Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Little Toys

Chestnut and Computer, 9.25.201

Marie, 9.26.2010

Jack the Ivy, 9.24.2010

Knives, 9.25.2010

Yoga Mats, 9.24.2010

Guardian of the DVDs, 9.24.2010

Tatte Cafe Tables, 9.25.2010

Squash of All Kinds, 9.25.2010

And for the Doctor Who fans amongst you....

...the Nestene invasion of Brookline!

and because I came across it and I love Christopher Eccleston as the Doctor so much:

Monday, September 27, 2010

"You're all going to die down here."

This weekend I was reading two books -- not at the same time, obviously, but in shifts.

One was Ira Ratkow's Seeking the Cure which I'm reading in an attempt to get a grip on the subject matter I deal with at one of my jobs. I'll have more to say about Mr. Ratkow later, not much of it good.

The other book was Justin Cronin's The Passage about which I have more pleasant things to say.

The Passage was the big, non-Stephanie Meyer (thank heaven) "vampire" find for the summer. At least, that's what the press for the release said back in...oh, June-ish? Sometime? Here's a review from and here's one from Me and My Big Mouth and here's one from the Guardian. All the right bells and whistles were pulled or rung apparently; since I don't hang out in Borders a whole lot, I guess I missed the cardboard stand-ups and huge posters. There is some rather nice cover art, I have to say...

And since I haven't finished the book -- I'm just starting the last third -- I can't honestly critique the full thing. That will be for a later post. But I do have some comments on the first two-thirds.

The first third? Basically no complaints. It's a nice, fast-paced, rather technical thriller. It starts with the birth and abandonment of a young girl in a convent; then we move onto a scientific expedition in South America that's searching for something when, abruptly, the Feds show up. Not the Federales, you understand, the US Feds who have been silent funding partners up to now and are suddenly very interested in what the expedition might find. You discover all this via a series of emails "recovered" from the expedition leader's laptop after...whatever happened happened. The last email is something to the effect of "Now I know why the soldiers are here." Scene and drop curtain.

Nice, huh? A bit workmanlike, perhaps, not a lot of style, but still -- solid thriller material.

The next chunk follows a rather disaffected FBI agent named Wolgast as he moves around the US recruiting men on death row into a secret government research project. His last assignment is to collect the girl we saw being born and growing up in the first few pages of the book. Suffice it to say: this assignment does not delight Agent Wolgast.

We do get to see some bits and bats of the research project although to anyone who read the first fifty pages with their eyes open it will be painfully obvious what's going on. Cronin adds some nice touches: almost all the staff of the research project, other than the security staff and actual scientists, are death row inmates or other convicts, most of them chemically castrated and sedated so they are the ultimate pliable material. The research subjects themselves are a little more nebulous: they are definitely un-human. They probably once were human. What they are now is a bit...fuzzy. They definitely drink blood. They are glow-in-the-dark -- referred to as "glowsticks" by a character you will probably be happy to watch die. They hang upside down a lot, move very quickly, and are decidedly antisocial.

So far, so good. There isn't anything novel here. If you're familiar with genre at all, there isn't anything groundbreaking. For all the hype, this isn't like the first time you watch Terminator 2 and see the T-1000 rise up out of the black-and-white checked floor.

The second third? Painful, man, just...really kind of painful. I lost track of the times I looked at the page and said, "How dumb do you think I am?" The story switches abruptly from the immediate aftermath of the (lets face it, inevitable) security failure at the super secrety uber chocolaty research facility of the research subjects -- lets call them vampires for the sake of argument -- to a posited alternate future which varies from the mostly workable to the wildly unbelievable. At its best, it's reminiscent of The Road and The Gunslinger. At its sounds like someone who read Lord of the Flies too quickly and just tossed in some vampires and the odd Western theme. There are some interesting characters here -- Peter Jaxon, Alicia Donadio (I think that's the right name), Sara and Michael -- who make it worth slogging through the rest but it is a tough slog from time to time, I warn you.

Cronin's reputation as a literary fictionalist seems quite solid; he's won some pretty impressive awards. I'd really hate to be a genre snob at this point and think that he just thought he could spin off a quick supernatural fic, win over the genre crowd, and tick off another box on his list 'cause that's got to be easy, right? I hate to point it out but, no. Wrong. Writing a good vampire -- or zombie or werewolf or witch or whatever -- novel is just as hard as writing anything else good. There. I have now stated the obvious. I haven't read anything else of Cronin's, so perhaps this is just his style: he suffers from wordiness, just for a start. He needs a decent editor who will sit on his chest and explain that we already have one Stephen King; our bookshelves can only take so much weight, so perhaps the odd word cut here and there...?

And I really did feel as though I was being treated as an idiot by the text. Things that Cronin produced as a big surprise -- were patently obvious if you'd been paying attention at all. And given how little I was paying attention at some points during that second 250-page chunk, that's pretty damned obvious. I realise that some of these things -- take for example Peter Jaxon's mother's dying words which can be interpreted two radically different ways depending on the placement of a comma -- are supposed to come as huge shocks for the character, world-beatingly different ways of looking at things. And that's great, I'm a fan of shaking up the character -- but in that case, there should be a little candy for the reader, too. Either the delight of watching a character see the world tumble or...some little bit of realisation in the narrative of something different going on, some new interpretation or thought you hadn't thought of yet. I can't say Cronin ever offers you that.

He does offer a fun time (90% of the time) and some good vamp-killing action, though, and I'm intrigued enough that I'm going to spend the time to finish the last third. So I'll be back with a report that I hope will be something more than "And so the last third was kinda like The Stand meets The Road."

Friday, September 24, 2010

friday fun times: more bagpuss

'cause how could I not? Seriously.

And you think the one last week was trippy? Check out Part 1 at around...oh, 6:50. And then the rest of it, of course. Happy Friday, guys.

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

New Shiny Thing

So I have a new toy: a Kodak digital camera. It is very nifty and I have been fiddling about with it since Friday.

I have to say, as someone who almost always wastes about a quarter of a roll of film on images that are either blurry, unsteady, or just plain ol' boring, the "instant review and delete" function is just seriously awesome.

Great Blue Heron in the Fenway, 9-17-2010
My doorknob, 9-17-2010 (can you tell I was just taking random photos to play with settings?)

Kitty and Candle 9-19-2010
Charles River from MIT Bridge, 9-19-2010
Clouds over the Charles, 9-19-2010 (This is what you can see in the long shot above.)
Clouds over the Charles, 9-19-2010 (Ditto.)
Harvard Square Cafe, 9-19-2010
Ditto, 9-19-2010

Monday, September 20, 2010

Who Cast Eric Bana as a Villain?

So last weekend when I was having a pretty damn bad day, I thought: "What I need is something bright. And sparkly. That goes boom on a pretty frequent basis."

Therefore: Star Trek. The new Star Trek movie, that is.

Disclaimer: I was never a huge Trek geek. I was into Next Generation briefly in high school 'cause it was on every night and...well, if 'Inner Light' doesn't get you, 'Best of Both Worlds' probably will. If neither of them do -- probably care less for Trek than I do.

I did watch the first couple of seasons of Deep Space Nine until I got tired of the nothing happening. I understand that an awful lot of sex happened almost immediately after I stopped watching which is at least something but I've just never gone back. I understand the attraction of Trek, don't get me wrong -- I think all fans understand the basic draw of a fandom even if it isn't one that draws them particularly -- but it doesn't happen to attract me very strongly.

I've tried going back and watching both the original series and Next Gen relatively recently: TOS is good ol' fashioned campy fun (I love the rubber rocks) and Next Gen still has Patrick Stewart in it, so we're all good there. But...I don't know -- I feel like I'm being lectured about something. And, frankly, Starfleet pisses me right the hell off. They're just an irritating group of people -- like new-school UNIT or the bit of Torchwood that doesn't feature Jack Harkness: they talk a good game, but their real world approach features a lot of guns.

Still despite all that -- the new movie is a lot of fun. It's very silly, even I realised it wasn't particularly close to canon -- which I seem to remember being part of the selling point -- and JJ Abrams is definitely stuck on the idea of stranding people in extreme climatic conditions with inadequate equipment. I can't say I paid a lot of attention the plot -- I'm sure there were holes you could have flung a giant genetically mutated cat through. There was a lot of time travel that seemed to reinvent its rules every time it came up; in the end, I was fairly sure that Spock in the future had done something that some people, also in the future at the time, were seriously narked off about and they had, for reasons that passed understanding, come back to the past to --- dump his books? I'm really not quite sure but it doesn't really matter very much: the focus of the story here is on showing us the roots of the relationships between the chief crew members: primarily Spock, Kirk, and Bones.

There are a fair whack of plot problems with this movie; mostly, it's unimportant because the point is the flash and the bang and Chris Pine's charm which carries a lot before it.

What is important is how much of the movie is about three white guys showing the rest of the universe how it's done.

Yeah, this is basically what Star Trek is a lot of the time but this seemed to me to be particularly egregious. Sulu and Chekov are humiliated by Captain Pike in front of the entire bridge crew for no good reason. Uhura starts out kind of kick-ass and chilly competent -- and quickly degenerates into being a raving Spock fangirl (which has it's own whole level of odd but we won't go there.)

In the original series, which is what this movie is playing with, the whole point of the "multi-cultural" cast was, as I understand it, Gene Roddenberry positing a future where race was, if not unimportant, significantly less important than it was in the early '60s when the show was airing. Skin color or nationality would be less important than skill at a job or ability to perform under pressure.

In the case of the 2009 film, it seemed like the non-Caucasian, non-American characters had to be humiliated by the Caucasian Americans in order to prove who was in charge. Not exactly the most enlightened piece of thinking -- or the most enjoyable to watch, particularly for someone who always liked both Sulu and Chekov and expected better both for and from them!

Overall, it's a good movie but I hope the sequel has more thought put into it. Still, if what you want is a (slightly shiner) trip down memory lane, Star Trek does push all the right buttons. Mostly.

Friday, September 17, 2010

If I could only adopt a pink cat...

...I'd have a name all built in.


And am I totally crazy or does the owl sound like William Hartnell as the first Doctor and the toad much like the apocalyptically stoned Danny from Withnail & I?

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

interesting things

It was a rough weekend, ladies and gentlemen, thus no post on Monday. If you were hanging around with your tongues out waiting for it -- well, I apologise't you have something else to do with your time?

Anyway, I still don't have a lot of time to write anything thoughtful for this week, so, instead, here are some interesting things taken almost entirely at random from my "blog" bookmarks folder, Google reader list, and Tumblr blog. I figure about 70% of my memory is currently housed online...

Arbogast on Film reviews Population 436 which I reviewed on here a few months back and comes to basically the same conclusions I did which is kind of awesome. is doing Zombie Week.

Shane Perez takes brilliant photos of abandoned or "not currently in use" environments. Beware: some of the series do feature a naked model, so may be NSFW.

It's the 75th Anniversary of the Battle of Britain and the RAF Benevolent Fund has set up a website detailing the events of the Battle through "blog entries" from eyewitnesses. The eyewitnesses are fictional, but their experiences are real and this is just a jimdandy use of primary source material -- photographs, diaries, footage (footage yet! some it's color!), newspaper stories -- to create a new kind of narrative about an event.

And here's a slightly different way to look at the sky: some shots from the Astronomy Photographer of the Year 2010 competition.

Some free fiction from the Living Dead 2 collection, edited by John Joseph Adams: a story by David Wellington, one of my favorite authors, and eight other stories to whet your appetite for the full collection.

The Guardian interviews John Simm. Worth clicking through for the photo alone. Chippy or not, Mr. Simm, sir, we love you.

Finally, a list from the SciFi Wire: (some of the) best sci-fi episodes ever aired.

Photo by Nick Deaves

Friday, September 10, 2010

the endless joy of lists

So there I was sitting on my couch on Wednesday afternoon, trying to come up with a list of 20 horror movies in response to the prompt over at Final Girl.

I pull out my pen -- fountain, purple ink -- and a piece of paper -- ripped out of a Moleskin; yes, I am a writing supply snob, thank you -- and started listing:

Silent Hill. Solid, no-one can argue that's horrible and use 'horrible' in any way you like. Personally, I like it, but that might have a lot to do with the fact that I'll follow Radha Mitchell and Sean Bean just about anywhere to say nothing of Laurie Holden as the eye-candy cop. And I like the fact that not only is the protagonist female, but the antagonist is, too. And, lordy, there isn't a lot creepier than Alice Krige when she gets rolling.

Jaws. Might be marginal, but still, I doubt anyone can argue it's at least half in the horror genre.

Pitch Black. Now I start to wonder: horror? sci-fi? thriller? action? Well... Yes. It does all those things. Every box ticked, I'd say. It's got undeniable horror elements (situation you can't get out of; unreliable partners; unknown/uncombatable opponents); sci-fi (space-ship; aliens); thriller (darkness; time-linked challenge); action (I'm not even listing anything here!)

28 Days Later. Okay, I'm off the thin ice now. Zombies, infection, brain-munching, lots and lots of blood -- this is horror.

Alien vs. Predator. Still firm, I feel. Cheesy, but firm.

Resident: Evil. Ditto. And how can you resist Alice's one-liners? "I'm missing you already." Love it!

Day of the Triffids (1962). I feel unsteady again., interestingly, has it listed, under its "Genre" tab as both "horror" and "sci-fi." I've always felt personally that it verges more onto the sci-fi end of things, but there's no doubt that it has a lot of horror elements -- the couple locked in the lighthouse; the implacable enemy you can't escape who kills you and then eats you; the blindness epidemic -- it's got a lot of boxes ticked here. And Carole Ann Ford who was one of the first companions on Doctor Who -- in fact, the very first given that she was the Doctor's granddaughter -- is in it.

From Hell. Firm again! Yeah, I know Johnny Depp's accent comes from no known location and it's really only loosely tied to the events it claims to portray, but I love the movie anyway.

Sleepy Hollow. Another bizarre accent from Mr. Depp, but this is Tim Burton being bloody and creepy and weird all at once -- three things he does very well and doesn't really go for again until Sweeney Todd unless I'm totally out of my reckoning. And there's Ian McDiarmid. How can I not have this movie on here? But -- horror? Ye-ee-es...I guess? Maybe? There is a pretty convincing "can't kill the boogeyman" bad guy in the shape of the Horseman; there's Depp's whole weird flashback childhood with his mom and the iron maiden; Miranda Richardson;...I think there's enough here to justify inclusion, yes?

The Thing. No explanation necessary.

The Orphanage (El Orfeneo). Weird-ass Spanish movie. I think it can carry itself on weirdness alone. And when my father watched it, he offered all sorts of analogies to Psycho, the great horror classic of all time, so I think that's sufficient, don't you? Yes.

Underworld. I'm shoehorning this one here because I adore it and its two sequels. I love Kate Beckinsale in latex; I love Scott Speedman; I love Bill Nighy (have I ever mentioned this was the first movie I ever saw him in?); I love Michael Sheen. The whole thing, really. But -- is it horror? Vampires? Those would seem pretty horrific. Werewolves? Well, if Teenage Werewolf in London and I Was a Teenage Werewolf (oh, god help you, Michael Landon) count, then, yes, weres are horrific. There's a lot of blood, plenty of rending, lots of the dude who played Kraven chewing the scenery. Oh, and Sophia Myles.

The Faculty. God, I love this movie. It is such campy crap and it never really takes itself seriously and it's just a great "high school is hell" movie. Horror? Oh, yes, thank you. We're on nice solid ice here.

The Craft. Okay, I'm elbowing this one a bit, too. It isn't quite horror -- I don't think...? -- and I don't honestly love it, but it is pretty fun if you have some popcorn (some to eat; some to throw at the screen) and a moderately good sense of humor.

So that's 14 -- and there I stick. By the time this post goes live on Friday morning, perhaps I will have solved my dilemma -- but I have also created a new one. I would like to add things like The Proposition and Ninth Gate -- but are those legitimately "horror" films? In the case of The Proposition -- indubitably not. It wasn't made as one; it isn't filmed as one; it doesn't sound like one; and it really doesn't have any of the tags of one -- but the violence, the motivations of some of the characters, what happens to some of the characters -- unarguably horrific on any level, by any standard.

I watch Predator to soothe myself to sleep when I'm sick; I have to feel able to run a marathon in order to sit down and watch The Proposition.

I think there's a larger point to be made in here about the spectrum of horror: there's the really damn obvious alien bursting out of your chest (ooh! ooh! ALIEN! I forgot ALIEN!) kind, all sorts of things in between, and then the less obvious interpersonal kind which can be much worse. But, by that token, does Notes on a Scandal count as a horror movie? Not really -- I mean, yeah, Judi Dench's character is pretty messed-up, but she's not about to grab a kitchen knife and start carving her way out through the schoolkids. But, taken a step or two further and slightly to the left -- and she's not far off a Bette Davis/Joan Crawford-style psycho poisoning the neighbor's cats or introducing the local kids to Satanic worship with their hopscotch chalk.

And what's scarier, really: the alien embryo or the policeman who's willing to take a horsewhip to a 15-year-old boy?

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

"A little water never hurt anyone!"

Good god, it's wet. Boston is damp today. Very very wet, in fact.

Anyway, skinny post today, folks -- if you want more, I suggest you check out my Tumblr blog. I'm wading through Google Reader feed backlog, calling some folks about jobs, and generally doing not very much. Oh, and getting through a few more chapters of Tony Judt's Postwar -- excellent book, but very tiny font -- tough reading.

In any case, I can't just leave nothing up on a Wednesday -- especially not a thunderstormy Wednesday -- so I went to find amusing things on Youtube.

So I started with the idea of finding a Clangers short from Oliver Postgate which I have done -- it's right down there -- but there was also a link to a Bagpuss short. Now I've only ever heard about Bagpuss and The Wombles which were Postgate's other two really successful creations and mostly heard about them through things like Alice on Vicar of Dibley or Brendan Gleeson's wonderful/insane turn in Breakfast on Pluto.

This is trippy. This may be the trippiest thing I will see all day -- and I want more of it. I want lots more of it:

And then there are the Clangers who are also trippy and deeply so, but which I am more familiar with. Don't blame me if you start to whistle after watching this:

Monday, September 6, 2010

I was talking with a friend of mine about books the other week and we were comparing reading lists for the next few weeks -- or months or, possibly, years -- and one of my entries was China Mieville's Kraken which I explained I was reading as slowly as possible because I have this habit of driving straight through his books and then realising, 'Oh, crap. Now I'm done and he won't write another book for four years. Crap.'

And then I started thinking about how many other books I have by authors that I always say I love that are tucked away in spare corners or starred on reading lists and have been like that for quite some time now. There's Connie Willis' Doomsday Book -- found on the Brattle Books $1 cart and now sitting quietly on my desk with a business card as a bookmark about 100 pages in. And it's been like that for a few weeks. There's Mieville's King Rat -- sitting on the bookshelf next to Iron Council, The Scar, and Perdido Street Station (all of which I have read, thank you very much, more than once) -- which I started sometime last fall, loved -- but never finished. David Wellington's 23 Hours, the latest Laura Caxton vampire mystery -- up on the shelf. Got through about four chapters of that and bogged. Neal Stephenson's System of the World -- got about half-way through that one, then stuck nice and fast, just like Root in the mud around Cambridge. The top example of all this? Kage Baker's No Less Than Gods which I lucked into at the Brookline Public Library and haven't even opened.

And I can't explain why I haven't picked up any of these and gone through them in a matter of hours. I liked them all, very much, enough to pay out money for copies -- which I never then touch. With the Stephenson, you could make a good argument that it's to do with length or complexity, were it not for the fact that I also own and have read several times Quicksilver, The Confusion, and Anathem. Not to mention Diamond Age and Snow Crash -- both of which are substantially shorter but no less complex. Stephenson makes no real concession to ignorance on the part of the reader or length of the work; he's gonna go as fast as he's gonna go and you'd really better just learn to keep up.

So what is it that keeps me from making the pot of tea and going to town? Well, partly it's a desire not to admit that the fun is over: if I read No Less Than Gods, I'll have to admit that there's only one other new Baker I'll get a chance to read ever. And I'm pretty sure the other one is set in her fantasy world -- which I love! -- but which isn't a Company novel. No more Mendoza; no more Lewis; no more Joseph. Who wants to admit something like that?! If I go ahead and work my way through System of the World, sure, there might be a great happy ending -- but there's be no more travelling with Jack; no more watching Eliza outsmart French nobility; no more rooting for Daniel to struggle his way successfully through the complexities of other people's lives.

You can always go back and reread -- Lord knows I have and I do -- but it's never quite the same as the first discovery when you're still trying to figure it out one jump ahead of the storyteller and you're so proud when you do but then you have to try to keep one jump ahead -- and ooh, look! a new character -- he seems kinda cool but maybe not -- and maybe -- hey! we knew he was a bad guy all along! damn it -- we never trusted him! But no, wait a minute, wait a minute, maybe he's just being used by -- aha! the real bad guy! we knew it!

That's never going to be as much fun the second time around. 

On the other hand, it isn't as if there isn't fun stuff to find after that -- I only figured out most of the subtext of Kage Baker's Anvil of the World when I read it the third time around; the first two times, I was having too much fun with the semi-demonic sorcerous lordling, the assassin-turned-hotel-owner, and the free-spirit-turned-hotel-chef. Similarly, the subplot of Neil Gaiman's Study in Emerald totally slipped by me until I hit the end and went, "Wait a mi---" and swore a lot and then read it again.  

So, on the third hand, if you don't read, you don't find out. And I like to think that what I'm actually doing is waiting for the right moment; one day, I will sit down, and my hand will fall on my copy of The City & The City and I will think, "Yes, absolutely." And it will be great.

Now all I have to do is dodge spoilers until then.

Friday, September 3, 2010

friday fun times

my suggestion with this particular youtubery is to hit play and go do something else. don't walk out of earshot or anything, but the graphics have no particular relevance here.

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

"and...we're back in the car again."

So what did I do over my month off? Well, I did lots of things and I will tell you about some of them.

For example, I finished the 3rd season of Bones (WTF?!); I watched the fourth Jaws sequel (kinda wish I hadn't); I read a history of the Paris flood of 1910 (great stuff); I got mugged by the IDW omnibus of volume 3 of Locke & Key; I dodged a ton of spoilers about the 5th season of Doctor Who; and I'm anxiously awaiting arrival of my copy of the Torchwood graphic novel, Rift War -- how could I resist something written by John Barrowman? That's just too much for any one fan-girl to walk away from!

I also worked a lot of hours, applied for quite a few jobs, had one interview, re-learned some high-school math and, as far as employment goes, am right back where I started at the end of July. But I did try; my mom would say that counts. I'm not entirely convinced.

So what's the upshot of all this? I watched some interesting things; read some other interesting things; and I'll see if I can glue together a few sentences to talk about them.