Wednesday, November 28, 2018

[Book] I Am Not Famous Anymore by Erin Dorney

Subtitled, Poems after Shia LaBeouf, this is a short volume of erasure poems lifted from interviews with Shia LaBeouf.  Before this book, I had only seen erasure poetry in poster or postcard format.  Kitch, at it's best.  Also, I have very little patience for poetry.  I've read The Hobbit and Lord of the Rings, and never completely read any of the song-poems that are scattered throughout those volumes.

All of this leaves me quite surprised that I really enjoyed this book.  I read maybe 5 to 10 of the poems in here per day over the course of a few weeks, and while often bazaar or nonsensical, there are several poems in here that I think back on from time to time.  Through this book, I've found an appreciation for this art-form.

Ultimately, this is a very short read, but I recommend this.  I recommend spacing it out, as I did.  Also, I can't think of a good reason that you might want to skip this one.

Wednesday, November 14, 2018

[Book] A Guile of Dragons by James Enge

Book cover
The book starts in a very promising place.  It offers a map.  All of my favorite fantasy novels have included a map, and this leaves me excited for a tale with some traveling.  The first very short chapter introduces some world building back-story, a short story about gods.  Then, on page 19 (or the third page of story) the novel lands in a fantasy space that I find very overused and tired... Merlin in fantasy old England, complete with a mention of King Arthur's Court.  This has nothing to do with the map, and that gave me the hope to keep reading.  This turns out to tell the story of the birth of the actual main character, Morlock Ambrosius, son of Merlin Ambrosius and Nimue Viviana.

The book divides itself into four parts.  The first part explains how the main character comes to be in, and introduces us to the world that the map describes... a world that is not fantasy old England or even Earth.  At part two, we leave back-story and really get into the main part of the story.  Dwarves, Wizards and, yes, dragons.

The world building is important to this story, but it's also good.  Despite the Merlin reference, this is not a reused fantasy world of others.  The dragons are not friendly or even sympathetic.  The dwarves are not overly talkative.  There are no elves in this story.   The dragon lore in this book is a very interesting take, and I find that I'm quite fond of this version.  I'll note that guile is used as a collective noun, as a herd of cows or murder of crows, but also implies a social structure.

After finishing the book and preparing this review, I found out that Morlock is a main character in some of James Enge's other books as well, meaning that this book is an origin story.  Here's the cool thing, besides being disappointed with the Merlin / Arthur tie-in, I didn't notice this was an origin story (and those are the best kind).

There are definitely parts of the story that are left unexplained.  Not plot holes, but points of resolution that I wish had been further explained.  Knowing that this character appears in other books, I find myself wondering if these are story points in other books, or things specifically being left for future books to explore.  It's a suspicion I would not have if this were a stand-alone book, but I feel it, so I felt I should mention it.

There is exactly one passage in this book that allows it to pass the Bechdel test, and it's singularity stuck out to me.  I don't think that I usually notice these things, but the one passage was distinct enough that it stuck out as being too lonely among many great opportunities for - you know - more simple exposition between two women.

Read this book if you are looking for a different fantasy space, and a male point of view.  Skip this book if an overly male point of view bothers you.  Honestly, this is the reason I'm not likely to seek out more books from this author.  The story telling is great, but it's almost all guys.

Saturday, November 10, 2018

Google Cardboard is a Terrible Experience

Every time I ever try to do anything with Google cardboard - apart from the demo itself - the entire thing is a horrible experience.

Take something that seems like it should be relatively common: VR video.  Go into cardboard (the app), request the VR video channel.  Find a video.  Start that video.  THEN hit the cardboard icon that will put it into cardboard mode.  Then pause it.  Put my phone into the cardboard-compatible viewer and hope it doesn't touch anything on the way in.  If anything touches the screen in the wrong place the phone jumps back to full screen.  That means, remove the phone again, re-queue the entire thing and try again.  Finally, I can strap the thing onto my head and if everything went just right, I can hit play and watch that video... at least until it's over.

"If anything touches the screen
in the wrong place the phone
jumps back to full screen."

When the video is over, YouTube does what YouTube always does.  It randomly queues another video that is subject related to the one previous.  Normally, this could be okay, but I've tried this multiple times and the next video has never been a 360 experience.  There is no way within the limited cardboard interface of YouTube to go back in and select a different 360 video.  That means, remove the phone and do the whole thing over again to get back into a 360 video.

I played around with an Android app called Cosmic Roller Coaster.  There's no back in the interface.  Done with the "free" experience, my only option was to remove the phone from the cardboard and hit the Android back button to get back to the main menu within the app.  I then promptly uninstalled Cosmic Roller Coaster.

Google Earth, launched from within the cardboard demo environment is the only decent experience that I've found.  Why is this the only thing I've tried that gives me good feelings about VR as an experience?  Everything else I've tried is mostly a frustration at some point.

Here's the thing.  I love 3D.  I love VR.  I am geeky enough to understand the interface problems and all the steps necessary to overcome them.  Good or bad, Google Cardboard via smart-phone is the first most people will ever get to try VR, and even though it's been around for years, the experience is pretty bad.  I look at the fairly sad sales of the higher-end VR gear (Vive, Oculus or the Microsoft AR vendors), and I can't help but wonder if the underwhelming experience under Google Cardboard isn't part of why there hasn't been more adoption in this market.

I've done some playing with an Oculus and that experience is mind-blowing.  Comparative, Google Earth on both is about the right experiential jump between a phone to a PC hosted app.  That is the only place where Google Cardboard doesn't feel like a complete waste.

Am I missing something?  Leave a comment below if you've found something worth the time and setup of using the Google Cardboard interface.