Tuesday, December 24, 2013

Who Sleeps On Christmas Eve Anyway?

Just a little something I've had lurking on the hard drive for quite a while. I tend to forget about it until after the holidays are over, and I'm not much of a poet anyway, so I figured I might as well throw it on here.

Happy Holidays and Merry Christmas.

All I Want
Didn’t mean to kill the fat man but couldn’t stop in time

Thought him some drunk reveler - a little too much wine

Or (because he wore the beard and suit) sloshed on too much nog

Regardless which I hit him soundly he fell just like a log

Then left me puzzled by his smile; an odd thing on his lips

Bleeding out upon the street, body twisted ‘round his hips

Sprawled upon new-fallen snow saw his life slip past

Pale white skin and crimson stains: red and white of Christmas

I remember idly wondering where he’d left his sleigh

Before the sound of jingle bells chased idle thoughts away

Less over river through the woods, more of string at grave

Pulled upon unceasingly yet no one there to save,

Nothing tiny about reindeer - certainly not eight, no

(Eight, not nine – no shiny nose though weirdness even so)

Asking ‘self which suburbanite took trimmings just too far

Someone’s warped idea of festive traipsing round my car

With flinty hooves and antlers now herding me instead

Keeping me beside the body and filling me with dread

Dead Santa’s belly all a-quivering; no bowl of jelly here

Instead see hordes of chitinous things; skin crawls with more than fear.

The suit’s alive though tattered felt, fur trim stained and dusty

Smells of things best buried wet, left damp and slightly musty

It crawls and creeps and so does come in part by no small measure

With clicking claws and creeping tendrils my warm body it does treasure

A sentient thing through and through no errant garland ‘neath the tree

This things snakes itself around my foot to wrap and bind and snare me.

A beard sprouts, itchy with new growth and biting little fleas

A tangled mass of grey that threatens to stifle, smother me

Wide belt cinches, things pool around my gut latching to my sides

Try not to think of scarab eyes and things that like to dig inside

No reindeer games this night, their antlers prod and goad

Promising to gore and skewer should I head for the road

From shadows, elves with sharkish teeth in twisted wicked grins

Yellowed claws go snicker-snack sink into my skin

All pointy hats and pointy faces and pointy teeth that gnash

They drag me over to the sleigh, my hands to reins they lash

Soon enough it’s plain to see why my predecessor ran

Took off in haste, and seized his chance; knew dying’s better than

Being forced all night to fly around and go from house to house

By creatures, stirring, all foul intent with the quiet of a mouse.

At each new home they enter in, wee ones to spy upon

Things to leave to break and splinter, no joy to greet the dawn.

Toys to them just a foul pursuit dark things to fill a sack

It’s the screams of little children which keep them coming back

So they plunged me into the role to soar at dizzying height

As icy cold and frost and wind prolong unending night.

This Santa doesn’t “ho ho ho;” I’ve no reason to be merry.

It’s lack of air and gasping breath turns face red like a cherry.

You see all I want for Christmas is to escape what lies for me;

What waits there frozen at the pole, new horrors there shall be.

Instead I wait while evil gnomes crawl past sleeping heads

Intent on leaving some new thing to torment those in beds.

Left hoping the sleigh takes turns too sharp and I fall upon some spire

Or failing that, to hurl myself down in where chimneys promise fire.

So if by chance you see me soon on corner street or mall

You’d best stay off of Santa’s lap, heed not the siren call

Tuck tight your children on Christmas Eve, don’t let your small ones wake

In hopes that they might glimpse a Santa that’s no fake.

For this is no jolly elf they’ll see (though them you need not tell)

Just only me locked inside the suit and a cold unending hell.

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

Omelette du Homage

So, if you're in the mood for a very dangerous drinking game (or you want to play an alcoholic version of Russian Roulette), I have a proposal for you: one shot per sci-fi reference in Fox's new Almost Human.

Now, normally I don't comment too much on current things in pop culture. This is because, rather than being on the cutting edge of pop culture, I'm more akin to being on the dull, rusty garden implement left out on the lawn over the winter edge of things. (Thankfully my shots are current. I think.)

But there were just so. many. things. Leaving aside that the entire premise was done before in the short-lived (but thoroughly enjoyable and not just because of Yancey Butler) Mann and Machine, in about the first 20 minutes, this is what I noticed. This list is entirely spoiler-free, I promise. Nothing here is plot relevant. More on that - the non-plot relevance - in a moment. Anyway, in random order:

  • There was the memory machine from Total Recall
  • The neighborhoods from Blade Runner.
  • The noodle shop from Blade Runner, complete with the people with umbrellas in the background.* 
  • The emotional robots going nuts. Heck, I was waiting for someone to say "More human than human."
  • The robot doing the statistical analysis on who to save from I, Robot.
  • Heck, the interior of the police station looked very similar to I, Robot.
  • The bad guys stole their black leather get up from Clarence J Boddicker in Robocop. (With maybe a dash of Roy Batty thrown in.)

And that was about when I just stopped keeping track.

Don't get me wrong, it was enjoyable enough, despite the veritable plethora of cliches - including every single character profile - and I'll tune in to see where it goes. But as the similarities started to pile up, I had to wonder if they were doing this on purpose. By the end of the episode, I was convinced they were. My only question is, were they doing it as homage, or because they couldn't think of anything original?

If I'm giving the benefit of the doubt to the writers, I'd have to say homage, if only because there were just. so. many. On the other hand, this is from the same guy that crafted the last two Star Trek films, including the one that was largely cobbled together from Wrath of Khan and various sundry pieces. So it may be a little from column A, a little from column B.

[Seeing as how J.J. Abrams' next big thing is the Star Wars films, I have decided that in a stunning bit of prognostication I shall herein reveal the script for those: it's going to be entirely bits and pieces from the prior movies. In random order. With lens flares.** As long as those bits and pieces are mostly from the original trilogy, I'm actually good with that. Maybe a couple of the lightsaber battles from the prequels, because let's face it, those were the only good things in the prequels.]

I'd also like to believe that the massive amount of references were mostly homage because otherwise there's a staggering lack of originality that's just depressing. The media powers that be ought to be able to come up with better without having to shamelessly steal from other things. Or else they just figured not enough people would notice, which is just a cynical thing to be thinking, even for me.

And I'll admit, if it's homage, it's just clever enough to get me to tune back in. But there had better be more than just retread. As much as I adored all the sci-fi goodness that they're drawing on, nostalgia only carries so far.

Besides, I have most of those films on DVD anyway.

Oh, and if you're puzzled over the title, it was my own homage to an episode of Dexter's Lab. By which I mean I blatantly stole it.

*I'd have to check, but if that wasn't just about shot perfect - same angle and everything - from that opening scene with Deckard, I'll eat a spinner. (That's one of those flying cars.)

** Okay, that was low-hanging fruit, and to be honest I didn't notice any in Almost Human. There was, however, a decidedly shiny quality to some aspects, though it was balanced out by the non-shiny underbelly stuff.

Saturday, November 9, 2013

If it quacks like a duck...

Found myself thinking about the boundaries of genre the other day (courtesy of Abner and Chelsea, who are nice folks that you should check out) after going over a list of books that while ostensibly about YA books included a title that I would not have ever, ever thought of as being Young Adult (YA). Which then led to a discussion about what makes something YA, and whether it's a category or a genre and which of those supersedes the others. 

The book in question was Dune, which despite some valid points raised, I'm still not willing to think of as being particularly YA. I would confidently assert Frank Herbert didn't think of his book in those terms, either, though authorial intent is often secondary in these things.

At the end of the conversation, I'm not sure I learned anything about where those boundaries are, or even if they exist, but it was interesting nonetheless. I could, if I were cynical, adopt the position that a YA designation - much like NA or Literary - is more of a marketing standpoint than anything else. A way to determine what part of the bookstore or library (or page on Amazon, I suppose) the book should be shelved in. But even though there are sci-fi, mystery, and fantasy books in the YA section of my local library, I think it's about more than who gets to read the book.

My confusion wasn't helped any by another conversation elsewhere - I don't remember exactly where - about whether horror is a separate genre, or more something like YA. I would make the argument that horror is a genre, as it has its own conventions and trappings much like other genres. It's no different than romance or Western. Of course, my local library would seem not to agree. The library has a mystery section, and a western section, and a science fiction section... but if I want to pick up a book by King or Koontz I have to wander into the general fiction section.

(Though maybe that's more about the short-sightedness of the people who came up with the system than anything else. Urban Fantasy gets dumped into science fiction, interestingly enough, but that probably wasn't even something under consideration the last time library call numbers were assigned.)

And then to further muddle the heck out of things, as I was wandering in the library yesterday looking for a book to read, and not finding anything, I remembered The Last Policeman being on my list of books to check out. As it is an end-of-the-world story, I expected it to be in the science fiction section. 

It wasn't there.

Instead it was under mystery. Which, to be fair, it is. A homicide, in fact, but set at the end of the world (not an exaggeration, and although I just started it this morning based on the pages I covered it's going to be a good book). So it's just the set pieces that are science fiction, while the plot is all crime fiction. But then again, so are more than a couple of Asimov's Robot books. They just happen to use a shiny future, with robots, rather than a "we're all going to die in 6 months" bleak future.

If the The Last Policeman had a robot, would it then be reshelved? If Asimov had not included robots, would they be reshelved? If Paul in Dune had spent more time brooding in his room, would I be more willing to accept it as YA? Maybe. Maybe not. Honestly, at this point I have no idea. Dune still looks sci-fi to me, more than anything else it is. Space travel, exotic planets, strange life-forms. That says sci-fi to me, and it says that as its primary identity. Not YA.

In the meantime, I'm going to settle for organizing my books alphabetically.

NOS4A2 by Joe Hill

As this is the only time in my entire life I'm going to be able say this, I'm going to say it, despite my general disdain of hipster attitude.

I was reading Joe Hill before everyone else.

Well, okay, hardly "everyone" else, but it seems this current novel has catapulted him back into popular consciousness, and it's certainly deserved. But having read his earlier books and short-story collections, and having waited patiently for another book while he's worked on the Locke & Key comics (which, despite the Lovecraftian overtones and numerous accolades, I just couldn't quite get into the last time I tried to read them), I feel I have some lassitude to say that NOS4A2's being as good as it is does not surprise me.

Only it did, because it was just that good. This was a book that was easily up there with the best of his more famous father's books, and while there are probably comparisons to be made, Joe Hill has his own voice. If his themes are reminiscent of his father, it's more likely because, like Stephen King, he tends to write on familiar themes. Only he does so in a way that makes you realize you were never quite as familiar with those themes as you thought you were.

There are bleaker aspects here than are usually found in King's works (unless it's a Bachman book). Where King's protagonists usually suffer their mental breakdown after the pages of their own story, usually as a quick side note in the next book, Hill is not afraid to take his characters there mid-book. No, that's not a spoiler, because it's one of the things that makes the book a richer, more authentic experience. Let's face it, if most of us were living through the events of a horror novel, we'd be gibbering in the corner somewhere before too long. Hill also seems to have a greater range of characters, because as much as I like King, with some of his books - Under the Dome in particular - I have felt that he is at times drawing on stock characters. That may simply be a product of having been writing for so long, whereas Hill is, to some extent, just starting out (not really, but as this is only book #4 I'm going to take liberties with that phrase).

If I'm drawing too many comparisons between son and father, it's only because the similarities were there. But while yes, there was much of this that reminded me of a great King book, and while, yes, I would recommend this book toKing fans precisely because of that, it must still be said that this is not one of King's. Joe Hill has his own voice, his own approach, and that, too is something that I would say to recommend this book. Because maybe you know the father, but you don't know the son yet.

And you should get to know him, you really should.

Take it from someone who got there at the beginning.

Wednesday, May 8, 2013

Confessions of a Former "Gadget Guy"

Just a heads-up: this will not, at any point, devolve into fan-fiction or fandom for Inspector Gadget. So if you came here for that, I'm sorry. 

I used to be a "gadget guy." I did, really. I won't ever claim to have been a "tech guy," but thanks to a couple of college roommates I at least knew how to add and partition a hard drive, among other things. I stopped being able to program once I got beyond learning BASIC, but I was okay with that. I still knew things. I still liked having the latest gizmos. I saw a reason to have the latest, newest, shiniest gizmos, even if that reason was mainly just to have them.

While I still like the flashy shiny things (except for those lens flares in JJ Abrams' films),  I have discovered that somewhere along the line my ability to understand the inner workings of such things got passed by, and that as such I seem to be slipping into more and more of a not-quite luddite mentality. A luddite light, possibly, or even an Amish approach to things, if the Amish had decided to come along in the late 20th Century instead of the late 17th.

(Contrary to popular wisdom, the Amish do not eschew all technology. Instead they periodically review tech things and decide which they should use, and which they should not.)

For example, I do not see the need for a 52 inch plasma TV with shake the ground surround-sound speakers. Which is not to say I don't want a home theater system. By all means, if I had a house and the money for it, I most certainly would, along with a movie-style popcorn machine. But I have neither the space nor the funds, and frankly I'm more likely to invest int the movie theater popcorn maker than I am the television. I am serious about my movie watching, but I am much more serious about my popcorn. Short of having an actual home theater, having a television that will kill you if it falls on you seems like overkill.

I do not own a smart phone. I don't even really want one. My cell phone is essentially a burner phone that I have because I spend a fair amount of time on the road, and because it became cheaper to have that than to have a landline. Also far less hassle, because dealing with Verizon was like trying to navigate Dante's levels of Hell if he'd been writing about office bureaucrats and paperwork instead of damned souls and torture. Though, really, those are kind of the same things, right?

I was also offered a GPS system recently. I turned it down. The only time I want a machine telling me directions are likely going to be places that are either off the grid, or where the grid is so convoluted as to render GPS mostly useless anyway. (Pittsburgh, I'm looking at you.) I like maps. Maps I have. I even have a compass. That really ought to be good enough.

Hell, I wear a pocket watch. (I have three, as a matter of fact. Including one I have to wind. I like the tactileness of it.)

I'm not sure when I started thinking this way. Maybe it's always been my approach to things. While I lamented the demise of Sharper Image, it was mostly because it was a great store to kill time in. I couldn't ever see myself shelling out the cash they wanted for the things they sold, no matter how nifty they were. (With the exception of the Stormtrooper armor in my local store. Some purchases speak for themselves.)

There is some technology I do embrace, and even some gadgets I'd spend the funds on if I had them. For instance, I would like a sextant, though I have only the vaguest idea how to use one and certainly no real use for it. And in all seriousness, I'd like a tablet. I have a use for that, though, and it's not simply an impulse buy. My last move and the endless boxes of books I had to schlepp up into my walk-up convinced me of the beauty of e-readers. But again, those are practical concerns. I'm not about to buy something just because it's new and shiny.

Even though that used to be me.

So when did this happen? I'm not entirely sure, and I have a couple of theories on that, but I think I've rambled on enough for one post.

Right now, I have to put a stamp on this envelope to mail out a check.

Tuesday, April 23, 2013

Swan Peak by James Lee Burke

One of the reasons I enjoy James Lee Burke's novels is that, in the midst of some great detective fiction, he also manages to weave some beautiful prose and philosophical observations. This book was no different, and if anything it took a more reflective tone than some of the others in the series. I also liked how in Swan Peak the author returns to the scene of one of the earlier novels in the series (and the first Dave Robicheaux novel I ever read), but does so in a way where, if you haven't read that earlier book, it doesn't take away from your enjoyment of this book.

I also have to say that, whereas in most first person books it irritates me when the authors veer into other points of view, Burke manages to delve into the heads of multiple characters without it disrupting the flow of the book. He manages to make it feel organic, something few other writers accomplish when attempting the same feat.

That said, this one was a little disappointing in how little Dave and his partner Clete Purcel actually do in this one, and they almost seemed to be bystanders in their own story at times. There are also some signs of age in the characters, and although I admire Burke for keeping his characters grounded to their timeline, Vietnam has become less and less relevant as the years progress, dating the characters somewhat (not to mention you start doing the math on the age of the characters and, well, these are getting to be some spry senior citizens). All that said, where a lot of other series have worn tired and threadbare over the decades, all of these continue to be excellent reads, and when the time comes when the series comes to a close I will miss it.

Wednesday, March 6, 2013

Does This Come in Twain?

Let me get this out of the way up front: I don't have an e-reader, of any kind, and this is solely due to budgetary constraints and an unwillingness to pay money for something I can't really justify. That said, I want one, especially after my last move when I schlepped ten boxes of books down three flights and then up two flights of stairs. An electronic library seems like a good thing to me after that.

That said, as much as I see the appeal of them, I don't think books are ever going to go completely away. I say this as a response to a local headline about how Barnes and Nobles is in trouble. The article itself dealt more with the idea that a number of smaller local bookstores are still doing okay. This is where I think the future of books probably lies. They aren't ever going to go away. There will still be books. But they will revert back to what they were before the invention of the paperback: a specialty item, a luxury for those with the extra cash willing to spend it on a physical investment.

This also means there will always be a need for stores, of some form or another. Now, don't go buying or selling stock on my account. I do not have an MBA or anything else related to business. I do own stocks. Couldn't begin to tell you how they are doing at any given moment, other than the market is up, which means my stocks probably are, too. I do happen to think that if we move back towards books as a specialty item, the big box stores like B&N are going to have difficulties with that model. But it also strikes me as a perfect niche for smaller bookstores, although probably not as many of them and in smaller, more populated markets where they can sustain themselves.

Which brings me to the other reason I think there will always be bookstores, in some form or another. Bookstores have an advantage over online markets in one, key element: the ability to browse.  The one thing I am more likely to do in a physical bookstore, the one thing I find easier to do in an actual space, is to wander around and see what else strikes my interest. This is harder to do on Amazon. Oh, sure, Amazon recommends things to me and I check them out, but those recommendations are based on past history, and therefore don't fall outside of certain parameters.

Whereas in the store, I can wander into a section I might almost never read from, and still come across something that interests me. Case in point is the non-fiction book I'm reading at the moment. It happened to be on display at the front of the library. Had I not been in the library, had the book not been on display, it's unlikely I would have ever heard of it, much less read it. But there it was, and it's been an enjoyable and informative read.

It's like shopping for clothes. Sure, you could do it online. (Or at least, I could. I know my sizes, and men's apparel tends to run pretty consistently, although I understand it's not quite so straightforward for women.) But you are exposed to a greater variety, more likely to find that item that you didn't necessarily go into the store for but end up wanting to buy anyway. It's the physical presence of the object that inclines us to buy it as much as anything else. It's also something you can't duplicate online, not really.

Least not until Amazon starts randomly generating suggestions, and I don't see them ever doing that.

I'm not trying to predict the future, here. I did a little of that in the sci-fi piece I wrote back in high school, and looking at it twenty years later made me cringe. Not so much for the work itself, which wasn't all that bad if I made allowances for my age and the passage of time and experience, but for some of the "futuristic" ideas I put down on the page. Ideas which look hopelessly dated. But I do think I can say with a certain amount of confidence that there will continue to be a market for physical books, and that so long as that market exists, there will be bookstores.

And so long as there are bookstores, I will continue to wander into them.

Monday, March 4, 2013

In Like a Lion

Ah yes, March. A month of many things, including its fair share of sayings. As I sit down for the first blog post in far, far too long, I am inclined to sidetrack along musings of other months and their sayings. Only nothing really comes to mind (other than the Dog Days of August, which lack the Shakespearean provenance of the Ides of March), so it would be a really short aside.

As it is, my concern with March is more vested in the old adage of it being "in like a lion, out like a lamb" or vice versa. For those of you who might live someplace where you've never heard this expression - perhaps someplace tropical where the weather is always warm, it has to do with the weather. (Also, I hate you. Just a little.) If the weather at the beginning of March is harsh, i.e. cold and wintry, then it will be nice and spring-like at the end. In theory. Around here that's never really much of a question. March is a winter month in my neck of the woods. Heck, sometimes so is April, although that's thankfully rare.

Groundhog Day is mostly a formality around here, too. It's always six more weeks, regardless of what happens with the over-sized rodent.

With the opening of March, though, comes something else: Spring Break. Which I have never, ever taken anyplace even remotely like what you used to see on MTV. Or still see, for all I know. I have about as much interest in doing something like that as I do in having my internal organs removed. Possibly even less so. No, my Spring Break is now, and for the most part always has been, a time to relax in the comfort of home and catch up on things that I have either let slide or that simply piled up on me.

Think of it as New Year's but with a week to actually implement resolutions. Not that I make resolutions, but you get the point.

So, this week I am going to tackle some things that have been let go for far too long. In part inspired by some others around the web (more on that sometime soon), and in part the culmination of realizing things won't happen unless I actually do them, no matter how much I may have been experimenting with other, less active approaches.

I am trying to keep goals reasonable, as I know full well that unrealistic goals are one of the reasons resolutions so often fail. But they are reachable, doable goals, and more importantly, some are short term and some are long term. And unlike the merry month of March - yes, yes, I know, that's meant to be May - I do not intend to go gently into that next month.

The main goal, the overall aim, is to not only go in like a lion (or some other, slightly more hard-working animal, as lions are actually somewhat lazy, even by cat standards), but to keep on going.

One of which is resuming writing here on a semi-regular basis. (See? Short, doable goals.)

Now, if I can just figure out a way to turn "April showers" into something equally inspirational.