Some Illini Musings

The big news of the day for the Orange & Blue wasn’t good.  Top Point Guard prospect Demetrius Jackson chose to stay close to home and play for Notre Dame.  Jackson has been the focus of Coach John Groce’s recruiting efforts for months, the kind of versatile, athletic guard needed to run Groce’s system.  We’ve been hearing for several weeks that Illinois led, that he was on his way to Champaign.  For Illini fans, it’s a familiar hoops recruiting refrain when it comes to top prospects, and it goes a little something like this:

It’s known as the Illini Hoops recruit nutpunch.  Go on down the line:  Derrick Rose, Eric Gordon, Shaun Livingstone.  All too familiar the last 6-8 years.  Painful. Continue reading

Books: Control Point

In Brief:  Myke Cole’s first novel in his Shadow Ops series introduces a world where people suddenly begin manifesting magical talents.  When Lieutenant Oscar Britton show his wizard’s chops, he soon learns how far the U.S. Government and Military will go to control this new power.

Pros: Excellent and well-conceived scenario building and magic extrapolation blended with the military sci-fi tradition.  The author’s military research and experience and familiarity with other similarly-themed stories provide weight, as does the solid characterization.

Cons:  Oscar Britton is a sympathetic likable dude, but he spends too long waffling and deciding on an eventual course of action.  Not coincidentally, the plot does stall somewhat in the middle of the book.  Also – and this is directed at the publisher, Ace – my paperback copy came unglued and fell apart completely in less than two weeks.

Review:    The excellent Sci-Fi Signal Podcast pointed me to Control Point, listening to Myke Cole on a panel discussion about the state of Military Sci-Fi.  A small plug for his own work and appreciation by other panel members was enough for me to seek out this book.  The cover, with its “Blackhawk Down Meets the X-Men’ blurb sealed the deal.

Cole is an Iraq War veteran and an old-school comic book and Dungeons & Dragons fan.  This is my guy.  Reading Control Point gave me the sense of an author who grew up with the X-Men, read Ender’s Game, Armor, maybe some Starship Troopers.  Throw in Guardians of the Flame and the old magic-cyberpunk mashup RPG,Shadowrun for good measure.  The author is definitely familiar with the conventions and pitfalls of this particular corner of the speculative fiction world, and I appreciated that from the outset.

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Pentagram: 3 points from Jah-mon

A year and-a-half into the Juergen Klinsmann experience and and we’re starting to have the same criticism of him as we often leveled on his predecessor, Bob Bradley.  He’s over-reliant on certain of his guys.  He gets the tactics wrong or can’t get the team to adjust.  He plays too many friggin’ defensive midfielders!

Where we are now as a result:  tied atop the standings of our World Cup Qualifying group with one round of two games to play.  Tied with Jamaica and Guatemala, but not looking all that convincing, with lots of questions on the horizon.

Last Friday’s 2-1 loss in Kingston followed by Tuesday’s 1-0 win in Columbus split both the points and the goals evenly with the Jamaicans.  As a pragmatist, this is just fine – especially when factoring in the lack of Michael Bradley and Landon Donovan due to injury.  But when considering how the USA played and how Klinsmann coached, well…  Next year’s hexagonal round of qualifying (assuming we handle tiny Antigua on the road and Guatemala at home next month) looks a whole lot rougher.

Five points in a double-Jamaican rum shot pentagram… Continue reading

Hunger Gaming

After much lobbying from various family members, some friends, and the Mrs., I decided to give Suzanne Collins’ The Hunger Games a go.  I liked the first book enough I decided to move on to Catching Fire.  Didn’t like #2 so much, but wanted to see how Collins finished the series, so I went ahead and read Mockingjay as well.  Book #3, I considered stronger, a fitting end, but I was so, so very tired of Catniss by the end…  Last weekend we rented the movie version as a kind of Panem coda.

So this won’t be the standard Beemsville media review, but rather some thoughts and reactions on the overall story of the District 12-ers as told through Catniss.

Let’s start with her.  As the narrator, protagonist, plucky heroine turned shell-shocked media pawn, Catniss is the most important person in these books.  She has a lot going from her.  A solid no-nonsense narrative voice, proven toughness and survival skills, absent parent, mother and younger dependent on her.  And beauty and charisma.  Yeah, sneaky there, Ms. Collins – the rough-hewn mountain-girl beauty, because you can’t have a protag in a YA novel who’s hot and she knows it.  Strictly not allowed.

The author does a fine job hitting the early signposts and using District 12’s relative isolation to give Catniss’ narration and initial world building  an outsider’s  perspective.  The balance of explanation and plot points are well done.  Catniss builds almost instant empathy and identification with her situation and Prim’s selection for the Games.  And we’re off and running.

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Pentagram: Beckman Starts with a W

We always, ALWAYS, get excited and hyped up for college football and opening day for the Fighting Illini. Doesn’t matter where the team is projected to finish, what holes the roster has, how suspect they may have been the previous year…  This is part of what it means to be a fan.  You’re positive and optimistic at the onset, ready to support your team and hope for more wins, more progress, more glory.

For Illini football, this has been especially difficult the last two decades.  Wins have been in short supply, consistency – forget about it.  At least there’s been excitement with a couple of unexpectedly good seasons.  Robert sums it nicely over at A Lion Eye.  The Orange and Blue have been schizophrenic on the football field, and as a result we’ve watched the likes of Iowa, Michigan State, and Wisconsin pass our programs up.  Former AD Ron Guenther may have been good at balancing the books and upgrading facilities, but many of us are starting to understand just how lacking he was in vision and football team acumen.

As Robert says, Illini fans need to somehow forget the last 20 years and give the new guys a chance.  AD Mike Thomas has cleaned house, bringing in Tim Beckman, John Groce, and others.  There’s a new commitment to marketing the team and making the gameday experience an experience.  And as for Coach Beckman, we all know he want to COMPETE! at everything.  He’s also a man with a plan and a vision for how to build and manage a Big 10 football program.  He doesn’t appear to have the obvious holes in his portfolio that plague our last three head coaches.

And for a die-hard Illini fan like me – well I only need a glimmer of hope to get excited again.  Judging by attendance at Memorial Stadium on Saturday (I’ll estimate 30,000), more people are in wait-and-see mode.  You can’t blame them – especially with the dire and rainy forecast.

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