Wednesday, February 27, 2019

Congratulations, Charles Tillman!

Retired NFL Pro Bowl defensive back Charles Tillman, who played for the Chicago Bears and Carolina Panthers, is now officially an FBI agent.

ESPN's Twitter account perhaps said it best:

from Twitter

According to the Chicago Tribune:
Charles Tillman is an FBI agent.
A source confirms that the former Bears cornerback has graduated from the FBI’s training academy is now working as an agent.
Tillman earned a bachelor's degree in criminal justice from the University of Louisiana-Lafayette before the Bears drafted him in the second round in 2003. He grew up in a military family — his father, Donald Tillman Jr., was a sergeant in the Army — and attended 11 schools from kindergarten through 12th grade.
What the articles on this story don't tell you, although they mention some of Tillman's NFL accolades, is that he led the NFL in forced fumbles in 2012 with an astonishing 10. Tillman reached two Super Bowls, in 2006-2007 with the Bears and in 2015-2016 with the Panthers. Sadly, his teams lost both; strangely, those were the two Super Bowls Peyton Manning won.

As a huge Charles Tillman fan who is a Panthers fan and rooted for his era Bears, and who has a lot of personal connections to law enforcement, I'm really excited about this.

Tillman celebrated his 38th birthday this past Saturday. Belated Happy 38th, Charles! Whether that age at graduation makes him a real-life version of ABC's The Rookie remains to be seen.

Friday, February 22, 2019

My Venomous 48 Hours

I've been watching a lot of Venom lately.

Cineplex, Google Play and other digital movie rental platforms have the same rule: when you pay for a movie, you have 30 days to watch it. When you press "PLAY" (with an accompanying "GO BACK" option reminding you how serious watching the movie is), you have 48 hours to watch the movie. In the olden days of movie rentals being normal, one would simply rent a movie, watch it, and then return it. In the Netflix era, in which everyone assumes we can watch as many movies as we want whenever we want, a rented movie suddenly becomes a precious commodity.

I'm a Tom Hardy fan. Venom is my favourite Marvel character. You can see where this is going.

Unfortunately, I missed Venom in theatres back in October. I'd wanted to watch it ever since I saw the trailer, though, and it's unlikely to ever be on Netflix at this point. I rented it, the first time I've rented a movie digitally. Renting movies was always a VHS from Blockbuster experience, so this was new. It was more expensive than the free Netflix experience, and less going-on-a-night-out-like than going to the theatre. It felt strange, but it's Venom, so I did it.

One watch: $5.00 per watch
Two watches: $2.50 per watch
Three watches: $1.67 per watch
Four watches: $1.25 per watch
... and so on, up to a hypothetical 32 watches. (It's mathematically impossible to watch a 90-minute movie more than 32 times in a 48-hour span.)

This is the first time I've ever felt incentivized to watch a movie as many times as possible in a row. I usually watch a movie only once, even my favourites.

After watching Venom thrice (it's all I could manage), I noticed:
  • It's a good movie. It's unfaithful to the comics, most notably missing the iconic church scene, but the golden rule of consuming media applies: appreciate works for what they are, not what you want them to be. Venom does a good job of being an action movie.
  • The screenwriting is weak, occasionally resorting to hackneyed phrases, but the acting is great. Hardy, Michelle Williams and the others carry the movie.
  • There's no Spider-Man or Carnage. Unconstrained from his fellow heroes, Venom gets to shine alone. It works.
  • Tom Hardy wears a "THE CITY" T-shirt early in the movie. What would a movie set in San Francisco be without a Warriors reference?
  • On the second and especially third views, I saw things I'd missed before. I got to know this movie on a level I don't think I have with any other movie.


(from IndieWire)

Only when you miss a movie in theatres, and then are prevented for watching it on a subscription service due to a contract dispute, does a movie rental happen in 2019. Now, instead of renting and watching a movie, it's a bizarre contest to see how many times you can watch the same action movie in a 48-hour span.

My rental expires in half an hour. I'm almost finished my third watching. Suffice to say, I know my Venom.

There'll be more.

Thursday, February 14, 2019

Tyson the Tiger's Incredible Discovery

Sometimes, a news story comes along that's too amazing to be true... unless you're retreating to smoke marijuana in an abandoned house in Houston.

CBS's Dallas affiliate can tell this story better than I can:
According to police, they were made aware of the tiger by anonymous callers who said they went into an abandoned home to smoke marijuana but were greeted by the large cat. 
“There were going to this vacant house to smoke marijuana, and they were greeted by a large tiger,” said Sgt. Jason Alderete with the animal cruelty unit. “It wasn’t the effects of the drugs. There was actually a tiger!” 
Police named the tiger “Tyson” and said it appeared to be well-fed and in good shape. However, its living conditions were poor.
I've been following this story as it's unfolded, from the initial shock the would-be smokers had upon finding the tiger, to the rescue, to the naming, and now to Tyson finding his new home.

As a cat lover, I've mentioned large feline news on this blog when it's been about mountain lions reestablishing themselves in the eastern United States or it's been about Scotrtish police confronting a plush tiger. I also have my own tiger - yes, of the plush variety.

Of all news outlets to provide me this story, it was WBAL 11 Baltimore, not usually a Texas info hub. This is what happens when you search for all the latest Joe Flacco-related happenings.*

Tyson is now safely in the Cleveland Amory Black Beauty Ranch. The Houston Chronicle reports:
As a tiger found caged inside a southeast Houston home feels grass under his paws possibly for the first time, officials are hoping to raise $24,000 to help him. 
The tiger, named Tyson by Houston rescuers, was released from its small cage into its new home at the Cleveland Amory Black Beauty Ranch south of Dallas on Wednesday. 
Video shows the big cat sniffing his (now bigger) enclosure, familiarizing himself with his new home. While he's quarantined for now, he will eventually move into his own enclosure.
While I don't personally have the requisite $24,000 sitting around, the Houston Texans have a marked need at offensive line. Deshaun Watson was sacked an obscene 62 times for 384 yards in 2018, the most I can ever recall happening on a team with a winning record. Meanwhile, dogs Roma and Caesar from this 2013 Vetstreet article have already started donning Texans gear.

Here's a video from FOX 35 Orlando. What a beautiful boy!


*For coincidence with this story purposes, it would have been helpful for Flacco to have become a Bengal (literal tiger) or Jaguar (closest animal team name that has a need at quarterback).

Sunday, February 10, 2019

February's Book: The Name of the Wind

The Name of the Wind by Patrick Rothfuss
Fantasy (2007 - 722 pp.*)

I mentioned last week that February's book would be part of an aggressive 2019 reading list. After a surely excruciating three-day wait, the mystery is over.

The Name of the Wind, Patrick Rothfuss's debut novel, is the origin story of a hero named Kvothe. Our hero starts the book as an innkeeper, who is then visited by the Chronicler. Chronicler and Kvothe's friend Bast urge Kvothe to recount his life story up to when he became known as a hero, which takes the reader through approximately the first sixteen years of Kvothe's life.

The story within the story is unbelievable at times, and is likely at least partially fabricated by Kvothe. This becomes glaringly apparent near the end of the book, when multiple characters argue over what happened. (681-685) Rothfuss's use of an unreliable narrator here isn't meant to distort reality for the reader, or to call into question the narrator's personal integrity. Instead, it raises Kvothe's notoriety in the reader's perception, as for a broken telephone to happen, all these other characters must have been calling each other.

As Kvothe's story spirals in on itself, Scheherazade-style, it simultaneously becomes increasingly fantastical and a truer reflection of what it is: a guy telling a tale in a bar. There's even a bar fight in which Kvothe throws a bottle of brandy at someone who may or may not be possessed by a demon - which, I repeat, is not part of Kvothe's tale about himself. (690) Kvothe's tale describes apprentice magic, growing up on mean streets Ender's Shadow-style, learning the lute, romancing women and attending a university - exactly what a young man who happens to be a fantasy hero should be doing. Although Kvothe is scarily talented, there is usually an explanation for it, such as when he barely bleeds from being whipped due to his recent consumption of blood-clotting drugs. (303) Other times, Kvothe is incompetent, such as when he brings a candle into archives full of valuable old books. (315) The reader has to assume this is all this is an extremely pro-Kvothe version of events. The idea of fantasy as propaganda predates the fantasy genre, and Rothfuss has nailed this tradition.

Rothfuss's world-building is top-notch. I could picture a map in my head without needing to see one, could feel where the river was in respect to the University and Imre, and could see each character in my head as though they were standing in front of me. (Which worked especially well in the case of Fela!) The attack on Kvothe's troupe is especially vivid, including one of my favourite Rothfuss similes: "I felt as if I was trying to think through syrup." (125) There are many others.

My only qualms with The Name of the Wind are its inconsistent use of constructed language and frequent wordiness. The book's languages appear mixed and matched at random, with English-language names (e.g.: Dianne, Ambrose, Devan), quasi-English names (e.g.: Simmon can be either "Simon" or "Simeon"), Gaelic-sounding names (e.g.: Deoch), names with Xes added (e.g.: Elxa Dar, Jaxim) and completely fantastical-sounding names (e.g.: Keth-Selhan the horse). That's just character names, not the italicized text littered with apostrophes. Who is communicating in what?

At one point Kvothe remarks that "The fellow sounded rather sinister to me, like a fugitive from the law or someone hiding from his family." (557) Rather sinister? (As opposed to mildly sinister?) A fugitive from the law? (As opposed to the other kind of fugitive?) Or someone hiding from his family? (Which one is it?) Although removing a few words from such a long book seems inconsequential, there are hundreds of these sentences in The Name of the Wind. The book could have used serious greening, perhaps as high as 10%. Cut 72 pages of superfluous adjectives and adverbs, and you have a 650-page book that packs the punch of 722 pages.**

On a multimedia comparison note, American fantasy fiction has a lot in geographic common with heartland rock. Each has a stable of artists from the Midwest and Great Lakes regions. Fantasy examples are Rothfuss (Wisconsin), Terry Goodkind (Nebraska), Brandon Sanderson (also Nebraska), Roger Zelazny (Ohio) and Margaret Weis (Missouri). Heartland rock examples are Bob Seger (Michigan), John Mellencamp (Indiana), and arguably later Wilco (Illinois). Each also has a notable artist from New Jersey who fits in anyway: for fantasy, it's George R.R. Martin; for rock, it's Bruce Springsteen. Yes, this makes Martin "the Springsteen of fantasy", a moniker I think he should start using at official events. Springsteen went so far as to name one of his most successful albums after Goodkind and Sanderson's home state.***

In case you were wondering, I won't compare The Name of the Wind to any other fantasy novel. With Barnes & Noble recommending 105 new SF&F book releases for 2019 alone, and fantasy consistently clocking in well longer than other genres, I can't possibly read them all.

The Name of the Wind, though?
In some ways, it began when I heard her singing. Her voice twinning, mixing with my own. Her voice was like a portrait of her soul: wild as a fire, sharp as shattered glass, sweet and clear as clover." (56)
It's as though Rothfuss had the cojones to describe his own book in the text.

Ease of Reading: 8
Educational Content: 2

*In e-reader-friendly terms, The Name of the Wind is 243,020 words. In general Patrick Rothfuss terms, that's nowhere near as long as the next book in the series, 2011's Wise Man's Fear. In this blog's terms, that's slightly longer than Perdido Street Station by China Mieville, and almost as long as Wizard's First Rule by Terry Goodkind. Remember, not every page has the same number of words! If it did, Robert Munsch would be writing science textbooks.

**This is not meant as a shot at Rothfuss - I already said here, he's a great writer - nor is this sin limited to him. Within fantasy, this type of fluff is endemic. Outside of fantasy, the otherwise fantastic A Simple Plan by Scott Smith (which I read last month but didn't review here) has enough adjectives to fill... whatever a Lake Superior full of adjectives is called. As for my use of adjectives and adverbs on this blog, it's a blog, not a novel. I wouldn't even use "seems" in the latter most of the time.

***The irony in this entire paragraph is that the most fantasy-oriented rockers of the late 20th century were actually the metal guys. Ronnie James DioMetallica (72-minute audiobook to compare) and Megadeth (book) all paid homage to various speculative fiction heroes and villains - but especially villains, because hey, that's what metal did back then. P.S.: I'm still waiting on the remastered Bruce Springsteen album Nebraska: A Tribute to Sword of Truth and Mistborn. I think it'd sell.

Thursday, February 7, 2019

An Aggressive 2019 Reading List

Back in 2012, I read and reviewed a book each week. (Due to the sheer quantity of the reviews during that era, many of them were more like diary entries.)

Reducing my reading load in 2013 and onward allowed me to:

2019 presents a unique opportunity, though: an abundance of public transit rides, combined with a recent surge of trips to used book stores, means I now have my largest to-read pile since 2012. Exactly how fast I get through them will depend on the rest of life, but here's a short sampling in no order:
  1. February's Book (this will be reviewed very soon, and also tied into other media!)
  2. Babylon Berlin by Volker Kutscher
  3. Throne of Jade by Naomi Novik (yes, I have the first one too)
  4. Lord Brocktree by Brian Jacques (because when you can have more Redwall...)
  5. Dancing in the Dark by Morris Dickstein
  6. Palimpsest by Matthew Battles
Whether this list gets me to July, we'll see. There may have to be a spreadsheet categorizing them all by genre, though...