Happy Moon Day

I always want to say that like Tom Cullen in The Stand… “M–O–O–N, that spells ‘MONDAY.'” I’m not quite sure why. I do personally think we should pronounce them according to their etymology… Moon Day, Tiu’s Day, Wotan’s Day, Thor’s Day, Fish Fry Day, Saturn Day, Sun Day. Makes a lot more sense to me.

Since I’ve been talking about the books I’m reading at the end of the week, I figured today I could talk about movies and TV. I’ve only recently gotten back into watching TV, after cutting my cable back in late 1997. I left for Europe and Japan shortly after that, and when I came back to the US almost eight years later, I’d lost the TV habit. But partly thanks to Netflix and Hulu, and mostly thanks to the strange fact that while movies are getting more homogenous and explody every month, TV is increasingly delving into intelligent writing, great acting, and either long character arcs or serial format, I’m watching more of it than I ever used to. Maybe only a couple of hours’ worth every week, but I actually will occasionally find myself with my butt in front of the screen at certain times of the week, now, something that was always rare for this intractable biblioholic.

I’ll be doing that more in the spring when Hannibal and Orphan Black launch their third seasons. I’ve talked about Orphan Black before, over at the Way Too Fantasy blog, but if you haven’t checked it out, do so before Season Three premiers in the spring. The show is not only home to some of the best acting I’ve ever seen on a small screen, but is sensible science fiction. No ray guns and midichlorians and wacky time travel hijinks here… they take a scientific development that is most likely right around the corner for us, and postulate that it was actually done somewhat successfully in the early 1980s. I’m sure the science is stretched in spots to make a good story, but for the most part it’s grounded in reality, and the 15 hours between the two series spend a lot of time exploring ethical, religious, and sociological issues around cloning, in addition to nail-biting suspense.

Hannibal is a different story. I am generally not a fan of remakes, reboots, and relaunches. Every time I hear of, say, a Spiderman reboot, or a new Star Trek series, part of me (the loud and noisy and occasionally obnoxious side) wishes that the studios would invest in something new rather than retreading the old tried-and-true over and over. There are a few exceptions, such as Star Trek: Deep Space NineBattlestar Galactica, and the 2005 reboot of Doctor Who. The Thing might technically be a remake, but it’s closer to the source material. It’s still a very short list. So when Hannibal premiered last year, I had no intention of watching it. Understand this:  I read Red Dragon when I was a teenager and loved it. It was one of the few horror novels I was able to read with my Mom, who liked murder mysteries and suspense more than any kind of supernatural horror. Later, I read The Silence of the Lambs on a flight to my duty station during the first Gulf War just before the movie came out (or at least, before I had a chance to see it overseas) and was enchanted. I read Hannibal in hardback and had a really bad case of the “mehs.” I’ve not seen either that movie or Hannibal Rising. And, not to disparage Sir Anthony Hopkins’s performance as Doctor Lecter in the slightest, I’m more a fan of the movie Manhunter than Red Dragon. Again… not the biggest fan of remakes, especially remakes of excellently-produced films. The TV show Hannibal did seem interesting as a thought experiment… what was it like before Hannibal Lecter was arrested and he and Will Graham were friends?… but it still seemed like nothing I wanted to watch.

I ultimately blame bOING bOING. While reading episode summaries and discussions of Orphan Black, I saw that they were also following Hannibal‘s second season, and I generally like what they recommend. So once I had nothing more to watch, I pointed my Roku box over to Amazon Prime, pulled up the first episode, and figured I could give it a shot, at least for an hour or two.

If you’ve seen it, you know my reaction. If you haven’t, well, this is what I was missing by not paying attention to the show for over a year:

  • Impeccable dramatic acting, and not only by the two leads. Even the supporting cast… Lawrence Fishburne, Eddie Izzard, Gina “Zoe Barnes” Torres… are heavyweights and very well utilized.
  • Accurate portrayal of a man on the autism spectrum who is still able to function
  • Some of the most tooth-grinding violence (almost always depicted after the fact, when the body is found) ever on television. In fact, it’s kind of funny to realize that they have no problem showing people turned into trees and fungus gardens and other horrible tableau but always make completely sure that nipples are blocked out of camera. But that’s a story for Double Standards Week.
  • Use of the Chekhov’s Gun principle. We know from the start who and what that nice, brilliant psychiatrist helping the FBI is. But watching the reactions of the people who don’t know this, and how he both helps and hinders their investigation adds a unique layer of suspense to the show…
  • (Thematic Spoiler for Season Two, kind of) … which is broken all to hell in a few places later on. I’d read that the director planned on taking it in a slightly different direction than the movies took it, but I was still shocked when a couple of those different directions exploded on the screen. I don’t want to say anything else, but once you’ve made it through both of them, you’ll know exactly what I mean. I’m really, really curious to see how Season Three (which is supposed to be based on the novel Red Dragon) is going to play out.

So, those are my two shows, right now. Next Monday, I’ll pull out classic horror films in honor of October and fall and other fun things.



The Treasure of Quetzacoatl

This comes from the excellent sword-and-sorcery-and-pulp-fiction blog Karavansara. Just as I think the novella is the perfect fictional form (even as I regularly populate ‘best-of’ lists with books like Ulysses and Infinite Jest and the Malazan series) I often find myself wishing more people produced short films. Granted, television (and not just HBO) has quietly been shifting from nothing but fluff and flavour-of-the-month programming (or rather, flavour-of-last-month) to serious, well-produced drama and thrillers and horror shows, but I can never have enough well-made short films.

Sophie’s Fortune:  The Treasure of Quetzacoatl

Random Sunday Quote

I’m attempting to read the second novella in Jim Harrison’s The River Swimmer River Swimmer, but I keep flipping back to the first one. It’s not exactly powerful in the normal sense of the word, but its language has a quiet beauty that sinks into my brain like a pebble into a pond. Here’s one quote that particularly grabbed my brain by the nose hairs and made me pay attention:  

Suddenly he was preoccupied with the idea that song or music came before language. He had visited Lascaux in Dordogne several times, also Altamira in Spain. He tried to imagine primitive men singing as they painted before they had a defined language. Maybe they sand scatting like the jazz singer Annie Ross, harmonic nonsense syllables. They probably sang because they loved what they were doing.

Here’s hoping you all found something to sing to this weekend.

Sunday Thoughts: Three Questions

What do cats think about when they wake up in the morning? More importantly, what do they think we think about? I have a story coming out in a few days that will offer my answer, but I really want to know what the rest of you think.

What’s the best long book you’ve read? What’s your favourite? Remembrance of Things Past is always toward the top of any list I make, though The Lord of the Rings and Ulysses are up there as well.

What’s the best short book you’ve read? Something that is too long to be a story, but short enough to be read in a day or two? I’m a fan of Passing by Nella Larsen, Call Me Joe (most likely the uncredited inspiration for Avatar) by Poul Anderson, and The Ballad of the Flexible Bullet by Stephen King. Oh, and The Willows, by Algernon Blackwood. It’s a damn creepy story in its own right, but if you’re a long distance hiker like I am, it has a few special bad places set aside just for you.

Have an awesome weekend, everyone. If you’ve done anything bookish this weekend, from reading something amazing to talking to other writers to just getting purposely lost in a library, leave a comment. I would love to hear it.

Slack-Off Saturday: My Week in Literature

Well, I can’t really call something a regular feature, or even a semi-regular feature, if this is the first time I do it. So for now, let’s call this an experiment. I like experiments. Being experimented on, not so much. But my confidentiaity agreement keeps me from talking about that, at least not before they offically make contact with our race and settle in North Dakota. And until that happens and life as we know it (and maybe even as we don’t quite know it) transforms utterly, I plan on spending every Saturday talking about what I’ve read, maybe what I’ve watched, and definitely about what’s next on my radar.

Finished:  Steven Erikson:  The Bonehunters (The Malazan Book of the Fallen, Volume 6)

I started this series with Gardens of the Moon back in January of last year, and up until now, have been keeping a slow pace through it, even taking breaks between the ‘books’ that make up each volume. Not only do I not want to finally turn the last page and step away from this world, the series is amazingly complex (sometimes a little too much, but only rarely). The first book, in fact, is probably the most confusing introduction to a fantasy world, since Steven Erikson doesn’t believe in easing his reader in. From the start, you’re in the middle of a war of imperial expansion, with one campaign wrapping up before you even really know what’s going on, and then another one starting somewhere else. The magic system is nothing like anything else fantasy readers are familiar with. Amidst the talk of Ascendants, Decks of Dragons, and Warrens, the characters just go on talking like they know what’s going on and aren’t really concerned if someone listening in, like the reader, doesn’t quite follow. In retrospect, it lends the book a hint of verisimilitude; in real life, you don’t tell your friend “I’m going to drive north to Raleigh, the capital of North Carolina, which is a state in the Mid-Atlantic region. Yes, I’ll drive my car, that motorised gas-burning vehicle that gets me around.” Likewise, fantasy and science fiction often threatens to lose me if there are long passages of exposition. If they’re discussing something that at least one of the characters doesn’t know, fine. But not when it is, or should be, common knowledge.

Another bright side of the series is that the cultures are different and unique, unlike just about every other fantasy series I’ve read, and there are many different divisions. There aren’t just elves and trolls and goblins. There are three different races that could be called ‘elvish’ and there are cultural divisions among them. Ditto the other races. And there is no ‘common’ language! Because the saga concerns, among other things, an expanding empire, the empire’s language is more common than others, but there are a lot of language and dialect differences that often affect the plot. As a teenager first exploring the world of languages, I  often thought that was a weird feature of modern fantasy; there would be a human language, an Elven one, and maybe, just maybe, an “Old Tongue” that was spoken in a bygone era yet has no relation whatsoever to the languages that are currently on everyone’s lips. Some of the credit is due to Steven Erikson being an anthropologist, but he also just happens to be a talented and thoughtful writer.

Alright, on to The Bonehunters. I’ve heard many former readers of this series talk about how the first five books (which are more or less self-contained, though there are threads that run through them) are the best, but if the series really is going downhill, I don’t see it from this book. I’ve described the way Mr Erikson writes about the military and campaigns (especially in the second book) as being so well executed as to give me mild flashbacks; but nothing in the Malazan books I’d read before prepared me for the battle that takes place about a third of the way in. At turns frightening, thrilling, and heartbreaking, it might be one of the best descriptions of any kind of fighting I’ve ever read. (Well, up alongside Bernard Cornwell.) I had to take a week-long break afterwards just to process everything, and when I got back into it, I was expecting that nothing else could quite hold up to the intensity of that chapter. I was mostly wrong. Strictly as an individual novel, I think it might be ‘tied’ with Midnight Tides, the fifth book, but as a continuation of the series, it’s a very worthwhile installment. I don’t recommend starting with this book (though I can almost recommend starting with book 2, utilizing the TOR Read-along, and then picking up the first a little later… almost…) but I can definitely recommend the series. I’m already looking forward to the next one… more on that in the next section.

The Völsung SagaI already talked about this one a little bit, but I can never recommend or review the old epics too much, and this is one of the best that I’ve read. If you’re familiar with the story of the Ring of the Niebelungs (which is unfortunately not much like the awesome “What’s Opera, Doc?” though really, it should be) you know the basics of the Völsung Saga, though there are enough differences between them to make this a novel read for me. I still stand by my assessment that reading the old epics is like peeking under the hood or reading the source code of the program that makes up our modern world of fiction.

If you’ve never read an epic before, this is a great one to start with. (Yes, better than Beowulf, I think, and for a lot of reasons.) Get an annotated version, sit down with a mug of wine, bookmark the glossary, and go for it. Don’t read straight through like you would a 150-page story written in modern English. Keep in mind that these stories were meant to be told around the fire or after a banquet, and read them slowly. The language is descriptive but not often very dramatic, so fill that in on your own. Take breaks after every few chapters. Try to think about what the characters are doing when they’re not on the page, since a lot is indeed left to the imagination. And the next time you read a fantasy novel with barbarians or trolls or fighter-princes, you’ll know exactly where they came from.

Jim Harrison:  The Land of Unlikeness (From The River Swimmer)

I plan on reading the second novella in this collection tonight or tomorrow but this first one was an amazing description of Michigan, which I still consider ‘my homeland’ even though I’ve now lived outside of Michigan much longer than I lived inside of it. (Aside:  Yes, Jen, maybe I’ll fix that someday soon.) I’ll review the entire book when I’m finished, but, like all of his short novels, it is full of rich language, though not pedantic and arrogant, and the characterization of its protagonist is painfully  relateable. Highly recommended.

On Deck: 

I can always use suggestions and recommendations for my reading list. Next week should see me finishing The River Swimmer, and possibly reading another Malazan book, Return of the Crimson Guard; I almost always take breaks between volumes in a series, but this one was written by Steven Erikson’s collaborator and world co-creator, so it’s kind of like reading a different series. Next month, the excellent Sword and Laser podcast/ Goodreads group is reading a book I’d never heard of, Alif the Unseen, so I had to pick that up as well. If you’re not a member  of their group, go check them out. Whenever I finally decide on a format for a podcast, it will probably be heavily influenced by them. They’re very good at what they do. It’s for that reason that I had no problem picking up a book they recommended without a second thought, and will probably keep doing that in the future.

So, that’s my week. What did you read this week, and what’s sitting next to your reading chair? What are you drinking alongside? And what does your favourite cat think about your reading habits?

Have a great weekend, everyone. L’shanah tovah!

Cross-posted on The Saturday Review of Books at Semicolon.

How Long Does It Take to Read Popular Books?

This is a neat infographic from Personal Creations. Not much more has to be said about it, though if anyone has comments, please feel free. I personally estimate 50 pages an hour when I’m deciding how long it will take me to read something, though I can skim/ review half again as fast. I think I used to be able to read faster, but I also know I get more enjoyment out of my reading than I used to. I’m not quite as compulsive about it as I used to be, either. Once there was a time where if I were trapped somewhere without a book I would actually start to panic a little. Now, I just sketch down story ideas.

Also, what books/ series would you like to see on here? I’d ask for Infinite Jest (counting the footnotes, and time spent going back and forth to them… by the way, that’s one of the few books I’ve bought in paper and e-book format, and I can definitely recommend the e-book over paper copy, mostly because of its hypertext format but also because you don’t have to read the footnotes in their 8-point type) and Remembrance of Things Past, though I’m not sure either of them really qualify as ‘popular.’

Here it is:

How Long Does It Take to Read Popular Books?


Book Beginnings Friday

Most of this morning has been taken up in writing another story, one I hope to share in at least rough form soon. Also, if you liked yesterday’s flash fiction, there will be more of those to follow. I’ve always been a fan of vignettes and short-shorts and such, whether by Jorge Luis Borges, Donald Barthelme, Robert Walser, or other such writers, though until recently, I haven’t written many. If you’re a writer, and you haven’t, try it. It’s a fun form, and it’s also challenge to create the impression and image of a complete story in only a few hundred  words. Since I’m about to take the plunge into novel country again, I feel I need the practice at making every word count.

This morning, I’m also cross-posting at Rose City Reader, where Book Beginnings Friday is hosted. The object is to post the first sentence (or so) of the book you’re reading and share what it means to you, if necessary. Here’s mine, from a diptych of novellas by the excellent Michigan native Jim Harrison. (Many of you might recognise the name from Legends of the Fall. That’s a great novella collection as well, but the rest of his work is equally worth checking out.)

Clive awoke before dawn in a motel in Ypsilanti, Michigan, thinking that it was altogether possible that every woman in the world was married to the wrong man.

This is from “The Land of Unlikeness,” the first novella in The River Swimmer. I picked up the book because I liked his work, but the first sentence sucked me out of the stacks in the Atlanta-Fulton County Central Library, and into a world that was thrust into being in less than thirty words.

I’ll share my full observations of the book, and possibly a recommendation, later.


Flash Fiction: The Knitting Helper

Hello, Ma’am. My name is Chuck, and I can fix that for you. Yes, we do offer help for people who buy yarn at our shop. Yes, I know you’ve bought yarn here before, but this is obviously not ours.

Yes, that is indeed one of our bags, but we’ve never carried that particular yarn.

Since you asked nicely, Ma’am, and since there’s no one in the shop, I can help you, today. Yes, honestly, this is my favourite part of the job. I like helping people who are willing to learn. Please, have a seat and let me look at your project.

Yes, Ma’am, you did indeed make a mistake here. And here. And here. And this stitch is dropped. And this one. And this. I can…

No, Ma’am, please do not say you’re just going to start over. I can show you how to fix that. It’s very easy to fix.

Ma’am, please… you’re doing it backwards.

No, I’m doing it the way you need to do it. Copy my movements exactly. That’s what I meant when I said “copy my movements exactly.”

No, Ma’am, now you’re knitting more. You need to be pulling out those stitches.

No, Ma’am you don’t have to…

Yes, Ma’am, that is indeed the proper way to take all two hundred stitches off the needles at once. Yes, those words were the proper curse words one yells when doing this. No, your project isn’t ruined, Yes I can show you how to…

Ma’am, let me just fix that for you. Please hand it to me.

Please, don’t throw your knitting.

Please, don’t throw my knitting.

Yes, Ma’am, this will take about five to ten minutes, but afterwards, you’ll be ready to start knitting again.

Yes, this is a little tricky. Whenever I do this for my own projects I have to block out all distractions.

Yes, I do this for my own projects all the time. And I do this in the shop for customers, when they’re actually customers. Let’s just say I’ve had a lot of practice fixing mistakes. Now, give me another few minutes.

Yes, I have been knitting a long time. No, I don’t think it’s that hard.

No, I don’t think it’s that strange for a man to knit. I enjoy it, and that’s the important thing, right?

No, I did not know that you don’t know any other male knitters.

No, I did not know that you’ve never heard of a male knitter.

Yes, Ma’am, I agree that it’s strange that when you first came in the shop you didn’t know I knitted. Even though I had two needles in my hand, with part of a sweater attached and a knitting bag next to me.

Oh, don’t worry about it. When you said “Well, I was hoping to get some knitting help but I guess I’ll have to wait until the lady who owns the shop comes back” I did not mind at all. Just the other day I was pulled over by a female officer and I greeted her with “Are you sure you’re a cop? I mean, it’s awful strange for a woman to carry a gun.”

Yes, this is indeed the tricky part. Like I said, when I do this myself, I turn off the TV and block out all distractions.

Yes, I try to tell everyone else to be quiet, too. This is indeed a…

Well, duct tape if I had any. Unfortunately, I usually just ask politely.

Yes, now I’m backing up becase I made a slight mistake, fixing your mistake. I have to concentrate.

No, I usually don’t talk when I’m concentrating.

No, I usually don’t listen when I’m concentrating, either.

Yes, I can fix this.

Don’t worry, the rest of your project looks fine.

Yes, I’m through the tricky part. Now it will just take a minute and you’ll be ready to go.

Why, yes, I also go to school. I want to be a teacher.

Well, thank you for agreeing that I would be a good one.

Why, yes, I think I do have a lot of patience. I haven’t yet told you to stuff your knitting up your ass and hitchhike to the back door of Hell.  Though I may have to ensure all the sharp pointed objects are on the other side of the shop the next time you come in.

You too, Ma’am. Have a great day. Thank you for shopping… err, thank you for coming by for free help and then buying your yarn online. I’ll not be seeing you again soon, I hope?

Banned Books Week: The PC Brigade

I’m relaxing my view that books that we call ‘banned’ should legally be banned, partly because I’ve always thought this was a good story, and partly because the accused really did run into legal trouble because of a book he was reading. Also, the other posts were about how hardline conservatives banned books because of content that threatened their regime. Here, we have a story about a book that was banned because of liberal impulses. The effect was still the same, though, and the agency attempting to ban it was just as rigid and unbending as any religious government moral watchdog could be.

The story, linked below, is about a 54 year old janitor, a white male, at Notre Dame, who was also a communications major at the same school. On his break, he decided to read, and someone reported him for racial harassment, a charge the Dean  held to be valid. You see, the book he was reading had pictures of Klansmen in hoods flanking a burning cross that was planted on Notre Dame grounds. Now, at first glance, this indeed looks like an obvious case of someone perhaps trying to harass people, or maybe intimidate them, until you look at the man’s defense. The book itself, Notre Dame Vs The Clan, is about how Notre Dame, students and faculty, clashed with Klansmen in the 1920s. (An aside… As someone who grew up in the Midwest and now lives in the south, I can definitely affirm that the Klan, and Klan-like attitudes, are more prevalent in the alleged ‘free north’ than in the south, but that is a subject for another post.) Additionally, the alleged racial harasser had found the book in Notre Dame’s own library. And it wasn’t like he was going around telling people that he wished the Klan hadn’t lost. He was simply reading a university book about university history in a university break room. Yet, until FIRE (that wonderful organization that fights for free speech in educational institutions) came along, the administration refused to budge from their finding that, since he was reading a book about an abhorrent period of US History, he was guilty of racially harassing his colleagues. 

That line of thinking is what really bothers me. Our society depends on the free flow of information, as does the science of history. Indiana and Michigan and other Midwest states did indeed have a history with the KKK, and it’s important for 21st century students to know about this and study it. If people think that something never happened, they’ll be surprised when it happens again, rather than being prepared and doing what they can to prevent it. Blocking uncomfortable truths, whether to protect the majority or to protect a minority, is never the answer, and is its own form of discrimination. 

Further reading