October 6th, 2008


Musings from Mundania

I've now finished reading Man from Mundania, the twelfth book in Piers Anthony's Xanth series. It's been a while since I've read anything in this series, but I had trouble finding this particular volume, and didn't want to skip it and read ahead. I did that all the time as a kid (I didn't originally read the Oz or Narnia books in any real order), but I'm less apt to do it now. The Xanth books have never quite grabbed me in the way some other fantasy series have, perhaps because I never got the sense of realism from them that I did from some others, but they're fun for light reading (and I wouldn't be at all surprised if one of them includes a pun on the term "light reading" {g}). I do think Anthony is a bit too keen to work in gratuitous sexuality, what with all of the naked women and mentions of summoning the stork and Adult Conspiracies. Also, he seems intent on coming up with the weirdest couples possible. There probably isn't a need for Xanth fanfic with absurd pairings of characters, because the actual author has already given us a centaur mating with a hippogriff, and a half-human, quarter-ogre, quarter-nymph hooking up with a woman made of brass. And characters tend to pair up very quickly, even when love springs aren't involved. All this aside, though, I like the books I've read so far (some more than others; I can barely remember anything that happened in Centaur Aisle, for instance). Man from Mundania is actually one of the better ones. Grey and Ivy's romance, while admittedly pretty quick and easy, was more believable than some others in the series. I also liked the incorporation of the Time of No Magic and the Magician Murphy (from the second and third books, respectively), and the advancement in the search for the Good Magician Humfrey (which started two books previously, and I think continues for at least the next two). For what it's worth, I believe Anthony has admitted to being a fan of the Oz books, and I appreciate how he managed to incorporate some similar elements (the magic tapestry at Castle Roogna that is quite similar to Ozma's Magic Picture, punny names, just about anything you could want growing on trees, etc.) while not coming across as a rip-off.

I think Man from Mundania was the first book in the series to state that the Xanth books actually exist within the universe of the stories themselves, as tomes written and kept by the Muse of History in Xanth itself, and as fiction in Mundania. That's actually pretty similar to how it works in the Oz books, in which several characters have read about Oz before going there, and L. Frank Baum even came up with an elaborate story of getting news from Oz by means of a radio telegraph. I believe I've heard that Tarzan and Sherlock Holmes also eventually became aware of books being written about their adventures, but I could be wrong. But I think it's usually the rule that people in a work of fiction can't actually read or watch that same work of fiction. In a way, I kind of prefer it when they can, because if they're supposed to be taking place in our own world (which the Mundania and Great Outside World segments presumably are), those works that we assume to be fiction presumably WOULD exist. On the other hand, it can make things too easy if strangers to a place already know a lot about it simply by reading, and the whole concept can come off as rather self-gratifying for the author. ("See? My books are so popular that even the characters in them read them! And if you haven't read all of them yet, here are some titles, worked right into the story!") It's an interesting issue, really.

Monday Morning Miscellanea

Okay, to be fair, I actually wrote most of these on Sunday. But I'm POSTING them on Monday morning, so the title is still valid.

1. bethje and I have now watched both parts of Kill Bill, and I liked it. I have to say, however, that parts of it really felt like a video game. That was especially true of the scene where Uma Thurman (man, she's one skinny chick, isn't she?) fought the Yakuza, first taking out all the minor enemies who went down with one hit, then the mini-boss (the giggly schoolgirl with the mace), and finally defeating level boss Lucy Liu. (Serves her right for being in Ally McBeal!) The scenes in Japan, by the way, had a band made up of barefoot girls, who first played a song that was in Hairspray (the original movie, not the musical), and then that obnoxious number from the Vonage commercials. But while a lot of the movie reminded me of a game, the flashback to the assassin checking the pregnancy test during a battle was more like something out of Family Guy.

2. One of the headlines in yesterday's Philadelphia Inquirer is, "Offshore wind farm plan gets N.J. funds." What does it say about me that I'm imagining some farm where people plant wind seeds, and then harvest winds once they're ripe?

3. So O.J. was finally found guilty of something. About time, huh? But wait, maybe they should leave the Juice loose to try to find the REAL sports memorabilia robber! Of course, it must be a huge boon to Jay Leno that O.J. jokes are actually topical again.

4. Beth told me that one of the creators of The Naked Gun became a conservative after September 11th. Now, I don't expect everyone to agree with my political views (sometimes I don't even agree with my own political views), but he's not the only person to have done that, and I have to wonder what thought process goes into that sort of a decision. "Hmm, the attack happened during a Republican administration, and the Republicans have been exploiting the tragedy ever since. I know! I'll become a Republican!" Maybe they figure the party that got us into the mess has to also get us out. Not that I think the attack wouldn't have happened if we'd had a Democratic president, but the Republicans have done nothing since to convince me that they're the best ones to fight off future terrorist attacks, and plenty to convince me of the exact opposite.

5. It baffles me that, even today, there are people who argue for the gold standard. These people will say that paper money has no intrinsic value, and that's true, but couldn't you say the same about gold? Sure, it's rare, and you can make things out of it, but it's still really only valuable because people decided it was. And hey, I could make an argument that paper is MORE valuable than gold, because it can be used to convey ideas, which are of much more use than bracelets.

Our calculations have shown that the bird is equal to or greater than the word

I think all three of the cartoons I watched last night were good ones. The Simpsons episode had a pretty solid story, and was funny all the way through. I think we've seen Bart with a cell phone before, but I guess I'm willing to forgive that. I appreciate how Lisa mentioned her desire to visit Macchu Picchu early in the episode, so it didn't come out of nowhere later on. And Denis Leary was successful at making fun of himself. I've never particularly cared for Leary. A lot of the people I knew in college who liked George Carlin also liked Leary, and I guess there are some similarities in their comedic style, but I found Leary more crass and less intellectual, not to mention a little too obsessed with his cigarettes.

The Family Guy episode was one of the best in recent memory. They got a lot of mileage out of Peter being obsessed with "Surfin' Bird." His angrily telling people that the bird is the word was great. The only problem is that I now have that song stuck in my head. :P And since I'm a sucker for irreverent takes on religion (as I'm sure you know if you've read my journal with any regularity), I liked the main plot as well. They've done jokes about Jesus as an ordinary guy before, and expanding that out into a story was a clever idea.

American Dad focused almost entirely on Roger, as the Smiths were addicted to Simon most of the time. It was an interesting plot about one of Roger's alternate personalities taking on a life of his own, and I found the alternate persona quite amusing. I think all three of these new episodes show that these prime-time cartoons still have some life left in them after all.

Think Pink

Since some of you expressed interest in my reviewing albums I first heard some time ago, I'm going to start with They Might Be Giants' albums, in order. First we have the self-titled album, sometimes referred to as "the pink album," due to the trend of referring to self-titled albums with the most prominent color in the album art. I assume this started with the Beatles' white album, but don't quote me on that. The production values on this album aren't the greatest, but they don't really need to be. It definitely holds up.

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Next time, we take a look at Lincoln. I don't know when that will be, as I don't think I'll be putting these reviews out on a regular schedule, but it should be soon. It's not like it's very long or anything.

Finally, happy birthday to zimbra1006! Not sure why I forgot to mention that in any of my other posts today, since her birthdate is right in her user name. Oh, well.
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