Sprinklers in the Rain Blog

UR and Gerald’s Game, by Stephen King

Stephen King is an author I’ve never been particularly fond of. While I’ve enjoyed a number of movies he’s been involved in – either directly or as the source material – most of the actual written work I’ve read seemed really hit or miss to me. Some good short stories, some really unmemorable ones. Dreamcatcher. The Gunslinger. Overall, my impression of Stephen King has been that he’s a bit of a self-absorbed author that enjoys writing himself into his work a little too much. Any author’s life is going to affect how and what they write about, and I think him being such a high-profile person actually works against him. I know why this story is set where it is, and I know why that character was hit by a van and almost died. Instead of picturing the main characters, I find myself picturing King there instead and my knee jerk reaction is, “Dude, get over yourself.”

So after The Gunslinger, Dead Zone, and Kingdom Hospital sequentially unimpressed me, I avoided the name Stephen King.

A few weeks ago, however, I was looking for something quick to read and stumbled across a novella he wrote exclusively for Kindle. Having nothing better to suit my mood, I decided to give it a whirl.

And I didn’t move from my seat for a good three hours, until the novella was done.

In UR, a college professor orders a Kindle out of spite after his girlfriend pokes fun at his old-fashioned reading habits. He receives an ugly, hot pink thing, and reluctantly explores what he can do with it. Eventually, he finds that – not only does it download books from Amazon – it can purchase books from something called “The UR.” And not just one Ur, but thousands of them. Millions. In exploring the various Urs, the professor finds that he has access to libraries from endless alternate realities. Realities where classic writers such as Shakespeare, Hemingway, or Poe may have lived just a little longer and released more work (six novels, in the case of Poe). Or realities where they released a different sort of work entirely, such as Hemingway’s murder-mysteries.

The story escalates when he realizes that the UR also has access to newspapers from these realities as well as his own, and eventually ties into The Dark Tower. The actual relevance of this went over my head, but regardless, I found UR a fascinating read and had my imagination running wild.

Of course, there was some obvious product placement, which I found unnecessary since it’s a Kindle exclusive anyway. “The Amazon Kindle automatically remembers where I left off, and lets me purchase books within seconds anywhere I go!” Yeah, I know. I have one.

That aside, the audience targeting for this story really works: anyone enthusiastic enough about books to purchase a Kindle is likely just as excited about the device as the main character, and the very premise of the novel is like a wet dream for literary fans of that sort.

Amazed that something was able to hook me enough to get me reading more than I did all last year, I went on the hunt for my next read from Stephen King, hungry for more. I selected:

Gerald's Game, by Stephen King

Gerald’s Game begins with a couple getting away to their vacation home near a lake during an off-season. Wasting no time, they immediately tear off their clothes and embark on Gerald’s little sex game. He cuffs her to the bed and, just as he begins to get started, Gerald has a heart attack and falls off the bed. Dead on the floor, with her still cuffed to the bed in their cabin in the middle of nowhere.

After a few failed attempts to escape, Jessie finds herself with nothing left to do but to think. It’s not long before she begins to die of thirst and, in the middle of the night, she wakes to find that she’s not alone.

Fuck that shit.

I did enjoy this book, a lot more than I did my previous efforts at King. It’s an excellent character study, and has some really chilling moments (“I don’t think you’re anyone! You’re only made of moonlight!”). Throughout the whole thing, I kept thinking about how much it reminded me of Dolores Claiborne – not realizing that Dolores Claiborne was based on a Stephen King novel. I later found out that the two stories are indeed connected, and were originally intended to be part of a single volume.

Which brings me to my primary complaint about the novel: it’s fascinating yes. But there’s only so much you can do with your main character chained to a bed the whole novel. I think this story would have worked much better with either a hundred less pages or as a novella preceding Dolores Claiborne. There are points where King gets needlessly wordy, rambles off into the past and the story drags. But then it picks back up again, and I forget that I was ever bored.

My second and only complaint is more about the Kindle edition rather than the novel itself (I think): this book is littered with embarrassing typos, line breaks from out of nowhere, and suffers from a general lack of editing. I don’t have the physical version of the book with me to compare, but I’m assuming this is an issue with the digitalization process. Just a word of warning.

All in all, I would recommend Gerald’s Game to more patient readers looking for something character driven. If you’re not into a lot of internal dialogue and flashbacks, you’re not going to enjoy this at all. This would make a great movie for that sort of reader. If only it didn’t involve a woman splayed out naked the whole time…

Does this mean that I’m suddenly a fan of Stephen King? I’m not sure. What I can say is that for the last few years, it’s taken me months to finish anything and I blew through these in a couple days. That’s a pretty nice change of pace for me, and if Stephen King is the man to make it happen then I may be in for quite the marathon…

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Dead Until Dark, by Charlaine Harris

This book amazed me for so many different reasons, I don’t even know where to begin.

  • How did this get published?
  • What was Alan Ball smoking when he read this book? How much of it did he have to smoke before he said, “Wow, this would make a great TV show”? And where can I get some?
  • How can a TV show that follows the book so closely be so much better?
  • How did I make it to the end without attempting suicide?

Spoilers within!

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The Rain Wild Chronicles, by Robin Hobb

This is one of those reviews I feel is pretty redundant: it’s Robin Hobb. I’m a Robin Hobb fanboy. Chances are, if I know you I’ve already been frothing at the mouth in front of you over it. And if you’re reading this, you probably know me. Regardless, posting a review is half the fun in finishing a book for me so I’m doing it anyway. I will do my best to keep this spoiler free.

Upon the release of The Dragon Keeper, a little over five years had passed since last we visited the Elderlings saga in Fool’s Fate. Yes, five years. I had to go back and triple check those numbers. And it’s been even longer since we visited Bingtown and the Rain Wilds specifically, so this is a welcome return for some of us.

When reading Keeper, it’s important to remember that these two volumes were written as one stand-alone novel. I read a lot of negative reviews in various places complaining of a lack of climax in the first volume, no resolution and in general a lot of getting started without really going anywhere. The main reason Hobb tends to write in trilogies is because she sprawls. I think she is incapable of writing a standalone novel. Combined, The Rain Wild Chronicles amounts to 1,136 hardcover pages, which is quite a bit more than most publishers are comfortable with any more. So it was split in two volumes, and sadly 99% of the action happens the moment the second volume begins. This is something I fault the publisher for more than the author, and I think the least they could have done was release the two volumes closer together. Personally, I waited until both volumes were available to really get rolling and went from one directly into the other. I understand the disappointment readers may have felt having only the beginning without any middle or end a year ago, but I urge such people to pick up Dragon Haven because it’s worth it.

We do see some old friends from The Liveship Traders again, though this is not their story and as such they serve only a minor role. As usual, Hobb’s characters and their personal plights take center stage, but in the end their world as a whole is changed by their journey. It’s a very worthy addition to the saga, and I’m excited to see what direction the series goes from here.

It’s not without it’s faults – I’m beginning to wonder what is going on with Hobb’s editing staff. There is a typo in the very first sentence of Keeper, and a few more pop up along the way. Such things have plagued her books for some time now, since her Soldier Son books, if I recall correctly. I don’t recall ever encountering this many typos with any other author, and it’s a bit jarring when you run into it considering her typically graceful flow of writing.

And as much as I love the characters, their complete ignorance does get frustrating. Everyone seems to know what’s going on except the one character it would matter most to, and even when someone sits them down directly and tries explaining to them what’s going on they still fail to grasp it. It’s Fitzism at it’s highest, and it’s annoying. Denial and having a blind eye is understandable to a certain point, but I can only go so long before wanting to throttle people.

But these are minor complaints. I enjoyed the books as a whole, and I highly recommend them to fans of the series.

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The Blade Itself, by Joe Abercrombie

Joe Abercrombie’s debut fantasy novel, The Blade Itself was quite the hit among genre fans a few years ago, and all the hype drove me to find out what all the fuss is about. Yes, I’ve owned the book for about two years. I’m a slow reader.

“Jezal’s heart sank. A deep voice, she sounded like a fat one. Jezal couldn’t afford to be seen walking about the Agriont with a fat girl on his arm. It could ruin his reputation.”

The Blade Itself is the first in Abercrombie’s trilogy, The First Law. The story jumps between various characters, but focuses primarily on four characters: Jezal, the dashing and entirely assholeish nobleman; Glokta, the crippled inquisitor; Logen Ninefingers, a barbaric warrior from the north; and Bayaz, a mysterious wizard who seems to be behind more than he lets on. Cliché, cliché, cliché… oh yeah, and cliché. So it seems.

Surprisingly, Abercrombie’s greatest strength is breathing new life into these fantasy stereotypes, and wastes no opportunity to poke fun at them. In fact, fantasy clichés are littered throughout the whole novel and shamelessly made fun of. As the novel goes on, these characters really begin to grow on you, and you can’t help but love even the worst of them. Their snarky comments and unique insights are enough to carry even the most boring of scenes.

The book has also been tauted for it’s intense and violent fight scenes. The battles are wonderfully written, though I wouldn’t say this book is quite as brutal as others claim it is. I blame this on George RR Martin torturing spoiling me, but really, when the characters have so many funny things to say it can really take the edge off the bloody scene you just read through.

Speaking of George RR Martin, it’s clear that Abercrombie is a fan. At times, the book felt so much like an imitation of A Song of Ice and Fire that it came off almost as a parody. This comes through in Glokta’s character especially, the bitter and scheming cripple who reminded me a little too much of our favorite imp, Tyrion Lannister. In fact, I found Martin equivalents in nearly every character in the book, and sad but true… Martin wrote them better.

Then we come to the story: I really couldn’t tell you what this damned book is about. 527 pages and nothing happened. Okay, that’s an exaggeration. At least two things happened. We’re just not sure what they were yet. There’s something going on up in the north, some guy’s brewing a war, some other people are preparing, but overall nobody seems to care all that much. Except that one guy. A few scenes left me hopeful that something was about to go down, but the following chapter always let me down.

I understand that this is only the first in a trilogy, and many fantasy authors use such a book as a simple introduction to the world and characters. The Blade Itself does well in that regard, but I prefer some sort of climax and/or closure in whatever book I read, regardless of it’s position in a series, and I just didn’t get that here. Even the amazing characters, whom I grew to love very dearly, weren’t enough to motivate me to keep reading a lot of the time, and as a result I can’t agree with a lot of the hype surrounding this book.

Will I pick up the next book? I’m not sure. I don’t have a clear enough idea of what’s going on in the story to care very much, but I am somewhat curious where Abercrombie’s road will lead Jezal, Ardee, Glokta, and all the others.

The rest of you: pick it up for a light and fun read. Check it out at the library if you can. But if you have a high pile of books to read, I wouldn’t say this book is quite worth bumping to the top of your queue.

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FDA’s E-Cigarette Release – Why It’s Bullshit

Since the FDA released their news release warning against the use of electronic cigarettes, I have found myself bombarded by friends and co-workers trying to save my life. “I saw it on the news last night, e-cigarettes cause cancer,” one said. Another merrily informed me that, “There’s antifreeze in your liquid! You’re inhaling anti-freeze!” Then the inevitable, “They’re pulling them from the market.”

Nine out of eleven of these people were smokers, I might add. The worst was when a friend of mine who also uses an e-cigarette instant messaged me in a panic, under the impression that he had made a terrible decision and needed to go back to tobacco cigarettes.

After enduring this all day, I feel like I need to write about it in more detail than I can get into during passing conversation to defend my decision to quit smoking and enjoy vaping instead.

The FDA reports that they found a trace of Diethylene Glycol in one of the two samples of e-liquid they tested, a “chemical used in antifreeze”. Upon further review of the lab test, I found that they obtained both of their liquid samples from American companies (NJOY and Smoking-Everywhere), and the Diethylene Glycol was found in the Smoking-Everywhere liquid. My first thought upon reading this is, “Awesome. Leave it to the least reputable company in the business to give the FDA just what they need to launch their campaign against e-cigarettes.”

Regardless, some people have been lead to believe that they’re practically injecting antifreeze into e-liquid. However, the main ingredient in antifreeze is Ethylene Glycol, not Diethylene Glycol. In fact, in a material safety study performed by JT Baker, Diethylene Glycol was listed as only requiring fresh air when inhaled in high doses, and that it’s “not expected to require first aid measures”. The danger in this chemical lies mainly in the ingestion of high amounts, where it may cause lesions and other damage to the liver and kidneys. Conveniently, the report provided by the FDA failed to mention exactly how much Diethylene Glycol was found in the liquid and in which specific liquids it was found in – be it in one flavor/nicotine concentration, or in all of them.

Redundantly, they move on to report the findings of nitrosamines in the liquid, failing to also mention that FDA-approved products designed to help people quit smoking like Nicoderm CQ and Nicorette contain the same nitrosamines! This is because it’s impossible to extract nicotine from tobacco without also getting traces of the nitrosamines that come with it. Where you have nicotine, you also have nitrosamines.

The real kicker for me is their fear of electronic cigarettes appealing to minors due to the wide variety of flavored liquids available. This after the FDA approves Perrigo to market Cherry and Cinnamon flavored nicotine lozenges. They talk like any child can walk around the corner, buy an e-cigarette and begin puffing away just like that. The fact is that even American manufacturers are few and far between, the mall kiosks you may happen to find do card, purchasing on-line requires age verification, and it costs anywhere between $100-$200 dollars to get started properly. There’s also the learning curve and upkeep factor that even most smokers I’ve introduced it to can’t handle. The truth of the matter is that it’s so much easier for a teenager to walk to the corner gas station, hope they don’t get carded and fork over five bucks for a pack of cigarettes and light up. Or, if they’re so concerned about flavor being a factor, what makes them think the kid won’t just do the obvious and buy a chocolate bar or some mints? Tobacco has always tasted disgusting, and the taste has never prevented anyone, young or old, from getting addicted.

The FDA is missing the point. E-cigarettes are not marketed as a risk free past time. They’re marketed as a healthier alternative to smoking for smokers. The manual that came with my e-cigarette states:

“E-cigarette is a revolution in the market directed toward smokers. […] Suitable User: Adults; People with long smoking history, and suffering from uncomfortable feeling.”

Granted, the Chinese aren’t so great with their English, but their intentions are stated plain and simple.

Everyone is aware that nicotine is bad for you. We’re also aware that there is nicotine in the e-cigarette cartridges. There is no one saying that vaping is a 100% healthy way to smoke. What the FDA has blasted off for the media to broadcast is really nothing but a statement of what we already know, however twisted around to essentially give smokers the message that they should continue to smoke because this whole e-cigarette thing is simply too good to be true. Or use one of their FDA-approved products like Nicorette that rarely work and cost you an arm and a leg. Better yet, try their nicotine free alternative, Chantix, which has driven at least 55 people to suicide! How’s that for healthy?

Hidden behind the blatant propaganda of this report is some actually very good news for people who care to look. They found one harmful chemical in their test. One, compared to the over 2,000 chemicals found in tobacco cigarettes. Another study was done on e-liquid by Health New Zealand which reported nitrosamine findings in 16mg nicotine liquids of 8.183 parts per billion, with obviously much less found in lower nicotine strength liquids. To put a bit of perspective on the bigger picture here, the typical tobacco cigarette contains around 1,230.00 ppb.

However, I agree that e-liquid needs to be regulated. Different studies for different liquids always provide slightly different results, as occurred with this Diethlyne Glycol fiasco. I agree that the same efforts made to keep minors from attaining tobacco should be applied to e-cigarette products. However, I can’t stand behind the FDA when they’re attempting to ban something that could save thousands of lives. This device totes the highest success rate of any nicotine alternative method to date, and I’m stunned the FDA is ignoring it.

“Health care professionals and consumers may report serious adverse events (side effects) or product quality problems with the use of e-cigarettes to the FDA’s MedWatch Adverse Event Reporting program either online, by regular mail, fax or phone.”

Dear MedWatch,

I began using an e-cigarette in my eleventh serious attempt to quit smoking tobacco. After three days, I no longer had any cravings for a cigarette. I stopped having nicotine fits at work. Within a week I developed a horrible cough and began to hack up dark gunk that had built up in my lungs from smoking at least a pack a day for five years. Now, my lungs feel clean and I’m breathing better; even my asthma has settled down. I have a better appetite, and more energy. I can run farther than I have in years. My sex drive has shot through the roof. I no longer waste three hours a day going outside to smoke. I stopped smelling like cigarettes and I have fresh breath. My overall quality of life has improved immensely.

This is serious. Please help.

Yours desperately,
Sincerely, me

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