Thursday, May 31, 2007
Books: I read 'em
:: Every week at the library I carefully inspect the "New Nonfiction" shelf, and often times I'll check out a selection or two from there pretty much on a whim. One such case was Automat: The History, Recipes, and Allure of Horn & Hardart's Masterpiece, by Lorraine Diehl and Marianne Hardart. I saw the word "recipes" and that's all it took, since I'm always a sucker for new cookbooks, and after about five seconds of thumbing through the book, I surmised that it was apparently a celebration of a long-vanished New York City restaurant. I almost always enjoy food writing, so home it came.
What I discovered is that it wasn't a book about one restaurant, but about a whole chain of them, a chain that launched in the 1880s and only finally closed for good in early 1991. The short version of the tale is that two guys, one named Horn and the other named Hardart, got together to open first a lunch counter and then a series of them, eventually spawning a chain of Automat restaurants in New York City and in Philadelphia. The automat concept was that food would be distributed not by servers, but through a wall of coin-operated compartments: insert coins, and then open the little window to take the food out. And then someone in the kitchen, behind the wall of food compartments, would come along and "reload" the thing.
Apparently these places were extremely popular in their day, in pre-WWII New York and Philly; their decline began with the post-war exodus of the middle class to suburbia. The Automat concept sounds a little weird at first glance, but looking at the photos in this book makes me wish there was one still around somewhere, with the art-deco styling and the stained glass windows along the front. This is a slice of bygone-Americana that I never knew existed.
(After a little Googling, here's a new Automat-concept place in NYC. It doesn't look at all like the Horn & Hardart Automats; rather, this looks like something you'd see on a streetcorner in Tokyo or Hong Kong. I wonder if they have Automats in those cities?)
:: Words Words Words by David Crystal is just that: a book about words. Crystal is a Professor of Linguistics at the University of Wales, and he turns out to be extremely prolific on the subject. Even though Crystal is a professional academic linguist, this book isn't an academic tome. It's more of an introduction to the kinds of things linguists study, as well as a general rumination on the kinds of linguistic matters that are likely to perplex people who think about language on the level of the intrigued amateur. Crystal ruminates briefly on issues such as: Is the English language deteriorating? What makes a word beautiful or ugly? How is it that words change meaning over time? Why can't language stay the way it is, forever? And why does everybody but me speak with such outlandish accents?
:: A Short History of Nearly Everything by Bill Bryson is one of those single-volume discussions of just about everything in the world of science as it is today, similar in focus to Carl Sagan's Cosmos and Pale Blue Dot and Timothy Ferris's Coming of Age in the Milky Way. I love a well-written popularization of science, and this is a good one. It's particularly notable for two features. First is Bryson's focus on a lot of the personalities of science responsible for the things we now know (or don't know) about our world. Science doesn't progress in the straight line everyone likes to think it does, and often scientific progress is held up decades or longer by oddities of personality. The other notable feature of the book is its fairly bleak outlook: if Carl Sagan's theme in Cosmos is what a wonderful and amazing thing the Universe is, Bryson's theme is that the Universe doesn't care one whit about us and is set up such that any number of things can happen at any moment to wipe us out forever: a giant pulse of gamma rays from a supernova we don't know happened yet, an eruption of the giant volcano underneath Yellowstone National Park, Earth being struck by any of the likely thousands of meteors and asteroids we don't know are aimed at our planet because we're too dumb to spend the money to look for them, and so on.
So there's my recent reading (along with several others that I'll blog about later on or review for GMR)!
Unidentified Earth 5
This week takes us to the thrilling location of...well, that's for you all to identify!
Where are we?
Wednesday, May 30, 2007
A Very Public Service Announcement
When I serialized Book I: The Welcomer over the course of 2005, I posted chapters twice a month, on the first and third Sunday of each. I won't be able to match that frequency now, since The Finest Deed is unfinished, so I've elected to halve that frequency. So for the time being, I will do one chapter a month, which will appear on the first Sunday of each month.
Which means, in turn, that Chapter One will appear there this coming Sunday.
Now, if I get a good head of steam going and wind up significantly ahead of my goals, I may up the frequency occasionally to add a second chapter per month; however, I will make no promises on that score save one: I will always post in the sidebar of The Promised King's site the date that the next chapter will appear. This way, you won't find that you've missed a chapter if you only check in monthly.
Thus, for those of you who've been wondering what will become of Lady Gwynwhyfar and Sir Baigent and Lord Matholyn and King Arthur in their struggles against Cwerith ap Cellamma, the Traitor King, it'll begin Sunday, June 3. And if you haven't read The Welcomer yet, what's stopping you? All the chapters are there!
O for a giant can of Raid....
And thanks to YouTube, it can scare the crap out of you, too. It starts off OK...until around the 1:55 mark, when the flare that's keeping the bugs at bay flickers out....
Tuesday, May 29, 2007
A quiz thing
1. I've come to realize that my last kiss... has exited my brain. Seriously. Don't remember it.
2. I am listening to... the wind in the trees. Nothing going on right now, no music playing, no teevee droning.
3. I talk... in iambic pentameter. OK, not really. But it would be cool.
4. I want... to rewind the calendar of my life back to, oh, August 10, 2004 and see if it all plays out differently.
5. My best friend(s)... is at work right now, if she's got the same work schedule this week that she usually does.
7. The weather is... stunning: sunny and low humidity. Bite me, all you "I hate Buffalo weather" dweebs.
8. I hate it when people... act like people, instead of acting like persons, if that makes sense.
9. Love is... when your default reaction to something terrible happening is fear that the other may not make it through.
10. Marriage is... kept from gays for absolutely no good reason that I've ever heard.
11. Somewhere, someone is thinking... "Wow, I could really go for some Cheetos and Mallomars."
12. I'll always... want just one more chicken wing or slice of pizza.
13. I have a secret crush on... Mirna from The Amazing Race. Actually, this isn't really secret, but then, I don't keep my crushes secret. I advertise 'em, front and center.
14. The last time I cried was... sometime in the last day. I can summon up tears on command now.
15. My cell phone is... out there somewhere, waiting for me. I don't own one. Don't need one.
16. When I wake up in the morning... I either lazily lay in bed a while, or I utter a curse before lazily laying in bed a while. This depends on the hour and how well I've slept.
17. Before I go to bed... I clean out the old sinuses with the Neti pot. Hey, you asked.
18. Right now I am thinking about... why I can't live a life of romance and derring-do like d'Artagnan.
19. Babies are... for other people, apparently.
20. I go on MySpace... once in a great while. I set up a profile there in case anyone on MySpace was looking for me; the only purpose it serves is basically to direct people here. However, I've never yet seen a referral show up in my SiteMeter stats. I generally think MySpace is pretty useless. It bugs me that I have this awesome 2006 computer with a DSL connection that I can use to look at MySpace pages that look like the personal websites I used to see when I was on my 1996 Compaq Presario surfing my dial-up connection.
21. Today I... took The Wife to a medical appointment, where I read thirty pages of The Three Musketeers in the waiting room; went food-shopping; and went for a long walk while listening to the Revenge of the Sith score on my personal CD player.
22. Tonight I... will take The Family Whose Number MUST NEVER EXCEED THREE out for dinner at our favorite road-side burgers-and-hot-dogs joint. Then we'll come home, watch TV, read, put The Daughter to bed, and call it a night.
23. Tomorrow I... will finish up some reviews for GMR and start writing again. It's time once again for my fictional children to step up and do their surrogate duty.
24. I really want to... know what exactly it is that some people think is so "intelligently designed" about the human body.
25. Someone who will most likely repost this? Nobody, probably -- my bitter tone here will probably scare them off. Time to go get some food, I think.
Sentential Links #100
:: You might need to declare email bankruptcy. (Maybe it's just because I don't work a desk job, but my e-mail is quite well within the bounds of my ability to handle it without wanting to lure it into a quiet stretch of water and strangle it.)
:: Before it happens, I just want to state for the record that when Juliet winds up betraying the castaways tonight and proving that she really was working with Ben the whole time and that Ben had planned all the dynamite stuff, that I'm not shocked. (I don't know what any of that means, actually.)
:: Frequent are the times when I want to grab some whiny chick and shake her and scream in her face, "What the heck is wrong with you!?"
:: Anyway, considering Powerline's utter lack of introspection, amusing inability to learn from mistakes, and a massive amount of evidence that they -- the Three Stooges of the blogosphere -- wouldn't recognize common sense if it punched them in the face, is it any wonder that their brethren, considered the wingersphere's best and brightest, are still routinely humiliated?
:: For Mr. Steyn and the professional indignation specialists over at Libertas, it will never be enough that Kazan went on to have a distinguished, artistically fulfilling and lucrative career after his testimony. He must be loved, not despite, but because of his having named names. (Referring to Elia Kazan, of course.)
:: Some day, I must walk to the Port, stopping off at, say, the Hare, the Bell, the Robin Hood, the Highbury Vaults, and the Pennyfarthing. I would probably not walk back, though. (Ahhh, beer...with the coming of summer, I tend to drink more beer. I like beer. Yup. I also like bars with names like "the Robin Hood" and "the Pennyfarthing".)
:: I asume I am the last person in the world to hear about the last person in the blogosphere to learn about the Silver Surfer quarters which are not counterfeit, but altered US Coins, which makes the people eligible for five years in federal prison as opposed to the ten to fifteen you get for counterfeiting. (Nope; I hadn't heard of this yet! Click through for linkage. You'd think the Franklin Mint would know what the hell they're doing.)
:: In general, human beings do not appreciate it when foreign armies invade their nation, shatter its infrastructure, drop bombs throughout the country, kill tens of thousands of civilians, unleash anarchy and chaos, and then proceed to occupy the country with a force of 150,000 foreign soldiers. And that is true even if a genuine monster like Saddam Hussein is removed from power and killed in the process.
:: Go wherever you may go, on the web, around town, at work/school, and you're going to find this rather aggressive strain of provincialism. People not only unwilling to explore other vistas or to consider other viewpoints, but they are harsh and sometimes eager to stop up any discussion that does not center around them. (This post is in partial response to....)
:: The fourth reason is that to know and to read the great books makes one a member of the family of all those who have eaten from the same dish. (A fine, fine post on why one should read the Great Literature. I'm not sure I agree with everything here, especially this: "Some works are sublime, meant to last forever, to be read and reread until the work becomes a treasured part of one's soul; some are pulp, meant to thrill the reader." Seems to me that the works which endure do so because they are worthy of enduring, not because they are meant to endure. The best thing to do is drink widely from the deep well.)
:: Extricandae copiae! (I'm on board. Get them out.)
Enough for now. Enjoy.
Sunday Burst of Weirdness (Tuesday Edition)
:: Lynn has what is either the greatest T-shirt in history, or the evilest. It's printed with spoilers. Don't believe me? Check it out -- but there may be spoilers there.
:: Pound for pound, the best source for pure strangeness is Warren Ellis, who today has a link to the most appalling idea for a reality-TV show ever. Sooner or later, all Monty Python sketches come true, it seems.
And three bits of video weirdness in honor of Star Wars. First, two of my favorite fan-made parodies: Emperor Palpatine receiving a call from Darth Vader after the Death Star's destruction, and a spoof trailer for Episode III (made before the real Ep. III came out).
After that, here are a couple of actual original theatrical trailers. First, here's how audiences were tempted to see the original Star Wars:
"Lightyears ahead of its time!" "Somewhere in space all this may be happening right now!" Oy.
And then there's The Empire Strikes Back:
Does the voice in the TESB trailer sound familiar to anyone?
But for the Grace of God....
They're blogging his life's struggle as well, at Mikey's Love. Love, it turns out, doesn't conquer everything -- but dammit, you'd think a force that powerful would, you know?
:: Every year in the various playoff periods for each sport, I'll encounter a bit of logic that always escapes me: the idea that if your team loses in the playoffs, you should root for the team that knocked your guys out, on the basis that then you could say you lost to the best, or something like that. Personally, I think that's complete poppycock. The team that beats my team deserves to suffer a defeat ten times as stunning as that which they visited upon my own long-suffering burgh. So, Go, Ducks!
:: I continue to be amazed at all the media hand-wringing over the Bills' decision to allow Nate Clements to leave without even making an attempt to re-sign him. Look, Clements is a good player, no doubt about it, and his departure does leave a hole in the secondary. But there were too many games where his presence created a hole in the secondary, the Bills would have been crazy to commit that much money to the position of cornerback, and it all boils down to the harsh reality that the Bills weren't going to get any better by keeping him. When the choice is a guy leaving now or a guy leaving later, I'd always take the guy leaving now. I'm a big "Get it over with and move on" person.
:: For all the metaphorical ill-wishing I tend to direct on this blog toward the NFL franchise from New England, I hope it's clear that I confine my ill-wishes to just the field of play. I want those players to live happy lives off the field, and just go 0-16 on it. I certainly wouldn't ever wish anything like this upon them. Condolences to his family, friends, and teammates.
Monday, May 28, 2007
Know, all who see these lines,
That this man, by his appetite for honor,
By his steadfastness,
By his love for his country,
By his courage,
Was one of the miracles of the God.
-- Guy Gavriel Kay
Well, how do you do, young Willie McBride,
Do you mind if I sit down here by your graveside?
And rest for awhile 'neath the warm summer sun,
I've been walking all day, and I'm nearly done.
I see by your gravestone you were only 19
When you joined the great fallen in 1916,
I hope you died quick and I hope you died clean
Or, Willie McBride, was it slow and obscene?
Did they Beat the drum slowly, did they play the fife lowly?
Did they sound the death-march as they lowered you down?
Did the band play The Last Post in chorus?
Did the pipes play the Flowers of the Forest?
Did you leave a wife or a sweetheart behind
In some faithful heart is your memory enshrined?
And, though you died back in 1916,
To that faithful heart are you forever 19?
Or are you a stranger without even a name,
Enshrined then, forever, behind a glass pane,
In an old photograph, torn and tattered and stained,
And faded to yellow in a brown leather frame?
Did they Beat the drum slowly, did they play the fife lowly?
Did they sound the death-march as they lowered you down?
Did the band play The Last Post in chorus?
Did the pipes play the Flowers of the Forest?
The sun's shining down on these green fields of France;
The warm wind blows gently, and the red poppies dance.
The trenches have vanished long under the plow;
No gas and no barbed wire, no guns firing now.
But here in this graveyard that's still No Man's Land
The countless white crosses in stand mute in the sand
To man's blind indifference to his fellow man,
And a whole generation who were butchered and damned.
Did they Beat the drum slowly, did they play the fife lowly?
Did they sound the death-march as they lowered you down?
Did the band play The Last Post in chorus?
Did the pipes play the Flowers of the Forest?
And I can't help but wonder, no Willie McBride,
Do all those who lie here know why they died?
Did they really believe when they answered the call,
Did they really believe that this war would end wars?
Well the sorrow, the suffering, the glory, the pain
The killing and dying, was all done in vain,
For young Willie McBride, it all happened again,
And again, and again, and again, and again.
Did they Beat the drum slowly, did they play the fife lowly?
Did they sound the death-march as they lowered you down?
Did the band play The Last Post in chorus?
Did the pipes play the Flowers of the Forest?
Sunday, May 27, 2007
The general thought now is that SFBC isn't going to close, but that it will be altered substantially from the way it currently operates. Part of that was the early retirement of longtime (over thirty years) SFBC editor Ellen Asher and assistant editor Andrew Wheeler. Obviously any time a business changes hands from one owning corporate entity to another, there will be job losses as redundancies are eliminated and as infrastructures from the smaller company are brought in line with those of the larger; however, the elimination of the two people who have probably done the most to give the SFBC its unique approach to SF publishing is troubling, especially since it's highly unlikely that Bertelsman has a well-qualified SF book editor already on staff.
Over at his blog, writer/editor Jonathan Strahan has been posting quite a bit about all this, and in this post he solicited comments from readers about their experiences with the SFBC. Here is the comment I left:
I’ve been a member at three or four different times since the early 1990s, and I am a current member now. In fact, my current membership represents the longest instance of membership for me. For the last year or so, it’s seemed as if every time I even consider the tiny possibility of canceling, the very next flier to come in the mail had three or four things in it that I wanted.
As I’ve seen mentioned in just about every blog comments thread on the SFBC topic since the turmoil became evident, the main value is in wonderful omnibus editions, and that’s where I’ve taken great advantage of the SFBC. It’s been invaluable over the last two years for my filling in of certain gaps in my collection, and at considerably less expense than if I were to track down the titles on their own, especially of things that just aren’t in print anymore or, if they are, are in expensive trade PB editions. Through SFBC I’ve been able to get nice editions of the Lensmen series by Doc Smith, the Barsoom novels of Edgar Rice Burroughs, Jack Vance’s Demon Princes series, and so on.
Sure, these are "book club" editions of the books, so the paper isn’t quite as good quality and the bindings aren’t as good either, but that doesn’t bother me, as I’m a reader first and a collector second, and I treat my books well anyway, so even the book club editions tend to do just fine on my shelves.
I’ve used SFBC more as a route to hard-to-find fiction than to get the new stuff (although I’ve bought some new stuff from them as well — books by John Scalzi, Charles Stross, and others). While I plan to stay a member for the time being, I am less than optimistic that SFBC will remain a good resource for the type of book-buying I’ve done from them. The fact that all the current turmoil springs from the eternal bugaboo of making the damned stockholders happy does not, it seems to me, bode well for a person like me who is happily digging into the earlier and, in some cases, largely forgotten byways of the genre.
I’m sure we’ll reach a point someday in the future when the concerns of stockholders aren’t given paramount attention on an a priori basis. I just hope I’m still around when we get there.
As I say, I do not currently plan to abandon my membership, mainly out of curiosity for what the new (but not likely improved) SFBC will be. I'm not optimistic about the direction they will take, though; I've never once encountered an instance where something got better after the people who were doing out of love were pushed out in favor of people who do it because it's just a whole new pile of beans to count.
Here's another SFBC member's take on the whole thing.
Friday, May 25, 2007
Thirty years ago, in a Galaxy far, far away
Of course, I didn't see it on opening day; I was five, after all, and it took a while for the thing to become a Big Cultural Phenomenon. My mother says that when she saw in the papers what was going on with this space movie, it was she who decided that come hell or high water, her kids were going to see it. So it was late summer, I think, by the time we finally saw it. Maybe it was early summer. Actually, I honestly don't recall. The movie came out while we were finishing the school year in LaCrosse, Wisconsin; then we moved to Portland, Oregon. That's where I saw Star Wars the first time.
And I didn't like it.
Again, I was five, and I just didn't get the thing. The only movies I knew were Disney stuff, and my only exposure to SF prior to this was a flick called The Cat from Outer Space. But my sister? She was ga-ga for Star Wars and talked about it constantly. So much so that somehow she won me over, and when I consented to go see it a second time, I thought it was the greatest thing ever.
And I still think that.
Three years later, at the same theater (the Westgate in Beaverton, OR, which I believe is now no longer there):
And then, after we moved to Western New York:
So anyway, thank you, George Lucas and everyone else.
Here are some links to older Star Wars-related posts of mine:
Why I love The Phantom Menace
Why I love Attack of the Clones, part one
Why I love Attack of the Clones, part two
Why I love Attack of the Clones, part three
Why I love Revenge of the Sith
The Star Wars toy I coveted above all, mine at last!
Emperor Palpatine calls customer service
A representative post in which I defend the honor of George Lucas
A big Star Wars poll
My favorite visual moments from the Star Wars movies
I've done a lot more Star Wars-related blathering than those on Byzantium's Shores, but those are a good start.
Last week I splurged on The Making of STAR WARS, and I've started reading it, but I'm taking this one very slowly so as to savor it and absorb as much of it as possible.
Also, some outside links: D. Trull is another guy who, like me, thinks the Prequels are actually pretty damned good. I've been sitting on this link for quite a while, so long actually that everyone's probably already seen it, but here's Steampunk Star Wars. Also, some time ago a reader e-mailed me about The Secret History of STAR WARS, which I have not yet read. (I'll get to it, eventually!)
I don't know if I'll have a chance to watch the original film today; there's lots of other stuff on my plate right now, obviously. But I wasn't going to allow cruddy life events now let me miss out on Star Wars's thirtieth birthday!
Thursday, May 24, 2007
When "Gotcha" journalism goes awry
So Channel 2 actually called IKEA, whereupon a rep for the company says that IKEA currently has no plans to open in Buffalo or anyplace else in Upstate NY, mainly because of population issues. (Which makes sense. Nothing wrong with IKEA's thinking here, although it's a bummer when some company says no to our city.)
Having that answer in hand from the IKEA rep, a Channel 2 reporter then confronts Mayor Brown by saying something like, "You said you were talking to IKEA about expanding in Buffalo, but we called them, and they say they have no interest! Can you explain that?" The question was clearly phrased with the underlying assumption that Mayor Brown had been BS-ing everyone last week when he mentioned possibly talking to IKEA.
Well, of course, he did nothing of the sort; conventions like the one he intended aren't where one goes to ink final copies of deals, but rather to just make contacts with people and put the proverbial bugs in their ears. Brown never said that he was entering formal negotiations with IKEA or anything else of the kind. Channel 2's attempt at a "Gotcha" moment was just plain lame.
(On the topic of IKEA, though, I wonder if that company were to announce a waterfront store if it would then draw the same kind of "anti-big box retail" sentiment that Bass Pro seems to be drawing. Especially since I've never yet seen an IKEA that was not of the "suburban big box" variety -- a single-use building containing just the IKEA store, surrounded by a giant surface parking lot.)
Unidentified Earth 4
Where are we?
All that's left now is incidental detail -- recovery for my wife who's been bedridden for seventeen days, yet another homecoming without a child in our arms, massive hospital bills, and lots of grieving.
This blog will probably lay fallow for a while now. Possibly a good while. We'll see.
UPDATE: Or maybe the blog will lay fallow for a few hours, until I get sick of moping. As moping goes, I'm more sprinter than long-distance runner; I can mope a four-minute mile, but no way can I mope a marathon. So anyway, the beat goes on.
Thanks yet again to everyone who has offered comment and support, or support without comment, or whatever.
I'll be posting a bit less for a while, but I won't be dropping off the face of the earth.
UPDATE II: Earlier, I e-mailed a good friend of mine about what's happened. Later on, I logged back on to find two messages in the Inbox. One was from that very friend, exorting me to just survive the current crisis. "Survive. Just survive."
The other message? A spam advert for free cigarettes.
Talk about distilling life to a single binary alternative.
UPDATE III: Thanks one last time for all the well-wishes. It's all very moving, and highly appreciated.
Wednesday, May 23, 2007
Stupid people with their big-ass carry-on bags....
Now arriving, Flight 1138 from Bespin....
Tuesday, May 22, 2007
This post contains pure, undistilled dumb. Handle with care.
First, there's Mark Helprin's idea that copyright should last forever:
Once the state has dipped its enormous beak into the stream of your wealth and possessions they are allowed to flow from one generation to the next. Though they may be divided and diminished by inflation, imperfect investment, a proliferation of descendants and the government taking its share, they are not simply expropriated.
That is, unless you own a copyright. Were I tomorrow to write the great American novel (again?), 70 years after my death the rights to it, though taxed at inheritance, would be stripped from my children and grandchildren. To the claim that this provision strikes malefactors of great wealth, one might ask, first, where the heirs of Sylvia Plath berth their 200-foot yachts. And, second, why, when such a stiff penalty is not applied to the owners of Rockefeller Center or Wal-Mart, it is brought to bear against legions of harmless drudges who, other than a handful of literary plutocrats (manufacturers, really), are destined by the nature of things to be no more financially secure than a seal in the Central Park Zoo.
Sample response, from John Scalzi:
What would happen, almost inevitably, is that copyrights of any value (positively, negatively or ideologically) would be secured by a few large private repositories, who would jealously police any new content they believed infringed on their copyright portfolio. One suspects that most of these repositories would also be publishers themselves, who would publish on terms advantageous to them (i.e., works for hire and/or assignation of copyright to the publisher after the death of the author). If you don't think it would happen, look at the actions of media companies today and the content protection groups they fund.
My feeling on copyright is that it should last for the life of the author, and not one second longer. Copyright expires as does the author. The sound of an author exhaling her last breath? That's the sound of the public domain getting larger. Or at least, it would be in my world.
:: TIME Magazine's movie critic, Richard Schickel, on blogs:
Let me put this bluntly, in language even a busy blogger can understand: Criticism — and its humble cousin, reviewing — is not a democratic activity....French critic Charles-Augustin Sainte-Beuve, a name not much bruited in the blogosphere, I'll warrant....We have to find in the work of reviewers something more than idle opinion-mongering....They need to prove, not merely assert, their right to an opinion. ....At the recent Los Angeles Times Festival of Books  blogging was presented as an attractive alternative — it doesn't take much time, and it is a method of publicly expressing oneself (like finger-painting, I thought to myself, but never mind).
A representative rejoinder, from Lance Mannion:
Most reviewers of classical music are trained musicians, and most art critics have some training as painters. But the rest of us---and I get to include myself because, like I said, there are newspapers who've paid for my blather---got the job despite our credentials, or lack of them, not because of them. We were able to convince some editor desperate for copy that we could fill the space with words that would come together in a fairly intelligent fashion without getting the rag we're writing for sued in the process.
Critics don't have to be able to do the work they critique. They have to be able to appreciate the best of the work and be able to explain why and how what they're writing about at the moment measures up or doesn't measure up. In other words, they have to be a good audience and they have to be able to write well. They have to have good eyes, good ears, some experience using them, and a clear and snappy prose style, qualities that you don't have to be taught, even if they can be taught, which is debatable. You don't have to go to a special school, you just have to school yourself.
Exactly. Critics aren't grown in gestation tubes until maturity, at which point they're sprung from their nutrient-rich environments with their knowledge of film or literature or music or whatever already in place.
:: I mentioned the first two items here and here. The third, however, has gone unmentioned here, until now. Behold the stunning wisdom of Ann Althouse:
And why does reading even need to be a separate subject from history in school? Give them history texts and teach reading from them. Science books too. Leave the storybooks for pleasure reading outside of school. They will be easier reading, and with well-developed reading skills, kids should feel pleasure curling up with a novel at home. But even if they don't, why should any kind of a premium be placed on an interest in reading novels? It's not tied to economic success in life and needn't be inculcated any more than an interest in watching movies or listening to popular music. Leave kids alone to find out out what recreational activities enrich and satisfy them. Some may want to dance or play music or paint. Just because teachers tend to be the kind of people who love novels does not mean that this choice ought to be imposed on young people via compulsory education. Teach them about history, science, law, logic -- something academic and substantive -- and leave the fictional material for after hours.
I would quote this rejoinder, but really, it needs to be read in full. Let me just note that Althouse reveals herself in all her malignant idiocy as soon as she states that reading literature "is not tied to economic success in life". First, the notion that education should be nothing more than glorified job training is nauseating in the extreme coming from anyone, but coming from a professor should result in immediate expulsion from ever teaching anyone again. But second, last time I checked, the entertainment industry in this country was a pretty large source of economic activity, and the act of reading fiction is a pretty big factor there, isn't it?
You'll all pardon me now; I need to scrub away the stupid.
Monday, May 21, 2007
Sentential Links #99
:: I teach at a community college. At commencement I get to watch students walk across the platform and pick up diplomas who have gone through some pretty tremendous shit. (Warning: salty language here. Good post, though.)
:: Mark Helprin's gone and done us all the service of advocating the idea that dare not speak its name: Rather than endlessly retroactively extending copyrights, why not make them last forever? (Oh, wow. Just...wow. Now, I love Mark Helprin's writing, but the notion that copyright should last forever is utterly goofy.)
:: As editor of the Science Fiction World Book Club I’m often asked (most recently by Kong Jing Han of the very worthy Electric Velocipede) which books are most representative of the genre and its history. The following are my choices, broken down by decade, and limiting myself to authors from Zhōng Guó. I’m picking the most influential and important books (or magazines) I could think of, rather than the ones I liked best. (Anticipating the inevitable screaming which will arise in some quarters of the blogosphere: Yes, I know that none of the authors I chose are women, or non-Hàn Zú. But if critics and fans worried more about writing criticisms proving their arguments (in this case why female and non-Hàn Zúwriters deserve to be on this list), and less about whether their particular self-identified group is adequately represented in an online discussion of the greats of the genre, then perhaps they would have more luck gaining an audience.) (Jess Nevins never writes something that I don't want to smash my computer to tiny bits after I read it, so full of despair do I become that I'll never write anything as good. Or, put another way: Whadda jerk.)
:: The distinctly British Composer wrote this fabulous solo violin with orchestra work in the early 20th century. It tells the story of a skylark rising above the English country side, its beauty in full view. (Sean e-mailed me the link to this blog, which twice a week updates with a post about a single work of classical music. There's a listing of all posts thus far at the bottom of the main page; check it out. Nice to see a classical music blog that isn't about which orchestras have hired the wrong music directors or why young people aren't listening to classical music or why the latest German production of Parsifal is an affront to everything Wagner stood for. It's a blog that's just about the music.)
:: So I made a list of my train intolerables. These are the books I simply will not stand for—or rather, will stand for, as in: I’m moving seats, this is creepy, I’m uncomfortable.
:: I don't know if this is a secret or not, but men find feminine confidence incredibly sexy. (Oh, do we ever. Good post about Wonder Woman.)
:: Drive through this city today and take a good look around. Drive through the neighborhoods and look at the houses decorated in blue and gold. Look at the kids decked out in Sabres gear, at almost every single business sporting a "Go Sabres" sign of some sort. I haven’t seen anything like it since the late seventies. It’s a total investment of a town in its team, and it’s worth every bit of the hurt I feel today to see Western New York back in love with hockey and with the Sabres.
All for this week. Tune in next time to hear the Burglar say....
I continue to be thankful and in more than a little awe over the good will extended our way through all this, by denizens Blogistan from the Buffalo Prefecture and beyond.
Sunday, May 20, 2007
:: Love in a Torn Land (which sports a fairly ungainly subtitle, Joanna of Kuridstan: The True Story of a Freedom Fighter's Escape from Iraqi Vengeance) is a highly effective memoir of a woman who had the misfortune of growing up Kurdish in Iraq during the end of the 20th century, coming of age during Saddam Hussein's dictatorial rule of that country. In the book, author Jean Sasson writes the tale of Joanna al-Askari's life as she related it in telephone interviews and a few personal meetings. Joanna's life is one of unexpected sadnesses and triumphs, of mundane events like schooling and dating and, ultimately, falling in love and getting married juxtaposed with horrors like her brother being taken by the Iraqi police to Abu Ghraib and the poison gas attacks on her people.
Love in a Torn Land is on one level a gripping story of love in a time of war and upheaval, but it's all the more relevant as a personal narrative set within the events that continue to shape the larger history of our world right now. Highly recommended.
:: I Don't Want to be Crazy by Samantha Schutz is a memoir of a young woman who suffered debilitating anxiety disorders through her college years. Not usually the type of thing I read, but what caught my eye was the fact that this book is written in blank verse, which allows Schutz to create some literary echo of the anxiety that nearly ruined her life.
:: Age of Bronze, Volume One: A Thousand Ships by Eric Shanower. A few years ago I read The Iliad, and I was shocked to realize that in that work, one of the longest enduring tales of war and adventure in all literature, only a tiny portion of the story of the Trojan War is told. No "face that launched a thousand ships". No Trojan Horse. None of that -- just singing the "rage of Achilles".
Now Eric Shanower is endeavoring to tell the entire story of the Trojan War in comics form. He's done tremendous research into the war (he describes his work in a fascinating afterword), and the "labor of love" aspect of Shanower's work shines through in the resulting product. The art is cinematic, the characterizations sharply drawn, the pacing excellent as the book draws us in.
This is a wonderful example of what comics can be. The only thing it's missing is a music score.
:: This one needs no musical score, since it already has one, and it's one of the greatest musical works ever composed: P. Craig Russell's adaptation of Richard Wagner's Der Ring des Nibelungen. The tale of heroes and gods and the jealousies and conflicts between them is one of the timeless stories of humanity, and Russell wisely tells the tale pretty much at face value. I've always wondered if the ideal way of doing Wagner's Ring wouldn't be on stage but rather on film, perhaps even with animation. Russell's graphic novel is a step in that direction. Now to track down the second volume, wherein Siegfried and Gotterdammerung are told.
Candy. Sweet, sweet candy.
Now, I refuse to accept the notion that Twizzlers suck. I actually enjoy their waxy texture -- mmmmmm, wax -- and I like the flavor just fine. That said, I must admit that Red Vines are also very pleasing. The individual pieces are larger than Twizzlers, with the spiral pattern on the outside more sharply defined and with the Red Vines' surface visibly rougher than the smooth Twizzlers. Thus, the "mouth feel" of the Red Vines is very nice, and the flavor is likewise different from that of Twizzlers. (I have no idea what specific flavor the Red Vines are supposed to approximate, but I don't think it matters anyway, since no cherry or strawberry or any other red fruit occurring in nature tastes like a Red Vine.)
Where Red Vines actually do stomp all over Twizzlers is in the thickness of the pieces. Twizzlers are skinnier, with the hole on the inside being substantially narrower than in the Red Vines. In fact, I've noticed in recent years that Twizzlers seem to be packed together so tightly in their packages these days that the longitudinal cavity within each individual Twizzler is virtually sealed shut. With Red Vines, however, you can bite off either end and then look through the resulting licorice tube and see out the other end. And why does this matter?
Because this means that Red Vines can be employed as a straw for drinking Pepsi.
(A while back, I was at Vidler's in East Aurora and found some spearmint flavored licorice. I liked it. Everyone else in the family hated it. Oh well.)
Sunday Burst of Weirdness
:: Screw that: I want a LiteBrite ceiling.
:: This isn't weird in the classic "Burst of Weirdness" sense, but here's an impressive short-film in the horror genre. It's very well done, I thought.
:: Also not weird in the classic "Burst of Weirdness" sense, Kevin Drum links a couple new examples of professional media critics getting angry about the existence of blogs. To see this kind of thing from movie and book critics strikes me as especially funny; the tone is always along the lines of "How dare you draw your own conclusions about what we review, and how dare you deviate from the wisdom we wish you to receive!" Of course, anyone who delves even a tiny bit into the critical work of yesteryear will almost immediately realize that the critics are flat-out wrong an impressive amount of the time.
I've cited this book before, but The Lexicon of Musical Invective is an invaluable reminder that critics are only human.
UPDATE: Mrs M-Mv has a similar reaction to this last one.
Saturday, May 19, 2007
Random Notes on TeeVee
:: I watched Heroes sporadically during the first part of the season, but in our household, 9:00 pm is a tough time slot since that's The Daughter's bed time. I'll probably acquire the Season One DVD set when it shows up.
:: I still love Scrubs, but the show's starting to feel noticeably weaker to me. I suspect that the next season may well be the last.
:: Sure, Mr. Trump, that'll preserve your dignity. I've actually enjoyed The Apprentice during its run. But I think this style of reality stuff is running its course.
:: Long-time readers know that I gave up on ER for good midway through last season (even after several instances of shark-jumping in seasons previous to that), but the other night I actually caught the last two minutes of this year's season finale, and I nearly fell out of my chair laughing at the cliffhanger they came up with: Neela getting trampled at a peace rally. Wow, how far that show has fallen -- a writer proposing a development like that in ER's first season would have been fired on the spot.
:: With Scrubs and 30 Rock on NBC and Grey's Anatomy on ABC, I lost track of CSI for most of the year. Maybe I'll catch the re-runs. Meantime, CSI: New York has gotten better after a rocky first year, and its finale episode was actually a good "action" episode. And CSI: Miami? It's still the most fun of the CSI shows, in its gloriously campy way. Its season finale ended with a shot of David Caruso doing his iconic hands-on-hips, lookin'-at-a-violent-world-through-sunglasses pose from the roof of the tallest building in Miami. And why was he there? That's the best part -- no reason at all! There was nothing in the story to have Caruso go up there. They did it just because it looked cool.
:: Yup, my late-season replacement show curse remains intact. I liked Raines. It's gone now.
:: Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip is gone, and thankfully so. What could have been a terrific series about the backstage machinations of a sketch comedy show instead became Aaron Sorkin's monument to...Aaron Sorkin. If you ever watched The Apprentice, you saw Trump talking about himself and his projects: "When this building is completed, it will completely change the skyline of New York forever and will be the most beautiful building in the world!" And that's the vibe that Sorkin created with Studio 60, whether he intended it or not: "I'm just such a good writer! I'm awesome! Look at my genius and bask within it, mere mortals!"
Oddly enough, Sorkin couched his show within a subtext of "Wow, does TV ever suck! What we need is a genius writer to save it!", at a time when the quality of TV shows is probably better than ever.
:: Criminal Minds has a nice cast, but always depresses me.
:: I still enjoy House, but I think it needs a shake-up of some sort. Lots of this year's episodes felt mechanical to me.
:: Law and Order? Who cares?
:: I still think Lost is boring.
:: A couple of weeks ago, Grey's Anatomy had a two-hour episode where half the show was given to basically providing the pilot episode for the Addison Shepard spinoff series. This I actually liked. What I didn't like about Grey's this year? Well, I haven't watched the season finale yet (it's on tape), but if it ended with Izzy Stevens getting killed when she's struck by an errant meteor from space, I wouldn't complain. I loathe her character. I'm not too fond of George O'Malley, either.
OK, that's all.
Seeing the monitor through the spittle
This will annoy what's his name who blogs a lot about me. Has he nothing better to blog about? Actually, that's how makes a living: by writing about people who are smarter than him and know more about the world than him. And since neither smarts not knowledge carry much cachet; with the left blogosphere (also not with the right blogosphere) its stars like what's his name ridicule the writers whose arguments he can't quite grasp.
Focus on that last sentence. It's a train wreck of both thought and grammar. Just what you want in an editor.
Let the gnashing of teeth begin
I do know this: if the Sabres are able to keep most of this year's nucleus together, then they'll probably enter next season as one of the favored contenders again. My sense of things -- and this is from listening to people who know what they're talking about, rather than any keen analysis on my part -- is that the team's approach to hockey doesn't really require a massive amount of tinkering. Last year, the team was done in by injuries. This year, the team was apparently done in by poor play when they could least afford it.
And if they're favored contenders again next year, then I think that Lindy Ruff should plaster the Sabres' locker room with photos like this:
All the hard work this year, and that's what it came to: Watching another team that worked just as hard celebrate on the Sabres' own ice.
Oh, well -- now the mood will be different in Buffalo, which is a shame. I've really liked the mood around here lately. I hope that if the Sabres are still awesome next year, and if they do better in the playoffs, that mood can come back. It's been fun living in the city where the best team played. That's fleeting, you know; when you're the best team, someone else always catches up to you. You just hope they do it after you've won a championship or two, not before.
Thursday, May 17, 2007
In time, only the bards knew the truth of it.
Alexander was highly prolific, and yet, I have only read a small portion of his work. But the portion that I have read? The Chronicles of Prydain? The Westmark trilogy? Sheer magic. I must read more of him.
In my reading life, Alexander came before Tolkien, before CS Lewis, before Guy Gavriel Kay, before Stephen R. Donaldson, before George RR Martin...before all of them. I came to Alexander, as I did so many of my childhood authors, by way of my mother who would stick a book in my hand whenever I misbehaved, always with orders that I couldn't watch any TV until I read the whole thing. (And, more often than not, the books she handed me as "punishment" turned out to be first books in series.) I'd finished fourth grade, and we were getting ready to move from Hillsboro, OR to Western New York, and I did something I shouldn't have done -- no, I don't remember what -- and suddenly, in my hands is a copy of The Book of Three.
This was my first entry into epic fantasy, complete with maps of the make-believe realms, innocent and unknown farmboys who turn out to be Kings, wars against Dark Lords who would destroy all...yes, my fantasy life began with Lloyd Alexander. (Well, almost. Before Alexander, of course, was George Lucas.) Alexander gave me Prydain, and so doing, gave me Narnia and Middle Earth and The Land and Hogwarts and Al-Rassan and Fionavar and Westeros.
Alexander was apparently preceded in death two weeks ago by his wife of over sixty years. This man spent his entire life studying the folklore of the world and channeling that folklore into beloved books for children, books which, like the best of works for children, also carry incredible rewards for adults. Isn't that the kind of life we should celebrate and sing about for the ages? And what does it say about our world that Jerry Falwell changed it more than Lloyd Alexander?
Thus Taran rode from Merin with Gurgi at his side.
And as he did, it seemed he could hear voices calling to him. "Remember us! Remember us!" He turned once, but Merin was far behind and out of sight. From the hills a wind had risen, driving the scattered leaves before it, bearing homeward to Caer Dallben. Taran followed it.
Farewell, friend I never met.
Unidentified Earth 3
Last week's was probably too easy; it was the Vehicle Assembly Building at the Kennedy Space Center in Florida. This week's is probably just as easy, but hey, you never know. Here it is:
Well? Where are we?
Wednesday, May 16, 2007
Melinda Doolittle blows Blake off the stage every time she opens her mouth to sing. Blake is a one-trick pony, and it's not even that great a trick to begin with. Ugh.
OK, I'm done.
The road back
It's like in the great stories, Mr. Frodo. The ones that really mattered. Full of darkness and danger, they were. And sometimes you didn't want to know the end. Because how could the end be happy? How could the world go back to the way it was when so much bad had happened? But in the end, it's only a passing thing, this shadow. Even darkness must pass. A new day will come. And when the sun shines it will shine out the clearer. Those were the stories that stayed with you. That meant something, even if you were too small to understand why. But I think, Mr. Frodo, I do understand. I know now. Folk in those stories had lots of chances of turning back, only they didn't. They kept going. Because they were holding on to something.
Why quote this monologue of Samwise Gamgee's from The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers? Well:
One down. Three to go.
I know, there's no chance it can happen. But there is a chance, isn't there? Sure there is.
And if that bit of movie dialog seems a bit overblown for something so prosaic as a hockey game, howzabout this:
When I first came here, this was all swamp. Everyone said I was daft to build a castle on a swamp, but I built in all the same, just to show them. It sank into the swamp. So I built a second one. That sank into the swamp. So I built a third. That burned down, fell over, then sank into the swamp. But the fourth one stayed up.
Those first three games? The castles that sank into the swamp.
OK, I'm stretching here. But still: one win is in, and the Sabres have home ice for two of the remaining three that they have to win.
(BTW, I was listening to Mike Schopp and the Bulldog this afternoon -- for you non-Buffalo folks, those are two sports radio guys -- and Bulldog made the point that the only real hope he was clinging to was the admitted stretch that the Boston Red Sox pulled off a comeback from a 3-0 deficit in the American League Championship Series in 2004. Schopp rejected this, on the basis that hockey is completely different from baseball in that the key matchups pretty much stay the same from one hockey game to the next, where in baseball, in the next game you always have a new pitcher for the next game; and therefore, series momentum means far more in hockey than it does in baseball.
But if that's the case, shouldn't baseball have seen more than one example of a team coming back from a 3-0 series deficit in its hundred-plus year history? Prior to the Sox doing it in 2004, there were only two instances of teams coming back from such a deficit in a best-of-seven series in all of pro sports. Those two were in...hockey.)
Monday, May 14, 2007
Sentential Links #98
:: For reasons I can’t explain, I am totally charmed by the fact that Jeffy and Dolly have thrown some pillows on the floor to relax on for their little chat, and that Jeffy is resting his chin in his hand while he contemplates the insane nonsense that his sister is spouting. If they were older, I’d say they were high (“Hey, is that old saying, like, ‘moth’ or, like, ‘moss’? And, like, what does it mean?”), but as it is they’re clearly just morons on pillows. (Ghod, I wish this blog updated hourly.)
:: I’m not showing you the rest of this strip, because these panels perfectly set up the Dennis the Menace strip we’d all like to see, the one where Mr. Wilson murders Dennis with a pair of garden shears. (Yeah, two from the same blog. I couldn't choose which to use, so I tossed all of my self-imposed rules aside and used 'em both. Because I can.)
:: Sometimes, those of us who choose to find joy or (at least refrain from dwelling on all that is somehow less than what we had hoped or dreamed) are dismissed as being less transparent or true than others. (Is anybody besides me getting the vibe that M-MV might be winding down? That would be...bad.)
:: I'm not a feminist.
What I am is a You-ist.
:: As I’ve said before, I do not deny the existence of God, but there are some things that I do deny. Many of them actually assume that God exists, so what I mean then is that "if there is a God, I deny that he is like x." (I'm becoming interested in "spiritual journey" blogs lately. This one, which I found a couple of weeks ago although I don't recall where, is by a person who has left the Mormon church.)
:: There is only one major issue on which I stand completely alone, reviled by all. And it’s this: Budweiser (by which I mean the real Budweiser, the beer which has been sold under that brand by Anheuser-Busch since 1876) is really quite a good beer. (I was all set to note that I've never understood the nearly universal loathing for Bud that I hear from people who drink beer, but then I remembered that to the best of my recollection, I've never actually had Bud. I've had Bud Lite, but that's not the same thing. And besides, Yeungling's better anyway, so I have no use for Bud.)
:: I hate Budweiser because it is lousy beer. I'd say it tastes like crap, but the flavor isn't strong enough to even say that. It's the weak instant coffee of beers -- a horribly bland vaguely beer-like beverage with a hint of crap. Cold Bud and warm Coors Light are what is on tap in Hell. (And here, a rebuttal to the Budweiser post from above.)
:: How about this- we just firebomb the tattered remains of Air America that have been left by possibly the most incompetent media management the world has seen outside of WKRP in Cincinnati. Raze it to the ground and put it out of its misery.
:: I could really get used to "sissy camping". (Remember that early episode of The Brady Bunch when the newly-united family went camping, and after Mike and the boys failed to catch a bunch of fish for dinner, Carol and the girls popped up with the baskets they'd packed full of fried chicken and such? And when Mike Brady's about to tuck into a chicken leg, a horrified Greg yelps out, "Dad! That's sissy food!" OK, you had to be there...and maybe since I'm now citing The Brady Bunch in this space, I should consider taking a long, long hiatus....)
All for now. Tune in next week, or the puppy gets it.
Sunday, May 13, 2007
Tools I want, and tools I don't (and a bleg)
(I'm keeping this post at the top of the blog's main page until Monday; after that, I'll let it slide down and put up new posts on this subject as events warrant. Newer content appears below this post until then.)
In the course of learning various maintenance-related skills at The Day Job, I've learned that it's better to have more tools than fewer. You're pretty limited if all you have is two kinds of screwdrivers, a single size pair of pliers, one hammer, and maybe an allan wrench.
Likewise, as a proto-writer, I've long known that since words are my tools, the more words I know, the more tools I have. However, real life in the last couple of years has forced certain words upon me, words that I suppose are useful but I frankly could have lived long and happy without knowing, tools or no. Such words include G-tube, fundoplication, cerebral palsy. And now the last few days have added some more words and phrases in that unwelcome category: incompetent cervix, premature dilation, viability.
For those wondering where on Earth I've been, the answer is that I've been spending most of my time at The Wife's side as she reclines in a hospital bed where she is confined for the time being. There she rests because right now, only gravity and luck are keeping what we had hoped would be our second healthy child inside her womb. The strangest thing about this scenario is the reversal of the standard hopes: the longer she is in the hospital, the better it is for the child's ultimate chance of survival. The odds we are facing are very long, but we're going to face them anyway. What else is there?
Posting here will be sporadic for the time being. Oddly, this is mainly because I'm not at the computer much; I'm finding that I still have the same amount of stuff to babble about, and just not as much time to babble about it. (Maybe someone should do a study of blogging as psychological defense mechanism.) Also, I again note the reversal of the typical medical hospitalization scenario: we are hoping for as long a hospital stay as possible, as we are some weeks away from "viability" (what an awful word). However, hospital stays are expensive, and if by some miracle we do not lose this child before she comes to full term, The Wife will have endured a hospital stay of four months.
So what I'm saying here is that if anyone out there has any inclination to hit the tip jars in the sidebar -- Amazon or PayPal available -- now would be the time, and it would be greatly appreciated. Believe me, this is not the way I'd wanted to announce to Blogistan that we were expecting; fact is, I didn't want to announce to Blogistan that we were expecting at all. What I wanted to do was post a photo of our new daughter just after her late-September birth. Her name, though, is decided, no matter when she comes. She will be Fiona Quinn.
That is all. Further bulletins will be made as events warrant.
(I will also be keeping this post at the top of the blog for a few days, so any newer content I manage to post will appear beneath this one probably until at least Monday, unless disaster strikes and The Wife is able to come home before then.)
UPDATE 5-11-07: Well, this is a strange kind of update: one in which I have nothing new to report. But in this current version of We Do Stuff the Hard Way at Casa Jaquandor!, having nothing to report is actually desirable. For now, Little Fiona is right where she should be.
Thanks to those who have offered and continue to offer kind words, thoughts, and deeds. All are welcome -- especially the monetary donations, for which I hate to ask but for which I also need to ask. Every little bit helps.
UPDATE II, 5-13-07: Nothing's changed, thank goodness. Fiona still in her gestation chamber. Me going through money like Grant went through Richmond. And so it goes.
Thanks again for the continued well-wishes and the shekels tossed in our direction!
Sunday Burst of Weirdness
:: Oh, come on. Did Marvel Comics really sanction this? Talk about reinforcing stereotypes of comic book readers. Yeesh. (May not be work-safe. Via.)
:: Belladonna sent me a link to this very odd video. Again, I'm a fan of the old edible missile -- but teeny-tiny ones shot by trebouchet at insects? Huh?
:: Not weird, actually, but very cool: a video inspired by the Bayeux Tapestry. (The entire tapestry can be perused on this site.)
UPDATE: Wow, I forgot the weirdest thing from this past week -- this page of old print advertisements. Lots of times old ads are fun to peruse because they have an oddly touching air about them, as if to say, "Wow, the things they thought products could do!" But as demonstrated at that link, from the perspective of today, many old ads aren't nostalgically touching but downright creepy. Here's just one example:
Some of these really gave me the willies.
(I don't remember for the life of me where I first saw this, so credit is due to somebody. If it's a blogger on my blogroll, let me know!)
And the graciousness of Scalzi's concession is especially cloying. I am so sick of the "reaching across the aisle" stuff that follows every election, for anything! What we need is more reaction like that of Ray Patterson, who after his election defeat for Sanitary Commissioner of Springfield, came back when his successor (Homer Simpson) screwed everything up only to say:
Oh...oh, gosh...you know, I'm not much on speeches, but it's so gratifying to leave you wallowing in the mess you've made. You're screwed, thank you, bye.
:: Here's one of the great all-time opening paragraphs:
This was a Golden Age, a time of high adventure, rich living, and hard dying...but nobody thought so. This was a future of fortune and theft, pillage and rapine, culture and vice...but nobody admitted it. This was an age of extre,es, a fascinating century of freaks...but nobody loved it.
When I note that SF has had to scrape and fight for every tiny morsel of respect it's ever been grudgingly offered by the Keepers of the Literary Canon, and I contrast that anti-SF attitude with writing like that paragraph, I invariably end up wondering if the Keepers of the Canon actually ever bothered reading any SF. Seriously, folks, Alfred Bester could write.
We're talking Bester's novel The Stars My Destination here, one of the great masterworks of all science fiction. Crammed into this fairly short book -- my hardcover copy, a recent reissue of the book by the SFBC, ticks in at 212 pages, and toward the end of the book when Bester hits his stride with some of the more mind-bending stuff, he engages in some typographic pyrotechnics that take up entire pages -- is a revenge tale, a love story, a mystery, another mystery, some space opera goodness, more mystery, a depiction of a massively corporate society, yet more mystery, daring escapes, and an iconic anti-hero twenty years before Stephen R. Donaldson introduced us to Thomas Covenant.
After a brief and fascinating introduction to the world of the novel (if you're going to start your novel with an infodump, you'd better be as good a writer as Alfred Bester), we make the acquaintance of Gulliver Foyle ("Gully" for short), a mechanic's mate on a space ship who also happens to be the sole survivor of the ship's destruction. He's floating along in space, eeking out a survival of sorts for months within the flotsam of the ship's wreckage, when another ship comes by and...flies away again, leaving Foyle to die. Foyle becomes driven by the need to exact revenge upon this ship, the Vorga, and its crew who abandoned him without a single attempt at a rescue. From there the story barely pauses as the single-minded revenge story gradually increases in scope until Gully Foyle himself turns out to be...nah, I'm not going to spoil it here. Read the book.
I knew coming into this book that Bester was a great writer, having enormously admired a number of his short stories ("Fondly Fahrenheit" is of particular note). Even so, I wasn't prepared for how good The Stars My Destination is.
:: From there I turned to Leigh Brackett and her book The Coming of the Terrans, which is a collection of five novellas set on Mars. But not the Mars we'd recognize today; this is the Mars as imagined by writers who toiled twenty years before the Viking landers unmasked the Martian landscape. (In fact, in a brief foreword passage inside the book's front cover, Brackett notes that the astronomers of her day were quickly "reducing these dreams to cold, hard, ruinous fact". This collection was published in 1967, a full ten years or so before the Viking landers touched down.) Brackett's Mars is still a world of canals, ancient civilizations, deserted alien cities set at the side of long-dry oceans, and newer cities where the upstart humans from nearby young world Earth mingle with the Martians whose dying world boasts a history measured in millennia.
Strictly speaking, Brackett's work here isn't space opera, but its cousin, planetary romance. (I tend to think of planetary romance as space opera where nobody goes to space.) All of the tales in this book have an elegiac tone, and several have as main characters scientist-types who are searching for some kind of glory amongst the artefacts of long-dead Martian cities. For an idea of the kinds of stories that await within this book, one only need note the titles of the novellas within. They include "The Beast-Jewel of Mars", "The Last Days of Shandakor", and my favorite, "Purple Priestess of the Mad Moon".
Well, maybe not: those titles sound pulpy in nature, but Brackett was no pulp hack as a prose stylist. Some might argue that a writer of her talent should have aspired to better than these kinds of pulp tales, but to my way of thinking, somebody's got to be writing the pulp tales, and a pulp tale by a good writer is always preferable to a literary tale by a hack.
I also find that with stories like this, it's no real difficulty to summon up the suspension of disbelief necessary to buy into a Mars that has actually been inhabited for centuries by fabulous societies of aliens, any more than I find it hard to grant for the purposes of a story that many ages ago there was a land of heroism and darkness called Middle Earth whose only surviving records to our day were in the form of a Red Book found in Westmarch. Your mileage may vary. Suspension of disbelief is a tricky thing, after all.
:: I'll be reviewing this book for GMR in a week or so, but I just wanted to note a wonderful observation within its pages, by Harlan Ellison:
An observation: it is my theory that the full and total explanation of the behavior of babies and kittens is that they spend all their time trying to make that which is moving, stop; and that which is stopped, move.
Now that is as true as anything I've ever read, anywhere.
Take heart, Buffalo!
I remember reading an article toward the end of last year's football season that predicted that the Colts would win the Super Bowl, despite the fact that at that point they were heading for the third seed in the playoffs. The idea was that a bunch of times in recent years, teams in various pro sports have posted amazing records one year, taken the top seed in their sport, exited the playoffs early, and then won it all the next year despite a less productive season. So maybe there's precedent for the Sabres to come back next year and --
Oh, screw that. We want the Cup this year, right? Nobody should utter a single syllable of "Wait 'til next year" until the Sabres have taken their fourth loss in a series, and that ain't happened yet.
So how to take heart? Well, how about the 1996 World Series between the New York Yankees and the Atlanta Braves? The Braves took Game One, 12-1. And then they took Game Two, 4-0. And then? The Yankees took the next four in a row and the World Series trophy. (Not a perfect example, as Atlanta won those first two in their own park as opposed to in Yankee Stadium, but it's still a 2-0 lead in a best-of-seven that came to nothing.)
Or last year's opening round of the NHL playoffs, when the Carolina Hurricanes (boo hiss) honked the first two games at home to Montreal before winning the next four to advance. The Hurricanes (boo hiss) went on to win the Cup, beating the Sabres on their way there.
And even if the Sabres lose Game Three to go down 0-3, well -- remember the Boston Red Sox and the 2004 ALCS!
It just isn't over, folks.
Friday, May 11, 2007
He never even got to order "steady as she goes"!
This even happens in the United States Navy, where ship commanders can be fired "for many reasons, including fostering a poor command climate, breaking wartime rules of engagement, or failing to enforce safety measures". And sure enough, the Navy this week has had to remove two commanding officers from their posts. One was removed from his command of the USS Higgins, a destroyer that is headed for the Persian Gulf. The other was relieved of command of the USS Constitution, which is...the famed War of 1812 vessel that sits in dock in Boston Harbor as a tourist attraction.
One has to wonder just what this man did to warrant causing the Navy to lose confidence in his ability to command a ship that never sails. (Well, it rarely sails, and even then, not very far. It's not like he has to navigate the vessel from Boston to Roanoke and back.) Obviously it has to do with his administrative duties, and the Navy's decision is, I'm sure, warranted. It's just that there's some cognitive dissonance over the Navy losing confidence in the command abilities of the skipper of a ship that literally never goes anywhere.
Thursday, May 10, 2007
Unidentified Earth 2
Anyhow, here is this week's installment:
This one is probably another easy entry, but you never know.
Sunday, May 06, 2007
No more TAR....
I'll always love you, Mirna!
And let me express admiration for Charla, too. That woman is tough and her spirit seems well-nigh uncrushable, even if the sight of her dressed in a suit of armor in one episode made me think of R2-D2.
Win or lose, these two are my favorites forever. (Well, they may run a close second to TAR-9's BJ and Tyler, who uttered maybe the greatest thing ever said on TV: "Whoa, don't get too close to those termite mounds! The termites will eat all the wood in your body!" To which the other responded, "Ow! My peg leg!" Wow, I loved those guys.)
Sunday Burst of Weirdness
:: Via Warren Ellis I found Universe, which is one of the stranger news-portal type tools I've seen on the Web. It really looks cool, but I'm not sure how useful it is.
:: Photoshop contests tend to be a dime a dozen, but this one is just great. It's nothing more than posters for classic movies done in a "grindhouse cinema" style. The Casablanca one is just terrific.
:: Sure it's cute.
Just before it fastens itself upon your face and starts sucking your brains out through your nose. (No, I guess it probably doesn't do that. But it should, because we all know that cute and cuddly sea beasties are just waiting to consume you in painfully awful ways. And no, it doesn't look like Pikachu to me. I'm thinking it's one of the ghosts from Pac-man.)