December 31, 2008
--Wanted This movie would be worthwhile just for the Danny Elfman song that serves as its theme, The Little Things. That bass line over the drum beat as the lead guitar joins in with its harsh chords: gets me every time. Add to that the sexiness that is Angelina Jolie and a quick viewing time filled with humor and comic-book kickassery and you have a near perfect action movie experience. At various times the movie reminded me of The Matrix and Fight Club, with the alienated protagonist yearning for something more from his existance.
Bottom line, if you can forgive the same sorts of logical fallacies you did for those two movies, you are likely to love Wanted. If all you can think is that bullets don't really travel like that, then you've missed the point completely.
--The Invasion As I recall this was pretty much universally panned. As a video rental, I found The Invasion to be a perfectly acceptable popcorn flick. Daniel Craig looks uncharacteristically human here (as opposed to the demigod that is his 007), and Nicole Kidman is compelling as the frantic but smart mom. She is appealing in this movie unlike pretty much everything else I have seen her in, avoiding the cold, superstar demeanor that mars most of her other performances. And I am happy to see a performance by a kid actor that is realistic instead of cheeky or spunky.
The original Invasion of the Body Snatchers is a classic that is unlikely to be beaten. It's been awhile, but I watched it a few years ago and the suspense builds to one of the classic endings of all genre movies. Beyond that, the original movie was full of the subtexts of its time. The Donald Sutherland version had some creepy moments, especially toward the end, and there was another version a few years b ack featuring Forest Whitaker that I thought well-made. I guess what makes these remakes --decent films all, in my estimation-- not as good as the original is the lack of subtextual relevance.
The Invasion has a snippet of this initially introduced by the Russian diplomat's speach about human nature, but it remained unexplored for the most part and relatively safe in terms of its extrapolation. The conclusions and actions the protagonist reaches make sense and we agree with, but none are surprising. A mistake in kind with the recent I Am Legend remake with Will Smith is the end return to relative normalcy. The Invasion is well-made, if safe genre fare.
--Apocalypto I've had this movie for a year now, a gift from a family member, but only recently watched it. Unfair, I know, but after the Gibson's self-righteous fawning over the Christ movie and subsequent antisemitic comments I've had no interest in his work.
Due to a satellite company claiming that they can't mount their dish at our new place, we finally got down to the dregs and put the movie on. This movie is violent. Harsh. Not for the kids.
The other thing I am reminded of is the lack of historical accuracy critics accused of the film. I'll take their word for it, but my thought is that if you go to a hollywood film for a history lesson you get what you pay for.
Apocalypto is an impressive film. An impressive genre film.
In the beginning I was struck by how hard life was for the tribe, how vicious the men were with each other, and how easily it seemed they were to be violent with another tribe passing through their jungle. This is cleverly contrasted with the atrocities that follow as they are killed or taken into captivity and then led to the Mayan (Aztec?) city for sacrifice. The harshness of this world reminded me in a satisfying way of Jeff Long's Hadals, and the gist of their existence had the grit and blood and heartache of reality.
One fault, contained perhaps in my interpretation more so than in the film itself, was the constant question I had in my mind if the film makers intended to imply that this world was so brutal due to the lack of Christianity. So that at the end comes the light that ends their world.
The film is superior fantasy, especially in comparison to the silly, lumbering farce of 10,000 BC. Compare those two, in these terms, and Apocalypto emerges as an impressive work of cinema.
--Jeff Long's Descent and Deeper I just finished Deeper today and read Descent earlier in the year. I don't intend to offer a comprehensive review so much as a recommendation. Long's writing is compelling and unadorned without stripping itself of nuance. Descent is the better of the two book, when we first discover this underworld and the characters, human and otherwise, that it captures, entices, ensnares, or transforms. Deeper was a satisfying ending, if the journey itself felt like a bit of a retread. It was good to see how bad the humans could be, especially in the second book. I think in Descent there came a moment when the brutality of the Hadals ceased to seem alien, whereas in Deeper we seen humans rendered alien by their willful rejection of civilization and its mores. I liked the end allowed Ike, as well as Ali's and I would read a third installment though if there ever is one it should be the last: addressing the question of Ishmael and the voices that he can send up or down and otherwise use to influence the world.
--Elizabeth Moon's Trading in Danger and Marque and Reprisal What I find interesting is how much I felt unmoved by the first book, and yet compelled enough to read it to completion. Before this sounds like faint praise, just understand that I have tried to read several first books in the Military SF sub-genre only to put them down due to bad writing or plot silliness, or due to cardboard characters and stiff dialog. Trading in Danger does strike me as written from a world view much less liberal than my own (and this comment has nothing to do with body count or willingness to kill), but rather in what seemed like a pretty standard feeling of superiority of the military (or militarily trained) and the rich toward everyone else.
That said, I liked how the book began with the protagonist getting kicked out of military academy. Nice and unexpected. I liked the strong female character.
I dislike books where the people we follow are the privileged few, and here we are with the daughter of an interstellar shipping magnate. But I realize how hard it is to put a ship under the control of a spunky farm boy from Ta--- well, you know, there's tripe to be found on both sides of that one. So, despite these plot point that usually turn me off, despite the conservative feel of Moon's narrative, it was well-written and compelling enough that I picked up the second book.
And Marque and Reprisal rocks.
I wonder if Moon just had to get all the stuff out in the first book so she could hit the ground running with this one. There is also a feel of a crew coming together that the reader will grow to know and, if not love entirely, at least become attached to their interactions and trajectory. So, for me, the appeal of this book has as much to do with the appeal of Blakes 7, Farscape, and Firefly, than with other examples of the military SF genre that failed to grab my attention.
The first book is good, but not astounding. You'll want to read it, though, to get all of Marque and Reprisals' rewards. I will be reading the other Vatta's War book.
--The Mummy 3 The third Mummy movie is the best. It starts out with Jet Li and Michelle Yeoh in ancient China. A bunch of stuff happens that (see above about looking for history lessons from movies) has little basis in reality or the historical past. Fast forward to postWWII and our protagonist, his wife, and son. A new actress plays the wife, initially disappointing but ultimately she does a good job. This is not a movie that warrants too close a dissection, but I think it's worth saying that not only is this the best Mummy movie but it was much fun than the latest Indy flick. Amazing considering I would place the previous two Mummy movies on par with 10,000 BC
--The Matrix I know: like I need to say anything about this movie. I watched it over the weekend with my brother-in-law (who is otherwise not really a genre fan), a grand worshiper of the merits of The Matrix, and our friend, Frank, who had never watched it before. Such a good movie but it is so easy to forget the laughable underpinnings of the story (humans as batteries). Suspend that disbelief and you have the best Kafka movie ever made (if only Mr. Anderson had been nameless and the movie ended before he reached the 'real world'). The first Matrix movie represents one of the most true expressions of Joseph Campbell's Hero's Journey this side of a certain Padawan, as well as a mainstream work of post-singularity storytelling... Not to mean that it was told post-singularity but that it is about post-singularity times (one hopes, I guess.)
I'm reading City of Ember with my seven year old: it is great and we can't wait to check out the movie. I am about to start Jack McDevitt's Cauldron (I really love his stuff, though I am less fond of the Alex Benedict books... not because of the different milieu, but because of the first person POV... a pickiness on my part). Next will be Caleb Carr's The Alienist.
December 23, 2008
Here's the link to the article.
Hhhhmmmm.... it seems to be the view that Christians are able to take on this matter is perhaps more complex than the Pope and the Catholic Church would allow for.
The Willows is an interesting market specializing in pre-Great War tales of classic horror with a smidge of steampunk in the mix. Here's the official description:
The Willows will occasionally skirt the borderlands of Horror, though its provinces of Gore and Violence are largely unmapped within these pages. We may dabble in Fantasy and Science Fiction, but the realms of elves and unicorns, of space-beings and faraway planets, are explored far more fully in numerous other esteemed publications.
When I settle down beside the fire in my library, my hand always strays first to those tales that evoke awe, wonder, and a childlike yearning for the unknown; it is these stories which shall feature most prominently here. To eerie fields and abandoned manors, across the aether and deep beneath the sea, we will travel together.
Our guides will be the authors whose work we have selected from a tremendous pool of submissions. To those whose style is considered archaic by modern tastes, we welcome you home. And to those fine gentlemen and ladies who have thanked me for providing an outlet for their misunderstood work, I offer a most hearty welcome.
My end is not profit or fame, but passion: I long to provide a gathering-place for other writers with tastes akin to mine; outcasts of modern fiction. I hope we may all enjoy the pleasure of one another's society.
This is a magazine for the true modern traditionalists, the disciples of writers long-dead, those who yearn for a time and culture that passed away decades before their birth. This is The Willows, and so far as I have anything to say about it, its style shall remain proudly, uncompromisingly unique among all publications!
~ Ben Thomas, Editor"
Bizarro Central is an interesting new market described in this way:
"What we are looking for in stories: Strong characters. Strong plot. Strange and outlandish worlds. Think classic pulp fiction but if it were written by Lynch, Cronenberg, or Jodorowsky. Only submit your very best
What we are not looking for: Literary experimentalism. Stories where the main character wonders around in a drugged haze. Stories that take place in mental institutions. Stories where weird shit happens just for the sake of weird shit happening. Traditional genre fiction."
December 18, 2008
This is a neat idea for a market: many of the other straight fantasy markets I find are composed of either 'swords and sausages' tripe or the kind of delicate 'please don't send us anything more than pg13' urban fantasy that seems too often to regard itself a little too seriously. So, somewhere in between these extremes BCS seems to aspire.
While I don't have anything suitable right now, I am thinking of writing a short story based on my Los Lobos Ninos setting. Possibly the story of the Trepidation's journey into Temenos, or a Lobos/ Clockwork race to reach a passing Daliphant.
We'll see... :)
Check out BCS and suscribe to show your support.
December 17, 2008
December 16, 2008
A Crummy Week
So for friends and family you will know that today is my official first business day of unemployment. I've spent the morning and early afternoon job searching and networking. I'm not worried about it: not yet, at least. Things are going to work out. It was in this mindset that I didn't do my normal routine of playing it safe and went ahead and took my fifteen year-old daughter to the concert at the Granada Saturday night. Part of me worried that I shouldn't go. Stay home, don't spend the money.
I took a chance, and we headed out to see the show after a pit stop at KFC. MMMM Good!
All the Lonely People
When we arrived, we had to turn around and drive a block up Greenville to the Seven-11 to get cash for parking. Parking cost $8.00. Take that, recession! Once parked we walked around to the front of the Granada and saw that the line snaked through a side alley toward the back parking lot. Chelsea and I sauntered back and queued up, the others in line composed of a fair mix of young and old. The typical Greenville crowd of college age on up to the younger genXers was well represented, but several families attended as well. I briefly regretted not bringing my youngest, a seven year old, but would find out later it was for the best with our general admission.
Girls in elf outfits walked the line handing out gift bags. Swag! I said to Chelsea. She just gave me an odd look but agreed that the cups (we lost both by the end of the night) were cool. More guys in top hats and a snowman and reindeer character walked along the line, handing out the bags or just waving. Tim DeLaughter, the Musical Director/lead vocalist of the Spree walked past Chelsea and me as we edged closer to the entrance and I pointed him out to her. In a very teenaged I'm not surprised by anything nonchalance she nodded and said yeah, he looks like a lead singer. The grown men behind us in line were more vocal, and we listened to the refrain of surprised Heys as Tim made his way back. "The late show!" I heard him say. Seems like a cool guy. I'm of the opinion that anyone living their passion (providing that doesn't include plucking out people's fingernames or anything) is cool, and I already got that vibe from the band members and volunteers as we scuttled toward the entrance.
Chelsea hid from the scraggly guy with the Howdy-Doody-ish dummy, as did a grown woman just ahead of us. Dummies rock.
Santa and Mrs. Claus sat in a sleigh that kids could sit in for pictures, but the only kid whose parents tried to usher him over did an abrubt about face and resolutely declined. I nodded in approval: never trust adults dressed up in crazy costumes. You know, except for quasi-religious robes and paramilitary uniforms. Then it's totally cool.
Our wait wasn't long and we reached the guys asking for names for the Will Call list. I'd not ordered our tickets online since our printer was out of ink and I thought I'd need to print out the tickets, so a young guy with long hair and a beard directed us to the ticket booth where another guy about my age intercepted me.
"I'll sell you a ticket for $20 instead of the $35 she's going to charge you," he said pointing toward the attendant. In my memory she wore elf clothes too, but I could be mistaken. I hesitated a moment and the guy dismissed his previous words, and after a short exchange with Young Guy Long Hair, we had a free ticket, bought Chelsea's and headed in.
I just want to note that small act of kindness on this stranger's part. Getting in at, essentially, half-price set my mind at ease regarding my financial situation. It's easy to remember the bad drivers in Dallas, or the multinational corporation that just laid you off, but the good guys are still out there. Dude: whoever you are, you were our angel Saturday night. Mochas Gracias.
Chelsea and I found a spot against one of the half-walls that lined each section of the standing room. After stashing our coats on the floor behind our feet I went to get us Dr. Peppers. A bubble machine doused kids playing in a half-moon area toward the back of the standing room. The bar lay directly behind where we stood and behind the play area and the bar rose steps to the balcony. I went back to Chelsea and we watched as the first act tuned their instruments.
A couple and a single guy behind the half-wall behind us chatted. The single guy, who reminded me of the cafe owner from Eureka, talked about seeing the Polyphonic Spree on Scrubs. He also talked at length about the 'flute player' having her hair down at one concert. "Her hair was down?" asked the male half of the couple. "Yes, her hair was down." The enthusiasm of this exchange baffled Chelsea and she can, and has, repeated it in what I think is probably her best Dane Cook imitation. Dane Cook, by the way, is not funny. But Chelsea is. I laughed at her comments and pointed out that I can appreciate people who are into the music, even if they (we) can sound obsesive sometimes. More about people who aren't into the music so much in a bit.
The Youth Orchestra
The Youth Orchestra rocked. Literally. They did some great songs, including NIN's Hurt (a strangely uplifting orchestral arrangement), the Foo Fighters, and a rendition of the signature TransSiberian Orchestra Xmass song.
The Ladies did an old timey series of tap dances like we used to back in my Vaudeville days. The Ladies are elderly and I was reminded of a singing group of seniors I saw recently on Graham Norton. Very cool: much more so that I would have believed. I thought the bit was too long for what it was, but after the Gustafer guy, I'm apt to revise my feelings and say that the Ladies are fine by me. Here is another blog I found with clips from the same night including one of the Ladies: Here!
Chameleon Chamber Group
I cannot express how much the Chameleon group surprised and entertained me. I listen to Oswaldo Golijov, so a modernist take on this kind of music is not totally unheard of, but I think they are doing something unique and powerful in a world of pop music crap. The four piece group wore tall white wigs right out of Amadeus and played both classical songs and modern music including an awesome rendition of a Beatles tune.
The Polyphonic Spree Christmas Set
By the time the Spree's Christmas set started we were ready for something special and that is what we got. I had my doubts about this portion of the show, thinking that we were in for the equivalent of sing-along carols. Some of the songs were little more than that, such as Silent Night and Feliz Navidad. That wasn't a bad thing though: kids were called up onto the stage to stand and sing, a tide of white balloons came crashing down, and the spirit in the Granada lifted up to the heavens. Come songs such as The Little Drummer Boy, Joy to the World, and Do You Hear What I Hear?, what I heard was a new interpretation (new to me, at least) on these old Christian odes that made even my Buddhist heart skip a beat. Town Meeting Song was fantastic and fun, though Chelsea holds all things Nightmare dear and only grudgingly accepted it. Happy XMas (War is over) crowned the performance and brought the mood back up from the dark splendor of Town Meeting. Or maybe it was Joy to the World?! My track order may be off, but regardless it was a wonderful set and left us happy and jubilant.
Enter the drunk people who aren't really into the music. I guess this is the stuff you overlook when you don't have your teen with you, or you are drinking yourself, or maybe it is an age thing. Regardless, both Chelsea and I grew tired of the antics of the college kids around us. I have no problem with throwing a few back. But if you want to hang out with your friends and chit chat over a beer or six, go to Dave and Busters. We were there for the music: I wish everyone had been.
Now, you might think I'm being facetious posting the image of the character instead of pics of the singer, but you would be, well, partially mistaken. Gustafer was all about this yellow guy. The first song, I'm From the Sun, was catchy and fun. The second song, about the pet eel that you see just above, had some funny moments, particularly when the character wore the eel as skivies. But. It dawns at some point in those first two ditties that one is in store for thirty minutes of said joy.
Hold on. Now, I can see the appeal of what this guy is doing. And as a writer I appreciate the absurdity of his work and the creativity of writing/animating/performing this story. What I don't understand is the delivery. To me, this is the kind of thing that would be aimed at kids, with just enough quirkiness to give the parents a chuckle. And yet Gustafer came on after the Christmas portion of the show had concluded, and he stated that the family portion of the show was over and proceded to drop an F-bomb.
Bottom line, This was poorly timed for the show and felt like a speed bump between the Spree sets. I actually had to get back into the mood once the Spree came back on. Part of this was from standing up for so long and part from irritiation with the chick that kept backing her ass up into my space, but if someone cared to ask I'd say: put this guy right up front and have some kids go up on stage with him. Nix the language, dude. This might mitigate the hostility emanating from the crowd and provide entertainment to the portion of the audience most likely to appreciate this artist.
Choice audience quotes during this set:
"What the fuck is he talking about?"
"That was thirty minutes of my life I'll never get back."
"Stop clapping, you're encouraging him!"
The Polyphonic Spree
A red fabric swatch was hung vertically along the front of the stage, obscuring it but for the shadows of microphone stands. I thought briefly of Pink Floyd performing the Wall behind a wall between them and their audience. This was odd. Next it occured to me that Tim is kind of an anti-Roger Waters. This makes total sense to me but is probably just gibberish.
Anyway, as the show started, Tim cut a huge heart out of the fabric and then cut the entire swatch like a giant ribbon, and the show began.
I am not such a knowledgable fan that I can name all the songs like the guys on the forum but while there were a few that didn't get me going, most of them did. I recognized Soldier Girl and Hold Me Now. Awesome songs. They did a cover of Live and Let Die and there were several songs that I haven't heard yet that blew me away. The refrain about being at the bottom of the sea: wow. The show concluded on that with the audience chanting the lyrics and band members walking off the stage one by one.
Now, by this time Chelsea is zonked. Totally tired. It's like I am the teenager and she is an old lady. I could see the look on her face that she was prepping to go and I pointed out to her, the puzzled expression at everyone in the audience still chanting the lyrics, that there is always an encore.
And what an encore. (Chelsea, I see out of the corner of my eye, resigns to good spirits though she is wiped out.) The band comes out in the iconic white robes. All the songs with 'Sun' in the title are performed, a balloon malfunction ensues, Tim apologizes for this, a roadies climbs the scaffolding and addresses balloon malfunction, front of stage and audience is submerged in a sea of balloons.
Did I mention, by the way, how similar the reaction of drunks and children to balloons?
And at this point Tim states: "Let's keep going."
It was wild. Chelsea was visibly horrified, but once the band laid into Lithium, the Nirvana song, the night was complete. It is funny to me that everyone about my age knows that song. I don't think it got radio play, did it?
So, to answer Tim's question at the end of the night: yes, we were happy. Great band. Great show. We will be there next year... with balcony seats, employment allowing. :)
(NOTE: all pictures linked to via the forum - http://www.thepolyphonicspreeforum.com/forum/ - or flickr/photobucket acccounts linked from the forum: I did not take any of the above pictures. Please let me know if linking via the blog entry is a problem.)
December 13, 2008
December 8, 2008
Sonar Submission Tracking software is a free download from Spacejock Software. It tracks your individual stories, all submissions made for the story, as well as the markets you've submitted to. It lets you monitor how long stories has been out and keep detailed information on each story and market. It is a Windows application but for any Ubuntu (or other Linux distributions) it works fine under both WINE and Crossover Office. I don't use many Windows programs but this is one exception. Very nice work and highly recommended.
The Online Writing Workshop is one of the only things I am willing to pay money for on the web. The monthly option is best for me since it is taken out in small monthly increments. Your first month is free, I should mention, so you can get started and see if it is worthwhile before forking over any money.
If you want to become a better writer you must get your work in front of critical eyes that then offer you feedback. I've participated in live workshops before, and short of an offer to attend Clarion, the online option is much better. Something that was not immediately obvious to me was how useful to my own writing it is to critique other's. In the workshop I have found writers who are at all different skill levels and it is both humbling and encouraging and, well, fun.