Archive for June, 2009

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Starting The Graveyard Book: Audio Version

June 30, 2009

GraveyardAfter all the praises heaped upon the audio version of Neil Gaiman’s The Graveyard Book, I supposed that it would be the format that I would best enjoy the story of Nobody Owens and about an hour into the reading, I think I made the right choice as Gaiman does a splendid job of bringing this book to life as he enthusiastically introduces his creations and begins to weave the (already intriging) tale. The english accent illuminates the story perfectly and I’m champing at the bit to find out [SPOILERS AHEAD] why the murderer Jack was after Bod’s family, what’s special about his stoic guardian Silas, and what’s in store for Nobody after making friends with 5-year old Scarlett Amber Perkins. I reckon this is going to be a lot of fun so stay tuned for more.

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Japan “Part One”

June 29, 2009
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Himeji or "White Heron" Castle

My fiancee and I had to nail down the plans for visiting Japan fairly quickly once we got word that her parents really wanted us to come out, so after scrambling to get the best deal on airline tickets I had only a couple of months preparation before we left, and a whole lot of nerves to overcome knowing that I’d be meeting them for the first time, and that I wouldn’t be able to communicate with them nearly as well as I would like. Well, I managed to get over that, and after getting everything together and managing our way through DFW’s baggage claim, before we knew it we were lifting off for Tokyo early Wednesday, June 10th.

After a 13 hr. flight (of which I slept no more than 30 min. each way) we were both fairly tired, but there was so much to see that any fatigue kind of took a backseat to the adventure of everything and I forgot about it until much later that night when the 36 hours without sleep finally set in (and I promptly passed out on my futon following a hot Japanese bath). But my first impressions upon arriving in the city via a 1 hr. bus ride was that Tokyo is actually much bigger than I imagined it would be. Granted, I thought it would be big, but when we first entered the city it was hard for me to wrap my head around just how big it was, being immediately impressed with just how many buildings/skyscrapers there were on all sides, all around me, particularly as we moved toward the interior where it seemed they were countless. If it wasn’t a huge office building, then it was a large residential apartment complex, a “love hotel” or a 6-floor mall. The buildings weren’t all large, of course, but they were everywhere and for a boy homegrown in Texas, and much more comfortable in the “country side”  it was a sight to behold. And it would only become that much more impressive when later in the week we visited Tokyo Tower in Shiba Park, Minato, where some 150 feet up I was able to see just how expansive it really is. I still have to go through the pictures but I’ll be posting up several so that you can see some of what I’m trying to describe.

Anyhow, we took it easy for the first couple of days and just eased into life in Japan. My fiancee obviously grew up there and she was right at home again in more ways than one. Walking everywhere, for example, is fairly foreign to me as to get anywhere in Texas you pretty much have to hop in the car given the distance between everything but in Tokyo they use their feet as the primary means of transport to get to where they need to go, or to make it to the nearest train station which takes them the rest of the way. The entire trip we walked, and we walked, and we walked, and I while I’m glad we were both in shape enough to manage, I was amazed at how well Tokyo natives thrive doing this. Her parents, for example, are pushing 60 years of age and they literally walked circles around us and never seemed tired, or whispered a word about being winded. We weren’t quite as adept, but it was almost always fun.  Walking everywhere had the added advantage of letting me see things up close though. Everywhere I looked there was something interesting to see, be it the countless local restaurants, shops, billboards, or people stealing glances at the tall, foreign, white guy that no doubt looked a little out of place. Those first few days we wondered around Tokyo just checking out the stations, malls (the $1 store was a highlight funny enough) and trying a lot of the interesting foods.  While I’d be lying if I didn’t say I immediately missed my favorite things to eat back home, I really enjoyed a lot of what Japan had to offer in terms of its food. I had some of the best bread I’ve ever tasted there (you can find a bakery every other block it seems) and I couldn’t get enough of their apple juice, which is 100% apple, and better than anything I’ve ever had here in the states. I must have drunk a couple of gallons of the stuff while I was there. Places to eat are abundant and they were all pretty reasonably priced, though an adjustment to the size of the dishes is required. The only negative I think I found the whole trip was that so much of their foods are rich in soy, and I’ve never been particularly keen on the flavor, particularly in large amounts. But I always had something great to eat around me and had fun sampling everything that was put in front of me (where I was thankfully able to manuever my way around chopsticks enough that I didn’t look like an idiot).

As for her parents, I really enjoyed their company. Her Mom is a sweetheart, and I really got along with her Dad who came into town from Osaka a few days after we arrived. Whew! We’re both history buffs, and enjoy a good book, museum, historical spot, or sitting back to watch the Discovery channel so we seemed to hit it off pretty well. He was gracious enough to take us to the Edo-Tokyo Museum, for example, only moments after he arrived from his trip home. We enjoyed the museum for a solid 2-3 hours, and then had the good fortune of stumbling upon Tezuka Osamu’s 80th Birthday Celebration (1928-1989) going on in another part of the building. I don’t know if there are an awful lot of manga/anime fans reading but it’s likely you’d recognize Tezuka Osamu (coined the “god of anime” and “father of manga”) as the creator of Astro Boy, Kimba the White Lion, Princess Knight, Black Jack and so many others. It was interesting to watch as so many Japanese fans, of all ages, in huge crowds gathered to see a glimpse of his b&w comic pages in a manner we would imitate at a Jack Kirby exhibit. My fiancee’s father was like a kid again as we walked through the winding halls and you couldn’t help but stand back in awe at Tezuka’s timeless art form, and all he was able to accomplish, despite his relatively early death. I’ve been a fan for years, but I walked out with an even greater appreciation for the man, and spent more than a few dollars adding some of the rarer Tezuka works unavailable in the U.S. to my current Tezuka collection.

In the days that followed we stayed in Tokyo and visited Ginza (an expensive shopping region where I bought…very little), the palace of the royal family, numerous Buddhist temples, huge marketplaces and all kinds of local sights. A few days later we hopped a train to check out areas central to the famous Genpei Wars (a chapter in Japanese history I initially gained interest in after reading a Usagi Yojimbo story entitled “Grasscutter” by Stan Sakai story a couple of years back appropriately enough), before heading to the extremely impressive Hejimi or “White Heron” castle in Himeji, the Hyōgo Prefecture that blew me away (if I did have to duck an awful lot to avoid hitting my head). The next day, or thereabouts, we headed to Kyoto where we visited the Kiyomizu-dera temple, which dates back to 798, and sipped water from the Otowa-no-taki waterfall, which I was informed by my family to be with great enthusiasm ‘would bless me with longevity…until I died.’ Ha! We toured gardens, more temples, examples of ancient and modern architecture and even a quick cruise trip on the coast as we traveled around Japan the last week (thanks to the graciousness of her parents), and of course I was able to sample more great food all along the way. We had authentic ramen of course, as well as these great beef dishes were you cooked your own meat and vegetables on the grill, tasty noodle dishes, and all kinds of sweets, like the sweet bean paste rolls that the Japanese are so fond of (took some getting used to, for me, but they really were good). Some of the best ice cream I’ve had this side of Blue Bell in a long time as well.

Totoro_3We had to leave her Dad near Osaka before we returned to Tokyo via bullet train (awesome!) but he gave me an awful lot to remember as we toured those several days and it was a blast getting to know him. We spent the last couple of days just exploring Tokyo and taking it easy. I picked up a ton of books, and a few games that are difficult to find back home, as well as a bunch of souvenirs for my family back home. Even got a few “toys” that reminded me of my youth, like an Ultraman figure and a few other things. The highlight of what I brought home was likely a ceramic planter featuring Hayao Miyazaki’s Totoro and friends that apparently both my fiancee and I couldn’t live without (okay, okay…that I couldn’t live without).  We had fun trying to figure out how to get the stuff back to the house on the crowded trains (I now know how sardines feel!)  and while it’s difficult to really include everything in a single post, we really did an awful lot thanks to her parents and it was one of the best vacations I’ve ever taken.  If you’ve had any experience with Japan or have any questions feel free to drop me a line and I’d be glad to go into detail on more of this stuff. We spent our last evening having dinner with a friend of ours from a university here in Texas that recently moved back and sad to see the trip come to an end, we packed our bags — our much heavier bags, for home — though I have to admit that Japan feels a lot more a part of me then I would have imagined and I’m glad to have my own connection to it.

I was sad to end the vacation, but I was glad to be coming home as well knowing that we’ll be going back in another 7-9 months, or so, for the wedding in Japan. It was a fantastic trip and while I know I wasn’t able to do the trip justice, I hope you enjoyed following that for a few minutes.  Thanks also, to those that dropped a line to wish me a good time and a great trip.  It really was.

Stay tuned for pictures!

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Back From Japan!

June 25, 2009

Ultraman by Alex Ross

Well, it was an extremely fun, if not exhausting trip to Japan and despite it being the first chance I had to spend some serious time with my fiancee’s parents (who call Tokyo their home) and that I had to face down those jitters, it was a pure joy to have met them and to experience the culture in what turned out to be a whirlwind of a tour.

If there’s any interest in where I visited, who I met, what I brought back, etc. let me know and I’ll take some time to write up something. Fortunately, I’ll actually be going back within a year for the actual wedding, so I’ll call it “Part One.”

Should be up and running again soon…after walking miles and miles each day, and a 12 hour flight, I think I need a nap. ; )

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Off to The Land of the Rising Sun!

June 8, 2009

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Hey folks, just wanted to let you know that I’m heading off on a much anticipated two week adventure to Tokyo, Japan (to finally meet my fiancees parents) and that I probably won’t be able to chime in until I return later in the month. Should I get some extra down time I’ll try to check in, but otherwise I plan to take advantage of a much needed vacation on what is my first of  what I hope will be many a trip to Japan.  Enjoy the books you’re currently engrossed in and I hope to return with a fresh review or two thanks to a 13-hour plane trip each way.

In the meantime, if you’ve been to Tokyo, Kyoto, or Osaka and there’s something I’ve just gotta see (or that I’ve gotta eat) by all means drop me a note so that I can try to check it out when I’m there.

“Ja Ne!”

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Quote the Raven…

June 5, 2009

raven_r11“Education without values, as useful as it is, seems rather to make man a more clever devil.”

– C.S. Lewis

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Listen to Neil Gaiman’s Audie Winning ‘The Graveyard Book’

June 4, 2009

neil-gaiman_lNow I don’t necessarily plan to post news updates such as this in a regular manner, but I did want to take a moment as something of a follow-up to my recent entry on audio books to send a hearty congratulations to Mr. Gaiman on winning “Audio book of the Year” for The Graveyard Book in the 2009 Audie Awards, where he also walked away with a victory in the Children Ages 8-12 category.  I realize that I’m a few days late to the party but I have great respect for Gaiman’s wit and craft and wanted to make sure I expressed a few congratulatory words as it’s clear that each of the awards he received Friday evening really meant something to him on a personal level, given his well known appreciation for the medium, and it’s always gratifying to see someone accept an accolade so sincerely.  See if you manage to miss the level of excitement:

I went up on stage and babbled a bit, and thanked Michael Conroy (my director) and Lance Neal (editor and production) and Ana Maria Alessi (awesome publisher of Audio and digital at Harpers) and should have thanked Bela Fleck, who read on this blog that I wanted a version of Danse Macabre with banjo in it and promptly did the amazing one that’s on the Audiobook for us, and completely forgot to thank Merrilee my agent who was there in the audience glowing with agently pride. Then stumbled off to dinner with friends and was delighted.  People ask whether winning awards means anything when you’ve already won some, and sometimes it means more and sometimes it means less. But The Graveyard Book winning Audiobook of the Year means more than I can say.

The Graveyard Book_R1Neil links to the first chapter of the book for anyone that would like to hear his reading. Or the entire book for that matter on his website for younger readers.

I’ve taken a moment to listen, banjos and all, and the audio version is definitely how I think I’ll treat myself to The Graveyard Book.  Might be the perfect book to listen to on the long flight overseas next week in fact…

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Star Wars: The Old Republic Cinematic Trailer E3 ’09

June 3, 2009

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Like so many youth of my generation, I still remember sitting back in awe as the opening scene in Star Wars: A New Hope played out.  John Williams score proudly announced “Star Wars” and following the text intro (that I probably couldn’t read at the time) we were treated in epic fashion to the huge stark white Imperial Battlecruiser moving ominously and methodically  through space in pursuit of a starship, seemingly stretching for miles before coming into full view.  And after a quick battle in the corridors of the captured ship we met one of the greatest villains in any entertainment medium, and the character that would shape one of the most memorable sagas of all-time, Darth Vader.

Well, I was hooked, and I’ve been a huge fan through thick and thin ever since.

There have certainly been highs and lows in my experience with the enduring Star Wars franchise, but one of the brightest periods in the franchise following the original trilogy was Bioware’s treatment of the mythos in its Action/RPG video game series Knights of the Old Republic, a 2-game epic that masterfully fleshed out the Star Wars saga in time long before the name Skywalker rose to prominence, fleshing out new characters, settings and ideas as original and compelling as much of what we’d seen and enjoyed previously.  Well, Bioware is back and once again teaming up with LucasArts has brought the Old Republic back once more in the form of a massive MMO (Massively Multi-player Online) game for the PC that is set to release (to much hoopla)  in 2o1o.

I mention it here because Star Wars played a huge role in developing my love for epic, fantasy and science fiction, and honestly, I’m pretty dang excited about it!

Hope you enjoy the trailer!