Thursday, July 30, 2015

Undercover Audience

Last night I was feeling somewhat masochistic, so I watched Rob Cohen's 2001 action opus The Fast & The Furious. I expected the film to be pretty dire, and it was - and yet I found it perversely charming, too. It's a simple story of an undercover cop (Paul Walker) who infiltrates a gang of street racers/hijackers led by Vin Diesel. Walker's character finds himself developing considerable empathy for Diesel and his gang, particularly his sister, who becomes the film's romantic interest.

The plot, such as it is, exists only as an excuse to put gorgeous cars on display and race them in quarter-miles through the streets of Los Angeles or in the desert. It's an unapologetic advertisement for the American Dream, which is, apparently, to race fast cars, bed beautiful women, monkey around in the garage and carry around fat rolls of cash. It's one of the only films I can think of in which automobiles are objectified more than women.

The film wouldn't work were it not for Vin Diesel's considerable lunkheaded charisma. Even though he's a hood who robs 18 wheelers and sells their cargo on the black market, he doesn't seem like a bad guy; he makes his hoods say grace before dinner, he's overprotective of his sister, he's scrupulously fair and keeps his more combative henchmen in line.

In the end, Paul Walker's character gets too caught up in Diesel's world to bring him to justice, handing over the keys to his own souped-up car so that Diesel can escape his troubled past to a new life in Mexico.

I dreamed about the film early this morning, and in the dream I had to infiltrate the movie itself, much like Paul Walker's character infiltrated the gang. But instead of spying on the gang and collecting evidence for their eventual arrest, my task was to spy on the movie and evaluate it without being "caught" by the film. But like Paul Walker, I found myself growing too fond of the film to do my duty and trash it.

I woke up realizing why this film had such an impact on popular culture: it wears its purpose on its sleeve. It's an action bromance that celebrates masculine values and offers a compelling wish-fulfillment fantasy to many men. In a way, it's a lot like the escapist drive-in teenage rebellion films of the 1960s, only with the moral message reversed. Back then, the delinquents were punished or rehabilitated. In the 21st century, the cops switch sides and the hoodlums go free.

What does that say about modern civilization? And what does it say about the seductive power of movies so slickly produced and emotionally manipulative that they somehow overcome their own artlessness? How can I like and loathe a movie at the same time?

One quarter mile at a time, I guess.

Wednesday, July 29, 2015

Freedom Fragments: Untitled Star Trek Story

Ron's generous gift of his Freedom BBS archives has presented me with a few surprises, including a number of poems, stories and fragments I have absolutely no recollection of writing. Most of it is pretty awful, including the following bit of Star Trek fan fiction, but there are a few turns of phrase I might steal from my past self for future projects.

The following story fragment was written in early 1992, and I present it here with post headers (my Freedom BBS handle was The Turtle in those days, after The Great and Powerful Turtle created by George R.R. Martin) and spelling mistakes intact. Aside from the purple prose I'm also a little embarrassed by the objectification of the story's lead woman character - it's pretty clumsy.

Here it is:


   92Jan29 8:14 pm from The Turtle


    His hands were shaking as they hovered above the shuttlecraft's antiquated
controls.  Only one more lightyear.  Already the viewscreen was relaying the
long-range sensor scan of his destination:  a wavering, shimmering pond of
space.  The distortion effect was hard to look at for very long, but the man
felt tears welling despite the inherent unpleasantless of the gateway.  That
was what he had come to call it; what he had called it for thirty years now,
ever since he had come through.  

    In two minutes, he would be through.  His hands fumbled for the medikit
that rested on the tattered copilot's seat.  Sweat was pouring into his eyes
as he searched for the hypospray; irritated and near panic with expectation,
he wiped the salty moisture away in a frantic, spastic motion.  His right hand
closed on the hypo, clutching it in a white-knuckled grip.  Even from this
range, he felt the effects of the Gateway begin to prey on his mind.  The
contents of the spray would protect him, however.  He pressed the injector to
his left forearm.  
    Before he could activate the device, a red warning blinker flashed
insistently.  His eyes bulged.  He dropped the hypo and slammed his hands down
onto the helm controls, initiating evasive maneuvers.  
    There was, simply, no time.  The man screamed as the shuttle lurched
violently, throwing him to the deck.  He heard the hypo slide across the
floor, heard circuts burning, felt raging heat on his back.  The lights went
out; only the viewer remained intact, the distortion growing larger, more
pronounced.  His eyes flicked up to that beckoning cloud.  Fingers seemed to
reach out to him, beckoning him to come to the other side.  

    He knew that the madness was gripping him.  He knew that it was too late to
avoid it, even if he found the hypo right away.  His heart broke as he saw the
distance readout:  1.1 AU away.  So close.  The shuttle shook again and began
to  tumble end over end, artificial gravity lost, viewscreen dimming, the only
light from flickering flames.  

    With the last glimmer of sanity, the man cursed Fate, feeling stupid and
superstitious for doing so.  

    And then he felt himself begin to fade.  He suddenly saw stars through the
shuttle walls; it was like looking through a gossamer curtain.  He saw the
cruiser that had found him, so close to his goal...

    And then the cruiser faded in turn, just as the shuttle walls turned
opaque once more.  The man felt his own body solidifying, and he knew that he
was through.  

    He began to scream.  

    And scream.

    And scream.

   92Feb04 8:43 pm from The Turtle


   "Captain's Personal Log, Stardate 10187.3.  The ship is maintaining
standard orbit around Beta Cassius II--called H'Levn by the natives--while Dr.
Sternbach and her staff attempt to discover the cause of the plauge that has
reached epidemic proportions among the H'Lev.  I find myself hoping that the
doctor is correct in proposing that the plague is not a natural occurance, but
a virus introduced deliberately by a spacefaring power.  If she is
correct--and only if--then we can act to help the H'Lev.  

   I find it ironic that in this situation I am actually depending upon the
capriciousness of the Federation's neighbours."  

                                ***

    "Henry, I said get in here, *Now!"  Cynthia Sternbach's voice was hoarse
from shouting through the howling winds and blowing sand, and she held a hand
up to muffle a cough.  Even within the shelter of the caves, the sands were
blown into clothing, hair, and eyes.  Sternbach admired the hardiness of the
indigenies.   And, she added to herself, their ability to make strangers feel
welcome.  Sternbach and her med team had come in disguise, of course--it was
standard prochedure when investigating cultures below tech level seven--and
she thought that the  supplies people had been a bit off in their costumes.
Even though the not-quite-right clothing garnered a few strange looks from the
humanoid H'Lev, no questions had been asked and shelter from the sandstorm had
been quickly offered.  

    "Coming, Doctor!"  Henry Childan called back, still huddling over the
tricorder he kept carefully hidden against his body.  The storm was playing
havoc witht the readings, and he gave in, securing the 'corder beneath his
tunic and turning to scamper into the cave.  Childan hurried over to Doctor
Sternbach's side.   The CMO led Childan over to a relatively uncrowded corner
of the cavern and pulled back the hood of her dark tan robes, revealing a lush
crown of luxuriant brown curls that Childan had wanted to bury his hands in
more than once.  

    "What did you find out?"  Sternbach asked quietly, mindful of the dozens
of  H'Lev surrounding them.  Most of the refugees were near death, lying in
disorganized heaps, tended to by relatives in only marginally better health.
Sternbach gave the species only a year to a year and a half to extinction if a
cure wasn't found for the disease that had already ravaged half of their one
billion lives.  
    "You were right, sir--there are soil traces of the virus.  It's all over
the place--scattered on rocks, trees, buildings, and it's still alive.  Either
this virus is incredibly resilient, or it's been genetically engineered to
wipe out  the H'Lev.  We'll have to get back to the ship to do a full
analysis, though."  

    "Dammit.  By the time we do a full scan, who knows how many more will
die...all right, Henry, well done."  Sternbach hooked a finger, beckoning the
other two members of the away team to her side.  "We're going back up."  The
others murmered assent and they moved for the cave exit.  A concerned H'Lev
rushed forward.  
    "Friends, wait--the storm is not over.  To venture forth now is certain
death!"  
    Cynthia patted the man's shoulder reassuringly.  "The Great God Lev
watches over us--we seek a cure for the blight that has passed over our
people."  Cynthia thought that it sounded a bit, well, melodramatic, but the
speech had the desired effect.  The H'Lev made a short wave with his left
hand--a salute.  "Lev watch over you," he said sincerely.  The party left the
cavern.  

    "I'm never going to get this stuff out of my clothes," Childan whined as
the raging sands blasted against them.  And then the storm sparkled and winked
out, to be replaced by the soft lights of the transporter room.  Childan
breathed a  sigh of relief and stamped his feet on the transporter pad to
shake out some of the sand.  

    "Thanks, Channey,"  Cynthia said to the sad-eyed, vaguely East
Indian-featured man standing behind the transporter console as she descended
from the raised  pad.  The medical party left the room, stamping and shaking
as they went, leaving a trail of red-gold silica behind them.  Channey sighed
and prepared dutifullt to clean up the mess.  
    "No problem," he replied, resigned, to Cynthia's retreating back.  

                         

   92Feb04 8:57 pm from The Turtle

    "I'm not saying I don't *know,"  Cynthia asserted, "I'm saying I don't
have  100% *proof."  

    The Captain leaned against a diagnostic bed, one hand running through grey
hair that was still thick after eighty years of life.  The Captain spoke in
crisp, clear British tones, worry lines creasing his forehead.  "Proof is what
I *need, Doctor.  I want to help these people, desperately, but if we cannot
make it clear to Starfleet that this crisis isn't a natural occurance, then we
can't interfere.  You know the Prime Directive as well as I do."  

    Cynthia stepped forward.  "Sir, given enough time, I can prove that
someone  did this deliberately to the H'Lev--probably the Romulans, if I read
the structure of the virus correctly.  If it was interference, then the Prime
Directive allows us to correct it."  

    Captain Carter Perry thought for a long moment.  If he gave the H'Lev
help--if he allowed Sternbach to distribute the cure she'd engineered--then he
risked  breaking the Prime Directive, should the plague be natural after all.
And if he broke the Prime Directive...he would lose his command.  High
stakes.  But the odds were still in his favour.  Doctor Sternbach and her
staff believed that the virus was in fact a biological weapon delivered by
some advanced, starfaring power.  If that was so, then the Federation had
every right to act to correct such tampering with a culture's evolution.
Besides, Sternbach wasn't wrong very often.  Under Starfleet policy, Perry
knew that he was required to be absolutely certain he wasn't breaking the
Prime Directive before acting.  But if he waited for that certaintly,
thousands of sentients would die.  

    It wasn't really a choice at all.  "Distribute your cure, Doctor,"  Perry
ordered.  Sternbach beamed and started to assemble a field kit, but Perry
raised a warning hand.  "Remember, Doctor, *full cultural protectorate
prochedures.  I want as little damage to the fabric of this society as
possible.  No Messiah or Florence Nightengale impressions, please."  

    "They won't even know who cured them, sir,"  Sternbach assured him.  Perry
smiled and took his leave, heading for the bridge.

   92Feb10 8:24 pm from The Turtle


   Doctor Sternbach beamed down alone, holding the small, delicate vial of
salvation tightly in one hand.  This time no storms raged; only a gentle
breeze caressed the veldt she had arrived at, a breeze that teased her hair
and made soft shushing sounds through the broad, crimson leaves of enormous
trees.  The two suns were high and hot on her face; a stream bubbled and
trickled a few feet away.  Cynthia walked across the short distance,
replicated moccasins swishing against lush grass, and knelt beside the
stream.  Long, tubelike 'fish' slithered with the current just below the
surface, creatures the doctor knew the H'Lev used as food.  A major
settlement--the planet's largest city, in fact, with a population of an
astounding one hundred ten thousand--lay only a few kilometers downstream.
Deliberately and with little fanfare, Cynthia uncapped the vial and let a
clear liquid spill with a  quiet tinkle into the brook.  Odd that it should be
so simple, she thought, looking down at her features rippling in the stream.
In a few hours, the antiviral agent would be present in almost all H'Lev in
the city.  Her staff were duplicating the prochedure at every population
center on the planet.  Total time for protection against the disease, from
discovery until distribution:  ten hours.  A short time in her life, of the
lives of all aboard the ship--but a short time that would mean the survival of
a species, even if that species never knew how important those few hours
were.  

   A broad smile broke across the delicate, rounded curves of Cynthia's face,
a  smile that bridged the distance between 'cute' and 'beautiful' for the
doctor.   It was a smile that came when she had accomplished something
worthwhile, when  life and health had been preserved.  This place, these
people, would live and prosper, she decided as she pulled out her communicator
from beneath the heavy folds of her tunic.  The device chirped as she flipped
it open.  

   "Channey here,"  came the resigned mumble.  

   "One to beam up, Channey,"  Sternbach replied, the smile reaching her
voice, as well.  And then she was gone, replaced by a sparkle of silver-blue
light.  

    And after that disappeared, there was only the wind and the water again,
whispering softly.  

   92Feb10 8:45 pm from The Turtle


    Captain Perry had taken the doctor's news fairly noncommitally, giving her
only a curt nod and a "well done."  He'd since retired to his quarters.
Looking into the mirror now, Perry saw a face that had been through much.
Even though he was only eighty--just a few years into middle age--his hair had
already gone grey, and a chorus of wrinkles was seeping, slowly but surely,
across his forehead and cheeks, lines formed more from worry than joy.  Oh, he
was still handsome in a dignified, stodgy sort of way--like one of the British
lords of old.  But he'd grown thinner, too, over the years, thin enough to
elicit concern from the CMO.  Concern, of course, that Perry had brushed
aside, hating the attention.  Sternbach admired Perry and Perry--Perry felt
more strongly than he should for the woman.  It was only natural.  She was
young, attractive, vivacious...and she quite possibly had the finest breasts
that he'd ever--

    Perry turned from the mirror angrily, cutting off that train of thought.
Is this what I am now? he wondered.  A dirty old man, more concerned with my
own infirmity--imagined infirmity, at that--than my command?  More concerned
with thoughts of romance--hell, sex, be honest with yourself--than the welfare
of an entire civilization?  He'd barely been able to concentrate on  crucial
decisions lately because of his twin obsessions...

   Carter Perry was being unfair to himself, and some corner of his mind knew
it; it was just that his preoccupations were taking up more of his time than
he was used to.  He was giving 99 percent rather than 100.  This was, in his
mind, unacceptable.  

   He sighed and sat down heavily on the bed, plunking down next to his desk
terminal and hitting a small blue square on the touchpad set into the oak.  A
"Captain's Log:  Recording"  telltale popped up on the screen recessed into
the cabin wall.  

   "Captain's Log, Supplemental.  I have ordered Dr. Sternbach and her staff
to  implement disease control prochedures on H'Levn.  Her work has been
carried out and she reports that the population of the planet is now safe from
further devestation by the virus.  Work is now proceeding to prove
conclusively that the virus was in fact a biological weapon introduced by a
hostile spacefaring race  that wished to eliminate the H'Lev in order to
garner the considerable resources of the planet.  I have made a full report of
the mission for Starfleet and am awaiting further orders from command.
    Note also that this mission concludes our current tour of duty and that
the  ship will be reporting back to the Antares shipyards immediately for our
biannual resupply and refitting.  We shall be underway in a matter of hours.
Carter Perry, USS Enterprise."  

   92Feb10 8:58 pm from The Turtle

     The USS Enterprise--NCC-1701-B, as the letters emblazoned across the bow
proudly declared--broke orbit, arcing outwards and upwards from H'Levn, golden
starlight caressing the starboard half of the ship.  Like a swan breaking away
from the surface of a wave-swept lake, her feet and wings kicking up droplets
of pure, clear water, Enterprise peeled aside Einsteinian space, stretching
with visual Doppler effect, hesitating for the barest fraction of an instant
as if taking  in a deep breath, and then snapped back into her proper form as
she was shot  forward into hyperspace, leaving a dazzling rainbow of colour
behind.  There was scattered applause from the stars, then silence as H'Levn
continued her serene revolution.  

                          END PROLOGUE  

Tuesday, July 28, 2015

My Favourite Words, 1992 Edition

A couple of years ago I posted a list of my favourite words. Such tastes evolve over time, and thanks to Ron and his Freedom BBS there's a record of my favourite words as they stood on May 7, 1992, at 7:39 pm. Here's the list as I posted it back on Ron's BBS back in those halcyon days before the World Wide Web:

Earl's favourite words: 

mannequin
accident
yeti
bag
hammer
clowns
fistfight
shiskebab
pipe
escalator
wheelchair
defenestrate
wound
pain
gut
finger
disembowel
teeth
smash
launch
jab
bubblegum

Yikes! This list appears to reflect the angst I was internalizing during my underemployed, girlfriend-less post-university years. The newer list is much more diverse, not to mention more reflective of my current taste. Still, this is an interesting look at where I was at back in my early 20s, and I'm grateful to Ron for keeping an archive of our writing during those years. 

Monday, July 27, 2015

Ant-Man Mini-Review

Director Peyton Reed packs large themes into a movie about two small men with big hearts in Ant-Man, the latest Marvel Comics summer blockbuster. Starring Michael Douglas (as Hank Pym) and Paul Rudd (as Scott Lang) as two generations of the titular pint-sized, ant-riding superhero, Ant-Man is in some ways a refreshing change of pace for Marvel; Reed shows us some of the building blocks of the present-day Marvel universe with intriguing flashbacks and gives us a smaller-scale story of daring heists and personal redemption. (You could call it Mission: Antpossible.) Unlike Guardians of the Galaxy, this time around there's enough heart in the family backstory of the characters to give us reasons to root for the protagonists. The plot involves a struggle for control over Hank Pym's Pym particles, which can shrink (or expand) the distance between molecules, with all that implies (in the world of comic-book science, anyway). But the real story is about each man becoming the hero their daughters need.

The film does rely on the tired Marvel trope of the hero fighting an opposite number with the same super-powers at the climax, just like Iron Man, The Incredible Hulk, Captain America: The Winter Soldier and so on, but it's nonetheless entertaining and inventive - a scene featuring Thomas the Tank Engine is a surprising highlight. And the film does a credible job of showing the world-changing possibilities of Hank Pym's amazing discovery. Last but not least, Evangeline Lily is delightful as always and I look forward to seeing her play a larger role in future Marvel films.

After the failure of Guardians of the Galaxy and the middling Avengers: Age of Ultron, Ant-Man is a return to form for Marvel - a small miracle, if you will. Don't shrink from seeing it.

*Edited to fix embarrassing Keaton-for-Douglas substitution. Thanks, Neil Mackie!

Sunday, July 26, 2015

June 2015 Review Roundup

I screened a mere five movies in June: two low-budget time travel movies, two long-standing recommendations from Allan Sampson, and a well-regarded thriller of recent vintage.

My friend Allan recommended horror classic The Wicker Man (1973) many years ago, but only last month did I finally sit down to watch it. It was worth the wait. Though nothing supernatural happens in the film, its performances and premise make for a truly chilling experience. My favourite scene is one of the musical numbers, in which the hapless protagonist, an uptight, religious and virgin police sergeant, fights off the seduction of Willow, who sings and dances in the nude, beckoning like a succubus. He very nearly succumbs to temptation - and ironically, his faith and resolve ultimately doom him. Sometimes it's better to give in to the vampires...

Some years later Allan sang the praises of Three Kings (1999), a movie set in the aftermath of the first Gulf War. The movie still works as a war dramedy, but loses some of its lustre in the face of the unfortunate xenophobia and economic devastation wrought by the never-ending, so-called "War on Terror."

Nightcrawler (2014), is a showcase for Jake Gyllenhaal, who plays a petty criminal drifter who builds a new career for himself in the cutthroat world of electronic news gathering. While the news business has been an easy target for criticism going back all the way to Network (1976), Nightcrawler approaches the subject in a new and interesting way, from street level, as it were. It's well worth your time.

Project Almanac (2015) is a mostly forgettable by-the-numbers time travel film, but it's a decent way to spend a couple of hours on a lazy Sunday afternoon. Time Lapse (2014) tackles the same subject in a more interesting way; three roommates discover a camera that takes pictures from a day or so in the future, which leads to interesting questions about free will and predestination.

I read a few more books in June than disastrous May, though still not enough to meet my target. Three Mira Grant biomedical thrillers (Deadline, Blackout, and Parasite) provided reasonable thrills and interesting twists on old horror tropes, but nothing more than that. Stephen King's Finders Keepers is the second mainstream novel in a row for one of the world's most famous genre authors; it's refreshing to see King pursue more grounded work. Canadian SF great Robert Charles Wilson has a new book out this year, The Affinities, which takes the phenomenon of social media and spins it into a thought-provoking socioeconomic thriller.

Jo Walton has been around a while, but she's a relatively new favourite for me; I quite enjoyed Among Others earlier this year, and followed it up last month with the sad and delightful My Real Children and a collection of essays, What Makes This Book So Great. I've picked up a few books from Walton's back catalogue, and I'm looking forward to exploring more of her many worlds.

A couple of middling Star Trek tie-ins rounded out June's reading. 

Friday, July 24, 2015

50 Years of Wedded Bliss

Congratulations to Mom and Dad, who were married 50 years ago today near Virden, Manitoba. Here's to the next 50!

Thursday, July 23, 2015

Dreaming of Release

Last night I dreamed my boss asked me to write a press release about the re-opening of the original Gaiety Theatre in Leduc. I wasn’t sure what the re-opening had to do with our work, but I dutifully wrote the release. Instead of e-mailing it to news outlets, I had to carry the release to the top of a transmission tower and hang it there for broadcast.

I made the climb with no safety equipment whatsoever, but at least it was a gorgeous, sunny evening. The press release itself was framed in this metal thingamajig I had to hook to the top of the tower. That part went without a hitch; there was a hook on the tower obviously meant for the press release holder.

I was pretty amazed by the technology of the release itself; the tower radiated waves that beamed the print on the release out to recipients all over the globe. I waited around to watch the sun set, and felt guilty that I’d failed my duty to refuse unsafe work.

I didn’t experience the climb back down in my dream; I just found myself in the theatre getting popcorn and looking for a seat. It didn’t look like a lot of money had been spent on renovations, but I was happy to be there. My ran into my friend Pete in the aisle; he was carrying a giant soda, about twice the size of a 7-11 Big Gulp. The theatre was packed beyond capacity.

I was talking to Pete when suddenly everyone started screaming; they were pointing at something on the screen. I started to turn my head to see what it was, and caught a glimpse of something nightmarish and otherworldly emerging from the screen, some formless horror from beyond space and time.

I woke up at that point. I’m annoyed that I missed the movie, whatever it was.

Wednesday, July 22, 2015

Edditorial

This was my office at Hole's Publishing, just after its completion. I joked with a contractor that the door plate would have been funnier if it read "edditorial," but the idea didn't fly. 

Tuesday, July 21, 2015

Which Super-Villain Could I Defeat?

Like many men who grew up reading comic books, I've often imagined myself as a super-hero of one type or another; indeed, back in my teens and early twenties I actually created my own characters for the Villains & Vigilantes and DC Heroes roleplaying games.

But in a scenario such as the one I imagined yesterday, in which normal, middle-aged me was suddenly thrust unprepared into a comic-book universe, I'd probably be pretty useless in any superhero slugfest - unless I was fighting one of a handful of particularly inept villains.

Here are the villains I imagine I could defeat with a little luck:
1) The Ten-Eyed Man. A cat burglar with an eyeball at the end of each fingertip, the Ten-Eyed Man appears, at first glance (heh), to be fairly formidable, given his physique. But good guys don't necessarily have to be sportsmanlike, and I figure I could drive the Ten-Eyed Man off simply by opening a bottle of vinegar and splashing it all over his fingers. Ouch!
2) Stilt Man. This guy looks pretty intimidating, but if I saw him coming and had a length of chain or cable, I'd just wrap one end around a fire hydrant, run across the street, wrap the other end around a telephone pole, and boom, Stilt Man goes down harder than an Imperial Walker after Dack wraps it up with a tow cable. I suppose I could also just ram my car into his feet to bring him down.

3) Clock King. Clock King is just an ordinary guy in a ridiculous costume; he's also very particular about timekeeping, to the point of near-insanity. While I hate to take advantage of anyone's obsessive compulsive disorder, I'm pretty sure I could distract Clock King by setting a small collection of clocks and watches to different times and tossing them at his feet. While he knelt to fix the errant timepieces, I'd grab the watch hands on his mask and rip them off, robbing him of his ability to display the correct time at all times. I'm pretty sure this would send him screaming back to his hideout to fix his mask, putting an end to whatever crime he had planned for that day.
4) Kite Man. Kite Man is an expert hang glider - and that's it. A little vandalism would put an end to his schemes; I can't think of anything easier to put out of commission than a hang glider. Even if he were in the air, I could probably bring him down with a spear gun from the nearest sporting goods store; you have to fly at pretty low altitude to commit crimes (unless he were robbing a blimp or something), so putting a couple of spears into the canopy would do the trick. Mind you, I'd probably be pretty squeamish about this; I'd be worried about actually hurting him, either due to causing a crash or accidentally spearing him. Hey, property crimes aren't worth the ultimate punishment, right?

Can you think of any other super-villains I might reasonably hope to defeat? Let me know in the comments...

Monday, July 20, 2015

Mr. Woods Goes to Metropolis

On my final trip to Leaf Rapids I at last captured a series of high-quality photographs of the isolated ghost town. The weather cooperated, my eye was sharp, and the mission concluded without incident.

But on the journey home, midway between Leaf Rapids and Thompson on the scarcely-travelled Highway 391, something shifted. The decaying asphalt suddenly gave way to freshly paved road. The thick conifers that had been encroaching on 391 vanished, replaced by neatly manicured deciduous trees. And where an instant before my crossover had been the only car on the road, I was suddenly surrounded by cars and trucks of all shapes and sizes.

Alarmed out of my wits, I nearly ran myself off the road, my heart racing. An angry symphony of horns accompanied my efforts to pull to the side of the road and catch my breath. I exited the car on shaky legs, covered in a sheen of cold sweat.

As an avid reader of fantasy fiction, I knew precisely what had happened - I'd somehow slipped between dimensions, journeying from one world to another.

Or - and this conclusion was far more likely - I was having a psychotic break. I waited to see if the delusion would pass, but my new reality remained stubbornly solid.

Then I saw the road sign, in stark green and white:

METROPOLIS
25 MILES

It was madness, but I was elated. Clearly this was a dream, but of the most excellent sort, the ultimate in wish fulfillment. With a grin I slipped back behind the wheel of my car and merged back into the teeming traffic, bound for whatever marvellous adventures I might find.

As soon as I hit the city limits, however, and as the streets grew thick with traffic, I realized I needed some kind of plan of action. I pulled into a gas station and consulted my phone.

My cellular service, I saw, was still provided by Bell, though I still anticipated horrific roaming charges, having not only crossed into the United States, but a United States on another plane of existence. But I'd worry about that later; such details rarely returned to haunt me in the waking world, and I hoped this time was no exception.

I activated my navigation app and requested directions to 344 Clinton Street - Clark Kent's apartment building. I'd wait outside, tell Mr. Kent who I was, get a couple of photos and then ask him to take me to S.T.A.R. Labs, who would doubtless know how to get me back home.

I thought a moment. It was possible that Superman/Kent might not return home via the lobby. Certainly he had to from time to time to keep up appearances, but more often than not he simply flew in and out of his third-floor apartment through the window at super-speed. I could wind up waiting on the street level for days.

For that matter, I had no idea which continuity I was in. In some stories Superman lived in apartment 3-D, but in others he didn't. For that matter, he might be married to Lois Lane - or not, working at the Daily Planet or the Daily Star or WGBS...worst of all, what if I were in one of the universes with an evil Superman? Suddenly a frank and open approach didn't seem like the most prudent idea. Spending a day or two here might be fun, but if I didn't get back on the road in Manitoba soon, Sylvia would start to worry. I had a few hours' grace during which Sylvia didn't expect to hear from me thanks to spotty cellular coverage in northern Manitoba, but that was it. If she didn't hear from me in about six hours, she'd freak - and after my misadventures in Yukon back in 2011, I refused to do that to her again.

I decided to play it safe - or safer, at least, than my original plan. First, I reviewed some news stories about Superman on my phone:

SUPERMAN SAVES NEWS CHOPPER
ARMAGEDDON ON HOLD THANKS TO SUPERMAN
JUSTICE LEAGUE SPARKS INTERNATIONAL INCIDENT
WHO IS THE NEW GREEN LANTERN?

Each story read as relatively benign, which was a good starting point, but there was still a chance, however slim, that an evil Superman might wield undue influence on the global media. I searched for directions to the Daily Planet, then realized it would be follish to drive there - what were the odds i'd find reasonable parking?

"Taxi!" I called, flagging down a yellow cab.

*  *  *

Twenty minutes later I was looking up the side of a massive skyscraper, gazing in wonder at the rotating Daily Planet globe. "Tourists," someone muttered as they brushed by me, but I couldn't wipe the awestruck grin from my face; in a way, yes, I was the ultimate tourist. But at length I pulled myself away from the vision and walked into the lobby. There was a gilt fountain with a representation of Poseidon, who I realized with a start could be a very real figure in this particular universe, not merely mythology. I gave it a good look as I made my way to the extensive bank of elevators, hitting a call button, still somewhat dazed by my circumstances. With a humble ding, a pair of doors slide aside and I strode into the car. The doors were almost closed when a feminine hand interposed itself between them, followed an instant later with the peripatetic form of Lois Lane.

I knew it was her in an instant. She didn't look like Noell Neil or Margot Kidder or Teri Hatcher, or any other actress who'd played her in my world; it was more like she was a live-action representation of the art of Walt Simonson, Curt Swan, John Byrne and Wayne Boring somehow combined into a whole that shouldn't have worked at all...but somehow she was perfect.

She gave me an odd glance, and I realized that I was staring goggle-eyed. I quickly redirected my gaze to the one of the corners of the elevator car.

"What, is there mustard or something..?" She started rubbing at the corner of her mouth.

"No, no," I said, flustered.

"Something wrong, Earl? You look like you haven't seen me in years."

I froze. She knew me? How?

But in an instant, it became clear. It was the very last thing I expected. I had a counterpart here, in this world. There was another Earl, right here in Metropolis.

Suddenly coming here seemed like a very bad idea indeed. How did Lois know me? Given the context, I must be a coworker, or at least that was the safest assumption. And if that were true, I could very well already be here...

Before I could do anything about it, though, the elevator stopped and the cars slid open, elevator muzak quickly drowned out by the clattering of fingers on keyboard. I was about to hit the button for the main floor and claim I'd forgotten something, but a voice that shook windows bellowed out my name:

"WOODS! MY OFFICE!"

"Have fun," Lois said.

My head swivelled to and fro, searching for any sign of my counterpart as I hurried in the direction of Perry White's summons.

"I thought you were sick," he barked just as I found his office door. Well, that was lucky, I thought.

"Uh - " I began.

"Where's your review of Fury Road?"

I thought fast. I was the Planet's movie reviewer? I suddenly envied my doppleganger.

"You didn't get my email?" I bluffed, eyes wide.

"No," he said, already distracted by something else on his computer monitor.

"I'll resend," I said, making my escape. He grunted.

I shut his door behind me and scanned row upon row of cubicles, wondering which was mine. I picked a direction at random and pulled out my phone, searching through my email archives. I'd written a Fury Road review for my blog, and with any luck I could just copy and paste it, send it to Perry, and -

 - I crashed through the door of a supply closet headfirst. My phone went flying and I tripped over my own feet, flailing for support, grabbing hold of a mop only to bring it and the bucket it rested in clattering down around my ears.

I looked up just in time to catch Clark Kent standing there, looking sheepish, his white shirt torn open to reveal the famous red S beneath.

"I can explain!" we both shouted. We looked at each other. From the floor, I kicked the supply room door closed.

"I'll be right back," he said. In a violet blur he was gone, leaving the supply room window rattling in its frame.

Less than a minute later, Superman flew back into the room and slipped back into his civilian guise.

"Sorry. There was a train..."

"Of course," I said. Looking at him was like looking at Lois Lane again; he didn't look like any living human from my world, but rather he appeared to be the perfect summation of every artistic interpretation of the character.

"I guess my secret's out," he said, resigned. He sounded sad.

"No, no!" I said, eager to reassure him. "I already knew."

His eyes widened.

"I mean, everyone knows...wait, wait. Let me start from the beginning. I'm not the Earl you know..."

So I told him what had happened.

"I've seen this sort of thing before. You're from Earth Prime, that place where everyone I know is just a comic book character," he said.

"Well, not exactly," I replied. "I'm pretty sure Julius Schwartz didn't really cross over to this world..."

"You know about that?" Clark Kent asked.

"It was in a comic book...uh, never mind. Listen, I have family back home and they're going to be pretty worried if I don't get back in touch with them soon. Any chance you can get me home?"

He grinned. "I think I can have you back...in a flash."

So about an hour later I was sitting in my car on a specially built super-sized cosmic treadmill with enough room for the vehicle and the Flash himself. The red-garbed speedster looked over at me.

"All I have to do is run until the treadmill's vibrations match the native universal vibration of you and your car," he explained. "At that point, you should theoretically return to your own world."

"Thanks!" I said somewhat lamely. It felt like this was all happening too fast, like I'd barely had a chance to explore a place I'd dreamed about for decades. But the Flash was already nothing more than an oscillating blur, and I had only a second to wave goodbye to a smiling Superman. "Come back again sometime!" he said, and then

I was suddenly back in Manitoba, like nothing ever happened. But maybe there was a way to see if I'd really gone anywhere other than some fevered corner of my imagination...

I pulled over and checked my phone. Sure enough, there were still some archived news stories in my cache - and one in particular was going to come as quite a shock to my wife.

WHO IS THE NEW GREEN LANTERN? the story proclaimed. I grinned. Who indeed? She was going to be so very botherated... 

Sunday, July 19, 2015

All the Worlds I Left Behind

I haven't actually left any worlds behind, but the title of this post just leaped from fingers to keyboard and so there it sits, perhaps as impetus to add 75,000 or so more words to a future novel. Sure, sure, big talk...I'm not giving up, though. One day, if I'm not felled by fate first. Literate alliteration! Nice. 

I haven't left these worlds behind, but I'd visit them at the drop of a hat: 

Tarzan's Africa
John Carter's Mars
Kirk's Federation
Buffy's Sunnydale
Serge Storms' Florida
Shirley Jackson's Hill House
Metropolis, Delaware
Stephen King's Maine (as long as I was guaranteed safe passage)

There are so many more. I may never finish my novel or screenplay, but I wouldn't have even started if it weren't for the inspiration of the many imaginative people, famous and not, who pushed me into trying to build worlds of my own, if only half-realized. 

Saturday, July 18, 2015

Trashy Haiku


First and second draft
Precede third into the trash
Words meant for the dump

Friday, July 17, 2015

My Favourite Colour Doesn't Exist



Here's a fascinating presentation from the Royal Institution explaining how and why we perceive the colour purple (or more properly, magenta), even though it doesn't show up on the colour spectrum.  

Thursday, July 16, 2015

Monkey in a Tree

This might be my favourite of the many photos of white-faced monkeys I captured in Costa Rica. 

Wednesday, July 15, 2015

A Predator's Eyes

While my crocodile video provided a decent jump scare, I find this image of a quietly watchful predator far more unsettling. The huge green eyes are beautiful but somehow alien (despite being perfectly terrestrial). It's a little creepy getting so close to such a primordial creature. 

Tuesday, July 14, 2015

Pluto With a Capital P for Planet

Blame it on the IAU but you're always a planet to me...

Sometime early this morning NASA's New Horizons robotic spacecraft made its closest approach to Pluto, once the solar system's ninth planet until it was demoted to planetoid status in 2006. But that doesn't take any of the lustre out of today's accomplishment. The probe's nine-year journey takes it over four billion kilometres away from Earth, and I an in awe of the math and engineering skills responsible for hitting so small a target from such a great distance in all the system's vastness. Kudos to the visionary scientists and engineers who made this happen. It's a good day for humanity. 

Monday, July 13, 2015

Catcher in the Sand

I think Lisa Bowers or Tanara McLean shot this photo of my short-lived amateur career as a catcher for the Alberta Liberal caucus ball team back in - gasp - 2010. I was a terrible player, though not as bad as I'd feared. I caught the ball most of the time and even scored a couple of base hits over the summer.

I wonder if I still have those sneakers. 

Sunday, July 12, 2015

Everybody's Got Something to Hide Except for Me and My Monkey

While on the Rio Tempisque in Costa Rica's Palo Verde National Park, we encountered some white-faced monkeys. They're very curious, and one of them hopped down to give me a high five. This shot was taken by another tourist; she turned out to be the voice actress for Zatanna in DC Universe Online, among other roles. 

Saturday, July 11, 2015

A Croc in Costa Rica


While touring the Rio Tempisque in Costa Rica's Palo Verde National Park last week, our boat happened upon a small crocodile. 

Friday, July 10, 2015

Mom and the House

Here's my Mom, taken sometime in the 1960s, I would think, probably somewhere in Manitoba. This is one of my favourite photos of Mom; she looks beautiful and the house in the background is very evocative. Even the damage to the negative adds a little something, although I do wish I were skilled enough to repair it. (It looks a lot better now that it did before I took a stab at correcting it, but it's far from finished.)

Happy Birthday, Mom!

Thursday, July 09, 2015

Dad in Sunglasses

With the right cropping and some other touches, this shot of Dad standing by the road in sunglasses might make a good vinyl album cover. If I had the budget, I'd turn this into a contest. 

Wednesday, July 08, 2015

Couch Trip

I shot this back in 2006 at the Leduc garbage dump. Sean and I helped Mom and Dad move their 500-ton hide-a-bed sofa from the basement to the dump. That sofa was decades old, and had reached the end of its useful life. I asked Sean to toss one of the cushions into the wasteland, and captured its final flight. I feel I've captured the fine line between poignancy and bathos. 

Tuesday, July 07, 2015

The Fitted Sheet

For some reason Sean used precious black and white film to shoot this photo of Sylvia and me making the bed in our first condo. He captured the mundane, but at least we're smiling, and perhaps in 100 years this will have historical/archival value. "This is how people lived in the early 21st century..."

Monday, July 06, 2015

Burger Offer

Robert Woods offers Earl Woods a burger and suffers through Earl's antics, 2006.

Saturday, July 04, 2015

The Flag at Delta Junction

On July 4, 2011, I happened to be in Delta Junction, Alaska, at the end of the Alaska Highway. Strangely enough, there wasn't much evidence of Independence Day celebrations, aside from this flag and a handful of people lining up for ice cream - cash only, sadly, and I had none. 

Friday, July 03, 2015

Summer's Lease, or Earl versus the Glue

This photo was shot years ago, back when I was working for the Alberta Liberal Caucus at the time that party formed Alberta's Official Opposition. I seem to be struggling with a bottle of glue. I'm not sure why this photo was taken, but it is one of the last shots of me taken with old-school film, and there's a Shakespeare quote near the bottom of the frame, hidden from my view at the time and completely unnoticed by me until now. It feels like the universe was trying to tell me something, but I'm not sure exactly what. 

Thursday, July 02, 2015

Night Squiggles

 It's not the greatest long-exposure shot ever, but it has a certain je ne sais quois...

Wednesday, July 01, 2015

Canada Day Ten Years Back

Ten years ago, Sylvia and I attended a Barenaked Ladies concert at Commonwealth Stadium to celebrate Canada Day. Look at her big googly eyes! Ooooo!