Sunday, July 10, 2011

The Supernatural Undergound Book Giveaway

I came across an exciting giveaway on a site called the Supernatural
Underground. There are two prizes, consisting of twelve books each. If you like fanstasy, urban fantasy, dark fantasy, or paranormal romance, this is the contest for you. Two of the books among the prizes offered are "Cheat the Grave" and "The Neon Graveyard", both by Vicki Pettersson, one of my favorite authors, who I had the immense pleasure of meeting recently. I will have more to say about her books shortly, in a future blog. To enter the contest, click on the link listed below, and post a comment about where and how you learn about the books that you buy. To maximize your chances of winning, tweet about it, mention it on facebook, and blog about it, making sure, in each case, to post a link to the website. Happy hunting!

http://supernaturalunderground.blogspot.com/2011/07/new-release-round-up-and-giveaway.html?spref=fb

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

MythOS: An Imaginative, Funny, Entertaining Mash of Fantasy, Mythology, and Computer Technology


Kelly McCullough is an imaginative genius. He has written a series of novels that deftly combine the concepts of magic and computer technology--and mixed them together with elements of mythology, no less. Webmage, Cybermancy, and Codespell are the three previous offerings in this series. I will focus on MythOS, the fourth book, which was the one that attracted my attention.

Get this: Ravirn--aka Raven--is a sorcerer, a computer hacker extraordinaire, and a relative of the gods--specifically, the umpteenth great-grandson of one of the Greek goddesses known as the Fates. He's also a wiseass whose mouth gets him into frequent trouble. Necessity, a goddess/sentient computer that controls and manages the fates of everything in the universe, has a virus. An attempt to fix this problem accidentally sends Ravirn to another universe, which functions on a different operating system. Whereas his home universe is run by the Greek gods, this new universe is presided over by the Norse gods; here, the Greek gods are considered to be only myths. And Norse magic functions on a completely different operating system, which Raven must hack if he's to have any hope of surviving--let alone returning home. In McCullough's universes, spells are codified and digitized, and utilized with the aid of familiars such as webgoblins and webtrolls, some of which can change into laptops and back again, as needed. There are action and humor aplenty, as Raven struggles to acclimate himself, and recall what he had learned about the Norse gods in school (where he came from, the Norse gods were the myths, and he hadn't paid too much attention in class), while trying not to fatally piss off any Asgardian that he happens to run into. McCullough showcases his knowledge of magic, myth, and computer-tech with a sense of humor and irony that make it clear that he is equally at home in all three worlds. For example, he portrays Loki, the Norse god of mischief, as essentially, a rival hacker from an alternate universe, who's not averse to purloining Raven's trade secrets, while Raven attempts to do the same. Ravirn then faces the daunting task of hacking into Asgard's computer, which is presided over by All-Father Odin--from whose notice nothing escapes. For added flavor and sexual tension, there's Raven's colleague/assistant/lover, Tisiphone, a fiery, generally ruthless Fury who, on any given day of the week, could kiss him, mount him, or kill him--depending upon her mood. All the while, he tries to stay in one piece by keeping his mouth shut. It's a little bit like trying to walk and chew gum at the same time--on a tightrope.

For the confirmed science fiction/fantasy fan, mythology buff, and tech aficionado, MythOS is a literary smorgasbord. For the novices in those areas, it's an inspiration to want to know more about them. No matter what your area of experience and expertise, it's a worthwhile journey off the beaten path. Happy Trails!

Monday, March 8, 2010

Didn't You Know? Oscar Doesn't Like Sci-Fi Blockbusters

Before everyone gets in a huff about the fact that a comparatively unseen, small film like "The Hurt Locker" could beat a seemingly unstoppable juggernaut like "Avatar", let me remind everyone of a salient fact that is usually lost on no one, but, somehow, this year, got lost in the shuffle: Oscar, generally and traditionally, does not like blockbusters. Especially sci-fi blockbusters. Remember "Star Wars"? "Spider-Man"? "Harry Potter"? I could go on and on, but the fact is this: If a film is a commercial success, it's likely to be an Oscar failure. "Titanic" and "Lord of the Rings" are notable exceptions. Oh, the Academy may recognize technical achievements like cinematography and special effects, but Best Picture? For a sci-fi, fantasy, action/adventure, or animated movie? There's a better chance of a black man being elected President. Oh, wait--that already happened. Well, you get my point. The bottom line, for all you science fiction/fantasy/action/animation fans--and believe me, I'm right there with you--is that you should consider yourselves lucky that "Avatar"--and "District 9"! (not to mention, "Up")--were even nominated. That's only ever happened twice before ("Star Wars" and "E.T.").

Thursday, December 3, 2009

Global Warming Becomes Climategate! So Now What?

If you haven't heard by now, there appears to be a massive scandal involved with the concept of global warming--namely, that the science behind it is bogus--part of a massive conspiracy to control the world's industry. And, apparently, it's been going on for almost 200 years (185, to be precise). No, I'm not making this up--just Google "global warming emails" if you don't believe me. In fact, if George Monbiot's blog at Guardian.co.uk ("Global Warming Rigged? Here's the Email I'd Need to See", http://www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/cif-green/2009/nov/23/global-warming-leaked-email-climate-scientists) is any indication, the best screenwriters in Hollywood couldn't make this stuff up. Don't take my word for it; do the research for yourself. There are plenty of leads to follow.

The problem, of course, is that, if true, this scandal damages the credibility of not just global warming science (and anyone associated with it), but potentially, science--and scientists--in general, and any legitimate issues pertaining to the environment--and there are many. Not to mention how it potentially sets back the green movement by a hundred years--with all those potential new green industry jobs at stake. With the economy in its current shape, this is not the kind of news that we need right now. So what do we do? What happens when scientists, who we depend on to explain and define our world, in a practical, functional sense, cannot be trusted?

It's very important not to lose perspective. Let's remember that scientists, like people in general, are not perfect. There are those who operate by a code of ethics, and those who allow themselves, through excessive self-interest, to fall under the sway of corruption. Society is rife with corruption; there's a new scandal uncovered almost everyday. The only defenses against it are information, education, communication, vigilance, and community spirit. As with our politicians, teachers, doctors, and civil servants of every type, we must hold our scientists to the highest standards. These are the same standards that we expect the businesses that we patronize to uphold. What we expect, we should embody. Teach by example. Treat everyone that we come across in life the way that we would want to be treated--with respect and compassion. That's the true business model. That's the foundation of a rock-solid economy. Anything less is doomed to fail. Remember that old adage about either learning from the mistakes of history or repeating them?

So let's appreciate all the good that our scientists have done for us, and have yet to do. (Cars. Airplanes. Vaccines. Cell phones. The Internet. And so on.) But let's never forget to remain involved and informed. Scientists, like all our public servants, require constant and consistent scrutiny. Their activities need transparency. They also require our support and encouragement. As long as they're doing what they're supposed to be doing, they should have nothing to hide. The same goes for the rest of us.

Sunday, November 22, 2009

The Conseqences of Hair Drama, or Black Hair 101

I was watching a clip from The View the other day, in which Whoopi Goldberg was explaining why black women prefer to straighten their hair, rather than let it grow naturally. Barbara Walters had asked why, in this era when we've finally acknowledged that "Black is Beautiful", black women still use relaxers, trying to make their hair look like white people's hair. Whoopi's answer was that it wasn't about making the hair look like white people's hair; it was about making the hair more manageable. Never mind that one of the first acts in her career as a stand-up comedian depicted a six-year-old girl with a white towel over her head, pretending that it was blond hair; she certainly seemed to know what that was all about. (Go to Hulu.com to see the clip I'm referring to. [http://www.hulu.com/watch/100873/the-view-hot-topics--good-hair]) I realized that I've been taking for granted that black people actually know how to manage their hair. Clearly, many of us don't. What seems commonsense to me may not actually be common knowledge (except, maybe, to guys). And, I suppose, why would it be? Most black hair care is based on altering the hair to look like someone else's. So, apart from the 1970s, the Age of the Afro, how much time has been spent by black people to learn how to care for their hair in its natural state? Apparently, not much. Here, then, is a little tutorial that I think I'll call Black Hair 101.

First, the comb. How many of us have tried to run a regular comb through our hair, and gotten it caught in painful tangles? Almost all of us, right? It's that "manageability" thing. Well, guess what, folks? We're not supposed to comb our hair that way. The very tight curls (a.k.a. "kinks" or "naps"; say it with me now: these are not bad words!) do not lend themselves easily to comb-throughs. But there's a simple solution: it's called a pick. You simply slide the pick into the hair, and lift it straight out. Don't try to tug it through; that's where the painful tangles come in. Just pick your hair out, and it'll be ready to go in 30-60 seconds. Do you feel as though your hair is dry or brittle? Add conditioning products (NOT straighteners or relaxers!) as needed.

But, some of you might say, you don't want to wear Afros. They're dated, out of style; they're so 1970s. Since when is the hair (or skin, or nose, or face, or body) that you came into this world with out of style?! Name me one other ethnic group on the planet that is so disenchanted with (in other words, ashamed of) its appearance that it feels it must categorically alter its fundamental appearance just to be publically presentable. You can't; there isn't one. What needs to change is not our hair, or appearance, but rather, the way that we think about these things--the way that we see ourselves--to something that's psychologically and spiritually healthy for ourselves, and especially, for our children.

But, some of you may say, there's not much you can do with an Afro. Wrong! Study the peoples of Africa who have not been confused by outside influences. There are many different styles of braiding that can be done, and they're very beautiful and creative. This applies to twists and dreadlocks, as well.

But, some may say, black hair is ugly. Un-sexy. Nobody wants it. Who told you that?! Where'd you get that idea? Well, this sentiment was certainly borne out in "Good Hair", when Chris Rock took some black hair around to hair sellers and tried to sell it. One of the sellers, an Asian man, looked at it with open disdain and disgust. Wasn't that hurtful? I don't know about you, but I wouldn't patronize any business that had such a low opinion of me or my natural characteristics.
Especially if it were owned and operated by an outsider (which most black hair-care companies are, by the way).

But, some might argue, we like having the long, silky hair hanging down our backs. What's wrong with wanting to have it? Well, I like soda, but I make the healthier choice of juice. I like the cool looks of Hummers and Dodge Chargers, but when it comes to fuel economy, I'll choose a Toyota Prius or Honda Insight every time. I admire race-car drivers and I'm impressed by skydivers--that doesn't mean that I want to be those things. There are things we can admire from afar. That doesn't mean we must emulate them.

But, some of you are saying, we must do this to compete with white women, and women of other races, whom black men seem to be choosing, more and more, over us. They want to run their hands through that long, silky hair that we don't have. Um--no. In my opinion, black men just want hair that they can run their hands through--period. They know better than to touch a black woman's hair--especially when she's just had her hair done. They know they can't go swimming with you, work out with you, be naturally affectionate with you, or even make love with you in some cases, unless you've made special arrangements regarding your hair. They know that your kind of hair maintenance, which they will, at some point, be expected to support, is very expensive. That makes you extremely high-maintenance. They know that they'll have to stand by and watch, as these insecurities are passed on to their daughters (and sons!--who will continue to not see themselves reflected in their female counterparts--with all sorts of detriments to our people as a whole. I don't think black men call conscious, aware, visibly proud black women "bitches" or "hoes"). They know that you are ashamed of the way you look...which means that, on some level, you're ashamed of the way they look. (How do you think that makes them feel about themselves? Do you think any of them "act out"? Have you watched the news lately?) Whether they know these things consciously or not, they know them. I'm certain that this has bearing on who they choose as partners. If I want someone in my life who is proud of who she is, who walks and acts and lives with confidence, and who will pass that along to our children, I'll go wherever I must to find her...even if that's far away from my point of origin.

Finally, there are some of you who would say that your hair is too long and tangled to manage as an Afro, even with a pick. To those I say, long hair isn't everything. Have you ever considered the beauty and possibility of wearing your hair short and natural? It's neat, low-maintenance, looks good, and you're out the door in five seconds.

Yes, I know I've exceeded the parameters of "Black Hair 101". But that's because this situation has far-reaching consequences--much farther than most people seem to realize. We must demonstrate pride and confidence as a people, if anyone is to take us seriously. They won't do that as long as we are willing to burn our scalps trying to look like someone else. We must stop measuring ourselves by other people's standards. Only when we're ready and willing to choose our own parameters by which to define ourselves will others accord us the respect we deserve...First Family notwithstanding. I welcome your comments. Let's get this conversation started! It's long overdue.