Thursday, January 31, 2008

How to piss me off, part 163

I got a MySpace bulletin today (yes, I have a MySpace page, such as it is). It headlined "The REAL Barak Obama" and consisted of a cut-and-paste email that'd been making the rounds. Perhaps you've heard about this. Hillary Clinton fired a couple of staffers a while back when they were caught forwarding it, and one wonders just what kind of dark, twisted soul comes up with stuff like this. Essentially (not to wallow in the gory details) the message takes a few basic facts (Obama's father was from Kenya, his parents divorced when he was very young) and strings together the most disgusting assertion that Obama is some kind of radical Muslim "Manchurian Candidate" who won't recite the Pledge of Allegiance, eats white people's babies and pulls the "do not remove" tags off of mattresses. Not only is he an evil, radical Muslim, the message implies that he is a radical ATHEISTIC Muslim.

Hey, you. The erstwhile 'zine publisher and comics fan who sent me that bulletin: FUCK YOU SIDEWAYS WITH A RUSTY BALL-PEEN HAMMER. I deleted and blocked that bastard immediately after sending him a harshly-worded email explaining exactly why I was taking such actions.

His asinine actions offended me so much that I'm very likely to vote for Obama in the primary when it rolls around Texas way. Obama's actually a Church of Christ member, which I'm not all that comfortable with BTW, but that's not going to turn me off of him (Heck, John Kerry was a devout Catholic and even that didn't do much to enthuse me).

The candidate I admire most, and truly believe would make the best president, simply isn't running. Al Gore backed away from the race at the last moment when it appeared the Clinton machine would throw him under the bus pretty much as it had back in the 2000 elections. I can't blame him, but he's still the best candidate.

The candidate I voted for four years ago--John Edwards--is not longer running, so is no longer an option. Not that I planned on voting for him anyway. His populist message, which I loved in 2004, simply sounds a little stilted and rote these days. Trapped in amber, so to speak. And Edwards had gone from the friendly people's champion to, frankly, an angry man on the stump. The biggest reason, however, for my souring on Edwards is the fact that the former one-term senator had done nothing to improve his resume over the past four years. WTF? He simply remained a perpetual candidate rather than, gosh, maybe make himself more qualified for the job? His inexperience was a big knock in 2004, and he did nothing to address that weakness. Very disappointing there.

Hillary is the candidate who's star has fallen the most with me. I met her in 1992, and was utterly charmed. I rode to the airport with her in College Station, and she was smart, witty and attractive. She was also friendly and--believe it or not--warm. I was ready for her to be president then, rather than her husband. More than a few people that day expressed the same sentiment, and she laughed it off saying if they voted for Bill, she came as a package deal. Trouble is, in the intervening years she's become a politician. Her votes in the senate seem calculated to win her the most votes in a general election. She's shown she's not above dirty pool in politics if it gets her ahead (see the nastiness with Obama in South Carolina or that with Gore in the link above). She is, quite frankly, far too Machiavellian for my comfort. In many ways, she reminds me of George W. Bush, particularly with that disturbing "you're either for me or against me" temperament. I think she's fiercely intelligent, and believe that with all things being equal she could make a decent president. But all things aren't equal. Taking a Machiavellian, bunker mentality into the White House would almost guarantee four years of pit fighting with Republicans and very little progress. If there's anyone the Wingnuts hate more than Bill Clinton, it's Hillary. And frankly, I just don't like her much as a person anymore--a big change from 1992.

The fact that I got that nasty email today about Obama was just one more nail in Hillary's coffin for me. Publicly, she's condemned the letter and its contents. But really, who stands to gain by its continued dissemination? Racist groups hate the Clintons and the Democrats as much as they hate minorities. The Republicans want Hillary to be the Dem nominee, because they believe she's the only thing that unify the fractured Religious Right (which is really, really unhappy with what looks increasingly like a McCain candidacy). Hillary looks to take a big lead among delegates in the upcoming Super Tuesday primaries, but if Obama keeps things close--or even pulls ahead in the upcoming southern primaries in February--is there any doubt the Clinton campaign will get very nasty very quickly if it serves their goals?

I thought not.

Now Playing: Smash Mouth All Star Smash Hits

Watermelon, watermelon, watermelon rind...

This is why I love college sports. Sure, my Aggies beating the t-sips 80-63 was very nice indeed, but the silliness that went on in the final minute really put the icing on the cake:
The large lead allowed the big crowd to relish the final 10 minutes as Texas couldn't muster anything resembling a comeback. With the game in hand, the Reed Rowdies got to poke fun at Barnes, who last year after A&M's 100-82 victory at Reed Arena said that some of A&M's yells went out of style in junior high.

"What's next?" said Barnes, who then used a yell from his junior high days. "Watermelon, watermelon, watermelon rind. Look at the scoreboard and see who's behind?"

Well, the Reed Rowdies let Barnes relive his junior high days in the final minute of play, repeating the infamous yell.

Barnes was quick afterward to compliment the Aggies, saying the band's playing of the national anthem was the best he'd heard.

He also was proud of the Aggie fans' rendition of "watermelon rind."

"I taught them a joke last year, and they carried it out perfectly," Barnes said.

Updated--I've found a video on YouTube:

My only complaint is that those darn Wildcats up in Manhattan, Kansas stole our thunder. Any other day, blowing out the 10th-ranked team in the country would grab all the headlines. But Kansas State went and hammered the Jayhawks, one of the last remaining undefeated teams in the nation. Boy, that Beasley is a monster. Well, at least I don't feel so badly about the Aggies getting spanked by those same Wildcats two weeks back...

Now Playing: Winton Marsalis & Ellis Marsalis Joe Cool's Blues

Tuesday, January 29, 2008


I've posted a new installment of Memory over at No Fear of the Future. When last we saw the fierce Highland warrior, Flavius MacDuff, he'd literally been chewed up and spat out by an unexpected opponent on the field of battle. What could possibly happen next? Tune in and see!

Now Playing: The Dr. Demento Show September 14-15, 1996

Monday, January 28, 2008

The New World

What a miserable, pretentious film this was. You'd think that a movie starring Colin Farrell, Christian Bale and Christopher Plummer would be a pretty solid production. You'd be wrong. I'm even predisposed to like period pieces, but this thing was a mess. The way the film was cut together undermined any coherency in the narrative, leaving the baffled viewer struggling to piece together some kind of rationale for the actions of the characters on-screen. I could see this as being an intentional choice early on, as Farrell's John Smith gets lost in the unfamiliar lands, losing his men one by one before being captured by the natives. He's confused, so we're sharing that confusion. Great. I get it. But don't freakin' continue that stylistic approach throughout the rest of the film. And of course Pocahontas is a hot, grown-up Native American sexpot that falls in love with John Smith. From then on it degenerates into a mind-numbing soap opera that makes Disney's animated version of the story look like a historical documentary.

This is a movie that's self-important in all the worst ways. Avoid.

Update: How could I forget the music? Geeze louise, I like Wagner as much as the next guy, but using that same opening horn movement from Das Rheingold over and over and over again was maddening. Not to mention that it threw me out of the film each time, since the music in question was written 200-something years after the supposed events of this film. And yes, I know an original score would be even newer. That's not the point. Deal with it.

Now Playing: The Dr. Demento Show March 6-7, 1999

Friday, January 25, 2008

Coolest parents on the block

This picture from last night pretty much says it all:


Last night, with the Drum filled with 10,000 screaming pre-teens, Mylie Cyrus (aka Hannah Montana) along with opening act Aly & AJ, raked in the dough with a glitzy show filled with lots of lighting effects and costume changes. The really great thing about it is the fact I didn't have to sit through any of it.

The Wife snagged tickets the day they went on sale, riding the computer through the initial online surge of site traffic and server lock-up to land three tickets when the system began releasing lots selected but unpurchased by would-be buyers after a 10-minute decision window expired. Score! And at face value, too. Within 30 minutes the show was officially sold out, and tickets appearing on Ebay were going for $600 (at this point I questioned if the girls really needed to go to the concert, seeing as how they didn't know we even had the tickets, but the Wife disabused me of that notion).

So yesterday I played the role of chauffeur, driving the Wife, Monkey Girl and Fairy Girl to Austin and dropping them off in front of the Drum amidst a congested knot of traffic. I then soldiered on with the Bug to Half Price Books for half an our or so before continuing on to Highland Park Mall. Bug wanted pizza, so we each had a slice of food court pizza (not that great) and Bug got two cookies with his kids meal, which he liked. We then wandered around the mall for a couple of hours. The Lammes Candies shop there had closed, apparently, as did the Disney Store. We found a B. Dalton and went in. I ended up buying an "America's Conquest of Space" calendar at 75 percent off for my office at the university, and Bug made me read him Brown Bear, Brown Bear, What Do You See? about 500 times, along with a few Thomas the Tank Engine books for good measure. Then the concert was over and we made our way back to pick up the women folk amidst an even worse snarl of traffic.

The official verdict was that the concert was great. Monkey Girl complained that Aly & AJ were too loud, but broke down in tears of joy when Mylie Cyrus came on. The novelty wore off for Fairy Girl about halfway through, but she perked back up for the finale and encore. Both are now proudly wearing their concert tee shirt swag today in school. The Wife reports all the kids in the audience screamed wildly throughout the show, falling silent only when Cyrus began singing "I Wanna Rock & Roll All Night." At that point the parents present began cheering, because there was finally a song they recognized being performed. I wouldn't know, because I was reading about Brown Bear for the 237th time at that point.

Now Playing: Aerosmith Get a Grip

Friday Night Videos

Love & Rockets was never a group I got into, but back in my college days the groove they hit with "So Alive" was smooth enough to make me set out several times to pick up their CD. I never actually managed to do so, however, failing for various unremembered reasons. If anything, I loved the video more. For a man who appreciates the finer points of really nice legs, this four minute clip was like manna from heaven. Now, when I watch it, it reminds me of The Wife. Consider me a lucky man.

Previously on Friday Night Videos... Berlin.

Now Playing:

Tuesday, January 22, 2008

Stein time

One of the reasons I put up with the Wife lazing around the house all day watching her "stories" and eating Bon-Bons is the fact that she, on occasion, surprise me with the coolest gifts. Such as this space-themed stein:

Ain't Ebay grand? And this particular stein functions quite satisfactorily when filled with nut brown ale, or even something a little more non-traditional, such as a co-mingling of mango run and Sprite. Multifunctional, indeed!

Now Playing: The Kinks The Great Lost Kinks Album

Alistair Graham on line 2...

The following media inquiry was received by Baylor University in recent weeks.
My name is Joanna Greene and I am the executive producer of the Alistair Graham Program, a chat show in England. During the years of 2008 and 2009, we will be filming all our programs on location in the United States. On our program, we interview well known figures about the media, politics, current events, et cetera. Mister Graham has expressed interest in interviewing you for our program. We are very flexible as to date, time, and location, so it's your decision. Let me know what other information you would like. Thanks!

Joanna Greene
Executive Producer
Alistair Graham Program
Channel Four

The "Alistair Graham Program" might be more familiar to readers as "Da Ali G Show." The infamous roving reporter from Khazakstan, Borat, could've been making a trip to Waco. Alas, someone actually did their job and checked up on the request, so the interview will not be happening.

Would've been phenomenal, though.

Now Playing: The Kinks Arthur (or the Decline and Fall of the British Empire)

Monday, January 21, 2008


Part 2 of my serialized story, MEMORY, is now up at No Fear of the Future. Enjoy. And feel free to comment. If you want. No obligations, of course.

Now Playing:

Friday, January 18, 2008

Missed it by that much

Lou Antonelli was kind enough to point out to me that once again my name is being taken in vain on the Asimov's message boards. Although my name isn't actually mentioned. One poster takes Gardner Dozois to task for not including any Interzone stories in his upcoming Year's Best Science Fiction anthology, and Gardner replies thusly:
You're wrong, Anders, there is a story from INTERZONE in my new Best, "The Sledge-Maker's Daughter," by Alastair Reynolds--and there were almost a couple of others. I came close to using Chris Roberson's "Metal Dragon Year," but finally decided that "The Sky is Large and the Earth is Small" edged it. I also considered using "The Last Voyage of La Raza."

First off, congrats to Chris Roberson for almost pulling off a double-play. "Metal Dragon Year" certainly deserved the consideration. That doesn't make me hate him any less for getting into the book while I'm left standing at the curb. I'm just saying.

The thread the above exchange took place on featured--a good bit higher up--that long-in-tooth debate on what constitutes SF vs. fantasy. Gardner made the point that he continues to keep his Year's Best series a SF-only affair. Although it'd be nicer to get the reprint (and accompanying check) I'm heartened to see that Gardner got what I was attempting to do with "The Finale Voyage of La Riaza." That makes him and Lois Tilton the only two to do so. Although there's no way in Hell that La Riaza would ever be accepted for publication in Analog, I tried to do fairly rigorous worldbuilding, keeping everything just this side of impossible. The whole "Cielo Mar" is based on the gas torus concept which Larry Niven used in his novels The Integral Trees and The Smoke Ring (both of which I have on my bookshelf but have yet to read--from what I know, however, my worlds of Cibola are vastly different from Niven's creation). My work is most likely far less rigorously engineered out than Niven's. That's not my forté.

It was somewhat disappointing when some early readers made critiquing suggestions that more often involved magic than not. And more reviews than not described the airships featured in the story as magically flying galleons rather than the primitive dirigibles I'd tried very hard to convey. Of course, that's what the art conveyed, and visuals invariably trump the printed word. But still.

All in all, learning of Gardner's affection toward the story has given me new enthusiasm for "The Shoals of Cibola," the direct sequel to "La Riaza." I've actually written more on it since starting on the serialized Memory, and just the other night came up with a workable solution to prevent my protagonists from getting killed very convincingly by a situation I've written them into. It'll be interesting to see if readers continue to think "magic" as more of these stories find their way into print.

Now Playing: Dave Davies Rock Bottom: Live at the Bottom Line

Friday Night Videos

I remember seeing Berlin's "No More Words" on Showtime's "Take 5" video intermissions in between feature movies. Keep in mind that I'd grown up in rural Texas, and was only just beginning to realize there were more than just two kinds of music (those being Country and Western). I didn't know what New Wave from a permanent wave, but this video featured a cool sound and a cute girl in Terri Nunn. What more did a teenage boy need? Plus, I'd seen Bonnie & Clyde not too long before, and that movie'd made an impression on me. So this video has remained a sentimental favorite for years. I'm not entirely sure what kind of social commentary they're trying to deliver--although I'm sure they thought it important at the time--but who really cares when you've got all those sweet, vintage cars on display?

Previously on Friday Night Videos... The Barenaked Ladies.

Now Playing: The Kinks The Village Green Preservation Society

Thursday, January 17, 2008

Daily dose of Kinks

Ray Davies has a new solo album coming out. How come I didn't know this sooner? Working Man's Cafe is coming out next month, and there's a special edition being released as well with bonus tracks and a DVD as well. Needless to say, my Kinks-oriented music collection will get another addition shortly.

Speaking of the Kinks (which is all the time for me, pretty much) is it just me or have they become to television commercial music what Philip K. Dick is to science fiction cinema? I won't list all the Kinks tunes that've been featured prominently in marketing campaigns in recent years (the HP "Picture Book" series of spots being a particular favorite) but this new Converse spot using an obscure track from the Soap Opera album (not one of my faves) is pretty darn cool:

Now Playing: Ray Stevens I Have Returned

Wednesday, January 16, 2008

Watching the skies

Last week, Monkey Girl's Brownie troop had it's annual astronomy/stargazing night during its regularly-scheduled meeting. Which means I get to set up the telescope and try to point out interesting things in the sky to see. Since my old 6" Meade reflector remains in a state of disrepair, we settled on using Monkey Girl's little refractor (which isn't a bad scope considering how budget conscious it is). Unfortunately, the absolute best viewing target--the moon--happened to be in new moon phase that night. Bad timing. The only stellar object in the sky was Mars, which was particularly bright and very red on this clear, cool night. Another father showed up with a somewhat more upscale refractors, although he admitted it'd been packed away for years (just like my reflector). So there were two scopes for the kids to look through.

As I was getting it targeted and in focus, I glanced up and spotted a satellite whipping by overhead. The Wife pointed this out to the gathered kids to much oohing and aahing. Then they looked as the little pink disc of Mars in the telescope. I don't think they were all that impressed--the scope was too small to make out the polar caps through. Then the Wife began pointing out various constellations to the troop--Cassiopea, Orion, the Pledias...

After 30 minutes or so, everyone migrated back inside. I was starting to pack up all the telescope stuff when I glanced up at Orion and started thinking. Even though we were in a very light-polluted area (lots of street lamps around, plus buildings, homes, etc.) Orion's sword was easily visible. It was a clear night. Why not try to spot the famed Orion nebula? I spotted it instantly, a gauzy, gossamer cloud around the stars. Those brilliant colors seen in published photos wasn't there, of course, but the shape was clearly recognizable.

I've got a confession to make: This was my very first ever deep-space observation. At least, one that I spotted up myself. I've observed Saturn's rings and Mar's polar caps and the phases of Venus. I've looked at comets and spotted the black impact scars on Jupiter for comet Shoemaker-Levy 9. But I'd never found a deep-sky object myself. That's probably because when I was really into astronomy (before I realized I had to be good at math to make a career of it) I was too young to really understand a fraction of what I was doing. I had a tough time with basic star charts and identifying constellations, and nobody in my family had any interest in it. Now that I'm pushing 40, things that were a brick wall for me 25-30 years ago aren't all that challenging anymore.

It's a very small accomplishment, but one that makes me happy. And now I know I really need to get the old 6" working again.

Now Playing: Martin Hummel Eternal Love: 17th Century German Lute Songs

Tuesday, January 15, 2008

The Water Horse

My review of the movie The Water Horse is now live over at RevolutionSF. So what did I think of it?
The Water Horse is one of those rare surprises that crops up at the local cineplex from time to time: A movie that turns out to be far better than all the studio marketing and promotion tells you it has any right to be. Is it a great movie? Certainly not. But it's a well-made children's film with nary a fart joke in sight, with enough gravity and craft to keep the adults not only awake, but also engaged.

There's more at the other end of the link, but I think that goes without saying, right?

Now Playing: The Doctor Demento Show November 8-9, 1997

Monday, January 14, 2008

In for a penny...

The deed is done. Remember that idea of doing a weekly serial I've been threatening? It's title is Memory and part 1 is now live at No Fear of the Future. I've also got a short intro up explaining the whole mad mess.

So, with the story going up over there, I think I'll discuss the creative process over here. What's the genesis of this piece, you ask? I considered several possibilities before deciding on building a story using Flavius MacDuff as a cornerstone. Flavius himself is a supporting character in another project of mine, but I realized in writing that project that I didn't have a strong grasp on who he was (beyond the general backstory I'd developed). Memory gives me a chance to rectify that, while taking advantage of some stand-alone story potential of his. So, technically, Memory is a sequel to an unfinished, unpublished project. Is that confusing enough for you? Better take notes--there'll be a test afterwards.

For those interested in such things, this installment was written under the influence of several Smithfield Fair albums, notably "Jacobites By Name" and "Highland Call" (the limited edition remastered version).

Now Playing: Smash Mouth All Star Smash Hits

Friday, January 11, 2008

Coming attractions

Remember the other day, when I discussed my foolish notion of writing a serial, more or less real time, and publishing the episodes at No Fear of the Future? Last night I started writing the damn thing.

I didn't make a whole heck of a lot of progress. And the "easy" scenario has already involved far, far more research than I'd planned or wanted. But some manner of progress is being made, and I have a somewhat clear view of the direction the narrative will head over the course of the next half-dozen or so pseudo-chapters. So. We'll see if I have it in me to maintain a weekly schedule. Or not, as the case may be.

Now Playing: Ray Stevens I Have Returned

Friday Night Videos

I heard good things about the Barenaked Ladies for years before they finally hit it big, and was somewhat surprised and a little disappointed that they were unable to sustain the success of "One Week." That's as great a song as there ever was for someone like me--how can you not like music that references the X-Files and Sailor Moon among dozens of other pop culture shout-outs? The video is a work of genius as well. Sure, the Evel Knievel, General Lee and Starsky & Hutch Gran Torino are wonderful (if not obvious) callbacks to my childhood, but the thing that really, really puts it over the top for me is the Chitty Chitty Bang Bang homage in the opening scenes. Très cool.

Previously on Friday Night Videos... The Beach Boys.

Now Playing: Talking Heads More Songs About Buildings and Food

Thursday, January 10, 2008

Who'll buy my Dementia?

Back in my college days, many moons ago, I was fortunate enough to experience on a regular basis the comedic music stylings of Dr. Love & The Erogenous Zones and Sneaky Pete. Alas, Dr. Love's rein lasted a mere two glorious years, but Sneaky Pete is still recording music after more than 30 years. Both acts had songs featured on the nationally syndicated Dr. Demento Show, and Pete grew to be a regular on the program. After one of his shows, I bought a couple of Pete's tapes, and he gave me two vinyl albums as a bonus--both were syndicated Demento shows, which were distributed to stations on vinyl back then. The local station would give them to Pete, since his songs were often featured. It was a pretty cool bonus, I must say, and kept them for years until they vanished during one move or another.

Fast forward to 1997. One day at work I got a call from the Wife (we were still newlyweds at that point, right on the cusp of becoming one of those Old Married Couples). She'd just heard a song on the radio she thought hilarious, "Star Wars Cantina," done to the tune of Barry Manilow's "Copacabana." We wanted a copy, but apparently it wasn't available in stores (the radio station had gotten it in as a promo). One radio station in the next town aired the Dr. Demento Show, however, and if there was one sure place to find that song, it would be on the Demento Show. Remembering Sneaky Pete's gift from those years before, I called the station and asked what they did with the shows after they aired. I was told they were generally thrown away, but that I could have them if I wanted. Oh, and they came on CDs, not vinyl, now. Can you say "jackpot"?

Thus began a series of monthly pilgrimages to the booming metropolis of Killeen, to pick up discs of an obscure radio program many folks had never even heard of. This continued more or less regularly until we moved to New Braunfels in 2002. I understand that radio station discontinued the program in early 2007, and the good Doctor is now broadcast on a bare handful of stations, compared to more than 100 (if memory serves) when I interviewed him the summer of 1992 (yeah, I interviewed him for a feature. Sadly, I don't have a copy of it anymore). My collection is by no means complete--many shows were thrown away despite my efforts, and others mysteriously disappeared from the studio (probably when one of the jocks heard a particular song they liked). But all things being equal, my collection eventually spanned the better part of five years' worth of shows.

Until now. Back in December, I broke out my collection of Christmas-themed shows only to discover several discs had gone bad. They were tarnished, corroded, unlistenable. The feeling of losing something so irreplaceable is a sickening one, I assure you. I'd experience this once before, when my cherished copy of "Monty Python: The Final Rip-Off" began showing the same symptoms. The disc begins to turn color, from a clean gold to a dull, tarnished bronze. The sound begins to deteriorate, slowly losing clarity until it is nothing more than unbroken static. It took about six months for the Python disc to complete this cycle, and for the life of me I can't figure out the cause--the CDs were stored in jewel cases away from chemicals and protected from temperature extremes, but they went bad nonetheless. And then I remember all those shows I hadn't listened to for years, at least not since first picking up the CDs. I went through them all, still stored in the paper sleeves and express mail envelopes they were delivered in. Most were in fine shape, but some showed early signs of decay.

Well. This sucks.

Here I have a collection of some rarity (I'm a sucker for such things--you should see all the defunct sports teams represented in my pennant collection) that I'm somewhat pleased with, but one which I don't really listen to with anything approaching regularity. And parts of it are going bad in an irreversible manner. What to do?

Sell them. On ebay.

Is that too crassly commercial of me? The Wife and I have some upcoming wish-list purchases (and they aren't the kind) that remain sadly unfunded and beyond the scope of our monthly budget. This is helping plug that gap, hopefully wholly but at least in part. And there are lots (well, at least some) collectors out there that are really, sincerely into collecting the Demento Shows, kinda like the way I am (or used to be) with Green Arrow comic book appearances. It doesn't seem fair to let my collection rot away if others could derive some pleasure from it.

I'm still not entirely happy with this, but I've made my peace with it. And I'm not selling all of my shows. I'll be keeping the surviving Christmas shows, along with those featuring Sneaky Pete and, of course, "Star Wars Cantina."

Now Playing: The Kinks Kinks Size/Kinkdom

Catch a falling star...

My review of the Stardust DVD is now up at RevolutionSF. What did I think of it?
Stardust really, really wants to be this generation's The Princess Bride. And that's not necessarily a bad thing. That it never achieves those lofty ambitions is almost incidental.

That's only the first graf of my review. I actually write a good bit more. Honestly.

Now Playing: The Kinks The Kink Kontroversy

Tuesday, January 08, 2008

The Notorious Bettie Page

Watched The Notorious Bettie Page last night. Interesting movie, but a very, very uneven one. For much of the film, the narrative amounts to a series of unrelated scenes from Page's life with little connection or meaning. And some of the cinematic techniques are puzzling as well. Most of the film is shot in black and white, while Bettie's magazine covers and scenes in Miami are shot in hyper-saturated color reminiscent of 1960s Technicolor. It's a neat effect, but it comes off as an affectation. There's no real meaning behind it--is color supposed to symbolize Page coming to life? Being happy? That doesn't really jibe. Nor is it clarified by director Mary Harron in the making-of documentary featured on the DVD, when she merely says it was "her vision" to film the sequences that way. Harron and scriptwriter Guinevere Turner also make repeated statements that Page is best known today for her bondage photos, almost dismissing her pinup work as incidental. I have to take issue with this, since apart from serving as the model for Jenny in The Rocketeer, most of mainstream America identifies Page with her cheesecake photos, her Playboy work with Bunny Yeager in particular. In the end, I suspect the filmmakers became fixated with the bondage aspect of Page's career a bit too much to put together a truly substantive account of her life. The tawdry is always an attractive siren song, after all. But the disjointed script come across on the screen as an early draft rather than a finished product.

Yet I liked the film more often than not. Why? Gretchen Mol. I've never had much of an opinion of Mol one way or the other before now, but she outright nails the character of Bettie Page. She looks the part. She slips into the character. Her voice changes. She captures the whimsy and innocence of Page. Nowhere is this driven home more than in her making-of interviews, where, in costume and on the set, Mol talks about the character and role. And she looks and sounds nothing like the character she portrays. The transformation is striking. I was very impressed.

And if anyone ever gets around to making another Rocketeer movie, Mol has my vote for the role of Jenny (no disrespect to Jennifer Connelly intended, of course).

Now Playing: The Dixie Chicks Home

YAY! All is right in the world once again!

The Texas A&M vs. t.u. football game is moving back to Thanksgiving where it belongs!

This is Good and Right in so many ways, I can't even begin to list them. But, you might say, it doesn't matter what day the game is played on. Not so fast there. It certainly mattered in years past. Take 1939 for example (my favorite story about the game). Under pressure from national merchants, FDR officially moved the holiday from November 30 (the final Thursday of the month) up a week to November 23 to lengthen the holiday shopping season. This played havoc with many college football rivalry games, traditionally played on Thanksgiving but now suddenly scheduled for an orphan Thursday. Not in Texas. Governor James Allred established November 30 as an official state holiday in observance of Thanksgiving--Texas held two Thanksgivings that year, one specifically in honor of this football game.

So. Tell me again how it doesn't matter when it's played.

Now Playing: The Dr. Demento Show March 4-5, 2000

Monday, January 07, 2008

No good can come of this

I've been thinking. A dangerous proposition, I know. But when writing fiction, I invariably have a conclusion, a finale, a resolution firmly pictured at the start. An endpoint toward which I strive for, as it were. I don't know the terrain that lies between my start and endpoints, but the direction is always set, so to speak.

Not all writers do this. Some start with characters and no idea what will unfold before them as they chronicle the adventures of said characters. Tolkien wrote somewhat in this manner, expecting to write a light sequel to The Hobbit when he sat down before being taken aback when the mysterious figure of Strider unexpectedly appeared in Bree.

So this is what I'm considering: Begin writing a piece of fiction with little more than a beginning in place and seeing where that takes me. An experiment, as it were. Foolishly, I'm toying with making this experiment a public spectacle, publishing as I go in weekly serial installments of maybe a thousand words a pop. Dickens wrote this way, to an extent, and didn't have the luxury of rewriting early chapters later in the story. He had to work within the framework he'd already established. That challenge is intriguing to me as well. I'd probably post the chapters over on No Fear of the Future, if for no other reason than to increase my volume of contributions to that blog, which have lagged somewhat of late.

I'm not 100 percent certain what I'd write about, although a couple of characters do seem to hold promise for a stand along romp. And I'm not 100 percent certain that I will take the plunge here, although the fact that I'm writing this almost makes my decision a forgone conclusion.

Now Playing: The Kinks Something Else

Sunday, January 06, 2008

What to do with all this honey?

I'm making mead tonight. Six gallons of honey water must are in the fermenter right now, waiting to cool just a few more degrees so I can pitch the yeast (Red Star's Prenier Cuvee for those interested). I've got two pounds of honey per gallon in there, which is a bit less than I've used in the past. My last batch of mead turned out sweeter than I'd expected, and I suspect the alcohol killed off the yeast before it could ferment to dryness. So I'm going with less honey this time around--I can always add more later in the process if necessary.

I heated the honey on the stove in my big salsa-making pot (don't worry, I cleaned it out from last week's salsa episode), never quite bringing it to a boil but rather simmering it for about an hour. I skimmed off all the foam that formed--bees wax and other impurities. I then added grape tannin, yeast nutrient, acid blend and pectic enzyme. After this stuff ferments completely, that's when the fun begins. I've got more than half a gallon of fresh-picked blueberries in the deep freeze (well, they were freshly-picked when they went into the freezer) as well as a frozen jar full of passion fruit pulp I harvested from my back yard this past summer. So, obviously, I'll be making some fruit melomel in the near future. The fruit, needless to say, will add a good dose of sugar to the mead which will restart fermentation. Since there's less honey to start with, it shouldn't push it into sweet territory. I've done enough sweet meads. This time, I'm looking for something light, fruity and crisp.

Fingers, as they say, are crossed.

Now Playing: Brian Wilson Imagination

Friday, January 04, 2008

No, but thanks for asking

The other day someone asked if I had a story coming out in Gardner Dozois' next Year's Best collection. While I'm quite pleased with my stories published in 2007, I suspect that I'd have been contacted by now if any of the "Best Of" volumes put out by various parties was interested in my work. So I said no, but asked why they'd think such things were in the offing? I was pointed to the following quote from Dozois himself on the Asimov's discussion boards:
Depending on who you count as "new," I saw good stuff this year from Chris Roberson, Ted Kosmatka, Vandana Singh, Neil Williamson, Justin Stanchfield, C.W. Johnson, Sarah K. Castle, Alistte de Boddard, Jayme Lynn Blaschke, Steven Francis Murphy, Marguerite Reed,Ekaterina Sedia,Andrew Kail, Beth Bernobich, and, if they still count as new,Paolo Bacigalupi, David Moles, Elizabeth Bear, and Benjamin Rosenbaum.

Well, that was a nice, unexpected ego-boost. One can hope that an honorable mention or two might be forthcoming. Maybe if I ever figure out how to write shorter stories instead of the over-long epics I currently to I'll even get into one of the year-end retrospectives some day.

Now Playing: The Mamas and the Papas The Best of the Mamas and the Papas

Friday Night Videos

I'm not normally one for remakes--either of movies or of songs--but damn if I don't love the Beach Boys' version of California Dreamin'. And it's quite appropriate for this chill January of 2008. Icing on the cake is John Phillips, Michelle Phillips and Roger McGuinn cameos in the video. And take a listen to that 12-string guitar. Yeah, that's McGuinn. I love it.

Previously on Friday Night Videos... Billy Joel & Cass Dillon.

Now Playing: Bob Seger & the Silver Bullet Band Nine Tonight

Wednesday, January 02, 2008

Starting the new year right

This holiday season, my sister asked me to make some of my salsa, which I lovingly refer to as "El Sombrero del Muerto," for her to give as gifts to some friends of hers (I assume they're friend. Could conceivably be enemies she never wants to speak to again). I've developed my salsa recipe over the course of much trial-and-error and many years. Each batch varies a little, but in the end the gist is the same. I used to make it hotter, but at some point the scalding heat and flavor of the habañeros overwhelms the other flavors, and truth to tell, I'm just not that big a fan of habañero flavor (I much prefer the taste of serranos).

I haven't made any salsa in the better part of a year, so I enthusiastically responded to the request. Making salsa is an event with me, you see. Much shopping and preparing and the like. Lisa figured it up once, and we realized I wasn't saving any money by making it myself. In fact, all things being equal, it probably cost us more to make the stuff than to buy from the store. But they all make it wrong, you know? One thing I can't abide is sweet salsa, and it seems like every brand out there dumps loads of sugar into their confections, and those that don't seem intent on drowning it in vinegar. Ugh.

So. I spent January 1, 2008 making salsa. Several jars of "mild" were set aside for the rest of the family before I added the majority of the chili peppers, but ultimately I estimate I came out with around three gallons of the hot stuff. Here's the "official" recipe for those of you interested in such things:
Sombrero del Muerto
(Salsa del Fuego)

Ingredients: 12 large tomatoes
4 12 oz. cans tomato paste
10 tomatillos
20 jalapeños
20 serrano peppers
20 habañeros
1 7 oz. can chipotle peppers
1-3 nopales (cactus leaves)
1/2 cup red wine vinegar
1/4 cup salt
1 bunch cilantro
1 white or yellow onion
1 bunch green onions
1 clove garlic
crushed/ground peppercorn

Slice/dice nopales. Chop onion greens, 1/2 cilantro. Blend up tomatoes, tomatillos, chipotles, garlic, remaining green onions and cilantro along with half of all peppers. Combine in large pot/kettle along with salt, vinegar, peppercorn and tomato paste (paste is VERY important, otherwise sauce won't be proper consistency). Heat until it starts to bubble. Dice remaining peppers and add to mixture. Simmer 20 minutes. Enjoy!

For mild salsa, blend 5 serranos and 5 jalapeños in step 2, then separate out mild salsa before adding remainder of peppers.

This recipe had a few variants, as is to be expected. For some reason, my brain hiccupped and I read the "12 large tomatoes" as "20 large tomatoes" so the brew was a bit increased in volume this time around. My grandmother had sent me a dozen or so jalapeños a few months back which I had frozen, so I added those as well to balance the extra tomatoes. The local H-E-B also didn't have any nopales (prickly pear cactus) pads, but had some fresh, pre-diced ones bagged up. This was about twice as much as I needed, but I used them all. The nopales don't add any heat to the salsa, but they do contribute to the chunky body style I prefer, and give a vaguely vegetable flavor to the proceedings. I also get a kick out of people's reactions when I tell them I put cactus in my salsa. It's not exactly a secret ingredient, but it is a pretty rare one (I've encountered exactly one other salsa that uses nopales as an ingredient). I also had 3/4 of a bottle of my jalapeños mead in the fridge that wasn't going to be drunk any time soon, so I poured that in as well. No discernible sweetness was added to the salsa, but I was pretty overdosed on capsicum by that point. I'll have a better idea of the flavor after taking a taste tonight.

And by the by, don't wipe your eyes after cutting up those peppers. Just, you know, a suggestion.

Now Playing: The Violent Femmes ROCK!!!!!

Mind Meld

The good folks over at SF Signal have made the foolish mistake of inviting me to participate in one of their Mind Meld discussion features. The topic:
With most television shows on hiatus due to the writers strike, it's a good time to reflect on the quality of the genre shows of this past TV season. If you ran Hollywood, what changes would you make? What would stay the same?

Naturally, I accepted. And just as naturally, I busted deadline. But my ramblings are up there now. Here's a taste of what you're in for:
The first film I'd greenlight is Poul Anderson's Tau Zero, a tour-de-force if ever there was one. The beauty of it--in filmmaker's terms, that is--is that it is a "ship in a bottle" story. There is only one real setting, the inside of the runaway starship. There are some grandiose exterior special effects, but nothing that can't be budgeted wisely. As long as the budget isn't busted by signing Tom Cruise, Catherine Zeta-Jones and Morgan Freeman, we're in good shape.

And if my mere presence isn't enough to entice you, there's interesting and insightful commentary there from Chris Roberson, Lou Anders and Paul Levinson, among others. Checkitout, as Howard Waldrop would say...

Now Playing: Wynton & Ellis Marsalis Joe Cool's Blues