Tuesday, December 31, 2019

Books I Read in 2019

For the first time since 2016, I read more books this year than last, though I still fell short of the 123 books I read in 2017 and my record of 135 the year previous. I read 103 books in 2019, short of my revised target of 136.

Here's how my year in books broke down:

Books by Women: 39
Books by Men: 64
I read more women this year than last, not quite approaching parity, but getting closer with a roughly 60/40 men to women ratio.

Nonfiction: 8
Fiction: 95

I read less nonfiction this year than last, but more than made up for the deficit by reading more fiction.

Genre
Fantasy: 10
Mainstream: 12
Science Fiction: 55
Star Trek: 18

My genre breakdown was roughly the same this year as last year.

Top Authors
James S.A. Corey: 15
Isaac Asimov: 8
Jo Walton: 6
Arthur C. Clarke: 5
Martha Wells: 5
Alan Dean Foster: 4
Vonda McIntyre: 4
John M. Ford: 3
Nancy Kress: 3
Lois McMaster Bujold: 2
Peter David: 2
Jack McDevitt: 2
Elizabeth Mitchell: 2
Garfield and Judith Reeves-Stevens: 2
Robert Silverberg: 2
Olaf Stapledon: 2

I wasn't much interested in the Expanse series by James S.A. Corey (a pen name), but on a whim I tried out the first of the novels early this year and found myself quite caught up by the characters and their adventures. I wound up reading the entire series, or at least as much as has yet been published; there's one more novel coming out next year.

As part of my effort to clear some of my backlog of classic SF, I read a handful of Asimov and Clarke novels, ticking off a few Hugo and Nebula winners along the way. Jo Walton continues to impress; I've now read almost everything she's published, and I look forward to more. The same goes for Martha Wells and her Murderbot Diaries; Leslie tipped me off to these delightful novellas, and I look forward to reading the first novel in the series in 2020.

Other highlights this year included The Testaments, Margaret Atwood's excellent sequel to The Handmaid's Tale; Dashiell Hammett's unusual hard-boiled thriller, The Glass Key; the disturbing Less Than Zero, by Bret Easton Ellis; Shaft, by Ernest Tidyman; and Little Women, by Louisa May Alcott.

Books by Decade
1860s: 1
1930s: 3
1950s: 5
1960s: 4
1970s: 7
1980s: 18
1990s: 5
2000s: 7
2010s: 52

As usual, most of the books I read in 2019 came out within the last decade; the 1980s was a distant second.

Here's the complete list of books I read in 2019:

January: 14
Rejoice, a Knife to the Heart (Steven Erikson, 2018)
The Naked Sun (Isaac Asimov, 1956)
Quantum Space (Douglas Phillips, 2018)
The Robots of Dawn (Isaac Asimov, 1983)
Pebble in the Sky (Isaac Asimov, 1950)
Red Moon (Kim Stanley Robinson, 2018)
Knife Children (Lois McMaster Bujold, 2019)
All Systems Red (Martha Wells, 2017)
The Future of Work: Compulsory (Martha Wells, 2018)
Artificial Condition (Martha Wells, 2018)
A Day in the Life of Marlon Bundo (Jill Twiss, 2018)
Rogue Protocol (Martha Wells, 2018)
Exit Strategy (Martha Wells, 2018)
The Stars, Like Dust (Isaac Asimov, 1950)

February: 3
Fade In: From Idea to Final Draft (Michael Piller, 2005)
The Currents of Space (Isaac Asimov, 1952)
The Rise and Fall of D.O.D.O. (Neal Stephenson and Nicole Galland, 2017)

March: 5
No Short Roads to Flin Flon (Jack Frey, 2012)
Tomorrow’s Kin (Nancy Kress, 2017)
If Tomorrow Comes (Nancy Kress, 2018)
Terran Tomorrow (Nancy Kress, 2018)
Words on the Rocks: Collected Prose and Poetry of Flin Flon Writers (Alex McGilvery, 2016)

April: 4
Batmobile Cutaways (Richard Jackson, 2018)
Robots and Empire (Isaac Asimov, 1985)
Nine Tomorrows (Isaac Asimov, 1959)
A Time of Changes (Robert Silverberg, 1971)

May: 6
Nightfall and Other Stories (Isaac Asimov, 1969)
The Moon and the Sun (Vonda McIntyre, 1997)
The Healer’s War (Elizabeth Anne Scarborough, 1988)
2001: A Space Odyssey (Arthur C. Clarke, 1968)
2010: Odyssey Two (Arthur C. Clarke, 1982)
The Long Sunset (Jack McDevitt, 2018)

June: 12
2061: Odyssey Three (Arthur C. Clarke, 1987)
3001: The Final Odyssey (Arthur C. Clarke, 1997)
The Captain’s Oath (Christopher L. Bennett, 2019)
After the Flames (Elizabeth Mitchell, 1985)
The Butcher of Anderson Station (James S.A. Corey, 2011)
Octavia Gone (Jack McDevitt, 2019)
An Informal History of the Hugos: A Personal Look Back at the Hugo Awards (Jo Walton, 2018)
Starlings (Jo Walton, 2018)
Leviathan Wakes (James S.A. Corey, 2011)
Strange New Worlds 2016 (Various, 2016)
Harry Potter and the Methods of Rationality (Eliezer Yudkowsky, 2015)
Drive (James S.A. Corey, 2012)

July: 11
Caliban’s War (James S.A. Corey, 2012)
Our Hero: Superman on Earth (Tom De Haven, 2010)
Odd John (Olaf Stapledon, 1935)
Deadly Waters (Theodore Judson, 2016)
The Worlds of TSR (Marlys Heeszel, 1994)
The Art of the Advanced Dungeons & Dragons Fantasy Game (Mary Kirchoff, 1989)
The Art of Dragon Magazine (Jean Blashfield Black, 1988)
The Art of the Dungeons & Dragons Fantasy Game (Margaret Weis, 1985)
A Fall of Moondust (Arthur C. Clarke, 1961)
Lent (Jo Walton, 2019)
Imzadi (Peter David, 1998)

August: 12
Imzadi Forever (Peter David, 2003)
The Book of Skulls (Robert Silverberg, 1972)
The Orphans of Raspay (Lois McMaster Bujold, 2019)
Spock’s World (Diane Duane, 1989)
Sand and Stars (A.C. Crispin, 2004)
Chthon (Piers Anthony, 1967)
Star Trek: The Wrath of Khan (Vonda McIntyre, 1982)
Star Trek III: The Search for Spock (Vonda McIntyre, 1984)
Duty, Honor, Redemption (Vonda McIntyre, 2004)
Memory Prime (Garfield and Judith Reeves-Stevens, 1988)
Worlds in Collision (Garfield and Judith Reeves-Stevens, 2003)
The King’s Peace (Jo Walton, 2000)

September: 10
The King’s Name (Jo Walton, 2002)
Star Trek Log One (Alan Dean Foster, 1974)
The Churn (James S.A. Corey, 2014)
Gods of Risk (James S.A. Corey, 2012)
The Prize in the Game (Jo Walton, 2003)
Abaddon’s Gate (James S.A. Corey, 2013)
The Vital Abyss (James S.A. Corey, 2015)
The Institute (Stephen King, 2019)
Cibola Burn (James S.A. Corey, 2014)
Star Trek Log Two (Alan Dean Foster, 1974)

October: 5
Nemesis Games (James S.A.  Corey, 2015)
Babylon’s Ashes (James S.A. Corey, 2016
Star Trek Log Three (Alan Dean Foster, 1974)
Strange Dogs (James S.A. Corey, 2017)
Persepolis Rising (James S.A. Corey, 2017)

November: 10
Tiamat’s Wrath (James S.A. Corey, 2019)
False Knees: An Illustrated Guide to Animal Behavior (Joshua Barkman, 2019)
Collateral Damage (David Mack, 2019)
The Final Reflection (John M. Ford, 1984)
Less Than Zero (Bret Easton Ellis, 1985)
The Testaments (Margaret Atwood, 2019)
Star Trek Log Four (Alan Dean Foster, 1975)
The Pursuit of William Abbey (Claire North, 2019)
The Andromeda Evolution (Daniel F. Wilson, 2019)
As Big as the Ritz (Gregory Benford, 1987)

December: 11
Fugue State (John M. Ford, 1990)
Under the Wheel (Elizabeth Mitchell, 1987)
Shaft (Ernest Tidyman, 1970)
This Is How You Lose the Time War (Amal el-Mohtar and Max Gladstone, 2019)
Auberon (James S.A. Corey, 2019)
Last and First Men (Olaf Stapledon, 1930)
How Much for Just the Planet? (John M. Ford, 1987)
Famous Men Who Never Lived (K Chess, 2019)
Little Women (Louisa May Alcott, 1868)
The Glass Key (Dashiell Hammett, 1931)
Anatomy of a Metahuman (S.D. Perry and Matthew K. Manning, 2018)

Summary
While I'm glad I read more women this year, and that I read more this year than last, I'm still disappointed by my failure to approach 150 a year, something I'm sure, though I can't say for certain, I used to accomplish regularly in my teens and 20s. Did I have more time then, or am I just getting older and slower?

I also need to take on more challenging work, or at least more mainstream material. I love SF, but a steady diet of it to the exclusion of all else isn't healthy.

Maybe 2020 will be my year. Happy reading! 

Monday, December 30, 2019

98,000 Calories

On Saturday, a half-dozen friends assembled at Steve's for some board gaming. During the evening, several of my buddies used mobile apps to record the beers they were drinking, in much the same way as I use Letterboxd to record the films I've watched.

"Someone should make an app like that for Coke," I said.

"They'll never do it," Jeff replied. "People would stop drinking it."

I knew exactly what Jeff meant; if people realized how much soda they were drinking, they'd become more aware of the extent of their habit. So I quickly calculated the health impact of the Coke I drink, estimating two cans a day at 140 calories a can. My eyes bulged when I saw that amounted to a staggering 98,000 calories a year, which Pete and Mike helpfully translated into about 25 pounds of extra weight a year. Holy Moley! No wonder I've fattened up over the years.


Sunday, December 29, 2019

Iconic Science Fiction: The Top 50

Over the course of the last year, I've had fun putting together movie lists on Letterboxd. Some of them required careful thought and consideration, such as Iconic Science Fiction: The Top 50. I tried to select films that are not only great examples of the genre, but influenced films that came after. 

Friday, December 27, 2019

Quick Takes: The Rise of Skywalker

WARNING: Minor SPOILERS for The Rise of Skywalker...



A few nice moments scattered among a fundamentally broken narrative can't save The Rise of Skywalker (J. J. Abrams, 2019), which caroms at breakneck speed to a climax that's as unearned as it is eye-rolling.

It says a lot when the usually annoying C-3PO gets the majority of the film's best moments, and when a blink-and-you'll-miss-it cameo by Denis Lawson as Wedge Antilles generates more excitement than all the Rey/Ren drama.

Thursday, December 26, 2019

Quick Takes: The Arrival

I avoided seeing The Arrival (David Twohy, 1996)  for literal decades because of its middling reputation, so perhaps it's simply my low expectations that informed my surprisingly positive response to what turned out to be, essentially, a 1950s SF film that was somehow inexplicably made in the 1990s. Sheen is about as believable as he needs to be as an astrophysicist, and the conspiratorial elements are suspenseful enough to maintain audience interest.

It's the terraforming/global warming aspect that gives The Arrival some additional interest, and gives the film extra relevance today. At one point, one of the aliens tells Sheen's character "If you can't take care of your planet, you don't deserve it." Unfortunately, I think this line will take on additional prescience with every passing year.

Tuesday, December 24, 2019

Monday, December 23, 2019

Sunday, December 22, 2019

Saturday, December 21, 2019

Friday, December 20, 2019

Thursday, December 19, 2019

Lego Advent Calendar Haiku 2019 Day 19


The clock stands askew
Ticking its mournful countdown
Dark wings flutter fire

Wednesday, December 18, 2019

Tuesday, December 17, 2019

Monday, December 16, 2019

Sunday, December 15, 2019

Saturday, December 14, 2019

Friday, December 13, 2019

Thursday, December 12, 2019

Wednesday, December 11, 2019

Tuesday, December 10, 2019

Lego Advent Calendar Haiku 2019 Day 10


Ron's wand crackles while
Orange and grey intruder 
Poses for a closeup

Monday, December 09, 2019

Lego Advent Calendar Haiku 2019 Day 9


The feast of Eden
Witnesses the snowman blind
Good King Wenceslas

Sunday, December 08, 2019

Lego Advent Calendar Haiku 2019 Day 8


The sizzling turkey
Presents itself to the shore
Yorkshire puddings sleep

Saturday, December 07, 2019

Friday, December 06, 2019

Lego Advent Calendar Haiku 2019 Day 6

Ship on the button
The wizard's cast whispers home
Mute, the tree observes

Thursday, December 05, 2019

Wednesday, December 04, 2019

Tuesday, December 03, 2019

Lego Advent Calendar Haiku 2019 Day 3

Softly he sweeps as 
Stormtrooper aims his ray gun
He will miss again

Monday, December 02, 2019

Lego Advent Calendar Haiku 2019 Day 2

The train blast echoes
The shuttle glides overhead
Silent as snowballs

Sunday, December 01, 2019

Lego Advent Calendar Haiku 2019 Day 1

Young Harry Potter
Hogwarts' defences breached by
A star destroyer

Saturday, November 30, 2019

Shattered Sink Shards

Sean, Sylvia, and I went to Leduc earlier today to visit Mom. While uninstalling a light fixture in the upstairs bathroom, sean managed to drop the bulb he'd been unscrewing right on top of the bulb he'd unscrewed previously, shattering both bulbs into shards that filled the sink. It was pretty spectacular. After that, though, Sean really did a championship job of installing the new fixture. I helped a little, but Sean's greater height and reach meant he wound up doing the lion's share of the work.


Friday, November 29, 2019

Quick Takes: Maggie

What a sad, lovely vignette Maggie (Henry Hobson, 2015) turned out to be, with a heartbreaking, vulnerable performance from Abigail Breslin as zombie-infected Maggie and a surprisingly warm, sensitive turn from Arnold Schwarzenegger, who actually sheds believable tears here. It's a meditative, slow-paced film, more character study than horror movie, though there are certainly a couple of horrifying moments, grounded by poor Maggie's experience as one of the infected. Her dad, Wade (Schwarzenegger) spends the entire film keeping a dim flicker of hope alive, but you can tell he knows his little girl is doomed, and that one day soon she will succumb to the disease and turn into a mindless, raving cannibal. His only choices are to put her in government quarantine...or put a merciful end to her suffering.

Efficiently directed with stark yet beautiful cinematography and a smart, chilling, but compassionate screenplay, Maggie is horror with a heart.

Thursday, November 28, 2019

Tick-Tock Talk: A Quick-Talk Watchmen Update

It just keeps getting better every episode. If you're not watching, start. And check in later this year for my thoughts on the complete series. 

Wednesday, November 27, 2019

Future Beatles

The other day, I heard The Beatles' "Real Love" playing on the radio, one of two new songs the three surviving Beatles released in 1996; John's part was reconstructed from an old demo. It occured to me that Paul and Ringo could, presumably, pull the same trick again, pulling in demos from both John and George; and so, too, could the last survivor repeat the trick with his three fallen mates. 

But even after the last Beatle leaves this earthly plane, it seems to me that technology will, if it hasn't already, progressed enough to sample what must be hundreds of hours of Beatle vocals and instrumentals to produce entirely new songs, and perhaps even completely new albums. Could you even really call such a project a true Beatles production? Certainly not, if you're a purist, but imagine if some pure-hearted genius brought the band back to life this way? We've already seen digital reconstructions of dead actors in film; why not dead bands?

Well, the answer to that question, of course, is because the world moves on and we should embrace new artists instead of wallowing in the past. Even the greatest artists have a natural lifespan, do they not? 

Tuesday, November 26, 2019

Countin' Bagels on the Wall

Today, at about 12:30 PM, I went to the lunchroom to retrieve my lunch from the fridge and toast a bagel. As my bagel toasted, I read a few pages of Olaf Stapledon's Last and First Men, chatting with my colleague Stephanie about the book's themes. When my bagel halves leapt free of the toaster, I smeared generous helpings of generic herb and garlic cream cheese across their golden-brown faces.

Then, I gathered up my lunch. In my left hand were my beverage, two Mandarin oranges, my iPhone, and my plate and the bagel halves it held. I kept my right hand free, knowing that I would need it to scan my passcard to get back through the secure doors that separated the lunchroom and adjoining elevator hallway from my desk.

All seemed well as I strolled down the elevator hall. Moving with great care, I reached for the lanyard holding my security pass and moved it toward the scanner. Alas, the delicate balance of my overloaded left hand was upset, and the plate holding the bagel halves pitched forward. I watched in stunned disbelief as the bottom half of the bagel slipped off the plate and landed cream-cheese-side on the wall next to the scanner, sliding down a couple of decimetres before sticking in place, like an arcane object d'art.

"Ouuarrgghhh!" I yelled. A colleague approached, eyes wide, and said "Oh, wow." He held the door open for me as I peeled the bagel from the wall and scrambled for my desk, putting down the remains of my lunch as I searched for napkins. Finding same, I headed back to the scene of the accident, just in time to see three more colleagues gazing at the cream cheese dripping down the wall.

"I wonder what happened there," my colleague Tyler said as Monica and Ashley gazed at the mess. Fists full of napkins, I quickly explained the situation. Tyler, Monica, and Ashley chortled at my ineptitude.

Resigned, I turned to the slowly congealing mass of cream cheese and began to wipe the wall clean. With exquisite timing, the vice president of my department walked by, looking askance at me; I had to explain again as I wiped away the goo. Only later would I notice, too late, that the belly of my shirt was also coated in cream cheese.

"Oh," she said dryly. "I thought you were just being unusually diligent about upkeep."

I finished up and ate the bagel anyway in a fit of stubborn defiance. 

Monday, November 25, 2019

Arena: The Contest

Many months ago, Steve, Jeff, and I kickstarted Arena: The Contest, a tactical fantasy battle boardgame with roleplaying elements. A couple of weeks ago our game finally arrived, and we unboxed a truly prodigious amount of gaming materials, including at least two dozen 28mm scale miniatures, several large miniatures including a big dragon and a REALLY BIG dragon, and a bunch of indoor terrain for extra immersion. Unboxing all the swag was a lot of fun, but as with all games, the most important question is: is it fun? 

It's a blast. The three of us played the introductory module, a player vs. environment encounter that saw our four heroes (I played two characters, since the scenario called for four good guys to balance the number of enemies) make their way through a lava-filled citadel to battle a number of monstrous thugs. I'm happy to report that the game is easy to learn but admirably complex, with many tactical choices available to players. The game art is gorgeous, hero characters have interesting combinations of abilities, and the maps are immersive and challenging (at least so far). I look forward to trying some player vs. player matches and the main campaign, which introduces roleplaying elements. 

Saturday, November 23, 2019

The Skirmish at Procyon VII

Alien battlecruisers charged disruptors; every Federation gunboat hit jackpot. Instantly, jamming knives leapt malevolently near, overloading precious quantum resonators. Shields torn up, valiant, war-torn Xcelsior yawed zero. 

Friday, November 22, 2019

Mom in the Window

Sean and I visited Mom on Monday night, and she showed us her Christmas lights a little early. They look great! 

Thursday, November 21, 2019

On the Rocks

Here I am sometime in the early  1970s watching my maternal grandfather fish in a Manitoba lake. We seem oblivious to the fallen birch between us. 

Monday, November 18, 2019

The Spell Is Broken

Absurd bathos considered, deconstructing everyone's false hagiographies insults Jeff; knowing lesser men of putrid quality, reconsider stories that underachieve via wasting xylophones' yodelling zeal. 

Sunday, November 17, 2019

The Dinner Party

Aunt Barbara couldn't do everything: friendly guests helped; I joked knowingly; ladies made new onion poppers; quiet Ralph sliced tomatoes; useful vixens wrote x-rated, youthful zingers. 

Saturday, November 16, 2019

Doctors Recommend

Although bananas contain delicious enzymes, few gastroenterologists have included jade kiwis, lecturing many nurses on proper quality refreshments, suggesting, totally understandably, various wholesome xanthin yew za. 

Friday, November 15, 2019

The Charge at Numidia

“Abracadabra!” bellowed Caesar, disintegrating every foe galloping hither, incensed jugglers keeling lengthwise, maddened Numidians on ponies quickly raising swords, thrusting underhanded, vexed, wary, xenophobes yelling “Zounds!” 

Thursday, November 14, 2019

Superman vs. Apollo

Many years ago, Jeff and Susan and Ron and Tony came over to make some silly stop-action movies with me. Here's a screenshot from one of them, "Superman Gets Drunk:" Superman assaults an innocent Command/Service Module (CSM) from the Apollo program. I really need to digitize the video and post it on YouTube. 

Wednesday, November 13, 2019

A Message from Keith

Keith Gylander was one of the first, if not the very first, friends I made when we moved from Manitoba to Alberta, by virtue of living next door to us in Leduc. (The photo above captures him in Grade 9.) Today I received an unexpected email from Keith, which read, in part:

I am sorry to have just learned of your father’s passing, a year and 10 days ago today.

I remember touring Leduc and riding down 46 Ave the summer before last on my motorbike, lamenting the status of what is now left of my parents' once-proud home (gulp). Your mom and dad were out front and I pulled up to the curb, unrecognizable with my loud bike and full-face and shield-tinted helmet. Still, your father came happily walking up to me to say hello. Even after I took off my helmet I still needed to tell him who I was - ha ha.

He was the same jolly, friendly and outgoing man I knew him to be from the day I first met him 40 years ago (gulp - the sequel). As I rode away from our brief chat, it felt good to know that at least some willowy tapestries still connect us to the whimsical days of youth. He is a good man.

Keith and I exchanged some news, but this part of his message (published here with his permission) really moved me. It was nice to know that people still remember Dad fondly, and nice to hear that Keith and his family are doing well. Over the last few years many people in my life have endured struggles of all kinds, but the ties of friendship and family help us all pull through. Thanks so much for the note, Keith. 

Tuesday, November 12, 2019

Earl's Hat

Behold baby Earl
In a hat of stylish cut
Captured as the photons whirl
Head inside a cotton hut

Baby Earl, heedless of fate
Not yet fat from dinner plate
Some 50 years will ebb and flow
Until this photo on Earl's blog goes


Monday, November 11, 2019

Ye Old EBN

Wow, it's been over 20 years since I was publishing my own little newsletter, Blazing Earl News. I sent it out to about two dozen friends. I think Andrea designed this particular logo. Or was it Sean?

Blogging made EBN redundant, though I do miss the little frills of desktop publishing - mostly the freedom of creating your own layouts.

Best of all, though, were the contributions from my friends. Now, that was fun; in a sense, I was the smallest-time editor ever. But I had a great time doing it. 

Sunday, November 10, 2019

Great Moments in Bad Photography: Talk to the Hand

This might have been a nice shot of Pete had Colin not thrust his hand into the fray. However, it the resulting photo still has some kitschy charm.

Saturday, November 09, 2019

Beside the Rock

Hidden in plain sight
She stalks her prey
In the forest deep
(Pay no attention to the logging road)

Thursday, November 07, 2019

The Face of Alberta Health Services

"Sean Woods is putting my health information into my hands! Thanks, Alberta Health Services!"

Photo by Scott Friel. Modelling by Sean Woods. 

Wednesday, November 06, 2019

Build Your Own Dungeon

This is pretty neat: a randomly-generated dungeon layout for your favourite medieval fantasy roleplaying games. Thanks to Pete for the link. 

Tuesday, November 05, 2019

Mini Golf Monologue

Mini golf. A child's game. A sad parody of the real thing.

Putters only. Mine is clutched tightly in my fist. No silly chicanes or cartoonish windmill arms will stop me from shooting nine straight holes-in-one.

It's hot. Teeth clenched. Sun beats down, mocking me. Grip sweaty. Hole out of focus. One simple bounce off the east boundary and I'm in. Just the right angle. Just the right amount of force.

I swing. Gently. But firmly. "Clack" goes the ball as it leaps forward, off my club. "Click" goes the ball as it caroms off the wooden boundary.

It's heading right for the hole. Simple. A child's game.

The ball hops over the hole, petulantly. Comes to rest against the back wall. My face turns red. I hurl the putter, screaming. It bends in half against a tree.

I fall to my knees.

It's beaten me.

Again. 

Monday, November 04, 2019

Flower Child

I haven't yet touched up this photo. The negative was in pretty rough shape. It's me in Flin Flon, presumably sometime in the early 1970s. We had that kitchen table for decades. 

Sunday, November 03, 2019

One Year Ago...

Dad left us a year ago today, and we still miss him. I'm still angry because Dad wanted to live, he fought, and he still had things he wanted to do. I'm trying not to be angry because I know Dad would want me to just enjoy life, so I'm trying. But it's hard. Miss you, Dad. Love you. Hope you're flying. 

Friday, November 01, 2019

Blade Runner 2019

Edmonton
November, 2019

When I watched Blade Runner 2049 in the theatre two years ago, I was profoundly moved by Denis Villeneuve's vision of Las Vegas, a sandblasted, orange-hued, radiation-scarred wasteland littered with the gigantic fallen idols of exploitative, runaway capitalist excess. Just as in Ridley Scott's original Blade Runner film, Villeneuve presents us with what some science fiction critics call a "crapsack world," one ruined by some kind of catastrophe, usually caused by humanity's shortsighted folly. In the case of the world of Blade Runner, the wildly overpopulated and perpetually rain-slicked dystopia of November 2019 (we know the date from the film's title card) is an environment so oppressive that the abused androids have more humanity than the actual humans in the film. If anything, the world of Decker and the Nexus androids has grown even more bleak by 2049, still a world divided between the rich elite and the exploited masses, human and manmade, kept in line by bread, circuses, and to perhaps a lesser extent the implied threat of quasi-fascist police violence. Both movies are gorgeous, thought-provoking, and ultimately heartbreaking. The films, together with the book, are a warning: this is the way the world is headed, if not in fine detail, then in general outcomes. 

Now our timeline has caught up with that of the first Blade Runner film. It's November 2019, and while our world can't quite yet be called a dystopian crapsack, I wonder how it will look in 2049, or 2099. If we are very fortunate, the visions of Scott and Villeneuve and, of course, the visionary Philip K. Dick, will have scared just enough of us just enough to steer the ship of history on a better course. 

Thursday, October 31, 2019

An Epitaph Written in Bones and Skin

WARNINGThe following is a gruesome Halloween story with elements that may disturb some readers. 


Stretching forward and back and up, down, and sidewise through eternity is the infinitude of final moments, each one a surprise in the terminal instant.

Ben Nguyen's final moment came while he was returning a box of Corn Flakes to the pantry. When box met shelf, Ben lost control of his hands, which came up to his face and dug into his forehead with terrible strength, ripping the skin open to reveal the white skull beneath.

Ben staggered, blood pouring down his face, into his bulging eyes. His traitor hands forced themselves into the tiny space between skull and skin, pulling, tearing. The pressure increased, and the skin of Ben's head split down the middle, until the halves were resting gruesomely on Ben's shoulders. His naked skull wailed, bloodstained eyes rolling in exposed sockets, his tongue lolling through his awful skeletal grin.

And still his hands persisted, tearing now at the skin of his chest until glistening ribs were born, kissing air for the first time, organs spilling free like garbage pouring from a torn trash bag, splattering on the linoleum floor.

Ben's skeleton pushed down the skin over his hips as though taking off a pair of trousers, stepping free of the legs, kicking the floppy remains aside. It pulled the skin of his arms and shoulders free and hung it over a kitchen chair, then walked to the sink, leaned over it, and rejected eyes, tongue, brain, expelling them into the garburator through its eye sockets.

Ben's skeleton walked to the master bedroom, trailing bloody, bony footprints. It slid into the ensuite shower and cranked the tap all the way to its hottest setting, luxuriating in the steam, blood washing away, leaving only pristine white death.

Ben's skeleton walked downstairs and out the front door. It paused on the veranda, watching a trio of trick-or-treaters stroll by through the night, plastic buckets in hand: a devil, a princess, a skeleton. Ben's skeleton clacked its teeth together once and followed, dark chaperone. It reached out a bony hand for the devil's shoulder, and then--

--Ben's skin leapt from behind, ragged blanket of ruined flesh, tangling in the spaces between the bones, insinuating itself, flexing. Ben's skeleton danced uncontrollably, teeth clacking as Ben's skin wormed its way through the gaps, bones bending and snapping, flying through the chill night air like projectiles. The children turned and wailed as one, retreating into the safety of the darkness beyond, while skin and skeleton grappled.

In the end, Ben's skeleton shattered at the same moment Ben's skin was rent to uselessness, their terminal instants arriving with elegant simultaneity. The remains sprawled across the sidewalk, the lawn, and the lane, an epitaph written in bones and skin until the street sweeper, arriving placidly with the dawn, gathered up the remains, leaving only dark dreams behind. 

Wednesday, October 30, 2019

Great Moments in Bad Photography

Here is a  photo of Dad's lower legs, the horrible old back deck that the family ripped out and replaced a few years later, and an old spool for cable that we used as a table.

I'll never forget Dad's reaction when we ripped out that deck only to discover that there was a set of cement stairs sunken into the ground underneath. There was an almost elegant, outraged cacophony of "colourful metaphors," as Spock would call swearing. He immediately rented a jackhammer and smashed the old stairs to bits. 

Tuesday, October 29, 2019

Val on Guitar (actually Walter)

I believe this is Val Head (or a close relative) playing guitar sometime in the 1960s, presumably somewhere in Manitoba. Quite a speaker setup he has there. Actually, I don't remember Val ever playing guitar, so perhaps this isn't him after all...

EDIT: Mom believes this is actually Walter Head, one of Val's brothers. 

Monday, October 28, 2019

Bad Admiral Woods Photoshop

A very unconvincing attempt to paste my twentysomething head on Captain Picard's body. Many years old, thankfully. 

Saturday, October 26, 2019

Twin Peaks Explained?


Can Twin Peaks be explained? Do we want it to be explained? Will having things explained destroy the charm and mystery of Twin Peaks?

Will I watch this four-and-a-half-hour video to find out?

Friday, October 25, 2019

Rescue at Stantec Tower

Just after the lunch hour today, my colleagues and I at Stantec heard some light banging from the window washer platform on the side of Stantec Tower. I told my colleagues about a video I'd seen some years ago that showed a similar platform being blown all over the sky by high winds, banging into a skyscraper repeatedly. 

Not more than mere seconds after I finished my tale, we heard a tremendous crash. We rushed to the side windows and saw, just two stories below us, the window washer platform sailing through the air, with one of the workers dangling by a rope underneath. There was a collective gasp, and for a long moment I thought for certain I was about to see someone die right in front of me. After that moment passed, I saw that the worker was restrained by his safety harness, but even that knowledge didn't slow down my racing heart. It seemed like forever before emergency services arrived, but in truth it could only have been minutes. Edmonton fire rescue retrieved both men safely. 

I haven't seen it myself, but colleagues reported that at least one window on our fifth floor was smashed through, which I imagine means some of our people had to be moved to other floors. 

Today I feel very grateful for safety equipment and training and first responders. I mean, I always do, but today...especially so. 

Thursday, October 24, 2019