Friday, October 26, 2007

Judging a Book by Its Cover

A friend of mine mentioned how he'd recently read some books by Lois McMaster Bujold, and how he thought they were really great. Well I'm always on the lookout for a great new author and I researched her. Well...I hate to admit it, but I don't want to be caught dead reading her books simply due to the craptacular covers. Petty and silly? Maybe. But they're bad.

<-----Take this one. Cheesy, awful picture of disembodied hands handing a sword to her? What?! It looks like a scene from the most boring first-person shooter ever. This other one ----> has a terrible split cover. Is that weirdo on the cover even human? Why would I buy and read this book? Am I 8 years old? This seems to be a problem this publisher's (Baen) books have in general. All of their books have covers uglier than Dan Dierdorf.
<------Now here's a magnificent cover. It's evocative and well-done. I want to know why there's a starship above this primitive African village. It's magnificent simplicity.

This cover from a Gene Wolfe novel has nothing to do with any story in the book...but it's still great. --------->

So I'm sure I'll read at least one Bujold book. I mean, she's won the Hugo at least three times, and surely other awards. But thanks to those crappy covers I'll probably never buy one; I'll just get them from the library and read them under cover of darkness.

Monday, October 22, 2007


Is there anything better than a turkey sandwich on white bread with a ton of mayo? (Not deli turkey, mind you. Plucked-from-a-bird turkey.) Probably...but I'll bet it's a short list.

Friday, October 19, 2007

Note to NBC

Please stop airing hour-long episodes of your 1/2-hour comedies. Even brilliant ones such as The Office can't sustain themselves over that time period. Please. Less is More.

Thursday, October 11, 2007

I haven't missed this, though

By diving into the lives of teenagers, sometimes the stark reality hits you in the face.

One of the guys in my small group is really hurting at home—and it's hard to admit that lots of kids out there have less-than-prefect lives outside the church walls. So it's that much more important that we introduce him to Jesus—the real Jesus—who is the perfect cure for our imperfect lives.

I thank God for the opportunity to be a loving force in this kid's life.

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

Boy, I've missed this

My wife and I have settled into our new church, and while she'll be helping out with the women's ministry, I've joined the youth pastor in his ministry. I'm helping out during the Sunday morning service, the Wednesday evening service, and I'm teaching a senior high small group on Wednesdays.
So we went through prayer requests at the end of our time on Wednesday, and one of the guys--a really funny kid--asks us to pray that he'll be able to make good lemonade for some sort of home economics class. I saw him on Sunday and asked him how his lemonade turned out.
Afterward, it struck me that I've really missed out on these sort of small, magical interactions with teens, as I do my best to help them understand and grow closer to Jesus. I thank God for this opportunity, and I believe I'll learn as much from these guys as they'll learn from me.

Thursday, September 13, 2007

I Love My Wife

A lot.

Monday, July 23, 2007

The Horror of It All

I went to the library the other day, and decided "I want to read a horror novel." Since I'm terribly impulsive--and the library was about to close--I grabbed one by an author I'd never read before, but whom I'd seen on store shelves. The book was To Wake the Dead by Richard Laymon.

Where to begin with this awful book? First, I have no idea whether this is typical of his books, but this was absolutely steeped in sex. It was bizarre, really. Nearly every character in the novel has sex, is forced to have sex, and constantly thinks about sex. It's the sole way all of his characters interacted, and it seemed completely silly. It makes Laymon seem juvenile. It's like he doesn't understand that it's the 1,000 small moments of the day that bring two people together, in addition to the intimate moments.

The plot was hackneyed. A mummy has been released and is wreaking vengeance on the world at night. Yes it's a simple, cliched plot, but I honestly thought he'd do something new with it. Nope. A "seal against evil" has been broken and the mummy kills until it's destroyed in Hollywood fashion. Yawn.

The characters are awful, too. I write this with no exaggeration: Not one single character acted in a believable way. I don't claim to know everything about human nature, but I'm wondering what kind of screwed-up life Laymon had (he died in 2001). It's as though he never actually interacted with people, but wrote from things he read or saw on TV.

The book has a high body count, but these characters were so poorly drawn that I didn't care if anyone died.

I think the most important question I have to ask myself is: Why did I keep reading? The truth is it was like a horrible car accident--you know you shouldn't look but you want to know what happened. Also, Laymon was quite popular in the UK, and won some awards. I kept reading thinking, Something's gotta change; this can't be all there is to him. But it was.

In the introduction to the book, Dean Koontz wrote something like, "Richard writes drastically different books than I do..." I think I know exactly what was meant by that. Say what you like about Koontz and his writing, but at its core there beats a heart--a soul. Laymon's novel was absolutely soulless, from the plotting to the characters to the sex obsession to...everything. I truly don't understand what people liked about his writing.

I will never read another word the man wrote, and I'm glad I checked this out from the library rather than spending money.

Thursday, June 07, 2007

Taking the Road

I finished Cormac McCarthy's The Road a few weeks ago. It's as good as they say.

If I had to sum it up in one word, it would be "terrifying." I don't recall ever being scared by any book or story...until my son was born. Then things changed.

I first noticed it when I read "Pay the Ghost" by Tim Lebbon in a collection of Halloween stories. It's about a man who takes his little girl out trick-or-treating and she vanishes while holding onto his hand. The next 20 pages deal with his fight to get her back—and I was scared to death as I read it. It was heartbreaking, and I know I wouldn't have felt that way before The Squirt was born.

The Road is the same way: There wasn't a single sentence—not one word—where it wasn't
me in that situation, struggling to survive with my own young son. I remember coming to one sentence and having to physically close the book because I was so rattled. Again...wouldn't have happened if I weren't a parent.

In other Cormac news, the Coen Brothers have just wrapped up the film version of No Country for Old Men. Should be amazing.

Saturday, May 05, 2007

Hi Dad


Tuesday, April 17, 2007

What in the world!?!

Now McCarthy's The Road has won the Pulitzer! What is this world coming to?

I'm thrilled, mind you. Just shocked.

Tuesday, April 10, 2007

The trouble with abstracts is it always gets worse

I've always been someone who said, "I hate abstracts."

But I've recently given in and played—and bought—a few...and ya know what? I like 'em! I do so like them, Sam-I-Am!

It started with an online game of DVONN, which intrigued me to no end. I played Torres after that, and it jumped into my Top 10. Then it was Ingenious, which was, ingenious. A game of Yinsh convinced me that maybe these Gipf games were worth checking out.

And when I look at other games in my collection, they're arguably abstracts with the thinnest of thin themes: Bridges of Shangri-La, Hive, Through the Desert.
So what's the problem? If I play any of my abstracts even a couple of times, I've probably got a huge advantage over anyone I play who might be new to the game. This means I couldn't just bring one of these out with my wife, otherwise I'd crush her...and that's just not fun.

So while I'm finally coming around to them, I wonder how much they'll actually get played. Unless I can convince my wife—or one of my regular gaming buddies—to get in on the ground floor, I'll have no one to play these great games with. Maybe that's why "I hate abstracts..."

Thursday, March 29, 2007

Oprah's outta her mind

I get an email every week from Borders with picks and coupons and what-not. I nearly soiled myself when I got the latest, because apparently Oprah has chosen Cormac McCarthy's The Road as her latest book club pick.

For those who have read his stuff, let that settle in for a second. For those who haven't, let me describe his writing. Bleak. But not just bleak, it's bloody, idiosyncratic, jarring, violent, and just plain...well, NOT Oprah. Blood Meridian is practically a horror novel, despite its Western setting. And No Country for Old Men reads like a Coen Brothers movie.

And The Road is about a father and son trying to get through a violent post-apocalyptic landscape alive. I can't imagine one of her Followers picking up anything else by him: The screeches would be deafening.

But the absolute worst part is that I'm now forced to buy a hardback copy of the book rather than the brand new trade paperback, which will be soiled by that little "Oprah's Book Club" mark on it. Sigh.

I don't think this will be a popular choice at all.

Wednesday, March 28, 2007

New Wolfe!


So as I'm delving deep into a new book by Tim Powers--my second-favorite author--I read that a new Gene Wolfe book will be out in November! As he's my very favorite author, this is good and surprising news indeed.

I've also just found out about, and ordered, the above chapbook, which contains two short stories. I can't wait.

Friday, March 09, 2007

Why 30 Rock is the second-best show on TV

Okay, The Office is the best thing on TV...but every time I watch 30 Rock I come away laughing almost as hard.

Tina Fey has created an amazing cast of characters--starting with the hilarious Tracy Jordan. Every single thing that comes out of his mouth is comedy gold. When he appears on the screen I find myself literally leaning forward in anticipation of what he's going to say. Tina's funny. The other writers are funny. I find myself amazed at what Alec Baldwin's done with Jack--he's an incredible character.

The characters are all surrounded by this smart, biting, hilarious writing by Tina Fey that targets everything and everyone. In last night's episode, with one razor-sharp line she absolutely skewered Kabbalah. Tina's a fantastic writer, and I'm in awe of her.

But the best part of the show is how so many times it tiptoes on the precipice of sentimentality or a cliched wrap-up, only to yank the rug out from under you in a completely surprising way. Last night's episode found her almost getting the guy, only to have it completely and hilariously spoiled by Pete's last-second comments that end up totally out of context. We'd been set up for it, but it still surprised me.

I love this show, and hope it stays on for years.

Monday, March 05, 2007

Here I Stand...and Wait Around

I was able to play my first game of Here I Stand this weekend—a 6-player slugfest. I was really excited to give this a shot. Ultimately it was disappointing. (Before I give my thoughts, two of the players had played before, and one was a veteran wargamer who knew everything about every power. So this isn't a case of us "just playing it wrong.")

For the first 5 hours, we were all LOVING it...seriously. We commented on how the time was flying by, how the powers seemed balanced, and how fiddly things had been abstracted. At one point the guy playing the Papacy yelled out, "I want that guy DEAD!" after Luther screwed up his plans yet again. It was perfect. We were having a blast.

But then, somewhere between 5 and 8 hours, the flaws started to come to light. For one, there's a fair amount of downtime—particularly if you're not the Papacy or the Protestants—and we were playing quickly. This problem seems to get worse as the game progresses—you wait around for 10 minutes just to play a card and put some troops on the map. Lather. Rinse. Repeat. For the Papacy and Protestants it turns into a dicefest, and over the course of the game spaces just flip back and forth, and the P&P scores go slightly up and slightly down. By the end, those who weren't playing the P or the P commented that we were glad we weren't playing the P or the P.

The cards weren't full of interesting choices: It was either a great Event for you that you'd obviously play, or it was equally obvious that you should just play it for CPs. There were pretty large differences in the strengths of the Events. One gave 2 VPs to the Ottomans if they played it. What?! Our game was incredibly close, and that sort of swing for just drawing a card was wacky.

There was some bash-the-leader with those cards too. The Ottomans were set to win, but the Haps had a card that let him cause a revolt in a city, booting the Ottoman out and costing him the VPs. On the next turn the Ottoman player recaptured the city...but the Haps player had the drawn the SAME CARD on that turn and foiled him again. It was a less-than-gripping way to stave off victory.

There's also a rich-get-richer problem: As people gain Keys they gain VPs and cards, so if you lose a Key you're losing cards (turns) and your ability to gain a key back is limited further.

Another problem was the different setups for the different scenarios. We chose the 6-turn scenario, which skips the first three turns of the regular campaign. But the setup is completely wonky. Somehow France loses Milan, the English aren't anywhere to be seen in the New World, and the Hapsburgs are all over the New World—including circumnavigating the globe! There's very little chance of a real game that started from the beginning being at that point 3 turns later. So France was screwed from the beginning, and England was down in New World VPs from the start.

In the end, I wish the game could hold onto that first-5-hour-feeling we all had. Alas, we were quite happy for it to end by the time it did. The weird thing is, everyone said they'd play again, so I think we all recognized that it's SO close to being a great game. I liked the history; I liked the varying powers and varying ways to play each of those powers—which makes replay value through the roof; I didn't at all mind the length. It just feels like a nearly there game.

Monday, February 19, 2007


I've been watching closely the newish show Heroes. This despite the fact that the plot is thin, the dialogue laughable, and the coincidences unbelievable. Some of the characters are genuinely interesting: Namely Hiro and Syler.

I was okay with the whispered "Save the cheerleader, save the world" line that was all over the mini finale.

But this week's promo continues the whispering tagline with "Somebody flies; somebody dies." This is a bad trend for a show that's just barely keeping my attention. What's next? "Somebody sneezes; somebody eats Cheez Whiz!" "Save Hiro; eat a burrito!"

Even Lost is...well, losing it. The first season was the most compelling TV I've ever seen. But the show has lost its way. They're not convincing me they can write characters. Once they move beyond the interesting surface of characters, they get much less interesting.

Think about mysterious, mystic Locke early on in the show. Now he's...what exactly? Brooding, petulant, and rarely seen.

The only reason Eko will forever remain a compelling character is that they killed him off before they could screw him up.

I'm afraid that this show will end the way X-Files did: Not with a bang, but a whimper.

Update: Oh no! Heroes killed off Simone! A barely encountered, surface-level character who wasn't interesting enough to care about! How will I sleep at night?

Wednesday, January 31, 2007

Skin Deep

This is a fantastic column about the real story of the Super Bowl: Two men who are at the top of their games, and openly acknowledge that it's all from God. And the fact that it's written by a black man makes it even more powerful.

Tuesday, January 30, 2007


We've started a new class at church--The Truth Project. It's about getting back to a Christian worldview and reacting to postmodernism.
The thing that's most intriguing is that it takes on deep subjects head-on--ones the church often won't tackle within the congregation because they're afraid they'll scare people off by making them "think too much." So the topics are Ethics and Philosophy, Theology, Science, Sociology, Law, and Anthroplogy--I can't wait.

We watched the first video last week, which dealt with Truth, and whether there is Truth--which is, of course, so much a part of postmodernism. They had a "man-on-the-street" interview segment, which asked people about their ideas on Truth. The most interesting response was from a Universalist/Unitarian, who said that the world is a cathedral, and truth is the light coming through the windows, and everyone sees and interprets that truth differently. It seemed she was saying that because we all have different views, we can't call anything truth.

People chuckled every time she spoke, but I felt it was profoundly sad. This is the sort of wishy-washy, nonoffensive, politically correct junk the world loves to hear: "Now THAT'S a Christian I can sign on with." It was amazingly unbiblical! What about the call to be either hot or cold? What about the narrow path with few on it? What about the fact that we're labeled--by Jesus--as either a sheep or a goat? That's black and white. That's Truth.

Edit: Thanks to Drew for pointing out that I was less-than-clear on why the Unitarian's thoughts seemed sad to me. Since I'm going from memory, I fear I've understated her thoughts. As I understood her position, she felt that because we're seeing truth through our own perception, that we can't really call anything truth.

Friday, January 26, 2007

CCM=Crappy, Corny Music

I get promos of most new Christian CDs, and yesterday I realized it has been months and months since I got something worthwhile from the "CCM" market. It's all rubbish!

I sorta wrote about this once before...but I just can't let it go because I listen to a LOT of music, and part of my job is trying to find stuff to recommend to youth pastors. And right now I've got nothing in my bin. And don't give me Switchfoot. They're a fine band, but everyone knows about them and will buy their stuff anyway.

Where's the interesting music?

I don't read most "popular" Christian writers, because they often talk about the obvious and the safe...and they all sound the same. It's no different with music. I want someone who will challenge me. I don't necessarily agree with them, but if they get me to think, and maybe solidify my own views, then it's well worth it.

So the best album I've listened to in 6 months is Tom Waits' newest, Orphans. He's certainly "interesting," but he's also challenging, original, and not afraid to shine a light into dark places to see what scurries out. He fascinates me, and I'd rather listen to his stuff than 30 CCM albums.

There are some bands who are succeeding...and they're doing it on major labels and in mainstream stores. Thrice's newest album, Vheissu, is full of unashamedly Christian lyrics, wrapped around fantastic music. The song "Like Moths to Flame" is about Peter's denial of Christ, fercryinoutloud!

I don't know where I'm going with this. I'll continue to shop at Target and Best Buy for my music, because that's where the interesting music is to be found. And I suppose as long as it's found, that's what counts.

The Squirt

Every day with him is better than the last.

Friday, January 05, 2007

How do writers blog?

I'm a why is updating my blog so hard for me? I can pop off 100 words on just about anything in no time flat...but updating this doggone blog is almost impossible.

I think it's because most bloggers aren't writers. They just barf whatever's on their minds onto their blog. (I'm not saying that's a bad thing.At least they're updating.)

Whereas I'm constantly self-editing everything. Even to the point where I'm wondering if what I'm writing is even worth writing about.

So I suppose I can make a resolution to update more frequently. But like most resolutions, it'll likely fall to the wayside.

Tune in tomorrow when I opine on whether toilet paper ought to roll from the top or the bottom. (Here's a preview: Only Nazis have theirs roll under.)