Sunday, February 26, 2006

George Lucas Likes Dune

So here is Dune, by Frank Herbert. It's a verifiable classic of Science Fiction writing, it spawned a movie which is a classic of Science Fiction filmmaking, and I found a battered old copy of it at the by now famous Fredericksburg Library Booksale.

It has a picture of Monument Valley on the spine. Don't know why.

For those of you not familiar, Dune is about a desert planet, named Dune. You may be familiar with a place called "Tatooine." Well Dune is like Tatooine, only not shamelessly stolen from another story. Dune is the only source in the universe of melange, or "spice." Those of you familiar with the Star Wars extended universe will recognize that this idea was also shamelessly stolen for use in a fairly pedestrian plot starring Han Solo. Melange is highly addictive, but it extends lifespans by hundreds of years, tastes great, and is required for interstellar travel. So Dune is an important place, even though it sucks to live there.

The deserts of Dune are inhabited by gigantic sandworms (you may remember them from a movie named Tremors) and by a hardy race of religious fanatics called Fremen (think thinly vieled Muslims - don't worry, it's okay to say that, because they are the good guys - well, sort of).

The main character is a boy named Paul, who has the ability (sometimes) to see the future, is able to control people with the sound of his voice, and is able to defeat anyone in a knife fight, using the special (magical?) knives of the Fremen. Sound familar? Think of him as a slightly toned-down Jedi. Or maybe like a Jedi before the prequels came out, before they could fly and breathe underwater and stuff.

George Lucas liked this book.

We've got a mix of action - mostly knifefights - lots of religious mumbo-jumbo, and what most reviews describe as politics, but which really more resembles tedious 16th century court intrigues. The religious overtones are extremely prevalent - one might consider them a theme, if one were writing a schoolpaper. Unfortunately for ease of use, Herbert saw fit to invent his own religion, which is all well and good, except try reading Augustine's Confessions without having read the Bible or without ever having heard about Christianity.

Any points Herbert might have been trying to make flew right over my head on the tiny wings of a thousand made up words, like "Kwisatz Haderach." Yep. Something about "watch out for jihads."

Anyways, after wading through the terminology, for which there is, mercifully, a dictionary in the back (note, however, that the dictionary contains spoilers!), you're presented with a pretty entertaining universe. The back of the book describes it as "a world more awesome than any in literature," which might be a bit of an exaggeration, but it is close enough not to be completely laughable. The sandworms are fun, the desert is fun, the spice is fun, and when the pseudo-Jedi main character uses his superpowers, it's pretty entertaining, until you realize he is pretty much invincible.

Speaking of the back of the book, the publishers seem to have had an inferiority complex of some kind against Tolkien. No less than three times is the Dune series compared to Lord of the Rings - it's sold more copies, it was voted "Best Series" by the readers of some magazine I've never heard of (they note that LotR ranked lower), and Arthur C. Clarke apparently said Lord of the Rings is the only thing that can hope to compare with the raw majesty that is Dune.

And the similarities are there, I suppose. Both Tolkien and Herbert created crazy worlds with their own full-fledged mythologies and their own languages. They're both epics. But here is the main difference, and it can be either a good or a bad thing, depending on your point of view: LotR is about a normal guy thrust into a situation where he is responsible for saving the world - the world turns on the decisions of a puny little guy from the country who just wants to go home. Dune, on the other hand, is about a superhero who is thrust into a situation where he is responsible for revenge and for saving himself and his family - without destroying the world in the process.

Both are entertaining in their own way, but they are very different stories, despite what the pundits might say.

If you are at all interested in Science Fiction, in Hydraulic Despotism (I don't know why you would be), in coming-of-age adventure stories, or in giant sandworms, and you think you can wade through the sometimes labored prose, you should check this one out. After all, if George Lucas liked it (various spoilers, mostly in the chart), how bad could it be?

Wednesday, February 22, 2006

Escape Velocity

Maura and I took a trip to Sunny Charlottesville last weekend, in an attempt to rehabilitate me from the tender mercies of Sunny Tampa. After a solid month of late hours and flabbergasting timesheet totals, I had racked up enough overtime to kill a horse (by buying another horse and hiring a tae-kwon-do instructor to teach it how to roundhouse kick the other horse to death). Except I don't get overtime, due to some nefarious (and nebulous!) loophole in the labour laws. But I still had enough extra money to burn it on calculated frivolity.

And I certainly had enough mental health issues by that point to justify a vacation. So off we went.

Why Charlottesville? Many people ask this question, and many of them live in Charlottesville and are perhaps most confused by the decision. Most people on earth find it difficult to believe that anyone would want to visit *their* town, out of all of the places in the world that are ~(*their* town). In this case, frequent readers understand that I am a fan of Thomas Jefferson, who was in turn a fan of the town in question. "What is all the fuss about?" we wondered.

The city also lives in the mountains, requires a pleasantly lengthy trip through the wild countryside of Virginia, and amounts to "the big city," when compared to Fredericksburg, or "the big suburbs," to those with colloquial leanings familiar with the area.

We stayed here, despite their flash-based website. I wanted to go to the one that had their entire navigation menu ensconced in the BLINK tag, but we couldn't find the phone number what with all the seizures. Anyways, the South Street Inn is right there in the middle of a million restaurants and movie theatres, the hostess bakes astounding cookies, and they have a giant painting of an orangoutang on the wall. What's not to love?

Our itinerary included a trip to Monticello, which you can see evidence of on my Flickr page. It was freezing cold and the line was surprisingly long and surprisingly not full of middle schoolers, and the tour was everything I had hoped it would be. The library and the giant maps of Africa and South America (!!!) being the highlights for me.

And the LEMON TREE. They had a lemon tree growing in the greenhouse. I have always wanted to grow citrus fruit, but have been discouraged from doing so by my latitude. Was it real? Was it fake? Is it possible? The questions!

Dinner and a movie, charming and wonderful, even though the food wasn't great and the movie (Wallace and Gromit) was absolutely forgettable. Why must they put carrots on everything?

Monday was filled with lunch with Jesse and then a hike through Ragged Mountain, which is an awesome forest right outside Charlottesville. I discovered it last time I was there through the services of a friendly geocacher. They have since outlawed geocaching in the park. Now no one will ever be able to find it again (unless they already know where it is), past the winding and intimidating gravel path that provides the only access. Good job guys.

Apparently this place inspired this story, by Edgar Allen Poe, which I have not read and therefore cannot endorse, except perhaps as a more professional description of the area than I can hope to provide.

Pictures of this adventure may follow in due time.

All in all, a great trip. Something that should be done by everyone (EVERYONE) more often. The whole Bed and Breakfast experience, while slightly more expensive than the Sleep Inn, is infinitely more rewarding. Even when you are trapped in a conversation in the lounge with the proud parents of a UVA student who describe his "girlfriends" as "Bitch number 1 and Bitch number 2" in an entirely serious and unironic way. Even then.

Sunday, February 12, 2006

Status Update

Well everyone should sleep a little easier tonite (except for my Enemies!), because I am fully recovered from my terrible illness. I once again know the joys of solid faeces, which are simple but quite joyous nonetheless.

In other news, we seem to be missing two (2) Karaoke Revolution headsets. If anyone out there finds some hanging around with nothing to sing along to, please let me know - we miss them dearly and would love to see them again.

Also, it snowed like a mother down here! Today we took a little hike around the neighborhood. Took some pictures. They are on Flickr if you're interested.

Flickr Photo

Thought I should throw in that Maura is great. She is right now wondering if I am writing about her, which is a question that comes up fairly frequently. Today I was reading a book (another enjoyable activity, my ability to perform having been severly curtailed during the past month) and what do I see but Maura walking in the room with hot chocolate and two cookies, just for me.

Usually when she walks into the room with things like that, it is because she wants to consume them herself and generate envy in my heart. So it was a pleasant suprise!

Wednesday, February 01, 2006


So on Monday I threw up like 5 times. Absolute stomach-emptying, body-contorting, cathartic experiences. I came home from work early, because I could not quite walk straight. I got home just in time to have a giant diarrhea (that's right! I said it!), and had throwup number one as the water in the flushing toilet swirled and swirled around the bowl. Yes! It's true, and yes I did appreciate the absurdity of it at the time, giggling to myself as I wondered at what I would do if my entire body became one giant muscle cramp, as it was threatening to do. I swear that at one point my knees left the ground and I floated above the bowl, emptying risotto and granola into the waiting depths. Afterwards, I hopped back on to repeat step one.

Later that night it happened again and again, although these times were slightly less eventful, being as they were mostly composed of water and saltine crumbs. The dry heaves were a new experience for me, though.

The great thing about throwing up is that afterwards you get to feel perfectly normal and healthy. If you are lucky, that is the end of it, the raw shellfish are gone, back to their home, perhaps, if you live near the ocean, and you can go on with your life. If you are like me, however, you get a 15 minute reprieve and then it's back to the fever and the hydrophobia - it's somehow more disturbing when your barf is perfectly clear, like Crystal Pepsi. Drinking more water will only dilute what little coloration you might have remaining. Conserve!

So I've now taken my first sick day from work, which is a pretty good record I think. Mother Nature taunted me for using a vacation day, offering a bright, crisp day with a fine breeze while sending her bacterial minions inside to poke and prod my guts. I almost got to go to the hospital and I had trouble regulating my body temperature due to dehydration, but hey - at least I got to stay at work late today!

I am feeling a bit better, but I continue to walk like an old man. Sometimes I like to stop and just stare into the distance, like a crazy person might. Hopefully this will pass upon consuming some non-liquid food.