Wednesday, March 30, 2016

The red plague rid you for learning me your language

Okay, show of hands. Who's read Embassytown? I'm about a third of the way through it.

It's about a woman named Avice Benner Cho (note the initials) who's used as a "simile" in the language of an alien race. Language, along with perception, is one of China Miéville's big topics. And it's an interesting subject.

But this one isn't lighting my fire like, say, The City & the City. It's a little jargon-y for my tastes. I have this feeling about science fiction that if your premise requires more than a certain amount of explanation, you should probably find another approach.

I'll still hear him out through the end. Miéville is one of those authors so interesting and against-the-grain that you never completely waste your time by reading them. But there are levels.

Monday, March 28, 2016

50 ways to love your lever

Rube Goldberg machine by vegasbuzzvideo

Last year I slept under an Andy Warhol calendar. This year it's Rube Goldberg. I've gone from the future where everyone's famous for fifteen minutes to one where everyone's a brilliant inventor for a like amount of time.

These kinds of things wow you not just if they do what they're supposed to do, but if all the parts move in conjunction in the first place.

Saturday, March 26, 2016

Queen Watch:"The Adventure of the Lover's Leap"

In the postmodern analysis of literature and texts in general, there are a lot of ways to go down a rabbit hole, and all this "theory first, examples second" stuff can lead you to a land that's not very Wonder-ful at all. There are reasons why I only have a BA in English, and they don't all boil down to me being lazy. But the central fact of metafiction, that some stories also tell the story of a story being told, is fascinating, because it increases the potential angles of approach. The Ellery Queen concept has had metafictional facets since the 1920s, and this continues with the Ellery Queen TV series.

"The Adventure of the Lover's Leap" is a near-perfect case in point. It seems apt that the title flickers like a ghost when it appears on the screen. For different modes of storytelling start jostling each other right away.

The action begins with the victim of the week, Stephanie Kendrick, reading a mystery book. Three guesses who the author of the book is.

Thursday, March 24, 2016

All is rubble

Did you know that The Flintstones at the height of its popularity, had inspired (if that's the word) a sprawling theme park? It did. Two, in fact: one in South Dakota and the other, built a little later, in Arizona. Here's an update, specifically on the South Dakota one.

There are garish colors in the Bedrock City buildings and rides. Naturally, bright colors are fun, and the parks wanted kids dragging their parents. But the park is faded, in decline now, and fascinatingly so. It looks to be nearing the point where it cedes itself to the wilderrness

I doubt this would have worked with The Jetsons. Since Bedrock is primitive by the choice of the animators, it's feels fitting that it gradually becomes a rest stop for lizards and bats. But The Jetsons looked like it took place in a Googie future Seattle where every house was the Space Needle. This is hard to turn into a tourist attraction. And because decay is supposed to be banished from the show's version of the future, if the Jetsons Park ever started declining it would be buried and forgotten.

Tuesday, March 22, 2016


So I'm sitting by a window, drinking coffee, reading the paper. A guy sidles up to me and taps my foot with his toe. He says "Hey there," and I look up, more than a little puzzled. He realizes he's got the wrong guy. When he leaves I have to laugh a little. That's not a gesture you use with just anyone.

It always surprises me when I'm mistaken for gay, because I think of gay men as being impeccably put together. Of course there are exceptions to every rule.

I look like my style icons could be Larry Fine, Bernie Sanders, and Harvey Pekar, so it's less surprising when I'm mistaken for Jewish.

Monday, March 21, 2016

March in its "embarrassed lion" stage

You could say that winter tried to reassert itself a day into what is officially spring. Tried and failed, monumentally.

It was predicted at the end of last week that we'd have snow coming into this week. That prediction held, and Sunday night my boss called me and said we weren't opening until ten on Monday. I got up this morning and indeed did see big flakes falling, but they were melting almost immediately. By the time I got out of work the streets were dry and wearing a winter coat felt silly. Still, I'm not going to complain about being able to sleep in and not get docked.

Might complain a little about the library. I went there in the evening, it was supposed to be open till 9PM, but the lights were off. There was a note on the door saying "Closed because of 'parking ban.' Absurd." Which is understating things, since they're not even scheduled to open until 1, and if there was a parking ban it had to end way before that.

Saturday, March 19, 2016

Queen Watch: "The Adventure of Auld Lang Syne"

While Too Many Suspects had been the pilot movie for the new Ellery Queen series, aired in the spring, "The Adventure of Auld Lang Syne" was the first episode of the show as a regular production. It aired at the start of the 1975-76 TV season, in mid-September. (September 11, back when it was just another date.) And it takes place on New Year's Eve.

This is an odd choice, one of a few the episode makes, some of which work better than others. Television programs, at least American series with their longer seasons, do their best to sync holiday episodes with the actual calendar. Characters give out Halloween candy in late October, sit down for Turkey in November, do romantic shit in mid-February, and so on. Since reruns and holiday specials take up the last few and first few days of the year, a New Year's "episode" is likely to be the last three minutes of a Christmas episode, airing a week or more before Christmas. But as one of the suspects in this episode says, "Out with the old, in with the new." If Ellery Queen was a retro whodunit set in the immediate post-WW2 years, it was still a new venture, and the writers may have liked the optimism of the countdown to a new year. (1947, for the record.)

Friday, March 18, 2016

What were we talking about?

I find some things I need to resist in this review of the newest Pee-wee Herman movie.
Mostly, though, we’ve become a little more leery of the regressive politics that will be involved, implicitly and otherwise, when grown men act like boys. We’ve lost some of the patience we once had for people who can’t seem to figure out how to grow up. It’s a good thing Pee-wee Herman, the “comic fictional character,” is not fully human. Because really: Imagine if he were.
 Now, this is not, on my part, a roaring defense of Pee-wee's Big Holiday. I haven't seen it. I do support Paul Reubens's right to return to the character - always ageless so not really less appropriate for a 63 year-old man than a 30-odd year old - as he sees fit. On the other hand, that's in the context of him doing other things. Being Pee-wee all the time would be a horrible mistake.

As to previous projects, Pee-wee's Big Adventure was a true achievement, and there's a reason why it made first-time director Tim Burton. Big Top Pee-wee was less special. There's probably a downward arc in the Pee-wee's Playhouse TV series as well. I don't know where this newest movie fits in on the scale. It seems to be a Netflix exclusive, and I'm not rushing to sign up with a streaming service to find out.

No, it's the assumptions that bother me. "We do this" and "we've learned that" statements frequently have me asking "who's we?" If you're going to speak for society, or for America, you need to consult with a pretty broad and diverse group of people, and most of us don't. See, I just did it, but I feel pretty confident in that one.

Plus, while I don't know how successful he is in the attempt, my guess is that Reubens still wants to sell the character to children and half-ironic teens. None of whom were around during the big Pee-wee push of the 1980s. Generational solipsism is as aggravating in Xers as it is in boomers.

Tuesday, March 15, 2016


Just a little something to contemplate, meditate on, maybe. This is a rather versatile bird, callwise.

Sunday, March 13, 2016

Queen Watch: "Too Many Suspects"

Too Many Suspects, the pilot movie for the 1975-6 Ellery Queen TV series, is based on the 1965 novel The Fourth Side of the Triangle. If it were a straightforward adaptation we could simply note so in passing and move on. But it isn't and we can't, at least not without missing some good stuff. 1958's The Finishing Stroke marked the end of the road, of sorts, for Frederic Dannay and Manfred B. Lee as authors of the Queen series. Lee, always a frustrated literary author, was reluctant to write further adventures of the fictional author/detective.

The two cousins did work on the series for about another dozen years, but with the help of ghostwriters. Dannay would work out the bones of the plot and a third party would elaborate it into a full novel, while Lee would come in and polish so that the end result fit their house style, as such. The ghostwriters they turned to in these last years were Avram Davidson, Theodore Sturgeon, and Jack Vance. All science fiction/fantasy writers, although the fact that they were all prolific wordsmiths working in New York might have been more relevant.

The Fourth Side of the Triangle, which I've most often seen attributed to Dannay, Lee, and Sturgeon, is from about the middle of this period and is a novel of its time. In it a young author named Dane McKell, one of a few characters in the Queen canon who appears as a shadow of Ellery himself, learns that his father has been conducting a relationship with a fashion designer named Sheila Grey. Disgusted at both of them and outraged on behalf of his mother, Dane contrives to worm his own way into Sheila's affections so that he can make a show of dumping her.

Friday, March 11, 2016


I confess to not having read the book this author is accepting the award for. Not yet, at least. I may have to now.

See, that's one of my pet peeves too. Since Shakespeare wasn't from the nobility - although neither was he a peasant - there are always elaborate theories that he couldn't have written the plays. Or maybe the sonnets either. I've read insistences that he was probably illiterate. Some believe this with the same vehemence others insist Barack Obama was born in Kenya.

Here's the other thing. Most of the alternate candidates have never shown themselves capable of that level of poetry. Francis Bacon at least left a paper trail, but mostly as an essayist. He doesn't show the impressionistic touch needed for, say, Macbeth. Brevity wasn't a big part of his wit.

And have you ever read anything by Edward de Vere? Probably not because, um, he wasn't a writer. That seems a little more important than knowing where the Lord Exchequer's guest room is.

Thursday, March 10, 2016

Shut up? Of course.

These guys did a lot of standoffish or hostile titles/song lyrics. I have to wonder if that plus the band name was a play on the reputation monks have for being insular. Not that there aren't amiable monks, I'm sure.

The signature haircut was a real blow against vanity.

Tuesday, March 8, 2016

Without a clue

I had a feeling something was up. And it turned out to be pretty easy finding out what it was.

See, the Boston Globe gets its crosswords, as well as the bulk of its comics, from Universal Uclick. And today's wasn't just too easy. There were so many 3-5 letter answers that it raised huge red flags.

So, back to the drawing board, guys. Sorry about the plagiarism accusations, but you need to do better.

Monday, March 7, 2016

There's green and then there's green

It's never exactly good to see that one of the cucumbers you bought the day before has already rotted to liquid for some reason. But while I don't know to the dot how this happened, I managed to keep it from spreading.

Looked like something out of an old army training film on VD. Not good.

Friday, March 4, 2016

A life of its own.

René Descartes once through a cat out the window. Or so it is said. As the story goes, he wanted to demonstrate his faith that animals didn't have souls.

Imagine that this is true. And that the cat was on, say, its fourth life at the time. I think I can imagine what would be on its mind for life #5.

The story about Descartes appears as a kind of side-anecdote in James Blish's A Case of Conscience. This novel relates the story of a Jesuit who encounters an alien lifeform and believes it to be sent by Satan, despite-nay-because of this population living good lives on their own planet. If you read this book it probably helps to know that it was written before the Vatican II council, which liberalized Church teaching on evolution.

There are some factual issues in A Case of Conscience. The Lithians are at one point described as having marsupial features, even though their young gestate in the sea. And at one point Ramon describes the name of female lead Liu Meid as "Japanese" even though it's a mixtuer of Chinese and German. (This could be the character's mistake, to be fair.) The physics I have to beg ignorance on, mostly.

But overall it works because of Blish's commitment. He's engaged with his characters on their philosophical questions, presumably his own as well.

Wednesday, March 2, 2016

Hay there

Here's a Cape Breton roadside attraction I sort of regret never being able to see. The founder of Joe's Scarecrow Village had a neat idea and from the few pictures at the link seems to have put a lot of work into it. Closed in 2011, though, which is a shame. The vandalism couldn't have helped, but the Massacre actually seems to have happened early in its run. Admittedly when I Googled "scarecrow village" I was thinking of an actual municipality made up entirely of scarecrows. Maybe the mayor would have a pumpkin head.