Tag Archives: Neal Stephenson

Skateboarders are Buttheads

This should get me a bit of hate mail but it’s true. Okay, not ALL skateboarders are buttheads but the vast majority that I run into on the streets are. The ones that go to the skateboard parks and other safe areas to do their acrobatic feats of derring-do are no problem at all.

The ones that careen through traffic trying to race Death out of Darwin’s gene pool: now those are the giant buttheads. They care for little, not themselves, nor anyone else and have the arrogance that equates to a short life.

We have many forms of locomotion; cars, buses, bicycles, feet, motorcycles, roller blades and skateboards. Skateboards are the least suited to sidewalk and road. Bicyclists and motorcyclists ride small wheeled vehicles with their flesh exposed to the elements and the hard metal of other machines. They wear reflective and protective clothing, and helmets. Of course there would probably be a few death-wish hopefuls who would try to ride without helmets if it weren’t law, like it’s cool to have your brains splat on pavement or something. Cool to be stupid: that’s attractive.

Bicyclists, if they want to remain alive, pedal along beside cars as they can’t go as fast. Drivers and bicyclists should always respect each other’s space and cut out any ego issues. Unfortunately there are attitudes on both sides, but we can always dream of better tolerance. But back to skateboarders; they don’t wear protective or reflective clothing, they don’t wear helmets. Two fails right there.

Pedestrians have the right of way of sidewalks. They walk on them, not on the road where they would soon be road pizza. Of course there are butthead pedestrians who jaywalk in front of cars as if they own the road. But most stick to the sidewalks where they belong. Skateboarders get another fail for having a wheeled object on the sidewalk. Bikes aren’t allowed there; neither are skateboards.

Skateboarders don’t fit the rules of the road because they can’t go fast enough, not even as fast as a bike unless it’s downhill. They don’t wear the proper gear and on top of that they’re kicking a leg out and veering, long undulations in and out of traffic. Skateboarders don’t fit the rules of the sidewalk, because they’re on wheels. They’re hazardous to the pedestrians and often swerve all over the place.

On top of all this, they, who are least protected on the road, take the biggest risks, rolling down the middle of the street, nonchalantly getting out of the way–eventually, when a driver has had to break or slow down for them. It always amazes me that the less protection a person has from vehicles, it’s almost as if the arrogance goes up exponentially.

There is nothing more irritating or dangerous then guys flying down the road, or chugging along weaving in and out of cars and people, flipping up on curbs, doing near nose-dives onto pavement. Skateboards should be like ATVs, banned completely from roads and sidewalks and only given to certain terrain. The skateboard parks and abandoned underpasses are the ideal terrain for the skateboarder but not as a way through the streets.

A view of an extreme skateboarder’s world is revealed in Neal Stephenson’s Snow Crash where pizza drivers wield swords and couriers skateboard along freeways tossing their magnetized discs onto speeding vehicles to hitch a ride. (A review of this book is in a previous blog entry.) So I will stick with my thoughts that skateboarders on the streets today are buttheads, pursuing a delicate dance with death while endangering others.

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Book Review: Mistborn, Maledicte & Snow Crash

Through the snowbound holidays and the worst cold I’ve had in a very long time, I did a bit of reading. Snow Crash by Neal Stephenson is old hat now. Written in the early 90s it still holds up as a cyberpunk, nearly futuristic world of hackers, commercialism and franchising taken to a new high. The Mafia is better organized and bigger than the Feds and everything is run by three-ring binders of rules.

Hiro Protagonist, last of the freelance hackers and best sword fighter in the world starts out as a Deliverator, a high-tech, super efficient, militarized pizza delivery guy, the franchise tightly run by the Mafia, who guarantee a pizza in 30 minutes or the Deliverator can be neutralized. Y.T. is a thrasher, a Kourier who skateboards through speeding traffic using a magnetic ‘poon to hitch rides on vehicles to various destinations. These two cross paths and fates, forming a loose knit team that aids each other in the real world and the Megaverse.

There is a virus running rampant that doesn’t just crash computers but crashes the minds of hackers. Many theories are put forth and there are some interesting bad guys with depth including Raven the ruthless Aleut. There were a few longish talking head sections when it got to theories on the virus and the early Sumerian language (as Laurie Anderson says, language is a virus) but Stephenson still managed to handle that fairly deftly. And there is a religious cult threatening to take over parts of California, run by the father of the Megaverse.

I found the novel a delight and many layered. The world was kinda dark and dire in some ways but adventuresome. There was definitely a tongue in cheek air to Stephenson’s writing that just gave me pure joy. It’s no wonder when it first came out that it was highly popular and still remains so. Hard to believe that when he wrote it Stephenson mentions that he coined the term avatar, and later added an addendum that avatar had been used in one early game. It’s worth a read and still stands the test of time.

Maledicte is by Lane Robins, who I workshopped with last summer. Granted I bought it because I met her, I have to say it was an entertaining, fast-paced, well-written read. Maledicte is the main character, vengeful, temperamental, charming and possessed by a god that should no longer exist (in the recent century the gods withdrew from involvement with humans). Maledicte starts as a feral street urchin and is honed by an ailing hedonist who knows the ways of the court.

Gilly is the faithful servant, in all senses of the word, to the old hedonist, too well trained in his role and too knowledgeable of what life would be like should he try to leave. He aids in Maledicte’s change and goals, often unwillingly. Maledicte is seeking the man who kidnapped his childhood friend and lover, Janus, bastard heir to an aristocratic family close to the throne.

The court is corrupt and overindulgent, living for scandals and gossip, willing to tear a person down if it will gain favor in some light. It’s closest  in style probably to that of Louis XIV, a bit later maybe but the fashion runs a close parallel. Mirabile is a creature of the court who killed her first husband and wants Maledicte for her own purposes. When he spurns her, she uses her considerable knowledge and skills to try and bring him down.

When Janus comes back into the scene, he is as much a creature of the aristocratic court as Maledicte, but in his own way he is moreso. He is ruthless and calculating and having got used tot he good life, he wants it all. Maledicte and Gilly are the viewpoint characters and Lane runs a fine line showing Malecdicte in a light that isn’t necessarily favorable but there is some empathy for his situation. However, if she had only gone with this viewpoint character, it may not have worked because Maledicte is malicious and murderous.

Gilly is the saving grace, the common man, with compassion to which the reader can relate. The twists and turns of this conniving and manipulative society are handled well and bloodily. Murder abounds through Maledicte and Janus’s schemes and in the end not everyone gets their just deserts but there is redemption. Maledicte’s character is refreshingly different from some of main fantasy characters in other novels. Robins created a convincing and cutthroat world.

Mistborn is Brandon Sanderson’s second novel and was as delightful as Elantris. He has created a unique world of oppressed workers called skaa on plantations and living in the cities. It takes place in a beleaguered world with a society that somewhat resembles the antebellum South. The Lord Ruler is a now inhuman god-emperor who has beaten down everyone for a thousand years. The world rains ash often, the sun is red and plants haven’t been green in centuries.

The elite of this society are the nobles, purebred and not skaa though physically they look no different, but the nobles are rich, pampered and favored by the Lord Ruler who keeps them in line with Inquisitors (whose eyes are metal spikes) and Obligators, the watchful religious class. Many nobles have special abilities, either one aspect or the full range of allomancy. They are able to burn metals that they have ingested to increase various aspects such as strength, senses, emotions, as well as sensing or obscuring the use of allomancy.

Kelsier is the only survivor of the pits, a mining operation that the Lord Ruler depends upon. He lost his wife and before was a master thief. He has been “hired” by the rebellion leader to organize the overthrow of the Final Empire. However, he has other plans on how to do that, but he keeps them secret. He is a halfbreed and a full powered allomancer, a Mistborn rather than a Misting who only has use of one of the eight metals. His friends fear that if he overthrows the emperor he might set himself up for the same position.

Vin is a waif, part of a thieving crew, who survives best by hiding and keeping attention away from herself. But she and her crew are chased by an Inquisitor who will kill thieving crews and any halfbreeds who exhibit powers. And Vin has unwittingly exhibited hers to an Obligator. She is saved and recruited by Kelsier and his crew who teach her how to use her Mistborn abilities while honing her to be a spy in the circle of nobility.

The story is one part a grand heist like Oceans 11, where there are many layers to the job, and the Lord Ruler’s treasury is possibly the draw. However, it is deeper than that, with human rights and freedoms the root of overthrowing a millennium of oppression and bringing about change. The odds are high though, because the Lord Ruler is immortal and all powerful, able to smite even the strongest allomancers without breaking a sweat. His Inquisitors are also inhumanly strong.

The use of metals for powers is unique and Sanderson gives a strong basis to it in the novel, making it a believable with a scientific aspect. Vin’s character develops and changes in a satisfying way and Kelsier’s motives are mysterious up until the last, keeping us guessing as to what he’s really after. Like Maledicte, Mistborn is a story of romance and intrigue. All three of these books were quite different and well written. The worlds had layers like most societies. Whereas Maledicte concentrated mostly on the aristocratic world and Snow Crash on the working class, Mistborn covered both parts equally. I enjoyed them enough that it was hard to put any down. I recommend all three as a very good read and worth the money.

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