Monday, January 31, 2005

Come aboard--we're expecting you!

So I get this oversided envelope in the mail from Dell Magazines, publishers of Asimov's and Analog, advertising a science fiction cruise aboard the ocean liner Carnival Glory May 21-28 to Mexico and Belize:
"What are you waiting for? You are invited to join us for the First Annual Dell Magazines Science Fiction Cruise."

Hot dog! I've always wanted to take a Caribbbean cruise, and here's a SF group inviting me on just such an animal. All those Armadillocon panels I've shared with Stanley Schmidt and Gardner Dozois have finally started paying off!

Except... I read further, and see the dreaded "fans like you" tag. Uh oh. Then I see the price list. A large outside cabin with balcony can be had for the low, low price of $2,514. Somehow, I don't get the feeling they're inviting me along as a pro. They only want me for my money. *sigh*

Now Playing: Talking Heads Little Creatures

Thursday, January 27, 2005

Two movies

I saw two movies on DVD over the last few days--rentals, both--and feel compelled to share my thoughts on both The Village and King Arthur. I wanted to see both in theaters, but for one reason or another didn't get the opportunity.

M. Night Shyamalan's The Village is in many ways much like his other films. Very atmospheric. Suspenseful, stylish, moody and atmospheric. The actors' performances are outstanding. I guessed what the big "twist" was right off the bat, as I have with Shyamalan's other films. This movie was a bit more mature, in that the director/writer abandoned his "finale flashback" security blanket to explain things to the audience. I liked that, as it was tiresome by the time Signs rolled around. The premise of the village being isolated from contemporary life was silly to no end, and the pretentious, pseudo-Amish the villagers spoke was illogical. But all in all it was entertaining, and I liked it a lot more than I was prepared to, despite its flaws.

King Arthur, on the other hand, was the most ludicrous waste of time I'd seen in a long, long time. Hard to believe medieval swordfights and battles could be boring, but man, director Antoine Fuqua achieved the impossible. After 45 minutes of watching the stupid thing, I was still waiting for a plot to appear. Also waiting for Keira Knightley to show up in that skimpy leather bikini which apparently protects against the bitter winter chill. Every five minutes one character or other stops to climb upon a soap box and preach about freedom and free will. The knight Bors was the only person in the film with a semblance of character development. The great battles with the saxons were mind-numbingly idiotic (Hey, instead of actually defending Hadrian's Wall, let's open the gates so the enemy can waltz in unopposed!). Arthur wasn't a Sarmatian. Sarmatians were indeed in Roman Britain, but they were hired mercenaries, not conquered slaves. These historical inaccuracies (and there are many, many more that make Borman's Excalibur look like a Ken Burns documentary by comparison) could be forgiven if it weren't for the fact that the filmmakers marketed the movie as the historically accurate, "real" account of Arthur and his knights. It is nothing of the sort. And to make matters worse, it ignores pretty much all the Arthurian mythology, offering little more than a round table here and there as passing acknowledgement of some really interesting legends they don't bother telling. It's tedious. It's boring. It's badly acted, badly directed and badly written. If you want to watch a King Arthur film, go with anything else--they're all better than this turkey.

Now Playing: Syd Barrett Opel

Wednesday, January 26, 2005

Farscape ahoy!

My review for the new Farscape Starburst Edition is now up over at RevolutionSF.
Seven episodes crammed onto two discs is an impressive feat, and the price — equivalent to what I originally paid for the disc containing "Premiere" and "I, E.T." way back in 2000 — can't be argued with. Gathered here is the first third of the inaugural season of Farscape, including the aforementioned episodes as well as "Exodus from Genesis," "Throne for a Loss," "Back and Back and Back to the Future" and "Thank God It's Friday . . . Again." Although the show is still finding its legs at this stage, there's not a stinker in the lot, and these episodes serve to introduce newcomers to Farscape to the strange and wonderful universe of this landmark science fiction series.

I love Farscape, and it is firmly ensconced as my all-time favorite SF television program (just edging out Babylon 5 and Quark). I also have a particular affection for Gilina--the PK Tech Girl--and still harbor resentment at the pointless way the series writers killed her off at the end of season one. They do get points for bringing her back in the episode "Jon Quixote," but still. I miss the dynamic she brought to the John-Aeryn relationship when she was around.

Now Playing: The Rutles The Rutles

Tuesday, January 25, 2005

The Fake Book Project

With all the hoo-ha in the news about PublishAmerica lately, I find this tidbit more than a little interesting. I can't believe I missed this project back when it was proposed, but then again, the signal-to-noise ratio on SFWA newsgroups can be pretty gruesome at times. This is not an official SFWA endeavour, but rather an initiative of like-minded individuals acting on their own to expose Publish America as the fraud that it is. The following, in all its glory, comes from James D. Macdonald:
Now it can be told.

Do you all recall a year ago, when I was looking for chapters for a Bad Book, to test to see if PublishAmerica really was selective about what they bought?

Several of y'all helped that project by providing chapters--without knowing what the other chapters were, whether the chapter was first, last, or somewhere else in the narrative, what time of year it was, or much of anything else.

PublishAmerica bought the book.

If you want to reveal yourselves, you may. If not, pat yourselves on the back in private.

I've modified the manuscript in the following manner: I've redacted the "author" name. That individual, who actually submitted the manuscript, can identify himself if he cares to.

I've modified the acceptance letter as follows: I've redacted the "author" name.

Othewise, they are exactly as submitted and received.

You can read (download) the manuscript at

You can read the acceptance letter at

You can read the sample contract at

Never again let it be said that PublishAmerica is "selective" in what they accept. Never again let it be said that they reject the majority of the manuscripts they receive. Never again let it be said that they are anything other than a vanity press.

This is poetry in motion, people. A book so bad that it may well rival The Eye of Argon in macro-suckitude. Naturally, I am heartbroken that I missed out on contributing. But perhaps my awful prose doesn't rise to the level of wretchedness required for this effort?

I'll leave you with one final piece of trivia about the bad book in question, provided again by the talented Mr. Macdonald:
The main characters in this book are:

Penelope Urbain

Bruce Lucent

Isaac Stevens

Henry Archer

Margaret Eastman

Richard Isaacs

Callie Archer

Irene Stevens

Andrew Venice

Arthur Nance

Isadore Trent

Yvonne Perrin

Rory Edward

Steven Suffern

Note that their initials spell out:


Now Playing: Violent Femmes 3

Unsolicited endorsements

Gabe over at Dislocated Fictions has given Voices of Vision his enthusiastic endorsement, coupled with an imperative to purchase said tome. His phrasing may deviate somewhat from that which I would use, but I have to agree with the spirit of his words.

And if you're not familiar with Gabe, his Marketing Manifesto is, plainly put, a must-read.

Now Playing: The Gispy Kings Volare!

Monday, January 24, 2005

A sweet British nanny... from Transsexual, Transylvania

My review of the Mary Poppins 40th Anniversary DVD is finally up over at RevolutionSF. I know it's vogue to bash all things Disney, but damn, that Walt could really produce some amazing stuff in his time. Love it or hate it, that film's an American motion picture landmark.

Of course, I take a certain satisfaction in the knowledge that I am almost certainly the only reviewer ever to draw comparisons between Mary Poppins and The Rocky Horror Picture Show. Hmm... recast Julie Andrews as Janet and Dick Van Dyke as Frankenfurter and you've got something interesting brewing.

Now Playing: Various artists Tower of Song: The Songs of Leonard Cohen

Warning: Useless trivia

In 1982, Emmy- and Oscar-winning actress Helen Hunt competed for Team ABC on Battle of the Network Stars. She was a cast member of the short-lived sitcom It Takes Two starring Richard Crenna, Patty Duke and Anthony Edwards. No word on what events young Helen competed in, or how she fared.

Now Playing: Various artists Tower of Song: The Songs of Leonard Cohen

Stoopid taxes

I did a number of things over the weekend, only a few of which involved writing, unfortunately. The Big Event was gathering all of the household tax information together and preparing the various schedules and forms in advance of this week's arrival of my W2 from the university. Filling out my Schedule C was quite depressing, as my writing income was meagre indeed compared to the (admittedly modest) return I filed last year, buoyed as it was by the book advance from Nebraska. And the requirements for filing Lisa's daycare income are Byzantine. But the hard part is done. At least, that's the plan.

And no, going to H&R Block or some other firm isn't realistic. For the amount of refund we're getting back, it just doesn't make financial sense. And yes, I've tried TurboTax. Once. It refused to understand certain basic writerly deductions and would've cost me a good bit had I used its recommended return.

If all goes to plan, there should be enough of a return to allow us to make a downpayment on a replacement vehicle for the old, decrepit Neon, before said car finally gives up the ghost and leaves me stranded somewhere unpleasant. A nice, late-model used car with low mileage. Having bought both new and used vehicles in the past, I can't imagine ever buying new again. That depreciation is a killer.

On the bright side, I removed the packets of flavoring agents from my aging mead, and took a small sample of each. Wow. These, I think, are going to be fantastic. The holiday spice metheglin was a concern, but the cinnamon, ginger, allspice and nutmeg have blended together very smoothly indeed. And it's got a nice, neutral balance--not overly dry, but not sweet, either. Excellent. And the raspberry melomel is grooving. It's a tad dry--the tart raspberry taste is somewhat out of place without a little sweetness--so I'll add a bare touch of additional honey in the next few days. But man, oh, man. These are going to be most extraordinary once they've aged a little. That harsh medicinal edge on the plain meads I've fermented is almost non-existant...

Now Playing: Melissa Etheridge Melissa Etheridge

Saturday, January 22, 2005

A truth Aggies have known for decades

I just can't stop laughing about the latest scandal out of the Bush White House. This one is spectacularly silly, and I can't believe it escaped my notice for so long. But apparently the rest of the world has suddenly realized that Texas Longhorns are agents of Satan:
Welcome to Lost in Translation Part II, where an innocent show of Texas pride by President Bush and his family Thursday — flashing the "Hook 'em Horns" sign as the University of Texas Longhorn Band passed by during the inaugural parade — resulted in Norwegian news media reports of devil worship at the White House...

The "Hook 'em" sign — in which the pinky and index fingers of the right hand are extended and the thumb is crossed over the folded middle fingers — represents the horns of the school's mascot.

It also bears an uncanny resemblance to a Scandinavian gesture symbolizing Satan's horns, one employed exhaustively by heavy metal bands during the '80s and '90s.

And it hasn't escaped the media's notice that Texas A&M loyalists (such as myself) are sitting back and enjoying the show. And I mean really enjoying it.
Fans and graduates of Texas A&M University, UT's longtime intra-state rival, loved it, plastering the story on maroon and white message boards across the Internet.

"I guess the entire world just figured out what we already know!" wrote OldArmyOilField, an Aggie fan on

"When I heard it, I just laughed and mumbled under my breath 'Yes!'" said Carri Wells, a prominent Aggie booster in San Antonio.

It's always great to watch the Orangebloods squirm. And for it to happen on an international stage, with as silly and nonsensical a scandal on this... well, you'd have thought an Aggie dreamed it up!

Now Playing: Fighting Texas Aggie Band Recall! Step Off on Hullabaloo

A random thought

I'm reading on Neil Gaiman's Journal about his efforts to capture a bat loose in his house, and I find myself thinking, "Gosh, I hope he's careful. Bats are a major vector of rabies." We live just a few miles from a cave that hosts one of the largest bat colonies in Texas--even larger than the famous Congress Avenue Bridge colony, and several times a year there are stories in the news about how some schoolkids were playing hackey sack or somesuch with a dead bat that turns out to be rabid, and everyone gets wound up and a dozen shots are given all around. So Gaiman contracting rabies would indeed be a tragedy, and I'm quite certain he's not keen on the idea, but there is a certain perverse cool factor in knowing he'd be following in the footsteps of Edgar Allan Poe.

All of which is a long-winded way of getting around to the thought that spawned this wee-hours post in the first place: If bats are major vector of rabies for higher predatory animals, how the heck do bats (which are insectivores/herbivores for the most part) contract the disease in the first place?

Now Playing: David Bowie Never Let Me Down

Friday, January 21, 2005

Three cheers for

I'd like to extend a big howdy to all the folks from the University of Nebraska-Lincoln who've been dropping by my blog of late. It's nice to have you here. Of course, it's nice to have all the non-Nebraska visitors as well (particularly everyone from Germany, the Netherlands and other parts of Europe who've come to my blog via googling "chupacabra"), but you get the idea.

Now Playing: Jiggernaut In Search of More

Finally... Identity Crisis

My reviews for Brad Meltzer's Identity Crisis issues 5-7 are now up at RevolutionSF. Yes, I realize issue 7 came out more than a month ago, and issues 5-6 in the months prior to that. You, gentle readers, will have to take me at my word that the reviews were written and submitted in a timely fashion. But as all the other editors at RevSF are paid almost as much as I am, these timeliness issues arise on occasion. The important thing is that the reviews are up now, and I hold forth--as I am wont to do--on other people's fictional endeavours.

And while I'm waxing on about RevSF, I'd be remiss were I not to point out that the penultimate installment of the Top 75 Heroines of Science Fiction, Fantasy and Horror of All Time has been live on the site for a week or two now. See? The other editors aren't the only ones with timeliness issues. This time around, I contribute the entry for Aeryn Sun of Farscape. Huh. Me writing something cool about Farscape. Hard to believe, I know.

Now Playing: Istanpitta Chevrefoil

Thursday, January 20, 2005

The making of a marketing plan

I have received the marketing plan (really an overview) from the University of Nebraska Press for Voices of Vision. I have to say I'm pleasantly surprised--after hearing horror stories for years about publishers making no effort to promote books at all, to see that Nebraska is making an effort is gratifying.

Not having published before, I don't have any basis for a comparative analysis, but I had prepared myself for no paid advertisement at all, but lo and behold, they're running ads in Locus, the SFWA Bulletin, Science Fiction Weekly, the Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction, PMLA, AWP Writer's Chronicle, Weird Tales and the Science Fiction Chronicle. Most strike me as pretty spot-on for the target audience, but really, the PMLA? Frankly, I'm surprised that journal would even accept a genre-related advertisement. There's a good mix of online and print ads, and I'm optimistic that people will at least know the book is available. Whether or not they actually go out and buy it is another matter entirely. My only quibbles would be that I'd like to see ads in Interzone as that's where many of these interviews originated, and the upcoming Los Angeles Worldcon progress reports, so as to better reach those potential Hugo voters (shameless, I admit).

I'm looking forward to seeing their list of review copies sent out, and to which reviewers. So far, so good. I, of course, will continue my own efforts at shilling the book as well. You have pre-ordered your copy, right?

Now Playing: John Mellencamp Dance Naked

Wednesday, January 19, 2005

Celebrity spokesman

Late this afternoon I received a call from Freebirds World Burrito, or rather, their advertising reps. They were gauging my interest in possibly doing a commercial for them. A television commercial.

This all stems from a baseball game, a broken leg, and a burrito-induced detour prior to visiting the emergency room. Happened quite a while back. Anyone who knows me well will understand this culinary obsession I have with Freebirds. Monster chicken, black beans, pico, cilantro, white onions and guacamole. And the sauces. All of them.

I've been worshipping at the altar of Freebirds for well over a decade now, and have made pilgrimages to all the Texas locations save for the Addison, Clear Lake and Austin Bee Caves establishments (which I fully intend to get to in the wholeness of time). I even intended to visit the original Freebirds in Santa Barbara when I visited Los Angeles for the Pigskin Classic way back when. Couldn't quite manage it, though. Santa Barbara is a long way from Anaheim.

Even though this commercial thing is far from a done deal, Lisa believes it's some sort of karmic balance returning to the universe. After all the money I've spent on Freebirds burritos over the years, it's only natural that I benefit from my addiction.

Now Playing: John Mellencamp Human Wheels

Tuesday, January 18, 2005

When the cowboys all sang and their horses were smart

I've known this was coming for a while now, but the thought of "Governor Kinky" still makes me giggle like the proverbial schoolgirl:
Kinky Friedman, the best-selling author, country singer and friend of the stray dog, next week will officially toss his ten-gallon hat into the ring for the 2006 Texas governor's race, his campaign said Tuesday.

Friedman will announce his bid to run as an independent on February 3 near the Alamo from a hotel where former U.S. President Teddy Roosevelt founded the Rough Riders.

Everyone seems to be making a big deal about how he can't win in Republican Texas, since all the state wide offices are in GOP hands. These folks fail to take into account two things: 1) the majority of local offices in the state are still Democrat, and 2) the Democrats lost control of the state through incompetence as much as GOP ascendance. In all honesty, the Texas Democratic party has been in disarray since before Ann Richards pulled the biggest choke job in Texas political history against Dubya (note to politicians: I wasn't an awful governor these last four years is not a winning campaign platform).

Do I think the Kinkster can win? Sure. Do I think he will? Nope. But the Republicans are showing signs of the same arrogance and infighting that doomed the dominant Dems in the late 80s and early 90s. And Kinky would at least make the race interesting. Texas, for some strange reason, is cursed with relentlessly awful governors. Bush and Richards were spectacularly mediocre. Perry's own party despises him. Bill Clements was so crooked he helped SMU earn the Death Penalty from the NCAA. Mark White was so bad that Texans reluctantly brought Clements back. Dolph Briscoe had to call a press conference once to deny he'd gone insane. Let's face it: Since Sam Houston resigned at the onset of the Civil War, the Texas governor's mansion hasn't had much in the way or worthy tenants. Compared to that lot, Kinky would be a distinct improvement.

Now Playing: Jophn Cougar Mellencamp Uh Huh

Not with a roar, but with a splat

I've been fascinated by the ongoing Huygens/Titan coverage, gobbling up the trickle of information coming out of ESA. The fact that images returned by Cassini indicate some sort of drainage channels and an apparent shoreline has all manner of fascinating implications for a science fiction writer such as myself. As does the fact Huygens apparently landed on a "gooey" surface which is being equated to mud--liquid methane saturated mud.
Scientists had theorised that the probe would drop out of the haze at between 70 and 50 kilometres. In fact, Huygens began to emerge from the haze only at 30 kilometres above the surface.

When the probe landed, it was not with a thud, or a splash, but a 'splat'. It landed in Titanian 'mud'.

"I think the biggest surprise is that we survived landing and that we lasted so long," said DISR team member Charles See. "There wasn't even a glitch at impact. That landing was a lot friendlier than we anticipated."

DISR's downward-looking High Resolution Imager camera lens apparently accumulated some material, which suggests the probe may have settled into the surface. "Either that, or we steamed hydrocarbons off the surface and they collected onto the lens," said See.

One very interesting speculation from a discussion I'm on posed the possibility of tides on Titan, corresponding with the periapsis and apoapsis of Titan's orbit around Saturn:
The Titan "hydroid" ("methanoid"?), though, should rise and fall then, roughly as much as Earth's oceans, but instead of radially sweeping around the world, they would go from two concentrations of liquid at 0 and 180 to a relative falling level there and relative increasing level everywhere else....

In January, Titan was at periapsis (when the Huygens site would have been at high tide) around Jan. 10, and was more than halfway to low tide when Huygens landed. We may have missed standing water [methane] by five [Earth] days.

The author ("jarehling") goes on to point out that under this scenario, the "windblown" erosion features seen in images from the site could be the result of liquid methane flow. The channels seen in high-altitude images, of course, would play a role in the tidal migration of the methane sea as Titan progresses in its orbit around the parent world. Amazing speculations, even if they prove to be unfounded in this case. Such are the ideas that great SFnal worldbuilding springs!

Of course, ESA's snail's pace release of the good stuff from Huygens is frustrating, but there are enterprising folks out there that are taking the raw materials and stepping into the breach, so to speak. There's a great mosaic composition of the descent panorama over at The Planetary Society, and Anthony Lienkins has put together some very nice color enhanced images which, while probably not 100 percent spectrally accurate, give a pretty darn clear look at what Titan's immediate surface area looks like. Good stuff!

Now Playing: Creedence Clearwater Revival Chronicle vol. 1

Friday, January 14, 2005

Crass self promotion

Hey gang, it appears that Voices of Vision is now available for pre-order at Barnes & Noble. One thing I find interesting is:
People who bought this book also bought:
• The Languages of Tolkien's Middle-earth Ruth S. Noel, Tolkien J. R. R., J. R. R. Tolkien
• The Science of Harry Potter: How Magic Really Works Roger Highfield
• The Complete Guide to Middle-Earth: From The Hobbit Through The Lord of the Rings and Beyond Robert Foster
• Tolkien: The Illustrated Encyclopaedia David Day
• Letters of J. R. R. Tolkien J. R. R. Tolkien, Humphrey Carpenter (Editor)

I can see the speculative fiction connection there, and also the non-fiction connection. That particular breakdown also leads me to believe that B&N has had exactly one pre-order, since the "also bought" titles constitute a fairly tight cluster.

The other thing I notice on that page is that their "customer reviews" section is live. Which means all of you folks can rush on over and write positively glowing commentary. That is, once you've read the book and can comment objectively, of course. Remember, every little bit helps!

Elsewhere, you can visit Books-A-Million and assign a rating of one to five stars, or head on over to and watch my sales ranking plummet like the Huygens probe through Titan's atmosphere...

Now Playing: Wyndnwyre About Time

Huygens has landed has continuing updates on Huygens' descent and landing on Titan, Saturn's largest moon and the only satellite in the solar system with a significant atmosphere:
Built by the European Space Agency (ESA), the 705-pound (320-kilogram) Huygens probe landed on Titan between 7:45-7:46 a.m.EST (1245-1246 GMT) and apparently began beaming at least some data to NASA's Cassini orbiter for later transmission to Earth.

This is very cool. What's even more exciting is the fact that Huygens has survived its landing, indicated by the fact that Earth radio telescopes are continuing to receive its signal an hour after Doppler data indicated a landing at 4:35 a.m. Pacific time. It's very cool to be on space science mailing lists!

It is my understanding that real data from the probe's instruments should start becoming available sometime in the next few hours. Of course, it could be weeks or even months before ESA scientists wade through enough of it to give us a clear picture of what Titan's surface environment is like. Personally, I'm holding out for methane rainstorms. This is very cool and exciting news indeed!

Now Playing: Jimmy Buffett Boats, Beaches, Bars & Ballads

Wednesday, January 12, 2005

Texas A&M: Basketball school

I didn't get excited at all when the Aggies started the season 11-0, as loading up on a lot of cream puff opponents does not a good basketball team make. I raised an eyebrow when A&M took no. 2 Kansas down to the wire, throwing a scare into the Jayhawks before falling 65-60. I've seen A&M play good teams tough before wilting at the end--that was the hallmark of popular but ineffective coach Melvin Watkins' tenure at the school. With the 9th ranked Texas Longhorns on tap, we'd see if the Aggies could actually get over the hump, rather than simply tease the fans.

Holy moley! The Aggies brought the wood tonight, hammering the Longhorns 74-63 before 12,811 in Reed Arena, a new attendance record. The A&M defense held the Sips to 32.3 percent shooting from the floor. That was as dominant a basketball performance by the Ags that I've ever seen.

Suddenly, with the team 12-1 and boasting an 11 game home winning streak, a postseason berth doesn't seem so laughable anymore.

Now Playing: Texas A&M vs. Texas postgame report Yahoo! Sports

Monday, January 10, 2005

Stone's Original Ginger Wine

I said I'd give a review on this confection, and I wish the word was more positive. Stone's Original Ginger Wine, a currant wine flavored with ground ginger is, to my mind, akin to one of the cloyingly sweet wine products put out by Boone's Farm, overlain with a heavy dose of flat extract of ginger ale. Supposedly folks drink it on the rocks. That didn't do it for me. The only way I could see this as being enjoyable is as part of a mixed drink--and indeed, a quick Google search turns up a recipe for "Ginger Snap," which combines one part Stone's with three parts vodka, topped off with club soda and garnished with an orange slice and a cherry. That sounds like it might be drinkable, but alas, our home is devoid of vodka at this time.

Now Playing: Gispy Kings Volare!

Friday, January 07, 2005

Body of art

I've been fascinated by body painting for a very long time, since I first encountered it early on in my high school days. What I saw was fairly simple stuff, and I thought it was neat, but didn't pay it much more mind than that. Then, in college, I was absolutely stunned by Demi Moore's famous bodypaint cover of Vanity Fair:
Demi Moore bodypaint

The idea that she was posing nude on the cover of a national magazine--full frontal at that--yet was completely covered with an illusion of conservative attire captured my full attention. I found the image engrossing, magnificently detailed. Since then, the concept of using the human body as a living canvas is one that has intrigued me to no end. Well-done bodypainting will invariably stop me in my tracks.
Snow leopard bodypaint, by Craig Tracey

I ran across New Orleans artist Craig Tracy's Painted Alive site the other day, and my amazement and admiration for what is possible with bodypainting has risen to a level I never thought possible. The snow leopard image above was the first piece of his I saw, and I had no clue that it was bodypaint--I saw it as an interesting, albeit normal, two-dimensional painting. In fact, I was somewhat puzzled when I learned it originated from a bodypaint artist's site. Then I discovered his "process" pages, which break down the projects to show how they were composed, and the brief but enlightening Quicktime movies that show snippets of his studio work with the models. Unbelievable! That a nude woman could blend so seamlessly into this image to make it what it is amazes me to no end. The illusion is masterful. I applaud the artist and his visionary mind's eye for even conceiving of this composition. And the wonders never cease:
Tiger eye bodypaint, by Craig Tracey

This illusion is even more perfect, if at all possible. I examined it for a long time trying to resove the human canvas underneath. I succeeded, to an extent, surmmising that a woman's breast comprised most of the image, but even then it took the pop-up "sample detail" before I was able to link the tiger's iris with the areola, and the pupil with the nipple. Watching the Quicktime movie was even more educational, showing how another model's painted arm, resting beside the breast, completed the image. Looking at these images, and the others on his site, I am in awe.

Tattooing and henna have never held much interest for me, but bodypainting has insinuated itself into my brain and prompted me to go on one of my mini-obsessions. Other websites and artists with some fine bodypainted artworks on them include Leroy Roper and Bodypainting by Mark Greenwalt. I've always harbored a fondness for nudes and nudity in general, and bodypainting is almost like a Reese's Peanut Butter Cup in that regard--two great tastes that go great together.

The temptation, of course, if for me to attempt something of this nature myself. While I do have some small degree of artistic skills, they are limited mostly to pen-and-ink illustration, which I doubt would translate well to the human body in a reasonable fasion (or time frame). My painting skills are miserable, to be charitable, so I believe I shall have to content myself with being a mere patron of this particular art.

Now Playing: Schubert Symphony no. 4 "Tragic"

Thursday, January 06, 2005

Humphrey Carpenter, 1946-2005

According to the Times, Humphrey Carpenter has died of a pulmonary embolism.
In 1977 he wrote a biography of J. R. R. Tolkien, and in 1978 one of his most characteristic and important books, The Inklings. This showed his early mastery of the difficult form of group biography, tracing the literary, religious and personal relationships of Tolkien, C. S. Lewis and Charles Williams and their meetings in an Oxford pub. It trod a delicate, and typically Carpenter, line between amusement at the men’s eccentricities, respect for their work, and human sympathy. It won the Somerset Maugham Award. Further awards were earned by his next biographies: of W. H. Auden, Ezra Pound, and Benjamin Britten — in each case he combined passion for their work with gossipy relish for absurdity and great empathy. Like many of his subjects, he suffered bouts of serious depression.

I quite enjoyed both his biography of Tolkien and his Letters of J.R.R. Tolkien. A few years ago I reviewed his Tolkein-Lewis-Williams bio, The Inklings, for, and recommend it as a very good book that sheds light on the odd bond of friendship between J.R.R.T. and C.S. Lewis. It's because of this review I was contacted by that documentary crew to track Carpenter down a few years back. I never met the man, but sometimes I feel like I knew him a little bit.

With all the other high-profile genre deaths in the news of late, I feel Mr. Carpenter might get overlooked some in the blogosphere, and he doesn't deserve that.

Now Playing: The Kinks The Road (Live)

Wednesday, January 05, 2005

Martian, Martian, who's got the Martian?

Harry over at Ain't It Cool has posted his list of Top 20 Films to Watch For in 2005. It's an interesting list, but entry no. 8 caused me to double-clutch badly:
That teaser trailer did it for me. That they're being so faithful as to use the red martian weeds, gives me hope that the black smokey gas stuff gets unleashed. I have the highest confidence in Spielberg to make this movie just kick ass. This, to me, is old school seventies and early eighties Spielberg quality material. George Pal's original is one of the top ten greatest science fiction films of all time in my mind - but I've always dreamt of another adaptation that brought more of the martian terrors that Wells told us about. And Tom Cruise could totally be a good surrogate Gene Barry. He has that range, I think. Heh. I'm just so giddy that this isn't desaturated. (June 29th)

After the travesty Spielberg turned Minority Report into, I can honestly say there's not a film I'm least looking forward to than this version of War of the Worlds. Oh joy, we get to see Tom Cruise play the same role he plays in every film he makes. And how can Knowles spout off about being "faithful" to the book when it's a contemporary setting rather than period? I mean, really folks, we've already had two "contemporary" film versions on War of the Worlds: the George Pal version, which I love dearly and is a cinematic icon; and Independence Day. The latter, I suppose, is more accurately a remake of the George Pal film, or a homage, or a rip-off. Whatever. I liked it. Yeah, it's goofy and dumb, but I got what they were doing with it. The Marines in both films come from El Toro base in California. The flying wing drops a hydrogen bomb on the green force field blisters in the former, while a B-2 (flying wing) lobs a nuke at the shielded ship hovering over Houston. bacteria and viruses destroy the Martians in the first film, while a computer virus from an Apple PowerBook kills the aliens in the second. So I enjoy that as a dumb, goofy remake with great special effects, although the ship and Martian designs in the Pal film are far superior to ID4. In any event, we don't need Spielberg to replow this particular field. What's next? A Christmas Carol? H.G. Wells wrote his book as a reaction against the imperialist attitudes and policies of the British Empire, placing London in the conquering path of colonists from another world. It's a cautionary tale of irony, hubris and arrogance... and ultimately humility. Is that applicable to the political realities of today? Of course it is. Will Spielberg sieze on those elements and use this film to make a social statement? I don't know about you, but I'm not holding my breath. Remember, this is the same guy that digitally replaced all the FBI's guns in E.T. with walkie-talkies.

What I am interested in seeing, however, is the Edwardian-era version of War of the Worlds produced by Pendragon Pictures. This one's been floating around the aether for half a dozen years now, and has suffered from false starts and other problems. But damn is the producers and director aren't dedicated to this film. Ain't It Cool actually reported on it occasionally, until the Spielberg/Cruise production ramped up. A case of stars in their eyes? Probably. The last significant news on this project came back in September, when Pendragon stole the Spielberg thunder by announcing principal filming had wrapped, in secret, on their film. Pretty cool. Score one for the little guys. Since then, Pendragon's been pretty silent other than the occasional teaser trailer on their website. Release of their War of the World is supposedly set for March 30, 2005, presuming, of course, Spielberg's studio allies don't pull some kind of legal chicanery in order to undermine said film.

Prior to the 9/11 terrorist attacks, a version of this film was in pre-production with a budget of $40-plus million. Nothing to break the bank, but not too shabby, either (my favorite movie of all time, The Adventures of Baron Munchausen, was filmed for just north of $40 million). The budget for the current incarnation hasn't been released, but reported to be a "respectable eight figures," which I interpret as somewhere between $20-40 million. Again, not a whole heck of a lot, but quite plausible for a period piece.

There's a pretty good interview with writer/director Timothy Hines over at SciFiDimensions that leads me to believe he's got his head in the right place for this. It seems he's taking a page from the Harry Potter and Lord of the Rings film adaptation lesson plans, realizing that the book is popular for a reason. There's no need for the filmmaker to make radical changes to make it fit some pre-determined idea of what the audience really wants (I'm looking at you, Wizard of Earthsea!):
I started from an absolute standpoint of leaving nothing out, to tell the novel exactly as it was written. When I met at one point with the executives from DreamWorks - and this was some time back, before September 11th - one of the things they said that was alarming to me, was that WotW was flawed, because Wells had written it in serialized form, that there were mistakes in it, that it was structurally not well-adapted for a movie, and to do any version of the movie, whether it was a period piece or an updated piece, that the public would expect a certain amount of homage to others versions, like the 50s version. To me that was mortifying. I mean, this novel has held up for over 100 years and has captured the imagination of millions of people. It's a little arrogant to think that someone could come along and say "Well, this is flawed and I know how to do it better."

Of course, the film could be a page-by-page faithful adaptation and still be unwatchable. You run that risk, and I've seen movies that are like that. They're sad, because in some cases the filmmakers' slavish fidelity to the source material is the ultimate undoing. I believe Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban to be the best of that series, and it takes the most liberties with the source material. On the other hand, The Two Towers is the most uneven and disappointing of the Lord of the Rings films, mainly because it adds pointless events and scenes, changing key plot elements for strange and nonsensical reasons.

In any event, I'm quite looking forward to seeing how Timothy Hines manages to pull this one off. The publicity photos fill me with hope and confidence, even if they don't show any Martians or tripod killing machines. March can't get here soon enough!

Now Playing: Billy Joel Fantasies & Delusions

Tuesday, January 04, 2005

The leaky cauldron

Or, in this instance, the leaking fermentation vessel. I racked my mead last night into two smaller containers for aging and flavoring. One batch of raspberry-flavored melomel, and one of cinnamon-allspice-ginger-nutmeg spiced holiday metheglin. After figuring the specific gravity, I learned that the base mead is 14% alcohol, and is completely dry. Well. So much for the sack mead idea.

The two smaller containers have airlock assemblies and built-in bung holes and taps, which makes racking and bottling very simple (these are Mr. Beer homebrew kits, after all). But you have to screw the tap assembly together, using a rubber washer to prevent leaks. Which I did. Unfortunately, after getting the raspberry mix all squared away and starting on the holiday spice, I noticed a steady drip drip drip coming from where the tap joins the container. And a panicked check of the other showed the same thing happening. I can assure you, I did not want to lose all that mead. So after frantic indecision where I tried to conjure all sorts of wacky fix-it schemes, I bit the bullet. I scrubbed my hand down with every disinfectant available and reached in to tighten the melomel assembly. Alas, some mead was lost. The metheglin assembly proved far more determined to leak, however, and I ended up disassembling it twice before managing to make it stop. Some threading was stripped in the process. More mead lost as well.

What I'd planned on being a 30 minute racking turned into a two hour ordeal. So now when I'm bottling the stuff in a few weeks and enjoying the convenience of the built-in taps, I'll have to remember that folks racking into glass carboys don't have to struggle with these kinds of problems.

Now Playing: Stu Phillips and the Los Angeles Philharmonic Orchestra Battlestar Galactica: 25th Anniversary Edition

In case of tsunami, use elephant

I think I'm perhaps the only person in the whole of the blogosphere not to post extensively about the tsunamis in the Indian Ocean. The reason is simple: the magnitude of the catastrophe is simply too overwhelming. I don't believe I can add much to the discussion than has already been said more eloquently elsewhere by people more informed than I. And perhaps just as significant is the fact that I have an aversion to disaster. Maybe that comes from covering smaller-scale ugliness from my reporter days--whenever something like this happens that doesn't directly affect me, I tend to actively avoid news stories for a few days. I suppose that allows the initial emotional impact to subside somewhat, and also filters out the confusion and wild rumors that inevitably arise.

But this story is one that only recently surfaced among the flotsam of the media frenzy, and is quite fascinating as far as unexpected heroism goes. Unexpected in the sense that Thai elephants saved a number of tourists from the onrushing tsunami:
KHAO LAK, Thailand - Agitated elephants felt the tsunami coming, and their sensitivity saved about a dozen foreign tourists from the fate of thousands killed by the giant waves...

Those with tourists aboard headed for the jungle-clad hill behind the resort beach where at least 3,800 people, more than half of them foreigners, would soon be killed. The elephants that were not working broke their hefty chains.

"Then we saw the big wave coming and we started running," Wit said.

Around a dozen tourists were also running towards the hill from the Khao Lak Merlin Resort, one of a line of hotels strung along the 10 km (6-mile) beach especially popular with Scandinavians and Germans. "The mahouts managed to turn the elephants to lift the tourists onto their backs," Kulada said.

She used her hands to describe how the huge beasts used their trunks to pluck the foreigners from the ground and deposit them on their backs. The elephants charged up the hill through the jungle, then stopped.

I know elephants are sensitive to subsonic vibrations, and communicate over long distances at frequencies too low for humans to hear. But wow. Reacting to the original earthquake, then anticipating the wave surge as well is amazing. Saving the tourists wasn't a bad trick, either.

Now Playing: U2 How to Dismantle an Atomic Bomb

Monday, January 03, 2005

Happy birthday, Professor

On this date in 1882, Professor John Ronald Reul Tolkien was born in Orange Free State, South Africa. He later survived the Battle of the Somme during World War I and wrote most of The Lord of the Rings during World War II. His writings have had a significant influence on my own, to say the least.

Were I in England at this time, I'd hie me over to the Bird & Baby and lift a pint of good dark beer in his honor. Since I'm not, I won't, but it's the thought that counts.

Now Playing: Stu Phillips and the Los Angeles Philharmonic Orchestra Battlestar Galactica: 25th Anniversary Edition

Sunday, January 02, 2005

Jump on this one

I finally got around to reading Charles de Lint's most recent email newsletter, and buried way down at the bottom as an innocent addition to his reading list, was something that left me thunderstruck (in an overly-dramatic theatrical sense of the word, of course): Steven Gould's new novel, Reflex. How, I may ask, is it possible for this book to be out for an entire month and nary a word of it reaching my ears?

Let me put this in context. I absolutely love Steve's 1992 debut novel, Jumper, about an abused kid, Davey, who suddenly learns he can teleport. It's smart and it's exciting and perfect in almost every way, except for a major plot twist involving terrorists that simply comes from out of left field so abruptly that I initially thought it was a joke, or the wrong pages, or something accidentally inserted into the book the first time I read it. But I got over it. It's still a great book. Get it. Read it. Enjoy.

About three years back or so, in the middle of Aggiecon, I'm on a panel with Steve (who taught me in the very first writers workshop I ever participated in--at which time he did his damnedest to discourage me, going so far as to throw his boot across the room as a direct result of my story. So don't blame him for me. Honestly, he tried) and somehow the topic veers on a tangent where everyone's badgering Steve about how slow he writes, and we want more novels from him. At which point he confesses that he's at work on a sequel to Jumper, and it's already late. "How can you make a sequel to Jumper work?" I demand. That's one of those books that works very well as a standalone, you see, whereas a novel like Wildside seems to beg for a follow up. Steve thought for a moment, then said, "I'll give you the title." He wrote on the chalkboard, Jumper(s).

My jaw hit the ground. I wanted to read that book immediately. And the delays mounted. Every time I saw him, Steve was still working on it. Sheesh, and now it finally comes out, and nobody tells me.

I still think Steve's original title is better, but hey, if that's my biggest complaint, I think I'll bite my tongue.

Now Playing: Pink M!ssundaztood

Saturday, January 01, 2005

In which a New Year arrives

I have come to several conclusions: 1) extended holidays are a lot of fun, as I get to spend much time with the family. Working at a university doesn't pay much, but these between-semester breaks can't be beat; 2) I don't spend any time online at all during these breaks; 3) time off really plays hell with my writing production.

For those of you keeping track at home, it's now 2005. Whee! A short while ago, I opened some bottles of wine I liberated from my parents' house last week during the Christmas visit. They'd been stored upright, in occasionally hot conditions. As I suspected, they'd turned to a rather nasty vinegar. Pity. So I toasted the new year with a Shiner Bock, as Lisa'd developed a sudden sore throat and body aches earlier in the evening and turned in early.

I plan on racking my batch of mead in the next day or so. We visited Central Market earlier today and I gathered the ingredients necessary to make both a spiced holiday metheglin (with the exception of vanilla beans--at $5.99 a pop, I figure I'll force myself to settle for vanilla extract) and a raspberry melomel. Lisa also picked up a bottle of ginger flavored currant wine, which struck us both as unusual and intriguing. I'm sure I'll have a report in the next week or so.

Absolutely no writing progress to report. I'm telling you, I've been shamefully lax and non-productive.

Lisa also decided, a couple of weeks back, that she wanted to get involved in the TV program Alias. Three years ago when it debuted, it struck both Lisa and I as something we'd really enjoy. All the ingredients were there: James Bond-style spy action, conspiracy and intrigue (remember, the X-Files had jumped the shark and was winding down), and of course Jennifer Garner. But the job upheaval and moving situation kept us from watching. Until now. The promos for season 4 prompted Lisa to sign us up for Netflix, and over the last three days we've crammed the first dozen episodes. It's a very well done show, involving even though I know some of the major plot twists on the horizon because, well, I just accumulate useless facts like that. But cramming four months' worth of episodes into three days does tend to expose some flaws in the program. For example: Sydney is involved in violent hand-to-hand combat almost every episode, yet with the exception of one stylish scuff on her forehead one episode, her attractive face remains unscathed. Nary a blemish. And she regularly beats the crap out of all the other opposing "super-agents" that are supposedly so much more skilled and experienced than her. Things like that. Spaced a week apart, they probably wouldn't be noticed, but I am noticing them, and it's annoying. By this time next week I'll probably have seen the remainder of season one, and will know how eager I am to continue into season two. It is, after all, a lot like the X-Files, only there's more action and fewer aliens.

The Aggies play Tennessee in less than 10 hours, kicking off in the Cotton Bowl. I am utterly stunned and flabbergasted that Texas Tech upended Cal so easily in the Holiday Bowl, so perhaps that's an omen for A&M's chances against the supposedly less-daunting Volunteers. I certainly hope so.

Finally, I've accumulated quite a few new CDs over the past week, most of which I haven't had a chance to give a thorough listening to. But the one currently playing (see below) is one I've had my eye on for several years now, and just now gotten around to adding to my collection. It's every bit as good as I'd hoped. I love the Gipsy Kings, and am shamed I have so few of their albums.

Now Playing: The Gipsy Kings Volare