Thursday, November 28, 2013

Obligatory Thankgiving Blog IV

I actually only do these once every few years, looking back at the others.  I see how my life has changed, how different things (except my heater) that I've been thankful for, different people, different jobs.  I think it's a different button that I'm thankful for this year... the "off" button.  I've realized that there are so many electronic gadgets at my house that I never really get around to doing the things that are really important.  So I looked at what games I was playing online, "Bejeweled Blitz," for instance, and saw that it was serving no real purpose, that the learning curve was gone, so I stopped playing. I turned it off.  True, there are some useless games I still play, like those on the GSN site, but only for a few minutes, like Solitare (which actually has a very useful application if it's 3AM and you're in a dorm room with no AC and sick as a dog...long story).  It's like going to a Chinese Buffet.  You stuff yourself, and you think you've enjoyed it, but you walk out feeling "blah" and 3 hours later, you're hungry again.  Useless, but sometimes you just have a craving for an egg roll.  So in moderation, uselessness is okay.

Or the Disney Channel shows I have watched.  I think that has to do with the shut down of Shake It Up and the continuation of truly sorry shows on the station. So, I turned them off. I might one day download them and watch them, but right now, I'm content not to.  I need to read all the books I have in my house, anyway.  All these books, it's a sign of one's mortality.  I see all the people donating books to the library every day, and I realize that, in doing so, I would be acknowledging my mortality, that I would never possibly get to all the books in my library, so why not get rid of them.  May I live long enough to read all of them.

I'm thankful for the Nancy Guinn Library, and the Friends of the Library organization I belong to.  I'm still in touch with the books that I love to sell, with the authors and titles that I've read over the years, and I feel the challenge of showing the public of Rockdale County how valuable a repository of books and other media is to everyone's lives.  Here, in this building, is the knowledge we seek to grow, outside the meager education system we have currently.  All those words, all those thoughts, and they sit on those shelves and in those computer banks, just waiting to be plucked out and processed in our minds.  Woven like a quilt with all the other experiences and bytes of data jumbled like thread in our brains.  And it's all there!!

I'm also thankful to Gwen for recruiting me for the organization, and for helping me to get a car when I needed one so badly.  It allows me to walk all over this community of ours and see the beauty right beyond my own door.  You can see pictures of all that in any number of blogs prior to this.  I'm so thankful I live in a place with such diversity and beauty as Rockdale County.  I should have been walking years ago.

 I'm thankful for the conversations I've had with friends online, like Jacob, Chris, and Davis, giving me the chance to offer help and support to others.  It's amazing to see people walking down those paths, working on their own dreams and goals. I've always been a helper, it's what I do.  Use words and thoughts to help other people down that road toward whatever destination they have.  I know Davis, in particular, will arrive at those mountain tops, and stand proudly at the culmination of his dreams. I only hope I can help.  

So now I must go to bed, and rise tomorrow to face another Christmas shopping season at a bookstore, with all the hard work and joy that it brings.  Only a month from now, it'll be a new year (well, almost) and time for new challenges, new opportunities, new paths to walk down.  I will be thankful for the sun when it rises, that the warm air will pick up my feet and I shall walk those new roads, wherever they may take me.

Friday, November 15, 2013

Movie Review: Ender's Game

First off, a little background.  Orson Scott Card is my favorite author. All (most) of his books have read like cinematic masterpieces in my head, with scenes brilliantly made, better than George Lucas or Spielberg could ever have made them.  I would walk to the kitchen, take a break, and get something to eat or whatever, and walk back wondering what great TV show I had been watching, only to remember it was one of Card's books I had been reading feverishly all day long.  So let's make it clear that OSC's books don't need movies, they're that good by themselves.  But as Hollywood is consistently running out of original material, it's always going to find a cherished book to make a movie out of.  And this works, but only if the author has some sort of advisory role in the film.  Some examples from recent times: Where the Wild Things Are was filmed with the now late Sendak as an advisor... brilliant film (and you must go rent it and watch it, but get the soundtrack first so that you can howl and sing along with the movie). Life of Pi also had Yann Martel as a distant advisor, but the script was so faithful to the book, it hardly mattered.  While I was at the theatre, I saw the latest trailer for the next Hobbit movie, one which I will probably never see, even with Tolkien's works, and the Hobbit in particular, being of monumental importance to my life. It was done with a stretch of artistic license, and all the movies were not given approval by Tolkien's estate (although I imagine they don't mind the money coming from the book sales, etc...)

As far back as 99, Card had been writing on his blog about the status of the Ender's Game movie.  At the time, he was fighting with the film companies over the script.  Some wanted to give Ender a girl friend, to turn it into a "Kid's Movie," something that would have been totally against the book itself.  Card has never written books for children (and the one time he has, the Young Adult themed book Pathfinder, I found it unreadable.) They are about children surviving and thriving in an adult world, filled with the violence and moral decisions that exist all around us.  His books are ultimately about the transition from Blake's Lamb to the Tyger, from Innocence to Experience, from childhood happiness to ultimately, sorrowful knowledge of the essence of life and death.  Any attempt to change this theme would destroy the spirit of the book, and would ultimately fail in Card's eyes.

So it was back in 99, when a picture came out of Jake Lloyd reading Ender's Game as part of a literacy campaign that there was wide speculation that Jake would be Ender.  But the stubbornness of the film industry to make a movie that reflected the spirit of the book would make it impossible (well, that and the insane amount of jeering from fans at Lloyd's supposed lack of acting as the part of Anakin Skywalker which pushed him from acting all together).

I went, in 2007, to a book signing by Orson Scott Card and Aaron Johnston at the Greenville Barnes & Noble in South Carolina.  I rented a Chevy Cobalt and drove up there.  I wound up sitting next to Card's wife during the amazing signing, and she received a phone call from the producers of the movie at the signing.  She had to step away to take it.  If you ever can go to one of his book signings, it's a wonderful experience.  I've got several of my hardbacks signed.

Now, to the movie.  Orson Scott Card helped produce the movie, so I went in with full confidence that Card approved the script and helped mold it into what he thought was a faithful representation of the entire book.  Sure, there are parts of the novel which aren't in the movie, such as Peter and Valentine's Internet personas and any happenings on Earth.  Ultimately, the movie is about Ender, about what it takes to be a leader and face overwhelming odds and know that the people around you will follow you to the end, even if it means their own deaths.

Now, the critical part.  The movie works as a condensed version of the book.  Faithful in every respect, and wonderful, but condensed.  All the violence, the mental anguish, the moral decisions made by an almost Evil Col. Graff, everything condensed into the lines that were in the script.  And it comes out with that vehemence. Harrison Ford as Col. Graff does an excellent job conveying the soulless military commander with a soul.  Even in the head motions when Ender hugged Valentine had volumes built into it.  But it's all condensed, and you have to understand that.  It plays out like a Cliff's Notes of the book.  Which will make for interesting teaching in the future, as this is a common Summer Reading selection for schools.  So some will say that they are disappointed in the lack of everything else that is in the book.  That each Battle School competition wasn't in there, that the twisted ways they alienated Ender wasn't spelled out in detail.  But all this just wasn't possible to make a 2 hour movie.  Perhaps in the DVD some of the deleted parts will flesh some of this out.

I agree with other online critics who say that, as promotion of the movie, the execs. should have made a trailer with emphasis on the children, to encourage a wider range of demographics to go to the movie. Instead, the trailers (below) show mostly Harrison Ford, who is great, but doesn't have the attention to the teens who are pining for the next Hunger Games movie (I know I said above that OSCs books are not for children, but when it comes to movies and the financial end of it, it must be the younger crowd that are enticed to see the movie.  Heck, they might even learn something, come out better for it. Grow up a little.)  I could also envision the movie being more of a "sports" movie, focusing on the Battle School competitions, but that, again, would take time away from the overall themes which are central to the story, the development of Ender as a leader and as the savior of the world.  You don't know Jesus' every day activities, only the special ones.  Who knows what other miracles he performed each day, but weren't written down.  We only see the "Battles" which are essential to the maturation of Ender.  Read the book for the rest.

There is one point in the movie where a twinge of outrage comes into play, and I put it in the review because it's not warranted as the movie plays out, and I want to put it here in case someone reads this prior to watching the move (and especially if you've read the book already).  Ender is told that he is going, after his "graduation" from Battle School, to a place near the Formic Invaders' homeworld.  This leads the informed viewer to think that the idea of a "game" as the invasion is going to be lost in the ending.  Don't worry, it hasn't been, and my concern about blowing the ending was unfounded.  The movie ends quickly, as the book does, and it opens it up for sequels, movies that are also totally unfilmable, as it was perceived that Ender's Game was.  Speaker for the Dead is a masterpiece of characterization, one that carries over to Xenocide (although not so much to Children of the Mind) and is absolutely brilliant.  Go buy Speaker but make sure you get one with the introduction by Card himself.  The analysis of personalities at the beginning has totally changed the way I look at the relationships between people, and I use the framework every day.  The Shadow series would be equally as impossible to film, with the children on the Battle School ship becoming the military leaders of the entire world.  No one would believe it, and the complexities of the plot could never be filmed (thank goodness).  It is much the same as Timothy Zahn's Star Wars sequels, which are quite unable to be filmed, and amazing reading.  My suggestion would be to try and film Ender in Exile, which I have not read yet, but will shortly.

So go watch the movie, and then, if you haven't, for heaven's sake, go read the books, in whatever order you like (I recommend doing them in the order published), and watch the movies in your head, as they will be infinitely greater than anything Hollywood could ever produce.

Sunday, November 10, 2013

My Blessed Flyswatter

Or, in other words, things that bug me.

Imagine David, as a youth, facing up against Goliath with nothing but a sling and some stones (and a whole lot of faith), or in the secular world, that day when the Neanderthal Man has enough of running from the Smilodon and stands up to him with a blunt object or spear. As men, we have stood up against all the predators of this world with swords and arrows, even guns and such. Modern day Man has conquered all that would prey on him (except himself), so what then, is our weapon of choice to control pests that would invade our property? The answer is simple... the Tupperware light-green Flyswatter. The flyswatter is my gun, my big stick, my automatic rifle. And I'm an expert at it. The six-legged monsters I go after like some scene out of Starship Troopers... Cockroaches. You can't live in Georgia and not be intimately familiar with the pests. The weapons one uses to fight them when seen: a heavy book (unfortunately, my collection of Orson Scott Card short stories is always handy, and cleaned afterward), a can of bug spray or Dow Bathroom Cleaner, and my trusty flyswatter. How is it that man, having been the master of all that is laid out before him, is reduced from hunting the great predators of this world to six-legged nothings. And why should we feel the same surge of testosterone when killing them? Is this what we are reduced to?

 So I'm driving through my neighborhood, trying to get the speed up to reach escape velocity, to enter the real world, and I see, out beside the trash cans of my neighbors, a large, flat box with the unmistakable symbols of a flat screen TV. The box is waiting patiently for the garbage truck to haul it off. It might as well be a giant neon sign above the house, saying "Rob Me!" It's ridiculous to announce to the world what possessions you have and expect, in today's insane world, not to get it taken away from you. I've always joked that if a robber ever came into my house, they would laugh, go break into another house, and bring me an updated television. I know for sure they can't pick up the monster we have sitting in our living room, nor would they want to.

I hate Jeans. They are necessary when the weather gets cold, but I think there should be a rule that says that you can't wear them between Easter and Thanksgiving. I'll go get my sweatpants.

A small Pine tree growing out of the rock on Bradley Mtn. 
I will say that there is nothing more awe-inspiring in my little neck of the woods than the Arabian-Bradley-Panola Mtns. just to the west. Standing atop the rocks, looking out over the countryside, or walking the trails next to rippling streams and waterfalls, listening to the sounds of birds, the rushing of water, volleys of gunfire...


People go to these hills for a peaceful stroll through the woods, to bike the trails and get exercise. Since the parks are in Dekalb County, quite a few visitors come from that county or from Atlanta. The one thing that they don't want is to be subjected to the sounds of gunfire coming from the Dekalb County Police Gun Range. It's located on N. Goddard Road, right in the middle of the peaceful scenery. I swear, the deer in that area must here gunfire and be totally unconcerned. They'll never hear the one with their name on it. I wonder what other sites they considered, and what political games were played to keep it away from every other area in the county. hmmm....


Finally, every time I go on Facebook, I am inundated by stories where someone is outraged about some cause or injustice. Something that Obamacare has done to make our lives more difficult (which it does with increasing frequency), or the latest of insane protests from PETA as they try to uphold the rights of Rats living in Washington DC (the 4-legged variety, not the ones we elected). We have shocking stories thrown at us every day, each one designed to get our ire up. Television, the Internet, conservative Talk Radio... the things to make us angry grow each day. I want a T-shirt that says "I can't find anything to be Outraged about ... I Protest!!!" Let's make a folk-anti-protest anthem dealing with the scratchy surface of walls (no kidding... sometimes I don't even want to feel the walls... I want gloss!!) And in making it so easy to be momentarily outraged about any one thing, you cease to be legitimately angry about things that are important. And then you can be distracted while true injustices go by unnoticed and unpunished. There's no sense in fixing the economy if everyone is up in arms about the latest NFL scandal, or about the latest spying attributed to the NSA. Why don't we be happy for once? Find those things in life that we can be truly proud of, that make us smile and fill our insides with that warm fuzzy feeling, and hold on to those things. There's no reason to be upset when there are joys right under your nose, just waiting to be experienced. We just have to look past trivial things, and notice the importance of the world around us. Billy Joel said it best:

I believe I've passed the age
of Consciousness and Righteous Rage.
I found that just surviving was a noble fight.
I once believed in causes, too.
I had my pointless point of view,
and life went on no matter who was wrong or right.
 ~ "Angry Young Man"