Thursday, March 31, 2011

Temeraire: His Majesty's Dragon

First off, I would have to say that series wouldn’t have caught my attention had it not been for the news that Peter Jackson (LOTR, Heavenly Creatures) was actually thinking of adapting this series of novels into the silver screen. Knowing Peter Jackson’s film-making skills and propensity for seeking out interesting projects, I got curious and checked out a few reviews and inevitably, the excerpts.

Another factor that enticed me to check out this saga was that it dealt with Napoleonic wars. Actually, my main interest lies in the Peninsular war, which is more or less an important chapter in this tumultuous era. At the time, I wondered how Naomi Novik (the author) would weave this campaign into her entertaining saga (5 books and counting).

The first book in this series, His Majesty’s Dragon, is anchored around the time when Napoleon was busily carving out his empire and England’s superior naval forces were ruling the seas. In this alternate reality, dragons exist for real and are used by many countries as centerpieces of their aerial forces (precursors for modern-day scout planes, fighters and bombers), which is a refreshing premise to say the least. This tale features a few twists: Admiral Nelson survives the Battle of Trafalgar and this crucial sea battle itself serves as a ruse to draw out Britain ’s naval forces while French units are being ferried across the channel.

Summary. After seizing a dragon egg from a captured French frigate, the crew and officers of HMS Reliant realized with dismay that the egg was only days away from hatching. Contrary to their hopes of sharing the bounty (that is, if the egg could be safely handed to the proper authorities), it was evident that one of them would have to volunteer as its ‘handler’, a fate that no self-respecting naval officer could possibly wish for. Or else, let the dragon go feral (wild) — which was even worse, because England only has a few first-rate combat dragons.

After hatching, the fully articulate, black (an unusual color) dragonet unexpectedly takes to Capt. William Laurence, who manfully accepts his fate and promptly gives up his command. He names the dragon Temeraire. Later, he learns from an expert that his charge was a Chinese imperial, a rare and highly prized oriental breed known for their intelligence and grace. It does not take long for the two to bond, and after a few weeks they proceed to Loch Laggan in Scotland for intensive training.

There, they meet other dragons of various sizes and breeds — although Temeraire is clearly different from anyone else — as well as aviators (including a few female handlers) and ground crews. Training was hard, but the training instructor (a dragon!) is pleased to discover that aside from being a fast and highly maneuverable flyer, Temeraire has the unusual ability to "hover" -- meaning he can fly in place for a long period.

A few months later, news of England ’s victory in Trafalgar reaches the covert. Everyone celebrates. However, they soon learn with dismay that this huge naval engagement is merely a ploy. And while most of the country’s aerial forces are away to assist Nelson (Battle of Trafalgar), only a few inexperienced combat-weight dragons are left to protect England’s coast against an imminent French invasion. In this desperate, climactic aerial battle, Temeraire realizes his full powers, and consequently his real identity.

It is later revealed that Temeraire is not just an imperial, but rather a Chinese celestial — the rarest and the most highly prized of dragon breeds, raised as companions to the immediate members of the Chinese imperial family. It also becomes apparent that Temeraire had been intended as a gift to Napoleon, judged by the Chinese (acknowledged the world’s best dragon breeders) as a fitting recipient being an emperor himself.

His Majesty’s Dragon is a highly entertaining read. The bond between Capt. Laurence and Temeraire is touching and palpable. The gripping aerial dogfights (err, dragonfights?) will keep you vastly entertained. With their ability to communicate and work with their crew and fellow dragons, Ms. Novik’s dragons add a fascinating dimension to aerial battles (it’s pretty hard to remain detached and focused on your mission when you can hear a dragon roar in pain).

Fans of fantasy books who are also history buffs will find plenty to like in this series. It doesn’t quite have the multi-layered complexity and the gracious prose of Susanna Clarke’s Jonathan Strange and Mr Norrell, but it’s still a highly fascinating tale.

Friday, March 25, 2011

10 Songs with the Silliest Lyrics according to Time

So, which songs do you think have the silliest lyrics?

i imagine most of have at least five or six songs we can name right off the bat, but to make things easier for everyone, Time Magazine has compiled a list of 10 songs with the most absurd, head-spinning verses.

1. "Miracles" (Insane Clown Posse)
-- the big surprise is, it actually trumped Rebecca Black's "Friday"
2. "Friday" (Rebecca Black)
-- a big resounding YES
3. "Blue (Da Ba Dee)" (Eiffel 65)
-- what? you're telling me the songwriter couldn't be bothered to think of a better title? the title alone is practically a giveaway, so consider yourself warned
4. "Summer Girls" (LFO)
-- a weird collection of verses to make your head spin
5. "Mellow Yellow" (Donovan)
-- a psychedelic trip that leads nowhere
6. "My Humps" (Black Eyed Peas)
-- yeah, definitely. i find the lyrics vaguely offensive, too
7. "MacArthur Park" (Jimmy Webb)
-- i could think of sillier songs, but this one reminds me of overstaying guests who don't understand what restraint means
8. "Yummy Yummy Yummy" (The Ohio Express)
-- any song bearing this title deserves to be in this list and banished from anyone's hearing
9. "Whenever, Wherever" (Shakira)
-- this one surprised me. unlike other songs in this list though, i happen to like this one
10. "I Am the Walrus" (The Beatles)
-- hmmm... i suppose

for more interesting lists, go check

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Conan O'Brien on Rebecca Black

Conan being Conan, i knew it wouldn't take long before he'd do something to cash in on Rebecca Black's unexpected online notoriety...

it's rather unfortunate that a young girl like Rebecca Black could attract this much flak and level of animosity, but after enduring 1 minute of "Friday" (below) -- i just couldn't go through the rest of it -- i'm beginning to see why.

and if you expect Conan O'Brien and his rascally staff to watch idly by while this goes on right under their noses, well... you can think again. and i think they have stumbled on the right combination.

Autotune + Monotone Delivery + Mind-Numbingly Inane Lyrics = Priceless

for more rib-tickling videos, you can check out go Conan!

Monday, March 21, 2011

tremor jitters

i didn't really feel it but it looks like a "slightly strong earthquake" just rocked the metro just a while ago (magnitude = 5.7).

it wasn't really that strong but after what just happened in Japan, many folks are understandably apprehensive (i admit to a feeling of unease and some measure of foreboding). when you're living near the earthquake belt earthquakes will always be an ever-present threat, but you can never really steel yourself to accept that fact with equanimity.

some alarmists are already trumpeting the possibility that we're due for a Big One soon (i am beginning to hate that phrase). i know that's a distinct possibility sooner or later, but please let it not happen so soon. we need some breathing space before we can handle another catastrophic event.

Friday, March 18, 2011

Japan Files: canine fidelity

so many harrowing tales and videos have come out of Japan as it struggles through the painful process of grieving and recovering from such horrific losses (while grappling with a nuclear crisis that refuses to die down), but none has tugged harder at my gut strings than this video (see below).

i won't attempt to add to it because the video speaks quite well for itself. the translation of the reporters' exchange (in Japanese) should be read for proper context though (in italics).

(note: got this from Yahoo, which of course got it from somewhere else. it just felt like one of those things that need to be repeated for a full appreciation of its impact.)

REPORTER: We are in Arahama area. Looks like there is a dog. There is a dog. He looks tired and dirty. He must have been caught in the tsunami. He looks very dirty.
-- He has a collar. He must be someone's pet. He has a silver collar. He is shaking. He seems very afraid.
-- Oh, there is another dog. I wonder if he is dead
ANCHOR: Where?
REPORTER: Right there. There is another dog right next to the one sitting down. He is not moving. I wonder. I wonder if he is alright.
ANCHOR: The dog is protecting him.
REPORTER: Yes. He is protecting the dog. That is why he did not want us to approach them. He was trying to keep us at bay.
ANCHOR: I can't watch this. This is a very difficult to watch.
-- Oh. Look. He is moving. He is alive. I am so happy to see that he is alive.

REPORTER: Yes! Yes! He is alive.
ANCHOR: He looks to be weakened. We need to get them to be rescued soon. We really want them rescued soon.
REPORTER: Oh good. He's getting up.
-- It is amazing how they survived the tremendous earthquake and tsunami. It's just amazing that they survived through this all.