Monday, January 14, 2008

Oh ho ho ho! Devillish laugh!

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My friends, I have succeeded in the thorough befuddlement of all with my expansive, extraordinarily literate vocabulary. I shall thoroughly enjoy my new cachet forthwith.

(As you can clearly see, I'm now trying to push it up to "Genius" level.)

This can't end well.

I find it rather amusing, telling people what both my major and minor are. I don't suppose I need to tell you what I'm majoring in (but in case you're curious, read the title of the blog), but my minor is Astronomy. This surprises people, as there seems to be a general notion among physical science majors that we liberal arts folk are a lot of foppish dandies whose romantic, obfuscating worldview distances from the facts of hard science. But I have always been enamored of the stars, I will eagerly devour any books I come across about string theory or general quantum physics, and I am quite possibly the only person in my department who knows what a Schwartzchild radius is, let alone how to calculate one.

Unfortunately, as fascinating as I find most of the world's disciplines, I have never been very good at math. Certainly, I find several concepts within the realm of higher mathematics intriguing (Grahmn's number is always a favorite), most numbers go straight through my head with nary a care.

In order to fulfil my Astronomy minor, I need to take calculus.

The first math course I took upon entering this college was MAT 101X.

Clearly, I have my work cut out for me.

This semester, I am taking MAT 108, best described as "Pre-Pre-Calculus." So, yes, slowly but surely, I am getting there. However, I think I may have trouble concentrating in this class. You see, my professor--

No, this isn't going in the direction you probably think it's going.

My professor, although I do not know his exact genesis, is from somewhere in the general vincinity of India. Perhaps Pakistan, perhaps somewhere else in the Middle East or what the British call the Orient. (I have never been sure whether to classify India as Middle Eastern as Oriental.) His accent is extremely thick, and he occasionally uses grammatical constructs typically avoided in American English. He says things such as "the wedding ceremony of my sister" or "more easier." His speech is notably lacking in some fricative sounds--anthing with a "th" or "sh" in it gets reduced to a /t/, /d/ or /s/.

And rather than being fascinated by his talk on the topic of mathematics (and me realizing that I need to kick myself for forgetting the quadratic formula AGAIN, even though I've had it drilled into me repeatedly), I'm sitting there pondering the nature of the rules that govern his accent (/θ/ -> /d/) and the grammar of his useage of adjectives. As I mentally compile a list of rules for his phonetic pronunciations of words, my hand pantomimes writing them in the air, when I should be simplifying a pair of polynomial fractions.

This is going to be a long year.

Tuesday, January 8, 2008

Princess of Wails

Have you ever actually hurled a book across the room, you hated it so much?

As of today, I have.

It was The Ogre Downstairs, by Diana Wynne Jones--one of my all-time favorite authors, and it looked fun and silly--if directed at a much younger audience than myself. Still, I know this particular author, and she never talks down in her writing. She's wonderfully erudite and clever. No matter what age a book of hers is written for, I expect a ripping good yarn nontheless. It was a "group of children have nasty step-brother and step-parent and wonder what to do about them" type of story. But they discover magical powers and that kind of stuff, as is the wont of children in these kinds of books. As they go along they slowly but surely come to love and understand their stepbrothers, all the kids get along, they learn each other's good traits and bad traits, and everyone is shown to be a flawed but ultimately human being.

Until the end.

The end makes my stomach turn.

Right at the end, the "villain" character (the titular Ogre, usename Jack McIntyre) does a complete 360 in personality, becoming the "woe-is-me-I'm-so-misunderstood-and-you've-been-misunderstanding-me-all-this-time" kind of character. He does this within the span of about three pages, tops. There isn't anything that brings on this change, either. He just suddenly starts acting like this (which initially seems horribly out of character) and then never reverts back. Bang. Not even a hint of his "former" self.

Folks, I'm not exactly picky with my reading habits. I've been known to scarf down--and even enjoy enough to reread!--some spectacularly bad books. But I will not, WILL not, stand for lazy charictarization, especially from a book--from an author!--from whom I expect better. This could have been wonderfully and convincingly done. Some of the "excuses" the story gives for his personality do make sense, but others I can't even begin to reconcille. A couple of them that come to mind:

1) We find out in the course of the story that his own two sons--one about thirteen and the other around 15/16--both think of him of as beastly and horrible as his two stepchildren do. So it's not merely a matter of "we don't like charge arglebargle," but that he genuinely seems to be a nasty person. I would especially expect a kid of about 16 to understand his or her parents at least somewhat well. But the older kid never gives any indication of this, but simply goes on and reviles him along with the other kids.

2) He's not just mean to the kids, either. He's horrible to his wife, too. Which causes her to run away. And then when she suddenly comes home at the end of the book, she's all happy and cheerful and all "oh hai guyz" and the incredibly horrible and nasty and cruel things the villain has said to her over the course of the book, including those that caused her to run away, are completely blown over. Me: "lolwut?"

3) Similarly, the kids are never once suspicious of his change. Maybe one character, for a short while. Then it's all happiness and choruses of "why can't we be frieeeeends" all around. All the other character development in the book happens with such wonderful pacing that it feels like having a bucket of cold water suddenly flung over me. People do not just suddenly change from Mortal Enemies to The Get Along-Gang literally overnight, especially when they've had this hostility between them for several months, in the case of the stepkids, or most of their LIVES, in the case of the biological kids.

4) One of the excuses made for the character is that "oh a lot of the things he was saying were just jokes he just doesn't display emotion very well so you can't tell." Which could very well work. If I hadn't skimmed through the book and found almost NO comments made by him that could've been taken in a joking manner. Save, perhaps, for one, about an unusually harsh punishment--which was later revealed not to be a joke at all. But the thing is, if he were actually the kind of person he is SUPPOSED to be by the end of the book, it seems extremely unlikely that he'd make such a comment at all!

5) He also once beat one of his sons so severely that he literally fell ill. And then proceeded not to care. How am I supposed to put this together with his "kinder, gentler" personality?

I'm not saying that 360's in personality can't be done, but they have to be properly necessitated by the plot, happen at a reasonable rate, or both.

I mean, one of my favorite video games of all TIME--Psychonauts--pulls this trick. The player is lead to hate the father figure of the main character up until the very end. The character "hates" him as well up until that point. But (uh, SPOILER ALERT, obviously):

1) The main character is ten years old.
2) The main character was prevented in the past from doing things by his father--incredibly dangerous things which he nonetheless found "cool."
3) The main character was recently punished by said father for disobeying him, and for not doing something important just because he didn't want to.
4) We never once hear Dear Old Dad's story until the very end.

At which point the main character is revealed to be a predictable child who threw a temper tantrum just because he didn't get to do whatever he wanted all the time.

(The spoiler-conscious may resume reading.)

Gosh, I was so frustrated with this book. It's not just that it was sloppily rushed in the last act. It was that it was so bad, and it was by an author I love. And all the other characters in the book were so elegantly done! It really felt like a slap in the face.

So, yes. I literally threw it across the room. It hit the drapes and now resides next to the leg of the chair situated in front of the family's computer desk. However, having ranted, and having given the manuscript itself a goodly heave, I feel healed. Now I can take it back to the secondhand bookstore and forget its existance.

Thursday, January 3, 2008

Word Association With TWEM

Wow! I just beat Psychonauts! That was an amazing game. Tim Schafer is a mad genius. Thank you, GameTap, for letting me enjoy this masterpiece free of charge (and legally, at that), and thank you, Richard Horvitz, for bringing yet another one of my now-favorite characters to life.

Hey, there were a lot of characters in that game with weirdly-spelled names. Like Lili instead of Lily or Lilly. And Dogan instead of Doogan. And Razputin instead of--

Wait. Rasputin. Wasn't he some evil guy?

Yeah, he was! He was that evil Russian dude who, like, killed the Romanovs or something! They made a movie about that. He had a talking bat.

AWESOME! He was a zombie in that movie! I have got to see this.

...Mom, where's the tape that had
Anastasia recorded on it?

Oh, God, I remember this song! "Faaar away, loooong ago, glowing dim as an eeeemmber, things my hearrrt, used to knoooow, once upon a Deceeeemmmber!"

Wait. It's not December anymore, it's January! Why am I watching this again?

Hey, there's Rasputin! He's got singing cockroaches! His head comes off! Cool!

Hey, isn't Razputin the name of the main character from