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13th March 2017

3:38pm: Read: Locke & Key: Alpha & Omega, by Joe Hill and Gabriel Rodriguez (2017-13)
In the first five chapters of this series, we met the Locke children: Tyler, Kinsey, and little Bode, who, after the violent death of their father, move to the Keyhouse in Lovecraft, MA. Here they - well, mostly Bode - discover one by one the Keys that give Keyhouse its name: the Anywhere Key that takes you, well, anywhere you want to go; the Head Key, which lets you put things into your memory or take them out; the Ghost Key, which lets you "be dead" for a while; and many more.

In the first book, an ancient -- well, thirty years old -- evil calling itself Bode escapes from the Keyhouse's wellhouse. And Mom Locke begins drinking. Heavily.

Through the books that follow, Dodge grows in power, always posing as a friend to the Lockes - until finally he is killed, but possesses Bode.

Now Dodge, still in Bode's body, has the Omega Key.

Things just got worse.

Dodge's plan all along has been to raise a demon army. In the cave beneath the Keyhouse is the Black Door; anyone passing through it will be possessed by the same kind of demon that possesses Luke/Dodge/Bode/whoever.

And that cave is the site of tonight's after-prom Cave Rave. Hundreds of kids will be there.

Tyler, his mother, and the developmentally disabled Rufus are all that stand in Dodge's way - and Dodge is moving like a Mack truck.

That Hill and Rodriguez manage to bring a satisfactory ending out of this, without cheating, is just short of a miracle. But they do, and if it doesn't redeem all the terrible things that happen along the way, it certainly redeems the Locke family.

12th March 2017

4:13pm: Read: Lock & Key: Clockworks, by Joe Hill and Gabriel Rodriguez (2017-11)
Things are pretty bad for the Locke children. Their deadly enemy, Luke "Dodge" Caravaggio, appears to be dead -- but has actually taken over the body of the youngest Locke, Bode. His older siblings, Tyler and Kinsey, don't yet suspect. But they _have_ found a key that lets them, with the help of a clock in the Keyhouse, astrally travel back in time and see what has happened in the region in the past.

Short answer: A lot.

In the flooded caves below the Keyhouse is the Black Door. This was discovered by Lockes and other American revolutionaries during, well, the Revolution. It leads to another place, where demonic beings dwell; beings that want desperately to come here. And, in the 1970s, Luke Caravaggio was possessed by one of them, and he seeks the Omega Key to let more come through. We learn where the keys come from, and why adults can't see the magic.

Things get much worse in this penultimate volume. This is a disturbing read where children are murdered and worse, where magic keys do strange and unfathomable things, and where evil always seems a step ahead.

11th March 2017

8:19pm: Read: Doctor Sleep, by Stephen King (2017-12)
Danny Torrance is all grown up now, and has demons of his own - he has followed in his father's alcoholic feetstep. Cut him a bit of a break; he's been through some pretty bad shit, as detailed in _The Shining_ and the first few pages of this book.

His battle with the bottle is a major part of _Doctor Sleep_'s first quarter, or so, in which he does some pretty bad things -- and then is brought into the AA Program in Frazier, NH. He cleans up well and gets a job in Frazier's hospice, where he eases patients' passing into whatever lies beyond.

In nearby Anniston, a little girl named Abra Stone is growing up with a shining far more powerful than Danny's was when he was little. Early on she reaches out to Dan Torrance and they strike up a weird friendship, without meeting each other.

And, wandering around the country, a group of RV people calling themselves the True Knot prey on children with the shining. They torture them to death so that they will exhale "the steam," their power as a kind of vapor, and the True Knot use the steam to give themselves power and near-eternal youth. Their leader, Rose the Hat, is a real piece of work, but none of them are what you'd call nice people.

And - _of course_ - Rose becomes aware of Abra. Fortunately, there's a vice versa as Abra also becomes aware of Rose, and enlists Dan's help, and eventually others'. There ensues a chess game with human pawns, but the confrontation with Rose the Hat is the inevitable climax of the story.

Forty years on, King has lost none of his touch. _Doctor Sleep_ is not as gut-level terrifying as _The Shining_, but then it isn't exactly a horror novel so much as a tale of supernatural suspense. I mean, yes, some pretty horrifying things happen, but we are, by and large, spared grossouts and spring-loaded cats.

_Doctor Sleep_ is strongly character-driven, and the characters are worth spending 640 pages with. The best scenes are not all action scenes; one which will last a long time for me is the sequence where Abra has to tell her father what's going on. Tense, emotional, and very satisfying.
7:55pm: Seen: Hidden Figures (2016)
OK, maybe viewed at the wrong oblique angle a (true, or true-ish) movie about three black women making waves at NASA in the early '60s might -- *might*, I say -- be considered excessively PC. I can see that. But it's still a damned good movie.

We begin by seeing a little African-American girl, Katherine Coleman (Lidya Jewett), getting into an exclusive school and demonstrating an exceedingly rare talent for mathematics.

Flash ahead to 1957 or so, and the widowed Katherine Gulet (sp?) (Taraji P. Henson) is on her way to work at NASA with her two friends, Dorothy Vaughan (Octavia Spencer) and Mary Jackson (Janelle Monáe) when their car breaks down. Three black women alone on a Southern road in 1957 (or so) is not a very happy situation, and when a (white) policeman comes up behind them we have the movie's first moment of real drama as they (a) get the car running, (b) keep from being run in, and (c) talk the cop into giving them an escort to NASA.

One of the things that is clear from early on is that the white people our heroines contend with are not, exactly, bad people. Most of them honestly think that they are not bigots - as Dorothy tells Vivian Mitchell (Kirsten Dunst), "I know you think that."

And that's the tragedy: it isn't so much the people that are racist as the system in which they live; their only crime is not to challenge that system, which can be very hard to do. The primary white characters we see doing so are the manage Al Harrison (Kevin Costner), who -- when he realizes what racism is doing -- works to right things, and John Glenn (Glen Powell), who just seems to treat people decently as a matter of habit.

We see the three women fighting for the right to do what they are skilled in, alongside others similarly skilled. Katherine is the most extreme example, as she is allowed to calculate orbits and such but never given the credit for doing so.

The historical events and situations are well and clearly portrayed. The cutting-short of the _Friendship 7_ mission and the danger to Glenn's life in that mission produce a startling amount of tension, considering that we all know that Glenn just died last year.

And that's the movie's greatest failing. The strongest tension is built up over the fate of a white man, who is a fairly minor character in the story we're actually watching. And if it's PC of me to notice it - well, so be it. It *is* a failing.

Entire dimensions of the movie remain to be discussed. Katherine has a rich home life, with three daughters and an aged mother, plus the attentions of a Colonel Jim Johnson (Mahershala Ali), whom she eventually marries. The daughters are, well, precious children, and the Colonel's attempts to woo Katherine are beautifully nuanced. And the friendship between the three women is some of the best portrayal of a friendship between women I've ever seen on the screen. (And, yes, it passes, it totally trashes, the Bechdel test.)

This is a beautiful movie. If John Glenn had the right stuff, these three women, and many around them, had the good stuff.

1st March 2017

3:16pm: Read: Locke & Key: Keys to the Kingdom, by Joe Hill and Gabriel Rodriguez (2017-10)
The story so far:

Rendell Locke, a school guidance counsellor, is killed by one of his students, Sam, leaving his wife and three children devastated. They move to Rendell's childhood home, Keyhouse, in Lovecraft, MA, and are pursued by the escaped Sam. Sam is killed, but in the process, Lucas "Dodge" Caravaggio is released from the Wellhouse where he has been kept for decades as the result of something, still not quite known, that Rendell and his friends did.

Keyhouse is full of mystical keys, most of which are found by the youngest Locke child, Bode. One opens a door that frees you temporarily from your body, leaving it apparently dead; another opens up your head and lets you take memories out and put them in. Kinsey, the middle Locke child, uses this key to remove sorrow and fear from her head, against the warnings of her older brother, Tyler. And, apparently, grownups can't see all this.

In the meanwhile, Dodge has insinuated himself into the Lockes' lives as a fellow student of Tyler and Kinsey. Kinsey uncovers the first clue to what happened when she nearly drowns in a cave, but doesn't really understand what it means.

In this volume, Kinsey tries to get some information from a woman whose name she got from some writing in the cave. The Lockes are tormented by repeated attacks by what they call "The Dark Lady," who wants the Omega Key. And things get much, *much* worse...

Hill's and Rodriguez's storytelling is superb; they blend as well as Alan Moore did with Dave Gibbons on _Watchmen_, or Neil Gaiman with Dave McKean on _Violent Cases_ and other work. The art is clean and complements the script. Two-thirds through the story of _Locke and Key_, I'm intrigued and will definitely continue. Anon.

28th February 2017

3:41pm: Read: Ancillary Justice, by Ann Leckie (2017-9)
So this won all kinds of awards, and, as far as I can tell, it deserved them (I haven't read enough of the competition to _really_ say it did...). It is good old-fashioned sensawunda science fiction *and* good old fashioned literary science fiction, at the same time.

A former Radchaai starship, _Justice of Toren_ travels under the name Breq, seeking something much more complex than the vengeance the back cover blurb says she wants. We learn fairly early on that the Radch uses "ancillaries," human bodies slaved to their ship-mind, as soldiers, and we figure out quite quickly that Breq is one of these ancillaries, the last surviving bit of _Toren_'s ship-mind. The Radch, you see, have spent thousands of years annexing neighboring Human polities, so cannon fodder of a sort is a prime need. They get it by taking people from resisting worlds and making them into ancillaries.

Actually, they have far more ancillaries in storage than they need, and that's part of the problem. Because the Lord of the Radch, Anaander Mianaai, has signed a treaty with an even more powerful alien neighbor, which means that the Radch will stop expanding, and _that_ means that ancillaries really aren't needed anymore.

(It is a side note to this, that all these stored human bodies are to be destroyed; any analogy to the destruction of embryos by scientists is for the reader to find for herself.)

At the start of this book, the first of a trilogy, Breq rescues a stray - a Radchaai officer who has been missing for a thousand years. (Average Radchaai lifespan is about two to three hundred.) Seivarden Vendaai had served as a Lieutenant aboard _Justice of Toren_ long ago, and come to command her own ship, which was lost with all hands ... except, apparently, Seivarden. On a remote planet, Breq comes across her, strung out on a drug called kef, and takes her along with herself on the last stage of her quest.

(A second side note: the Radchaai language is ungendered. This is represented in the [first-person] text by referring to all persons as "she" and "her." This means that we don't know the gender of the characters we encounter as the story progresses, a slightly unsettling effect similar to that produced by Delany's use of gender pronouns in _Stars in My Pickets Like Grains of Sand_. In fact, Seivarden is the only character whose gender we actually know - she is male. As Heinlein famously did with being a PoC in _Starship Troopers_, Leckie manages to give us the feeling of what it is like not to care what a person's gender is unless you're specifically interested in them sexually, where your gender does not affect how you are treated socially, economically, politically.)

Much of the book is taken up with flashbacks, telling us the story of how Breq came to be a singular person with the (remains of the) mind of a ship. This gives Leckie the chance to do something stylistically brilliant, the equivalent of a first-person omniscient viewpoint. _Justice of Toren_ is physically present, itself and through its ancillaries, in many places at once, and is able to narrate simultaneously multiple events in which it is more or less involved. That it works at all is technical bravura; that it works _well_ is sheer artistry.

So, yes, I intend to read the rest of the trilogy. Volumes 2 and 3 are already sitting on my to-read shelf. I intend to look forward to them for a while, though, while I read some other stuff. Part of this is because the book comes to a reasonably clean conclusion; while it is clear that more difficulties await Breq, this movement of her adventures is clearly complete. But maybe it also signals that I wasn't as captivated as all that by this volume, that I would feel impelled to go right on to the next book.

Still: Highly, highly recommended.

20th February 2017

9:32am: Read: Crown of Shadows, by Joe King and Gabriel Rodriguez (2017-8)
Part 3 of "Locke and Key" is definitely getting to be, well, the middle bit of the story. Which isn't to say it's boring; it has a story arc of its own, and advances the arcs and development of the various characters and blah, but it isn't _quite_ as compelling as the first two. Since there are six parts in all, we are at the equivalent of the middle book of a trilogy, and it shows somewhat.

It's good, mind you. It advances the central mystery (What did Rendell Locke and his friends do back in the 1970s that puts Dodge hellbent for revenge?) somewhat, ties up a few loose ends from book one, and has some incredible sequences (especially the near-drowning of Kinsey and her friends). And it will definitely propel me on to part 4 in the near future.

I would be remiss if I didn't emphasize the contribution of Gabriel Rodriguez. There is a sequence of several pages of one huge panel each, no dialog, and it's one of the best sequences in the series so far.

The magic is still there, even if there isn't quite as much of it.

19th February 2017

7:43pm: Read: The Portable Dorothy Parker (2017-7)
When I bought this book I had, to be honest, no idea what I was getting into; what I knew of Dorothy Parker were a few witticisms and one poem (the [in]famous "Résumé"). I had a vague idea that she was a book reviewer who had devastated A.A. Milne's _House at Pooh Corner_ in four words.

I had no idea that she wrote short stories, for example, let alone such good ones as "Big Blonde" and "The Game;" nor that she was a dramatic critic par excellence. And the _Portable_, twice expanded to its current stately 613 trade-sized pages, is a huge dollop of all that and more. Her three collections of light verse are all contained herein in, as near as I can tell, their entirety, along with a few dozen short stories, articles, letters, an interview for the _Paris Review_, and the proverbial More.

Parker was an archetypal crying clown, a humorous writer whose humor stemmed from pain. Hers was not, in general, a happy life, nor a stunningly successful financially; she was quite honest about the financial need that kept her at the typewriter.

A mistress of the devastating one-liner, she could also sum up a subject's good points and flaws in an amusing, balanced way.

Her short stories, to my surprise, are not generally humorous at all. They are mostly studies of character, and while she treats them with irony, she never makes them into buffoons or mocks them - no, not even the heroine of "Arrangement in Black and White," who makes such a point of her lack of race prejudice that her race prejudice leaks all over the place. ("I haven't any feeling at all about it," she says, in a way that prefigures our current-day bigots who claim to be color-blind.)

Then there are these ... things ... that aren't stories at all, so much as meditations or streams (puddles, really) of consciousness. Some of them are quite good, and none are bad, but I have no idea what they _are_.

Some of the book is amusing, some moving, some puzzling: what none of it is is _boring_.

17th February 2017

3:52pm: Read: Rarity from the Hollow, by Robert Eggleton (2017-6)
This is a very hard book to classify.

Oh, it's science fiction, all right, but then you have to ask, "What _kind_ of science fiction is it?" And the answers that come to mind are confused and contradictory: Well, it's kind of Vonnegutian, but with some Sturgeon thrown in, and maybe a little Douglas Adams, plus some Manly Wade Wellman and a hint of Bradbury ... by which time you have such a hellbrew of a concoction that it doesn't mean shit to a tree.

Speaking of which, there are talking trees in this. And a talking dog and talking cockroaches.

No, really.

Wwwwwaitaminnit ... lemme try this again.

You see, _Rarity from the Hollow_ is, mainly, the story of Lacy Dawn, a young girl who lives in a hollow in (approximately) West Virginia. Her father is kind of abusive, suffers from Gulf War flashbacks and such; but not as abusive as the father of her best friend Faith, who whups her to death early in the book. But Faith remains a character, as she can talk to Faith from rocks and logs and such. And the various trees of the hollow talk to Lacy Dawn, too.

Well, maybe she's crazy, but it's hard to say.

Her other best friend is DotCom, an android from the planet Shptiludrp, who is gradually becoming human so he can marry Lacy Dawn when she comes of age. But first, he has to recruit her to Save The Universe ... or at least Shptiludrp, which amounts to the same thing from the point of view of Mr Prump, the General Manager of that mall-planet. Seems the good people of Shptiludrp have been breeding humans a long time to produce Lacy Dawn, the only person in the Universe who can do it.

In the meanwhile, DotCom is "fixing" Lacy Dawn's parents to be better parents, more successful, and generally better human beings, and teaching her things a girl her age doesn't normally know - like calculus and advanced psychology. Why, what did you think I meant?

I know this all sounds pretty whack, and it _is_, but it's also quite moving. Lacy Dawn and her supporting cast - even Brownie, the dog - are some of the most engaging characters I've run across in a novel in some time; and, if I'm not convinced that what she's doing is actually Saving The Universe, it's quite clear that it does matter to a lot of people. And roaches.

The writing is not on the level of Delany/Wolfe/Le Guin/Russ, but it's more than competent, and it stays out of the way of the story, which is what it should do in a book of this particular type. Probably the weakest point is the inner voices of the characters, which are plentiful throughout, and which are so similar to each other that at times it isn't entirely clear whose inner voice this particular paragraph-in-italics is supposed to be: but that's a minor quibble and doesn't distract from the enjoyment of the yarn.

Which is large and broad and deeper than you'd think, from my breezy, jumpy description. As I said, it's a hard book to classify, or even talk about without giving worse spoilers than I already have.

The final page of the book helpfully tells the reader that this is "The End of This Adventure," which seems to promise that there will be more. I expect that I'll be on board for them.

13th February 2017

5:52pm: Read: In Search of Silence, by Samuel R. Delany (2017-5)
A new book by Delany is always cause for celebration chez moi, and this is no exception. For the past week and a half it has been my only leisure reading; that it has taken me that long to read a six hundred page book is a measure both of its density/richness and of how little leisure reading time I have lately.

What this book is:

Beginning near the end of December 1957 - dating is a little complex -, the young Samuel Ray "Chip" Delany, Jr. began carrying around a spiral notebook and jotting in it his thoughts, observations, poetry, sexual fantasies, notes for stories, and many other things. He continued this practice for many years; for all I know, he still does it today.

_In Search of Silence_, then, is a selection of material from the first dozen years (roughly) of these notebooks.

What this book is not:

Cohesive and proairetic. Entries start and stop abruptly, sometimes to be continued later in the same notebook (or another), and, other than the general sense of watching a young mind develop, there is no sense of narrativity running through them. Some entries are simply opaque or mysterious, quite likely even to Delany at this distance of time. Others are, well, almost banal, as perhaps one might expect from a teenaged genius.

It is also not an introduction either to Delany's work, or to Delany the human being. I do not claim to "know" Samuel R. Delany, except in the most casual possible sense*, and _Silence_ has not changed that. I have, now, some insights into who he _was_, fifty years ago, but even if I were to take a timetrip to New York in (say) 1968 and arrange to meet that young man, he would be a stranger to me - quite properly.

That said, reading it offers a great deal of insight into the _processes_ of the young Delany (and processes are key to personhood, or anything else, but that's another matter entirely). It also offers a selection of the quotidianness of life in that long-gone time, as it was lived and experienced by a very specific human being.

The editor, Kenneth R. James (more on this in a bit), suggests that this volume might be profitably read with/against Delany's _The Motion of Light in Water_, an autobiographical sketch covering much of the same period (though _Motion_ both begins and ends a bit earlier than _Silence_). This is a pungent suggestion. In particular _Silence_ appends a great deal to the sense _Motion_ gives of Delany's relationship with his co-student and, after a while, wife, the poet Marilyn Hacker.

The insights to Delany's writerly process are both surface and profound. On the surface level, it is fascinating to know that his first published novel, _The Jewels of Aptor_, was intended to be a lengthy dream-sequence in his massive non-genre novel _Voyage, Orestes_. Another massive project, _Prism, Mirror, Lens_ came at one level to nothing; at another, it provided seed material to _Dhalgren_ (including its [in]famous first line) and _Trouble on Triton_, though _this_ volume ends before either of those novels is properly conceived.

Kenneth R. James makes it clear that this is by no means all the material contained in these particular spiral notebooks. Rather, he has made a selection, among other things mostly excluding drafts of published, and even to a large extent unpublished, stories and novels. I respect this choice: while it would be fascinating to see how (say) _Babel-17_ developed in drafts, such material would be better saved for individual studies of the development of the individual novels. (Though not, one hopes, to the extent that Christopher Tolkien has made a cottage industry of his father's minutiae. While those books are fascinating glimpses into JRRT's creative processes, there are times when I think he, a very private man, would feel violated by the publication of some of them.) Certainly Delany's major works are deserving of such treatment, though perhaps, if only out of mercy, not while he is still alive and creating new texts.

What James does include is generous, even lavish.

There will, assuming the funding occurs**, be a second volume, _Autumnal City_, and it will (I do hope) continue from there.

_____
* I met Delany once, in 1978, and made a damnfool of myself; in recent years I have been connected to him on Facebook. That, coupled with careful reading of his fiction and non-fiction, is the extent of my "knowing" Delany.

** James has an Indiegogo to procure said funding, with some interesting rewards...H'mmm....

7th February 2017

9:02am: F*** Cancer
Amy died yesterday.

No, wait. Let me walk back a bit.

In my adult life, I have been blessed with a good circle of friends, including four or five - outside of family - I know I can count on for, like, anything (and vice versa). This is as much as anyone needs and far more than I deserve.

Amy was one of them.

The child of a judge who grew up in Fresno, ran away to the University of San Francisco, on to law school, and eventually found her niche as chief counsel for Cal-OSHA (in charge of enforcing safety regulations on employers: her cases over the years included Chevron, Disney, and "The Porn Industry," which latter meant that for a while she was legitimately watching porn on the State's dollar).

When I met her, almost seventeen years ago, she was working as the in-house attorney for a startup that would soon stopdown. She did eventually get most of her back pay.

She was introduced to our gaming group by my friend Jon, a techgeek who worked in the same company. She and I hit it off immediately, with common interests in politics, religion, and the aaahts, and quickly became - well, the word "best friend" is too vague: I have, as I said above, four or five people who might deserve that name. But she became someone I relied on in a lot of ways, and I believe she did on me (and my family) also. She was a regular member of our gaming group the rest of her life, and often came over to our house for coffee on weekend mornings.

I, as well as several other people including Fr. John, were instrumental in her decision to return to the Catholic Church as an adult - as, a year later, they were in my decision to be confirmed in said Church. She always had doubts, as do I, but real faith involves living with questions and doubts.

That game group, at that time, included not only Fr. John, but another Catholic seminarian, a Methodist minister, and the aforementioned Jon, who had completed seminary as an Evangelical minister, though he had not been "called" to any parish. One of my happiest memories is the night all these clergy were singing "Amazing Grace" to the tune of the Gilligan's Island themesong in my livingroom.

She and I conceived and co-GM'd the most complex, and I believe the best, FRP game world I've ever been involved in as player or GM. It was called "TFAR," which stood for "The Fundamentalists Are Right" - the idea behind that title being that FRP'ing - as well as many other things, like Tarot cards, Kabbalah, and - reading tealeaves - really were Satan's Open-Sesame, that magick was real in the world, and that doing it slowly sucked out your soul. It was set in the 1980s, with a detour to the 1930s; it ended, too soon, after it became clear that the players couldn't keep up with all the complexity due to long breaks between games.

I have never known anyone more dedicated to their dog.

Two years ago, she started having weird pains and discomforts "down there." Several months later, she was diagnosed with uterine cancer and had her "ladyparts" removed, followed by radiation and chemo. But it was too late; the cancer receded, but then it came back, metastasized to - among other places -her diaphragm, which is pretty much inoperable.

I saw her only three times in the last month.

The first time was when she called me at work to ask for some Ibuprofen. I made a stop on the way home to get it, and brought it to her. We chatted a while. She seemed no sicker than before.

The second time was when she invited the game group (she had not attended in several weeks) to her house for a Friday evening. She was much worse now, spent the evening lying on the couch and occasionally taking part in the conversation (no game was played). That was about two weeks ago.

Then this Saturday morning I got a call telling me that, if I wanted to see her, I should get there by 11, because she was being medevacked to Fresno to receive palliative care in her sister's home. I, and family, went. I sat in a chair beside her and said things that I immediatly found embarrassing; I have no idea how to talk to the dying.

She was semiconscious at best, and the only coherent thing she said while I was there was, "It hurts." We left after a while, to make room for others, and that was that.

Yesterday morning, she died in Fresno. I will miss her for a long time. I see things and think, "Amy would like that." And she would.

3rd February 2017

10:16am: Seen: The Day of the Triffids (2009)
I'm told that this BBC Wales TV version is more faithful to the book than the 1962 theatrical and the 1981 teleplay, and, though I haven't seen the latter and haven't read the book in over 40 years, I believe them. But it has some definite "original" plot elements, most important of which is a kind of mystical tribal mask that lets you use the triffids' venom as a sort of triffid repellent.

Well, anyway. Triffids are huge, mobile, carnivorous, semi-sentient, orchid-like plants which (and I'm pretty sure this is *not* in the book) produce an oil that solves all the world's energy problems. Ummmm. Right. Whatever. It's a gimmick that explains why the triffids, a rare deep-African-jungle species, are everywhere on Earth as the story begins: they've been bred in vast numbers to provide oil.

In flashback scenes, we see how the mother of Bill Masen (Dougray Scott) was killed by a jungle triffid these twenty years or so ago, resulting, amongst other things, in little Billy becoming estranged from his father, though both become obsessive about triffids. Bill works for a triffid oil company outside London, and, while capturing a terrorist triffid-rights activist, gets stung in the face by a triffid. (They always aim for the eyes.)

Well, a predicted solar Event takes place, with most of the world watching - never mind that the world is round and half of it *wouldn't* see it - but anyway - it has the unexpected side effect of blinding everyone who sees it. Who could have foreseen that looking at the sun would cause eye damage? Because his face was bandaged, Bill doesn't see it and becomes one of the rare-ish two-eyed people in this new England of the Blind. Awakening in a London hospital, he comes across grotesque scenes of people who don't know how to be blind asking everyone they bump into for help.

Another who didn't see it was the terrorist, who, seeing his opportunity, lets the triffids loose and gets what he undoubtedly merits when he's killed by them. We are given to believe that this has happened all over the world, and certainly all over Great Britain, because the sheer number of triffids loose seems improbable for one plant.

Bill hooks up with a sighted radio personality, Jo Playton (Joely Richardson), and they begin trying to find other sighted people and begin putting society back together. One of the first they meet is Torrance (Eddie Izzard), who miraculously survived a plane crash and who, we have already seen, is an opportunist and not a nice person at all, and who takes a fancy to Jo.

Then they come across a band of, well, survivalists, who have seized arms and who are out for themselves, counting the blind as as-good-as-dead. Bill takes Jo to find her father, who dies at the tentacles of the triffids. It is now Bill's goal to find *his* father in hopes he knows something that will stop the evil orchids.

But they fall back in with Torrance, who has slimed himself into a position of power in a survival gang which is gradually taking over London and "protecting" (in the Mob sense) blind folks. He sends Bill out to be killed by triffids, and begins moving in on Jo, who, incidentally, has fallen in love with Bill, though I don't think she knows it yet.

That ends part one of this two-parter. I'm not going to summarize the second part, except to say that there is a lot of the worst (and a little of the best) of humanity on display in this show; Torrance gets what's coming to him in the end; and the ending is a little hopeful, but basically downbeat.

The acting is off-the-shelf BBC acting except for Izzard, who chews the scenery delightfully. He makes an excellent villain for a melodrama. The triffids, the only major special effect, are only a little bit stiff in their motions and fairly convincing. And the settings are many, varied, British, and quite delightful.

The pacing is deliberate, not like the constant-action-quick-cut-in-your-face pacing of most modern thrillers. There are a few springloaded cats, but mostly the triffids -- like Romero zombies -- frighten more by their numbers and their gradual inevitability than by their speed. Some would call it "slow paced." I wouldn't.

In all, I enjoyed it. I don't feel any pressing desire to see it again, but wouldn't walk out of the room if someone started playing it.

(And I haven't even mentioned Vanessa Redgrave. Oh well.)

1st February 2017

7:12am: Follow-up to the post below
I will not be ruled by fear. I must fight. *WE* must fight. You-Know-Who is the battle of our times, and we cannot stand idle.

We must fight, not just against, but *for* -- for decency and the real American values -- whether they be Christian values, Jewish values, Muslim values, or Atheist values; Hindu values, Buddhist values, Sikh and Jain and Agnostic and Pagan and Neo-Pagan or Wiccan values -- the values that all belief systems of any value hold dear, of respect for the dignity of the human person, stewardship for the care of Creation, and awe in the presence of the creative Force.

We must fight as if our lives depended upon it, for lives do depend upon it: if not ours, then those of others; thus we must and can and will stand up, as many times as it takes, and say: Not this time, motherf-----s; if you come for some of us, you will have to face *ALL* of us, and we ain't backing down, no how no way.

We must fight for the innocent, the widow and the orphan, the oppressed and the refugee, remembering that our own good fortune is unearned and provisional, as is their ill fortune.

We must fight with the Sword of Righteousness, for, as Mrs. Obama said, when they go low, we MUST go high; we must not throw the first punch, but be ready and willing to throw the last punch; we must speak truth to power and accept the consequences of our words and actions.

We must fight for -- yes -- truth, justice, and the American way (remember: Superman is an illegal alien refugee created by Jews...) -- and, no matter how He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named and his henchpeople try to hide behind the Flag and Patriotism, refuse them that privilege.

What this means is still a little inchoate for me. I can sign petitions, donate money where it will count (but don't ask me where, it's NOYB), and maybe attend the occasional protest: but that seems like not-enough.

I suppose we all feel that what we do is not-enough, but perhaps all these not-enoughs can add up to something bigger than the sum of us.

Comments encouraged.

30th January 2017

11:24am: Culcha Waw
Yes, friends, we are in a cultural war, but it isn't any of those that the right wing pundits try to define, neither between liberal and conservative, nor between Christian and non-Christian, nor between

The real culture war is between those who hold to radical, fundamentalist ideologies of any kind, and sane people.

And the crazies, I'm sad to say, are winning.

They are winning because their storyline is easier for lazy minds to follow.

They are winning because there are no depths they will not stoop to, no tool they will not use, to forward their agendas.

They are winning because we can't believe they'll really go there; but over and over again, they do.

They are winning because we have scruples and they have none.

They are winning because they have absolute belief that they are right and everybody else is wrong.

I am very, very afraid...

23rd January 2017

6:57am: Deeply regretting
...the passing of Maggie Roche. RIP beautiful voice.

19th January 2017

5:33pm: Read: A Martian Odyssey and Other Science Fiction Tales, by Stanley G. Weinbaum (2017-4)
Either you know the story of Stanley G. Weinbaum, or you don't care. If you fall into either of those categories, skip the next two paragraphs.

In those dark days when science fiction was mostly rubbish about robots and slavering aliens menacing beautiful women in brass bikinis, and their (white, heterosexual, cis) male saviors - in those days, I say, an unknown writer named Stanley G. Weinbaum published a story called "A Martian Odyssey." It was far advanced over much of what was being published at the time, featuring alien creatures who were truly _alien_, with life cycles and desires truly different from our own.

Weinbaum, for the next couple of years, produced a great variety of sf stories, sometimes as wildly creative as "Odyssey," sometimes ... not ... He died very young, of cancer, shortly before the (first) "Golden Age" of science fiction would make the kind of thing he had done more common, even _de rigeur_.

This volume - part of a series curated by Sam Moskowitz in the 1970s - collects all the short fiction Weinbaum is known to have written in his short life. Some of it feels very, well, _dated_ - not surprisingly, after 80+ years - but many of his ideas still glitter with the real gold of the stfnal imagination.

Yes, women are - by and large - relegated to traditional roles. But there are a number of stories where women have power and at least one ("The Revolution of 1960") where gender is bent, as much as could be safely done in popular fiction of the 1930s.

Weinbaum came up with original ideas that other writers would mine for decades, and indeed some that they still do. Yes, there are a few stories with space pirates and suchlike, but for every traditional heroes and villains" story there are two that aren't, from "Odyssey" itself to the silly little "Graph" (a story that in many ways could have come from the pen of the mature Heinlein). Weinbaum was an early "hard science" writer, in that he made serious efforts to get his science right, or to at least handwave appropriately when current scientific belief would impede his story.

But in honesty, most of these stories are more of historical interest than anything else. They won't impress people who've cut their teeth on Iain Banks or Ursula Le Guin, Samuel Delany or Gene Wolfe. They are _simple_ in ways that a modern writer of sf really can't get away with. They have no real depth of meaning. They do not challenge anybody's cherished beliefs. They aren't often very funny, and when they are, it's a kind of hokey, old fashioned humor.

But for those (like me) who cherish a historical sense of where sf has come from, who believe that this sense provides an additional layer of depth when considering where it is going now, this is quite an enjoyable read.

9th January 2017

12:48pm: Read: My Lucky Life In and Out of Show Business, by Dick Van Dyke (2017-2)
Dick Van Dyke is just one of those people who has always been there in my life. Now in his 90s, he's starred in so many things that were formative to my childhood (his titular show, _Mary Poppins_, _Chitty-Chitty-Bang-Bang_...) and even my adulthood that he's like someone I actually know, except, of course, that I don't.

Finding out that he'd written an autobiography ... and that I could get it on Kindle for not-too-much-money ... was a delight. Now having read it, it still is.

The writing style is just a _little_ bit flat: but if you can hear his voice saying the words, which I did after a while, the flatness disappears. It's written exactly the way Dick Van Dyke talks.

So. He was born in 1925 and grew up in the Midwest. He served in the Air Force and discovered that he had a gift of making people laugh; when he left the military, he went into show business and, seventy years or so later, is still there.

The book is revealing without being tell-tale-y. That is, he mostly tells on himself: his smoking problems, his drinking problems, and the affair that led to the end of his marriage. No scandals about other Hollywood stars here ... which is very much in keeping with Van Dyke's character. He started out as a "good boy" who seriously considered going into the ministry; overall, he stayed that "good boy" despite some trespasses, and stood seriously by a commitment made early on that he would never appear in a show he'd be embarrassed to take his children (grandchildren ... now great-grandchildren...) to.

To be clear, this book isn't a laugh fest. That is, there are laughs, and plenty of them, but they aren't the heart of the book. The heart of the book is Van Dyke's portrayal of himself, which seems honest enough.

5th January 2017

3:26pm: Seen: Moana (2016)
So this is and is not a very typical Disney animated film. That is, it is, but it plays with the idea that it is a typical Disney animated film, most notably in a conversation where the demigod Maui (Dwayne Johnson) tries to prove to Moana (Auli'i Cravalho) that she is a princess, naming the clichés of Disney Princesses right down to "cute animal sidekick." (As a side note, the rooster Heihei [Alan Tudyk] is not terribly cute, unless you are the sort of person who considers Bill the Cat cute.)

What it's mostly about is responsibility. Moana, daughter of Cheif Tui (Temuera Morrison) and Sina (Nicole Scherzinger), longs to sail "beyond the reef," but Tui has forbidden any of the villagers from doing so. Her parents continually chide her for her oceanic fascination and try to guide her to accept her responsibilities as the chief's daughter.

When the crops fail and the fish fail and even the coconuts fail, Moana, urged by her dying grandmother (Rachel House), sneaks off to sea to find the demigod and set right an ancient wrong that is blackening the world. Well, the demigod has an ego the size of the Big Island, and all he's interested in is getting his magic fishhook (which lets him change shape) back. But the Ocean (very much a character in itself) has chosen Moana to perform this quest, and it isn't putting up with any guff from a demigod. He has to learn to take responsibility for his actions, and he does.

Some of the songs are brilliant, like Maui's "Thank You" and the hilarious "Shiny" (sung by the coconut crab Tamatoa (Jemaine Clement). Some are not so much, but none of them are bad. There's a Broadway musical just waiting to be adapted here. And the soundscape is simply wonderful.

All in all, a B+/A- film on the Disney scale.
3:09pm: Read: The Man Who Talled Tales, by R.A. Lafferty (2017-1)
Well, I'm told that this ebook, from an uncertain source, comes from R.A. Lafferty.

Certainly it contains a number of stories that I recognize and associate with that name, as well as a couple of semi-stand-alone chunks out of the "Argo/Devil Is Dead" novels. But I'm pretty sure it's not an official publication of the complete short stories of RAL.

There are over 200 stories in this file, and to even attempt to go through them one by one would be deepest insanity - even to categorizethem is pretty much hopeless. What they all have in common -- no: what they all are,, is Lafferty stories, and Lafferty was sui generis. Possibly even sui two or three generises.

(Neil Gaiman once wrote that trying to write a Lafferty-esque story was much harder than it looked. I have no reason to doubt him.)

Well, what Lafferty mostly wrote about was ordinary exceptional people under normal unusual circumstances. If that doesn't make sense to you, go read a few Lafferty stories and find out for yourself. Even his titles have a certain ring, from "About a Secret Crocodile" to "When All the Lands Pour Out Again," by way of "Le Hot Sport," "Nine Hundred Grandmothers," and "Slow Tuesday Night." You get the idea. Or maybe you don't, in which case I'm afraid there's no help for you at all.

Weirdly, the closest thing I can think of to compare Lafferty to is Charles Williams, the "third Inkling," but it would be a Charles William on laughing gas. As with Williams, theology, philosophy, and other Deep Things lie beneath the surface of what appear at first glance to be pot-boilers. But where Williams was, sometimes ploddingly, serious about the pots he boiled, Lafferty never seemed to take anything (except for everything) seriously, least of all his own self and his undeniable talent.

He was very Catholic, historically deep, and etymologically unique. There will never be another like him.

25th December 2016

10:06am: Seen: Arrival (2016)
OK, so when a novel or long story is adapted to film, I'm used to seeing them leave stuff out. But all the important stuff from the story is here, and it's what's _added_ that's different: a whole lot of the geopolitical stuff that (necessarily, I think) follows from the premise of Mysterious Alien Spaceships popping up all over the Earth.

The focus of the story is Louise Banks (Amy Adams), a top linguist who is tasked with communicating with these weird aliens. And they *are* weird; both physically - some of the weirdest aliens I've seen in a movie - and mentally. The military wants to know, above all, Why They Are Here?

On the physical sciences side, we have Ian Donnelly (Jeremy Renner), a physicist who has the occasional useful insight. And the primary representative of the military is Colonel Weber (Forest Whitaker), who recruits them both.

The frame of the movie runs, roughly, from the aliens' arrival to their departure. But there's a prologue in which we see the birth, growth, and death in hospital of Louise's daughter, Hannah, and here the spoilers begin. Click for the spoilers.Collapse )

At any rate, I recommend _Arrival_ highly, and suggest you see it on the big screen while you still can.

23rd December 2016

11:44am: Read: Head Games (Locke & Key Volume 2) by Joe Hill and Gabriel Rodriguez
The adventures of the Locke family in the Keyhouse continue.

Bode, the youngest of the three Locke siblings finds yet another magical key: this one allows you to open someone's head, put things in, and take things out. Makes studying for a final easy - just cram the book into your head. Don't like your fears? Just pull 'em out.

But the Head Key can be dangerous, especially in the hands of an enemy - like Zack Wells, a/k/a Lucas Don Caravaggio, a/k/a Dodge, the dead-but-alive enemy of the Locke family who escaped from the well in volume 1. Even without an enemy the damn thing is dangerous: imagine being entirely without fear; it might make you a little ... stupid.

_Head Games_ is actually a little light on plot compared to the first; it seems to be putting things into place in a way that wasn't so evident in _Welcome to Lovecraft_.

Nothing that will stop me from continuing, though. The characters, especially Bode, continue to be engaging and plausible (given their situation). Rodriguez's art is as vivid as one might hope for. And Dodge's actions raise some real chills.

22nd December 2016

3:10pm: Read: Under the Dome, by Stephen King (2016-64)
_Under the Dome_ is Stephen King doing what Stephen King does best: creating a small town with its population of people, good bad and (mostly) mixed or ambiguous, and putting them under hellish stress. This is the golden formula for _'Salem's Lot_, _The Cycle of the Werewolf_, _IT_, _The Tommyknockers_, _Needful Things_, _The Regulators_, and probably some others I've not read (I stopped reading everything SK put out sometime around twenty years ago, mostly from sheer exhaustion).

The small town here is Chester's Mill in Western Main - just north of Castle Rock, where so many King stories have been set. One fine October 21st, an invisible barrier - not really a Dome, but that is what it will be called - drops down over the Mill (as its residents call it), cutting it off totally from the outside world. A very small trickle of fluids like air and water can come through, as can light and sound. Several people die immediately.

Our main more-or-less hero is Dale "Barbie" Barbara, an Iraq veteran and short-order chef, who's trying to leave the Mill when it comes down. because he is on the inside, he is reactivated, and promoted to Colonel, and told to take over the running of the town for the duration.

The problem with this is "Big Jim" Rennie, who, as second selectman, runs the town as his personal satrapy (the first selectman being a likeable tool), and he is having none of it. Rennie thinks of the Dome as a personal challenge and opportunity to protect the town while molding it to his liking. To this end he hires a lot more police - "for the duration."

Rennie's son Junior is a chip off the old block; the first thing we see him do is strangle a girl and hide the body, before he even knows that the Dome has fallen.

The Federal Government, quite plausibly, declares the area off limits to anyone except military personnel, headed by Barbie's old superior, a Colonel Cox. They cut off phone communications to and from the Mill, but leave the Internet in place pending certain conditions. President Obama - one of several real people who come into this novel - promises, the way Presidents do, that no step will be left untaken to free the people of Chester's Mill, and, indeed, the military makes strenuous (if not very rapid) efforts to do so.

A large part of the story is simply the conflict between Barbie and his allies, as underdogs, and Rennie and his allies. Bad things happen. Many people die, and there is a huge blowoff that is well rooted in the foregoing plot.

One problem with a novel like this is that the mystery of the Dome is far more satisfying than any possible explanation of where it came from and why. King does the best he can, and I doubt anyone else could do much better, but the secret of the Dome was bound to be a disappointment from the git-go.

(Indeed, several of King's major works - notably _The Stand_ and _The Dark Tower_ - are marred by disappointing denouements, despite their fascinating characters, extraordinary pacing, and compulsive readability...)

Well, it's a damn good read and was well worth the eleven days it took me to read it...

21st December 2016

7:11am: Happy Jul!
That is all. We now return you to whatever you were doing, which is probably reading your friend feed.

16th December 2016

8:44pm: Heard: The Picture of Dorian Gray, by Oscar Wilde (2016-63)
Picked this up from Librivox and listened to it as I drove: perhaps not the ideal circumstance for a book where style is, if not everything, at least very important. But enjoyed it anyway.

The story is, and is not, what someone who hasn't read it thinks it is. Yes, it's about a guy who has a painting that gets old instead of him. But it's much more than that: it's about a soul gradually damning itself.

The scene opens on Lord Henry Wotton (an upper-class cynic) and Basil Hallward (a painter of some note) discussing things in Basil's studio and garden - in particular, a young Dorian Gray, who has been modeling for Basil and with whom Basil is in a kind of love. (There are never really more than the vaguest hints of homosexuality in this book.) Enter Dorian, and Basil completes his masterpiece - a portrait of Dorian Gray.

Lord Henry has a lengthy discussion with Dorian on the wonderfulness of youth, and how Dorian's beauty will open doors for him and then desert him. Dorian, on being gifted Basil's painting, mutters a wish - maybe even a prayer - that he might remain as he is and the picture change instead.

And here's the thing. It isn't so much age, as sin that appears in the picture as the story progresses. It begins when Dorian jilts an actress with whom he has previously been smitten, cruelly, and that night a cruel twist of the lip appears in the picture. Dorian, largely under Lord Henry's influence, gradually goes in for more and more degrading sins - which are not detailed; this is not a pornographic work in any sense - and, despite occasional resolutions to mend his ways, becomes a terrible person indeed: all the while retaining his youthful beauty while the picture grows hideous.

The story's climax is really a few chapters before the end, when Dorian shows Basil what has become of his picture, and its terrible sequel.

Perhaps the finest feature of this short novel is the psychological observation of Dorian's degradation. He blames everyone but himself for it: Lord Henry, a book he reads, the picture itself, even Basil; as well as the victims of some of his sins. There is no mistaking that Dorian is a damned soul, who will take no responsibility for his own damnation. This is, in the end, a supremely _moral_ book.

Of course, everything one knows (or thinks one knows) about Wilde himself colors how one reads his books. One can't help seeing bits of our mythical Wilde in Lord Henry, and in Dorian himself. But Wilde's ability to create and individuate characters overcomes this to a very large degree, and Dorian, Basil, and Lord Henry will remain with me for a very long time.

If you haven't read this...do.

11th December 2016

12:43pm: Read: Welcome to Lovecraft (Locke & Key Volume 1) by Joe Hill and Gabriel Rodriguez (2016-62)
Ok, so it's no big secret that the writing half of this team is Stephen King's son, who chooses not to trade on the family name. But, if this is a good example of his work, he's good.

The story of the Locke family begins in summer. Rendell Locke, a high school guidance counsellor in California, is killed by two of his students, Sam and Al. Al is killed in the process, and Sam badly hatcheted.

The family - his wife, Nina, and their three children - Tyler, Kinsey, and Bode - go to live with Rendell's brother Duncan, in Key House in Lovecraft, MA. Here weird things happen - at first, mostly to young Bode, who finds a strange key; with this key he opens a door that, when he walks through it, he dies, but only temporarily. It allows Bode to experience being a ghost, and see things he couldn't otherwise see.

Meanwhile, Sam, with some mysterious help, escapes from prison and begins hitching East...

The tension starts high and ratchets up as the story progresses. The immediate story is complete, but has seeds of a larger story sown.

And the art? Clean and clear, with a slightly washed-out color palette (by Jay Fotos) not at all like the lurid four-color comix of my youth. To call it _beautiful_ might be a slight exaggeration, but it's certainly beyond functional, certainly contributes a great deal to the feel of the story. I can recommend it without hesitation to anyone who likes intelligent horror.
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