Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Books I Read in 2013


Since 2011 I've been keeping track of what I read. Here are the 112 books I read in 2013, listed in order of completion and ending with Tarzan and the Leopard Men, which I just finished.



The Jungle Book (Rudyard Kipling, 1894)
Steel and Other Stories (Richard Matheson, 2011)
The Art of War (Sun Tzu, circa late 5th century BCE)
The Postman Always Rings Twice (James M. Cain, 1934)
They Shoot Horses, Don’t They? (Horace McCoy, 1935)
Man Plus (Frederik Pohl, 1976)
Yellow Submarine (Charlie Gardner, 2004)
Earthbound (Joe Haldeman, 2011)
Impulse (Steven Gould, 2012)
The Metamorphosis (Franz Kafka, 1915)
Thieves Like Us (Edward Anderson, 1937)
Star Trek The Next Generation: Losing the Peace (William Leisner, 2009)
Star Trek Titan: Fallen Gods (Michael A. Martin, 2012)
The Tomb (F. Paul Wilson, 1984)
The Good Man Jesus and the Scoundrel Christ (Philip Pullman, 2010)
Star Trek Mirror Universe: Rise Like Lions (David Mack, 2011)
Redshirts (John Scalzi, 2012)
Hitchers (Will McIntosh, 2012)
Star Trek Typhon Pact: Plagues of Night (David R. George III, 2012)
Star Trek Typhon Pact: Raise the Dawn (David R. George III, 2012)
Star Trek Typhon Pact: Brinkmanship (Una McCormack, 2012)
Star Trek: Allegiance in Exile (David R. George III, 2013)
The Cassandra Project (Jack McDevitt and Mike Resnick, 2012)
Tintagel (Paul H. Cook, 1981)
Arctic Rising (Tobias S. Buckell, 2012)
Cadillac Beach (Tim Dorsey, 2004)
The Big Short: Inside the Doomsday Machine (Michael Lewis, 2011)
The Big Clock (Kenneth Fearing, 1946)
Sci-Fi Savant (Glenn Erickson, 2011)
Torpedo Juice (Tim Dorsey, 2005)
Robopocalypse (Daniel H. Wilson, 2011)
Amped (Daniel H. Wilson, 2012)
The Big Bamboo (Tim Dorsey, 2006)
Hurricane Punch (Tim Dorsey, 2007)
Phases of Gravity (Dan Simmons, 1989)
Vintage Season (Catherine L. Moore, 1946)
In Another Country (Robert Silverberg, 1989)
High-Rise (J.G. Ballard, 1975)
On Board the U.S.S. Enterprise (Denise and Michael Okuda, 2013)
The Wasp Factory (Iain Banks, 1984)
Atomic Lobster (Tim Dorsey, 2008)
The Human Front Plus… (Ken MacLeod, 2013)
The Bridge (Iain Banks, 1986)
The Dark Fields (Alan Glynn, 2001)
Little Book of Vintage Horror (Tim Pilcher, 2012)
Little Book of Vintage Sci-Fi (Tim Pilcher, 2012)
He is Legend (Christopher Conlon, editor, 2009)
The Dynamite Art of Alex Ross (Alex Ross, 2011)
The Long Earth (Terry Pratchett and Stephen Baxter, 2012)
Joyland (Stephen King, 2013)
Tarzan of the Apes (Edgar Rice Burroughs, 1914)
The Return of Tarzan (Edgar Rice Burroughs, 1915)
The Beasts of Tarzan (Edgar Rice Burroughs, 1916)
The Son of Tarzan (Edgar Rice Burroughs, 1917)
Tarzan and the Jewels of Opar (Edgar Rice Burroughs, 1918)
Jungle Tales of Tarzan (Edgar Rice Burroughs, 1919)
Tarzan the Untamed (Edgar Rice Burroughs, 1920)
Tarzan the Terrible (Edgar Rice Burroughs, 1921)
Tarzan and the Golden Lion (Edgar Rice Burroughs, 1923)
Tarzan and the Ant Men (Edgar Rice Burroughs, 1924)
Tarzan and the Tarzan Twins (Edgar Rice Burroughs, 1963)
Tarzan, Lord of the Jungle (Edgar Rice Burroughs, 1928)
Tarzan and the Lost Empire (Edgar Rice Burroughs, 1929)
The Eyre Affair (Jasper Fforde, 2001)
At the Earth’s Core (Edgar Rice Burroughs, 1922)
Pellucidar (Edgar Rice Burroughs, 1923)
Tanar of Pellucidar (Edgar Rice Burroughs, 1930)
2312 (Kim Stanley Robinson, 2012)
New Taboos Plus… (John Shirley, 2013)
Existence (David Brin, 2012)
Tarzan at the Earth’s Core (Edgar Rice Burroughs, 1930)
Slow Apocalypse (John Varley, 2012)
Tarzan the Invincible (Edgar Rice Burroughs, 1931)
The Dead Man’s Brother (Roger Zelazny, 2013)
Tarzan Triumphant (Edgar Rice Burroughs, 1932)
Tarzan and the City of Gold (Edgar Rice Burroughs, 1933)
The Hercules Text (Jack McDevitt, 1986)
Year’s Best SF 4 (David G. Hartwell, Editor, 1999)
Star Trek: From History’s Shadow (Dayton Ward, 2013)
Singularity Sky (Charles Stross, 2003)
Iron Sunrise (Charles Stross, 2004)
White Fang (Jack London, 1906)
Angels of Vengeance (John Birmingham, 2011)
Accelerando (Charles Stross, 2005)
The Complete Peanuts, 1987 to 1988 (Charles M. Schulz with an introduction by Garry Trudeau, 2013)
The Quantum Thief (Hannu Rajaniemi, 2010)
Bloom (Wil McCarthy, 1998)
Web of the City (Harlan Ellison, 1958)
The Bottom Line: The Truth Behind Private Health Insurance in Canada (Diana Gibson and Colleen Fuller, 2006)
7 Against Chaos (Harlan Ellison, 2013)
The Wellstone (Wil McCarthy, 2003)
Star Wars Art: Visions (J.W. Rinzler and Eric Klopfer, editors, 2010)
All Our Sisters: Stories of Homeless Women in Canada (Susan Scott, 2007)
The Sharing Knife, Volume One: Beguilement (Lois McMaster Bujold, 2006)
New Stories from the Twilight Zone (Rod Serling, 1962)
The Sharing Knife, Volume Two: Legacy (Lois McMaster Bujold, 2007)
The Sharing Knife, Volume Three: Passage (Lois McMaster Bujold, 2008)
The Art of Vampirella (Josh Green, editor, 2010)
Neuromancer (William Gibson, 1984)
Captain Vorpatril’s Alliance (Lois McMaster Bujold, 2012)
The Sharing Knife, Volume Four: Horizon (Lois McMaster Bujold, 2009)
The Art of Star Wars (Carol Titelman, Editor, 1979)
Turbulence (Samit Basu, 2013)
Stellar Cartography: The Starfleet Reference Library (Larry Nemecek, 2013)
Lost in Transmission (Wil McCarthy, 2004)
Tarzan and the Lion Man (Edgar Rice Burroughs, 1934)
To Crush the Moon (Wil McCarthy, 2005)
The Ten Commandments: An Epic Journey (Michael McMurtrey, 2013)
The Complete Peanuts, 1989 to 1990 (Charles M. Schulz with an introduction by Lemony Snicket, 2013)
Supergods (Grant Morrison, 2011)
Robots Have No Tails (Henry Kuttner, 1952)
Tarzan and the Leopard Men (Edgar Rice Burroughs, 1935)


Fiction:99
Nonfiction:13
Science fiction:38
Fantasy:26
Star Trek:10
Tarzan: 19
Peanuts collections:2
Mainstream:23
Top Authors
Edgar Rice Burroughs (22)
Lois McMaster Bujold (5)
Tim Dorsey (5)
Wil McCarthy (4)
David R. George III (3)
Charles Stross (3)
Iain Banks (2)
Harlan Ellison (2)
Tim Pilcher (2)
Charles M. Schulz (2)
Daniel H. Wilson (2)

Books by Decade
-500s: 1
1890s: 1
1900s: 1
1910s:7
1920s:9
1930s:9
1940s: 2
1950s:2
1960s:2
1970s: 3
1980s:7
1990s:2
2000s:22
2010s:41

Oldest Title: The Art of War (circa 5th century BCE)
Newest Title: Turbulence (2013)

Female Authors: 8
Male Authors: 62

Final Thoughts
This year's list isn't quite as genre-heavy as last year's, but I didn't read as many women authors as I should have - something to address next year. I made it almost all the way through Burrough's Tarzan and Pellucidar series, with just a few left in each; they're as entertaining as ever. Lois McMaster Bujold continues to impress, though the Sharing Knife series isn't quite as strong as her other work, but middling Bujold is still much better than most fantasy and science fiction out there.

This year I intended to read The Lord of the Rings and finish the Harry Potter series, but for whatever reason the mood never struck. Maybe I'll tackle them in 2014. 

Sunday, December 29, 2013

Lights in Leduc

It's an old, old trick, but I never get tired of it: hold the shutter open for a second or so, crank the zoom at the same time, and you get a little light show. Fun!

Saturday, December 28, 2013

The Hamster Who Saved Christmas, Part 2

Continued from this post. 

In a world that featured an eight-foot-tall sentient milkshake, talking vegetables, a murderous toilet and men and women with a bewildering assortment of so-called super-powers, a hamster with the ability to drive was really not such a miraculous thing. Little Wolfgang had no other special abilities. He couldn't talk, like Can 'o Beans or Putrid Soup; nor did he possess the power of super-farting like Flatulent Cow. He wielded no special weapons, as did The Screwdriver, The Shank or Cheek Forker; he wasn't wise like Buddha in a Bucket or Causeless Philosopher.

But Wolfgang the hamster had certain special qualities that other hamsters lacked. Yes, he could drive a car, a singular achievement among rodents (well, aside from certain trademarked cartoon mice), but Wolfgang's greatest power was the power of love in his tiny fluttering heart. And as Wolfgang pushed his sleek, miniature Lotus 7 to its limits, he felt a wordless surge of gratitude to the bald man for building his car, and to the tall man for giving him the big purple ball that would somehow save Christmas. (Wolfgang was a little foggy on the details.)

Wolfgang drove one-pawed, the right on the wheel, the left holding the ersatz Christmas tree ornament aloft. The air rushing past the speedy miniature roadster threatened to blow Wolfgang's jaunty stocking cap off his head, but Wolfgang paid no heed; it was a long way to Toronto, and the gently falling snow would soon make the roads impassable. Speed was all, and the city lights blurred as Wolfgang whizzed southwest down the centrelines of the city streets.

*     *     *

Meanwhile, Government Vito bade farewell to the innocuous balding scientist who'd designed Wolfgang's roadster. His mission accomplished, Vito made haste to his grandmother's house, his part in this Christmas story over. Ah, but what of that innocuous scientist? As soon as Vito left him alone, the bland man's features twisted and blurred into those of the malevolent shapeshifter Hoodwink! Casting his dark eyes about the Rideau safehouse to ensure no one was listening, he pulled his yPhone out of his jacket pocket and scrolled through innumerable menus until he located his Contact List at last. More scrolling revealed the number of Dr. Burnshock Brand himself, and Hoodwink initiated a call.

"This is Dr. Burnshock Brand speaking on a secure Minions of C.H.A.O.S. channel," said Dr. Burnshock Brand. "Congratulate Hoodwink And Offer Salutations."

"Yeah, yeah," muttered Hoodwink. "Look, the Paladins came up with a countermeasure - a jamming device that'll block you from triggering the Christmas present sealant. But I know where they're going to plant the device. If you move fast, you can set up an ambush..."

*    *    *

Three hours later a toy Lotus 7 raced down the Gardiner Expressway, dodging the thankfully light traffic. The Lotus' tires kicked up snow as Wolfgang executed a perfect pinwheeling spin up the sidewalk and onto the grounds of the CN Tower. This daring maneuver was at last too much for the little stocking cap, which flew off into the cool winter night, never to be seen again.

Wolfgang glanced at the Lotus' built-in clock and noted with primitive satisfaction that it was still fifteen minutes to midnight - plenty of time to drive up the side of the tower and then plant the jamming device atop the Christmas tree at the tower's apex. Wolfgang shifted into high gear, accelerating toward the tower's base, gritting his sharp buck teeth and bracing for the wrenching impact of the 90 degree turn that would mark the final lap of this most unusual race.

But suddenly something huge and heavy slammed into the side of Wolfgang's roadster, sending hamster, car and jammer flying in opposite directions! Each landed with a soft thump in the heavy blanket of snow covering the tower's grounds, and when Wolfgang came to his senses he saw, to his horror, the terrifying evil of the fiendish Rabid Shopping Cart, now foaming at the grill with hydrophobic mania. Even now the cart was rolling into position to squash Wolfgang flat.

Wolfgang had only seconds to choose a course of action. Should he make a run for the car or the jammer? Or should he focus on preparing his fragile form to dodge Rabid Shopping Cart's charge? Wolfgang had no way of knowing if the sapient grocery cart would try to smash the jamming device, crush his car, or squash him. Each outcome would be equally disastrous!

There was not an instant to waste. Wolfgang's beady eyes flicked left to the idling Lotus, then right to the purple orb resting in the snow. He could not possibly reach one, then the other before his cagey foe crushed either the jammer or the car, and he needed both. Just before Rabid Shopping Cart's wheels started to spin, Wolfgang made the only choice he could: he charged straight ahead, right at the slobbering maw of the demonic cart.

Startled, Rabid Shopping Cart was thrown mentally off-balance for a crucial moment. His forward wheels turned right, then left, slowing his momentum and nearly tipping himself over. Wolfgang leaped bravely into the valley of death itself - in this case, the cart's undercarriage, where the toilet paper or flats of soda generally went. Enraged, unable to reach his prey with his killer wheels, Rabid Shopping Cart spun in impotent circles, saliva flying. Wolfgang felt himself getting dizzy, the landscape blurring about him as he rode this mad tilt-a-whirl. He caught a glimpse of the roadster, then the ornament; and he knew what he had to do. It would take crackerjack timing.

Faster and faster spun Rabid Shopping Cart, and Wolfgang's paws held on tight lest he be flung into the snow at the wrong moment. Wolfgang counted off seconds in his head, measuring how long each rotation took, judging how far he would fly when he let go. And then, a half-second before the Lotus would swing into view again, he release and sailed end-over-end through the air.

Time itself seemed to slow to a lazy meander. Wolfgang watched snowflakes drift past in slow motion. He looked up and saw Christmas lights blinking at the top of the CN Tower. And then, suddenly, he landed with a grunt right in the Lotus' driver's seat, like one of the Duke boys sliding into the General Lee through the open window.

Wolfgang wasted no time admiring his acrobatic skills. He jammed his paw hard against the accelerator, spun the wheel around 180 degrees, and drove hard for the jammer. Rabid Shopping Cart had halted his addled spinning and saw what Wolfgang was attempting. It became a race - hamster versus shopping cart for the ultimate prize: Christmas itself.

The shopping cart's coal-black tires skidded for purchase as it hurtled forward, intent on crushing the jammer under its wheels. And Wolfgang's Lotus laboured valiantly, seeming to lean forward as it charged toward the prize. Wolfgang's tiny heart raced just as quickly - perhaps even faster - than the eight wheels bearing down on the purple sphere that held the promise of Christmas morn.

Wolfgang extended his left paw. He glanced right and saw Rabid Shopping Cart's bulk bearing down like a dreadnought. It was going to be close - too close!

Wolfgang's paw caught the ornament's eyelet and held tight, yanking the jammer from the snow. A millisecond later, Rabid Shopping Cart passed through the space they'd just occupied. The Minion of C.H.A.O.S. gurgled madly and attempted to come around for another pass, but it was going too fast, too fast! With an ear-piercing grind of rending metal, Rabid Shopping Cart smashed headlong into the tower's base, its momentum transforming itself into a twisted hulk of whimpering metal.

Wolfgang chittered triumphantly and brought the nose of the Lotus around for another pass at the tower. This time the little car darted obediently skyward, its adhesive tires holding the car tight against the tower's side. Wolfgang spared a glance backward as he drove up the building's length, then immediately wished he hadn't. Gawking through the tower's glass floor was amusing, but from outside these dizzying heights were nausea-inducing.

Navigating the underside of the CN Tower's bulbous main body was a little tricky, requiring him to hang upside-down for a few seconds, one hand on the wheel, one clutching the ornament. But soon enough he was on the topside of the sphere and on his way up the radio tower. The Christmas tree atop the spire beckoned.

Wolfgang parked on a low branch, then abandoned the Lotus and climbed up to the top of the tree, ornament in hand. With a flourish, he threaded a narrow twig through the ornament's eyelet and the jammer hung there gleaming with all the promise of a plan to ruin Christmas averted.

But just then, Wolfgang felt himself grabbed by a huge human fist. Wriggling defiantly, he looked up into the triumphant, sneering visage of none other than Minion of C.H.A.O.S. Shin Barker!

"Stupid hamster. Did you really think the Minions of C.H.A.O.S. could only spare one agent to intercept you?" chortled Shin Barker. "Ukelele Banquet gave me a lift up here just in case you got past Rabid Shopping Cart."

Wolfgang looked around and sure enough, there was the evil Ukelele Banquet, floating a few metres away. The levitating faux-guitar plunked a few sour notes of triumph.

Wolfgang sighed. It was over. He couldn't possibly defeat two Minions; he was just a hamster. Christmas would be ruined. Even now, Shin Barker was reaching for the jammer while Ukelele Banquet strummed an especially sarcastic instrumental version of "I Believe in Father Christmas."

But Wolfgang's sigh of defeat had a crucial side-effect: sensing the hamster's resignation, Shin Barker dropped the hamster, presuming the little rodent would fall to his doom. But Wolfgang, sensing one last chance to save the day, angled his fall to land on Shin Barker's left shin, where he immediately sank his sharp little teeth. Blood spurted.

"MY SHIN!" barked Shin Barker, pain flaring up the length of his wounded leg, throwing him off-balance. One of Shin Barker's pinwheeling arms smashed right into Ukelele Banquet in the middle of a chord, sending the floating ukelele spinning headlong into space with a startled flurry of discordant chords. Shin Barker screamed as he fell off the tree, eyes bulging as the doom of sudden deceleration awaited.

Wolfgang, too, was falling, releasing his hold on Shin Barker's leg. As they tumbled through the air Wolfgang felt sad that he wouldn't see the joy on the faces of Canadian children when they tore open their presents on the morrow, but he felt proud that he'd doubtlessly be remembered for his noble sacrifice. If only Shin Barker would stop spoiling the moment with his screams...

Suddenly, Wolfgang felt his fall arrested as he plopped into an outstretched palm. Startled, he looked up into the big blue eyes and handsome smile of Paramount Importance, one of Canada's premiere caped superheroes.

"Sorry I'm late," he said. "But that asteroid I just stopped would have ruined Christmas too."

Wolfgang chittered, Paramount Importance laughed, and Shin Barker kept screaming until he landed safely in a passing pillow delivery truck.

*   *   *

The Prime Minister flung his yPhone across the room. Dr. Burnshock Brand's desperate apologies continued to echo from the phone's tinny speaker.

"Idiot," fumed the Prime Minister. "I had everything planned so perfectly. My only mistake was letting Brand pick the interception team. Next time I won't make that mistake."

Yes, Christmas 2013 had been saved, all thanks to that stupid hamster and those meddling Paladins. But he still had at least one Christmas to go during the Prime Minister's term...

THE END?

Friday, December 27, 2013

The Hamster Who Saved Christmas, Part 1

Inspired by this artwork by Jeff Shyluk.

It was Christmas Eve. By all rights, Government Vito should have been enjoying his grandmother's pasta followed by some Boggle and Yahtzee in front of the fireplace. It was a beautiful night for it, with snow gently wafting down through the crisp black sky, alighting silently on rooftops, sidewalks and battered old mailboxes across the nation's capital. Government Grant, he knew, was on extended leave in Fiji with his latest girlfriend, while Government Bill was Christmas-miraculously not, for once, stuck in the House.

But Vito wasn't as lucky as his fellow Government agents. He wasn't at his grandmother's house. Instead, Vito was standing at the threshold of the Prime Minister's Office, staring at the ornate golden doorknob that beckoned without words, but with all the considerable weight of the room behind it.

Steeling himself, Government Vito wrapped one hairy-knuckled hand around the smirking doorknob and pushed inside.

"Government Vito," the Prime Minister said, peeling off his thin wire-framed glasses and setting them down upon a desk covered in little mountains of paperwork. "Thank you for coming on Christmas Eve."

"I serve at the pleasure of the Prime Minister," Vito responded loyally, even though he really had no use for Prime Minister H--- of the ----- party. As a civil servant, Vito's role was not to concern himself with politics, but to serve the nation and its people no matter who was in charge. He would do so despite the wrongheadedness of the Prime Minister's policies or the loudness of his astoundingly ugly Christmas sweater.

"Watch this," said the Prime Minister. He pointed a remote at a blank wall, which suddenly transformed itself into a holographic monitor. The malevolent countenance of Dr. Burnshock Brand resolved itself from a cloud of whirling photons. Brand, as ever, was wearing a bloodstained white lab coat. His perpetual sneer was hidden behind his surgical mask, and reflected in the round mirror strapped to his forehead was the image of his paramour, Asia Shiftygrippo, holding a bulky video camera on her shoulder.

"Burnshock Brand!" gasped Government Vito.

"And Asia Shiftygrippo," nodded the Prime Minister. "On the loose again despite the best efforts of the Paladins of O.R.D.E.R. Shh, the message is about to start."

"Attention puny Canadians. I, Dr. Burnshock Brand, demand the release of all Agents of C.H.A.O.S. incarcerated by Canadian authorities by midnight of Christmas Eve. Should you fail to meet this simple demand, I will trigger the Christmas Halting Anti-Opening Sealant - a booby trap  installed weeks ago on every single piece of wrapping paper, gift box and gift bag in the country. Millions of people - including children - will find it absolutely impossible to open their presents Christmas morning if I activate the C.H.A.O.S."

"Diabolical!" gasped Government Vito. The Prime Minister grimaced grimly and switched off the recording.

"Naturally we cannot give in to his demands, much as I hate to risk ruining Christmas," the Prime Minister muttered without sincerity. "Fortunately G Division had enough time to devise a primitive but effective solution: a jamming device that will block all radio signals across the continent, preventing Brand from triggering the device and giving all the children time to open their presents."

"Er...mightn't that have far-reaching consequences, sir? I mean, I know midnight on Christmas Eve isn't that busy, but surely there will be airplanes in the sky, emergency calls..."

"I think you're forgetting who's in charge here, Vito, and who was elected to make the tough decisions!" barked the Prime Minister. He handed Vito a small purple sphere - a Christmas ornament, Vito realized. Only it was much heavier than any Christmas ornament had a right to be.

"That's the jammer. To allay suspicion, it's disguised as something no one will think out of the ordinary at this time of year," explained the Prime Minister.

"Okay," Vito said. "But what location is high enough to ensure the jamming signal covers the continent?"

The Prime Minister lifted his remote control and reactivated the viewscreen. An image of Toronto's world-famous CN Tower filled the screen, glowing with Christmas lights."

"Of course," breathed Government Vito. "But won't it look odd - adding a Christmas ornament to the top of the tower?"

The Prime Minister pressed the Zoom button on his remote, and the tower's spire grew in size until Vito could see that a handsomely decorated Christmas tree now topped the landmark.

"We had Paramount Importance fly the tree up this morning, but unfortunately he's now busy diverting a planet-killer asteroid, so he's unavailable to finish the job."

Vito looked at the ornament dubiously. "I'm not exactly a free climber, sir," he said, but the Prime Minister was already shaking his head.

"That's not your mission, Vito. Your job is to take the ornament to our Rideau Canal safehouse and hand it off to a very special agent. You'll meet him when you arrive."

And so, twenty minutes later Vito's battered Volkswagen Beetle passed through the secret entrance of the safehouse, where a bespectacled, balding man greeted him eagerly.

"Government Vito! You have the jammer?"

Vito handed it over. The bald man caressed the ornament and snapped his fingers.

"It's here, Wolfgang! It's here! Come!"

And then, zipping down the hallway came a tiny red and green race car with the number 25 emblazoned on the hood. It looked like an early '60s Lotus 7 to Vito's widening eyes, but that wasn't the remarkable thing - the remarkable thing was the hamster behind the tiny wheel, a red stocking cap perched upon his furry head.

Vito watched numbly as the bald man leaned down and handed the jammer to the hamster, who extended one tiny paw to clutch at the ornament's eyelet.

"Are...you telling me...that hamster...can drive?" sputtered Government Vito.

"Not only that, his car has adhesive tires that will enable him to drive right up the side of the tower," beamed the bald man.

"Absurd!" gasped Vito. Then again, hadn't he himself seen the aftermath of a murderous, sentient toilet that had killed a gaggle of hapless Edmonton youths back in the early 90s? After that, perhaps anything was possible.

"Off you go, Wolfgang! Off you go!" shouted the bald man, waving his hands in a peripatetic "shoo-ing" gesture. The hamster stomped his paw down on the miniature accellerator pedal and zipped off like a rocket. In seconds, he was gone, his tires kicking up snow in his wake.

"That hamster is going to save Christmas," the bald man said.

And so he might. But the little hamster didn't know what horrors lurked at his destination, eager to spoil Christmas and feast on the tiny sweetmeats that pulsed so succulently beneath the tawny fur of the brave little rodent.

TO BE CONCLUDED

Thursday, December 26, 2013

Boxing Day of Rest

On Boxing Day, I presume Santa goes down for the count. Visiting 4.5 billion children in a few hours can't be easy. 

Tuesday, December 24, 2013

Monday, December 23, 2013

Saturday, December 21, 2013

Friday, December 20, 2013

Thursday, December 19, 2013

Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Tuesday, December 17, 2013

Monday, December 16, 2013

Sunday, December 15, 2013

Saturday, December 14, 2013

Thursday, December 12, 2013

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

Monday, December 09, 2013

Sunday, December 08, 2013

Friday, December 06, 2013

Wednesday, December 04, 2013

Tuesday, December 03, 2013

Monday, December 02, 2013

LEGO Advent Haiku

Several of my friends have made it a tradition to purchase and enjoy the craft beer advent calendar, opening and sampling one beer a day. But because I don't drink alcohol, this tradition is lost to me. But while shopping for other gifts I spotted the LEGO advent calendar. Open one portal a day starting December 1 until December 24 and enjoy a tiny LEGO surprise! What middle-aged kid could resist? Not me.

But I am already a day behind, and as punishment I now promise to write a haiku for each portal I open.

December 1
Police officer smiles big
With an extra cup and hat
Always be prepared

December 2
Sad lonely fireplace
Flames beckon on silent night
Warm bricks, cold hearth

Sunday, December 01, 2013

The Forest Gate

There's nothing particularly interesting about this photo except the slender branch-less tree that bisects the frame. Well, that and I appear to be holding a wand of some kind. I selected the area to the right of the branch and added a few filters to make it look as though that side of the picture represented a portal or gateway to another dimension. Some experiments, needless to say, are more successful than others.

Saturday, November 30, 2013

The 1980s-est Book Ever Written

...just might be William Gibson's Neuromancer, which I have at last read, a mere 30 years after it was published. Cyberspace, the matrix, mirrorshades, hacking, exotic drugs, exotic fashion...I didn't expect it to be about AIs, though, nor was I expecting an outer space habitat. You can't learn everything by cultural osmosis, it seems.

As I grow older, catching up on cultural touchstones takes on a melancholy air. I'll only be 45 next year, but even so I feel the weight of time bearing down, reminding me that if I don't get to War and Peace (to use just one example) sometime in the next couple of decades, it's not going to happen.

Well - Neuromancer is off the list, at least. Was it worth the investment? Hard to say. At least now I know what the fuss was about, way back when I was 15.

Friday, November 29, 2013

The Lost Star Wars Magazine

It's quite possible I've blogged about this before, but it's a story that still haunts me. Sometime in the summer of 1978, I bought a science fiction magazine at the drugstore in Leaf Rapids.How many science fiction magazines could possibly have been distributed that far north in the 1970s? We had a spinner rack of comic books, Cracked, Mad, and maybe, maybe, Starlog.

And yet I don't think it was Starlog, because Starlog was never in the habit of publishing fiction.

This magazine - I seem to recall that the interior was black and white pulp, like Creepy or Vampirella back in the days of Warren publishing, with a glossy full-colour colour of mostly aqua and yellow - featured at least one very creepy Star Wars short story.

It took place just after the end of the first movie. Luke, Han Leia and the rest were all still gathered at the Rebel base on the forest moon of Yavin. Darth Vader was still spinning out of control in his TIE fighter. Luke and Leia's romance blossoms, while Ben Kenobi's ghost plays...some kind of role. I don't remember.

Han Solo winds up leaving the base, meets Darth Vader and gets turned to the dark side; he even becomes some kind of scary cyborg. Chewbacca is devastated, as are Luke and Leia.

It all goes bad. I don't remember how the story ended, but I do remember I thought it was an awful but compelling way to continue the Star Wars saga.

I wish I still had that magazine.If it ever really existed, I'm sure Lucasfilm's lawyers must have shredded every copy by now.

Thursday, November 28, 2013

10,000 Page Views!

Sometime between 9 and 10 p.m. last night The Earliad crossed the threshold of 10,000 page views in a single month for the first time. I'm pretty excited by this milestone, even if a certain percentage of the hits are almost certainly spambots, judging by the junk comments in my spam folder.

When I started this blog back in 2003, I envisioned a hardcore readership of perhaps a dozen friends and family members. I'm gratified that there's a larger audience than that for my silly nonsense, and I'm very thankful to anyone who stops by to visit. I like making people feel good, and if any of the photos or articles posted here are entertaining, I'm delighted.

Oddly enough, this is my 1,705th post - not quite as poetic as 1,701 would have been, but close enough - 1705 is the Excalibur's registry number, which is still very cool.

Wednesday, November 27, 2013

Dustin the Renegade Tank Commander

Last night I dreamed that our Dungeons and Dragons group was trying out a different roleplaying game for a change of pace, one set in a world of Conan-like high fantasy but with World War II era military technology. So instead of each of us carrying a sword and shield or what have you, each character had his or her own Sherman tank - and the miniatures, as you can imagine, were wicked cool, with each of us standing in the turret of our respective tanks, overlooking the field of battle.

During this session of play, the evil Thulsa Doom was about to sacrifice a maiden strapped down to a stone (plastic, really) altar atop a green felt-covered hilltop. We moved our tanks into position, but Dustin fired his main cannon early, blowing up both Thulsa Doom and his comely captive. My character raced up the hill in his tank to survey the carnage, and aside from the dead Thulsa Doom, the dead princess and a bunch of dead snakes, I spotted a whole bunch of dismembered innocent bystanders, who were represented on the board by LEGO minifigures.

"Dustin!" I cried. Did you sneak in here earlier and kill all these innocent people?"

"They needed killin'," Dustin replied laconically.

Audrey shook her head while Jeff rolled his head around on his shoulders with a "WHOA! Nice going, dude!" Stephen, even though he wasn't the Gamemaster (who mysteriously never made an appearance), took on a GM-like mien and said "Okay, player versus player it is, then."

Somehow I'd become the de facto squadron commander, and I started to issue orders to destroy Dustin's tank. But before the battle could commence...I woke up.

Monday, November 25, 2013

Spaghetti Lattice

Sylvia and I tried to cram ourselves into the pantry at the same time a few minutes ago (I was putting away a vase, she was looking for something for the food bank) and as a result our spaghetti flew out of the box to land in this quasi-artistic three-dimensional lattice. It was prettier in real life than this mobile phone photo suggests.

Saturday, November 23, 2013

A Thought Experiment

For years I've wondered if I could survive falling out of an airplane if I did so while riding inside a giant rubber ball with an Earl-shaped space in the centre. I guess there would have to be enough "give" inside the ball to absorb the impact. Maybe the centre would be a big empty space and I'd be secured to bungee cords in the middle? How many times would I bounce before coming to a halt if I were dropped from parachuting altitude? Would it be safer if I were pushed out of the plane and rolled down a mountainside?

I know, I know, it's ridiculous and I'd be killed. But it's fun to think about.

Thursday, November 21, 2013

In the Moth of Madness

There's nothing more unnerving than being on the phone with your wife when she suddenly changes the subject so that she can scream incoherently. Fortunately it was only a moth, which I dispatched with a cloud of Raid and a paper napkin as soon as I got home. But no sooner had I cracked my knuckles in preparation to write my latest brilliant missive did yet another shriek of despair echo through our once-placid domain.

"IT'S BACK! YOU DIDN'T KILL IT! KILLL ITTTTT!"

This time the moth chose to lurk right above the living room couch where Sylvia was resting, which increased the tempo, urgency and volume of Sylvia's pleas. Manfully I stood upon the couch and held the spray can aloft, pressing the trigger home to inundate the stubborn beast with all the fury of modern chemistry. Unfortunately the beast fell straight down, landing on my chest. Frankly I wanted to start screaming too, but I figured that if I started to panic at that point Sylvia might actually lose consciousness, so I merely grimaced and shook the thing onto the couch, which set Sylvia to screaming again.

There could be no mercy this time. I held the Raid at point-blank range over the bug's twitching form and cried havoc, burying it in toxic foam. Then I scooped it up in paper towel and crushed it, only half-deafened by Sylvia's hysterical (and I use the term tightly) wails.

Once the beast was slain, Sylvia relaxed.

"What if it had landed on you when it fell?" I asked.

"I would have passed out," she said flatly. I think I believe her.

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Skullthuggery

A couple of days ago my brother Sean informed me that the water pressure in his shower blew the shower head off the wall and bounced it right off his cranium. Naturally I laughed, and the incident reminded me of a time in the distant past, back in the days before even the Bleak House of Blahs, back during the dark era of the University of Alberta Star Trek club, back when, in the summers between university terms, I lived in my parents' basement in Leduc...

I don't remember how many of my friends from the club came over to visit that fine summer day of 1988 or 1989 or 1990, but Jeff Shyluk was surely among them, for it was poor Jeff whose blistering, pain-wracked "EARRRGH!" we all heard echoing off my parents' basement walls. I'd been first down the stairs, but I turned just in time to see a scowling Jeff clap his hands to the top of his head.

"A nail!" he bellowed, and sure enough there it was - a nail, poking innocently into the bare rafters above the stairs, right in the place where a tall fellow, taking the turn in the stairs unawares, might find a strip of skull stripped bare of hair, like a freakish geek at the fair.

Alas! Whichever lazy carpenter had failed to drive the errant nail home, flush with the plywood, was at root responsible for my friend's pain and my unwilling mirth, which pealed forth helplessly even as my mother called down to ask if anyone needed help.

Jeff recovered fully and now lives out his life as a comfortably tortured artist in the lower mainland of British Columbia. Sean's rage level has slowly dropped from "Catastrophic" to "Moderate."


Tuesday, November 19, 2013

Lego Therapy

A couple of weeks ago, in a fit of nostalgia, I picked up this Lex Luthor versus Superman and Wonder Woman Lego set - mostly, in truth, for the adorable minifigures.  It took me about an hour to put the robot together, and I marvelled at the little touches; if you look closely, you can see that both the robot and the Superman-destroying pistol it's carrying are powered by little chunks of Kryptonite. Good thing Superman called Wonder Woman for help! (A couple of posts back Jeff asked if I'd constructed the robot from scratch. Sadly, no; it came from a kit.)

Building Lex's robot turned out to be surprisingly therapeutic. During the time it took to build the set, I felt all my stress dissipating; it was really quite remarkable. So two weekends ago I found myself at the Lego store in Southgate mall, where I picked up a couple of Lone Ranger sets and an assortment of extra minifigures. Sylvia and I are going to build the Lone Ranger stuff together this weekend.

Until a couple of weeks ago, I'd forgotten why I loved Lego so much as a boy. Now I remember, and not just with my brain, but with my hands. What a great toy. Lego forever!

Sunday, November 17, 2013

Thor of the Same

Kenneth Branagh's Thor remains my favourite Marvel Studios movie, but despite its forbidding title Thor: The Dark World maintains the first film's winning blend of cheeky humour, inspiring heroics, believable family drama and spectacular production design. While not quite as good as the first film, director Alan Taylor's sequel is very nearly as fun and engaging as the original, hampered only, perhaps, by the implausibility of its storyline.

And yet as my friend Stephen implied in his review, the plot hardly matters in Thor: The Dark World. Dark elves from before the Big Bang view the Marvel cosmology as a horrifying aberration, and hope to return the Nine Realms to the great black nothingness of billions of years ago. (How elves evolved in a void is a question best left unasked.) The crisis is really just an excuse to reunite Thor (Chris Hemsworth) with his mortal girlfriend Jane Foster (Natalie Portman) and to give the villainous Loki (Tom Hiddleston) a chance to wreak more havoc.

As the film opens we learn that Thor, who matured considerably during the course of the first film, has taken his responsibilities as Prince of Asgard seriously and has spent the last couple of years bringing peace to the Nine Realms. Odin (Anthony Hopkins) is proud of his son and relieved that he's finally grown into the man he always hoped he would become - ready for the throne.

Of course it's right around this point that the Dark Elves return and Jane Foster fills her role as brilliant scientist/damsel in distress. Some really gorgeous and well-choreographed action sequences follow; there's an aerial battle over Asgard with flying boats, steampunk cannons and blade-like vertically-aligned alien spaceships that made me feel like an 8 year old watching Star Wars for the first time.

As I've often noted, though, visual effects are just meaningless spectacle without human stakes; you have to care about the people involved in the action. In this film, you do. It's really rather heartbreaking to see Loki's mother, brother and father struggling to balance their love for Loki with their repugnance over his actions, and to see Thor pine over his mortal love Jane, who other Asgardians rightly note is a mayfly compared to them; the romance is doomed from the start, since Thor will live thousands of years and Jane might live a century. And Asgard is beautiful beyond compare, as it was in the first film; it hurts to see the Dark Elves ruin so much of it.

Interestingly, most of the action takes place across Realms other than Midgard (where Earth is located), and even when we do see Earth, it's exclusively London, a refreshing change of pace; not a single scene is set in the United States. The climax takes the form of a very cleverly staged battle that pits Thor against the Dark Elves across all of the Nine Realms, shifting from Greenwich to Jotenheim to Asgard to Svartalfheim as a once-in-five-thousand-years Convergence brings the Realms into close alignment. It's ridiculous, but you can't help but be impressed by the scale of the battle and its brilliant twists and turns.

As with the first film, though, I appreciate Thor: The Dark World because its characters evoke the best in us. Thor and his friends have their flaws; they feel jealousy, pettiness, anger. But they're also loyal, courageous, kind and responsible. At their best, superhero stories should inspire us to be better people no matter the odds or our worst impulses. Thor: The Dark World is exactly that kind of story, and I found it great fun.