Raingod’s Weblog

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Blue Canoe Now Available

Just a brief update to let everyone know that T.M. Wright’s new novel “Blue Canoe” is now available. Having read a .pdf of it , i can tell you it’s one of his very best, if not the best book he’s written. I’m working on a review and will have that up by the end of the weekend.  In the meantime order your copy here: http://store.pspublishing.co.uk/acatalog/blue_canoe_hc.html

August 5, 2009 Posted by | My Life, Reviews | , | 2 Comments

Of ipods and Boxed sets

Most people know I lost my cat this week, and rather than rehash it right now, and depress myself (just as I’m feeling better), I wanted to talk about a couple of things that helped bring me some respite from the overwhelming loss and grief I’ve felt this week.

The first is a new iPod I received as a gift.  I’d sold my old one on eBay last month, and received a replacement from someone who will remain anonymous. what I got was an iPod Touch  2G.  Now, I’m no Apple fanboy. There are things about ipods I really like, and things I hate. not being able to replace the battery is one thing I hate.  The DMR on my past iTunes purchases is another. And like all Apple products, it’s always a question of price. However, I also love the design and simplicity of the iPod-though iTunes leaves a lot to be desired.

Anyway, I charged it up, loaded my music on it, and realized how much more there is to the Touch than just playing mp3’s.  Near a wifi hotspot? I can jump on the net using a full version of Safari. Need to enlarge a web page to read something? A couple of taps will do that. Have some pictures you want to show someone? Just sync them to your iPod and you’re good to go. You can enlarge the photo with a tap or gesture as well. Want to play games? Not only does it do that, it does it pretty darn well. It will never replace a PSP or DS, but for quick on the go gaming it’s hard to beat.

Oh yeah, it plays music too. Here then, is one of my chief complaints. with my old Nano, pausing was as simple as pressing the single button.  with the touch, I have to press the home button, unlock it (keeping it unlocked poses the risk of pausing, forwarding or going to the last song if you’re not careful), then press pause. not very convenient when you have it in a shirt pocket.  The earbuds that come with it, are the same crappy ones Apple has been foisting on the public since the ipod’s debut. All in all, despite some design flaws, this is an amazing little gadget that I’ve quickly become infatuated with.

So what am I listening to? A boxed set I mentioned back in November, Marillion: The Early Stages, a 6 CD box set containg live performances recorded from 1982-1987.  This is, in my mind a must have for Marillion fans. There are a few songs that get repeated (Garden Party shows up 4 times-which annoys me because it’s not one of my favorite songs), but for many, the arrangements are different enough to keep them from being repetitive. There’s a bit of Fish doing what he does best (aside from singing and songwriting), which is between song banter. Dubbed “The Official Bootlegs”, the sound quality is far better than expected. Is it state of the art? No, but neither was recording back in 1982.

This set shows a band evolving, maturing and ultimately going from small pubs to stadiums. I’m not sure how much non fans, or people not familiar will like it, but for those who know and love Marillion, there’s no excuse for not having this in your collection.

June 20, 2009 Posted by | Reviews | , , | 3 Comments

Skull Fragments – A review

Less is more, is what author Michael Arnzen inscribed in my copy of Bone Fragments. Indeed, it is, and in this case also an understatement.  Originally appearing in 100 Jolts: Shockingly Short Stories, Bone Fragments is divided into 12 micro stories about skulls.  Yet skulls are almost incedental. In 200 words or less for each section, Mike manages to create real characters, real situations and most of all real shock. A very quick read that will haunt long after you put the chapbook down.

June 6, 2009 Posted by | Reviews | 4 Comments

WTF Did You Do to Scotty?

Saw Star Trek this morning, and at any given moment I go from loving it, to really hating it, back to loving it again. For the benefit of those who haven’t seen it yet (and if you haven’t by now-chances are pretty good you won’t until the DVD comes out), I’ll keep any spoliers to a minimum. In fact the only spoilerish thing I’ll say, is that the story involves time travel.

To which I say: Fuck time travel! Fuck alternate universes where Spock and Uhura make out, and various and sundry things happen. Time travel is very tricky to do, and the writers make no attempt to even have any of it make sense. So please, don’t think about it too hard or you might just implode. I hated that aspect of the movie-to the point that it nearly ruined the whole thing for me.

Having said that, what did work in the movie, worked extraordinarily well. The relationship between Kirk and Spock was a joy to watch unfold. Perhaps even more moving was watching the friendship between Kirk and McCoy develop. Having loved Karl Urban in Lord of the Rings as Eomer, I couldn’t imagine him as the feisty doctor; but dammit Jim, he’s an actor, and embodied everything about the character you’d expect. He is one piece of casting that serves as the glue to keep the whole together. When he refers to Spock as a green blooded hobgoblin at one point, it was like seeing DeForest Kelley. Not to say he was aping Kelley’s performance from 40 years ago, but more like channeling him. He steals every scene he’s in, I just wish he was in more.

Chris Pine managed to bring the essence of Kirk to the screen, without making you think of Shatner once. So good is he in the iconic role, I forgot about Bloat Shatner for two hours. His womanizing, arrogant persona is intact-yet he doesn’t come across as unlikable (as the original sometimes did for me); he brings a humanity to the role that simply wasn’t there in the last 4 decades.

Zachary Quinto is a perfect replica of Nimoy’s Spock, bringing everything Nimoy has invested in the Vulcan to the table. My only problem with Quinto is he seemed a bit too, fey is the word I’m looking for, so when he kisses Uhura it certainly doesn’t seem authentic. his nasal delivery doesn’t really help matters much either.  Despite that, he brings a strong counterbalance to Kirk, even though he can be every bit as arrogant-in spite of his logic which compels him to act.

And then there’s Scotty. WTF did they do to Scotty? When did he become the fricking comic relief? If ever there was any miscasting in the movie, it was Simon Pegg as Montgomery Scott. I like Pegg a lot. I loved Shaun of the Dead, and liked Hot fuzz, but in ST, he’s wasted. For this I blame the writers. They did such a good job in capturing the essence of every other character (though like the series, all given short shrift), how did they manage to fuck up Scotty? And that little rock like companion, what the hell was that? I was afraid George Lucas had done some script doctoring.

What works best in ST are the characters, it’s just unfortunate that in a pretty enjoyable franchise reboot, they had such a lame story to tell.

May 26, 2009 Posted by | My Life, Reviews | 4 Comments

Waiting For the Watchmen: Conclusion

People are always bound for disappointment, whenever their favorite book, comic, etc are adapted for film. Very few are able to stay close to the source material, simply due to the inherent differences in the medium. As much as I love the LotR movies, they veered off from the book, rearranged some things and left other scenes out completely; yet the spirit of the books was there. Everything that mattered was there.  I’d love to have seen Tom Bombadil in the movie but also realize it really added nothing to the book, and would probably slow down the movie. Yet many other scenes came to life for me, and the trilogy are three of my favoritte movies. Okay, maybe The Two Towers not so much…

I mention that and use it as a comparison because Watchmen goes to the extreme in adhering as closely to the book as possible.  Many scenes are shot frame for frame from the comic.; much of the dialogue is taken from there as well. I’m rereading it now and actually surpised at how much of the original dialogue made it into the movie. It’s to Alan Moore’s credit, that writing from 20 years ago is as relevant and contemporary as it is today.  The slavish devotion to recreating the comic on screen is also one of its downfalls, and keeps it from being a classic. If you had never read the original source material, and only knew about Watchmen from the commercials, you’re liable to be scratching your head by the end wondering what the hell just happened.  If you are familiar with the graphic novel, you’ll probably love it or hate. Indeed, from opinions I’ve seen so far, there’s no middle ground on this one. 

I happen to love it, in spite of some things that I have problems with, which really have nothing to do with the adaptation itself. The acting is really uneven. I mean really, really uneven. Fortunately the strength of the other performances compensates somewhat, but it prevents you from getting involved with the characters when you’re cringing at the acting. Specifically for me, it was Patrick Wilson as dan Dreiberg (the Night Owl) who struggled to keep up with his costars. It’s a shame because, he has almost as much screen time as Rorschach, and Dr. Manhattan, who both happen to give the two best performances.  Silk Spectre also has some dodgy bits, but tends to redeem herself by looking nice in latex.  Some of the scenes on Mars, are plagued by really poor, and almost cheesey special effects.  Given the general excellence of everything else, it makes me wonder if they were running out of money for some of those shots, or it was simply harder than they had thought. Some of the violence was way, way over the top, specifically a bit that was added to Rorschach’s scene in prison. Although it fit in perfectly, and I suspect Moore himself would love that bit, it was a bit too gruesome. Finally, in terms of things that bring it down, is a critique that is two sided. It’s a drawback, but also a strength. Someone forgot to tell Warnr Bros. that Watchmen is as far from mainstream as you’re likely to ever see.  In fact RN Lee over on SL compared it to an art house film, and I completely agree. It doesn’t follow any of the conventions a blockbuster movie should have. The action, while excellently done, are few and far between in a movie that runs 2 hours and 43 minutes. Instead, you have to listen, and watch and pay attention. so that’s a negative for the mainstream unwashed masses, but a plus for those of us who view movies as somethign a bit more than mindless entertainment.

As for the change in the end, I like it. Sure there’s no giant squid, and I never liked that in the original anyway, but what they did was far better, more suited to movies, and made more sense. 

In the end, if you’re not a rabid fanboy, who thinks the whole thing would be ruined if some small bit isn’t included, you’ll love the movie. If, however, you think not showing Mason Hollis’ death is a gamechanger, well, you’ll still have you graphic novel, your ppreeeccciioouusss.

for the rest of us, we have a comic adaptation, one of the best we’ll likely ever see.

March 7, 2009 Posted by | Reviews | | Leave a comment

Double Header of Laughter

I love comedy. A good joke-whether dirty or clean-is a way to my neverending love.  I also like to think I’m a funny guy at times as well. I did some stand up when I lived in CA back in the late 80’s and most of my plays have had some good comedic moments among the drama.  So today I have two great sources of comedy.

First up is rober Schimmel’s new CD and HBO show, Life Since Then. Abesent from stage and HBO for a number of years due to cancer, I’m glad to say he’s back and as funny as he’s ever been. Sure, he drops the f-bomb and any number of other bombs left and right, and pretty much has sex on the mind 24/7, but it’s always at his own expense.  This time he veers into some serious territory as he discusses his cancer; his divorce; his kids, and everything in between, including fake balls and dick wigs. Schimmel is a pro, his timing is impeccable, and I for one am glad to have him back.  In one bit he talks about going to a cancer support group where a woman who was having a breats removed was afraid her husband wouldn’t find her attractive anymore. “Laday,” he thought, “you wouldn’t be attractive with three tits.”  If that made you laugh, you’ll love Life Since Then.

Next up is Kevin Smith’s movie Zack and Miri Make a Porno.  Kevin Smith is one of those writer/directors you either love or hate. I love him, and have liked everything he’s done. He may be a pedestrian director, but his gift for dialogue and potty humor knows no equal. Underneath all the dick and fart jokes there’s a heart to his movies, and nowhere is this more evident than in Zack and Miri. Anyone who’s seen Chasin Amy, Clerks 1 and 2, or  Jersey Girl know that Smith is a romantic. In that way, he’s almost old fashioned, as the ending is always a happy one. Z and M tells the story of two down on their luck roomates who decide to make a porno to pay their bills. That’s really the whole story, but as with every Smith movie it’s the journey, not the destination. this is one of Smith’s best films to date, expertly shot and directed, and especially well written. Sure, it’s overflowing with porn jokes and one particularly funny poop joke, but it’s first and foremost a love story.  there are some small quibbles I have, but nothing that detracted me from truly loving this movie and rewatching twice in a row.

so have a dirty laugh on me.

February 9, 2009 Posted by | My Life, Reviews | , , , | Leave a comment

Windows 7 Beta…So Far So Good

Perhaps I’m a glutton for punishment. Or stupid. Maybe a combination of both; however, when a public beta for Windows 7 came out, I downloaded it, after some problems with the d/l site. I’ve been running it since Saturday and I have to say, for a beta, it’s been remarkably stable, no crashes, lock-ups and most of all no software or driver conflicts.

Let me repeat that, no software or driver conflicts. Granted, I had no problems with Vista, because when I got the laptop it came preinstalled; but I’ve heard horror stories from many.  Still, I’m a sucker for shiny new things. 

The d/l itself was about 2.44 gigs, so I had awhile to  wait for it to finish downloading. In the meantime I backed up my most important files to a DVD in case things went kablooey, had my Vista image disk from Toshiba, just in case. Once the d/l was fnished, I had to create a DVD copy of the file and install from that.

The upgrade process was as painless and hands off as anything I’ve encountered. It told you not only what step it was taking but what percentage of that step was accomplished.  In all, it took about 2 hours or so for the process to finish. After setting up the date, time and everything else it was ready to go.

The biggest cosmetic change (and I’m using that specific term cosmetic because it’s not the biggest change) is the task bar and start menu. Gone is the quick launch toolbar-though you can “pin” frequently used programs to the task bar. Simply right click and select pin to taskbar. When you hover your mouse over a button on a tollbar a preview screen pops up and shows you what’s open.  Aero is still around and looking good.  Have a file on your desktop you need to open? Click on the far right end and your desktop appears. Click it again to reopen the programs running. 

The control panel is far better organized, and makes far more sense than Vista. The search function is actually usable now, and the start menu is about the same as Vista, with some minor cosmetic changes. 

The biggest change is speed. I’ve noticed it starts up quicker, and shuts down faster. It also has improved my fps (frames per second) in Warcraft by about 20%. I haven’t tried other games, as WoW is the only one installed at the moment, but I will load one up and see what the difference is. 

All in all, it’s impressive. As I use it more and learn more about it, I’ll post more. At this point, I’m giving Windows 7 a recommendation.

January 13, 2009 Posted by | My Life, Reviews | , | Leave a comment

King Retains His Crown

Just After Sunset is Stephen King’s first collection of short stories in 6 years. He writes in his introduction that he was afraid he’d forgotten how to do it; that writing short stories isn’t like riding a bike, you can forget how.

Well, he had nothing to be afraid of, I’m glad to say. Comprised of 13 stories, JAS, shows King at the top of his game. Opening with Willa, the first of the stories, he’d written, we’re introduced to a group of strangers waiting at an abandoned train depot. And if you think you can guess where this story is head, you’re probably right. In the right hands, every cliche’d plot can seem fresh; every revelation, becomes new. And Willa is a fine example of this. The stories that follow run the gamut, from the Lovecraftian overtones of N, to the psycho killer in The Gingerbread Girl, and finally to the closing story and its port o potty, A Very Tight Place.

Many of the stories would be right at home in Skeleton Crew, NIghtmares and Dreamscapes, and even his first collection, NIght Shift. There’s a timelessness to his stories, something that at times is missing from his novels. Maybe their brevity keeps a lot of his pop culture references at bay, which adds to that quality. Rereading a lot of his earlier, it seems dated (even my favorite novel The Dead Zone seems like a nugget out of time), but the short stories…the stories never feel that way.

And that I think, is his true gift. King has created some real people, in horrifying, and at times absurd, situations, but you always believe. In spite of some missteps with his recent novels (Lisey’s Story and The Cell come to mind), this collection is a winner and represents some of King’s best writing.

November 20, 2008 Posted by | Reviews | , , | Leave a comment

Everything Old made new…mostly

For those who read my post about the tale of two kitties, knows I’d been trying to d/l a 1.5 gig patch for The Witcher. Well I was finally able to finish the d/l without any further disconnects, install it, and finally play. The good news is the long d/l was worthwhile. In addition to decreased loading times, a new and improved inventory system, there is an addiotnal 5000 lines of spoken dialogue, more differences in NPC’s and improved performance.

The bad news (such as it is) is The Witcher remains one of the bleakest, most amoral RPG ever created. Based on a series of novels by polish author Andrzej Sapkowski, The Witcher tells the tale of Geralt, a witcher who spends his time going from town to town slaying demons and monsters.  That;s really all you need to know, as any plot points in the game would be spoiled. Next to planescape:torment, this is one of the most plot heavy rpg’s to come out in years. choices you make early in the game affect what happens late in the game. How you treat others will dictate how NPC’s react to you. yet the choices are really bad or worse. There are few likable characters in the game; even Geralt has some boorish, asshole moments. One task is to bed down with as many women as possible and collect pictures of the women post coitus. There’s a bar brawl mini game, a dice game and a drinking game. Yup, that’s how The Witcher rolls.

Yet, as fun as being unabashedly evil can be, it gets a bit boring after awhile, especially with gameplay lasting 70 hours or more. (My first plathrough when I got the game last winter was about 73 hours and that was without doing all of the quests) Still, you won’t find a more original RPG for the PC out there, and that’s why I recommend The Witcher.

September 22, 2008 Posted by | Reviews | , , | Leave a comment

Spore – Final Impressions

Having played enough of the final phase of Spore-the space section, I can say, that out of all the games I’ve ever played, this is certainly one of them. I didn’t go into this with any preconceived notions, or fanboy anticipation. I haven’t followed every little thing that’s been printed about Spore during its extended (about 6 years) development cycle. I came into it because I knew I could expect a fun, quality game. 

What I got was a mostly fun, pretty good quality game. The game is divided into 5 phases, as I’ve mentioned which can be broken down this way:

1) Cell-pretty much like pacman. You go around eating bits of plant or kill other cells and devour them. You find parts that you can add to create a stronger cell. Once you grow a brain (something our favorite nitwits should consider) and get legs you move onto land and to phase two.

2) Creature-In spite of not really having a lot to do other than shake your ass at other creatures to befriend them, or beat the snot out of them, you get to create an almost limitless amount of creatures. Every once in awhile a UFO will hover over and beam up other creatures. No word on if anal probes were used. Once you make nice or make war, you go to the tribal stage.

3)Tribal-This resembles an old school RTS like Warcraft I or II. Minus the depth. Or the fun. This was my least favorite stage. When I started I wanted to go through the whole game without killing. NOt for any pascifist reasoning, but to see if I could. It’s almost impossible to do so. I managed to befriend 5 tribes by plying them with gifts, shooting off fireworks and playing music. The sixth tribes were a bunch of fuckers though. They’d have nothing to do with my gifts, didn’t want to hear music; they just wanted to rip my face off. So I burned their base down.

They left me no choice. Really. but they did get me to the next phase…

4) civilization-This is the most Sims like of all of them. You control one city, and depending on how you treated others, you conquer other cities by war, money or good old fashioned bible thumping.  Because of my dogooder status I became a religious zealot.

I’m sorry. Next time I’ll murder people. It seems to be the better solution. I advanced far enough to create a space ship and became a Captain of my own spacecraft!

5) Space – Finally the game starts to shine. you get to go into space and visit an infinite amount of other planets, to colonize, terraform, and take over. But you also have to zip home sometimes when space pirates attack. That happened frequently enough it made getting to the center of the galaxy difficult. 

There’s no real ending, you just keep going from planet to planet. And this is Spore’s greated strength and weakness. It’s so open ended you’ll always have something to do, but you also get somewhat overwhelmed. 

Spore is well worth the 50 bucks. There’s enough to play and tinker with for hours on end, but like chinese food, it leaves you wanting more an hour later.

still, for the variety of gameplay, great graphics and a couple of unexpected laugh out loud moments, Spore gets a solid B.

September 15, 2008 Posted by | Reviews | , , | Leave a comment