Review: Fried Green Zombies

The final of the audiobooks i was listening to for the Reading Program, was Fried Green Zombies by John Allen.

Works about zombies tend to fall into one of two categories: straight horror, or humorous. I don’t think they fit comfortably in the “comedy” genre, as such, because the humour still is contrasted with fairly grisly things going on.

Fried Green Zombies, then, falls into the more humorous category.

Chett and Harry aren’t book-smart, they’re more in the huntin’ and drinkin’ line of things. Clay is book-smart and helps them with that sort of thing, hoping to be able to hang out with them and become “cool”. They don’t treat him very well.

Chett and Harry, at the beginning of the story, come across the mysterious female not-English-speaking burqa-clad Bob, whose story emerges over the course of the book.

Co-incidental with the arrival of Bob, are Chett and Harry’s favourite lake disappearing, and the gradual reanimating of local non-alive people (as well as previously-animal portions of Uncle Crank’s meals).

Some local police also have a long-buried secret that they want to keep buried.

And that’s all before a couple of aliens show up…

That’s quite a few threads that need to hold together, and I thought they held together well. The story was amusing and engaging. I enjoyed it.

On the slightly-less-good side (though I didn’t find it a dealbreaker to enjoyment), I only remember two female characters of note (Bob, and Clay’s mother), and I didn’t think either of them were treated particularly well by the writer. Bob, while fairly central to the story, tends to part ways with her clothes when it is dark (but insists on being very covered when it is light). Clay’s mother is, how shall we put it, traumatised at a non-zombie-related, thing that she saw, that seemed a bit over-the-top, leaping over the border from character into caricature. Comparable to the well-worn trope of women seeing mice and jumping on tables, screaming.

(Tangent – “Remember I have been asleep inside this planet of Magrathea for five million years and know little of these early sixties sit-coms of which you speak.“)

The aliens’ computer has been given a female personality, she is merely treated badly by characters, in comparison. Still, I don’t believe it’s unfair to describe the book as “a bit sexist”.

If that isn’t going to trouble you too much, and the other elements sound appealing, you’ll probably enjoy it. I did, but don’t think I’d give it an A.

Non Sequiturs Galore

Every so often (or, as I called it back when I listened to the radio, “all the time”), a song comes around that’s not too bad on the first listen, but rapidly turns annoying, often due to some tedious bit that repeats ad nauseum.

I’m not sure that the song I highlighted today ever entirely outstayed its’ welcome, but there is one bit that once you realise it makes absolutely no sense, there’s not really any going back.

Welcome to “All These Things That I’ve Done” by The Killers.

“I’ve got soul, but I’m not a soldier.”

Well, I’m sure that’s very nice for you, but do you happen to know what a non sequitur is?

“I’ve got ham but I’m not a hamster.” Apparently Bill Bailey already did this one. I may even have heard it from him, I’ve watched a couple of his shows, but I think I also came to it independently. Either “Great minds think alike”, or it’s just the obvious gag, but there’s no reason to stop there…

I’ve got toes, but I’m not a toaster.

I’ve got hips, but I’m not a hipster.

I’ve got abs, but I’m not an abstract.

I’ve got eyes, but I’m not an iceberg.

I’ve got pain, but I’m not a painting.

I’ve got pills, but I’m not a Pilsner.

I’ve got tea, but I’m not a teacher.

I’ve got poise, but I’m not a poison.

I’ve got wind, but I’m not a window.

I’ve got fat, but I’m not a fatwa.

I’ve got a car, but I’m not a carpet.

I’ve got a toy, but I’m not a toilet.

Every time I hear the song, they just keep coming! It keeps making no sense!

(“Yeah, you know you got to help me out…”)

Make it stop!

(“Yeah, oh don’t you put me on the backburner…”)

What gems can you add to this pile of parody? It’s ok, the song’s asking for it.

(“Yeah, you’re gonna bring yourself down…”)

(“I’ve got soul…”)

The Monuments Men

I read the book The Monuments Men sometime in the last couple of weeks, and sat down and watched the movie today.

First of all, I really liked the book. I was surprised at some of the scope of the book, sometimes branching out into aspects of the war that I didn’t think would connect with the story of these men.

For the most part, the Monuments Men worked on their own: with so few of them, one man was often covering large areas: Rorimer covering Seventh Army’s territory, and so on. And then the relative low ranks of the Monuments officers, and the obscurity of their mission, making it difficult sometimes to do their job: even get to the Continent from England.

Lots of little adventures in getting there on time, not getting there in time, seeing the state of things that were left, trying to hunt down the things that were taken, those who would destroy everything, and those who risked to protect it, at considerable risk to themselves.

The blocked-up mine tunnel that contained treasure, and the one that contained something rather different. The kid’s rabbit.

The movie, of course, was different. Not having the time to follow so many different stories, the Monuments Men are working together most of the time, and working together in small teams for the rest of the time, with the exception of Matt Damon’s character, who worked on his own for most of the movie.

Many of the events in the movie are recognisable from the books. There are some things that were outright made-up for the movie: two that stand out are the airplane, and the land mine. Unfortunately, these two stand out as being completely unnecessary.

Names were changed in the movie, to protect the innocent. Clooney’s Frank Stokes seems to be based on George Stout, damon’s James Granger on James Rorimer, Cate Blanchett’s Claire Simone on Rose Valland,Dimitri Leonidas’ Sam Epstein on Harry Ettlinger.

Rose Valland, there should be a movie just about her. Some of her motivations and concerns came through Blanchett’s character, but sadly Valland of the book was a heck of a lot cooler than Simone of the movie.

The book also seemed to do better at making you feel more of the human effect, the looting of personal possessions being like wiping those peoples’ memories from the earth. And on a less individual level, the terrible destruction of Monte Cassino by the Allies, the book managed to convey better exactly how that was a tragedy than the film did.

That’s not to say the movie didn’t try, though. Or even always do it particularly badly. I’m just not sure it had quite the room to breathe as it needed to.

That’s the problem with being spoiled with something like “Band Of Brothers” – so many more things would benefit from being in that format.

There’s something that doesn’t work for me about fictionalising all the people – doing it at the same time as saying, “we must remember the people who did these things and saved all this art”. How are you going to remember Ronald Balfour or Walter “Hutch” Huchthausen, who actually died during the war, when you’re being shown “Donald Jeffries” and “Jean Claude Clermont” [SPOILERS] who didn’t even exist, but died in the movie.

That didn’t really make a lot of sense.

Where the movie was stronger than the book, however, was that the book had to talk about a whole bunch of pieces of art, but the film could actually show them to you. Like some pieces important to both book and film: the Bruges Madonna, and the Ghent Altarpiece.

The Ghent Altarpiece is weird. It’s well painted, and all that, but… it’s kind of like a complete reimagining of the iconostasis, and having become familiar with the latter over the last few years (who and what’s where, and why), the differences in content, where the overall shape is similar… it’s weird.

Summary: book much better than movie, movie on its own merits still pretty good, despite everything I’ve said so far.

“We do not want to destroy unnecessarily what men spent so much time and care and skill in making … [for] these examples of craftsmanship tell us so much about our ancestors … If these things are lost or broken or destroyed, we lose a valuable part of our knowledge about our forefathers. No age lives entirely alone; every civilisation is formed not merely by its own achievements but by what it has inherited from the past. If these things are destroyed, we have lost a part of our past, and we shall be the poorer for it.”
-British Monuments Man Ronald Balfour, draft lecture for soldiers, 1944.
The Monuments Men book, p371

As ancient churches are destroyed in Iraq and elsewhere in the Middle East, as the still-recent riots in Egypt saw mummies destroyed, as post-Soviet Russia still is trying to restore the Christianity it had before, (the physical things, the practice, the festivities that Communism tried to co-opt and replace, and the sifting of the genuine from the replacement), as England’s faith, landscape and culture has changed many times over the years, from its Christianity pre-Rome/East schism, through Henry VIII and the devastating Protestant/Catholic back-and-forth (some remains under the care of English Heritage) (and there are some obscure physical monuments and interesting cultural monuments around)…

With all of this, there’s things everywhere that need documented, recorded, [i]understood[/i], preserved in one form or another.

Maybe we’re always on the brink of losing so much. How much can we save, and in what ways?

Some Games In The Evening

With my family over, we decided to break out some games in the evening.

First up was Settlers Of Catan, which my wonderful wife set up, and I played with my parents, mother-in-law, and brother-in-law.

My parents didn’t really remember how to play, and I don’t think my brother-in-law had played before.

I started without a settlement on any lumber, and on 6es, 9s, a 10 and a 12.

I went second, and none of my numbers were rolled until after my second turn. I think I built a total of 4 roads throughout the entire game.

While my numbers weren’t that popular (the Number Of The Game ended up being 3), I saved up enough to upgrade, I traded for a wood to build a road. I managed to build a settlement, and upgrade, and upgrade again, very close together, was a very quick jump from 3 to 6 points.

Getting on another number helped slightly. There were moments where I was buying development cards to avoid getting robbed, and my loving family robbed me occasionally (brick and log were least forthcoming from my tiles, so at one point I’d built a road, and held back those road materials for maybe building a settlement, one of those got stolen from me).

I used a knight to unrob myself (but not rob somebody else), and thought I lucked into getting a Victory Point development card.

During the last go around the table, I had to buy 2 development cards, got another knight and another point. On my turn, I managed to build a settlement, which took me to 8 points on the board (3 Cities and 2 Settlements). I did flip the second knight, and I had been expecting to need to go round the board again, to flip another Knight. As it was, I didn’t have one, but I did have those two Victory Point cards in hand, so I had enough points to win, and put everyone else out of their misery. Or at least highlight why people usually gang up on me :)

My parents and sister and bro-in-law and niece had to go away to retire for the night, soon after that.

My wife and mother-in-law were still up for another game after that, so we played Dixit Journey.

As a 3-player game, there’s a slight rules variant: The person whose turn it is chooses one card from their hand, and the other players get to put down 2 to match the clue.

It was more difficult for the active player to choose a card that one other player  would choose but the other not. It took a while for the game to get past “both players guessing wrong” or “both players guessing right”.

I had a strong start, but the main arrangement on the scoreboard was mother-in-law first, me second, wife third. How far each of us trailed varied.

At one point, my clue was “I want to break free“, that line sung. Apparently neither of them was familiar with the song, they both guessed right nonetheless. (Looking at the Wikipedia article there, I’m not familiar with the music video.)

The last turn was mine, I knew what I wanted to do so I didn’t deal myself a card, and there had only been 2 cards left in the deck so I dealt one each to my opponents (one of them ought to have had 2).

I’d been giggling about what clue I was going to give since my previous turn.

I was only a couple of points behind my mother-in-law> Only one outcome could get me the win: she guess wrong and my wife guess right.

My clue was, “I’ve had this card since the beginning of the game, and it hasn’t fit into any categories yet!” (which was true). Apparently, my mother-in-law had at least one card that was like that, too.

Shockingly, my gamble actually paid off, and I won.

I was pleased with myself for the clue, but I was more surprised to actually win.

Don’t know about anyone else, but I had a good evening!

A Short Experiment In Map Plugins

Today we had a craft day at our house. I saw some rubber-stamping going on, some jewellery-making stuff was out (or, perhaps more accurately, the jewellery had mostly been made beforehand, there may have been stuff that needed fixed). My tiny little niece had her handprints taken.

I tried to keep Youngest occupied downstairs some of the time, with the old Captain Scarlet. the cars, planes and other vehicles zhooming, that helped. Sadly it only worked for about 2 batches of 20 minutes, getting us about 10 minutes into episode 2.

A bit later on, I spent some minutes on some figuring out for a new website project that has been in the background for a while.

I took the XAMPP stack on the laptop, and deleted most of the pages from the WordPress install on there (it was the template for the Transfiguration site, and isn’t needed for that anymore). And of course changed some of the placeholder text to new placeholder text.

The main thing I need to figure out, for a large chunk of the functionality of the site, is which map plugin to use. There’s going to be lots of posts about different places, do each post will need to have a view of that place, but then it would be nice to see all the site markers (or possibly just categories of them) on the map.

There are, of course, many options out there: some free, some paid, some maintained, some long-obsolete. Various pages that reviewed the options had similar issues: some of the recommendations were out-of-date, and so on.

I’d looked these things up before, of course, but I figured it was time to bite the mullet and try something.

Mentioned on only one of the comparison review posts I read, I thought I’d give Geo Mashup a go. Free is always nice, especially when you’re still figuring out just what it is you want.

I did one post with one location. While I told the plugin to where I wanted the map to point, first time I apparently didn’t tell it to actually put the map in the post. This was quickly rectified. The default zoom amount was too far out, but I didn’t go back in and fiddle with it any more at that point.

I need to give the thing a good long workout, with lots of map points. I forget if this was one where you could change what the markers look like for different things, which would be helpful, so when I’m ready to spend more brain on it, I shall burrow into all that.

Still, progress is nice :)

 

Marriage

When my wife and I were engaged, we went through various marriage prep materials, some of which we had light fun with, even though there was a lot of nitty-gritty stuff to think about that you don’t necessarily think about without the prompting (hence, “preparation”).

One thing we joked a bit about, is something that is, of course, very true. IIRC, the chapter was working very hard to make it understood, so did somewhat repeat itself. Our summary (which has stuck with us) was:

“Marriage is hard work. You have to work hard at it.”

Of course, there are times that are easier than others, but still the statement as a generalisation holds true.

Another corollary is that the work is worth it.

Sometimes there are decisions one makes, that one needs to rethink, for the good of the other. And that’s fine.

Much love to my lovely wife, who helped me decide what to write about today. To you: I’m still trying to work hard, and the effort is still worth it.

Pain Update

Wow, it was nine days ago that I first posted about my upper leg suddenly starting to hurt.

It really started hurting the evening of the 3rd, the 4th I spent much of the day on my back in bed, not wanting to move much, and the 5th I managed to spend mostly on a couch.

Two days ago, on the 11th, I managed to drive, though it wasn’t comfortable, and then riding as a passenger that evening was surprisingly comfortable (the Thursday and the Friday before marking earlier uncomfortable attempts to be a passenger).

I’ve managed to empty the dishwasher since about Sunday, though it seems to take a bunch more effort than it should. I’ve been doing without painkillers for about the same length of time.

Today I took my first walk other than just around the house (or between car and destination). I walked to the library with the older two kids, to see how we did with the raffle (none of us won anything). We missed out on the ice cream (we were pretty late), but there were plenty of toppings left, so we each got a paper cup and took some toppings (M&Ms, gummy bears, marshmallows).

That walk seemed to go well. Pretty soon after we got home, my parents arrived for the day. In the afternoon, the older kids and myself went with them to the 5 thrift stores in town.

This appears to have been too much for me. Got some pain going on behind my right shoulder blade, and there have been some moments (coming upstairs after watching a bedtime show with the kids) where the original hip spot has been twinging.

I think I don’t need to limp any more, but my body doesn’t really remember how to walk normally. I think I have to expend a bit more mental energy than normal to walk more upright, but I don’t think I’m walking normally yet.

Sometimes you don’t really know your limits until you crash right through them, right?

Going to have a good long rest tonight. (God willing.)

Some Reflections on Thunderbirds

The adventures of the Tracy brothers have captured the imagination of kids, since the show burst onto the scene in 1965. There was a huge resurgence in popularity of the original show in the mid-’90s.

There were two big-screen outings before the decade was out (I’m sure we shall get to these in due course). There was an anime kinda-spinoff in the ’80s, which I’m sure I’ve seen some of, but I don’t remember any of it.

There was a somewhat misguided and inadequate attempt at a live-action reboot, that hit the cinemas in 2004.

Most recently, a new series, Thunderbirds Are Go, has started, mixing miniatures (made by WETA) with CGI. I’ve just picked up the first 13 episodes on DVD.

I’ve been watching the original show through with my kids (Oldest sits through it all, Middlest can but doesn’t always, Youngest sometimes joins us, and can do a pretty good job at sitting still and watching, though of course he doesn’t always. I think all the Booms help).

I plan to watch through it all with them, then the original movies, then (sacrilege) the 2004 movie (when we get there I’ll write about it, and while I know it has many many problems, I will try to find nice things to say about it, too), and then the new series (which, fingers crossed, will be quite a relief after the movies).

Much as it is easy to praise the original show to high heavens (with good reason, go out and see it, if you haven’t), there are sometimes some plot points which (it’s so hard to say) just… don’t… work… as… well… as… they… should.

Phew, I said it. And now I’ll give two examples.

Trapped In the Sky, the first episode. The new airplane, Fireflash, is a luxury jet, which flies faster than Concorde. It has been sabotaged and can’t use its landing gear, else a bomb will go off. Virgil has some equipment, two remote-controlled cars plus the one he’s driving, that the plane can land on. It’s a pretty iconic rescue.

So what’s the problem?

Fireflash is powered by nuclear fuel. No problems with that: it’s the ’50s, the future is nuclear (I’m still waiting for the episode where Grandma uses her nuclear oven…).

The problem is, that the protection will break down and the entirety of the crew and passengers will die, if the plane’s just a few minutes later than scheduled.

This is entirely unrelated to the sabotage: it’s a design feature.

Ummmmmmmmmmm…….

Today I watched City Of Fire with the kids.

There’s a new skyscraper, that’s like a self-contained city: two miles high, there’s shopping galore, restaurants and so on.

The car park is four miles away from the tower, and is connected by monorail.

A car crashes in the car park, starting a fire. the vent-closing mechanism doesn’t work, the fire destroys the entire tower.

A family lost between the car park and the tower, while looking for the monorail, gets sealed off and needs rescuing. Indeed, gets rescued (SPOILERS).

The fire destroys an entire skyscraper FOUR MILES AWAY, and a family in a corridor just off the car park gets away with just a bit of smoke inhalation.

That’s some really badly-designed facility.

The Mole and the Firefly totally rock, though.

All right, let me know in the comments: favourite episode of Thunderbirds, favourite Thunderbird craft (and which version), and favourite other piece of equipment.

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(there’s only one right answer to question 2)

Doxacon: A Podcast Recommendation

Had an interesting day today, as I managed to drive for the first time since hurting my leg (it was still rather uncomfortable), and this evening I went with Oldest and Mother-in-law (the latter thankfully doing the driving for me) to the airport to pick up a bunch of my family.

They travelled for somewhere around 27, 28 hours. And now it’s pretty late for me, too.

As I finish my blueberry muffin, I ask myself what I can write about (preferably in such a manner that I can get to sleep before too long – and no, I don’t mean by boring myself to sleep at the keyboard).

I finished my last audiobook of the season, today, and went on to podcasts. The podcast series I’ve started, I’m rater enjoying, so I’ll pass on the recommendation to you, dear reader.

The talks for Doxacon Seattle 2014 are available at Ancient Faith Radio.

Doxacon is an Orthodox Christian sci-fi/fantasy-themed conference.

So far, I’ve heard the talk by Tim W. Brown about role-playing games (spoiler: he doesn’t dismiss them as being “of the devil”), one by Peter Chattaway about reboots and biblical storytelling, one entitled “Geek Anthropology: A Person is One Who Says Yes to Others” by Greg Cook, “An Orthodox Discworld” by Bev Cooke, and I’ve started the one by Donna Farley.

Think I know a few people who’ll particularly enjoy the Discworld one.

You’ll get a lot of geek cred for listening to these.