Monday, August 31, 2015

2015 US OPEN Day 1: Seeds Fall Like Rain! Nishikori(4), Ivanovic(7), Pliskova(8), CSN (10) Are Out!

Wowsa! After one day my U.S. Open bracket is already busted! (You can see my WTA and ATP picks here and here.)  THREE Top 10 seeds (all in 3-time defending champion Serena Williams half of the draw) fell in the first round. And this was after the news came late last night that #3 seed Maria Sharapova (also in Serena's half) was withdrawing from the tournament with a leg injury! Ana Ivanovic(7), Karolina Pliskova(8), Carla Suarez Navarro(10) all fell to lower ranked opponents, thus clearing the path for Serena to win her 7th major title. Other notable losses were Sloane Stephens (losing to fellow American Coco Vandeweghe), 2-time major champion Svetlana Kuznetsova and former World #1 Jelena Jankovic. Venus Williams barely escaped being included in the carnage when she blew two match points in the 3nd set tiebreaker but thanks to an early break in the 3rd set, she was able to keep her nose in front and get a 6-4 6-7(7) 6-3 win over Monica Puig.

The biggest upset was on the men's side with #4 seed (and 2014 US Open finalistKei Nishikori falling to talented Frenchman Benoit Paire after failing to win two match points in the 4th set and then losing a tight 5th set. The other finalist, defending champion Marin Cilic won his first round match rather easily, and World #1 Novak Djokovic put on a frightening display by dispatching Joao Sousa of Brasil in 71 minutes while losing only 3 games in the process.

Mathematical Analysis of Women's Tennis Open-Era Challenges Serena's GOAT Status

On the eve of the start of her campaign to secure her 22nd major title, fourth of the year, Serena Williams's claim to the title of Greatest of all Time is being analyzed in an article at Five Thirty Eight titled "Serena Williams And The Difference Between All-Time Great And Greatest Of All Time." The article uses a particular mathematical technique called computing an ELO rating to assign a number (which varies over time) to the relative strength of players in head-to-head competition. The graph of all the major champions (Navratilova, Evert, Graf, Seles, Henin, Venus and Serena) are depicted.

From the graph it can be shown that Serena does not achieve the highest ELO rating of all time.

Elo definitely puts Williams in the top tier of female tennis players, but it tells a slightly more muted story than other measures. In particular: While Williams has been great, and has been doing unprecedented things for a player of her age, the relative weakness of the tier of players beneath her undermines her GOAT claim. 
The possibility that Serena has benefited from “weaker competition” is pretty conventional, and certainly debatable, but Elo gives us a useful way to examine exactly what that possibility means and what it implies.
For the unfamiliar, Elo is a rating method originally developed for chess, but eminently suitable for tennis. It’s very simple: Two players enter a match with Elo ratings based on their prior results. Elo uses their ratings to predict their head-to-head outcome, and then updates those ratings depending on the outcome.2 It’s not without limitations: Elo makes every head-to-head prediction based solely on the two players’ ratings, which, in turn, are only affected by previous match results.
However, one aspect of Serena which makes her career unique is her 2nd peak in her ELO rating, which has happened at an unprecedented stage of her career, in her 30s. It also claims that Serena was at her best in 2003 (when she won her first Serena slam).

I understand that these results will disappoint some and encourage others but I appreciate the analysis in that bring at least a measure of quantitative rigor to a discussion which is essentially Qualitiative and subject in nature: Who is the Greatest of all Time? In my mind, the figures STILL indicate hat the answer is Serena Williams.

EYE CANDY: Michael Thurston

Michael Thurston is an amazing fitness model I just discovered recently. He is popular on Instagram (175,000+ followers at @mikethurston), Facebook (30,000 likes at mikethurstonofficial and Twitter (15,000 followers @TheThurstonator). According to multiple interview online, he is currently around 24 years old, weighs 198 pounds and is 6-feet tall.

In addition to his amazing physique and stunning good looks, Mr. Thurston has his own company, Aurora Athletic, based in Newcastle-upon-Tyne in England.

Hawt is hawt!

Saturday, August 29, 2015

2015 US OPEN: Men's and Women's Draw Analysed

The last major tennis tournament of the year starts on Monday August 31. I'll be at the U.S. Open next weekend (Sunday and Monday) to watch the tennis live and maybe run into Serena Williams on her quest to win the first calendar slam since 1988. The draw was released on Thursday and in this post I will analyze the highlights.

Men's Draw
The potential men's quarterfinal match ups are:

Novak Djokovic (1) versus Rafael Nadal (8) or Milos Raonic (10)
Kei Nishikori (4) versus David Ferrer (7) or Marin Cilic (9)
Andy Murray (3)  versus Stan Wawrinka (5)
Roger Federer (2) versus Tomas Berdych (6)

There are basically three main contenders to win the title (Djokovic, Federer and Murray) and although he has Murray and Wawrinka in his half Federer generally has a pretty gentle draw in the early going while Djokovic has both 2014 finalists in his half, although he will likely only have to face one of them (in the semifinals). If Federer and Djokovic do make the final, I like Federer's chances to win his record 18th major.

Women's Draw
The potential women's quarterfinal match ups are:

Serena Williams (1) versus Karolina Pliskova (8) or Venus Williams (23)
Maria Sharapova (3) or Ekaterina Makarova (13) versus Ana Ivanovic (7)
Petra Kvitova (5) or Garbine Muguruza (9) versus Carolina Wozniacki (4)
Simona Halep (2) versus Lucie Safarova (6) or Angelique Kerber (11)

The entire tournament is revolving around whether Serena can win her record 7th U.S. Open (4th in a row) and clinch the calendar Grand Slam. She does have a pretty rough draw, potentially facing Sloane Stephens (or Coco Vandweghe) in the 3rd round, Madison Keys (or Aga Radwanska) in the 4th round and her sister Venus or Karolina Pliskova in the quarters, Sharapova, Makarova or Ivanovic in the semifinals and Halep, Safarova, Kvitova, Kerber or Muguruza in the final! Despite all that, O am fairly confident she will get through. The danger is in those 3rd and 4th round matches versus the young Americans. If she gets past those, I'm very certain she won't crack later in the tournament. And if not, she can always go for Steffi Graf's 22-major record in 2016!

First Round Matches To Watch
Dominika Cibulkova vs Ana Ivanovic
Coco VandeWedghe vs Sloane Stephens
Andy Murray vs Nick Kyrgios
Fernando Verdasco vs Tommy Haas
Jarkko Nieminen vs Jo-Wilfried Tsonga

Friday, August 28, 2015

CELEBRITY FRIDAY: Vester Lee Flanagan, a Black Gay Man, Was The Live TV Shooter

On Wednesday August 26th Vester Lee Flanagan, 41, shot to death on-air reporter Alison Parker and her cameraman Adam Ward while they were conducting an interview on live television. Flanagan, who previously worked for the same television station (WDBJ in Roanoake, VA) as Bryce Williams, was apparently openly gay and was let go by the station more than a year ago because of his irascible personality. He sued his former employer for racial and sex discrimination seeking damages of $25,000 but the suit was thrown out for lack of evidence.

Right-wing websites are making a big deal of the fact that Flanagan was openly gay, as if that was te cause of his murderous rampage.

Wednesday, August 26, 2015

Today is Women's Equality Day! 95th Anniversary of Women's Right To Vote!

Celebrate! Today is August 26th, also known as Women's Equality Day, celebrating the 95th anniversary of the ratification of the 19th Amendment to the United States Constitution, which expanded the franchise to include women.

The measure was actually ratified on August 20, 1920, and reads:
The right of citizens of the United States to vote shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any State on account of sex.Congress shall have power to enforce this article by appropriate legislation.
Oh, happy day!

Tuesday, August 25, 2015

TENNIS TUESDAY: Serena & Roger Defend Cincy Titles; Mauresmo A Mommy; Serena Gets SI Cover

Serena Williams defeated Simona Halep 6-3 7-6(5) to defend her 2014 Cincinnati title just hours after Roger Federer defeated World #1 Novak Djokovic 7-6(1) 6-3 to win his 7th title in Cincinnati, his 87th career title and 24th ATP masters shield.

As I blogged about last Friday, Andy Murray's coach, 2-time major champion Amelie Mauresmo gave birth to her son Aaron on August 16.

Serena Williams will be on next week's cover of Sports Illustrated; she was last on the cover in 1999 after winning her first major title at the precocious age of 17. Tennis players have apparently only been on the cover of the important weekly sports magazine 8 times in the last twenty years, so this cover is a big deal. The reason is another big deal: Serena's attempt at winning her 5th consecutive major, which would give her a rare calendar year slam. The last player to do this was Steffi Graf, whose career total of 22 major titles Serena would match if she won her fourth consecutive U.S. Open title.

Monday, August 24, 2015

2015 HUGO AWARDS: The Puppy Slates Are Overwhelmingly Rejected!

The 2015 Hugo Awards were given out on Saturday evening in Spokane Washington and the results were eye-opening, to say the least. Because of the Puppy kerfuffle (where two different cohorts of "fans" successfully coordinated efforts to place on the final Hugo ballot works and people using criteria different from mere merit and quality) I discovered that I could register and vote for the 2015 Hugo winners myself and did so.

In the end, even though there were only a few hundred ballots to nominate works, there ended up being 5,950 voters for the award winners.

The biggest news was that in five categories where the Sad Puppies/Rabid Puppies had successfully managed to completely fill all 5 slots on the ballot, the option of NO AWARD was deployed by a significant majority of voters. In the history of the Hugo awards there had been previously been a rand total o five NO AWARD winners and in one evening that tally was matched. The categories in which this occurred were: Best Novella, Best Short Story, Best Related Work, Best Editor (Short Form), and Best Editor (Long Form).

The second biggest story was that the Best Novel was won by Cixin Liu for The Three-Body Problem, which was my vote for the winner of this most important category. This was historic, because it was the first time an Asian man had won the Best Novel AND it was the first time a translated work had received this honor. Additionally, the two nominees associated with the Puppies, Skin Game by Jim Butcher and The Dark Between The Stars by Kevin J. Anderson both ended up below NO AWARD in the final tally (which is where I had placed them on my ballot, along with the 2nd place finisher The Goblin Emperor).

Best Novel (5653 final ballots, 1827 nominating ballots, 587 entries, range 212-387)
  • The Three Body Problem, Cixin Liu, Ken Liu translator (Tor Books)
  • The Goblin Emperor, Katherine Addison (Sarah Monette) (Tor Books)
  • Ancillary Sword, Ann Leckie (Orbit US/Orbit UK)
  • No Award
  • Skin Game, Jim Butcher (Orbit UK/Roc Books)
  • The Dark Between the Stars, Kevin J. Anderson (Tor Books)
What lots of fans and observers are trying to figure out is exactly what are the relative sizes of the four groups who participated in the Hugo voting: Rabid Puppy supporters, Sad Puppy supporters, Anti-Puppies (like myself) or neutral voters. Right now the estimates seem to have the two Puppies groups at about 10% of the total each with the anti-Puppies roughly at 50%.

Also, since the Hugo award administrators release the vote counts for the Top 15 nominees in each category, we can also know exactly which works and people were left off the ballot because of the Puppy slates from this winter. Author Tobias Buckell has released the list of what the Hugo ballot would have looked like without the intervention of the Puppies. Here's the alternative history Best Novel category
Best NovelAncillary Sword by Ann Leckie
The Goblin Emperor by Katherine Addison
The Three Body Problem by Liu Cixin
Lock In by John Scalzi
City of Stairs by Robert Jackson Bennet
City of Stairs is a very interesting urban fantasy novel (which I haven;t yet reviewed but I intend to, as well as rad the upcoming sequel, City of Blades when it is released in 2016.) For some reason the Puppies hate John Scalzi with the passion of a thousand dying suns (probably because he's smarter, makes more money and is more popular than any of them) so they are probably pleased they denied him another Hugo nomination. (Scalzi's win of the 2013 Hugo for Best Novel for Redshirts is often cited by some of the "head Puppies" as What Is Wrong With Science Fiction.)

Another point people have noticed is that the Puppies prevented Andy Weir, the author of the best-selling science fiction book of the year (The Martian, soon to be a major motion picture starring Matt Damon directed by Ridley Scott) from being nominated for the non-Hugo for best New Writer called the John W. Campbell award. Instead that went to my choice Wesley Chu!

There were a whole bunch of word written about the Hugo awards before they happened, K'm sure there will be a whole lot written now that they have happened. It is likely that the Puppies will try to repeat their domination of the award nominations in January 2016 but there are now nearly 6,000 people (like myself) who are empowered to make our own nominations and try to blunt their desire to blow up science fiction's most prestigious award.

Happily, it is likely that technical changes to how the nominations are calculated will go into effect for 2017 year, since two proposals were passed at the recent Worldcon business meeting that are designed to blunt the impact of slates on the Hugo nominations. But until then, the fight will go on.

However, in the fight between the forces of good and evil, Saturday's results at the Hugo awards was a big win for the good guys who support inclusion and diversity (and playing by the rules).

EYE CANDY: Chris Matteis

Chris Matteis is a smoking hot bodybuilder/model. He is on twitter/facebook/snapchat as @CMatteis46 and Instagram as chrismatteis. I think you can see why he is today's Eye Candy model!

Sunday, August 23, 2015

2015 CINCY: Federer Claims 87th ATP Title; 7th Here; Reclaims World #2 Ranking

As I predicted yesterday, Roger Federer defeated Novak Djokovic to win the 2015 Cincinnati Masters. Federer won his 87th career ATP title, 7th in Cincinnati and 24th ATP Masters title of his career. Federer won 7-6(1) 6-3, never getting his serve broken for the entire tournament.

Saturday, August 22, 2015

2015 CINCY: Federer-Djokovic XLI in the Men's Final Tomorrow

For the fifth time in 2015 Novak Djokovic and Roger Federer are meeting on the ATP Tour, this time in the finals of the ATP Cincinnati Masters, a tournament where Federer is the 6-time (and current) champion and Djokovic has never been ultimately victorious despite reaching four finals.
The two have met 40 times overall and are tied at 20 wins apiece but this year Djokovic has won the last three times the two have played, all of which were in the finals of important tournaments: ATP Indian Wells Masters, ATP Rome Masters and the Wimbledon Men's Championships.

In the semifinals Federer beat Andy Murray in straight sets 6-4 7-6(6)  after Djokovic outlasted Aleksandr Dolgopolov 4-6 7-6(5) 6-2. In the final tomorrow Federer has a good chance to get revenge for his losses to Djokovic earlier in the year. He is 6-0 in Cincinnati finals while Djokovic is 0-4. Last week, Djokovic lost the final of the ATP Canadian Masters to Andy Murray after beat him 8 consecutive times, so despite the fact he has had Federer's number recently does not necessarily mean the World #1 will be successful.

MadProfessah's prediction: Federer.

Friday, August 21, 2015

CELEBRITY FRIDAY: Amélie Mauresmo Gives Birth To Baby Boy

Amélie Mauresmo, 36, gave birth to a baby boy on Sunday August 16, the same day that Andy Murray beat Novak Djokovic for the first time in nine tries (and more than two years) to win the ATP Canadian Masters in Montreal.
Following his victory in Montreal, Murray mentioned his coach, saying she had given birth that morning. "I'm not sure she would have stay up to watch," he said, "but Amelie, this one's for you." 
"I don't know much detail because, yeah, we just saw a picture of her and the baby this morning when we got up. I haven't spoken to her or anything," he said. "I would imagine she's quite tired. Probably me and my tennis are the last thing on her mind just now, which is totally understandable."
 Congratulations to mother and child!

Wednesday, August 19, 2015

GODLESS WEDNESDAY: John Oliver Demolishes Televangelists In Viral Video

This clip about "prosperity preachers" from HBO's Last Week with John Oliver has well over 4 million views on YouTube since it was put up on Sunday's show. It completely demolishes televangelists by depicting their methods for raising money from their gullible believers. In the segment Oliver creates his own church (Our Lady of Perpetual Exemption) to demonstrate the insanity of allowing tax-empt status for these charlatans.

Monday, August 17, 2015

EYE CANDY: Tom Varndell

Tom Varndell is a 29-year-old rugby player who, according to the Man Crush blog, is "6’3” tall, 220 lbs, 44 inch chest, 32 inch waist, brown eyes, size 11 shoe." Unlike most of our Eye Candy models, Varndell has his own Wikipedia page, but like most people nowadays, he does have his own Twitter account (@Tom_Varndell).

Hat/tip to Mechadude

Sunday, August 16, 2015

2015 ROGERS CUP: Serena Suffers 2nd Loss of Year (to 18yo Belinda Bencic)

I'm in San Diego playing in a tennis tournament myself so I have limited access to my blog. However, I was able to catch most of Serena's match in the semifinals of the 2015 Rogers Cup in Toronto last night against 18 year-old Belinda Bencic of Switzerland.

Clearly Serena's elbow injury is real and it is impacting her serve. Serena lost to Bencic 3-6 7-5 6-4 in a taut, drama-filled encounter. Serena was on in the second set until the 8th game when she inexplicably got broken. Bencic had a set point serving at 5-3 and threw in a very nervous double fault. Serena pounced, broke back and then held serve for 5-all. But then, Serena had 0-40 on Bencic's serve and somehow failed to convert on any of those break points as well as a few others and the Swiss teenager held serve. Then Serena had to hold serve at 5-6 and started missing multiple serves (I think at one point she missed FIVE in a row) and got broken to lose the second set. She immediately demolished her racquet.

In the third set things went from bad to worse for Serena. She fell behind 1-5 when suddenly she calmed down and steadied her game. She brought it all the way back to 4-5 (breaking Bencic twice in succession) . In the final game Serena started with an ace but good returning by Bencic caused her to get behind in the points early and Serena eventually faced a break point which was also match point.
Bencic returned Serena's second serve well (first serve missed by a mile) and then was able to hit a winner to close out the match for an incredible win.

It was Serena's first 3-set loss of 2015 (now 15-1) and her first loss to a teenager since losing to Sloane Stephens in the 2013 Australian Open quarterfinals. It was also Serena's only second loss of the year (now 41-2). She had 59 unforced errors and 64 winners (+5) while Bencic had 5 more errors than winners.

Bencic will face Simona Halep in the 2015 Rogers Cup final.

MadProfessah's prediction: Halep.

Saturday, August 15, 2015

109.4 Degrees In Montecito Heights

It's a scorcher today in Los Angeles. The thermometer outside on my deck (gets radiant heat but not direct sunlight) got up to 109.4 degrees with 8% humidity!

Friday, August 14, 2015

CELEBRITY FRIDAY: Andy Murray's Wife Kim Is Pregnant

World #3 Andy Murray has confirmed that he is "excited" that his wife Kim is expecting their first child, with a due date sometime in February. Murray, 28, married 27-year-old Kim Sears in April of this year after dating for nearly a decade. Murray's coach Amelie Mauresmo is currently pregnant and expected to give birth within the next few weeks. So right now two of the most important women in Murray's life are going through the same experience at the same time.

Murray is currently in the quarterfinals of the ATP Masters tournament in Canada, where he will face defending champion Jo-Wilfried Tsonga in Montreal.

Thursday, August 13, 2015

BOOK REVIEW: Hurricane Fever by Tobias Buckell

Tobias Buckell is a Caribbean-American writer who is most well known for his excellent Xenowealth series (kick-ass space operas featuring dreadlocked super-strong, dark-skinned heroes fighting freaky aliens science fiction spanning four books so far). In addition to his Xenowealth books, in 2012 Buckell wrote a fun little "eco-thriller" about a radically different geopolitical power structure reshuffled by the effects of global climate change that features a character which is basically a Black lesbian version of James Bond called Arctic Rising (see my generally positive B+ review). The book generally got excellent reviews and was nominated for the Prometheus Award in 2013.

Last year I found out that Buckell has now written another book set in the same world of Arctic Rising called Hurricane Fever, which this time features one of the more eccentric (but interesting) characters from the first book called Prudence Jones, or Roo for short. Roo is a dreadlocked, former Caribbean Intelligence agent (one of the interesting conceits of the Arctic Rising universe is that the Caribbean Islands have banded together to form a political unit that actually has some sway in the world) who after the events of the first book in the series is now the sole guardian for his orphaned nephew.

I was able to receive an ARC (author review copy) of Hurricane Fever in exchange for an unbiased review.

I actually like Hurricane Fever quite a lot (even more than Arctic Rising). It is a fast-paced, action-packed thriller with an interesting premise set in a foreseeable near-future; however I think that Buckell sort of squanders Roo's potential as a leading man by not making him as likeable or emotionally approachable as a character. I do appreciate Buckell's commitment to include diverse characters and the fact that his main character is a Black man presents the readers with situations and concerns which are not usually raised in your ordinary technothriller.

The basic plot of Hurricane Fever is reminiscent of something from James Bond (Ian Fleming), Jason Bourne (Robert Ludlum), Mission Impossible or even Die Hard. Despite swearing that he “left all that spy shit behind” Roo unsurprisingly gets sucked back in when one of his former agent friends (named Zee) is found dead and a message is automatically communicated to Roo with information about a plot that could lead to a worldwide catastrophe. Roo ends up in the Caribbean sea in the area between Barbados and Venezuela with a woman who calls herself Zee's sister just as a climate-change enhanced hurricane is approaching and a super-villain is trying to complete his dastardly scheme.

Overall, Hurricane Fever is a fun and compelling read, set in an interesting near future world which has been affected by climate change.

Title: Hurricane Fever (Arctic Rising, #2)
Author: Tobias Buckell
Paperback: 272 pages.
 Tor Books.
Date Published: July 1, 2014.
Date Read: September 8, 2014.

OVERALL GRADE: A- (3.67/4.0).


Wednesday, August 12, 2015

GODLESS WEDNESDAY: Oklahoma Refuses To Remove Religious Monument From Capitol Grounds

The saga of the status of the religious monument on the grounds of the capitol in Tulsa, Oklahoma keeps on going and going despite the fact that the state supreme court ruled it was unconstitutional.

The latest news is that the Governor has said the monument will stay in place during appeals and legislators are trying to amend the state constitution to remove the provision that the state court used to base their ruling.
Gov. Mary Fallin says the monument will remain at the Capitol while appeals and constitutional changes are considered. 
“Oklahoma is a state where we respect the rule of law, and we will not ignore the state courts or their decisions. However, we are also a state with three co-equal branches of government. At this time, Attorney General Scott Pruitt, with my support, has filed a petition requesting a rehearing of the Ten Commandments case. Additionally, our Legislature has signaled its support for pursuing changes to our state Constitution that will make it clear the Ten Commandments monument is legally permissible. If legislative efforts are successful, the people of Oklahoma will get to vote on the issue.”
Hmm, watch this space. It will be interesting to see how the Court deals with the request for rehearing. Maybe next time they will base their ruling on the U.S. constitution not the state constitution.

Tuesday, August 11, 2015

TUESDAY TENNIS: Stephens Wins 1st Title; Venus Bageled In TO; Kei Gets Revenge; Kerber Streak Continues

Sloane Breaks Through With Maiden Title At D.C. Hard Court Tournament
American Sloane Stephens was the only player in the WTA Top 40 (currently ranked #29) not to have reached a tour final. That is no longer true because not only did Stephens reach her first WTA final at the Citi Open in Washington, DC by defeating Samantha Stosur in the semifinal, she was cool and calm in a straightforward 6-1 6-2 win over Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova in the final the next day.

Kerber Continues Streak With 4th Title Of The Year By Winning in Stanford
Angelique Kerber began 2015 with more losses than wins until March but since winning in Charleston on (green) clay she has won 30 of her 35 matches, and notched up three more titles, on three different surfaces (Stuttgart on red clay, Birmingham on grass and Stanford on outdoor hard courts). Kerber played one of the best matches of the year in the Bank of the West quarterfinals by outlasting Aggie Radwanska 6-4 4-6 6-4 and K3rb3r won the title match over Karolina Pliskova in another 3-set match. The German has now won all 4 finals she has reached in 2015 after going 0-4 in finals last year.

Venus Plays First Set Since Wimbledon, Gets Bageled And Loses
Since losing to her sister Serena Williams in the 3rd round of Wimbledon, Venus Williams has not played a WTA tour-level match. She returned to the court after 10pm in Toronto on Monday to face Sabine Lisicki following a near 9-hour rain delay and promptly lost the first 6 games in 24 minutes. Things got a little better after that but Venus still lost 6-0 6-3 to the hard-hitting German. Since she had reached the final at the Canadian tournament last year (beating Serena in the semifinals) her ranking will plummet to the mid-20s and if she doesn't do well in Cincinnati she might not be seeded for the 2015 U.S. Open.

Kei Nishikori and Marin Cilic Face Each Other On U.S. Hard Court With Different Result
Last year Kei Nishikori and Marin Cilic played the first grand slam final in over a decade that did not include a former Grand Slam champion at the 2014 U.S. Open. Cilic won that match but in Washington, D.C. the two met in the semifinals of the Citi Open but this time Nishikori was the victor 3-6 6-1 6-4. The Japanese player went on to defeat John Isner 4-6 6-4 6-4 to win the title.

Monday, August 10, 2015

The Emperor's Blades Wins 2014 Gemmel Award for Best Fantasy Debut Novel

The David Gemmel Awards for Fantasy are internet-based awards that have been given out since 2009. There are three categories: the Legend Award (Best Novel), Morningstar Award (Best Debut Novel) and, somewhat inexplicably to me since I care less about book covers, the Ravenheart Award (Best Cover Art).

Brandon Sanderson's Words of Radiance won both the Legend award and the Ravenheart award. Words of Radiance is the sequel to The Way of Kings which won the Legend award in 2011. However, more interesting to me (since I haven't read Sanderson's Stormlight Archive series yet even though I do a copy of the first two books in the house) is the fact that Brian Staveley won the Morninngstar award for The Emperor's Blades which I read recently and enjoyed greatly (review still in progress). The Emperor's Blades is Book 1 of the Chronicle of the Unhewn Throne and Book 2, The Providence of Fire came out earlier this year, while the last book in the trilogy  is on tap for release in March 2016. It's called The Last Mortal Bond. If you like fast-paced fantasy with intricate plots and characters that you care  about you will like these Staveley books. I just discovered him about a month ago, but with these first two books he is now right up there on a short list of my favorite fantasy authors that includes Brent Weeks (The Lightbringer), Daniel Abraham (The Dagger and the Coin) and Richard Morgan (A Land Fit For Heroes). He's no George R.R. Martin (yet) but that may be a good thing.

EYE CANDY: Daniel Sisniega (third time)

Daniel Sisniega is an openly gay dancer, actor and model who has appeared as Eye Candy twice before (May 27, 2013 and July 8, 2013). He has Tumblr, Instagram and Twitter accounts.

Friday, August 07, 2015

QUEER QUOTE: Stonewall Movie Director Responds To Negative Response To Trailer

The openly gay director of the upcoming major studio release Stonewall has taken to Facebook to respond to multiple LGBT activists and bloggers who are responding extremely negatively to the recently released trailer of his movie about one of the key catalytic moments of the LGBT equality movement that appears to diminish  the roles of marginalized elements of the LGBT community in service of a more "palatable" or mainstream entertainment.

Roland Emmerich's response to calls for a boycott of Stonewall are today's Queer Quote:
When I first learned about the Stonewall Riots through my work with the Los Angeles Gay and Lesbian Center, I was struck that the circumstances that lead to LGBT youth homelessness today are pretty much the same as they were 45 years ago. The courageous actions of everyone who fought against injustice in 1969 inspired me to tell a compelling, fictionalized drama of those days centering on homeless LGBT youth, specifically a young midwestern gay man who is kicked out of his home for his sexuality and comes to New York, befriending the people who are actively involved in the events leading up to the riots and the riots themselves. I understand that following the release of our trailer there have been initial concerns about how this character’s involvement is portrayed, but when this film - which is truly a labor of love for me - finally comes to theaters, audiences will see that it deeply honors the real-life activists who were there — including Marsha P. Johnson, Sylvia Rivera, and Ray Castro — and all the brave people who sparked the civil rights movement which continues to this day. We are all the same in our struggle for acceptance.
If Emmerich is sincere in his words then maybe he or the studio can release the screenplay of the film and/or schedule community previews.  he film is set to be released in about 6 weeks, so presumably a marketing strategy is prepared. I doubt that an LGBT boycott was part of what they intended or hoped to see as part of that!

Thursday, August 06, 2015

BOOK REVIEW: The First Fifteen Lives of Harry August by Claire North

Claire North is the pseudonym of Catherine Webb, who although she is only 28 years old is already the author of sixteen(!) published novels, including two science fiction novels as Claire North: The First Fifteen Lives of Harry August in 2014 and Touch in 2015. The former won the John W. Campbell Memorial Award for Best Science Fiction Novel of 2014, beating out other higher profile books such as The Martian by Andy Weir (probably the best-selling science fiction book of 2014 and soon to be a major motion picture starring Matt Damon), Lock In by John Scalzi, The Peripheral by William Gibson, Annihilation by Jeff VanderMeer (winner of the 2015 Nebula award) and Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel (winner of the 2015 Arthur C. Clarke award).

I can see why The First Fifteen Lives of Harry August is considered one of the best works of speculative fiction published in 2014. The premise of the book is that when certain people die they live their life over again is a great one. In fact it is so good it has been used before, notably in Ken Grimwood's Replay (which won the 1988 World Fantasy Award.) I had forgotten about Replay but I do remember that although I loved the timeloop concept Grimwood's book seemed a bit dated. There's no question this would make a great movie. In Replay, the main character's time loop starts at age 18, and the loops get shorter and shorter as the story progresses. In Harry August, the time loops go back to birth, but awareness of all one's past lives does not occur until age 5 or 6.

The First Fifteen Lives of Harry August takes Grimwood's time loop premise and improves it in several, specific ways. First off, there is an organization of ouroborans (i.e. individuals like Harry who relive their lives after "dying" and are also known as kalachakras) called the Cronus Club whom Harry pretty quickly comes into contact with and serves as a support network for creatures like himself. Secondly, North introduces a thriller element to the story by including a megalomaniacal kalachakra who is apparently discovering the birth dates of fellow kalachakras and eliminating them before they can recover their memories or defend themselves. Unsurprisingly, most kalachakras tend to avoid others of their kind (and have low profiles in general), but Harry meets another kalachakra named Vincent Rankis who becomes a frenemy of sorts. The third aspect of the book which raises it to the upper echelon of speculative fiction is the way in which it deals with various aspects of time travel. Basically, kalachakra's repeatedly experience the same time period as they repeat their lives, so they have a limited foreknowledge of the future. By interacting with other kalachakras whose lifetime overlaps with theirs, but whose birth occurs later a kalachakra can obtain information about the far future. This is what happens when a very young girl comes to Harry towards the end of one of his lives and says "the world is ending." In fact, soon it becomes clear that the end of the world is coming about earlier in the future and as Harry continues to live his life (from about 1919 through to about 2010) he notices other changes, like technological advances starting to occur earlier and earlier.
He is pretty sure that Vincent Rankis is involved in making these changes because in addition to being a kalachakra, Rankis (like Harry) has an eidetic memory: he remembers everything that happens to him, in every life. The reader is faced with the question of what you would do if you discovered you were a kalachakra and could live your life over again and again knowing what events would be occurring

The First Fifteen Lives of Harry August ends up being a power struggle between Victor and Harry; the reader is exposed to Harry's thoughts and feelings so we are predisposed to be on Harry's side. (He has a wry wit.) In addition, Victor turns out to have a complete disregard for life, both human and ouroboran alike. He creates a device which when applied to a kalachakra, wipes their memory so that even when they are reborn, they are no longer able to access their memories of their past lives, essentially killing them.

Overall, The First Fifteen Lives of Harry August is a compelling, well-written, very entertaining work of speculative fiction which packs an emotional wallop while it amuses, thrills and challenges the reader.

Title: The First Fifteen Lives of Harry August.
Claire North.
Paperback: 416 pages.
Date Published: April 8, 2014.
Date Read: April 30, 2015.

OVERALL GRADE: A-/B+ (3.583/4.0).


Wednesday, August 05, 2015

WATCH: Trailer for Stonewall Movie (In Theaters September 25)

The new movie Stonewall depicting the 1969 riots (which are widely viewed as the spark that ignited the modern LGBT rights movement) had its first official trailer released yesterday. The movie is directed by openly gay Roland Emmerich (Independence Day) and written by Jon Robin Baitz. It will open nationwide on September 25, 2015.

Tuesday, August 04, 2015

Happy Birthday, Mr. President!

Barack Hussein Obama was born in Hawaii on August 4, 1961 and now he is the 44th President of the united States. Happy Birthday, Mr. President! Congrats on being 54!

Monday, August 03, 2015

EYE CANDY: Tyrone and Johnell

Tyrone Wells and Johnell Tyrell are a smoking hot couple of Black men who are also a couple. Tyrone has appeared as Eye Candy here before (June 29, 2015) and is well-known as the face (and body!) of Sizzle Miami 2015.  After finding their Instagram feeds(@tyronewells and @johnell_), I figured a joint Eye Candy post was in order! Do you not agree?


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