Tuesday, 6 August 2013

Read: The Amber Amulet

Next time I decide marketing is all nonsense and doesn't have any real effect on a rational person, I just have to remember the last time I was tricked into entering a Dymocks bookstore. I won a free book on the internet, something I'd never heard of by someone I'd never heard of, but I can't turn down a free anything, let alone a book! All I had to do was wander in to my local branch and pick it up.

Of course, it's never that simple, because once you've gone to the effort of actually going all the way to the bookstore you might as well have a look around. And what's this, there's a new Bryce Courtenay (not that that is likely to be a problem again)? There's a 2 for 1 deal on young adult fiction? There's double bonus points on children's books this month if you buy three? Half an hour later, I reach the counter, feeling a little bit guilty but oh so good...

...you know how when you get to the checkout there's all those tasty kinder surprises and tic-tacs, in one last ditch attempt to get you to spend all your money on sweet nothings? This book was the literary equivalent, lurking on the counter with the bookmarks and the ludicrously overpriced notepads. A tiny little book with a little pricetag, a drop in the ocean, considering how much I've just spent... Just 80 pages or so of words and illustrations enclosed in a beautiful hardcover imitation pulp paperback sleeve, looking all mysterious and alluring and exciting.

Yes, I have been thoroughly, thoroughly sucked in by the marketing, but I don't care because I have a bag of tasty tasty books on the side seat, and even if this Amber Amulet things is a complete waste of time and money at least it's not going to waste very much of either. 
Rex Parker eat your heart out.

The suprising thing? It's not a waste of time at all. I read it in about quarter of an hour one night when I couldn't sleep, and it's a pretty good book. I've heard good things about Craig Silvey, the author of Jasper Jones (a book that's been on my list to read for a while but I am yet to acquire a copy of), and if this is an example of the way he writes books, you'd better put me down as a fan. This one shows a knack for portraying complicated issues through the eyes of children and filling his prose with little jokes only apparent if you're looking for them, and all without feeling forced, which is a tricky thing to do.

Page 23:
He decides it's prudent to first make sure. If you're going to save a citizen pre-emptively, you'd best be confident your heroism is both necessary and required. He rests the pad on Richie's back. His first monogram is a little messy on account of his nerves. He strips it loose and tries again. Not bad. He taps the pen on his chin. Succinct is best. He writes.

Apparently I'm not the only fan about, either. A short film was apparently released this year based on the book, and it must have been decent, since it won some awards; and while I wonder if a film could really portray the childish naivete and trust that is really what this book is all about, I thought that about The Boy in the Striped Pajamas, so what would I know? Filmakers really are clever people.

The novella (novelette?) is the story of the double-life of the Masked Avenger, super-hero and odd-jobs man, who fights suburban crime with the aid of his horde of gadgets, the power of crystals of his Power Belt, and Richie the Wonderbeagle; and his interactions with the citizens of his street. Sonia Martinez' illustrations make up the Masked Avenger's scrapbook/journal of his adventures, bring a lot all of their own to the story, and probably deserve a more equal billing with the efforts of the author, as they really make the book something a little bit special.

Favourite bit:
Adorning his wrist is the copper bracelet that his grandmother wore to soothe her arthritis, but he knows it is better used to amplify Empathy and Mercy. Pinned to his heart is his grandfather's bronze service medal, for Bravery and Valour. Two clear silicon discs secured in a wire frame rest on the bridge of his nose. They give his eyes Supersight, as well as protecting them against Debris, Hypnosis, and Poking.

I don't know what else I can really say, except that if you ever come to visit us at Parliament House, you should have a quick read while enjoying a cup of tea and I'm pretty sure that you won't feel like you're wasting your time.

Reading Progress:
Number of Books read: 12
Australian dividend: 4.045
Science Fiction dividend: 3.5
Fantasy dividend: 3.5
Biography dividend: 2.5
Literary dividend: 1
Mystery dividend: 1.5
Humour dividend: 1

Up next: Sci-Fi sequels

Friday, 2 August 2013

Board Report

Back in the depths of time I introduced you to Chatarungaraja, a chess variant of my own design that I'm unreasonably proud of. In more recent times, through hanging out with my local branch of the SCA a little too much, I was introduced to the Ace's Boke, a series of letters written in middle-agesey-style explaining the rules of period games.

Before long, this happened:

It is sayed far and wide that you are versed well in the ways of the Chesse of the Mad Qweene, but let me tell you of a new game, that is like and allso unlyke it in many wayes. It is known that the Genneral is no grater than the sum of his armie, and in the same way, the King of this new chess, which the Persians call Chatarungaraja, is nothing more than the somme of his menn, and moves like all of them together, the Ruhk, the Horse, the Bishope and the Mann whom you know well from the Queen's chesse. When his army employs of this multitude of forses, then the powers of a Kinge are treemendous indeed, but when the armie is abanddoned by all of the Horses, then the Kinge no longer has use of them, and also cannot move like a Horze moves. When all of the Ruhks are lossed, so then the Kinge cannot move like a Ruhk. When the armie has not any Byshops, then the King is short of their counsel and cannot move in their manner. And iff, following some great battle, all Menn are lost, the the Kinge shall no longer move as a Man. For the Kinge has not any power of his owne exepting that of his armie. Thus if the Kinge has not his armie then he is more easily taken captiv by his enemyes. In this way, this gayme is like warr. But just as the Queen takes no part in war, though the Mad Queene is in this game the Kinge gaynes no comffort from her presents, and may not move in her fashion. So in this way too, this gaeme of Chaturangaraja is like lyfe. In all other ways the game is like the Chesse of the Mad Queene. I hope learning its ways will teach you more of warr, if indeed you have anithing mor to learn.

If that didn't make sense to you, and it wasn't just because of the pseudo-random approach to spelling, then it's time for a brief and simplified diversion into everyone's favourite topic, Chess History!

At some point in the dim dark past, maybe in India, maybe in China, maybe somewhere in the 'Stans (I'm a subscriber to the Indian theory, myself), maybe none/some/all of the aforementioned; a board-based war game that ascribed different properties to different pieces was invented. We can't be sure what this game was really like, but it must have been pretty popular, because it went postal, and versions of it popped up all over the world.

The version we know the most about, because the Arabs actually wrote things down and then faithfully copied them through the ages, was called Shantraj, and was played by the Persians and then assimilated into Arabic culture. They widely played the game, and the masters developed puzzles and teaching literature. This game was remarkably similar to the chess that we play today, with the movements of the King, Rooks and Knights already established. It travelled with the Arabs into Spain, where became 'acedrex', and then into the rest of Europe.

Mad Queen? Scary.
Then, around about 1500, once chess was already widely spread, a new variation spread, widely known as Mad Queen chess, that with the exception of the technicalities, was modern Orthochess. The chancellor or vizier piece not only became the 'Queen', but gained her current all-powerful movements in place of those the the piece we now call the Fers, a kind of one-step bishop. The bishop also gained its modern movements instead of the extremely weak abilities of the Alfil (or elephant), which could travel to only 1/8 the cells of the board as a two-step jumping version of the Fers. Thus chess players in this period knew two games, the chess of the Arabs and the Mad Queen's Chess, a faster, generally more interesting game.

There, you can go back and re-read the above introduction to Chaturanaraja now, if you like. Hopefully it makes a little bit more sense. After playing a couple of games last night we decided that there's another important rule that was part of Shantraj but isn't part of FIDE chess that probably needs to be incorporated, and I'll post a game demonstrating this principle soon. Kudos if you can guess it before then.

Thursday, 1 August 2013

Tie of the Week

Well, it's been a long time between figurative drinks, but it's the First of Blaugust and that means that the tough had better get blogging or face the shame of defeat yet again. So here I am to wear ties and chew gum for the next month, even though chewing gum makes me nauseous.

I'll spend the month doing the same old quantity-over-quality routine that you all know and presumably love, a mish-mash of ties and whatever nonsense floats through my head; while my friends and associates may well be shaking their various thangs for the cause too. John may write some clever things, Claire may write some pretty things Ale may paint, draw, fold or generally magic up some pretty clever things, and presumably Dan will continue to write nonsense about elections like every other journalist in the country that isn't on Royal Baby Watch, but in a generally pretty way.

So, let's get into the mugshots (yes, I know I need to iron my shirts).

(n.b. One of these shirts I didn't actually wear to work this week)
This little number is a great tie for a winter's day, bringing to mind patchwork quilts made of sunshine and kittens, a somewhat gruesome but undoubtedly delightfully warm combination.

Tie Number: 009
Designation: Rumanian Garden Party
Provenance: Christmas 2011
Manufacture: Gallery, Australia
No. of Comments: 3 (Moderate)
Most Favourable Comment: "Wow, you actually matched your tie to your socks. That's commitment." (I was, by complete coincidence, wearing one red and one yellow sock).
Least Favourable Comment: "Your tie is...very yellow"
Observations: People seem to think that yellow isn't a good colour for a tie for some reason. Personally, I think it brings out the mustard in my eyes. 

(yes, I know I need to cut my hair)