treason nonetheless.  Roland is made to stay behind and guard the king's back while the armies return to France under a false treaty.  Set up by Ganelon and the Spanish king, the Spaniards have a huge army, three of them if I read it right, waiting to kill Roland specifically, since Ganelon has told them that until Roland is dead, Charlemagne won't stop fighting.  Roland's army, 20,000, beats back one of 100,000, but starts to suffer losses in the second wave.  Still, he refuses to sound the horn that will bring the king's army around to help him fight.  By the end, he's cut off the Spanish king's hand, killed all of the enemy's nobles, and pretty much won the battle.  Of course, his army dies down to the last man.  Roland himself never appears to be wounded, but sounding his horn at the very end he somehow bursts his temple and his brains start dripping out of his ears. (Did I mention this was bloody?)

Charlemagne's army gets there too late and wipes out the remnants of the Spanish army, which is fleeing by this point.  He sacks the city, kills the king, captures the queen, and makes everyone convert to Christianity.  After burying the dead, they return to France with the bodies of three of the nobles (Roland, Olivier, and one other) and the queen where they try Ganelon.  Ganelon's got a smooth-talking cousin who manages to turn the judges against the king, except for one (who's brother, I believe, was killed in the battle).  Thierry challenges the ruling, tells the king he thinks Ganelon deserves a traitor's death, and Ganelon's cousin, Pinabel, challenges that and thus we come to a joust, complete with lances, knocking each other off horses, epic mid-battle banter, and turtles in armor waving swords at last a sword fight.  Pinabel scores a hit but doesn't kill Thierry in time, and Thierry slices his face open.  So Ganelon and all thirty of his family members who came to support him are killed.  I think the family were just hung, but Ganelon had his limbs torn off by four horses.  The queen of Spain converts to Christianity, and the angel Gabriel visits Charlemagne once again to tell him to ride off to another battle.

I mentioned this was incredibly gorey, right?  Cause it really was.  I'm still trying to work out the physics of a fairly blunt hunk of steel managing to slice from a helmet, through the armor and the skull, ribs, pelvis, etc., down through the saddle and into the horse's spine.  I can attribute that to 1) being done by the hero's blade and 2) said blade being embued with divine power.  But then I come to the problem of Roland's death.  He continues to fight a good while after he's popped his brains.  Granted, he passes out off and on, which also gives me problems because he's surrounded by enemies and there are only two people left fighting with him.  I'm being too literal, I know, but I can't help it.

There's a big theme I noticed with divine power.  Roland and Charlemagne both have weapons built out of holy relics; the tip of the spear thrust in Christ's side, a scrap of Mary's veil, someone's hair (I don't remember whose).  Before he dies, Roland tries to break his sword on a stone instead of let it fall into "heathen" hands (they've fled by this point, but I guess he was worried about them coming back before Charlemagne's army made it to him).  The thing won't even dent.  It bends and twists and when he holds it up, pop, right back to being straight again.  I also have to point out, in those medieval battles, they hacked at each other till someone died or their weapons broke.  Those swords were not sharp or solid.  The good ones were, yes, and they'd last a lot longer, but even in this it mentions how the lances broke quickly and the swords gave out.

There is also a lot of divine guidance.  The Christian king is visited by God's messengers with prophecies and even, in the end, direct battle orders.  Battles are done, kingdoms are expanded in the name of bringing Christianity to the heathen world, interesting if you turn the tables around and look at it from, say, a modern perspective.  Not that a Christian king claiming divine right, power, guidance, what-have-you is anything new or surprising, just interesting.

A couple of things I didn't understand that came up a lot was all the fainting.  Yes, it happens, though it seems like, at least if you go by what's written down, it used to happen with far more frequency.  Some people see blood and faint, though that really wouldn't work well for a seasoned soldier in those days... or in any days.  Roland and Charlemagne both faint repeatedly.  Roland's got his brains coming out of his ears, so I kind of understand that, though how he manages to survive while he's fainted is beyond me.  Charlemagne seems to be fainting out of grief, which is legitimate, but I don't understand why the poets felt it necessary to include, and not just once.  He faints and his nobles rouse him.  He says a few words, faints again, and more nobles help rouse him.  It seems odd to me, and even the same with Roland, to take an idealized warrior/hero and give him that kind of weakness.  You're completely vulnerable when you're unconscious!

Charlemagne also did one other thing that I don't understand.  They buried their dead on the field, but for the three that they took back to France with them, he also removed their hearts and put them in containers.  My immediate thought was what the Egyptians used to do before they mummified their dead, but it seems to go against a proper Christian burial of the time, which was intended to preserve the whole body for the rising of the dead in the second coming.

Which reminds me, the arch-bishop was one of the last two fighters standing.  That he was fighting actually surprised me.  I knew armies kept clergy around, for obvious reasons, but I wasn't at all aware that they were participants in the battle.

For a poem, (and I hate poetry) it was a good read!  It was light on the obscure imagery and pretty much lacking in the need to interpret meaning, and thus made sense.  The rhythm and rhyme of it were a bit mind-numbing at 7AM when I was trying to stay awake on the train, but by the end I was pretty well caught up in the "Holy crap the French are getting slaughtered, but holy crap they're taking them down with 'em!!" that I mostly stopped noticing any of it.  It's a good read if you're at all interested in medieval anything.  Word of warning though, if you can't understand the language (vocabulary-wise) in Shakespeare, you're going to have trouble.  Verb conjugations are weird, and words like troth, wot, and sooth abound.  Still, there was an epic usage of the word "smite," and that wins my heart, right there.

Tuesday, 9 March 2010

Alice's Adventures in Wonderland - Lewis Carroll

I followed it, right up to the end, when it stopped being nonsensical and tried to be semi-serious in contemplating children growing up.  I'm pretty sure everyone who grew up in an English speaking country has at least heard of the story or references to it if they haven't seen one version or another in film or print.  Alice goes down the rabbit hole after the white rabbit, has issues with her size, meets all sorts of talking critters, talks with the Cheshire Cat, has a crazy tea party, plays croquet with the Queen of Hearts, listens to to Mock Turtle's story, goes to a trial over tarts, and lots of "Off with her head!"

I enjoyed the nonsense, and the word games.  I just really really didn't follow the ending.  She wakes up on her sister's lap (got it), and it was all a dream (got it).  She tells the dream to her sister (got it), and her sister sits and contemplates the dream and imagination and holding onto all of it as she grows up and tells stories to her kids (totally and completely don't get it).  Okay, in a way, I do get it, but it makes it seem like the book is supposed to mean something profound, a la Peter Pan and the loss of childhood, which is really jolting.

I know the popular theory is that the whole story is one big drug reference, and I looked for it, but I really don't follow that.  Maybe it is, who am I to say?  Still, it seemed more like sitting down and listening to my brain for a couple of hours, not that mine goes with those particular themes, but the randomness and the jumps and the word games and twisted logic really just seemed train-of-thought to me.  I did a bit of reading after I read it (cause I really don't get the ending), and I didn't find anything to change my view of cocked-eyebrow at people who say it's all a big drug metaphor.  Personally, I'd say that's giving it too much credit for metaphor.  That, and the fact that all of the word games and weird logic make complete sense in their own way really casts doubt on the "made kooky by opium" theory.

Anyway, those are my thoughts on that.  I'm excited to see the new movie (which is why I bumped that from its low place on my list to today).  I don't recall having a fondness for the Disney version, actually it seemed more silly than anything else, but I don't really recall having much fondness for most children's books and I still enjoy the movies, especially when they include Jonny Depp. XD

A Tale of Two Cities - Charles Dickens

For all I've read the beginning of this book at least seven times, I've only actually finished it twice.  I still love it though.  It's hard to summarize the story without retelling the whole thing.  It's really long, and it takes you from the very beginning, with Dr. Manette being "recalled to life" through the French Revolution.  It follows Dr. Manette's family and friends, including an old servant of his from before he was imprisoned.  Everything is connected, but it's not done so that things are glaringly obvious.  Minor characters in the beginning show up to play important roles in the end.  Major characters are connected with those who are only briefly mentioned having played a part of the book's history.

A portion of the book deals with the French aristocracy, their abuse of power (and everything else), their vulgarity (which is amusing in the way the word has changed meaning in the last 100 years), and the way they looked down on the common (vulgar) people as less than their dogs.  Though the commoners are starving, the Monseigneur has four men employed to feed him chocolate.  A marquis (duke, I think) catches sight of a common girl he wants and causes the death of her entire family.  Admittedly, I didn't study the French Revolution.  I know it happened, I know some details about it, but really nothing past that.  Still, that it happened makes sense.  Really what confuses me is why it took so long to happen.

Dickens really captures mankind at its worst near the end.  The revolution draws from these horrible crimes committed by the aristocracy, but once the king is taken down, once the nobles are all dead or in hiding, it doesn't stop, and the people don't seem to want it to stop.  For the sake of more bloodshed, a wife is contemplating turning in her husband for having sympathies in a completely unjust execution, even though that husband has played a key role in starting the revolution.  52 heads a day, and the people are crying for more.  Prisoners are released, cleared of their charges, and the crowds kill them anyway, or find new reasons to send the back to jail.  All in the name of freedom, even though, by the end, it seems less free than it was to begin with.

My favorite character is Sydney Carton.  He's a dead-look-alike for Charles Darnay, a marquis making his own living in London teaching French language and literature, but they couldn't be more different.  Lucie, Dr. Manette's daughter, marries Charles, and, at least I think, Sydney idealizes the family.  He spends days there, just sitting.  He specifically asks Charles's permission to, when he feels the need, just enter the house and be with them, and just knowing that he's permitted to do that helps him get by.  His life isn't particularly bad.  He's some kind of assistant to a lawyer, who, while being his friend also manages to get ahead of him at every turn.  We know he's hurting, and there are a few brief hints as to why, but it never comes out and says it.  Sydney believes his life is wasted and that the only good part of his life is Dr. Manette's household.  When Charles is arrested in Paris (crime being an emigrant, and also being part of the marquis's family who was particularly nasty to the family of one of the influential players in the revolution), Sydney follows the family and does what he can to save Charles... which is a really lame way of putting it, but if you haven't read it I really want you to and I don't want to spoil the ending!

It's not an easy book to read.  I tried about five times before I managed to read the whole thing through in high school (granted, I started when I was eleven...).  This time around, the edition I got on my reader (free Sony CLASSICS=suck) had typos, wrong words, and punctuation errors everywhere, so sometimes I had to go back and reread sentences before I could figure out what was supposed to be said.  Still, even without that, the first book, "Recalled to Life," is incredibly dry.  The second is better, and by the third, well I stayed up reading until 1AM even though I knew the ending.

I love his language.  I love how it sounds in my head, even if I probably couldn't read it out loud smoothly to save my life.  And the way everything ties together, the little things you'd forgotten about in the beginning, because they just seemed like scenery at the time, just dazzles me.  And I seriously love Sydney, and I love (and hate) the ending.

Tuesday Evening

Canterbury Tales is really long, and I really hate poetry, even when I try to amuse myself by sounding out words that are spelled strangely or tracing the origins of modern English words (there were some nifty ones, villain, curl, complexion, and humor among them).  Anyway, I finished the intro, and now I'm moving onto something else that isn't rhyming for a while.  Not that I don't find the subject matter interesting (I'm not sure what the common theory is, but it looks to me like Chaucer is making fun of his audience, which I find quite entertaining), but bleh.  Took me way too long to read 39 pages of half-page text.

I have more bead projects to work on... I should finish those.... I want to build the puzzle though. :P  Oh, and it's now back to cold and rainy.  I'm betting it'll stop come Tuesday, and by the end of the month it'll be hot and miserable, cause that's how these things work, ya know?  Ah well, it stopped me from going out and spending money.  I wanted more cranberry juice and coke (not to mix), but the cranberry juice is really far.  I was going to attempt to jog it for exercise, but not with an umbrella, thanks.  I want to start jogging again though.  It probably won't last long, especially once it gets hot, but I really miss it.  It feels good to move around and just sweat sometimes.

Gah! It's cold!

Sunday, 7 March 2010

Weekends are wonderful things

Friday night, Lindsey and I wandered around for hours, waiting for free-time to start at karaoke so we could afford to go (1500 for 10-3 vs. 600 per hour).  We found a really cool arcade up by Nerima, hung out there for a while, wandered some more, then stayed at karaoke for around 3 to 4 hours.  It was fun, exhausting, and very needed.

Yesterday we went up to Toys R Us in Shimura and got a puzzle and a puzzle mat.  It was a puzzle day, rainy and cold.  The picture is of the four gods, suzaku, seiryuu, gembu, and the tiger that I can never remember, basically the phoenix, blue dragon, turtle-snake, and tiger.  It's gorgeous, and really, really difficult.  We got all the faces so far, and part of the border, but the phoenix tail is so big, and the background is all shades of brown, that it's really hard to find what goes where.  We worked on it through two discs of firefly.. so 8 episodes... not sure how long that totals out to be.

Today I need to go to the grocery store, but I think I'm going to put that off a bit longer.  I definitely have to go though, I need cat food and litter.  I made hamburger helper for me, and mmm was it good.  I don't think I'll need much for dinner, probably just eat edamame.  I want to finish A Tale of Two Cities today, but I don't know if I will.  I have a little under half left.

I went through the reading list the professor gave me and wrote down my own starter reading list.  Some of these, not gonna lie, I'm very much not looking forward to.

Metaphyiscis, Beowulf, The Song of Roland, Canterbury Tales, Sir Gawain and the Green Knight, Le Morte D'Arthur, King Lear, Shakespeare's sonnets, Paradise Lost, Faust, Les Miserables, Great Expectations, Oliver Twist, Alice's Adventures in Wonderland, Anna Karenina, A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur's Court, Adventures of Sherlock Holmes, The Wasteland, Waiting for Godot, The Chronicles of Narnia, Catcher in the Rye, Death of a Salesman, Fahrenheit 451, Mists of Avalon.

I've read A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur's Court, but I really don't remember any of it.  I was in elementary school... Mists of Avalon is likewise buried under dozens of other books about the same Arthur legend in my memory.  I don't know that I ever finished reading Beowulf.  I think I got distracted by wanting to learn Anglo-Saxon.  And the only thing I remember about Catcher in the Rye is the one guy nodding.

Anyway, I have a few of those on my reader that I got for free, which means the editing is going to be horrible and there are going to be spelling errors everywhere (I don't think they edited those after they scanned them), but I guess I'll start with those.  I need to grab my Shakespeare collection when I'm home.  I don't remember what's all in the big book, but I know I at least have the sonnets in there.  I've been wanting to read Le Morte D'Arthur for a long time, from back when I was on my Arthur kick in Jr. high, so I'm pretty excited for that one.  Not so much so for Metaphysics.  I'm more thinking "gag me with a spoon" on that one.

I love being able to keep a whole library on my reader.  I'd be so upset about having to either transport all the books I have from home to here, or buying them here and having to transport them back or get rid of them somehow.  Sometimes I really love technology.  Now the ebook publishers and bookstores need to get over themselves and stop putting so much DRM on the files so the market can improve.  Or somebody needs to come up with a library system... that would be awesome.

I think I'm going to go curl up with my book now.  Yay for comfy couches, warm blankets, cats, and good books.  One day I'll get a better copy of A Tale of Two Cities so I can read it without having to sift through typos (like "bad" instead of "had"). ^_^

Bone Crossed - Patricia Briggs

Bone Crossed picks up right where Iron Kissed left off, literally at the same scene.  Mercy has chose Adam, but the emotional injuries from her attack haven't quite healed.  Her  mom shows up, and right around then Stefan, the Mystery Machine driving Italian vampire who's friends with Mercy, appears in her living room, pretty much dead, as in second dead, not just vampire dead.  This is the start of what looks like the vampires starting a war against Mercy.  That night, a relative of her attacker, now dead and torn to bits, takes revenge on Mercy by graffitiing things like 'liar' and 'whore' on her shop.  Zee discovers a set of crossbones painted on the door that his glamor can't cover.  On checking the security cameras, they discover that it was a vampire who painted them, and eventually find out that it's a curse.

Offered a way out of town for a while, Mercy leaves with Stefan to help her old college acquaintance in another city deal with a ghost problem.  The very first night she encounters the vampire other vampires are afraid of, and, after making the ghost problem even worse, to the point that the family has to leave their house, she flees and returns with Stefan.

The fight with the vampires is resolved, and so is the ghost problem.  There is a bit more about pack magic (werewolves), as well as vampire and walker magic, but a lot of it felt like it came up in response to the plot rather than being a part of the plot.

I enjoyed reading Bone Crossed, though not nearly as much as I enjoyed the other three.  The story was okay, but it felt rushed.  The editing wasn't as clean, and the story just didn't have the same believability as the other three.  I think it was partly, again, because of that feeling of convenient magic to fix or respond to the plot.  I liked learning more about the walkers, and I felt like there could be a lot there, but it wasn't very convincing.  Mercy wasn't nearly as interesting a narrator in this one, and it was the pace and quality of her narration even more than the content of what she said.

I really liked this series, and I love the ideas behind the characters.  Still, part of me hopes Briggs will leave it be, as excited as I was to find a fourth book.  Unless she improves the quality of the stories, I'd like to remember this series as books I through III.

Elric: Stealer of Souls - Michael Moorcock

This is a collection of the earliest short stories/novelettes about Elric of Melnibone by Michael Moorcock.  Elric is the emperor of Melnibone, the last emperor as he has no heir and succeeds in destroying the last of Melnibone's cities in an act of vengeance during the first short story.  According to Melnibonean tradition, he's not very good at being a member of his race, which is less bloodthirsty and more carelessly selfish with perverse, and often bloody pleasures.  He's also too much a part of Melnibone to fit in easily among humans, though eventually he almost does.

He carries a runesword called Stormbringer, sister sword to Mournblade.  Both swords were forged by Chaos to destroy/reform the world as it was and can only be wielded by the royal line of Melnibone.  Stormbringer, for most of the stories, keeps Elric alive by feeding him souls of the people it kills.  He is a sorcerer, which takes a lot of strength out of him to begin with, but he is also sickly to the point of not being able to survive without magic, which is apparently part and parcel with being albino in this story.

Elric is something of a tragic hero in the end, but while I wouldn't quite consider him an anti-hero, he definitely began with a strong potential for that.  He's too concerned with the balance of Law and Chaos and with redemption for me to call him an anti-hero.  As a Melnibonean, he traditionally serves Chaos, but with Chaos trying to destroy the natural course of Fate and the world, he fights along side Law.  Then again, with lots of help from magical items like the Chaos shield, his runesword, and a nifty horn, all of which try to kill him, he ends up assisting Law in the remodeling of the earth and the end of mankind as it is known at the time.  So it's hard to classify him as the average hero either.

To put it bluntly, the writing was terrible.  Granted, the writer at the time was young and inexperienced (as he himself admits), but that doesn't change much--think Eregon, bad is bad, doesn't matter how old the writer is.  Grammatically it's painful.  The dialogue is cliche, corny, and incredibly unbelievable while at the same time committing the dreadful crime of over-telling almost everything, and telling it poorly.  There are holes in the weaving of each story big enough to drive a Mac truck through, but that may be in part because they're short stories and don't, by their nature, have the size to fill in those holes (but still).

That said, I kept reading and I will read more of his shorts in the future because Elric is an interesting character with an interesting story.  (There was an unrelated short in the middle, and lots of commentary in this volume, but they were irrelevant and fairly obnoxious, so I'm not going there.)   Especially as a younger character, prior to the angst that pulls him officially out of the badass anti-hero category and into the whiny hero category, Elric has a lot of draw for me.  It's almost refreshing to watch him take out his anger by destroying an entire city, the city he grew up in.  That just doesn't often happen in fantasy, unless it's done by a villain.

The general ideas of the stories, I thought, were intriguing.    Kinda like Harry Potter, I like daydreaming in the stories rather than reading them.  I know there's a draw for the tragic hero--the one who's life is just so messed up that it seems it'll be impossible for him to redeem himself.  At the same time, if you're going to go all the way out on a limb and make the character half-evil, go all the way out there and stop his whining.  Give him a pair and then give him the strength of character to deal with it.  I really don't like my heroes, tragic or otherwise, complaining about their lot in life or their guilt or what-have-you.  Just a personal opinion there.

Thursday, 4 March 2010

In great need of getting out of this city

Counting to 10 only works when people aren't constantly interrupting the counting to tick me off. *sigh*  I seriously need a break from here, all of these people, the tiny spaces.  My coworker is driving me completely nuts the last two weeks, and that doesn't help.  Someone moved in downstairs yesterday and pounding on the kitchen ceiling (?!?!?!), and that doesn't help either.

I went into my company's office yesterday to sign my new contract, and my boss asked me about my coworkers, so I breifly mentioned my issue with this guy - mostly that he treats me like an idiot child and is completely inflexible about doing things his way - and was told that the person before me had the same problem with him.  Today, in one breath, he told me the same thing 4 times... a very common sense thing that, had I not already known what to do, I would have asked.  It's incredibly difficult on a normal day not to snap back or at least glare.  Today I had to leave the office and go to the bathroom to cool down.  If he was super smart or even a trained teacher, I still wouldn't be happy with how he talks to me.  Being as he is neither, it's infuriating.

In good news, though, I got accepted at Mercy!  I have to take some undergrad classes, since the proram director is concerned about how narrow my exposure to lit studies has been (after reading through the reading list he gave me, I agree...), but I'll be able to start in the fall! Hopefully in three years I'll have a degree that lets me get out of this type of work.  (I really don't mind the actual work part, it's the people and the fact that next to no one is actually trained to do their jobs, but they all think they know what's best and are completely unwilling to listen to other opinions.  I don't know what's best, but I can recognize when something isn't working, and sometimes I might just have a semi-decent idea that might be worth at least trying.)

I'm crabby about work today.  I was okay with it until he did that a bit ago, now everything's back to bugging me.  I was completely indifferent to coming in next week to do grades, but now apparently we have a "meeting" in which he wants to tell me (probably four or five times) about ways he wants to change the first year curriculum.  It would be less annoying if I could have some say over when these meetings happen, rather than him going "Let's have a meeting... now." (He's not my boss! Not by a long shot!)  and if something that should take 5-10 minutes didn't take an entire hour.

It's good to know it's not just me, and that the woman before me found it worthwhile to mention to my boss.  It's still frustrating, and no matter what I do or how polite I act, or how firm I am when I need to be, nothing changes.  I'm more than willing to ask questions when I feel I don't understand something, and I've done so whenever the need arose.  I really don't understand what makes him think I'm stupid or need to be told things repeatedly when any person of average intelligence would have already come to that conclusion already.  I really could scream right now.  *sigh*

Three more classes, and I have to find my boss at this school and talk to him about grades, and then I can forget that I work here until Wednesday, which I so very much need to do.  Two weeks is really short, but even that long away from this city, I think, will do me a lot of good... I hope anyway.  I need a break from people and crowds.  I think I'm going to spend time in August (next vacation time) somewhere completely isolated for a few days, inclusive of no pushy male neighbors.