Episode 022: History and Herstory (Special Edition)

June 24, 2009

The premise of this episode was my deep aversion to history. But really, I’m as much a fan of historic tales as the next person. My aversion is actually to pioneer history. Mandi loves her pioneer history, or more specifically, the fur trade. I’ve never been able to muster much interest in that period. And that’s the reason I’m not big on Canadian history as a whole. It’s all  pioneer history. For some reason Australia’s history interests me much more than Canada’s. Perhaps I like history that’s more removed from my own life; tales of exotic, far-off lands. Perhaps it’s simply because Australia produced Nick Cave and Canada produced Chad Kroeger. I suspect this is the subtle cultural difference that causes so many Canadian youths to travel in Australia when they leave school.

What is it I don’t like about pioneer history? I suppose it’s the because everyone seemed to have been in a life and death struggle over stakes that were pitifully small. I don’t get the impression anyone got rich in the fur trade or the gold rush, they just got sick and dead. Maybe I’m just not an adventurer. I don’t wish to go where no one has gone before, I wish to go where people with bulldozers and bridge-making equipment have gone before. In fact I’d rather not go until the plumbers, electricians and people with memory-foam beds have been there. And finally, the people with the vaccines. I’m not going until I know I’m not going to get tetanus.

No, give me Roman or Egyptian history over pioneer history any day. The Romans had plumbing—Sewers at least. Though I do enjoy the streets flowing with shit in Deadwood, I prefer Pharaohs to cowboys.


Project Potter: Order of the Phoenix, part 2

June 22, 2009

The waiting is over. I’ve finished reading Harry Potter and the Longest Wrap-up Ever. Although I can sort of appreciate what I think Rowling was trying to do with drawing everything out in this book—create a sense of tension leading up to the outbreak of the second war—I mostly just felt tediously annoyed by the annoying tedium. Even the final, perhaps a little too chaotic, climax drags its feet getting started. And after that grinds itself to a halt, there follows a denouement not even Tolkien’s attention span could grasp. OOTP so far holds the strange distinction of being the best written and worst edited book of the series. J.K.’s done a pretty good job here, but her publishers were asleep at the wheel. A position I found myself in as a reader for most of the book.


Project Potter: Order of the Phoenix

June 18, 2009

So, I’m halfway through Harry Potter and the Order of Whiny Emo Bitches. It starts with the titular Harry being the biggest whingey tit he’s been thus far in the series. Which is somewhat acceptable since he’s a teen and sometimes teens get irrationally moody about minor injustices. Fair enough. But then Sirius gets seriously mopey too. Not to mention the regular wheezings of the Weasley clan. What an annoying group of people. It’s a bad sign when Hermione is most pleasant character to read.

I suspect the whole Umbridge story resonates with teens in school more than it does me as well. Once you leave school, people like that aren’t in your life anymore. It’s hard not to feel like they’re playing it all wrong with her. They should keep their heads down and wait it out. But then it’d really be a whole book about people sitting around waiting for something to happen. I mean, more than it is already.


Project Potter: Goblet of Fire

June 12, 2009

Quiddich is probably my least favourite aspect of Harry Potter. Goblet of Fire starts off with a lot of quiddich. If I wasn’t already aware the titular goblet isn’t a quiddich prize, I’d have been worried the book was going to be all quiddich all the time. But in fact, after the quiddich heavy opening, the book is almost quiddich free. Which might be why I started actually enjoying the book about a third of the way in.

That’s right, at least the last half of Goblet of Fire is actually fairly decent. For the first time the characters are actually fleshed out into three dimensional (though still stereotypical) people and more time is spent on believable interpersonal relationships. These interpersonal relationships take the form of Degrassi-like jealousies and emo-douchiness, but at least they ring true. Finally people are behaving in this magical world like people instead of archetypes cut from  farytales. Which is why, in spite of the series seeming to get better, the first three books are still lifeless and shallow. I can see how readers can project the three dimensional characters from the latter books onto the early books in hindsight, but that doesn’t make them good books. They should have been able to stand alone. I still feel the strategy to begin the books for a young audience and age them progressively with the characters was a conceptual flaw. The last third of Goblet of Fire just affirms that more. The darker, deeper, and better, the writing gets, the worse the earlier books seem to be.

Another problem attached to this is the way the wizarding world fits in with our muggle world.  In Philosopher’s Stone the wizarding world being hidden from us more or less works because the book, written in a simpler more just-go-with-it-it’s-a-damn-kids’-book way, allows for more willful suspension of disbelief. The sheer goofiness of the first few books is their get out of Azkaban free card. But once Rowling took the plunge and started to bring the stories homea bit more, the holes in the premise that there’s hundreds of thousands of wizards living secretly all over the world become a little more gaping. Why are they hidden? How do they manage to stay hidden? Surely there’d be enough rogue criminal wizards running around using magic to rob muggle banks and live the good muggle life there wouldn’t be enough memory charms to keep it secret. Are there wizard “Men in Black” running around continually flashing us? And I don’t believe they could catch all the bad wizards and stick them in Azkaban either. If the wizards live among us, why don’t they understand our technology at all? For that matter, do they or don’t they live and work among us? It seems to flip back and forth to suit the situation. Again, why are they hidden? Why aren’t they helping out with climate change and pollution? It’s their planet too. Are wizards just bastards? And what are the rules about muggles not being able to see magical creature like dragons and gnomes but other stuff needing to have charms placed on it to “hide” it? How does that all work?

This is my main qualm about the series at this point. While the action is taking place at Hogwarts, I can ignore it. But once we’re back at Privet Drive, all these WTF questions keep popping up in my mind. I’m wondering how (or if) this is all going to get explained by the end of the books.


Episode 021: Zombies (Special Edition)

June 11, 2009

We originally titled episode 21 Yawn of the Dead even though we don’t find zombies boring at all. Especially those 28 Days Later zombies which move really fast. Some people get downright rabid if you call those things zombies. Even though they are zombies. From the standpoint of being a dramatic mechanism that is.

What really makes zombies intriguing and creepy? Is it that they’re reanimated corpses? That they like to chew on people? That you need to destroy their brain to kill them?

Or is it that they’re people who are out of control of their body, unable to reason, their individuality destroyed… and it could happen to you.

That is the key to zombies being terrifying and has kept audiences coming back for more decade after decade. Questions of reanimated corpse vs. viral infection vs. ancient magic seem to me to be mere quibbles. Take away the element of a zombie being someone who is a shell of their former self and audiences wouldn’t find them nearly as haunting.

There is a faction of zombie fans, armed with the Zombie Survival Guide, who will chew your arm off if you claim anything other than the George A. Romero Night of the Living Dead style undead are zombies. There’s a whole checklist they will go through and point by point they will tell you exactly why a person infected with Rage Virus isn’t a zombie. But the Living Dead arent aren’t zombies either—they’re the goddamn living dead. A zombie is only truly found within Vodoun religious practices. And more likely in sensationalized fictional dramatizations of  said practices. You can rightfully claim that people infected with rage virus aren’t the “living dead”, but there’s no reason to not call them “zombies.”

It’s mere semantics of course. To me any time you have people losing their minds, attacking other people and spreading some kind of infection to their victim, it’s a “zombie” movie. I would even consider Invasion of the Body Snatchers a breed of zombie movie. Chew on that.

Tasks: a) Act like the living dead in public (not as part of a zombie walk). b) Act like someone infected with rage virus in public (not as part of a zombie walk). c) Don’t get arrested or tazed.

Links: First zombie movie; Zombie drink recipes.


Nerd Hurdles @ Toronto Small Press Spring Book Fair

June 10, 2009

Mandi and Jakob will be appearing live and in person at the Toronto Small Press Spring Book Fair. And by “appearing” they mean sitting at the Ampersand Publishing table hopefully selling some copies of That Makes Sense and The Light May Glitter. As well handing out some Nerd Hurdles swag in an attempt to entice a few more nerds into the fold.

If you’re in and around the Toronto Reference Library near Yonge/Bloor this Saturday, stop by and say hullo!


Nerd Hurdles world view June ’09

June 9, 2009

We haven’t posted one of these in a while. Looks like we have some new friends in Turkey, our Spain listeners are giving us another shot but Sweden and Portugal seem to be on a break. I wonder if the Czech listener has heard the robots episode yet. Also, nice to see Greece sticking around for the long haul. The dot that used to be in the middle of the Australian outback seems to have migrated to one of the coasts. Or perhaps they alternate between there and the Canadian tundra. Those two dots never make sense.


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