Tuesday, May 27, 2008

I meant to do that

For years I've been laboring under the crushing burden, the sheer oppressive spiritual weight of hellish guilt that is the lot of a person who, while living in Florida in the year 2000, cast a vote in the presidential election for Ralph Nader.

It's been an ordeal. Truly.

But earlier today, it abruptly occurred to me, that maybe, just maybe, I'm a hero rather than a goat.

Perhaps... perhaps, in the long run, I did a magnificent and noble thing.

After all, did I not spare the world the sheer unrelenting horror of... a Joe Lieberman Presidency in 2008?

Think about it.

Monday, May 26, 2008

Indiana Jones, in 1-D!

(If spoilers be buggin' ye, proceed at your own risk, fedora fans.)

Remember RAIDERS? That great scene (ah, but they're all great scenes) where Indy and Marian are trying to steal that cool looking Nazi flying wing so they can abscond from the desert with the Ark, and everything that can possibly go wrong does, and Indy ends up having to fight this gigantic bald Nazi airplane mechanic, and after getting the worst of several punch and kick exchanges, he eventually triumphs when his foe is too stupid to avoid the plane's propeller?

Good times. Good times.

Now flash forward 27 years to 2008 (excuse me, I'll be out in the kitchen with my head in the oven, jesus CHRIST, TWENTY SEVEN YEARS, somebody please give me my life back) or 21 years to 1957, the actual setting of the newest Indy movie, Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull. Indy is forced to do bare-knuckles battle with another oversized antagonist, this time in the middle of a swarm of flesh-eating army ants devouring everything in existence all around them. The two exchange blows savagely, pummeling each other back and forth across the small clear area they occupy within the sea of evil omnivorous insects.

Now, unlike the giant bald Nazi from the similar scene I've already cited from the first film, this particular opponent of Indy's has been in the movie from the very start. He's had probably an order of magnitude more screen time than that first guy Indy fought. He most likely has even been given a name at some point, although I couldn't tell you what it is. And yet, for the entirety of the fight, I found it difficult to muster up much if any interest in it. I didn't know anything about this guy. He wasn't cool or menacing or in any way engaging or emotionally interesting to me. I honestly just didn't give a fuck.

Thinking back on it now, I'm not even sure why he and Indy were having an unarmed brawl at that point in the movie... there seems little purpose in stopping to mash someone's face flat with your fist, when you're actually sprinting for a river just ahead of an unrelenting army of flesh eating ants intent on stripping the flesh off your very bones.

Here lies the essential difference between previous Indy films and CRYSTAL SKULL, the essential reason why RAIDERS and LAST CRUSADE excel, and CRYSTAL SKULL is a lame, pointless crapapalooza... because in the latest installment of the Indiana Jones franchise there is no characterization at all. None. Not a jot, not a tittle, not the merest subatomic iota of characterization, no matter how high or low you search or hard you hunt, not one single character ever displays anything even remotely beyond the merest rote rituals of stock personality for the entire film.

In RAIDERS, in LAST CRUSADE, even in the much (and justly) reviled TEMPLE OF DOOM, the various villains and supporting characters have actual personalities, at least, to a limited extent. They seem like real people, or, at least, real three dimensional adventure fiction icons, even if, as in TEMPLE, those personalities make us hate them and want them to be immediately smashed to a pulp between the gears of some gigantic ancient occult temple mechanism.

There is more life, more personality, more real depth and breadth, in nearly any of Indy's fictional opponents from RAIDERS, even the minor ones -- the eye-patched, monkey directing Arab on a motorcycle, the cool Nazi with a bald spot Indy battles on the Ark truck, the Nazis in street clothes who walk into a shadowy room in Cairo and nod to the various knife wielding Arabic street thugs, the nasty little monkey spy itself -- than there is in any or all of the various Commie KGB thugs who chase Indy & Crew from one end of this film to the other. Even the central villainess has barely enough substance to qualify as a cardboard cut out.

See, in 1980, Lucas and Spielberg still understood a basic truth about fiction, especially pop culture fiction, most especially open ended serial pop culture fiction like the STAR WARS or INDIANA JONES franchises -- it succeeds or fails on the basis of its characters. The first STAR WARS movie had spectacular special effects for its time period and so, for that matter, did RAIDERS OF THE LOST ARK -- but those movies would have sunk without a trace had they not had living, breathing, interesting, fascinating characters. In STAR WARS, the fact that its central crew of stock SF/fantasy archetypes attained something like real life is a happy accident attributable more to unanticipated chemistry between the cast of little known actors than Lucas' story or direction. In RAIDERS, Spielberg's direction probably contributed somewhat to the palpable sense of real life personality audiences could easily perceive in its characters, and, certainly, a very talented cast of actors helped enormously, too.

CRYSTAL SKULL has no essential characterization at all; other than its temporal setting and copyrighted central characters, it could just as easily be a TOMB RAIDER movie. All Lucas cares about is the special effects, and yes, everything in this movie that's done with CGI looks spectacular, but that's nowhere near enough. There isn't a single character in the film that engages the audience's emotions. You don't much like the heroes, you don't much hate the villains. Minor supporting characters you've never seen before come and go leaving little emotional impression behind them, something one certainly can't attribute to the minor supporting characters in RAIDERS, like the two government agents who recruit Indy from his college classroom towards the start, or the ancient Arabic scholar who translates the writing on the headpiece of the Staff of Ra. When the various villains meet horrible dooms at the end of CRYSTAL SKULL, you can't really care, because they've never really been brought to life in the first place. Even the big Arabic swordsman with the gigantic scimitar who cackles in a sinister fashion right before Indy shoots him dead in RAIDERS has more personality than any of these mooks.

Just as Lucas' primary concern seems to be the special effects, Spielberg seems to be mainly motivated by cramming as many 1950s pop culture cliches into this film as possible. So we have the KGB menace, and FBI agents suspecting Indy of Red sympathies, and a sidekick dressed up as a greaser, and a malt shop battle between greasers and letter jacket wearing college jock types, and an A-bomb test blast, and little grey men from mars, and a genuine flying saucer that doesn't actually fly anywhere, and I didn't care about any of it, because at no point were any of the characters in the movie more than one dimensional to me.

Characters are our entry point into spectator entertainment. If we care about a character, if our emotions are engaged, then we will be drawn into the film or TV show and find ourselves responding to it on a visceral level. As all forms of entertainment are designed to simply artificially create and then release tension in a satisfactory manner, and as most forms of entertainment aren't interactive, this kind of visceral involvement with the artform is absolutely necessary if the audience is going to enjoy the experience. Otherwise, all we're doing is watching at a distance.

That's what happens with CRYSTAL SKULL. As with either of the TOMB RAIDER movies, the spectacular special effects ladled heavily on top of no characterization whatsoever simply left me feeling that I was watching a very long, not particularly interesting video game that I wasn't given a controller for.

Other people evidently hate this movie for the undeniable plot stupidities in it, and I admit, such stupidities are legion. Yet I don't mind Indy surviving an A bomb blast by jumping into a refrigerator, even when that refrigerator gets blown out of the bomb site at what must be several hundred miles per hour, smashes hard into the desert what must be several miles away and rolls and skids another hundred yards before Indy hauls himself back out again, battered but unbowed. Indy should and certainly would be a baked smear of sediments inside the icebox after riding out a point blank nuclear blast, but what the hell, it's pulp adventure. Similarly, when Indy's sidekick Mutt swings on vines like Tarzan and somehow manages to overtake two all terrain vehicles hurtling at what must be at least 45 miles per hour along a cliffside several miles away from his starting point, arriving just in time to vanquish the villainess, it doesn't bother me. Yeah, this stuff is physically impossible, but, again, what the hell, this is pulp adventure.

The plot of CRYSTAL SKULL is rife with belief straining stuff like this. However, let's remember that the events depicted in RAIDERS are even more ridiculous -- Indy gets shot, thrown through a windshield, dragged under a speeding truck with a bullet in his shoulder, climbs back up from the bottom of said speeding truck, crawls along the top of it, swings back down into its cab, punches out its driver, throws said driver out onto the hood with one good arm, and then manages to knock another truck full of Nazis off the road into a suddenly appearing mountain abyss while driving on a caravan route through a desert that is 'three weeks in every direction', which abyss then vanishes just as quickly as it appeared, and I'm not even going to talk about how Indy gets hauled through hundreds of miles of the Atlantic Ocean while lashed to a periscope after which he takes on an entire island full of Nazis, punching people out and stealing uniforms and running around with rocket launchers and what have you displaying little or no ill effects from being shot, beat on, blown up, exposed to the elements, and sleep deprived for the past several days at the very least.

If you can slug down all that without a chaser, you really shouldn't have too much trouble with any of the plot excesses in CRYSTAL SKULL. However, the reason audiences can accept all that nonsense without a quiver in RAIDERS is not that movie audiences are uniformly stupid (although I admit, it often seems that way) it's just that RAIDERS is full of interesting three dimensional characters who interact with each other in ways we find fascinating and believable. CRYSTAL SKULL has, comparatively, very few moments throughout its running time where we are really forced to suppress any knowledge we may have of how things actually function in the real world, but, on the other hand, it also has no characterization to it whatsoever, so when we are confronted with a "no fucking WAY" moment, we are much less likely to forgive it and move on.

All told, INDIANA JONES AND THE CRYSTAL SKULL is not a movie I feel any compulsion to own a copy of. Should the Indiana Jones franchise continue in the future, I sincerely hope Lucas and Spielberg turn it over to somebody who can actually make the audience care about what is happening on screen.

Saturday, May 24, 2008

The dead yet plagiarize

I was pleasantly surprised this morning when I did a search over at technorati.com and found somebody I didn't know had linked to this blog. I went over there, expecting I know not what, and, well, I got a big surprise.

Here's a comment I just posted:

Just so people know -- the bulk of this article is lifted DIRECTLY from my blog entry of April 11, 2008, which can be found at http://miserableannalsoftheearth.blogspot.com/2008/04/dead-yet-live.html .

I appreciate the 'tip of the hat' at the bottom of the article, but at the same time, a 'tip of the hat' is completely inadequate when someone has ripped off your work without permission and placed it on their own site in an attempt to pass it off as their own. We writers have a technical term for that sort of thing -- plagiarism. It's highly immoral, and I object to it entirely.

Not all of this article is stolen directly from my site. The second paragraph is an uncredited reproduction of a comment my wife left on my site in response to my entry above. And some of it is apparently original to the blogger here. But 95% of this entry is my work, or my wife's work, and neither of us is credited, and our permission was not solicited before our work was re-used without credit.

That's deeply, deeply wrong. I find it highly offensive, utterly unacceptable, and I am hereby requesting and requiring that every word of this article that was originally authored by anyone besides the blogger here be pulled off this page immediately.

I don't expect this comment to accomplish anything, and in fact, I don't even expect it to show up, or if it does, to stay up very long. But I'm sure the blogger here will read it, so be advised -- I will be linking to this entry from my blog, and reproducing this comment there.

So, there's that.

It makes me wonder how many people out there are passing my work off as theirs without my knowledge. If this idiot hadn't been so idiotic as to link back to the guy he was stealing from, I'd never have known what he was doing.

It also makes me wonder just how morally bankrupt we've become as a culture, when somebody will blatantly steal someone else's work, pass it off as their own, and apparently be so unaware that this is an immoral and unethical act that they actually give a 'hat tip' to the guy they're ripping off, as if that somehow makes the act of literary theft acceptable.

Update, Sunday morning, 5/26/08 :

To their credit, the staff of Fourth Wall has responded quickly to this situation. Yesterday I found the comment you'll see below, from 'Art', apologizing and advising that the article would be taken down. I hit the link in my entry and found that, indeed, the article is gone. So that's something.

This morning I got the following email, from 'Jesse':

Dear D

First let me say we apologize for any inconvenience this has caused you. I understand how you feel when some one takes your work and claims it as their own. I did not post the article in question but fourth wall was created by me so I should deal with it.

Out of respect to your original work we have taken the post down and the one who posted it has been talked to.

Once again we apologize for this. And we do not take stealing, plagiarism or taking credit for some one esle's work lightly at all and would find it highly offensive if other people would think this.

Once again we can't apologize enough,

Fourth Wall Staff

In response to this, I just sent the following:

As the article is down, I'll consider this matter resolved for the
time being. I sincerely hope it doesn't happen again.

If your webzine wants to use my work, I'm generally pretty reasonable about such requests. I'm always happy to see my work get more exposure. I just want full credit and a link to my blog, and, obviously, if anyone makes any money off my work, I want fair participation.

It troubles me that both you and Art, who left an apology similar to yours on my blog itself, seem to be at pains to hide the identity of the plagiarist on your staff. Also, that the plagiarist "has been talked to" is not satisfactory to me, especially combined with this obvious effort on your magazine's part to keep his or her identity unknown. If I were publishing the work of others and discovered that one of my contributors was a plagiarist, I would pull his or her work, publish an apology where that work had originally appeared that included the name of the plagiarist, and make a solemn promise that not only would the act of plagiarism not be repeated, but that the plagiarist would never work for me again. Plagiarism is a dreadful and unacceptable act, and your response to it should be absolutely zero tolerance, if you want to have any credibility with any writer anywhere again.

As it is, I'll be checking back to your magazine from time to time to see what's going on there, as, for all I know, what you 'talked to' the Mystery Plagiarist about was "hey, dude, if you're going to rip off someone, don't link back to them, you idiot". It seems obvious that whoever 'wrote' that article has no clue as to the actual immorality of plagiarism, and given the inadequacy of your response, I have to wonder if your magazine as a whole shares that generally apathetic attitude.

Thanks for what you've done.


I think that about says it all. I have a dark suspicion that what FOURTH WALL did to me is something that's more a policy there than otherwise, and that all this incident is going to resolve is their foolish tendency to link back to the people they're ripping off. Well, and I doubt they'll be stupid enough to steal from ME again. Still, despite their protestations otherwise, I am getting the very distinct impression that they really do not understand what plagiarism is, or how such a charge could possibly apply to them. After all, it's not like they're copying something out of a real book; they're just finding stuff on the Internet and passing it off as their own work. They may believe that anything they find on the Internet (where, of course, everything is free) is in the public domain, and can be used by anyone else in any way without credit, links, or attribution, especially if they aren't charging anyone any money for it.

However, regardless of where I publish my work, it is still MY work. My original work, something I created and brought into being. It is my intellectual property and they have no right to it at all, other than quoting brief excerpts for purposes of review... and if they do that, they have to credit me fully, and link back to my work's original publication site, if possible.

It doesn't matter that I'm 'just a blogger' and I put my work out there in a public space where anyone can view it for free. I still own that work, and no one gets to use it for any purposes without my permission. And no one EVER has any legal right to pass off my original work, or anyone else's, as their own, under any circumstances, unless we enter into a very specific contract where I agree to
effectively act as a ghost writer... which, obviously, has not happened here.

Stealing is wrong. I know some people may find it hard to get that in these circumstances, but just as I cannot spend a week typing SALEM'S LOT into my computer word for word and then post it to my website as an original novel I've been writing for months, so too are all others prohibited from stealing my blog entries and trying to pass them off as their own original work.

It's deeply, profoundly, innately, and irrefutably wrong. Anyone who does not understand that has no business publishing anything anywhere for any reason.

Everything old is new again

Rarely has any work of period fiction so successfully evoked the historical era in which it is set:

ST PETERSBURG, Russia (Reuters) - Russian Communist Party members condemned the new "Indiana Jones" film on Friday as crude, anti-Soviet propaganda that distorts history and called for it to be banned from Russian screens.

"Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull" stars Harrison Ford as an archeologist in 1957 competing with an evil KGB agent, played by Cate Blanchett, to find a skull endowed with mystic powers...

..."What galls is how together with America we defeated Hitler, and how we sympathized when Bin Laden hit them. But they go ahead and scare kids with Communists. These people have no shame," said Viktor Perov, a Communist Party member in Russia's second city of St. Petersburg...

"Harrison Ford and Cate Blanchett (are) second-rate actors, serving as the running dogs of the CIA. We need to deprive these people of the right of entering the country," said another party member, Andrei Gindos.

Though the ranks of the once all-powerful Communist Party have dwindled since Soviet times, its members see themselves as the defenders of the achievements of the old Soviet Union.

Other communists said the generation born after the 1991 collapse of the Soviet Union were being fed revisionist, Hollywood history. They advocated banning the Indiana Jones outright to prevent "ideological sabotage."

"Our movie-goers are teenagers who are completely unaware of what happened in 1957," St Peterburg Communist Party chief Sergei Malinkovich told Reuters.

"They will go to the cinema and will be sure that in 1957 we made trouble for the United States and almost started a nuclear war."

"It's rubbish ... In 1957 the communists did not run with crystal skulls throughout the U.S. Why should we agree to that sort of lie and let the West trick our youth?"

Vladimir Mukhin, another member of the local Communist Party, said in comments posted on the Internet site that he would ask Russia's Culture Ministry to ban the film for its "anti-Soviet propaganda."

Wow. Did they really use the phrase 'running dogs'? Retro, dudes! I totally got Cold War shivers. I think I'll get under my desk and tuck my head between my knees. Those were the days, huh?

I can't wait for the next movie in the series, when Speilberg decides to give the Commies equal time -- INDIANA JONES RECANTS HIS FILTHY IMPERIALIST BOURGEOISIE LIES AND EMBRACES THE CAUSE OF THE PROLETARIAT. That one will be a barn burner.

Friday, May 23, 2008

But he talks like a gentleman, like you imagined him

Before Thomas Harris succumbed to the unfathomable moral idiocy of his most famous creation, he had some pretty serious game. Regard this passage from the perhaps only slightly overpraised SILENCE OF THE LAMBS (a book so much better than the movie derived from it that even Harris at his peak could not adequately describe the unbridgeable qualitative gulf between them):

Starling heard a lot of the Arkansas hills in the man's voice. She could speak that with anybody when she wanted to, and her time was short.

"Yessir, if you could help me out I'd be much obliged. I'm trying to get ahold of Mr. Lomax Bardwell? This is Clarice Starling?"

"It's Starling somebody," the man yelled to the rest of his household. "What do you want with Bardwell?"

"This is the Mid-South regional office of the Ford recall division? He's entitled to some warranty work on his LTD free of charge?"

"I'm Bardwell. I thought you was trying to sell me something on that cheap long distance. It's way too late for any adjustment, I need the whole thing. Me and the wife was in Little Rock, pulling out of the Southland Mall there?"


"Durn rod come out through the oil pan. Oil all over everywhere and that Orkin truck that's got the big bug on top of it? He hit that oil and got sideways."

"Lord have mercy."

"Knocked the Fotomat booth slap off the blocks and the glass fell out. Fotomat fella come wandering out addled. Had to keep him out of the road."

There's a compact, elegant precision to Harris' prose that I find deeply satisfying. Said elegance, precision, and, alas, sly authorial cruelty is equally evident in this shorter passage from further along:
When she was far enough away, one of the younger deputies, a newlywed, scratched beneath his jaw and said, "She don't look half as good as she thinks she does."

"Well, if she just thinks she looks
pretty god-damned good,I'd have to agree with her, myself," the other young deputy said. "I'd put her on like a Mark Five gas mask."

"I'd just as soon have a big watermelon, if it was cold," the older deputy said, half to himself.

Harris is, to me, much of a much with Stephen King as a writer; his earlier books are tremendous artifacts I can reread over and over again (and have, often) while the product of his later career is severely marred by the excesses of his own success -- which is to say, he's become so commercial that, like King, he can demand to have his every word published entirely unedited, and, also like King (and Heinlein, and most other writers, including, I'm sure, myself) this is an indulgence he cannot well afford.

Few artists have the disciplined detachment to successfully critique their own work, and Harris certainly does not number among that select number. Not only does he badly require an editor for more mundane editorial tasks like pointing out passages that desperately cry out for at least one more draft before publication, but he also needs someone to slap him hard two or three times just prior to advising him that one's hero is the character trying to stop the sociopathic cannibalistic mind controlling serial killer-rapist. Further, serial murder, cannibalism, mind control, and recreational rape are not in any way justified or made acceptable by describing said cannibal serial killer/rapist's unpleasant childhood, or attributing to him a lengthy list of evil Nazis he has killed and eaten during his young adulthood in occupied Europe.

I suppose Harris could still redeem himself; in his next novel, he could have Clarice Starling come to her senses and flee to Florida. When the evil doctor inevitably pursues her, a surprisingly sober Will Graham could spring up from behind a palm tree and thoroughly air condition Lecter's small, sleek torso with eight or nine well placed Glaser rounds. True, it might make for an exceedingly short narrative, but it would be one I myself would find enormously satisfactory.

Until then, though, I'll just have to keep rereading BLACK SUNDAY, RED DRAGON, and THE SILENCE OF THE LAMBS. And you really should, too.

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

You can't get here from there

In a parallel universe just a few quantum fractals away from our own, Carolyne Mas owns a good sized island a few miles off the coast of Brazil. The local mariners all know to avoid it because a very expensive private security force patrols the surrounding waters in a fleet of extremely fast, heavily armed speedboats. The island has a sheltered lagoon like a blue-green jewel that porpoises cavort in, and the tropical flowers are lush and lovely. Ms. Mas goes there maybe 30 days out of the year. The rest of her time is spent touring, playing a seemingly endless parade of sold out shows in the world's largest arenas, the proceeds for which go entirely to charity, because God knows she doesn't need any more money. (Occasionally she'll sneak into a little town or city with no fanfare to play some tiny, smoky club or bar, just for the fun of it. People dream of stumbling into one of those shows. They are legendary among music fans.)

She's just been inducted into the Rock n' Roll Hall of Fame, and you have a copy of all 16 of her CDs, although more often than not you can't find the one you want to listen to right now, because one of your kids has it in their stereo or Discman.

Her music is on Ipods all over the world. She's had parts in four different movies and has appeared on each of the different CSI franchises and two of the LAW & ORDERS. Martin Scorcese is filming her next big concert in Bolivia. Her celebrity fans include Paul McCartney, Elton John, Carole King and Carlos Santana. Fox keeps trying to get her to be a mentor on AMERICAN IDOL, but she doesn't have time, plus, she worries she might stick a pair of scissors in Simon Cowell.

At the age of 53, she's one of the most successful and highly respected singer/songwriter celebrities in the history of pop music.

That's in a different world... what Walter Hill might describe as 'another time, another place'. A sub-continuum just a few vibrational chords out of pitch with this one.

In that same parallel universe, Daniel Keyes Moran is checking his bank account on his custom made I phone. There's a pending deposit from Paramount Studios for $3.2 million; the results of his profit participation on the smash hit movie adaptation of his best selling SF novel EMERALD EYES. The money's nice although he has no pressing need for it; with THE LONG RUN, THE LAST DANCER, THE AI WARS, and THE HOUSE OF NOVEMBER all optioned for film production at a cool 3 million each, he's already got more than enough to build that hilltop mansion in the Canyon he's been idly daydreaming about since his early 20s, and by that Lambourghini he's always lusted after. If he weren't a very happily married man he might be getting more enjoyment from the casting sessions for the TRENT THE UNCATCHABLE TV series he insists on sitting in on. There's an old Hollywood adage about the wannabe starlet who was so stupid she slept with the writer, but Moran is an exception to that cliche; as a writer/producer, he's made PREMIERE magazine's Hundred Most Powerful Movie Magnates list for the last four years in a row... this year he's number 7.

(Tangentially, this is also the world where Gerry Conway was never Editor In Chief at Marvel Comics, and Steve Englehart stayed on AVENGERS and CAPTAIN AMERICA, and Steve Gerber kept writing DEFENDERS and HOWARD THE DUCK, until the late 1980s. Also, Jack Kirby is still alive there, and Season Six of BUFFY was actually really good, and Al Gore won by eight points with Chris Dodd as his running mate, and Ralph Nader runs the Consumer Protection Agency.)

This is the world that we should all be living in, if talent meant much of anything. Apparently, in the world we all have to live in, it doesn't. (Or perhaps there is a God, and He/She hates us.)

Early September of 1979; I can't remember the exact date. I'd been at Syracuse University for a total of two days. I didn't know a soul besides my computer assigned roommate, a guy named Jim Commentucci, whom it was already obvious I wasn't ever going to be anything remotely like best buddies with. (Our loathing was immediate, mutual and fairly comprehensive but nonetheless for the most part amiable; we were fortunate in sharing a split double, so we could and did largely ignore each other for the two semesters we cohabited the same dorm room together.) Around seven in the evening I wandered up the hill to the SU quad, drawn by strains of unfamiliar but excellent rock n roll music that got steadily louder the closer I approached.

I didn't know any of the songs, nor was I familiar with any of the musicians, but the woman singing had an amazing voice and the songs themselves were fast moving, hard rocking, and deeply engaging. I plopped down on an empty stretch of grass amidst a sea of teenage strangers about forty feet from the stage and listened, enjoying myself enormously.

I was listening to a woman named Carolyne Mas, although I did not know it at the time. Later on, when I found out who she was, I bought her debut album, and a few years after that, what turned out to be her third album. (It will, perhaps, bring home to you just how long ago this all was when I advise you that I bought these albums on vinyl.)

That first, self titled debut album became a constant, haunting refrain playing in the background throughout much of my college experience; that music will, to me, always be associated with various Syracuse University locations -- the quad, various dorm rooms and off campus houses and apartments I lived in briefly or otherwise -- and various people I associate strongly with Syracuse University -- Jim Commentucci, another guy named Steve Shapiro whom I met at that outdoor concert and was briefly very good friends with, and my first girlfriend Laurie, who Steve introduced me to a few days (weeks?) after he and I became acquainted. (You've all met Laurie in passing; she hangs out here occasionally under her nom de plume Opus P. Penguin.)

It was sometime in the mid 1980s when I first came across a copy of EMERALD EYES by Daniel Keys Moran. I was living off campus in a house I shared with roomates Mike Schechter and Dilip Wad, a house that the Late Great Jeff Webb had dubbed The House Which Must Not Be Named because it had a few very bizarre interior architectural features. (All the places I lived in in college had weird names. My first off campus house, shared with Andy Gillespie, Rob Morrison, Jeff Webb, and Kurt Busiek, was eventually called Stately Wayne Manor, although there were several other suggestions made first and Jeff and I had a tough time holding off Andy, who desperately wanted to call the place 'Valhalla' instead. The apartment Jeff Webb shared for a time with Janice Westlake and Brent Burford was called The Arcade. I got out of the habit of naming my living space sometime in the late 80s, when I moved away from campus, but now I seem to have come back to it again, as the apartment I currently share with my beautiful wife and lovely stepdaughters rejoices in the nickname 'Castle Anthrax'. And you're probably hoping that this is the last pointless digression you'll encounter during this entry, and what can I say? It's good to want things. It is.)

Anyway, EMERALD EYES blew me away. It's a tremendous, astonishing book, full of diehard American rebels against the evil French dominated United Nations and genetically engineered telepathic supermen and nasty cyborg soldiers and dueling time travelers from the distant future and flying cars hurtling through the sky at high velocity and lots of stuff blowing up real good and if you're any kind of science fiction fan, or you simply enjoy a fabulous story beautifully told, I recommend it wholeheartedly. Its two sequels, or, rather, further installments in the series to which EMERALD EYES is merely the opening, are excellent, as well, but in all honesty, neither of them really has the same impact for me as EMERALD EYES does.

I really thought, when I read EMERALD EYES, that its author was on an express train to inevitable literary greatness. Here was an enormously talented guy who could tell one hell of an exciting story. His prose was solid all the way through; terrific plotting, great characters, witty, funny, resonant dialogue, and a tremendous ability to build exciting, intriguing, internally believable futurescapes. I had no doubt that this guy was goin' to all the pretty places, and when he got there he was going to settle in and build himself a bunker, too.

And yet, if you go here, you can read all about the many occasions on which fame and fortune passed within millimeters of enormously talented singer/songwriter Carolyne Mas over the course of a very checkered career. She got close enough to wave to it; hell, she got close enough to run her fingers through its hair. But she doesn't own any private islands. She has given up playing music and is currently running an animal sanctuary. Which does not seem merited, fair, or just by any sane standards I am aware of or can imagine, but, hopefully, she's happy doing it.

And if you go here, you will find one of my favorite authors, blogging along in relative obscurity like any of the rest of us. He apparently sells and installs software for a living now, is happily married, and is self publishing the newest Continuing Time installment one chapter at a time, on his blog.

It amazes me, and it saddens me, and to some extent, it grounds me. These two had every imaginable break. Mas put out a dozen albums over the course of her career, had the esteem of professionals throughout the music industry, was frequently touted by reviewers and others of influence as one of the finest singer/songwriters the field of music had to offer. She should have been one of the biggest stars of the 80s, the 90s, the 00s. She should have been Sarah McLachlan and Faith Hill and Fergie and Kelly Clarkson all rolled up in one. She should have platinum albums and Grammies and an entire underground garage to house her collection of vintage limousines and expensive sports cars.

And Moran should have Hugos and Nebulas and movie deals and hit TV shows based on his work. He should have millions of avid fans and three or four different houses and there should be Trent the Uncatchable and Daniel Castanaveras action figures and an EMERALD EYES video game for the XBox, Playstation, and the Wii. (And I'll bet it would kick ass, too.)

Me, I always figured that if I could ever sell even one of my novels, merely one, if I could just get one out there into the bookstores where people would have a chance to buy it, that would be it... I would walk through that big doorway to success and I'd never look back again. All my other novels would sell well, I'd get movie offers, there'd be a UNIVERSAL MAINTENANCE TV series on FX or SHOWTIME and kids all over America would want to be just like Dean Nydecker when they grew up. I'd have a nice big house with five or six bedrooms and a beautiful downstairs den with a fireplace and a big screen TV and a leather couch and a huge old oak desk and built in walnut bookshelves. And my wife would have a huge kitchen and there would be a big playroom upstairs for the kids and we'd have a hot tub and a heated in-ground pool and a nice big outdoor grill and a gorgeous game room down in the basement.

But it doesn't necessarily work that way. Apparently you can beat the odds, get your work published, get a record deal, sell some product,gain the respect and admiration of your peers and build a following of thousands of devoted fans... and still end up right back on the treadmill with the rest of the run of the mill. You hit the big number, sign the contracts, cash the checks, see your work out there on the rack at the big chain bookstore or the big chain music store in the mall, you do the signings and play the concerts and still, you, wake up one day and you're broke and you have to schlep back out and find a 9 to 5 grindstone to press your nose to again.

It's depressing. But I guess that's just the way it is.

Although, you know, George R.R. Martin seems to have it pretty good these days, especially for a guy who can't finish anything.

Monday, May 12, 2008

It's okay, I understand, this ain't no Never Never Land

No particular order --

***IRON MAN rocks hard. (The movie, I mean. The various incarnations of IM's comic have mostly been mediocre.) I agree with Jim Henley's assessment; where most action/superhero movies have character bits you kind of drum your fingers through while you wait for the next really cool fight scene, IRON MAN has really cool fight scenes that you pretty much suffer through so you can get to the next cool character bit. I don't know how much of how good this movie is comes straight out of Robert Downey Jr's laser accurate depiction of Tony Stark, but between that, some pretty good supporting cast performances, a decent script, much more competent direction than I'd ever have expected from Jon Favreau, some KICKass special effects, and a cubic parsec of sly, cutesie little in references for the diehard IRON MAN fan, I was in geek heaven from start to finish.

Well, until the very finish. The sight of Samuel L. Jackson coming out of the shadows with an eyepatch on his face nearly sent me into conniptions, as the presence of the goddam Ultimates Nick Fury would seem to indicate that the IRON MAN movie at least takes place in the Ultimates universe, and the very thought of THAT was enough to curdle every last subatomic particle of enjoyment the film had given me up to that point.

But then I thought about it for a minute, and realized that even if from this point forward the Marvel movie studio does make more of an effort to establish a common, shared universe amongst all their film projects, well, it won't be the original Marvel Universe I once loved so much, but it won't be the Ultimates universe, either. It won't be anything we've seen in the comics. It will be... the movie universe. Where, alas, Nick Fury looks a great deal like Samuel L. Jackson instead of, say, David Hasselhoff. But I can get behind that, I guess. Although it makes me wonder if in this universe, Gabe Wilson was the only white member of the Howling Commandoes...

***It was kind of a kick in the head to me earlier today to stumble across the rather startling information that Larry Niven and Steve Barnes' DREAM PARK series (DREAM PARK, THE BARSOOM PROJECT, THE CALIFORNIA VOODOO GAME) are all out of print. To me, this is like finding out that we're not going to be using nickels any more, or the government has outlawed sneakers. DREAM PARK and its two sequels were significant parts of that Must Read List for SF/Fantasy Geeks I mentioned a few entries ago, back in the 80s and early 90s. I honestly do not know at what point it fell off the radar; it seems to me that every time I've visited a bookstore since, like, 1985, there's been a copy of DREAM PARK in some edition or another in the SF section.

If you haven't read DREAM PARK or its sequels, well, I guess you're shit out of luck... okay, not really, you can still get a secondhand copy of any or all of them pretty cheap from various dealers through Amazon.com. I like all of them, although of the three, BARSOOM PROJECT is about the slowest and least interesting, while CALIFORNIA VOODOO GAME is probably the best... although that's tricky, since you won't get the full impact of the third book without reading the previous two first. It's kinda like John Varley's fabulous GAEA trilogy; DEMON is the best one, but you gotta read the first two to really appreciate it.

Strange that you can't walk into a BORDERS and take a copy of DREAM PARK down off the shelf, though.

I was relieved to discover, however, that all Robert A. Heinlein's books are still in print. I mean, I haven't fallen completely into Bizarro-Land, or something.

* * * THE STAND is a very strange book. I was thinking about this earlier today, as I was musing on the story of mine that just appeared in ASTONISHING ADVENTURES #3. It's one of my least favorite stories, because, in all honesty, I don't think the main character accomplishes much of any real significance in it... yeah, he goes up against some stuff and emerges, in the end, triumphant, but he really doesn't work all that hard to do it. It seems to me like good fiction requires many things, but an interesting and important central conflict that presents a mortal challenge to the protagonist, which said protagonist must somehow overcome or resolve is definitely essential, and it seems to me that with that particular story, I didn't bring this off very well.

But I started thinking about THE STAND, and realized that, while this is one of my favorite books (the original version that came out back in 1978, not that monstrous unexpurgated abomination), its protagonists (all seventy or eighty of them) never do a single goddam thing to successfully resolve the central conflict.

No, really. Not one frickin' thing.

A few of them have some minor accomplishments. Stu tricks Elder and escapes from a locked room. Fran manages to bury her father. Larry... it... I... okay, well, Larry picks Lucy over Nadine; that's about as heroic as he ever gets. Nick fails to save anyone from the superflu, fucks a teenage slut, and rides a bike with Tom Cullen. Ralph gets the electricity turned back on, Dana kills herself before Flagg can make her spill the beans on Tom Cullen, Tom Cullen manages to evade pursuit and save Stu's life. Nadine seduces Harold, keeping him on the Dark Side, and then she tricks Flagg into throwing her off a balcony so she won't have to have his kid. The Judge gets shot in the face by numb nuts Bobby Terry... Bobby Terry, for the love of christ. Fabulous victories and amazing accomplishments, every one.

Hell, in the entire nearly endless saga, about the only person who sets out to something difficult and succeeds s Harold; he blows up Nick and Sue. Even that's mostly a failure, though, as he was trying to get the entire Ad Hoc Committee and was thwarted by the return of Mother Abigail.

And Mother Abigail herself? She's God's representative on Earth, wise beyond all mortal ken, goodness and mercy personified, and what's her act? Hobble up the road, kill some chickens, hobble back down the road, slaughter a hog, cook a lot of food, and keep weasels from stealing her chicken, before wandering off into the wilderness to nearly die of starvation and exposure. Then she comes doddering back, maunders some bullshit about people walking to Las Vegas in the clothes they stand up in, and croaks. Not even ONE lousy light-sabre duel with the Walkin' Dude, or anything.

The villains aren't much better at getting shit done. Lloyd stands around watching while Poke kills a whole bunch of people, then has to be rescued from a locked jail cell, then stands around watching while Flagg and Trashcan Man kill a whole bunch of people, prior to being outsmarted by a mentally retarded guy. Trashcan Man burns down and blows up a whole LOT of shit; his greatest accomplishment is not killing himself doing it, and eventually he can't even do that right. Harold kills a few people before Flagg punts him off a cliff; Nadine has a lot of kinky sex with Harold before getting impregnated by Flagg. The Rat Man... c'mon, you're kidding me, right? Who cares about The Rat Man?

And then there's Our Man Flagg his mean self. He's one scary hombre, or at least, he was, before most of the human race died and he supposedly gained magic powers. I mean, before all that happened he was helping kidnap Patty Hearst and killing cops with the Panthers and lynching folks with the Klan and doing all kinds of bad ass shit. But after he got all mojoed up, what did he do? Um... well... er... he levitated a lot. Yep. He sure did that. And he sent out his great big Eye of Mordor to spy on people he didn't like. He got Loyd out of jail, and he passed out a few rocks on chains, and he apparently turned into a crow and flew around a few times, and he sure gave that dipshit Bobby Terry a hard way to go, yes indeed. But, really, all he actually did once he got his Voldemort on was... make a lot of people piss their pants. And you know what? He was doing that before. And it was more impressive when he didn't have magic powers.

So King sets up this fantastic conflict between good and evil, gives us all these really cool heroes and villains, and... nothing. Most of them never even run into each other. The ones that do don't do a goddam thing except yammer at each other. Flagg threatens a lot of people and has Loyd shoot one of them; Glen eats a bullet, and Larry and Ralph get blown up (along with everyone else in Vegas) by the Hand of God smacking the crap out of a nuclear warhead that crazy man Trash has just driven back out of the desert with.

Nobody does a single goddam thing that means a single goddam thing in the entire book. Big hero Stu, Cowboy Stu, "Old Time Tough" Stu, breaks his friggin leg on the way to Vegas and has to be rescued by feebleminded Tom Cullen. And he's one of the very few people who actually confronts and in some way, however minor, triumphs over evil, in the entire extremely lengthy epic fantasy.

And yet, this is a great book, a wonderful book, a classic piece of science fiction/occult fantasy. Populated with fabulous heroes and riveting villains, with a tremendous plot and wonderful dialogue and a fantastic resolution, a book that has thrilled entire generations and inspired dozens of rip offs. One of my all time favorite books.

So, I don't know. Maybe having your heroes do heroic stuff really isn't all that important, after all... at least, if you can write as well as a young Stephen King.

Which actually really doesn't help my lousy stories, since I can't. But, still.

Saturday, May 10, 2008

Wish Sandwich

Two slices of bread, and you wish you had some meat:

***Or a Democratic Presidential nominee.

***Or the ability to send the astral selves of every adult American citizen who didn't vote for Al Gore back in time to possess their 2000 era bodies and vote all over again. Imagine no War on Terror, no Gitmo, no Abu Ghraib, no illegal Federal wiretapping, no outing of Valerie Plame, no invasion/endless occupation of Iraq. Imagine we got started on sensible energy and economic policies 8 years ago. Imagine.

***Or a job designing games.

***Or a reasonably lucrative career as a writer.

***Or a successful job as an online cartoonist.

***Or super-intelligence.

***Or a cool musical playlist in my blog border, like Mike Norton has... oh, wait, I gots one o' dose. Neat.

***Or an XBox 360 I could play MASS EFFECT on.

***Or a functional light-sabre. Or a phaser (Old school, please, not those stupid things that look like TV remote controls.) I'll take either.

***Or KOTOR 3. (Or a finished version of KOTOR 2, for that matter.)

***Or the check I've been promised for my story in ASTONISHING ADVENTURES #3. Or the slightest hint when I can expect it.

***Or a flying car.

***Or a few more computers in this house with Internet access.

***Or a big screen high density TV with a satellite dish so I could watch Bucs games at home during football season.

***Or a secret satellite headquarters from which I could teleport anything on Earth from anywhere on Earth to anywhere else on Earth.

***Or the ability to draw like Jack Kirby.

***Or a good singing voice.

***Or a great deal of natural talent at playing musical instruments.

***Or a robot duplicate Doc Nebula that could go to work and do my job for me while I stay home and blog.

***Or a blog that more than 6 people read.

That last is no doubt very unenlightened of me, but I yam what I yam and that's all what I yam.

Friday, May 02, 2008

It's... Astonishing!

The new issue of ASTONISHING ADVENTURES (number 3) is available online. You can read it online here, or download your very own copy here. And soon, we are told, it will be available in hard copy from Amazon.com, just like issue #2 is now. Hurray!

All three issues contain short stories by yours truly, and issue 2 has a story by Nate Clark, too, making it an exceptionally wise investment on nearly anyone's part. (Of the three stories I've had published at AA, the one in issue 2 is my personal favorite, as well.) The latest issue, however, is the best looking of the run so far, sporting a truly stunning cover by magazine publisher John Carlucci and some very polished layouts inside. And, as this is the first issue where authors are actually being offered a word rate, Editor in Chief Tim Gallagher was very choosy as to which submissions made the final cut (other than the piece of crap by yours truly, which made it into the book due to pity on his part, or something).

All told, ASTONISHING ADVENTURES #3 is a helluva high quality package, which will richly reward any time you may wish to invest in perusing it, especially given that you can do so for the low low price of Not-A-Red-Cent. If you love old fashioned pulp style textual thrills, strap on your jet pack, unholster your .45s, and rocket through the ozone into -- ASTONISHING ADVENTURES!!!

Oh, and yes, Tony, this is the issue with the Doc Nebula story in it.

Thursday, May 01, 2008


Married To The Sea

Yes, I do just frickin love Married To The Sea.

You should, too.

In other news, some batshit nutjob says the Constitution does not prohibit torture, because, you know, torture isn't punishment, so it can't be cruel and unusual punishment:

"I don't like torture," Scalia says. "Although defining it is going to be a nice trick. But who's in favor of it? Nobody. And we have a law against torture. But if the - everything that is hateful and odious is not covered by some provision of the Constitution," he says.

"If someone's in custody, as in Abu Ghraib, and they are brutalized by a law enforcement person, if you listen to the expression 'cruel and unusual punishment,' doesn't that apply?" Stahl asks.

"No, No," Scalia replies.

"Cruel and unusual punishment?" Stahl asks.

"To the contrary," Scalia says. "Has anybody ever referred to torture as punishment? I don't think so."

"Well, I think if you are in custody, and you have a policeman who's taken you into custody…," Stahl says.

"And you say he's punishing you?" Scalia asks.

"Sure," Stahl replies.

"What's he punishing you for? You punish somebody…," Scalia says.

"Well because he assumes you, one, either committed a crime…or that you know something that he wants to know," Stahl says.

"It's the latter. And when he's hurting you in order to get information from you…you don’t say he's punishing you. What’s he punishing you for? He's trying to extract…," Scalia says.

"Because he thinks you are a terrorist and he's going to beat the you-know-what out of you…," Stahl replies.

"Anyway, that’s my view," Scalia says. "And it happens to be correct."

What a loon! Good thing he isn't a Supreme Court Justice or anything... oh, wait... ah, shit...

As to all this "What is Obama going to do about Reverend Wright" stuff, I personally feel the question is best answered with another question, such as, "What is John McCain going to do about John Hagee?" Whoops, hold up... we don't live in that world. You know. The one where everybody is held to the same standard. I forgot.

Then there's the thing where a 15 year old girl lets someone from VANITY FAIR take a picture of her naked back and everyone goes completely fucking bonkers about it!!! I'm trying to remember if I've ever seen any naked teenage girl backs on the Disney Channel or anything, like, you know, when various teenage girl stars are wearing swim suits and halter tops and what have you. Maybe I have. Maybe I've seen a few thousand. But only because I have an 8 year old stepdaughter; I didn't know the Disney Channel existed before I moved to River City. (That's my story and I'm sticking to it. Yeah-baby.)

Still, I think I'm trying to make one of my little points here, somehow. I'm not sure, though. I could just be arguing in my spare time.

Also, bastion of progressive liberal blogging Kevin Drum doesn't see a single goddam thing wrong with forcing everyone to get a National ID card. My response, from his comment threads:

Heh. Shorter Kevin Drum: "Fuck it, we're already living in a police state, let's for the love of christ make it an efficient one!"

For what it's worth (nothing to you, most likely) I think one of the greatest intrusions on personal civil liberties that has ever happened has been the courts upholding a cop's 'right' to demand ID from anyone, at any time, for any reason. I should not have to have a card in my wallet to walk freely down the street if I'm not doing anything criminal or anti-social. When a cop can demand I produce an ID, and if I do not, arrest me (and if I resist or attempt to flee, use force, up to and including lethal force, to enforce his arrest powers), I am basically being put in a position where I may have to prove my innocence whenever I leave my home. That's fascist crap and has no place in a free society.

I know, I know. It's much more efficient to just show the Man our papers when he asks for them. It's a dangerous world. Don't I want our children to be safe? What am I, some kind of anarchist? Do I want our valiant forces of law and order to have to operate with a blindfold on? Don't I understand how quickly criminals and terrorists would abuse actual freedom to wander around in public without being harassed, if they actually had it?

I'd like to say I remember when this was a free country, but I suppose I'd be kidding myself. The last eight years sure have done a lot of structural damage to the facade, though, if a constantly self proclaiming lib/prog like Kevin Drum can actually come out in support of national ID cards and get something like 25 comments from fellow 'liberals' agreeing with him.

Bruce Schneir does a lovely run down of all the pragmatic problems with the idea here, and that's all very convincing to me, too, but mostly, I'm just opposed to the idea on entirely philosophical grounds.

And that's all you get tonight. Unless, of course, you want to check out some of those links and see what else might be over there, in which case, lucky you.