Project Potter: Chamber of Azkaban

May 29, 2009

I finished Chamber of Secrets a while ago. For that matter, I also finished Prisoner of Azkaban. I’ve been terribly neglect in keeping blog posts up to date on my progress.  I guess I haven’t wanted to spoil any comments I might make on the podcast segments. I guess I have to get over that hurdle and blog as I read. Anyway, here’s my thoughts on books two and three of the Harold Potter epic.

Chamber of Secrets:

Plagiarism 1: The flying car was bad enough before it freaking turned into Herbie the Love Bug.

Plagiarism 2: Aragog the giant spider is not only a cut-and paste of Shelob from Tolkien, she isn’t even used to full effect. Half the book is spent building Shelob, I mean Aragorn, er, I mean Aragog up as the monster only to entirely discard it 6/8s of the way through. The final battle at the end would have been way more epic if it’d be between a giant freaking snake and a giant freaking spider instead of a giant snake versus a weepy bird and a blubbering emo git.

Ridiculous contrivance 1: Tom Riddle‘s name being the lamest riddle ever didn’t add much to the scene. If you’re going to play the anagram name game, you need to do a few things. First, you have to give the protagonist and reader all the clues early enough on in the book that there is even a point to having the riddle in there. Springing it at the 11th hour just seems pointless. Secondly, the name needs to be believable enough to not be obviously contrived to make the anagram work. Movolo is not only worst made-up middle name in fiction, it’s doubly bad that it’s only there because it’s the best Rowling could come up with to spell out something to do with Voldemort. A much better anagram of Voldemort is Dr. Tom Love.  No one would suspect Dr. Love of being the dark lord.

Plagiarism 3: At some point they start talking about wizards “going over to the dark side.”  Steal the concept, sure.  But come up with your own terminology at least. Shameful.

Ridiculous contrivance 2: Why the hell does Harry have to go back to live with the Dursley’s every summer. Surely Hagrid, the Weasleys, the Grangers or even Dumbledore would take him in for the summer if they knew the extent of the psychological abuse he was enduring. Or does Dumbledore think it’s character building? Does it keep Harry’s ego in check? Is this ever explained? Mandi suggested there’s a protection charm on their house, but I think she got that from a fanfic. At the very least, it couldn’t be safer than Hogwarts.

But also, after battling Voldemort, giant snakes, werewolves, giant spiders and Dementors, you’d think Harry couldn’t take Uncle Vernon as a serious threat anymore. Even if Harry isn’t allowed to use magic against Vernon, you’d think he’d view the man as a total joke after what he’s been through. “Sure, bellow at me in  ALL CAPS. What-ever, you fat pathetic fuck of a loser. I just killed a fucking giant snake with a fucking bejeweled sword and killed it’s master with it’s fucking poisoned tooth.” Harry is an actual teenager, right? He needs to take a page from James Tiberius Kirk‘s book.

Plagiarism 4: Dementors = Nazguls. Cut and paste.

Ridiculous contrivance 3: I guess we’re into Prisoner of Azkaban territory now. Remus Lupin is raising Rowling’s cornball naming conventions to a new low. Mrs. Sprout the herbalist was bad enough but a werewolf named Lupin is shameful. Naming him Remus is even worse. Especially since he doesn’t come from a werewolf clan, he was bitten as a child. How his brother Romulus, or anyone in that world unfortunate enough to be named Wolfgang, escaped being bitten is beyond me. Apparently if you’re a wizard, names are entirely prophetic. Or, at least, maddeningly contrived. If your last name is Welles, don’t name your kid Trip.

Ridiculous contrivance 4: Though it’s nice they used time travel to rescue Buckbeak, there was no need to use Buckbeak to rescue Sirius Black. They didn’t need a flying creature to get up to his window when they all have freaking broomsticks. I guess just like all the times they forget they have an invisibility cloak to better drive the plot, they forgot about the broomsticks. Fair enough, it was more fun to read about than a simple, intelligent plan.

Ridiculous contrivance 5: I’d like a little more information about the wizard judicial system because it seems to be a kangaroo court that operates on circumstantial evidence.

Now, there were things I enjoyed about these two books. I would hate for you, dear reader, to think its been one long torturous slog I haven’t been enjoying. Not so. The books are fun and entertaining. And though I take issue with some of Rowling’s more contrived plot machinations, she does write with a well-paced flow and is a master of foreshadowing. She can write a satisfying page-turner, I will give her that. She’s not bad a light humour either. I can’t actually remember anything I did like especially. I guess just everything except what I’ve listed above.

In some ways, I’m not sure why Harry Potter brings out the critic in me. After all, I can swallow Star Trek lock, stock and two smoking phaser-banks. I think Potter is a classic nerd hurdle for me. Classic in that it’s the fervent passion of the fans that get my critical back up and make me say, “Whoa-whoa-whoa-whoa-whoa-whoa! It’s not that good. And here’s why…”

Next up: Goblet of Quiddich. It’s not all about freaking quiddich is it?


Episode 019: Time Travel (Special Edition)

May 28, 2009

I’ve never cared much for time travel stories. There’s a simple reason for this. Due to recording far too early in the morning and without enough coffee, I didn’t explain it (or anything else) on the podcast very well so here it is again. Hopefully I can do better in writing. Again without enough coffee.

The premise that drives most time travel stories is the fear of, or complications arisen from, altering the past and thus altering your present or future. You know, the old gimmick about going back in time and doing something where your grandma was never born and you wink (or in worse stories slowly fade) out of existence.  It’s a cute premise and writers have delighted in twisting it into progressively more convoluted webs of cause and effect. I will admit, they can fun stories. except there’s a logical flaw I can’t get over.

These stories are based on the notion there has been a version of history that goes up to the point in time where the time traveller goes back in time. There is a 1955 without the presence Marty McFly since he obviously hadn’t been born yet. Then he’s born, meets Doc Brown and in 1985 he goes back to 1955 and the highest of jinks ensue. Awesome. It’s a fun time.

The logical problem is this: there would not be a 1955 where he didn’t go back in time. When 1955 rolls around, so would Marty McFly in the DeLorean. The plot operates on the assumption Marty couldn’t be in 1995 until he travels back in time from 1985. Except as soon as he travels back from1985 he’s already done so, thirty years earlier, in 1955. There simply could not be two separate 1955s, one with, and one without, Marty McFly playing Chuck Berry songs. Just the one, the one with Marty fighting off his mom with a stick in his Calvin Kleins and discovering his dad’s a peeping tom named Crispin Glover.

With Back to the Future, I can accept this flawed logic. It’s a comedy and the story is a lot more fun with Marty scrambling to make sure his parents hook-up and changing the 1985 he returns to for the better. Which, by the movie’s own logic, doesn’t make sense because if he’d changed that 1985, circumstances would have been changed so that the chain of events that lead to him going back in time wouldn’t have happened and he wouldn’t have gone back in time to change it. But fuck it. It’s Michael J. Fox and the movie’s awesome. But many time travel stories  use this logic and I can’t take them as seriously as they require me to.

Time travel stories that work better, take into consideration that time that has occurred, has occurred. An example might be The Terminator. When the time traveller goes back in time and their actions bring about the circumstances that lead to them travelling back in time, it’s a nice neat closed circuit loop.

My problem at this point is either there’s no dramatic tension because you know it’s going to work out to a pre-ordained future/present, or they’re going to change the past which, as I’ve said, I can’t swallow unless it’s Michael J. Fox.

As far as whether or not I believe time travel is possible, there’s proof it’s not. Time travellers are not showing up anywhere. Some people say, Well, maybe they just haven’t invented it yet. This falls prey to the same flaw in logic I’ve outlined. If someone was going to travel back to 1955, they would have shown up in 1955 and we’d know. The counter argument is, What if they successfully disguised themselves? My response is, Are we talking about the same fallible species of fuck-ups and selfish opportunists? There’s no way humans will ever time travel covertly. We will always be way too incompetent for that. Unless we evolve into small grey munchkins with big black eyes, become anally facinated and our time-machines are saucer-shaped, I don’t think we’ve visited ourselves from the future.

I’m not sure I’ve explained my stance on time travel any better than I did in the episode. Which you can listen to here.

Thanks to Elton McManus of the Apotheosis of a Bombast podcast for the topic suggestion (time travel, not porn).

Links: Poland was totally under communist rule; Robotic Forest Gump suits; Time Cat; Peter Pond was not a crazy axe-murdering cannibal; Deadwood; Minority Report commercials; Life expectancy calculator.

This week’s task: Go back in time and change something.


Geek Pride Day?

May 25, 2009

You would think Nerd Hurdles would have had a special planned for Geek Pride Day. What with all our Nerd Pride blah blah and jibba-jabba. Well, we dropped the ball. I forgot to even write a proper blog post about it. Or maybe we’re nerdist against geeks. What with “geeks” being drooling, two-headed sideshow fodder and nerds being proud noble, intellectuals and visionaries.

Perhaps we’re just too busy preparing our next episode which is on porn. We even have some special guests. Due out later this week.


Episode 018: Podcastration (Special Edition)

May 18, 2009

Podcasts. Lots of people don’t listen to them. Obviously, you’re not one of them. Why don’t people listen to podcasts? Too nerdy? Too much hassle? Too poddy?

A NOTE ON THE SPECIAL EDITIONS: Before we joined the Simply Syndicated network, the first 31 episodes of Nerd Hurdles were hosted on Podbean. Technically, they still are. But since letting our pro-account lapse there’s been a bandwidth problem were the files are only available for the first half of the month before they hit the Podbean ceiling. While SimSyn’s hosting was on Libsyn, we started releasing these episodes as “Special Editions” with newly recorded introductions. When SimSyn moved our hosting to Soundcloud, those files were again lost (and we’d only managed to upload the first 10 anyway). So, here they are once more; uploaded to a 3rd audio service and hopefully the last.


Episode 017: Star Trek reboot premier (Special Edition)

May 14, 2009

We didn’t plan to make the Star Trek XI episode a “special” but it ended up being very special thanks to Michael and Roxanne who we met at a pre-opening night screening in Toronto. We brought our tricorder to record people in line’s thoughts going in, but found most nerds don’t want to have their nerdiness captured for worldwide broadcast on the intertubes. Also, there was no “line” per se as no one seemed to know the film was even opening. We had a nicely half-empty theatre to stretch out in. Afterwards, we got into Mike and Roxy’s Lumina  van to debrief on the experience, the results of which you can hear in #17  Nerd Trek The Motion Picture. They turned out to be fun people  involved with the Ad-Astra sci-fi and fantasy literature convention and not geek-nappers trolling sci-fi movies for victims.

Okay, so this is a Transport, not a Lumina, but you get the picture.

A small errata: Peter from Mediasaurs pointed out it’s a Corvette, not a Mustang in the film as I have mistakenly stated on the podcast and all over the internet. I honestly couldn’t force myself pay enough attention to that horrible scene to take note of the car. Also, I’m not the biggest car buff. It was red, right? It does make sense since Chevrolet makes the Corvette and the Lumina van. Clearly a Star Trek tie-in.

We forgot to come up with a Task for this week’s show. Go see the movie! That’s your task.


Project Potter: The one with the flying car.

May 12, 2009

So, I’ve taken on Project Potter. This summer I going to read the Wizard People books from the one with the flying car to the one people went batshit over when it was released. I’m not reading the first one because I’ve read it already and have seen the movie three times, including the much improved Brad Neely version. I feel like I’ve lived that one sufficiently. With Project Potter I’m going to take you on this reluctant reader’s journey into a magical world of uncited plagiarism of a thinly veiled Discworld fanfic.

So far I’m several pages into the one with the flying car. It’s alright. Too many sentences are set in ALL CAPS. The ALL CAPS are not set in BOLD so I suppose that’s a touch of restraint I can give J.K. some props for. The worse-than-Lucas naming conventions have not angered me too much. Except for Miss Sprout the gardening instructor. Dear Reader, what you are not able to witness is me shaking my head in resigned disbelief.

I invite you all to join on this quest. We can get through this.

~ Jakob


So not into robots

May 7, 2009
A Terminator waits for the subway at Yonge/Bloor station in Toronto

A Terminator waits for the subway at Yonge/Bloor station in Toronto

It seems Mandi isn’t into robots. Serious robots that is. She likes the cute, goofy ones. Originally, I assumed I was more into robots than it appears I actually am. Turns out for me it’s like your salad bar—I take what I want (R2-D2, Data) and leave the rest (Transformers, Johnny-5). Yes, apparently I’m indifferent to robots. Which is the kind of attitude which will lead to robots taking over the world and using us as cattle. I know this, but try as I might I simply can’t muster an attitude regarding droids. (The Japandroids, on the otherhand, I simply can’t get enough of on my iPod.)

Yes, regarding robots, I seem to have a decidedly “meh” attitude. I didn’t even really care there was a Terminatorin the subway station. Actually, people generally seemed more confused and slightly annoyed by it’s appearance than awestruck or… interested. Sure, people were taking photos. But it was with an air of completing a chore they were forced to take on rather than a documenting a surprise encounter with a Hollywood icon. One girl said as we got on the train, “That’s so stooopid. It’s not even a good movie.” I noticed she didn’t say it within earshot of the Terminator. And, frankly, she looked like she’d rather have seen animatronic Jonas Brothers. Which is a use of robotics I simply cannot get behind. That’s the first baby-step in us being used as cattle by raygun-slingling cowboy robots (if any movie execs want me to start writing that script, let me know).

Speaking of baby-steps, Imagine if this abomination had Jessica Simpson’s head attached to it. Pure, extreme, panic in the streets terror. That’s what you should be imagining.

~ Jakob

Listen to our views on robots and androids in episode #16, Robots and Ro-nots here.


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