Tuesday, December 23, 2014

I Return, and with A Storm of Swords

Yes, it's been a long time since my last entry.  I never go a month between blogs, but it's been a trying time.  I won't bore you or whine about the details, except to say that I almost lost a loved one--but Jackson the Greyhound is doing much better and is still very enthusiastically with us.  But a week-plus worth of vet bills isn't cheap, and the predictable had to happen, made even worse by the time of year.  Of course, all the vet bills had to come after I finished my Christmas shopping--and finally spent a bit on myself and a few loved ones.  Isn't that always the way?  I've also hit a really tough insomnia time: three hours a night, or none at all, for about a month.  Sometimes I get five hours, but I get a couple of hours, can't go back to sleep, then I get a couple of more...Overall, not restful.  As might be expected, this has led me to get a bit run-down, and a little sick, though nothing really terrible.  So I'm very out-of-whack, and exhausted, and just overall feeling really out of it.

But, surprisingly, I'm also very energetic, and I've had a series of minor epiphanies (if there can be such things) and I have a new-found appreciation for my space in life and those who occupy it with me.  Always good to have, but even more so at this time of year.  And so I am grateful.  Perhaps there will be more about this to come.  And thank-you to those who emailed and voiced concerns.  I'm fine.

In the meantime, I will leave you with a very quick review of A Storm of Swords, as I have decided to read the books while the series takes its long intermission.  And so--

Photo: U.S. hardcover, from its Wikipedia page

Unbelievably entertaining and engrossing read, which--as I pointed out in my review of its predecessor--is really saying something, since I knew every major thing that was going to happen. 

That in no way took away from the read, and may even have enhanced it.

As is necessary for high fantasy, and perhaps fantasy in general, the writing is so totally enveloping that it is like you're in that world.  World-building has to be perfect in books like this, but I'll bet that it's rarely this much so.  The Lord of the Rings books were less world-built than are these; I don't mean that as a negative towards Tolkien, as he paved the road and showed the way.  But Martin doesn't focus on over-description of grasses and trees.  Instead his writing is completely focused on completeness in every way: how everything looks, smells, etc., just as you're taught in writing classes, though not to this extent.  He doesn't just description from all of the senses: he focuses more on the sight and the sound, and less on the others.  And he does not describe to the detriment of the action, as Tolkien did.

Some scenes are better in the show, but to describe how and why would be to partly ruin the experience of reading the book, or watching the show.  So just a quick mention of what things are different, without mentioning how they're different:

--though the end of this book brings you up-to-date with this past season's end, the book ends with something not yet seen on the show.

--Brienne of Tarth does not do in the Hound.  I prefer the book's way.  It struck me as unrealistic that Brienne would run across Arya and the Hound, way out in the middle of nowhere, on an outcropping.

--Ygritte does not get killed by a little boy shooting an arrow.  I prefer the show's way, though I admit the book's way is much more realistic.  Martin does not go for the melodrama.

--Something major happens to Jon Snow on the Wall in the book and not in the show.  At least not yet.

--Jeyne of Westerling does not attend the wedding, which is like getting to the airport late and missing your flight, which then crashes.

--Littlefinger's dialogue before his push is much better in the show.  Essentially the same in both, but the show just nails it so much better.

--(Martin is better than the show's writers with the overall dialogue, and the everyday expressions, etc.  But at a climactic moment, the show's writers really nail it.  And this isn't because I saw it before I read it.  Trust me.)

--The book emphasizes how many guys Cersei sleeps with.  It's clearly a weapon for her.  The show does not...well, show this.

--The book makes it very clear who killed Joffrey.  Good to know I got it right from the show.  We know from the show that Littlefinger was behind the whole thing (which I wouldn't have figured out), but who exactly put the poison in the cup?  Oops...You did know it was the wine and not the cake, right?

--The book breaks the battle of the Wall into two or three distinct parts, over a few days.  The show gives it to us all at once, all in one episode.  I like the show's take better.

--The book does not show the giant's attack in the tunnel like the show does.  It was a good call of the show's to do so.

And there's more, but you get the idea.  I realized while reading that the show made some excellent decisions about what to emphasize (the scene between Tywin and Tyrion was better in the show, too, as is Tyrion's dialogue at that climactic moment) and what not to.  It is a rare thing that a show is better than its material, but it's a close call here.

But that's not why you should read the book.  The writing does something that the show, no matter how hard (or successfully) it tries, cannot duplicate: it envelops you into its world-building so completely that even a visual medium cannot match.

Friday, November 28, 2014

A Clash of Kings by George R. R. Martin -- Book Review

Photo: Hardcover for the book, from its Wikipedia page.  Not the edition I read.

You ever notice the longer a book is, the less you have to write about it?

Anyway, I suppose you wouldn't be reading this review if you haven't already a) read the book; b) seen the HBO series; or c) both, so I won't waste time writing about things you already know.

I'll just point out my favorite parts of this book.

1.  It reads very quickly.  Because it's 1,009 pages, this is no small thing.  Martin doesn't seem to get the recognition for his writing that he deserves.  I'm impressed by his vivid descriptions of just about everything.  Typically, overlong description is probably what Elmore Leonard meant when he said he tried to not write the parts people skip.  But when you're world-building as Martin is here, you really do have to describe almost everything.  This can be tedious in lesser hands.  But I found myself not skipping these parts.  In fact, I didn't skip any parts.  And a neat writerly trick I noticed from him: his sentences have much more alliteration, assonance and consonance than you'd think they would.  These things make the pages move.

2.  Daenerys's trip through the House of the Undying Ones was unbelievably well-written.  (And a figure in there murmurs the title of the entire series: A Song of Ice and Fire.)  Martin somehow encapsulates the themes of the entire series in one trip through this house, and does so both literally and figuratively--and mysteriously.  No small feat, since I've seen the episode already.  But seeing the show does not take away anything from the reading.  If you've been holding back for fear of that, don't delay any longer.

3.  The battle for King's Landing at the end was amazingly taut and suspenseful--again, no small feat, considering I've seen the episodes.  Even though you know what's coming, you're quickly turning the pages.

4.  Martin is able to delve deeply into all of his characters.  This is a helluva achievement because a) he writes about some women, notoriously difficult for a male writer to do; b) he gives equal time to every character, and there's a lot of them; c) he somehow holds it all together without confusing the reader; d) he knows just when to cut away from a character, and he knows just when to come back to a character; e) he doesn't fall into a pattern with his character cuts; he'll go away from a character and come right back to him again, then not return for many chapters.  In other words, it's not always A then B then C and then back to A again.  He cuts to and fro depending on what his story dictates.  I can tell you from personal bitter experience that all of this is not easy to do.  Agents and editors say not to write from too many POVs for a reason.  This may be the exception that proves the rule.

5.  The book is great even though the series follows it very, very closely, with only minor exceptions.  (And one or two major ones.)  But, again, no small feat, since I've seen the episodes and the episodes parallel the book very, very closely.

Anyway, even if you've seen the show, you should read this.  In fact, because you've seen the show, you should read this.

And I don't normally like these kinds of books.  World-building, sword-and-sorcery, knights and fair ladies, medieval stuff...not normally my thing.  Epics in general, especially fantasies, are not for me.  It took me over twenty years to read the three Lord of the Rings books.  I've never even tried to read any of the Harry Potter books (though I have them all).  I'm just too damned impatient for long books and long series.

But, as I mentioned, these may be the exception that proves the rule.

Tuesday, November 25, 2014

The Skeleton Crew by Deborah Halber -- Web Sleuths and Cold Cases

Photo: The hardcover's hardcover, from this website at Simon and Schuster.

Though a little dry at times, The Skeleton Crew is a work unlike anything I've read before: a nonfiction piece about web sleuths, people who match missing people with unidentified bodies, thereby giving closure to the families of the dead and, to boot, solving a cold case.

That such people exist is a surprise, and yet not, to me at the same time.  Mostly the web detectives are obsessed people with a personal void to fill.  Some are siblings of someone murdered, or someone missing.  Todd Matthews, the man the book revolves around the most, had siblings die very young--just a few years old--and he thinks he's perhaps trying to resurrect them, in a way.  He doesn't really know.

But he solved the now-infamous case of Tent Girl.  In this book you'll also read about the still-unsolved case of the Lady of the Dunes, from Cape Cod, Massachusetts.  Another case, of a young redhead killed in the desert outside of Las Vegas, haunts me still.

And you might be surprised to know that as many as 40,000--and perhaps more--unidentified bodies take up space right now in coroner's offices throughout the U.S.  More find their way into the unidentified statistics every day.

And they're not all homeless, addicts or prostitutes, either.

One article I read today--similar to this book but not in any way connected to it--concerned a woman who lived under a ton of aliases for over thirty years before she committed suicide in Texas.  Who was she, really?  Nobody knows--including her husband.  She'd covered her tracks that well.  Her latest driver's license was of a name she'd stolen off of an 18-month old's gravestone in Idaho.

Then there was the story of a woman who was kidnapped, sold to a man who molested her and married her (yes).  She's not dead, of course, but she tells the story of a woman, from her exact same situation, who was killed by the man she'd had to marry.  Who was this other girl?  Nobody knows.  She'd just been taken off the street, sold to some guy, and re-named.  And now she's dead, and nobody knows who she is--not even the guy who kidnapped her.

So who's The Lady in the Dunes?  The woman who had her head bashed in and her hands chopped off to hinder her identification?  Nobody knows.  And there's thousands of people like her, unidentified, unknown, unburied and ungrieved-for, all over the country.

Fascinating, in a sad, morbid, I-can't-believe-it kind of way.

And definitely worth reading, if you can stomach it.

It's written by Deborah Halber in a literary-mystery kind of way, weaving interconnected stories, flashing back, coming back around again.  You have to pay attention, but it's easy to do if you care enough.  I found myself Googling some of the nicknames and some of the victims, and reading a few of the websites mentioned in the book.

I even gave a passing thought to trying it myself.  Me, the web sleuth.  But I won't. 

I know better.  It's too depressing and too addicting, and I'd never recover.

The writer in me sees a good novel in here somewhere.  I'll add it to the list of manuscripts-to-come for now.  I've got to return the book to the library, but I'll look to buy it soon, so I can own it when I start to write my web-sleuthing novel.

Thursday, November 13, 2014

Revival by Stephen King

Photo: The book's cover art, from its Wikipedia page

Another compulsively-readable book by Stephen King, Revival is one of his recent best.  A mish-mash of Frankenstein (thematically) and Lovecraft (in plot, Otherness, and The Angry Ones, as well as some fairly fearsome Gods) and Hieronymus Bosch, it reads like a first-person confessional (which is a well King has tapped for some time now) and it ends with one of the more horrifying things that King--or anyone I've read--has ever written.
Especially if it's true, if that's really what's waiting for us Afterwards.  If you've ever seen Bosch's Seven Deadly Sins or his Garden of Earthly Delights, you'll know what I mean.  Nasty, disturbing and memorable stuff.  This book's ending--and the potential ending for us all, good or bad--are just that: nasty, disturbing and memorable.  Frightening, because the "good" or "bad" doesn't matter.  The ending depicted here isn't the ending of the bad.  It's the ending of all of us.

In recent interviews, King has said that the views expressed by the narrator are not necessarily his--a fact that any reader is well aware, in anyone's writing.  But he has also said recently that he thinks about Death and God a lot (which King fans have always known), and that he does believe in God.  Sometimes he says that there has to be a God, because otherwise he would not have survived his accident or his addictions.  (This begs the question: Since others have not survived being hit by a car, or concurrent alcohol and coke addictions, does that mean there isn't a God?  Or does God simply not want them to live?)  Lately, King's been using Pascal's Wager to express his views.
(Pascal's Wager has always seemed like a cop-out to me, but it's really not meant to be.  And as I get older, and I contemplate that slab of stone more and more, Pascal's Wager sounds infinitely more rational.  Though I don't know how one can live a life as if one believes in God, which is what the Wager advises, if one truly does not believe.  But I suppose an agnostic like myself could pull it off.)

This is actually not much of a digression, as a belief in Something is very much at the core of this novel.  Picture an agnostic who grew up with devout, religious parents, and throw in some family tragedies, a wasted life of coke and booze, and some Lovecraftian Cosmic Horror, with Bosch's view of a potential eternity in Hell and a Frankenstein theme, and some hellish chaos on Earth at the very un-Stephen King-like end (after all the Frankenstein / Lovecraft / Bosch stuff), and you've just about got the narrator and his story.

There are some other horrors until then as well, neatly tucked into this novel.  There's a car accident you won't soon forget, and a dream about dead family members that those of us with dead family members will all relate to--and not happily.  And his ending after the ending (a writing style I've pointed out in my last ten or so reviews of King's work) is even more unforgettable.  It's debatable, in fact, if the first or second ending is more horrible.  Since I don't believe in the existence of the first, and since I very much believe in the existence of the evil--or of, worse, the tragic inexplicable--portrayed in the second, I'm going with the latter.  You watch the news, you see this.

The writing is as compulsively-readable as always, but--finally!!!--here are some horrors, terrors and chills, too.  If forced to rate out of five stars, I'd say this is a four--only if compared to his truly great stuff, like IT and The Shining.  But compared to his most recent stuff--some of it quite terrible, and sometimes, at best, rather pedestrian--Revival would get five.  Though the title refers to the revival of the narrator and a few of its almost-dead characters, it could well refer to King's horror writing as well.

Read it, regardless.  And then Wikipedia Pascal's Wager, if you have to, and tell me whether it makes more pragmatic, rational sense than it may have in your youth.

Sunday, November 2, 2014

Comic Con 2014 in Providence, Rhode Island

Photo: The entrance for this year's Comic Con in Providence, Rhode Island.

Photos: Hundreds of people, if not more, stood in line outside the Convention Center, in howling wind and rain, and never got in.  These were amongst them.  I took the shot of these cold, disgruntled people as I left the Con and went to my car.  The line started in the lobbies, went downstairs, then started again at the doors outside, snaked around the building, and ended past these people, in front of the garage I parked in.  Poor souls.

I had a great Saturday at Comic Con, though it apparently turned into a horror show for everyone who arrived after 12 p.m. or so.  Ticketmaster or the Convention Center (they're playing tennis with the blame) never stopped selling tickets, so that thousands of people past the max showed up.  When I left at about 3:30 p.m. (I got there at 8:30 a.m., waited with hundreds of others in The Dunk--as opposed to many hundred who waited outside in the cold, wind and rain--until the doors opened at 10:00 a.m.).  But when I walked out at 3:30 p.m., there were hundreds of people waiting in the lobbies, another hundred or so downstairs, and many hundreds of others outside in a long line, in a pouring rain.  Most of those outside never got in at all!

But I did.  Got there early, despite the protests of my friends, who said I was crazy, that it wouldn't be crowded.  (Though driving there was a breeze; took about 20 minutes.)

I spoke to, got pictures of (and with), and got autographs from:

1.  Anthony Michael Hall (Very nice and humble.  Different than I'd heard, and he'd lost a lot of weight since The Dark Knight.  I was his first fan of the day--he was about a half-hour late, as were most of the other celebs.)

2.  Karen Allen (Still very pretty and funny-feisty.  Same exact smile and laugh.)

3.  Michael Biehn (He's had a stroke, or he has MS or MD or something similar.  Looked really, really bad, more of a walking dead than Scott Wilson or Seth Gilliam.  Really too bad; one of my favorite 80s actors.)

4.  William Katt (The Greatest American Hero, though I still prefer him in the original Carrie.  Looks about the same; very fit and looking good for his age.)

5.  John Rhys-Davies (His last name is pronounced like Davis; didn't know that.  I prefer him as Sallah from Raiders of the Lost Ark, with Karen Allen, though he's very good, of course, as Gimli in the Lord of the Rings trilogy.  I got his autograph and Karen Allen's on the same Raiders picture.)

6.  Seth Gilliam (Father Gabriel from The Walking Dead.  Extremely fit and lean and athletic-looking.  Very energetic, positive, pumped kind of guy.)

7.  Took a break from autograph-hunting to sit in the audience for a panel discussion with Karen Allen and John Rhys-Davies speaking of Raiders.  I went to the mike and asked a question to them about being directed by Steven Spielberg, as I had also been "directed" by him as an extra in Amistad.  A friend took a video of me asking my question, and their 5+-minute answer.

8.  Scott Wilson (Hershel from The Walking Dead.)  He had by far the longest lines of any celebrity there that day--much longer than William Shatner and the other Trekkers.

9.  Eliza Dushku.  I've only seen her in True Lies, long before she was in Buffy, and Angel, and other things I never saw.  Had a couple of bags stolen from her by a guy Channel 10 said was wearing "an Egyptian costume."  Maybe Sallah?  Incredibly, unbelievably beautiful, far more than the "supermodels" and "models" there.

Not a bad day, despite being packed in like sardines (since the Con violated fire safety laws and went way over the limit), and despite, once again (as at Terror Con in the same building), dealing with a staff who didn't know anything about anything.  At both Cons combined, I asked the staff about ten questions--mind-boggling things, like "Where's the nearest exit?" or "Where's the ATM?"--and each time I was told, "I don't know."  Literally, each and every single time.

So there's a lot of stuff for a lot of blog entries.  I'll cover one at a time, in the order I got their autographs, or their picture.  The list above is the exact order.

There'll be lots of pictures of the celebs and of their autographs, plus a bit on what they were in and how those movies or shows effected me.  Hope you like 'em.

Friday, October 31, 2014

American Horror Story--Freakshow--Edward Mordrake, Part 2--Episode 4--An Excerpt

Photo below: Just as last week, from http://verumfabula.wordpress.com/2012/08/26/the-curious-case-of-edward-mondrake/

Photo below: from the Huffington Post, at this site.

It's late at night and I've got writing to do, so--very quickly:

--Well, I sort of called it, as I did say that the Killer Clown was by far the most worthy of Mordrake to take with him.  AHS's creators did a good job of making the trailers look like Elsa was going to go.

###  Go to the whole blog entry at my AHS site to read the deleted stuff.  ###

--John Carroll Lynch--a.k.a. Twisty the Clown--has played tons of other roles in good TV shows and movies.  I remember him most as the main suspect in Zodiac (Didja catch the Zodiac homage in the first episode, the killings at the lake?) and as the pregnant cop's husband in Fargo.  Ayuh.

--And, strange to say, sorry to see Twisty go.  Felt the same about Gareth in Walking Dead.  They had charisma, man.  Which is hard to do if, like Twisty, you don't have any lines.

--Heard today that Lily Rabe will be back this season after all.  And she's bringing Sister Mary Eunice with her!  Apparently she'll explain how she and Pepper got to the Asylum.

--Speaking of Pepper, I met the real actress--Naomi Grossman--at a recent TerrorCon.  And she's pretty!  I was going to get her autograph, but I was short on cash, having bought waaaaaaaayyyyy too many posters.  Won't do that at Saturday's Comic Con.

--And I made eye contact with her twice, so hopefully I was polite enough to at least say Hello to her.  Knowing my social skills, probably not.  It was sort of like driving by a yard sale, really slowly, looking over everything, but never stopping the car or getting out.  Just a drive-by look and nothing.

***  Go to the whole blog entry at my AHS site to read the deleted stuff.  ***

--And now the twins are getting that way, too.

--Not sure Desiree Dupree's response to that kid was altogether appropriate.  She said, "I'm a woman and a whole lot more," or something like that.

--Let's hope we don't see Evan Peters and Emma Roberts in the tabloids again.  Last year, she apparently beat him up.  But she's likeable, and his character is already much better than last year's travesty.

--Word has it that the last three or four episodes haven't been shot yet, which is why they can add actors to the cast this late in the game.  I mean, Lily Rabe agreed to join the cast this week, which means she hasn't shot her scenes yet.  And only three or so episodes remain to be shot.

--Things apparently don't need to be planned any better than that.  Weird business.

Happy Halloween, everyone!

Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Last Night in Montreal by Emily St. John Mandel

Photo: from the author's webpage and bio section.  It's on her latest books, too.  And in Entertainment Weekly, which says that her newest, Station Eleven, is "the must-read of the fall."  I don't doubt that it is.  I love her writing, from her first book, reviewed here, to her online essays.  Good writing is good writing, no matter the form or the genre.

An exquisitely-written, stays-with-you little gem of a book, more about the people who are left behind than about the people who leave.

Very short, at 220 pages, but very deep about obsession, depression, leaving and staying behind.  The characters are all representatives, of course, more than they are flesh-and-blood, exactly, which made me hate Lilia a little less at the end, when we learn in the last few sentences of the book that she lived happily-ever-after (mostly) after all, despite all the (mostly unintentional, but c'mon) heartbreak she left in her wake.

But she has been thrown through a window, seen a man driven off the road, seen a woman pulverized by a subway train, and she never had a lasting friendship or relationship until she married in her late-20s after finally staying somewhere--in this case, Italy.  Some reviews hated on her character, and I could see their point, especially how this waif with tight dark hair just so easily grabbed relationships with men and women (bisexuality is hinted at in the book)--and all she has to do to get them is to read in cultured little coffeeshops...  Yet, I don't doubt that there are a lot of Lilias out there, and that there are indeed affected women who sit in coffeeshops all the time, and bookish male intellectuals trip over themselves to be with them.  Plus, looking at the author's picture, I think it might be a bit of a self-description.  Maybe a little Freudian analysis is necessary here.  But I digress...

Lilia is representative of a type, and not full-blooded, so I ultimately gave her a pass.  After awhile of thinking about it.  Plus, I'd sit down next to her in a coffeeshop...

But all the characters are this way.  They're representative, and many of them come off far worse than she.  There's the aforementioned mother who threw her young child out the window...which was closed, by the way.  And she left the child in the winter snow to freeze, too.  Luckily that didn't happen--the freezing, I mean. 

Then there's the detective father who is the real obsessive of the book.  He leaves his wife and daughter for weeks, months and, yes, years at a time, to track down Lilia and her father, long after her abduction ceased to be worth tracking down.  (She's in her 20s, and plus she was better off away from the free-throwing mother.)  This guy's wife leaves him, then he leaves his 15-year old daughter alone as he again obsessively tracks Lilia down.  Ultimately he ends up returning to his young daughter for a short time, but then he leaves again and disappears forever from her life.  It's possible he commits suicide somewhere. 

This girl, his daughter, quits school, which he doesn't notice, and eventually befriends Lilia, and then her ex- (who Lilia leaves at the beginning and who tracks her down in Montreal, in a fashion, but he actually latches on to this guy's grown-up daughter, kinda gets obsessed with her for two weeks and never really seems that intent to find Lilia...) and then she becomes a stripper, learns something even more unsettling about her father, and then kills herself.

She's the real victim here.

The above paragraph may make the book sound like a soap opera, but it's really not.  In lesser, untalented hands, this would have been a real mess, and worthy of mockery and lampooning--but it's in great hands, and really stylishly and compactly written.  It's not my kind of book, normally, but there's huge buzz right now about Emily St. John Mandel's Station Eleven, so I wanted to read her early stuff first.  I also read a couple of her online articles--one about NYC's reaction to Ebola before the doctor got sick there--and those were very well-written as well.

You've got to read this one.  For the writing.  For the interweaving structure.  For what it says about those who leave.  And for what it shows about those who are left.

It's well-constructed, a bit haunting and lyrical, and it'll stay with you.  It'll resonate.

And, oh yeah--Don't go to Montreal in the winter.

Saturday, October 25, 2014

Cheap Shot--Book Review

Photo: The book's hardcover...cover?  From its Goodreads page.

Another good, compulsively-readable entry into the series by Atkins.

There's not much here you haven't seen before if you've read the others by Parker and Atkins.  But this one still stands apart from the others because of its purposely scattered structure.  Spenser's all over the place, from Boston to NYC and back again.  He speaks to old characters (Gerry Broz runs a fish store?!?), only some of whom are actually useful for this case.

This is the one startling aspect of this book.  Old, non-regular characters either come up (Broz; Tony Marcus; Ty-Bop) or are brought up (Rachel Wallace; April Kyle) simply to stir them up in the readers' minds.  Doing this could've led to disaster, almost like name-dropping, but Atkins handles it well.  It doesn't distract.  It adds.

This one reads a little more gritty, a little more true-to-life.  This is also different than many, but not all, of Parker's.  His often tended to get wrapped up neatly.  The better ones, now that I think about it, didn't end that way: Looking for Rachel Wallace and April Kyle's second (and last) come to mind.

Who-dun-it is not a surprise, exactly, although I was a little surprised about how it suddenly came to a head.  I mean this in a good way.  It makes sense, and the reader and Spenser were kind of heading there, but it all gets sidetracked, as did Spenser, as does the reader.  So when the ending happens, it all makes sense, and isn't really surprising, and yet it was a nice, little twist at the same time.

In a gritty, realistic kind of way.  Would it really happen that way?  The motel room?  The trunk?  Yes, I believe it really could happen that way.  But in the trunk?  Yes, because he just didn't care.  (I won't reveal the end, so you'll just have to read it to fully grasp what I'm talking about.)  Would it have ended that way in Parker's hands?  Nope.  But that's okay.

It works.  That's all that matters.  Things change.  People change.

And, often, they don't change.  The bad ones, when they get really pissed, tend to stay that way.  And then they do bad things.  And then everything sort of goes to hell.

Sometimes that kind of thing ends well.  Other times--I'm thinking Cormac McCarthy here--they don't.  As it is in real life as well.

Thursday, October 23, 2014

American Horror Story--Freakshow--Edward Mordrake, Part 1--Episode 3

Photo:  It's all over the net, but I got it from http://verumfabula.wordpress.com/2012/08/26/the-curious-case-of-edward-mondrake/

Some quick thoughts about this good episode:

--Michael Chiklis's Strongman (aka--Dell Toledo) never got around to telling his wife he was sorry to hear she was dying.

--Very nice opening with Ethel and her doctor.  I would imagine that alcohol would've killed a lot of carnival workers / "freaks" back in the day.

--Speaking of alcohol, the commercials pushing it during this episode: Coors, Yuengling, Jack Daniels, Sam Adams.  I think there were more.  That's just off the top of my head.

--Emma Roberts' fortune teller will end up actually being able to tell the future.  That's my prophecy, if you will.

--Sarah Paulson's Bette and Dot wouldn't have shared the same dream.  They have two heads and therefore two brains.  Of course, that's where the dreams are.  But it's nice symmetry to make it that way, anyway, especially if it's a nice dream for one and a nightmare for the other.  If the operation does happen, the one to survive will be the one who thought it was a nightmare, naturally.  And she'll act like she's the other one.

--Why is everyone talking about salaries and jobs?  And raises?  No customers = no money.

--Jessica Lange's (second) song montage was like a bad 80s video: people walking around aimlessly in a thick mist for no reason at all.

--How did Elsa Mars summon Edward Mordrake?  The story, as told by Kathy Bates, was that a performance on Halloween will produce him.  But Elsa Mars didn't perform--she practiced.  (Again, no customers.)  A rehearsal is not a performance.  At least, not from what I recall from my Philosophy of Art class, anyway.  Doesn't a performance mandate an audience?

--Why couldn't Kathy Bates's Ethel Darling just shave very, very often?  I'm just sayin'.

###  The remaining portion of this entry can be found on my American Horror Story Freak Show blog.  Thanks for reading.  Incidentally, which character on the show do you find the creepiest?

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

You Know You're A Homeowner When...

Photo: A window in my house.  Notice the wooden shims holding up the second pane of glass so there's no open space between the plastic molding of the storm window and the top of the windowframe.

You know you're a homeowner (of an older house) when...

--you think wooden shims are the bomb.

--and you have hundreds of them throughout the house, in use (like in the pic above) and in storage.

--you've just spent $45 on steel wool, window insulation and caulking.

--you spent an hour walking through the house, studying the perimeters of your windows and doors to see where you need to use that stuff.

--and you've spent an hour or so stuffing steel wool into the gaps between the just-now-rotting wood of your shed and the cement of the shed floor. 

--and you've recently spent an hour or so stuffing steel wool into the gaps between your garage doors and the cement floor of your garage.

--and you've done that more to keep out the damn mice than to keep in the winter heat.

--you start saving money in the beginning of the fall to pay for the winter heating bills.

--you actually pay attention when someone prophecies how warm or cold the upcoming winter will be.

--you feel damn proud of yourself for cleaning out just enough garage space to get your car in there.

--you're happy to hear that two dead mice were found in your shed because last winter they ate your backyard work gloves to shreds and pooped all over the second and third shelves.

--you sing the praises of house spiders because they kill smaller bugs--but they also let you know where the unseen drafts are in your house.  (They'll build their webs there, and you'll see the webs shimmer slightly in the draft.)

--you have a handyman on speed-dial.

--and your landscaper, too.

--and the guy in charge of the water heater and pipes, too.

--and the guy in charge of the heating oil, too.

--you make sure you can pay the mortgage before you think about the next food shopping bill.  (Because you know the old ladies across the street will give you enough bagels, crackers and cheese to hold you over.)

--you realize you're a wood hoarder.  (I have more wood than you'll find in many small forests.)

--you can write a long-ish blog entry about the idiosyncratic things you do when you own a house.

Monday, October 13, 2014

The Walking Dead

Photos: from The Walking Dead's website via AMC.

My blog for The Walking Dead, Season Five, is now up.  Below is an excerpt of the latest blog entry.  To read the whole thing, click here or click the Walking Dead tab above.


The obliteration of peoples in the future might go something like this.

Actually, no.  Let me re-phrase.  This institutional evil has already happened in real history.

When Gareth strolls in with his clipboard and demands an account of bullets fired at Rick's group, he immediately stops the action--which, in this case, was some guy about to slaughter Glen with a hefty-looking aluminum bat, and then cut his throat over a trough.

He asks for the number of bullets fired at Rick's group.  He's got a clipboard and a checklist.  With more time and fewer commercial breaks, might he have asked about the weapons taken from them, or other valuable items?  I think so.  Three swords?  Check.  Six guns?  Check.  No where's that bag?

In World War II Germany, "valuable items" would've been defined as paintings, gold (including gold teeth, or haven't you seen the same documentaries I have?), silver, china, art.  Any metal to be melted down to use as bullets, tanks, etc. for the German war effort.  In a Zombie Apocalypse, "valuable items" would be defined as weapons and bullets.

Did a Jew at Auschwitz live a few seconds longer as a soldier answered a superior's similar question?  Did this soldier keep the gun pressed against a prisoner's head as he said, "Five gold teeth and two works of art taken from this prisoner, sir," in German, to his superior officer, who was standing over him at the time with clipboard and pencil in hand?

Yes.  Yes, I believe that could have happened.

But real life isn't TV.  So then the gun would've fired.

Systematically.  Impersonally.  Just taking inventory.

Institutional evil.  I wish I could take credit for that phrase, but I heard it on Talking Dead later.  Probably it's been a phrase widely used, at least since World War II.

I write this because some have already remarked that the people in Sanctuary got more than they deserved.  That Sanctuary Mary (Denise Crosby, from Pet Sematary and other 80s movies, if you're as old as I am) didn't deserve what she got.  This was, in fact, a poll question during Talking Dead.

So this blog entry is written to those 25% to 30% of the viewers who texted in with a "Yes, the Sanctuary People got more than they deserved.  After all, they were a group like Rick's, and they got raped and beaten and killed.  They were just trying to stay alive.  You're either the butcher or you're the cattle, right?"

Because this is exactly what the Germans thought at the end of World War I.  They'd been bombed and obliterated.  Berliners were starving.  Diseased.  Dying.  And a few of them were really pissed off.  They were just trying to stay alive.  They were tired of being the cattle.  Better to be butchers.


To read the rest of this blog entry, or to read a few entries from The Walking Dead's previous season, please click here.  Or click on the Walking Dead Season 5 tab above.  Thanks.

As always, please feel free to comment.


Photo: An uncopyedited proof, the type given to early readers, or beta-readers.  And, considering the editing job done on this book (see comment below), it apparently remained uncopyedited.  From crimefictionlover.com.

Very, very, very disappointing follow-up to Nesbo's Phantom, a far superior book, even with the ridiculous passages from the rat's POV.  In equal parts boring and frustrating--but mostly frustrating--Police is a book that could've been, and should've been, much better. 

It fails because it's all over the place with its plot and story, and because it doesn't focus enough on its characters.  Nesbo said in an interview that he essentially wrote Phantom and Police as one book, and it shows.  At over 1,000 pages combined, it seems like Nesbo couldn't wait to finish with the ending, that even he became bored and frustrated with it.

How else to explain the inexplicable demise of a major recurring character?  How else to explain how the killer could've had the time to draw and quarter this well-liked character while on the run from everyone?  Could the killer really have chopped off her arms and legs and head in (seemingly) minutes?  Then stash them all in different bags and deposit them in the trash just in time for the trucks?

What?!?  And, by the way, didn't this character deserve so much better?  She's rarely considered for the rest of the book--though everyone was sure not to sit in her chair--and it's never explained why she was done away with when other characters were not, even when we were tricked into thinking they would be.

And that was another thing.  Way too many cheap tricks, like making us think a character's young daughter was in danger when her father calls her friend Emilie's house to inquire about her sleepover.  Turns out, she was at the sleepover after all--just at a different girl's house...another girl in the same class, also named Emilie!!!  Ugh...

Another time a character looks like she's about to get it, but it was just another character sneaking up on her.  She even says that, hey, you're not John Doe--but it turns out he was.  She just meant that he wasn't acting like himself.  Please...

Another time a very distraught father was acting strange at the scene of his daughter's death, just after a character in the previous section said that murders were committed by someone distraught about love, and at the death scene of those he loved.  Turns out, though, that this guy was actually just in grief about his daughter dying, one year to the day...Argh!

The real bad guy is a case of who cares.  The ones you wanted to be guilty--two REALLY bad guys--lose an eye and gets his face burnt off, apparently without too many aftereffects or problems.  They go out in public and live their lives as if nothing happened.  Must've been a great surgery for the guy who lost his eye, though the guy who did it was never a doctor or surgeon, or in any health-related field at all.

And who was that body in the hospital all that time?  Not who you think, but considering how Phantom ended, you couldn't be blamed for not knowing.  Turns out, a character from that book hadn't died after all!  How could the reader have known?  Well, you couldn't, but that's the way it is, anyway.

And where's the REALLY, REALLY bad guy everyone spends most of the book looking for?  Nobody ever says.  Wait for the sequel, I guess.  The only intriguing character is a very beautiful, and very unbalanced (Isn't that always the way?) young woman who does something very touching--and out of character--at the end.  You won't believe it, just like I didn't.

Very cheap.  Very lazy.

And really disappointing, because I like the series and I like the writer.  In fact, I was just thinking of incorporating a technique of his that he uses at the end of every book--what some writers have called his "set pieces," which they essentially are, in a play kind of way.  I now realize that these have to be exquisitely staged and described because a) they end every book; b) they're the resolution of the action / mystery / who-dun-it? / police procedural; and c) they're actually the climax, if you combine them with the next book, which I realize is how Nesbo actually writes these.  So they serve a ton of functions.

But, because of this, they have to be perfect.  Great when they are, as most of them have been.  Really bad when they're not.  And when you combine that with everything I've described above, and throw in a lousy editing job (this could've easily been a few hundred pages shorter), you have a real clunker.

And what he did to that recurring female character--chopped her up into many pieces, without mentioning how important she'd been to the series, or her now-orphaned young son--and throw in the fact that she was apparently alive during most of the chopping up...Indefensibly awful.

So bad I'm driven by it to work on my own book, and to treat my characters much better.  Bad things will still happen to them, but they won't be (or remain) unexplained.  And I'll treat them, as I hope I always have, with much more respect.

So frustrating because, again, Nesbo is a good writer, and though the tricks in this book are cheap, they work because you turn the pages.  You want to figure everything out.  You want to see what happens.  You want to see it all unravel.  And in that sense this book isn't awful, exactly, because I read its 550 hardcover pages in about 24 hours or so.

And I'll read the next one, too.


Thursday, October 9, 2014

American Horror Story: Freak Show

My new blog for American Horror Story: Freak Show is up and running.  The review of Episode One, "Monsters Among Us," is there now.

The address is above, and here: http://stevestvahsfreakshow.blogspot.com/2014/10/episode-1-monsters-among-us.html

Let me know what you think!  Thanks!

Part of the first entry--

Well, here we are!  A new season of AHS, this time called Freak Show.  I'm really looking forward to this season, especially after the truly terrible AHS--Coven, and Episode One did not disappoint.  A few thoughts, then, on the episode:

--Nice theme, Monsters Among Us.  Who does that refer to?  The folks under the tents?  The bored housewives of the 50s Elsa Mars referred to?  Just the clown?  The people who use the unlucky for entertainment?  All of these?

--Funny how the monsters never see themselves that way.  But they do think others are monsters.  So perhaps a better question I could have asked was: Who does the "us" refer to?  A good Twilight Zone-esque short story can be written about this.  Hmmm...

--Kill Count: Twins: 1.  Lobster Boy: 1.  Clown: 3? 4?

--Homages this episode:

1.  Tod Browning's (the director of 1931's Dracula) landmark early movie Freaks.  Of course.  The whole episode, if not the whole season, is an homage to this.  If you haven't seen it, do so.  Very memorable.  Unbelievable that Hollywood and the censors would allow this to be made in the '30s.

2.  Orson Welles and Touch of Evil.  The cop who came to the tents, sliced by Lobster Boy.  Made to look exactly like Welles in that movie.  Talked and moved the same way, too.  To a T.

3.  Maybe inadvertent, but I saw a lot of Edward Scissorhands in this episode.  Mostly in the dissatisfied female suburbanites and the bubbled camera shots.  And in Lobster Boy.

4.  Sunset Boulevard.  Jessica Lange's character is the same, and looks the same, as Norma Desmond.  A washed-up performer in need of the eternal audience.

5.  Jason Robards' Something Wicked This Way Comes, from Ray Bradbury's good book.  Evil in the guise of a traveling circus.

6.  The clown's smile is right from The Man Who LaughsRead this Wikipedia article to see how it also gave creation to The Joker's smile.  Even had a graphic novel about the Joker with that title.  The article is linked below.  The movie's on YouTube.  Give it a look.

--A real shame that it's Jessica Lange's last AHS.  She was easily the best thing about the second and third seasons, and this episode.

--Besides the clown, of course.  That is truly one scary, messed-up looking clown.  Incidentally, this clown reminds me more of the hypnosis-with-the-golden-coin clown from a Scooby-Doo episode than anything about The Joker.  And I see a lot of Conrad Veidt's The Man Who Laughs in the smile.  See the pic above and tell me if you agree.  And look at this Wikipedia article about the movie.  I'm tellin' ya.

What did you think of the episode?  Did you like it?  Did I miss any homages?

[For more, please go to the blog via this link.]

Ebola, Panic, Politics and Meet the Press

Some guests from October 5th's Meet the Press, and the show's moderator, have agreed to step into my blog and say exactly, verbatim, from the show's transcript, the same things they said on that show. You can read along with them via the transcript, found at the show's website. 

Welcome everyone!

Let me just, let's test one thing. One case of Ebola in the United States, right? One. 3,000 people dead in West Africa, which we weren't talking about last week. So all of a sudden, we are panicked. 

[BELANGER]: Right on, Gwen.  And the one case of Ebola is a guy who came from West Africa.  Not one transmitted case here, and yet we're panicked?  [Edit from Oct. 19, 2014--Two nurses treating this patient in Texas had Ebola transmitted to them from this man, probably from a breakdown in procedure and protocol when they removed their medical suits and gloves.  They are the first two, and so far the only, people to be transmitted Ebola while in America.  Reports indicate the second nurse was not showing symptoms--and was therefore not infectious--while she flew on a commercial flight to Ohio.]  What about the tens of thousands who've died of Ebola in Africa over the last few decades? Why haven't the American masses panicked for them?  Who worries for them?  Thanks for starting off our discussion with some logic and some facts.

I think you guys spelled it out pretty well when you had Mr. Pfeiffer on. From the real unemployment rate, for the how many people are out of work, the labor participation rate is at record lows. People today don't feel better off than they were five years ago. And obviously, whether it's the GSA, the IRS, Syria, Ebola, the Secret Service, I mean, what's going well in regard to this administration and those senators that have followed this president lockstep? 

[BELANGER]: So now Obama is to blame for Ebola?  And ISIS?  Those two things are in no way related to the American unemployment rate or to the Obama Administration or to any senator.  You're an idiot.  Get off my blog.


No, I don't feel better. And I don't think most Americans feel better. You have everybody saying, "Hey, let's stay calm." That's what the World Health Organization said back in the spring when this broke out. And then they said, "Let's stay calm," when the head of Doctors without Borders, as The Washington Post reported this morning, went to them in late July and said, "This is a crisis." They said, "You're panicking, you're panicking."

And we're hearing the same thing now. Let's look at it. The World Health Organization has been dismal. They've ignored all of the warning signs. And then the African countries, the governments there have failed miserably. And right now, a lot of Americans are seeing what happened in Dallas and looking at your laundry list, what happened with the secret service, what happened with the IRS, what happened with the VA, what happened with ISIS being a JV team. So when anybody, any member of the government says, "Hey, just relax, everything's going to be okay," Americans don't believe that. 

[BELANGER]: Just because you're clearly panicking, Joe, that doesn't mean that all Americans are panicking.  Nor does it mean that there's something to panic about at this exact moment.  Let's break it down.  The World Health Organization said that Ebola was a crisis in Africa at that time, which is still where the Ebola crisis is, at this moment.  So don't take a serious thing like Ebola and purposely misrepresent it for your political gain.  Second: The African countries have indeed failed with the treatment and containment of Ebola, noticeably because of ignorance of how the disease is spread; ignorance of basic procedures (such as burning the dead Ebola victims rather than burying them with unprotected hands) and basic medical care (the world's doctors are there to help them, not to hurt them); ignorance of religion versus fact (it is perhaps NOT true that God is killing sinners with Ebola), and so on.  These are the same exact things that help to spread HIV / AIDS in that continent as well.  BUT...the failures of these African governments have zero to do with the American government.  Just because those governments have failed miserably, that doesn't mean that this government is failing miserably, especially in terms of Ebola.  Again, do not skewer the facts for your political gain, sir.  Lastly, Ebola and ISIS do not exist because of the Obama administration or because of WHO.

Stop trying to cause panic and have it directed at Obama.  You're an idiot.  Get off my blog.


You also have to be concerned about 3,000 soldiers getting back on a ship. Where is disease most transmittable? When you're in very close confines on a ship. We all know about cruises and how they get these diarrhea viruses that are transmitted very easily and the whole ship gets sick. Can you imagine if a whole ship full of our soldiers catch Ebola?

[BELANGER]: You're misunderstanding how viruses work--though your phrase "diarrhea viruses" is misleadingly amusing.  But one does not "catch" Ebola as one would "catch" a cold.  There are many different kinds of viruses.  The viruses you speak of, these diarrhea-viruses, are more of an airborne / touch virus, like the common cold, which is also a virus.  But HIV / AIDS is also a virus, and you can't catch it like you'd catch a cold.  Chances are, if you're not getting infected blood from a transfusion during an operation, and if you're not sharing needles with an infected person, and if you're not having carnal relations with an infected person, then you cannot--repeat, cannot--get HIV / AIDS.  (However, reader, I'm a blogger, not a medical professional, so you should not be seeking medical information from me.)  Anyway, that's the key here: How is the virus transmitted?  You, Senator, are perhaps thinking of the 1918 Spanish Flu epidemic, but of course Ebola is not the flu, and it cannot be transmitted in the same way.  Furthermore, the U.S. soldiers, of course, won't have Ebola when they're shipped over there, so they won't "catch" Ebola on the way there.  And one would have to assume--unless one thinks that everyone is a complete idiot, which even I don't--that each soldier will be tested for Ebola before they're shipped back.  Plus, we know more about viruses and virus transmission, and containment, and treatment, now than we did in 1918.  

You've been a speak-first, think-later-if-at-all guy for a long time now, Rand.  You're an idiot.  Get off my blog.

Why though, I guess go back to the question. I understand about the outbreak, but are you going to try to do more measures? I think this is a public that is very fearful right now, because you say one thing here, and then all of a sudden, Ebola walked into a Dallas hospital. 

[BELANGER]  Sounds like you just finished Stephen King's The Stand, Chuck.  Rather than cause panic and sensationalize Ebola, wouldn't it have been better if you'd made this point: Over 75% of all people coming into America from West Africa do so via four or five different American airports, including the one you mentioned in Dallas.  So wouldn't it make sense to have medical personnel at these airports to screen these people?  Also, this is the upteenth time this episode, Chuck, that you have said that the American public is "very fearful."  Just because you repeat phrases like that, and words like panic and worry, that doesn't mean that the average American is in fact panicked or worrying about Ebola at this point.  Saying something over and over doesn't make it so.  Or--at least, it shouldn't.  But I've read Animal Farm.  Perhaps you have, as well.  Or, your bosses have.  A real newsman informs, Chuck.  He doesn't incite misleadingly-educated riots.

Well, let me ask you very quickly though. We've got flu seasons going to be coming up. Can the U.S. healthcare system handle the incoming that if you mix sort of fear about Ebola with your typical flu season, and people feeling sort of similar issues, fever, stuff like that, are you worried about a crush of the American healthcare system because of the Ebola fear mixed in during flu season? 

[BELANGER]: I repeat:  A real newsman informs, Chuck.  He doesn't incite misleadingly-educated riots. 

People will not typically "mix sort of fear about Ebola with your typical flu," but they may as long as ratings-minded and panic-causing people as yourself, Chuck, keep telling them to.  But, since you're a newsman, and since it's your job to just say and report the news, and not to sensationalize, misreport, or purposely mislead people with the news, then that's not going to happen, right? If you, as a responsible and professional news expert, inform the American public about the difference between the flu and Ebola, and insist that they not panic, then your question has no merit, does it?

There's a litany of problems that the government and the American public are having to worry about. The first case of Ebola in the United States...

[BELANGER]: Again, Chuck, just because you tell us that the American public has to worry about Ebola, that doesn't mean that we really do.  And it also doesn't mean that many people actually are.  And, by the way, this is NOT the first case of Ebola ever in the U.S.  What about Ebola Reston?  Ever read The Hot Zone, Chuck?  By Richard Preston?  About a (very luckily) non-lethal form of Ebola that made it to Reston, Virginia?  Now that was actually the first--

America is on edge. Ebola's been diagnosed on U.S. soil for the first time...

[BELANGER] Dammit, Chuck, have you been listening to a damn word I just--

This outbreak is the largest in history, causing the president to send U.S. military personnel in an attempt to control the spread of the virus. 

[BELANGER]: Yes, Chuck, I know, but shouldn't you also say that this is still in Africa?  That the U.S. military personnel has been sent to Africa?  And that--

The highest alert. The CDC has now increased the emergency response to the Ebola epidemic.

[BELANGER]: Y tu, Brian?  Shouldn't you also say that this emergency response is to the Ebola epidemic in Africa?  Dammit.  I can't believe this is all from the same one episode of this show--

Ebola. Just one of the frightening but true stories that have been seen on TV, newspapers and the internet. 

[BELANGER]: That's it, Chuck.  I've had it with you.  You're purposely inciting and misleading the American public.  Get off my blog!

Ebola in the U.S. 

[BELANGER]: Yes, Brian, I know.  But, again.  They came home from Africa to get treatment here.  They got it in Africa.  So help me, Brian, if Alison wasn't so beautiful I'd kick you off this blog right--

The first confirmed case of Ebola. 

[BELANGER]: No, it's not.  We just went over that.  Wait--Who the hell are you?  Get off my blog.

A man in Texas has just been diagnosed with Ebola.

[BELANGER]: Yes, I know, the guy from Dallas.  But, although he was diagnosed with it here, he actually got it in Africa.  We've been over this.  Why are you guys trying to create panic?  So all the panic-stricken will watch your show?  And are we still in the same one episode?  We are?  I don't believe this.  By the way, Scott, get off my blog.

Because Ebola has left Africa and walked into a Dallas hospital. 

[BELANGER]: I thought I told you to stop this misrepresentation and get off my blog?

Isn't anyone listening?



Sunday, October 5, 2014

Gone Girl

 Photo: Gone Girl's movie poster, from its Wikipedia site

I'd been looking forward to this one for a long time.  Gillian Flynn writes dark, edgy things, and I like reading dark, edgy things.  (I write those, too, especially my novels.)  And David Fincher directed it, and he's a very dark, edgy guy who makes very, very dark, edgy movies.

And Gone Girl did not disappoint.  It is very dark, very edgy, very well-acted and very well-directed.

What else can you ask for?

I haven't read the book, but being a cynic and pessimist, I was right there with the movie until about 90% of the way through.  If you're as much of a cynic as I am, not much of what actually happens here will surprise you, though how it's shown will impress you.  The horrific nature of some people, and of the media, and of the guy's neighbors, etc. will also not surprise you, though you may, like I did, be surprised at how well it's shown.

Neighbors will smile and wave, then want to shoot you, then smile and wave at you again.  Check.  (Though, seriously, my actual neighbors are wonderful.)

The media will crucify you, then show the truth--if you're lucky enough to be vindicated by it.  And then the media will put you in front of a camera and ask, "How are you feeling now that..."  Check.

Everyone in the known universe will use your image, and your tragedy, to make a buck for themselves.  This includes your in-laws, your family, your friends and neighbors.  Check.

The real purpose of this movie was to thrill and surprise, of course.  But, like the book, it is not satisfied to do just that.  It shoots arrows (and hits the targets) at the media, at the masses as herd mentality, and at the fickle nature of people in general--though I feel this has a particular target setting on the American media, and of the American masses.

And it succeeds at doing this as well.  I was reminded of this today while watching Meet the Press. (Cuz I'm super-exciting and super-awesome like that.)  The news guy kept asking questions like, "Is America ready for this Ebola outbreak?" though, of course, there has yet to be an Ebola outbreak in America.  Luckily, the guy from the CDC stood his ground, did not give in to this gambit that was tried on him at least three times, and maintained that--although there have been a few Americans currently in American hospitals with Ebola--the American victims contracted the virus in Africa.  As of this typing, they have not transmitted it to anyone else in America after they got here.

This Meet the Press guy, who knows better but who is clearly trying to make a name for himself (and who perhaps wants to marry his brand-new set), then asked if America has the resources to battle a flu epidemic and an Ebola epidemic.  The CDC guy reminded him again that there is not an Ebola epidemic in this country, but that, yes, America is ready for such an epidemic, if it hits.  He stressed that he didn't think one would, especially not as seen in Africa right now.  He did not, but probably should have, pointed out that the flu virus and the Ebola virus are, of course, two completely different things, and would therefore have two different responses.  One gives you a fever and a couple of days of aches and pains, while the other gives you a fever in the middle triple-digits, and then makes you bleed out of your pores and crash and burn, and it may also liquify your organs if left totally untreated.  So, yes, these are two completely different viruses, as different as, say, the common cold, which is a virus, and HIV / AIDS, which is also a virus.  Read the show's transcript here.  The Ebola part happens first, so you won't have to read the whole thing.

:::Slight digression:::  People need to now be aware of what viruses are.  And they need to learn this on their own, or from medical experts, and NOT---I REPEAT, NOT--from the media.  Because the media doesn't know, or really care, what it is.  My biggest fear now is that the masses will be herding in a panic to their nearest hospitals when they get any kind of cold, or flu, or sinus infection, or headache, or whatever, and this actually will exhaust the resources of our medical professionals so that they can't treat any take-care-of-it-now Ebola case that may come along.  And then--boom--contagion.  And spread.  It's like how people flood the 911 lines because their Big Macs are cold, and so the person calling because he's having a heart attack can't get through.  (Yes, this actually happens all the time.)

The Meet the Press guy was clearly trying to hit the panic button, purposely exaggerating and deliberately misreporting the news, and for what?  Ratings, of course.  And some popularity for himself.  Too many "news" channels and "news" programs these days.

But I digress.  Or do I?  Because that's what Gone Girl shows: the sensationalistic American (and worldwide?) media today.  It outrages and it misreports and it misleads, and does so purposely, for ratings.  But this wouldn't be possible if the American (worldwide?) masses didn't fall for it each and every damned time, like the mindless masses and herd mentality experts that we are.  Like, there were no WMDs in Iraq, and the mission has not, in fact, been accomplished.

Gone Girl shows all of this as well.  It may seem like it's digressing from its main plot of a marriage gone bad, or of a woman who may have been kidnapped and / or murdered, but stay the course, because it's all part of the same rollercoaster ride, with all its loops and turns.

Ben Affleck, who knows some things about media-gone-crazy, and Rosamund Pike (who I've very quietly loved since her James Bond film, and who turns in a career-defining performance here) excel in their roles.  They are brave casting choices, which Fincher excels at--see: Rooney Mara--but they are also good choices.  Affleck really has been through this all before, and in this movie, he looks it.  Rosamund Pike hasn't, but she does have the icy steel, the frozen beauty and intelligence, that her role desperately needs.  Tyler Perry out-Cochranes Johnny Cochrane, and Carrie Coon may steal the show as Affleck's sister, the one and only rock in his life.

So, yeah, go see this.  Even if you're married.  And, afterwards, you may want to think twice before you intentionally piss off your spouse.  (Not that anyone would actually do that.)

And you might want to question the American press and the rumor-mongerers as well.

Have you seen the movie or read the book (or both)?  What'd you think?

Thursday, October 2, 2014

Phantom--Book Review

Photo: Jo Nesbo, from crimefictionlover.com.

This one took a little while to get going, but of course was well worth it.  Harry Hole is back from self-isolation in Hong Kong because the son of the love of his life has been accused of murder.  Helping Hole to hopefully set this boy free are his usual suspects, though they're mostly given short shrift here.  They pop up essentially to help out and then they disappear again.  I would've liked to have seen Beate some more, but I admit that there wasn't enough in the plot to place her there more often without making it look forced.  So...maybe later.

At any rate, the crime itself again isn't a mindbender.  An experienced reader will know who done it, though, again, the proof is hard to come by.  Watching Hole figuring it out and gathering it is why we read these.  But it shouldn't surprise you.  Also not much of a mystery to me was the identity of the old man who keeps showing up.  It probably won't be for you, either.  The italics portions struck me as unnecessary, but it was different for Nesbo, and so maybe that's what he was looking for.  It also provides a decent book-ending to it all, so okay.  I guess.

What will be a surprise, however, is the ending.  Rather infamous now, as this review comes a few years too late for the surprise ending, and since the tenth book, Police, has been out for awhile now.  If you haven't read this one, I won't spoil it for you, but...yeah, there's been a sequel, so...

And, yeah, I know I'm reading the Harry Hole books out of order.  I don't have them all, so bear with me.

The best part of these books, to me, is the honesty in which Nesbo writes them.  He doesn't shy away from the depressing, bottom-line truth of things.  The ending of Phantom is yet another, and perhaps the most glaring, example.  I had that part figured out because that is the way of these types of things, as Nesbo shows time and time again in this book.  It really couldn't have been anyone else, for any other reason, at the end.  Mattress Girl, in my soon-to-be-finished ms., can attest to that.  It is what it is.  Let's deal with the what-is before we try to make it the way we want it to be.

Sunday, September 28, 2014

Nemesis--Book Review

Photo: Paperback cover of the book, from this website.
Yet another great Nordic Noir.  Nesbo is right up there with Mankell and (in the first two books of the series, anyway) Steig Larsson.  Mankell is a bit more abruptly gritty (still can't forget he had his main character make a brief mention of soiling himself) and Larsson was a bit more character-driven, but all three are giants in the genre, and deserve to be.

In this one, Hole is face-to-face with yet another ex-girlfriend (he's got lots of those, as he's a work-obsessed alcoholic), who apparently still holds some sort of grudge against him.  But she's beautiful, and Hole may, or may not, have had something to do with her dying.  This happens further into the book than you'd think.  Nesbo handles that well, though I suspect that a lesser writer wouldn't.  And Nesbo is successful enough to ignore the adage of agents: The crimes need to happen right away.

One crime that does happen right away is a bank robbery.  There've been more than a few of those over the years, with maybe the same M.O.--but maybe not.  Throw in a feud with another cop and an infamous prisoner related to the woman described above, and there's much going on here.

As with many Nesbo books, this one seems to end two or three times before it finally does, which became a little distracting for me here, but not overly so.  There was more to solve, and it's right that crimes like these don't get neatly solved and gift-wrapped quickly, like they do on TV and in the movies.  Plus, there's the slightly strung-together storyline with his on-and-off current girlfriend and her son to deal with.  (They'll come into play big-time in Nesbo's Phantom, to be reviewed soon.)

The crimes themselves shouldn't throw an established reader of this genre.  I had the bank robbery and the ex-girlfriend's demise figured out almost right away, though I didn't catch on to the signature in the emails.  (This is rather embarrassing, as one should always be able to explain the book's title in relation to the story.)  That is, I knew what had exactly happened, and by whom, but with no proof whatsoever.  Nesbo's books work well that way: For all the good writing, the characterization and description, it all boils down to a procedural.  Watching how Hole solves it all and gets the evil-doers despite himself and his flaws is the whole ride.

Wednesday, September 24, 2014

What Do You Do To Keep Hope Alive?

The question asked to me was: What do you do to keep hope alive while you wait?  The insinuation was: While I wait for the reply from a literary agent, or while I wait for the editor of a magazine I'd just sent my story to, or while I wait for my taking-forever novel to be done.

My response:

1. I look around at others who are only their jobs.  I remind myself that I don't want to look like that, for they often look miserable.

2. I write for myself.  To better understand my world.  To better understand me.

3. I don't feel bitter about the success of others because they don't write what I write and I don't write what they write.  Each artist and his work are a unique tandem, and so I remind myself that such comparisons are impossible.

4. I don't write because of my dreams.  I write towards my dreams.

5. I remind myself that, although agents are not infallible (re: J.K. Rowling), they are also not idiots.  They have to take on projects they believe they can sell, period.  They have mortgages, too.

6. I write different things.  Though my current novel is taking beyond forever, I have finished and sold some short stories.  Though only Alice Munro and two or three lucky others can make careers out of selling short stories, the fact remains that I have sold some, and this gives me confidence--which is invaluable, and can't be taught.

7. I think, "Why not me?"  Stephen King used to work in a laundry.  He lived in a trailer and typed Carrie on a laptop--a busted, old typewriter on his lap. J.K. Rowling was a single mom on welfare with three kids.

8. I remember that it's a business.  Dreams don't sell.  Good writing does.

9. I always have something to work on next.  After I send out a short story, or a query letter, etc., I get busy on the next page of my story and novel.  I don't leave myself time to worry about the stuff I just sent out.  I'm not J.D. Salinger or Harper Lee anyway: One novel probably won't make a career for me.  Best to be working.

10. I write.

What do you do to keep your hope alive?  What are you hoping for?

Saturday, September 20, 2014

When Plague Strikes: Blame and Bias


Photos: Pieter Bruegel's "The Triumph of Death," and an AIDS victim, from this link: http://science.nationalgeographic.com/science/photos/plague/#/plague-painting_3338_600x450.jpg

This book is an excellent primer for anyone interested in plagues.  I read this to research The Gravediggers, and while it didn't teach me anything new (except exact names and dates), it does put many of my novel's themes in the same place for ease when I'm writing.

Essentially it focuses on the social, political and historical aftermath of the plague outbreaks.  I like that it groups AIDS together with the Black Death, as my novel does, and that it connects the social biases at the times as well.  My novel does that, too, but it's nice to get reinforcement of your ideas.

When the plagues hit, nobody understood them, and so many prevailed upon the bias of the time to find scapegoats.  But, really, if allowed to hate and maim, certain people will be happy to do so, regardless of the circumstances surrounding their actions.  And so:

From the chapter "Looking for Scapegoats" re: the Black Death:

"In 1213, Pope Innocent III decreed that both sexes, from age seven or eight, had to wear circular badges of yellow felt that identified them as Jews..."  The book then draws the parallel between those badges and the ones forced upon the Jews by the Nazis almost 600 years later.

"According to the rumors, the Jews were polluting the wells in the Christian communities with poisons imported from Moorish Spain and the Far East.  If Christians drank water from the wells...they would be infected with the plague and die..."

"...the rumors led to eleven Jews being put on trial in September 1348.  They were charged with having poisoned the wells in a small south German town.  After hours of painful torture, the eleven confessed to the deed and said they had received the poison from a rabbi in Spain...

"...In January 1349, the two hundred Jewish residents of Basel, Switzerland, were herded into a wooden building on an island in the Rhine River and burned alive..." (Giblin 36-7).

There's much more, but you get the idea.  (I don't know why I was surprised by Switzerland's involvement, considering its history of neutrality, but I was.)

Though the Native Americans were not blamed for causing smallpox, colonists and Europeans were quick to use it against them.  The most infamous was Sir Jeffrey Amherst, commander-in-chief of British forces in North America, who was unwise enough to put it in writing.  This was sent to a colonel:

"Could it not be contrived to send the smallpox among these...tribes of Indians?  We must on this occasion use every stratagem in our power to reduce them."  The colonel's response: "I will try to [infect] the Indians with some blankets that may fall in their hands..."  Amherst's enthusiastic response: "You will do well to try to infect the Indians by means of blankets...as well as to try every other method that can serve to extirpate this execrable race" (Giblin 86-7).

The British and the colonists were so happy with the results that Amherst, Massachusetts was named in his honor.

Those of my generation remember the bias against homosexuals when AIDS made its appearance here in the early-to-mid-80s.  I do specifically remember (unfortunately) some diatribes by Pat Buchanan and Jerry Falwell.  So, too, apparently, did this book's author:

"The conservative columnist Patrick J. Buchanan wrote, 'The poor homosexuals--they have declared war on nature, and now nature is exacting an awful retribution.'...

"In a statement that sounded remarkably similar to some made by clergymen at the time of the Black Death and during early smallpox epidemics, the Rev. Jerry Falwell said: 'When you violate moral, health, and hygiene laws, you reap the whirlwind.  You cannot shake your fist in God's face and get away with it."

And it hasn't always been just the clergy, or the conservative.  Haters will hate, if just given a cause to hate about:

"Wielding baseball bats, the youths rampaged through a public park frequented by gays.  They shouted 'diseased queers' and 'plague-carrying faggots' as they beat up every man unlucky enough to be in their path.  After his arrest, one of the attackers tried to defend his actions.  'If we don't kill these fags, they'll kill us with their f---[ing] AIDS disease,' he said" (Giblin 135-6).

The more things change, the more they stay the same.

What will the next plague be?  And who'll be blamed and persecuted for it then?

My guess: Ebola.  Who'll be prejudiced against for it?  We'll see.  Hopefully not brown-eyed little Frenchmen, but who knows?

Sunday, September 14, 2014

Free Contest to Win A T206--1,400 T206s for Auction at Saco River Auction Co. January 2015

[Free contest to win a free 1909-1911 T206 explained at the bottom of this entry, in the P.P.S.  Contest ends midnight, Sept. 30, 2014.]

Yeah, that's right.  If you're into baseball cards at all, you know the T206s.  I've posted a few pics of the few I have.  This is the set that has the Honus Wagner card, formerly owned by Wayne Gretzky and others, worth literally millions of dollars.

Well, in January 2015, the Saco River Auction House, in Biddeford, Maine, will auction off the Portland Trove of T206s.  One thousand, four hundred of them.  All in good condition, or better.  All of them.  At an average of $50 per card--a very low estimate, considering there are Christy Mathewson cards, Walter Johnsons, Ty Cobbs, etc.--that's still $70,000 worth of T206 baseball cards being sold.  The real fetching price will most likely by ten times that, or more than $700,000.

To show you the awesomeness of this, look at the pics:

Can you believe that?!?  Oh, my goodness.  This makes me want to vomit in jealousy and greed, except I can't stop looking at the pics and wishing I had them.

Of course, since there are only 527 known cards in the set (though variations pop up even now, every so often), there are going to be some duplicates.  My guess is--the piles you see on the tables in the pics are the duplicates of that card.  So if a John Anderson, let's say, (in the second-to-last pic, he's in the second row from the bottom, all the way to the right; looks like he's praying) is on a small stack of three cards, I'm going to bet there are three John Andersons in the collection.  (There's only one John Anderson in the set.)  How did this happen?  Simple: The story is that a gentleman living in NYC in 1909 or so started smoking.  His choice of smoke was the El Principe de Gales--one of the rarest backs in the set!  Anyway, he smoked the stuff and kept the card the pouch came with.  And often, it'll come with a card he already had.  Like getting a duplicate in the wax packs we bought as kids.

So, if you're not doing anything on a particular day TBA in January 2015, and if the weather isn't too bad, I might just take a drive up to 2 Main Street in Biddeford, Maine--about a three hour drive, or so.  Hopefully the auction is on a Friday or Saturday night!  I might save up a little bit by then, and take my list of cards.  If you're into T206s, maybe I'll see you there.  Save your pennies: All of the cards in this trove were graded by SGC, and they're all in good condition or better.

Speaking of card collections, do you have one?  If so, what's your favorite?  Or do you have a favorite specific card, or set?  If you don't collect cards, what do you collect, and which of those is your favorite?

P.S.--Speaking of T206s, I've got a few extras, so I'll be having contests on this blog every now and then and giving one away for free.  Caveat: None of the ones I'm giving away are professionally graded.  They're known as "raw" cards, and they'd list in Poor, Poor / Fair, or Fair condition, but will still be worth at least ten bucks each, even in bad condition.  (I mean, they're free, so waddaya want?)  I'll mail it in a tobacco card toploader.  Stay tuned.

P.P.S.--In fact, what the hell.  I'll have a contest here and now.  Just answer the question(s) above the P.S. in a comment to this blog entry and I'll enter you in a random drawing to win one of my extra T206s from 1909-1911.  Each is worth somewhere between $10 to $25 and can be easily mailed to you.  If you're the winner, I'll ask that you send me an email.  When you do, I'll email you pics of the ones I've got available, and you can pick whatever one you want.  I'll mail it to you free of charge as well.  It can fit in a regular envelope, after all.