Thursday, April 29, 2010

Anathem: A final verdict

I finished Anathem a few days ago, but it's taken me until now to find the time and the right combination of words to describe my reaction to it.

On the one hand, it would be really, really easy to just point you toward this online review, which will make it clear to anyone still in doubt, whether or not this is a book they'll enjoy. And it doesn't even have any spoilers to speak of, so you can read in complete safety.

But I'm going to assume that the people who read my blog do so because their interests are similar to mine, and that means my opinion on the book might matter to them. So here it is: overall I enjoyed Anathem, but I enjoyed the first half a lot more than the second half; and I found the climax, in particular, fairly annoying. There's a great "Huh? Wha?" section where Erasmus is dragged cluelessly around by one of those characters you knew was going to be important early on, but you had no idea just how important - or why. Then once you figure out what's happening, you start getting your hopes up about a (for once) genuinely cool deus ex machina; and all of a sudden: poof. The threat's no longer a threat and we're down to reunions-and-goodbyes time. But at least I can take satisfaction in knowing I wasn't too far off the mark in the guesses I made during my first post about the novel....Okay, not too far off the mark in some things. One of my guesses was laughably misguided, but I won't tell you which one that was. ;-)

Well, I know it's good form to start any critique with pro's and then move on to the con's, but I seem to have blown that one completely out of the water; so let me play catch-up. Here are some of the things I really enjoyed about Anathem:
  1. Erasmus is a great character to tag along with because (like Y.T. in Snow Crash) he's incredibly smart and has a lot of winning qualities, but he can also be adorably clueless at times.
  2. Lio, Cord, Ala, and Yul are also engaging characters; and I have a totally unsupportable hunch that Samman would make an awesome drinking buddy.
  3. Arbre is a fascinating world to wander around in: enough like our own that you don't feel completely lost, but different enough that you can be fascinated by the little surprises.
  4. Neal Stephenson loves to mess with your mind. For instance, when one newly-introduced character shows his ass and then goes roaring out of a parking lot in a rage, another pair of characters comment that it's like the first guy never watched a movie with a villain or learned the term foreshadowing. So then you, as the reader, are left to wonder whether Stephenson is foreshadowing this character's villainy in a particularly funny way, or whether he's just doing the Fish Slapping Dance on you with a red herring. Don't expect me to give you the answer. ;-)
So anyway, overall, Anathem was a cool read even though it didn't live up to my earliest expectations. It'll definitely make you think, if you're the kind of reader who likes being made to think. And if you're not, then what the hell are you doing hanging out here?

    Wednesday, April 28, 2010

    Out-of-context follies

    First, just a heads-up that this coming weekend, I hope to be able to share some work by a fantastic artist I just discovered. Not that she hasn't already been discovered by plenty of other people, but you know what I mean. ;-) Anyway, you're going to love all the sexy ladies, Cthulhian monstrosities, altered eyes, and general awesomeness on display; so watch this space.

    In the meantime, I thought I'd offer up a little game I've been playing with myself, that some of you might like to try as well. Actually, it's a game Jukebox has played, too - to great effect - in Listen to the Music. It goes like this: Listen to the music on your stereo or mp3 player. No, really listen to it. But as you listen, chunk context out the window. Now see how many mind control references you come up with. Here are a few I've found in my own collection:

    "I remember, I remember when I lost my mind/ There was something so pleasant about that place/ Even your emotions have an echo in so much space" --Gnarls Barkley, "Crazy"

    "I feel like I've been run over by a truck/ I don't care much about anything/ So give me a ring/ And tell me to wake up and do anything" --Weezer, "Run Over by a Truck"

    "There's someone in my head, and it's not me" --Pink Floyd, "Brain Damage"

    "Chickety China, the Chinese chicken/ You have a drumstick and your brain stops tickin" and "I have a tendency to wear my mind on my sleeve/ I have a history of losing my shirt" --Barenaked Ladies, "One Week"

    "If you wanna kiss the sky/ Better learn how to kneel/ On your knees, boy!" --U2, "Mysterious Ways"

    "You could have just propped me up on the table like a mannequin/ Or a cardboard stand-up and paint me (paint me)/ Any face that you wanted me/ To be seen." --Ben Folds

    "Hey, hey, hey. What's in your head/ In your head/ Zombie, zombie, zombie?" --Cranberries

    "Christian's lesson/ Is what he's been sold/ We are normal and self-controlled/ Remember to learn to forget/ Whiskey shots and cheap cigarettes" --Green Day, "Before the Lobotomy"

    And isn't that last song title a perfect MC reference all by itself? So it's a lovely place to end this post. ;-)

    Saturday, April 24, 2010

    Who knew bluehairs could be so hot?

    Of course, these aren't your typical bluehairs, are they? You might recognize some of them, though. ;-P

    I've had the idea for awhile now, to do a "My Favorite Things" post on the theme of blue-toned hair. Somehow or other, I seem to have accumulated a lot of pictures of models sporting that color; and I do like it, so I figured, "Share and enjoy."

    The model above is Little Miss Nicks, photographed by I Must Be Dead. Directly below, from left to right, are Apnea, photographed by Lithium Picnic; Darenzia, photographed by Ken Marcus and wearing Exquisite Restraint; and Velocity, photographed by T. H. Taylor.

    Next up are Revel, in a picture from her own photography studio, wearing Antiseptic Fashion; Electralux, photographed by Jeff Hui and wearing Artifice Clothing; and Nina Kate, photographed by Kris Talikowski and wearing her own clothing line, Jane Doe Latex.

    Below are Shakti, photographed by Michael Helms; Storm Unnirsdottir, photographed by Nadya Lev; and Scar13 in another photograph by by Michael Helms.

    Lastly, here are Seraphine Strange, photographed by Annie Betram; Zoetica Ebb photgraphed by Lou O'Bedlam; and Stoya, photographed by Christine Kessler.

    Interestingly enough, after I made the decision to blog about bluehairs earlier this week, I stumbled across a reminder of another bluehair I used to enjoy visualizing. She's one I have to visualize, you see, because she only exists in fiction (Okay, I've seen at least one cosplayer dressed up as the character, but I really don't think it would be fair to post a picture of her in my X-rated blog. ;-/). So instead, I'll just give you a quote from Summer Knight, book four of The Dresden Files by Jim Butcher. This is Butcher's introduction to Maeve, the youngest Queen of the Winter Court of Faerie:
    She looked young. Young enough to make a man feel guilty for thinking the wrong thoughts, but old enough to make it difficult not to. Her hair had been bound into long dreadlocks, each of them dyed a different shade, ranging from a deep lavender to pale blues and greens to pure white, so that it almost seemed that her hair had been formed from glacial ice. She wore leather pants of dark, dark blue, laced and open up the outside seams from calf to hip. Her boots matched the pants. She wore a white T-shirt tight enough to show the tips of her breasts straining against the fabric, framing the words OFF WITH HIS HEAD.
    There now, isn't that almost as good as a picture of Maeve herself? I had to stop reading The Dresden Files because I just didn't have time to keep up with it, but this should give you an idea of how much fun the series is. Some of the plots even involve mind control. ;-) So if you do have the time, check it out.

    Wednesday, April 21, 2010

    Miscellaneous updates

    Where to begin? There's a lot going on right now, not least the continuance of tree sex in my throat. I swear, I wish they'd just come and be done with it. But anyway, here are a few quick notes about various things I'm involved with.

    My collaboration with Jukebox is just about exactly at the halfway point, meaning halfway through the second of our three stories. I don't know how Jukebox feels, but I think the interplay with someone whose ideas are very different from mine brings out the best in me. It takes me to places I wouldn't go on my own, and that's cool. It's also kind of funny to watch how gently two subs butt heads. ;-)

    I'm still reading Anathem and am down to the last two hundred pages. I continue to be amazed and in love with the novel, but I've also realized that the average SF/fantasy reader might have a problem with it because it's pretty talky in spots. There's a heck of a lot of theorizing about belief systems, parallel worlds, and other things Terry Pratchett's stodgier characters tend to dismiss as "quantum" (I have a hunch Neal Stephenson is a big Terry Pratchett fan. Either that, or they read a lot of the same books). Fortunately, just when the story seemed about to turn completely into Socratic dialogue, there was a huge revelation - one I should have seen coming from a lot further down the pike - that changed the nature of all the talk preceding it. And now several of the main characters are floating around in space having Apollo 13-like adventures. I'm curious to see where Stephenson takes things next. I don't think we're in for a typical space Western, but I do think there's room for some wuxia to creep in. ;-P

    Lastly, I've finally cracked a lock I've been working on for awhile now: I've figured out how to turn my Virtual Hypnotist morning session into a proper MC story. See, I didn't want to just post the text as an induction; I wanted to build a tale around it. So the trick was finding the right sort of tale, something that would include pretty much the whole induction but still be just as spooky and dramatic as the rest of my stories. Well, a couple of days ago, it came to me - in the middle of one of my morning sessions, as a matter of fact. This is definitely one of those cases where not being able to go completely mindless worked to my benefit. I know how to write the story now, and I plan to begin it this weekend. No telling when I'll have it finished, but I don't anticipate it being more than one chapter. Oh, and some ideas for a title so far: "Inside-Out," "Onion," "The Worm at the Heart."

    Thursday, April 15, 2010

    "There he is, putting his head up a cow's vagina"

    Does this ever happen to you? You're watching a movie or TV show with subtitles, and you're trying to follow them so that you can understand what people are saying; but at the same time, what's happening on the rest of the screen is so damn fascinating that you can't bear not to give it your full attention. That's definitely the case here. I'm going to have to go back and rewatch this when I have more time to absorb. And I'm going to have to watch the rest of the story here (great-looking website, BTW).

    Saturday, April 10, 2010

    These are a few of my favorite things: Scar13

    The time has come, the Queen's thrall said, to talk of Scar13....

    I've been planning a "favorites" post about Scar for quite some time, but two things held me back: one, I'd promised not to overwhelm you with "favorites" posts since a lot of people come to my blog for other things; and two, I have such a large collection of Scar pics that I knew sorting through them to select favorites would be quite an undertaking. And it was. But it was well worth it.

    IMO, Scar13 is just flat-out gorgeous, no matter what she's wearing (or not wearing), no matter what color (or style) her hair is this week. Just take a look at those beautiful lips, those glowing eyes, that apparently all-natural body. Yes, her body is scarred from a period in her history when she was a cutter; but she recovered from that darkness and now sees her scars as a sign of triumph over adversity - thus her chosen nickname. You can read more about this story on her MySpace page.

    But anyway, on to the pictures. I didn't select these on any particular basis except what they do for me. There's some latex in here, some voicelessness, a suggestion of MC here and there. But for the most part, I chose them just because I think they're awesome.

    The image above comes courtesy of photographer John Warner. Directly below, left to right, are shots by Allan Amato (where Scar is wearing Mother of London), Michael Helms (along with model Shakti), and Allan Amato again.

    Next, from left to right, are shots by Karen Hsiao, Christine Kessler (Scar is wearing Fetish by Anna), and Karen Hsiao again.

    Below are another shot by Christine Kessler (Scar is wearing HMS Latex this time), a pic from her MySpace page that doesn't list the photographer, and a pic by James Stolzenbach.

    Lastly we have another photo from Michael Helms and one from J. Isobel de Lisle.

    Scar has a gallery on Model Mayhem and at least a couple of lists dedicated to her. She doesn't have her own Deviant Art account, but you can find plenty of pictures there by searching on her name.

    Wednesday, April 7, 2010

    Tread softly because you tread on my dreams

    "But I, being poor, have only my dreams. I have spread my dreams under your feet. Tread softly because you tread on my dreams."

    Yeah, I'm one of those tasteless geeks who loved Equilibrium, but I'm also literate enough to know the quote above originated with William Butler Yeats, so maybe you'll cut me a little slack. Besides, that quote sums up the topic of today's post so nicely that I couldn't not use it.

    I'm here to talk about dreams again, but this time it's waking dreams rather than sleeping dreams. Fantasies.

    I'm not sure where I first discovered Angela Ryan. Maybe Deviant Art, maybe Model Mayhem, maybe somewhere else. I was immediately taken by her beauty and the sauciness of her expression. I started collecting pictures of her, eventually enough that I decided to have a look at her official website. And that's where reality set in.

    Angela Ryan, in case you aren't already aware of this, is basically a porn star. I wasn't aware of this because I'd been collecting pictures from places like Deviant Art and Model Mayhem. I'd developed this mental image of her as a sexy/cool woman with a penchant for vintage clothing and occasional mild kink. I had not developed an image of her as a person who says things like, "I love the sexy way the latex rubs against my nipples. It makes me so hot." (Yes, I know she almost certainly doesn't write the site content herself, but work with me here).

    From my very first forays into latex erotica, I've been steering away from the naked crotch shots and other truly X-rated material. I never thought much about why, except that naked crotch shots just seemed so...crass. Like bad boob jobs. On the other hand, I love shots, like the one above, that look pretty damn kinky (not to mention pretty damn phallic) but don't seem to involve actual pain. Pain is a huge turnoff for me...well, unless the subject is so deeply brainwashed that s/he doesn't notice it. But that's not what I'm talking about right now.

    What I'm talking about is that I seem to have built some pretty elaborate fantasies around the models I like, and I didn't even notice I was doing it. At some deep level, I must have been imagining they were the kind of people I'd like to date or, failing that, at least to hang out with. I don't want to imagine them as stupid, or addicts, or proto-prostitutes hardened to every sex act our species ever discovered.

    Writing it out this way, I see clearly how naive I've been. Then again, I saw that the moment I laid eyes on Angela Ryan's website. But I'm going to pretend I didn't see it, and I'm also going to pretend I'm not naive. After all, imagination is my online trade. How many of my fantasies are posted on the EMCSA already? How many more do I have in me? For me, inventing stories is almost as easy as breathing.

    They say each of us has a whole world inside her or his head, and I'm making the most of mine.

    Saturday, April 3, 2010

    Another trigger enhancement

    I'm still playing around with Virtual Hypnotist enhancements, as I discussed in yesterday's blog entry, and I've now discovered a way to make a short trigger ripple through your brain in the most delightful manner imaginable. First the code, then the explanation.

    The "tonefreq" commands are the same as in yesterday's entry. I'm dropping the binaural beats from theta to delta, just for the duration of the trigger, then bringing them back up.

    What's new today is the addition of changes in volume, speed, and pitch for the trigger. You can see the commands to change each of these settings in the image above, and I think they're pretty easy to understand. There are just two important things to note:

    1. To make the trigger enhancement work properly, you need to undo everything you did, immediately after the trigger is spoken. That's what makes the trigger stand out so well in the context of the session.

    2. Don't assume that the same values you see in my example will be the right ones for your session. You might have to play with them a bit. Go to your "Speech Synthesis" tab and make a note of your starting settings for volume, pitch, and speed. Your goal is make significant changes to those values without taking the changes too far to be effective. For instance, the maximum volume allowed by Virtual Hypnotist is 65535. If the value you put in for your volume change would take the volume up over 65535, it won't work; the volume will actually go down. And if the number you put in for your change takes the volume too close to 65535 and you play that thing through your earbuds, I promise you won't enjoy the results.

    With that in mind, here are some general guidelines:
    • If  your starting volume is somewhere in the middle range and you raise it by 20000, you should get good results.
    • If your trigger is only one word, whatever your starting speed is, lower and raise it by exactly that number. If your trigger is two or three words, you'll have to play around with the values to find the right adjusted speed.
    • Don't lower and raise the pitch by very much. A small number can make a huge difference.
     Sometime later today or tomorrow, I'll update my VH tutorial with more information about all of this. Be on the lookout.

    Friday, April 2, 2010

    A fortuitous discovery

    I'm still tweaking my regular Virtual Hypnotist scripts, learning how to get the most from them, and last night I stumbled into an amazing discovery.

    I was trying to adjust the frequency of the binaural beats I use during my bedtime session, trying to make it even more effective at sending me to sleep. I won't get into the technical details here (Feel free to e-mail me if you want those), but the gist of it is that I accidentally dropped the frequency from alpha to basement-level delta in one split second. Or, in layman's terms, I was cruising along at a comfortable forty miles per hour and then suddenly cut my speed to five miles per hour.

    It was incredible. Even remembering it now, the next morning, I can still feel my arms growing deliciously loose and heavy, my thoughts freezing up like deer in headlights. I wasn't even trying, and I totally found the answer to my Jellybaby question. I'd never even tried such a low delta frequency before, but now I can only wonder why I hadn't.

    I've been playing around with this new technique a little more this morning, and I've discovered even more coolness. You can make your trigger ohhh so much more effective if you drop the binaural frequency from alpha or theta to delta on the line just above the trigger, then raise it again immediately afterwards. See below for an example copied directly from my morning session.

    If you're not accustomed to VH scripting yet, you can puzzle this out by taking a look at my tutorial. On the other hand, if you are accustomed to VH scripting, I'll just point out that the starting frequencies for this session are 128 on the left side and 133 on the right. As you can see, I'm using the trigger twice, dropping from theta to delta and back each time - but sticking to a slightly lower tone when I raise the frequency the second time.