Friday, 27 March 2009

The Sad Truth about Feline Grammar

Sir Edward Gobswain, professor of Zoological Linguistics at Oxford University, has just published a damning new report in Animal Language. The paper, based on extensive studies in the past few years, outlines a dramatic drop in the quality of feline grammar, both written and spoken. Sir Edward concludes that this could lead to tragic consequences for all animal language in the future.

Gobswain’s paper, The Sad Truth about Feline Grammar, begins with a history of cat language, and the developments noted in this essential field. Carroll’s 1865 paper on the Cheshire breed of Cat showed a feline creature with a remarkable linguistic ability, while Lloyd-Webber (1981) noted the ability of various cats to sing, as well as talk, with great grammatical ability. Sadly, somewhere down the line, this ability seems to have abandoned the domestic feline.

The decline in linguistic excellence seems to have started around 2005. This is the point when, Gobswain notes, “a terrible disease began to affect cats everywhere, and their ability to vocalise internal feelings became stunted and infantile.”

Whereas the cat mentioned by Carroll in the 19th Century was able to engage in philosophical debate, nowadays cats seem to have trouble formulating simple sentences. Verb tensing, question phrasing and verb/pronoun agreement are now almost alien to the feline race. Phrases such as “…can has…” and “I is…” are now the rule rather than the exception. When asking questions, many cats will now utter a statement with a rising intonation instead of a properly-phrased question statement. And in written English, cats now seem completely unable to spell even the simplest words, like ‘is,’ ‘your’ and ‘itty bitty kitty committee’.

This is all depressing stuff, and Sir Edward warns that this linguistic failure may even be crossing over into the rest of the animal kingdom. Dogs, mice, owls and even walruses have shown signs of this grammatical disease.

As for explanations of this worrisome trend, Professor Gobswain can only theorise. His most fruitful line of inquiry shows a correlation between the deterioration of cats’ language and their diet. In the past few years many cats have moved away from the more traditional feline foods to junk food, such as cheeseburgers. The levels of nutrients in a cheeseburger are not enough for a growing kitten, and so it could be that cats’ collective brain power is falling as their diet gets worse. More studies are certainly needed, though, as the changes in both diet and linguistic capabilities could be symptoms of a greater underlying cause. It’s a long-shot but maybe, Gobswain hypothesises, Basement Cat is somehow responsible.

Whatever is to blame for this terrible blight on zoological communication, Gobswain concludes that things will get worse before they get better. Many pet owners are reluctant to correct their cats’ linguistic failures, and some even encourage them, believing them to be ‘cute’. Sir Edward warns that “giving your cat a cheeseburger when he says ‘I can haz cheezburger?’ will not wean them off this behaviour. On the contrary, it will reinforce it. Like children, we must reward good behaviour and punish the bad. I recommend pet owners withhold all burger products from their cats until the animals can ask for the food correctly. Doing otherwise would constitute what I refer to as ‘pet ownership FAIL’”.

To conclude the review, this is a worrying report of a trend that looks unlikely to improve soon. With more publicity, however, we might be able to roll back some of the damage through education and more public spending in feline literacy education. Sir Edward is to be commended for his fine work and dedicated study.

The Imaginary Reviewer is in your noun, verbing your related noun.

Tuesday, 24 March 2009

Poetry Review: The Alan Nonkey Anthology, 1986-1988

Alan Nonkey is a giant in the world of poetry. For two years he set the literature world alight with his beautiful, expressive verse and gorgeous writing. He burst on to the scene in early 1986 and grabbed his readers with a vice-like grip; he didn’t let go until mysteriously stopping all output in mid-1988.

Nonkey’s collected works are now available for the first time, for everyone who has eyes and a brain capable of converting squiggles on paper into thoughts in their head. Arranged chronologically, the works flow together like a poetic stream - possibly one in 19th-century Ireland – and bring emotions never felt before by this reviewer, and possibly, any other reviewer too..

Take the first poem in the collection; Help me I’m Trapped in an Abandoned Paper Factory:

Help me
I’m trapped in an Abandoned paper factory
I can’t find my way out
I’m just writing messages on paper with a piece of grit that I found on the floor
And throwing them out of the window

The poem continues for several stanzas, each conveying the metaphorical angst of the Everyman writer, trapped within his own need to create. This is rich allegorical stuff, and Nonkey really makes us feel his fear and pain at being a tiny creature within the big, bad world of literature.

These themes continue throughout the anthology, as demonstrated in For the Love of God I’ve Been Here for Four Months, published in The Massachusetts Review in August 1986:

Why has nobody come to help?
Isn’t anyone getting these messages?
I’m living off moss and water that’s dripping from a leaky pipe
And pooing in the next room
Why isn’t the exit clearly marked?
For the love of God I’ve been here for four months

While not Nonkey’s strongest work, this does demonstrate his grasp of metre and metaphor very well. The moss and leaky pipe water he mentions are obviously meant to resemble the meagre income of a struggling writer, but the lack of an exit tells me that he feels trapped in an enclosure of creativity. But despite initially gaining a sense of angst at this, I get the impression that he doesn’t actually want to get out.

Indeed, there is a definite sense of joy in Alan Nonkey’s work. His poems seem depressing to begin with, but subsequent readings uncover layers of joyous release. Take his most famous work, My Eyes:

I woke up with a rat on my face
Wish I could find out where he came from
My eyes are pretty badly scratched
He was pretty tasty though
But now my vision is getting worse…
Won’t someone please rescue me?

Can you feel the optimism coming through this poem like the sun breaking through the clouds on a rainy day? Alan is feeling the effects of his poetic success (the “rat on his face”), but the comforts brought by it are also contributing to a feeling of desperation, of fear that his muse will leave him (his worsening vision). But the desire to be “rescued” from this literary life is now almost a postscript in this verse. He has accepted his lot and his reluctance to strive in poetry is somewhat half-hearted.

I can’t recommend this anthology enough for fans of poetry and anyone who wants to try to embark upon a career as a writer of poems. It’s difficult, and while one moment you may be the toast of the literary world, the next moment you may have disappeared, like Nonkey, whose final poem, I Can’t Believe nobody has come to help me, was published in 1988.

You bastards
You utter, utter bastards
I can’t even go in the next room anymore
It’s full of my poo
And I’ve run out of moss

Nonkey’s agent claims that after this poem was submitted, Alan ceased all communication with him.

The Alan Nonkey Anthology, 1986-1988 is available from many book shops and one ice-cream van, oddly. Hardback edition is $24.99, Large-Format Coffee Table Edition is $199.99 and comes with a coffee table.

Wednesday, 18 March 2009

A new Shakespeare Play: Unearthed!

A new play by Shakespeare has been discovered, and I have been lucky enough to be one of the first reviewers granted access to this momentous work of art. The folio’s whereabouts for the intervening centuries are unknown, but the play was purchased in an auction in the late 1970s by a Japanese company, who waited for its authenticity to be verified before revealing it to the world.

Entitled The Two Gentlemen of the Mushroom Kingdom, the lost Shakespeare play is a mixture of farce and tragedy, containing elements that will be familiar to all fans of the Avon Bard.

A tale of love and loss, The Two Gentlemen… follows a pair of brothers in their quest to rescue a princess, who has been stolen away by an evil brute named Bowser. The quest takes them through many places, where they meet various other characters who try to stop them from reaching their goal. Along the way, they eat a lot of mushrooms, known to be one of Shakespeare’s favourite foods. It has been suggested by some scholars that the Bard received payment (or even samples) from the British Mushroom Alliance for every instance of the edible fungus in his plays, hence their repeated mentioning in this work.

The main characters, Mario and Luigi, are complex and emotional characters; their reactions to the trials and tribulations that they face in their quest display the depth and quality for which Shakespeare is so beloved. Take the following exchange, from Act 2, scene IV:

Mario: Does thou not know the man who stands before?
Are thine eyes so used to darkened cellar halls
Lit only by the spouting lava pools?
Luigi: Please, my eyes are dim
Mario: It’s a me, Mario!

There is an overwhelming sense of one’s ability to come to terms with disappointment in this play. Indeed, Mario learns again and again that his efforts to save his beloved have come to naught. The end of the first scene shows this in a particularly poignant fashion. As the curtain closes, Toad, a minor character, intones what may be one of Shakespeare’s finest capping couplets:

Dear Mario I know’t must be a hassle
But yon princess is within another castle

As the act finishes, we are left wondering whether our hero will be able to overcome this disappointment and fight on.

But not all in The Two Gentlemen of the Mushroom Kingdom is heavy, pathos-laden work. There is also comic relief in the form of a romantic tryst between Luigi and a strange overweight green woman called Yoshi. Mario refers to her as both ‘behemoth’ and ‘leviathan’, while she gorges herself on eggs.

The Two Gentlemen of the Mushroom Kingdom is an excellent example of Shakespeare at his best, and it’s a shame that so many people have been forced to live without this wonderful work of art due to its being lost for so long. Schoolchildren everywhere will love to read this book, with its brilliant iambs and hexameter that goes on for miles.

The art-loving world should thank Nintendo for bringing this wonderful new play to our attention. I have heard rumours of another lost masterpiece in their possession, a long-forgotten work by Plato on the subject of giant gorillas who throw barrels at people, and I can only hope that it is true.

The Two Gentlemen of the Mushroom Kingdom is out now in hardback, paperback and Wii.

Monday, 16 March 2009

Last Week’s Guest Post: Reviewed!

Thanks again to PMJG for his great guest post last week. I’m sure you’ll agree that he did an excellent job of reviewing That Which Does Not Exist, but let’s have a look at his review in more detail.

One thing that struck me about the review was his strict adherence to the first rule of reviewing, namely the “beginning-middle-end” law. The beginning of the review was located squarely at the start of the piece, in accordance with the guidelines set out by the International Imaginary Review Control Committee. The end of the review occurred at the end, and the middle was located between the two. PMJG decided to mix things up a little bit with regard to the middle section, however, splitting it up and adding a second beginning and a pseudo-end/middle-amalgamation (known in the trade as a ‘gutwrench’) between the fourth and fifth semicolons. This is a difficult move to pull off, but I think he succeeded.

Nothing shouts “amateur” more than an incorrectly parsed diphthong, and I believe PMJG was successful in avoiding this elementary mistake.

If I have one qualm with the vocabulary of this review, it’s that a little more time could have been spent including the words ‘parsimonious’ and ‘happenstance’. Every review should contain these words, as well as ‘qualm’, which I used in the previous sentence.

One advanced technique often seen by reviewers of things that don’t exist is the flat-back d-line cusp return, in which the proto-assessment is interrupted by a distempered quality-endowment reflection of the backhand scrutinisation manifold. This is a terrible technique and I hate it more than I hate liquorice. Thankfully PMJG avoided it like I avoid that man who lives down my street and always seems to wear the same pair of pants.

PMJG’s review was certainly bold, with subtle tannins and balsamic undertones. It had overtures of carbuncle and spatchcock, and for my money would be great when paired with a pasta dish or something containing raisins.

PMJG is available for the reviewing of Glenn Madeiros songs, TV shows broadcast between 7:00 and 8:00 (both am and pm) and films beginning with ‘Y’ or ‘W’ (but not the film ‘W’ as that’s a bit much, really).

Friday, 13 March 2009

Guest Post: Tamquest Softcorp Games Reviews

Hello all, it's The Imaginary Reviewer here. I haven't been posting as much recently due to being incredibly lazy running out of ideas various reasons, and PMJG of Bitterly Books offered to write a review for me so I could sit back and watch porn do all the important things that I've got to do right now. Oh, I'll be reviewing his efforts next week, so pay attention!

Tamquest Softcorp’s latest string of releases has hit the market, and I tore into their video games with a wild abandon not seen since Lindsay Lohan gave up drugs (wink, wink). Here are my first impressions of the new titles:

Grand Theft Ovary
In this sandbox-style game, players use their controller as a versatile suite of medical tools to perform surprise appendectomies, involuntary liposuction, and stealth bowel removal. Technically, it's well-executed. The sound effects have a certain squishy realism to them, while the graphics are well-rendered (I found myself liverjacking over and over just to see the animation one more time). Unfortunately, the gameplay is a little unbalanced--no matter how many malpractice alerts are outstanding against your character, abducting a single street urchin and selling his organs on the black market will earn more than enough money to bribe the medical board to return your doctor's license back to "untarnished" status. Some people might also see the game's freeform, sandbox style of play as lacking in plot.

Gordon Crampton's Chefwar 2KBwelve
For a fighting game that requires fast reflexes, the controls are disappointingly laggy. It took me several tries to get the timing down for the combo attack to julienne string beans, I can only mince chives about half the time, and I swear that you can only peel onions properly if you're double jointed. However, Chefwar 2KBwelve has a surprisingly detailed plot for a fighter, and the game has a certain flair that makes it unexpectedly enjoyable to clothesline the snooty maitre d' and bodyslam the overzealous health inspector. You should probably rent this game to see if your enjoyment of its varied arenas and fighting styles can overcome your frustration with its execution.

Barge Commander: Bonded Owner/Operator
In the tradition of Sid Meier’s Pirates and Port Royale, Tamquest has created a seaborne trading game that thrillingly combines bargain hunting at the dollar store on payday with a ten-hour drive across Nevada in a car with no air conditioning. As a Norwegian Sea Captain in 1932, Barge Commander has you choose the cargo, select the port of call, plan the crew roster, and stand watch in the most accurate, real-time depiction of steam-powered sea travel on the market. While it doesn’t have the same attention to detail as the EuropeanSimulators line of computer programs from Chipfat, it still shows a lot of attention to detail. Unfortunately, a graphics bug present in my copy made everything the color of creamed spinach until I could download a patch that restored the game’s full color palette--composed of nuanced shades of steel gray, overcast gray, slate gray, and slate grey that really made 20th century shipping lanes come alive.

In VirtualSweatshop, you run an American clothing factory in the legal grey zone of a U.S. protectorate. Players can choose whether to give their indentured "employees" a decent living wage and exert control over other factors in their lives including the frequency and duration of breaks during their 14-hour workday. It turns out that you actually can put a price on human misery, along with a "Made in the USA" label. This game has a pretty steep learning curve; although I quickly earned a production bonus by placing the machines for maximum efficiency, I kept killing my workers by subjecting them to heat stroke and not ventilating the building properly. The number of variables that have to be tracked in this game are staggering, including a separate exposure bar each one of over 30 different types of diseases and parasites, not counting workplace-induced health afflictions like "fluff lung" and "stitcher's finger." I found the game to be a little too complicated for my tastes, but this may appeal to more detail-oriented gamers, sim enthusiasts, and actuaries.

Grandma Dream Day
I’ll admit that at first I was skeptical about this response to the growing number of dating simulators out there. After all, it’s kind of a creepy premise, showering your grandchildren with gifts and taking them out to places like the zoo in a desperate attempt to gain their affection, but it won me over in spite of itself. The cute graphics did a lot to offset the weirdness factor of playing as an old person taking an almost unhealthy interest in children, and the end goal is to have them keep their parents (your children) from sending you to the "bad" nursing home, so it's for a good cause. There's a variety of trip destinations including movies, malls, and the circus (including an unlockable bonus trip to the World Extreme Competitive Still-Life Painting Finals), and all of the items you can buy have unique effects and influences. The game's special "randomizer" feature changes your grandchildrens' preferences so that it's never the same game twice (which proves to be just as well, since I had to play through to the ending 3 times before I ended up somewhere other than the home where orderlies duct tape you into bed and spray you with a garden hose).

Wall Street Wizard
Not much documentation came with Wall Street Wizard. After the installation completed and I opened the program, my boss called to tell me I was fired, the bank foreclosed on my house, and all my money burst into flames. I give this game points for realism, but question its play value.

If you know someone who becomes addicted to any of these games, or who is struggling with video game addiction, check out Bitterly Books tomorrow for a review of a book that could help.

Monday, 9 March 2009

The Latest Phobias Reviewed!

Last year was a great year for phobias, with the American Psychiatric Association releasing some excellent new ones. Some were so popular that they sold out immediately and there were riots all over the world and in France. Will this year’s phobias be as popular? God knows. And so will you, if you read on.

One of the best fears ever created by the smarty-panted boffins at the APA is Facebookhacksocialpariahphobia. This charmingly-titled irrational pant-shitter makes the sufferer totally terrified that their Facebook account will be hacked by an unscrupulous miscreant. This rotten scoundrel will then change their status update and write insulting wall posts to all their friends, making them an outcast with fewer than 200 chums and only memories of being superpoked.

When I tried this phobia I felt like I needed to constantly be in front of a computer to make sure I was logged in to Facebook, like some crazy square-eyed dipstick. When I was forced to be away from my desk I was terrified that someone would hack into my account and comment that a friend’s baby “looked like a dog-faced imp”. This fear made me steal someone’s chump trumpet so I could access the website through it. All in all, this is an excellent, highly effective phobia. Top marks.

Less successful is Sambeckettohboyphobia, the fear that hearing someone say “oh boy” will make you shift in time and space so that you occupy someone else’s body, only being able to move on once you’ve fixed some injustice in their life, and hoping that every leap will be the leap home. This phobia was pretty ineffective, as nobody says “oh boy” any more, except Buddy Holly, and he’s dead. No points.

Blogspeedphobia is the fear that once your blog gets more than 50 hits in a single day, it must never drop below 50 hits every day from then on, or it will explode. I found this to be an effective phobia, not least because Keanu Reeves and Sandra Bullock refused to return my calls asking them to spread the word about The Imaginary Review. In the end, to combat this phobia I had Dennis Hopper killed. Job done.

Finally, I am a big fan of Pornstarobitsadnessphobia. This is the fear that unrelated video footage of you crying your eyes out will be used in a news report of the death of a famous porn star. If you suffer from this phobia, you live in the fear that your friends and family will believe that some horny starlet’s premature demise will upset you so much that you will be openly weeping in the streets.

This phobia made me resolve to never again cry with a camera recording me, and forced me to destroy all my home video funeral footage. I also trembled each time a news anchor adopted the grave “death announcement” demeanour, scared that he would announce some glamour model’s tragic death. This is a brilliant phobia, full of layers and suspense, it gets two thumbs up from me.

The Imaginary Reviewer would like to remind you that there is nothing to fear but fear itself. Oh, and snakes.

Thursday, 5 March 2009

New Comics Round-up

Comic books are a bit like soap operas, aren’t they? They’re like soap operas with more spandex and fighting. Well, actually, WWE Wrestling is like a soap opera with spandex and fighting; comic books are like soap operas with spandex, fighting and speech bubbles. Hmm, I’m not sure where I was going with that. I’ll just move on to my comic book reviews.

Hergé’s Adventures of Superman #12 is the very special double-sized conclusion to the critically-acclaimed series. I don’t want to give too much away, but this is a highly satisfying end to a nail-biting storyline. Does Superman find the secrets of Smuggler’s Cove? Will Lois and Captain Haddock escape from the dungeon before the water drowns them? And what has Lex Luthor done with Snowy? All will be revealed if you buy this comic.

The Splendiferous Spider-man #64 introduces some new villains for Spidey to battle. The STD Gang, with Chlamydia Pete, VD Girl and The Clap could be the deadliest foes old web-head has ever faced! I’ll be honest; I didn’t particularly like this issue, mostly because the character design for the bad guys was a little too graphic for my liking. And the ending - in which Spider-man was rescued by a mysterious stranger known as Prophylacticus the Preventor - seemed a little tacked-on.

X-Men: The Re-Imagining is a great four-issue mini-series in which the mutant heroes are beset by falling subscription numbers and advertising revenue, and are forced by an evil super villain called ‘The Editor’ to undergo a horrific change in direction to gain new readers. Characters die, good guys turn bad, dead characters are reborn and one super-heroine comes out as a lesbian. How will Cyclops and the team survive? Hint: Time travel.

The best graphic novel out this month is Batman’s Greatest Scowls, a collection of the best grimaces from the last few decades of Dark Knight stories. My particular favourites include the one where he’s going “grr” and the one where he’s not saying anything but you can tell he’s really really mad.

The most promising new comic book looks like being Australian Stumpy Tail Cattle Dog Man. This excellent series sees a mild-mannered weatherman gain the super powers of an Australian Stumpy Tail Cattle Dog after being bitten by a radioactive goat. With his excellent sense of smell and amazing herding ability, Australian Stumpy Tail Cattle Dog Man is able to foil crime and rescue wandering flocks of sheep. Created by Frank Miller, this comic book should be on everyone’s wanted list for years to come!

The Imaginary Reviewer is deliberately not mentioning Watchmen so that he’s not accused of trying to generate extra search traffic by mentioning Watchmen despite the current popularity of Watchmen and the current release of Watchmen the movie which is based on the Watchmen comic book. No, no mention of Watchmen here.

Monday, 2 March 2009

The Saint of the Year Show

Last weekend saw the event that is highly anticipated by Saint-lovers everywhere. The Saint of the Year Show is an annual competition which tries to determine which of the newly canonised holy people is the best in a number of categories, with the ‘Best in Show’ winning a great number of prizes including the dedication of their own day. I was there to witness everything first hand, like an eyewitness, but with nicer shoes.

Competition this year was fiercer than usual, not surprising given the fact that the day up for grabs for the winner was June 11. This is a very desirable day to have as a saint, given that you would be in such esteemed company as St. Blitharius, St. Herebald and St. Peter Rodiguez and Companions. I was struck by the tenacity and pluck of many of these venerated persons, as I’m sure many of the spectators here were too.

Saint Cattermole of Duntwerp was highly fancied before the competition began, and many spectators were expecting big things from him. This was due in no small part to his trainer, Saint Pavel of Taganrog, a Russian Saint who has trained many a champion through the years. Cattermole performed well in the divinity category, and was placed third overall in the ‘shiniest halo’ event, but was let down by his disappointing alms dealing technique.

Saint Sylvia of the Exposed Flesh was very popular with everyone, though her purity (or lack thereof) worked against her, as did the fact that she’s not dead and therefore isn’t a real saint.

Saint Sylvia of the Exposed Flesh learns of her disqualification. Yummy.

The runaway winner of the ‘Patron Saints’ class was Saint Mental Dennis, the patron saint of things that are not where they should be even though they were there a short while ago. After an initial hiccup in the miracle challenge, Saint Mental Dennis won three back to back events: best-kept robe, most pious expression and the geography quiz. The judges were also impressed with his teeth and gait.

The Saint that won my own ‘most disappointing’ award was Saint Ludo of the Rocks. I had predicted big things for this holy man, but he let me down spectacularly. He was tipped for greatness in the ‘best martyrdom’ category, but rumours of his demise were grossly exaggerated. It turns out that Saint Ludo wasn’t killed by rampaging horses while giving a sermon; instead, he fell into a muffin-making machine while stealing baked goods from a closed supermarket. He also performed very poorly in the swimsuit round.

St. Ludo converses with one of the judges, a former winner of the competition

But the overall winner and newly celebrated Saint of June 11 was Saint Wayne of Glossop. He was deemed Best in Show after impressing the judges with his martyrdom (his face was eaten by a bear), his pious expression (scoring an average of 5.9) and his excellent ability to avoid temptation (he resisted the sticky breakfast bun for over 27 minutes). He was also commended for his performance in the confessional and for being the only Saint in the competition who could name all the books of the New Testament in order without any clues.

All in all, this was another successful year for the Saint of the Year Show. There were a lot of really excellent martyrs on show, and they were a wonder to watch as they paraded around the ring, with their superb coats and distinguished profiles. I can’t wait for next year, as I hear that Saint Swithun has been training a very special young protégé from his Home for Abandoned Saints.