Thursday, December 29, 2005

Pope Joan

There was an interesting feature on ABC's Primetime Live tonight--Diane Sawyer, obviously looking to cash in on the religious conspiracy coattails of The DaVinci Code, examined the legend of Pope Joan, a woman who supposedly disguised herself as a man to earn an education and ended up being elected pope in the ninth century.
Medieval manuscripts tell a similar tale: Two-and-a-half years into her reign, Pope Joan was in the midst of a papal procession, a three-mile trip to the Church of the Lateran in Rome, when suddenly at a crossroads, she felt sharp pains in her stomach.

She was having contractions, the stories say. The unthinkable happened — the pope was having a baby.

"And then, shock and horror," says Malone. "And then the story gets very confused, because some of the records say she was killed and her child was killed right on the spot. Other records say she was sent to a convent and that her son grew up and later became bishop of Ostia."

Stories vary — some say the crowd stoned her to death, others say she was dragged from the tail of a horse — but in most accounts, Pope Joan perished that day.

While interesting, the story wasn't very even-handed. It was obvious that Sawyer was fascinated by the prospect of a female pope, and played up that "what if?" angle. And the feature itself didn't do much to shed any light on the matter--pretty much every piece of evidence cited can be found in Peter Stanford's somewhat self-congratulatory book The Legend of Pope Joan. At a glance, the evidence is indeed convincing--especially in light of the fact that in the early years of Christianity, women held far more powerful roles in the church, evidence of which was systematically suppressed over the ensuing centuries. It doesn't hurt the case of the pro-Joan advocates that those on the opposite side of the issue (in the Dateline piece and also in some of the literature I've read) simply say "She didn't exist," and leave it at that.

The most powerful arguement against her existance is that the first mention of her doesn't turn up until the 13th century. At the same time, however, evidence clearly shows her existance and death was an accepted fact by pope and peasant alike in the middle ages. Simply dismissing her as a myth misses the point--even myth, when believed, becomes real. How else to explain the marble toilet seat throne used to verify a pope's manhood? I'd very much like to see a work that examines the legend of Pope Joan itself--the legend, not the person--because all legends have a context and an origin. There is a reason why Pope Joan was accepted as real by the Catholic church for more than 500 years, and those reasons deserve exploration. Was it a simple morality tale designed to keep women "in their place"? Or was it a reaction against the "beguines and mystics" who threatened church hierarchy? Or was it even a mangled distortion of the pope-making powers of Theodora, a powerful 10th century Roman noblewoman?

In any event, there's more interest in the legend now than at any time in history. There's even a Pope Joan movie lensing in Germany. What I find amusing is the rabid venom being spewed by right-wing Catholics on blogs hither and yon insisting that the story is anti-Catholic propoganda. Take a look at this snippet from WorldNetDaily:
But Catholic writer Philip Jenkins, in his book "The New Anti-Catholicism, calls the "Pope Joan legend" a "venerable staple of the anti-Catholic mythology."

"Though it has not the slightest foundation," he writes, "from the sixteenth century through the nineteenth, the tale was beloved by Protestants, since it testified to Catholic stupidity. ..." Today, he says, "Pope Joan enjoys a lively presence on the Web, where feminist anti-Catholics celebrate her existence much as did seventeenth-century Calvinists."

The posting on the Newsbusters site said: "That a major network like ABC would lend credibility to such a vicious anti-Catholic smear is deplorable."

Maybe I'm theologically dense, but I can't for the life of me see how this could be a Protestant conspiracy. Even if Joan if a complete and total fabrication, the legend appears in official church records 300 years before Martin Luther posted his Ninety-five Theses on the church door. These folks shouldn't be so paranoid and defensive.

Whether true or false, Pope Joan is a great story. Just strange enough to be true in an era that was too bizarre to be believed. It's probably just a myth, akin to the Infancy Gospels, but it's a myth one wishes were true.

Now Playing: Chant Benedictine Monks of Santo Domingo de Silos

Wednesday, December 28, 2005

I wonder if the Marvel McFey costume is available?

So much for moving all of Astroworld's old rides to various Six Flags parks across the country. The parent company, not satisfied with selling the land the park sits on, is now putting everything else up on the auction block:
For fans looking for something to hold onto, AstroWorld, which permanently closed in October, will hold a public auction Jan. 6-8.

Auction attendees must be at least 18 years old and provide valid identification at registration. Officials said no one under the age of 18 will be allowed into the auction.

Apart from the general foodservice equipment and golf carts, they're also offering up some of the park's signature rides. I kid you not. Rides like Greezed Lightnin' (my personal fave), XLR-8 (the first suspended roller coaster), the Viper, Mayan Mindbender, Looping Starship (which was supposed to go up to Arlington. Guess they changed their mind) and the 100-year-old Dentzel Carousel. I mean, really. Shuttering the park was depressing enough, but this fire sale is downright pathetic.

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

Tuesday, December 27, 2005


Guess what Calista got from Santa?

It's just a little 2.4" Meade refractor. Nothing fancy. But it does the job for a first telescope--especially since my 6" reflector isn't in useable condition and the girls keep wanting to look through it. The moon's not visible right now in the evening, but we took it out Christmas night to see what planets we might take a peek at. Venus was obvious up there the the evening sky, but from experience I knew it wouldn't offer much. Fortunately, it's currently in crescent phase, and that showed up impressively. Then we turned the scope up to Mars, high in the sky. We saw a bright, pink disc, which earned some oohs and aahs from the girls. A couple hours later we took it back out to take a look at Saturn, and the view was spectacular. Saturn never, ever disappoints, even in the smallest telescopes. The rings were clearly defined, and even if we couldn't see the Cassini division, the shadow of the rings over the planet was clear.

I absolutely must get my telescope in working order this year.

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

Wednesday, December 21, 2005

A San Antonio Solstice

The family piled into the minivan this evening and made the trek down into San Antonio to take in the sights and sound of the famous Riverwalk. It really is spectacularly beautiful during the Christmas season:

Riverwalk at Christmas

We'd planned on taking a ride on one of the river barges that cruise around beneath the lights, but the line was long and the weather had turned a mite chilly from earlier in the day (low 40s from a high of around 65), so regretfully we took a pass on that one. We did, however, grab dinner at Casa Rio, which serves up your basic Tex-Mex (nothing too flashy or spicy that would scare off the out-of-state tourists) but does a good job of it for a modest price. We got a table beside the river, waving at the barges full of tourists passing by. We fed tortilla chips to the ducks that swam up to beg. We listened to the strolling mariachis. All in all, a typical dinner on the Riverwalk.

After wandering around the Riverwalk for a while (we never made it to Justin's Ice Cream Company, unfortunately, since their lease has been cancelled so yet another Saltgrass Steak House can go up instead. How much longer before the Riverwalk looks like any other strip mall in America?) we headed for home. But first, we took a drive past the Alamo to look at the lights decorating the old mission. You can't really see the big Christmas tree at the front of the plaza in this photo, but the scene was quite nice. Unfortunately, this is the only shot that turned out in a non-blurry fashion.

Alamo at night. Christmas 2005

Feliz Navidad, everyone!

Now Playing: Various A Classic Cartoon Christmas

Happy Winter Solstice!

In observance of the Winter Solstice--the longest night and shortest day of the year--I thought I'd share with all my northern friends something that popped up in my front yard today:

Winter solstice bloom

Yes, it's growing in a pot, but it's been sitting on our front porch, uncovered, since April. In case you're wondering, it's 65 degrees and sunny today in New Braunfels. And yes, those are candy cane and lollypop decorations in the background.

Now Playing: Various artists Pop Rock Christmas

Tuesday, December 20, 2005

Oh yeah. I saw Kong.

As far as remakes go, Peter Jackson's remake of King Kong kicks the banannas out of the Dino De Laurentiis version from the '70s. Yes, it's way too long--just off the top of my head, I can think of half a dozen cuts that would easily get it down below the 2:30 mark with no impact on the overall story (what the heck was all that "Heart of Darkness" nonsense? Film school "symbolism" that had no payoff. Shame on you, Jackson. You're better than that!).

I was very, very worried about Jack Black being anywhere near this film, much less his being in such a crucial role as Carl Denham. But to my surprise, he worked well for the most part. This version of Denham is played much like a chronic gambler--compelled to risk everything for that elusive payoff, no matter how many people are hurt or swindled along the way. Denham wasn't evil, but the was definitely amoral and oblivious to the impact his actions had on others. Naomi Watts was perfect as Anne Darrow. Inspired casting. The other actors... they filled their roles adequately. Adrien Brody has little to do with the role of Jack Driscoll. He's pretty much along for the ride on this thing, and as such is a pretty passive leading man. In Jackson's original script for Kong, Driscoll was a disillusioned WWI flying ace that takes part in the dogfight atop the Empire State Building in defense of Kong. This final version of the remake, however, sticks closer to the original film. Jack's SOL, and Kong, Anne and the biplanes have the finale to themselves.

So, all in all, the flick's a winner. Heavenly Creatures is still my favorite Jackson film, however. The original Kong, which I first saw in college, still had a stronger impact on me. I was expecting something, well, primitive. But the storyline and special effects--particularly the effort spent on giving Kong a tangible personality--shocked me. I was amazed at the originality and sophistication in that 1933 movie. This 2005 edition can't say the same, and instead has to rely on technical dazzle, which it accomplishes admirably.

Of course, I have to confess I've always been more of a Godzilla fan than a King Kong fan. I came across Godzilla at that tender adolescent age where I lived and breathed dinosaurs. Land of the Lost was the highlight of my week. So even awful Godzilla flicks like Godzilla vs. Megalon drove me bonkers with excitement. Can you imagine my excitement when I first beheld the wonders of Ghidrah, the Three-Headed Monster which featured not only Godzilla and this new, three-headed dragon, but also Mothra and Rodan? Wow. At that time, I only knew Kong through King Kong vs. Godzilla and King Kong Escapes. So I'm hard-wired for Godzilla. The trouble is, with the exception of the original 1954 Godzilla movie, there's never been a Godzilla film that could actually be called good. Entertaining? Yeah. Fun? Absolutely. Good? Not really. And to make matters worse, the big-budget American Godzilla which should have been great instead missed the point in every way possible, and was instead more of a limp Reptilicus remake than a Godzilla film. So despite the fact that I like Godzilla more than Kong, I have to say that Kong now has two excellent movies to his credit, while the big lizard hasn't managed to reach any more substance than he had back in 1954.

Is there any hope of Peter Jackson doing a remake of King Kong vs. Godzilla? Boy, that's one I love to see!

Now Playing: Various Pop Rock Christmas

Boot to the head

Federal Judge John Jones has ruled in the Dover, Pa., Intelligent Design case. And basically he's run those warmed-over creationists out of town on a rail:
In an opinion issued Tuesday, U.S. District Judge John Jones ruled that teaching "intelligent design" would violate the Constitutional separation of church and state.

"We have concluded that it is not [science], and moreover that ID cannot uncouple itself from its creationist, and thus religious, antecedents," Jones writes in his 139-page opinion posted on the court's Web site. (Opinion, pdf)

"To be sure, Darwin's theory of evolution is imperfect. However, the fact that a scientific theory cannot yet render an explanation on every point should not be used as a pretext to thrust an untestable alternative hypothesis grounded in religion into the science classroom or to misrepresent well-established scientific propositions," Jones writes.

And, anticipating Pat Robertson's forthcoming call to "Take him out" and other right-wing buffoonery, Judge Jones also directs a few choice words in their direction as well:
Jones -- an appointee of President Bush, who backs the teaching of Intelligent Design -- defended his decision in personal terms.

"Those who disagree with our holding will likely mark it as the product of an activist judge. If so, they will have erred as this is manifestly not an activist court," Jones writes.

"Rather, this case came to us as the result of the activism of an ill-informed faction on a school board, aided by a national public interest law firm eager to find a constitutional test case on intelligent design, who in combination drove the board to adopt an imprudent and ultimately unconstitutional policy," he said.

I count this as an early Christmas gift, yes indeed.

Now Playing: Vince Guaraldi Trio A Charlie Brown Christmas

Saturday, December 17, 2005

The worst barbecue in the universe

Took the family out for barbecue tonight. Normally we'd head straight over to Rudy's, but for a change we thought we'd try out one of the other barbecue joints in town. You know, support the locals. On Loop 337 in New Braunfels, just off I-35 and past the landmark New Braunfels Smokehouse, is a newish restaurant called Davila's Bar-B-Q. We knew it was there because we pass it on the way to Rudy's. "Since 1959" is emblazoned on the signage, so we figured we'd give it a try.

Big mistake.

Folks, this was, without any danger of competition, the absolute worst barbecue anyone in my family'd ever had the misfortune of trying to eat. We should've turned around when we realized the place was nearly empty on a Saturday evening (when all the other restaurants in town are packed to bursting). My daughters' barbecued chickens looked like the puniest, scrawniest, boniest birds ever cooked. Were it not for the white meat, I'd have sworn they were malnourished pigeons. My wife ordered brisket. What she got was a slice of burned gristle with a side of grease. I ordered ribs and sausage. The ribs were overcooked bone with globs of fat attached to one end, and the sausage was dry and overcooked, yet still somehow greasy beyond belief. There was so much fat on our plates that the grease literally pooled on top of the barbecue sauce. I've had some crummy, uninspired barbecue in my life (Bill Miller's Barbecue comes to mind) but I've never had any so bad I've been unable to finish. We left Davila's disgusted, picking up some Chinese takeout at HEB for Lisa, and making a pot of mac and cheese for the girls once we got home.

Folks, if you're ever in New Braunfels and tempted to eat at Davila's Bar-B-Q (or passing through Seguin, since I believe they have a place there as well) do yourself a favor and don't.

Now Playing: Sheryl Crow Tuesday Night Music Club

Friday, December 16, 2005

Well, I didn't see THIS coming!

Remember how sucky the SciFi Channel's EarthSea miniseries was? How they butchered Ursula LeGuin's novel in an attempt to turn it into Harry Potter lite? Well, it looks like EarthSea is on its way to the silver screen by way of Studio Ghibli:

Studio Ghibli has officially announced that their next feature film will be Gedo Senki (Gedo War History), directed by Hayao Miyazaki's son, Goro Miyazaki. The film will be an adaptation of Ursula K Le Guin's "A Wizard of Earthsea," and will be released in the Japanese theatres in July 2006.

The Studio's official site has also undergone a revamp. Details of the new film can be found there. There are also dedicated sections of production diary and director's diary. Goro Miyazaki has posted some comments on his father's opposition towards his work as a director.


Our Tales of Earthsea page is now up.

Ghibli World has a translation of a section of Goro's blog/diary with thoughts about his reason for directing and his father's reaction.

I'm pretty jazzed about this. It's won't be a remake of A Wizard of EarthSea however. According to Anime News Network, indications are that it's either an adaptation of the third book in LeGuin's series, The Farthest Shore, or a combination of that book and the fourth, Tehanu. In any event, fans can be certain they won't be getting a slavish, word-for-word interpretation of the books. Ghibli's Howl's Moving Castle film was composed of perhaps 50 percent of the original Dianne Wynne Jones novel, and 50 percent Hayao Miyazaki's imagination. That movie was flawed, sure, and didn't approach the brilliance of Spirited Away, but it's still a thing of wonder to behold. I expect this new EarthSea movie, titled the very anime-ish Gedo War History, will follow similar lines. Which will still make it about 90 percent more faithful than the SciFi Channel mini!

Now Playing: Donal Hinely Midwinter Carols: Fourteen Selections on Glass Harmonica

Thursday, December 15, 2005

On the shelf #3

Here is the third installation of my semi-occasional feature cleverly dubbed “On the Shelf.” Going column by column, I’m working my way bottom to top, left to right until I’ve cataloged my entire library, or lose interest, whichever comes first. Part one can be viewed here, and part two here. Today’s installment examines the contents of the third-from-the-bottom, leftmost shelf, which you can see above the telescope here:

Whew! Lots of books on that shelf. Lots of space and astronaut biographies as well. Someday, I’d like to track down the entire run of Shirley Thomas’ Men of Space series, but I have no idea where I’d find room for them all. Onward and upward!

Now Playing: Vince Guaraldi Trio A Charlie Brown Christmas

Wednesday, December 14, 2005

Christmas gift shopping

I watched Rocket Boys the other night, a movie I really love, and Calista was really taken with it. That kids--high school students, granted--could teach themselves rocketry that advanced made a big impression on her. I'd been considering getting her an Estes model rocket for Christmas, but that cinched the deal. Last week I scouted out the local Hobby Lobby, and yes, they had some decent starter kits that wouldn't break the bank. I knew I'd have a few extra dollars this week, so I put off the purchase until today.

Talk about fortuitous circumstance. Hobby Lobby is running a 50 percent off sale on all model rocketry products this week! So I was able to pick up the $22 Alpha III Starter Set, which includes a 12-inch Alpha II rocket, launch pad, launcher and two engines, for a mere $11:

I chose the Alpha III over the other kits because it requires some minimal construction before flying (a little bit of gluing, nothing too dramatic), whereas the other starter kits were complete and ready to fly. From my brief fling with model rocketry back in the day, it's my belief that the building aspect is just as important to the rocket experience as actually flying. So all in all, it's a good starter set. But I wanted Calista to be able to get even more involved with the process, so thanks to the sale, I added this little rocket to the my purchase for less than $2:

The "220 Swift" is a mini-rocket that measures just 4.5 inches long, with die-cut balsa fins. It's so light that it doesn't even have a parachute--it just tumbles back to earth. A very simple rocket, easy to put together. But one of the main selling points to me is that it comes unpainted, allowing Calista to splash whatever wild, colorful designs over it she chooses. It will be indelibly stamped with her personality, and as far as I'm concerned, that's what this gift is all about (don't worry--she's got some Barbie dolls under the tree, so she's not totally losing her girlish identity).

To top it off, when I was checking out they informed me that the extra rocket engines I'd picked up were also half off, even though they weren't included as being reduced on the sale signage. So ultimately, I got two rockets, a launch kit and extra rocket motors for $5 less than the starter kit alone would've cost me had I bought it last week. Sometimes, procrastination pays off.

Now Playing: Panndora Pink Floyd radio

For the King (Kong)

For all of you folks wrapped up in King Kong mania, I'd like to direct your attention to For the King, a story I've just published over at RevolutionSF in honor of Peter Jackson's three-hour homage to non-stop dinosaur-simian wrestlemania:

Sadly, there's no MechaKong in it, but I hope you enjoy it anyway. I know I did.

Now Playing: Pandora Pink Floyd radio

It's Zoran Zivkovic day at the blog!

Zoran Zivkovic the speculative fiction writer, not to be confused with Zoran Zivkovic the Serbian Prime Minister, is an extremely talented writer and a nice guy on top of that. I published his excellent short piece, The Astronomer on RevolutionSF early on in my tenure, and recommend you go and read it now.

So why am I going on and on about a neat-o writer who is not the political leader of a Balkan state? Why, because he has sent me two excellent pieces of news in the last few days that I feel compelled to share with you good readers:
Zoran Zivkovic Signs with New Publisher
Aio Publishing Company Will Publish the European World Fantasy Award Winner

Charleston, SC – Zoran Zivkovic’s work can be hard to distill into a few sentences. Interzone perhaps gives it the best shot: “[T]his is sophisticated, philosophical fantasy of the highest order.”

Zivkovic, who has been variously compared to such luminaries as Italo Calvino, Franz Kafka, Jorge Luis Borges, and Stanislew Lem, has signed with Aio Publishing Company, LLC, for the American and Canadian release of three of his highly acclaimed mosaic novels, with more likely to follow.

Zoran Zivkovic's omnibus 'The Writer' and 'The Book.'Zivkovic won the 2003 World Fantasy Award in the novella category for The Library. Although he has been steadily building an American fan following, h is work has not been widely available in the American trade market until now. Consequently, publisher Tiffany Jonas of Aio says she’s pleased to announce that Zivkovic’s mosaic novels Seven Touches of Music, Impossible Encounters and Steps Through the Mist will be published under the house’s imprint starting in 2006, bringing Zivkovic’s works to a much wider North American readership.

The works will each appear as a standalone volume. “Zivkovic’s works each have such conceptual richness and depth,” says Jonas, “they really merit a significant breadth of space of their own. The thoughtful reader will want to taste the surface—to roll it around the tongue, so to speak, then let the ideas breathe. It takes time to fully digest the philosophical underpinnings and the wonders beneath the surface of each story, and that’s what we’re trying to provide.”

Zoran Zivkovic's 'The Fourth Circle'Equally artful and distinctive are the presentation formats favored by Aio. The publishing house recently won an award for its design work on Ian R. MacLeod’s novel The Summer Isles. The design was honored at the 2005 Chicago Book and Media Show, where it took top honors in the general trade category. “We’d like to push ourselves to another level with Zoran’s works, something along the lines of the quality of The Summer Isles,” says Patrick Jonas, the house’s art director, “but a bit more innovative, to match the uniqueness of the author.”

In Seven Touches of Music, seven stories revolve around music as a shared theme: a teacher of autistic students, an ordinary librarian, the buyer of a music box from a consignment store, an elderly woman in a train station, a retired scientist-turned-painter, a dying professor, and a violin-maker’s apprentice each privately encounter music in a uniquely powerful experience. In Impossible Encounters, six men in separate stories face either an impossible choice or a stunning revelation delivered by a stranger, only to find that despite his choice, his fate does not lie in his own hands. And in Steps Through the Mist, five women separately encounter time or reality twisted to startling effect.

Zivkovic and the publishing house were first connected through reader and critic William Thompson, who recommended the author to Aio after receiving a copy of The Summer Isles. The sale was made through Zivkovic’s literary agent, John Jarrold.

This is great news, in that Zoran's works will now be readily available to U.S. audiences. I've read all the above books (with the exception of Music) and have to say they're quite good, and also unusual in tone and approach to the fantastic, taking a slipstreamish/magical realism approach. It's great that more people will be able to find his work now--I mean, the English editions from Polaris were nice and distinctive, but only devoted fans of Zivkovic even knew they existed.

The other news comes via Infinity Plus, a vibrant British SF site that knows good literature when it sees it:
Talented Dreamer: an appreciation of the fiction of Zoran Zivkovic
by Tamar Yellin

Every philistine who questions what art is for should be hit over the head with a book by Zoran Zivkovic and then made to read it. The blow won't do much damage--Zivkovic is a master of concision who never wastes words or pages--but the reading might do some good. It might not, of course (philistinism is the most intractable of bigotries), but it's always worth a try, and Zivkovic himself is nothing if not an optimist.

Of course, one could make use of his fat compendium, Impossible Stories, due out in February 2006 from PS Publishing. A lusciously beautiful edition with an introduction by Paul Di Filippo and cover art by Hawk Alfredson, it contains his first five collections, Time Gifts, Impossible Encounters, Seven Touches of Music, the World Fantasy Award-winning The Library and Steps Through the Mist. Its appearance is cause for celebration, not only among Zivkovic's existing devotees but for those who will now have the opportunity to enjoy his wonderful storytelling for the first time.

Those earlier collections, or story-suites, or mosaic novels (the latter term is probably the most appropriate, since in each case the stories are deftly The Fourth Circle by Zoran Zivkovic linked to create a narrative and thematic whole), produced in a rush of inspiration after the completion of his first novel, The Fourth Circle, between 1997 and 2003, together form what I would call the first phase of Zivkovic's fiction. Teasing and clever, fantastical, witty and dark, they get the reader thinking but wear their deep themes lightly; they are mysterious, sometimes even enigmatic, but always accessible. With his later works--Hidden Camera (just out from Dalkey Archive Press), Compartments, Four Stories Till the End and Twelve Collections and The Teashop (the first two of these being available in PS Publishing's Postscripts magazine, and the last forthcoming in 2006) he has entered a new phase--more surreal, more elusive, more challenging and more strange.

And there's much more in the Infinity Plus article. So, now that you can buy these books, you should. Now. Everyone on your Christmas list you haven't bought anything for yet? Here's your answer.

Now Playing: Pandora Ashley MacIsaac radio

Tuesday, December 13, 2005

Cool! Now how about MechaKong vs. MechaGodzilla?

I was doing some online Googling for research into my Godzilla: Final Wars review, when I stumbled across this gem from Godzilla special effects director Koichi Kawakita regarding a proposed rematch between Godzilla and King Kong:
DM: Toho recently gave some consideration to producing a movie in which Godzilla was going to face MechaniKong, but the studio could not obtain permission to use the robot. What was the film going to be like? (MechaniKong appears in KING KONG ESCAPES (1967).)

KK: Toho wanted to pit Godzilla against King Kong because KING KONG VS. GODZILLA (1962) was very successful. However, the studio thought that obtaining permission to use King Kong would be difficult. So, it instead decided to use MechaniKong. Soon afterward, it was discovered that obtaining permission even to use the likeness of King Kong would be difficult. So, the project was canceled. (KING KONG VS. GODZILLA was more successful in Japan than any of the other Godzilla movies.)

MechaniKong was going to have injectors. A number of people were going to be injected into Godzilla while the robot was wrestling with him. They then were going to do battle with Godzilla from within while MechaniKong continued to do battle with him from without.

There were going to be many different strange worlds inside Godzilla. The concept was very much like the one on which FANTASTIC VOYAGE (1966) was based.

Ah, what could've been! I'm already miffed at the discovery that Godzilla vs. the Sea Monster was originally intended to be a King Kong film. The assertation elsewhere that Ted Turner owned the rights to Kong and demanded too much money for the rights is somewhat baffling, as the original novelization of the King Kong movie is in the public domain, and anyone can base any derivative work on that at no cost, as long as the movie is not specifically referenced. Certainly MechaKong (or MechaniKong as is sometimes referenced) has no connection with the original 1933 film, and should be fair game for Toho. Go figure.

Now Playing: Pandora Shadowfax radio

The cutthroat world of six-man football

I'm tellin' you, folks, you can't make this stuff up:
Looking back now, it should have been obvious that something was amiss about the adult football team that Texas Christian School fielded three weeks ago in Austin.

Not to mention the tattoos.

"Some of the guys had tattoos and full beards and looked like they were like 25," Not Your Ordinary School senior running back David Johnson said of his opponents that Oct. 28 afternoon. "At the time, we thought they were just sort of big.

"Now we see why they looked so old."

It turns out Johnson and his team unwittingly played a six-man team made up of college-age players, coached by Texas Christian's Herc Palmquist. The Texas Christian varsity team was told the game had been canceled and they had the night off.

Instead, Palmquist brought eight college-age players to play what he called a "pickup game," which NYOS won 28-18.

You've gotta love the coach from a Christian school who brings in 20-year-old ringers to beat up on teens. After all, Jesus loves winners and had $20 bucks riding on the outcome. Texas Christian School kicks ass!

Now Playing: Pandora Tito Puente radio

Monday, December 12, 2005

Christmas come early

Just when you thought the world was safe from Voices of Vision reviews, RevolutionSF goes and prints a new one. Yay!
The book is 194 pages, and that's good and bad. The interviews are conversational. Blaschke manages to keep the interviewees focused on the topics at hand. So he doesn't just turn the recorder on and let the writer go, even with Harlan Ellison. Several of the interviews were too short — I could have stood to hear more from Jack Williamson and Elliot S! Maggin. None of these interviews are designed as seminal, autobiographical talks, but conversations, so you may not get everything you want from each individual.

Highlights for me:

Blaschke asks Kristine Kathryn Rusch about her work on Star Trek novels and his legitimate surprise at a response of hers: "You're allowed to use real science in them?"

Scott Edelman details his attempts to stop writing like Stan Lee after working at Marvel Comics. Patricia Anthony talks about seeing ball lightning. Scott Kurtz credits inspiration to Bloom County's Berke Breathed, saying Breathed introduced him to "cruel and sharp wit."

Of course, Harlan Ellison can be counted on for outrageous, hilarious pro wrestling-style rants (He's asked here about the difference between Harlan Ellison "the writer" and "the event.") He details his time working on Babylon 5. He notes that Ivanova actress Claudia Christian "fired herself."

Several of the interviews were done as many as seven years ago, but none seem dated. And it's enjoyable to see interviews in a setting that isn't sycophantic. There are no whiffle-ball questions designed to get the creator to pat himself on the back about his creative process. Blaschke doesn't grill his subjects, but he doesn't shy from asking Neil Gaiman, for instance, about the Todd McFarlane/Miracleman lawsuit.

And there's more where that came from, so hie thee over to the site and read the whole thing. I strongly doubt there will be more VoV reviews forthcoming in the near future (other than the promised Asimov's one pending in early 2006) but that's cool. I doubt I'll ever come close to producing any book that generates the seemingly universal good will this one has.

Now Playing: Michael Giacchino The Incredibles Soundtrack

Goodness gracious me!

So last night Lisa and I are talking about what Christmas gifts we can give certain people on our list who are traditionally difficult to shop for, and the possibility of giving bottles of my homebrewed mead as gifts. Specifically, either my Holiday Spice Metheglin or my Raspberry Melomel. I'd tried some of the metheglin a few months back, and it was still a little wild. Not to mention the sediments in the bottles weren't all that aesthetically pleasing--at least not for a gift. But what of the melomel? I hadn't touched any of the stuff since last Christmas, and wasn't sure how it had aged. So I put one in the fridge to sample later that evening.

WOW! Talk about hitting the jackpot--smooth and fruity, with just a hint of sweetness (but not so much to make it syrupy) and enough acid to balance the whole package. And--get this--somehow, some way, fermentation hadn't stopped. I thought at bottling that everything was all bubbled out, but apparently those raspberries still had a wee bit o' sugar left in them. So the melomel I poured, to my surprise, wasn't a still mead at all, but rather a sparkling mead with a delightful little fizz to it. I'd only planned on a tiny taste, but the stuff was so good I ended up drinking half the bottle. It was that good.

The problem now, of course, is that I don't want to give any of it away, Christmas or no. It's mine, I tells ya! Mine! All mine!

Now Playing: Talking Heads Little Creatures

Friday, December 09, 2005

Northern Iowa 40, Texas State 37

This has been an amazing year for the Bobcat football team, and head coach David Bailiff is to be commended for all that he's accomplished in a spectacular two-year turnaround. I just hope the coaching staff learns two lessons for the future:

1) Never let the opposing team's failure to convert a two-point conversion prompt you to attempt an unnecessary two-point conversion in the third quarter. Dennis Franchione lost a game for A&M because of an ill-advised two-point try earlier this season, and it's safe to say the Bobcats weren't watching that game when it happened, otherwise they'd have kicked the PAT and won this thing in regulation tonight.

2) When you have the ball on your 30 yard line with three time outs and 1:24 left on the clock, don't kneel the ball to force overtime. Not when a field goal will win it for you. Too many uncontrollable elements in OT to make that a safe gamble.

Other than that, great season 'Cats. It's definitely something to build on and be proud of.

Now Playing: Varioius 25 Classical Masterpieces vol. 1

Thursday, December 08, 2005

Return to Rocky Beach, Calif.

A post by Jaquandor the other day got me thinking. He mentioned that movement finally seemed to be picking up on the long-rumored Encyclopedia Brown movie, and reminisced a bit on reading those old mysteries as a kid. I did, too, back in the day. But I never really got that into Encyclopedia Brown. They were interesting, in a way, but to me they always came across as more than a little stagnant. They held little thrill for me.

Shortly after I passed through my brief Encyclopedia Brown phase, though, lighting did strike--in the form of Jupiter Jones, Pete Crenshaw and Bob Andrews. The Alfred Hitchcock and the Three Investigators series made a huge impression on me growing up, in 4th, 5th and 6th grade. I don't recall our school library having any Hardy Boys books, but it had almost the entire run of the Three Investigators up to that time, and I remember racing my friends to the stacks, trying to find the next one in the series before my friends snatched it up. So while the girls in the class were reading The Truth About Fonzie, we were fantasizing about becoming the next generation of Sam Spades. With all these memories flooding back, I did what any red-blooded American juvenile would do these days: I Googled. And lo and behold, I found websites aplenty: The Three Investigators Collectors Site and Tunnel Two for those folks already well-versed in the arcane lore of mysterious goings-on at Jones' Salvage, and the obligatory Wikipedia entry, which gives a quick and dirty rundown of everything you need to know to get up to speed. Very cool.

The first of the series I ever read was The Mystery of the Stuttering Parrot, and boy, was it a corker. The cover art by Ed Vebell didn't really match the character descriptions--the protagonists all look like Puerto Ricans here--and for my money, the phenomenal Harry Kane was the definitive Three Investigators artist. His interior illustrations defined the books in more ways than one. But that's beside the point. Wow, was the story ever inventive. A guy (I can't remember if he was bad or good anymore) had essentially taught a coded treasure map to a variety of parrots. Each one had memorized one part of the map, disguised as random sayings. A macaw, for instance, misquoted Shakespeare by saying "To- to- to be, or not to- to- to be?" Hence, the eponymous stuttering parrot. But the stutter was intentional, and actually turned out to be an address. Clever, huh? Each bird's clue built upon the previous, and only when taken together would the location of the treasure be revealed. When the bad guys beat the boys to the final birds, all seems lost until the Investigators realized that the mynah bird--the only one they managed to keep away from their opponents--not only held a critical piece to the puzzle, but had memorized all the other parrots' clues as well. That was some pretty deft plot twisting, I have to admit.

The first 10 books in the series were written by Robert Arthur, who died in 1969 after handing the reins of the series over to William Arden, who wrote the lion's share of the series books for the next two decades. Arden's style meshed very well with the voice Arthur had established in the titles up to that point, and he also paid close attention to continuity. The result was a fairly seamless transition. There was one distinct change in the books, however: Under Arden's pen, the dangers the boys faced grew more threatening, their challenges more perilous. Time actually passed in Rocky Beach, and situations changed for the boys. The great Jack Hearne cover art for Mystery of the Dead Man's Riddle above is a great example of the amped-up tension. Like Encyclopedia Brown, the Three Investigators relied on their brains to solve their mysteries. But unlike the smug and static brown, they often had to get physical in order to survive long enough to solve the mystery.

I'd always thought the series would make an excellent one-hour TV mystery series, and was baffled as to why during the series' popular heyday in the '70s nobody attempted to do one. After all, the Hardy Boys and Nancy Drew made brief but memorable splashed back then. So imagine my surprise when I stumbled across this movie audition notice for a Three Investigators film version of The Secret of Skeleton Island. Then I read some of the casting description:
Chris: 10-12, Hispanic. She's stowed away on Skeleton Island, where her father is currently working on the new amusement park. She and the other indigenous people of the island are not thrilled by the disruptive new development, which threatens their ancestral way of life. When her father falls afoul of the law for a crime he did not commit, Chris turns to The Three Investigators for help in her predicament, and later finds herself running for her life from a murderous adversary.

In all honesty, that doesn't sound much at all like the book I remember. There's an old carnival, I think, but the plot revolves around a disrupted movie shoot. There's certainly no girl named Chris. The book had some distinctly evocative scenes, however. A key plot point was a local legend that a pirate had hidden his treasure on the island, but died before he could tell anyone its location. His only clue was that the treasure was "in Davy Jones' grasp." In a clever bit of wordplay, a tidal cave hidden an outcropping of rock (the "hand") conceals the treasure, only the boys are trapped in said cave with the tide coming in, which renders their discovery rather moot if they can't find an escape. That's a suspenseful scene I'd dearly love to see on the big screen, but Hollywood being Hollywood, I expect they'd dump it in favor of a speedboat chase reminiscent of Thunderball.

I eventually lost interest in the series during junior high. I'd kept reading them even after I outgrew their targetted age bracket because I loved the characters and the mysteries--again, mostly by Arden--were well done. Until. Sigh. In 1979, The Secret of Shark Reef was published, and this proved to be the last Arden book. In 1981, M.V. Carey replaced Arden with the publication of The Mystery of the Scar-Faced Beggar, and things quickly went downhill. Alfred Hitchcock had died a few years previously, so his role in the books was unceremoniously replaced by the ill-constructed fictional mystery author Hector Sebastian. I remember this abrupt imposition of a new framing setup confused the heck out of me even though I considered myself a pretty astute reader. Hector Sebastian simply served no purpose in the narrative. But that wasn't the bad part. Under Carey's unsteady hand, the Three Investigators lost all vestiges of personality. Jupiter Jones, the leader with a photographic memory, forgot basic facts and was confused and misled easily. Bob and Pete did dumb things to complicate matters. Character actions made no logical sense. Essentially, the idiot plot ruled the day--the characters did things because the author made them, rather than said actions growing out of the story. I tried two more of Carey's books--Wandering Cave Man I think was one. Or maybe not. Perhaps Blazing Cliffs. Doesn't really matter, because they both sucked. Continuity was ignored. Character was ignored. Cookie-cutter plots were churned out, with only the names slapped onto the characters giving clue that these were in the same series as the books from way back when. It doesn't surprise me that the series was cancelled less than six years later as sales collapsed--the product was terrible, plain and simple.

I still have a handful of my old Three Investigator books around here somewhere. Some were even the ones I'd originally read, having the good fortune to pick them up in a library book sale some years after I'd stopped reading them. Nostalgia's a fun thing, sometimes. I wouldn't mind trying my hand at writing some books in the series, but seeing as how I haven't ever written mysteries, and that Random House shows no interest in reviving the books, that's not something I'm about to lose sleep over. But still, it's fun to dream.

Now Playing: Vivaldi The Four Seasons

Tuesday, December 06, 2005

Eek! Eek!

I've published a new story over at RevolutionSF, Mikal Trimm's Of Mice and Melody. It's a weird, fun piece. Of course, Trimm's an Austin-area writer, so that's to be expected.

I've also got some more goodies planned for the coming weeks, including a story riffing on a certain 8,000-pound gorilla that's about to take movie theaters by storm. So stay tuned!

Now Playing: Various Celtic Carols

Monday, December 05, 2005

Announcement of a personalish nature

Well, I've put this off as long as possible, so I might as well share with everyone at once. Lisa's pregnant, and due in a few months. It's a boy, our first, and we're wondering how the family's going to adjust to that. I mean, we've just now got this whole "raising girls" thing down. In any event, here's an ultrasound image from a few weeks back:

So, big changes coming up in the Blaschke household. Calista and Keela are bouncing off the walls with excitement, Lisa's uncomfortable because the kid keeps kicking her liver up into her throat, and I'm having to bite my tongue a lot when people keep saying, "Aren't you glad you're finally having a boy?" as if Calista and Keela were mere consolation prizes. Comes with the territory, I suppose. But yeah, another little one gracing our abode. Definitely nervous. And excited. Nervous and excited.

Now Playing: Various The Best of Christmas

Saturday, December 03, 2005


This morning I took the girls over to Landa Park for a couple of hours. We were walking along the Comal River, watching the dozens upon dozens of ducks and geese swimming in the chilly spring waters, not to mention a half-dozen nutria and some very bright red crawfish. One bright white bird was particularly impressive because of its enormous size. I thought to myself, "That's one big goose." White with black wing feathers... and then I realized it had a long yellow beak with a throat-pouch.

There was a white pelican swimming with the ducks and geese, just as happy as could be, more than 200 miles from the coast. Wow. Amazing the things one sees when the camera's at home.

Now Playing: Various Classical Masterpieces vol. 2

Friday, December 02, 2005

Of apes and lizards

Tonight I saw the Dateline NBC sneak of the new Peter Jackson King Kong. While I'm still very dubious about casting Jack Black in such a prominent role, I'm more and more convinced that Naomi Watts is the most inspired bit of casting in the history of film. Not only does she look period, she out-Fay Wrays the orginal Fay Wray. I wasn't much of a fan before, but I think I am now. And, wonder of wonders, I can't believe how much of the dinosaur fights they showed on the program. I'm still disappointed in Jackson's decision to substitute the pack of Allosaurus in his original script for Tyrannosaurus (Allosaurus being my favorite extinct dino) but still. Wow. Somewhere, Mark Finn is going spastic. Speaking of which, the old monkeyboy has his own Kongish media project ready to roll:
At the cineplex this holiday season, the 800-lb. gorilla – make that 8,000-lb. gorilla – is Peter Jackson's little remake about the ape that scaled the Empire State, King Kong. But here in Austin, the simian sovereign of Skull Island will also be heard beating his chest in a live theatrical presentation. The Violet Crown Radio Players, those intrepid devotees of 1930s audio drama who brought us staged radio versions of The War of the Worlds and It's a Wonderful Life, among others, are mounting what they're calling the "lost" radio adaptation of King Kong, as produced for the Lux Radio Theater by Cecil B. DeMille. Whether that's indeed a nugget of forgotten history or a whopper the size of our monumental monk we'll leave for you to decide, but VCRP Creative Director Mark Finn has indeed cobbled together a script for Kong as radio drama, adapted from a novelization of the 1933 film that's now in the public domain.

And on top of all this, I got in my review copy of the Godzilla: Final Wars DVD the other day. I've always been more of a Big G fan than a Kong fan, although I really get into both. This latest Godzilla flick is... different from previous efforts. There are some things about it that are impossibly cool, and other things that are so cheesy you could keep Pizza Hut in business for years with it. Those expecting Destroy All Monsters will likely be let down, but folks who've said "Godzilla movies should be more like The Matrix" will want to reserve their copies now. My full review will be coming in a week or so, but man, this is one trippy Godzilla film.

Now Playing: nothing

Thursday, December 01, 2005

Book signing on campus

I had a book signing today at the university bookstore on campus, which I just realized I forgot to mention here. I hope nobody holds it against me.

For the most part, it was a typical booksigning. Patrons edged past us warily, a few brave ones asking "Did y'all write these books?" Mostly, the authors talked among themselves--I had the advantage of knowing James McWilliams and Eileen Morrison already through my job. A few folks picked up my "Suggested Reading List." One person already had a copy, bought previously from the local Hastings ("So you're the one!" I accused. That cheap joke got laughs). I even sold a copy to an interested passer-by. Pretty typical, in my experience.

The good news is that the professor who teaches the undergrad and graduate "Science Fiction Literature" class stopped by to talk. A big Delaney fan, she found my interview collection intriguing and would be willing to consider it as a course book--only Nebraska's online academic review copy request system seems to be on the fritz, and she hasn't been able to request one. I promised I'd look into it on my end. And I will, too. Landing an assigned text gig for the book would do wonders for my sales figures--particularly if I can get it into several classes. And, to top it off, the prof expressed interest in my planned follow-up volume as wel. Joy!

Now Playing: Stu Phillips Battlestar Galactica Soundtrack: 25th Anniversary Edition

Tuesday, November 29, 2005

Unexpected good news

Rory Harper has just emailed me to say Ellen Datlow is giving Tell and Leonardo's Hands Honorable Mentions in the 2006 Year's Best Fantasy & Horror (Vol. 19) anthology. Ellen does the selections for the horror component of that collection, so by extension, those two stories tend to the disturbing.

What does this have to do with me? Well, as the editor who published them originally (not to mention the fact that I badgered the authors mercilessly to let me do so) I find this some small vindication of my otherwise bleak and pointless existence.

Now Playing: Pandora Shadowfax radio

Monday, November 28, 2005

Movies! Movies! Movies!

Through circumstances entirely too boring to recount, I saw a heck of a lot of theatrical movies over the weekend. The bad news is that most were pretty disappointing.

The first was "The Ice Harvest," starring Billy Bob Thornton and John Cusack who steal $2 million from a small-time mob boss (Randy Quaid) then have problems getting out of Wichita, Kansas when an ice storm hits. The flick was directed by Harold Ramis and heavily promoted as a comedy crime thriller. It's not. It desperately wants to be "Fargo" but doesn't come close. First off, it's not funny. There are a couple of ironic moments, and some absurd situations, but no laughs. It's mean and brutal in places, sort of seedy, but never quite enough to move it fully into the edgy crime film sub-genre. Mostly it's uncomfortable. Ultimately, it's not a bad film, but it's not going to make anyone react with more passion than "eh" either.

The next film I saw was "Zathura," the Jumanji-esque adventure where kids play a game that becomes real. Only this time it's set in a retro-cool science fiction universe, with rocket ships and cast-iron robots. Man, I give this one two thumbs way up. It speaks to me. The resolution with the stranded astronaut was pretty ham-fisted and could've been handled a lot more effectively. But still. You've got black holes, meteor storms and evil lizard-aliens opening fire on the space-going house with massive cannons then board in search of "meat"... This one's a winner. It deserves to be doing better in theatres than it is, but I, for one, will be getting the DVD.

I wanted to see the Johnny Cash biopic, "Walk the Line," but it was sold out. So instead I took in the Jennifer Anison and Clive Owen flick "Derailed." Big mistake. Two execs try to have an affair, but are interrupted by a nasty thug who abuses them physically then begins blackmailing them. The story was built around the "idiot plot," in which the narrative progresses only because the protagonists refuse to do the sensible thing and instead make the worst possible choice at every opportunity. A young daughter suffering from type I diabetes screamed out "plot device." I gave up on the depressing, bleak stupidity and walked out after 45 minutes and caught the last hour of "Jarhead." A "modern-day Platoon" is the easiest and most dismissive way to describe it offhand, but I thought it well-done and effective. I first saw Jake Gyllenhaal in "October Sky" and he continues to impress me. Not a film I'll devote to many repeat viewings, but one I definitely plan on watching all the way through someday.

Finally, Lisa and I caught "Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire." I felt that despite some spectacular scenes, it fell far short of "Prisoner of Azkaban." Of course, I felt the book the film was based on to be over-written, self-important and bloated. "Goblet of Fire" suffered from the same problems of the first two Potter films--trying to include too much, and doing nothing with those extraneous elements. Take the sleazy reporter from the Daily Prophet. She showed up, annoyed everyone, and had no bearing on the story. Her sub-plot was never addressed or wrapped up (and it was pretty weak in the book to begin with). The film's narrative would've been better served by cutting her completely and using that time saved to deal with crucial plot points... like, say explaining why Harry's parents appeared at the end of the film. As it is now, the only "explanation" is Dumbledore's non-answer of "no magic spell can bring back the dead." Huh? The circumstances of their re-appearance in the book--that Harry's and Voldemort's wands are "twins," each built around a phoenix feather from Fawkes--is pretty significant in that it explains how Harry survives yet again, not to mention building on the Harry/Voldemort duality that becomes more important in "Order of the Phoenix." Sloppy, careless writing. I will, however, give them credit for a nice plot twist on the "gillyweed" angle, taking a throwaway line from the book and building it so that Neville has a decent bit of screen time. Overall, it's an entertaining flick, but it's still a step back from the quality storytelling of Azkaban.

Now Playing: Pandora Stan Getz & Joao Gilberto radio

Saturday, November 26, 2005

That big ol' football game

Well, it's over. Another defeat to wrap up an otherwise dreary losing season. Sure, the Aggies put up a good fight, and may very well have upset the t-sips had it not been for that blocked punt and an ill-timed fumble there at the end, but still. A loss is a loss, and I don't take heart in moral victories. Coach Fran was hired at $2 million a year to win national championships, not put together two losing seasons in a three year period.

I'm not one of the potbangers that thinks Fran's contract should be bought out now. I believe every new coach deserves five years to make his system work, with his players. But Fran's made some terrible, ill-advised decisions regarding this football team, and I'm not talking about failing to go for two when you're only up by one.

Fran believed his own press clippings when he rode into College Station, I'm now convinced. He had his system, and thought he had the Midas touch. He didn't stop to think that the players A&M had weren't suited to that approach. This is painfully evident on the defense, where he and Carl Torbush blew up the traditional 3-4, linebacker-centric alignment A&M was legendary for (remember the Wrecking Crew anyone?) and threw the players into the 4-3. Torbush said at the time the defensive looks would be multiple, but I haven't seen that. Instead, we've had a defensive scheme that is built around down linemen, but A&M doesn't have the stockpile of down linemen needed to make it work. That's resulted in an over-worked rotation of defensive backs, which has resulted in one of the worst defensive units in the nation for three years running. Offensively, star quarterback Reggie McNeal broke nearly every school passing record last year, so what offensive approach do they take this year? Switch to an option attack, and force the senior QB to learn a whole new system, while exposing him to a greater chance of injury. McNeal was nowhere near as productive this year--nor were the receivers--because of this inexplicable change in focus. Stephen McGee, the second-string QB, started against the 'sips today, and played well. But he started only because McNeal was injured. And I'm not even going to address the inexplicable and persistent misuse of bruising running back Jovorski Lane this season.

Franchione took over a program that hadn't had a losing season since 1984, and has produced two in three years. He's on record as saying A&M, when he took over, was in better shape than any other school he's ever coached at. People complained that former coach R.C. Slocum's recruiting had slipped--and it had to a degree--but the 1999 class was ranked in the top 5 nationally, and the 2000-2002 classes were all top 20. That's not exactly a bare cupboard. No, through either hubris or naivete or both, Fran has blown up the foundation in place and set up for himself a rebuilding job from scratch. He may still turn things around, but close losses at home aren't going to do it. This is still the team that was blown out in the Cotton Bowl last year (a game the 7-5 Aggies did not deserve to play in), still the team that lost to Oklahoma 77-0, still the team that was blown out by Iowa-Frellin'-State at home just last month.

Were Slocum still coach, there's no doubt that A&M wouldn't have come within sniffing distance of a national championship these past three years. But by the same token, he wouldn't have mis-handled the talent available, either. A string of 7-5 and 8-4 seasons from Slocum isn't something that gets the fans whooping it up, but after another of Fran's 5-6 pratfalls, I wonder how many of those who actively campaigned for Slocum's dismissal would like to swap today's uninspired losing for yesterday's uninspired winning?

Now Playing: Prince Sign O' the Times

Thursday, November 24, 2005

A stuffed T-Day

I'm happy to report that the family survived another Thanksgiving. This year, we set out to the booming metropolis of Nordheim to spend the holiday at my paternal grandmother's. To the best of my recollection, I hadn't been there in 20 years, although there's a slight possibility I visited once while I was in college. Memories fade over time, I've learned. But once we reached the old farm house (the roads and terrain had changed over the years, but the old farm hadn't) lots of memories came flooding back. I got to see aunts and uncles again, not to mention my cousins, all of whom I'd seen rarely over the years until a family gathering at Fuddruckers in Katy last month. After eating entirely too much turkey and assorted foods, I took the girls to explore the brown, mesquite-and-cactus filled pastures. They chased cows. They got tractor rides. They tried to catch cats in the hay barn, just like I did decades ago. Aside from a missing tree here and a rebuilt workshop there, things really hadn't changed much at all. And Calista and Keela got to visit with both of their great-grandmothers:

They're really lucky, in that their great-grandmothers are in good enough health to get to know them. Counting Wanda Baugh, my birth-grandmother, they've got three great-grandmothers they've gotten to know well. When I was a child, my only surviving great-grandmother was Bruncie Majefski, on my mother's side. But she was sick and frail, and the fact that we visited her so often in the hospital or rest home scared me. I never got to know her. But the girls, they think it's great having all these extended grandparents.

Afterwards, on the way home, we stopped off at the Yorktown city park, which is wonderfully, delightfully and gloriously behind the times. All across Texas, from Columbus to Temple to New Braunfels, public playgrounds are scarred with eroded rings where generations of children's feet pounded circles in the ground while playing on merry-go-rounds. But these days, all the merry-go-rounds have been removed. "Too dangerous" is what they say. "Liability," they say. Saints preserve us from those who would bubble-wrap our children and stick them in a padded room for their own good. But in good old Yorktown, this enlightened 21st century thinking hasn't taken root. The parks has not one merry-go-round, but three. Not only that, but it has an honset-to-goodness jungle gym that's about 12 feet high. And if that wasn't enough, feast your eyes on this bit of wonder:

No, your eyes aren't playing tricks on you--it's a manually-operated ferris wheel! It's around 60 years old or so, because my mother rode on it when she was a child--she remembers long lines of kids waiting their turn on Saturday afternoons. It was packed away in storage for a long time, but when I was 10 or so--around 1980 maybe--it was refurbished and returned to the park, and I remember riding on it as a kid with my brothers. And speaking of my brothers, Chris isn't as light as he used to be:

Once we finished defying death and personal injury lawsuits at the park, we made one more stop, and my other grandmother's farm outside of Cuero, to feed her cows and donkeys, and to check up on my sister's horse. There's an Osage orange tree right outside our subdivision in New Braunfels, and we had gathered a bunch of the fallen horse apples for the family equine. Some horses supposedly turn their noses up at the odd green fruit, but that wasn't the case this time:

Even the donkeys wanted in on the action, helping themselves to some of the smaller ones that rolled off to the side. The citrus-melon scent of the fruit filled the air. My stomach started grumbling--it'd been almost five hours since lunch. I looked at the horse apples and though, "What the heck?"

Yum. Them's good eating!

Now Playing: Sheryl Crow Tuesday Night Music Club

Wednesday, November 23, 2005

Jayhawk wars

You know things have gotten bad when your state's flagship institution of higher education (read: University of Kansas) ridicules said state's science curriculum (read: Intelligent Design), and then builds an entire course around said lunacy:
A course being offered next semester by the university religious studies department is titled "Special Topics in Religion: Intelligent Design, Creationism and other Religious Mythologies."

"The KU faculty has had enough," said Paul Mirecki, department chairman.

"Creationism is mythology," Mirecki said. "Intelligent design is mythology. It's not science. They try to make it sound like science. It clearly is not."

It's a good start, and I'm glad to see the public universities in Kansas finally engaging the battle directly (now, what's Kansas State doing?). What would be a strong, unequivocal stance on the issue, though, would be for these Kansas universities to refuse to accept science credits from any Kansas high school that teaches I.D. That would get folks' attention, real quick.

Now Playing: Pandora Hoyt Axton radio

Pandora's (music) Box

This is an interesting musical diversion I found via Bill Crider's Pop Culture Magazine. It's called the Pandora Music Genome Project. On the surface, it's a simple online jukebox, that plays an assortment of music for you. On closer look, it's much cooler than that. You enter the name of a particular song or artist, and Pandora combs its "music genome" database to come up with other songs that exhibit similar key traits. The results can be quite entertaining... and occasionally wildly inaccurate. Fortunately, you can guide the playlist toward more of a particular style, or warn it off of paths you care not to tread down.

Naturally, the first two "Stations" I set up were based around the Kinks and Billy Joel. The results were somewhat predictable, although more Who songs turned up on the Joel Station than the Kinks, which I found perplexing, since I've always found the Kinks and the Who to be very similar as far as British Invasion groups go.

Then, suddenly, inspiration struck. Why content myself to music I already had loaded on my computer or readily available on CD? Let's put Pandora to the test! So I went a little nuts, going for obscure or offbeat, in some cases entering artists I was barely familiar with. So now I have Stations built around Hawkwind, the Mike Curb Congregation and William Shatner & Leonard Nimoy. Wow. Right now I've got a Hoyt Axton station playing. Some of the artists gravitate toward country as you'd expect, such as the Bellamy Brothers and Restless Heart, but songs by the Minutemen and Pluto have cropped up. Fascinating.

Now Playing: Pandora Hoyt Axton radio

Monday, November 21, 2005

Fun with eBay

Whenever you plunge into the seething morass known as eBay, you run the risk of running into characters. If you're buying something, you may get that cool bargain you've had your heart set on, but there's always that outside chance of getting a joker that decides to jerk you around. The same is true for sellers. Lisa's up to her eyebrows right now with a nincompoop who's going ballistic because she hasn't received some children's clothes she won in auction a month ago, and she's blaming Lisa. Here's the kicker: The nincompoop registered a fake mailing address with both eBay and Paypal. Why? Well, no satisfactory explanation has come forth on that one. But that's the address Lisa was given, so that's the one the package was mailed to. The fact that the package hasn't reached the nincompoop because of her own stupidity hasn't sunk in. And she declined insurance as well. So now she's threatening to leave Lisa negative feedback. Go figure.

On the other hand, sometimes the people you encounter can surprise you. We auction off antler sheds regularly, and about a month ago we sold some red stag antlers to a fellow named Jim Boyd. When I went to mail them, the postage we'd quoted him using the eBay calculator was about triple the actual postage. There was no way we could justify that much of a markup for "handling charges," so Lisa refunded some of his money. Jim expressed his shock--and gratitude at the unexpected refund--by sending us this:

It's a pen he turned from those very same red stag antlers we'd sold him. Now Jim didn't know this beforehand, but I have a profound weakness for antler pens. Not approaching Neil Gaiman's obsession with fountain pens, but still. I simply love the texture and feel of the crafted antler in my hand. It simply feels good. So one good turn deserves another, deserves another, I recommend you good folks check out Jim's photo gallery, where a wide variety of pens crafted from exotic hardwoods and the like are on display. The man is quite talented, even if he's modest about it. Personally, I'm thinking we should refund postage more often if this is the end result...

Now Playing: Johnny Cash American IV: The Man Comes Around

Friday, November 18, 2005

Because we haven't had enough "Evolutionary Wars" content of late...

Last week, Pope Benedict sent out some more of his trademark mixed signals on the evolution vs. intelligent design conflict, but out of a combination of annoyance and disinterest, I didn't post about it. But now I see a new story, "Vatican astronomer joins evolution debate," hit the wires which again puts the Vatican on the side of the good guys:
The Rev. George Coyne, the Jesuit director of the Vatican Observatory, said placing intelligent design theory alongside that of evolution in school programs was "wrong" and was akin to mixing apples with oranges.

"Intelligent design isn't science even though it pretends to be," the ANSA news agency quoted Coyne as saying on the sidelines of a conference in Florence. "If you want to teach it in schools, intelligent design should be taught when religion or cultural history is taught, not science."

And then:
"God in his infinite freedom continuously creates a world that reflects that freedom at all levels of the evolutionary process to greater and greater complexity," he wrote. "He is not continually intervening, but rather allows, participates, loves."

The Vatican Observatory, which Coyne heads, is one of the oldest astronomical research institutions in the world. It is based in the papal summer residence at Castel Gandolfo south of Rome.

So, let's see if Rome can stick to message now, and not muddy the waters with equivocal and ambiguous comments on the subject. Yeah, fat chance of that.

Now Playing: Dr. Love and the Erogenous Zones Dr. Love and the Erogenous Zones

Bullet not dodged

Well, it's a different kind of virus. Since the family went several days after Calista's illness, we began allowing ourselves to think no one else had contracted the bug. Oops. Keela started vomiting on Wednesday and was woozy Thursday. About 5 a.m. this morning, Lisa was awoken by nasty stomach cramps and was waylaid all day, so I stayed home from work to help out, missing an interview I had scheduled with a student intern candidate and other work-related stuff.

So right now, I'm last man standing. Odds are that by this time tomorrow, my guts will be trying to turn me inside out. :-(

Now Playing: Dr. Love and the Erogenous Zones Dr. Love and the Erogenous Zones

Thursday, November 17, 2005

Alas, Dark Tower, I knew thee well

Lisa does eBaying fairly regularly, to bring in extra money (as is the case with most eBayers). I'm not going into details, but circumstances dictate that my long-held Dark Tower game must now go up onto the auction block:

The auction ends five days from now, if anyone out there is interested in snagging this piece of gaming history. For some reason, my listing seems to be attracting fewer bids than other games that are less complete, so you might get it at a bargain. Which sucks for me, but would good for you.

Now Playing: Don Henley California Desperados

Wednesday, November 16, 2005

On the shelf #2

Here is the second installation of my semi-occasional feature cleverly dubbed “On the Shelf.” Going column by column, I will work my way bottom to top, left to right until I’ve cataloged my entire library, or lose interest, whichever comes first. Today’s installment examines the contents of the second-from-the-bottom, leftmost shelf, which you can see just above the telescope here:

So far, from my perspective at any rate, there isn't much in the way of odd titles that make one stop and go, "Huh." Just your standard-issues space science-heavy title parade of astronautics and planetary sciences. I suppose this one should be known as the "Astronaut Shelf." Lots of interesting books, though. Oh yes.

In part one of this exercise, I mentioned that several books of mine were perplexingly missing, and that I suspected another box lay hidden in the garage somewhere. Those suspicions were correct. Said box has been found, containing all the wayward tomes... except for Shadows Bite by Stephen Dedman. That’s the only one that remains unaccounted for. Weird.

Now Playing: Robert Plant Now and Zen

Milestones with Jack

This is cool. Very, very cool for me. Over on Amazon, Voices of Vision has been bundled in one of those "Better Together" twofer deals they often offer (and is often paid for by the publisher or author in an effort to boost sales). That in and of itself is cool, since as far as I know, no money has exchanged hands on this in any form or fashion. But what's prodigiously groovy is who I'm "Better Together" with:

I make no bones about the fact I hold Jack Williamson in awe, and he's invariably treated me with the utmost courtesy and respect the handful of times our paths have crossed. There's a reason I chose to use his interview as the finale in my book. To see my little collection adjacent to anything written by him is, as far as I'm concerned, a worthy accomplishment.

Of course, now that I go back there to admire the pairing, I see that Tom Disch has cut in on my action. Oh well. It was fun while it lasted!

Now Playing: Robert Plant Fate of Nations

Tuesday, November 15, 2005

Tideland trailer!

Oooh. The website for Terry Gilliam's upcoming film, Tideland, has undergone a makeover. It's now a virtual Flash-infused world. Building websites with Flash usually annoys me, but I have to admit they've done a great job with this one. And, joy of joys, there's a new trailer up there as well (hint: click on "Access Map" at the bottom to find the trailer quickly).

It's creepy, strange and surreal. It looks to me like this film has a real darkness to it, edgy and with sharp teeth. That's something I haven't really seen from Gilliam in a long while. Just watching this trailer, I felt a dread foreboding creep over me where Jeliza Rose was concerned. And I'm far more excited about Tideland than I was for The Brothers Grimm simply because Gilliam himself wrote the screenplay for the former.

Now Playing: Tom Petty Wildflowers

Monday, November 14, 2005

What? No Rootbeer Rag!?

Very cool. And long overdue, in my opinion. On Nov. 22, Columbia will release a Billy Joel box set titled My Lives that collects a whole heck of a lot of his demos, B-sides, soundtrack work and unreleased songs. There’s also a smattering of his early recordings with bands such as Attila and the Hassles. I’m a huge Billy Joel fan, and in my book, he’s second only to the Kinks. I’ve got scads of bootlegs of his, plus all his official albums (quite a few on CD, tape and vinyl, plus his “Video Albums” and all of his live shows on video (haven’t had the cash to upgrade to DVD there yet) not to mention a bunch of singles--both CDs and 45s. So I’m looking forward to getting this:
Disc 1:
"My Journey's End" (The Lost Souls)
"Time and Time Again" (The Lost Souls)
"Every Step I Take (Every Move I Make)" (The Hassles)
"You've Got Me Hummin'" (The Hassles)
"Amplifier Fire" (Attila)
"Only A Man" (Demo, Previously Unreleased)
"She's Got A Way"
"Oyster Bay" (Demo, Previously Unreleased)
"Piano Man" (Demo, Previously Unreleased)
"The Siegfried Line" (Demo, Previously Unreleased)
"New Mexico" (Demo, Previously Unreleased, Later Became "Worse Comes To Worst")
"Cross To Bear" (Demo, Previously Unreleased)
"Miami 2017 (Seen The Lights Go Out On Broadway" (Demo, Previously Unreleased)
"These Rhinestone Days" (Demo, Previously Unreleased, Later Became "I Loved These Days")
"Everybody Has A Dream"
"Only The Good Die Young" (Alternate, Previously Unreleased)
"Until The Night"
"It's Still Rock and Roll To Me"

Disc 2:
"Captain Jack" (Live, 1981)
"The End of The World" (Demo, Previously Unreleased, Later Became "Elvis Presley Blvd.")
"The Prime of Your Life" (Demo, Previously Unreleased, Later Became "The Longest Time")
"She's Right On Time"
"Elvis Presley Blvd."
"Nobody Knows But Me"
"An Innocent Man"
"Christie Lee" (Demo, Previously Unreleased)
"Easy Money"
"And So It Goes" (Demo, Previously Unreleased)
"I'll Cry Instead" (Live, 1983)
"Keeping The Faith" (12" Dance Remix)
"Modern Woman"
"Baby Grand" (With Ray Charles)
"Getting Closer" (With Steve Winwood, Previously Unreleased)
"House of Blue Light"
"Money Or Love" (Demo, Previously Unreleased)
"The Times They Are A-Changin'" (Live, 1987)

Disc 3:
"The Downeaster 'Alexa'"
"I Go To Extremes"
"All Shook Up"
"Heartbreak Hotel"
"When You Wish Upon A Star"
"In A Sentimental Mood"
"Motorcycle Song" (Demo, Previously Unreleased, Later Became "All About Soul")
"You Picked A Real Bad Time"
"The River of Dreams" (Alternate, Previously Unreleased)
"A Hard Day's Night"
"Light As The Breeze"
"To Make You Feel My Love"
"Hey Girl"
"Why Should I Worry"
"Where Were You (On Our Wedding Day)?"
"Highway 61 Revisited" (Demo, Previously Unreleased)

Disc 4:
"Movin' Out (Anthony's Song)"
"You May Be Right" (With Elton John, Live, Previously Unreleased)
"Big Shot"
"Don't Worry Baby"
"Goodnight Saigon" (Vietnam Veterans Version)
"Los Angelenos"
"New York State of Mind"
"Opus 1. Soliloquy (On A Separation)"
"Opus 8. Suite For Piano (Star Crossed)"
"Elegy: The Great Peconic"

"No Man's Land"
"The Ballad of Billy The Kid"
"My Life"
"I Go To Extremes"
"Shades of Grey"
"The River of Dreams"
"Goodnight Saigon"
"We Didn't Start The Fire"
"A Hard Day's Night"
"Big Shot"
"Piano Man"

Looking over the track list, I’m fairly impressed with the thoroughness of the selections. I assume the demo of “Only the Good Die Young” on disc 1 is the infamous reggae version, and I’m frankly shocked that “When You Wish Upon a Star” and “Why Should I Worry” are included, not because they’re bad songs, but because Disney’s notoriously chintzy when it comes to rights issues.

I’m particularly jazzed by the inclusion of such selections as "The Prime of Your Life," "The Siegfried Line" and “Time and Time Again,” songs I either don’t have a good recording of, or didn’t even know existed. During one of Joel’s master classes a few years back (which I’ve got a recording of) a student asked him if he planned to release a rarities disc, to which Joel replied he didn’t, because he didn’t have enough material. He said he cannibalized all his writing when putting together an album, so that there wasn’t anything left, and when he died there wouldn’t be a posthumous album of unreleased tracks and B-sides because there wasn’t enough material. Well, there might not be a posthumous album, but this boxed set shows he wasn’t entirely accurate regarding unreleased or rare material.

Still, there are some glaring gaps and missing songs that makes me scratch my head. I’ve got the bootlegs, after all, and am puzzled as to why such fan-favorite trade bait such as the instrumental “Handball” are left off. A quick glance at the list shows that “Silver Seas” (a version of “Nocturne” with lyrics), “Rosalinda,” “Josephine” (either the common live or rarer studio version) or “Where’s the Revolution?” Granted, some of those songs show his immaturity as a songwriter at the time, but even so they clearly illustrate his progression (and some are quite good by any standard). I don’t think this is a case of the old Family Records contract dispute rearing its head again, because other songs from that same era are included here. And I feel somewhat cheated that while he includes an “Uptown Girl” duet with Elton John, the song those two wrote together isn’t included.

If anyone out there is wondering what to get me for Christmas, well, consider this a big hint.

Now Playing: Tom Petty & the Heartbreakers Live at the Fillmore, vol. 2

Sunday, November 13, 2005

It's over, man. Wormer dropped the big one.

The Sci-Fi Channel has killed off SciFiction. Presumably, Ellen Datlow is now looking for work:
In an apparently sudden move, has announced the ending of Sci Fiction, the online publishing division of of the site, at the end of 2005.

Edited by Ellen Datlow, Sci Fiction has been online for nearly 6 years and received great critical success. Works published at Sci Fiction received Nebula, Hugo and World Fantasy Awards.

A farewell message from Ellen is published at

New original and classic fiction will continue to be posted until the end of the year.

SciFiction published some high quality fiction, but more than that, it had the highest readership and by far the best pay rates in the biz. I never managed to sell anything there, but I did get some encouraging feedback from Ellen over the year. Ellen's farewell message is as interesting for what it doesn't say as for what it does:
Stories on SCI FICTION have been nominated and won major genre awards: Linda Nagata's novella "Goddesses" won the first Nebula Award (given by the Science Fiction Writers of America) ever awarded for a piece of fiction originally published online. Lucius Shepard's novella "Over Yonder" won the first Theodore Sturgeon Award for short fiction ever won by a piece of fiction originally published online. SCI FICTION itself won the Hugo Award in 2005 for Best Web site.

I'd like to thank you all for reading the fiction and hope you'll continue to read it as long as it's archived on SCIFI.COM.

New original and classic fiction will continue to be posted until the end of 2005.

I suspect some brainiac in a suit--probably the same one that thought it'd be a great idea to buy the 1-800-TREKKER SF merchendise catalogue, convert it to an online store and then shutter it almost immediately--woke up one morning and said "Hey! Why are we wasting money on SciFiction? Nobody reads anymore!" The jerk. I suppose the only real surprise here is that SciFiction lasted as long as it did. SciFiction got a good six-year run, and Farscape only lasted four, after all.

Now Playing: Squeeze Babylon and On

Friday, November 11, 2005


Calista woke up last night around 2 a.m. vomiting. The spell passed quickly, but at 3 a.m. she was vomiting again. Then again at 3:30, 4, 4:30 and 6:30. After the first two incidents, it was mostly dry heaves for a minute or two and then everything was fine. Needless to say, I'm running on very little sleep today.

Unfortunately, we ran into a bug very similar about two years back. Lisa and the girls were visiting friends in College Station, whose kids were just getting over it. Within 24 hours, Lisa and Keela were both vomiting in the pattern outlined above, and I had to drive in to help take care of them. By that evening, Lisa and Keela were pretty much over it, but Calista started that night. By lunch the next day, I was blowing chunks myself.

It's a very infectious type of virus, one that makes life particularly nasty for 6-10 hours and then just goes away. I plan to eat lightly today, because, you know, there's no escaping this thing. I'm not looking forward to tonight at all.

Now Playing: Billy Joel Glass Houses

Thursday, November 10, 2005

Saints go marching out

Well, it's over. There's still a Christmas Eve game left to be played, but San Antonio's fling with the Saints is for all intents and purposes over. Actually, it was over when Tom Benson started dropping hints last month that he absolutely planned to move the team to the Alamo City--just as soon as a new $500 million stadium was built. Right. And now word comes that back-room negotiations among Benson, the NFL and Louisiana have resulted in a guaranteed commitment for the Saints to play the 2006 season in Baton Rouge. A commitment Benson still hasn't formally told San Antonio about.

Not that this is surprising. My biggest concern about this latest NFL flirtation (other than the fact that NFL Commissioner Paul Tagliabue wants to move the Saints to Los Angeles, not San Antonio) was that Benson has been down this road before. He's used San Antonio as a bargaining chip in negotiations with New Orleans to get better deals for himself in the past, and this one was just a little more crass:
Terrell Owens is taller, stronger and younger than Tom Benson. Owens also likes to pose for cameras rather than push them.

Still, these men are brothers. They are the least likable characters of this NFL season because they have little sense of those around them and because they can't hide their obsession for money.

Both eventually will get some cash. There's always a market for an All-Pro receiver, and there's always one for an NFL franchise. But just as the next team will be wary of Owens, the next city will be of Benson, too.

The knock against the Alamodome--which is otherwise a fantastic place to watch a football game--is the lack of luxury boxes, which only came into vogue right after the dome was built a dozen years ago. It's realistic to project the city spending $100 million on a major renovation to add 80 or so luxury boxes to go with the 38 already in place, along with some reconfigured seating and other amenities. But just last year Benson rejected a $174 million renovation plan for the Superdome, so is there any reasonable expectation that he'd be satisfied with anything less than a brand-new stadium built entirely from diamonds and gold?
But Benson's flaws aren't regional. His story is too national and his image too familiar to this area. His caught-on-tape tiff in Baton Rouge added to that. He couldn't have been a better villain had Drew Rosenhaus orchestrated it for him.

Even Shinn has had a better understanding of how to handle a franchise's evacuation from New Orleans. He's never going back there, but he continues to act as if that is the goal.

Benson, instead, has come across as a cold, uncaring opportunist. And his history in New Orleans before Hurricane Katrina doesn't suggest this is a new trend. He was always angling for a better Superdome deal with a car salesman's approach, squeezing more and more with every negotiation.

Bottom-line emotion: Is this someone you would vote to reward knowing he might do the same to you?

I've said it before and I'll say it again: Expansion is the best route for San Antonio to gain an NFL team. Tagliabue doesn't want to hear it, but someday the NFL will come to town to stay. And the upside of that will be that Benson won't come with them.

Now Playing: Billy Joel An Innocent Man