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Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Tweets from 2112: The Surprise Ending

Well, that was unexpected. I posted earlier this week about the the Canada Writes Tweets from 2112 contest, elated to make the long list (twice, as it turns out). I even joked at the time that I thought my Oort cloud tweet was funnier...

And, as it turns out, so did the judge, Robert J. Sawyer himself, naming that tweet the winner from among the hundreds submitted nationwide. As a fan of Sawyer's since The Terminal Experiment, this is a real thrill for me!

The announcement and winning tweet are here; my interview is here.

I hate to resort to a horrible cliche, but I really did not expect to win, especially given the quality of so many of the tweets. I'm very grateful to Bob Sawyer, CBC and Canada Writes for the recognition. Oh, and for the iPod Touch, too, and Sawyer's new book!

Tuesday, October 30, 2012

The Art of the Nude Dude

Today I discovered that this blog is blocked as "pornographic" by at least one provincial government agency, denying countless employees the pleasure of surfing My Name is Earl (J. Woods) while at work.

I don't think any post on this blog can really be called pornographic, unless the definition has become so broad as to become meaningless. But in an effort to earn my disreputable status and to give more props to my friend Jeff, here's a link to his latest masterpiece, an artful nude that evokes the Roman Empire as well as a modern figure of masculinity.

Monday, October 29, 2012

The Post-Apocalyptic Problem

WARNING: This post contains SPOILERS for the third episode of the third season of The Walking Dead

I love the post-apocalyptic genre; I really do. It's fun, for whatever morbid reasons, to imagine yourself as one of the few survivors or a global catastrophe, wandering the wastelands and foraging for food, shelter and entertainment in the ruins of a fallen civilization.

But there's one aspect of the genre that I just don't buy, and that's the trope that requires the rise of bloodthirsty barbarian savages to serve as antagonists.

I understand why writers use this trope. The remorseless brigand makes a wonderful adversary, a perfect villain. Taking slaves, ruling by fear and gunning down the innocent and naive makes the post-apocalyptic brigand villain fearsome and loathsome - the kind of bad guy we can't wait to see receive his just desserts.

My problem is one of believability. In a true apocalypse, healthy human beings will be the most valuable resource. With so much talent and expertise wiped out, every survivor becomes a potential treasure trove of knowledge and skills. Rebuilding civilization would require a massive cooperative effort, one best accomplished not with threats and violence, but a clear understanding of mutual needs and goals.

That's why I find it so hard to take the latest episode of The Walking Dead seriously. While well-produced, suspenseful and gripping, this episode embraces the brigand villain trope in such a way as to seriously strain verisimilitude. The Governor, introduced in this episode, runs a small walled enclave of survivors of the show's zombie apocalypse. He learns that a squad of soldiers is stationed nearby, and he tracks them down, ambushes them and steals their weapons and supplies.

On the surface, this seems like a reasonable thing for an evil dictator to do. Presumably absorbing the soldiers into his community would undermine his own authority.

But as a long term survival strategy, the Governor's approach is nonsensical. First, by mowing down the soldiers, he's removed at least a dozen trained, capable people who could have helped defend the governor's town and provided military training to the surviving civilians. These soldiers presumably also know more about repairing, maintaining and operating their specialized equipment than the Governor and his stooges. Sure, they may have fancy HumVees and M-16s for now, but how long before it breaks down?

Finally, this episode establishes that at least one element of the US military has survived the apocalypse. If one squadron survived, presumably there are others, and if any one group has the resources and know-how to rebuild lines of communication and support after a global disaster, it would be the military. Isn't it possible that at some point the Governor's massacre of US troops will be discovered by other surviving units - and punished?

I enjoyed this episode, but the Governor's rule can't last long if he doesn't start making better choices.

Sunday, October 28, 2012

Manitoba Fish Stories

It's funny how the mind stores some memories firmly and allows others to slip away. I certainly remember the Purolator hats Dad and I are wearing, along with the orange cooler and Dad's rubber boots. I've forgotten the life jackets, though; the ones I remember were yellow, filled with segmented rectangles of foam.

Judging by the other photos included in this set, this shot was probably taken near Leaf Rapids by either my grandmother, her friend Val Head or our cousin Hugh Woods. Perhaps the Super 8 mm film that must have been shot on this trip (note the camera sitting atop the life jacket near Dad's feet) will offer more clues.

We often boated on the many lakes and rivers in the area. I wasn't a big fan of fishing, but I did love it when we went fast on choppy waters, bouncing on the waves. Once I made the mistake of reaching out to grab a cattail as we passed, and one of the plant's leaves gashed a deep cut in my palm. The pain was sudden, sharp and shocking. I never tried that again.

Once - perhaps on this very trip - I pointed to the anus of a fish we'd caught and asked what it was.

"That's it's asshole," Hugh said. "If you touch it, you'll die." I believed him, and my already strong aversion to touching live fish doubled. Oh, how I loved the meat, though - nothing in the world tastes better than the pickerel of northern Manitoba grilled over a fire.

Saturday, October 27, 2012

Sylvia's Birthday

Ooooo! She's so cute. Today is Sylvia's birthday. She just unwrapped her presents and later today we're going to play monster mini-golf. I know I've said this before, but I consider myself a very lucky man.

Friday, October 26, 2012

Last Retort

I'm still not sure if the high-concept premise of Shawn Ryan's Last Resort can sustain itself for even a full season, but I'm certainly enjoying the ride so far, especially when Andre Braugher is given lines that give him the opportunity to unleash some of the old Frank Pembleton rage, to wit:

"I will crush the jelly from your eyes." 

That's one for the books.

Thursday, October 25, 2012

Tweets from the Future, Part II

Zounds! One of my tweets listed yesterday made it onto the All-Stars list under the Space Exploration category. I guess that puts me in the running for a prize, though I'm not counting on it - there are some pretty clever tweets on the list. Still, it's an honour to be nominated and all that jazz!

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Tweets from the Future

Today CBC ran a one-day contest on Twitter, asking folks to send tweets backward in time from the year 2112. Robert J. Sawyer will judge the various entries and announce the winner on Halloween. Win or lose, this was a fun little contest. Here are my entries:

Earl J. Woods @EarlJWoods
Sentient Internet 7.0 hijacks time machine, trolls 2012 Twitter with "fake" tweets from the future that are actually real

Earl J. Woods @EarlJWoods
Canada apologizes to Oort cloud after being struck by comet

Earl J. Woods @EarlJWoods
Commander of CFS Alert complains bikini-clad tourists distracting soldiers; world's #4 beach destination brings record crowds
Earl J. Woods @EarlJWoods
First Canadian immigrant to Mars colony complains "Even with terraforming the weather here is worse than Winnipeg in January"
 Earl J. Woods @EarlJWoods
After century of effort, GM chimp finally writes one line of Shakespeare (I knew him, Horatio) on obsolete Twitter app
Earl J. Woods @EarlJWoods
Alberta Progressive Conservative dynasty ends at 141 years; surprise loss to RedGreen coalition blamed on high AI turnout


Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Radium Reading

This year I've enjoyed two relatively forgotten science fiction classics thanks to HiLoBooks' new Radium Age Science Fiction Series. Launched back in May with Jack London's The Scarlet Plague, the series features science fiction of the early 20th century published during that fabled interregnum between early SF works by Shelley, Wells and Verne and the pulp boom of the 1930s. Radium Age SF was written by some pretty important literary figures, including London, Arthur Conan Doyle and Rudyard Kipling.

I've thus far read the aforementioned Plague and Arthur Conan Doyle's The Poison Belt, his second Professor Challenger novel. I've just started H. Rider Haggard's When the World Shook, and I look forward to discovering more of his invigorating brand of adventure. I haven't seen the second book in the series, Kipling's With the Night Mail, at any brick-and-mortar bookstores yet despite months of trying, so I guess I'll pick that one up online.

Most (if not all) of the books in this series have fallen into the public domain and can thus be read online, but I still have a fondness for physical media so I'm very pleased to see these century-old works back in print. Many of the titles feature illuminating forewords and afterwords to put the novels in their historical context.

Monday, October 22, 2012

Pulling the Planet

Sadly the lead story in this issue of World's Finest doesn't live up to the promise of this amazingly dynamic cover, wrought by Neal Adams unless I miss my guess. Sure, it's ridiculous on the face of it - imagine the damage done by the giant clamps locked into the continents - but wow, there's a cover sure to capture every kid's attention at the drug store. Later on Neal did an even better version of this image, featuring a similar Superman-in-harness getup, but aided by a bunch of other DC heroes.

Sunday, October 21, 2012

Bonds of the Super-Sons

Back when I was a kid in the early 1970s, World's Finest was one of my favourite comic books. The stories - particularly those penned by the delightfully wacky Bob Haney - were often nonsensical, spat in the face of continuity, and featured bizarre faux-hip dialogue that tried, unsuccessfully, to capture the youth lingo of the day. But they were also delightfully imaginative and surreal.

In 1972 Haney came up with the idea of the Super-Sons, Clark (Superman Jr.) Kent Jr., and Bruce (Batman Jr.) Wayne Jr. The first story of the Super-Sons opened with a text blurb assuring readers that this was not an "imaginary story" or a put-on, that the Super-Sons were "real" - within the context, of course, of the larger DC Universe. Anticipating questions from befuddled readers, Haney explained that not even the myriad stories published by DC about Superman and Batman could cover every aspect of their lives, and this was a heretofore unrevealed aspect of the mythos. Of course every other DC comic steadfastly ignored the existence of the Super-Sons and their mothers - whose identities are never revealed in these stories, their faces always in shadow.

As seen above, Bruce Jr. and Clark Jr. shared a deep emotional connection thanks to their shared anxieties about living up to the legacies of their famous fathers. Viewed through that lens the scene above is understandable enough, but modern audiences will probably snicker a little at Bruce's treatment of poor Debbie and the dialogue that seems to hint the younger Super-Sons share more than mere friendship.
It's a little unfair - Bruce Jr., at least, is portrayed as aggressively heterosexual. Indeed, Haney's treatment of women in this run feels a little off-kilter. I've already mentioned that we never learn the identities of the boys' shadowy mothers, and most other women in these stories are either villainous tricksters or damsels in distress capable of capturing the boys' attention only for a brief time, never for a committed relationship. Given the era this is to be expected from any comic book aimed at children or teens, but unlike other DC books the women in these stories never even get the chance to be treated as friends or equals; there's no room for a Black Canary or a Wonder Woman here.

While other writers pretended that the Super-Sons never existed, Haney had fun writing his own stories his own way, heedless of continuity, ignoring the fact that in contemporary stories Superman and Batman were explicitly childless and that Superman had a relationship with Lois Lane. None of that mattered to Haney!

Ten or fifteen years after the last appearance of the Super-Sons, other writers took it upon themselves to "explain" this odd discontinuity in DC storytelling. It turns out that all of these stories were simply an extremely complex simulation run by Superman and Batman to...well, it's been too long since I've read the story, and frankly I don't feel like digging the comic out of the boxes in the garage. It's not that the story was bad, per se, but the revisionism seemed to me to miss Haney's point entirely: that rigid adherence to continuity could sometimes stifle good (or at least weird) stories. Seen with modern eyes, Haney's World's Finest run can appear absurd and dreamlike, but it held its own rewards for those willing to explore the weird side of comics.

Friday, October 19, 2012

Meme Master

My old friend Allan is enjoying some Internet fame at the moment thanks to a simple but clever observation about the exponentially increasing graphic complexity of computer games. I'm not surprised that Allan's found a wide audience (nearly 500,000 views as of this writing!), because I remember the very passionate conversations we had on the topic back when we were living in the Bleak House of Blahs.

At the time my favourite game was Civilization - the first one, seen above. I played it in my basement room on an Atari ST with relatively primitive graphics. Around the same time I remember visiting Tony to play Wasteland on his IBM-compatible, while Allan used his Amiga to experiment with the then-cutting edge Video Toaster. We often wondered how long it would be before computer games were completely photo-realistic. We're not there yet, but I'm sure that in another twenty years Allan will need to post an updated graphic, one that places the Skyrim image on top and something with fidelity we can't even imagine on the bottom. I can't wait to play that game!

Thursday, October 18, 2012

Man with 2 Kites

At last, the long-awaited sequel to Man with a Kite! Thanks again to Tony Longworth for shooting the original photo back in the early 90s.

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Not So Green Arrow

Tonight's episode of Arrow - the second - builds upon the pilot's strengths, adding important plot and character development while honing the show's visual style and dramatic ethos. If the series continues to improve, it could become a critical bulls-eye.

Unlike many adventure shows that target the young adult demographic, Arrow seems to recognize that violent action sequences come with physical and emotional consequences. In tonight's episode there's a scene in which Oliver Queen's ex-girlfriend Laurel is attacked by assassins. In a show of this nature it's easy to predict that none of the good guys are going to die (at least not this early in the series run), and sure enough Oliver fends off the bad guys, though not without the intervention of his bodyguard (another nice touch, allowing a secondary character to shine).

Fight scenes are nothing new in adventure television; no matter how competently executed, they start to feel the same after a while. But in the aftermath of this attack, there's a short scene in which Laurel and her father, police detective Quentin Lance, are visibly shaken by the trauma of the events. Neither is in hysterics, but both are clearly upset, afraid and suffering some degree of shock, as you might expect after an assassination attempt. If this were a lesser show - say, Smallville - the characters would shrug off the attack with a bad pun. Arrow doesn't display Homicide-like levels of realism, but for this sort of show it's a welcome sign of dramatic maturity.

The episode does falter a bit near then end, when a coerced confession is used to put a bad guy in jail. There's no way Arrow's illicitly-obtained testimony would stand up in court in the real world, and in this instance I feel the writers took a little too much dramatic license.

Otherwise, however, this was a solid hour (minus 22 minutes of commercials) of television. The trauma of Oliver's shipwreck and his difficulties readjusting to city life are mostly well-handled, as are his efforts to juggle the feral personality he developed on the island with the playboy act he's developing to disguise his activities as a vigilante. It's a delicate balancing act, but so far it's working. Plus there's another island flashback to fill out the backstory and a tantalizing glimpse of a shadowy figure who might become the show's main villain.

The preview for next week's episode makes it look like Deadshot will be Oliver's latest foe. Deadshot is one of my favourite comic villains; hopefully Arrow will adapt the character with greater skill than the producers of Smallville managed a few years back.

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Park Tower

I'm pretty happy with this old shot of Sean gazing at a mysterious brick tower. I like the slightly off-kilter angle, the way the pathway forks, the way the disc-shaped buildings sit in contrast to the vertical tower.
I thought cropping the photo might make the photo more dramatic, but instead it feels stifling. I think the original composition wins out here, although I'm tempted to erase all the trees and light poles to give the scene a more otherworldly feel. I might change the colour of the sky, too.

Monday, October 15, 2012

It's Canada Writes Time Again

Neil just reminded me that the deadline for the annual Canada Writes short story project is approaching once again. I'm relatively happy with how last year's entry turned out, but of course it wasn't good enough to attract the attention of the judges. I'm not sure what I'll write about this time, but I think I'll try something a little more mainstream and less generic ("generic" in the sense of "based on a genre").

Something about beavers, perhaps...beavers and maple leaves and Mounties...oh, I know - something about the theft of the strategic maple syrup reserve, and the Mounties and beavers who track down the thieves. Perfect.

Sunday, October 14, 2012

A Few Words About Tim Dorsey

Tim Dorsey writes satirical comic novels about crime, politics, madness and drug abuse in Florida. The ostensible protagonist is Serge A. Storms, a mentally ill man who despite his heinous crimes is somehow sweet and likeable - perhaps because his victims are usually evildoers of one sort or another, perhaps because he's an enthusiastic history buff and unrepentant booster of his mixed-up home state.

I'm not normally drawn to crime novels, but last year I stumbled across Dorsey's name and novels while researching something else - I forget what. The synopses of his books sounded so crazy that I decided to buy the first five.

So far they haven't disappointed. Dorsey's sense of humour is dry and very pointed, pricking holes in the contradictions of Western society with uncanny insight and verve. Serge's misadventures are hilarious, but for a series protagonist he's off-camera much of the time as Dorsey shifts viewpoints all over the Florida map, painting a vivid picture of a diseased society that's somehow full of life despite constantly dancing at the edge of disaster.

Above all, these books are funny. At one point during the second book, Hammerhead Ranch Motel, Serge and two of his accomplices attempt to order food at a drive-thru while somewhat incapacitated by drugs. Earlier in the story three different law enforcement agencies run an undercover sting at the same time, only to discover (after a narrowly-avoided gunfight) that everyone in the room is a cop of one kind or another.

I laughed until tears came to my eyes on these and several other occasions while enjoying Dorsey's books. I look forward to reading the next seven or eight in the series.

Saturday, October 13, 2012

Northern Chopper

Leaf Rapids had (and possibly still has) a helipad. As a boy I was fascinated by this blank expanse of concrete, a small island of man in the middle of northern Manitoba's vast boreal forest. Only rarely did a chopper ever touch down; this one seems to be from the Northwest Territories, judging by the barely visible logo on the cockpit. It would appear that this model can land on water, if those big grey cylinders are pontoons - a handy ability given the thousands of lakes and rivers in the area.

Despite its small size, Leaf Rapids was rich in opportunities to explore. I wandered to the helipad often during my adventures, imagining that UFOs or Federation shuttlecraft might also pay visits to our isolated community.
Only years later did I ever ride in a helicopter: once in the early 2000s for an aerial photo of Hole's Greenhouses (thanks Bruce!) and once in 2008 in Hawaii, when Sylvia and I took a helicopter tour of the island.
Worth every penny.

Friday, October 12, 2012

The Lawnmower Troll

My friend Jeff is an amazing artist and seems to have a fetish that requires him to insert UFOs into any photos depicting lawn-mowing. Because males tend to show affection via abuse, I hereby troll Jeff with another riveting depiction of classic grass-shearing. This time the action takes place in Thompson, Manitoba, sometime in the early 1970s, an era rife with UFO exploitation stories. That's me helping Dad cut the grass down to size.

In all seriousness, this post is really just an excuse to draw more attention to Jeff's art. I've always loved his work.

Thursday, October 11, 2012

To-the-Point Review of Arrow

Arrow premiered on the CW last night. I watched with low expectations but was nonetheless pleasantly surprised by what turned out to be an above-average hour of derring-do and angst-ridden super-hero drama.

Adapting the decades-old story of second-string DC character Green Arrow, Arrow's pilot tells the hero's origin in effective flashback form, adding just enough elements to freshen the familiar plot. In short, billionaire heir Oliver Queen (Stephen Amell) is stranded on a Pacific island for five years, forced to turn himself into a hunter to survive, and returns to the United States to take over the family business. There are hints that Queen's father, who didn't survive the shipwreck that marooned his son, was involved in some shady dealings - affairs that Queen the younger wants to put back in their proper order.

As might be expected from the youth-skewing CW network, Arrow features a gaggle of improbably sexy actors; fortunately, the feature players have the acting chops to imbue their characters with the necessary charisma and empathy to keep viewers watching for more than the eye candy. Oliver's ex, (Dinah) Laurel Lance (Katie Cassidy), is particularly appealing as a crusading young lawyer, and it's nice to see former Borg queen Susanna Thompson as Oliver's mom, Moira Queen.

The pilot's plot is straightforward, but I have to give the creators credit for catching me off guard with a significant twist late in the game. I'm not caught by surprise that often, and it's always pleasant to have dramatic expectations overturned.

For a superhero show, the physics of Oliver's feats are nearly plausible; as the titular Arrow, he uses a combination of parkour, fisticuffs and his facility with the bow to accomplish his goals. Director David Nutter gives the fight scenes room to breathe, and the editing is refreshingly clear, free of the recent disagreeable trend that reduces action scenes to a series of incomprehensible jump cuts and closeups. There's an art to stunt work, and it's nice to see these performers shine.

When compared to the CW's most famous super-hero drama, the recently concluded Smallville, Arrow is a more serious, more adult show, with less annoying characters and a protagonist who's already better drawn than Smallville's Clark Kent ever was, even after only one episode.

Arrow doesn't hit the bulls-eye, but it doesn't fly wildly off-target, either. I'll continue watching to see if its aim improves.

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Super Adjective Theatre

Superman's Girl Friend Lois Lane ran for several decades. Always a strange comic, it got even weirder in the swinging sixties and seventies when its writers started portraying Superman as a sexist dope just so he could be an effective foil for Lois' revitalized feminism. Superman sure looks like a stuck-up member of the establishment here, a far cry from his origins as a populist radical.

I find their final exchange hilarious, but on reflection if Superman were a real person I suppose it would be only natural to pepper your language with super-this and super-that, especially ironically. If I had super-powers, I'd constantly say things like "I'm super-writing this press release!" or "Oh oh, I've got to super-unplug the toilet again!"

Meanwhile, Sylvia would probably say "I'm getting super-tired of this routine. Please find some  new material."

Tuesday, October 09, 2012

The Screenplay

"All right, hand it over. But first, write across the front page, in big, clear letters, 'Director's Very First Draft.'"

My hands slapped ineffectually at the table as I scrambled for a pen. Lauren, one of the producers, came to my rescue, handing me a black and orange ballpoint left over from some Halloween-themed promotion for Cronenberg or Carpenter's latest blood offering. I scrawled the mandated words as neatly as my trembling fingers would allow across my screenplay's title page, then handed over the loosely-bound sheaf of paper to the director, an old industry mainstay who resembled a more grizzled and grumpier Billy Joel.

"Thank you," he said, putting the emphasis on the 'you' and holding the screenplay aloft like a torch before he rose from his chair, spun on his heels and left the tiny meeting room. I was left with my two producers, both attractive women of middle age, their youth preserved by good genes and high income.

I smiled thinly to cover my dread. I'd done my part; Escapade Part III was out of my hands. Whether the picture would actually be made was an open question. Whether or not my name would still be attached to the screenplay once filming began was an even more remote possibility.

Renata, the other producer, wrapped both her hands around one of my own, offering me a look of almost sincere sympathy. "Now you can go home to your wife. We'll call," she said.

A couple of months later I was back in Hollywood, holding another copy of the first draft in my hands, this time with Lauren's notes attached. I was astounded; the screenplay was now twice its original thickness, all because of those copious notes. At first I was apprehensive, but as I leafed through Lauren's added pages I understood the full scope of her brilliance; these weren't just notes, but a detailed analysis of the themes, tropes, symbolism and most importantly purpose of the story. I turned to her with a huge grin I couldn't suppress.

"This is amazing!" I said. "I'll get right to work on the second draft."

But Renata's voice through the speakerphone was full of regret. "Earl, you know that's not possible. Your deal was for the first draft only, now the screenplay goes to Robert."

My stomach was a hollow pit of roiling anxiety. "Can't I at least clean up the typos and some of the stupidest dialogue...I mean...he wrote Chinatown," I whined. 

But it was no use. The next time I saw the screenplay it was professionally bound in gorgeous red leather, festooned with a bunch of Lauren's yellow sticky notes; to the last and beyond, she couldn't help herself from offering improvements. Now simply titled Escapade, the sole credit on the cover went to Robert Towne. Well, the "Part III" was a silly conceit anyway, I conceded, and Renata and Lauren were doubtless correct that my attempt at cleverness would confuse audiences and slash receipts in half, if we were lucky.

"Can I have one of these?" I asked, holding another copy of the final screenplay aloft, one that had been half-buried under memos and invoices. Lauren waved a hand over her shoulder at me, muttering into her cell phone as she fiddled with the straps of her gown. I tucked the screenplay under my arm, looked around the waiting room and left with a small sigh, emerging into the main hall to take Sylvia by the arm, guiding her down to our seats. I was sweating and uncomfortable, tugging at my collar with my free hand as we navigated our way through the milling crowd, everyone dressed to the nines and professionally made up. Sylvia looked gorgeous, but I couldn't wait to change into a t-shirt and shorts.

An hour into the ceremony Kate Beckinsdale and Jack Black came onstage to present the award for best original screenplay. Sylvia squeezed my hand, but I really had no dog in this hunt; we were here as a professional courtesy, nothing more. But I was stunned and near tears nonetheless when Beckinsdale said "...Robert Towne for Escapade!" and the great man launched himself down the aisle to collect his statue.

Towne offered a mercifully short and witty acceptance speech. There was one more surprise: Jim Carrey picked up the award for Best Supporting Actor for Escapade, and he was as flabbergasted as anyone in the room. Half an hour later the ceremonies wound down to the inevitably anticlimactic finale, and Sylvia and I marched to the exit. As we waited for a cab on the curb outside, I flipped open the screenplay's elegant cover and noted with some surprised that I'd received a credit after all: "Story by Earl J. Woods," in small but authoritative type.

Sylvia must have noticed my sudden indrawn breath. She peered at the open screenplay, caught the name.

"So is it enough?" she asked.

I let my breath shudder free. Behind us, Jim Carrey had corralled a bunch of the A-listers into a circle and had them doing some kind of one-footed hopping dance. The cacophony couldn't drown out my near-whispered answer:

"Oh yeah," I said. "It's enough." 

*    *    *

This short, bewildering narrative came to me in a vivid dream about an hour ago. It's a nice fantasy.

Monday, October 08, 2012

The Senior or the Pillow?

1) Describe the action in 100 words or less. Who is the protagonist of the story? The antagonist?
2) Describe the conflict of the story. Is it man vs. man, man vs. nature or man vs. himself? Why?
3) When does this moment take place in the story - during the rising action, at the climax or the denoument?
4) Name three stories you'd rather be reading.

Sunday, October 07, 2012

Close Encounters of the Ghostwritten Kind

Here I am sometime back in the late 1970s reading Steven Spielberg's novelization of his screenplay for Close Encounters of the Third Kind. A lot of folks assume that this novelization was actually written by one of the world's most famous SF ghostwriters, Alan Dean Foster, the man who really wrote the Star Wars novelization (credited to George Lucas), among others.

I honestly don't remember Close Encounters well enough to say if Foster wrote it, and I no longer own a copy of the book to check the style. I am certain, though, that Foster did not novelize Star Trek: The Motion Picture, attributed to Gene Roddenberry. That book is just too loopy to be Foster and just loopy enough to be genuine Roddenberry.

With my book, bowl of cereal and collection of Lego bricks close at hand, I imagine this must have been a happy moment. It appears as though one of the Lego trays contains some kind of silvery, robotic action figure as well as the bricks you'd expect. It's too bad the photo isn't quite sharp enough to identify the figure.

Saturday, October 06, 2012

Puttin' On the Ritz

Sometime in the early 1970s, my cousin Carol Ann Woods and I enjoy some Ritz crackers on a log somewhere near Leaf Rapids, Manitoba. It's kind of astounding how little the box has changed in...gulp...40 years or so.

Friday, October 05, 2012

World Teachers' Day

In 1994, the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) inaugurated World Teachers' Day to recognize the crucial contributions of teachers around the world. Today is the perfect day to consider the men and women who helped shape our lives: the teachers who helped us discover the beauty of math and science, the wonder of art and creativity, the richness of language, the exhilaration of sports and physical activity, the fascination of history and perhaps most importantly of all the value of inclusion, tolerance, fair play and compassion.

I was lucky enough to grow up with dozens of wonderful teachers from kindergarten through university. I have many favourites, but if forced to choose one I would have to pick Mr. Istvanffy, my grade eight social studies teacher and mentor in the gifted program at Leduc Junior High School.
The Canadian political system was part of the junior high social studies curriculum back then, and one day we were engaged in a discussion of the leading political figures of the day. I don't remember the exact context anymore, but then-BC premier Bill Vander Zalm came up as an example of one sort or another. I said something positive about him, being a young and foolish right-ish leaning guy at the time, and Mr. Istvanffy said "So in your view, is style more important than substance?" And I replied "Absolutely." Mr. Istvanffy gave a little shrug, said "Okay," and moved on to another student.

I immediately felt ashamed, because I could sense Mr. Istvanffy's disapproval even though he hadn't voiced it. Afterward I visited Leduc's public library to learn all I could about Vander Zalm's policies and discovered that while I might have appreciated his charisma, his governance was something else. That was my first small step to the left on the political spectrum, but more importantly, Mr. Istvanffy helped me understand the importance of research and critical thinking. For years I've wished I could tell him that he helped me grow up a little.

On another occasion, Mr. Istvanffy was trying to make a point about how ignorance can lead to bad decision making. "Earl!" he said, "Do they need roads in Ural?"

Unfortunately for the purposes of the discussion, I actually knew the answer, mostly because playing Risk made me curious about the various place names on the board game's map. I knew that Ural needed roads because of the Ural Mountains and various other geographical and political challenges faced by the then-Soviet Union.

Mr. Istvanffy rolled his eyes and said something like "Okay, let's move on to someone other than Earl..." But I could tell he was happy despite his point being somewhat blunted.

I was genuinely shocked when Mr. Istvanffy asked me to join the school's Hi-Q team. (Hi-Q was a Reach for the Top-style trivia show for younger teens, produced at Edmonton's ITV studios.)

"Um, well, my general knowledge isn't very good," I stammered.

"Earl, your general knowledge is excellent," Mr. Istvanffy said in a tone of voice that brooked no argument. (Our team made it to the quarter-finals; I still have the medal somewhere.)

Perhaps without meaning to, Mr. Istvanffy taught me that I shouldn't be ashamed of being smart. I almost wrote "above average" just then so I guess he wasn't completely successful. Nonetheless, his humour, kindness and eagerness to challenge his students helped me learn not only about politics and history, but how to question my own assumptions and take pride in my own accomplishments. I've never forgotten Mr. Istvanffy, and I'm grateful for that year in grade eight social studies.

*   *   *

Today's Edmonton Journal (and, I believe, the Calgary Herald) ran an advertising feature produced by the Alberta Teachers' Association to celebrate World Teachers' Day, including three articles by yours truly. I consider it a privilege to have contributed in this small way to World Teachers' Day, my humble thanks to the dozens of teachers who opened up new worlds for me and so many other students.

Thursday, October 04, 2012


As requested by Steve, I have transformed an old airshow photo into a book cover. Perhaps Stephen will even write it - he's very good!

Wednesday, October 03, 2012


Judging only by the label on the envelope containing its negative, this photo appears to have been shot sometime in the early 1970s in northern Manitoba, probably around Thompson. There's something remarkably touching about the somewhat sloppy yet heartfelt scrawl of "Joyce" on the side of this old boat.

Tuesday, October 02, 2012

Parachute Shoot

A Canadian parachutist does a loop-De-loop for crowds at the Namao air show, 1994. It's a little blurry, and yet somehow I feel that it adds to the photo's otherworldly, almost painterly effect. Aside from fixing the dust and scratches and fixing the colour, I altered little.

Monday, October 01, 2012

'Round the Looper

time. Time, the final - or perhaps first - frontier to be breached by science. Time travel movies are often confusing and illogical, but Rian Johnson's Looper presents viewers with a coherent time-jumping story that includes two well-realized futures.

The main action of Looper takes place in 2044. An unnamed American city is awash in poverty and violence, and it seems as though only criminals enjoy a decent standard of living. Loopers are among the criminal elite, men who are paid to kill people from the future, victims of organized crime in the 2070s, sent thirty years backwards in time for elimination since bodies are too hard to hide in the future.

Joseph Gordon-Levitt plays Joe, a Looper who dreams of escaping third-world America by relocating to France. But his plans are derailed when his own future self (Bruce Willis) appears as his own latest victim. Young Joe and Old Joe are forced to fight for their own versions of their lives, chasing each other while being chased by the mob bosses who want them both dead.

It sounds confusing, but Johnson takes pains to keep the chronology consistent and understandable, allowing the audience to enjoy the characters and the crumbling America they inhabit. One of the film's greatest strengths is its vision of the near future; the world looks much the same save for a few logical extrapolations of current technology. It's quite convincing.

Johnson handles a number of time travel tropes quite cleverly, particularly the problem of what happens to the future version of a character when something happens to the present version.

To elaborate further would spoil some rewarding surprises, so I'll conclude only by noting that with its clever plot, inventive setting and complex characters, Looper is well worth your