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Sunday, December 28, 2014

"From Darkness, Emerged, Returned" by Elizabeth Massie

First appeared in Paul Kane and Charles Prepolec's Beyond Rue Morgue.

Here's a tale that took me by surprise. Massie gives us the quiet granddaughter of famed detective Dupin in this quiet tale. Her boyfriend has been killed. She calls on the spirit of her grandfather to help her solve this crime. Her mother, meanwhile, has had an operation to make her smarter. Others fall under suspicion. A few somethings are not what they seem.

"Illimitable Domain" by Kim Newman

Appear in Ellen Datlow's Poe anthology. Reprinted by Christopher Golden.

Here's a curious oddity (I do like narrative oddities). It's basically a fictional nonfiction about alternate-world film industry. Basically--spoiler alert--Poe, who feels he's been under-appreciated, has taken over the art world in that all movies seem to be influenced by Poe, as if everyone was making the same Poe-flavored film. Interesting work. I would have liked a touch more narrative/story, but worth checking out.

Saturday, December 27, 2014

Dialogue and Dissonance in The Wolf of Wall Street

Most fascinating about this movie is its diction. It switches from elevated to vulgar in a beat. It mixes money, sex and drugs with the financial markets that move the world. Perhaps the film's game is to serve up what the nightly news revolves around (a subject likely to bore many) with something that will titillate some yet repel others.

The film opens with a brokerage-firm's commercial advertising "Stability, Integrity, Pride." Then the film contrasts the real firm throwing a dwarf-throwing contest with $25000 on the line. In an off-angle shot, Belfort (the narrator/protagonist) is shown having sex in a Ferrari while driving, and flying a copter while under the influence of cocaine. But Belfort has his own definition of those terms.

A person might be interested in ethical finances may not be interested in vulgar living. Looking at Amazon's unusually U-shaped reader-rating statistics makes the divide in audiences clear.

Try on this brilliant opening monologue that spells out what you're in for in this movie (and whether you'll want to watch it):
"On a daily basis, I consume enough drugs to sedate Manhattan, Long Island and Queens for a month. 
"I take Quaaludes for back pain Adderall to stay focused, Xanax to take the edge off, pot to mellow me out, cocaine to wake me up again, and morphine, well, because it's awesome. 
"But of all the drugs under God's blue heaven, there is one that is my absolute favorite. You see, enough of this shit will make you invincible, able to conquer the world, and eviscerate your enemies. [Sniffs coke] And I'm not talking about this. I'm talking about this. [Snaps one hundred dollar bill and tosses it in trash.] 
"See money doesn't just buy you a better life, better food, better cars, better pussy. It also makes you a better person. 
"You can give generously to your church or political party of your choice. You can save the fucking spotted owl with money."
Some of the film's best parts were these monologues. Belfort is told and appears to accept he's an idiot. If so, he's a uniquely clever one.

Martin Scorsese's movie is written by Jordan Belfort, the movie's protagonist, and Terrence Winter, writer for The Sopranos. This movie critic supposed the audience hated the movie because it was 1) too excessive (even for a movie about excess), 2) released on Christmas, and 3) marketed with the wrong tone. (Caution for slow internet users: The link is packed with videos and advertisements.)

Spoiler: The ending, too, may feel like a let-down. The viewer has to ponder what Scorsese was up to. Audiences expect change. When Belfort walks out on stage as a motivational speaker, we don't think he's changed. He sobered up and then rushed back to the drugs. When given opportunities to turn around, he passes them up. It's just a new game: different players, different rules but the same con. At least, so the film suggests. Leonardo DiCaprio in an interview thinks differently:




Observe Scorsese's reaction shot. I'd be curious to hear/read Belfort's thoughts on a film he co-wrote.

Here's a list of other memorable quotes.

Thursday, December 25, 2014

Ender's Game, the movie

Ender's Game is the Star Wars (original series) of literary SF. It has impeccable dramatic timing. Both are so well constructed that you get sucked in. Ender's Game has the advantage of evoking thought as well, posing difficult dilemmas about war, bullies, and childhood.

Having loved the book, I hoped it would succeed but feared it would fizzle--from the moment they announced it. I thrilled to hear Harrison Ford was acting along with Viola Davis and Ben Kingsley. When they released the teaser trailer with Ford's voiceover. I thought either Ford had lost it, or the director failed because it was dry, brittle as winter leaves. Worse, it was just a bunch of ships flying around, hinting at no story.

Still, a buddy and I searched for its appearance in Honduras when it was to be released but we must have missed it. I recently caught it on video.

It tells of Ender Wiggins, a young boy who goes Battle school with other children to defeat the Buggers, an alien race that tried but failed to destroy the human race. Now humans have sent out ships to destroy the aliens, but the aliens are growing the war fleets, larger than ever.

The movie captured the book's dilemmas early on. The acting was well done (except that one voiceover introducing the aliens), and I was swept into the story.

It'd be nice to hear what those who haven't read the book have to say. They might have missed a few points due to trying to get all of the book's highlights in. Even the cut scenes are interesting.

The problem in eliminating the zero-g battles is that we don't get to build our admiration and know morea about the characters enough to be thrilled when they gather for the finale. The final battles are cool but compressed. Is it too fast?

Hood's instincts are good as evidenced by even the cut scenes. These could have given the movie needed breathers between action sequences. This might have been better to have had two movies, or a mini-series.

It's worth seeing, but I wish Hood had more money to develop more scenes. Hopefully, it inspires new readers to check out the book and wonder at what might have been. If only...

Wednesday, December 24, 2014

"The Gruesome Affair of the Electric Blue Lightning" by Joe R. Lansdale

First appeared in Paul Kane and Charles Prepolec's Beyond Rue Morgue. Reprinted by Paula Guran.

Synopsis:
Dupin and the anonymous narrator look into a blue-fire lightning bolt. Dupin is an Archie Goodwin who does Dupin's footwork into the investigation. He misses things that Dupin does not from simply reading a newspaper article about the same event, such as the lightning starts from the ground and goes up.

Little by little, the story gets stranger. An ape and a decaying man procure body parts and spill some on the streets. The ape was formerly a man who has been in dabbling in powers he ought not to...
Discussion With an Oblique Spoiler:
Of the Auguste Dupin stories in this anthology, this one captures more of Poe's original voice, flavored with a dash of Arthur Conan Doyle and a splash of Nero Wolfe. The characters (Dupin and the anonymous narrator) have a bit more personality Poe's originals. It also plays in ideas from the original stories. It folds in basic Lovecraftian tropes to add a little cosmic horror.

It begins with a well-controlled Dupin tribute, and interesting ratiocination, and ends up in Lovecraftian territory. The ape from the original is a stroke of imaginative genius--a nod to Poe's "Murder in the Rue Morgue" with a new twist. One might hope for a resolution derived a bit more from Dupin's reasoning brain than Lovecraft's overpowering cosmic horror. The two universes would seem to come to conflict: Dupin's "There's a method behind this madness." vs. Lovecraft's "We're doomed! Everyone, run for your lives!"

Strangely, the story ends on a note that feels more Lovecraftian in tone:
"...a bright badge of normalcy, that from here on out I knew was a lie."

Tuesday, December 23, 2014

Character Love vs. Drama in Star Trek

I loved Star Trek series, but when The Next Generation came on with its variety of characters and SF verisimilitude, the show stole my heart. They upped the SF game on television for everyone.

When the original Star Trek hit the big screen, it became epic in ways its series could not be. I expected the same for The Next Generation -- not only a burst of SF coolness, but a scale not seen in its series.

But it never happened. Each felt like a double television episode. Fun but missing something vital for the big screen. I exited the theater a little disappointed.

When Nemesis came out, the marriage scene between Commander William Riker and Counselor Deanna Troi made the problem clear. The scene has little tension. Everyone here loves each other and would never accidentally hurt another--except Data whom we can forgive because he's not a living organism. So let's tell a joke at his expense. Ha, ha, ha.

I recently re-watched the ST:TNG movies to puzzle out what went wrong. Nemesis--with its clone antagonist, Shinzon--may be the best. Flaws make people interesting, and the TNG writers shied away from giving the crew flaws, foibles, and conflicts between one another. The original Star Trek movies hit the character flaws head-on. They became an integral part of the story.

Ria Misra tackled "The Underlying Assumption That's Necessary For Every Star Trek Mission" with the astute observation that the crew accepted one another's observations as worthwhile. Now this is cool. However, if you take it too far, you lose dramatic potential.

In fact, we love TNG characters so much that we don't let them suffer or die.

Data is a different story. We can kill him because he's just a machine we adore, but hey, he's got a download so we can start over. His sacrifice matters, sort of, but not as much as if he couldn't return as if he'd never left.

Star Trek killed Spock. Let's say that again: They killed one of the main characters. Sure, he came back, but we didn't know that. They also made Chekov out to be a traitor and Kirk to appear to run away from troubles. The crew locked horns, even if they loved each other Platonically. This makes sense. Who has ever worked at a job where the conflicts didn't occur between boss and employees, employees and employees? Heck, who hasn't lived in a family whose members did not conflict--people who are supposed to love one another?

J.J. Abrams's Star-Trek reboots nailed the drama--within the crew and outside it. However, they rarely capture the camaraderie of the other two series, which as I've suggested before, may be linked to the fact that these characters have not worked with one another extended periods.

I have a working hypothesis that, despite knowing all humanity is flawed, contemporary society fears flaws in people. Flaws mean that someone is a bad guy. Good guys' teeth sparkle, their breath stays minty fresh, their boots never muddy. They always say the right thing. We also fear listening to perspectives that differ from our own, which is strange considering the SF genre is supposed to be all about that.

Monday, December 22, 2014

Degrees of Knowing

The Washington Post posted, "The Elf on the Shelf is preparing your child to live in a future police state, professor warns."

I have not yet read the book or the rules, but it doesn't sound too different from the 1934 song "Santa Claus is coming to town!"
You better watch out, 
You better not cry,
You better not pout,
I'm telling you why:
Santa Claus is coming to town! 
He's making a list,
And checking it twice,
Gonna find out who's naughty or nice.
Santa Claus is coming to town!
He sees you when you're sleeping,
He knows when you're awake.
He knows when you've been bad or good,
So be good for goodness sake!
This, of course, is also a panopticon--albeit, a hidden one--which might be scarier in some ways as he's always there, out of sight.

But his aim is goodness. So 1) he's not out to trip people up. 2) Santa and the Elf do not actually see anything. They are not cameras or have eyes. 3) The point is, then, self-regulation. Some kids learn it better than others. 4) We all perform differently while being watched. Should we?

Might this doll create a sense that surveillance and loss of privacy is okay? Probably. But what are the actual scenarios: 1) Kid behaves well. Kid rewarded. Believes surveillance is good--possibly. 2) Kid behaves poorly. Kid rewarded. Believes surveillance is pointless--possibly. Or that he can get away with anything because there's not really anyone watching. 3) Kid behaves well. Kid is punished unfairly. Kid unfairly blames Elf who didn't do anything. Kid expected to be rewarded and/or protected but was not. He believes surveillance is bad unfairly--possibly. 4) Kid behaves poorly, believes he's justified in doing so. Kid is punished. a) Possibly hates surveillance because he should be able to behave as he sees fit. b) Possibly believes surveillance will help him behave better in the future.

Other scenarios are possible. What we see little of, though, is qualification. People make bold statements that might have validity under certain circumstances, without qualification--without the "might" or "possibly" necessary to inform the public. Or if we're given other possibilities, it is only to dismiss them, so that we only consider a narrow realm of possibility. Our world is skewed, especially if we only listen to those with whom we agree.

This is not to say that surveillance is good or bad. Rather, I speak to a larger issue--that of being better and more broadly informed. Honestly informed, with qualifications.

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Accenting the Accent: "Dinner on a Flying Saucer" by Dean Wesley Smith


This short story first appeared in Denise Little's anthology, Front Lines. It is also available as a stand-alone ebook for $2.99.

Summary:
Wife, Ethel, approaches narrator with a shotgun. He claims to have been abducted by aliens, had dinner, and left their sucker marks on him--not human hickeys.
Spoiler/Discussion:
Is this an SF story of a slipstream one?

Ethel doesn't believe him, and it becomes difficult for the reader as well. When his wife scoffs that he'd do anything with the widow Mattie, he seems to take it as a challenge, intimating that he may pay her a visit. However, he does appear to believe his own bluster. See quote referenced below to decide what you think  actually happened.

It is also a story focused on voice--a Southern one.

Quote:
"I bet the widow Mattie would be real grateful like, and maybe give me a ride like she’d done to Chester. Especially when she found out I was a real war hero and all, keepin’ the world safe from them stick-slug invasions."

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

New and reissued books/ebooks

The Paul Di Filippo MEGAPACK 
22 Tales of the Fantastic 
by Paul Di Filippo  
$0.99

The Dire Earth: 
A Novella 
(The Dire Earth Cycle) 
by Jason M. Hough 
$0.99

GOON SQUAD #7: 
Dead Man Tells Tale 
by Jonathan L. Howard 
$0.99

Two Scott Nicholson books:

  1. The Spider Trilogy with J.R. Rain -- $0.99 
  2. After: Whiteout (AFTER post-apocalyptic series, Book 4) -- $3.99

Moltenrose: 
Stories set in the PALE ZENITH universe 
by Wendy Rathbone 
$2.99

Kristine Kathryn Rusch reissued two short stories 
$2.99 each

God Rest Ye Merry, Gentlepig: 
A Novella 
(The Bobby Dollar Books Book 4) 
by Tad Williams 
$2.99

Teaching the Dog to Read  (novella)
by Jonathan Carroll 
$3.99

In Search of Wonder 
by Damon Knight 
$4.99

Five by Five 3: 
Target Zone 
by Kevin J. Anderson and Michael A. Stackpole 
$4.99

Legion: 
Skin Deep 
by Brandon Sanderson 
$4.99

The Book of Feasts & Seasons 
by John C. Wright 
$4.99

OX 
(Of Man and Manta Book 3) 
by Piers Anthony 
$4.99

5 Robin McKinley books

  1. Sunshine $6.83 
  2. Deerskin $6.55 
  3. Rose Daughter $6.41 
  4. The Outlaws of Sherwood $7.49 
  5. The Door in the Hedge: and Other Stories $6.64
The Eternal Champion Sequence (3 books)
by Michael Moorcock 
$7.19

Weird Heroes, 
A New American Pulp 
by Byron Preiss and Philip Jose Farmer 
$7.95

Metrophage 
by Richard Kadrey 
$8.00

Star Bridge 
by James Gunn and Jack Williamson 
$8.89

Undercity 
(Major Baahjan series Book 1) 
by Catherine Asaro 
$8.99

Trader 
by Charles de Lint 
$9.99

Out Of This World 
(Wildlings Book 3) 
by Charles de Lint 
$9.99

Willful Child 
by Steven Erikson 
$10.67

Coming Home 
(An Alex Benedict Novel Book 7) 
by Jack McDevitt 
$10.99

Symbiont 
(Parasitology Book 2) 
by Mira Grant 
$11.04

The Future Falls: 
Book Three of the Enchantment Emporium 
by Tanya Huff 
$11.99

Proxima 
by Stephen Baxter 
$12.99

GEEK THEATER: 
15 Plays 
by Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers by Andrea Hairston, John Kessel, Cecil Castelucci, James Patrick Kelly, Mac Rogers, August Schulenburg, Adam Szymkowicz, Liz Duffy Adams, 
Erin Underwood (Editor), Jen Gunnels (Editor) 
$14.95

Monday, December 15, 2014

Kickstarters and story bundles

Jeff Vandermeer has added a little more oomph to his tasty story bundle to get Helsinki the World Con bid:
"Anyone who buys our Storybundle at the bonus level (all of the e-books) will be eligible for their own secret life. Three randomly chosen readers will win a flash fiction written by me that incorporates details of their lives as the starting point. Handwritten, personalized, and one-of-a-kind. No other copies will ever exist. in addition, those three winners will receive the Area X hardcover of my NYT bestselling Southern Reach trilogy, with a limited edition Southern Reach art booklet. (Anyone who has already bought the Storybundle at the bonus level will be entered in the random drawing.)"

Here's a Kickstarter with what are basically six chapbooks by various up-and-comers.

  1. Martha Wells - Between Worlds: the Collected Ile-Rien and Cineth Stories
  2. Will McIntosh - Futures Near and Far
  3. Tina Connolly - Scales & Other Transformations
  4. Stephen Gaskell - Transit & Other Stories
  5. Brenda Cooper - Beyond The Waterfall Door: Stories of the High Hills
  6. Bradley P. Beaulieu - Compartmentalized & Other Stories 

Thursday, December 11, 2014

C. Auguste Dupin, Detective: Genius and... Blowhard?

Edgar Allan Poe created the mystery genre through his popular genius detective, C. Auguste Dupin. Their influence, while far-reaching, rests on three stories:

  1. The Murders in the Rue Morgue (1841),
  2. The Mystery of Marie Rogêt (1842), and
  3. The Purloined Letter (1844).
The first is perhaps the most dramatic and most famous. It has been filmed around a half dozen times. The latter two, once. 

Nonetheless, the most iconic, I contend, is the lattermost. It brought forth the idea [Note: I am about to deliver the dreaded spoiler, so read the tale now before your mind is forever corrupted] of hiding things in plain sight. The actual story isn't as simple as the concept it delivers. Dupin points out that 1) the astute can guess behavior patterns of people based on their intelligence, 2) you can make gains in politics through the destruction of another's morality (a lesson still in practice--perhaps more popular than ever), and 3) hiding things in plain sight... through simple disfigurement, while hanging with other items of similar disfigurement.

Paul Collins, a biographer of Poe, calls these essays. And they are--of a fictionalized sort--especially "The Purloined Letter". Dupin spends a great deal of time reasoning out all the extraneous matter and beating around to his final point. In the modern locked-room mystery, Dupin's stories represent the final unraveling, where the detective relates how the mystery occurred. His methods are similar to Doyle's Sherlock Holmes's. Doyle also employs a sidekick like Dupin who can become our proxy for our awe of the detective's mental prowess.

Doyle's sidekick, Watson, is superior in that he actually has a personality that develops across the stories. Poe's is an anonymous blank-slate. Even Dupin is something as a blank slate except for one thing: He talks a lot, demonstrating his genius.

If Dupin were real, some people would become enthralled and hang on in his every word. Most would probably lose track of what he was saying and think of other matters, waiting for him to finish what he had to say, stifling yawns and glancing at pocket watches: "My! Look at the time." I think the term "blowhard" is unfair as he is just explaining a crime at length, but that would likely be the feeling that most people would got in his presence, especially if they feared intellectual matters that shot over their heads.

According to Collins, Poe wrote literary puzzles for readers to figure out. I suspect that these Dupin stories were an outgrowth of such interest, exploring dramatic puzzles of crime. The idea of Dupin's character may never have come to mind. For all that Dupin might have been a pain to be around in real life, his reasoning has been fascinating to read for nearly 175 years.

Monday, December 8, 2014

What We Do in the Shadows -- trailer and clips

At Michael Knost's recommend, I hunted down these clips from a forthcoming New Zealand mockumentary about vampires. It seems reminiscent of Spinal Tap with a similar underground-classic appeal. Each vampire has a distinct character flavor that's rather charming and humorous--more in the smiling department than that of the guffaw one.

Trailer:


Other Clips (Some gore. Some overlap in content but each unique. Not all may be from the movie, but they carry a similar tone):

  1. Opening Scene
  2. Stu teaches technology!
  3. Dead but delicious.
  4. Vampires vs Werewolves: "Awooooo!"
  5. An evening with a vampire
  6. The bisgetti and cobra trick
  7. Incubus Seeks Succubus
  8. Passing Time
  9. Werewolves not Swearwolves
  10. Self Image Problems
  11. Blending in to Bleed Out
  12. Hypnosis in the Shadows
  13. Dating 101 with Viago
  14. Vampire's Guide to Vellington
  15. Vampire's Guide to Vellington Out-takes
  16. Behind The Lid - Vellington Sign