29 April 2013

Monday miscellany

I haven't finished any books recently to review, and this weekend I didn't have time to read much at all, because I worked at the Festival of Legends all weekend, 9-6 both days. Saturday was gorgeous, Sunday was horrid and cold and raining. I started Without a Summer last night, though, and I didn't want to stop reading so I could go to bed, which is good.

I can't believe it's almost May. The weather is like March. This is ridiculous. (Or, as I said to Ben this morning, "I can't believe it's almost April. Wait, I mean May.") It was 80 degrees a week or two ago, and now I have the heat on again. But the mint I have growing in a pot on my deck is very happy with this weather.

26 April 2013

In-Progress Friday

Reading: The Ghosts of Berlin: Confronting German History in the Urban Landscape by Brian Ladd. I'm a little over halfway finished this book, and I'm really enjoying it. Part of the fun is that it was published in 1997, so the reader (I) can see what became of some of the decisions made (or not yet made) at the time of its writing.

My copy of Without a Summer came yesterday, and I'm looking forward to reading it.

Writing: Untitled novel expanding the events of "Something There Is."

Doing: A couple friends started a Renaissance Faire outside Chapel Hill, and I'm volunteering this weekend.

Promoting: Another pair of friends is currently running an indiegogo campaign for the Geek Field Guide, in which they'll travel around and take pictures or video of places and activities (like rock climbing), which can be used for reference or building textures in video games, etc. It's pretty cool, so go check it out. Drop them some dough if you can.

24 April 2013

Anime Wednesday: the current season

I'm watching four shows (I think) this season. Here's a quick run-down.

Hataraku Maou-sama! (The Devil is a Part-Timer, (US) streaming at Funimation) In this comedic urban fantasy, the Demon Lord Satan and his chief general Alsiel escape their home world, Ente Isla, and land in Tokyo. The Hero Emilia follows them through and finds them, vowing to destroy him, even if it uses the last of her magic. On Earth, they don't have access to their powers.

When Maou and Alsiel arrive in Tokyo, they have to find an apartment, get jobs and bank accounts, and all the usual things an immigrant has to do. Maou gets a job at not-McDonalds, and his coworker Chiho gets a crush on him. Alsiel plays housekeeper and cook and berates Maou for wasting money. Emi works in customer service for DoCoDeMo (a play on Japanese telecom firm DoCoMo).

Why you should be watching: It's a comedic fantasy about a demon lord and his chief minion stranded in Tokyo, with their sworn enemy stalking them. Also, in episode 2, there seem to be larger things afoot, when a mysterious attacker tries to kill both Maou and Emilia, which become more threatening in episode 3.

Shingeki no Kyoujin (Attack on Titan, (US) streaming at Funimation) In this epic fantasy, humans live inside walled cities to protect themselves from 50-foot-tall giants. The protagonist, Eren Jaeger, and his friend/relative of unspecified relationship, Mikasa, swear to exterminate the giants.

The town where Eren and Mikasa live is attacked by giants, who have a new secret weapon: a mega-giant that's taller than their hundred-foot walls. The survivors flee to an interior town, where short rations lead to a sizable portion of the survivors being sent out on a death mission to fight the giants.

The giants are creepy and disturbing. They're fifty feet tall and have way too many teeth. They eat humans, but they are about as intelligent as cows.

Why you should be watching: I'm not going to lie, the first two episodes are extremely fucking brutal. People die horribly, and it's shown on screen. The show has very high production values: the animation is sharp and detailed. It appears, so far, to be that rare beast: an epic fantasy anime that doesn't totally suck. Also, the band that does the opening are probably Nightwish fans.

Suisei no Gargantia (Gargantia on the Verdurous Planet, (US) streaming at Crunchyroll) Ledo is a soldier fighting in an intergalactic war. His mecha is attacked as he attempts to dock with his ship and be teleported back to base. He gets sucked through the wormhole and ends up on a mysterious watery world. His mecha is salvaged from the ocean floor, and the AI wakes him from stasis when the salvagers try to break into the cockpit. After some hijinks, he (well, the AI) figures out that he's on Earth, which the rest of humanity believed was frozen.

Why you should be watching: The show is by Production I.G, which means quality SF animation. It's written by Gen Orobuchi (Madoka Magica). When Ledo is fighting the aliens, they use superstrings, and they create wormholes with some other string theory stuff. Watching Ledo interact with the people on the ship is fun, and the writers don't gloss over the fact that they're speaking completely different languages. Ledo's AI translates for him.

Kakumeiki Valvrave (Valvrave the Liberator, (US) streaming at Crunchyroll) This is what Sunrise is doing since there's no Gundam this season. Humanity is moving off of Earth, thanks to Dyson spheres becoming practical somehow. There are some politics going on, and a group of four teenaged solder-terrorists attacks the place where the protagonists live in order to steal some technology. They kill some people, their mecha invade and kill more people.

Hapless protagonist Haruto watches the girl he was about to profess his love to get killed, and he decides to pilot the mysterious new mecha that was being stored underneath their school's swimming pool to get revenge. To pilot the mecha, he has to press "yes" on the prompt "to pilot Valvrave, you must forsake your humanity."

Why you should be watching: Don't. Seriously. The mecha is cool, but it's every mecha show ever rolled into one. And apparently vampires? And the protagonist is a hapless loser motivated by manpain--and so is the main antagonist! I am hate-watching this show, like I hate-watched all of Gundam AGE. Seriously, I gave this show the finger at least five times in episode 2. Do not try this at home. I am a trained professional.

22 April 2013

Trying something new

As you've probably noticed, I'm not very good at updating. I haven't finished any books recently, so I don't have anything to review, and the general details of my life really aren't that interesting. (And the quick update things are all on my twitter.)

So I'm going to attempt to stick to a schedule of posts, and see how long I can post three times a week.

Mondays: book reviews

Wednesdays: anime/manga reviews or recommendations

Fridays: what's in progress: what I'm reading, writing, or otherwise working on.

Let's see how long I can keep this up. It's much easier when I have a topic to think about, but we'll see.

15 April 2013

Book review: The Whitefire Crossing

The Whitefire Crossing by Courtney Schafer

Dev is an outrider, someone who rides alongside caravans to help with trail cutting and road mending and avalanche spotting. Outriders also climb mountains and do other mountaineering things. He's also a smuggler. He's hired to smuggle a person, Kiran, out of the city they live in, Ninavel, into a neighboring city.

Ninavel is ruled by a powerful wizard who has a very laissez-faire approach to magic. Mages of all sorts can practice their trade, including blood mages, whose power is fueled by blood sacrifice. Neighboring Alathia has strong wards all along their borders, and the use of magic, outside of small charms, is banned.

Of course the story Dev is told about Kiran, that he's on the run from bankers, is a lie. Kiran is an apprentice mage on the run from his master.

The novel alternates between Dev and Kiran's points of view. Dev's sections are in first person, and Kiran's are in third. This can be kind of unsettling, and narrator switches are noted by (Dev) or (Kiran) at the top. Their voices are very distinct from each other, with Dev being very brash and confident, while Kiran is nervous, almost twitchy (though from the way he thinks about his master, that's understandable), and shy. They both read as about 17-18 years old, though Dev is at least 20, based on some math from ages and time passage in the book. Also, Dev swears a lot, so if that offends you, keep it in mind.

Schafer is an avid mountaineer, and the descriptions of rock climbing and mountain climbing can get a little ... nerdy, perhaps, but it's clearly a subject she's passionate and knowledgeable about, and her enthusiasm infuses Dev's enthusiasm for climbing.

There were things about the book that got on my nerves: Dev was annoying and proud and suffered from "I won't tell other people my problems" syndrome. Kiran kept his secret hidden even after he really should have told Dev the damn truth.

But the story was engrossing enough that I wanted to find out what happened next, even as I wanted to kick sense into the protagonists. I got to the ending and was annoyed that there wasn't more. Part two is published, but the final installment in the trilogy isn't out yet. It may well be tied up in the Night Shade Books collapse. I hope it gets sorted out quickly.

If you like adventures and magic and intrigue and fucked-up family values, you might enjoy this book.

02 April 2013

The Annals of Misdirected Email

I've been on gmail since 2005, which means I was able to pick the combination of initials and last name that I wanted. Apparently gmail doesn't distinguish between punctuation variations, so c.covington, ccovington, and c.c.o.v.i.n.g.t.o.n are all the same.

You can see where this is going.

I've recently received email for another C. Covington. He signed up for the Starwood Preferred Guest program and stayed in an Aloft hotel in Charleston, SC, last night. He's a Verizon customer; I received the confirmation notice for his FIOS installation.

I also get email about someone else's kid's sports league, a church newsletter, billing notices, order confirmations, University of Southern California sports, class assignments... I've unsubscribed from the Carolina Opry newsletter five times, and the same damn fool keeps signing up with the wrong address!

Do people just not care/notice that they never receive the emails they signed up for, or order confirmations, or whatever?

Do people not understand that by giving the wrong email address, other people can find out a frightening lot of information about them? Like their Verizon account number, their Starwood Preferred Guest member number, their HOME ADDRESS?

So this is a plea: don't typo your email address, and make sure that if you're writing it on a form, to write clearly.

Also: if you have a mailing list or forum that uses email addresses as logins, please PLEASE use confirmation emails, where the subscriber/member has to click a link to confirm subscription. And always have unsubscribe links in the footer of mailing list posts.

01 April 2013

Book review: Zwischen Zwei Träumen

Zwischen Zwei Träumen by Selim Özdogan

After enjoying Özdogan's collection Ein Glas Blut, I took this out of the library based on Amazon reviews and the fact that it had been nominated for a German SF award for 2010.

The story is about a young man, Nesta, who likes to drop dreams. In this world, there's a machine that collects dreams and turns them into, essentially, eyedrops, which people legally use to see other people's dreams. There are fashions: flying dreams, particular famous dreamers, that sort of thing. Nesta meets a woman, Tedeisha, whom he can meet within dreams--which isn't supposed to happen.

Tedeisha falls into a dream from which she can't wake up, and Nesta goes on a quest into the world of dreams to free her.

Özdogan's prose style is clear and not overly flowery. I like that. I liked the world he built where dreams can be shared, and the story was compelling. The ending was extremely disappointing. Once I found out where the dreamcatching machines came from, I was irritated. When I got to the very ending, where Nesta proves to be a stupid sad sack who hasn't learned a damned thing over the previous 400 pages, I wanted to go into the book and smack him.

Which may be realistic for a person like Nesta, true. And Özdogan has a very cynical style in general.

But god. damn. When your problem can be solved by FUCKING TALKING to someone, and you jump to a conclusion and do a drastic thing, I want to smack you.

The ending felt very true to the character, but it still annoyed me.

Anyway. It's a good book, very trippy and heavy on drug culture, with Lit'ry musings on what it means to be, to belong, etc. The protagonist isn't the most likeable person, but I was with him until the last 2 chapters, for what that's worth.

If you read German and your library or used book store has a copy, give it a shot.