SirTheory’s Treatise on Life

(opinions on just about anything)

A Look at the Handhelds

Within the past month I have had the pleasure of acquiring both a Nintendo DS and the Playstation Portable. After having spent nice amounts of time with each, I thought it would be worth writing up the definitive post on which handheld system is better and worth your hard earned cash.

The Nintendo DS (the Lite style pictured right) is distinctive due to its dual screen setup. The bottom screen is a touch screen that can be manipulated with a stylus. The regular DS, which has a lot of extra bulk that the Lite trims down on, is no longer offered by Nintendo. However, through the joys of acquiring things used, it is the regular (fondly refered to as the DS Phat for obvious reasons) that I am the proud owner of.

The upside to the DS could initially be confused as a gimmick: dual screens and a stylus. However, this has lead to some innovative games which makes great use of the touch screen and dual screen setup.

The other big draw to the DS is its game line-up. You have the stead-fast favorite franchise from Mario, including Mario Kart DS, Mario & Luigi Partners in Time, Super Mario Bros DS, among others. Then there are the popular education titles, such as Brain Age series, and the pet simulators ala Nintendogs. And the whole slew of movie tie-ins that Nintendo is so eager to accept. Of course, Mario is classy stuff accepted by everyone: novices and gamers alike. But those other titles (including many I haven’t even listed) are aimed squarely at the non-gamer. They have pushed the DS (and, incidentally, the Wii) into an area that few could predict that gaming could go: anyone and everyone.

Thankfully amid all the mediocrity there are some great games. The afore mentioned Mario Kart DS takes advantage of the DS’s WiFi ability and allows a user on a wireless network to play the game online with people around the world. There is Metroid Prime Hunters, considered one of the best FPS (First Person Shooters) on any handheld device. Then there is the whole slew of RPG (role-playing games). Arguably the best one is Puzzle Quest, which takes the simple idea of combining an RPG with the addicting game play of Bejewelled. It sounds like a weird set, but it works really well. While the game is available on both handhelds and some consoles, the stylus play of the DS is perfect for such a game and is the perfect replacement for using a mouse. (Even if you don’t own a DS, you must own this game in some way, shape, or form. I believe it is even available for the PC).  Then there are fun mini-game collections like Feel The Magic: XY/XX which make clever, extensive use of the touch screen. Or the handheld release of the first Resident Evil game, remixed slightly with some satisfying touch screen features. There are a lot of original releases on the DS which don’t appear on any other system. And the games which <i>do</i> appear elsewhere feel unique as they take advantage of the things the DS offers.

What the DS fails to excel at is with the graphics. While the graphics are rarely <i>bad</i>, and are even quite pretty, they can’t hold a candle to what the PSP can do. The PSP screen, which Sony deemed good enough to be worth making movies in the PSP format (officially called UMD, a Universal Media Disc), displays graphics on par with what you get from good PS2 games. Games like Ridge Racer (pictured on the screen on the left) have breath-taking graphics that are as good as what I’ve seen from Project Gotham Racing 2 on the xbox. The screen is smaller than a TV, but no less worthy. The graphics aren’t the only thing that makes the PSP a cool item.

Like the DS, the PSP has WiFi. Unlike the DS the PSP includes a web browser. A fully functioning web browser that works surprisingly briskly, only bogging down with certain information-intense websites. Despite the lack of a keyboard, text can be entered via a cellphone-esque setup. Slightly obnoxious, yet better than not being able to enter any text at all. While at home it is generally easier and more satisfying to just hop on a computer, the PSP would come in handy on the go if a wireless connection can be located. (Which, these days isn’t really all that tough.) The portability of the device makes it easier to take to, for example, a coffee shop or Barnes and Noble. Or to carry around campus to use in between classes.

The big downside to the PSP is in the game selection. While there are certainly good titles, and they look fantastic, the system as a whole lacks the innovation or creativity that the DS boasts. PSP games tend to feel like ports of their console brethren.  Or rehash series like the Burnout series and the Grand Theft Auto series. Of course, for someone like me who has never owned a PS2 or 3, this repetitiveness isn’t really noticed too much. Yet the PSP library, like its console brethern, seems to have a much lower ratio between the good games and the mediocre games than the DS does. The good games that are there, however, just look freakin’ fantastic.

The two systems are just totally different. Trying to say that one eclipses the other as a whole is kind of a futile exercise. Those who demand graphics that look like they’re on par with the consoles and who find the idea of playing Grand Theft Auto exciting will probably find more of interest in the PSP. Those who are more interested in innovative game play and creative vision (or education type games) and don’t care so much about the graphics will find the DS to be plenty satisfying.

February 3, 2008 Posted by | Video Games | , , , , | Leave a comment

The Residents – The Voice of Midnight

First off, let me apologize for the long silence and lack of updates. School/life has pretty much sapped all creative thinking out of me. Considering this blog is a creative endeavor, it suffers as a result.

The Residents have been experiencing a creative resurgence the past few years. While their career has been quite steady in its streaky nature (a decade of amazing releases, a decade of trash, a half a decade of pretty good, a half a decade of trash, etc) it has been on an upward swing for several years. Animal Lover from 2005 and Tweedles from 2006 are both really good albums that showcase what a group can do 35 years into their career.

The Voice of Midnight immediately made me both excited and worried. While the prospect of new Residents material is always good, the fact that only about a year (as opposed to the year and a half separating the aforementioned Animal Lover and Tweedles) had passed since the last album made me wonder if The Voice of Midnight could be as well developed or original as the last few albums had been.

It is a valid concern, as nothing on the album is really compelling or any kind of surprise. It simply retreads what they’ve been doing the last two to three years. Like The River of Crime, there is a strong focus on narration instead of singing. Unlike Crime, however, The Voice of Midnight feels more like a stage production than a radio program. Tweedles had some narrative elements, but they were mixed with interesting music. The Voice of Midnight lacks that aspect.

The main redeeming feature of this release is the super-limited EP, The Sandman Waits, that the first 500 people to order the album off of Ralph America received. Unfortunately they are no longer available (as one just sold for over $140 on ebay), but it takes the themes from the full length and presents them in more of a classic Residents sound. Highly essential for Residents fans.

For those who are new to the band, The Voice of Midnight is not a great place to start. Definitely a subpar effort that hopefully won’t signal the start of bad years ahead.

November 17, 2007 Posted by | Music | , , , , | 1 Comment

Jars of Clay – Live Monsters

When Jars of Clay released their self-titled debut in 1995 few people would have predicted that the band would still be going strong twelve years later. They have kept going, even as their popularity dropped from the insane fervor that drove the self-titled album to platinum sales. Yet the albums they release continue to be amazingly strong. Even a band as consistent as Jars of Clay will have a few duds in their catalog. Live Monsters is definitely a stumble and a weak way to follow-up their hit Good Monsters.Live Monsters takes seven of the songs from Good Monsters and, as can be inferred from the title, presents them in a live setting. The problem with that is that Jars of Clay doesn’t really sound any different live than they do on album. If you are actually in a crowd in a live setting this doesn’t really pose any problems. Fun will still be had. Unfortunately, when presented on album, the lack of difference makes owning both Live Monsters and Good Monsters pretty redundant.

The song that feels most different when compared to the studio version is “Oh My God.” The difference can be debated, but the live version feels more steady than the studio. In the studio the song rises and falls in a more-or-less steady manner. But live it does more of a gradual climb to the eventual spine-tingling ending.

Subtleties aside, this album is a fairly classic example of how to get out of a contract. Jars of Clay has been on Essential Records from the very beginning. However, their new Christmas album, simply titled Christmas Songs, releases soon and it is fantastic. I have listened through it several times and will doubtlessly become my favorite stuff of the season. Not so surprisingly, the album releases on Grey Matters through Nettwerk Music Group.

Contract ditching or not, Live Monsters can really only be recommended to three groups of people: Those who must own everything Jars of Clay has released, those who saw the group live on this tour and want a postcard of sorts of the event, and those who did really prefer a live version of one of these songs to the studio version. Yet as much as I preferred “Oh My God” on the live album, I still wouldn’t invest my hard earned money into it. However, if you don’t have Good Monsters, I do recommend checking that album out.

October 13, 2007 Posted by | Music | , | 1 Comment

Obligatory Radiohead Post

Radiohead shocked the world two weeks ago with the news that they had just recorded an album and that it would be available as a download starting today (Oct. 10th) on a– get this– “pay what you want” basis. Many people who would have simply P2Ped it gave $0. Then the hardcore Radiohead fans who wanted to support the band on such a venture gave up to $20 for the download. I paid ~$4, which seemed worthwhile for a download of our generation’s Beatles.

I got the link this morning to download the album from Radiohead and was surprised that the download took a mere minute and a half. I figured that the high traffic of everyone and their mother trying to download the album would really slow things down. Thankfully that was not the case and within ten minutes of waking up I had the album downloaded, on my iPod, and was on track two while walking to my General Astronomy class.

In Rainbows seems to be more about subtle nuance than most of their catalog. My favorite Radiohead album was, and remains, Hail To The Thief, due to how three dimensional the album and songs feel. The other Radiohead albums always struck me as feeling more two dimensional. In Rainbows seems to return to two dimensions, at least initially. Yet the afore mentioned subtle nuances allows it to breathe freer than the sum of its parts would imply. But that is Radiohead for you: their albums often feel like more than they should.

At this point, trying to determine how this album ranks among the rest of Radiohead’s output would be an exercise in futility. Indeed, even trying to pinpoint the best track from the album would be a pointless task. It is just too early to be able to tell. But what can be told is that for an album where you could pay what you wanted, you got your money’s worth. The songs are not throw-away tracks that won’t be worth keeping around. Nor do they feel like b-sides from past albums. In Rainbows feels like a genuine album. It is merely missing the packaging and heightened anticipation that accompanies most normal releases.

Of course, for those who have yet to purchase the download the question remains of how much to pay for it. If you have no interest in a physical release if and when one comes, then I’d go with $5-$8 for it. If you plan on picking up the physical release (if and when) then I’d suggest somewhere between $1 and $4. I picked the $4 because I don’t want to take advantage of the system while also realizing that this is a digital release and, with my $4 Radiohead is still making more money on the download than they would have from a major label release in physical CD form.

Regardless, kudos to Radiohead for this interesting experiment. While I don’t see this exact format working for most normal bands, the fact that a major band such as Radiohead pulled it off will definitely be something the industry takes a long, hard look at. It will also be interesting, once there is an actual physical release of the album on a label, to see how that sells after the digital release. Only time will tell.

October 10, 2007 Posted by | Music | , | Leave a comment

This Dude Is A Stud…

Eh, eh?

Yes, that is me. I find it perhaps to be one of my most photogenic moments ever. While I generally don’t want this blog to be about me, I thought it worth sharing. The man behind the words.

In other news, the Phillies have been killing me the past two days with their lackluster pitching against the Rockies. While the Phillies have it in them to win three in a row, the way the Rockies have been playing will make it tough.

Everyone and their grandmother should, by now, be aware of the forthcoming Radiohead album. Few future releases stir up a buzz the way Radiohead does. Particularly when you combine it with the way Radiohead is doing their new release. They suddenly set up a website proclaiming that they had just finished recording their new album and that it it would be releasing in what at the time was 10 days. TEN DAYS. It is going to be available in two formats: digital download and a super-deluxe boxset. The really, really good news is that the download is pay-what-you-want. Anywhere between $0.00 and your credit limit. The deluxe boxset is about $80, depending on current currency exchange rates between USD and Pounds. The big perk to the box set is that it comes with both CD and Vinyl… plus includes a second CD/Vinyl exclusive to the boxset. Without a doubt the hardcore fans are pulling out their wallets for the boxset. Order either at http://www.radiohead.com

October 4, 2007 Posted by | General, Music, Sports | , | 1 Comment

The Phillies Are Phinally In The Post Season

I remember during the first 1/3 of the season telling my co-working that it would be horribly ironic if the Phillies actually made the playoffs this year. They had gotten of to an abysmal 4-11 start, good for the worst record in the major leagues. People were calling for Charlie Manuel’s head. Manual had taken their star starter, Brett Myers, and made him a closer. Players were falling like flies due to injury. The reigning MVP winner Ryan Howard was barely hitting .200. The bullpen was taking fantastic starting efforts and blowing them. It was bleak.

Yet there were bright points. Both Jimmy Rollins and, more surprisingly, Aaron Rowand were in the process of cranking out career years. Cole Hamels was the only bright point in a starting rotation hobbled by inconsistency and injuries. Yet the loses were mounting, albeit at a less heart-attack inducing rate as before.

It is hard to pinpoint when the turnaround really started, although there are several ways to look at it. The first thing that had to happen was a righting of the ship. Start winning series consistently. Eliminate the constant petty errors. Believe. Yet specific events can help catapult a team to another level.

The first event was something that didn’t even appear in the box score. They were playing in Colorado, facing the Rockies. It was the beginning of July and the rains came in the middle of the game. They delayed the game and the grounds crew went to work. The winds became violent and caught the tarps, whipping the grounds crew around like rag dolls. Without a seconds hesitation the entire Phillies team ran onto the field and helped out. The video (a poorly recorded version is on youtube if you wish to see it) is spectacular. It is possible to look at this event as a catalyst: the team felt more like a team, not to mention karma favored Philadelphia in a way the team hasn’t seen in years (or at all.)

The other huge turning point was the four game series at the end of August with the New York Mets. Going into the series you felt that you had to win three of those. The sweep would be impossible, but three games? That would mean gaining two games on the Mets, which would be quite good. Well, not only did the Phillies win three games, but they decided to go ahead and win the 4th one, as well. But not only were all four games won, but each win was crazier and more insane than the last. You had a game end on an interference call… and then some how the following game went and topped that. It was a whirlwind series that left the Mets reeling. (The Phillies ended up sweeping three series with the Mets during the year and beat them 12 out of 18 meetings.)

Yet individual contributions from smaller players were huge, too. When the Phillies starting rotation was ripped to shreds with injuries and inconsistency, Kyle Kendrick was called up from Double-A to fill in a start. The kid, who wasn’t really on anybody’s radar, proceeded to dominate his spot start. He never went back down to the minor leagues and became the Phillies second most consistent starter after Cole Hamels.

The team was put on life support when Chase Utley suffered a broken hand after getting hit by a pitch. In Pat Gillicks’s greatest move of the season he quickly dealt a nobody pitcher from the system for Tadahito Iguchi, a major league level second baseman. Iguchi, while not quite playing up to Chase Utley’s high level of play, did a fantastic job both defensively and offensively. He got clutch hits and raised his off-season value. The Phillies had a winning record during Utley’s injury due in no small part to what Iguchi did for the team.

The Phillies outfield was a big strength, getting a ton of outfield assists. In the same game both Shane Victorino and Michael Bourn got injured. Both were big speed demons, and, although Bourn was just the backup, had been hitting well and playing a great outfield when called upon to backup. When Victorino went down I was sad, but figured Bourn would do a capable job of filling in. Yet when Bourn went down I was despondent. Who would fill in and give us any kind of production? The answer came in Jason Werth, who had acquired the not too endearing nickname “Werthless” by some Phillies blog commenters. He became clutch offensively, getting all kinds of huge hits. He didn’t have the speed of Victorino or Bourn, but demonstrated better plate discipline. Werth just totally stepped it up. And with the likely departure of Rowand in the off-season, could very well become a starter next year.

Perhaps the thing that benefited the Phillies the most is how every win seemed to feature a new hero. It wasn’t up to Howard or Utley to get the big, clutch hit every single game. In one game you have Greg Dobbs piling on his gaudy Major League-leading pinch-hit RBI total. In another you have Chris Coste hitting a pinch hit home run. Turn around and Abraham Nunez flashed serious leather at third base to save several runs. J.C. Romero was an absolute God-send for the battered bullpen. Kyle Lohse was a trade deadline acquisition and gave the Phillies quality starts.

Also worth mentioning is the Phillies major league-leading 48 come-from-behind wins. They never quit on a game, just like they never quit in the race for the post season. Not only did they reach the post season, but they overtook the NY Mets, something everyone thought was impossible at the end of August.

Congratulations, Phillies. You have made the season exciting.
But don’t get too complacent. We have a myriad of great teams to weave through yet to reach the World Series and, hopefully, win.

September 30, 2007 Posted by | Sports | Leave a comment

I don’t really have anything to say right now…

Nothing has really been catching my attention so much that writing about it is interesting. I have two saved beginnings of music reviews that I lost interest in in the middle of writing (Silage and Queens of the Stone Age if anyone is interested enough to make a request to force me into completing one or both), but nothing has really been hitting my creative buttons right now. Since I don’t get anything out of writing this blog, I’m not going to force the issue.

However, I will make brief note of several things:

1) The Phillies are currently 1.5 games behind a scuffling Mets with a week and a half to go. Of course, as a Phillies fan there are two definite truths to gleam from this. A) I really, really want them to overtake the Mets. B) I have lived and died with every pitch since 2002 so know that such a simple thing is generally impossible in the city of Philadelphia.

2) I’m really enjoying Edgar Allan Poe. I had to read some of him for my short story class and never really realized just how crucial the man was to the short story genre. We tend to view the novel as being more serious and in demand of more talent than the short story, but that is simply not the case. Poe even goes as far as to say that any story that can’t be read it one sitting is too long because it will loose some of its punch.

3) While I hesitate to mention this because it isn’t really media or artistically focused (the two major points of this blog) and I would hate to see this blog deteriorate into just another “life” blog (today I got my hair cut and OMG I totally hate it!) I feel that it is worth mentioning that I’ve been blessed to have a number of Really Good Friend Interactions lately.

-These RGFIs started last week when I met one of my roommate’s friends and we just sort of instantly meshed.

-Then yesterday I went to a video game store that I had not been to before. I hadn’t really been aware of its existence until I was at the mall and a clerk at the video game store there mentioned it to another customer. Since I was in the area, I figured I’d check it out. I walked in and saw that one of the clerks looked like a friend I hadn’t seen all summer. I knew it wasn’t him, though, because he goes to college in Philadelphia. So I did my shopping and was about to check out when I hear “Jacob!” I instantly was pretty sure that it MUST have been my friend, but turned around slowly and, still unbelieving his current existence, made a scene of checking his name tag. It was definitely him (apparently his school starts uber-late) and we had a good conversation.

Then yesterday evening my roommate decided that we all needed to go out to a bar for drinks. So I agreed to go since I knew almost everyone she was inviting, several of whom were quiet awesome (the above mentioned insta-mesh friend, as well as one of the funniest guys I have ever met). As it turned out, it was only us roommates plus the one friend whom I had never really met before. Yet it was good. We went to The Brickyard and hated it, so hopped our way over to Annie Baileys, one of the nicest bars in town. There Insta-Mesh drifted in after we’d been there half an hour or so and so grand times were had. Unfortunately Uber Funny never called back… but life goes on, yeah?

(The result of the evening ended up being four hours of sleep for myself, considering I had an 10am class… though I really should have skipped because we’ve had a fill-in professor the past two classes and he’s really quite boring and seems to forget he’s lecturing to a 100 level class instead of actual physics majors. I got very little from it and the time would have been better spent sleeping.)

Hopefully in the next few days I’ll actually get inspired to write something of substance rather than this frilly, free-of-content filler. My apologies to my regular readers.

September 21, 2007 Posted by | General, Uncategorized | 1 Comment

Mr. Bean’s Holiday

In the United States of America, Mr. Bean has really only been a trivial curiosity. The Mr. Bean television show was hot stuff in England, where the all-powerful BBC aired it. Yet in America it has never gotten more than a cult following. It’s hard to blame America, considering our general suspicion of British humor, not to mention everything British humor tends to get compared to Monty Python, which makes shows like Mr. Bean pale considerably.

Mr. Bean, who was created and played by Rowan Atkinson, is a completely different brand of humor from Monty Python. The television show has elements of sketch to it, but deviates largely by keeping the same main character throughout the entire show and series. Really, it could be considered a cross between Napoleon Dynamite (despite predating Napoleon by a couple of decades) and Monty Python. However, there is a lot of slapstick involved with Mr. Bean. Visual humor is huge due to the fact that Mr. Bean doesn’t really speak beyond some simple words like, “Yes.” He is portrayed as being “special” without being considered stupid. The entire success of any Mr. Bean project, be it the TV series or any of the movies, lies entirely with Atkinson and his ability to not get repetitive. Sometimes, as with the first Bean movie, it does get repetitive.

Thankfully Mr. Bean’s Holiday, an unconnected follow-up to Bean, feels like a breath of fresh air for the Bean franchise. Unlike the Bean movie, Holiday doesn’t try to do too much. Bean felt like the producers were adding a lot of stupid stuff to try and appeal to American audiences. Holiday lacks that baggage. It is more linear while retaining the heart and sly wink of the television series. None of the characters, other than Bean himself, feels over the top.

Helping Holiday and Atkinson is Emma de Caunes and Max Baldry. Baldry is a kid whom, due to Bean’s desire to get a photo of himself outside a train, loses his father. The kid becomes a frequent companion for Bean on his travels: they try to locate the father using a cryptic clue and Bean wants to find the beach. They hit bumps in the road and it feels hopeless when Emma de Caunes gets pulled into their crew. de Caunes portrays an actress hoping to get her big break. Bean meets her when he unknowingly stumbles upon a movie set and, mistaking her action sequence for a real life event, tries to save her. It sounds so tediously cheesy, yet Emma de Caunes’ warmth brings a great spark to the film at just the right place.

In the end, Mr. Bean’s Holiday ends up being a warmer and more sympathetic Bean than we’ve known before. Atkinson manages this without sacrificing the humor. In the end, Mr. Bean’s Holiday, like any Bean product, won’t be for everyone. However, a wider audience should be able to appreciate this offering over the television series or Bean.

September 17, 2007 Posted by | Movies | Leave a comment

I bought an xbox.

So I was bored last week and started searching for used xbox systems on ebay. I like my Gamecube, but rather felt like every time I went to the game store to check out used Gamecube titles there was never anything there… or if there was, it was costing $25 and up used. I had just sold my Gameboy Advance SP, with games, on ebay so had some paypal money to use up. (Paypal money is kind of like play money if you don’t have your bank account hooked up to it.) So it was either buy another CD I would listen to a few times, place on my obligatory top10 list and then forget about, or try something new. Like an xbox system, why not?

So I bid on some over the span of about two days. It was wildly frustrating business, as some were sold as lots, complete with a truckload of games. I would think I was sure to win a great one, only to get sniped at the last second. Eventually I stopped aiming for a system that came with a number of good games. Or any games. I figured that game lots without the system were going for pretty good prices, so I’d just snag one of those and it would all equal out to be about the same.

Well, I won one… I paid for it… and after a week of waiting, it arrived yesterday. The seller, despite not listing any games in the description, was very kind and threw a couple in for me.  However, that didn’t stop me from speeding out to the mall and stopping by the video game stores to pick some titles up.

I am blown away at how much cheaper good, used xbox games  are compared to used games on Gamecube. For the Gamecube it isn’t uncommon to spend $15 on a used game. They can be found for less, but they’re usually not as good. Whereas for the xbox I went in and found 6 decent-to-great games and the total bill was $21. Two of them are games that frequently make Best-of-the-xbox lists (Project Gotham Racing 2 and Jet Set Radio Future). Two were games I simply wanted to try because they were games I wanted to play years ago (Enter the Matrix and Max Payne). I also got XIII (as in the Roman numerals for 13), which kind of reminded me of Killer7 for the Gamecube, so I picked it up hoping it had better controls (which totally killed Killer7).

One of the best games I had for our Macintosh computer was the original Unreal Tournament. It was awesome. Nothing beats the sheer awesomeness of being dumped on a map while battling other people in an every-man-for-himself  free-for-all. The amount of weapons was awesome, and they felt and looked right. It was like Halo, only before Halo’s time and without the online ability. So when I saw Unreal Championship and read that it was the xbox spin off of the Tournament, I had to pick it up.

Unfortunately, and probably unsurprisingly, Unreal Championship, while in many ways being very similar to Unreal Tournament, lacks the key features that made the Tournament ace. The maps are bland and weapons aren’t as varied or as satisfying to use. Still, since I don’t have a way to play Unreal Tournament I’ll probably log a number of hours on the Championship. Unless I end up deciding to dump $20+ on Halo or Halo 2.

Then again, considering how I can get quite a few quality xbox games for under $5 I might just say screw Halo. Hear that capitalist America? SCREW HALO.

September 14, 2007 Posted by | Video Games | 2 Comments

Anti-Story: An Anthology of Experimental Fiction

Experimental fiction can be really hit-or-miss. However, the short story is the perfect way to showcase such a thing. If you succeed it is short yet sweet without overstaying its welcome. If it is really terrible it won’t last too long. It is inevitable that in a collection like this there will be some really terrible stuff.

Anti-Story, which was edited by Philip Stevick, is split into eight section: Fiction About Fiction, The Uses of Fantasy, The Primacy of Voice, Fiction In Search of Something to Be About, New Forms of Extremity, The Phenomenal World, Forms of the Absurd, and The Minimal Story. If you could feel your pulse quicken when reading those section headings, go and pick this collection up immediately.

There are quite a few really good stories, insane though they may seem to the logical mind, in this anthology. From “Life-Story” by John Barth, a story about writing a story which switches point of view, to “Rhinoceros”  by Eugene Ionesco, which is about people turning into rhinos. Perhaps the best of the lot is Tommaso Landolfi’s story, “Gogol’s Wife.” It is a tale of a man who loved a blow-up sex doll. It is imaginative, crazy, and has a warm heart that really brings the story alive.

Some of the stories are completely incomprehensible due to being so experimental that they’ve lost all meaning, becoming just words on a page that don’t connect to each other. The worst in the anthology can be followed, however, is excruciatingly long and lacks any plot or characters. It is called “In the Heart of the Heart of the Country” by William Gass. At 28 pages long it is no simple walk in the park. Gass splits the writing into multiple sections with a header to describe what that section is talking about. It all centers on a specific yet nameless town. But rather than telling a linear story (or any story) it just gives details about the area. Without any plot to keep track of it is hard to keep turning the pages. Yet you have to turn through 28 of them.

Thankfully, even with the worst of the worst, the nature of this anthology means that every story expands your idea of what fiction can be. Which is nothing but a plus, especially if you are writer. If you are just a reader, looking for an easy time, then this anthology is probably something to skip. You’d be better off getting a John Grisham trade paperback.

September 10, 2007 Posted by | Literature | Leave a comment

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