Monday, February 27, 2012

Twin Powers Prologue IV

Part I here.
Part II here.
Part III here.

Finally, it was Jon who decided the matter for him. His little brother trotted up to him, face red with exertion. He was so exhausted by his journey that it was several seconds before he was ready to speak. Honestly, thought Josen, now what was the point of that? He hurried as fast as he could so he could tell me what time it was, and now he’s so warn out he can't tell me a damned thing. If he didn't have the family nose, I'd swear Mother had been guilty of infidelity. "It's been five hours now, brother," Jon panted, finally. He sank to the floor, and prostrated himself, still breathing heavily.

Josen rolled his eyes. There went another shred of family pride. Jon might be young, but that was no excuse for deliberately making oneself lose face. It struck Josen as quintessentially unfair that he, the member of his family that actually deserved some modicum of respect, had been put in a situation where any course of action would make him look like an idiot, whereas his brother seemed to go out of his way to don a jester's—

And just like that, Josen's course of action was made clear. "Excellent work, Jon," he said. He put his hand out and helped Jon to his feet. "Please go in and inform Lord Aginor of that fact."

Jon was taken aback, but he knew better than to ask questions. "All—all right." He walked over the oak door, opening it with great effort. Josen averted his eyes and took a prudent step backward, remaining just outside the line of sight of anyone who just happened to be standing by the door. I'm sorry, milord, Jon must have misunderstood me. I couldn’t stop him. Youthful exuberance, I'm afraid. You understand.

"Lord Aginor?" Jon called, peering around the corner of the door. "Are you— Oh."

"What is it, Jon?" asked Josen sharply. Some sort of edge had come into Jon's voice, and it was an edge far sharper than just a boy who had stumbled in on a coupling.

"Oh. Oh. Oh." Jon stood still for a moment then let the door shut. He pushed past Josen and ran down the corridor, at a pace even greater than the one when he arrived. The boy never looked back.

"Jon! Get back here this instant!" Seeing that his brother had no intention of heeding him, Josen strode towards the door. He paused before opening the door, hesitating briefly. Oh, come on, he told himself. How bad can it possibly be?

As soon as he entered, Josen was instantly assaulted with that ridiculous perfume that Lady Caitlin, for some obscure reason, had decided was essential to the proper upkeep of a bedchamber. A woman must always smell like a woman, as she put it. Privately, Jon was certain she did it purely because she knew that prolonged exposure to the stench put him into a sneezing fit, and she enjoyed watching him suffer.

Really, even if they did hate each other, she and Aginor were, in many ways, very much alike.

After anticipating something horrible enough to justify his brother’s actions, the first sight that caught Josen’s rapidly watering eyes was so mundane he nearly laughed aloud. The kitchen cat was on the floor, lapping up a pool of wine that had been spilt. God only knew how it had gotten in, but Josen took silent consolation that even Aginor couldn’t control its peregrinations. The wretched thing was obviously enjoying itself, emitting a surprisingly loud purr as it continuously twitched its tail from side to side. He idly kicked it away and it darted out of the room, delivering a parting hiss as it went. Jon must have seen the wine and assumed it was blood, he reasoned. He bent down and put a finger into the spillage and frowned. It was too thick, and too warm. Dear God, it is blood. With that knowledge came another sudden realization that underneath the putrid perfume lay another scent, the peculiar mingling of freshly spilt blood and freshly spilt bowels that followed the recently dead. It was a smell that Josen had not experienced first hand in quite some time—outside of his nightmares, at least. He followed the pool of blood back to its source, and saw what really should have been the first thing he noticed when he entered the bedchamber. Lady Caitlin sat on a chair next to the window, her arms wrapped around the pummel of a sword that was plunged into her stomach, all the way up to the hilt. At her feet lay the lord Aginor, his head twisted at such a great angle that it was clear his neck had been broken.

For a long moment, Josen gaped at the corpses of his former lord and lady, his mind racing with possibilities. "Well," he said, finally.

"This changes everything."

And that's the prologue. If anyone wants to see the full thing, get in touch.

Later Days.

Sunday, February 26, 2012

Twin Powers Prologue III

Part I here.
Part II here.

It was quite a puzzle, and after the brief moment stretched into the first brief hour, Josen added to the puzzle his speculations on exactly what was going on behind the closed door. Eavesdropping, of course, was out of the question, as an action far below the position of a steward, and the oak door was too thick to hear anything through anyway. The obvious answer to what was going on was, well, obvious: a lord returning home to his admittedly still attractive wife after a long absence. That was certainly the assumption a majority of the manor's population was adopting, judging from first the snickers delivered by passer-bys, accompanied as time passed on, raised eyebrows on account of their lord's apparent prowess. Josen, for his part, snickered and raised his eyebrows right back, but inside he was seething. Idiots. They were all so stupid. One abrupt arrival and suddenly they were all willing to throw out everything they knew their rulers just so they could get in a few good chuckles and knowing nudges. And Josen had no choice to grin and nod. And wait.
It was all so humiliating. Josen had heard that in other castles, the lords purposefully told their stewards to wait outside the privies for them. The intent behind such an action was clear. The ruler was asserting his authority by impressing upon his servant the latter's utter lack of importance. In Josen's case, Aginor was sending him an message even more pointed: My wife is a vapid, foolish creature with limited use at best. I have spent years avoiding her, and she clearly means nothing to me. Now wait outside this door and do nothing while I fuck her. It didn’t matter that Josen himself was nearly certain that no fucking was actually taking place. What mattered was that everyone else thought there was. With one deliberate act, Aginor was wiping away every vestige of authority Josen ever had, removing every pretension of status Josen held in the eyes of the rest of the manor. And it was deliberate; there was no doubt about that. Sometimes Aginor's actions seemed petty, sometimes downright foolish, but they were always deliberate. If Aginor wanted Josen to stand outside while the rest of castle thought he was swiving his wife, then he had very definitely considered all the consequent events that would follow.
The question was, if Aginor wasn't bedding the Lady Caitlin, then what were they doing? If humiliating Josen was his sole concern, Josen had no illusions that Aginor could devise dozens of ways to do that without involving the woman the lord so studiously avoided. It had to be connected to their recent strange behavior, but beyond that, Josen couldn't fathom what it could be. Again, as he had several times in the past hours, he considered going in. After all, he argued mentally, he was the steward. If the two were discussing matters that were important enough to affect the entire manor, then he had a right, a responsibility, to be present. And if whatever they were discussing wasn't that important, well, then it didn't matter if he interrupted. Then he imagined Aginor's reaction to his intrusion. It would ultimately mean another damned reference that maybe Josen wasn't quite measuring up, that he was suffering from some sort of mental breakdown that rendered him incapable of serving as steward. By itself, the one transgression would be indicative of nothing, but they both knew that if some day caught Aginor's whim, he could trot out an entire list of bizzare actions on Josen's part, a catalog of strange acts more often or not prompted by Aginor's own manipulations, the combined sum of which would provide just enough justification to have him removed. Neither of them had ever explicitly made reference to this weight hovering over Josen, but they were both always aware of its presence—painfully aware, in Josen's case.
Besides, if he opened the door, he might walk in on them rutting.

Later Days.

Saturday, February 25, 2012

Bibliophile: Thor to Sexbots

Long-time bibliophile readers know the drill: I look over the list of new books at my local university library, and comment briefly on what's new and hip in the literature world. (Hint: what's new and hip is generally not in the literary world at all.) And long-time readers also know that for the last few weeks, it's been a long haul, with the new items ranging from 7000 to 18000 items. This week, we have almost a normal amount, at an almost manageable 2651. Let's begin.

Debates in the digital humanities / Matthew K. Gold, editor. Minneapolis : University of Minnesota Press, c2012.
The digital stuff is starting early this time around. The book starts with an essay by Matthew Kirschenbaum, entitled "What is Digital Humanities, and What's It Doing in English Departments?", which would be a question that I personally wouldn't mind an answer to, so I can tell it to those smug literature grad students the next time we have a English Grad Student Brag-Off. (We do those. It's pretty awesome, but we're exclusive, so someone like you probably hasn't heard of it.) There's also a chapter by Johanna Drucker, "Humanistic Theory and Digital Scholarship." I know Drucker from the work she's done on historical typography. That doesn't seem relevant here, but I thought I'd mention it anyway. There's also a chapter on Trending by Lev Manovich, and a blogpost by Ian Bogost (The Turtlenecked Hairshirt--you can find it here if you want it without the whole "paper" thing.). It actually seems like a book worth knowing about if you're in the discipline. You know, like me. Hmmm. But there's already one request on it, and I don't like poaching people's books unless it's really necessary. So we'll make a mental note, and wait a few weeks.

House and psychology : humanity is overrated / edited by Ted Cascio and Leonard L. Martin. Hoboken, N.J. : Wiley, c2011.
I'm looking at this one purely for the subtitle. I imagine future books in the series will follow this pattern: "You're Not So Great." "People are Jerks." "We're Not Fond About Dogs, Either." Now, from the title, you may have assumed it's a book about grandiose mansions, but no, it's actually an anthology of psychology scholars who like the TV show House. ...Yeah.

Thor : myth to Marvel / Martin Arnold. London ; New York : Continuum, 2011.
This a historical examination of applications of the Thor myth, from his Norse origins to
Linkmodern interpretations in Germany, Denmark, and the United States. (Marvel, geddit? geddit?)

High road : a novel / Terry Fallis. Toronto : Emblem, c2010.
Here's the sequel to that Terry Fallis book I didn't very much care for at all.

Breasts [videorecording] : a documentary / a documentary by Meema Spadola ; director, Meema Spadola, c1996.
There are a couple of things I'm interested in seeing in this documentary. In fact, I'd have to be an udder tit not to take a bit of a nip its way. Ah, wordplay. Honestly, I could never take this out. I wouldn't be able to stand the cool gaze of the librarians as they handed it over to me. Given the list of books I typically put on hold, they already have enough fodder against me.

Wired to care : how companies prosper when they create widespread empathy / Dev Patnaik ; with Peter Mortensen. Upper Saddle River, N.J. : FT Press, c2009.
On the one hand, arguing pragmatic reasons for companies to act morally appropriate seems to be from the same school of thought as paying children to behave rather than instilling any sort of decency, but on the other hand... well, anything that works, I guess.

Free ride : how digital parasites are destroying the culture business, and how the culture business can fight back / Robert Levine. 1st ed. New York : Doubleday, c2011.
A cursory glance of the book's info blurb suggests that it's about digital piracy, Napster, Google's digitization push, and YouTube, and how the traditional media forms should act to get some ground back. So, under that basis, it's not really geared to get much support from people under 30 or so. But from some book reviews, it's a thoughtful book that refuses to treat the industries as villains, and offers some interesting alternative business models. Still not something I'm particularly interested in, but if that's you're thing...

I'll have what she's having : mapping social behavior / Alex Bentley, Mark Earls, and Michael J. O'Brien ; foreword by John Maeda. Cambridge, Mass. : MIT Press, c2011.
I like the title. This may surprise, but I'm a big fan of When Harry Met Sally.

Cutting edges : contemporary collage / [edited by Robert Klanten, Hendrik Hellige, James Gallagher ; preface by James Gallagher]. Berlin : Gestalten, c2011.
Another clever title. I know I'm doing a lot of "quick glances" this time round, but... well, there's nothing that's really catching my eye.

Information highways and byways : from the telegraph to the 21st century / Irwin Lebow. New York : IEEE Press, c1995.
I'm sure I've commented on this before, but there's a tendency in new media studies to treat everything we do as, well, "new." As in, everything that occurs in a digital context has started with the 90s popularization of the Internet. Thus, any work that moves towards what's often called "media archaeology," the history and physical development of media, is responding to a prevalent, rather naive, trend. The downside to this version is that, being published in 1995, Lebow's book is almost an artifact of media archaeology itself.

Television and new media : must-click tv / Jennifer Gillan. New York : Routledge, 2011.
This book is about how television has transformed as a result of digital media innovations, in terms of things such as changes to programming, and turning TV shows into transmedia franchises. It would probably make a nice companion to Sheila Murphy's How Television Invented New Media, a book about how digital media has transformed as a result of television. (The media archaeology subject is still in my mind; hence the reference to a digital media history book, even if it's a recent, based in the 80s, sort of history.)

Cult telefantasy series : a critical analysis of The prisoner, Twin peaks, The X-files, Buffy the vampire slayer, Lost, Heroes, Doctor Who and Star Trek / Sue Short.
I do believe that's TV Geek Bingo. Or maybe Yahtzee. The book appears to be divided so that each chapter focuses on a different franchise, except for the last, which is on both the Doctor Who and Star Trek reboots. What draws it together is the concept that each tried, and some failed, to inspire an ongoing fandom based on its approach to fantasy, with The Prisoner starting the pattern. It's a rather pop book, but that's hardly a failing, given the pop focus.

Italo Calvino's architecture of lightness : the utopian imagination in an age of urban crisis / Letizia Modena. New York : Routledge, 2011.
Italo Calvino's one of my favorite writers. I'm glad to see people are still working with him.

Heinlein's juvenile novels : a cultural dictionary / C.W. Sullivan, III. Jefferson, N.C. : McFarland & Co., c2011.
This caught my eye because I've written, very briefly, about Heinlein's juvenile books in other posts. Well, it's been a lot of time since the 1950s, so a book that explains and elaborates some of the cultural references may be warranted. The info I've gleaned on the book seems to suggest that it's emphasizing the connection between the space colonization stories and the settlement of North America, which really can't be overstated in terms of these stories' sources.

Seven cities of gold / David Moles. 1st ed. Hornsea, England : PS Pub. Ltd., 2010.
This week's random fiction choice. It's an alternate history sci-fi novella, where the big idea is that Christianity was nearly wiped out by Muslim invasion in the 8th century, and exists now as a sort of backwater, fringe group. It's 66 pages and something of a collector's item (as I'm guessing from its $50 price tag), so getting it from a library would probably be your best bet to get your hands on it.

Oh... we're done the Humanities stuff, and there are still another 1000 entries. Oh dear.

Better than human : the promise and perils of enhancing ourselves / Allen Buchanan. New York : Oxford University Press, c2011
Buchanan makes the case that we should be looking for ways to enhance people, biologically. ...Here's a book begging for a humanities/posthumanist reading.

Fat China : how expanding waistlines are changing a nation / Paul French and Matthew Crabbe. London ; New York : Anthem Press, 2010.
American obesity goes global. Or so I assume without doing any sort of research.

Leonardo to the Internet : technology & culture from the Renaissance to the present / Thomas J. Misa. 2nd ed. Baltimore : Johns Hopkins University Press, 2011.
And speaking of media archaeology... Well, that's certainly taking the long view. I suppose the next step is "Archimedes to Apps" or, even further back, "Cavemen to C++." Topics include technology via ruling families, rising industry, and expanding imperialism. And the 2nd edition update is a discussion on how unsustainable global expansion is contributing to general geopolitical instability. Ending on a positive note, then.

Robot ethics : the ethical and social implications of robotics / edited by Patrick Lin, Keith Abney, and George A. Bekey. Cambridge, Mass. : MIT Press, 2012.
The very, very last entry on this week's list. I bet there's a million Asimov references in this. Topics include the morality of allowing or creating robots to serve in military, sexual, caregiving, and serving capacities, as well as whether robots could be considered moral beings themselves. I just keep thinking of the Futurama short where a documentary argues that widespread sexbots leads directly to the extinction of the human race. "Gosh, Mandy, across the street is a long way to go to make out. I think I'll just stay here and make out with my Marilyn Monroebot."

And on that lofty note of mechanical love-making, I draw another edition of biblophile to its end.

Later Days.

Twin Powers Prologue II

Part I is here.

And as if his responsibilities as steward weren’t enough, Josen was also obliged to take over much of the more feminine upper crust duties, such as making sure the maids were properly doing their work. Such tasks were normally left to the lady of the house, but Lady Caitlin seemed disinclined to pursue such activities. Instead, she usually surrounded herself by those idiots that served as her ladies-in-waiting and idled away the days in sewing, or knitting, or some other useless activity. By all reports, the lady was almost completely silent during these sessions, remaining quiet while the women around her chatted endlessly. If someone who didn't know Lady Caitlin was to look at the situation, they might think she was pining for her long-absent husband—a belief that would last all of an instant once they learned of the true history behind the lord and lady of Aginor Manor.

It was no secret that Aginor and Caitlin were estranged; one needed to look no further than their courtship, an affair that brought the entire continent into conflict. Aginor had made arrangements with Caitlin’s father to marry her, but it seemed no one had bothered to ask the Lady Caitlin’s opinion of the betrothal. She ran off with the son of Lord Something-or-Other, and everything went rather downhill from there. The entire affair had ended only when Aginor almost literally wrenched Caitlin from the arms of her beloved, and, according to some accounts, wrenched the arms off as well. While Lady Caitlin never overtly displayed any sort of resentment towards Aginor, Josen thought it was impossible that she didn't feel some sort of hatred for the man who killed her first lover. And even putting aside the murder of one's true love, any affection Caitlin could foster for Aginor certainly wasn’t reciprocated. Aginor was not known as a caring individual, and for good reason. The idea that he could be warm and loving to anyone, even his wife, seemed as far-fetched a notion as meeting an affectionate mountain range. Their estrangement became even more pronounced after the birth of their children, the twin boys Trellis and Traenis. After that, Aginor seemed to hate being in the manor at all; that was when he began to ride in campaigns again, and rejoined the front lines. On his brief sojourns home, he and his wife avoided each other as much as possible.

An avoidance which made the current situation all the more peculiar. Josen had met Aginor's company, a small detachment that represented only a miniscule portion of Aginor’s entire force, at the manor gate. Josen was steadying himself to begin his report when Aginor brusquely told him to run ahead and tell Lady Caitlin he would meet with her in her bedchambers immediately after he had removed his riding gear, with the further instruction that Josen was to wait outside the door while they… talked. Well, that was what he said they'd be doing, at any rate. Lady Caitlin didn't seem the least bit surprised at her husband's sudden deviation from normal behavior; in fact she seemed almost—pleased at the prospect. While he was waiting for Aginor to finish with his horses—which had taken an exasperatingly long time—Josen took the opportunity to question both Caitlin's ladies-in-waiting and Aginor's soldiers. Both groups admitted that their respective masters had been acting strangely for the last month or so. In Aginor's case, this involved long hours of isolation from his men while conducting private meetings with strangers. In Caitlin's case, the newfound eccentricity was an almost manic increase in both appetite and energy, as if every experience was something new. It was probably no coincidence they both went through these changes at the same time, but how they managed to coordinate their transformations baffled Josen completely. Aginor had been on the battlefield the entire time, and nearly all communication between the castle and the outside world went directly through Josen. He knew without any doubt that no form of messages had passed between Caitlin and Aginor. So how did they manage to synchronize these changes from a distance of half a world?

Later Days.

Friday, February 24, 2012

Twin Powers Prologue I

We're going to try something a bit different. Recently, I mentioned to a friend of mine that I had a finished novel, and he asked if I'd send him a copy. So I dug through the archives, and blew off the electronic mothballs. And in doing so, I reminded myself that I'm still attached to this story. That I'm proud of it. That I've been thinking of it almost constantly for over a decade now. Thus, I thought, I should do something with it. And since I've got this public forum, I'd take it out, and run it through its paces. Over the next few days, then, I'll be posting the prologue of the story here on the blog--and maybe the first chapter, if there's any interest. I think I'll stick to about 500 word installments, to keep things manageable. If anyone wants to read more, contact me, and I'll hook you up with the full version. And if not... well, at least it got one more shot at the light of day.

Twin Powers




It was four hours now.

Josen knew precisely how long he had been standing in front of Lord Aginor's bedchambers, waiting. He knew because he had sent his little brother Jon to watch the grandfather clock in Aginor's study, and report to him every hour. Four hours, and Aginor's promise that he would return to his steward immediately "after a brief word with Lady Caitlin" was beginning to ring a little hollow. The stiffness in his legs made Josen again consider sending someone to fetch him a chair, or go for a brief walk, or leave entirely, and again he decided against any such course of action. He'd be damned if Aginor came out and saw him shirking his duty. Oh, the lord would never say anything, not over such a trivial matter, he’d just raise an eyebrow and give that irritating look of his, and an hour or so later make some sort of comment about Josen's duties perhaps being a little too hard on him. And Josen would grit his and offer some sort of congenial denial ignored by Aginor before it left his mouth. And the edges of Aginor’s own mouth would turn upward in the smallest way imaginable, a change so indiscernible that anyone who actually identified it as a smirk would be accused of being far too self-conscious, far too suspicious and—Josen was certain—completely right.

So instead, Josen remained rooted to the spot, grimly staring at the door in front of him. More than anyone else in the manor—with the possible exception of Lady Caitlin herself--he hated Aginor's sporadic visits home from the warfront. Aginor had chosen him to act as steward in his absence, under the official fiction that Josen was merely the advisor to his heir, Traenis Aginor the twenty-third. In reality, Traenis Aginor the twenty-third was four years old, occasionally burst into tears for no apparent reason, and had a tendency to walk into walls if he wasn't paying attention. For all intents and purposes, Josen ran Aginor Manor.

Or rather, he ran it while Aginor was away. Whenever the lord returned, he insisted on taking the reins of office for himself, usually staying just long enough to throw the order and state that Josen had so carefully crafted into chaos before whisking himself back to the battle against the rebels. And he always left one big mess behind for Josen to clean up. The simple truth was that Aginor had no skill in running a household. While he was generally known to be without peer when it came to strategy and tactics on the battlefield—or, at least, so he had been when he was younger; rumors trickling in from the frontline suggested that the lord was no longer quite as peerless as he used to be—years of experience in the art of warfare translated into a complete lack of understanding in all things domestic. Every time, without fail, he listened to Josen's report—his entire report, the man insisted on knowing every minute detail, from who was to be the new master-at-arms to how much seasoning the cooks were putting on the roast beef—and afterwards, he always insisted on making ridiculously minor changes that inevitably proved nearly impossible to implement, a failure that Josen would inevitably get blamed for at the next meeting. Josen had taken to getting roaring drunk after their little "household campaigns", as Aginor persisted in called them, and it was taking some serious will power on the steward's part to avoid imbibing beforehand as well.

Later Days.

Friday Random Quotations: Face Front

The face is at once the irreparable being-exposed of humans and the very opening in which they hide and stay hidden. The face is the only location of community, the only possible city.
Agamben, Giorgio and Vincenzo Binetti and Cesare Casarino (Translation). Means Without End: Notes on Politics.

Later Days.

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Videogame Nostalgia: Love and Swordfights in Grandia

My readings of aged instruction manuals have, today, brought me to an old friend: the 1999 PSX game Grandia. In terms of time, I've devoted far more of my life, chronologically, to plumbing the depths of Elder Scrolls' Oblivion. In terms of pure frustration, I've poured more of heart into Final Fantasy Tactics. And in terms of completion, I've put more effort into Wild Arms 3. But Grandia still had an effect on me. Exactly how much of one can be measured by the fact that when I hear the name "Justin," I don't think Trudeau or Timberlake, or Beiber. I think of this plucky fellow:

Hello, you.

Lately, I've been rewatching Avatar: The Last Airbender, and completely failing to convince my roommates of its virtues. To plan a more concerted attack, I decided to mentally construct a list of what I'm looking for a TV series. We'll go over that list, some day, but for now, I want to focus on two items that in particular made Grandia a memorable game for me: engaging characters, and, as a subset of that point, characters who grow and evolve.

In terms of mechanics, both leveling and battle, Grandia has enough to keep things interesting. Battle has real time gauges, with the added bonus that certain moves delay or even cancel the moves of enemy characters. And the experience spell/skill system is fairly extensive: each character has a number of spell types and weapon types they can use, and new skills only develop if certain levels of expertise in those spell levels are reached. (ie. Frost magic requires a base level of water magic and wind magic) So the battle system provides just enough carrot to keep things going for a long time--though not so long that you aren't eventually very grateful for the autobattle option.

In terms of overarching plot, the game is so cliched that it practically starts on a dark and stormy night. In general, the fantasy stock story of the Ordinary Boy Fated to Save World gets trotted out a lot in RPGs. That's because it's relatively easy to translate the "ordinary boy gets stronger and stronger and confronts ultimate evil" of, say, Star Wars or Harry Potter into level-up experience points based system of the RPG. But an easy translation means a very familiar story at the core, and Grandia is no exception. The plot here is that the neighborhood military empire is searching ancient civilization ruins for a relic of unimaginable power. But the one who finds the first hint of said relic is a young man who is guided to the path via an heirloom entrusted by his father before he disappeared. So far, so par for course.

But where the game shines for me is the way the characters, and Justin in particular, change over the course of the game, based especially on three of the core: Justin; his younger, kid friend, Sue; and Feena, the treasure hunter who's reluctantly agreed to follow Justin, since he's the one chosen by the ancients. (I'm recounting the plot without actually looking it up, so imagine details to be colored by nostalgia.) Justin, in particular, grows probably more than any character I've seen in fiction outside of Taran from Lloyd Alexander's Prydain series. He starts the game as ridiculously immature: the first quest of the game is to prove his treasure hunter skills by going on a scavenger hunt for some dust-bin items gathered by the other kids in the area. (In retrospect, this was, on the game's part, a disguised tutorial on searching for items and navigating the 3-D map. Given that it was the first real 3-D RPG I've played, the tutorial was necessary. I got lost a lot in that first town.) But over the long, long course of the game, he goes from a naive kid to a thoughtful, battle-scarred hero. It's a dirt common fantasy lit theme--again, see Stars Wars to Harry Potter--but it's actually very rare to see it done in a videogame, which tend to show increases in power, but very little corresponding changes in character. It's the problem with the blank-slate character: you may inscribe it with your own personality, but generally *you* don't change as a person over the course of a game, so there's no reason for the protagonist to do so as well.

Feena doesn't so much change as respond to the changes in Justin, and if you think you know where this is going, you're probably right. When the two first meet, she barely tolerates Justin; she's the experienced adventurer, and he's the kid who stumbled into a good thing. But as he grows, they move to a relation of respect, and eventually (again, over a very long time) love. Again, given the bang-bang violence part of most games, love isn't something that comes up a lot in games beyond the "save the princess" sort of thing (unless you're talking Japanese date sim, which is a different beast). The closest out there now is probably the love options of a Bioware game--in fact, I recently read a "scathing" criticism of Dragon Age 2 that complained it was essentially a "dating sim." But that doesn't really feel the same for me, largely because I have too much control over the situation. I control every response the main character makes, and as a result, I don't need to stay true to any notion of the character; I just keep feeding my intended the right lines until she or he jumps into bed with me. Granted, that may be a closer approximation of real life sexual relations, but it still feels a little overly jaded. Ironically, I prefer the scripted version of a game like Grandia because that script feels more organic, more like a meeting between digital, imaginary equals.

This is as good a time as any to remind readers that I was sixteen when I was playing this game. Thus, the general theme of an adolescent gradually winning the heart of an older woman as he matured was very, very appealing to me. Imagine the game through these nostalgia-colored glasses.

And then there's Sue. Orphaned almost at birth, she'd grown up raised by her aunt and uncle, with Justin as surrogate brother. So of course, when he goes off on adventure, she tags along. The problem is, while Justin is a burgeoning adolescent, she's just a kid. And eventually, they both come to realise that a kid can't really handle the constant fatigue of fighting the forces of ultimate evil, and that she deserves a real childhood. And so, Sue goes home, and leaves the game forever. It's a simple moment, but a touching one, made meaningful because of all the time you've invested in the character.

I can see how this may seem like an old man tirade, of the "games in my day where real games" sort of bent. And yes, I would dearly like to see more games done in Grandia style, where my teammates develop gradually over time and come to respond to each other in different ways, rather than because I've showered them with the nth pair of gift shoes. But I think there's room for both. My favorite moment of Dragon Age 2, for example, is when *spoiler* one of your teammates reveals that he's actually a terrorist, and has just bombed the local church in order to assassinate a helpless old woman in the name of his cause. *end spoiler*. It's a moment of utter shock, where the character acts in a way that feels true to his established behavior. The problem, though is two-fold: first, it's not a result of character development, because you know that regardless of how you changed the character over the course of the game, this is going to play out the same way--so rather than natural growth, it feels like something that's been forced on the player. The second problem is that barely anyone got to this point of the game, because they already gave up on it because of its repetitive fighting and repetitive use of game locations. Grandia, in comparison, has a constant forward motion (you actually *can't* revisit most places once you've reached certain points) and the battle system is much, much more nuanced (and has an autobattle for the minor skirmishes, if nuance ain't your thing). So I'll think back fondly of my Grandia, and the way games used to be.

No, it totally turned into a cranky old man thing, didn't it?

Later Days.

Sunday, February 19, 2012

Bibliophile: Britney Spears, Batman, and Heidegger

This week, after last week's endurance run of 16 000 entries, we have a mere, pitiful 7000 entries. And since 4000 of those are a database of film not accessible by my university, we can skip right on #4519.

Heidegger, Strauss, and the premises of philosophy on original forgetting / Richard L. Velkley. Chicago : University of Chicago Press, c2011.
I'm not really great on phenomenology, and so forth: my review of Stiegler is about as much as I've ever waded into that particular pool. But this book, which seems to focus on the intellectual debt Strauss owes to Heidegger, may be a way of breaching that gap. Unless... I forget to read it! (Sorry.)

Hurt feelings : theory, research, and applications in intimate relationships / Luciano L'Abate. New York : Cambridge University Press, 2011.
I may not be an expert in hurt feelings, but I *am* well-versed in taking offense at unintentional provocations (not that I'm bragging, or anything). The book consists of three parts, as you might guess from the subtitle. The first looks at hurt feelings, particularly in terms of the family; the second looks at existing work; and the third gets to the application. L'Abate is particularly arguing that face-to-face counseling in the hurt feelings arena can be phased out in favor of "long-distance writing." I have to say, I've got my doubts about that; it sound like a slippery slope type argument, to where all counseling is done by a series of emails, and you can't tell whether there's a human behind it or not. To paraphrase Weizenbaum, that way lies ELIZA. Er, madness.

Playing with the past / Erik Champion. London ; New York : Springer, c2011.
"The intention of Playing With the Past is to help designers and critics understand the issues involved in creating virtual environments that promote and disseminate historical learning and cultural heritage through a close study of the interactive design principles at work behind both real and virtual places." That would be the nutshell description. Essentially,Champion wants to use digital VR tech to teach people about the past, and he sees videogame design as both beneficial and burdensome to that goal. It's actually an approach I have a lot of respect for. Too often, the approach to so-called edutainment fails to go beyond "learning + game = fun," without much appreciation for how games work or how (sometimes) education works. And since the book seems to have a heavy application emphasis, it would useful for anyone wanting to design (if not implement, I imagine) some VR environments of their own. Hmmm. We're not quite in "make a note" territory, but we're PDC (pretty damn close. It's an abbreviation I made up. You can use it, if you want.)

Eating to excess : the meaning of gluttony and the fat body in the ancient world / Susan E. Hill. Santa Barbara, Calif. : Praeger, c2011.
Hill traces the ancient Western meanings of being fat. I imagine it's a cultural history of "your mama" jokes. There are sections on the Greeks, the Romans, early Christians, and the point in which gluttony becomes a sin. I can't say I know a lot about anthropology, but I know that, um, "pop" anthropology makes a big deal out of the difference between a society where being fat is a sign of abundance and power to it being a sign of waste and indulgence. It is somehow not surprising that the early Christians played a part in that transition.

Humanity 2.0: what it means to be human past, present and future / Steve Fuller. Houndmills, Basingstoke, Hampshire ; New York : Palgrave Macmillan, 2011.
Fuller argues for a reinterpretation of humanity, in the face of our new technological toys, particularly in terms of race and religion. Chapters include sections on biological advances, the changes in human sociology, Converging Technology discussions, intelligent design, and general philosophical questions of good and evil. On the one hand, I've got a sneaking suspicion that we're looking at a pop digital book. The final sections, with chapter headings like "The dawn of suffering smart: recycling evil in the name of good" kind of suggest that approach. As does a discussion of humanity at all: from N. Katherine Hayles to Cary Wolfe, the serious scholars in the field have preferred "posthuman" or other terms to "human" for some time now. But it does have some points in its favor; he goes straight to Foucault for his discussion on what it means to function in human society, and his stance on "CT" has the word "ontological" in it. Approach with caution.

Fixing gender : lesbian mothers and the Oedipus complex / Natasha Distiller. Madison [N.J.] : Fairleigh Dickinson University Press ; Lanham, Md. : Rowman & Littlefield Pub. Group, c2011.
Presented without comment.

Ecofeminism and rhetoric : critical perspectives on sex, technology, and discourse / edited by Douglas A. Vakoch. New York : Berghahn Books, 2011.
Ah, the noble anthology. A collection of heteroglotic, variate perspectives, shedding joint light on each other when read as a whole. Or a bunch of stuff randomly thrown together. And today's example is on, as the title says, ecofeminism and rhetoric. (To be honest, I'm in it for the tech reference.) At 179 pages, it's a rather short anthology. There's five essays, and a conclusion, with topics such as canine breeding, ecocriticism as a concept, gender representation in orangutan mother narratives, ecofeminist strategies for energy use, and a study of Microsoft Word. It's actually a wider set of topics and definition of technology than is often seen in humanities discourse. The trick is whether these topics promote diversity, or clash badly. I'll leave that for others to decide.

Criminology goes to the movies : crime theory and popular culture / Nicole Rafter and Michelle Brown. New York : New York University, c2011.
This isn't quite as catchy a title as the next book on the list (Space, time, and crime) but it does speak to one of my pet interests, pop culture. The idea here is essentially to illustrate criminology through film. Films discussed include Frankenstein, Double Indemnity, Psycho, Taxi Driver, Traffic, Capturing the Friedmans, Thelma and Louise, and City of the Gods. Judging from section titles and the book info, it's directed towards undergraduates, with the focus definitely on criminology over film. I laughed slightly at the book's description that said it featured "recent" films such as Thelma & Louise. You know, that 21 year old "recent" film, that is probably now older than the undergraduate students. The one starring that young up-and-comer Brad Pitt--I see big things for that guy. (Okay, he was already 28 by this point, so "young" is about as accurate a description as calling T&L recent, but work with me here.)

Code wars : 10 years of P2P software litigation / Rebecca Giblin. Cheltenham, UK ; Northampton, MA : Edward Elgar Publishing, c2011.
I miss Napster. Seriously, though, a historical overview of this subject is as useful as it is overdue.

Exile of Britney Spears : a tale of 21st century consumption. Bristol, UK ; Chicago : Intellect, 2011. Smit, Christopher R.
Another subject that's due a revisit, now that we can look back at it (well, her) with some amount of historical perspective. I was never that big into Britney; just a little too old for it, and never that interested in music or pop stars to begin with. But my brother and his age group were pretty fascinated in her transition from teen idol to sex symbol. And then bizarrely fascinated with her transition from sex symbol to cautionary example. Smit explores the history of Britney Spears under the metaphor of consumption, with the notion that we, the media-consuming public, were in large part responsible for her rise and fall. Though the book itself has been judged as somewhat superficial, the subject remains important. How much did the public contribute to some very public meltdowns and tragedies, from Lady Di's crash to Charlie Sheen's meltdown, to Mel Gibson's fall from grace? Who's blame, and why do we care? (I'm using the royal "we" here, as honestly, I don't care. My celebrity interests revolve more around scholars, comic book writers, and geekier sort of celebrities, from Nathan Fillion to Jennifer Hale.)

Supernatural youth : the rise of the teen hero in literature and popular culture / edited by Jes Battis. Lanham, Md. : Lexington Books, c2011.
The essays in this book address a simple question: what's the connection between teen heroes and magic. The obvious answer, I suppose, is that magic makes a good metaphor for the transition from child to adult: an increase in power, but often also an increase in responsibility, and a separation from parents and childhood occupations. Essay topics include the spiritual and sexual in Diane Duane's Wizardry series (Exhibit A for "with great power comes great responsibility"); female intellect and Hermione Granger, Education and magic in Discworld (I imagine the Witch series plays a big part in this one); women warriors, the queer witch, and the ordinary hero in Buffy; Postfeminism in Veronica Mars; Tamora Pierce's teenagers and desire; and essays on everything else from Harvey in Sabrina to Timothy Hunter in the Magic series. It's books like this that make me wish I never left fantasy lit as a focus.

Media, masculinities, and the machine : F1, transformers, and fantasizing technology at its limits / Dan Fleming and Damion Sturm. New York : Continuum, c2011.
There's a persistent sense that a lot of technology is essentially "boy toys," from videogames to hot rods to home brew computing. Fleming and Sturm's approach is largely in the title: F1 and transformers, viewed through affect theory and ethnography. I'm not a huge fan of affect theory (it combines what I don't like about psychology theory with what I don't like about social science studies), but the topic is welcome.

Riddle me this, batman! : essays on the universe of the Dark Knight / edited by Kevin K. Durand and Mary K. Leigh. Jefferson, N.C. : McFarland & Co., c2011.
Yeah, I'd read that. Topics include Aristotelian virtue and Gotham; Power and Authority in Frank Miller's Dark Knight Returns; Camp and Virtue in a defense of Adam West; Batman and Anarchy; Batman and Lacan; Batman and hybrid canon; The Dark Knight Returns and Batman's sexual identity; essays on stoicism and the Joker. I'll have to admit, Batman seems ideal for an adaptation study: from the comic strips to the comic books to the movies and videogames, all directed at audiences from all ages to adult. This book seems to be more a grab bag, with a focus on philosophy, if anything, but it might be interesting for the Batmanologist in your family. (Every family has a batmanologist, even if they don't know it.)

Reamde / Neal Stephenson. 1st ed. New York : William Morrow, c2011.
I really want to read this. I've read most of Stephenson's extremely long page-turners, from Cryptonomicon to Baroque Cycle to Anathem. So I'll probably read this, and I'll probably like this. I just need to find time to read a book that's 1064 pages. Yeesh.

Mathematicians at war: Volterra and his French colleagues in World War I / Laurent Mazliak and Rossana Tazzioli. Dordrecht : Springer, c2009.
I love biographies of mathematicians. They infuse mathematics with a personality and passion that rarely makes it through to the actual papers.

Inventing the medium : principles of interaction design as a cultural practice / Janet H. Murray. Cambridge, Mass. : MIT Press, c2012.
A new Murray book deserves a proper inspection, and an elaboration of why it's important, to the discipline of design, and digital technology in general. But we're 6000 items in, and I'm getting tired. So let's just make a mental note, put a hold on it, and I'll let you all know how it turns out.

...And that's it for this batch. Man, that took forever. Stupid databases.

Friday, February 17, 2012

Friday Random Quotations: Guess How My Day's Been Going

[Flashback to Homer's childhood, where a long line of kids and
their various vehicles have all rear-ended and smashed into each
other. Homer and Barney Gumble, as children, are at the front of
the line, wrecked into a tree.]
Barney: Let's never drink again.
[Back to reality. Homer still has the beer in his hand.]
Homer: And we never did. [takes a swig]
--The Simpsons, "Lisa's Sax."

Later Days.

Thursday, February 16, 2012

Biblophile: Enough Canadiana to Bury You Alive Pt IV

*NOTE* Parts 2 and 3 *ARE* done, they're just further down, since I forgot to modify the posting date from when the drafts were originally composed. So if you're really interested in them, do a quick search of the bibliophile tag.

They said it was mad. They said it couldn't be done. They said it impossible. Well, they said it was a waste of time. And come to think of it, they were probably right. Welcome, to part IV of this massive edition of Bibliophile, wherein I comment on the last 4000 new books my library received this week. We've got 12 000 down already, so this should be easy...right?

Not so much, because the literature part is over, which means we're knee deep in the most dreaded of all subjects, Canadian expenditures in science, which combines at least three topics I know nothing about.

Systems thinkers [electronic resource] / Magnus Ramage, Karen Shipp. London : Springer, c2009.
Noted because I thought the first author's name, originally, was Magnus Rampage, which would clearly have been the greatest name ever.

The long trudge continues. We have the QCs, and math.
Quantum physics for poets / Leon M. Lederman, Christopher T. Hill. Amherst, N.Y. : Prometheus Books, 2011.
My roommate: You should just "No" next to the title.
And I did.

And we get some of the same categories as before, but with emphasis on their scientific aspect rather than their economies: energy, environmental conservation. Cellular biology. Wildlife conversation (Canadian elk populations, and so forth). Medical issues. ...And this is where I admitted defeat. The discussion of healthcare did what 12 000 entries didn't: I skipped ahead, past the endless discussions of waiting lists and home care. Am I proud? No. But I am going to bed before midnight, and really, that's all I ever wanted.

Sometimes the Spoon Runs Away with Another Spoon Coloring Book. Oakland PM Press 2010

There. I'm done. I hope everyone's enjoyed the journey. As for me, I've learned nothing.

Later Days.

Thoughts Not Fully Formed

I thought I'd go for a run this morning, but I slipped three times going down the driveway, and thought that it was a bad idea. Icy sidewalks are the worst.

I don't understand cauliflower. I don't mean I don't like it--I mean I can't comprehend what possible culinary use it could serve, what flavors it could complement. At least broccoli has some color to it.

Every time I do a full cleaning of my room, my allergies immediately get much worse. It's like my lungs are mocking me in my attempts to live a more dust-free environment.

The nightstand that props up the lamp in my room is actually a pile of my largest, thickest books. I go back and forth between thinking that this is very stupid and that it's kind of cool.

I'm pretty sure that I don't know how to use an iron. That there is some basic principle in the process that I am not comprehending and that lack is dragging down the whole operation.

I know people who can't seem to go any length of time without a significant other or without being in a group of friends. And it always seemed a little sad to me, like they don't know who they are unless there's someone around to reaffirm it.

And at the same time, I know my own preferences in that regard make the statement a little hypocritical: I feel smothered if I don't get regular doses of alone time, but I'm always terrified that my friends are waiting patiently until I leave to really get a party started. (Actually, that's rather different problem than needing to be around people, isn't it?)

In the same sort of "I'm cheap" vein as the nightstand, my full length mirror was one I found by the side of the road at midnight, then carried over 3k to get it home. ...But this one, I just think is cool.

For most of the winter months, I go everywhere wearing two pairs of socks. I don't know if this is because my shoes are poorly insulated, or because my nervous system is a bizarre system cobbled together by monkeys, but it seems to do the trick.

I like My Little Pony. And Gossip Girl. And well done romantic comedies. And cocktails with strange drinks and stranger names. And it really annoys me to be mocked (all right, gently mocked) as "unmanly" for it by colleagues, because what the hell's the point of being able to deconstruct gender normativity in papers if you're unwilling to apply it in your everyday life?

And yes, I do realize that there's some intellectual elitism in the above statement, of the "humanities scholars should know better" variety. Fine. I think *everyone* should loosen up in terms of gender identity, okay? And maybe then I could drink my screaming orgasm in peace. ...Don't give me that look.

I'm worried this combo of "insightful thoughts/fluffy nonsense" isn't going well. Time to end this.

Later Days.

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Valentine's Day: Boo. Hiss.

Screw the lovers. In a world striving for a new tomorrow, those in "love" cling to old-fashioned, out-dated notions of companionship of a form that more closely resembles slavery, willing to place the yoke around their necks with their own hands if it allows to them to desperately stave off the knowledge that they too must die alone. In honor of exposing this hypocrisy, here's an ee cummings poem:

she being Brand

-new;and you
know consequently a
little stiff i was
careful of her and(having

thoroughly oiled the universal
joint tested my gas felt of
her radiator made sure her springs were O.

K.)i went right to it flooded-the-carburetor cranked her

up,slipped the
clutch(and then somehow got into reverse she
kicked what
the hell)next
minute i was back in neutral tried and

again slo-wly;bare,ly nudg. ing(my

lev-er Right-
oh and her gears being in
A 1 shape passed
from low through
second-in-to-high like
greasedlightning)just as we turned the corner of Divinity

avenue i touched the accelerator and give

her the juice,good


was the first ride and believe i we was
happy to see how nice she acted right up to
the last minute coming back down by the Public
Gardens i slammed on

brakes Bothatonce and

brought allofher tremB
to a:dead.


Now if you'll excuse me, I'm going to stay in bed all day and cry myself to sleep.

Later Days.

Valentine's Day: Huzzah.

Bless the lovers. In a world often torn by strife and conflict, those in love have, throughout the ages, reminded us that union is not only possible, but desirable, in the form of two souls coming together as one. In honor of them, here's an ee cummings poem:

i carry your heart with me (i carry it in
my heart) i am never without it (anywhere
i go you go, my dear; and whatever is done
by only me is your doing, my darling)
i fear
no fate (for you are my fate, my sweet) i want
no world (for beautiful you are my world, my true)
and it's you are whatever a moon has always meant
and whatever a sun will always sing is you

here is the deepest secret nobody knows
(here is the root of the root and the bud of the bud
and the sky of the sky of a tree called life; which grows
higher than the soul can hope or mind can hide)
and this is the wonder that's keeping the stars apart

i carry your heart (i carry it in my heart)

(Actually, it's the exact same poem I used LAST Valentine's Day, but I won't tell anyone if you won't.)
Now, if you'll excuse me, I must go forth in the world, secure in the knowledge that on this day, we are all lovers, participants in the great union of humanity.
Later Days.

Monday, February 13, 2012

Biblophile: Enough Canadiana to Bury You Alive Pt II

And we're back, with Part II of the Day Canadian Entries Destroyed Bibliophile. Join me in more fun.

I really don't feel like getting into every single title here, so we'll take a summary approach, where I name the basic categories as they turn up. Thus... we've got pension discussions... disabilities in the workplace...Canadian housing trends...(A LOT on housing trends, from rural availability to the effects of the Olympics on Vancouver housing) the Canadian immigrant labor market...agricultural economics...(from tobacco to hemp to dairy)... Canadian energy management (another big topic, from how "consumers are cheated at the pump" is a myth to Saskatchewan oil sands)... prescription drug prices...manufacturing... foresting...transportation (urban transit and national highways system, maritime and rail)... broadcast television... international trade...(A lot on the US, which you'd expect, up a really high number of papers on Canada and China as well)

And finally, there is something that appeals to me, as a representative of the book nerd group:
Who buys books in Canada?: a statistical analysis based on household spending data. Hill Strategies Research, c2005.
52% of Canadians bought no books at all; of the 48% who did, average spending was $196. 17% of those surveyed had been to a poetry or literary reading in the last year (really?), and 2/3 had read a book in the last year. The data was gathered in 2001, so I expect the numbers now are somewhat less, given all our digital doodads and geegaws.

Then there's mortgage rates... and then this:
Once on the lips, forever on the hips : a benefit-cost analysis of fiscal stimulus in OECD countries / Bev Dahlby. Toronto, Ont. : C.D. Howe Institute, 2009
I have no idea what this book is about, but the title is a win.

Next, we have tax reform... And finally, a subject that's mildly interesting to me, social media. With such topics as sharing wireless in urban neighborhoods, and Canadian Internet use. And then we're back into the fray, with Canadian social issues, ranging from the Gang of Six to Station 20 West (there's a local Saskatchewan issue).

Sex, teen pregnancies, STDs, and beer prices: empirical evidence from Canada / Anindya Sen, May Luong.
As the author says: "We evaluate the effects of higher beer prices on gonorrhea, chlamydia, and teen pregnancy rates by pooling data across Canadian provinces over time. Higher real beer prices are significantly correlated with a reduction in both gonorrhea and chlamydia rates with price elasticities ranging from -0.6 to -1.4. In contrast, an increase in the minimum legal drinking age is significantly associated with a reduction in teen pregnancies as well as births." So now we know.

This is followed by numerous reports on sexuality, family, and social justice issues. And that goes into youth issues in general.

Recreating Japanese men / edited by Sabine Frühstück and Anne Walthall. Berkeley : University of California Press, c2011.
And now for something different. It's an anthology with a historic perspective, with an examination from ancient Japan to modern examinations of anime and robots. I was hoping for something related to videogames, but I'll take what I can get.

We've now moved into neighborhood zoning and city planning. Then social welfare and assistance programs. And the next thing you know, we're at 8000. Halfway there! Go team!

Later Days.

Sunday, February 12, 2012

Biblophile: Enough Canadiana to Bury You Alive Pt III

And here we are, 8000 entries in, and still in the HVs. And we're still in social issues: homelessness, drinking addictions, youth services. There's a lot on domestic abuse. I mean hundreds of entries. Man. The economic stuff was boring, but this is kind of soul-destroying. Then there's crime in general. For example:
Neighbourhood characteristics and the distribution of crime in Saskatoon [electronic resource] / by Mathieu Charron. Ottawa, Ont. : Statistics Canada, 2008
This book contains such cheery statistics as Saskatoon having the highest crime rate in metropolitan Canada (circa 2001). Most crimes are reported in the downtown area, Idlywyld Drive strip, and the Confederation Mall, which will probably be uninteresting to almost all of my regular readers, and no surprise to the others.

After that, we go from gun trafficking to gun violence to cyber-crime. There's a large amount of stuff on youth violence, and more than a few on Omar Khadr. Now we're finally out of the Hs, and the J begins with a focus on election participation and federal government policies. There's about a dozen books on senate reform. And some more on immigrant retention in Canadian cities. The general subject of immigration gives over for a section on legal aid. From there, we segue naturally into issue of law in general, from online access to ageism. 1000 or so entries later, we're onto educational issues.

I love you, Brad, but you reduce my student loan eligibility [electronic resource] : the perils of marriage in Canadian student assistance programs / Alex Usher. Stafford, Va. ; Toronto, Ont. : Educational Policy Institute, c2004
Oh, I like that title.

Further subtopics include literacy rates, post-secondary access, learning disabilities, adult learning, and then finally we're into the "M" section, and music studies. Unfortunately, I'm not typically interested in music and art, so we'll just keep moving.

Capital and affects : the politics of the language economy / Christian Marazzi ; translated and with an introduction by Giuseppina Mecchia. Los Angeles, CA : Semiotext(e) ; Cambridge, Mass. : Distributed by the MIT Press, c2011.
Mentioned because I thought Marazzi was one of the repeated scholars mentioned in Cary Wolfe's What is Posthumanism? That turned out to be completely wrong. He's actually a world-renowned scholar on the subject of Post-Fordist economies. It's not directly related to my studies, but if someone's interested in David Harvey type analysis, it would probably be a good read. (Not sure why it's in the literature section, but whatever. I suppose it's sneaking in under the subtitle label of "language.")

Kiss my relics : hermaphroditic fictions of the middle ages / David Rollo. Chicago : University of Chicago Press, c2011.

Nazisploitation! : the Nazi image in low-brow cinema and culture / edited by Daniel H. Magilow, Elizabeth Bridges, and Kristin T. Vander Lugt. New York, N.Y. : Continuum International Pub. Group, c2012.
I like this, as a topic. I remember reading in a message board recently an impassioned argument that we've lost the ability to make fun of the Nazis as we move away from them, that we can't respond to their atrocities with anything but somber reflection, but this book seems to suggest that the mockery is alive and well. There's some of the usual suspects: Captain America comics, Inglorious Basterds. I was hoping for something on videogames, because Nazis rank behind zombies as the number 1 shooter villain, traditionally, but alas, it was not to be.

Stories : all-new tales / edited by Neil Gaiman and Al Sarrantonio. 1st Harper Perennial ed. New York : Harper Perennial, 2011, c2010.
I'm not big on short story anthologies as a general rule, but Neil Gaiman as editor catches my eye. The concept here is that they're getting famous, respected authors to write something fantasy-based, and they've put together a pretty impressive collection: Roddy Doyle, Joyce Carol Oates, Richard Adams, Jodi Picoult, Chuck Palahniuk, Gene Wolfe, and Joe Hill, among many others. Literature's not really my focus any more, but this one's almost too good to pass up. Make a mental note, self.

And on that high note, we finish the third part of the catalogue odyssey. Join me, if you will, for part IV... tomorrow. Or tomorrowish. Whenever.

Later Days.

Biblophile: Enough Canadiana to Bury You Alive Pt I

The library received 16000 new books this week. While I gibber into thin air for a bit, you can get ready for a new edition of Bibliophile.

Harnessing the power of equine assisted counseling : adding animal assisted therapy to your practice / [edited by] Kay Trotter. New York : Brunner-Routledge, 2011.
A horse is a horse, of course, of course, and nobody can talk to a horse, of course. That is, of course, unless the horse is the famous Dr. Ed, trained at Stanford in the Freudian method. ...Sorry.

Releasing the image : from literature to new media / edited by Jacques Khalip and Robert Mitchell.
An anthology on the self-generative potential of images, particularly in terms of how they move beyond subjectivity. The description references Heidegger, Husserl, Merle-Ponty and Gilles Deleuze, and one of the of the editors is Agamben, so I'm guessing it's very easy, light reading. Highlights in the table of contents include what seem to be a cognitive science themed paper from Mark Hansen, and a Sobchack on sound and Dolby technology. It would probably make a nice accompaniment to two books I read recently--Mitchell's Picture Theory, and Wolfe's What is Posthumanism--but I really don't have much an interest in object-oriented ontology and so forth.

Smangus : Tnunan Smangus : the mutual enjoyment, preservation and appreciation of Smangus / by Lahuy Icyeh ; project team, The Community Council of Smangus.
Smangus sounds like it's slang for... you know. Mary Jay. Bammy. Chillums. Moocah. Bambalacha. C'mon on, man. Give me a hit of Smangus. No way, bro! Stop bogartting my Smangus! And so forth. In actually, it seems to a be a village in Taiwan, and not related to any sort of drug whatsoever.

I'm gathering that part of the new database access is oriented towards Canadian First Nation studies, as I've just gone over 400 straight items on the subject. But then, 400 is a drop in the bucket when you've got over 16000 items, so there'll be more yet. Yay? Well, that seems to be the pattern of this new infusion: a large collection of Canadian related material. Didn't we just have one of those? (Checks files) Yep, two weeks ago. Well, welcome back to January 29th, folks.

Not even the games section (call number GV) is immune to the influx of Canadiana:
What makes a neighbourhood bikeable: reporting on the results of focus group sessions / prepared by Meghan Winters, Adam Cooper.
From fun to functional: cycling, a mode of transportation in its own right : bicycle policy. Rev. ed. Québec, Qué. : Transports Québec, 2008
Ontario 2012: stimulating growth in Ontario's digital game industry.
Wilder West : rodeo in Western Canada / Mary-Ellen Kelm.
It's funny--these are all topics that interest me (all right, not so much the rodeo one), but as soon as you put it in a national context, it starts to lose its appeal.

Research without (southern) borders : the changing Canadian research landscape : a national roundtable on new directions in international research in Canada, May 22-23, 2003 : final report / IDRC.
I do like the joke in the title there.

Big spenders? [electronic resource] : an expenditure profile of Western Canada's big six / Casey Vander Ploeg. Calgary, Alta. : Canada West Foundation, 2004.
Essentially, the paper looks briefly at the spending habits of the largest Western Canadian cities. While spending has gone up, spending per capita has not, which means that our expenditures are not increasing at a rate proportional to population growth. Further, spending on municipal programs has not gone up overall per capita, but the program that sees the most growth is policing, which reflects municipal responsibilities. The disproportionate lack of increase in program funding suggests that in the future, we risk a decline in services, and... I'm sorry, I really can't fake the interest level to read any further. It's an important issue, vital to the future of Western (and by extension, all of) Canada, and it's about as exciting as... as... reading an expenditure profile of Western Canada's big six. I'm sorry; I honestly couldn't think of anything more boring than this. It's created a new watermark, all by itself.

Mexico: current and future political, economic and security trends / by Hal Klepak. Calgary, Alta. : Canadian Defence and Foreign Affairs Institute, 2008
Judging purely by the publisher, I like to believe that this book is a frank assessment of the military threat posed by Mexico. What it's actually about is a briefing on the current state of Mexico, in terms of politics, economics, and security, particularly in terms of its rather well-armed and organized drug trade. This relates to what the author sees is Mexico's biggest issue: improving its public issue regarding the control it can exert over illegal groups. ...2500 works into this week, it's really nice to see something that's not about Canada. That is all.

Citizen is willing, but society won't deliver [electronic resource] : the problem of institutional roadblocks / Norman Myers and Jennifer Kent. Winnipeg, Man. : International Institute for Sustainable Development, c2008
Consumer demands are creating unsustainable consumption patterns, and the institutions that should be stepping up to prevent such waste are failing to do so on a global scale. It feels a little like shifting the blame in a way to cater to the wider population--it's not your fault you're wasteful, it's the government--but judging by the first few papers, it's written in a rather compelling manner, and it's a nice introduction to the general subject of global governance. It's also an economic book that isn't pretending that such issues can be sorted out by the Invisible Hand, which is in its favor.... At the same time, it's radically out of my usual reading zone. I'm pretty desperate for non-Canadian entries at this point. And I'm still not even a quarter done.

...You know what? Let's try something different. I'll keep working on this, but I'll break it up into those four parts, and release them over the following week. Rather than having to read one indigestible superpost, you readers can have four slightly more manageable ones. Worst case scenario, you'll have to skip over four posts instead of the usual one. Yeah, you're welcome. So I'll do another thousand entries, and then we'll call it quits for today.

Shocking aspects of Canadian labor markets/ Tamim Bayoumi, Bennett Sutton, and Andrew Swiston. Washington, D.C. : International Monetary Fund, 2006
Yeah, I'll bite. What makes it shocking? Nothing, apparently; the title's a mislead, and it's about how the Canadian labor markets respond to shocks. You tricked me, International Monetary Fund. That's one.

And that final entry brings us to the end of the first 4000 entries. Who knows what mysteries lie in the next 12 000? More books on the state of Canadian economic policies? Something on the intricacies of Canadian educational policies for Saskatchewan immigrant populations? We all wait with bated breath, I'm sure. See in the future, folks.

Later Days.

Friday, February 10, 2012

Thursday, February 9, 2012

It's Not Your Fault, It's Mayan.

I must be tired. I just typed out "The Lost Myna City in South America." And now I'm picturing a massive empire composed entirely of twigs, where tiny birds sacrificed other tiny birds to appease their tiny bird gods.

Later Days.

Wednesday, February 8, 2012

Lost in Transit-ions

I needed to a university-related meeting today, which was held at one of the downtown tech hubs. In theory, I fully approve of the hub meetings. It gets the department associated with cutting edge movements in tech, and gets us out and into the community, a constant necessity for an academic department. In practice... well, the hub is 10 km from my house, and 7.5 from campus. Now, granted, I'm already on campus, so that's a reduction in transit time right there. But I still have to travel on the bus from campus to hub, and then back again to teach my class. Even at a conservative estimate, that's over an hour of transit time, and bus transit time at that, which, subjectively speaking, is much longer than normal time. Any time I go for such a meeting, I'm essentially giving up half the work day for it. Now, I'm not complaining against the meeting/associated project in the slightest. My participation there is killing multiple birds with the proverbial stone: I'm getting involved in digital projects, which is a career development goal; I'm getting experience in group projects, which is a professional expansion goal; and I'm thinking creatively in ways neither the dissertation nor blog quite hits, which was unexpected (me being jaded and such), but welcome.

I just wish it was a little closer.

At today's session, I showed up a half hour early (another peril of being dependent on bus schedules), and went to a nearby coffee shop. After the meeting, I was left with an extra bit of refuse to dispose of. There were garbage cans all over the place, but... No, I thought. No, we will recycle this discarded coffee cup. We will be part of the solution! And so, I slipped it into my bookbag's side pouch. (And sidenote: is it odd that a business-tech space doesn't have any recycling oriented capabilities? Perhaps it's evidence that business doesn't care about carbon footprints. Or a metaphor for how a focus on the virtual and electronic blinds us to the excesses and materiality of the Real. Or maybe I wasn't looking hard enough.) I didn't have much luck in the downtown area, either, and time was marching on, so I decide to hurry up and catch my bus, and worry about it on campus, where recycling locations are many and plentiful. But now I'm hurrying to make the bus, and cross the street before the light changes. Half way across, I feel, physically feel, the empty cup slide out of its pouch and hit the ground. I debated briefly, then decided that retrieving cup might be an act of good karma, but it wouldn't be an act of good sense. So I abandoned it to its fate. The real kicker is that the bus drove right past that street after I got on it, so I got to see the cup one last time, rolling forlornly back and forth. So in my desire to recycle, I went from depositing the cup in a proper garbage can to abandoning it in the street.

I am not part of the solution. I am the problem.

Last: The bus trip itself was significantly long enough for a reflection on bus etiquette. In our transit system, the bus seats are two per side of the aisle. And I have nothing but contempt for people who strain to occupy two seats (with a bag, or something) while others are standing. Yes, I understand that it's mildly uncomfortable to sit with the bag on your lap. And yes, it's always a game of personal space Russian roulette when you go on the bus. But frankly, I think that anyone who chooses (or, all right, is forced into choosing) public transit has an implicit social contract to be considerate of others while in that public space. Of course, the seat mate issue does bring with it a myriad of challenges. Such as, in my case, the complicated negotiations that must occur when the person with the window seat must get off the bus before the aisle seat person, as in my case. There's a number of visual clues you can offer, ranging from sitting up in a very expectant manner to physically standing up and plowing through, space be damned. In this particular case, I merely glanced at my fellow passenger. He glanced back, stood up, and I nodded appreciatively as I exited. A silent simpatico of social solicitude.

If Foucault really wanted to understand power relations, he should have spent more time on a bus. (This is my equivalent of all those academic papers on airline travel. Write what you know.)

Later Days.

Tuesday, February 7, 2012

He's Such a Groovy Guy

Here's the table of contents page from the Earthworm Jim 2 manual:

I mention it because, in that single page, it shows more personality and humor than most game manuals (or most games) show in their entirety. And, finally, I know the contents of table.

Later Days.

Sunday, February 5, 2012

Bibliophile: foot-to-ball, and other balls.

butterfly in the sky, I can go twice as high
take a look, it's in a book, it's Bibliophile!

That's either my best opening, or my absolute worst. At any rate, let's get started.
It's a mixed bag today--there's 5000 new entries in the library system, but it seems most are streamed videos my department doesn't have access to. Boo, hiss.

So, skipping across 4000 some items, we have this:

Architecture for a free subjectivity : Deleuze and Guattari at the horizon of the real / Simone Brott. Farnham, Surrey ; Burlington, VT : Ashgate, c2011.
It seems like it's been a long time since there's been a Deleuze and Guattari sighting. I've missed their assemblages, their rhizomes, their bodies without organs. As the title suggests, it concerns their views on subjectivity, and applies it to architecture, to how architecture creates its own subjectivity.

Future minds : how the digital age is changing our minds, why this matters, and what we can do about it / Richard Watson. London ; Boston : Nicholas Brealey Pub., 2010.
Watson argues that our digital technology has taken its toll on our creativity. And not in an abstract way--the physiological effect of digital media use, he claims, affects child brain development. He recommends a deliberate decrease in the use of digital tech. It's very much in the vein of Turkle's "Alone Together"--it may have a good point, but it's very tempting to dismiss it as digital alarmist hysteria. I guess the problem with most solutions to the "electronic problem" is that they all seem like a step back; people generally don't like giving up their gadgets unless they've got something even newer to replace them with.

Find a job through social networking : use LinkedIn, Twitter, Facebook, blogs, and more to advance your career / Diane Crompton And Ellen Sautter. 2nd ed. Indianapolis, IN : JIST Works, c2011.
It kind of annoys me that this book exists. The others aren't so bad, but using Twitter (and to a lesser extent, Facebook) to advance one's career just seems so.... sigh. I guess I'm just a fuddy duddy luddite.

Testicles : balls in cooking and culture / Blandine Vié ; translated from the French by Giles MacDonogh. Devon : Prospect Books, 2011.
It's a balance between recipes I'd never eat, and investigations into some of the cultural implications of testicles throughout the century. It's an investigation of virility and deliciousness. Or I assume.

Knowledge economy and the city : spaces of knowledge / Ali Madanipour. London ; New York : Routledge, 2011.
The book's argument seems to be that just as the shift towards large scale economy created the new spaces of the twentieth century (city and such), the knowledge economy stands poised to create some new spaces of its own. I think, if anything, that this may be a book that's coming a little late; the digital knowledge-based shifts he's referring to started a while ago. After all, Tiziana Terranova's been publishing on the subject of the digital economy for over a decade now. Perhaps he's saying that we can now better judge its effect on space. That's fair: our mobile tech in particular is adjusting the way we see the world around us.

Global football league : transnational networks, social movements and sport in the new media age / Peter Millward. Houndmills, Basingstoke, Hampshire ; New York : Palgrave Macmillan, 2011.
I've got a fondness for football/soccer. I've always believed, in my heart of hearts, that it's the one popular sport that I might not, had things been different, been absolutely terrible at. Alas, the only options for a young male in my particular corner of rural Saskatchewan were hockey, baseball, and, later, basketball. The basketball net and I don't see eye to eye--literally, which is the biggest part of the problem. And I can't throw a baseball properly (I don't throw like a girl; I throw like someone without arms). And on skates, I stop by crashing into things. What were we talking about? Oh yeah, the book's about how the globalization of soccer affects the local British fan's understanding of the game. That's cool.

Deleuze and world politics : alter-globalizations and nomad science / Peter Lenco. London ; New York : Routledge, 2011.
Double Deleuze! This book is specifically on applying Deleuze's notions of power to the anti-globalization movement. The focus of the movement on economic injustice and the rich exerting undue influence and unaccounted for effects on the underdeveloped countries is admittedly a topic that lends itself to Deleuze's brand of analysis. Now available on Amazon for a mere $114! Yeah, that's a book that you get from the library.

Faculty incivility : the rise of the academic bully culture and what to do about it / Darla J. Twale, Barbara M. De Luca.
It's about time someone put that officemate of mine in his place. He's always eating in the office, leaving boxes on the floor, staying there at all hours. Oh wait, that's me. Seriously, I can see how this can be a problem. As scholars, we're supposed to be above such issues as petty incivility. In reality, we're just people, and more than most to be riddled with the insecurities that may lead to bullying behavior. I can't quite get over the sense that a book on the subject is a little ridiculous, which might suggest how ingrained the issue is. (Or it might mean that the book is a little ridiculous.) Either way, I think it's time you gave me your lunch money.

Language and learning in the digital age / James Paul Gee and Elisabeth R. Hayes. London ; New York : Routledge, 2011.
I don't think I've ever actually read a book by James Paul Gee. He's one of the go-to guys when it comes to videogames and education, but... well, it's a subject I don't have much interest in, to be honest. I'm really more interested in what videogames are doing now than what they may or may not do in the future. I realize it's a rather short-sighted view; perhaps this book is the one to cure me of that.

Bound by love : familial bonding in film and television since 1950 / edited by Laura Mattoon D'Amore. Newcastle : Cambridge Scholars, 2011.
I do love those pop culture anthologies. And this subject is more relevant than most. For decades, the TV/movie family has served as a barometer of what the American family "should" be: from "Father knows best" to the problem easily solvable in 22 minutes, with a voice-over drawing everything together so we know exactly how to feel about it (I'm looking at you, Modern Family). This book includes masculinity and missing mothers in Everwood, Supernatural and "I'll take our family over normal", and love and marriage in cold war educational films (which are awesome).

Graphic subjects : critical essays on autobiography and graphic novels / edited by Michael A. Chaney. Madison : The University of Wisconsin Press, c2011.
Another pop-culture anthology, albeit one with a very different focus. This topic is fairly popular; I actually know a few people who specialize in autobiographic graphic novels. Books here include Art Spiegelman’s Maus, David Beauchard’s Epileptic, Marjane Satrapi’s Persepolis, Alan Moore’s Watchmen, and Gene Yang’s American Born Chinese. I've read all of these, except Beauchard's Epileptic. I'd like to see the argument for autobiography in Moore's Watchmen. My snarky side is fairly sure that Moore has never been a customed super hero, but I'm sure there's more than that.

Sleep hotel / Amy Newlove Schroeder. Oberlin, Ohio : Oberlin College Press, c2010.
Given my literature origins, I try to include a fiction piece in each entry. The problem is, fiction titles are usually catchy, but aren't very descriptive of the book's content, at least, not in the way a scholarly book is. So it means diving in blind, in most cases. And in this case: the book I picked is actually a book of poems. So I've dived in blind, and I'm now completely at sea. It seems well-reviewed, which is in its favor, and it contains the line "I love you the way the ground loves the flame." The overall "theme" of the book, as suggested the title, is that these poems are like dreams. That's... workable? I really don't know how to deal with 21st century poetry.

This is not the end of the book / Jean-Claude Carrière & Umberto Eco ; a conversation curated by Jean-Phillippe de Tonnac ; translated from the French by Polly McLean. London : Harvill Secker, 2011.
Umberto Eco is another one of those theorists that I feel I should have read more of, but it never really happened. According to the National Post review, Eco quickly makes his main point: books are here to stay, internet or not. Either they'll stay in their current form, or they'll be recreated digitally in some form that preserves their basic essence. I'd say that's open for debate, but according to the reviewer, the real meat of the book is the people discussing their book collections--40 000 owned by Carriere, and 50 000 by Eco. Sheesh. The review, in case you're interested, is here. I admit, the idea of people who love books and really know what they're talking about sounds like a winner to me. (Although, while I'm confessing, I was a little surprised to find that Umberto Eco was still alive. I'm used to my non-digital theorist people being post-mortem. He looks pretty healthy for 80 years old, so good for him.)

Books are good. That seems like an appropriate note to end an edition of Bibliophile.

Later Days.

And when you flip the light switch, a toilet flushes.

A few hours ago, I started coughing. As a man allergic to just about everything, this is not an unusual event in and of itself. This cough, though, was rather persistent. After a few minutes of hacking, I decided to take steps. This measure was not so much for myself, understand. When it comes to my personal health, I generally fall somewhere between stoic and almost suicidally stubborn. If my body wants to spend a few hours hacking, fine. I'm not going to let it change my course of affairs one jot; it's not the boss of me! In this particular instance, though, I had other considerations to think about. It had just turned midnight, and I had roommates trying to sleep. As a matter of etiquette, then, something had to be done. I put on a heavier shirt. Still coughing. No worries; that was just a preliminary sally forth anyway. I blow my nose. Still coughing. I take a double puff on the inhaler. Still coughing. Then I pull out my hail mary--it's directly against my pointless stoic beliefs, but I swallowed my pride and my medicine, and helped myself to my sole bottle of brand name cough syrup. Alas, it was all for naught, for the cough persisted.
Then I got an idea. And this wasn't a long shot type of idea. No, this was the sort of idea where it comes to you, and you simultaneously think "that'll do it" and "I should have thought of this from the start." I go into my bag of winter gear, got out a toque, and put it on. The coughing stopped almost instantly.

I was coughing because my ears were cold.

This body, man. The stories I could tell you. Still, it gets me to work in the morning.

Later Days.

Friday, February 3, 2012

Game Music: Deadly Premonition

I've never heard of this game, but I'm a sucker for anything with a whistle. At the 2:30, a kazoo kicks in, and things get crazy.

Later Days.

Friday Quotations: Down There Blastin' Ratigators

I know... I know... those hotshots at TopRat got you all wound up thinkin’ you’re the best Sewer Jockey to ever shoot the Tubes. Well, let me tell you somethin’, Mr. Big Head. Down here we got no fancy-pants high-tech simulators where you can hit the wall and just say, “Oops—sorry, teacher, Can I try again?” Down here, it’s life and death, pal!” --Commissioner Stenchier, SewerShark manual.

Later Days.