Saturday, December 31, 2016

Books I Read in 2016

2016 is fading into history, and while it was a hard year for many reasons, I take solace in having discovered some wonderful books, new and old. This year I managed to read 135 books, a new record since I started keeping track in 2011, but still short of the 150 I was hoping for. Maybe next year...

I've still failed to achieve gender balance in my reading, as noted below, even slipping a little since last year. But of the women I read, wow, there was some great stuff. I've mostly finished Margaret Atwood's works, save for the recently released Hag-Seed and a couple of her short story collections. The Blind Assassin, The Robber Bride and Cat's Eye were my favourites. I found Surfacing, her second novel, the most puzzling - it doesn't feel at all like an Atwood novel to me, and I can't write it off to early author blues since her first novel, The Edible Woman, feels so fully formed. I was surprised to find that I didn't enjoy her MaddAddam trilogy as much as I had anticipated, and that could be because I'm deeply buried in science fiction tropes; all the speculative elements felt too familiar, and that distracted me from enjoying the character work.

This year I finished off the Harry Potter novels and started in on J.K. Rowling's other work, including The Casual Vacancy and her Robert Galbraith detective stories, worthwhile efforts all.

Finishing Lucy Maud Montgomery's Anne of Green Gables books (at least those available in the public domain) lifted my heart early in the year - they're such delightfully innocent fun, so good-hearted and full of life. I want to visit Prince Edward Island more than ever now.

My favourite woman author of 2016, though, is my friend Leslie Vermeer, whose book The Complete Canadian Book Editor was released this fall. Not only is it packed with tons of essential advice for aspiring book editors, it's written with great warmth, crystal clarity and perhaps most importantly, unfailing conscience. I'm obviously very happy for her, and I look forward to her next book.


After many years of promising to get to them someday, I finally read the works of Raymond Chandler, who did not disappoint in the least. As I remarked in an email to my friend Jeff, who I consider something of a Chandler scholar (or at the very least, a gifted analyst of the author), "He built an incredible world full of deeply sympathetic characters - even the villains are mostly just victims of another kind. And Marlowe himself is an astounding character, full of unjustified (in my view) self-loathing and soul-crushing, weary loneliness. And the prose is gorgeous, so very bittersweet."

Because 2016 saw the 50th anniversary of Star Trek, I found myself reading a bunch of Star Trek novels and behind-the-scenes books - as always of varying quality, sadly. The best of the bunch was the two-volume, roughly 1800-page Fifty-Year Mission, an oral history of the show and its spinoffs from the actors, writers, producers and crew who worked on the various series and movies. Even for a long-term Trekkie like me, these two books had a lot of interesting stories to offer. 


My friends who enjoy SF will doubtless be relieved to know that I've finally managed to read some of the seminal works of Robert Heinlein, long neglected by me: Double Star, Starship Troopers and The Moon is a Harsh Mistress. I still don't think much of Heinlein's near-Randian politics, but I have to admit these were all crackling stories, and they helped me get closer to my goal of reading all of the Hugo and Nebula Best Novel nominees. 


2016 brings with it the end of Fantagraphics' excellent, 26-volume collection of Charles M. Schulz' Peanuts comic strip, some fifteen years in the making. Lovingly crafted, painstakingly indexed and featuring introductions from a wide range of celebrity fans of the strip, these are gorgeous books that I'm happy to have on my shelves for the rest of my life. And now I can say that I've read every strip. What a wonder it was, too - a real work of genius from start to finish. 


Those are the highlights of my year in reading; the gory details can be found below. Will I finally read The Lord of the Rings in 2017? Time will tell...



January: 14
Anne of the Island (Lucy Maud Montgomery, 1915)
Anne’s House of Dreams (Lucy Maud Montgomery, 1917)
The Bazaar of Bad Dreams (Stephen King, 2015)
Rainbow Valley (Lucy Maud Montgomery, 1919)
Further Chronicles of Avonlea (Lucy Maud Montgomery, 1920)
The Clone (Theodore L. Thomas and Kate Wilhelm, 1965)
Rilla of Ingleside (Lucy Maud Montgomery, 1921)
Phoenix in the Ashes (Joan D. Vinge, 1985)
New Maps of Hell (Kingsley Amis, 1960)
A Bird in the House (Margaret Laurence, 1970)
Alias Grace (Margaret Atwood, 1996)
Surfacing (Margaret Atwood, 1972)
Earthlight (Arthur C. Clarke, 1955)
The Lifeship (Harry Harrison and Gordon R. Dickson, 1985)

February: 10
The First Fifteen Lives of Harry August (Claire North, 2014)
No Enemy but Time (Michael Bishop, 1982)
Sight of Proteus (Charles Sheffield, 1978)
Brittle Innings (Michael Bishop, 1994)
Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows (J.K. Rowling, 2007)
The Wild Shore (Kim Stanley Robinson, 1984)
The Gold Coast (Kim Stanley Robinson, 1988)
Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them (J. K. Rowling, 2001)
Quidditch Through the Ages (J.K. Rowling, 2001)
The Tales of Beedle the Bard (J.K. Rowling, 2008)

March: 12
Pacific Edge (Kim Stanley Robinson, 1990)
Press Start to Play (Daniel H. Wilson and John Joseph Adams, editors, 2015)
Star Trek The Next Generation: Armageddon’s Arrow (Dayton Ward, 2015)
Me and Earl and the Dying Girl (Jesse Andrews, 2012)
Life After Life (Kate Atkinson, 2013)
A God in Ruins (Kate Atkinson, 2014)
The State of the Art (Iain M. Banks, 1991)
The Violent Century (Lavie Tidhar, 2013)
The Man Who Bridged the Mist (Kij Johnson, 2011)
The Lifecycle of Software Objects (Ted Chiang, 2010)
Julian: A Christmas Story (Robert Charles Wilson, 2006)
Oceanic (Greg Egan, 1998)

April: 10
The Casual Vacancy (J.K. Rowling, 2012)
Star Trek Voyager: Atonement (Kirsten Beyer, 2015)
The Cuckoo’s Calling (J.K. Rowling writing as Robert Galbraith, 2013)
The Silkworm (J.K. Rowling writing as Robert Galbraith, 2014)
Star Trek Voyager: A Pocket Full of Lies (Kirsten Beyer, 2016)
The Long Utopia (Terry Pratchett and Stephen Baxter, 2015)
With the Night Mail (Rudyard Kipling, 1905)
As Easy as A.B.C. (Rudyard Kipling, 1912)
The Book on the Edge of Forever (Christopher Priest, 1997)
I am Crying All Inside: The Short Fiction of Clifford D. Simak (Clifford D. Simak, 2015)

May: 6
Very Good Lives: The Fringe Benefits of Failure and the Importance of Imagination (J.K. Rowling, 2008)
Cat’s Eye (Margaret Atwood, 1988)
Her Smoke Rose Up Forever (Alice Sheldon writing as James Tiptree, Jr., 1990)
The Western (David Carter, 2008)
David Lynch (Colin Odell & Michelle Le Blanc, 2007)
Horror Films (Colin Odell & Michelle Le Blanc, 2007)

June: 10
Aurora (Kim Stanley Robinson, 2015)
The Dog Said Bow-Wow (Michael Swanwick, 2007)
The Ultimate Earth (Jack Williamson, 2000)
Seven Views of Olduvai Gorge (Mike Resnick, 1994)
A Kill in the Morning (Graeme Shimmin, 2014)
Starship Troopers (Robert A. Heinlein, 1959)
The Moon is a Harsh Mistress (Robert A. Heinlein, 1966)
End of Watch (Stephen King, 2016)
Central Station (Lavie Tidhar, 2016)
Stations of the Tide (Michael Swanwick, 1991)

July: 7
Good News From Outer Space (John Kessel, 1989)
Lady Oracle (Margaret Atwood, 1977)
Double Star (Robert A. Heinlein, 1956)
Who? (Algis Budrys, 1958)
Uprooted (Naomi Novik, 2015)
Hidden Universe Travel Guide: Vulcan (Dayton Ward, 2016)
Star Trek: The Official Guide to Our Universe (Andrew Fazekas, 2016)

August: 19
Star Trek: The Art of the Film (Mark Cotta Vaz, 2009)
The Making of Star Trek: The Motion Picture (Susan Sackett, 1980)
Star Trek Enterprise Rise of the Federation: Live by the Code (Christopher L. Bennett, 2016)
Bodily Harm (Margaret Atwood, 1981)
The Complete Peanuts, 1999-2000 (Charles M. Schulz with an Introduction by Barack Obama, 2016)
The Edible Woman (Margaret Atwood, 1969)
Thunderbird (Jack McDevitt, 2015)
Star Trek Legacies Book 1: Captain to Captain (Greg Cox, 2016)
Star Trek Legacies Book 2: Best Defense (David Mack, 2016)
Star Trek: Child of Two Worlds (Greg Cox, 2015)
Star Trek: The Latter Fire (James Swallow, 2016)
The King in Yellow (Robert W. Chambers, 1895)
Five Murders (Raymond Chandler, 1944)
Five Sinister Characters (Raymond Chandler, 1945)
The Simple Art of Murder (Raymond Chandler, 1950)
Finding Serenity (Jane Espenson, 2004)
Serenity Found (Jane Espenson, 2007)
The Maker of Moons (Robert W. Chambers, 1896)
The Mystery of Choice (Robert W. Chambers, 1897)

September: 10
Dancing Girls (Margaret Atwood, 1977)
The Big Sleep (Raymond Chandler, 1939)
Farewell, My Lovely (Raymond Chandler, 1940)
The High Window (Raymond Chandler, 1942)
The Complete Canadian Book Editor (Leslie Vermeer, 2016)
Make Love the Bruce Campbell Way (Bruce Campbell, 2005)
Moral Disorder and Other Stories (Margaret Atwood, 2006)
Quantum Night (Robert J. Sawyer, 2016)
The Colossus and Other Poems (Sylvia Plath, 1960)
Star Trek Legacies Book 3: Purgatory’s Key (Dayton Ward and Kevin Dilmore, 2016)

October: 10
The Fifty-Year Mission: The First 25 Years (Edward Gross & Mark A. Altman, 2016)
Emergence (David R. Palmer, 1984)
The Velveteen Rabbit (Margery Williams, 1922)
The Adolescence of P-1 (Thomas J. Ryan, 1977)
Star Trek Errand of Fury Book 1: Seeds of Rage (Kevin Ryan, 2005)
Sid Meier’s Civilization: Civilization Through the Years (Sid Meier, 2016)
Life Before Man (Margaret Atwood, 1979)
Star Trek Errand of Fury Book 2: Demands of Honor (Kevin Ryan, 2007)
Gentleman Jole and the Red Queen (Lois McMaster Bujold, 2015)
Poems by Emily Dickinson, Series One (Emily Dickinson, 1890)

November: 16
Poems by Emily Dickinson, Series Two (Emily Dickinson, 1891)
Poems by Emily Dickinson, Series Three (Emily Dickinson, 1894)
A Colder War (Charles Stross, 2002)
Oryx and Crake (Margaret Atwood, 2003)
The Lady in the Lake (Raymond Chandler, 1943)
The Little Sister (Raymond Chandler, 1949)
Star Trek Errand of Fury Book 3: Sacrifices of War (Kevin Ryan, 2009)
Dark Matter (Blake Crouch, 2016)
Robots Have No Tails (Henry Kuttner, 1952)
The Long Goodbye (Raymond Chandler, 1953)
Playback (Raymond Chandler, 1958)
Double Indemnity (Raymond Chandler, 1943)
The Year of the Flood (Margaret Atwood, 2009)
Selected Essays and Letters (Raymond Chandler, 1995)
MaddAddam (Margaret Atwood, 2013)
The Heart Goes Last (Margaret Atwood, 2015)

December: 11
Stone Mattress (Margaret Atwood, 2014)
Charlie the Choo-Choo (Beryl Evans, 2016)
Lifehouse (Spider Robinson, 1997)
Covergirls (Louise Simonson, 2007)
Delirium’s Party (Jill Thompson, 2011)
The Complete Peanuts: Comics & Stories 1950 to 2000 (Charles M. Schulz with an afterword by Jean Schulz, 2016)
The Legion of Regrettable Supervillains (Jon Morris, 2016)
The Fifty-Year Mission: The Next 25 Years (Mark A. Altman & Edward Gross, 2016)
The Spirit Ring (Lois McMaster Bujold, 1992)
Irresistible Forces (Catherine Asaro, editor, 2006)
America Lost and Found: The BBS Story (various, 2010)

Nonfiction: 20
Fiction: 115

Genre
Science Fiction: 46
Mainstream: 39
Star Trek: 13
Fantasy: 10
Horror: 3
Peanuts collections: 2

Top Authors
Margaret Atwood: 14

Raymond Chandler: 12

J.K. Rowling: 8

Lucy Maud Montgomery: 5

Kim Stanley Robinson: 4

Robert W. Chambers: 3
Emily Dickinson: 3
Robert A. Heinlein: 3
Kevin Ryan: 3

Mark A. Altman: 2
Kate Atkinson: 2
Kirsten Beyer: 2
Michael Bishop: 2
Lois McMaster Bujold: 2
Greg Cox: 2
Jane Espenson: 2
Edward Gross: 2
Stephen King: 2
Rudyard Kipling: 2
Michelle Le Blanc: 2
Colin Odell: 2
Charles M. Schulz: 2
Michael Swanwick: 2
Lavie Tidhar: 2
Dayton Ward: 2

Books by Women: 55
Books by Men: 80

Books by Decade
1890s: 6
1900s: 1
1910s: 4
1920s: 3
1930s: 1
1940s: 7
1950s: 8
1960s: 5
1970s: 8
1980s: 10
1990s: 12
2000s: 25
2010s: 46

Friday, December 30, 2016

On Fatigue

One day a great author
Will scrape a well-chewed pencil across a sheet of scrap paper and
In so doing will write the definitive poem about
The problem of sleep
But I am not that author
And this is not that pencil
Zzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz

Thursday, December 29, 2016

Leggo My Ego

It was
1990 and
We huddled in 620 SUB
Between classes waiting
To grow up
(It still hasn't happened)
And someone said something funny
And I said "Leggo my ego!"
And Jeff howled with laughter like it was
The greatest thing since toaster waffles

Wednesday, December 28, 2016

Interesting to the End

Back in June, millions of fans tuned in to watch the last episode of Person of Interest, a smart thriller about the growth of the surveillance state, the looming threat and promise of artificial intelligence, and the importance of doing the right thing even - or especially - in the face of seemingly insurmountable obstacles.

I've written briefly about the show in the past, but I've never really given it as much attention as it deserved. On the surface, especially at first, it seemed like nothing more than another formulaic action-adventure series. But even those early episodes brought with them the show's clever conceit: a Machine that tapped into surveillance cameras, telephones, electronics and the Internet to track and predict potentially violent criminal behaviour. The Machine's creator, Harold Finch (Michael Emerson, best known as Benjamin Linus from Lost), not content to let the government use the Machine only to prevent terrorism, uses his creation to prevent crimes against ordinary citizens. He enlists John Reese (Jim Caviezel), a former CIA operative, as his field agent. Along the way, they recruit semi-crazed hacker and Machine worshipper Root (Amy Acker), NYPD detectives Fusco and Carter (Kevin Chapman and Taraji P. Henson) and assassin Sameen Shaw (Sarah Shahi).

There's a catch: the Machine provides only the social insurance number of the latest person of interest, and doesn't let Finch, Reese or the rest of the team know if that person is a potential victim or perpetrator.

This factor alone kept up my interest for the first season, but it quickly became clear that the producers (particularly creator Jonathan Nolan) had bigger storytelling aspirations. As the show moves through its second, third and fourth seasons, it becomes clear to the protagonists that the Machine is a conscious being of immense power, and that it needs to be taught the difference between right and wrong, lest it rule the planet as the most brutal and efficient dictator ever known. To complicate matters further, a second Machine, Samaritan, emerges as the Machine's rival, and it seems to have already chosen to rule the world, recruiting human agents to do its bidding.

A solid cast of recurring characters, both villainous and virtuous and sometimes a little of both, add dramatic tension and verisimilitude to the show's events and themes, often embodying or illustrating the high stakes the protagonists are fighting for.

Finch and his team make heartbreaking personal sacrifices over the course of the show's five seasons, and not all of them live past the final episode, which wraps up operatically; it's a masterpiece of action, pathos, heartbreak and hope. Not many long-running, high-concept dramas conclude as satisfyingly as Person of Interest, and I'm grateful to the showrunners, cast and crew for delivering on the promise of the show's ambitions.

For those who haven't sampled Person of Interest, I highly recommend it. It's a great, thought-provoking ride.


Tuesday, December 27, 2016

An Explosion of Christmas Colour

Mom and Dad always do a great job of stringing Christmas lights in front of their house. To get this effect, I zoomed out while the shutter was open. 

Friday, December 23, 2016

Wednesday, December 21, 2016

One Rogue Review

When I went to see The Force Awakens last December, I Ieft the theatre feeling a little melancholy. There were parts of the film I enjoyed very much, but the whole was unsatisfying. The Force Awakens was fairly well-received by critics, so I started to wonder if I was the problem. Maybe, I thought, these movies aren't meant for me; maybe I've finally grown too old to enjoy them.

My reaction to Rogue One was entirely different. I was energized by a Star Wars movie that opened up the universe in a way I thought every film after the original failed to achieve. I was impressed by the verisimilitude of the military action; aside from its fantastic setting, this felt very much like the way a "star war" could play out. The Rebellion and Empire were both given additional definition and shades of grey, with sympathetic (or at least believable) characters on both sides. What little comic relief there was was understated and appropriate.

The film embraces its premise and doesn't take the easy way out. It dovetails perfectly into the original Star Wars, and there are plentiful satisfying touchstones for longtime fans of the films. Even the loathsome prequels are slightly redeemed, or at least given a touch of additional context.

I couldn't tell you the character names off the top of my head, and you'd think that would be a bad sign, but it isn't. There's the intelligence guy, the Imperial pilot, the blind guy, his buddy, the droid and the plucky heroine. And it's okay to think of them this way, because you're rooting for them all the way through the movie. Even the supernumeraries have little touches of personality that make you care about them as they fight and die namelessly.

This was the Star Wars movie for the everyman. There are no Jedi Knights or princesses or swashbuckling rogues or any of the other typical heroic archetypes; it's as if they made a Star Trek movie (if I can mix my fictional universes) with just the Chekovs or even the Baileys or DeSalles or Palmers of the Federation - the everyday Joes and Janes who do the day-to-day work that makes civilization possible.

I cared about what happened to these characters. That's the mark of a good film.

Aside from the timeless original, this may be my favourite Star Wars movie, surpassing even The Empire Strikes Back. The sacrifices depicted in this story give dramatic heft and meaning to the rest of the saga while telling a fast-paced, character-driven, compelling story of its own. It's quite an achievement.

Lego Advent Calendar Haiku 2016 Day 21

O Christmas Tree of Hoth
Not the tree I'm looking for
A lonely trooper

Saturday, December 17, 2016

Thursday, December 15, 2016

Monday, December 12, 2016

Saturday, December 10, 2016

Wednesday, December 07, 2016

Monday, December 05, 2016

Sunday, December 04, 2016

Saturday, December 03, 2016

Thursday, December 01, 2016

Wednesday, November 30, 2016

How to Make Progress in the Next Decade

Jeff left a very reasonable comment about my last post, in which he asks the question "How would a progressive make any progress in the next decade?"

I hope this answer doesn't seem trite, but for what it's worth it's the best I can do: we make progress the same way we made progress at any other time. By that I mean stay informed, stay involved or get involved in grassroots decision making, treat others with dignity and respect, keep educating yourself, and provide regular feedback to your elected representatives. Create art. Support movements and charities that do good work. Consider the choices you make every day: who do they help, and who do they harm?

Unfortunately, I'm no strategist, and I feel whatever wisdom I used to have fled long ago. I know I'm in a position of great privilege, that I've never known true deprivation, and that my hand-wringing is unseemly in the face of the real suffering being borne by billions all over the world today. I'm aware of the hypocrisy of my own choices, and yet I keep making those choices because I am weak.

But I do the best I can. And the best I can do right now is to write about the things I care about, to try to share some joy via the blog, to care for my loved ones and support my friends. If I gather enough strength over the next few months, maybe I can do more.



Tuesday, November 29, 2016

Perspective

Like many progressives, I've been down in the dumps for much of the year, with my gloomy funk accelerating after the Brexit vote and the election of Donald Trump in the USA. Given those events, the continuing catastrophic decline of journalism, rising nationalist fervor in Europe and closer to home, plus the seeming willingness of a growing segment of the population to ignore evidence based decision making, coupled with an outright rejection of science and rising acceptance of racism and xenophobia...

...well, it's made for some sleepless nights, and I mean that almost literally. I've had nightmares about the end of civilization with a frequency I haven't endured since I was a teenager during the Cold War. It's been a long time since I've been plagued by such persistent feelings of hopeless despair.

But over the last couple of days, even in the wake of a never-ending tide of bad news, I've somehow managed to find some perspective. While I don't seek to minimize the current tide of existential threats, it soothes me a little to recall that human beings have persevered and even triumphed over circumstances almost as dire. You only have to look back less than a century, to the generation that lived through the Great Depression, through the rise of fascism in Europe and totalitarian governments in Asia, ultimately climaxing in a war that killed millions upon millions of people and practically destroyed an entire continent's infrastructure.

I wish I weren't seeing so many parallels between the world situation now and that of the 1930s. It's not much solace, except in that there was a light at the end of that long, dark tunnel. The generations before us found the light because they fought for it, literally and figuratively, at staggering cost.

Those of us who believe in human rights, science, and generally working to end human misery, have some fighting ahead of us. We have to show that progressive solutions bring the greatest happiness to the largest number of people, and we have to use arguments that the disenfranchised and the fearful will understand and embrace.

We also have to recognize, much as it pains us, that there are people of ill will who fight dirty and without remorse for their own selfish interests. I don't advocate stooping to their level. But we do have to be ready to refute their lies and bad ideas with the facts and better ideas. And we have to do it with a passion that matches - exceeds - theirs.

2016 has proven that the march of progress can be halted and even reversed. It's happened before, and maybe it's happening now. Those of us who dream of a better world for everyone can't take its arrival for granted. We have to build it, even if others want to tear it all down. 

Monday, November 28, 2016

Robby's Return

Robby the Robot used to get around. Since his first appearance in Forbidden Planet, still one of the best SF films ever made, he's turned up in his own starring vehicle (the flawed, weird, but somehow arresting The Invisible Boy), and he's guest-starred on Lost in Space, The Thin Man, The Addams Family and Mork and Mindy, among other television series. It's been some time since Robby was a pop culture icon, and as a fan I'd love to see him turn up again. Dr. Who seems an ideal vehicle for a return, considering the Doctor visits all of time and space; perhaps he could encounter the intrepid crew of United Planets cruiser C57-D after the destruction of Altair IV. On the other hand, the creators of the upcoming Star Trek: Discovery show will feature robots; why not Robby?

Or maybe he could show up in the background of an episode of Westworld...it would seem a fitting tribute.


Sunday, November 27, 2016

PhotoScan Test

Mom and Dad found some old photos at Grandma's house after she passed away, and I've been meaning to scan them for some time, but I'm missing the scanner component that allows me to scan prints. So tonight I decided to try Google's new PhotoScan app. The results aren't bad, even given my shaky hands. I don't think the scan is as sharp as it might have been had I used my Canon flatbed scanner, but it's much faster than a conventional scan, and easier to use.

I'm not sure if that's my Dad in the high chair, or if he's standing next to it. Either way, this photo would have been shot sometime during the 1940s. Note the Rice Krispies posters in the background. 

Saturday, November 26, 2016

Road Sheep

Here's a photo of a road sheep of some kind that I shot while on my ill-fated trip down the Alaska Highway. While I lost a car in the Yukon, I gained quite a few half-decent photos. I encountered a lot of wildlife on that trip; the buffalo were the most imposing. I didn't really understand how large they were until a few lumbered across the road in front of my car. They probably weighed as much as my vehicle. 

Friday, November 25, 2016

Dad and the UFO

On a summer day back in 2007, Dad somehow completely missed spotting the mysterious UFO hovering in the distance. 

Wednesday, November 23, 2016

J'Accuse My Husband!

Here's a still from the neo-noir avant-garde faux-French film from Paranoid Productions, J'Accuse My Husband. Coming soon to Netflix! (In a parallel universe.) 

Tuesday, November 22, 2016

Grounded LEM

It's a bit smashed up in this photo from 2007, but this lunar lander model represents the pinnacle of my achievements in model kit assembly and painting. By carefully following the instructions and patiently applying exactly the paints dictated by the instructions, I made a passably good miniature replica of the Apollo Lunar Excursion Module (LEM) and Command/Service Module (C/SM, not pictured). I think I made the models when I was 11 or 12; they lasted many years, though each suffered some breakage - an inevitability with such fragile plastic toys.


Monday, November 21, 2016

Cranebow

I shot this back in 2008 near Leduc, Alberta, on Mom's birthday. The pun didn't occur to me until tonight. Some jokes have a long gestation period.

Edited to add: ...or did Sean shoot this from the car window as we were heading back to Edmonton from Leduc? If so, nice job, Sean. 

Sunday, November 20, 2016

The Bloody Melancholy of Death Wish 3

In Michael Winner's Death Wish 3 (1985), architect/vigilante Paul Kersey (Charles Bronson) returns to New York to meet with an old friend. But from the moment Kersey steps off the bus, he's returned to the surreal, apocalyptic New York of Death Wish (1974), in which muggers, rapists, murderers or thieves - collectively referred to as "creeps" - roam the streets with inescapable inevitability. Indeed, even as Kersey steps off the bus, he witnesses crimes taking place right in the bust terminal. Meanwhile, the friend he's visiting falls victim to a home invasion; Kersey shows up just in time to be falsely busted for the murder by the police.

However, New York's police chief is sympathetic and makes a deal with Kersey: shoot all the criminals you want, but report on gang activity from time to time.

With his vigilantism endorsed by the state, Kersey wastes no time taking over his friend's apartment and installing booby traps for the neighbours. It's a community under siege, with decaying, bombed-out buildings literally surrounded by roaming gang members wielding chains, crowbars, knives and guns. The creeps routinely rob and harass people on the street in broad daylight and break into apartments to beat up tenants and steal their stuff.

Kersey orders a gigantic handgun and loads it with bullets meant for elephants. He then proceeds to blow away gang members willy nilly. In one scene, he shoots a fleeing purse snatcher in the back, and witnesses cheer him on: "Great shot!" "Yeah!" "All right!"

The violence escalates. One of Kersey's neighbours, played by a slumming Martin Balsam, happens to have a couple of surplus World War II machine guns in his closet. Kersey orders grenades and a rocket launcher through the mail, which seems ludicrous, but I wouldn't be surprised if this is perfectly normal in the United States.

Meanwhile, Kersey enjoys a budding romance with a young lawyer, who is of course murdered, just as all Kersey's loved ones are murdered in this series of movies. Oddly, her death comes at the midpoint of the film, rather than kicking off the action as in the first two films; Kersey's killing spree is well underway by this point, and when he witnesses his new girlfriend's fiery death, he merely sighs, shrugs and turns away, as if he knew it was inevitable all along.

At the film's conclusion, Kersey arms himself with all his weapons and goes on his final killing spree, gunning down dozens of gang members. Eventually the neighbours, driven into a frenzy by the violent display, join in, attacking their tormentors en masse with whatever weapons they can lay their hands on. Even the police show up at last, making no effort whatsoever to arrest anyone; they simply join Kersey in gunning down creeps. Even the police chief himself personally murders a number of thugs.

In the film's final act of violence, Kersey vaporizes the gang leader with his rocket launcher. The neighbourhood is saved...until the next sequel, presumably. Kersey himself seems to derive little satisfaction from his actions; he looks tired, even a little sad, and walks away without fanfare as police sirens wail.

The most amazing thing about these Death Wish films is the way in which they see crime: it's everywhere. In each film, Kersey doesn't have to go looking for criminals; he simply walks down any street and inevitably finds a crook, which he efficiently dispatches, often to fawning news coverage.

It's hard to say whether a fear of crime creates movies like this, or movies like this create a fear of crime. Either way, this is a film dripping in paranoiac dread, and its fascistic text (it is hardly subtext!) makes it a bit difficult to laugh at the over-the-top action (though laugh I did).

Apparently Bruce Willis is working on a Death Wish remake. How very timely. 

Saturday, November 19, 2016

Friday, November 18, 2016

Pitch # 843

Deforestation, climate change, refugee movements and guerrilla warfare have thrown the Amazon basin into chaos. But profiteers sense opportunity amidst the danger, and mount an expedition down to the source of the Amazon River, where they believe undiscovered plant life could serve as the source of lucrative new pharmaceuticals. Little do they know an ancient being awaits, a monster from green he'll known only as...

THE CREATURE FROM THE BLACK LAGOON

In colour! With all the gory spectacle of the 21st century!

Really, I'm surprised this hasn't happened yet.

Wednesday, November 16, 2016

Punchline Badge

Here's something I created for a Halloween costume a couple of years ago. I wasn't sure if my costume was good enough to sell the joke, so to make it foolproof I added a badge featuring this bit of art. As we all know, a joke is funnier when you have to explain it. 

Tuesday, November 15, 2016

Strange Days Indeed

A rich, arrogant genius with intimacy issues suffers a life-altering medical trauma and emerges as a better man by applying his innate skills to open up amazing new possibilities, step past his own selfishness and change the world for the better. Along the way he faces a forgettable villain who betrayed his own people and joins a wider community of fellow heroes. Yes, it's Iron Man all over again, except this time the hero is a doctor instead of an arms dealer and he solves problems with magic instead of technology.

There's a reason why the Marvel movies are accused of relying too heavily on formula, and Doctor Strange exemplifies the reasons why doing so can significantly hamper the meaning and impact of each successive film in the series. Yes, Doctor Strange offers amazing visuals, witty tongue-in-cheek humour and fine performances; it's a perfectly well-crafted film. But we've seen all this before. How difficult would it have been to join Strange in medias rez, facing a truly mind-bending magical problem? Why not tell the story through the eyes of Wong, presenting Strange as a truly strange and dangerous force of nature, a man ruthless enough to pursue a truly utilitarian worldview, sacrificing what he must for the greater good?

That's just one suggestion out of endless storytelling avenues. Surely with a canvas as rich as the entire Marvel universe, the various creators behind these films can do better.

Monday, November 14, 2016

Waterton Lens Flare

The green, blue and red hexagons in the trees weren't created by Photoshop; I shot this photograph on film on Mom and Dad's T70 back in 2002. Maybe I shouldn't be surprised, but I think it's neat how cleanly the light bouncing around in the lens split perfectly into red, green and blue...although now I wonder why there aren't also a yellow, indigo, violet and orange flares as well. Hmmm, well, that's the wonder of science! I'm sure someone smarter than me will explain in the comments. The Earliad depends on its readers for exactly this purpose! 

Sunday, November 13, 2016

Suds from Above

One day in 2003, I hopped up on the counter to take a photo of Sylvia washing dishes at my Baywood Park apartment. She thought it was a strange thing to do, but I like the dramatic angle. 

Saturday, November 12, 2016

Three Views of Caged Fury

Positive scan...
...negative scan...
...alternate negative scan.

I find it interesting that the print colours are so much warmer than the negative scans. It shows how much control the lab had over the look of your photos when you took them in to be processed. With digital photography, those choices are all in our hands now, for better or for worse. 

Friday, November 11, 2016

Casualties of Perception

Many years ago, either Paul or Vern or Jeff told me I should go see Brian De Palma's Casualties of War.

"You have to see this," one of them said, "The guy Michael J. Fox plays is just like you."

Well, I finally got around to seeing the movie; just finished, in fact. And while I don't believe I could possibly display the courage Fox's character shows in the film, I'm nonetheless deeply moved by the comparison. I wish I really were that guy.

All that aside, it's a heartbreaking, gut-wrenching, but ultimately moral film. I needed it this week.

Wednesday, November 09, 2016

The Second Last Coming

Burning and burning in the widening fire
The elite turn deaf ears on the proles;
Coalitions fall apart; the centre-left cannot hold
Mere xenophobia is loosed upon the world,
The froth-dimmed tide of invective is loosed, and everywhere
The ceremony of reconciliation is drowned;
The best have left Hope behind, while the deplorables
Are full of passionate intensity.

Surely some revelation is at hand;
Surely the Second Last Coming is at hand.
The Second Last Coming! Hardly are those words out
When a vast image out of The Apprentice
Troubles my sight: somewhere in the static of the unreal
A shape in a business suit with the head of a toupee,
Finger extended to fire, pitiless as a persona
Is moving its slow guise, while all about it
Reel shadows of the chattering hangers-on.
The darkness drops again; but now I know
That ten decades of stony sleep
Were vexed to waken by opportunities squandered,
And what rough beast, its hour come round at last,
Slouches towards Washington to be borne? 

Tuesday, November 08, 2016

Election Fright

Too tense to blog tonight. Will a reality show star become the American President, riding a wave of uninformed rage? It sure looks that way.

Monday, November 07, 2016

The Narrative Engine

The HBO television series Westworld features a giant machine that seems to be in the process of excavating and terraforming vast swaths of the titular theme park to serve the needs of a mysterious new narrative. The machine is the centrepiece of the creepiest moment in the show to date, and I'm sure it will turn up again as this season proceeds.

Back in 1986, I shot this photo of a similar machine. It's not nearly as large as the one in the show, but it does have the same techno-horror flavour, at least in my eyes. 

Sunday, November 06, 2016

Old Worlds

Martin and Dozois are both amazing writer/editors, so I'm really looking forward to seeing how the stories in these books reinterpret the hundred year old visions that informed the early days of science fiction with regard to Earth's two closest planetary neighbours. The covers are fantastic. 

Saturday, November 05, 2016

Green Confectionery


My colleague Diane brought me a present on her return from a vacation to East Asia: this Green Tea Kit Kat bar. I brought it home to share with Sylvia, but we haven't been bold enough to try it yet. The package is certainly interesting. What script is that, I wonder? 

Friday, November 04, 2016

Never Stop Shopping

I thought Sylvia looked particularly beautiful today when I came home from work, and captured this photo over her protests. I like this costume, but she refers to it as "rags." I seem to love her best in rags...

Thursday, November 03, 2016

Dolt Man Soars

Today Sean asked me to use Microsoft Paint to draw Dolt Man (Paladin of O.R.D.E.R.) flying over some transmission lines. Here is my attempt do obey Sean's wishes.