As the 2015 Season Winds Down

“Oh the days dwindle down
To a precious few….”

There’s just a few more days left in the 2015 baseball season – and what a ride it’s been. The Astros, Royals, and Cubs surprising everyone. The Nationals turning from odds-on favorites into a train wreck and then a dumpster fire. Wilmer Flores and the Trade That Almost Happened. Kershaw and Grienke making people think of Koufax and Drysdale. Shelby Miller unable to get run support. Bartolo at the Bat….

While the awards are announced after the end of the World Series, it’s worth noting that all ballots must be submitted before the playoffs start. So now is the time for all voters and baseball fans to make their selections.

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Book Review: Ready Player One

Ready Player One
Ernest Cline
Random House, 2011

This highly regarded (and being made into a movie) novel left me, well, a little flat. It’s like a slice of chocolate cake prepared by a master baker. Sure, it’s lovely to look at and tastes magnificent, but in the end, it’s not really satisfying as a full meal.

The creator of a truly massive online world died a few years prior to the action of the story, and has left both his multibillion fortune and control of the company that manages this super-MMORPG to the first person who successfully solves a set of puzzles hidden in that world. Our hero, Wade Watts, manages to discover the location of the first puzzle – and solves it. Naturally, he attracts the attention of an EEEvil megacorporation, whose owner wants to win just to extend the power of his business empire.

Turns out all the puzzles have to do in some way with 1980s computer culture – games, movies, and music. This makes it a rather decent nostalgic romp through that era, which is what all the critics and reviewers seem to love.

I liked the ride, too, having been a young adult at the time, and having actually played the games and seen the movies referenced. But after I put the book down, disillusion set in.

Wade comes upon the solutions to the puzzles just a little too easily. There’s never any sense that he is being challenged, or even in any danger. It is a problem for anything set in a virtual world, admittedly, but even in the one occasion where he is actually physically threatened, it turns out that Wade set up the entire situation.

There’s a heck of a lot that’s unsaid in Cline’s world building. The novel is set in a world of scarce resources, to the point that it takes on a post-apocalyptic vibe. But the idea that the U.S. is in such a crappy state precisely because everyone is spending so much time in the online world (Wade even attends school there) that the real world has been allowed to go to rot is unexplored. Even the fact that indentured servitude has become legal again (you can be outright kidnapped by a private corporation and forced to work for them to pay off a debt) is tossed off without comment or elaboration.

Cline has some good ideas, but I think he should have spent a little more time with actual world-building than playing games in some 1980s fantasyland.

Indiana Jones and the Wise Choice

At the end of Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade, Jones and his rival Walter Donovan1 make it past three riddle-based traps….

By the way, who the heck maintains all these traps? I’d love to see one of these sorts of adventure stories where the hero manages to get past the traps because each and every one of them is broken. The springs have rusted, dirt and dust have gummed up the works, mice and rats have chewed up all the ropes… Oh, and the piles of bodies give away the presence of all the traps…

Where was I? Oh yes. They find themselves in a room filled with dozens of cups and chalices, and a very old knight who is acting as a last-ditch guard on the hidden Grail.

The final challenge? Choose the True Grail from among the false ones.

Donovan, who got their first, has his assistant Dr. Elsa Schneider make the choice. She picks out an ornate golden one which she assures him is “first century Aramaic”. Donovan takes it, fills it from the font that is conveniently there, takes a drink, and turns to dust.

Indiana arrives in time to see all this, and gets to go next. In a hurry to use the healing powers of the Grail to save his dying father, he looks for a “carpenter’s cup”2, and picks a simple wooden cup. It turns out to be the True Grail. “You have chosen wisely”, says the knight.

Indiana rushes out with the Grail, heals his father, but no one gets to keep the Grail as the temple collapses around them when Schneider tries to escape with it. She and the Grail wind up being buried in the ruins.

Here’s my problem with this whole scene.

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Movie Review: Attack the Block (UK, 2011)

It’s Guy Fawkes Night in South London, and a young woman (Jodie Whittaker) is walking home from work. As she approaches her home in a public housing complex, a gang of teenaged thugs surround and proceed to mug her. Before they can complete their task, something crashes down into a parked car at the side of the street. Moses (John Boyega), the gang’s leader, goes to investigate, and is slashed in the face for his trouble. This assault cannot go unpunished, so their mugging victim forgotten, the gang tracks down the wild animal responsible.

The thing is tracked down to a shed in a playground, and is quickly beaten to death. Moses carries the body back home as a trophy, but it takes him and the rest of the gang a while to realize that the thing is no earthly creature. And when a number of flaming objects start landing in the neighborhood in the same way that their victim arrived, they are in for a whole heck of a lot of trouble….
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Into the Home Stretch

We’re into the last month of the baseball season, and the pennant races are heating up. With the first team (Cincinnati) having just been eliminated, it’s a good time to take a look at who’s in first and who’s likely to make the playoffs.

Things are clearest in the National League. Every team in first has a six game lead (at least, as of this writing), and the teams in second place don’t look strong enough to overtake them. Sure, it’s possible the Mets could collapse like they’ve done before, but even given that they’ll be carefully watching the work loads of their ace starters, there’s practically no chance that the near dumpster fire of the Nationals will get their act together in time to take any advantage of that. Look for the Mets to clinch before that final Mets-Nats series in Citi Field.

It must hurt to be the Pirates. In four of the other five divisions, they’d be in first place. But they have to play in the same division as the Cardinals, who seem a lock to win 100 games this year. And the Cubs have two teams to look up at in envy. At least the two of them get to play in that “wild card play-in” game…

The only thing really left to be decided in the NL is who will get home field advantage in the first round of the playoffs – the Dodgers or the Mets. The way things are likely to wind up, they’ll be facing each other. And given the results of their games against each other (the Mets have won 4 of the 7 games, outscoring the Dodgers by a total of 33-19), home field could be key. It’s “Kershaw and Grienke, then grab a hankie” vs. the Harvey-deGrom-Syndegaard Triumvirate. Should be fun!

There’s more to be decided in the American League. Only the Royals have run away with their division (who saw that coming?). The Blue Jays and Yankees are fighting it out in the AL East, and the Rangers are making the Astros look nervously over their shoulders. Right now, the wild card spots are still up for grabs, too. In addition to the second place teams in the East and West, the Twins, Angels, and Rays all have a good shot at sneaking in. I wonder what the tiebreaker scenarios look like…

Even if your team isn’t in the race, there are still things to be decided. Can Josh Donaldson keep up his torrid pace, and take the MVP from Mike Trout? Will the utter mess of the Nationals hurt Bryce Harper’s MVP chances? Will there be another no-hitter, triple play, inside-the-park home run, or steal of home? Will St. Louis Cardinals fans become even more insufferable? Why does Donald Trump get more popular the more offensive he gets? Who was that lady I saw you with last night?