Wierd Al & Geek Chic

Buy the Album!

Buy the Album!

I am not much of a concert guy; I much prefer conventions and games nights. But there was one show that I begged my mother to go to when it hit town : Wierd Al. In my youth Wierd Al was a fixture. I had at least three cassette tapes of his music rattling around in my desk drawers. In many ways he was my only connection to popular music. I listened to the CBC (which had yet to be gutted by years of conservative policy), not the top 40, if I did not have my head stuck in a book.

The concert was exactly what you would expect from Wierd Al; a mix of bright colours, frantic movement, and genius wordplay, like a billion dollar carnival parade put on by the world’s friendliest grammar teacher.

In many ways Wierd Al was ahead of his time. Crazy costumes. Deep knowledge of esoteric subjects injected into pop music. Witty wordplay. The man is a true prophet of the age of geek.

And as we enter into an age where geeky shows, art, and pursuits have become increasingly mainstream, Wierd Al has finally reached #1. His new album, Mandatory Fun, topped the charts last week. Likely a few of the old guard mundanes were stunned. But hard work pays off, and I really do feel that Wierd Al is a visionary, sticking to geeky subjects all through the eighties and nineties, heralding the blossoming age of geek culture.

Check out the new videos for Mandatory fun on his official site.

Now for the part where I do my first, and likely only album review. Here are the songs from my least favourite to the one that blows my mind, along with my thoughts about the song. Keep in mind that I am not a music reviewer.

  • Lame Claim to Fame: The title says it all.
    • Best Line: I got an email from the prince of Nigeria… well, he sure sounded legit.
    • Review: This is the only song that I am not delighted with on some level. It is about people trying to edify themselves with unimportant connections to celebrities, something we get a lot of these days. It isn’t bad, but it pales in comparison to the rest of the songs on the album.  The video, however, is awesome, with a great jib-jab style collage animation.
  • Handy: Handy is a song about a handyman, or rather those home improvement shows that some of us seem obsessed with.
    • Best Line: I got ninety nine problems but a switch ain’t one.
    • Review: Handy has some great lines and a decent video. References to Jay Z and MacGyver really made me laugh.
  • Foil: A song about aluminum foil: what could go wrong?
    • Best Line: Don’t mind that, I’m protected because I made this hat!
    • Review: Full disclosure: I love the song Royals. Madly. Foil is a great remake of Royals that starts off as cute wordplay about the uses of aluminum foil in food preservation and then descends into conspiracy territory and ends with Al wearing a foil hat and being dragged off by men in black. This song is quite clever, chock full of references to aliens, the Illuminati, the fake moon landing, and other conspiracy theories. Interestingly however, there is also a bit of a jab at the NSA in there… you know, the conspiracy that actually turns out to be more or less true. This is what I really like about Mandatory Fun, not only is Wierd Al entertaining as always, he actually works some deeper topical references into the songs.
  • Sports Song: A big band sports cheer, Wierd Al style.
    • Best Line: Our players are really fast, and strong, and brave… and your guys, not so much.
    • Review: I would kill to hear this cheer repeated by an audience at a college game; I would happily send my children to any institution that could manage such a feat. Sports song is an ultra complex, wittily worded cheer. It is both a send up and a love-note to the songs that we hear played during breaks at the super-bowl or local sports arenas. To me, it really captures the modern geek’s relationships with sports in our world, that incredibly complex industry that our fathers and grandfathers built.
  • Tacky: The banner song of the album.
    • Best Line: Practice my twerking moves in line at the DMV.
    • Review: The Video is great, full of favoured geek celebrities in tacky clothing, Wierd Al front-and-centre. Tacky is just fun. The wordplay is great. The only thing that could make the video better is Don Cherry in one of his famous suits. On a deeper level the song is about the occasional social awkwardness of geek culture, from the faux-pas that we often make, to odd sense of style, to our occasional bouts of obsessive behaviour.
  • First World Problems: A song about the complaints of people who really should not complain.
    • Best Line: My house is so big I can’t get wifi in the kitchen.
    • Review: First World Problems are problems that people incessantly complain about that show just how over-privileged and lucky they are. It is a bit of a meme in some places. If someone uttered the best line above as a serious complaint you would likely feel the desire to smack them. In an age where inequality is becoming more and more obvious, even to those of us who live in the blissful, coddled ignorance of the first world, this song really hits home.
  • Word Crimes: A song about grammar
    • Best Line: The whole damned song.
    • Review: Robin Thicke is an abominable throwback visited upon us by an overly rich family. His song, Blurred Lines, is catchy drivel with a video full of naked women up on youtube (go look, I’ll wait). I’ll forgive Pharrell Williams for hanging with him, because Pharrell is ubiquitous and also talented. This song takes a song that I despise, and turns it into one that I love. Word Crimes should be shown in schools. I should listen to it every time I sit down to write. The worldplay is genius. It leaves me in awe of Wierd Al…  Plus the irony of turning the dumbest hit song this year into the smartest is like sweet buttercream icing on my mom’s lemon poppyseed cake. Just perfect.
    • Yes, I know I make most of the mistakes in the song  frequently… :D
    • The video is awesome.
  • Mission Statement: Do you like whiteboards?
    • Best Line: Monetize our assets, monetize our assets, mooooooonetize our aaaaassets.
    • Review: For most people, Word Crimes or Tacky will be their favoured songs. The thing is for a while, when I actually had a job that paid well, I lived Mission Statement. I hated that world so much that I left behind good pay to scrape a living as a general labourer trying to grapple with the uncertainties of success as a self-published author. Mission statement seems like the jokes that I would make with the guys at ASAP. In a general sense this song is about how many corporations rape language, exploiting it like they do everything else in their mindless drive to profit. I laughed, I shed a tear, I got a little angry. This song is a beautiful criticism of something I hate. It makes me feel better about my life and how I have chosen to live it. Thank you, Wierd Al.
    • The video of this song is both beautiful and baleful, a scrolling whiteboard of awesome.

I like Mandatory Fun. It gives me heart to see someone I like gain well-deserved success. It is vindication of my tastes. It gives me hope for the future. If an album as smart and geeky as this can cut through the noise, then maybe we can too! Onward geeks, to glory!

Domains of the Chosen Facebook Ad

My Domains of the Chosen series is three years, and three novels old. Readers who enjoy superheroic action, strange monsters, explosive magic, and political intrigue should definitely give these books a try. Read the excerpts on Amazon or try my free short story, Bloodlust: The Great Games, on Smashwords.

Click on any of the books to follow a link to amazon.com.

Domains of the Chosen book one.

Domains of the Chosen book one.

Bloodlust follows the career of Gavin, an unlikely Gladiator, and five friends.

Bloodlust: Will to Power

Domains of the Chosen book two.

The second Bloodlust novel follows the six Gladiators as they seek their place in the world, leading up the Grand Championships.

Warbound: The Shield Maiden

Warbound: The Shield Maiden.

Warbound takes the action outside of the arena, following a former Gladiatrix as she enlists in the Legions to uphold a family legacy. Hi folks, I’m promoting this as a facebook ad, let me know what you think!

Shadow Wolf Sagas: Blade Breaker

Hi folks, sorry for the interruption, I was busy releasing Warbound: The Shield Maiden, my third novel and also the third Domains of the Chosen book. Buy it!

Once again, however, it is time for some Shadow Wolf!

Start at the beginning.

Catch up with the last post.

I was missing something. Sapphire’s lover didn’t kill her, nor did Lily Gemarkand, her sister. I was missing some vital insight that would help me catch wind of the killer.

While a prostitute, even an elite lady of the evening like Sapphire, could never claim to lead a safe life, it took extraordinary effort to silently break into her rooms, drug both her and Bjorn Magnison, and kill them by inches. It limited the suspects by both means and motive. It took skill to see the plot through, and of those those with the skill only a few would bother.

One angle I had not covered was that Sapphire’s murder might be part of an elaborate plot to discredit the Assassin, the man I knew only by the, likely false, name of Sildus. If the Guild of Assassins got word that one of their number killed a woman in a protected establishment, in a vicious crime of passion, then it would go very badly for Sildus and perhaps even reflect poorly on his superiors. I did not understand enough of the politics of the nine masters of the Guild to presume, but Sildus seemed to think it was a real enough possibility that he was looking into it.

Another possibility was that one of Lily Gemarkand’s enemies had done in her sister. In my discussion with the head of the Gemarkand house, before she’d forced me to fight a warrior of the Devout for her enjoyment, she had let slip that she kept in contact with Sapphire. Lily was a ruthless, slightly deranged woman who had eliminated her rivals to  become the head of one of the seven families before she was thirty. Miss Gemarkand didn’t seem like the type to waste time on Sapphire purely out of sisterly affection.

What were they plotting? was it enough to get Sapphire killed?

The idea that first leapt to mind was that Lily was maneuvering to have Sapphire replace madame Glorianna as head of the Doxy’s Union. Madame Glorianna’s power rivaled that of a merchant family, and would certainly make Sapphire a useful ally for her sister. I mulled it over. The idea was intriguing, but I could not think of a way to have Sapphire replace Madame Glorianna. I knew enough about the Doxy’s Guild from the twins, my bedmates, to understand just how popular Madame Glorianna was among her charges. Besides the viciousness of the crime was too extravagant to her.

I did not want to go back and ask Lily what she had been sticking their noses into. After her little pit fight, I felt that the less time spent in her company, the better.

I decided to revisit the Pink Pearl and look again at the records kept by Sapphire’s boss, Chloe. Perhaps I could puzzle out Lily’d intent by the pattern of her visits or through Sapphire’s clientele. Even if such information proved to be a dead end in finding the killer, learning more about Lily Gemarkand could prove to be useful, especially if I ever wanted to repay her for the fight that she’d forced upon me.

I decided that perhaps it was time to call on some help as well. Watch Sargent Murith was very good with records, you see.

Snowpiercer, Metaphor, and Systems.

Watch it.

Watch it.

Last week I released, Warbound: The Shield Maiden, the third book in the Domains of the Chosen series. If you have read my other books check it out and leave me a review!

While recovering from this ordeal I watched the movie Snowpiercer, an interesting movie that has gotten a fair bit of buzz lately because of the drama surrounding its release in the US. You may have heard of it.

Spoiler Warning

The movie is about the last survivors of an ecological catastrophe that has frozen the planet. They have gathered on a supremely advanced train that circles the earth, the Snowpiercer, where over the last seventeen years a sort of model state has developed.  The film chronicles a revolution in which the 99% who live in squalor in the back car slums try to overthrow their oppressors from the front.

The film is visually sumptuous, well-acted, and very topical. The cast is impressive. I would heartily recommend watching it to almost anyone I know. If you cannot find it in theaters, it is available on demand in some places (that’s how I watched it).

Here are a few of the more interesting bits.

  • The Metaphor: The Train in the movie is an obvious metaphor for human society on any level, shrunk down to a microcosm where history unfolds at an accelerated pace. It makes for a riveting story of class warfare in a rigidly authoritarian system governed by the passengers in first class. The Metaphor is heavy handed, but it is treated with sensitivity and massaged into a decent story.
  • The Train Itself: The Snowpiercer is an enormous train, billed as a perpetual motion wonder machine, where the engineer is treated a a kind of messianic figure. The train is impressive and enormous, and as the rebellion progresses towards the front we are treated to a series of vividly imagined train cars that serve purposes from luxurious baths, schools, and ugly food processing places.
  • Tilda Swinton: It is hard to stand out in a film full of great acting talent, but Tilda Swinton’s Minister Mason is an amazing blend of satirical upper class viciousness, dictatorial monster, and hardened survivor. It seems to be that a large part of the success of this portrayal is a dark version of a certain iron-lady, a very appropriate portrayal for a movie about class warfare.
  • The Action: Director Joon-ho Bong (You may know him from The Host, or other movies) does an excellent job in adapting action sequences to the unusual environment of the train, while at the same time evoking images of revolutionary and class warfare conflicts. This is the best part of the movie in my mind. Each fight tells a story. Each fight is part of a larger struggle and they all seamlessly blend together into a truly impressive whole. The use of light and dark, blood, the linear environment of the train, and shifting imagery really made an impression on me.

Go see it.

If you have seen it, think about what the movie says about systems.The train is a closed system. Those who benefit from the system, no matter what their class may be, act to defend the system during the rebellion. Some do so blindly, and when the system is revealed to be a manipulation they kind of go nuts. Those in charge take the more cynical, world-weary view that they are merely bringing order to the inevitable, no matter how monstrous their actions. Those who suffer most simply lash out blindly for the most part. The only solution is presented very starkly at the end: derailing the system.

Teaser Tuesday

In two days I will upload Warbound: The Shield Maiden to Amazon. If all goes well it will be available for download on Thursday.

I want to thank everyone who helped me out or offered encouragements. This year has been tough, with several deaths and unfortunate events, not just for me, but for my family and friends. With your help I persevered, perhaps even prospered in some ways. I am truly lucky to have friends, family, and fans who care so much.

Here is the final version of the cover.

The Final Version

The Final Version

Damn fine work.

And here is one last set of teasers for ya’ll. I hope you enjoy the book.

Finally, the time came to embark. The Bright Company, Ninth Legion in tow, marched through the North Gates of the Capital, down through the tall-house tenements, up through the industrial districts and out onto a long pier full of ships.

            The people of Krass lined the streets to watch the procession. The expedition to Ithal’Duin was seen as folly by some, but most people were eager for tales of new lands and the hope of new opportunities that they might bring.

            Chosen Brightloch, smiling at the head of the parade, with strange-eyed Ri[click]va at his side drew many cheers. Some among the crowd remembered his time in the arena, fifty years past.

Vintia marched with the Eighth Cohort, the first unit of the Ninth Legion to reach the ships. The engineers of the Eighth would oversee the loading of artillery and other delicate equipment through out the day, while the rest of the Legion would assist the civilian pioneers.

            Legions on campaign typically included a contingent of professionals that tended to their needs.  These ranged from smiths and healers, to herdsmen and cooks. The Bright Company included a much larger number of these, adding prospectors, surveyors, and many other specialists who would ready the Chosen’s Domain for settlers.

            Many of these civilian pioneers had been handpicked by Brightloch himself. They were rugged travellers who rode in collapsible waggons. Whether stream powered, elemental, or animal driven, these waggons would be rapidly dissassembled and stowed aboard the ships.

            Over two dozen transport vessels, escorted by a trio of fearsome Ironclads, would make the journey.

            A smaller crowd gathered the next day, as the sun rose and the ships finally set sail. Vintia scanned the people gathered, a cheering mass, looking for familiar faces as they wind pushed them away from home and toward adventure.

And here is a second bit. These excerpts twere added to the book during late re-writes, both based on reader feedback, from my sister and brother, if I recall correctly.

“I like it here,” said Sadira looking out over the Spires of Kirif from a sheltered cove. They lay on the beach, naked and entwined, watching the Fologi play in the wake of three massive ironclads headed to Fort Nerus.

“It is rather far from Krass,” said Gavin. “Are you sure?”

“You and I are only allowed a single Domain,” said Sadira. “And a single vote in the Council of the Chosen. Why hurry? We can also communicate without a link over long distances. What stops us from continuing our explorations here? I am fond of the idea that others won’t be looking over our shoulders all the time.”

“So be it,” said Gavin. “Let us be a little more open about it than Chosen Brightloch.”

“I would prefer to stay out of Kirifan politics as much as possible,” said Sadira.

Gavin laughed. “What about your plans to reconquer Avenholt?”

“Don’t think I’ve given up on that, Gavin,” said Sadira. “I am an ambitious woman, and I am learning the value of patience. I will follow that dream when I am ready. I will enjoy the fruit that is Ithal’Duin while it is at hand, learn what I can, and move on. We don’t have to settle here.”