Friday, October 31, 2014

Gorgeous artwork

Stumbled across this gorgeous piece of artwork done by Richard Solomon. Sometimes it's nice to just kick back and admire a great piece of work!
The Fallen by Richard Solomon

Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Cover Art Teaser

I received the nearly-complete cover art for my forthcoming sci-fi thriller The Immortality Game the other day, and it blew me away. I knew Hugo-award winning artist Stephan Martiniere was the best artist alive, so I pretty much knew he'd nail it, but it is still nervewracking to worry about how it might turn out.

I don't want to post the full cover shot yet, since I'd like to save that up for when I actually publish the novel, but I thought it would be cool to put up a slice of the cover so people could see some of the astonishing details Martiniere has put into the piece. Note that he is still adding a few touches, so this isn't the final work, but it's close. Click on the photo to get a larger view.
Cover Illustration © Stephan Martiniere
You can't see much of it here, but there is a huge pyramid in the background, which is the base of operations of the Russian mobster gang that serves as the primary antagonist in the story. The pyramid is the location of the climax. The character you see on the right is my main character Zoya, an innocent young woman in 2138 Moscow who happens to get thrown into the action when her gangster brother asks her to hold onto a small package for him (against her will).

I love how he depicted the different lanes of air car traffic. In reality there should be many more of them, but that would have cluttered up the cover too much, so this is perfect for my needs. I can't wait to show you the final cover once I figure out how to design the cover text properly!

Saturday, October 25, 2014

Gorky Park

Long ago I read three of the Arkady Renko novels by Martin Cruz Smith, the most famous of which is Gorky Park. I had always really liked the character of Renko, a melancholy man who always seems to face impossible obstacles to solving the murders for which he is the chief investigator, yet he has a doggedness of character that simply refuses to ever give up. When I found out there are now eight Renko novels, I decided to read them all, and I've really been enjoying myself.
 Today I rewatched the movie Gorky Park, the only one of the novels adapted to film. It's a decent movie, but I was shocked to realize that in my mind I had erased the fact that William Hurt played Renko and replaced him with another actor, Stephen Rea. When I thought about it, I realized it is because Stephen Rea ideally represents the way Arkady Renko appears in my mind as I read the books. William Hurt is a good actor and does a creditable job in the role, but he was the wrong choice for the part. It really belonged to Stephen Rea, whose demeanor and style perfectly represent Renko.
For those who haven't read the books and enjoy stories set primarily in Russia or simply like good detective mysteries, I'm including the links below.

Thursday, October 2, 2014

Chess Grand Prix in Baku

Last night I attended the opening ceremony of the FIDE (World Chess Federation) Grand Prix tournament in Baku, Azerbaijan. Twelve of the very best players in the world will be competing in a round robin format, and two of them are Americans. Hikaru Nakamura is the top-ranked American player, and I love his uncompromising style. Fabiano Caruana is actually higher rated than Nakamura (he's number 2 in the world after world champion Carlsen), and he was raised in America, but he currently plays for Italy (he holds dual citizenship).
photo from Chessbase
You can barely see me in the shot above, talking to the guy holding the trophy. He was presenting it as his company designed the trophy for the event. Nakamura is the gentleman front and center looking sort of in the direction of the camera. He has been struggling of late, ever since he blew a game he was winning against Carlsen, and I hope he will get back on track.

Caruana is coming off of the best tournament performance ever seen, when he easily won the highest rated tournament ever in St. Louis. He didn't just win it; he dominated, winning seven games in a row against elite competition, including world champ Carlsen. I hope he continues to show that level of play here.

I'm not sure if I'll bother going to watch any of the matches, as the organizers didn't seem interested in allowing people like me a real opportunity to get good photos. Any shots I might be able to get would be from several meters away and from below, as the players are up on a stage. I would have liked to meet Nakamura and Caruana and shake their hands and let them know how much I am rooting for them.

Saturday, September 13, 2014

Snow Crash by Neal Stephenson

Have any of you read the famous sci-fi novel Snow Crash by Neal Stephenson? I've had it on my bookshelf for ages, long intending to read it, and now I've finally started it.

I think the main reason I avoided it for so long was that I simply disliked the name of the protagonist, which ironically is Hiro Protagonist. It was too cutesy for me, though while reading it now I can see how it fits within the atmosphere of near-future California that Stephenson is creating.

I'm not far into the book, and I am enjoying it, but I was pulled up abruptly by one line that made absolutely no sense to me, thus ripping me right out of the story.

Early in the book, the narrator is discussing Hiro's two Samurai swords, and he says, "Hiro's father looted these from Japan after World War II went atomic..."

Now, my grandfather was a young man fighting in the Pacific during WWII, and I'm not young myself. How can it be Hiro's father who got these from Japan at the end of WWII while Hiro is a young man at the time of the story and it is set sometime in the future beyond our current time? It flat out doesn't add up...not even close actually.

Admittedly I stopped right there to write this, so maybe the author will come up with some fantastical logical explanation, but right now it just feels like a huge, lazy blunder to me.

Thursday, August 14, 2014

Best Robin Williams Movies

I've been away for awhile because my family moved from Budapest to Baku, Azerbaijan (where we already lived from 2009-2011). Not much has changed here in Baku--the flame towers have been completed and there is now Papa John's Pizza (that doesn't taste as good as in the US and is about four times the price).

The death of Robin Williams has hit most of us pretty hard, I imagine. The Mork and Mindy show introduced him to me. He had such manic brilliance, as if his brain worked about a thousand times faster than any other human being. For the longest time I thought of him as just a genius comedian, but slowly but surely I began to view him as more of a brilliant actor than just a comedian.

I think he is often overlooked when people speak about the greatest actors of our time. Honestly, I think he is right up there with the best of them. Sure, he did some crappy roles, too, but when he took on a good one, he didn't just hit home runs with his performances--he more often than not hit grand slams. Below I list my favorite Robin Williams films. The order is not exact because his top movies are all so good that they can change order depending on my mood.

1. Good Morning, Vietnam -- Williams did it all in this fantastic movie that I watch again every few years. He was incredibly funny, of course, but he also did what he does in all of his best movies--he showed his dramatic and emotional depth. When my belongings finally arrive, I'm going to have to do a Robin Williams marathon, and this movie will be right up front.

2. The World According to Garp -- The first movie to show me how great an actor Williams could be. He played such a range of ages and character growth, and he first showed me he could be something besides just hilarious.

3. Mrs. Doubtfire -- There are elements of Good Will Hunting and Dead Poets Society that I like better than anything in this great comedy, but I watch this movie more often, probably due to having kids. It is terrifically funny, but again Williams gets to show his deeper sides.

4. Good Will Hunting -- I need to watch this one again soon, because it's been too long. I think I've only seen it two or three times, but I remember Williams was brilliant in it.

5. Dead Poets Society -- It pushes a little too far at times, but overall this is one sad/poignant film that happens to have some funny moments as well. It's one of the few movies where I had to stop at certain points and have a talk with my sons about important lessons the movie conveys.

6. Moscow on the Hudson -- Another of Williams' older films. I liked watching him tackle the role of a Russian defector in New York. It lent itself to his comic skills. Maria Conchita Alonso is fantastic as his girlfriend.

7. The Fisher King -- I'm torn by this movie, because Williams is utterly brilliant in it and there are some truly amazing moments, but there is some unidentifiable element of the movie that sort of disturbs me. Honestly, I can't say what it is, but it prevents me from having the same level of love for it that I have for Williams' best movies.

8. What Dreams May Come -- Another movie I need to see again. I only saw it once. I remember that I didn't love the story, but the visuals were stunning.

Saturday, June 21, 2014

I Saw My Movie!

Yesterday we departed Budapest for good (so sad!) and flew to Arizona. It was exhausting but it had one great part. The Swedish movie that I acted in hasn't been available in English yet. It opens in English in England on July 4 and in the U.S. sometime later. But during the overseas flight, a Swedish version of the movie was available that had English subtitles!

The movie has a long title--The 100-Year-Old Man Who Climbed Out the Window and Disappeared. Some of the scenes I filmed were cut, and the voice-over I did wasn't used. But I saw myself very clearly in two scenes, and that was very cool. I can't wait to get the DVD so I can get screenshots and figure out how to do clips of the parts I was in!