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19th October 2014

4:00pm: Seen: The Cabin in the Woods (2012)
A slasher film ... sort of. It's almost more a film about slasher films, or about why slasher films happen.

Five college kids go to a Cabin in the Woods. A creepy old man semi-warns them about going. They read an old text in a cellar full of weird things, and the Bad Things start coming for them, picking them off one by one.

There are some pretty gross moments. There is also a wild backstory. I'll put some spoilers behind the clickythingy. Clickythingy.Collapse )

I didn't want my hour and a half back or anything, but it isn't my favorite Joss Whedon project.

Oh. Did I forget to mention that it was a Joss Whedon project? Well, it is, and his hand and humor are everywhere. And if you've ever seen a slasher picture, or twenty, you can spot references literally everywhere. If you haven't ... you probably won't enjoy this anyway.
3:34pm: Read: Three-Fisted Tales of "Bob" ed. by Rev. Ivan Stang (2014-57)
I bought a copy of this book when it first came out in 1990, and _it never made it home with me_. I never saw a copy again until I thought to look online recently and found a copy. To my amazement, it arrived in good shape and lasted long enough for me to read it. Indeed, it still sits beside me, gazing balefully at me through the Dobbshead on the back cover.

For those who don't know, J.R. "Bob" Dobbs is the Salesman of Slack, the great profit and founder of the Church of the SubGenius. The Reverend Ivan Stang is the Sacred Scribe, and the authors represented in this book have all participated in the truth of Slack in some way.

There are some who ask, How can one continue to take seriously a religion that predicted the end of the world by the arrival of the Xists in 1998? To which I answer, first, that the Christian Church has predicted the imminent end of the world since it started, and people still take it seriously; and second, that _How do you know that the world DIDN'T end on X-Day, July 5, 1998?_

Well, anyway, this book collects a bunch of stories and ravings about (some of them very loosely about) "Bob." A couple of them only mention him. Selah. Some of them are a bit disjoint, others are about dat joint. Not that anyone smokes joints in these stories; like true SubGenii, they smoke 'Frop.

Fortunately, the longest stories tend to be the best and the jointiest. Rev. Stang's own "The Third Fist" is a three-fisted adventure indeed, in which the innocent Li Li-jing finds himself travelling through time with Dobbs himself to visit the "Bobs" of other eras and, hopefully, defeat the Slack-less Anti"Bob." Paul Mavrides presents selections from his (still unpublished) novel _World without Slack_, depicting the activities of "Bob"'s Church after the horrors of X-Day. Waves Forest presents "'Bob' and the Oxygen Wars," possibly the single best thing in the book despite that it consists almost completely of expository conversation.

Of the shorter pieces, well worth your time are "1996199719998" by John Shirley; "The Horrow on Howth Hill" by Robert Anton Wilson; and the strangely appealing "What I Know (Excerpts)" by Mark Mothersbaugh (yes, the guy from DEVO).

Only one or two of the very shortest pieces are absolute duds, and when I say shortest I mean two to four pages short, and so easily tolerated or skipped.

Why is this out of print? Only the Conspiracy knows............

18th October 2014

8:48am: A happy 50th birthday
to that young man, Charlie Stross

17th October 2014

7:20am: An interesting day
Today is the 100th birthday of Jerry Siegel, co-creator of Superman.

Today is also the 80th birthday of Alan Garner, who, unlike Siegel, is still alive.

It is also the 200th anniversary of the Great Beer Flood in London.

And I think something happened in the Bay Area 25 years ago, but I can't quite put my finger on it.

12th October 2014

8:42pm: Read: Occidental Mythology, by Joseph Campbell (2014-56)
The Masks of God, volume 3.

Campbell turns his eye to the Western portion of the Old World, to Classical, Celtic, Norse, Zoroastrian, Jewish, Christian and Islamic mythologies. (If I have just called your religion a mythology, (a) it's him, not me, and (b) I've also called my own one.) In this volume it becomes increasingly clear that Campbell has an axe to grind with the Abrahamic religions, but never does the sound of that axe being ground drown out the healthy dollops of real scholarship.

Perhaps my biggest gripe comes from his assumption that the basis of my religion is largely fictitious because it resembles other religions. Well ... duh. Most-if-not-all religions have a great deal in common; indeed, I have a certain sympathy (though I do not ultimately agree) with the bromiad that states that they are all valid paths to the same place. (Indeed, one of the things Campbell does well is show how very different are the places to which some mythologies lead!)

Still, many of his points are well-taken, and I'd be a fool to claim that the sacred authors of my faith were not ... influenced ... by what came before, in how they shaped what they set down. I mean: of course they were. How could they not be? They were drenched in it.

Campbell takes the story from the earliest historical days of the various Western regions he discusses, up to the dawn of the "Reformation." He tells in clear terms how the orthodoxies of Christianity and Islam came to be as they are, and explains well the differences between the two or three main branches of Islam (depending on whether you count Sufism). He shows how empires and their beliefs rise and fall. He gives an interesting account, with which I was not previously familiar, of how the nature of the Catholic Church - in particular the nature of its clergy - led to its own undoing, first in the Albigensian crisis, then in the Reformation.

Like its predecessors, it is an exhausting read, but well worth the time and effort it took, and I look forward - after reading a few lighter books! - to the fourth and final volume.

4th October 2014

11:35am: Seen: The Art of the Steal (2014)
Kurt Russell is convincing as Dennis "Crunch" Calhoun, an art thief - specifically, the driver - betrayed by his brother Nicky (Matt Dillon) to seven years (five and a half for good behavior) in a Polish prison. Getting out, he takes up a not-terribly-successful career as a stunt motorcyclist. When he's held at gunpoint by someone else Nicky betrayed, Crunch decides to "get the band back together."

As you can probably guess, there are layers of betrayal and counter-betrayal going on here, and it's hard to tell you what goes down without giving away _something_. Suffice it to say that it becomes clear early on that someone is going to get the shitty end of the stick, and that it's going to be handed to him by Interpol Agent Bick (Jason Jones), who has been after Nicky for some time. Bick is aided by Samuel Winter (Terence Stamp) as an aging art thief who's working off his parole. The Calhouns, in turn, are aided by "Uncle" Paddy MacCarthy (Kenneth Welsh), a lovable old scoundrel; Guy de Cornet (Chris Diamantopoulos), a master forger; and Francie Tobin (Jay Baruchel), Crunch's apprentice.

I don't think that I'm giving anything away here by saying that crucial information is withheld from the audience at various points. Rather more important, once or twice we see something that only happens in the imagination of someone being conned, which I think is somewhat of a cheat.

Despite this, the plots, counterplots, and counter-counterplots all add up to a good, fun ride for the audience and an excellent final reveal, and there are interesting things said about honor, trust, and the bonds of brotherhood. I give the movie a B+.

1st October 2014

7:25am: Buy the liverwurst!
Today is October First.

24th September 2014

1:13pm: Still Standing on Zanzibar...
...today is the 80th birthday of the late John Brunner.

22nd September 2014

8:03am: Happy Hobbit Day!
Wot it sez.

21st September 2014

1:28pm: Read: Casino Infernale by Simon R. Green (2014-54)
Shaman Bond, a/k/a Eddie Drood, is off again on another adventure with his beloved Molly Metcalf, the Wild Witch of the Woods. It begins on an obscure island, where the members of the White Horse faction once gathered to plot terrorism in the name of the Earth. Their itinerary takes them next to the Martian Tombs, where they discuss ways and means of preventing a supernatural war. But it all leads to Casino Infernale, where the chips represent souls and the Shadow Bank ultimately takes all.

Their mission? To break the bank. The games are bloody and dangerous, and there is always one more thing hiding behind what you've uncovered ... and it isn't a pleasant thing. Especially when Eddie's soul is already in hock to the Shadow Bank...

18th September 2014

7:23pm: Read: The Atlantis Plague, by A.G.Riddle (2014-53)
The middle volume of "The Origin Mystery."

A nightmarish plague has been unleashed on the Earth, killing most of those it strikes, devolving most of those it doesn't, and evolving a very few. Yes, this sounds a bit like the Wild Card virus, but it's different ... because it was programmed into human DNA aeons ago by the aliens mislabeled "Atlanteans." Atlantis is one of their ships, wrecked between the Pillars of Hercules.

Dr. Kate Warner is immune to the plague, and deeply involved in the quest for a cure. But the Immari, the organization who started the plague, are advancing on her position.

David Vale, her maybe-lover, is in Antarctica in another Atlantean ship, locked in a fight to the death with Dorian Sloane, an Immari leader.

And that's the first fifteen pages or so. This is a serious rollercoaster of a book that keeps the pages turning from start to finish, which is very cliffhangery as you'd expect from the middle volume of a trilogy. And it has many of the flaws of a middle volume: while there are revelations, you can be fairly sure that they aren't the deepest truth; and nothing gets really resolved. Well, I'll read volume three soon and see if Riddle can pull off an ending.

15th September 2014

11:27am: Fox News caught lying by Fox News
8:28am: A good day for children's books
Today is the 100th birthday of Robert McCloskey (Make Way for Ducklings, Blueberries for Sal, etc.) and the 80th birthday of Tomie dePaola (Strega Nona).

13th September 2014

4:51pm: Read: Hazards, by Mike Resnick (2014-52)
So there's this Doctor Jones who goes poking about the world looking for treasure and such in the 1920s and 30s, but his first name isn't Indiana (or even Henry): it's Lucifer.

This is the third or fourth volume of the tales of Lucifer Jones, depending on how you count. The first volume was _Adventures_. The second and third were _Exploits_ and _Encounters_, but I first saw them in a single volume called _Lucifer Jones_.

Lucifer Jones, or more properly (or improperly) The Right Reverend Doctor Lucifer Jones, is the pastor of a religion what he and the Lord worked out between themselves one afternoon in Moline, Illinois. His religious activities mostly consist of seeking donations to build the Tabernacle of Saint Luke (guess who that is...) and saving fallen women, mostly for himself. In the first three or two volumes, Jones has got himself barred from Africa, Asia, and Europe - North America came before the series started. This happens because he is not merely a ne'er-do-well looking for the big chance, he's that combination of sneak and innocent that manages always to miss the big chance, to cheat himself out of the prize.

_Hazards_ finds him in South America, where his run of self-made bad luck continues, as he meets old acquaintances like the Scorpion Lady, the hunter Catch-em-all Calhoun who brings 'em back alive (but not necessarily intact), and Erich von Horst, who manages to outcon him twice in this volume, mainly by relying on Jones's greed. He discovers the Island of Annoyed Souls, the Lost Continent of Moo, and the Forgotten Kingdom of Macho-Something-Or-Other. And much, much more.

The books are, and this one certainly is, fast-moving and funny as hell, as Jones's combination of hurt innocence and man-of-the-world bravado keep him contradicting himself and the facts, and in the course of the dozen or so chapter/stories it contains, Jones manages to find himself barred from yet another continent, leaving Australia the only habitable major land mass he can go to ... but that's for another book, which I hope Resnick will write soon.

10th September 2014

8:06pm: Read: Oriental Mythology, by Joseph Campbell (2014-51)

Campbell begins his second volume with the separation of East and West, and ends with their collision. The separation of which he speaks comes when "primitive mythology" breaks down and becomes something more complex - when people stop identifying their kings with gods, when sacrifices cease to be necessary. Campbell suggests that, while the West ate of the Tree of Knowledge, the East ate of the Tree of Life. The result of this is a Western emphasis on personal guilt and an absolutely-other God, while the Eastern religions emphasize the unity of things; Western religions seek eternal life in Heaven while Eastern religions seek escape from a cycle of endless lives.

He begins with a history of mythology in India, continues to China and finally to Japan, tracing the influence of prehistoric cultures, early civilizations, and the impact of Buddhism on each.

He winds up with a condemnation of a particular collision of East and West: the coming of Communism in China, and, in particular, the rape of Tibet. He relates a number of gory, brutal anecdotes of the Chinese takeover - and ends by observing that even Chinese Communism takes part of the Tree of Life, not the Tree of Knowledge.

There were a number of times, reading this, when I had to remind myself of when Campbell was writing and when he grew up. He tosses the now-sometimes-offensive word "Oriental" around all over the place, and talks of peoples in (admittedly complex) stereotypes. But the overall quality of this work overcomes such niggles...

9th September 2014

10:30am: Reread: The Armageddon Rag, by George R.R. Martin (2014-50)
When I first read it, thirty years or so ago, this book pretty much blew me away. It was, I declared, simply the best rock'n'roll novel I had ever read.

Thirty years have passed, and it's still a good read. But my reading of it has been ... nuanced ... by the comments of a friend, who observed that it reflected the self-involvement of the "generation after the greatest one."

The story is simple enough. In the early '80s, Sandy Blair, a writer who comes out of the '60's "movement," goes on a quest to see what happened to his friends and his ideals. This prompting event is the murder of an old rock promoter, whose most famous act was the seminal band the Nazgul. (Insert ^ above the u every time I type this name, please.) The Nazgul were led by bassist-songwriter Peter Faxon and fronted by the dynamic albino Pat "Hobbit" Hobbins until Hobbins was assassinated at a free concert at West Mesa (near Albequerque); after which the Nazgul broke up.

Blair travels the country, visiting his old friends from the '60s and interviewing the surviving members of the Nazgul. He learns that there is a new, mysterious promoter, Edan Morse, planning a Nazgul comeback with a surprising lead singer. Morse turns out to be an old revolutionary and a practitioner of magic who wants the Nazgul to restore the revolutionary mentality by finishing the West Mesa concert.

Sex, drugs, and rock'n'roll ensue, with a bit of violence and a lot of paranoia. The Nazgul will fly again, and Sandy Blair's life will never be the same.

8th September 2014

3:48pm: Seen: Guardians of the Galaxy (2014)
What can you say about a movie whose most likeable character is a tree voiced by Vin Diesel?

Plot: Five losers come together (after much conflict) to accomplish a seemingly-impossible task.

They make some effort at giving each of the losers an arc, but the arcs are, well, comic-book-y, as is the seemingly-impossible task, to wit, stopping Ronan the Accuser from destroying an inhabited world with an Infinity Gem.

I wish I were kidding.

Good small parts are played by John C. Reilly and Glenn Close, but the five main characters are so over the top as to be annoying even in a comic book movie.

Still, it's fun. It's also loud, both visually and audially (is that a word? It should be). And the racoon's a hoot.

Plus, there is a hint that they may revive (and possibly do right by) Howard the Duck.

20th August 2014

10:59am: Read: The Art of Raising a Puppy, by the Monks of New Skete (2014-49)
Well, so we got this puppy and we wanted to do it right. We're taking her to puppy class, and I decided to read this book ... the problem being that some of what they're teaching in the class is directly contradictory to what the book teaches.

The Monks of New Skete are moderately famous for their first book, "How to Be Your Dog's Best Friend," a noble goal. In this one (I haven't read the first), they go into a great deal of detail on the development of a puppy's personality, and especially how it is influenced by the wolven (is that a word?) ancestry of dogs. They suggest rewarding primarily with praise and petting and play. This is not a bad thing, but the puppy class requires rewarding with treats, so what are we to do?

Wolves definitely do not train their pups with treats. But we are not wolves. Plus, our pup is three pounds thirteen ounces -- their suggestion for disciplining with a neck shake could kill her. So I guess we're sticking with the puppy class rather than the book...

12th August 2014

5:22pm: Read: The Coming of the Quantum Cats, by Frederik Pohl (2014-48)
You can't say enough good about the late Fred Pohl to please me. I've never read a bad story by him. Yet, somehow, a number of his books have remained unread on my shelves. He was always a second-tier writer for me: not quite up there with Heinlein and Le Guin and Wolfe and Delany.

And he was a genuinely kind person whose company I was privileged to enjoy only a few times.

So I pulled this one off the shelf this week, partly in belated memorial to Fred.

It's a twisted story of the multiple-realities interpretation of quantum mechanics, in which multiple, very different and yet similar, versions of Dominic Sota exist in multiple timelines - which begin to collide because the America of one timeline wants to use paratime to make deadly surprise stealth war on its Soviet Union. But there are other timelines with their own agendas...

The story gets complicated quickly, and that Pohl can pull an ending out of his hat is a credit to his skill as a plotter. All the Dominic Sotas we meet really are versions of the same person, but distinct another amazing trick. And he makes us care about them.

Well, this is second-tier Pohl, but it's still a damn fine read. I may have to rethink my writer tiers.

8th August 2014

6:35pm: Read: Primitive Mythology, by Joseph Campbell (2014-47)

Campbell is famous as The Myth Guy, a public intellectual, the height of whose fame was a televised series of conversations on the subject of, well, myth, with Bill Moyers. He had complex, broad, nuanced, and extremely detailed knowledge of seemingly every culture's basic mythology, from the ancient Greeks to the Andaman Islanders to Siberian hunters to... well, you get the idea.

THE MASKS OF GOD is an attempt at a unified field theory of mythology, and Volume I sets the stage and states the basic premisses. (I say this without having read the other volumes and thus could be completely wrong!) Campbell proposes a two-pronged theory of myth: the Elementargetdanke or marga, the underlying "way" or "path to the discovery of the universal,"; and the Volkergedanke or desi, the "peculiar, sectarian, or historical aspect of any cult."

That's from his conclusion, the last twelve pages of a 472-page book. All the rest is building up the supporting evidence that allows him to draw this conclusion. It's a fascinating journey with lots of facts (and a fair peck of speculation concerning prehistoric myth-cults), and certainly supports his conclusions more than adequately. What I, not an expert in the field, cannot know is whether he cherry-picks the evidence that will support his conclusions, ignoring other evidence. What I can say is that there are times when his interpretations seem to me to be a little odd, so as to support his chosen structure.

Well, such is the nature of inexact sciences, and mythography is certainly inexact. But the book, long as it is, and part one of four, is exhausting and daunting (I tried and failed to read it once a decade or two ago), but very rich and life-giving.
6:31pm: Read: Digger, by Ursula Vernon (2014-46)
I have this insane urge to put a "K" after her first name...

but anyway...

This Hugo-winning graphic novel relates the adventures of a wombat, Digger-of-Convoluted-Tunnels, who gets lost while, well, digging a tunnel, and finds herself far from home. She comes up in a temple of Ganesh, whose statue is quite talkative, and becomes involved with:

- a shrew who's a professional troll
- a nameless hyena (his name was eaten) whom she names Ed
- Vo, a librarian
- and many others

...in a series of adventures that all lead up to Digger being sent to kill a dead god. There's a lot of meditation on mythology and meaning in this, but it's funny and exciting and well-drawn and, well, what's not to like?
7:37am: 40 years ago today...
Richard M. Nixon announced his resignation from the Presidency of the United States, supposedely ending our "long national nightmare," but actually allowing his hand-picked successor, Gerald Ford, to preemptively pardon him for anything he might have done while President.

The mere threat of impeachment seems to be enough to remove an actually guilty President...

3rd August 2014

9:06am: Just a note...
... to commemorate the 100th birthday of Clifford D. Simak. At the time of his death in 1988, shortly after that of Robert A. Heinlein, I noted that if Heinlein was the brain of the "golden age," Simak was its heart. He wrote characters with more genuine emotion than Heinlein, Asimov, and Clarke put together.

1st August 2014

12:41pm: Epiphany
Libertarians, small-government conservatives, and "rugged individualists" who use public roads, schools, libraries, etc., are hypocrites and should be mocked.

In fact, I wouldn't be utterly opposed to issuing harvest licenses on the last group.

22nd July 2014

2:21pm: Read: Cauldron of Ghosts, by David Weber & Eric Flint (2014-45)
In which Victor Cachat and Anton Zilwicki, the two most-wanted spies on the planet Mesa, decide to go back there and do a bit more spying. Some biotechnology makes this somewhat short of suicidal, and they and several others set up shop - actually, three separate shops - in Mesa's capital city of Mendel.

H'mmm. For those not uptodate on the Honor Harrington universe: Mesa is the most despised planet in the human galaxy, because their major industry is "genetic slaves." Cachat is an agent for the star nation of Haven, and Zilwicki is an agent for the star empire of Manticore, which were at each others' throats until the revelations from their last expedition to Mesa, to wit: Mesa is the home of a centuries-old conspiracy to take over the human genome. Or something like that; it hasn't been made quite clear what the Mesan Alignment actually want, though some clues are given in this book.

Cachat, Zilwicki, and company quickly discover some Very Bad Things are about to happen. Zilwicki heads back to Manticore to get help while Cachat plays agent-provocateur with Mendel's criminal element. Things get bad, then they get worse, and a lot of action happens, and just at the last possible moment the cavalry arrives.

Well, I mean almost literally.

The good news is that it isn't Zilwicki who brings the cavalry; rather, this is something that was actually set up in a previous book.

At any rate, there's a reasonably-happy ending and it's looking like Mesa's genetic slaving days are going to be over, though the Alignment mostly escaped.
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