creative [kree-ey-tiv]: adjective. Synonyms: clever, cool, innovative, inspired, prolific, stimulating.

criticism [krit-uh-siz-uhm]: noun. The act of passing judgment as to the merits of anything.

31 Jul 2010

Mean Girls - That 2004 movie.

The first time I saw this movie (sometime in 2004/2005, probably), I didn't appreciate it very much. This time around, though, I think I fell in love. It's just so amazinglygoodandentertaining-andenjoyableandOHMYthisisthe-bestteenmovieI'veeverseeninmylife!
Seriously, the screenplay writers have done a great job - the many gags and jokes and snide side comments are what makes this movie great (apart from the excellent acting and the, you know, actual character growth that goes on). And look at that - Tina Fey wrote the screenplay. AND she was great as the math teacher (look, a secondary character that shows... well, character!). It's decided - I like Tina Fey! Not the least because of this gem:
You've got to stop calling each other sluts and whores - it just makes it okay for guys to call you sluts and whores.
I must admit, Lindsay Lohan did a very good job of her role, too. There was one scene, though, that I found very funny of unintended reasons: the "drunk at the party and pukes on love interest's lap" scene. That was not "drunk". "Drunk" involves slurred words. (This particular kind of not-good acting amuses me) In any case, props to the people in charge of the visual aspects of her character for the correlation between the level of styling of her hair/her attire and her inner emotional turmoil/shallowness/peace with herself.
Well, I could go on and on about Rachel McAdams' amazingness in this movie, but this thing is getting pretty long already. Let me just say that

  1. gotta love how the "BURN BOOK" looks about twenty pages long, and yet "every girl in school except for 3" are in it.
  2. the fact that "sexually active band geeks" counts as a clique amuses me to no end.
Oh, and on a last, math-related note: did I spot a mistake in the Mathletes' Sudden Death Round? They have to find the limit where x -> 0, for ln(1-x)*sin(x)/(1-cos^2(x)). Now, the movie said that "the limit does not exist", BUT if I remember my calculus correctly, it should be
  • lim[x->0] for ln(1-x)*sin(x)/(1-cos^2(x))
  • lim[x->0] for ln(1-x)*sin(x)/sin^2(x)
  • lim[x->0] for ln(1-x)/sin(x)
Using l'Hôpital's rule, we then get
  • lim[x->0] for (1/1-x)/cos(x)
  • lim[x->0] for 1/(1-x)*cos(x)
  • which equals 1/(1-0)*cos(0)
  • = 1/(1)*(1)
  • = 1
Oh well. I only learned that rule in first year of uni - if we're talking about a high school-level math competition, they might not expect the competitors to know that rule. But still.
(Longest post so far? I think so. Wheee!)

30 Jul 2010

Changeless- Gail Carriger

This novel picks up almost right where the first installment left off; Alexia is now Lady Maccon, she has lots of sexytimes with lycanthropic Lord Maccon (who is called a "sexy beast" at one point), and stuff happens. Namely, every supernatural being in a certain area of London suddenly cease to be supernatural. And then everything goes back to normal - but what happened exactly?
In this novel, romantic drama is mostly a thing for secondary characters - and I must admit, this novel had a lot less steamy scenes than Soulless did. However, there is far more homoerotic stuff going on. Which makes sense. After all, the Victorian era is also Oscar Wilde's era. But I digress.
Once again, the writing is very entertaining, the story is perfectly paced and obvious enough to make it a I'll-read-this-in-the-bus book, and steampunk tradition is perpetuated through the introduction of Ancient Egyptian plot elements. I found this a very enjoyable read indeed - and I can't wait for the sequel, due this September!

27 Jul 2010

The Carbon Diaries 2017 - Saci Lloyd

This is a sequel. And it's a good one.
This time, instead of focusing on the carbon rationing system (hey, it's been there for two years, people take it for granted now), the story focuses on the civil unrest that occurs pretty much everywhere. From the rise of the rightists in London, to the neo-Nazis and the ultra-rightwing party that wins an election in France, to the people smuggling situation in Sicily and Italy, to the detainment of protestors all across Europe, to the total shitstorm in London, the protagonist (Laura Brown, remember?) goes through a lot of stuff.
All this, plus the usual DRAMA! that you'd expect when you have a bunch of strong-willed 18-year-olds stuck together for a year. It's an enjoyable read indeed.

25 Jul 2010

Gwenhwyfar - Mercedes Lackey

Gwenhwyfar: The White Spirit. An Arthurian Novel.
And the cover art shows a sword and a shield.
A few more hints: Gwenhwyfar is more commonly called "Guinevere".
That's right: this story follows Gwen, a warrior-princess who later becomes the High King's third wife (somewhat unwillingly). In this novel, there are plenty of swordfights, plenty of magic, a shitload of horses, elements of typical Arthurian legend, and a strong (female) lead character.
A fun read indeed.
(The picture on the left was totally lifted from this, because the other images of the cover Google showed me weren't identical to the cover of my library's copy. And I suddenly decided to care.)

Leviathan - Scott Westerfeld

This alternate history novel takes place during the first world war. You know, the one that started when an Austrian archduke called Franz Ferdinand was killed, followed by the biggest freak-out over an assassination that the world had ever known.
In this particular alternate history novel, the archduke has a son, Alek, who escapes after his parents' assassination with a few loyal people in a Stormwalker. A Stormwalker is a specific model of machine, fitted with cannons and guns, that walks. I imagine it as a non-intelligent robot, and it is one of the many constructs the Clanker alliance uses. Because, by the way, Germany, Austria-Hungary, and the Ottoman empire are all allied, and they are very partial to mechanical technology.
The other side in the war, the Darwinists (Includes Britain, France, Serbia, Russia, etc), are more partial to genetically modified technology. Yes, Darwin managed to discover DNA, and to find ways to design creatures by genetically modifying them. One such creature is a HUGE modified whale called Leviathan with hydrogen bladders, symbiotic hydrogen-emitting bees, and a plethora of other species on which its survival depends. This modified whale is the biological response to the Clanker zeppelins, and it is used for essentially the same functions.
Okay, I'll stop now or else I'd be summarizing the whole story. Let's just say that it was a fun, easy read, with nice illustrations, kickass cover art, and that I'm looking forward to the sequel. It's steampunk that doesn't fall into the tired clichés of the genre.

24 Jul 2010

Under Heaven - Guy Gavriel Kay

This very well cover-arted (IT'S A VERB NOW) novel, which is about 567 pages long, is slightly epic. And, since it is a Guy Gavriel Kay novel, it doesn't limit itself to one character's perspective and journey; it weaves a story through the points of view of several of them, which range from the principal protagonist to his exiled sister to the concubine he used to be in love with to random characters who barely make an appearance but whose thoughts and actions still take the stage, if only for a few pages.
Well, look at that: the author's wordy prose is contagious. And I'm infected.
All kidding aside, I liked this novel. I know woefully too little about non-European-centric history, and although this is no substitute for a real history book, historical fiction is still good to give a very sketchy general idea of what the world was. ish.
(I took the cover picture from this site, whose "well, here's what I think of this cover art" I happen to agree with. Go. Read.)

23 Jul 2010

The Diving Bell and the Butterfly - That French movie

This was a really good movie. The story - based on the novel of the same name - was heartbreaking, the acting was very very good (so good that you forgot it was acting), but the best part was that it was cinematographically innovating. The camera angles were interesting, and the first-person perspective it offered (except in moments of flashbacks) was very interesting indeed.
So yes, I liked this movie. And I can see why the director won a Palme d'or at the Cannes movie festival; he has an excellent, innovative vision.
A little warning, though: at one point, the guy's eyelids have to be sown shut, and since it happens during a first-person perspective moment, people who are squeamish about such things will definitely be uncomfortable.

19 Jul 2010

The Second Sex: Part 1 - Simone de Beauvoir

274 pages. That's the length of the first volume of Simone de Beauvoir's massive most famous work.
It begins with a chapter on biology (whee, science!), followed by one on psychoanalysis (which is very confusing), followed by stuff about economics and history (which were sort of interesting, but not that fascinating to me personally), and ending with a section on myths (which includes a very good semi-lengthy takedown of Montherlant's hypocrisy. And I had no idea who the dude was!). All of which were concerned with one particular subject: Woman. Why is she perceived as she is? Why does she hold the role in society that she holds? Why is male considered the default and female, the deviation from the default?
All of this told in a very particular style, using plenty of semi-colons, a lot of page-long paragraphs, and a plethora of literary and cultural references that flew right over my head.
Unfortunately I wasn't able to read the second volume (included in the same hardcover book as the first one) YET, so that'll have to wait for another half-assed post.

13 Jul 2010

Bogus to Bubbly - Scott Westerfeld

An Insider's Guide to the World of Uglies.
Or, in other words, THIS IS A RATHER SPOILERIFFIC BOOK; DON'T READ IT IF YOU HAVEN'T READ THE Uglies-Pretties-Specials-Extras SERIES YET. If you have no intention of EVER reading the series, though, you can go ahead and read this book; it's interesting even if you don't know the literary context.
It provides background information on the technology, the science, the history and the societal structure of the world of the Uglies/Pretties/Specials/Extras. AND includes maps. Which is nice, since it helps clarify and explain the (future) world in which the series took place, which wasn't clearly done in the series.
It is written for a teenaged reader's reading level, which makes sense considering the Uglies series is YA fiction; I found it rather vague on details in the chapters dealing with science, but that's okay.
According to my library, this book is a 813.6 on the Dewey Decimal Classification; it is a non-fiction book on American literature in English, about fiction. Well look at that.

Breakfast of Champions - Kurt Vonnegut

So this is American Literature, eh?
I must admit, I rather enjoyed it. Its many-chaptered 302 pages long flew by acceptably fast.
The plot is secondary to the effects in this story. Which is fine, because the effects (the felt-pen simple drawings, the random explanations of basic concepts, the penile sizes of all the male characters/the hip-waist-bust sizes of the female characters, and the frequent forays into reminiscence and flashbacks) are rather entertaining.
All and all, I partially agree with what the blurb on the back cover says about this book:
[...] aging writer Kilgore Trout finds to his horror that a Midwest car dealer is taking his fiction as truth. The result is murderously funny satire as Vonnegut looks at war, sex, racism, success, politics, and pollution in America [...]
I didn't find it "murderously funny", but rather simply entertaining. But I have to agree: oh MAN is there a lot of racism in this book!

12 Jul 2010

Notes de chevet - Sei Shônagon

I think the English translation of this Japanese book is called The Pillow Book - or at least, so says this blog entry that really made me want to read this book.
Which I did, obviously.
It was interesting; I found it very poetic, snarky at times, definitely classist, and a wonderful plunge into 10th/11th century Japanese aristocracy (without having to personally suffer the consequences of time travel). Furthermore, I enjoyed the random lists that are peppered through the book. I don't know why exactly, but I did.
So this is a book in the UNESCO collection of representative works (Japanese series). Well, if the UNESCO approves, it must be good!
I kid, but really, it was an enjoyable read indeed. There are also 162 sections that divide this 281-pages long book, so if you overdose on this book, it's your own damn fault. Take it easy, take your time, and renew your library checkout so that you don't get slapped a fine.

8 Jul 2010

Okami - That Wii Game

You are Amaterasu, the sun goddess and mother to all the other gods of the land. Your earthly form is that of a white wolf, and you must travel across the land to expand your magical skills in order to defeat your 200-year-old enemy, Orochi, that you defeated 100 years ago but who has managed to survive and reappear.
And then some.
And then some more.
All set to excellent - nay, beyond-excellent - music!

[Spoiler alert, for those who care about such non-plot revelatory gameplay details:]
This game is just so massive, so huge, that at one point I started to doubt that it would have an ending (this is a good thing!). But after more than a dozen boss fights, you get the Final Boss Fight, and after that your story's over, you get some nifty statistics about your journey (I only got one death! And collected 156 demon fangs! And defeated 485 monsters! All on my first play-through!), and... you can start all over again. But you get to keep (almost) all the items (yes, even the weaponry), all the fangs and all the money that you had when you finally defeated the Final Boss. AND you can change your appearance, which does nothing as far as your abilities are concerned, but I personally find the fatty one to be adorable, and so on my second play-though Amaterasu is one fatty fluffy adorable wolfie.
[/Spoiler alert over. You can start reading again now.]

So yes, this game is massive, and can most definitely be a source of several dozens of hours of enjoyment. There are plenty of sidequests you can do:

  • Defeat these monsters on this hit list! And get a reward.
  • Find all the Hidden Beads! And get a reward (supposedly).
  • Feed all of the animals of all the species you can feed! And sometimes get a reward.
  • Restore all of nature/make all the trees bloom! And sometimes get a reward.
  • Find out all the extra stuff you can do with your magical Celestial Brush techniques. And gain skills! (Skills can include battle techniques such as Whirlwind or Double Cherry Bombs)
This game IS rated T for Teen though, due to its reliance on alcoholic drinks (sake! It can help you defeat monsters, it can increase your attack/defense, it can give you magical powers to make the Sacred Tree bloom, apparently). Also, your sidekick Issun can be misogynistic at times, so critical thinking and player discretion is advised. Oh, and boobs and butts are very present in the game (play it, and you'll see what I mean - especially when you'll first meet Rao (jiggles abound), and when you'll first see Sakuya's dress. It has butt cleavage).
There was one rather funny bug in the game, though: during my fight against the last Canine Warrior, Amaterasu's head decided to stick to one point that was pretty far away in the environment. The rest of my character's body moved normally, though, so it essentially became a fight between my canine enemy VS my headless wolf-self. It was pretty funny. Right after the fight I went to a save-point, saved, exited the game and went back in, and everything was back to normal.
Still, I enjoyed this game very much, I think it gives a much better cost-to-hours of entertainment than, say, Zelda did, and I most certainly recommend it. Play this game!

4 Jul 2010

Soulless - Gail Carriger

Vampires (whose social structure resembles that of bees), werewolves, Victorian fashion and mores, mad scientist conspiracies, a dash of steampunk and some really steamy makeout scenes mixed together with a touch of the Mister Darcy Syndrome makes for an interesting and very entertaining novel by Gail Carriger.
This is a great book to read one chapter at a time, since the story is easy to slip in and out of. Plus, since Alexia Tarabotti - the awesome, intelligent, scientifically curious and strong-willed main character - seems to be mildly amnesiac about pretty important plot elements, there are some reminders about the relevant plot points during each chapter. It is, however, pretty hard to put down the book since all the chapter separations seem to occur right in the middle of fascinating, important, or downright steamy scenes.
After the epilogue is over and the story proper is done with, there's this interview of the author in which one answer pretty much sums up everything that's great about this genre-rich novel:
Soulless has such a clever melding of alternate history, romance, and the supernatural. How did you derive the idea for this novel? I knew I wanted to write urban fantasy, and there's one thing I've never been able to understand in the genre: if immortals were mucking about, wouldn't they have been mucking about for a very long time? A speculation arose: what if all those strange and unexplainable bends in history were the result of supernatural interference? At which point I asked myself, what's the weirdest most eccentric historical phenomenon of them all? Answer: the Great British Empire. Clearly, one tiny little island could only conquer half the known world with supernatural aid. Those absurd Victorian manners and ridiculous fashions were obviously dictated by vampires. And, without a doubt, the British army regimental system functioned on werewolf pack dynamics. Of course, as soon as I started scribbling away about a land of bustles and top hats, romance and comedy had to enter the fray. I mean to say, bustles! Then I tossed nineteenth-century science into the mix and realized that if the Victorians were studying vampires and werewolves (which they would do, if they knew about them), not to mention developing weapons against them, technology would have evolved differently. Enter a sprinkling of steampunk, and suddenly, I was juggling more subgenres than Ivy has ugly hats! But then again, you can never have too many hats.
Who is Ivy, you ask - well just read the book, would you?

1 Jul 2010

Children of the Night - Mercedes Lackey

Sociopathic psychic vampires that feed off of people's emotions! A 24-year-old witch (who writes romance novels because even witches have rent and bills to pay)! A sexy vampire with a sexy French accent who does sexy things sexily! All in New York City during the rather rough 80s. That's right; it's another urban fantasy novel.
This Diana Tregarde novel is set some years before Burning Water, and it explains some of the subplots present in that other novel. Apart from that, the subplot involving the composition of a clichéd romance novel was pretty enjoyable, if you enjoy poking fun at the stereotypes of that genre of novel.
This book somewhat reminded me of Scott Westerfeld's The Last Days in a "not-quite-vampires are playing music in New York!" kind of way; I was also reminded of Burning Water due to its surplus of dramatic irony.
All and all, I found it to be a very enjoyable read. Incidentally, I do agree with the Stephen King quote that is printed on the back cover of this novel:
Mercedes Lackey's work is as sharp - and as scary - as the suddenly revealed fang of a vampire. She'll keep you up long past your bedtime.