Saturday, April 30, 2005

Hummingbird wars

Two weeks ago a humminbird buzzed us on the back patio around sunset. That was the first hummingbird we'd ever seen in the neighborhood, and it came as a surprise. The oldest house here is merely two years old, and there are no mature trees and comparatively few large bushes and other plants to serve as shelter or food sources. This was flat, open farmland before. But since we saw that hummer, we decided to get a hummingbird feeder and hang it on the fence. The response was almost immediate--we didn't just have one in the area, we had at least four.

All four birds, I believe, are black-chinned hummingbirds. There is one male, and his black hood is unmistakable. He only shows up rarely, and usually when the others aren't around. The others are either females or immature males. I'm leaning toward young females. I'm also assuming they are all black-chins, although ruby-throated females are common to this area as well, and are practically indistinguishable from female black-chins. There may be a male ruby-throat as well, but glimpses have been fleeting and inconclusive.

They are very territorial birds, and one, let's call "Cranky Pants," decided the feeder was hers, and hers alone. Whenever another approached, she unleashed a stream of high-pitched birdie profanity and chased the interloper away. So we got a second feeder, and placed it at the other end of the yard. Now Cranky Pants works herself into a frenzy trying to guard both of them, darting to different perches to try and keep both in sight. It's highly amusing to watch.

Today was the first day I'd seen all four birds at once. The kids were playing in the back yard, and there was a full-blown hummingbird turf war going on. They ignored the humans present completely, even weaving between us on occasion. Indignant squeaks of rage. Wheeling, zipping, spinning aerobatics. Cranky Pants was not happy the other birds were poaching her feeders, and as she chased one off, the other two would swoop in and drink nectar until Cranky Pants returned and the cycle started again. One took to flying a loop around the house whenever Cranky Pants swooped in, getting a few good drinks in before her pursuer figured out what'd happened and came rocketing back. As you can tell, the whole dramatic scene is highly comical and entertaining.

This evening, a little before sunset, two of the interlopers arrived at a feeder simultaneously, while Cranky Pants was off chasing bugs or whatnot. The two hesitated a moment before giving the equivalent of a birdie shrug and both perched on opposite sides of the feeder and drank their fill. At regular intervals they'd stop and look around for Cranky Pants before returning to their meal. Lots of personality in these little birds. They were gone by the time I'd retrieved the digital camera, unfortunately. As the evening progressed, both the male and Cranky Pants returned to the feeder and I was able to get a few shots. The light was waning, so the male's pictures turned out grainy and pixellated, but Cranky Pants was caught in a few moderately detailed shots, as you can see above.

As soon as the apple, pear and plum trees get a little bigger, I'm pretty confident we'll have hummingbird nests in our yard. For now, though, I want to plant some coral honeysuckle. And get some better daylight pics of the birds in action.

Now Playing: Spurs vs. Nuggets Game 3

Progress begets satisfaction

I just made a great deal of progress on the revision of "Prince Koindrindra Escapes." This is the final, final rewrite, mind you. Unless I give it another once-over. But I don't plan to. Unless I spot some places where the voice of Koindrindra isn't consistent. But I'm hoping there aren't any.

In any event, at the end of the day, I look up and discover that I've got a mere five pages to go before I can pop this puppy in the mail to Gordon van Gelder at Fantasy & Science Fiction, and those five pages are those in least need of revision. Tweaking, maybe. A little dialogue alteration. That sort of thing. But it must wait for tomorrow, because tonight, I'm bushed. Still haven't caught up on my sleep from Aggiecon weekend, mainly because I've been up late writing every night. That's a good feeling, you know?

Another good feeling is the one I'm getting from this story. Don Webb said of it at Turkey City, "I am in awe." I told Joe Lansdale about it, and he said, "That's a story I'd like." So it's got an audience. Now all it needs to find is a market. Gordon, I'm looking at you.

Now Playing: The Kinks One for the Road

Friday, April 29, 2005

Lou Anders gives birth

Well, technically it would be his wife who gave birth to Arthur Robyn Anders on Wednesday. But I'm sure Lou would agree that it was a joint effort.

Now Playing: The B-52s Time Capsule

Here's a depressing scenario for ya, Counselor...

As the semester winds to a close, the Science Ficion and Fantasy Society at Texas State has finished its business for the year, and had its last meeting until the fall semester arrives. The last meeting I went to (as I'm the staff advisor for the group, not that I do much more than sign paperwork for them), a number of the students there began talking about the various SFnal DVDs that were coming out, or that they'd already bought and watched. With no small amount of pride, I pointed out that I'd just picked up the complete season one box set of The Greatest American Hero and waited for them to congratulate me on my enviable acquisition.

The stared at me blankly. One eventually asked, "What's that?"

What kind of world is it that we live in where college aged students, supposedly intelligent and presumably versed in the history of the genre (comics fans at that) have never heard of Ralph Hinkley and the Red Jammies from space? Or have experienced Robert Culp's scenery-chewing turn as the crass FBI agent Bill Maxwell? Or Connie Sellecca's humorous turn as attorney Pam Davidson? I mean, come on! He lost the instruction book! That plot twist alone is legendary. The theme song was parodied brilliantly on Seinfeld (no, I didn't bring up Seinfeld, out of fear they'd also say "What's that?") and believe it or not (ahem) the episodes stand up surprisingly well 20 years (!) later. What really stands out is the chemistry among the three main actors, and how well they inhabit their characters.

Geeze. This kind of "What's that?" stuff is supposed to happen to old farts like Bill Crider, not me.

Now Playing: Melissa Etheridge Yes I Am

Thursday, April 28, 2005

Simple joys of discovery

Much to my delight, I have discovered that The Traveling Wilburys vol. 1 and The Traveling Wilburys vol. 3 will both just fit onto one CD-R. The albums are both long out of print and command some fierce bidding on eBay. This new two-fer disc I've burned allows me to carry them with me in the car without the worry of my precious originals suffering heat damage during the summer. This makes me happy.

What would make me happier would be getting a copy of The Traveling Wilburys vol. 2, the bootleg with Del Shannon's vocal tracks and other assorted rarities George Harrison reportedly let slip loose into the wild back in the day. Unfortunately, that's one disc I've failed to come across despite years of semi-serious effort. Ah, well. I'm sure some day Charlie T., Lefty and Otis will manage to grace me with some heretofore unheard tunes. After all, that's what Wilburys do best.

Now Playing: Tom Petty Greatest Hits

Aggiecon recap the fifth

I know, I know. All the other bloggers finish their con recaps the day they get home, or, better still, give real-time reports from the convention itself. So sue me.

All that lack of sleep caught up with me, and I didn't wake until close to 11 a.m. Which means I missed two panels I really wanted to see because I had to check out of the hotel room by noon. I did manage to make the Andre Norton memorial panel, featuring Elizabeth Moon, Michael Moorcock and Martha Wells. The panel was Elizabeth's idea, and was very well attended. Norton had a tremendous influence on the genre, not just through her writing, but also through the help and encouragement she offered other writers. I haven't read much of her work, but that's a deficiency I'll have to remedy in the future.

I caught Moorcock afterwards and got him to sign my copy of Wizardry and Wild Romance. He confessed a certain degree of embarrassment about it, regarding the intro and afterword by Chine Mieville and Jeff Vandermeer. Moorcock praises their writing in the book, and they praise Moorcock in their companion pieces, so the whole thing comes off as a quid pro quo mutual admiration society. At least, that's Moorcock's take on matters.

With the convention winding down, I decided to skip the "Rate our Con" panel, as the concom already had been made aware of my concerns and criticisms. Instead, I hit the road back home, because in all honesty, while cons tend to reignite the creative fires in me, they're physically exhausting. And writing had become a renewed imperative, especially since Joe Lansdale admonished me to get off my lazy butt and start writing fiction again (after I confessed I'd been distracted by the siren song of reviews and other non-fiction work of late). Fortunately, that metaphorical kick in the pants has done the trick, and revisions that should've been taken care of months ago are falling away under the assault of my razor-sharp keyboard.

When I arrived home, I distributed the obligatory convention gifts: Keela got a copy of Neil Gaiman's The Wolves in the Walls, which she's made me read to her approximately 187 times since Sunday; Calista got A Circle of Cats by Charles de Lint and Charles Vess, which annoyed her at the end, because she wanted to know "What happens next?"; and Lisa got a Barbie, or rather, "Ken as Legolas" since I'd seen the "Barbie and Ken as Arwen and Aragorn" set a year before at a con and not gotten it for her, and now that set's out of production and astronomically priced. So at least she's got Legolas. And I got myself a copy of Steve Gould's Reflex, the long-awaited follow-up to his spiffy teleportation novel Jumper.

Then, with all of that taken away and my dirty laundry deposited in the laundry room, I sat down and watched the Tarkovsky version of Solaris. Interesting movie. It would've benefitted from cutting maybe 45 minutes of meandering, artsy footage from the beginning, but once the film actually reaches the space station in orbit around Solaris, things get interesting. And then I went to bed. The end.

Now Playing: Electric Light Orchestra Afterglow

Wednesday, April 27, 2005

Anonymous editor discovers Hot New Artist

It had to happen sometime, and sometime has apparently arrived: the San Antonio Express-News has woken up to the fact that John Picacio, one of the great modern science fiction and fantasy illustrators of the 21st century, is a San Antonio resident. About time, too:
Picacio has been designing covers for almost 10 years, starting with the 30th anniversary edition of Michael Moorcock's "Behold the Man." He got the job when an editor at Mojo Press ran across "Words and Pictures," a comic book Picacio self-published with Fernando Ramirez.

The editor asked Picacio to come up with a cover illustration, but Picacio suggested something much more involved. He asked if he could design every aspect of the book's look.

"They agreed, and I had my first gig — cover, interior illustrations, down to the typesetting itself," he recalled. "(It was) a huge crash course in how to think about the book as a whole object and not just the cover."

It was a tough job, but by the end of it, he knew he had ventured down a new career path.

"I probably bit off more than I could chew, and I was hooked when I got that first book-cover job. I've never stopped," he said. "I liked the feeling of being part of a chain of creation."

That unnamed editor at Mojo Press is, of course, Rick Klaw, for whom Picacio did the cover illustration for his book Geek Confidential. But I guess the Express-News thought mentioning the gorilla-obsessed Klaw by name would somehow debase the article. Who knows? I'd rather hear Klaw's thoughts on Picacio than Lou Anders', but that's just me.

In any event, Picacio's damn talented, and sexy too. Makes me all the more depressed I failed in my efforts to convince Nebraska to get him to illustrate the cover of my book. I just hope he doesn't lie awake at night, fretting about that one cover that got away...

Now Playing: Michael Giacchino The Incredibles

Tuesday, April 26, 2005

Aggiecon recap the fourth

Surprisingly, I didn't have much trouble getting up Saturday morning. I wandered the dealers room and art show for a bit before meeting Rick Klaw for an interview. In a twist, I was the one being interviewed. It was an interesting experience, and Rick came up with some truly interesting questions, which I managed to mangle in my own fashion. I sounded suitably dorky, as expected, but we'll cover that up in the editing process to make me sound suitably erudite instead.

After that, I caught the Michael Moorcock Q&A, conducted by Klaw, and then there's a couple of hours of blur, where I really can't remember what I did (although I managed to skip lunch in there somewhere). Must be that lack of sleep thing again. I caught the Heroic Endeavours panel with Joe Lansdale and Martha Wells, which was more of a wide ranging discussion of characters in fiction rather than simply a meditation on heroes, as you might expect. Immediately after that, Joe and I went into the Intro to Editing panel, with Jeff Turner. Somehow, I managed to end up as moderator, which probably doomed things from the start. But apart from one little wobbly part about 20 minutes in where the panelists looked at each other with that dreaded "What do we say next?" look, things stayed lively and entertaining. We discussed the different types of editorial jobs, what makes a good editor, what makes a bad editor, and all the approaches and styles in between. It turned into a good panel, and the audience (another strong turnout) seemed to be happy with the discussion.

I ended up going out to dinner with the Lansdales, Moorcocks, Klaw and Finn and their wives, plus a number of other folks I'm blanking on names right now. We ate at Cenare, an Italian restaurant I hadn't eaten at in 15 years. By a striking coincidence, it took almost that long for us to be served, so by the time we returned to campus, the costume contest, masquerade ball and Miss Aggiecon contest were all over and done with, and Rocky Horror was starting. I crossed paths with Trigger, an old Cepheid and former Aggiecon Director in his own right, and he gave me a Green Arrow Heroclix as he knew my obsession with the character. I gave him one of my few remaining Voices of Vision homebrew collector's beverages. Then we found an empty couch off the beaten path and chatted with Joe for an hour or so before everyone got tired and headed off to bed. Well, Trigger and I did make a detour into Rocky Horror, just so he could see how the heckling has changed since back in the day when we were involved in such silliness. He agreed that the experience was indeed different. Then I went to my room and crashed. It was only as I was drifting off to dreamland that I remembered that I'd promised people I'd visit the Monkeyhouse. Friday and Saturday had both come and gone, and I'd not made it out there. Crap.

Now Playing: Traveling Wilburys Vol. 3

Monday, April 25, 2005

Aggiecon recap the third

There's a particular strategy writers often employ to improve sales numbers when they have a book out. As a rule, authors can order additional copies of their book from the publisher, generally at a 40 percent discount. The downside is that these author copies don't count as book sales as far as royalties are concerned--they may as well not exist, even though the author paid for them. Bookstores generally get a 40 percent discount on wholesale orders, or close to it, so authors in need of additional copies often contact local independent bookstores and make arrangements for them to place the needed order. It's no additional cost for the bookstore, since the author is footing the bill. Relationships are strengthened. Everyone wins.

I, being a new author with a new book, finding myself in need of additional copies of Voices of Vision, contact my all-time favorite bookstore, Adventures in Crime and Space. Willie says sure, they'll be happy to order me 15 copies. He'll check with Nebraska and get back to me with the cost (I plan to pay in advance). A few days go by, and no price. The time stretches into a few weeks. My emails go unanswered. Phone calls unreturned. I do not think it out of line to say my concern escalated. I was out of copies, and needed some ASAP.

Enter Edge Books from Louisiana. When I'm not buying SF from Willie, I'm buying them from Zane, and it just so happened they were going to be at Aggiecon. They could order the books in time for the convention, and I could pick them up in College Station. Zane was agreeable, and even ordered an additional dozen for their own sales.

I'm sure you can see where this is going.

At the convention, Zane had my 15 copies. Willie also had my 15 copies. So now I have 30 copies of my book, and my poor credit card is much worse for the wear, because it is never, ever a good idea to alienate booksellers, particularly when they're doing you a favor in the first place.

It's not like the books won't get used eventually. But now I have to deal with my wife accusing me of trying to put Voices of Vision into a second printing all on my own. Which is silly. There's no way I could do that on my own. But I can help it along...

There's another silly tangent to this already silly story. Crime and Space arrived on Thursday and set up then, and had all copies of Voices of Vision out on the tables. My copies along with theirs. Together, they made for two sizeable stacks that towered over the other books, but when I claimed mine, the stacks were considerably leaner. On Saturday, I was talking with Bill Crider, who'd picked up a copy and humbly asked for my signature on it. "Boy, your books are selling great," Bill says. "Willie started off with a big stack, and they're almost all gone already." I answer, as straight-faced as I can manage, "Selling like hotcakes. People know quality writing when they see it." :-)

Now Playing: The Kinks The Kink Kronikles

Aggiecon recap the second

Much to my surprise, I get up and ready more or less on time, drop off Calista and reach College Station in time for my first panel, "Alternative Publishing Methods" at 11:15 a.m. with Ardath Mayhar and Rie Sheridan. Also much to my surprise, there's a good audience seated and eager to hear what we say. A good crowd early on Friday is a good sign. Rie and I defer to Ardath, since she's written and published far more than either of us, and in more formats and mediums as well. The panel turned into a "How a really hard and unforgiving industry that was pretty much dysfunctional to start with became really, really screwed up and self-destructive once corporations got involved" history lesson for a good stretch. There was also a good bit of warning for new writers not to be seduced by scams claiming new formats (ie e-books, print on demand or whathaveyou) were the panacaea for all the world's publishing woes. Especially if they want you to give them your money. But of course new technology and alternative publishing methods are arising left and right, and are growing in importance. It was a good, informative panel.

The autograph session which followed at 1:45 was a major flop. Once again, the con had scheduled autographings in a panel room far from the dealers' room. And on a different floor from other panels, so there was absolutely no visibility or walk-through traffic. Jeff Turner signed a couple of books for a guy who'd followed him from a preceeding panel. Cat Conrad drew pictures. Mostly we cracked wise with each other and debated the merits and flaws of the new Battlestar Galactica. Three authors scheduled to sign never even found the room, not that they missed anything. This has got to change for next year.

I ended up falling in with a bad crowd--Rick Klaw and Mark Finn--and we left the con for the local Half-Price Books. I drove, since I knew the town and the Austin boys didn't. Finn observed the sadness of three married men, who, at a convention outside of their wives' supervision, choose to throw caution to the wind and browse a bookstore in search of geeky pulps and adventure stories. We ate bland Chinese food and returned to the con.

My final panel, a 10:30 p.m. discussion of "Penetrating the Rift: Sex in SF" featured Kathy Kimbriel, Rachael Caine and Mark Worrell. Defying my expectations, it did not veer into the tawdry or perverse. The discussion was somewhat academic in nature, with commentary focusing on such intriguing topics as Anne McCaffrey's subversive sexual subtext in the Pern books and the like. I mean, we had a real discussion, all serious-like, with 90 percent fewer dick and fart jokes than I'd anticipated. Again, it was a good panel with strong attendance, but I'm starting to wonder why conventions are suddenly putting me on these sex-themed panels. Armadillocon, ConDFW and now Aggiecon. What's up? I mean, I know I've got Adonis-like qualities and the women swoon when I amble past, but really, every convention?

After that, I was supposed to take Finn over to the Monkeyhouse, but I couldn't find Finn and was fading fast. I took in a few minutes of Rocky Horror--and was amused to see how the heckling has evolved over the past 10 years or so since I'd last seen the show--before heading to my room to crash.

Now Playing: Istanpitta Chevrefoil

Aggiecon recap the first

Well. That was interesting.

My previous blog entry came at 12:02 Friday morning. That was already far too late for me to be staying up, since I had to get up early and take Calista to school before heading on to College Station. But not 10 minutes after I logged off and shut down the computer, the phone rings. It's the university police department. Could I come to campus, because they needed someone from Media Relations, ASAP.


Joe's Crab Shack in San Marcos is built over the spillway of the Spring Lake dam, which most people would know as the lake at Aquarena. The rushing water forms the San Marcos River, which continues on through campus and the town before merging with the Blanco River. It seems that after closing, four employees decided the "No Diving From Balcony" signs were meant only as quaint decoration, and began flinging themselves off the balcony into the spillway flow, maybe 30 feet below. One, a student at the university, didn't come back up.

What a damn senseless waste of human life. Started what was supposed to be a fun weekend on a sour note, and I was punchy all Friday due to lack of sleep. Was I as stupid when I was in college? Probably. I suppose I should count myself lucky that there aren't any big spillways or waterfalls in College Station.

Now Playing: Jim Hancock & Friends Good Companions

Friday, April 22, 2005

Off to Aggieland

In a few hours I'll be on the road to College Station for Aggiecon, so don't look for any posting from me through the rest of the weekend. Elizabeth Moon and Michael Moorcock are the guests of honor this year, so there should be a sizeable turnout. My schedule for the weekend reads thusly:

Alternative Publishing Methods (Friday, April 22, 11:15am)
Autographing (Friday, April 22, 1:45 p.m.)
Penetrating the Rift: Sex in SciFi (Friday, April 22 10:30pm)
Intro to Editing (Saturday, April 23, 6:45pm)

If you see me, say "hi." I'll return the favor by trying to shame you into buying one of my books.

Now Playing: Various Celtic Moods

Thursday, April 21, 2005

The Swarm!

Lisa called me out to look at something in our neighbor's front yard. "I think it's a bee hive," she said. A bee hive? None of the trees in our neighborhood were big enough to host a hive, I thought. Must be a wasp nest.

Wrong. It was a bee swarm. It was a very impressive thing to behold. I'd never seen one before, and it is a wonderful and intimidating mass of insect bodies, I can assure you. I was able to get close and take a sequence of photos. Click on the last one to see a higher-resolution version that's got some spectacular detail (keep in mind that the larger image is still maybe half the size of the original).

I don't know about you, but I certainly wouldn't want that bunch to get agitated and come after me with blood in their little compound eyes, no siree!

Now Playing: Various Celtic Moods

And their wives have suspicions as well...

I've always heard San Antonio politics are screwed up, but I never realized the extent of the political surrealism until I moved to New Braunfels, getting a ringside seat:
People watching the River Parade on Monday may have thought they were seeing mayoral candidate Julián Castro waving as the San Antonio City Council barge floated down the waterway.

But if they did, they were wrong.

Julián Castro was hosting a neighborhood association meeting that night in District 7, which he still represents. His identical twin brother, Joaquin Castro, was on the boat.

Only in San Antonio. I mean, there might be shady dealings going on in Chicago or New York, sure, but at least those crooked politicians are competent scandal-mongers. This makes San Antonio politicians look like slack-jawed nincompoops. Which, come to think of it, is pretty much an apt description.

What makes it even more ludicrous is that Castro's leading the mayoral race by a wide margin, and didn't need to pull this stunt. It seems he's uncomfortable with front-runner status, and is desperate to torpedo his campaign by any means necessary. Last week he created a small scandal by turning in campaign finance paperwork that was practically scrawled in crayon. So who knows?

The AP story on this has photos of the brothers. And you know what? The do look alike.

Now Playing: John Cougar Mellencamp Uh Huh

Wednesday, April 20, 2005

What kind of book am I?

A break from the heavy theological musings of late:

You're Love in the Time of Cholera!

by Gabriel Garcia Marquez

Like Odysseus in a work of Homer, you demonstrate undying loyalty by
sleeping with as many people as you possibly can. But in your heart you never give
consent! This creates a strange quandary of what love really means to you. On the
one hand, you've loved the same person your whole life, but on the other, your actions
barely speak to this fact. Whatever you do, stick to bottled water. The other stuff
could get you killed.

Take the Book Quiz
at the Blue Pyramid.

Now Playing: New World Renaissance Band Where Beauty Moves and Wit Delights

More on Benedict XVI

The National Catholic Reporter, an independent publication that has pretty good journalistic standards (from my POV) has a couple of informative articles up shedding light on the philosophy and formative events of former Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger. The first, Hero of church's conservative wing becomes Pope Benedict XVI is somewhat optimistic, acknowledging concerns about his past while identifying signs that Benedict XVI might not be as imperious and autocratic as his time heading up the Inquisition lead some Catholics to fear:
Yet those who know Ratzinger have always been struck by the contrast between his bruising, polarizing public image and his kind, genteel, generous private side. In person, Ratzinger comes across as refined and almost shy, and bishops who have had dealings with him over the years almost uniformly testify that he is a good listener, genuinely interested in working collegially. Those with trepidations about a Ratzinger papacy will be watching carefully in the days and weeks to come for indications that this kinder, gentler Ratzinger will be the figure who emerges as Pope Benedict XVI.

The very name is maybe one indication. While the primary reference may be to St. Benedict, the founder of European monasticism, no doubt there are echoes also of Benedict XV, who reigned from 1914 to 1922 and put an end to the conservative anti-modernist campaigns of the pontificate of St. Pius X. Benedict said that rather than worrying about the least signals of doctrinal error, it was enough for someone to use Catholic as their first name, and Christian as their family name.

Perhaps, therefore, Pope Benedict XVI was sending a subtle signal that he too would like to be a conciliator rather than an authoritarian, repressive figure.

The second article, The Vatican's enforcer: A profile of Cardinal Joseph Ratizinger is a reprint from 1999. It's long and very thorough in addressing criticisms aimed at Ratzinger, and offering up counterpoints to each claim. Even so, it's clear that the author of the piece isn't a great fan of the cardinal, and it reenforces the general perceptions I've had of the man since the late 90s when I first became aware of him and the powerful influence he wielded at the Vatican as head of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith (which is the Office of the Inquisition, boasting a kinder, gentler name).
It was thus Joseph Ratzinger who is said to have penned Frings' famous line about the Holy Office, asserting that its "methods and behavior do not conform to the modern era and are a source of scandal to the world."

Krätzl, who believes the progressive energy generated by Vatican II has been stifled under John Paul, sums up his observations of Ratzinger at the council this way: "No one would have suspected that Joseph Ratzinger, who inserted himself so energetically for a renewed vision of the church and thus struggled against the one-sided exercise of power by the curia, would later become himself a high-ranking curial cardinal and prefect of the CDF."

Krätzl is hardly alone in that perception. The apparent shift in Ratzinger from leading progressive in 1962 to architect of the restoration today, has fueled accusations of inconsistency at best and hypocritical careerism at worst.

Coupled with the fact that the Cardinal Ratzinger has publicly endorsed a smaller church, excluding those who aren't "Catholic enough" (ie those who don't agree with him to the letter), my hopes for the papacy of Benedict XVI are pretty low, to say the least. But the enormity of the office is enough to change anyone, I suppose, and his choice of papal name seems to be some gesture of reconciliation within the church. I'm giving him a chance--not that he cares what I may think of him--but when one's expectations are so low, any sign of moderation or collegiality will be a welcome surprise.

Now Playing: SixMileBridge No Reason

Tuesday, April 19, 2005

Oh, crap

It's Ratzinger. Of all the cardinals it could've been, it's Ratzinger. I feel physically ill. This is the same man that blamed the priestly child molestation scandals of the past few years on the laity and the media blowing it out of proportion. Right. If there's one cardinal that embodies the misguided arrogance of the papal infallibility doctrine, it's him. And on top of that, his recent sermons and statements leading up to the conclave really struck me as strong-arm politicking. What ever happened to "Whoever enters the conclave as pope leaves a cardinal"?

Do you think I'm upset by this? Do you think? I'm going to shut up now before I get myself excommunicated.

Now Playing: Clandestine The Haunting

White smoke

Oh my goodness. White smoke is coming out of the Vatican. This means a new pope has been chosen after only 4-5 ballots, which is phenominally fast when the history of the papacy is taken into account. John Paul II, who was elected fairly quickly (eight ballots) on day three of the conclave. I don't know if a pope has ever been picked on only the second day.

I also have no idea if this means the Ratzinger-led conservatives have won out, a moderate compromise was rapidly agreed to, or a caretaker pope with one foot in the grave have been voted in as a transitional figure. Boy, am I nervous.

Now Playing: Clandestine The Haunting

Monday, April 18, 2005

Battlestar aftermath

The revamped Battlestar Galactica prompted me to think about epic space war storylines, and how they could be developed in ways that hadn't been done before. Star Trek: Voyager was an attempt to do a remake of the Galactica premise within the Trek universe, right down to the Cylons/Borg parallels, but was handled badly, ending up a milquetoast "same old, same old." The new Galactica, from what I hear, is avoiding the trap of pat resolutions and easy answers. Resolutions have human costs. Even the "correct" decisions result in losses. Take, for example, the Colonial President's decision to abandon the ships (and their refugees) in the fleet that weren't capable of FTL travel. These panicked ships were soon slaughtered by a Cylon strike force in a painful scene that played out very well from a plot standpoint, but also from a SFnal one. In a spacefaring society, naturally there will be spacecraft that don't have those mythical FTL abilities.

Which got me to thinking--what if the Galactica scenario played out according to the laws of physics as we know it? An advanced, spacefaring society is invaded by an alien force, but none of the combatants have FTL abilities. That premise intrigues me. I don't plan on doing anything with it now, but I'm turning the idea over in my mind, fleshing some things out. Firstly, the invaders have to be invading this system for a reason--they have to be there. I'm thinking a supernova explosion of their homeworld, or something less catastrophic (remember, I want the science to be realistic), that gives them the choice of migration or extinction. Secondly, the biota of the invaders and defenders have to be incompatable--no touchy-feely "coexist in peace and harmony" ala Alien Nation, or melodramatic "we will eat you and steal your water" ala V. Both sides are justified in their actions, from their points of view, and both are sympathetic to a point. Both also commit atrocities from their perspective, as well as from the opposing perspective--although these are not necessarily the same. And both are non-human species.

This last part shares similarities with another SF project I have in gestation I'm calling End of All. It shares some Galactica elements as well, but is perhaps more influenced by some story techniques of Farscape than anything else. End of All exists in a universe sans humans, which is my reaction, I suppose, to the dull humanoid species populating the Star Trek universe. Alien perspectives and biologies are so interesting, from a speculative perspective, that I don't understand why there's such a lack of them in SF. (Well, that's not true. They're hard to do well, that's why.) End of All was conceived as a comic-format story, more or less ongoing. This new, untitled scenario may well lend itself to the comics medium as well. Or it may be a novel. There's lots of potential here, and I'm just as curious as anyone to see if anything significant comes out of these idle musings.

Now Playing: Altan The Best of Altan

Black smoke

Black smoke has been spotted rising from the chimney atop the Sistine Chapel, signifying that the first vote of the conclave has not produced a new pope, that the interregnum continues, and I remain without a moral compass. As if that were ever in any doubt.

Now Playing: SixMileBridge No Reason

Weekend post-mortem

Very tired after a long weekend. Made some more progress on the book promotional front. I went by the nearest Borders location to pick up the "paperwork" the regional marketing manager told me had to be filled out, and discovered it was merely a statement that amounted to "we won't schedule signings for vanity press, self-published or print on demand books." What a colossal waste of time. I also tried to talk to the inventory manager about carrying Voices of Vision, but it was obvious that talking to me was the absolute last thing she wanted to do, and kept telling me to "refer to the information sheet." The information sheet, you may be interested in knowing, says that local stores have discretion on which titles they stock and should be approached directly. sigh

Frutstrated and in a funk, I drove over to the nearest Barnes & Noble, which isn't really near at all. I'm glad I did, however. The floor manager I spoke with was friendly and enthusiastic, and made me feel like I wasn't some wretched insect just crawled out from under a particularly rank rock. A signing looks like a distinct possibility--I'm talking with their community relations manager today to follow up.

In other news, three science fiction/comics related radio programs are interested in having me as a guest on their show. This is good. All are available online, so anyone around the world can listen in. More details coming soon.

I finally saw the new Battlestar Galactica miniseries on Saturday. It was much better than I expected, and I can see why it's spawned a successful series on the Sci-Fi Channel. The human angst was well-done, and the new version of Baltar, a self-centered weasle who is merely trying to cover his ass and advance his position no matter how many innocents have to suffer for his actions is a vast improvement over John Colicos' version of the character, who was merely evil for evil's sake. Edward James Olmos does a good job of standing in for Lorne Green, giving viewers a harder, more flawed version of Adama. Another thing that stood out for me was the new rendition of Caprica. I felt like I was watching a world that was urbanized but also had come to terms with environmental issues to create a sort of Frank Lloyd Wright version of utopia. Very cool. The Cylon attack fighters are pretty wicked as well. What I didn't like, first and foremost, was the new design for the Galactica itself. John Dykstra's original model is iconic and has so much more personality than this one. The original also looks like an old ship, whereas this one looks far too new and glossy. This is the same way the "old" Viper Mark IIs looked better and had more personality to them as the Mark Vs or whatever the "new" versions were called. The "new" Cylon centurions looked more crude and thuggish than the "old" chrome ones. The horny blonde Cylon said the chrome version still exists, however, so maybe we'll see them in the future. But as for the horny blonde Cylon herself... sheesh, that was just about the stupidest thing I'd ever seen. Sure, having her seduce Baltar to screw humanity over was a valid and useful plot device, but the fact that she's perpetually in heat doesn't follow logically any way you look at it. As for Starbuck and Apollo... eh. They were almost irrelevant to the plot, whereas the Dirk Benedict and Richard Hatch characters were usually the focal point of each episode. Katee Sackhoff does an OK job with the material she's given, but there's too much angry anti-authority figure juices flowing, and not enough scoundrel in the mix. The cigar chomping is a welcome touch, though, and I could really see Dirk Benedict guest-starring on the show as Starbuck's father, reprising the role originated by Fred Astaire in "The Man with Nine Lives" from the original show. In any event, I expect I'll end up buying this one on DVD before long.

And to wrap up the weekend, the whole family headed down to Port Aransas for SandFest. It was cloudy and windy, a little too cool for ideal wave-splashing (not that this kept Calista from dragging me as far offshore as she could). There were a lot of amateur and pro/am entries this year, but not as many pro competitors. Some of the sculptures were spectacular, but there weren't as many clever/amusing efforts as in the past. I have no idea what kept the sculptors away, but hopefully they'll return next season. We took a lot of pictures, so with luck I'll have them posted in a gallery in a few days.

Now Playing: Pink Missundaztood

Friday, April 15, 2005

Mark your calendars

Amazing. After all the struggle with trying to arrange book signings over the past six or so weeks, it's as if I've passed some unspoken initiation test and all the obstacles in my path have suddenly evaporated. I spoke to three Hastings book managers today, and all three were willing--nay, eager--to accomodate a signing event with me and Voices of Vision. For the record, here is my upcoming schedule:
  • Friday, May 20, 6-8 p.m.
    651 Business Loop IH-35, Suite 1340
    New Braunfels, TX
  • Friday, May 27, 6-8 p.m.
    1380 E. Court Street
    Seguin, TX
  • Saturday, May 28, 6-9 p.m.
    2200 S. IH-35, Suite B1
    Round Rock, TX

I anticipate adding a number of additional Hastings signings over the course of the summer, along with possibly some Borders or Barnes & Noble stops as well (if they'll have me). But Hastings earns my full attention now for two reasons: 1) I've finally cracked their ever-shifting process, and am reasonably confident I know what hoops to expect with them, and how to jump properly; 2) Hastings, being a smaller, regional chain in smaller markets, gets overlooked by most authors doing signing tours, and are more appreciative of the writers who approach them. At least that's the impression I got with my phone conversations today. Seguin seemed particularly enthusiastic--after all, Seguin's a nice community and known throughout the state (pretty much quintessential small-town Texas), but it's not likely to be at the top of Stephen King's or Tom Clancy's list of promotional hotbeds.

I'm definitely looking forward to visiting with these folks for a few hours. Hopefully, they'll look forward to buying a book or two of mine.

Now Playing: The Kinks Sleepwalker

Everything you do is wrong

Finally got in contact with Laura Goeller, the current events-oriented person at Hastings world headquarters. Loyal readers will remember that book signings I'd planned for various Hastings locations in my area last week and this did not happen, because the previous events-oriented person at Hastings world headquarters left the company more than a month ago without doing anything in regards to my signings. No books, no promotion--heck, the stores themselves were never even contacted.

Well, now Ms. Goeller tells me she's leaving Hastings as well, and that there's a new policy in place for book signings. Get this: Authors are now to approach the individual stores directly to set these up. Which is what I frellin' did more than two months ago before I got put on the corporate merry-go-round. Basically, I get to start over from square one. Joy.

Now Playing: The Kinks Kink-Size Kingdom

Thursday, April 14, 2005


A retarded kid just hit me. No kidding. I'd just walked Calista to her classroom and was heading back to the car when a group of kids and parents passed me on the sidewalk going the opposite direction. A girl aged 8 or 9, obviously mentally challenged, swung out as she went by and thumped me solidly on the arm. It wasn't an accidental spastic movement, either--she had to reach and make an effort to connect. It didn't hurt, because, really, it was a handicapped 8-year-old. But it triggered one of those surreal "did that really just happen, or did I imagine it?" responses in me. How many times do complete strangers randomly hit you sans provocation? Her father, obviously mortified, scolded her immediately, saying "Do not hit him! Be nice!" For my part, I didn't respond because the poor guy's obviously got his hands full with the child, who, through no fault of her own, is going to be a challenge for her family the rest of her life. It made me count our blessings that Calista and Keela, challenging as they can be in their own right, are not handicapped in any way.

Then I called Lisa to tell her what happened, since being assaulted by a retarded kid isn't something that happens every day, and must be shared. Lisa paused a moment, then asked "This girl, does she have short hair, light colored?" Well, yes. How did you know? "They go to our church. When I went to the bathroom last week she tried to hit me. She missed, but definitely took a swing at me."

So there you have it. This child is stalking my family, intent on doing us bodily harm. Bizarre.

Now Playing: The Kinks Think Visual

Tuesday, April 12, 2005

A milestone of sorts

Yes, I admit that I, like many other authors with new books out, have been obsessively checking Amazon's sales rankings to see if I can discern some meaning out of their meaningless fluctuation. And I have been able to determine that one sale will boost my numbers by roughly 50,000 a day. This morning Voices of Vision started out with a sales ranking around 54,000, had dropped to the neighborhood of 119,000 by late afternoon, and tonight had rebounded to 44,000. So while sales aren't phenominal, they've grown steady--despite the fact that at any given moment there's close to 30 "new & used" copies available to poach prospective buyers. But this evening I was greeted by a new sight I hadn't seen before:
Only 4 left in stock--order soon (more on the way).

Now that's pretty cool. Amazon could conceivably sell out of my book in the next day or so at the rate they've been moving. Which means Amazon will soon reorder my book from Nebraska, which is music to any writer's ears. I wonder if it's the advertising starting to have an effect? I saw the latest issue of Fantasy & Science Fiction at Hastings today, and it had an ad for Voices of Vision inside (along with several other U of Nebraska titles). The ad was rendered somewhat murky and difficult to read due to the low-quality pulp paper it was printed on (it'd look much sharper on slick paper, I expect) but my title stands out, which is what matters most.

Now Playing: Peter Gabriel Us

Of sand and more sand

Lisa and I went to see Sahara the other night. Based on Clive Cussler's Dirk Pitt adventure novels, and starring Matthew McConaughey, Penelope Cruz and Steve Zahn, I wasn't expecting a real cerebral two hours, and I wasn't disappointed. It was the definition of a Big Dumb Movie. But by golly, it knew it was dumb, and had fun. it's the same kind of silly actioner that National Treasure was, only Sahara does the whole schtick better, with surprisingly earnest acting. There are lots of groan-inducing scenes that would be awful if they weren't so entertaining. Wind-sailing a wrecked plane across the desert. A Civil War ironclad in a gunbattle with an attack helicopter. A James Bond-esque fistfight atop a solar collection tower. But the thing that really sold me on the film came early on, during the credit scroll as the camera panned over newspaper clippings. Most were lost on me, since I haven't read many of Cussler's novels, but the one headline that read something like "President honors team that raised Titanic," had me choking back guffaws. Raise the Titanic being the first Dirk Pitt adventure I ever read (filled with a number of deus ex machinas) and made into a somewhat mediocre movie. I know that if the team that did Sahara had done Raise the Titanic, it'd have been a lot more fun.

And speaking of sand, this weekend the family will embark on the annual trek to the Port Aransas SandFest. There are some incredibly talented sand sculptors that participate in the event, as you can see in my gallery from last year. And $20 says that the prevailing theme in this year's creations has to do with John Paul II's funeral and the coming Vatican conclave...

Now Playing: John Cougar Mellencamp The Lonesome Jubilee

Monday, April 11, 2005

Face to face with Dinosaur George

We went to the annual "Dinosaur Day" at the Heritage Museum of the Texas Hill Country over the weekend. Until last week, we didn't know it existed. It's not far from the big dam at Canyon Lake, only a mile or so from a house Lisa and I seriously considered buying before choosing to reside in New Braunfels instead. The museum itself doesn't consist of much. It's a small, wooden building housing a gift shop, whose sole purpose is to hold down the fort until the current million-dollar fund raising campaign concludes. The money will go to building a permanent shelter over the mmuseum's showpiece--an extensive array of dinosaur tracks that were exposed during excavation of the hillside more than 20 years ago. Unfortunately, the soft limestone is eroding rapidly in Texas' unkind climate, making the need for the permanent shelter rather acute.

The tracks that are exposed are pretty impressive. Like Dinosaur Valley State Park up in Glen Rose, the tracks are fairly distinct and well preserved (other than that unfortunate erosion problem). There are lots of iguanadon prints at the Heritage Museum site, along with predatory dinosaur tracks and a couple of mysterious trails, which may be those of giant snails.

Dinosaur World out of San Antonio was there, with a tremendous number of fossil replicas people could look at and touch. These guys were great with kids and adults alike, answering all kinds of questions clever and inane alike. George Blasing, aka "Dinosaur George," gave a humorous and enthusiastic presentation every 30 minutes to the gathered masses, which kept our girls enthralled. The man is a natural with crowds. We picked up his DVD, which views a lot like a pilot for a Discovery Channel Kids TV series, and lo and behold if he isn't in negotiations with Discovery for a program slot on Animal Planet. Good for him! Dinosaur World will be at the New Braunfels Folkfest April 23-24, and bring along their full-size Tyrannosaurus skull, but I'll be at Aggiecon that weekend. Ah well.

I recall Dinosaur World having a store in the Rolling Oaks Mall in San Antonio around 3-plus years back, which closed/relocated while I was still working at the paper there, before I landed my Texas State gig. The had a phenominal assortment of fossils and replicas. It'd be cool to find out if their new headquarters has a retail section, and if so, take the girls to marvel at all the groovy fossilized nests and skeletons we won't ever be able to afford...

Now Playing: Pat Benatar Best Shots

Friday, April 08, 2005

Perils of pecans

When we moved into our new house 18 months or so ago, the homebuilder stuck a live oak tree in the front yard. I love live oaks, but didn't want one in our front yard because 1) our front yard is small 2) live oaks get huge 3) they're pretty scrubby trees until they reach that massive majesty stage. All in all, live oaks are a pretty poor choice for the front yards in our neighborhood, thinks I, but they're in almost every yard because 1) they're cheap for the homebuilder and 2) do well on the deep blackland clay soil we have.

I researched lots of trees, discarded some I really like because they were unrealistic for our circumstances, and finally settled on a pecan. They're attractive trees, do well all over Texas, are fast-growing and produce those wonderful nuts. I even tracked down a new cultivar just released by the USDA--the Nacono, which is particularly scab resistant. We had lots of pecan trees at the old house in Temple, but few pecans due to scab, so resistance was important.

Unfortunately, the only ones I could get were bare-root trees. Pecans are temperamental when planted bare-root. Despite my best efforts, the tree (planted in January of 2004) struggled through the summer. Growth was anemic. The shock of the transplanting was taking a toll. Well, thought I, maybe it'll do better after it had a full winter to build up its root system. In January, I sliced the bark with a pruning knife and was relieved to see there was green wood present. I felt reassured. But spring arrived, and no new growth appeared. No leaves, no buds, nothing. The knife came out again. This time there was no green at all, just dead brown wood.

When I dug it out, I was chagrined to see that the root system was pretty much unchanged since I first planted it. I suspect the tree was in poor shape from the get-go. I really, really like what I read about the Nacono, and still think it's the best way to go, but it's too late in the year to have a prayer of success with a bare-root planting, even if I could find one. Heck, I doubted I could find any good pecans at this late date. But I stopped by The Plant Haus after work, convinced that I'd end up buying a red oak or some such tree, when I was shocked to see several dozen thriving pecan trees for sale. Container-grown pecan trees! Tall and leafy, with vigorous growth. Container grown trees have much less danger of shock, since their root systems are intact. They don't have to be pruned back. They're healthier, and can be planted year-round (although winter is still best). I ended up buying a Cheyenne (they had half a dozen cultivars available, but sadly no Nacono). It's got good nut quality, decent scab resistance and is recommended for our area. The tree itself is sometimes called semi-dwarf, which means it doesn't grow quite as large as most pecans (we're talking 50' instead of 75') so it fits the yard better. Its one drawback is a suceptibility to aphids, but I don't think aphid infestation is a major problem around here, and if it is, it can be controlled easier than scab.

I planted it in the Nacono's vacant hole yesterday, and it looks beautiful. What's even better is that I did it in the evening, so most people in the neighborhood that see it today will likely shake their heads and think, "Wow, that pecan sure leafed out in a hurry! And all this time I'd been thinking it dead..."

Now Playing: Greg Kihn Kihnsolidatino: The Best of Greg Kihn

Thursday, April 07, 2005

RevolutionSFiction for April

If it’s the second week of April, then it must be time to announce what cool and exciting fiction selections are in store for this month. If you look closely, you’ll see that all of the short fiction stories this month are originals. Is that cool, or what? And if you missed ‘em (since I failed to send out a fiction notice for March) you can go over to RevSF now and read one of the earliest Silurian tales ever published by the inestimable Steven Utley, “Getting Away,” along with the excellent (and I don’t use that word lightly) “Village of One Thousand Cranes” by Danny Adams.

RevolutionSF is the home for unique imaginative fiction.
Fiction at RevolutionSF in April will include:

April 1
"Lonely Planets" by A.R. Yngve **Original Fiction**
"A House-Boat on the Styx" Chapter 6 by John Kendrick Bangs

April 8
"My Boy" by Hutson Price **Original Fiction**
"A House-Boat on the Styx" Chapter 6 by John Kendrick Bangs

April 15
"Big Shotgun" by A Bin Talal **Original Fiction**
"A House-Boat on the Styx" Chapter 7 by John Kendrick Bangs

April 22
"The Gray Boat" by Vera Searles **Original Fiction**
"A House-Boat on the Styx" Chapter 8 by John Kendrick Bangs

April 29
"The Magi" by S.E. Wallace **Original Fiction**
"A House-Boat on the Styx" Chapter 9 by John Kendrick Bangs

All stories can be read at

Now Playing: Jim Croce Photographs and Memories

Wednesday, April 06, 2005

Back to square one

Recall that I've been in communication with Jason Haugen at Hastings Entertainment corporate headquarters, trying to arrange book signings for the Hastings locations in San Marcos, New Braunfels and other places not too distant from my locale. Initial dates proposed were for April 15 and 16, and another signing for April 29. Haugen thought these were doable, and would get back to me.

He didn't get back to me. Emailed queries went unanswered. Finally, yesterday I called Hastings HQ to ask what was up. The long and short of it: Haugen no longer works for Hastings. And no, none of the preliminary arrangements with the local Hastings I was to do signings with have been done. And as there is a new person I'll have to deal with, I'm going to have to do the whole "No, I'm not a vanity press or POD author" song and dance once again. Which I'm getting really sick of. And no, the new person has not returned my emails or phone calls.

I went by the Borders at the northeast tip of San Antonio yesterday, just 15 minutes away from my house. Their inventory manager was in a meeting, so I couldn't go through the "not vanity" spiel. I left some promo material for him, but will have to follow up. The one bright spot was at the New Braunfels Hastings. I'd not managed to meet the book manager there previously, and the Haugen mess prompted me to do so for lack of success on the corporate front. Her name's Amber, and for once a manager didn't look stricken and desperate for a way out when I introduced myself as a local author. She was polite and friendly, even moreso when she realized my book was returnable (see? I still had to do the "not vanity" spiel, only not so forcefully this time). She seemed genuinely enthusiastic about hosting a signing for me, and was both surprised and sympathetic when she heard about my initial ill-fated dealings with Hastings HQ. So that provided a much-needed boost to my spirits. We'll see if any of my other efforts pan out. But geeze Louise, it's proving harder to even get bookstores to consider stocking my book than it did to get it published in the first place!

Now Playing: The Kinks Everybody's in Show-Biz

Tuesday, April 05, 2005

Back to Kay Bailey

Last week, if you'll remember, I promised to get back to why I find Texas Senator Kay Bailey Hutchison to be superficial and shallow. She is, like former Governor Ann Richards, little more than a photo-op waiting to happen, more interested in image than results. I won't ramble through the list of her (in my view) public failings, but will share my wife's direct encounter with the senator.

Lisa was working for the Banner-Press newspaper in Brenham back around '94 or so. Hutchison had a public speaking engagement scheduled in town. For the week leading up to her appearance, her staff members called Lisa almost daily, asking if she was going to cover the event, demanding that she cover the event, pleading that she cover the event. Lisa, a Republican by inclination and a big supporter of female politicians in general, had every intention of giving the senator's engagement her full attention. But she grew mighty sick of the constant badgering by the senator's staff.

So when the big event finally arrives, and Lisa is dutifully ready with her notebook and tape recorder, how does Senator Hutchison react? Cue melodramatic Southern swoon: "What is the press doing here? This was supposed to be an intimate meeting with my constituents! Oh, why will you people never give me a moment's peace? SIGH Very well. I'll take a few questions, but then I simply must devote myself to my dear constituents..."

Lisa's not been much of a fan of the senator since that little dog and pony show.

Now Playing: John Cougar Mellencamp Human Wheels

Monday, April 04, 2005

Papal thoughts

The pope's death this weekend didn't catch me by surprise. His declining health in recent years, coupled with the septic shock resulting from a urinary infection... what was coming was invevitable. And beyond that, it simply felt that John Paul II's time was done, his mission over, that it was time to turn the job over to someone else.

I saw the pope in 1987 when he visited San Antonio, was part of the 300,000-person crowd that celebrated mass with him in the open fields west of San Antonio. An elaborate backdrop, consisting of two 12-story towers had been constructed behind the altar, with workers scrambling to get it completed. But the day before the scheduled mass, thunderstorms and high winds blew through and destroyed it all. Construction cranes were hastily brought in to hold aloft 100-foot banners to serve as the backdrop. It looked quite nice, but I'd have loved to see the original construction work instead.

The 300,000 people that attended made it the largest gathering ever in the Southwest U.S., much less San Antonio. Original projections estimated more than half a million people would show up, but after the fact I heard that huge bottlenecks at the border prevented tens of thousands of pilgrims from Mexico from reaching the site. It was, perhaps, the friendliest crowd I'd ever seen. My brother and I went with a group from the newly-formed Diocese of Victoria. We brought along peanut butter sandwiches, Doritos, Cheetos and lots of drinks. Sunscreen, too. The date was Sept. 13, and the weather was hot and steamy. Not as hot as August, thank goodness, and occasional clouds gave some relief from the sun. Even so, when I got home I was more than a little sunburned.

We were positioned on one of the broad aisles kept clear by ushers to facilitate the movement of all those people. We'd been told that the pope would drive past in his popemobile--the famous white Mercedes-Benz 230G equipped with bulletproof wraparound glass--but he didn't. Instead, the popemobile drove down the aisle one section over, maybe 30 yards away. That was the closest I got to him, as the altar was 200 yards or more from where we were. That might've been the end of it, if the ushers hadn't been so understanding. Those in our section began letting small groups of people slip out of their assigned section--there was lots of security--and run up the aisles a ways to get better pictures. I remember I got within 100 yards (maybe a little closer), stopping only when I reached the sections reserved for dignitaries and invited guests. At least, I assume so. A clear row separated the frontward sections from the rearward, and the aisles shifted over. There were different marking schemes on the sections as well, although I don't recall what they were. Luckily, my folks had let me take the telephoto lens with the camera, and I got several good photos. You can't see too much detail, but it's clear who the subject matter is. If I can find them, I'll try and get them posted, but I haven't seen the album they're in since we moved into the new house. But there's a decent photogallery here, courtesy of New8 Austin.

One of the most striking images I'll never forget was hundereds upon hundreds of buses row parked along the unpaved lanes of an under-construction freeway. It might've been Ray Stotzer Parkway, maybe not. The intervening years tends to blur the memory, and I wasn't very familiar with San Antonio until recently. Just to the north of the mass site now sits Sea World San Antonio, and the open fields that hosted the throng now host the under-construction John Paul Stevens High School. Times change.

I'm certain John Paul II will go down as one of the great leaders of the 20th century, and one of the top 10 popes of all time. I disagree with him (as do many American Catholics) on a great deal of issues, but there is no denying that he was a tremendous force for good in his time. The first half of his papacy, where he concentrated on bringing down communism, seems to my recollection to be more forgiving and tolerant, ironically enough. Once communism collapsed in Russia and Eastern Europe, to my mind he became more authoritarian and less tolerant of dissent, less willing to acknowledge opposing viewpoints, and more critical of the west--American Catholics in particular. In the last few years, as his health failed, I feel that staunchly conservative Cardinals such as Joseph Ratzinger began manipulating the situation to push the Vatican farther to the right. And no one ever accused John Paul II of being a theological liberal in the first place.

It will be interesting to see who emerges from the coming conclave as the new pope. It's foolish of anyone to think a theologically liberal Cardinal or an American will get the job, but there are some popular moderates--including some who would rein in the authoritarian top-down rule the Vatican adopted under John Paul II--who could do a very good job. "Those who enter the conclave as pope leave as a cardinal," as the old saying goes, so these next few weeks will be interesting, to say the least. I suppose something cool, along the lines of Robert Silverberg's "Good News From the Vatican" is too much to hope for (Silverberg, I trust, has submitted his name for papal consideration once again) but whatever happens, one things is certain: The next pope will have some very big "Shoes of the Fisherman" to fill.

Now Playing: The Benedictine Monks of Santo Domingo de Silos Chant

Friday, April 01, 2005

Review no. 2

Steven Silver has a new review of Voices of Vision up at his über-review site, conveniently titled Steven Silver's Reviews. Here's a sampling of what he has to say about it:
Blaschke's interviewing style is clearly one which is informed by the research he does in preparation for his interviews. Similarly, while he often is able to get similar information from his various subjects, he does not resort to asking the same questions over and over again.

Voices of Vision provides a useful look at the current and recent state of science fiction and comics from a variety of points of views. The interviews are well conducted and organized. Blaschke's book deserves to be widely read and will surely be a well-referenced source for people interested in the state of science fiction at the turn of the millennium.

Another generally positive review. I'm gratified. Steven has a couple of quibbles he raises in the review (which you can read the entirety of via the link above) which are valid, and in a perfect world I'd have been able to address them. But right now I'm just happy to be 2-for-2 on the review front.

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