Thursday, December 29, 2011

Best Movies of 2011

Best MovieSource Code


Source Code is science fiction on a human scale, the likes of which we haven’t had since Gattaca.  Jake Gyllenhaal plays Colter Stevens, a man who has to go back in time to discover who bombed a train.  He wants to find a way to go off mission to save a woman he meets on the train, but he has to deal with his own internal struggle before he can do either.  Read my full review of this fusion of science fiction and romance. 

Honorable MentionBattle: Los Angeles 

  
Battle: Los Angeles is entirely from the point of view of Marines who have to fight off an alien invasion.  They experience the fog of war as they endure vicious urban street fighting to rescue civilians whom they’ve never met and with whom they have no personal connection.  To read more about this movie that authentically shows the Marine culture seamlessly blended with alien special effects, look at my full review

Special Category—Best African-American actress goes to Charlize Theron, for her role in Young Adult (see my review).  If you’re puzzled about her being an African-American, look up her bio.  

Monday, December 26, 2011

Worst Movies of 2011

Happy St. Stephen’s Day

This is a positive blog.  If you’re an aspiring writer who wants an agent or editor to notice you, don’t flame people online.  But so long as I do it in an amusing way,  I’m going to tell you everything you need to know about the two worst movies I saw in 2011.

Melancholia

1. Kirsten Dunst plays a depressed person.

2. She appears topless a couple times for no particular reason. 

3. She feels better when she finds out the world is about to end.


Transformers: Dark Side of the Moon

Basically, there are three elements to the movie:

1. One part total crass ignorance about space.  (For instance, Pink Floyd might have referred to the dark side of the moon as a figure of speech, but the people who made the movie acted like it was a physical reality.)

2. One part Victoria’s Secrets ad.  The model (she’s not really an actress) Rosie Huntington-Whiteley said in an interview that she asked the director Michael Bay that wasn’t it odd she appears in high heels throughout the movie.  She says he replied that naw, it was okay.  

3. And to be fair, one part cool special effects.


That’s it for those two.  Hopefully my next post will be on the best movies of 2011.

Friday, December 23, 2011

"Happy Feet Two" Stomps on "Young Adult"

If you want more cheery fare than my review of the movie Young Adult, Brooke Busse on her blog reviews the movie Happy Feet Two.  


Happy Feet Two isn't really my speed, but it had almost twice the gross in its opening weekend than Young Adult.  So between these reviews you might find a movie that suits you.  

Monday, December 19, 2011

Teaser Tuesday Again

Teaser Tuesdays is a meme hosted by the Should Be Reading blog.  We’re to grab a novel we’re currently reading, open to a random page, then paste two random sentences.  (Unless they contain spoilers, since that would be too random.) 

I’m currently going over The War of the Worlds by H.G. Wells since I’m doing a mashup, and you can read excerpts from it here and here.  But now for two sentences by H.G. in the original: 


“I crawled out almost immediately, and crouched, my feet still in the water, under a clump of furze. The horse lay motionless (his neck was broken, poor brute!) and by the lightning flashes I saw the black bulk of the overturned dog cart and the silhouette of the wheel still spinning slowly.” 

Sorry, horse lovers, but I’ll include the death of the horse from the original.  Just remember that it’s the mean old Martians who cause it.  And reputedly, The War of the Worlds was the first book to coin the term “Martian” for an inhabitant of Mars.  

Saturday, December 17, 2011

Movie Review: Young Adult

Young Adult has a double meaning:  The main character, Mavis Gary (Charlize Theron), is the author (not a writer!) of young adult novels.  She wakes up by drinking a two-liter bottle of Coca-Cola, then works in an on-again off-again way on her latest novel while ignoring deadline calls from her publisher.  But she’s also someone who has never matured beyond her self-absorbed teen years.  Her apartment looks like a teenager’s room, and she hasn’t gotten beyond her prom queen/screw the guys in the back of the school attitude. 

Her career and her immature life collide when she receives a baby announcement from her high school sweetheart and his wife.  She somehow assumes she can live like the teen heroine of one of her novels and just swoop back into the small town of her youth and pluck her ex-boyfriend out of there.  When fellow grad Matt (Patton Oswalt) points out the ex is married and has a baby, Mavis shrugs it off by saying, “We all have baggage.” 

But yes, her ex-boyfriend Buddy (Patrick Wilson) is obviously a good husband and a good father.  And his wife is nice to Mavis.  In fact, almost everyone in the small town is nice to her or impressed by her accomplishments.  Mavis is actually only moderately successful—she lives in Minneapolis, not New York or Los Angeles, and she is essentially a ghost writer for the famous author who started the young adult series she writes for.  But in her mind, she is an exalted giant compared to these nothing people in this small town.  Soon, Buddy will realize she’s here to rescue him, and he’ll abandon his wife and child for her. 

Young Adult is an uncompromising sort of comedy.  Don’t look for any cathartic scene to resolve Mavis’ insecurities.  In fact, the more she talks about her feelings, the more self-centered she gets.  She transforms every friendly gesture from Buddy into an absurdist sign that her romantic flight of fancy is working.  It’s as fascinating as a car skidding into a wreck, a car driven by that prom queen you always hated. 


Okay, raise your hand if you recognize yourself in this movie.  Did I say “yourself”?  I meant your roommate, or someone whose blog you like.  The person who never grew up, and who looks back to high school for his/her glory days is a painful reality.  These people are blights on our society, dried-up leaves that clog our parties, raging waves that dash against their peers who have grown up and moved on.  But they sure write interesting novels. 

They try hard to make Charlize Theron look dowdy in some scenes, moping around in gray sweats or baggy blue jeans, but you can still see what an impressive woman she is.  And she is completely believable as the moderately successful person consumed not so much with her importance, but just with herself.  Every dead look of hers at the accomplishments of others and every sneer tossed at her ex-boyfriend’s wife defines her as the self-absorbed.  Everyone else provides fair to good performances, but Theron is the one who carries the movie on her ivory shoulders. 

Young Adult is not for everyone.  It’s not a hilarious comedy; the audience alternates between making disgusted sounds and laughing at the oh-no-she-didn’t-say-that lines.  But I think it would have a wider appeal if it didn’t have the admirably literary title.  If it had been called The Anti-Wife, more women would “get” it and want to see it.  So that last sentence shows I can already spin things in a Hollywood way. 

P.S.  For me, the movie contained some horror elements.  No, the genre is not horror, and the movie is very mainstream.  But I’ve never seen pedicures and manicures close up before.  The horror.  

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Teaser Tuesdays

The should be reading website is holding their Teaser Tuesdays meme. 


The challenge is to randomly open to a page on whatever you’re currently reading and post two sentences from it.  (And naturally, no spoilers.) 

My current read is The Shadow Reader, by Sandy Williams. 


“None of the fae stops me as I walk forward, but hands move toward sword hilts.  Worry is etched on some of their faces.” 

Just to note:  These are not cute, harmless fairies.  Their hands are moving toward their swords because they find the human narrator a threat and are thinking of killing her.  

Friday, December 9, 2011

Grimm

Grimm is a show you should be watching.  The main character Nick (David Giuntoli) is a descendant of the Brothers Grimm.  He discovers in the first episode he can see things others can’t—the true nature of the fairy tale monsters around him.  As most of you know, the old fairy tales were not cute tales for kids; they were strange tales on the edge of reality, and they often had horror elements.

The first episode features a wolfish serial killer who kidnaps a child—so no, this is not a show for your children to watch.  Nick has to team up with a Blutbad (Silas Weir Mitchell)—a reformed big bad—to have any chance of solving this one.  Other episodes start with a bus passenger dying from a massive dose of bee toxin, and a woman fleeing from a pursuer whom she’s oddly in love with.  Nick has to use his savvy detective skills, augmented with the Grimm lore and the help of the big bad to solve these supernatural crimes.  If you want to see crime fought with GPS devices and a Blutbad’s nose, as well as handguns and scythes, Grimm is the show for you. 


David Giuntoli does a great job as the man completely puzzled by the fate that’s been handed him.  (He also gives off a Superman vibe, as the polite good guy.)  And Silas Weir Mitchell is hysterical as the reformed big bad who drinks espresso and gets irritated when his pilates sessions are interrupted.

Currently, Grimm is on Friday nights at 9:00 on NBC, although with all the Christmas programming going on, it might end up getting preempted as soon as I recommend it.  And yes, that time slot puts it up against Supernatural and Fringe, but so far it’s holding its own.

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Dept. of Homeland Security Warning

This is a little late, but the Dept. of Homeland Security issued this warning tweet:  


Homeland Security 
How dangerous can turkey fryers be?
Citizens, make sure your unit does not catch on fire!  
(Seriously, can you believe they get paid for this?)  


Saturday, December 3, 2011

D'Abo Sizes Up Nakajima

In my previous post, I had Kendrick size up D’Abo, from my science fiction manuscript Day 10K.  In this one, D’Abo, a senior lieutenant who’s over 40 and seen it all, sizes up the young Ensign Kendrick. 
  
Ensign's Insignia

. . . the floor of the bridge looked like a cluster bomb packed with handrails, auxiliary consoles, and vertical power cables had gone off, then left as is.  In the midst of it all, Kendrick had stationed himself at the captain’s shoulder, as if he belonged there. 
            Tall for a half-Japanese person, Kendrick was nimble on his feet.  Unlike Mannheim, who stared in disbelief when whipsawed, or other junior officers who protested when jerked around, Kendrick would project an air of calm, as if he already knew how an officer should react in every situation. 
            He almost got away with it. 
            His narrow face would show the tight lips of disdain when told to not be so by-the-book when a situation was fluid.  That, his obvious intelligence, and something about one of his parents having been in the Fleet, all pointed to a certain type of attitude:  The senior officers did not measure up to his freshly-minted standards.  

Thursday, December 1, 2011

Nakajima Sizes Up D'Abo

In this post and the next I'm going to show a neat technique with regard to characters.  After they've interacted for a couple chapters, have them size each other up, the way I do in my science fiction manuscript, Day 10K.  Below we have Kendrick, an idealistic ensign fresh out of the Academy.  He's being reamed out by D'Abo, a senior lieutenant about twice his age.  Keep in mind, these are both good guys.  

Lieutenant's Insignia

            D’Abo turned and looked up at him.  “As for you, Kendrick.” 
            “Yes, ma’am.” 
            “Did someone die and make you admiral?  You do not interrupt the captain.  You do not contradict the captain.  You can send your cute little messages questioning his orders, but don’t let that make you think you’re going to discuss ship’s policy over a cup of hot vanilla with him!  Do you understand?” 
            “Yes, ma’am.”  Kendrick observed her.  Lieutenant Gwen D’Abo was the most unpredictable officer on the ship.  She was a mustang -- having signed onto the Fleet as ordinary crew, then working her way up through officer recommendations, online courses, and tests administered in the field to become an officer herself.  She was living proof the process produced a different kind of officer, compared to the rigorous training of the Academy -- which was an almost scientific procedure for transforming cadets into a finished product.  D’Abo evidenced a casual attitude towards her duties, which never seemed to get her on the captain’s list.  On the other hand she socialized more with the enlisted crew and junior officers and was more sympathetic than an imperious officer like Grayhawk.  But D’Abo could also suddenly turn rigid or even outraged when a line was crossed.  Puzzling.   

Monday, November 28, 2011

Mythological Mondays

Bonnie at A Backwards Story is hosting Mythological Mondays.  Instead of a book review, I'm doing a FAQ list.


Regarding Helen of Troy, did you know:  


1) The ancient Greeks never called her “Helen of Troy.”  She was commonly called “Helen of Argos.”  Since argos was their word for gold, this probably meant “Helen the golden.”  Presumably she had light hair and golden skin. 

2) The Greeks piled up story after story onto the original account.  One scholar said if you added up all these stories, Helen would have been sixty-five by the time she arrives at Troy. 

3) The oldest accounts of Helen are in The Iliad and The Odyssey.  At the very end of The Odyssey, Homer reveals that Helen was tricked into boarding the ship headed for Troy.  In other words, the oldest account has Helen going to Troy against her will, instead of pursuing young love. 

4) Helen and her husband Menelaus (in Greece) had a daughter, Hermione.  Yes, Harry Potter fans, that’s where the name comes from.  

Saturday, November 26, 2011

Athena and Perseus Flying

Instead of the current novel I'm working on, here's an excerpt from one of my Athena stories.  



           They flew along the southern coast of the mainland, the morning air still cool.  Perseus’ weight was no bother for Athena, but he was still so amazed at soaring between earth and sky that he kept moving around, trying to find different views. 
            “Keep still.  I’m not a couch.”  She tried to sound authoritative, but the words came out annoyed as she spoke against the wind.  “It’s bad enough how the air flows because of you—and the flow past your head differs from the drag against your legs.  I have to keep adjusting when you squirm like a baby.” 
            “I don’t enjoy being coddled.”  Perseus’ voice came out low and firm—no fear of falling into the sea below them at all.  “No disrespect, great Athena, but is there some other way I can be carried?” 
            The other way would be on her back.  Somehow, the idea of him on top of her made Athena uncomfortable.  “You’ve squirmed enough!  I’ll have to change how I carry you.” 
            She tossed him upward, just a hand’s span.  She managed to catch him in a way that was more comfortable for carrying. 
            Perseus’ eyes were as wide as robin eggs.  Then he clenched his jaw muscles to control himself, though she had just treated him like a sack of wheat carried to a threshing floor.  But in this case, the threshing floor was the blue water below.  He sounded unimpressed.  “I have had worse tosses by horses.” 
            “Any horse do this?”  Athena threw him completely out of her arms.  

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Waiting on Wednesday

Jill, on her Breakingthe Spine blog, hosts her weekly “Waiting On” Wednesday, where bloggers are invited to post what book they’re waiting to be released, and why. 


Mine is The Taken by Vicki Pettersson.  It’s apparently a noir paranormal detective novel. 


I don’t know much about it yet, but that subgenre appeals to me.  And Vicki has been very helpful, giving me advice at the Surrey Writers’ Conference in Surrey, British Columbia two years in a row.  She’s a New York Times bestselling author, and she took the time to give me good advice.  Thank you Vicki, and I’m looking forward to reading this.  

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

War of the Worlds Reimagined

In a previous post, I said I had to decide between doing a contemporary mermaid story or a reimagining of The War of the Worlds.  This very early draft should show you which I chose.  


Yet across the gulf of space, intellects vast and cool and unsympathetic regarded this Earth with envious eyes, and slowly and surely drew their plans against us.  As men busied themselves about their various concerns they were scrutinized and studied, perhaps almost as narrowly as a man with a microscope might scrutinize the transient creatures that swarm and multiply in a drop of water.
                                      #
“Dah!  You would have to mention microscopic bugs.”  Violet splayed her elbows and rested her head back on her hands.  This side of the roof kept them away from prying eyes, so she took full advantage, wearing only her sleeveless chemise and a mini-petticoat as she moonbathed.  Already, her arms and legs looked visibly whiter.  “Fire and destruction I can handle, but microbes?  Ech!” 

The night’s moonbathing session held no urgency for Ashley, so she kept her husband’s smoking jacket on over her own chemise and full-length petticoat.  The jacket was bulky, but certainly easier to climb up from the deck in than if she were confined in the flounces and stays of a proper dress.  “Don’t you want to put something on?” 

Her friend threw Ashley a smirk.  “Perhaps I’ll lay out on the other side of the roof and cry, ‘Hey-ho for a husband.’” 

“Violet, you shock me.”  Ashley pointed the quill at her in a play at reproval, but felt her rear end shift on the tile as she did so.  She planted her feet more firmly on the roof to scoot herself back, but made the fatal error of gripping the round glass inkwell and flipping the brass lid shut as a precaution – she wouldn’t forgive herself an accidental spill.  But that distraction made her misjudge the friction of her bare soles against the shingles.  Her feet shot out, and she went sliding down the roof. 

Falling to the deck from here would be unpleasant.  If she didn’t have the smoking jacket on, it wouldn’t be encumbering her wings.  Even now, they struggled to unfurl through the dual slits in the back of her chemise, but could not expand.  And yet, she could have done no other.  Even on this unobserved side of the roof, she couldn’t dress in as bare a fashion as Violet.  Ashley was a married woman, and the respectability that entailed mandated a non-negotiable level of modesty, and practical reality was expected to bend itself to accommodate this.  


Friday, November 18, 2011

No Record

Since I'm going to occasionally teach the Jr./Sr. High Sunday school at my church, I had to get a background check.

As you can see, it shows I have no record.  

Anyone who will work with minors at the church has to get a background check.  Kind of a different world we're living in.  

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Next Project

For my next writing project, I’m torn between two choices: 

I could write an urban fantasy story that revolves around a guy in an office being harassed by a mermaid.  This would be the sort of mermaid who looks like a normal human being, unless she’s immersed in water.  As aspiring writers should know, having just one good idea is not enough to make a novel-length story.  At least two strong ideas should collide with each other.  So I have the concept of a slightly alternate society in which it’s no big deal to have a mermaid working in the office, and I combine that with the idea of a nice guy being sexually harassed by her and having little recourse, since he’s a white male in a society afflicted by political correctness.   

Editors and agents say they want to see urban fantasies that don’t have vampires or werewolves.  And sexual harassment is a perennial subject, and it’s interesting for a man to be harassed, to comment on a political correctness that many now acknowledge has run amuck. 

The other choice is to write a mashup of The War of the Worlds.  The art of the mashup is to take some fantasy or horror concept and mash it into some beloved pre-copyright work.  The most famous example is Pride and Prejudice and Zombies.  Most of the novel is still Jane Austen’s novel, with scenes of zombie attacks added.  The concept has expanded a little so that the older story doesn’t have to be an actual book.  And so we have the novel Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter, with the movie version soon to be released. 

A mashup of The War of the Worlds has already been done, adding more horror elements.  I would go in the other direction, adding a lighthearted element I won’t reveal yet.  The advantage of writing a mashup is that with the coming movie, there may be a demand for more in this mixed-up genre. 


Of course, it’s not a good idea for an aspiring novelist to choose a genre or subgenre just because of what’s hot or may about to become hot.  It’s best to write what one really wants to write and hope that catches the public’s fancy.  I’ll announce my decision soon.  

Saturday, November 12, 2011

Google Me!

Now, before it goes away . . . .  

If you google the term "Issaquah Salmon Days" you will find my blog entry on that festival listed as their fourth entry.  The official Salmon Days website is listed below it, as the fifth entry.  


Either my blog is really popular, or Google is messed up.  

Of course, if you click on my entry in Google, that could make it even more popular.  But I don't want to be accused of manipulating Google.  Do I?  

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Do a Barrel Roll

If you go to The Wall Street Journal's digit blog, you can install a bookmark that lets you "barrel roll" a website.  

The funniest effects are on sites that have an embedded video near the top, such as these entries on my blog:  


Rat City Rollergirls on the Viaduct  


Daniel Radcliffe Sings the Periodic Table  


Toughen Your Kids  


Yes, cheap thrills every week.  

Saturday, November 5, 2011

Bespelling Jane Austen

Not your grandmother’s Harlequin. 

Writers (or an aspiring writer like myself) are constantly advised to read outside our genres, to get a broader literary experience to help our writing.  I’ve tried to read Jane Austen’s works, but I tire after the first few pages, when some puzzling Lady Dunsbury appears, and it turns out to be Hilda’s sister-in-law from a couple pages before.  It’s just not worth the effort. 


But now I’m reading Bespelling Jane Austen, a collection of four novellas.  I’m going through them out of order, but I’ll tell you what, Colleen Gleason’s Northanger Castle is eminently readable, with sufficient period detail to give the feel of a leaner, meaner, Austen-ish kind of tale. 

Those of you Austen-philes can guess this story is about a young woman who reads trashy novels and tends to fantasize melodramatic backgrounds for the people around her.  At Bath, she picks out a man with dark eyes and fair skin.  “If he were indeed a vampire, she must take care not to look directly at him.  According to what she’d learned, the undead were known for being able to enthrall a mortal being with their eyes alone.” 

The twist with these reimaginings is such suspicions might be true.  This was well worth the price for Colleen Gleason’s story alone.  

Thursday, November 3, 2011

Mountain Bike vs. Antelope

This happened in Australia.


I can imagine the antelope saying, "Oi!  This is for me cousin you ran over last week!"  

Or share your own caption.  

Saturday, October 29, 2011

Review of Anonymous

Who really wrote the plays, sonnets, and poems attributed to William Shakespeare?  That question takes us on a romp through the lush world of Elizabethan intrigue, with machinations for the throne, murder and fire and riots, and lots of illegitimate sons.  In a time when it was unseemly for a member of the royal court to write something as vulgar as plays, Edward de Vere, Earl of Oxford arranges for his plays to be performed without his name appearing anywhere near them.  The semi-literate actor William Shakespeare brashly takes credit for them, earning him false acclaim while de Vere delights in seeing how the crowds adore his words. 

But the plays contain more than merriment.  Between the lines one can see bold criticism of the Cecils, that family which holds undue influence on Queen Elizabeth.  Are the plays the thing to stop their scheming, even on the matter of who will reign as king when Elizabeth passes? 


This is a masterful roller-coaster ride that fans of the Elizabethan period will have to view more than once to tease out all the conspiracies and complex relationships.  The period detail is impressive:  The muddy streets of London, the elaborate frocks worn by both men and women, the in-your-face ways actors interacted with audiences who stood at the very edge of the stage.  A disadvantage is a love scene involving the young Elizabeth that many will find offensive.  But Anonymous features outstanding performances, my favorite being Sebastian Armesto as Ben Johnson.  And de Vere has that noteworthy line, "All authors have something to say, otherwise they'd make shoes."

If you want to follow the Oxfordian theory of Shakespearean authorship, listen carefully to what Derek Jacobi says at the beginning and end of the movie, and realize that is just the tip of the iceberg.  

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Rat City Rollergirls on the Viaduct

A local roller derby team, the Rat City Rollergirls, won a contest to skate on part of a major raised Seattle roadway, the Alaskan Way Viaduct, before it was torn down. 


Of course, I’m going to use this entry for a little self-promotion.  The following is a quote from my vampire satire: 

“The vampires back then were organized around their queen.  When the queen was stabbed to death, her followers were so disheartened, they were slaughtered on the old Alaskan Way Viaduct and thrown down onto the streets of Seattle.”  

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Review of The Thing

An american scientist named  Kate Lloyd (Mary Elizabeth Winstead) joins a Norwegian team in Antarctica who have discovered some Thing, frozen in ice.  To their astonishment, this creature evidently crawled out of an alien spacecraft that was downed and equally frozen ages ago.  After excavating the Thing intact in a block of ice they haul it inside their station, then get drunk while celebrating down the hall.

When the creature gets out, it starts hunting down the Antarctic team, one by one.  But Kate realizes the Thing can take them over from the inside, so any one of them might be this alien creature, waiting for an opportunity to ambush them or even reach the rest of the Earth's population, causing millions of deaths.

Mary Elizabeth Winstead

Let me reassure purists:  This movie  does not monkey around with your beloved John Carpenter's The Thing (1982).  It's a prequel, setting up the conditions for the John Carpenter movie (and the fact that Kate joins a team of Norwegians should tip you off to this, if you're really boned up on the subject.)  As for entertainment value, the superior special effects of this prequel make the gore and grotesquerie more explosive, if that’s what you’re looking for in a movie.  And if you’ve ever been in a bar with drunk Norwegians, you won’t shed a tear for this group of Thing fodder. 

The Thing 1982

I mainly saw The Thing because of  Mary Elizabeth Winstead,  since I was impressed with her roles as a mean girl in the Disney superhero movie Sky High and as the star of Final Destination 3.   However, she wasn’t provided with much in the way of good dialogue.  That’s why I missed the original 1951 version, The Thing from Another World

The Thing 1951

In glorious black and white, they obviously didn’t have much of a budget for special effects.  And they left out the part about the Thing taking over people’s bodies.  But this version had masterfully creepy scenes with real tension.  Also, I enjoyed the snappy dialogue, which might seem a little dated nowadays, but was vastly more entertaining than people just screaming as the Thing reveals itself. 

And what is it with Antarctica?  My last blog entry detailed the death of my dream of going there, now I end up seeing another movie about it.  

Thursday, October 13, 2011

Antarctica - The Dream Dies

I’ve had this secret dream of traveling to Antarctica someday. 


At a Worldcon, I heard a famous writer give a presentation on how he traveled to Antarctica as part of a writers program sponsored by the National Science Foundation.  Believe it or not, the NSF actually gave grants for fiction and non-fiction writers to travel to the southern continent for research, with the understanding that they would write about Antarctica.  The idea was to give publicity to that continent.  (I don’t know if the program still exists.) 

Some slots were kept open for relatively new writers, and so, this established writer said, it would make sense for some of us who were just starting out to apply. 

How many adventure stories start this way?  A rather ordinary person hears a tale of a faraway land, and it stirs his heart with dreams of exotic travel.  That’s what happened to Bilbo Baggins in The Hobbit.  I didn’t put any hard research into it; I recorded bits from science shows on TV about the frozen continent, and I watched Whiteout with Kate Beckinsale more than once.  I would finally start to use Twitter, and I would tweat things like “Past the point of no return” from the plane that would fly me from South America down to McMurdo Base. 

It was kind of like a western, but colder

But no more.  A woman down at the Amundsen-Scott research station at the South Pole recently had a stroke.  That base has no MRI or CT scanners.  The company that manages the station through a contract with the NSF does not consider her condition to be life-threatening, so it will not send a rescue plane.  Huh? 

She had a STROKE.  Read about it here.  She has partial vision loss and spends part of her day with an oxygen device.  You can only decide if the stroke is life-threatening by getting her scanned, so this is a catch-22 situation. 

I’m relatively healthy.  But I can just imagine something similar happening to me.  Or perhaps I would get a compound fracture if I slip while looking for fossils (yes, dinosaur bones have been found down there).  Of if you watch Whiteout, it’s no picnic if someone stabs you with an ice axe.  (Come on, that wasn’t a spoiler.  Kate Beckinsale is not going to go down there just to frolic.) 

Going to Antarctica was a neat, if improbable, dream.  Now the dream is gone.  I won’t go there if that’s how they treat people.  

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Kevin Sorbo had Strokes?

Did you know that Kevin Sorbo had three strokes while filming the series Hercules?  It happened in 1997—blurry vision, dizziness, buzzing sensation.  The series had to cover for him by bringing in guest stars.  Read about it here


I don’t remember if I watched any of the Hercules episodes.  I mainly remember him as Captain Dylan Hunt of the Andromeda Ascendant. 

His character of Dylan Hunt was fascinating.  He leaves his Commonwealth when it’s a vibrant civilization, then returns in a future age after its collapse and sees chaos in the formerly united star systems.  With a massively powerful spaceship, haphazard diplomatic skills, and the will to succeed, he slowly pieces together a civilization from the often hostile and provincial worlds he visits. 

They had a good interplay of characters.  Dylan Hunt’s burden makes him unique.  Yes, he can use his ship to obliterate anyone who stands in his way, but he has to act diplomatically or it’s all for nothing.  The humorous engineer Seamus Harper has no such burden, so he often says the equivalent of “blow them up” or “let’s get out of here.”  (By the way, some animated Disney flicks let the humorous sidekick have too much fun, which skews the movie away from its main tension, since the sidekick does not have the same burden as the main character.)  Tyr Anasazi essentially fills the Klingon slot.  And of course there’s Andromeda herself, who fills the role of the loyal aide who is always there for him.  (More on her in a future post.) 

 And it doesn’t hurt that Andromeda
was designed to look like this 

But I’m very impressed with Kevin Sorbo’s perseverance.  For a review of one his quieter movies on my old website, you can see it here


Monday, October 3, 2011

Richelle Mead and Rachel Vincent

(My encounter with professional writers,
in the form of story archetypes.) 
  
Call to action:  A herald in the form of a newspaper article stuns me by announcing Richelle Mead, an author who has attained the grail of the New York Times bestselling list (and someone who’s been very helpful to me over the years) will be speaking in a workshop as part of the Smart Chicks Kick It Tour

Acceptance of call:  I scout out the public park building where the meetings will take place.  Woefully inadequate.  An Inmost Chamber.  I will gather my courage and attend. 

Threshold puzzle:  I arrive early.  Seating for only forty in the audience.  Not good.  And ominous signs on either side of the stage hold this cryptic message: 


Initial attempt:  Over one hundred people crowd into the building.  Through stealth and patience, I attain a seat with a good view of Richelle—kind of: 


The Dreaded Corridor of Teenage Female Hair 

Failure/renewed attempt:  The guardian of the speakers (known as Moderator) announces we must not try to talk to the speakers at the end of the workshop, since they need to eat and attend to other mortal needs.  Foiled. 

But later on, the Melée known as Autograph Session will be held in the same Inmost Chamber.  Only those who bear an offering known as a Book which Must be Signed can enter.  Only those. 

 
I buy one at a Fred Meyer.  Seriously, some of those girls in line
had over a dozen books to get signed.  

Ordeal:  Many of us bearing our offerings gather at the end of the last workshop featuring other speakers.  We await Autograph Session.  The workshop ends.  Moderator Guardian announces the line will form on the Ramp which is commonly adorned with this symbol: 


The Melée begins.  Many on the ramp want to leave, the rest of us want on.  To ascend from the Inmost Chamber, I go up some cement steps while flanked by teenage girls.  This is the scary time.  (Seriously.)  The Melée sorts itself out into a long line, with me and other pilgrims in the part that snakes outside the building. 

Long ordeal, plus unexpected reward:  Many pilgrims bear multiple Books which Must be Signed.  (And can you make this one out to my friend Tiffany?)  We shuffle with our offerings past the many authors.  Richelle Mead is at the end.  I accept bookmarks and other totems from the authors along the way.  More shuffling.  Live music from a hurdy-gurdy wafts over the scene. 

Unexpectedly, I recognize one of the authors.  Rachel Vincent, fairest of the fair among urban fantasy authors.  She agrees to have a pic: 


Climax:  I finally reach Richelle Mead.  I used to ask her questions at the local science fiction convention Norwescon, and she gave me helpful advice at the Surrey Writers’ Conference.  All along the way as she’s ascended like a comet, she would recognize me when she sees me.  She asks me how my writing is going, and I ask her some things about accountants and publishing.  Richelle signs my book (which I will give to a co-worker’s daughter) and agrees to a pic: 


Resolution:  Seriously, I don’t mind buying a book  in order to get some conversation (I know that my co-worker’s daughter will enjoy it), and it’s a good experience to go out and meet some people who are professionals in the business.  It was a fun afternoon.  

Saturday, October 1, 2011

Issaquah Salmon Days 2011

I went to the Issaquah Salmon Days today.  The city of Issaquah has a fine salmon hatchery, and though people can gather around this time of year in general and watch the salmon returning from the Pacific, they tend to pick the first weekend of October for a street festival.  You can shop at the crafts booths, eat incredibly calorie-rich treats at the food booths, watch obnoxious balloons with salmon motifs, or actually watch the salmon swimming up Issaquah Creek. 

  This crowded bridge offers the best view 

The dark shapes are salmon fighting their way upstream
Mostly chinook this time of year, the coho come later 

The salmon have a ladder they can use to gradually make their way to the hatchery, or they can try doing it the hard way. 

I’m the fittest! 

The fish ladder has large windows along the way, like an aquarium.  This is an ideal way to show children what fish are really like, as opposed to their thinking of them as fish sticks on a tray. 


Glass windows in the concrete


Beyond the boundary of the festival was the big salmon BBQ, which could easily be spotted by the cloud of smoke it was raising.  The line looked so long, I had some beef on a stick from an uncrowded street booth instead.  Then I went to the main food area and had a pork skewer with some fried rice and chow mein, then a gigantic strawberry crepe.  Excessive?  Naw. 

My mileage there counts as research, since my vampire satire features a couple scenes at the festival.  Look at the image below.  Then, if my novel ever gets published, when you come across a certain scene it’ll seem familiar to you, and you won’t even know why. 

Thursday, September 29, 2011

Amazon Botox

As many of you know, Amazon.com is competing with Groupon in offering online coupons.  I received one for botox, though I crossed the name of the clinic out before posting it here: 


What do you think?  Should I take them up on it?  

Thursday, September 22, 2011

Clock Dream (on Tuesday)

I wake up at 5:30 when my alarm goes off.  I allow myself to just lie there a few minutes.  

When I next wake up, it's 6:50, which means I'll be late for work.  

But when I go into the living room, I see a clock that shows it's 4:40, which means I woke up early and only imagined it was time to get up (which has happened before).  Different clocks show either the 6:50 or 4:40 time.  

I realize the two clocks that show 4:40 are both quartz -- I actually see the motion of the second hand on one of them as it ticks off each second.  Since these would be the more accurate clocks, I go back to bed.  

Then I wake up.  That whole bit of looking at different clocks had been a dream when I dozed off for a few minutes after waking up at 5:30.  The dream is over.  Or is it?  

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Superluminal by Vonda N. McIntyre



When I was much younger, a novella by the name of Transit appeared in Asimov’s Science Fiction Magazine, and it blew my mind.  To go faster than light, a spaceship has to enter transit, and normal humans cannot survive that.  Pilots need to have their hearts removed to prevent them from feeling any sense of time, then they can live and control the ship.  The rest of the crew stays in a drugged sleep.  But along comes a fellow named Radu who has this uncanny ability to know what time it is, no matter what planet he’s on, no matter when he wakes up.  What would happen if he stayed awake during transit?  If he survived, how would the pilots react to this possible threat to their livelihood?

Radu has no intention of having such radical effects on space travel.  It’s just that during his enforced sleep in transit, he dreams that a pilot friend of his is in trouble.  Such tragic dreams of his have come true before, with his friends dying in real life.  His only ally is Orca, a woman genetically modified to be a swimmer—far stronger than a normal human, she can actually swim in Earth’s oceans unaided.  But will the pilots listen to his concern for his pilot friend?


The novella Transit is now chapters 4 - 10 of the novel Superluminal.  The first three chapters were originally a novella named Aztecs that had also been previously published.  A few chapters have been added to the end to round out the novel.  Either read the whole novel, or read only the middle chapters, but you can order it from Vonda M. McIntyre’s website, either as a hardback or an e-book.  

Friday, September 16, 2011

Calendar by Nene Thomas

I strongly recommend Nene Thomas’ fantasy calendar.  She renders lovely fairy images with great depth and color. 

Below is the back of my current (2011) calendar. 


She has limited quantities of her 2012 calendar, so you might want to go to her site and order one, the way I did yesterday.  Current price is $20.00.  They ship by UPS, which might make it seem pricey, but it’s something truly different from what you can pick up at a mall.  

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