Monday, July 30, 2012

We need more cool interpretations of classical music, and less of brides trying to be "funky."

Photos With Non Sequitur Titles. Click here.

I can play, or could play, Pachabel's Canon In D on piano, by the time I was about 12 or so.  I never knew it was a big deal song for weddings or anything like that; I just knew it was superhard to play but a very nice song.  Playing it gave me a sense of accomplishment, because it was so long and had such tough chords.  It's one thing to play a song like Music Box Dancer (which I can still do, by heart) but another entirely to play Pachabel's Canon.

So I've always liked that song, and never thought it could be improved on until I heard Rockelbel's Canon:

I'm not crazy about the "wedding party doing the silly/cool dancing."  Once that was done once, it was over forever and nobody should ever do it again.  But the song itself is truly an awesome cover of an already awesome song, and that guy sure looks like he's having fun playing the cello, doesn't he?

Also: Everytime I see someone playing the cello, I am taken by an overwhelming urge to play the cello myself.  That pretty much happens with everything, though, and it usually passes.

Sunday, July 29, 2012

"The interior of a person's butt." (Sundays With The Classics)

We went to Target yesterday, as we do so often, and I noticed that on an endcap to an aisle, in addition to the best-selling Fifty Shades books, Target had the Sleeping Beauty books Anne Rice once wrote under a pseudonym. 

Those books are -- let's not ask how I know-- pretty intense, hardcore bondage-y stuff, and I bring this up not because I'm offended by it; frankly, I like living in a world where Target feels free to put S&M books out in the open; I'd rather live in that world than the one in which Tipper Gore got all up in arms because George Michael thought sex was best when it's one on one.

(Raise your hand if you mentally added, in a lower voice, one... on... one.)

*raises hand*

I bring it up more because while I didn't read very much of Ulysses today -- I was busy biking and then working and then taking Mr F and Mr Bunches to McDonald's instead of the park because it was raining and then taking them to the park, too, because Mr Bunches pointed out the rain had stopped and he had me on a technicality and Lawyer Dad respects technicalities, and then I did some actual yardwork for only the second time this year (and bought half a trimmer, a story for another day) but the parts I did read I think are the parts that are some of the obscene ones that Joyce was charged with writing.

In the case of United States v. One Book Called Ulysses, in 1933, an appellate court upheld a ruling that obscene language in a book is not obscene if it doesn't promote lust. The case arose when a girl read a portion of the book that had been serialized, and complained that the masturbation references upset her, so the district attorney charged the publishers of the  magazine with obscenity, and Ulysses wasn't published in America for 10 more years, until Random House arranged for a test case: it imported a French copy of Ulysses and convinced Customs to seize it and the authorities to condemn it as obscene.

(The test case was needed because Random House wanted to publish the book but needed to have it found obscene, and almost didn't happen: Customs at first refused to seize the book and the prosecutor thought the book had merit.)

The trial proceeded, though, in the face of a law that banned obscenity,  and ultimately a 2-1 vote of the Court of Appeals upheld the ruling that the book was obscene -- but that the obscenity was okay because it didn't promote lustful thought:

Art certainly cannot advance under compulsion to traditional forms, and nothing in such a field is more stifling to progress than limitation of the right to experiment with a new technique. The foolish judgments of Lord Eldon about one hundred years ago, proscribing the works of Byron and Southey, and the finding by the jury under a charge by Lord Denman that the publication of Shelley's Queen Mab was an indictable offense are a warning to all who have to determine the limits of the field within which authors may exercise themselves. We think that Ulysses is a book of originality and sincerity of treatment and that it has not the effect of promoting lust. Accordingly it does not fall within the statute, even though it justly may offend many.
The minority vote would have continued the ban based on "community standards."

The part I read today involved Bloom, the main character, going to church and musing on how it was smart that the priest used wine for communion, because if he used beer he might get all the drunks in town wanting to come just for that, and then after church pondering how he sometimes sees a bit of ladies' butts on the way out (that's the quote at the start of this); Bloom then goes to the drugstore to order something and considers getting a massage and bath, but soon is on the carriage for the funeral of his friend.  

(It's worth mentioning that one of the grounds for charging the book to be obscene was it's derogatory treatment of the Catholic Church. Can you imagine, today, a prosecutor bringing charges against an author who said something bad about a church?)

None of the "obscenity" is particularly shocking, or even graphic -- I suppose it would have been if I'd lived in a world where the sight of a woman's ankle was forbidden, rather than in a world where a song that graphically and quite cleverly compares sex to a show on the Discovery Channel can hit the Top 40,  -- but even so, while standards might have changed such that now we don't think that a mere mention of pubic hair is obscene...

...I was about to say that I found it surprising that America would try to ban a book merely because it was offensive, and say that we wouldn't do that anymore, but I thought about it, and we would.

Our attitudes haven't changed, not really.  Sure, nowadays, we let Fifty Shades and The Claiming Of Sleeping Beauty be sold at Target, but we have news show after news show ad infinitum ad nauseam talking about why that is and what it remarks, and we still bleep the latter part of the word asshole on TV unless it's HBO, and didn't the Supreme Court just finish up an obscenity hearing over brief use of language on TV?

The things we find shocking now are more shocking than ever -- but we are not any more permissive, not really.  We think we are, because we walk by the erotic books in the supermarket and think "That would never have happened in the 1920s" but then we come home and remember that we still can't swear in Prime Time and The Bob & Tom Show can't play some of their funniest stuff on the radio.

So, really,  America is just as uptight as ever: we're still into banning things, we just ban different stuff now and get upset over more exotic forms of nudity.  In 1933, America took 10 years to be ready for Leopold Bloom to think about sex while at a Catholic mass, and did so only grudgingly.  In 2012, America sells slashfic in the supermarkets but we get all up in arms if Jon Stewart calls someone interior of a person's butt on the news.

The more things change, the more they stay the same.  We haven't made any progress in tolerance; we've just started not tolerating different stuff.  

What if this:  What if when people didn't want to watch something, see something, read something, they just didn't, and let others decide how much nudity they need in their sitcoms or cop shows?  I'm not against warning people or having information that lets me decide, before watching, whether my kids should see something or not -- I'm against you telling me or me telling you how much of the word asshole Jon Stewart can say on the air, and what books should be in the public library.


SUNDAYS SUNDAYS SUNDAYS is new; each week I'll feature, on all my blogs, the latest post from one of my blogs.

Today's is the latest from Lesbian Zombies Are Taking Over The World!, an ongoing sci-fi/erotic/serial/humor/something/something else/etc. story that follows Rachel, who was just a waitress in New York, kind of, until her Octopus told her to walk South.  There, she fell in love with Brigitte, got attacked by demons from Hell, kidnapped by tiny bubbles, and eventually found out that she might be not only the Queen of The Lesbian Zombies, but also the key to deciding who's going to win in the Battle of 73 Dimensions and open up Heaven.

Your typical story, in other words.  Here's the latest installment:

* * * * *

Part 22D: You know what this story needs? ANOTHER RACHEL.

Things like is Rachel okay and let's get the hell outta here and back to Valhalla go right out of my mind and I stare at the Mosaic, as do the Valkyries and Target A, who has this gray, pale look about him but I don't notice much because seriously, this Mosaic thing talked.

"Free me," it says now, and we all look at each other, Czaranya and me and the other Valkyrie, but Target A is just shaking and drooling and Rachel is lying there woozily.

"From... um... from what?" I ask, taking the lead.

There is a shimmer in the golden squares that make up the Mosaic and it sort of ripples and shudders a little.

"From this wall," it says.

I have been looking more closely at it and I've realized it's made up of little squares and that the squares are chips, like the kind that are put in people.  Not even like the kind that are put in people. They are the kind that are put in people, on Earth, to let them Share, which is sort of like telepathy but not, as I understand it.

"Who are you?" I ask the Mosaic.

"I'm Rachel," it says.

I look down at Rachel, and think another one?  That's kind of a natural thought, maybe, when you are one of perhaps thousands of clones of one woman, and your whole life has been geared towards proving you are the best of those thousands and then the one that you are the clone of shows up suddenly and not only do you not mind that she's there and you might just have become totally irrelevant but you also fall in love with her.

There's a lot of Rachel's, is my point.

"You are not," Czaranya says, and her frown tells me she's been trying to communicate with the thing telepathically but had to speak. Valkyries hate talking.  Czaranya points to the Rachel on the ground, the one I'm kneeling over.  "That is Rachel."

"I am Rachel," the Mosaic says.  Then a shimmery thing happens and it says "I am Sonja."  The shimmer, again, and "I am Darlene."  Shimmer: "Angela." Shimmer: "Doris."

Now I'm backing away a little as the shimmers get faster and the names get faster, each one said in a different voice, each one clearly a different person:  "LisaJenniferRebeccaAlisonBreeAshleyKellyGretchenAlyssaKaren" it is going on and then there is a flash of light from all of them and it says

"I am Rachel" and things seem to calm down.

For the moment.

"What are you?" I ask.

"I am Rachel," it says.

Target A suddenly wails "It's true! They were all trapped and it's true!" and he goes even more pale and makes a gurgle sound and lunges at the cabinet, trying to I think close it up but Czaranya elbows into him and he falls to the side, clutching at the cabinet door.  The cabinet itself starts to fall forward towards Czaranya and she pulls back but it falls down onto her, trapping her halfway underneath it.  It's nothing for her, I'm not worried about her because the cabinet is really light and the fact that it fell on Czaranya means that it didn't fall directly on Rachel, who was just starting to sit up.

Then a bunch of things happen.  Czaranya starts to lift the cabinet off of her, but Target A is trying to get at it, too, and there's a glow of light from underneath it as Czaranya lifts it up and as I start to try to see if Rachel is okay, she's rolling away from the cabinet and towards Czaranya.  Before I realize what's happened, Rachel has grabbed Czaranya's spear and has pulled it towards her, the spear crackling with the energy that's supposed to kill anyone who's not a Valkyrie but dares to touch it, and the energy is dancing all over Rachel's body and making this fierce acrid smoke.

"Rachel!" I yell.  "Let it go!"

But she doesn't, and she turns the spear head towards the Mosaic, touches it, and the energy leaps through the gridwork pattern and crackles around it and there is an explosion.  The cabinet is gone, and standing before us is an identical copy of Rachel, only instead of Rachel, or even me, she's basically this woman that looks like us, exactly, only she's made entirely of gold, and her skin is patterned in a tiny grid of golden squares, all over, making her look like a golden mirror ball that has been stretched into a beautiful woman's shape, and her eyes are dark and hollow, and her hair, somehow, is both golden and flowing and slinky and also made of tiny little squares, too.

"I am Rachel," she says again.

We're all just sort of staring there, and Rachel's still holding the spear, which is going nuts, there are blue and gold bolts of energy just arcing around the entire room, and Target A has to duck for it and crawl away, and the horse is backing out and Czaranya, I see, reaches for the spear but then Rachel-Mosaic raises her hands and says


and they are gone:



the spear,

and Czaranya, and the other Valkyrie who I didn't even know her name.

It's just me and Target A.

We stare at each other in the dim light of the workshop for a second, the stench of dead bodies and energy and fighting clouding our senses.

Then, the horse sticks his head in the door and says "I think you better see this."

Want to read more? Click here to go to the story online, at the beginning.

Or click HERE to go to Scribd and download the entire story for free!

Friday, July 27, 2012

Judge me by the number of times I hear people talking about Star Wars, do you?

What sound does a sword make?

If you said this:

You are old, or unhip, or possibly have been living in a cave for 35 years or so.

If you said this:

Then you agree with Stephen Colbert:

Who at about 3:25 into that clip pointed out that an entire generation of kids now does not say clank when they swordfight.

Thursday, July 26, 2012

30 Things "The Scream" is screaming, 20.

Leon Black is the financier who shelled out $119,900,000 for a copy of "The Scream" and subsequently was minimally profiled in a few media outlets, which said stuff like "He's rich" and the like and talked about his love of art and didn't, rather conspicuously didn't because our media suck up to the rich, mention some of the other things you oughta know (as Alanis Morissette would say) about Leon Black.

Like how Leon Black worked for Drexel Burnham Lambert at one point.  When I read that, I thought "Drexel Burnham Lambert.  Drexel Burnham Lambert. Drexel Burnham Lambert. Why does that seem familiar?"

Then I googled it and realized that Drexel Burnham Lambert seemed familiar because oh yeah that's the firm that manipulated the market back in the 1980s via a variety of frauds, eventually seeing its brokers to to prison and the firm itself pleading no contest to six felonies.

That's where Leon Black got his start in being a financier.

I wonder what The Scream has to say about that?

My new owner also was reported to have argued that his boss should not cooperate with the authorities in the investigation into the massive fraud!

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The mall is not the first place I'd go for medical care. Third, maybe. But not first.

Did you see that you can now buy skin care medications from a vending machine in a mall?

Does that seem smart to you?  Because it doesn't to me.  Call me crazy...

...wait, don't, I don't like that...

...but I kind of figure that if you are dealing with a medical condition, you ought to be taking it more seriously than you would take trying to get that one mini-football helmet from the Jacksonville Jaguars only the machine never gives it to you and you've got, like 43 San Diego Chargers and why would they even put that many in there?  ARRRGHGHGH!

I digress.

If you have skin problems, you don't need a mall vending machine or late-night infomercial.  You need a real doctor who knows how to treat YOUR skin. And granted, I am not the best informed on this topic because while I have skin like old leather, I never do anything to take care of it other than not deliberately injuring it, so instead, I went to the Four Points Dermatology website for information on this post.

This site, which talks about the Austin Dermatology Services of Four Points Dermatology, gives a lot of helpful information not just about the doctor (who points out that they are able to care for skin types of all ethnicities, which is something that I imagine gets overlooked by a lot of doctors) but also about skin conditions and how to treat them, and about far more than just acne.

They say they're the site for the Best Austin Botox Treatment, for one thing -- and if you're interested in Botox, you've GOT to go to a decent place or you end up looking like Priscilla Presley or Meg Ryan and nobody wants THAT.  They've also got tips on how to tell if a mole is something to be concerned about, how diet affects your acne, and even a bit on how fat cells are useful. (My stomach salutes you, doctor!)

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

The Thought Process Behind My Attempt To Caption A "New Yorker" Cartoon.

It is a little-known fact about me that I am desperate to get into The New Yorker, and lately my best shot seems to be to caption a cartoon of theirs, which I try to do each week, giving myself 10 minutes to come up with a caption because nobody's funny after 10 minutes.  Here is my latest attempt, beginning with when I first look at the cartoon... 10 minutes on the clock. 

Go to the cartoon.

Go to my iTunes and put on the upbeat playlist.  First song: A Child's Introduction To The Drums.

What is this... Roman Centurion.  Horses.  Woman.  Parking.

Go get coffee.

9:11 on the clock.

Something about hybrids.  Hybrids are big with people who read The New Yorker.  That's not exactly true, because I read it and I don't have a hybrid.  Hmmm... "They were out of Priuses at the dealer?"  No.

Definitely not.

I said no, brain.

8:26 on the clock.

He's maybe asking her on a date.  "How about we take mine?"  Maybe.  Run with that.  "Mine gets better mileage?"  No, the first one was better.

He's pointing her towards the horses.  She looks awkward.  How about "Excuse me, I think that one's yours?"

I like that.

Really mixes it up.

6:59 on the clock.

"Excuse me, I think that one's yours."  Should I go with that? Will people get it?  Keep it in mind.  Let's go look at it again.  Check out the background.  Think about who these people are, really get into the heads of a Roman Centurion out on a date in New York-- -it's got to be New York, right? -- on a Friday night in 2012.

How about "No, that one's mine, over there?"

Even better -- the lady didn't realize that the Centurion she's on a date with would use the chariot, and thought he'd use the sports car!

5:38 on the clock.  Let's go with that.

Oh, man, I went to enter it and thought "That's exactly what everyone else will enter.  It's so OBVIOUS."

It is kind of obvious, isn't it?

4:09 on the clock.

Common People comes on the playlist.  What would William Shatner do?

"Excuse me, can you watch my horses?"

NO. That's not funny! That's nothing.  Oh, man.  3:26 left.

"Well, you said interesting swaps?"  Too much of a rip-off of Seinfeld.

2:35 left.

"I thought it was a formal event"?


I kind of like that one.

Because it doesn't make any sense.

"I thought you said this was a formal event?"



Entering it now.

1:12 on the clock, Convoy on the playlist.

Sunday, July 22, 2012

Only this, and then much more... (Sundays With The Classics)

So I made a decision today, and first the why before the what.

The why is the exchange in the comments last week about why it was that Ulysses had to be bound to the mast to get past the sirens in The Odyssey, brought on by my pointing out that Joyce's Ulysses is supposed to be loosely based on The Odyssey, which I was pretty sure I'd never read and which I was pretty sure didn't make sense.

The other why is that yesterday I splurged and bought a book on impulse, something I almost never do, but I'd just read about John Cheever's The Swimmer and I wanted very badly to read that story and so I went to look it up on my Kindle and they had it in a collection of 61 other Cheever stories.  I bought the book, and I almost never do that because I don't like having a stack of books waiting to be read; it distracts me from the one I'm reading.

I have enough of a backlog of reading, as it is: right now, waiting for me to read them, I have not just Ulysses,but also The Red House, by Mark Haddon, which I'm almost done with, and a book called Phone Kitten about a girl that becomes a phone sex talker (is that the right word?) and then learns about a murder but has to solve the crime herself because her boyfriend is a cop and she doesn't want to admit to him that she's a phone sex talker.

Plus I have my weekly subscriptions to Entertainment Weekly and The New Yorker, let alone all the websites and blogs I have to visit.

So I didn't intend to add a whole 'nother book but I really wanted to read that story, and I did, and it was worth it, as it turns out that Cheever is a heck of a writer, at least in the single story I read by him last night after the boys went to bed.

The Swimmer is, as advertised, about a guy who decides while at a party that he is going to go home by swimming through swimming pools; he is at a party and realizes that he could go home not by road but by cutting through people's yards and swimming in their pools, making his way home pool by pool by pool.  The man, Neddy, has a contempt for men who ease themselves into pools, we're told, and so he does not ease into this: he sets off by swimming the pool at the party he's at and moving on to the next one, announcing his journey to nobody at the party where he began (although he tells people he meets on the way.)  As he swims, he moves from comfort to discomfort, and richer to poorer, having to cross the highway, and as he travels, too [SPOILER ALERT!] there is a thunderstorm, briefly,  and fall seems to have set in, and he reflects as he walks and swims and gets more tired, alarmingly more tired, on whether he did not know about things like a neighbor having surgery or whether he is simply so good at ignoring the bad news in his life that he was told and did not remember it at all, and when he arrives home, having been pre-warned, mysteriously, by some people, he is old and tired and can barely climb out of the pool and his house is empty, his family gone, and the locks rusted, all in an afternoon, or was it?

Was it?

The decision Neddy makes -- to travel home by not only an unusual route but an unheard-of route, a route nobody else would really imagine (he thinks of the pools as a river named after his wife, a river with some portages, but they're not connected) -- has a profound effect on his life, changing it irrevocably from an afternoon where he drank to much the night before but is in good spirits today, to one where he has nothing left: he is poor, he is tired and broken, and alone.  At first, I thought it was his decision to take the unusual journey that led to his ruin, and had he gone home the regular way his life would still be his life, the story in my mind being kind of a cautionary tale to counter The Road Not Taken, but then I thought about the couple of times in the story where Neddy thinks of his ability to ignore the bad in life and focus on the good and I began to wonder whether the beginning of the story wasn't the unusual part, whether he had not decided to swim in the imaginary river only he could see, named after his wife, in an effort to take a route he had not taken before to try to get back to a house (and a life) that no longer existed.

And then I thought maybe he really did travel a lifetime in an afternoon, because he took a path that caused time to flow differently.

And any of those interpretations were both sad and amazing.  I can't believe I'd never heard of this story until yesterday.

Today being Sunday, then, classics day, I was going to switch from Ulysses to Cheever to finish all the other 60 stories of his I have, but that felt like giving up on Ulysses, which I don't want to do, and so instead I bought The Odyssey and added to the number of books I have to read, doing that because I really love reading Ulysses but I really want to get all the meaning out of it and see if it does add up to The Odyssey and, if I'm being honest with myself, sometimes I want a break from Ulysses on Sundays.

So I told myself that if reading Cheever was giving up on Ulysses then reading The Odyssey would be like doubling down on Ulysses, and I bought it and I'm going to alternate Sundays: this Sunday was The Odyssey and next will be Ulysses and so on.

Today, I got into the introduction of The Odyssey, which has been translated into blank verse for the version I have, and I find that kind of annoying because I have to remember to read it not like a poem, pausing at the end of each line, but going on until I hit punctuation, but beyond that, The Odyssey is actually far easier to understand than Ulysses, so far, at least.  All I've gotten through is the part where at the beginning of the story, Odysseus, Ulysses, has not come back from Troy and the gods are all talking about how terrible it is that Ulysses is trapped on some island with a nymph apparently as a result of Poseidon/Neptune having a grudge against Ulysses stemming from the way Ulysses killed the Cyclops, and so the gods are going to have to do something about it, they figure, because it's a shame to not have Ulysses come home.

And that thing they do, at least so far, is send Athena to talk to Ulysses' son, Telemachus, who is trying to hold off all the suitors that are besieging his house: In Ulysses' absence, Telemachus is stuck with his mom, who will not tell the men who want to marry her to go away, and will not marry one of them, either, and so Telemachus, who would rather his dad be declared dead than in this limbo, complains to Athena (who is also called Pallas, and when I read that and read the footnote I couldn't help but remember the pallid bust of Pallas from The Raven: I never knew until today that Pallas = Athena, and I keep thinking man, what did I even learn in school?) that his inheritance is being squandered by the suitors who apparently are just mooching off his mom this whole time.

So in other words, the beginning of The Odyssey is absolutely nothing like the beginning of Ulysses, so far as I can tell.

Saturday, July 21, 2012

58 Words about "The Dark Knight Rises." (Random Number Reviews)

In Random Number Of Words, I let tell me how many words, between 1-750, I can use to review something.  Click here for more reviews like this.

It was the most comic-book-ish movie of the trilogy, but Batman's gadgets, especially the annoying "Bat" he flew, made him more an "Army of One" than The Batman.

Also: summer's two big superhero movies ended with heroes flying into the distance to blow up, then improbably survive. That odd, specific heroism says something about us as a culture.

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

{TS/DR}: Why not use ALL the words? (The Best LONG Stories)

Photos. Plus Titles That Make No Sense. Click here.
Not long ago, on Michael Offutt's blog, I mentioned that while I am generally opposed to George R. R. Martin's Game of Lord Of The Rings Reboots, because I am generally opposed to anything that lots of people like, I am generally in favor of George R. R. Martin's Game Of Live Action D&D because it is long.

According to legend (okay, Wikipedia) Martin began writing A Game Of Thrones because he was a television writer and didn't like the limitations of television production.  So he wrote a book, and planned on writing a trilogy.

21 years after he set out to write that first book of a trilogy, Martin's five books and 4,213 pages into it.  That's an average of 842.6 pages per book (and an average of 1.66 books per book, given that this was supposed to be a trilogy, remember.)

Martin's not the first writer to expand his horizons by expanding his word count.  Tolkien, Martin's predecessor in all things fantasy, wrote Lord of the Rings as a sequel to The Hobbit, intending that it be one book (part of a two-book series with that one that nobody ever reads, The Silmarillion)(for all I know, Game of Thrones is simply The Silmarillion with Dutch names substituted, kind of like how Girl With The Dragon Tattoo is just a Mickey Spillane mystery with all the action and good writing taken out.)  But Lord of the Rings clocked in actually at six books -- each book in the trilogy has two books within it.

If you're into numbers, as I increasingly am for some reason, Tolkien clocks in at 1,036 pages for Lord Of The Rings alone (Kindle version), and with his other two books he totals 1,718.  That's only 372 pages per book.  George R. R. Martin would eat him for breakfast.

I got to thinking about this because a frequent comment, when anyone comments, on my posts, is that they're too long.  I've got no way to find out how long the average post is on any of my blogs, but I know they're long: I've had posts that ran over the course of several days, breaking them down into sections, like my groundbreaking research into The Best Worst Villain

That frequent comment -- this is too long! I don't have time to read things that are long! Even if I might find them interesting, the sheer fact that it will take me a longer-than-average time to absorb it all is daunting-- made me wonder:  what else would people say is too long?

And, correspondingly, can things be too short?

(SPOILER ALERT:  I say yes to the latter.)

Length, after all, is relative.  A 1000-word post on a blog is a four-page short essay in a magazine.  I'm not sure anyone is writing to The New Yorker and saying "I'd really love to read your magazine but MY GOD that Calvin Trillin went on for 5 pages and what am I, made of time?"

(I'm equally sure that most people felt that sentence went on too long when I could have used the TL/DR code, instead, an indication that the commenter had so little time they could not waste it typing an entire word into the box and clicking; they had to hit that sweet spot between "I don't have time to read this or even tell you in whole words why I didn't read it" and "I do, though, have the time it takes to indicate to you that if something cannot be compressed into 14 words and perhaps a funny picture of a cat, I'm not going to bother with it.")

If George R. R. Martin had labored for 16 years or however long it took him to come up with A Song Of Fire & Ice And Likely Every Other Element, Given That This Book Contains More Words Than Any Three Languages Combined, and had upon publishing that book, revealed it to be 1,000 words...

...even if they were a great 1,000 words...

... what would the reaction have been?

(Aside from the people who emailed Martin to say TL/DR, I mean?)

So length, like time, and the amount of pizza I claim to have consumed versus how much I actually consumed, is relative: the same amount of words in a different context is both too long and too short. It's Schrodinger's Wordcount! 

(I'm at 730 words as of that last exclamatory remark, in case you're wondering.  Would it help if I said the latter as ICYW? Does it matter if I abbreviate everything so that there are no actual words?)

Let's try: Itpwssitlan!

Okay! See you tomorrow!


I'm back. I think I proved my point: I said I think people who say something is too long are nuts!

When I went to see The Avengers, which in my mind is still in the top 5 of all movies I've ever seen and I'm only saying that because I don't want to take the plunge and say it's the best movie I've ever seen even though I secretly think it is and if you pressed me I couldn't tell you what movies I would likewise put in the top 5 and where they'd sit, when I went to see The Avengers I was forewarned by a guy at my office that it was too long.

"It didn't need to be 2 1/2 hours," he said. 

So I went to see it, and I disagreed.  That movie needed to be four hours.  Or six hours.  It needed to be a series of movies (as it kind of was) that never ended and which I could just go on watching until all the stories had been told and I was full of movie.

When the final battle started (that's not a SPOILER ALERT!; you know there's going to be a final battle and I'm not telling you how it turned out), I realized it was the final battle and I got a little sad, thinking "This movie is almost over and I don't want it to end, ever."

That is a great movie, and that is an argument against making things shorter.  Remember Kill Bill, which for Pete's sake do not say was two movies, it was one movie cut into two because it was too long to see in the theater...

...combined running time for both Kill Bill segment: 247 minutes.  Running time for Titanic? 194 minutes.  247 minutes is nothing: The longest movie ever to win an Oscar was War and Peace, clocking in at 7+ hours...

...Kill Bill wouldn't have been half as good if it was half as long, and most things do not benefit from shortening.  (That anti-shortening slogan could have been brought to you by the makers of lard, whose story was shortened, and made less interesting, by Planet Money some time ago.)

So I thought about this and thought about this and then I realized I was at work and thought about stuff I get paid to do and then came home and played a game of Falling Stars with Mr F and then I played a game of Cargo-Bot with Mr Bunches, and then I gave them their bath and then I went to bed and now I'm up and thinking about it again, and thinking about the best long stories that I loved and which clearly benefitted from being longer, ever longer, stretching out in great story form, and I decided to officially kick off my {TS/DR} campaign, a campaign I UNofficially started on a comment to Michael Offutt's blog yesterday.

{TS/DR}(the {fancy brackets} assure you that it's a high-class program) is going to be my fight against the forces of shortening, editing, cutting, reductionists who want less story, less character development, less action, less of everything.  When I come across something that I think could have benefitted by being more, I'm going to comment {TS/DR} and let that person know - -at length, of course -- why I felt their piece could have been longer.

Not everything needs to be a sound bite, after all.  I know that people read these things at work, or on breaks -- but who says everything you read has to be read at one sitting?  We don't insist that TV series be broadcast all in one day.  We don't demand "books" of only 1 page so that we don't have to linger over them.  When I open up my The New Yorker on my Kindle and see that there's 8 long articles plus 14 smaller ones, I love it.

And to kick off  {TS/DR}, here are The Best LONG Stories, in no particular order other than the order I put them in:

The Stand, by Stephen King.

There are, by most estimates, 774,000 or so words in The Bible.

Stephen King has written, by most estimates, more words than that.

Any review of long stories has to begin with King and his best book, The Stand, not just because Stephen King appears to understand that cutting words means cutting words, and stories are made of words the way you are made of organs; they can say you don't need that appendix but when they take it out, you've got a little hole where a part of you used to be, and that's what happens to words cut out of a book.

Length is relative, of course: King's work doesn't seem long in comparison to Proust's In Search of Lost Time (word count 1,200,000 [estimated]), the World Record holder for longest novel (It's issued in 7 volumes) but King can write a lot of words, many of them very good words.

The Stand was originally issued with substantial edits, for "brevity."  The edits cut out 400 pages -- an entire novel, or two entire novels, by modern standards, or 1,600 posts that someone on the Internet would comment only by saying TL/DR, by today's standards.  The edits were done because Doubleday thought Americans in 1978 wouldn't read a long book (what else did they have to do, besides wear tube socks, while waiting in line to see Star Wars?)

King wasn't even a new novelist at that point: He'd written Carrie and The Shining and Salem's Lot and was well-known, but still had to cut the book.  He re-issued the original (with some setting updates) in 1990, this time coming in at the original 1,152 pages.

That's the version I read, and I read it in four days.  That's not an easy thing to do, even when you consider that at the time it was summer, I wasn't in school, and my job was working at a Subway restaurant.  For four days, I read and worked and slept and did far more of the first than the last two: I only slept about 4 hours a day, reading into the night.  I carried the book with me on the five-block walk to work, reading it as I walked along.  It was that good.

I never read the original, chopped-up version.  Consider meat: When you cut a steak off a cow and cook it, it's a T-bone.  When you grind it up into smaller bits to make it easier to cook and eat, it's a hamburger.*

*Note: I actually like hamburgers far more than steak.  That comparison was for literary purposes only.

The Stand works as a longer novel because it is an epic story: It's literally about the end of the world and a battle between the forces of good and evil.  It's apocalyptic in the best way (no zombies) and the apocalypse demands grandeur.  The expanded length of the work lets you get a feel not just for characters -- there's much more time to develop the people into real people with real emotions and real interactions -- but the setting, as well: You can say "the world practically ended one day because of this disease" or you can show it by having people slowly pick their way across that deserted landscape on their way to Colorado, and if you show it, the grim reality of that world begins to set in as though you are living in it.

And that's the feeling you want from a horror novel, or fantasy novel, or any novel, isn't it? That you are in that world?  The more time you spend in a place, the more you feel at home there.  Even if you don't want to.  Spending lots of time in the world that The Stand takes place in was a grim, unsettling experience.  Spending less time there would make it easier, which is why I imagine the movies and TV shows haven't worked as well as the book:  The Stand's real villain is the world that's left, and that takes some time to work on you.

Lost.  I almost didn't watch Lost.  The only reason I started watching the show, at all, was that I got the first episode free on my iPod way back when I first got an iPod that could play videos.

I didn't not watch Lost because it was long but because I don't get that much of an opportunity to watch TV -- most of my TV watching is done late at night after the boys go to bed, and I often find myself unwilling to commit to an hourlong episode of TV when I'm tired.

But I did watch Lost's first episode, and got hooked instantly -- so hooked that I went out a day or so later and bought the first season on DVD, as this was already a season or two into the show by the time I watched it.

Lost, to my mind, was kind of unique for regular network TV: a story that required that you invest time in it.  I'm not talking about the "time" that people could invest in searching out clues on the internet or dumb stuff like that: I'm not all that thrilled about turning my television shows into a scavenger hunt and would rather leave pointless exercises like that to those students at the University of Chicago who are lucky enough not to have to work their way through college and so can spend their time growing beards and volunteering to have their appendix removed for no reason.

What I am talking about is the fact that if you didn't watch Lost from the first episode, and if you didn't then stick with it without fail, you would either be unable to make much sense of the show, period (not that watching every episode helped me, much) or you would have invested a great deal of time for no payoff -- which if you wanted to do that you could have watched Battlestar: Galactica, the new series that ran not long ago.

Once I began watching Lost I realized the commitment I was making, and the trust that I was giving to the creators: I was deciding that I would either give a hundred or so hours of my life, over the next few years, to their series, or I would be wasting the time I spent earlier if I gave up -- and I was trusting that the creators would keep the series up to the level that the first few episodes promised they would, because what if I gave it three, four, five years and then suddenly it all turned to crap?

That's the problem, sometimes, with longer stories.  It's not that we don't have time to read them: It's that we don't have time to waste on crummy ones.  It's similar to what Jerry Seinfeld once said about why he's never made a movie: if you go to a bad movie, it's two hours of your life.  But if you make a bad movie, it's two years of your life.

With longer series, like Lost, it's hard, sometimes, to believe that the quality can possibly stay that high for that long, especially because the odds are against it.

Lost, though, not only maintained that quality, but managed to bring a higher level to storytelling.  Even with as little TV as I watch, it's remarkable that I can't think of another series that managed to juggle so many characters and themes and keep the focus on all of them and develop them into real-seeming people, to the point where now, years later, I can still recall details of even some of the minor characters.  And Lost managed to stick, stubbornly, to its manner of storytelling, which, too, was different than most other TV, not resolving all the storylines neatly and leaving loose threads hanging while developing a mythology that is just screaming to be revisited, over and over again.

3.  Battlestar Galactica.

Up until the last episode, at least.   BS:G answers the question I posed up there: what if I gave it three, four, five years and then suddenly it all turned to crap?  I started watching Battlestar around the same time as I started watching Lost, taping episodes to watch as I sat up nights feeding our newborn babies, and I was enthralled by the hyperrealistic feel of the series, by the expansion of Cylon culture, by the characters' growth with each episode. 

BS:G, like Lost, wasn't just an ongoing series, like Dallas, where you could say "Yeah, it's all one big story," or like Law & Order, where each episode more or less exists in a vacuum.  These two series really did tell just one story, with subplots and escapist episodes, sure, but the entire series, in each case, was a single unit, telling one narrative from beginning to end.

BS:G, though, unlike Lost, couldn't keep it together, and managed to in the final season completely destroy all the stuff that had gone before.  I'm not going to detail all the things that went wrong in the last episode -- I did that here -- but prior to that final season, the series was an example of near-perfect storytelling, balancing episodic features with a longer-term narrative.

Then, in the final season, it threw all that out the window in favor of flash and twists and turns, like M. Night Shymalan had busted into the room where the scripts had kept.  I'm including it on the list, but ignoring the ending.

4.   Harry Potter.

There are lots of fantasy stories I could put on this list; fantasy almost seems to lend itself to the long-term story that spans several books: Lord Of The Rings, the Narnia Chronicles, and Piers Anthony's Split Infinity series all spring to mind. 

And all of those series give you what is one of the best things about a long story:  The convoluted storylines that don't have to wrap up immediately (or at all), the payoff when something from two books ago comes back to remind you that it existed and you should have been paying attention, the ability to actually make characters that you care about because they grow as , as opposed to archetypes that fill a role.

Consider that, for a moment: Look at, say, Star Wars, and especially the first three movies versus the last three movies.  In the first three movies, six hours of running time or so, what is the development of the major characters?  Han Solo becomes a general and commits to the Rebellion. Luke becomes a Jedi, mostly offscreen -- and at the end of the older trilogy, things are pretty much the same as they were in the beginning.

The first three movies, by contrast, show a single character developing over time, the much-maligned Anakin Skywalker becoming Darth Vader as he struggles to control his emotions and The Force, and at the same time show the birth of the Empire and destruction of the old order. 

While I liked Star Wars and The Empire Strikes Back the best of the six movies, I did so purely on the basis of action and adventure, not story.  If Star Wars fans wanted story, they should have demanded that Lucas expand the later trilogy to four or five or six movies, spreading it out and showing more of the politics and personal interplay, allowing gaps to be filled in to explain why things happened the way they did.

But I was talking about Harry Potter, and that's why Harry Potter makes this list while the others didn't: Harry Potter's books manage to tell one complete story, too:  Call it The Training Of Harry Potter, beginning with his discovering he's a wizard and ending with his emerging into the world of wizarding as a full-fledged adult wizard (albeit one with almost no powers or skills, his primary achievement being "not dying... twice.") 

J.K. Rowling's major achievement in that regard is to create a world that expands out with our growth, putting us into Harry's shoes as we read: We are introduced to the wizard world at the same time as Harry is, and our knowledge grows as Harry's does -- and, as we become less innocent in the ways of the world, so do the books, growing darker and darker over time (as many great stories do). 

The exact same story, really, could have been told in just one book, had Rowling wanted to.  There's nothing inherently necessary about spreading Harry's education over 7 books.  But by doing that, Rowling essentially sent us to wizarding school, too, making us commit the time that Harry commits to learn about this world and become a part of it.

Longer stories do that: they immerse you in a way that shorter stories do not.  I read a lot of short stories these days, and I find that very few of them stick with me; I think part of that is the time I spent with them.  If you met a person at the bus stop, and had a brief conversation with them, a talk you found interesting or compelling or fun, you might remember that person for a while, but the more of those little talks you have the more each fades into the background.

If, on the other hand, you were to meet the same person each day and talk to that person for 15 minutes or so, for years, the odds are you would remember that person and many of the things you discussed, and you would miss him or her when they were no longer a part of your life.

It's not that a short story or poem or 1/2 hour TV show can't become memorable -- it's that it's harder for them to do.  Had Harry Potter only existed for a 2-hour movie, he'd be about as memorable as...

...well, I can't think of any other wizards I can't remember, but that's the point, right?

5.  The Crisis On Infinite Earths. 

Comic books have always been sort of a long-running story, but not in the right way: they're long-running the way Law & Order was long-running, episodic with no real long-term effects.  Growing up reading comic books, I came to understand that nobody ever got married, nobody ever stayed dead, villains would always escape, planets would always be put back together... comics were long-term stories with no permanence, like they were written by the main character in Memento.

Crisis changed that, for a time, at least: Crisis on Infinite Earths was a 12-months-long storyline that introduced new characters and killed off old ones and destroyed and merged worlds and combined comics and storylines and spanned into other issues and overall brought a more coherent, unified, permanent feel to the world of comic books.

Crisis wasn't the best-written comic ever.  It wasn't all that novel of an idea, even -- Secret Wars did the same thing about the same time.  But what Crisis did was bring to comics the realization that if you want your stories to matter, they have to have an impact -- that for stories to get the reader invested in them, there had to be consequences and commitments. 

Readers, after all, like viewers or listeners, are investing their time, and if you want them to stick with you over the months or years, you have to give them a commitment back.  Long-form stories do that: they pay off in real characters with real emotions and real development.  In a long-form story, Luke doesn't just show up as a Jedi; we see his training. 

And in a long-form story, things that happened last episode matter in this episode.  That's why nobody cares much about Law & Order: you can watch those things in any order and never get lost or confused. 

Comics were like that -- are like that, as far as I can tell -- in that from book to book, nothing mattered much.  You knew that Spider-Man wasn't going to die; can you say that about most of the characters in Harry Potter?  Or Lost? You knew that he wasn't going to get married, even, and he never aged -- superheroes are frozen in time just like the kids from Family Circus.

So Crisis was novel in that it promised to bring change -- entropy, a feeling of time, a development -- to comics.  It did that, at least for a while, and made comics worth caring about. At least for a while.

Imagine the cleanup required after that 40 days/40 nights flood!

Sitting here amidst a Midwest drought, it's almost impossible to think of having TOO MUCH water around, but when there IS too much water, it's as much of a problem as too little, if not more.

I've never been involved in a flood, per se, although we did have some flash flooding once around our house, so I can't really know what it's like to have to clean up after a flood, and I hope I never do have to learn firsthand; imagine, the muck and mold and smell and rotting, wet, damp, stuff.

Who would want to clean that up on their own? Not me, and not many people, which is why if you ARE in a flood you should call some company like Action Extraction, this flood cleanup utah company that will get your property cleaned up thoroughly and quickly.

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They do more than just flood cleanup; they'll do water extraction utah and carpet cleaning and upholstery, tile and grout cleaning, so if you've suffered (or are suffering) water damage, give them a call.

Sunday, July 15, 2012

As usual, it's all about ME ME ME. (Sundays With The Classics)

I have to confess, I'm a little bit lost in Ulysses so far.  I think I've followed the plot, such as it is -- Bloom has gotten up, has done some teaching, and as I left off today, was standing outside of a shop thinking to himself that he had to buy some tea.  He also stopped off at home to eat a kidney he cooked up and talk with a woman I'm pretty sure is his wife, and she hid a letter under a pillow and (I think) lied to him about who it was from, which hints at some sort of secret but I'm not sure what.

Also, there's a part where Bloom goes to the bathroom while reading an article or short story of some sort and thinks to himself that he might be able to do that, write a story.  That part goes on for rather longer than it ought to.

I read on some site or other, or maybe in that profile of Joyce that I read in The New Yorker, that Joyce modeled Bloom's day after The Odyssey, that Bloom's walking around Dublin was supposed to be his own Odyssey and that the things that are happening are paralleled in Homer's poem, which might help me understand where the plot is going if I had any idea what happened in The Odyssey, but I never read that poem.  I think we were supposed to read it in high school but I never did.  Maybe I read parts of it.  For some reason, I recall a large-ish textbook with those dual columns of type and a picture of Odysseus lashed to a mast, unable to hear the calls of the Sirens.

That part always makes me wonder, when I think of it: Why did Odysseus have to be tied to the mast -- meaning why did he have to be able to hear?  I should probably go read the poem to have it make sense, because when I think about it, here is what I know:

-- The Sirens lured sailors to their doom by singing songs that made the sailors sail over to them and (I think) crash their ships.

-- Odysseus had to get past there, so he had all his men cover their ears, and maybe blindfold themselves.

-- But he couldn't be blindfolded, etc.,

-- I don't know why that was.

-- But it had to be, and so he was tied to the mast and could hear the Sirens but couldn't go to them.

So was the point, as I think it was, that he could tell the sailors which way to go, when they couldn't hear or see? Because if that was the point, then:

A.  If the sailors could hear him, they could hear the Sirens, and

B.  Why wouldn't Odysseus have simply told the sailors to sail over to the Sirens?

See what I mean? It makes no sense.  I should go look it up, but I'm tired. 

Supposedly, Bloom's traveling around Dublin on the one day the book takes place on mirrors Odysseus' journeys, somehow -- The New Yorker was quite emphatic that there's some part near the end where Bloom has to try to get into his house but he has to climb a wall, or something, and that is supposed to be just like when Odysseus had to sneak into his own house after his journey, a comparison that is lost on me.

So as I'm reading, I'm trying not only to figure out which part of The Odyssey I might be reading (is this the part with the Cyclops? Is this? and so on) but also to decipher Joyce's language, made all the harder that it's from about a hundred years ago and it's sort of Irish-y and if that weren't enough apparently Joyce just makes up words, which I can respect except that it makes it really, really difficult to tell what's going on...

... the clearest part of the book today was when Bloom is feeding the cat a piece of the kidney he bought...

... while still making it incredible to read: as difficult as it is to understand, the book is like poetry, but not: it doesn't rhyme and it doesn't have meter, but instead the words just tumble out and keep on coming, making reading the book for me sort of like looking at a Seurat painting

(Was Seurat the pointilist? If he wasn't, then I mean a pointilist)

in that you have to sort of read each word in isolation and then jumble them all together and then stiep back a bit and think about what you've just read and then maybe it all coheres into a picture

-- Bloom standing in front of a butcher hoping the butcher will hurry up so he can walk behind the pretty lady who just left the shop and ogle her, say --

or maybe it doesn't, but the words are still nice to read.  Here is Bloom musing about tea, which leads him to think about the far East:

Lovely spot it must be: the garden of the world, big lazy leaves to float about on, cactuses, flowery meads, snaky lianas they call them.  Wonder is it like that.  Those Cinghalese lobbing about in the sun in dolce far niente not doing a hand's turn all day.  Sleep six months out of twelve.  Too hot to quarrel.  Influence of the climate.  Lethargy. Flowers of idleness.  The air feeds most.  Azotes. Hothouse in the Botanic gardens.  Sensitive plants. Waterlilies. Petals too tired to. Sleeping sickness in the air.

Just fun to read, and when I stop and let it soak in, I realize that Bloom earlier mused about walking around the world just ahead of the sun (you'd never age a day, he thinks) and wondered what the Mideast would be like, and had considered an investment in Turkey growing olives but also picked up and read a flyer about becoming a farmer somewhere.  He's restless, apparently, his mind wandering farther than his legs can take him.

Which makes me think of me, again, and may be one of the reasons I like this complicated, dense, hard-to-understand book -- I keep seeing myself in the words.

Saturday, July 14, 2012

30 Things "The Scream" is Screaming, 19 (Is This Art?)

Hey, remember how someone bought The Scream for nearly $120,000,000?

And remember how that person was anonymous?

And remember how I was going to come up with 30 different captions for The Scream?

Yeah, I just remembered all those things, too, and I saw that the buyer of The Scream (1 of 4, he has yet to complete the set) is a guy named Leon Black.

Here is what newspapers like the LA Times and The Wall Street Journal say about Leon Black:

He is a "New York financier and head of the investment firm Apollo Global Management," and he and "his wife, Debra, are considered to be one of the world's top art collectors. Black sits on the boards of New York's Metropolitan Museum of Art and the Museum of Modern Art. His wife is a theater producer who has backed a number of Broadway productions, including "August: Osage County" and "Frost/Nixon."
 But there are other things that COULD BE SAID about Leon Black, things that were not printed in that brief puffpiece about a man who just blew $120,000,000 on a crappy painting.

Let's see what The Scream has to say about Leon Black, as we finish up this series, shall we?

HMMM!  It seems this painting knows an awful lot about  Black's company, Apollo, although in its shriek of information, The Scream didn't manage to fit in that in the end, the former employee was charged with defrauding the Apollo Group, the fraud apparently being that the former employee said he had disclosed the outrageous placement fees to the pension fund when no such disclosures had taken place.

Then again, The Scream also didn't reveal that Black used pension funds from California and GM to invest in what Business Week called "dicey" deals that apparently worked out well for the pension funds but extremely well for Black's company.

I wonder what else The Scream will disclose about Leon Black in upcoming days?  We can only wait and see...


Caption 18.

Caption 17.

Caption 16.

Caption 15.

Caption 14.

Caption 13

Caption 12

Caption 11

Caption 10

Thursday, July 12, 2012

The New & Improved Thursday Scramble

... now with 100% more AMPERSANDS!

Thursday Scramble is {now} where I give you snippets of things I post on all my blogs, in hopes of luring you away from the Scylla of the current blog and into the Charybdis of another of my posts.

Aw, rats: I probably shouldn't have compared my posts to fatal traps from Greek mythology.  Oh, well, too late.

Here's this week's smattering of original (?) thought (?):

... also wishing that you could, instead of being at work, be walking along a path through a little forest, holding your two-year-old's hand in one hand and an ice cream cone in the other, and taking the time to point out interesting things:

"That's a tree," you want to be saying. "And that's a stream. I wonder if there's fish in there." And you'd know that your two-year-old probably wasn't getting the whole gist of what you would be saying, but it wouldn't matter because that's not the important part, anyway; the important part is the part about just being walking through the woods, with ice cream, etc.... click here to read more of this.

* * * * * 

What will be the ramifications of a ruling made ostensibly for one purpose but potentially for another?  What will be the outcome of not confronting the question before the Court head-on, so to speak, and instead allowing the Court to slightly twist the law and give itself a little more power?  ... click here to read more of this.

Did anyone actually wonder about that? Is there anyone that watched all those Star Trek episodes and movies and thought "I wonder how Kirk and Spock ever met up?" Because I've never wondered that. I just assumed they happened to be assigned to the same military unit, as happens over and over and over again in the military.... click here to read more of this.

* * * * *

This was, I knew, never the plan.  While there were lots of Rachel clones, they weren't all created equal, so to speak, and I was one of the better ones and was in sort of the higher echelon of the clones, the ones that were privy to most of the secret plans.  I say most because I don't suspect that anyone anywhere knows all the plans everyone had for Rachel and her army of Lesbian Zombies, an army that was almost mine.... click here to read more of this.

* * * * *
I think the Colts got rid of everyone else, too, except maybe Curtis Painter, who lingers around Indianapolis the way that fat kid with the rat, Neville, lingered around Hogwarts.  I was never quite sure how Neville was going to fit in, whether he would be comic relief or a serious character, and having read all the books and watched one of the movies, I'm still not sure what the deal was with Neville.... click here to read more of this.

* * * * *
... And her eyes popped open.  There was a bing sounding in the background, the one she knew meant everything was acceptable, biologically.
There were a few techs around her.  They looked at her questioningly and she waited for the knowledge, the news, to fill her mind.
It came into her consciousness slowly.
Her face grew pale.

"Is everything all right?" asked one of the techs.
She didn't know what to tell him -- either about the hole in the ocean, or about her.
.... click here to read more of this.

NOT MUCH ON READING?  Well, if you're the "I like pictures" type of person, then have you considered liking pictures with titles that make no sense?
Odds are, you'll love 'em -- so check out Briane Pagel: PWNST.  Here's a sample of what you'll get:

The title to this picture is

What if you took all the shark DNA and combined them into some sort of superhyperdimensional shark, a Shark-cubed, as it were? That would be like the bacon of sharks.

Briane Pagel on Staree

Sunday, July 08, 2012

Joyce writes like... (Sundays with the Classics)

There was a very literary crowd around the pool today, but I suspect that not much reading was getting done.

I haven't actually read much of Ulysses in the past three weeks, because on one of the past 3 Sundays I was on vacation and driving 15 hours to get from Metropolis, Illinois to Orlando, Florida, and that did not leave very much time for reading, as I had to be the driver on the vacation even though I make a better passenger than driver. 

Two of those past 3 Sundays I was not on vacation, as such, but last week I was only just home from 8 days of driving and sun and pools and shopping and more fast food than I could imagine eating in a week but somehow it still was not enough, and so last Sunday I took a break from Ulysses because I don't want reading the classics to feel like work; that was what kept me from reading many of the so-called great books (we'll see if they're as great as they're reputed to be) back when I was in school, the fact that it was an assignment and so became a chore.  It's funny how telling someone to do something takes all the fun out of it, and if you don't think that's true, force someone to sit down and watch a funny video sometime: odds are they'll be annoyed by having to do it and won't like it as much.

And this week? This week I was all set to get back to Ulysses but I slept in this morning and then spent overly long on the beginning of my annual NFL preview, and then took Mr F and Mr Bunches on our usual Sunday routine -- a stop at the office to get my calendar in order for the week, and then they get to pick where we go.

Today, they picked "Small Pool," which is the pool at our health club, and so we went there and I played with them for a while before letting them be on their own, and going to get my Kindle to read Ulysses, only my Kindle was out of power because I'd been using it to play Plants vs. Zombies last night, so I got my phone out instead and got Ulysses on that -- it's wonderful, how the Kindle works, that I can read my books on any device anywhere, so take that, Stephen King: You may want to control the mood and tactile feel of the book (or you say that's what you want but really you want to just be a gatekeeper and keep folks like me from publishing stuff), but in the end, books can't be contained or controlled and once you let them out of their cages, they're free to alight anywhere the reader wants to take them.

I wonder if James Joyce, when he was moving his family from place to place, sometimes poor, sometimes rich, sometimes suing to protect his Ulysses copyright, thought to himself that someday someone was going to take an electronic reader out of his backpack and sit by the poolside, alternately watching his kids swim and trying to make heads or tails of what he -- Joyce, that is -- wrote, so long ago, lying on his bed in a white coat to help reflect the light so that he could see better.

(That's a true story: According to The New Yorker, Joyce had poor eyesight and wore a white coat when he wrote to help make things brighter.)

But I didn't get much reading done; I'm at the part, still early on in the book (7% in, according to my Kindle) where the main character is sitting on the beach, having left his employer's and wandered more.  There's a dog and a couple people on the beach, but the book is mostly just a rambling reverie, a walk through the main character's mind, which is chock full of poetic, jumbled images and memories and thoughts.

I like it.

Joyce writes like I think.

And he writes like I would like to write -- all roundabouts and intricacies, like his story is not so much a straightforward narrative as it is the literary equivalent of a knit blanket.  Or, maybe, like his story is taking the same path a thought takes through one's mind; there are no straight lines in the brain.

I was going to print an excerpt from the part I read today, but I got distracted by this story that said an excerpt from Ulysses, the original manuscript, sold for nearly 900,000 pounds, and then I found this site where celebrities read bits of Ulysses, and I'll have to check that this week when I'm on the road a lot, for business -- three of my five days are essentially just driving to and from hearings, lots of time to travel around and think and wonder.

Joyce writes like I want to live.

Friday, July 06, 2012

57 Words About The Burger King Bacon Sundae (The Best Of Food)

In Random Number Of Words, I pick a random number between 1 and 750, and then write a review in that many words.  Click here for more.

Food is now entertainment as well as sustenance. Premade food is cheap and plentiful enough that cooking is a hobby; you should no more cook your own meal than you should write your own novel.

That is partly why I am into “event food,” like the Bacon Sundae.  It did not disappoint, either in spectacle or taste.

Tuesday, July 03, 2012

Batman could exist, but Heaven could not? (10 1/2 Questions)

 Can playing hockey on another world help save all of creation? Maybe so, if you turn out to be...

...wait, if I tell you that then I'm giving away one of the big plot twists that populate Slipstream, a fantastic sci-fi YA novel written by Michael Offutt.

Slipstream is book one of what I believe is going to be a trilogy called A Crisis of Two Worlds, and as a book, it manages to pack in an incredible amount of information to set up that story while also moving along briskly, with enough action setpieces to keep movie producers, who I assume are reading this book or who ought to be, happy.

Slipstream centers on Jordan Pendragon and his twin sister and their adventures once they slip through a rabbit hole between worlds -- a rabbit hole Jordan has some control over.  It begins with their seemingly ordinary life in Utah, but in the very first portion of the book calamaties begin to befall them and it isn't long before these two high school seniors, who once had little more to worry about than a trip to the local fair, are stumbling over crystalline spiders in a blasted wasteland of a twin-Earth called Avalon.

From there, the book moves forward even more quickly, introducing a plethora of concepts and characters that bring Avalon startingly, and differently, to life:  on Avalon, unlike our own planet, a horrible catastrophe (is there any other kind) has befallen humanity, leading AI to try to rescue civilization by building huge contained cities that were to be governed by a divine being, only that divine being started a war with itself and then started to go mad.

I'll be honest: I'm still digesting much of the mythology of Slipstream: while Offutt does a great job of setting it all out, mixing enough action with the information to keep the book moving, Slipstream would benefit from one of those companion-style books that lay out all the characters and background and cities and hockey teams.  (ATTENTION MICHAEL OFFUTT: That is a golden merchandising idea and you can use it but I get a 90% cut.)

The strength of Slipstream is in those details:  Offutt has created not just a world but an entire set of universes with a mythology that only gets cracked open in this book, promising even greater things to come, and with a series that starts off at the high level Slipstream does, that leaves much to look forward to. 

In any event, Slipstream moves smoothly from the early sequences in our world to the world of Avalon, with Jordan and his sister hooking up (in more ways than one) with a band of savvy people who explain to them what happened on Avalon, and then taking on some of the powers that be in a plan that requires not only exploring underneath the AI-built cities but infiltrating the power structure of the bad guys, as well.  Offutt creates memorable action sequences, such as when Jordan uses the slipstream (an ability to control time and space) to dominate a hockey game -- an ultraviolent form of ice hockey -- and strong supporting characters that interact in realistic ways.

And even though it's pitched as a YA novel, Slipstream contains enough satisfying sex and action and information to keep adults happy.  It's a must-read, if you haven't already.

Although I typically reserve 10 1/2 questions for indie authors, I decided to make big-time real-publisher author Michael Offutt submit to the indignity of my questioning, and he was kind enough to comply in between hobnobbing with celebrities or whatever it is he does all day now that he's a real published writer. 

As always, "10 1/2 questions" involves three questions about the book, three questions about the author, three questions I just feel like asking, plus an impossible-to-answer question and the half-question.  Here's Michael's answers:


1. From the protagonist's surname to the bad guys who help defend the Skyscraper during the attack, Slipstream incorporates a variety of myths and legends. I caught those two plus there were the references to archangels: were there other legends, religions, or myths that you drew on to help create the worlds? How much research did you do to use those ideas?

I used Mesoamerican mythology, Christianity, and Arthurian allegory to infuse into the story. I did a lot of research, essentially spending six months to plot out my story. I read up on the Lords of Night, nine gods associated with a Mesoamerican calendar.

Jordan's surname is Pendragon and that is completely intentional. The Light tells him at the end of the book that he needs to find a weapon to defeat the Horcus. That weapon is a sword called Caledfwlch (the Welsh name for Excalibur). It's also the title of the third book in the series (the second is called Oculus). The sword is going to be really cool, able to change into any weapon or tool that Jordan needs by altering it through the Slipstream field that he can create. I plan on him being able to turn it into a gun, a motorcycle, or even a sexy snowboard. But he won't be the one to retrieve it...that will fall to his sister Kathy. I plan on being kind of clever with the whole "lady of the lake" myth in that the knight that tossed the sword into the lake saw a female hand rise from the water and grab it following the battle of Camlaan. That hand is going to be Kathy's, using a portal into space-time to grab it after Jordan figures the exact time this event takes place using events that I detail in the book "Oculus". She might get a little wet, but she'll get a sword out of it. And it explains why no one has found the sword. It jumped from then to the modern time so it essentially didn't exist in the in-between time.

2. Much of Slipstream introduces our sister world, with the book serving as a fast-paced, action-packed tour guide. I know you're working on the sequel: Do the characters spend more time on Avalon?


The bulk of the story in Oculus takes place at Cornell University. Jordan goes into collegiate hockey and also majors in physics (a first among college athletes). Jordan is basically a genius. He uses the particle collider at Cornell to hunt through Antarctic ice cores for elements he associates with the Black Tower (because he believes it's buried under miles of ice). He becomes the research assistant to Dr. Elizabeth Wolfson who is head of a climate change project at Cornell. He assists her in blasting ice cores with the most powerful x-rays on the planet and keeps his eyes on the streams of data looking for those trace elements.

Meanwhile Kathy and crew uncover a very disturbing prophecy about angels and demons related to suicides on campus. Jordan has to play hockey because in the prophecy, it says he must protect the Boy Who Cannot Die and that this person is someone on his team (but they have no idea who it is).

3. The science in Slipstream seems pretty sound, the way good science fiction does; I'm not sure it would work in our world but the concepts seem grounded in reality. Did you work to make sure that you had the background science right before expanding on it to create parallel worlds and the slipstream itself?

Yes. I'm a nerd and probably would have liked to have been an astrophysicist. I read Hawking and Michio Kaku for fun (yes I said for fun). I was never worried that Einstein's relativity would prove that neutrinos from Cern did not go faster than light (I have faith in Einstein). I knew what I wanted to do with the Slipstream, and that was to explain certain angel abilities. Example, Jordan can match the velocity of one particle of matter with another. Hence, how he can use the slipstream field to alter his own velocity to cheat at hockey by giving his speed a boost by matching to degrees, the speed of a moving puck.

In Oculus, Jordan figures out that light is both a particle and a wave, and that he can take people he doesn't like, force their molecules to accelerate to the speed of light, which then gives them infinite inertia and throws them out of the universe (because things with infinite inertia cannot exist in this universe). And since anything that moves at the speed of light is frozen in time, he can essentially hurtle bad guys into a dimension where they will live forever traveling at the speed of light. In later books, he's going to learn how to accelerate molecules to varying degrees of the speed of light, making them extremely hot. I plan on writing a scene where he destroys an entire city by raining fire down upon it, just like the angels that destroyed Sodom and Gomorrah.

Kathy's Slipstream field is different than Jordan's, but no less powerful. Hers is based upon transformation and manipulation. She'll be able to turn people into pillars of salt.

The parallel worlds thing came about because for years, I have thought about Schrodinger's Cat and the implications of having an observer outside of our universe, forcing everything to collapse into what we can quantitatively measure. So I spun a yarn of a designer universe (borrowing a page from Intelligent Design--which I don't believe in by the way). I figured there were three universes. One with Earth, one with Avalon, and a third in the middle that for lack of a better word shall be called Eden. Angels are the only creatures that can cross between the universes using the slipstream. And only the most powerful (archangels) actually have a slipstream field. Jordan will eventually have to go here, but I've no idea how I will portray it yet. And going along with the designer universe thing, I decided to have a pair of towers which are "banks" for very important boxes which run a computer program that defines the way everything works within the cosmos in mathematical terms. I felt by doing this, I could easily explain all of the weird stuff that I use in my novels. Jordan's powers (as an example) are defined specifically within the boxes. They won't work in any universe that doesn't have one of the boxes.

Questions About The Author: 

4. Your blog's web address is "" Explain the use of "kismet" in that title.

The definition of kismet is fate, destiny, or fortune. When I started my blog, I thought I would blog about stuff I saw here in Salt Lake City where I live. So I named it SLC Kismet and planned on blogging about my favorite things that I found in the city so that others could use it as a reference. I quickly grew bored of that though and just use it as an outlet for all the things I want to discuss.

5. Your online writing frequently mentions television: you seem to be an avid consumer of movies and TV shows and have expressed opinions on everything from "Game Of Thrones" to "Jersey Shore." What are your three favorite television shows ever, and why? 

 Three favorite are 1) Battlestar Galactica, 2) Breaking Bad, and 3) The Walking Dead.

 Battlestar Galactica's second series (not the original) was just really really good.

NOTE: I'm interrupting Michael to point out that while I loved Battlestar Galactica for the most part, when it came to the ending... well, thisBACK TO MICHAEL:

It had a storyline that was epic, solid special effects, hot guys and gals, and heartbreaking drama. I cried when Cat died. That was so awful. And don't get me started on Starbuck saying her final goodbye to Apollo in the final episode. Man...tear jerker.

I love Breaking Bad because again, the writing is the kind of stuff that puts you on the edge of your seat. And Jessie is nice to look at. I've never seen anything like it.

And I love the Walking Dead because I love a good zombie apocalypse setting. It's such a great place for an ongoing story, and it's thrilling to be able to stay with characters for longer than 2-hours.

 6. Do you collect anything? If so, what and why? If not, why not?

 I don't collect anything anymore.

I used to collect comic books, but I gave them away/sold those.

I also used to collect magic cards. I strive to no longer collect things because they are a waste of money, and they clutter up your home. I hate clutter. I'm so happy I no longer have to buy paper books. They were so heavy to move. I hated packing them around.

Three things I just feel like asking: 

 7. There's always a food related question, and here's yours : Recently, Kraft started adding cheese to cheese, while Burger King added bacon to ice cream. Invent the next food trend.

 I hope someone invents actual sugar that has zero calories and puts it in everything. That way I can eat ten chocolate chip cookies for the calories of one. Maybe that way, I won't be fat and at risk of diabetes and cancer.

 8. Many fairy tales and fables start out "Once upon a time." Why do you suppose they say upon "a" time?

Because that time no longer exists. The world has changed. What they are saying is that it wasn't always so...there was a time when magic actually existed.

 9. If you have to choose one city to live in for the rest of your life and your choices were Houston, Texas, or St. Paul, Minnesota, how would you secretly and passively-aggressively display your resentment of that unfair situation to the world?

I would say, "It must be nice having options in your life."

 The Impossible Question: 

10. Thomas Lyn Bradford was an early 20th century spiritualist who came up with a plan to prove the existence of the afterlife, which he believed to be a place called "Summerland." He teamed up with another spiritualist and agreed that he would die, and then would shout back from Summerland to prove that it existed. He then turned on the gas in his house and asphyxiated. The other psychic, Ruth Doran, dutifully waited but after several days reported she had heard nothing. Come up with a foolproof way to prove that the afterlife exists... or does not.

The afterlife does not exist. I need no foolproof way to prove this. It's a fact; anyone that disputes this is just using wishful thinking because they want it to be true. Just because you want something doesn't mean that you get it. No one has any evidence of ghosts or anything substantial to the contrary. Remember, you're talking to an atheist here.

But to that end, I wish there was one. I wish that when people died, we didn't just become decomposing matter. If I had to prove an afterlife existed, all that would be necessary for me to believe would be to witness an actual miracle. If miracles exist, then so can an afterlife. Now, be careful here...I define a miracle the same as Stephen Hawking does in his book "The Grand Design". A miracle is something that defies the known laws of physics. A miracle would be to somehow exceed plutonium's critical mass and for it NOT to explode. That would be a miracle. If a so-called prophet can do that, I'll believe. But they can't. They're all liars. They say, "Oh I prayed and it rained." was gonna rain anyway whether or not you said your silly prayers. A miracle would be for a man who has no leg to suddenly regrow that leg in front of my eyes. Again, the charlatans and con men of religion cannot do this. Instead they do the hand on forehead thing and some silly hocus pocus which just makes me roll my eyes in disgust. Snake oil salesmen.

11. The half question: Finish, then answer, this question: What do I have to do to bring a superhero ...

into real life?

I'm thinking of Batman...the easiest of the superheroes since he doesn't have actual superpowers. To bring him into real life would just take a few billion dollars for all the equipment and a genetically blessed offspring (perhaps one resulting from Tom Brady's genes) that would be both strong and handsome and extremely athletic. Then we'd have to train them from childhood in self-defense before allowing them to buy all the cool stuff to go out and fight crime.

Thank you Briane, your questions were awesome :)

Click here to go to Michael Offutt's Blog and find out what he thinks about stuff including but not limited to Pixar movies.

Click here to buy Slipstream on Amazon.

Click here to find out more about Slipstream on Goodreads. 

Want your book reviewed and your own shot at 10 1/2 questions?  Email me at thetroublewithroy[at]