Wednesday, December 31, 2014

2014 Collage

Just a few of the highlights of 2014. Click to embiggen!

Books I Read in 2014

Since 2011, I've been tracking the books I read. As in other years, I read heavily within my preferred genre, science fiction, and I read more Star Trek books than usual in an effort to catch up with a backlog - though given the uneven quality of media tie-in novels I sometimes wonder why I bother. (I did enjoy David Mack's Cold Equations TNG mini-series.) As ever I try to dabble in mainstream titles, and this year I finished reading Edgar Rice Burroughs' Tarzan novels. Stephen King and Connie Willis were my most-read authors this year, both because I was playing catch-up; King released three novels this year, and I found some of his ephemera. Willis was the year's real joy; I've been familiar with her short stories for some time and she has a stellar reputation, but until devouring nearly all of her novels and collections this year I hadn't been aware of just how good she really is.

This year I finally explored Jack Chalker's Well World books, and the first of Harry Harrison's Stainless Steel Rat series, filling in a couple of genre gaps.

Thanks to the help of friends, I finally tracked down all of the Martin Caidin Cyborg novels and the Logan's Run books; it was a great deal of fun diving back in time to enjoy these pulp adventures.

Books by men once again dominate my list this year; only 22 of the books I read were written by women, with Willis accounting for nearly half of these. Clearly I have to work harder to broaden my oeuvre.

Nearly half the books I read were published in 2000 or later; the bulk of the rest were published in the 60s, 70s, 80s and 90s. The oldest books I read this year were two titles by Jane Austen.

Despite my best intentions, I did not finish the Harry Potter series this year, nor did I get to The Lord of the Rings. Maybe this year. In fact, I think I'll tackle the Potter in January.

Here are the 126 books I read in 2014:

January: 12
Glasshouse (Charles Stross, 2006)
Tarzan’s Quest (Edgar Rice Burroughs, 1936)
Tarzan and the Forbidden City (Edgar Rice Burroughs, 1938)
Halting State (Charles Stross, 2007)
Tarzan the Magnificent (Edgar Rice Burroughs, 1939)
Rule 34 (Charles Stross, 2011)
Burning Paradise (Robert Charles Wilson, 2013)
Iterations and Other Stories (Robert J. Sawyer, 2002)
Wireless (Charles Stross, 2009)
Tarzan and the Foreign Legion (Edgar Rice Burroughs, 1947)
Tarzan and the Castaways (Edgar Rice Burroughs, 1965)
Saturn’s Children (Charles Stross, 2008)

February: 12
Midnight at the Well of Souls (Jack L. Chalker, 1977)
The Final Solution (Michael Chabon, 2004)
Star Trek Enterprise The Romulan War: Beneath the Raptor’s Wing (Michael A. Martin, 2009)
The Human Division (John Scalzi, 2013)
Exiles at the Well of Souls (Jack L. Chalker, 1978)
Doctor Sleep (Stephen King, 2013)
Murder in the Dark (Margaret Atwood, 1983)
Spacecraft: 2000 to 2100 AD (Stewart Cowley, 1978)
Quest for the Well of Souls (Jack L. Chalker, 1978)
Spacewreck: Ghostships and Derelicts of Space (Stewart Cowley, 1979)
Great Space Battles (Stewart Cowley and Charles Herridge, 1979)
Starliners: Commercial Spacetravel in 2200 AD (Stewart Cowley, 1980)

March: 6
The Return of Nathan Brazil (Jack L. Chalker, 1980)
Star Trek Enterprise The Romulan War: To Brave the Storm (Michael A. Martin, 2011)
Red Planet Blues (Robert J. Sawyer, 2013)
Twilight at the Well of Souls (Jack L. Chalker, 1980)
Star Trek Enterprise Rise of the Federation: A Choice of Futures (Christopher L. Bennet, 2013)
Star Trek: The Complete Unauthorized History (Robert Greenberger, 2012)

April: 6
Throne of the Crescent Moon (Saladin Ahmed, 2012)
Faithful (Stewart O’Nan and Stephen King, 2004)
Green Eyes (Lucius Shepard, 1984)
Borders of Infinity (Lois McMaster Bujold, 1989)
You Went Away (Timothy Findley, 1996)
In Other Worlds: SF and the Human Imagination (Margaret Atwood, 2011)

May: 12
Northanger Abbey (Jane Austen, 1818)
Foundation and Chaos (Greg Bear, 1998)
The Man from Primrose Lane (James Renner, 2012)
Ur (Stephen King, 2009)
Darker Than You Think (Jack Williamson, 1948)
John Carter and the Gods of Hollywood (Michael D. Sellers, 2012)
What Might Have Been Volume 2: Alternate Heroes (Gregory Benford & Martin H. Greenberg, Editors, 1990)
Six Stories (Stephen King, 1997)
The Einstein Intersection (Samuel R. Delany, 1967)
Lincoln’s Dreams (Connie Willis, 1987)
Elleander Morning (Jerry Yulsman, 1984)
Scratch Monkey (Charles Stross, 1993)

June: 9
Fire Watch (Connie Willis, 1985)
Mr. Mercedes (Stephen King, 2014)
Doomsday Book (Connie Willis, 1992)
Solo (William Boyd, 2013)
Of Dice and Men: The Story of Dungeons & Dragons and the People Who Play It (David M. Ewalt, 2013)
Syn (Raymond F. Jones, 1969)
Impossible Things (Connie Willis, 1993)
Uncollected Stories (Stephen King, 2003)
The Leftovers (Tom Perrotta, 2011)

July: 12
The Compete Peanuts: 1991 to 1992 (Charles M. Schulz with an introduction by Tom Tomorrow, 2014)
Mile 81 (Stephen King, 2011)
A Face in the Crowd (Stephen King and Stewart O’Nan, 2012)
In the Tall Grass (Stephen King and Joe Hill, 2012)
Throttle (Stephen King and Joe Hill, 2012)
The Dark Between the Stars (Poul Anderson, 1981)
To Say Nothing of the Dog (Connie Willis, 1998)
The Clockwork Man (E.V. Odle, 1923)
Uncharted Territory (Connie Willis, 1994)
Bellwether (Connie Willis, 1996)
Star Trek Enterprise Rise of the Federation: Tower of Babel (Christopher L. Bennett, 2014)
Passage (Connie Willis, 2001)

August: 11
Daemon (Daniel Suarez, 2006)
FreedomTM (Daniel Suarez, 2010)
Kill Decision (Daniel Suarez, 2012)
Cyborg (Martin Caidin, 1972)
Operation Nuke (Martin Caidin, 1973)
High Crystal (Martin Caidin, 1974)
Logan’s Run (William F. Nolan and George Clayton Johnson, 1967)
Logan’s World (William F. Nolan, 1977)
Unlocked: An Oral History of Haden’s Syndrome (John Scalzi, 2014)
Logan’s Search (William F. Nolan, 1980)
Cyborg IV (Martin Caidin, 1975)

September: 10
Tau Zero (Poul Anderson, 1970)
Warped Factors: A Neurotic’s Guide to the Universe (Walter Koenig, 1997)
Star Trek Voyager: Homecoming (Christie Golden, 2003)
Star Trek Voyager: The Farther Shore (Christie Golden 2003)
Twin Peaks: Access Guide to the Town (David Lynch and Mark Frost and Richard Saul Wurman, 1991)
Bowl of Heaven (Gregory Benford and Larry Niven, 2012)
Rogue Moon (Algis Budrys, 1960)
A Case of Conscience (James Blish, 1958)
Star Trek Voyager Spirit Walk: Old Wounds (Christie Golden, 2004)
The Long War (Terry Pratchett and Stephen Baxter, 2013)

October: 5
Universe 1 (Terry Carr, Editor, 1971)
The Broken Universe (Paul Melko, 2012)
Star Trek Voyager Spirit Walk: Enemy of my Enemy (Christie Golden, 2004)
Star Trek: The More Things Change (Scott Pearson, 2014)
Universe 2 (Terry Carr, Editor, 1972)

November: 14
Flatlander (Larry Niven, 1995)
Star Trek Voyager String Theory: Cohesion (Jeffrey Lang, 2005)
The Adam West Scrapbook (Adam West, 2014)
Star Trek Voyager String Theory: Fusion (Kirsten Beyer, 2005)
Universe 15 (Terry Carr, Editor, 1985)
Star Trek: The Art of the Film (Mark Cotta Vaz with a foreword by J.J. Abrams, 2009)
Star Trek Voyager String Theory: Evolution (Heather Jarman, 2006)
The Stainless Steel Rat (Harry Harrison, 1961)
As Big as the Ritz (Gregory Benford, 1986)
Fugue State (John M. Ford, 1987)
Chase (Nancy Springer, 1987)
The Martian (Andy Weir, 2014)
Remake (Connie Willis, 1995)
A Dance with Dragons (George R. R. Martin, 2011)

December: 16
Star Trek The Next Generation Cold Equations: The Persistence of Memory (David Mack, 2012)
Exo (Steven Gould, 2014)
Miracle and Other Christmas Stories (Connie Willis, 1999)
Star Trek The Next Generation Cold Equations: Silent Weapons (David Mack, 2012)
Starhawk (Jack McDevitt, 2013)
The Crying of Lot 49 (Thomas Pynchon, 1965)
Revival (Stephen King, 2014)
The Drawing of the Dark (Tim Powers, 1979)
Ships of the Line (Michael Okuda, 2014)          
The Complete Peanuts: 1993 to 1994 (Charles M. Schulz with an introduction by Jake Tapper, 2014)
361 (Donald E. Westlake, 1962)
Killing Castro (Lawrence Block, 1961)
Nightmare Alley (William Lindsay Gresham, 1946)
Escape From New York (Mike McQuay, 1981)
Star Trek The Next Generation Cold Equations: The Body Electric (David Mack, 2013)
Pride and Prejudice (Jane Austen, 1813)

Genre
Fiction: 118
Nonfiction: 8

Science Fiction: 61
Star Trek: 16
Mainstream: 15
Horror: 8
Fantasy: 8
Tarzan: 5
Peanuts collections: 2

Top Authors
Stephen King: 11
Connie Willis: 10
Charles Stross: 6

Edgar Rice Burroughs: 5
Jack L. Chalker: 5

Martin Caidin: 4
Stewart Cowley: 4
Christie Golden: 4

Gregory Benford: 3
Terry Carr: 3
David Mack: 3
William F. Nolan: 3
Daniel Suarez: 3

Poul Anderson: 2
Margaret Atwood: 2
Jane Austen: 2
Christopher L. Bennet: 2
Joe Hill: 2
Michael A. Martin: 2
Stewart O’Nan: 2
Robert J. Sawyer: 2
John Scalzi: 2
Charles M. Schulz: 2

J.J. Abrams: 1
Saladin Ahmed: 1
Stephen Baxter: 1
Greg Bear: 1
Kirsten Beyer: 1
James Blish: 1
Lawrence Block: 1
William Boyd: 1
Algis Budrys: 1
Lois McMaster Bujold: 1
Michael Chabon: 1
Samuel R. Delany: 1
David M. Ewalt: 1
Timothy Findley: 1
John M. Ford: 1
Mark Frost: 1
Steven Gould: 1
Martin H. Greenberg: 1
Robert Greenberger: 1
William Lindsay Gresham: 1
Harry Harrison: 1
Heather Jarman: 1
George Clayton Johnson: 1
Raymond F. Jones: 1
Walter Koenig: 1
Jeffrey Lang: 1
David Lynch: 1
George R. R. Martin: 1
Jack McDevitt: 1
Mike McQuay: 1
Paul Melko: 1
Larry Niven: 2
E.V. Odle: 1
Michael Okuda: 1
Scott Pearson: 1
Tom Perrotta: 1
Tim Powers: 1
Terry Pratchett: 1
Thomas Pynchon: 1
James Renner: 1
Michael D. Sellers: 1
Lucius Shepard: 1
Nancy Springer: 1
Tom Tomorrow: 1
Mark Cotta Vaz: 1
Andy Weir: 1
Adam West: 1
Donald E. Westlake: 1
Jack Williamson: 1
Robert Charles Wilson: 1
Richard Saul Wurman: 1
Jerry Yulsman: 1

Books by Decade
1810s: 2
1920s: 1
1930s: 3
1940s: 3
1950s: 1
1960s: 9
1970s: 15                              
1980s: 16
1990s: 15
2000s: 20
2010s: 40


Tuesday, December 30, 2014

Some Thoughts on Interstellar

While I thoroughly enjoyed Chris Nolan's Interstellar, sometimes good and even great films let you down because they're not the film you wanted or needed.

When I first heard that Nolan was working on a space film, its evocative title had me thinking that this would be a story of humanity building its first starship. I imagined a story about a huge human effort, something along the lines of the Apollo program, but on a much greater scale. I imagined a story of hundreds of thousands - millions - of people from across the world designing, building and launching Earth's first voyage to the stars. I imagined a story sprawling and vast and inspirational, a vision of how the species could work together to achieve true greatness in the spirit of peace, innovation and cooperation. I imagined a trip to Alpha Centauri to see what's there.

Instead, Nolan presented a story in which faster-than-light travel is a fait accompli, a gift from an outside agency, a wormhole tossed as a rescue line. And while that story was worth telling and exciting and enjoyable in its own right, it wasn't the story I expected or desired.

Of course, filmmakers are under no obligation to tell any stories but the ones they've chosen, and Interstellar touched on some important issues with a very SF-nal sense of wonder and social responsibility. And the robots were amazing - as I told Pete and Mike after we saw the film, I could happily watch spin-off movies about these clever creations.

I suppose the interstellar movie I was expecting is too optimistic and starry-eyed for this jaded age of austerity and paranoia. On the other hand, those are just the sort of stories our troubled civilization needs. 

Monday, December 29, 2014

Shine

Way back in 1996, when I was working at the Western Board of Music, someone - I think it may have been board member Carol Mellors - gave me two tickets to see a sneak preview of Shine, the biographical dramatization of the life of concert pianist David Helfgott. For whatever reason I didn't go.

Today, over 18 years later, I finally watched the film. Of that year's Best Picture nominees, I would rank it above winner The English Patient, but below all the other nominees (Secrets & Lies, Fargo and Jerry Maguire). It's a perfectly serviceable film, but Helfgott's descent into madness comes rather out of the blue. Yes, there are scenes of domestic violence and certainly Helfgott faced tremendous pressure to perform, but in the context of the movies, Helfgott-as-character suffers torments no worse than legions of other film heroes. This is not to trivialize the character's suffering, based as it is on real life, but the film could have done a better job of showing how Helfgott's illness developed.


Sunday, December 28, 2014

Booker

I'm having fun experimenting with Lightroom and Photoshop CC while at the same time expanding the lineup of the fictional EW network. I figure Booker is a laid-back bookworm cop whose knowledge of popular culture helps him solve crimes, much to the consternation of the chief. 

Saturday, December 27, 2014

58,706

I just imported all of my digital (including scanned) photos into Adobe Lightroom. According to Lightroom, I have 58,706 photos to date. That's...considerably more than I expected, and I haven't even finished scanning the family archives. (I estimate I'm about halfway through.) Maybe three backups are not enough. 

Wednesday, December 24, 2014

Tuesday, December 23, 2014

Monday, December 22, 2014

Sunday, December 21, 2014

Saturday, December 20, 2014

Lego Advent Calendar Haiku 2014 Days 19 and 20

Speederbike presents
Are late for turkey dinner
Pizza is your fate
Imperial bus
Swoops down to observe barrel
Confused as builder

Friday, December 19, 2014

Danielle Smith: Secret Liberal

Back in November 2006, I was almost a year into my six-and-a-half year tenure with the Alberta Liberal Caucus, then the Official Opposition. On November 30, the caucus held a Christmas open house. I took photos and the images languished in a folder for almost a decade.

But yesterday, my computer, which shuttles through my photography folder, randomly chose the above image, out of thousands of photos stretching back to the 1940s, as my wallpaper.

Hey, wait a minute, I thought. That woman on the left talking to Wade Izzard...is that...Danielle Smith? At an Alberta Liberal function?

Click on the photo for a full size image and decide for yourself if that is indeed a young Smith. Of course even if it is Ms. Smith, there's nothing nefarious about her presence at an Alberta Liberal Caucus event; it was, after all, an open house. But it does tickle my funny bone to imagine how hardcore right-wingers would react if they took this image out of context and decried Ms. Smith as a closet liberal, consorting with the likes of Bill Bonko (seen at right).


Thursday, December 18, 2014

Lego Advent Calendar Haiku 2014 Days 17 and 18

Haiku passed over
Wildrose defection was huge
Politics over toys
General Reikann
Wants a mug of hot cocoa
Cop offers handcuffs

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

A Dark Day for Democracy in Alberta

Today Alberta's Leader of the Official Opposition, along with 8 other Wildrose MLAs, crossed the floor to join the governing Progressive Conservatives. In engineering this cynical ploy for power, both Smith, Prentice and their supporters have shown utter contempt for fundamental democratic principles.

To the best of my knowledge, never before in a parliamentary democracy has any Leader of the Official Opposition abdicated their responsibility with such blatant disregard for common decency.

And yet I place more of the blame on the governing PCs. With a comfortable majority, there was absolutely no reason they should have been party to this. A responsible government founded on principles of respect for voters and the common good would have understood that a strong opposition is good for the province. But Jim Prentice and his supporters proved today that they simply cannot abide opposition. This should anger and terrify anyone who cares about good governance.

I consider myself a democratic socialist, and yet today my greatest sympathies lie with the hundreds of thousands of Albertans who voted for the Wildrose party in the 2012 election. Betrayal is a hard word, but betrayed they were. Should one more Wildrose MLA join the government caucus - and rumors are flying that this will happen soon - then the Alberta Liberals will likely form the Official Opposition once again, despite losing that status in 2012. That outcome flies completely in the face of what voters chose in 2012, and as many readers know I worked for the Alberta Liberal caucus for six and a half years. Despite that, I would be appalled were Raj Sherman to become Leader of the Official Opposition again under these circumstances, even though I consider him a good man with the best interests of Albertans at heart.

(And yes, Raj crossed the floor as well - but he left the government caucus on a matter of true principle, and moved from government to opposition. However else you can characterize that move, it certainly wasn't an obvious grab for power.)

There's one more frightening possibility: perhaps the Premier suspects that Alberta's economy will worsen considerably - so much so that having a viable opposition extant during an economic collapse could actually set the stage for the end of the PC dynasty. In that scenario, this cynical maneuver actually makes sense. And if this supposition proves true, then Albertans should prepare ourselves for hard times indeed, especially if we care about public education, public health care, the arts and the vulnerable.

Even if that dark scenario doesn't come to pass, today Jim Prentice and Danielle Smith told voters that elections don't matter. When the next election comes I sincerely hope Albertans will prove them wrong.

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Monday, December 15, 2014

Sunday, December 14, 2014

Saturday, December 13, 2014

Thursday, December 11, 2014

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

Tuesday, December 09, 2014

Sunday, December 07, 2014

Friday, December 05, 2014

Thursday, December 04, 2014

Wednesday, December 03, 2014

Tuesday, December 02, 2014

Monday, December 01, 2014

Lego Advent Calendar Haiku 2014 Day 1


*Note: This year, each day's Lego Advent Calendar Haiku will feature a model from the City calendar and the Star Wars calendar. 

Letters to Santa
Returned unopened with toy
What is this blue thing? 

Sunday, November 30, 2014

The Best Sodas

Recognizing that no one should drink soda save perhaps one can a month...

1. Coca-Cola
2. Orange Crush
3. Coca-Cola Cherry
4. A&W Root Beer
5. Canada Dry Ginger Ale
6. The Pop Shoppe Black Cherry
7. Sprite
8. 7-Up
9. Any no-name grapefruit soda
10. Jarrito's Cola

Saturday, November 29, 2014

LEGO Film Noir

How cool would it be if Lego made a Film Noir line, made exclusively of pieces molded in black, white and shades of grey? Plus pieces to make neon signs. There would need to be minifigures of grizzled detectives and life insurance agents, FBI men, femme fatales, girls-next-door, toughs, goons, police officers walking a beat, sleek roadsters, suspicious dives...fun times. 

Friday, November 28, 2014

Earl Trek Into Darkness

I left work at five this evening, prepared for a long, slow, stressful commute, which Edmonton delivered in spades. After about a half hour I'd managed to make it from 105 street to 124 street, cars all around me, most of them wanting to make the same desperate turn at Stony Plain Road I hoped to take. 

Suddenly, sirens crowed behind me. A fire engine was driving against the oncoming traffic, its lights forcing cars to give way. Serendipitiously, I happened to be parked at one of the few gaps in the long windrows, meaning that if I wanted to, I could stealthily pull in behind the fire engine and travel rapidly north on 124 street in its wake, bypassing traffic with none the wiser and perhaps shaving a half hour from my commute. 

Of course that would be a ridiculously irresponsible thing to do, not to mention selfish, so I resisted temptation. I wonder what sort of fine that kind of driving would get you? 

Thursday, November 27, 2014

Rebooting Reboot

According to the Huffington Post, 90s animation favourite Reboot is coming back to television...maybe. I hope the planned reboot of Reboot succeeds; it was a fun, smart, clever and funny show, with a fully realized world, sympathetic characters and even considerable drama. Pretty good for something marketed as a kid's show. 

Wednesday, November 26, 2014

The Martian: SF or Mainstream?

It took me a few seconds of thought to figure out how to classify Andy Weir's debut novel The Martian. It takes place in outer space and on Mars, so the obvious choice is to call it science fiction. But it wasn't marketed as a genre novel, and in fact everything that happens in the book is grounded in scientific reality; indeed, had space investment continued at a 1960s pace, such a scenario could have already happened.

I waffled, but in the end I called it SF - not because it's set in space, but because it'll eventually be alternate history. But then, every work of fiction is alternate history by definition, making everything SF..!

I guess this is why it's not always a good idea to slot works of art into various genre ghettos. 

Tuesday, November 25, 2014

Sources of Joy for November 25, 2014


Aside from my usual sources of joy - Sylvia, family and friends - two products of popular culture are making me happy today. The first is Taylor Swift's "Shake it Off," which I've been bopping to for days, and the second is Andy Weir's debut novel The Martian, which I read over lunch yesterday and today.

I know Taylor Swift's been pretty famous for years, but until "Shake it Off" I don't think I've listened to any of her music. Now I'm going through her back catalogue, because I find this track catchy (I love the horns) and strangely sweet and uplifting - the same feeling I get from The Martian, a very uplifting story of humanity's can-do spirit and our propensity for pulling together in times of crisis.

So thanks, Taylor and Andy, for brightening up the last few days significantly. 

Monday, November 24, 2014

99 and 4/10ths Dead

In Stephen King's The Stand, an experimental flu virus, Captain Trips, kills 99.4 percent of Earth's population. That made me wonder how many people would be left on Earth of the events of The Stand happened today. Simple math reveals that out of 7.276 billion, 43,656,000 would survive Captain Trips, scattered all over the planet. That number of survivors could entirely repopulate Argentina with a couple of million left over; it couldn't quite repopulate Ukraine.

It's only natural to wonder how many Canadians could be expected to survive. The answer: about 200,000 people, or a little over the population of Regina, Saskatchewan. Of course all Canada's survivors wouldn't be concentrated in one place, so let's imagine how many survivors there might be in each province and territory: 

Nunavut: 191
Yukon: 203
Northwest Territories: 249
Prince Edward Island: 841
Newfoundland and Labrador: 3,087
New Brunswick: 4,507
Nova Scotia: 5,531
Saskatchewan: 6,200
Manitoba: 7,250
Alberta: 21,872
British Columbia: 26,400
Quebec: 47,418
Ontario: 77,111

It's pretty sobering to imagine being one of 200,000 or so survivors in a country as vast as this one. Supposing that the electrical grid would take a little while to collapse, I suppose survivors could find each other by frantically posting on Twitter or making YouTube videos, since there's be virtually no competition for being at the top of the new content lists. 

Sunday, November 23, 2014

Top of the Evening



Last night our D&D plans went south, so like the grownups we are, we decided to spend the evening discussing comic book movies and playing with tops. A good time was had by all. 

Friday, November 21, 2014

Hitchcock Update

I have now seen 34 of the 50 films in the Alfred Hitchcock canon. That's 68 percent of them, and I've seen everything from 1938 onward. Now I'm working my way back to his earlier works.


The Pleasure Garden (1925)
The Lodger: A Story of the London Fog (1927)
The Ring (1927)
Downhill (1927)
The Farmer’s Wife (1928)
Easy Virtue (1928)
Champagne (1928)
The Manxman (1929)

Blackmail (1929)
Juno and the Paycock (1929)
Murder! (1930)
The Skin Game (1931)
Rich and Strange (1931)
Number Seventeen (1932)
Waltzes from Vienna (1933)
The Man Who Knew Too Much (1934)
The 39 Steps (1935)
Secret Agent (1936)
Sabotage (1936)
Young and Innocent (1937)
The Lady Vanishes (1938)
Jamaica Inn (1939)
Rebecca (1940)
Foreign Correspondent (1940)
Mr. & Mrs. Smith (1941)
Suspicion (1941)
Saboteur (1942)
Shadow of a Doubt (1943)
Lifeboat (1944)
Spellbound (1945)
Notorious (1946)
The Paradine Case (1947)
Rope (1948)
Under Capricorn (1949)
Stage Fright (1950)
Strangers on a Train (1951)
I Confess (1953)
Dial M for Murder (1954)
Rear Window (1954)
To Catch a Thief (1955)
The Trouble with Harry (1955)
The Wrong Man (1956)
Vertigo (1958)
North by Northwest (1959)
Psycho (1960)
The Birds (1963)
Marnie (1964)
Torn Curtain (1966)
Topaz (1969)

Family Plot (1976)

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

I Never Claimed to be Cresswell

In the future, critics will look back on a ten to fifteen year period in the late 21st century as the era of Film Blanc, a genre marked by overweening optimism in a period of real-world strife. Critics will point to the overabundance of bright colours, vivid scenery and themes of acceptance, renewal, redemption and love triumphing against inevitable odds. 

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Green Eye Flames, Why?

So I just signed up for Adobe Creative Cloud (Photoshop and Lightroom) to play with some of the new features. And like a child playing with fire, I've made a hash of things. Using the pen tool and the new Flame render, you can create awesome special effects...or a horrifying mess. I chose the latter. Well, practise makes perfect...

Monday, November 17, 2014

Lone Star Mod for Fallout: New Vegas Coming?


As a huge fan of Fallout: New Vegas, I hope this fan project comes to fruition. Since it seems like it'll be quite some time before we see Fallout 4, a total conversion mod with all-new content would be great to tide fans over. 

Friday, November 14, 2014

Today's First World Problem

Had a long post typed out, an accidental combination of keystrokes erased it. And my new PC, which I picked up Wednesday, turned into a lifeless brick this morning. Thank goodness this was a short week. 

Thursday, November 13, 2014

From the 1940s to Yesterday

Today I am learning that it takes 13 hours to back up 1.45 terabytes of photographs. They stretch backward in time to the collections of my parents, aunts and uncles and forward to the shots I took yesterday. As Sean remarked, "That's a lot of photos." Maybe one day the'll go in the national archives or something. Actually, the photos Aunt Jean and Uncle John took of the Etsell farm in the 1960s and 1970s are certainly worthy of such preservation...

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

Agent Boucher Shyluk Style

After seeing my faux SHIELD ID for Agent Sylvia Boucher, Jeff offered to create comic-style art in place of the original photograph. I suggested something Kirby-esque might be appropriate, and voila, Jeff has delivered in spades as always. Here Sylvia looks like a blonde version of Kirby's late-period character Beautiful Dreamer of the Forever People/New Gods - it's really in the eyes, lips and cheekbones...and of course the trademark Kirby dots in the background.

I hope Jeff will post the large version on his blog, JSVB. It's really something to behold. And I should mention that Jeff is a professional, working artist; I've commissioned his work a couple of times and he's always delivered above and beyond my expectations. 

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

Man of Letters

The letters they
Slide off the page and
Bounce off the floor leaving
My book empty
Useless yellow parchment crammed impotently
Between two covers

I slammed it shut too hard last time
Angered by the plot twist
Now ten thousand little black letters
Are stuck in my carpet
I'd vacuum them up but
Then I'd never know the ending

So I'll pick them up one by one and
glue them back in the faint little outlines
I can see on each page

That's a lot of work for a Dan Brown novel

Monday, November 10, 2014

Nerdieth Anniversary 10th Anniversary

I wasn't feeling terribly inspired when I sat down to blog today, and in desperation I wondered "What was happing at this time ten years ago?" Well, I don't have any photos from exactly ten years ago, but I do have this from ten years and a month ago, when we celebrated the Nerdieth Anniversary of Dungeons & Dragons. And yet it feels like this only happened maybe three, four years ago...

Sunday, November 09, 2014

Ice Cube Mystery

We have two ice cube trays, identical in shape and composition. But one tray creates perfect cubes that pop out whole, while the other produces brittle cubes that shatter. Can a scientist explain why this might be so? The water is coming from the same tap, and the trays produce brittle or solid cubes no matter where they are placed in the fridge.

Friday, November 07, 2014

Agent Boucher

Template by "sanchez2007," who kindly made his work available for download on deviantart. This is just a quick mockup - I'll do another one with a better photo before I actually have a physical card made...which I aim to do. Heh heh. 

Thursday, November 06, 2014

Star Wars: The Phantom Titles

Today we learned the title of the next Star Wars movie; it's going to be called The Force Awakens, which sounds more like a video game than a movie to me at first blush. But perhaps that's not a fair assessment.

According to Hollywood folklore, George Lucas' original vision called for nine (or twelve) movies in a vast saga echoing the structure of movie serials from the 1930s and 1940s; hence "Episode V" and so on. So it's perfectly reasonable that the Star Wars films should have subtitles that sound like the chapter titles of yore.

Compare the chapter titles of Flash Gordon Conquers the Universe (1940)...

The Purple Death
Freezing Torture
Walking Bombs
The Destroying Ray
The Palace of Horror
Flaming Death
The Land of the Dead
The Fiery Abyss
The Pool of Peril
The Death Mist
Stark Treachery
Doom of the Dictator

...to the subtitles of the Star Wars films:

The Phantom Menace
Attack of the Clones
Revenge of the Sith
A New Hope
The Empire Strikes Back
The Force Awakens

Historical revisionism of A New Hope aside, I can't really fault Lucas and his successors for naming the films the way they have, since they're paying tribute to a particular genre and form. The Phantom Menace is my favourite of the titles, capturing both the theme of its particular film and a very 1940s sensibility. It's evocative, while the others are mainly descriptive.

Were I to name the remaining films in the series - despite not knowing anything about their content - I'd suggest the following:

The Forbidden Abyss
The Final Apprentice

I'm being a little cute here, using the same initials for all three films in this new trilogy, both for symmetry and to suggest a traditional three-act structure - only one with a false ending, since in my scheme there will be one final trilogy:

From Long Ago
Planet of Death
Fate of a Galaxy

My first title attempts to evoke the famous "A long time ago, in a galaxy far, far away..." line that opens each film; at the same time, the title hints at something even deeper in the past will be crucial to the film's plot; perhaps an ancient threat of some kind looms, or the protagonists need some wisdom or weapon from the past to complete the hero's quest.

Planet of Death is an attempt to create a flat-out hokey title in the spirit of the serials (and Attack of the Clones). The planet of death in question could be a battleground or trap for the heroes, or a long-abandoned place of peril that holds a key secret.

Finally, the last film in a twelve-film epic needs a suitably grandiose title, hence I've chosen something quite literal. Since there's a battle in every Star Wars film, it should end with the biggest Star War of all, the one that decides the fate of a galaxy - literally.

I've no doubt that the titles actually chosen for the remaining films will follow the established pattern, the one started by Lucas himself a long time ago, in a galaxy not so far away. 

Wednesday, November 05, 2014

Tuesday, November 04, 2014

Justice League Apocalypse

After writing about the ideal Justice League lineup, it occurred to me that it might be fun to establish a new League made up only of members who had never before been on the team. (Also, Mike Totman claims my lists are "wrong" and that I should try again, so...) Considering that the various incarnations of the League have included all or most of DC's A, B, C and even D-list characters, that doesn't leave a lot of heroes to work with. I call the team the JLA, or Justice League Apocalypse, because most of the world's heroes have been called to the centre of the galaxy to fight a threat that will keep them conveniently off Earth for, oh, 32 issues (or six months in comic book time).

Prez, First Teen President
In the DC universe Prez Rickard was President of the United States for a single term sometime during the 1970s, presumably displacing Ford or Carter. What if he ran again for a second term in modern times? He doesn't have any super-powers, but hey - he's the President, he RUNS a superpower.

Brother Power, the Geek
A super-powered animated mannequin with ties to the supernatural, described at one point as a failed elemental in the vein of Swamp Thing or Firestorm.

Nightshade
An excellent hand-to-hand fighter and she can teleport, always a useful skill for superhero teams.

Green Lantern (Lana Lang)
There's a long tradition of turning sidekicks into super-heroes in their own right, and Lana's brief career as Insect Queen shows she has the mettle to handle being named Earth's latest Green Lantern.

Firehawk
Lorraine Reilly is a US Senator, which ties in nicely with Prez' presence as leader of the team. She's also an energy-based powerhouse on par with Firestorm.

Pozhar
Basically the Russian version of Firestorm, I figure the idealistic Prez would want Russian representation on the team to further the spirit of international peace and goodwill.

Slam Bradley
One of the original comic-book tough guys, created by Siegel and Shuster before Superman. Adds a dash of pulp fun to the series.

Rex the Wonder Dog
He's a sapient wonder dog! Steadfast, loyal and imbued with all the powers of dogs, but smarter.

A Superman Robot
The Silver Age Superman once built and used Superman robots to cover for him during emergencies. I figure since story reasons prevent him from accepting Prez' invitation to join the team, Superman loans Prez one of his most advanced robot duplicates. Could be darkly amusing to have them get destroyed and replaced every so often.

Vartox
An alien as powerful as Superman but who looks like Sean Connery circa Zardoz, Vartox's arrogance would be a fun foil for the team.

Mera
For whatever reason Aquaman's wife never made the JLA cut, which is weird because she's arguably more powerful and interesting than her husband.

Plastique
French-Canadian, started off as a villain, brings more international cred to the team as well as an interesting background and powerset.

Sinbad
Young Quraci Davood Nasuur appeared in a few issues of Superman in the 90s, and I was sorry he didn't get more exposure - he was well-written and tweaked Lex Luthor's nose by using Luthor's technology to fight crime instead of perpetrating it. Also cool in that he's an immigrant and a teenager with a loving family to protect.

Tempest
A former member of the Doom Patrol with energy-blasting powers. Interesting in that as a member of the Patrol he's pretty much seen it all, and to him the League adventures might seem staid and even routine.

Celsius
Yes, she's another Doom Patrol veteran, but she's also South Asian, a rarity in comics, and she has neat fire-and-ice powers. She's also rather aloof and mysterious.

Tempest and Celsius have both been killed in the comics, but death is never a barrier for long for superheroes. I figure the Chief dumped them both in a Lazarus pit somewhere and after resurrection they left Niles in a fit of pique. (This would be S.O.P. for Doom Patrol characters). 

Saturday, November 01, 2014

The Weight of Another World

--SYSTEM INTERRUPT--BREACH DETECTED--

--ANOMALOUS LIFEFORM--BASELINE HUMAN--ORIGIN--QUARANTINE ZONE--DESIGNATION--EARTH-33/EARTH SUPERPRIME

--MAXIMUM SANCTION AUTHORIZED--

--OVERRIDE MAXIMUM SANCTION--

--APPREHEND AND ISOLATE--

--ACTIVATE OPERATION LAST RESORT--

--EXECUTE--

At an undisclosed location somewhere on Earth-5. 

--Panels One Through Two Hundred Eighteen--Page One Splash--Begin: 

"Mr. Woods Goes to Metropolis!"

The visitor awoke in a daze, blinking at the searing light pointed right into his face, grunting with early-morning incoherence. He reached out for Sylvia, but she wasn't there - in fact, he wasn't even in bed, though he was still wearing the t-shirt and underwear he'd worn to sleep.

"GAH!" he screamed, scrambling backward into the corner of the black leather couch he found himself on, staring wide-eyed at the fierce-looking black woman who was regarding him with something between annoyance and contempt. Her voice was granite.

"Listen closely. You won't be harmed and your wife is fine. My name is Amanda Waller and I need your help. This world needs your help."

The visitor froze. "Oh, this is going to be cool," he said, grinning from ear to ear. His lucid dreams often involved superheroic adventures, though nev--

She slapped him.

"Ow!"

"This isn't a dream, Mr. Woods. You were right; everything happens somewhere, including the stories you read in your world - the ones printed in comic books. From your perspective, you'd think of this place as Earth-5."

The visitor was still pretty sure he was dreaming, but pain in his dreams felt real enough, so he nodded. Might as well play along.

"We've been waiting for someone like you for a long time," Waller said. "We've had accidental visitors from Earth-33 before, but none of them fit the profile we needed. According to the portions of your blog we've been able to scan, you might just be geeky enough to help us."

"The Justice League has been disbanded. The United Nations revoked their charter."

"Gosh, that's terrible," the visitor said. He found it strange that he'd used the word "gosh" in actual conversation.

"It's worse than terrible. It's catastrophic. We don't have enough time to go over all the details, but as a consequence of recent events none of this world's heroes trust each other, nor do the various government agencies and NGOS with JLA oversight trust the heroes. And the Phantom Stranger popped into my bedroom last night to warn me that 'armageddeon is nigh.' Those were his exact words."

"Holey Moley!"

Waller raised an eyebrow.

"Sorry. I'm not sure why I'm talking like a...uh...like a comic book character."

"This world is as real to me as yours is to you," Waller said. "And it's going to need a new Justice League, an organized, united, and most importantly, versatile group of heroes to defend this Earth from the comic threat. The UN has lost its moral authority to choose the team members, and there isn't one hero that's universally trusted to do the job. We need a neutral observer."

The visitor suddenly understood.

"I get it. I'm familiar with all the DC characters and how they interact with each other, their powers, their secret identities...so who better to choose their membership?"

Waller relaxed a little, relieved the visitor understood.

"The Stranger said something else. 'No more than one score.' He wouldn't explain, but these magic types don't lay down rules without good reason. So your JLA is restricted to 20 members or less."

Waller dumped a thick binder in the visitor's lap.

"They're all there in alphabetical order in case you don't remember everyone you have to choose from. I'll leave you to it. When you've prepared your list, press the big orange "Publish" button on the wall and you'll be sent back to your Earth."

The visitor figured he really was dreaming or trapped in a piece of particularly annoying metafiction, but there seemed to be little else to do but compose the list. Well, it was a simple enough task: just imagine the heroes he'd want on the team if it were his world they were defending from an undefined but catastrophic threat.

He contemplated for a while, then scratched down names on the pad of paper Waller had left him:

Superman
Wonder Woman
Batman
Green Lantern
The Flash
Dr. Fate
Zatanna
Firestorm
Green Arrow
Black Canary
Red Tornado
Animal Man
Martian Manhunter
Aquaman
Hawkman
Elongated Man
The Atom
Captain Marvel
Captain Atom
Power Girl

He added a note:

"Without knowing the exact nature of the threat Earth-5 faces, I've been conservative with my choices while trying to includes heroes who are comfortable in a variety of physical environments and who offer different power sets and intellectual and emotional gifts. If I were Maxwell Lord or the Secretary General of the United Nations and I had a guarantee that every person I picked would agree to serve...this would be my list. Good luck."

He pressed Published, and was gone.



Thursday, October 30, 2014

My Ideal Justice League Lineup

Comic book nerds like me often have their favourite team line-ups, often based on the team's composition during the golden age, i.e., the golden age of the comic-loving kid, between ages 6 to 12 or so. For me, my team was the Justice League of America and my line-up was the 1970s league, or as it's often called the "Satellite League" because they operated out of the Justice League satellite orbiting Earth. At this time the League included most of the icons: Superman, Batman, Wonder Woman, the Flash, Green Lantern, Aquaman, and secondary favourites including the Atom, Black Canary, the Elongated Man, Red Tornado, Hawkman and Hawkgirl, Green Arrow, and, later, Firestorm and Zatanna. 

I grew out of comics in my very early teens but then returned to them in my late teens, thanks mostly to Stephen Fitzpatrick and his steadfast refusal to shun certain pursuits just because some people regard them as childish. I started reading comics again in late high school and continued reading them throughout university up until...well, now, basically. So I've seen quite a few different Justice Leagues, my second-favourite almost certainly being the hilarious yet dramatic Giffen/DeMatteis League of the late 1980s/early 1990s. It's weird to think of this team as updated and modern considering their adventures are now decades in the past, but this was the first JLA since the Crisis on Infinite Earths that had upset the DC universe's status quo. This new League had a couple of old mainstays like Batman and Black Canary, but also brought aboard New Gods like Mr. Miracle and Big Barda, new-ish character Booster Gold, Earth-4 transplants the Blue Beetle and Captain Atom, Earth-2 transplant Dr. Fate, a new and churlish Green Lantern, Captain Marvel, former Global Guardians Fire and Ice, and an evolving assortment of new and rebooted characters. 

As enjoyable as those stories and teams were, though, I always felt that they could be improved upon with the addition of certain characters and the subtraction of others. Like any fan, I imagined how awesome it would be to have a Justice League composed only of my favourite characters without the distractions of the ones I found annoying. (Mature readers understand the importance of not being pandered to, but this thought experiment is about wish fulfilment.) Think of it as fantasy football or fantasy baseball, but for geeks. 

So, without further ado, the JLE, or Justice League of Earl: 

Superman
Of course Superman is going to be on my team. He's the prototypical superhero, the embodiment of truth and justice. His boy scout attitude is both inspirational and provides more pragmatic team members with a source of frustration and amusement. Plus his powers are fun to explore - always versatile and interesting, if written properly. 

Wonder Woman
The prototypical superheroine is a great match for Superman, with a fascinating mythological backstory and a compelling dichotomy between loving compassion and ruthless warrior instincts. 

Green Lantern
As in the superb Justice League animated series, I'd go with John Stewart rather than Hal Jordan or one of the other Earth Lanterns. But I'd make sure to return him to his roots as an architect with a love of Streisand, rather than the stereotypical US Marine he's characterized as these days. 

The Atom
Every team needs a brilliant scientist, and Ray Palmer not only fills that role, he's a great catalyst for adventures at the subatomic level, for that, of course, is the Atom's super-power. He's also Jewish, which adds a touch of diversity. 

Green Arrow
Angry 1970s diehard liberal Green Arrow was the social conscience of the League, and he could be again. 

Black Canary
She has guts, brains, she's tough, sexy, determined, incredibly skilled and passionate, and her bickering with the Green Arrow is often a lot of fun. 

The Elongated Man
I like Ralph because he's often underestimated. His stretching power is a little goofy, but people forget that he's a fine detective. He also has a public, rather than a secret, identity, and he's married, which has, in the past, led to some fun domestic drama. 

Zatanna
Every team needs a mystic, and Zatanna has an interesting backstory, a funky gimmick (the backwards spells), and a tragic past. She's the gateway to stories of myth and magic. 

Firestorm
As a composite of two people - a young jock and a middle-aged scientist - Firestorm combines atomic angst with the pressures of growing up and a very interesting surrogate father/son dynamic. Plus his powerset is very cool and unusual. 

Red Tornado
Red Tornado's 1970s look is one of the great character designs of the era, and like Firestorm, he has a versatile and interesting powerset. He's also an android built by a League enemy, which offers fertile storytelling possibilities. 

Black Lightning
Schoolteacher Jefferson Pierce is one of my favourite characters, an angry black man straight out of the blaxploitation era. Another hero with a great costume design and cool powers, Black Lightning comes with a tragic past to rival Batman's. 

Blue Beetle
Ted Kord was a great source of humour in the 80s League; he's also a rich guy with a lot of high-tech toys. He's sort of like Batman, but less troubled. 

Doctor Light
The first Doctor Light was a villain, but Kimiyo Hoshi took the name (and a similar costume) during the Crisis, and joined the 80s League a few years later. She's a single mother and a medical doctor, as well as a healthy dose of offputting arrogance. 

Captain Atom
Great powers, fantastic "costume" (really a shell of alien metal), excellent supporting characters and a military mindset, which works nicely in opposition to liberal characters like Green Arrow and Superman. 

Tomorrow Woman
Another android created by the same villain who built Red Tornado, Tomorrow Woman appeared in only one issue of JLA in the 90s - but it was such a great story that I'd find a way to bring her back. Fun, upbeat, heroic and self-sacrificing, she'd make a great counterpoint to the more dour Red Tornado. 

Bronze Tiger
A fearsome martial artist and reformed member of the evil League of Assassins. 

The Question
Faceless conspiracy theorist and a great foil for some of the more naive characters. Fantastic character design and great for the urban milieu. 

Jonah Hex
Yes, he's from the Wild West, but he's no stranger to time travel, and he'd be hilariously out of place in the Justice League. 

So that's my list. I think I could get a pretty solid two or three year run out of these guys.