Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Book Review: Ready Player One by Cline

Ready Player OneReady Player One by Ernest Cline
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I must say Ready Player One easily and quickly became one of my funnest and most memorable reads of 2011. Wade Watts lives in the not too distant dystopian future (mostly in America, but implied world wide aftermath of the post-fossil fuel era). He (and the majority of what's left of humanity) escapes the ravages of poverty and orphanhood through the virtual OASIS reality. When the founder and creator of OASIS dies, he leaves his vast fortune (multi-billions) to whoever can find the egg he hid somewhere in the infinitely vast OASIS universe. Since Halliday obsessed on 80s culture, music, movies and early video games, he expected everyone else to join him. He succeeded posthumously by enshrining the clues to the egg in obscure 80s lore.

Ah, the early geeky memories that flashed before my eyes.

I played Zork and Adventure both. Neither of the two computers I grew up with were listed in the book: a home built Digital Group computer running a very early version of DOS and a Xerox 820 running C/PM. My favorite game (also not mentioned in the book), even more so than Adventure, was one called Nemesis by Supersoft. It's Rogue-like (which I prefer to an all-text based interactive story-type game like Adventure). I yearned to play it again, especially while reading the Second Gate section of Ready Player One, so I found a copy via a Google search. Now to find a C/PM emulator that will run on Windows (or Linus) so I can really revisit the 'good ole days.'

Wargames and Ladyhawke are both two of my favorite movies from the 80s era and the play a significant role in the egg hunt. On the music font, Rush (one of my favorite bands, after Styx and Kansas) provided key elements to the final third of the quest. I almost dug around in my basement for my old dusty Rush albums, but left them to rest in peace. Besides, my husband's band covers older Rush songs so I get a Rush-fix at least once a week.

I am very glad Cline didn't spend much time on the fashions of the day and I ignored most of the other music references (as I was a metal head and refused to listen to pop music). I played nearly all the arcade games mentioned EXCEPT for Tempest.

I wanted more real world information, to learn about the fall of civilization and the consequences of ignoring the ever worsening and appalling conditions rising to destroy what's left of humanity. Some readers have likened Wade Watts to a 'Mary Sue' type character, which is hard to refute since the tale is told in first-person from his point of view. Characterization, aside from Wade, could have been fleshed out more. If a sequel is in the works, I look forward to a deeper look into this world and these characters.

I highly recommend this novel to anyone with a smidgen of geekiness who also happens to be born in the mid-60s or very early 70s (i.e. were you a teenager during the 80s?).

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Novella Review: The Machine Stops by Forster

The Machine Stops The Machine Stops by E.M. Forster
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

3.5 stars

I found this gem yesterday via Feedbooks public domain short stories listings. I raised my eyebrows when I saw E.M. Forster wrote a science fiction novella (in 1909). I love reading dystopian fiction, provided I space it between less depressing offerings. Forster surprised me with not one dystopian future, but two. His ideas mixed to form a somewhat steampunkish voluntary Matrix benevolent Terminator mashup.

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Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Seventy Infamous Days

The USS Arizona burns after the
attack on Pearl Harbor on Dec. 7, 1941.
This year, and today specifically, marks the 70th anniversary of the attack on Pearl Harbor.  For as long as I have been alive, each December 7th brought me the voice of then President Franklin D. Roosevelt proclaiming this day to be "a date which will live in infamy."  And so it has.  Even one of my favorite films immortalizes for future generations: Tora! Tora! Tora! (which I consider to be fairly historically accurate).  The more dramatic and entertaining Pearl Harbor released in 2001 gets the blood surging, but does not satisfy me need to 'real life' accuracy.  Contrived romantic entanglements pale before the gritty details and courage our soldiers exhibited under fire.

Yesterday, while waiting for my bagel to toast at the lobby coffee shop, I picked up a free copy of the winter edition of 'Our Daily Bread.' Even though I follow them on Twitter, I often miss their daily tweets because they occur so early in the morning or get lost in the other Twitter clutter.  Normally, I wouldn't have bothered beyond reading the entry for yesterday and returning it to the stack for someone else to benefit form its wisdom.  But after the discouraging news I received Monday about my husband's health, I am seeking support and encouragement at every turn.  Now, I have a daily reminder on my desk to connect me to hope and to encourage me to live in faith with God's Will.

Here's an excerpt from today's article entitled 'This Do In Remembrance':
When a US Navy vessel arrives or departs from the military bases in Pearl Harbor, the crew of that ship lines up in dress uniform. They stand at attention at arm’s length on the outer edges of the deck, in salute to the soldiers, sailors, and civilians who died on December 7, 1941. It is a stirring sight, and participants often list it among the most memorable moments of their military career.
Even for spectators on shore, the salute triggers an incredible emotional connection, but especially between the servants of today and the servants of yesterday. It grants nobility to the work of today’s sailor, while giving dignity to the sacrifice of those from the past.
And I'll close with an excerpt from President Barrack Obama's Proclamation for National Pearl Harbor Remembrance Day (2011) issued yesterday:
On a serene Sunday morning 70 years ago, the skies above Pearl Harbor were darkened by the bombs of Japanese forces in a surprise attack that tested the resilience of our Armed Forces and the will of our Nation. As explosions sounded and battleships burned, brave service members fought back fiercely with everything they could find. Unbeknownst to these selfless individuals, the sacrifices endured on that infamous day would galvanize America and come to symbolize the mettle of a generation.
In the wake of the bombing of our harbor and the crippling of our Pacific Fleet, there were those who declared the United States had been reduced to a third-class power. But rather than break the spirit of our Nation, the attack brought Americans together and fortified our resolve. Patriots across our country answered the call to defend our way of life at home and abroad. They crossed oceans and stormed beaches, freeing millions from the grip of tyranny and proving that our military is the greatest force for liberty and security the world has ever known. On the home front, dedicated civilians supported the war effort by repairing wrecked battleships, working in factories, and joining civilian defense organizations to help with salvage programs and plant Victory gardens. At this time of great strife, we reminded the world there is no challenge we cannot meet; there is no challenge we cannot overcome.
On National Pearl Harbor Remembrance Day, we honor the more than 3,500 Americans killed or wounded during that deadly attack and pay tribute to the heroes whose courage ensured our Nation would recover from this vicious blow. Their tenacity helped define the Greatest Generation and their valor fortified all who served during World War II. As a Nation, we look to December 7, 1941, to draw strength from the example set by these patriots and to honor all who have sacrificed for our freedoms.

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Prayer Request

Yesterday, my husband received discouraging news from his doctor.  The sort of news, when piled on top of all his other health issues, that makes you instantly angry, scared and depressed.  We know more than we knew last week, but we know less than we need to know to deal rationally with the situation.  Now a specialist is needed and more tests, all of which will not occur fast enough to suit either of us, especially with the delays in scheduling that the normally joyful holiday season will inflict on us. Just when you need it most, patience and peace flee before the storm of doubt and uncertainty.

So, I'm sending out an appeal to family and friends to prayer for healing and comfort for my husband.

Healing Prayer

Dear Lord of Mercy and Father of Comfort,

You are the One I turn to for help in moments of weakness and times of need.  I ask you to be with my husband during this illness.  Psalm 107:20 says that you send out your Word and heal.  So then, please send your healing Word to my husband.  In the name of Jesus, the Great Physician, drive out all infirmity and sickness from his body.

Oh Lord, I ask that you turn this weakness into strength, this suffering into compassion, this sorrow into joy, and this pain into comfort for others.  May my husband trust in your goodness and hope in your faithfulness, even in the midst of this suffering.  Let him be filled with patience and joy in your presence as he waits for your healing touch.

Please restore my husband to full health, dearest Father.  Remove all fear and doubt from his heart by the power of your Holy Spirit.  And may you, Lord, be glorified through his life.  As you heal and renew my husband, Lord, may he bless and praise you.

All of this I pray in the name of Your Son, Jesus Christ.

15 And the prayer that is said with faith will make the sick person well; the Lord will heal that person. And if the person has sinned, the sins will be forgiven. 16 Confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so God can heal you. When a believing person prays, great things happen.

Sunday, December 4, 2011

Book Review: My Luck Life In and Out of Show Business by Dick Van Dyke

My Lucky Life in and Out of Show BusinessMy Lucky Life in and Out of Show Business by Dick Van Dyke

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I barely read any non-fiction (outside of the technical writing found in information technology reference guides) in any given year. When I do branch out away from fiction, I prefer to read a biography, autobiography or memoir, or a history book, usually on a particular brief period.

I breezed through Dick Van Dyke's autobiography quickly, probably because it felt like he sat in my living regaling me with tales from his past in his engaging and witty manner. His charm and good will bubbled out of the pages. Even the troubles and tragedies he confessed only evoked my compassion or caring in my assessment of him.

A couple of excerpts that really struck a chord for me:
I was all about living a kind, righteous, moral, forgiving, and loving life seven-days a week, not just the one day when you went to church. ... And if there's not a higher power, no one's going to be worse for the wear for his or her effort. Was there one way? No, not as far as I could tell -- other than to feel loved, to love back, ... as simple as making sure you spend time helping make life a little better for other people.
(from the Family Values chapter)
A few years ago, I told Esquire magazine that the Buddhists boiled it down to the essentials. They said you need three things in life: something to do, something to love, and something to hope for. The message does not get any clearer. I heard walt Disney, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., and Carl Reiner all say the same thing in their own way. Hope is life's essential nutrient, and love is what gives life meaning. I think you need somebody to love and take care of, and someone who loves you back. In that sense, I think the New Testament got it right. So did the Beatles. Without love, nothing has any meaning.
(from the Curtain Calls chapter)

When I finished the book, I wanted to give him a big hug, but of course, I'm too far away to do that. So I'll send him a little love for all the laughs and love he's shared unconditionally with me, with all of us really, for some many decades. As long as I've been alive, there's always been a Dick Van Dyke to make me smile.

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Friday, December 2, 2011

To Occupy Christmas or Not?

Hallmark Lobby Christmas Tree
(with the Mayor's Christmas Tree in the background)
I drive a vanpool from Lansing to downtown, midtown and the Plaza areas of Kansas City, Missouri every weekday.  My final stop, before heading to my own work place, is Crown Center, the 'home' of Hallmark Cards.  As you can see from the slightly blurry cellphone photo I took this morning, the decorations at the world headquarters for Hallmark simply exude the Spirit of Christmas.  I need this extra immersion for Christmas cheer to confront the gauntlet of bland and vaguely wintery decorations my building lobby sports.  I left the house without my red and green ball Christmas tree ornaments, so I can't 'occupy' the decorations today.   And I have my uncle to thank for that 'Occupy Christmas' idea, thanks to a comment he posted to my post yesterday about the prevalence of unholiday decorations littering the lobby.

For the entire drive in this morning, I kept thinking of picket sign slogans I could hand paint for such an occupation, such as:  "Jesus is the Reason for the Season" or "Put Christ Back in Christmas" or "The Cross (X) Marks the Spot" and so on.  Rather than being the 99% we could be (and are) 100% loved by Him.  I know I'll be saying "Merry Christmas" rather than "Happy Holidays" or "Season's Greetings" for the next thirty or so days (until Epiphany anyways).

I'm also curious about the decorations in the lobby of your workplace buildings.  Snap a photo with your cell phone and comment with the link to participate in this unofficial and informal survey of corporate expressions of Christmas (or unHoliday) cheer.

Thursday, December 1, 2011

The Return of the unHolidays

unHoliday Decorations II
I returned to work today after a long Thanksgiving break.  As I approached the elevators, I became concerned that a new form of fungus had usurped our sedate lobby ferns.   Then I remembered.  The building must have hired the same interior designer from last year's decorations (see below).  I am tempted to scrounge through my Christmas decorations at home and bring in the largest brightest red and green balls to hang clandestinely among the bleak colorless concoction displayed above. 
I'm getting depressed just looking at this picture.  Ugh. 

* * *

unHoliday Decorations (2010 edition)
Is it just me, or does this creations seem to celebrate autumn, rather than a traditional holiday occurring within a few days of the winter solstice?

Happy unHolidays?!?!