Saturday, May 25, 2019

2019 FRENCH OPEN: Draw Analysis and Predictions


The 2019 French Open in Paris starts tomorrow. A year ago I was on my vacation and attended the opening day session (and was in the 2nd row to watch Venus Williams lose to Qiang Wang and Sasha Zverev demolish ). The defending champions are Rafael Nadal (d. Dominic Thiem) and Simona Halep (d. Sloane Stephens). However, the top seeds are World #1 Novak Djokovic  and Naomi Osaka, who have both won the last two major tournaments (2019 Australian Open and 2018 U.S. Open) while Djokovic is going for his second career "Nole Slam"!

The draws have been released and these are the projected quarterfinals

MEN'S DRAW

  • N. Djokovic [1] versus A. Zverev [5]
  • D. Thiem [4]     versus J. Del Porto [8]
  • R. Federer [3]  versus S. Tsitsipas [6]
  • R. Nadal [2]     versus K. Nishikori [7]

WOMEN'S DRAW

  • N. Osaka [1] versus A. Barty [8]
  • K. Bertens [4] versus S. Stephens [7]
  • S. Halep [3] versus P. Kvitova [6]
  • Ka. Pliskova [2] versus  A. Kerber [5]

FIRST ROUNDS TO WATCH

  • Aryna Sabalenka [11] versus Dominika Cibulkova
  • Victoria Azarenka versus Jelena Ostapenko
  • Venus Williams versus Elina Svitolina [9]
  • Feliciano Lopez versus Ivo Karlovic
  • Mischa Zverev versus Richard Gasquet
  • Taylor Fritz versus Bernard Tomic
PREDICTIONS:
Men's Final: Djokovic d. Nadal.
Women's Final: Halep d. Kerber.

Thursday, May 23, 2019

2019 NEBULA AWARDS: The Calculuating Stars by Mary Robinette Kowal Wins Best Novel!


The 2019 Nebula Awards ceremony occurred over the weekend (in Los Angeles County) and the winner for the Best Novel is Mary Robinette Kowal's The Calculating Stars! The nominees were:

  • The Calculating Stars by Mary Robinette Kowal (Tor)
  • The Poppy War by R.F. Kuang (Harper Voyager US; Harper Voyager UK)
  • Blackfish City by Sam J. Miller (Ecco; Orbit UK)
  • Spinning Silver by Naomi Novik (Del Rey; Macmillan)
  • Witchmark by C.L. Polk (Tor.com Publishing)
  • Trail of Lightning by Rebecca Roanhorse (Saga)
Of these nominees I have read Witchmark (see review) and Trail of Lightning (review forthcoming soon) and have already purchased a Kindle copy of The Calculating Stars due to strong buzz on Goodreads. I also hear good/interesting things about Blackfish City so I will probably get around to reading that eventually. I am not a very big Naomi Novik fan so I don't really intend to read Spinning Silver. I wasn't a very big fan of Uprooted even though it won the Nebula award in 2016.

Monday, May 20, 2019

EYE CANDY: Gerardo Gabriel (3rd Time!)




Gerardo Gabriel is a Latino bodybuilder with an immense following on Instagram (1.4 million @gerardo_gabriel). He has appeared as Eye Candy twice before (April 3, 2017 and July 4, 2016). His abs are incredible and the rest of him is not too bad either!

Sunday, May 19, 2019

GAME OF THRONES (S8E05) : "The Bells"






Summary
The episode contains the final resolution of the fight between Daenerys and Cersei for control of the Iron Throne and the leadership of the Seven Kingdoms. "The Bells" is the penultimate episode of the series and so a number of important characters meet their ends. The ones that come to mind are: Jaime Lannister, Cersei Lannister, Euron Greyjoy, Sandor Clegane, Gregor Clegane, Maester Qyburn, and Lord Varys.

The most prominent deaths of the episode are of the Lannister twins, Cersei and Jaime. Many, many viewers were very disappointed that the most villainous character in the story (Cersei) was killed not by another character, but by falling rocks. It was an interesting detail that Cersei's death did follow the prophecy that "the valonqar shall wrap his hands about your pale white throat and choke the life from you." The valonqar is the younger sibling, which everyone (including Cersei) took to mean Tyrion, but in the end it was Jaime who had his hands around Cersei's throat as they were both crushed to death. Of course, ultimately it was Dany who killed them, by raking the Red Keep with so much fire that it collapsed, but it was a hollow death, since we didn't get to see any direct or indirect interaction between the two central characters.

The Lannisters' death came after Jaime had killed Euron Greyjoy, whose Iron Fleet had been completely destroyed by Drogon's fire. (Some people who watched the show were very annoyed that one episode after Rhaegal was killed by Qyburn's ballistas that suddenly the flying spears were completely unable to prevent Dany and her remaining dragon from dominating the airspace of King's Landing.) Regardless, the hand-to-hand combat between Euron and Jaime and the fact that they both were able to land fatal blows on each other was an important scene.

Meanwhile Dany was incredibly effective on Drogon, as she basically destroyed both the Iron Fleet and the Golden Company by herself, breaching the walls of King's Landing to allow her remaining troops (Dothraki and Unsullied led by Grey Worm and assembled forces of the North led by Jon Snow) to enter the city.

It's the scenes inside the city which make the episode so harrowing. Once they get inside and the defending Lannister forces realize that Dany can basically kill anyone from the sky they reluctantly surrender their weapons, but once the bells start to ring out and Dany continues her devastating fiery pillage of the city that animates Grey Worm who throws his spear directly at an unarmed Lannister killing him, that sets off the sack of King's Landing and the murder and rape of thousands of innocents. Jon slowly realizes that his attacking forces are committing horrible acts against the defensive forces and tries (unsuccessfully) to prevent the worst of the war crimes, going as far to kill a soldier from the North as he is attempting to rape a woman.

For much of the episode we (the audience) is following Arya, who tries to escape King's Landing while the two armies are battling each other and Dany is dropping dragon fire from the sky indiscriminately. Arya experiences the destruction of King's Landing from the perspective of the women and children of the city and it is terrifying, confusing and amazing. After all the important deaths (mentioned earlier) in the final scene of the episode we see Arya covered in grey ash with multiple injuries and improbably she finds a white horse nearby ready to be soothed and she uses it to ride out of the city to safety. How will she use the fact that she is alive and everyone on her kill list is dead? Only one episode left to find out!

Highlights
The highlights of this episode were:
  • The best line of the episode is Lord Varys' heartfelt "I hope I deserved it. Truly, I do. I hope I'm wrong. " This is what he says right before he is executed by Drogon on Daenerys' command after Tyrion confesses to her that Varys doubts that she is the best person to sit on the Iron Throne.
  • Another important quote in the episode was also done by Varys: "They say that every time a Targaryen is born, the gods toss a coin and the world holds its breath." The implication is that 50% of Targaryen's may be insane, which is problematic when Targaryens have been in the ruling class of the Seven Kingdoms.
  • The direction by Miguel Sapochnik (who also directed the more controversial "The Long Night") was absolutely stunning.
  • The aerial shots of King's Landing as the town was being devastated by Dany and her dragon were incredible. It's even more amazing that instead of filing in Dubrovnik as usual, the producers created a brand new set in Dublin just so they could destroy it!
  • Cleganebowl!
Lowlights
The only lowlight of the episode was that we didn't get to see the face of Daenerys as she decimated King's Landing, thus we were provided any insight into her thought processes for killing so many people and destroying so much property after the bells rang out and (presumably) the city had surrendered. This result shocked a lot of people (not me) so hopefully we do get some kind of explanation in the series finale.

Grade: 10/10

Friday, May 17, 2019

CELEBRITY FRIDAY (BONUS): Rise, Sir Andy Murray!


Andy Murray, former World #1 and 3-time major tennis champion, finally received his knighthood from Prince Charles at Buckingham Palace this week. The honour had been announced in December 2016 after Murray won Wimbledon a second time as well as a Gold Medal at the Rio Olympics and finished the year at World #1 in the rankings.

CELEBRITY FRIDAY: Black Mirror Season 5 Out June 5!


The fifth season of Black Mirror is coming out in 3 weeks, on June 5th, on Netflix! The season will consist of (only) 3 episodes but will star bug names such as Miley CyrusAnthony Mackie (who will also be appearing in another Netflix show, season 2 of Altered Carbon) and Anthony Scott (from Big Little Lies and Parks and Recreation).

Thursday, May 16, 2019

BOOK REVIEW: Fleet of Knives (Embers of War, #2) by Gareth L. Powell


Fleet of Knives is  the second book in the Embers of War trilogy, and the sequel to Embers of War. This series is clearly space opera; it features an interesting cast of characters: first is a sentient space ship called Trouble Dog with a misfit crew. The Trouble Dog's captain is Sal Konstanz, with crewmembers Alva Clay (a seasoned war veteran), Preston Menderes (the very young ship medical officer who dropped out of medical school and was assigned to the ship due to his admiral father) and Nod (an alien with faces in the palms of its six hands).

The other important character in this book is Ona Sudak, which is the alternate identity for Captain Annelida Deal who was introduced in the first book right before she began carrying out a genocidal order to incinerate a planet-straddling sentient forest in order to bring an intergalactic war to a sudden end.
In the beginning of the second book, Sudak is moments away from being executed when she is suddenly rescued because the Marble Armada wants to work with her. The Marble Armada is a fleet of one million alien ships (which resemble white knives) that were discovered at the end of Embers of War

In Fleet of Knives the Marble Armada uses Ona Sudak to help them implement their overarching mission, which they repeatedly say is to prevent humans from engaging in interstellar war again. However, this means that the fleet of knives ends up destroying lots of ships and structures that directly results in many collateral human casualties. The reason for their actions, the Fleet says, is that they are trying to prevent humanity from getting the attention of even more vicious aliens who exist in hyperspace and whom the Fleet seems afraid of.

We get introduced to a new cast of characters in Fleet of Knives after a ship called Lucy's Ghost is attacked by a curious hyperspatial creature and crash onto a huge dormant alien artifact. Unfortunately there are viciously murderous aliens that resemble crawfish that attack (and kill) multiple members of the survivors of Lucy's Ghost.

Trouble Dog is the strongest character in both books and eventually she comes face-to-face with the fleet of knives whom for some reason seem particularly interested in making sure that she is either destroyed or has her weapons deactivated.

I think I actually liked Fleet of Knives more than Embers of War even though it ends with a pretty substantial cliffhanger. The tension between the fleet of knives and Trouble Dog is also not resolved. However, I feel more invested in reading Book 3 (the still unnamed sequel to Fleet of Kniveswhen it comes out next year than I felt invested in reading Book 2 after finishing Book 1. Embers of War won the 2018 British Science Fiction Award for best novel, so it will be interesting to see the overall critical reception for Fleet of Knives, which is arguably a better book.

Title: Fleet of Knives.
Author: 
Gareth L. Powell.
Paperback: 416 pages.
Publisher:
 Titan Books.
Date Published: February 19, 2019.
Date Read: May 9, 2019.

GOODREADS RATING: ★☆  (4.0/5.0).

OVERALL GRADE: A (3.83/4.0).

PLOT: A-.
IMAGERY: A-.
IMPACT: A.
WRITING: A.

Tuesday, May 14, 2019

TENNIS TUESDAY: Big 3 Are All Top 3; Tsitsipas Beats Nadal; Djokovic Wins Madrid; Kiki Beats Halep


THE BIG THREE (DJOKOVIC, NADAL, FEDERER) ARE ATOP THE ATP RANKINGS AGAIN
The big 3 first occupied the Top 3 spots at the top of the rankings on July 9, 2007 (when Djokovic joined Nadal and Federer). Last week, Federer returned to the Top 3 where Djokovic and Nadal were holding down the two top spots. Together the three players account for an astonishing 792 weeks at #1, with Federer owning the record 310 weeks, followed by Djokovic with 251 and Nadal with 196.

TSITSIPAS BEATS NADAL IN MADRID SF, OWNS WINS OVER BIG 3 AT AGE 20!
The Madrid Masters ended with Rafael Nadal suffering his 3rd consecutive semifinal loss in a clay court tournament in 2019. He lost to Fabio Fognini (in straight sets) in Barcelona, to Dominic Thiem in Monte Carlo and he lost to Stefanos Tsitsipas in Madrid! This is the first time since 2004 that Nadal has reached this point in the season without having won a title. His last chance at a clay title will be Rome, where both World #1 Djokovic and (surprisingly!)  World #3 Federer are also playing. The key take-away from Madrid though is despite being just 20-years-old Tsitsipas already has wins over all of the members of the trivalry and is up to World #7 in the rankings. He beat Federer in the 4th round of the 2019 Australian Open, he beat Nadal in Madrid and he beat Djokovic in Montreal last summer.

KIKI BEATS SIMO TO WIN MADRID; RISES TO WORLD #4
Surprisingly, Kiki Bertens became the first player to ever win the Madrid Open without dropping a set when she defeated 2-time champion (2016 & 2017) Simona Halep 6-4 6-4. Bertens had lost the final last year to Petra Kvitova but she has had some of her best results in her career in the last year, including a win over Venus Williams at Wimbledon. With the biggest title of her career she becomes the highest ranked Dutch player ever, rising to World #4 this week!

DJOKOVIC RETURNS TO FORM WITH WINS OVER THIEM & TSITSIPAS TO WIN MADRID MASTERS
For the first time this year, the person who beat Nadal on clay did not win the tournament. Less than 24 hours after beating Nadal, Tsitsipas had to face Djokovic in the final, and was fairly easily dismissed, 6-3 6-4. Djokokic had more trouble in the semifinals against Dominic Thiem, whome he defeated in two tiebreak sets despite being down a service break in both sets! With his win, the World #1 cements his place at the top of the rankings, especially considering he has won the last three major tournaments in a row and now has tied Nadal with 33 Masters shields. Federer lags behind with 28.

FEDERER HITS 1200 WIN MILESTONE; DECIDES TO PLAY ROME
Roger Federer hit another career milestone by winning his 1200 match in Madrid (by coming from behind to beat Gael Monfils). After losing a tight 3-set match to Dominic Thiem (despite holding two match points) he decided to play Rome for the first time since 2016.

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