Tuesday, November 10, 2009

On living in Los Angeles and NaNoWriMo

I've been thwarted by airport pickups, headaches, sleepless nights, and sleep-filled days in my quest to begin on my novel for NaNoWriMo.

Eight days had passed, and not a word had been written. This despite travelling with my notebook and feeling that lovely itch in my brain that demands that I get to writing and thus give it a hearty scratch.

I hadn't written anything original in ages. So turning out something yesterday was especially satisfying. While I am still down on my average word count for the month, I did get a substantial amount of writing done Monday during the course of the day.

The tally currently stands on Day Ten of NaNoWriMo at 10,882. (I'm expecting this to increase by about 4-5k words at some point this evening.)

I feel rather accomplished.

Now, on to a bit of blogging about the joys of living in Los Angeles: shootouts & food trucks.

There are many things that I love about living in Los Angeles:

  • Great Food
  • Great Weather
  • Copious amounts of crazy delivered to you hot & fresh daily

    But what I most love, are the little things. Like walking out of your house to go to work, and seeing a police helicopter over head. Seeing that said police helicopter is circling over head. Knowing that since said police helicopter is circling over head, there is a crime being committed within two blocks of your house. Noticing all of the aforementioned and coming to said conclusion as you walk through the area the police helicopter is circling. And using its bullhorn system. To ask the suspect in the brown pants in the house to come out with his hands up. As several other police officers stand around the various cars in the area, guns drawn, taking shelter behind vehicles, preparing for a shootout.

    At 9 in the morning.

    But then it gets better:

    How could anything top that?

    Three little words: The Grilled Cheese truck. Ok; so it's four. But you get the drift.

    I found about this truck as I was searching on Twitter for various places to try (budding foodie that I am). The latest craze in Los Angeles is the gourmet food truck. No more of the roach coaches of your youth; this food is serious business. Literally and figuratively.

    For all of you on Twitter in Los Angeles, the LA Times Food Blog has created a list for all the Food Trucks out there so you can get your fix in one place, sans the flood of RT's:
    http://twitter.com/LATimesfood/socal-food-trucks. I generally just get my info from http://twitter.com/FoodTruckLA account. But in any event, there are tons of trucks out there, stopping all over the place, providing tasty delights to the masses of Los Angeles stuck in offices, Auto Repair shops, Sub-par restaurants, and buses along main routes. For instance, The Grilled Cheese Truck shall be in Beverly Hills tomorrow, down the way from my sister's job. I'll be darned if she doesn't go and get herself some tasty vittles.

    Anyway, all of this to say, lunch was delightful! I got the Caprese Melt, Tater Tots, and a side of pickles (which are both sweet & spicy and feature slivers of onion and cloves of garlic in a sweet & spicy chili-infused brine). And a Strawberry Fanta. Because they sold out of Pineapple. Such is the story of my life. I may even have ended up on the news, as they recorded me reaching for my sandwich when it was done (though I did my best to duck behind my ridiculously large sunglasses and run away down Centinela back to my office).

    I took a couple of picture to document this little journey to the land of the Grilled Cheese, and I just thought I would share. I apologize for the pictures; I was in a rush and wasn't really focused on trying to get good shots on my phone. As a side point, nearly everyone in line had either a Blackberry or an iPhone. I am proud to say that I think my fellow BB users outnumbered the iPhone users.The margin was slim, but I think we won the grand prize: nothing. :)

Now that that's done, there's the plan for tonight. A couple of my fellow budding foodies could not make it to TGCT with me, so we are going to The Brig in Venice to get some grub. I'm thinking that I'll be trying the version with Nutella, Marshmallows, and Roasted Banana Puree. My mouth is watering already. :-D

Thursday, November 5, 2009

NaNoWriMo 2009 (or how to lose one's wits in 30 days or less)

Day One:

Well, technically, this is day five. But it will most likely be the first day that I actually get to write anything. Tetchy sinuses, crazy headaches, and insane allergies have all contributed to my well-deserved hiatus from both keyboard and pen. And before the hiatus, they contributed to my half-crazed, semi-coherrent ramblings on paper and verbally (to a very patient set of family and friends) about my grandiose plans for NaNoWriMo 2009.

Now that all the requisite smack has been talked, the real work of writing is actually set to begin. I think I remember what I was going to write about this time around. Something along the lines of taking a story that I've been stuck on for the past seven years and just pounding away at it until I get something written. Apparently, 50,000 words of something written.

I'm hoping that what gets written is actually readable. Or pleasant to read (for myself and others).

So now, as I embark upon the first day on the fifth day, I realize that I must put out double output (roughly 3,334 words) per day for the first few days in order to make up for the time lost due to laziness and the rather passionate uprising of the various elements of my respiratory system.

I'll probably update later today with the sad word count. Thus far it stands NaNoWriMo-1, Me-0.

Time to put on the coffee pot and get to typing!

Friday, October 2, 2009

Tenth Doctor Solo Adventures, round two

Originally uploaded by ebbyzone

So I've recently purchased and read the first in the latest batch of Tenth Doctor solo adventure novels, "The Taking of Chelsea 426."

It was quite a fun read; I'd say the tone was somewhere between "Slitheen Excursion" and "Prisoner of the Daleks."

The setup?

The Tenth Doctor is on his own visiting a flower show on the Earth colony named Chelsea 426, which hovers above the planet Saturn. Though the Doctor is only in town for a short time, he gets drawn into the fray (as usual) when it becomes apparent that something is desperately wrong at the Flower Show. People become infected by spores from giant plants, Sontarans arrive en masse to investigate the colony, and the Doctor is left trying to figure out a way to save everyone (including the infected).

The Story plays out in a similar way to "Planet of the Dead," in that we see why the Doctor needs a companion (not necessarily just for company but as he says in the book 'to bounce ideas off'), and we see that the Doctor is not all-knowing and all powerful. In fact, as is the case quite often in the latest seasons of Doctor Who, it's the companions who really come through to save the day. I won't spoil it by saying who the companions are or how they do this, but I will say that without them, the Doctor doesn't stand a chance of saving the people of the colony of Chelsea 426.

As far as the colony itself, it's very much the ideal of Utopian human society, or at least what people envision Utopia to be. There's that theme of 'back in the good old days' or 'back in my time.' In fact, the people who relocate to the colony are hoping that the simpler times in which they were raised will be re-created by the Code of the Colony, thus eliminating the frantic and disturbed life they were living down on Earth. But of course, nothing is perfect, and if you repress people long enough, someone is bound to snap. And if you create a society based solely on the concept of repressing the various ways in which people express themselves, someone with extreme ideals will use this as their playground. Both of these situations occur to some degree in the novel.

In many ways, this novel is much less about the Doctor than it is about humanity and other alien species and the ways in which we are similar. The Sontaran General Kade has a good line about this in the book, wherein he basically tells the Doctor that the difference between humans, Sontarans and Time Lords is that while the others try to play down their innate desire for warfare, the Sontarans revel in the honor & glory of it. The Taking of Chelsea 426 is the first book (or television serial for that matter) that I've come across in the Whoniverse which takes the time to look at the Sontarans as more than just war mongerers. Their motivations, codes of honor, thought process and culture are really expanded upon in this book. You come to understand just how important honor and respect are to them, and that they are a race of intellectual beings as opposed to just being potato-headed brutes (this theme of the Doctor's thinking about various alien foes being readjusted also comes into play in "Judgement of the Judoon"). Kudos to David Llewellyn for doing such a good job of expanding upon this classic Whovian foe.

Overall, I would say that this book ranks third amongst the previous Tenth Doctor solo adventures. What? You'd like to know how I rank them? Well I suppose I can let you in on that little secret:

1. Prisoner of the Daleks by Trevor Baxendale
2. Judgement of the Judoon by Colin Brake
3. The Taking of Chelsea 426 by David Llewllyn
4. Slitheen Excursion by Simon Guerrier
5. The Eyeless by Lance Parkin

I'm currently working on "The Krillitane Storm" by Christopher Cooper, and I plan on starting "Autonomy" by Daniel Blythe this weekend. "The Krillitane Storm" has been quite good thus far, so I have high hopes for it. My rankings may have changed drastically before the weekend is out.

Currently on the to-read slate for the next seven days:

The Krillitane Storm by Christopher Cooper
Autonomy by Daniel Blythe
Wizards First Rule by Terry Goodkind
The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao by Junot Díaz

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Review - The Golden City by John Twelve Hawks

Well, what do people normally write in their first post?

Do they introduce themselves? Tell you what the purpose of the blog is? Write loads of meaningless drivel aimed at hopefully getting you to return to bookmark this page and return every now and again to read more random thoughts and unwitty banter?

If so, then I think I will fit into the blogging world quite nicely. For my first post, I think I'll just go with a book review.

Today's book review is "The Golden City" by John Twelve Hawks.

This book follows the adventures of Maya, Gabriel, and Hollis as they attempt to thwart the establishment of the virtual panopticon as envisioned by the Tabula.

This is the third book in the Fourth Realm trilogy, preceded by "The Traveler," and "The Dark River." Both of these were engaging, fast-paced novels that took some of the more tried and tested themes in science fiction and ushered them in to the 21st century.

In "The Golden City," John Twelve Hawks attempts to not only tie up the loose ends created at the end of "The Dark River," but also to further establish exactly where humanity stands amongst the various realms. In this book we once again visit a very stylized version of hell, a realm of mythical animals completely devoid of human life, the realm of the half-gods, and as the title would indicate, the Golden City.

As Gabriel travels to these various realms, he comes to understand that while the gift of being a traveler could in fact be a gift, it could also (in a plot point reminiscent of the final two Matrix movies) be simply a genetic anomaly that presents itself over and over again throughout the course of human history. It could be that the travelers are not catalysts for change, but are instead an afterthought of nature, genetics gone wrong. It's the decisions that Gabriel makes once he's visited the Golden City and pondered this dilemma that shape his actions back in our realm, the fourth realm.

Maya is also faced with her own string of difficult decisions. She finds that the choices made by her and Gabriel have far reaching consequences (of which Gabriel is apparently never made aware). I think that most interesting throughout the books is the transformation that Maya makes from someone who is in a way a champion of what it means to be human, to someone who comes to understand what exactly humanity is, and thus begins to embrace her own. Maya grows from being millitant and disconnected, to being able to embrace the flaws in others (and herself), and ends this journey as a person who is finally capable of love. It is a journey that we all take to some extent in our lives; hers is particularly interesting as she comes to understand that something she was taught had absolutely no value is the one thing that is truly capable of giving a human's life meaning. Without it we are no different than the animals that the Tabula creates and controls for evil ends.

The themes of not being able to outrun one's past are also present in this book, but the focus shifts from Maya, Gabriel, and Hollis, to that of Nathan Boone. His backstory is truly an interesting (if cliched) one; perhaps it would have been even more engaging had some of these elements of his backstory or his inner struggle been present in book's one or two. However, getting a glimpse into the man who became the monster in book three added a new layer to the central theme of the past shaping the present.

Hollis, as well, is shaped by the choices made in his past. In many ways, he'd been shaping himself to become a Harlequin for years: his lack of connection to any single person or place, his ability to focus on the fight at hand, his balance of renegade and compassion.

His road to becoming a Harlequin takes him all the way to Japan. There, he is reminded by Vicki Frazier of the decision he made about the sort of person he was becoming. It seems that while every Harlequin knows some great love, none are actually allowed to possess it. The contrast of Maya (who was born into this life) and Hollis (who has chosen this life) and the ying & yang of their various journeys played out well in the novel.

They each end up where the other began, but neither of them seem to regret the choices they've made to get them to this point.

And what, you may ask, of Michael Corrigan? As is typical for such villains, their thirst for power and control is usually their undoing. Though in Michael's case, his undoing is not complete; the novel ends in such a way that you are left feeling that John Twelve Hawks fully intends to take up the story of the Travelers and the Tabula again, once some time has passed and the world that Gabriel & Michael have left behind has morphed into something new.

I sincerely hope that he does take up this story again. The story started out as a lot of mayhem and paranoia surrounding the tale of two very different brothers. I think I would like a bit more resolution to the Corrigan's story.

To that end, the introduction of Matthew Corrigan, father to Michael & Gabriel (who incidentally have the names of Archangels - though what significance this has I don't know), was a bit of a disappointment. It seemed that his purpose was to show Gabriel what happened when you lost connection to what really mattered, when you became more interested in asking questions that you were in finding satisfying answers.

Matthew Corrigan had gone to the Golden City and chosen to spend the rest of his life questioning the design and purpose of the universe; somewhere along the way he forgot that knowledge is empty unless it's put to use. Gabriel finds after meeting his father that no one truly has the answers; we have to decide on our own purpose and fulfill it.

It's this struggle between being able to decide for ourselves and having the decision made for us that once again comes into play at the end of the novel. Perhaps it's fitting that as these are questions that mankind has sought to answer for centuries, neither Gabriel nor Michael are clearly victorious at the end of the book. Each is poised to spend the rest of their lives fighting against the other, neither one being victorious over the other. Perhaps this is John Twelve Hawks way of telling us that the answer to this question of choice and control and can never truly be answered. We will always be asking ourselves 'is it better to submit to the will of another, or stumble along in life, on a path of our own creation?'

The Golden City is a very engaging take on this question of choice. Each of the central characters has been shown that they have a choice as to the sort of person they wish to be. Some thought they had no choice, and were shown that they do. Others thought their lives were carefree and could go in any direction they chose. In the end, they grew to understand what it meant to have an obligation.

Perhaps the moral of these stories (if there is one) is that we are all under an obligation to choose; some of us will choose to hold on to freedom and some of us will choose to give that freedom away. But each of us is still given the choice.

I'd highly recommend this series of books by John Twelve Hawks; the books are both entertaining and engaging, and certainly leave you wanting more.