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Wednesday, August 31, 2016

Musing About Mad Men

I've almost finished season two of Mad Men, and I must say it's not what I expected. I'm enjoying it, but the show doesn't have what I would call a traditional structure. So far it seems more concerned with atmosphere and characterization than plot, and while the show has an ostensible lead in Don Draper, the show isn't shy about shifting focus to any number of secondary characters.

As might be expected from a show that uses an ad agency as its setting, its themes include appearances, deception, style, and perhaps most importantly, status. This makes for some interesting commentary on the role of women, minorities and gays and lesbians, though the straight white men remain, at least for the two seasons I've watched, the central focus of the show.

I won't be in a position to judge the show until I finish it, but at this juncture I will say that I find it...interesting. Like a good ad, it's drawing me in. But I'm not sure yet if I've bought the final product. 

Tuesday, August 30, 2016

The Abyss II: Battlestarship Titanic

A couple of days ago I shared an idea with some friends: James Cameron could, if he wanted to, make one film that would serve as a sequel to two of his biggest hits: The Abyss and Titanic. Here's how I pitched it, with some slight edits to the original email...

The Abyss II: Battlestarship Titanic opens with Leo gurgling out his last farewell to Kate Winslet as the Titanic sinks beneath the waves. The camera follows Leo down into the depths, until he's rescued by bioluminescent underwater life forms...very much like the ones seen in Cameron's earlier film, The Abyss. We see many more of these creatures scooping up other drowning Titanic passengers. Fade to black...

110 Years Later...

Following the events of The Abyss (I don't believe a date was established in that film, so we could assume present-day), the descendants of the Titanic survivors act as go-betweens to bridge the communications gap between humans and the undersea civilization. Leo will, of course, play the great-great-grandson of his original character, now the leader of the Titanic community. Leo and the undersea creatures reveal that the bioluminescent life forms are not native to Earth, but rather fled here to escape a xenomorph (from Alien/Aliens etc.) infestation of their planet. This information is kept TOP SECRET, and the UN and the underwater aliens cooperate to rebuild the sunken Titanic as a space battleship, to be crewed by the Titanic descendants (because they are of course familiar with underwater alien technology), as well as UN reps and a few underwater aliens working in flooded compartments. Oh, and Arnold Schwarzenegger as Dutch (Predator). 

The Titanic blasts off from the ocean floor and travels through deep space to the original undersea alien planet. But there's a complication - the Predators (from Predator, Predator 2 et. al.) are already on the planet, at war with the xenomorphs. The original plan to nuke the planet from orbit and clean it up with undersea alien technology is off the table, as nuking the planet would start all-out war with the Predators. So Arnold leads a team of heavily armed, poofy-shirted Titanic descendants to join the Predators in rooting out the infestation. But will the Predators even accept human help?

It appears not, for in orbit Leo and the Titanic gets into a pitched space battle with the Predator battle cruiser! Will the Titanic or its landing party survive? Will they reclaim the planet of the undersea aliens?

That's the end of my original idea. Steve commented that licencing would be a challenge for this film, but I believe Fox owns all the properties mentioned, which should grease the wheels. Mike suggested that Leo could play his original character, still youthful thanks to undersea alien medical technology. This way you'd have early 20th century types fighting alien xenomorphs alongside modern-day commandos, which adds a fun little angle. 

Monday, August 29, 2016


Ridiculous Film Pitch #97a:

In an America that has just elected a fundamentalist Libertarian President and Congress, most laws are stricken from the books - including speed limits. Publicly funded police forces and other first responders, as well as roadworks crews, are no more; virtually all aspects of American civilization fall into private hands.

A billionaire psychopath sees this new world as the perfect opportunity to sate his own mad impulses: he offers one billion dollars to the man, woman or child who wins a race from New York to Los Angeles in any land vehicle they choose - except for actual race cars. The billionaire won't prevent race cars from racing, of course; he just won't pay out the billion if someone driving one wins.

The race starts in New York on the Fourth of July, with hundreds of amateur racers arriving at the starting line. They're driving modern sedans, Model Ts, Hummers, motorcycles, antique convertibles - anything on wheels, from sparkling new to ready to fall apart.

The billionaire fires the starting pistol and the contestants surge forward. Hundreds crash almost immediately; dozens fight for the pole position. The race is conducted on US highways that remain open to normal traffic. There are no rules save one: cross the finish line in Los Angeles first and collect the cash.

Naturally such a race would result in countless deaths and injuries, as well as considerable property damage. But imagine the stunts, the satire, the social commentary. CARnage! It's the most fun you can have behind a steering wheel.

Of course it's derivative of Death Race 2000 and the short-lived television series Drive, but I think the world is ready for the craziest attempt yet to reinvent the subgenre. CARnage! It's a gas. 

Sunday, August 28, 2016

Box Kite Flight

Leap for freedom, box kite
Slip the surly bonds, take flight
And you would, were it not
For the terrible power
Of gravity and string
Sad tuba

Friday, August 26, 2016

The Weird World of Robert W. Chambers

Last night I read The King in Yellow, the 1895 collection of short stories by Robert W. Chambers. Chambers, like the more famous weird fiction author H.P. Lovecraft, has lingered at the edges of my awareness for decades. A couple of events prompted me to finally read Chambers: watching season one of True Detective, which weaves the titular King in Yellow into its subtext, and a delightfully creepy experience a friend shared with me - an experience I can't share in turn, lest I spoil it for others.

The first four stories in the collection concern the unseen King in Yellow him(it)self, as well as the macabre world that lurks around the edges of our own - a world of looming, unseen, but horrifying menace. Two of the first four stories are set in a then-future USA of 1920; two take place in Paris. Each is full of dreary atmosphere and subtle menace, though not every story has an unhappy ending, which I found added to the effectiveness of the collection as a whole.

I was particularly intrigued, however, by the way in which the genre of the stories suddenly jump from horror to mainstream midway through the collection. The King in Yellow fades into the distance, and Chambers turns his attention to crafting amusing stories of 19th-century romance.

I don't recall reading a work that shifts so suddenly in genre and tone. There is a slight callback to the titular menace in the last couple of paragraphs of the final story, but it's subtle.

Chambers' prose is economical, and yet he manages to evoke a palpable sense of dread where appropriate. And while some of the details date the work, the writing itself is surprisingly timeless and fresh. I look forward to sampling more of his weird world.

Thursday, August 25, 2016

Photoshop Tsar Bomba

Be careful what you wish for. Yesterday Jeff suggested I should add elements from other pictures to this one, with unforgivable results, as you can see here. I wanted to evoke the suburban dread of Twin Peaks by depicting a ghostly hand reaching for a bowl of cocaine while the Sean from Another Place looks on. Instead, because I am bad at this, we have a series of badly cut-and-pasted elements that clearly don't belong together. An embarrassing spectacle. 

Wednesday, August 24, 2016

Reading by the Fireplace

Back in 2007 Sylvia and I were very kindly gifted the use of a very lovely condo in Canmore for the Thanksgiving long weekend. It was a very relaxing few days, and I remain grateful. 

Tuesday, August 23, 2016

The Hand

Here's another mysterious image from the family slide carousel. I would bet that this was shot at Oak Lake in southern Manitoba, sometime in the 1970s. It's a hilariously bad photo - a collection of faceless limbs, improperly exposed, badly composed. In fact, I'm sure it's an accidental exposure; someone hit the shutter release at the wrong moment. Why would I bother scanning this image? Well, I think every image of the past reveals something. In this case, we see the then-current fashion in watch bands and beach towels. 

Monday, August 22, 2016

Antidote for Gloom

It's very dark and rainy in Edmonton today, a gloomy end to my summer vacation. So here's a colourful photo of flowers taken by either my parents or my Aunt Jean or Uncle John back in September 1975. 

Sunday, August 21, 2016

The Philip K. Dick Awards

Since the year after the death of Philip K. Dick, the Philadelphia Science Fiction Society has nominated SF novels printed in paperback for an award named after the influential writer. The novels nominated for the award don't cross over much with the other major SF awards, perhaps because they are paperback originals. Or maybe it's because the works are more esoteric than - dare I say it - mainstream SF fare. That's just speculation, because to date I've read only 23 of 209 winners and nominees, or a little over nine percent of them; the books I've read are indicated in bold below. 

When I looked at this list, I found it an interesting mix of well-known SF writers and names I've never heard of. It's possible that I'm not as well-read in the genre as I had assumed. I'm also glad that some of my lesser-known favourites have been recognized over the years, people like the late Mike McQuay and the underrated, excellent Michael P. Kube-McDowell. 

I see Edmonton's own Malcolm Azania (writing as Minister Faust) has been nominated for this award twice. One of these days I'll get to his stuff...

Software, Rudy Rucker
The Prometheus Man, Ray Nelson
Waiting for the Barbarians, J.M. Coetzee
Aurelia, R.A. Lafferty
Roderick, John Sladek
The Umbral Anthology of Science Fiction Poetry, Steve Rasnic Tem

The Anubis Gates, Tim Powers
Tea with the Black Dragon, R.A. MacAvoy
The Zen Gun, Barrington J. Bayley
Benefits, Zoe Fairbairns
The Floating Gods, M. John Harrison
Millennium, John Varley

William Gibson, Neuromancer
The Wild Shore, Kim Stanley Robinson
Voyager in Night, C.J. Cherryh
The Alchemists, Geary Gravel
Emergence, David R. Palmer
Green Eyes, Lucius Shepard
Frontera, Lewis Shiner
Them Bones, Howard Waldrop

Dinner at Deviant’s Palace, Tim Powers
Saraband of Lost Time, Richard Grant
The Timeservers, Russell Griffin
Emprise, Michael P. Kube-McDowell
The Remaking of Sigmund Freud, Barry N. Malzberg
Terrarium, Scott Russell Sanders
Knight Moves, Walter Jon Williams

Homunculus, James P. Blaylock
The Hercules Text, Jack McDevitt
Artificial Things, Karen Joy Fowler
A Hidden Place, Robert Charles Wilson

Strange Toys, Patricia Geary
Memories, Mike McQuay
Dover Beach, Richard Bowker
Mindplayers, Pat Cadigan
Dark Seeker, K.W. Jeter
Becoming Alien, Rebecca Ore
Life During Wartime, Lucius Shepard

1988 (tie)
Four Hundred Billion Stars, Paul J. McAuley
Wetware, Rudy Rucker
Orphan of Creation, Roger MacBride Allen
Neon Lotus, Marc Laidlaw
Rendezvous, David Alexander Smith

Subterranean Gallery, Richard Paul Russo
On My Way to Paradise, Dave Wolverton
Infinity Hold, Barry B. Longyear
A Fearful Symmetry, James Lucerno
Being Alien, Rebecca Ore
Heritage of Flight, Susan Shwartz

Points of Departure, Pat Murphy
The Schizogenic Man, Raymond Harris
The Oxygen Barons, Gergory Feeley
Winterlong, Elizabeth Hand
Clarke County, Space, Allen M. Steele

King of Morning, Queen of Day, Ian McDonald
Bone Dance, Emma Bull
Mojo and the Pickle Jar, Douglas Bell
The Cipher, Kathe Koja
Bridge of Years, Robert Charles Wilson

Through the Heart, Richard Grant
In the Mothers’ Land, Elisabeth Vonarburg
Take Back Plenty, Colin Greenland
Aestival Tide, Elizabeth Hand
Iron Tears, R.A. Lafferty

1993 (tie)
Growing Up Weightless, John M. Ford
Elvissey, Jack Womack
Crash Course, Wilhelmina Baird
Bunch!, David R. Bunch
Icarus Descending, Elizabeth Hand

Mysterium, Robert Charles Wilson
Inagehi, Jack Cady
Rim: A Novel of Virtual Reality, Alexander Besher
Scissors Cut Paper Wrap Stone, Ian McDonald
Summer of Love, Lisa Mason
Tonguing the Zeitgeist, Lance Olsen

Headcrash, Bruce Bethke
Carlucci’s Edge, Richard Paul Russo
Virtual Death, Shale Aaron
Permutation City, Greg Egan
The Color of Distance, Amy Thomson
Reluctant Voyagers, Elisabeth Vonarburg

The Time Ships, Stephen Baxter
At the City Limits of Fate, Michael Bishop
The Transmigration of Souls, William Barton
The Shift, George Foy
Reclamation, Sarah Zettel

The Troika, Stepan Chapman
Acts of Conscience, William Barton
An Exchange of Hostages, Susan R. Matthews
Carlucci’s Heart, Richard Paul Russo
Opalite Moon, Denise Vitola
Mother Grimm, Catherine Wells

253: The Print Remix, Geoff Ryman
Lost Pages, Paul Di Filippo
Brown Girl in the ring, Nalo Hopkinson
Slaughtermatic, Steve Aylett
The Invisible Country, Paul J. McAuley

Vacuum Diagrams, Stephen Baxter
Tower of Dreams, Jamil Nasir
Code of Conduct, Kristine Smith
Not of Woman Born, Constance Ash
Typhon’s Children, Toni Anzetti
When We Were Real, William Barton

Only Forward, Michael Marshall Smith
Evolution’s Darling, Scott Westerfield
Call from a Distant Shore, Stephen L. Burns
Midnight Robber, Nalo Hopkinson
Broken Time, Maggy Thomas
The Bridge, Janine Ellen Young

Ship of Fools, Richard Paul Russo
Divine Intervention, Ken Wharton
In the Company of Others, Julie E. Czerneda
Compass Reach, Mark W. Tiedemann
Meet Me in the Moon Room, Ray Vukcevich
The Ghost Sister, Liz Williams

The Mount, Carol Emshwiller
The Scar, China Mieville
Report to the Men’s Club, Carol Emshwiller
Maximum Ice, Kay Kenyon
Warchild, Karin Lowachee
Empire of Bones, Liz Williams
Leviathan Three, Jeff VanderMeer and Forrest Aguirre

Altered Carbon, Richard K. Morgan
Dante’s Equation, Jane Jensen
Hyperthought, M.M. Buckner
Clade, Mark Budz
Spin State, Chris Moriarty
Steel Helix, Ann Tonsor Zeddies

Life, Gwyneth Jones
Apocalypse Array, Lyda Morehouse
Air, Geoff Ryman
Banner of Souls, Liz Williams
City of Pearl, Karen Traviss
The Coyote Kings of the Space-Age Bachelor Pad, Minster Faust
Stable Strategies and Others, Eileen Gunn

War Surf, M.M. Buckner
Natural History, Justina Robson
Cowl, Neal Asher
Cagebird, Karin Lowachee
Silver Screen, Justina Robson
To Crush the Moon, Wil McCarthy

Spin Control, Chris Moriarty
Carnival, Elizabeth Bear
Mindscape, Andrea Hairston
Catalyst: A Novel of Alien Contact, Nina Kiriki Hoffman
Recursion, Tony Ballantyne
Idolon, Mark Budz
Living Next Door to the God of Love, Justina Robson

Nova Swing, M. John Harrison
From the Notebooks of Dr. Brain, Minster Faust
Grey, Jon Armstrong
Undertow, Elizabeth Bear
Gradisil, Adam Roberts
Ally, Karen Traviss
Saturn Returns, Sean Williams

2008 (tie)
Emissaries from the Dead, Adam-Troy Castro
Terminal Mind, David Walton
Fast Forward 2, Lou Anders
Judge, Karen Traviss
Plague War, Jeff Carlson
Time Machines Repaired While-U-Wait, K.A. Bedford

Bitter Angels, C.L. Anderson
Cyberabad Days, Ian McDonald
The Prisoner, Carlos J. Cortes
The Repossession Mambo, Eric Garcia
The Devil’s Alphabet, Daryl Gregory
Centuries Ago and Very Fast, Rebecca Ore
Prophets, S. Andrew Swann

The Strange Affair of Spring-Heeled Jack, Mark Hodder
Harmony, Project Itoh
Yam, Jon Armstrong
Chill, Elizabeth Bear
The Reapers are the Angels, Alden Bell
Song of Sarabaeus, Sara Creasy
State of Decay, James Knapp

The Samuil Petrovitch Trilogy, Simon Morden
The Company Man, Robert Jackson Bennett
A Soldier’s Duty, Jean Johnson
After the Apocalypse, Maureen F. McHugh
Deadline, Mira Grant
The Other, Matthew Hughes
The Postmortal, Drew Magary

Lost Everything, Brian Francis Slattery
LoveStar, Andri Snaer Magnason
Blueprints of the Afterlife, Ryan Boudinot
Harmony, Keith Brooke
Helix Wars, Eric Brown
The Not Yet, Moira Crane
Fountain of Age: Stories, Nancy Kress

Countdown City, Ben H. Winters
Self-Reference Engine, Toh EnJoe
A Calculated Life, Anne Charnock
The Mad Scientist’s Daughter, Cassandra Rose Clarke
Ancillary Justice, Ann Leckie
Life on the Preservation, Jack Skillingstead
Solaris Rising 2: The New Solaris Books of Science Fiction, Ian Whates

The Book of the Unnamed Midwife, Meg Elison
Elysium, Jennifer Marie Brissett
The Bullet-Catcher’s Daughter, Rod Duncan
Memory of Water, Emmi Itaranta
Maplecroft: The Borden Dispatches, Cherie Priest
Reach for Infinity, Jonathan Strahan

Apex, Ramez Naam
Edge of Dark, Brenda Cooper
After the Saucers Landed, Douglas Lain
(R)evolution, PJ Manney
Windswept, Adam Rakunas

Archangel, Marguerite Reed

Saturday, August 20, 2016

The Prime Material Plane

Every once in a while I stumble across a photo I don't understand. This is our kitchen table, or at least a kitchen table the Woods family had for decades. Someone took a photo of it sometime in the 1970s. There's a mysterious hand at right, clutching a bowl with what looks like a small bag of sugar in it - or is that just a reflection?

It's baffling. 

Friday, August 19, 2016

All Choked Up

Sometime back in 1995, my friend Steven Neumann mock-choked me. I like how the gentle, easygoing smile on his face - typical of Steven - constrasts with my maniacal gurgling. I imagine his sister Susan probably shot this strange image. 

Thursday, August 18, 2016

Fish Bones

Sometime in the summer of 1989, Sean created this work of ASCII art on the Atari 130 XE computer. I'm glad I took a photo, even if it is blurry. 

Wednesday, August 17, 2016

Camping in Leaf Rapids

Here's a photo of Dad (at left) with his cousin Hugh, standing in front of our tent trailer. Do they still make those anymore? It looks like Dad and Hugh are preparing to grill some hamburgers over charcoal; I'm sure they were delicious, but my favourite campground meal remains fresh-caught pickerel. In fact, that fish may be my favourite meal, period. To my palate, nothing has ever beat it for its juicy, savory, flavour.

To my shame, I never contributed much to those meals; I was a terrible fisherman, too squeamish to clean the fish, and I'm a dreadful cook. But I was sure good at eating the fillets. 

Tuesday, August 16, 2016

Prairie Beekeeping

I have a vague but vivid memory of visiting a beekeeping operation in southern Manitoba. Perhaps this image is from that day, although I'm not in it, or at least I don't think I am. This may have been shot by Mom or Dad or one of my aunts or uncles, presumably in the early 1970s.

The look of the hives and the surrounding greenery match my memories quite closely. I remember being fascinated by the texture of the honeycombs, which were waxy and soft. The honey itself was superb. 

Monday, August 15, 2016

Whither Gas Stations?

Earlier this morning I had my car filled with gas at Domo, one of the few service station chains that still employs people that pump gas and wipe your windows. While I was waiting for the fill-up to end, I couldn't help but imagine the days of gas stations with any employees at all will probably come to an end within the next decade or so. There's no technological barrier to eliminating employees entirely; we can already pay by debit or credit to unlock the pump, and if there really is a market for service, we must be pretty close to developing a robot arm that can flick open your fuelling port, twist off the cap, insert the spout and start pumping gas into your tank. When electric stations become commonplace, I imagine automatic fuelling will be even easier; just drive your car atop a charge pad, wave your debit or credit card in the general direction of the scanner, and you're done.

I had some trouble finding out how many gas station attendants remain in Canada; according to Service Canada, there are 2,800 in Quebec. I'm not going to do the math, but maybe that amounts to about 10,000 spread across the country, assuming each province and territory have roughly the same number of gas station attendants per capita.

Imagine you're camping in a national park a few years from now, and you notice your car is just about out of energy. You won't need to worry; you can just tell it to go charge up at the nearest station. Maybe the station will even pop your trunk and fill it with snacks, all without human intervention.

Of course, when all the jobs are being done by robots and software, few of us will be able to afford luxuries such as camping trips, vehicles and food, unless of course we decide, as a civilization, that we need to look at new paradigms to address the overwhelming wave of change that's breaking across us right now. What a time to be alive...on the cusp of utopia or cataclysm. 

Sunday, August 14, 2016

Sudden (Near) Impact

Had the timing changed by a bare second last night, I might not be writing this today. 

Shortly after midnight, I was driving south on 178th, heading across the bridge over the Yellowhead. My driver-side window was rolled down so I could enjoy the warm summer night; I was listening to one of the many variations of the Mission: Impossible theme on my phone. 

I was moving at the speed limit, 60 kph, on a very fresh green light. I took note of a semi heading north, the only other traffic in my immediate vicinity; he moved into the opposite left-turn lane. 

Since I had the right-of-way, I naturally assumed he would stop to let me proceed. Instead, he moved into the intersection like he hadn't seen me at all. 

Earlier in the evening, the guys were explaining to Colin's son Avery that I cursed only under very specific conditions, and rarely. Last night gave me a new reason to bark a profane oath. 

"HOLLLYYYYY SHIIIIIITTTTTTTTTTTTT," I cried as I threw the car out of gear and stomped on the brake pedal harder than I've ever done before. The car's nose pitched downward so steeply that I thought my bumper was going to touch asphalt. There was a scream of protesting rubber, and I think that's what finally alerted the semi driver, who also slammed on his brakes. His cab bucked up and down violently. 

We came to rest in perfect time with the final two notes of the Mission: Impossible theme. I'd applied my brakes perhaps two or three metres before the stop line; my car came to a halt perhaps a quarter of the way into the intersection. The semi was about halfway through. My left front corner was about two metres away from his right front corner. That sounds like a long way, but had our reactions been delayed by even an instant, the outcome would have been very different. 

In silence, three or four seconds passed. The semi driver gave me a sheepish wave of apology; I waved back that I was okay. The light was still green; there was nothing more to do but proceed. 

It was the closest call I've experienced in many years. I feel grateful to be alive today, and particularly grateful to my Kia's brakes, which performed with spectacular, life-saving aplomb. 

Everything you are and everyone and everything you love can be taken away in an instant. Last night reminded me to relish every second. 

Friday, August 12, 2016

The Spokespeople

That's me on the left, pointing at whoever shot this photo of me and two of my fellow delegates to the 1987 Forum for Young Canadians in Ottawa. I can't believe I willingly dressed in a suit for most of this week-long event. Being thin helped. 

Thursday, August 11, 2016

Number 9

Sylvia and I married each other 9 years ago today; 8 years ago today we posed for this photo at Germaine's Luau on the island of Oahu, Hawaii. This image represents the tiniest fraction of the great memories we've built together, and I look forward to many more! 

Wednesday, August 10, 2016

Fanning the Flames

Here's another Centennial Flame photo I shot during my trip to Ottawa back in 1987. 

Tuesday, August 09, 2016

Flaming Flashback

I shot this image of the Centennial Flame in Ottawa in 1987. With film, no less! 

Monday, August 08, 2016

iMac Flashbac

Here I am sometime in the late 90s working on one of the first iMacs; this one was aqua-coloured. Presumably I was ghostwriting one gardening book or another. My desk at ATCO is even messier than this. Bruce or Jim probably shot the photo; I was trying to finish a roll of black and white. Yes, this was shot...on film. 

Sunday, August 07, 2016

Flin Flon Flashback

Here I am at perhaps a year or two of age in the house in Flin Flon, which still exists today. The green couch and coffee table were with the family for decades, as was the piece of patio furniture on the right (I'm not sure why it's indoors in this photo).

The negative is in rough shape, but I've done my best to clean up the scan. It's still blurry, but that may be inherent blur from the day the shot was taken, sometime in...1970? I wish the image were sharp enough to make out the yellow box next to the toy telephone.  

Saturday, August 06, 2016

Thoughts on Suicide Squad

Back in 1987, DC Comics started publishing Suicide Squad by John Ostrander and Luke McDonnell. Ostrander's brilliant premise was this: in a world of independent, potentially dangerous people and aliens with powers far beyond those of mortal men, the American government found itself in need of a covert task force of equally super-powered people to counter the perceived threat. Government agent Amanda Waller - one of the great creations of modern comics - recruits a team of so-called super-villains into Task Force X, offering them time off their prison sentences in exchange for engaging in suicide missions for the government. They really have little choice, because Waller has implanted bombs in their necks that can be set off remotely if the villains try to escape or otherwise disobey. Colloquially, they're known as the Suicide Squad, since the odds of coming back from any given mission are slim.

This paranoid, cynical premise is a perfect reflection of the late cold war era, and Ostrander played on the tropes of the time brilliantly, giving the villainous characters depth rivaling and even surpassing DC's more famous protagonists - Batman, Wonder Woman, Superman and all the rest. During the course of the series one-note villains such as the ludicrous Captain Boomerang or the deeply damaged Deadshot are given new dimensions; as I reader, I found myself sympathizing with them even on those occasions when they were put into conflict with the mainstream heroes. Over the course of five years and 63 issues, Ostrander and his team delivered engaging, morally ambiguous stories rich with drama, action and character development, while also offering wry commentary on the politics of the day.

When I heard that Suicide Squad was to be adapted to film, I was equal parts excited and wary. Summer blockbusters are not the ideal venue to explore the more subtle aspects of Ostrander's original comic; it would be all to easy to simply skim off the surface of the work - the action and some character beats - throw them into a few chase and fight sequences and call it a day.

And indeed, that's exactly what's happened with David Ayer's big screen Suicide Squad. Most critics are panning the film, and I fully expected to do so myself. It's true that film is front-loaded with exposition, that it's too dark - not in tone, but visually - and that the villain is somewhat one-note. What makes the movie work for me is its treatment of the Squad members: assassin Deadshot, petty crook Captain Boomerang, the deranged clown princess of crime, Harley Quinn, the monstrous, mutated Killer Croc, the witch-possessed Enchantress, the ex-gang banger El Diablo, and their government overseers, Colonel Rick Flag and Katana, who wields a sword that steals the souls of those it kills.

Of course this reads as somewhat ridiculous, but part of enjoying this genre is accepting that the world of superheroics includes all manner of wondrous and bizarre properties. What makes the film work (for me, at least) is the way these characters interact with each other and how they respond to the situation Amanda Waller and the government have imposed upon them. They are, to say the least, reluctant heroes, and the antagonistic griping slung back and forth is one of the small delights of the film. The other is the way in which the backstories of several of the characters are revealed, particularly Deadshot, Harley Quinn and El Diablo. Each has his or her own dreams and fears, some realized, some not by the movie's end.

The mission itself is simple and linear: the squad has to fight its way through horde of monsters to first rescue an important figure trapped in the fray, and then to take out the threat itself. While not as well done as similar sequences in Dredd or The Raid: Redemption, the combination of action and character interplay keeps the film entertaining, and the final showdown itself is well-executed, has emotional weight, and even lives up to the title in ways I won't spoil.

The film also benefits from a great soundtrack and a neon purple-green colour palette that should have been used for more than the opening exposition sequences and the opening and closing credits; they give the film a very distinctive look during the sections where it's used, and could have livened up the (literally) darker sections of the movie.

The cameos from other DC characters feel unforced and natural, organic to the story, another plus.

It's possible that I'm being too easy on the film, given that it comes in the wake of the truly awful Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice. But for the first time after watching one of the modern DC movies, I actually want to see more of these characters and their world.

Finally, the mid-credits sequence drops a very tantalizing possibility, one I hope a competent filmmaker realizes.

Suicide Squad is by no means a great movie, but it has a goofy charm thanks primarily to the charisma and pain of its core characters. Given a little polish and extra time in the editing room, it may have almost lived up to the comic itself. It doesn't reach that point - it doesn't really come close - but Suicide Squad (the film), deserves credit for ambition, if nothing else, and for showing the humanity in monsters and the monsters in humanity.

Friday, August 05, 2016

Sean's Blackened Cajun Strips

Today Sean came over to teach me how to make Blackened Cajun strips. The process turns out to be pretty simple: coat some chicken cutlets in Cajun spices...
...then fry them in a cast-iron pan in light olive oil for 4-7 minutes on each side...
...and enjoy! They were delicious. No more waiting for Red Robin to re-introduce their long-lost appetizer! 

Wednesday, August 03, 2016

Allan and the Suction Cup Dart

One evening, sometime between 10 and 15 years ago, my friend Allan stuck a suction cup dart to his forehead. I found this extremely amusing, so much so that I had an uncontrollable laughing fit. Allan was somewhat nonplussed by my reaction, which grew even more extreme when he pulled the dart off his forehead, revealing a prominent red welt. I begged Allan to let me take a photograph or two (one with the dart, one with the welt), but he refused, for eminently sensible reasons.

Luckily my friend Jeff has used his painterly skills to recreate the moment. Please visit JSVB to see. 

Tuesday, August 02, 2016

The Raft: Scene 1

The Raft
A Play in One Act
Earl J. Woods

Cast of Characters

Fuad Azzameen - A man in his late 40s
Champion Fortnight - A man in his early 20s
Lake Suspiria - A woman in her early 20s
Heather Bullseye - A woman in her late 30s

A meandering river.

The near future. 

Scene 1
SETTING: A large, well-made log raft, complete with railings, boat hook, two paddles and a small bamboo shelter floats lazily down a meandering river.  Upon the raft sit two Coleman coolers, one orange, one red; a Coleman lantern, two sleeping bags; a lawn chair; a fishing rod and net; some scattered pillows; a pair of binoculars; and a small safe with a combination lock. The shoreline is overgrown with tropical foliage; the water is very clear. It is a hot summer's day, shortly before noon. During this scene, the light gradually changes from natural yellow sunlight to a dangerous, foreboding red. 

AT RISE: The raft is empty. There is a splash; then, the sounds of someone swimming. After a moment, FUAD AZZAMEEN clambers onto the raft, soaking wet. He sits down heavily in the lawn chair. He peels off the wet suit he was wearing, stripping down to his underwear and undershirt. He's clearly exhausted by the swim; catching the raft in this current took speed and endurance. He hangs his clothing on one of the raft's bamboo railings, then examines the raft. He notes the boat hook, the paddles, the fishing rod. He opens one cooler, rummages through it: 

Coors...Coke...Orange juice...7-Up...water...water!

FUAD takes a bottle of water and closes the cooler. He drinks as he continues to survey the raft. He notices the safe and tries to open it; it's locked. He spins the combination lock a couple of times, tries to open it again; no luck. He shrugs and moves toward the shelter that sits near the bow of the raft. As he looks through the doorway, there is a sudden crashing cacophony of howls, loud enough to shake the stage. FUAD's eyes lock on the doorway for an instant, and then he turns away as if he had heard nothing and had no interest in the shelter. He picks up the binoculars and scans the shoreline with them. Seeing nothing, he sits down in the lawn chair again and sips his water. He looks around, bored; he has the air of a man who desperately wishes he had something to read. 

Hey! Hey you! Slow down! Wait!

FUAD leaps to his feet, startled. He looks all around, trying to locate the source of the voice - he's looking out into the audience. But CHAMPION FORTNIGHT pushes aside thick foliage on the opposite shore and waves desperately. 

Over here! 

FUAD sees CHAMPION and uses the boat hook to snatch a low-hanging branch, muscles straining to stop the raft. It works, but FUAD can't hold on for long. 

Hurry! The current's too strong!

CHAMPION dives into the water and swims for it, reaching the raft just as FUAD is forced to unhook the boat hook from the branch. He drops the boat hook onto the deck and helps CHAMPION board. 

CHAMPION (gasping)
Thanks! I didn't think there was anyone else...(he trails off.)

No. Me either. 

CHAMPION (extending a hand to shake)
Well, I'm glad I found you. I'm Champion Fortnight. Most people just call me Champ. 

FUAD (shaking hands after a reluctant moment)
Fuad Azzameen. 

The two men regard each other for a second with some wariness. Then CHAMPION claps his hands onto his thighs and stands up. 

So - a raft, huh? Not a bad idea. I tried for a glider; it didn't work out. 

It's not mine. I found it just a few minutes ago. 

Really? Huh. What are the odds? 

FUAD shrugs as CHAMPION takes a look around the raft, performing the same mental inventory that FUAD did moments ago. He opens one of the coolers and retrieves a beer, cracking it open. 

So what's in the safe? And who puts a safe on a raft, anyway? And hey, where's...where's whoever built this? 

I don't know. It was empty when I arrived. The safe is locked. But they haven't been gone long. There's still ice in the coolers. Hardly any has melted. 

Did you look in here? 

CHAMPION moves toward the shelter. FUAD suddenly freezes as if transfixed. CHAMPION sticks his head into the doorway and screams as the same sounds we heard before drown out everything. 



Monday, August 01, 2016

Keith's Photobomb

Keith and I wound up winning a couple of awards when we finished Grade 6. While Mom was dutifully photographing Sean and me to mark the occasion, Keith dove in with a distant but effective photobomb.

I don't remember much about Grade 6. The Language Arts workbooks were purple; I was scared of the custodian; a girl scratched by left ring finger so deeply I had a scar for years; I was small enough to hide inside the truck tires that served as playground equipment.