Monday, May 30, 2011

Jurassic Park, Part III: TMT

Title: Jurassic Park
Author: Michael Crichton
Publisher: Alfred A. Knopf (1990)

And for my final installment, inspired by this series: a Theatre... a Movie... and a Time.

Jurassic Park, Part I: One Fan's Love Affair
Jurassic Park, Part II: But What About the Science?
Jurassic Park, Part III: TMT


Egyptian Theatre (state historical web site for Delta County buildings)



June 11, 1993 may or may not have been the night I saw this movie. The theatre was packed but that's not saying much. Living in a town with a one screen theatre meant that it was packed almost every night in the summer. But this was in June and that meant the Tru-vu Drive-in was open and it showed two movies/night in the summer tripling the movie options of Delta's cinema goers. (And people wonder why I shudder at the thought of voluntarily living in Colorado - flashbacks, people, flashbacks!) However, I didn't spend my summers in Colorado (I spent them in Louisiana in a town with two theatres totaling 13 screens, bragging rights, I had 'em.) so I would bet I did see this opening night and probably caught a plane out of town soon thereafter. However, the night I saw this isn't really the point. The point is the feeling I had while watching and I was rapt. When that jeep was driving across the field and the camera panned over to the dinosaurs my thought was, "This changes everything!" I saw this with my dad and we couldn't stop talking about it the rest of the night. The effects absolutely blew me away and I am amazed that almost twenty years later movies often do not use effects with the realism and skill displayed in Jurassic Park.

Sunday, May 29, 2011

Jurassic Park, Part II: But What About the Science?

Title: Jurassic Park
Author: Michael Crichton
Publisher: Alfred A. Knopf (1990)

Since I'm about to nit pick like nobody's business on this novel I must first re-iterate how much I love it. Also, I think Crichton got one thing very right science-wise and I'll mention that last so stick around or skim down for it if you get tired of all the crabbing.

Jurassic Park, Part I: One Fan's Love Affair
Jurassic Park, Part II: But What About the Science?
Jurassic Park, Part III: TMT

In case you're interested in following along, I'm including page numbers from this edition:

I've worn many hats as a biologist but the one most relevant here is my molecular biology hat so I'm mostly focusing on those aspects, conveniently that's a large part of the science.

This list is crazy-long so it's under the cut.

Saturday, May 28, 2011

Jurassic Park, Part I

Title: Jurassic Park
Author: Michael Crichton
Publisher: Alfred A. Knopf (1990)

Michael and I are once again bringing you the joint post series you've come to know and love. This selection is a personal favorite of mine and, in celebration of my deep and abiding affection for Jurassic Park, I'm pulling out all the stops with three(!) posts about Jurassic Park. To start off, this post will be what it always is: a review here of the novel and a review of its film adaptation at It Rains... You Get Wet. However, as the Memorial Day Weekend unfolds, parts II and III will be posted.

Jurassic Park, Part I: One Fan's Love Affair
Jurassic Park, Part II: But What About the Science?
Jurassic Park, Part III: TMT

Jurassic Park is my favorite Crichton novel and the one I still read today. My favorite characters and scenes have changed over the years but what hasn't changed is my enjoyment of the story, my continuing patience with the technical errors, and my personal conviction that if I was in charge of the Park I could have done it right. The story is pretty simple: some super smarties have cloned dinosaurs from recovered DNA to make money off a dinosaur zoo. The folks who have ponied up sizable chunks of money for the project are getting worried about things on the island so an audit of sorts is being conducted by various experts.

As was his way, Crichton sets the whole scene up with enough fancy words and interesting graphs to make you really think what is happening could happen. Or at least it gets you excited to believe in it because you want to be smart and use big words and make nice graphs and be a part of the cutting edge. The experts are always the best in the field who remember every random tidbit of information that has ever been uttered in their presence. And that's cool because it's nice to root for smart people. Also, Crichton does a great job of keeping his characters on task. As in, when an expert is running around experting I don't have to worry about him or her suddenly breaking down for a melodramatic moment of personal back story. You'll get some back story as the book progresses but the main focus is always about the expertise and the action: sgwordy likes!

I remember fondly that this was the first book I read that started outside the action and circled in. I'm sure Crichton didn't invent the technique but I dug it and will always remember getting ever closer to the heart of the story. These days books are more likely to start in the middle of someone falling off a cliff and it's rare that you'll get a lot of talkie talkie at the beginning as a way to pique interest. Crichton does it well here (and in his other novels I think) so it's not boring, it's just not immediately full of action.

This is certainly not a perfect book but my love is so great that I tend to ignore the annoying instances when the "other" is marked, the over-use of 'shocking' as a descriptor, the cliche of men not being able to behave professionally when exposed to an attractive woman in a professional capacity, the creation of the world's most annoying character in Lex (this is probably the book's worst sin if I had to give a vote) and a glaring plot device that I will leave for Part II. In the end, it's a great yarn and that's what keeps me coming back. The action is well-paced and filled with variety due to the behavior of the dinosaurs; the characters are easy to buy into because they react to the situation as you would expect given their backgrounds and personal agendas; and the writing is good enough to mostly stay out of the way of why you're there: to see dinos rampage and to puzzle over whether or not Jurassic Park could happen.

Speaking of dinos rampaging, there are some really cool scenes in this book but one of my favorites has got to be the rather ridiculous (but still scary as shit) scene with the T-rex and the kids hiding behind the waterfall. That nasty tongue acting as kid snatcher is creepy and a cool way to think of a T-rex trying to explore despite the tiny arms. Even with rampaging dinos there is still the impressive ability of Crichton to make a computer system failure full of dramatic tension. The pacing is well-served by the various groups not having equal access to information and by the groups trying to solve problems in various locales (like in the aviary vs. the control room vs. the maintenance shed with the raptors).

As you can see, I've got a lot of love for this novel. But, in addition to the spiffy action and the nifty (if flawed) science, an awesome aspect of this book that I don't think gets a lot of comment is its highlight of how the expected can hinder one's ability to observe. Character-wise, this is best exemplified by Hammond (owner of the Park) with his hubris and arrogance. Scene-wise, the critical danger of being focused on expected outcomes reveals itself when the computers are asked to start looking for more dinosaurs than have been released from the laboratory. The scene is a good one in and of itself but the underlying message of observation being the most important tool for assessment is clear. If one only looks for what one expects one might miss the reality.

If you haven't already read Jurassic Park, I'd say 2011 is as good a year as any to do it. In the meantime, don't forget to head over to It Rains... You Get Wet for the film review.

I'll leave you with my favorite quote from this book.

So they [scientists] are focused on whether they can do something. They never stop to ask if they should do something.

See you soon for Part II: But What About the Science?

Monday, May 23, 2011

Reading Roundup

I've got a baseball game queued up on my oh-so-loved so I'm ready to finally catch up on what I've been reading lately. In no particular order:

Title: Moneyball
Author: Michael Lewis
Publisher: W.W. Norton & Company, Inc (2003)

I don't think there are words to express just how much I liked this book. I think I liked it so much because I have an interest in baseball but even without that interest it's still good. The book is about the general manager of the Oakland A's, Billy Beane, and his unconventional way of running a baseball team. When the book first came out there was much to-do between the Old Skool and the New Skool of thought re how to assess baseball talent. In fact, it might be what partly inspired one of my favorite blogs which is, sadly, no longer active. (The archives are super awesome though so it's worth perusing.) Two major selling points here have everything to do with Lewis' writing. First, he seems to realize that the material with which he is provided by baseball folks is a friggin' gold mine so he stays out of its way and lets it speak for itself. Second, Beane has quite a temper which renders him slightly ridiculous on the page. Lewis handles this perfectly and keeps what might be a very wearing aspect of Beane's character completely under control. Very highly recommended!

rating: 5 of 5 stars

Title: The Merlin Conspiracy
Author: Diana Wynne Jones
Publisher: Greenwillow Books (2003)

This is a cool set-up of alternate realities colliding and I definitely enjoyed the world but I continue to not understand why I don't like Jones' books more. I haven't read very many but I keep going in with very high expectations due to her fan base and then not really enjoying the stories all that much. Any Jones' fans want to set me straight? Or at least recommend some favorite titles?

rating: 3 of 5 stars

Title: Blood and Thunder: An Epic of the American West
Author: Hampton Sides
Publisher: Doubleday (2006)

This is an absolutely fantastic book about US Expansion into the West centered around Kit Carson's lifespan. He is the thread that binds the timeline of the book but there is much more here than a straight-up biography. The scope is impressive and wonderfully handled. Very highly recommended for anyone with an interest in American history.

rating: 4 of 5 stars

Title: A Bride for His Convenience
Author: Edith Layton
Publisher: Avon (2008)

The difference between Layton's Signet line and her Avon line is so huge that I'm stunned these books are by the same person. I was lured into another of her Avon's due to the close-out sales at Borders but I am now firmly committed to not even being enticed by a FREE Layton Avon.

rating: 2 of 5 stars

Title: The Two Minute Rule
Author: Robert Crais
Narrator: Christopher Graybill
Publisher: Brilliance Audio (2006)

Dr M and I listened to this one as we drove to SoCal and back. This is one of Crais' titles that does not include Cole or Pike. I liked it well enough but was most impressed with Crais' ability to depict a loser as a sympathetic protag. He depicted the character that is nearly impossible for me to get behind and did it in such a way that I was almost converted. In the end I didn't wish the protag ill but I really didn't wish him well either. Criminals and dead-beat parents are very, very hard for me to want to stick with as a character.

rating: 3 of 5 stars

Title: The Amulet of Samarkand
Author: Jonathan Stroud
Publisher: Hyperion Books (2003)

This is the first of a trilogy centered in a world with magicians. This one is set in London and a magician in training calls a djinni before he's allowed to. The djinni, Bartimaeus, is an absolute gem of a character but I don't think I'll be reading further in the series. I'm fairly anti-series right now anyway (what has happened to the stand alone?????) but the entire time I was reading I couldn't ever shake the annoyance of how sucky all the female characters were. The two main characters had a fairly small realm of activity that was male-dominated (which is fine, that was the set-up) but whenever this small realm would brush up against female characters they were all so one dimensional. meh.

rating: 3 of 5 stars

Title: The Spellman Files
Author: Lisa Lutz
Publisher: Simon and Schuster (2007)

This is a neat hook featuring a family of private investigators. The only problem was that the family drove me nuts. If the main character (eek, I've forgotten her name) was doing her thing and interacting with non-family members I enjoyed myself. Whenever the family was around (which is a lot, it's sort of the point of the book) I was annoyed or bored.

rating: no idea, how do you rate a book when you liked half the words and really disliked the other half?

Title: The Thief-taker's Apprentice
Author: Stephen Deas
Publisher: Gollancz (2010)

I don't know if this one is available in the US on anything other than Kindle (or poss other e-formats?) just as fyi. This is pretty standard fantasy fare with a thief-taker adopting a local hooligan as his apprentice. What is not standard is the pace and build of the story. Refreshingly done. Also, Syannis (thief-taker) is hard core. He's not one of these final-speech-giving, motive-recapping, dilly-dallying types of enforcers: when he comes, it's with the thunder and it's awesome!

rating: 3 of 5 stars

What have you been reading lately?

Sunday, May 15, 2011

L.A. Times Festival of Books

One hard drive back-up, hard drive wipe, and re-customization of a laptop later and I'm finally back in business (sort of, it's amazes how far behind one can get in one's 'digital life' without a computer for several days). So even though it's now been two weeks since the LATFoB I'm still going to report back on my first time attending. The great thing about being late to post is that others have already done great summaries of the panels I attended so I can be lazy link to panel summaries.

I was already planning a week long trip in SoCal and Michael kindly tipped me off to the festival so I made sure that was part of my week. My initial plan was to walk around soaking up all the book awesomeness and attend the Robert Crais panel. Things only got better when it turned out that another favorite of mine, Megan Whalen Turner, would also be a panelist that day. The festival really is like a complete overload of fantastic for book lovers.

Since this was my first time attending I can't speak to the difference between having it at UCLA and USC but I can attest to the fact that the layout was odd. It was almost like there were pods of activity/booths and you had to shift between them rather than just walking down one long line of booths or similar. For me, it made it hard to wander around and still feel like I saw everything. I spent a lot of time trying to find stuff rather than looking at stuff. Whether that was layout or just me, I don't know. However, I do know that I liked the panels much more than the wandering so if I make this an annual event (which I'm hoping to be able to do) I'm going to load up on panels and do less of the meandering.

So if you'd like to know how the panels went I'll direct you to the excellent summary of the Robert Crais panel done by Pop Culture Nerd here and another great summary here of the Young Adult: Worlds Beyond Imagination panel featuring Megan Whalen Turner (and this might even be a direct transcript).

As is probably obvious from the links I was able to meet up with other fans of my favorite authors and that was probably the most rewarding part of the event. An almost universal trait of book lovers is that we love to talk about the books we love and so meeting up with fellow fans is always a wonderful experience.

One final link before I sign off with a few photos. I went ahead and used the festival as a subject for my bookish travel column which can be found here.

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

some days are $#*tier than others

Sometimes there is nothing glamorous about being a scientist.

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

Conversations Rendered Moot

some time in the not so recent past...

sgwordy: You know, it actually says "unbelievable."

[redacted]: No, it doesn't. **continues singing "you're ugly to the bone."**

sgwordy: I'm serious. It definitely is not "ugly to the bone."

[redacted]: There is no way that says "unbelievable." That wouldn't make any sense.

sgwordy: And "ugly to the bone" does?

[redacted]: I'm gonna set a tape up in the stereo and record this next time so we can listen to it closely.

Reason #1,000,935,647,001 why the internet is so dang rad. How I love the webbie.