What’s with all the moon stuff?

I have added a couple of widgets over in the sidebar that show the phase of the moon. Why? Because when the moon gets back to new, I’ll be somewhere in the ocean around Iwo Jima, staring straight up and burning my eyeballs as the moon passes between them and the sun. Total Eclipse of the Sun, baby, and I’ll be there!

I added two different moon phase thingies because one was more aesthetically pleasing, while the other held more cultural interest. If you hold the mouse over the Japanese characters, you will be given important information about how to carry out your day. If you can figure out what it means.

I’ll be writing more about this adventure as I gear up for the cruise. A boat full of astronomy geeks! Woo hoo!

Shadow Gate

“Uh, oh,” I thought as I picked up Shadow Gate. I’d bought it in a hurry while at the Atlanta airport, and I did not look closely at the cover. It was a big fat fantasy novel and I like those, especially when traveling. I didn’t read it on the plane, however, and so it was a few days ago that I pulled it off the shelf of books waiting to be read. That’s when I looked more closely at the cover. “Book two of Crossroads,” the fine print on the cover said. Crap.

“Uh, oh,” I said again as I flipped through the pages in front. There was a map. Not generally a good sign. With trepidation, I began to read.

Things started off well. I met a character who, apparently, had been killed in book one. Only, she’s what you might call “sort of dead”; she can walk around and talk to people and in fact can kick some pretty serious ass. She has become a Guardian, a person with great power and the responsibility to apportion justice in the land. One of the central themes of the book, and one I enjoyed exploring quite a lot, is what happens when those given the power to maintain justice turn around and misuse it instead. This gives all the adventuring and conflict a higher purpose, and many of the people we like are struggling with the issues, and sometimes making decisions that are morally questionable. Add cultural differences and you’ve got quite a yummy stew of ideas.

But let’s get to those two uh-oh’s, warning instincts that I have come to trust. I’ll start with the simplest one: the map. As a rule I’m suspicious of books with maps, for a couple of reasons. Writers often confuse a big stage with a big story, and have people tramping all over the place for no real reason. My story The Monster Within has travel, but there’s no need of a map. I kept the geography unimportant, and focussed on the people in the places. In this case, I looked at the map a couple of times at the beginning, but then gave up on it for two reasons. First, what little information it did impart it did poorly, second, much of the geography that really mattered for this story was off the edge of the map. As ‘outlanders’ interacted I really wished I knew how their domains connected. Oh, well. Ultimately, the exact locations of things wasn’t that important, and when I mentally threw the map away the reading experience improved.

Then there’s the ‘book two’ business. The cover of this book reads:

Shadow Gate Book Two of Crossroads.

What it should say is

Crossroads: Volume 2 of n – Shadow Gate.

Or, as I think about it more, perhaps the title should be:

Crossroads pages 781-1564

When I buy a book, especially in an airport, I expect a there to be a story contained between the covers. Airport selections are limited, and the chance that I’ve read book one of a series is small. Still, optimistically, I began to read this volume, and at first it seemed like Ms. Elliott was on my side. The mostly-dead character awakens, and we fast-forward ahead about twenty years. Many of the characters that are introduced subsequently weren’t even born when Marit became a Guardian (presumably after the end of the first volume), so I got the feeling that we were off to a nice fresh start. There were cultural traits and slang words that seemed to be taken for granted, but I worked through them. The writer could have done a little better welcoming new readers, but it wasn’t a big deal. Then there was a huge battle that was never depicted, but the aftermath drove much of the narrative. Characters appeared only to disappear again almost instantly. Hm. I started getting the feeling that I was seeing events that had been in book one, but were now being shown again from a very limited perspective.

Still, the narrative chugged along with good characters and big developments portrayed from very human perspectives. Morals and ethics of different cultures contrasted and clashed. The nature of the evil that threatens the land becomes clearer, but is plausibly self-justified. Bad people die. Good people die. The bad guys have the upper hand, but we see all the characters heading for a major confrontation. I was hooked.

It was the promise of the major showdown, and lingering hope that my impression at the start that book two was not merely a continuation of book one that kept me going. (Although, would it kill Ms. Elliott to be more selective with pronouns? To start with “he” after a break and go for a page and a half without naming the character is annoying to say the least.) On I read, and as I learned more about the overall power struggle among the Guardians the more interested I became. This was obviously the grand struggle that would span the entire series, while this book would resolve one specific part of that struggle. Wheels within wheels, I thought. We’ll take care of some personal conflicts, perhaps between Shai (who is shy) and the woman who torments him. Or maybe Kesh and Elidar will realize they have a common goal. There are about a dozen of those threads as we draw to the end of the volume, as well as some extra problems caused by conflict in faraway lands.

There is no ending. No smaller wheels within the larger plot. This is not a story, but an episode. It even ends with a cliffhanger. Once again I have shelled out my hard-earned cash to read a story only to discover at the end that I have merely invested in an installment, and I will have to purchase an unknown number of volumes over an unknown number of years to get to the end of the story. I could have set the book down at any point and be no worse off. Books like this should say in big letters: CONTAINS NO ENDING!

Note to Kate Elliott: Let me know when the entire series is published. I liked your writing enough to give the story a try — once you’ve finished writing it.

Note: if you use the above link to buy this book (or a Kindle, or a new car), I get a kickback.

Please don’t adjust your set…

Just playing around with background images. You know, for something memorable. Branding. Something that people will look at and say “Now that’s Muddled Ramblings and Half-baked Ideas!” Or, failing that, “Aaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaargggggggghhhhhh!”

Although my sweetie likes this background, I expect it will be temporary. Let me know what you think!

The Spam Index of Popularity

If the popularity of figures in the entertainment industry is proportional to the number of times a person appears in Internet spam, then Megan Fox and Miley Cyrus are currently at the top of the heap. I’m not sure who either of those people is, but their names appear before the word “nude” more than any others who appear in the (pre-filtered) spam comments for this blog.

Their agents should be right on top of this trend, and get them the big bucks.

Awkwardlicious

The road trip was a success! Two went south, and three came back. In the meantime we saw a not-very-rough rough cut of “this is Awkward”, the latest Brat?i Síg?í production. (Although, I must admit my participation in this one was more limited.)

I must say the cut looked pretty good! Our editor made a decision that was a bit out of the box but worked really well, and the assembled audience laughed out loud often. Perhaps they were an easy crowd since many of them worked on the flick, but much of the laughter was genuine. I was among the laughers.

Between screenings of “This is Awkward” the old classic “Pirates of the White Sand” played (an edit I had not seen before), and also pulled in its share of chuckles and guffaws. Overall, it was a successful evening for our little production.

The trip back north included the other half of the Seeger Bros., who is visiting here in San Jose for a few days. Maybe we can put together a movie!

Could it be? Another road trip already!

Yep, tomorrow we load up the other car for a trip back down to Los Angeles. The event: a screening of This is Awkward, a series of four very short films directed by fuego, and executed by an assemblage of film professionals. You might have heard about it somewhere. My sweetie and I starred in one of them, and it was a hoot! Another one is based on a story I wrote and adapted for the silver screen (which was then re-adapted to the circumstances of the location). I’ve heard interesting stories about the other scenes as well.

So, if you’re in the LA area on Tuesday, June 23rd, I’d love to see you at the premiere! Things start at 3 p.m. and will continue from there. Drop me a line if you want directions.

A Science Question

While living in Prague I probably drank more tap water than anyone else I knew, but I drank plenty of bottled water as well. Since I was a) environmentally aware and b) lazy, I ended up with a large collection of bottles waiting to go to the recycling bin up the road. After a while I began to observe a pattern, and as I packed up the apartment to move back to the states I took a brief timeout to document the phenomenon. Please observe exhibit A:

shrinking bottles

The bottle on the left is the youngest, the oldest is on the right. The burning question for today is, “why are the bottles shrinking over time?” All the bottles were stored with lids on, some with dribbles of water in them. Sometimes the water had been carbonated, other times not. Bottles do not puff back up when the apartment is particularly warm, nor can I find any other thermal explanation that would not even out over time. Age (on the scale of months) is definitively a factor.

So what’s going on? Is there a chemical reaction with the plastic that is reducing the number of gas molecules inside? Is there a sort of one-way membrane effect going on that lets air molecules out but not back in? Most likely the pressure is lower in the bottles than outside, due to the plastic wanting to revert to its original shape — unless there’s something about plastic that makes it want to shrivel up like that.

Any chemists out there want to hazard a guess? Physicists? Mechanical engineeers? UFO conspiracy specialists? Science Fiction writers? I’ll listen to any theory you care to offer.