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In Celebration of Labor Day

In honor of the day wherein we appreciate those who worked so hard to establish the 40 hour work week, Michael and I hereby declare that we will take holidays off from publishing on The Dinglehopper to get back a little bit of leisure time. We will return on Tuesday.

 


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The Top Five Surprises from Kindle Unlimited

Kindle Unlimited is Amazon’s latest grab for a few more of your minutes and a few more of your dollars.  It’s an ebook/audiobook subscription service targeted at heavy general readers.  It’s not for everyone.  But it you read a lot, and you’re constantly swapping genres and looking for new material, it might be for you.

Kindle Unlimited is a new service that allows you to read as much as you want, choosing from over 600,000 titles and thousands of audiobooks. Freely explore new authors, books, and genres from mysteries and romance to sci-fi and more. You can read on any device. It’s available for $9.99 a month and you can cancel anytime.

While they have some incredibly popular authors, books, and series available, I wanted to know what made Kindle Unlimited special.  What did they have that wasn’t already available in the Kindle Lending Library or even my local public library system.  Here are the top five surprises (in alphabetical order).  Every one is worth your time.

The Bel Dame Apocrypha by Kameron Hurley

Kameron Hurley is an award-winning author, advertising copywriter, and online scribe.  She has degrees in historical studies from the University of Alaska and the University of Kwa-Zulu Natal, specializing in the history of South African resistance movements. Her essay on the history of women in conflict “We Have Always Fought” was the first blog post to win a Hugo Award.

Nyx is a former government assassin turned bounty hunter paid to collect the heads of terrorists and deserters. Cast out from her honorable assassins’ guild and imprisoned for breaking one rule too many, Nyx and her crew of mercenaries are driven by money, not loyalty. But when a dubious deal with an alien emissary goes awry, her name is at the top of the government’s list to head a covert recovery.

While the centuries-long war rages on only one thing is certain: the world’s best chance for peace rests in the hands of its most ruthless killers. . .

Dhalgren by Samuel R. Delany

Samuel R. Delany is an American author, professor and literary critic. His work includes fiction, memoir, criticism, and essays on sexuality and society.

A young half–Native American known as the Kid has hitchhiked from Mexico to the midwestern city Bellona—only something is wrong there . . . In Bellona, the shattered city, a nameless cataclysm has left reality unhinged. Into this desperate metropolis steps the Kid, his fist wrapped in razor-sharp knives, to write, to love, to wound.

So begins Dhalgren, Samuel R. Delany’s masterwork, which in 1975 opened a new door for what science fiction could mean. A labyrinth of a novel, it raises questions about race, sexuality, identity, and art, but gives no easy answers, in a city that reshapes itself with each step you take . . .

Dirty Wars: The World is a Battlefield by Jeremy Scahill

Jeremy Scahill is a founding editor of the online news publication The Intercept and author of Blackwater: The Rise of the World’s Most Powerful Mercenary Army.  Scahill is a Fellow at The Nation Institute.  He got his start as a journalist on the independently syndicated daily news show Democracy Now!.

In Dirty Wars, Jeremy Scahill takes us inside America’s new covert wars. The foot soldiers in these battles operate globally and inside the United States with orders from the White House to do whatever is necessary to hunt down, capture or kill individuals designated by the president as enemies.

Dirty Wars follows the consequences of the declaration that “the world is a battlefield,” as Scahill uncovers the most important foreign policy story of our time. From Afghanistan to Yemen, Somalia and beyond, Scahill reports from the frontlines in this high-stakes investigation and explores the depths of America’s global killing machine. He goes beneath the surface of these covert wars, conducted in the shadows, outside the range of the press, without effective congressional oversight or public debate. And, based on unprecedented access, Scahill tells the chilling story of an American citizen marked for assassination by his own government.

Mumbo Jumbo by Ishmael Reed

Ishmael Reed is an American poet, novelist, essayist, songwriter, playwright, editor and publisher. Reed is known for his satirical works challenging American political culture, and highlighting political and cultural oppression.

Ishmael Reed’s inspired fable of the ragtime era, in which a social movement threatens to suppress the spread of black culture—hailed by Harold Bloom as one of the five hundred greatest books of the Western canon

In 1920s America, a plague is spreading fast. From New Orleans to Chicago to New York, the “Jes Grew” epidemic makes people desperate to dance, overturning social norms in the process. Anyone is vulnerable and when they catch it, they’ll bump and grind into a frenzy. Working to combat the Jes Grew infection are the puritanical Atonists, a group bent on cultivating a “Talking Android,” an African American who will infiltrate the unruly black communities and help crush the outbreak. But PaPa LaBas, a houngan voodoo priest, is determined to keep his ancient culture—including a key spiritual text—alive.

Spanning a dizzying host of genres, from cinema to academia to mythology, Mumbo Jumbo is a lively ride through a key decade of American history. In addition to ragtime, blues, and jazz, Reed’s allegory draws on the Harlem Renaissance, the Back to Africa movement, and America’s occupation of Haiti. His style throughout is as avant-garde and vibrant as the music at its center.

Nevada by Imogen Binnie

Imogen Binnie is the author of the zines The Fact That It’s Funny Doesn’t Make It A Joke and Stereotype Threat. She is currently a monthly contributor to Maximum Rocknroll and has previously written for Aorta Magazine, The Skinny and PrettyQueer.com.

Nevada is the darkly comedic story of Maria Griffiths, a young trans woman living in New York City and trying to stay true to her punk values while working retail. When she finds out her girlfriend has lied to her, the world she thought she’d carefully built for herself begins to unravel, and Maria sets out on a journey that will most certainly change her forever.


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Star Wars Saturday: The Despecialized Edition and Art Reconstruction

Recently, The Mary Sue drew my attention to Harmy’s Star Wars: Despecialized Edition v.2.5, a collective effort by certain skilled Star Wars fans to restore the original trilogy to the experience of watching it in the theater (but in HD!).

The need is pretty clear. Though there are rumors of Disney releasing a blu-ray edition of the “un-special” editions of the films, there is no official version available in HD that maintains the original cut and look of the film.

The short below shows the sources and some of the editing used to create the Despecialized Edition.

The many sources, examination of each source’s limitations and flaws, and tricks to rebuild original footage are simply fascinating to a film geek like myself. The color correction alone is worth the effort, nevermind the Greedo shooting first or digitally added Jabba. I hadn’t realized how tonally different the original color palette was and how that effected my viewing until I saw them side-by-side. That color correction also illuminates why the prequels appear so fake. The original Star Wars had a color palette that suggested grounded realism, not sci-fi fantasy.

Watching the featurette for the DE brought to mind scholars attempting to rebuild Shakespeare’s intended Hamlet. There are three different surviving versions of the text, each seemingly sourced from a different person connected to its performance at the Globe, but none are Shakespeare’s script. Scholars go word by word, line by line, attempting to rectify differences in voice, meaning, and “quality” to produce the text the public reads as Hamlet.

But it also made me think of the reconstruction work that has been done on the Mona Lisa: meticulous stripping of layers and restoration of color, hi-tech scans to see beneath the upper layers of paint.

And I honestly think this is the same. If we can’t get the original version from George and Lucasfilm/Disney, by golly, fans will make it. Their efforts are nothing short of the precision, skill, and historical and artistic understanding of restoring a da Vinci or Shakespeare. Ironically, they’re doing it with a living artist’s work, because he can’t keep from tweaking it, and they think he’s f*ed it up.

Of course, the Despecialized Edition isn’t exactly legal, though downloads are “acceptable” if that person already owns the Star Wars blu-rays. See the information on the YouTube page for more directions on how to get yours.


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Frozen Friday: An Amazing Snowman

Disney’s merchandising machine still can’t keep up close to a year after Frozen‘s release, but book publishing seems to be an exception.

Grandma brought over An Amazing Snowman, written by Barbara Jean Hicks and illustrated by Olga T. Mosqueda, for our toddler.  It’s a big book with paper pages.  Not the sort of thing I’d normally entrust to tiny probing hands, but whatever.  What good is manna from heaven if you can’t crumple it up or tear it?  Even so, I figured we’d look at it a couple times and then put it up on the high shelf with the other grow into them books.

Someday I’ll learn that the power of this film is enough to meet any challenge.  Our toddler respected the book enough to ask that we put the dust jacket away to keep it safe.  The pages are intact despite the book never yet resting on a shelf.

The critical data are these.  The book takes place after the movie.  Olaf has his personal flurry.  It has no plot.  It’s not so much a story as a fun picture book encouraging Olaf’s open heart and vivid imagination.

I like Olaf, even as I acknowledge his oversaturation due to cross gender appeal.  I’m sure they could market Elsa shirts for boys and Kristoff costumes for girls, but I don’t expect they will.  So I’m glad the universally appealing character is worth emulating, butt jokes aside.

The illustrations are simple and beautiful.  They hooked our toddler in the end leaves with line drawings of Olaf engaging in recognizable activities patterned among dandelions parachute balls.  The dandelions are a perfect image to link the summer scenes with winter snowflakes.  We spent a couple minutes just talking about what Olaf was doing and what he was playing with.  Then we turned the page to this.  There was a lot to talk about here, too.

The book mixes up images from the movie with original text and artwork.  Pictures cleverly foreshadow and repeat for some surprising moments of recognition.  And for dedicated Disney families, there are some references to other films.

Check out the author reading to a group of kids at a Barnes & Noble event:


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‘Ocean’s Eleven’ and the Structure of the Caper

oe01I adore Ocean’s Eleven. I teach it as the opening every semester of my Film Analysis class, and I love pointing out Soderbergh’s design to the students and watching their eyes get wide as they realize there’s another way to look at movies other than passively.

But ultimately I use it to exemplify a film that is plot-focused, and a caper (also known as a heist) film is a great way to do that, because they’re all about what happens next, and all of the characters are more or less just meant to have specialized skills and look cool.

So I’m going to take a couple of posts to discuss how Ocean’s Eleven fits the Caper tropes as laid out by TVtropes.com.

 Told from the criminal viewpoint, a group plans and executes an elaborate robbery. (TVtropes.com-The Caper)

Normally a film with thieves and liars in it puts them in the “villain” category, but from the very beginning, the audience of Ocean’s Eleven is rooting for Danny Ocean (George Clooney) and his crew. Ocean is immediately cool and charismatic in the opening scene, where the viewer inhabits the point-of-view of his parole board, and yet the last thing we want is for Ocean to stay on the straight and narrow when he is set free from prison. The parole board leader asks her final question of the scene: “Mr. Ocean, what do you think you would do if released?” The little crinkle in Clooney’s eyes tells us all we need to know–he has a job planned. Namely, rob three casinos in Vegas that have a shared vault. These three casinos have security systems upon security systems, and robbing even a single casino has never been done before. Ocean is going to need a large and heavily skilled crew to pull this con, and even then they’re all likely to end up in jail or dead at the hand of the casinos’ owner, Terry Benedict.

The criminals are usually more rounded than the opposition, or at least more colorful.

benedictBenedict (Andy Garcia), as the antagonist of Ocean’s Eleven, is a drab, passionless man. He is pictured here looking at art. He is an efficient, ruthless business man. He is firmly in control of what happens in his casino. But, man alive, is he dull. When Tess (Julia Roberts) asks him what he thinks of the new Picasso she has procured for his collection, he responds: “I like it because you like it.” Dude, get a personality. He never does. We want Tess to drop him like an over-microwaved Hot Pocket.

On the other hand, though none of the characters are exactly round, each of the Ocean crew have a quirky trait to set them apart. Some are ruthlessly funny, like Frank and the twins. Others have funny accents like Yen and Basher. They all have some distinguishing eccentricity (Rusty is eating in every scene).

Usually contains at least one A-Team Montage or Avengers Assemble sequence.

In the case of Ocean’s Eleven, we have the Avengers Assemble trope. It plays as a montage kicked off by the “money” of the crew, Reuben, saying: “You’re going to need a crew as crazy as you are!…Who you got in mind?” Then we go member by member, giving us a short intro to the character’s quirk and skills and seeing them pulled onto the job. This ends with the whole team together at an “informational” meeting where Linus (Matt Damon), the only one on the fence, must decide to commit before getting the low-down on the plan. Then, of course, we get a second montage telling us the plan.

 

 

May be played seriously or as a comedy. In the former, there is generally a fallout among thieves after the heist, while the latter may end on a note of poetic justice.

oceans-eleven vaultOcean’s Eleven is a cool, effective comedy. The laughs range from witty banter between Danny and Rusty or Danny and Tess to slapstick between the twins. And we do end with poetic justice. Although Benedict is a seemingly up-and-up businessman, Danny wins back Tess by proving to her that Benedict is just as much of a thief as he is and more of a liar. Through the con, Tess gets proof that she is not as important to Benedict as his money–he does not truly love her. And even though he chooses his money over Tess when given the option of one or the other, he is left with nothing but millions of flyers for prostitutes and a whole-lotta egg on his face. #sadnotsad

 

 

In part II, I’ll discuss the roles of the caper and how the characters line up.

 


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Book Review: Fool’s Assassin

TL;DR: You don’t need to catch up to fall for Robin Hobb’s Fool’s Assassin.

Tom Badgerlock has been living peaceably in the manor house at Withywoods with his beloved wife Molly these many years, the estate a reward to his family for loyal service to the crown.

But behind the facade of respectable middle-age lies a turbulent and violent past. For Tom Badgerlock is actually FitzChivalry Farseer, bastard scion of the Farseer line, convicted user of Beast-magic, and assassin. A man who has risked much for his king and lost more…

On a shelf in his den sits a triptych carved in memory stone of a man, a wolf and a fool. Once, these three were inseparable friends: Fitz, Nighteyes and the Fool. But one is long dead, and one long-missing.

Then one Winterfest night a messenger arrives to seek out Fitz, but mysteriously disappears, leaving nothing but a blood-trail. What was the message? Who was the sender? And what has happened to the messenger?

Suddenly Fitz’s violent old life erupts into the peace of his new world, and nothing and no one is safe.

Normally I’m kind of like the most obsessive reader you know turned up to eleven.  I read in publication order.  I read all of the author’s work.  If there’s short story cannon, I read it.  If chapters get anthologized before the novel, they’re close by when I open the book.

I care how prose evolves, how authors develop, and what changes are made as the story comes into being.

It’s not a rule, but it’s typical.  I don’t usually allow myself to just dip in any old where.  There are drawbacks, of course.  While I’m incredibly familiar with several authors, I also have some notable blind spots.  Robin Hobb was one of them.  One I’d been meaning to rectify for a couple years.  She presented interesting challenges regarding where to begin, so I figured I’d try going in blind for once.

Technically, the learning curve for this book could be fourteen novels long.  Like, you probably shouldn’t start here.  You’ll miss so much.  You won’t understand.  You’ll spoil some of the best work in the genre.

Don’t believe it.  The first paragraph is really the only one that matters, because Hobb takes it seriously.  And the life after service might be the rarest gem in all of fantasyland, so precious that we only get glimpses of it on the margins.

We see Badgerlock as a man, a husband, a father, and a retiree.  We get to know him and come to understand who he is.  There’s never the sense that what we’re looking at it is merely the comfortable life he’ll be pulled out of for one last job.  That’s how the ad copy reads.

But that’s not what I read.  I read a heartrending book about what it means to be human, to love, to be loved and try to accept that love.  To expect and exult and sulk and settle.  To try to do your best and find that’s not always good enough.

Fitz was clearly a hero.  He was clearly great.  He deserved respite.  But could he handle it?  Was he prepared for a quotidian life after the tumult?  Was the world?

There are questions that Fantasy doesn’t normally consider.  What is it like to watch your children grow and become adults after you finish the epic?  What are the consequences of the skills and power acquired on the quest for those around you?  Is it possible to leave the struggle behind and enjoy the boon?

Hobb is wise.  This is a mature work of fiction by a mature woman.  She’s seen life, and love, and loss, and shared it with her protagonist who, in turn, shares it with us.  Tom tries and thereby earns our trust.  He fails and thereby engenders our love.

Fool’s Assassin is well plotted and securely anchored to the eventual seventeen novel narrative The Fitz and the Fool Trilogy contributes to.  I’d say there aren’t many surprises, but that’s not entirely accurate.  The major beats are anticipated early and create a sense of tension and anticipation when they arrive.  What’s surprising is that they’re almost secondary to the lived experience of the characters.  It’s not the event that’s portentous or momentous, it’s the repercussions within.

I want to read the earlier novels not because there are dragons and wars and ancient magics, but because the people I read about remember tender moments from them.  I want to see what affected them so deeply.  What moved them to tears.

I want to read the next novel, alas, to find out what happens.  I can’t skip it.  It’s unthinkable.  She’s got me.

Recommended for readers who liked The Parish and the Hill, A Visit from the Goon Squad, and The Magician King.


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Joseph Gordon-Levitt Working With Gaiman on Film Adaptation of Sandman

joseph-gordon-levitt-covers-out-october-2013-01Man, who does not love Joseph Gordon-Levitt? Seriously, are there any hold-outs? He can act, dance, write, direct. He’s a feminist. He’s overall adorable. And here’s one more reason to join the JGL-side:

As part of DC Comics and Warner Bros.’s big push-back against Marvel’s box-office domination, JGL is working with Neil Gaiman and others from the Dark Knight crew to adapt Sandman. Still in the script stages, JGL is being set to direct (and maybe star?).

He admits that adapting Sandman is no easy task:

There’s not a script yet, we’re still kind of working it out because it’s such a complicated adaptation because “Sandman” wasn’t written as novels. “Sin City” was written as a novel. “Sandman” is 75 episodic issues. There’s a reason people have been trying and failing to adapt “Sandman” for the past 20 years. (“Joseph Gordon-Levitt on ‘Sin City 2,’ ‘Sandman,’ and a ‘Star Wars’ Cameo)

Considering the creativity of his hitRecord productions, I’m hopeful. JGL and Gaiman together can pull this off.

sandman_text1Furthermore, he has full faith in his friend Rian Johnson to deliver something great in his upcoming Star Wars film(s):

I remember when he told me about it, I felt so privileged because he told me about it before the announcement and I’m just so excited. I’m excited for two reasons: one, I’m excited for my dear friend to have this amazing opportunity, and I’m also excited that there’s going to be these movies. These are going to be such good “Star Wars” movies. He’s going to rock it.

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