Books: Ready Player One

In Brief: Ernest Cline’s first novel is a dystopian cyber quest story set in the year 2044.  It’s also a love story with some serious geek 1980’s chops.

Pros: For someone of my generation, the 80’s nostalgia is pretty much irresistible.  It permeates the story and protagonist Wade Watts’ worldview.  Wade is an appealing sort of misfit hero in the classic John Hughes/Robert Zemeckis/Cameron Crowe mold.  Cline’s pacing and descriptions are solid, adding just enough detail without going overboard.  And as I’ve mentioned before, I love quest stories…

Cons:  For someone outside my generation, the 80’s stuff may be too much.  If you’re not a borderline geek on movies, music, video games, comics, and other media, you probably won’t get it…  There’s also a bit of convenient coincidence syndrome in the final act – in the best tradition of the 80’s action flick or teen comedy.

Review: I heard an interview with Ernest Cline on one of NPR’s weekend shows (To the Best of Our Knowledge, I believe); the theme was nostalgia.  Cline was talking about the importance of media culture for my generation – people who grew up in the 80’s – and how many of us are pretty geeked out about the movies, games, TV shows, video games, and music of our youth.  More so, the interviewer implied, than previous generations.  More so than was necessarily healthy.  At one point the interviewer asked for a value judgement on my generation being so nostalgic for media when previous group were tied to more vital stuff – you know World Wars, protesting the ‘Nam, etc.  The question, asked in a classic NPR haughty self-congratulatory manner made me want to HULK-SMASH through the radio.  But Cline played it cool, talking about how our peeps were the first to grow up with this much variety of media (advent of video games, widespread cable and satellite TV, VCRs for movie rentals, etc.), also discussing how we grew up being told we were only minutes away from nuclear oblivion.

He talked about the Cold War and the early 80’s TV movie, The Day After, which scared the hell out of him when he was nine or ten (and me, and a lot of my classmates; nightmares for weeks with that one).  So when he finally got around to plugging his book – steeped in 80’s pop culture and media – it immediately went on my list. Continue reading

Hex-bound and Down

Great crowd, solid performance

The US National team needed some last minute heroics last Friday night to beat Antigua & Barbuda 2-1.  That, along with a number of head-scratcher choices by Coach Juergen Klinsmann had us nervous going into the final game of this round of World Cup Qualifying against Guatemala.

Then Juergen didn’t call up any additional players – despite a number of injuries and suspensions.  But we had a very solid outing against Guatemala in Kansas City, winning 3-1, moving the team into the Hexagonal – the final round of qualifying for Brazil 14.

The two best players on the field – Michael Bradley and Clint Dempsey, put their stamp on the game and helped control the tempo (but only after giving up a sloppy first goal to longtime villain, Carlos Ruiz).  Eddie Johnson continued his return-of-the-GAM routine;  Graham Zusi and Herculez Gomez hustled, combined well, and moved without the ball.  Cherundolo and Parkhurst were solid on the outside.  Danny Williams made a real case to be the starting defensive midfielder moving forward.

The USA played the high pressure and possession style Klinsmann has been talking about for over a year and looked impressive doing it.  Except for the centerback pairing of Cameron and Bocanegra…  So we’re left wondering – are we progressing into a team that can play possession?  Has this new emphasis hurt the old bunker-and-counter game?  Who will feature in the upcoming January MLS and Scandinavian training camp and friendlies (Camp Strudel)?  What will the depth chart look like when the Hex begins next March?

In that vein, we submit a list of stuff. Twenty items for Juergen to consider and work on over the next five months… Continue reading

Books: The Hammer and the Blade

In Brief:  Paul S. Kemp’s The Hammer and the Blade is old-school Sword and Sorcery with contemporary sensibilities.  Kemp pays homage to Leiber and Gygax, and sets up a pair of of likable characters for serial-style adventures.

Pros:  The lead characters, Egil and Nix, are familiar tomb-raiding adventurers straight out of the AD&D Player’s Handbook.  They are also fleshed out pretty well as the author introduces his magical world and keeps the plot moving.  Kemp obviously knows his Sword and Sorcery, and you feel as if you might bump into The Gray Mouser or Conan or Kull at any moment.

Cons:  The Hammer and the Blade is a self-contained adventure focused squarely on Egil and Nix.  It’s not an epic continent and kingdom spanning tale.  Some may prefer a grander scope.  The setting and styling are also very familiar fantasy staples, a potential drawback for those seeking less familiar worlds.

Review:  The book opens with Egil and Nix in the final stages of a dungeon crawl.  They are professional tomb raiders who’ve been at it for awhile, as quickly established by the author’s rapid quip-filled dialogue.  This is Riggs and Murtagh with swords and warhammers.  In the tomb of an ancient wizard king, they avoid traps and finally face off with a hellspawn guardian.

The author sets the scene and handles the introductions with smooth efficiency and we almost immediately like these two characters.  Egil is a warrior-priest of Ebenor – a deity who was only a god for a brief moment before being destroyed.  Egil is also apparently the only priest of Ebenor (not much use worshiping a dead god who can’t answer your devotion after all), with a philosophy tied to recognizing and venerating the moment.  Nix Fall, aka Nix the Quick, is a thief with a bit of magical training (he takes pride in the fact that he was expelled from the Magician’s Academy), who pulled himself out of the slums with his wits and skill.   Continue reading

Insanity Workout Results

Just finished the Insanity workout sequence (as seen on TV) – the next step in my ‘keep the workouts varied’ approach to exercise.  Insanity is a tough program that will test your will and you resilience, so I was glad to be able to get all the way through it with no major problems.  And the results speak for themselves:

Yeah, actually I’m the same weight I was before I started the program.  There are, however, a few caveats there.  1) I initially started Insanity a few weeks after running a half-marathon, and I’ve been doing free weights for years.  So I was already in pretty good condition.  2) I didn’t alter my diet at all while doing the workout.  For me that’s actually pretty healthy (dietitian wife), with reasonable amounts of fruits and vegetables, a few salads a week, and mostly normal portion sizes.  This also includes some beers on the weekend, some burgers, pizza, and ice cream when I feel like it. Continue reading