Saturday, May 31, 2008

Let The Right One In  

Film: Movie number two in our SIFF series, Let The Right One In is a dark fantasy from Sweden that goes wildly off the mark and completely wastes any potential it had to tell a good story.

A young, wispy boy is alone and friendless in his apartment complex until a dark-haired girl and her father move in next door. A series of murders immediately occurs afterwards, and it's revealed that the girl is really a vampire. The young couple (both about 12 years old) go through a brief getting-to-know-you phase, and the story goes on from there.

This charming as the idea may be that a cute vampire could move in to you next door, the film absolutely fails to make any of the characters real or relatable, and of the series of events make precious little sense. The film's bloated two-hour running time consists mostly of moody, pensive shots with very little dialogue, and at no point is there ever any tension or mystery built up. The film makes it pretty clear that the girl is an actual vampire within the first 20 minutes, so there's nothing really to resolve afterwards... and if the director thinks watching these two 12-year olds get into bed with each other and share bloody kisses is somehow charming or touching, he's woefully mistaken.

The worst part was that the film had creepy, pedophilic overtones. The wife and I kept commenting to each other that what was happening on film would be vastly more appropriate with teenagers or young adults as the leads, not kids who haven't even started puberty yet. The worst moment came when the director found it necessary to flash a shot of the girl's vagina for no other reason than, what... shock value? His own satisfaction? We both felt slightly dirty.

I'm not a huge vampire fan, but I've read more than my share of the books and I certainly enjoy a good fantasy tale. Unfortunately, Let The Right One In feels pretty nonsensical and amateurish when dealing with the vampire issues, and comes off like some sort of inappropriate self-gratification remedy for I-was-an-unpopular-kid syndrome the rest of the time. There was plenty of snow and tons of inexplicably silent scenes, but the movie fails to rise above the level of "rough sketch" in terms of storytelling.

Not recommended.

Friday, May 30, 2008

The Art of Negative Thinking  

Film: No, this blog's title isn't my general philosophy (well okay, maybe it is) but it's also the name of the first (of five) Seattle International Film Festival flicks the wife and I are going to catch over the next two weeks.

This one was from Norway, and gave viewers one night in the lives of a dysfunctional support group for handicapped people. The therapist was a kook intent on using her group to write a book, one woman was a quadriplegic with a healthy husband who's tired of being tied to her, one man had a stroke and was in a wheelchair, and so on.

This group of people arrives in a van at the home of Geirr, a recently-paralyzed man who's going through an angry stage and having trouble with his marriage. The therapist tries to convince him to join the group, and things go to hell from there.

Although the material sounds heavy (and it was, at times) it was a pretty honest and comedic look at the bitterness and resentment disabled people can have. At the same time, it managed plenty of honest laughs thanks to the dark attitudes of the characters and unflinching looks at the piss-poor way life can be sometimes.

There were a few genuinely tense moments, and the range of emotions on the screen were absolutely relatable to anyone who's been at a low point in their lives. The film also took some pretty bold choices with regard to character actions physically, putting on film the things that people often wish they'd do, but usually don't. (One character gets pushed out a window, for example... it was exactly what I wanted to see, and I was surprised that the director actually went there.)

Overall I enjoyed the film greatly, and I was quite glad we selected this one to start off our personal SIFF series. For more info on the film, go HERE.

Anyway, it was a total thumbs up, so it's... Recommended.

Thursday, May 29, 2008


Just a few random bits tonight...

Complete gang stereotypes... and proud of it.

Games: Still playing Saints Row on 360 and still loving it. It's funny, but this title really does beat GTA at its own game. I mean, it seems to me that the thing that people really like about open-world sandbox games is the ability to go anywhere and do lots of crazy stuff. Why would you ever strip that out? I plan on covering this game in the near future for GC, but at the moment I give it props for not taking itself seriously and going completely over-the-top in many ways, never losing sight of what makes for an enjoyable entry in this genre. It's not perfect by any means, but it's had no problem keeping my attention. You can get it for something like $18 used these days... that's a lot of game for a tiny investment. I haven't finished it quite yet, but it's still recommended.

One little ironic side-note: I had passed Saints Row up a million times and had written it off as a cash-in, but I was so pumped up and ready to play GTA IV that when I realized it wasn't anything near what it was cracked up to be, I started going into withdrawls. If GTA IV hadn't been so miserable, I never would have given SR a chance. Even more ironic? I'm actually considering getting a second 360 unit so the wife and I can play the entire Saints Row 2 co-op campaign fullscreen.

Take that, Rockstar!

Pencils for $400: What I haven't been using this week, Alex.
Writing: The last few days haven't exactly played out the way I thought they would, and I'm not anywhere near my weekly quota for words-on-page. I'm usually quite proud of my discipline, but I have to admit that I've been slacking when I haven't been working. Guilty as charged. In fact, I probably shouldn't even be taking the time to write this when I have a sequel to make progress on and a short story to finish.


On the plus side, I went to my very-first-ever critique group, and although I had to leave early unexpectedly to get to a last-minute work assignment, it was a fun, positive experience. Shouts-out to Billie and Stephanie, and I'll catch up with you later.

No clue what this movie is... it just looked foreign to me.

Film: The wife and I are going to hit our very first Seattle International Film Festival movies this week. We're going to see five total, and I plan on doing quick rundowns after each viewing. If anyone in the Seattle area has any recommendations for which flicks to see, drop me a line.

So totally not us at the restaurant tonight.

Food: Can I just say that there are few things worse than paying for a bad meal? Check out Mouths Full this friday for more details, but the wife and I were in unfamiliar territory (the eastside) tonight, and we decided to skip the joints we have on our let's-eat-there list and just randomly pick something to review. Although sometimes this tactic pays off, tonight... not so much.

Monday, May 26, 2008

My Wife and Modern Classics: Shameless Gushing  

Games: One of the things I love best about my wife is the fact that not only does she play games, she is a gamer.

In my previous relationships, video games were always a source of irritation with my partners at the time. After leaving those situations behind, I was bound and determined to find a woman who loved to play games, or at the very least, did not take issue with the fact that I do.

There are tons of things that I appreciate about the woman I am happily married to now, but to keep this blog post on track, let’s just say that she is about as far into the game zone as any human female could ever expected to be, short of joining the Fragdolls.

And I love it.

…Anyway, the reason I bring this up is that although she loves to play games, before me, she had never been with anyone who enjoyed them or was as knowledgeable about them to the level that I am. I don’t mean to sound egotistical, but I’ve played a shit-ton of games and I’ll gladly stack my knowledge of the medium against the best of them. I know from the videogames.

So, when we’re doing the game thing, I’ll often turn to the wife and say “Hey, have you tried Game X?”

Sometimes she says yes, which is quite cool. But, if she says no… it’s even cooler, because then I get the chance to introduce her to one excellent piece of software or another.

Sharing something I love with the person I love is quite possibly the best thing ever, and not only is it a treat to be able to connect with my spouse in this way, I also get the added benefit of watching her go through titles she’s never played before and re-experience them for myself. One particular mission of mine? To sit her down with each of the modern classics.

Last week, she tried God of War for the very first time – and loved it. In fact, after completing the first one she moved on to another, all on her own. I haven’t played the original God of War since it came out, and watching Kratos rip the heads off medusae and impale undead legionnaires with their own swords reminded me of what a breakthrough game it was.

This week, I introduced her to Prince of Persia: the Sands of Time. I remembered being absolutely bewitched by this game when I saw it for the first time at E3 (and I’m a big fan of the series, really) but sitting down with her and watching this game in action again, I was absolutely stunned to see what an amazing, beautiful creation it remains. The platforming and environmental navigation is as engaging as it ever was, and the animation is still of the absolute top tier, easily the equal or better of anything on shelves today. And the art and level design—my god, despite running on the PS2 it’s still jaw-droppingly stunning, and a masterful demonstration of skill and craft. Prince of Persia looks leagues better than a lot of PS3/360 titles, which goes to show that technical innovation is no match for artistic spirit.

Getting the chance to sit down with someone going through these games for the first time is like discovering them all over again, and seeing my wife’s reaction to certain scenes or the way she problem-solves through this puzzle or that challenge is a real treat. I can’t wait to do the same thing with our children when they are of age, and I count my lucky stars every day that I’m with a person that can appreciate something like this just as much as I do.

Saturday, May 24, 2008

Irritation, a work in two parts  

Misc: This week has been pretty damned irritating for a few reasons, but I'm just going with the top two here:

1> The brand-new HDTV I scored at Christmastime blew a part out and I lost all audio.

Not only is it complete crap that it breaks just about six months after purchase (I've still got an SD set that works great after ten years) the guys at Best Buy totally underestimated the time it'd take for repair.

A week, they said.

It's been two now, and the part needed for repairs still hasn't arrived at their shop facility. I mean, it's not like I can't remember life without a dedicated game TV, but it's just a complete hassle to drop cash on a high-end purchase and have it go kaput like that on top of having my already-limited gametime curtailed by not having a TV.

As of right now I'm still without a working TV, and Best Buy's warranty doesn't allow for service loaners.

2> For whatever bizarre reason, some little part of the internet hates me. I haven't been able to get my PC to connect with GameCritics for the last two days, and I've been bouncing around from customer service rep to customer service rep, each one telling me it's not their problem.

I finally got a good rep from Microsoft (Aboo in Chennai, you're the man) and he figured out that there's a proxy server somewhere not doing its job. After another hour with a guy from Comcast, he pinned the exact trouble spot at a small internet company's server based in New Jersey. I've got no clue why it manifested this way, but I can get to any site on the entire internet except the one that I actually need to get to.

It drove me batty all day, and though I'm glad to know what the deal is, I'd be even happier knowing what to do about it.

Unreliable technology sucks.

...Oh, and Talking With Our Mouths Full has been updated. Peep it here.

Thursday, May 22, 2008

Like grains of sand in an hourglass...  

Games: A regular on the GameCritics board recently posted a thread asking people what their “safety blanket” games are—i.e., what games do they find themselves coming back to again and again?

My response? None at all. I just don’t have the time!

Seriously… between my regular job, sending out submissions to get my first book sold, working on the sequel and a few short stories, my critic/editor duties at GC, this blog, Mouths Full, and reading selections from my huge piles of comics and novels, I don’t have nearly the amount of time for video games that I used to, or that I’d like to.

Do I expand my territory and represent for my ‘hood in Saints Row, or do I bang out another thousand words for Behind Infernal Eyes? Do I finish off the latest Brian Keene book, or do I proofread the latest reviews? Do I catch up on paperwork, or do I research agents?

(Careful readers will notice I haven’t even mentioned sleep yet.)

I often find myself sacrificing one thing for another, and wishing there were more hours in the day, and when I do find the time to game, there’s just so much out there that I can’t imagine coming back to a game I’ve already finished.

I’ve got a big stack of older titles I bought used or on sale (I’ll crack Sniper Elite one of these days), I’ve got more than a handful of download-only titles that I haven’t even touched yet (Penny Arcade’s On the Rain-Slick Precipice of Darkness has been calling my name since Wednesday), I have GTA IV that probably should be finished for critic cred even though it bores the piss out of me, and I’ve got a new game just in for review that won’t even hit retail for another month and a half.

Oh, and like ten new games I really need to play come out, like, each week.

Spend time with a game I’ve already been through??? You ask the impossible.

Anyway, sorry to get off on a rant there, but I think that had been building up for a while.


Food: Green Papaya Salad is awesome.

Games: R-Type Command on PSP is awesome.

Misc: The link to this story contains hookers, stolen credit cards, a 13-year old, and Halo 3. Again, awesome.

...That is all.

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Grand Theft Annulment  

Games: So I went out and got a copy of...

the game everybody’s playing and the thing that’s racked up some of the highest-scored reviews of all time. The games media across tha intarwebs have been falling all over themselves to pile shimmering, golden scores on top of it, delivering the kind of unparalleled fellatio that’s usually reserved for the kind of sweaty teen dreams that only hormones can bring on.

As I write this, it’s currently got a 98/100 at MetaCritic after 66 reviews, the first 41 or so being perfect 100s-- seriously, that’s insane success. Rockstar must be thrilled, since any publisher out there would sell their firstborn for numbers like that.

Niko Bellic, on the hunt for Dan Weissenberger

So, after two days of playing, what’s my take on it?

I’m not at all impressed.

It’s not that the game is terrible because it’s not, but it’s certainly not deserving of all the accolades and perfect scores. Granted, I’m still very early on and have not yet completed the single player portion, but based on what I’ve seen so far… I don’t think I actually will. How's that for a ringing endorsement?

My man CJ from San Andreas... Check that fly ride.

Now before going any further, don’t start thinking I’m some sort of GTA hater. That couldn’t be further from the truth—I gave the first perfect score of my review career to Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas on PS2, and that’s a number I stand by. That was a tremendous game and a major achievement. GTA IV? Not so much.

I mean, looking at the game, I’m not even sure what I’m supposed to be impressed with.

Graphics? Well, the graphics are all right, but they’re not as stellar as most people seem to think they are. Quite honestly, I think there are a lot of games out right now that look a lot better.

Do you play games to admire the architecture?

Realistic replication of a city? Having never set foot in New York, I couldn’t tell you whether it’s realistically modeled or not—and really, who cares if it is? My ability to recognize landmarks or particular neighborhoods has absolutely no effect on gameplay.

Improved controls? I find the vehicle control to be atrocious, quite possibly the worst in the series, and controlling main character Nico Bellic is only slightly better. Everything feels slow and clunky, and quite frustrating at times.

Gameplay? From what I’ve seen so far, it’s business as usual. The same sort of ‘go here, kill someone’ missions that have always been in GTA have made up the majority of what I’ve done so far, with nothing interesting occurring, or even being promised.

Environment? I get very little value from observing AI characters exhibit random behavior while walking down the street, and I don’t usually play games for the scenery. Simply being somewhere and spending time is not a draw.

Story? Granted, this could be the game’s homerun, but it has completely failed to draw me in so far, and I feel (raspberry sound) for the characters. Sure, I giggled at some of the absurd lines and obvious jokes, but I don’t feel compelled to follow Nico on his journey, and I have absolutely no motivation to improve ‘relationships’ with the faces I’ve seen so far. I’m absolutely willing to admit that there may be some quality drama later on, but part of good game design and creation (and really, of any creative media at all) is the ability to capture a player’s imagination and immerse them in the world; motivate them to rise to the challenge and emerge victorious. At this point, I’m completely bored by what’s been happening, and I don’t feel at all engaged—without intellectual buy-in, I have no incentive to put up with what I see as a below-average (compared to San Andreas) GTA boilerplate.

Although I’m considering pressing on if for no other reason than it’s likely going to be one of those ‘must-play’ titles that any good critic should probably have under their belt, it already feels like work and that’s not a good thing.

If anyone out there can tell me what exactly is so great about this game, I’d honestly love to hear it… keeping in mind that graphics aren’t enough to sway me and that I’ve already played through four previous GTAs, exactly what am I supposed to be getting from IV? I would guess that if this was the first time I was playing a GTA I’d be more impressed, but I find absolutely no significant leap between what IV offers, and what every other GTA did before it.

Whatever critics are getting out of this game in order to justify the universal adoration, I just don’t see it.

It may be generic, but Saints Row plays like buttah

As a sort-of comparison, today I picked up a copy of Saints Row, since it had been billed as a GTA wannabe, and I thought it would be interesting to see what my reaction would be to it.

Not surprisingly (or perhaps surprisingly) I thought it started out really fun and frenetic, and I was quickly engaged with the customization and absolutely solid controls. I mean, this game is pretty much a next-gen version of San Andreas with the gang slant, recruiting homies, capturing territory, and so on, only it skips the pretense and gets right to the action.

I can't say that it's a good game since I only put in about 45 minutes with it, but not having to fuss with controls and camera was quite welcome, and it had waypoints and a mini-map, so it was almost exactly like IV minus the immigrants and New York ambiance. (Bonus points awarded for the prominent display of zaftig ladies.)

Saints Row and IV almost seem like flip sides of the same coin when played them back to back like that. Take that irresistible GTA hype out of the equation, and IV seems like standard GTA, just offering less than the last iteration and still not nailing the controls.

Saturday, May 17, 2008

Army of Two... and Coffee  

Games: So the wife and I just finished Army of Two today, playing the entire thing co-op from start to finish, just as the developers intended.

My impression? Severe underwhelmation.

Looks way cooler than it is.

Level design was unmemorable, and most of the action was the same sort of ‘ hordes of enemies materialize from out of nowhere’ stuff that stopped being interesting years ago. Even worse, there were a ridiculous number of bulletproof gun turrets and bulletproof soldiers, both requiring one player to distract them while the other sneaks up from behind to deliver damage. Not only did this kind of stuff reek of ‘videogamey-ness’, it was just totally uninspired and repeated far too often.

Which one of us is Salem and which one is Rios again?

The story and characters were a joke, too… I seriously couldn’t remember who was who and what was going on thanks to the extremely poor choice of delivering most storytelling and information through audio chatter in the middle of heated firefights when the player is completely occupied doing something else. By the time we finished the game, I couldn’t even remember what my own character’s name was… the whole thing felt very generic and phoned-in.

There were tons of other little problems like certain areas of the game glitching up and requiring a restart, or how the characters have no believable sense of maneuverability in the environment… it’s another game where you can only climb up things that the developers want you to climb up, and you’re not allowed to hop down a three-foot ledge unless it’s the right three-foot ledge.

The best thing about Army of Two was that the characters looked like the Jason twins from Friday the 13th, and being able to play co-op is always a plus in my book… besides those perks, there’s really nothing exceptional or interesting about the game.

Am I going to have to share my room?!?

I expected a lot more from a title getting such a big push from EA, and any future sequel will have to bring a hell of a lot more to the table than this one did.

Food: I think I've mentioned before that when we go to Uwajimaya, our local international/Asian grocery store, I like to try random things just to see what they're like. I played it safe this week and went with...

The verdict? Pretty damn tasty. Completely lacking the caramel or citrus flavor that I generally despise in my coffee, this stuff was good to go straight out of the can and I'll definitely be buying more next time I'm down there. Recommended!

Friday, May 16, 2008

Rodent Placeholder  

I had some stuff ready to go tonight, but it was another in a series of too-long workdays... consider this hamster the placeholder until tomorrow.

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

Kratos & Thor  

Games: Just finished God of War: Chains of Olympus on the PSP a few minutes ago. It's a short, smooth ride that packs a lot of action and intensity without ever resorting to a lot of filler or tedium. As a result, it can be beaten in about a day, but I'm not complaining… I'd much rather have polished experiences of this caliber than the sort of game that drags its feet and chokes me with busy-work just for the sake of lengthening completion time.

It's a top-notch product with incredible production values and smart design. The developers behind it (Ready at Dawn) are absolute wizards when it comes to programming on the PSP. The game was so good, I would have sworn I was playing a PS2 for most of the adventure. If you're looking for a jawdropper that can really demonstrate what the PSP is capable of, this would absolutely be one to show to a friend.

Besides the fact that it's just a fantastic portable game, I also want to give props to Ready at Dawn for finally doing what Sony’s Santa Monica Studios has been incapable of in the last two GoW games—giving main character Kratos a shred of humanity and actually making me feel something for him and for what he's going through. It wasn't much… I mean, I'm not talking a tearjerker here, but it was something… good show, folks. Recommended.

My review of Crisis Core: Final Fantasy VII is also up at GC, you can check it here. Let the hate mail commence! ; )

Movies: With the recent (and well-deserved) success of Iron Man in theaters, apparently Marvel Comics has just announced a slew of upcoming films. Jamie Kendall in Minnesota sent me the link (thanks!), and coming soon to a theater near you are:

Iron Man 2 (no surprise there), the Avengers, Thor, Captain America, and…. Ant-Man?!?

There’s still plenty of material to mine when it comes to Tony Stark, but the rest of these seem like they might be an uphill battle. Captain America has already bombed at least once that I know of, and the Avengers aren't exactly a team that the majority of America is likely familiar with. Personally, I don't think they have the cachet that the X-Men did, but we’ll see.

As for the others, Thor seems like sort of a bizarre choice. Crippled doctor by day, Norse god by night (or whenever) feels a little outdated conceptually, so I’ll be curious to see what kind of new spin it’ll get. Ant-man… well, last I checked, Marvel had about 48,000,000 *other* heroes who seem like better choices to star in a film, but maybe it’ll be more kid-friendly, or maybe heavier on the Sci-Fi than the heroics to create something like a newer version of Innerspace. (One of the best films, ever. Seriously.)

Anyway, I always knew comics were cool. It’s nice to see the rest of the world catching up.

Monday, May 12, 2008

Harold & Kumar & Katy  

Just a quickie update tonight… I swore to myself that I would get a few more words down on the page for Behind Infernal Eyes, so I’ll make this fast.

Random: So in the last post about the Comicon, I had a picture of one of the artists wearing a crazy-looking piece of headgear. I snapped the pic on my way out the door just a few minutes before I left the ‘Con, but that person actually left a comment and after a quick Google search I was wishing that I had stopped by her table. Her name is Katy Hargrove, and her blog can be found here.

She’s got some crazy art skills and tons of pictures of her work in addition to a small online store with some of her goods. Stop by her blog and check it out… her pics of octopi are the most adorable things evAr.

Games: Finally finished The Answer from Persona 3: FES. Between this bonus quest and my time spent on the original game (now referred to as The Journey), I clocked a chunk of time coming pretty close to 100 hours. For me, that’s a pretty insane time commitment and something I never would have predicted before starting P3, but I have to say that it was a pretty outstanding RPG and well worth the effort. I plan on shipping in a Second Opinion at GameCritics so look for it soon. In the meantime, if you are even remotely a fan of RPGs, I would absolutely consider Persona 3 a must-play. If you haven’t got your copy yet, what the hell are you waiting for?!?

Movies: The wife and I went to see Harold & Kumar Escape from Guantanamo Bay tonight. I was a huge fan of the first film, and although this one wasn’t quite as airtight as the original, it still had plenty of genuine laughs and bizarre content. Although it’s sort of positioned as a ‘stoner’ comedy, being a marijuana aficionado is absolutely not a requirement to enjoy the film… just don’t be easily offended. There were a number of things in there that would definitely blow conservative minds, and Rob Corddry’s government agent character in particular was absolutely off the hook and over-the-top. Two words: Grape soda. See the movie, and you’ll know what I mean. Recommended!

Saturday, May 10, 2008

Emerald City Comicon 2008  


Today was the first day of the Emerald City Comicon, held in the Washington State Trade & Convention Center in the heart of downtown Seattle. I'm not nearly the comics monster that I used to be, but after getting back into them recently, the wife and I thought we'd take a trip down and dip a toe back into the scene.

There were a good mix of elements there, with plenty of toys and other miscellaneous things to buy in addition to the usual tables of back issues and graphic novels on sale.

These guys were just the tip of the Star Wars iceberg at the 'con.
Speaking of toys,there were a couple of things worth mentioning. The first was this...

For anybody into G.I. Joe Back in the day, The U.S.S. Flagg was The holy Grail of anyone's Joe collection. I don't think I knew anyone who even owned it, I just drooled over it in TV commercials. If I remember correctly, the thing cost $100 brand-new and was the most impressive toy anyone could own EXCEPT for Fortress Maximus from the Transformers line. Seeing the Flagg still in the box was a kick in the pants. Although I was tempted to buy it, I didn't. But, what I did get was...

Snout Spout! As a huge Masters of the Universe fan, I had an almost complete collection as a kid until my parents pulled the one of the most colossally jerkfaced moves ever and made me sell them off at a garage sale-- and they kept the money to boot.

Needless to say, I've never quite gotten over the trauma. When MOTU was revived a few years ago with all-new, hyper-detailed sculpts, I was in heaven.... Until they canceled it. Again.

From What I understand, the crazy-talented folks who were doing the sculpting of the toys actually had several models that never went into production, and when the toy line was canceled, they used the sculpts to create statues the same size as what the action figures would have been. Snout Spout here is the first one I've seen in person, so I snapped him up. Maybe it's just the MOTU fan in me talking, but this guy is ten kinds of awesome on my desk.

No idea what's going on at this table, but it freaked me out.

Laid low by his last film's poor performance, the Silver Surfer has been reduced to signing autographs for cash.

Besides Snout Spout and the delicious crepe I had outside, I picked up a handful of back issues I have been looking for and saw a friend I haven't seen in a few years. Good times, good times, and the good times are still rolling... If you're in the Seattle area, the convention is still open tomorrow (Sunday the 11th) and admission is only $15 at the door.

Thursday, May 8, 2008

Koi and the Colosseum  

Games: Yes, I'm still playing Persona 3: FES... jeez, quit busting my chops. It shouldn't be much longer until I get to the answer in The Answer.

On a random side note, I finally scored one of the rare-ish PS2 games I’ve been after for a long time, Colosseum: Road to Freedom. I’ve never actually seen it in a store (new or used) but the premise of being a gladiator and trying to buy your way out of slavery through bloody combat intrigued me.

After having it at the top of my GameFly queue for the last several months, they finally sent it, I finally played it, and after a quick run-through, I decided it was worth an overpriced purchase on eBay. I probably won't get to it for a while, but if any of you have any impressions, drop me a line or leave a comment, and I'll be glad to hear them.

Writing: So after receiving a bunch of form-letter rejection slips, I finally got a human response from an agent in L.A. She turned me down politely, but had a few positive comments. Since she was the only person decent enough to actually say something about the book, I followed up and ask if she'd be interested in seeing a rewrite.

Her response was that the book didn't have enough action (keep in mind, she had only received the first 10 pages) and suggested that I write more like Laurell K. Hamilton, Jim Butcher, or JD Ward. No offense (seriously) to any of those authors, but although they sell a million-billion copies of their work I don't particularly like the kind of books they turn out. I guess I’m sort of glad that I don't write like them since I find it fairly painful to make it through even one paperback of theirs, let alone an entire series of the stuff… I can't imagine changing my style to mimic something so far removed from what I'm going for.

I guess this is how I'm supposed to be writing my book.

The hunt for an agent continues.

Random: The other day, my son and I were having a conversation on the phone and somehow or another, we got on the subject of building him a koi pond. He's really into fish and we were just sort of daydreaming out loud, so I figured it would be the sort of thing he'd jump at. Strangely enough, the first thing out of his mouth was that building a koi pond would be bad for the environment.

We went in circles for a little while as the wife and I explained that there was a very little possibility of a small outdoor pond harming the earth. I think he eventually got it, but it's interesting to note that environmental awareness (on-target or not) was at the forefront of my six-year old’s thinking. Obviously, kids these days are going to grow up with a different reality and will have to deal with issues that people of my generation didn't really think much about.

However, as much as I'm for conserving freshwater and not damaging the natural world, I hope that at some point the people planting these thoughts in my son’s head get around to some larger issues-- let's not talk about how quickly the water runs when he's brushing his teeth, and let's start talking about weaning ourselves off of fossil fuels, industrial pollution, and the problems inherent with global warming and the ozone layer.

Maybe his teacher will cover that next year.

Food: Mouths Full has been updated... get the scoop on our local taco truck here.

Sunday, May 4, 2008

Death, with or without dignity  

The right to die in this country is a hotly contested thing. Honestly though, I don't see why.

If proposed in the context of a person who is fatally ill and with absolutely no hope of recovery, what's so wrong with letting that person choose when and how they want to leave this world?

I was recently with some friends who had a loved one that was on their deathbed. This person about to die had made very clear that they did not want to be resuscitated or kept on life support, had made all the arrangements years before they had fallen ill, and had arranged to donate various organs to medical programs after their death. This person absolutely had a grasp on how they wanted to die, and was very straightforward about doing what they could to prepare.

When this person's time finally came, they fell into a coma that doctors said would persist until they had passed away. The family had gathered to discuss proceedings and say their goodbyes, and after that was done they had all made peace of a sort and were ready to let this person go. The doctors and nurses assured the family that this person would pass quickly once life-support was disconnected, and once the tubes and wires were taken away, the family had one last chance to bid farewell. It couldn't have been arranged better, and everyone was in the right frame of mind and the right emotional state for closure.

Unfortunately, the person on their deathbed didn't die when taken off life support. In fact, they continued to hang on for another day, fluid building in their throat and the sounds of choking filling the room to haunt the family members who had already been through an enormous amount of suffering. The doctors explained that the condition would get slowly worse until this person's brain had swollen to the point that pulmonary functions would cease, and at that point the person would die. Basically, they were leaving this person in a bed and waiting for them to suffocate.

I fail to see how leaving an unconscious body to suffocate due to brain swelling is somehow better or more humane than giving them a large dose of sedatives and letting them go peacefully. Not only would it end things quicker and more painlessly, it would have spared the family the torturous waiting game of watching the person who they loved so much lay in a vegetative state and choke.

When a horse breaks a leg, or when a dog has an inoperable tumor, it's a sad event but no one makes any bones about giving them a shot and 'putting them to sleep'. We say it's humane, and 'the right thing to do'... so how is it that we can extend this grace and concern for suffering to animals, yet we don't think that fellow human beings, people we love and care for, are deserving of the same option?

The person I just described was in a coma, and although they were not able to respond or make decisions for themselves, that had made their wishes quite clear before the situation occurred. What about people who are still conscious and awake, and suffering with fatal diseases that can't be cured? Is it fair and right to force them to endure suffering and incapacity until their bodies simply give out? Shouldn't we give them a legal choice to decide when they choose to stop living, rather than make it some kind of laughable crime if they (or their loved ones, or doctors, or anyone else) assist them in trying to ease their pain?

Politicians and lawmakers can say what they want, but when faced with the reality of having a family member suffering without any 'legal' options to help them, my guess is that they'd see the wisdom and mercy in simply allowing them the right to choose.