Saturday, March 31, 2007

Incoming Books, week of 3/31

I made a comic-shop run on Thursday, which is where I got this stuff (plus the new issue of Castle Waiting and a small stack of comics for Thing 1). Otherwise, I was virtuous, and didn't add anything to the to-be-read stacks:
  • PvP Vol. 2: Reloaded by Scott Kurtz -- I've been enjoying the strip online, and my lack of up-to-date gaming knowledge is rarely a problem here (as it is intermittently with Penny Arcade, where often I can tell a joke has passed by the whooshing noise it makes). So I figured I should support it by buying more of the collections...and, more importantly, read them.
  • Ex Machina, Vol. 5: Smoke Smoke by Vaughan, Harris & Feister -- since there obviously are Big Secrets here, I hope they come out in a timely manner; I don't want the same stuff to be teased for the next three years. So I do expect to enjoy this, but I'm reserving my right to grumble if the gear-spinning gets more noticeable.
  • Dork Decade by John Kovalic -- yet another Dork Tower collection; sometimes it seems like the collections come out nearly as often as issues of the comic. This one seems to be all single-page strips from magazines, and I suspect I've already seen most of them. I may need to become a bit pickier...

Friday, March 30, 2007

Reading Into the Past: Week of 3/25

And this week the number is 11, so here are the books I was reading around this time back in 1996:
  • Nigel Suckling, Alien Horizons: The Fantastic Art of Bob Eggleton (3/17)
    The first major collection of Bob's art, as far as I remember, and full of good stuff.
  • Anthony Trollope, The Last Chronicle of Barset (3/22)
    I went from this into the Paliser novels, which I liked a bit better -- they're about a wider world, and the insularity of Barset can be tiring, especially when coupled with Trollope's somewhat stereotyped boy-girl plots -- but this was still a fine novel, and a strong end to the series. No one would start here, but that's fine: The Warden is a great book (and was one of the few things in an otherwise full-of-dull-books college class that I really liked).
  • Neil Gaiman, Angels & Visitations (3/23)
    Gaiman's first collection -- the one from Dream Haven -- back when he was just "that guy that writes Sandman. Much of it was re-collected in Smoke and Mirrors, so I'm not entirely sure it's worth paying what this is going for these days as a used book (a hundred bucks for a nice copy?!), but it's a nice-looking book that collects some good stories and some miscellaneous stuff.
  • Terry Moore, Strangers in Paradise: I Dream of You (3/23)
    The first collection of the ongoing series; I liked this quite a bit for a while, until I realized the plot was just a spiral: the same things kept happening, over and over again, in slightly different ways among the same characters. (And the melodrama was never very well integrated into the kitchen-sink drama; the two types of story continually fought each other as the story lurched from one mode to the other.) So I gave up on it a few years later -- the beginning is good, but it wanders around an awful lot, and I have no idea what the end (it did just end, didn't it?) is like.
  • Michael T. Gilbert, Mr. Monster: Origins (3/24)
    A great collection of a great comics series taking Gilbert's darkly funny monster-hunter character from the '80s and giving him a serious, dramatic origin story. It shouldn't have worked, but it did. I bet this is out of print and essentially forgotten now, though...
  • Joe Queenan, The Unkindest Cut (3/25)
    Robert Rodriguez made a movie for $7,000, so Queenan (at that point mostly a movie critic and writer -- though he was hitting the point where he couldn't get anyone with a recognizable name to return his calls, since he was seen as a hatchet-man of Hollywood careers) decided to do the same. The Unkindest Cut documents the process, which is funny. Queenan has gotten more obnoxiously grumpy as he's gotten older, and this book might be the point where bile started to curdle into into sourness -- but I enjoyed it a lot at the time, and it made me happy to be in my own, very quiet end of the entertainment business.
And that's what I read in mid-March of 1996.

Thursday, March 29, 2007

Just Read: The Lunatics of Terra by John Sladek

A 1984 collection (only ever published in the UK, and long o/p there) by a half-forgotten satiric SF master (The Complete Roderick, Tik-Tok), that I finally bought over the Internet because I'd never seen a copy in person.

It does have that bright, cheery yellow default Gollancz cover, which is oddly appropriate for Sladek.

This is a bit of an odds and ends collection; I think it was his last collection (though it came out a good decade before he died), and some of it is stories from the previous few years, but more of it is stories from not-entirely-SF venues going back to the early '70s.

I posted my New Wave ramblings because of this book; Sladek was very heavily influenced by the New Wave (as well as by the Galaxy crowd, probably mostly Pohl, Sheckley, and Frederic Brown). He's a bit like J.G. Ballard trying to be funny, at times, and a bit like a nastier, updated Pohl the rest of the time. Anyone who likes their SF straight and Campbellian should stay far away from this book.

The Lunatics of Terra has eighteen stories (plus afterwords by Sladek about the stories) in just about 190 pages -- they're generally quite short stories. (Though some are scenarios or essays rather than really being stories.)

This would not be the collection to start with for anyone wanting to read Sladek; it would be better to start with his earlier collections (or, better yet, with his novels). But it's decent enough for those of us still digging up his books.

Wednesday, March 28, 2007

A Schoolboy's Guide to The New Wave

I'm about to talk about a New Wave-ish book I read, so I figured I would repost, slightly edited, several posts from from the past week or so, as a kind of context:

We start with my potted, and undoubtedly biased, history of the New Wave, posted in response to an OP essentially asking what the point was of the New Wave:

First of all, you have to remember that there were two New Waves, and that they were not quite identical.

The first New Wave was the English one: centered on Michael Moorcock's New Worlds and aggressively anti-pulp (and semi-covertly anti-American, in the rah-rah gung-ho Cold War sense of America). The exemplar writer was J.G. Ballard, with Brian Aldiss as another major figure.

The second New Wave, inspired by the first, was American. Harlan Ellison was its biggest exponent, and Samuel R. Delany probably the exemplar writer. Damon Knight's Orbit series of anthologies was the long-term home for the American New Wave, with Ellison's Dangerous Visions and Again, Dangerous Visions being major milestones. The American New Wave was slightly less political (simply because it couldn't possible be more political, but that was a very political era in SF).

Each New Wave ran for a decade or so as an identifiable movement, which seems like an immensely long time these days. Both tried to appropriate techniques and ideas from mainstream literary fiction -- stretching back to the '20s, in some cases, as SF was exceptionally conservative back then -- into SF.

Both movements had something in common with the modern "Mundane SF" movement: they thought genre SF had moved far away from any connection to the real world; that SF wasn't telling stories that related to real people's real lives, and had drifted off into pulpy tales of silly super-science and cardboard strongly-thewed space captains. One of the common calls from the New Wave was to concentrate less on outer space and more on inner space -- that is, to create psychologically complex, believable characters and involve them in plots that didn't require Bug-Eyed Monsters or mad scientists' daughters in mortal danger.

And in 1964, Bester was editing Holiday and had been out of SF for years. Bradbury was mostly in nostalgia-mode, with books like Dandelion Wine and Something Wicked This Way Comes (and also generally did not characterize himself as a science fiction writer to begin with). Kornbluth had been dead for six years. Simak may have been a fine writer (and was coming off Way Station the previous year) but was clearly pastoral and quiet and backwards-looking.

(Also, none of those four were ever particularly identified with Campbell or with Astounding/Analog, except perhaps Simak. That list looks like it's aiming more at the '50s Galaxy axis, which was that decade's attempt to make SF better -- as Campbell was in the '40s and the New Wave in the '60s.)

The burst of feminist SF in the '70s owed much to the New Wave, and the fact that SF is not purely seen as a genre for teenage boys is also in great part down to them. (So you can blame or credit them for the modern spec-fic sex scene -- whichever you choose.)

Did they go too far? Of course; all movements go too far. But Campbellian SF definitely needed a swift kick in the pants in the '60s.

Someone else (an entity known as "Girish") posted to say that the field was pretty much unified before the New Wave. I did not agree.

That wasn't actually the case. For example, in the mid-50s, Galaxy was not F&SF was not Astounding, and each one definitely had its own stable of writers. (And here I'm just talking about the good magazines; there were plenty of others, mostly filled with space opera yardgoods.)

There wasn't actually a unified vision of the field at any time after other magazines joined Amazing in the marketplace, except insofar (post-1939) as Campbell paid the best rates, so people wanting to make decent money toed his party line (which, with the Dean Drive, Dianetics, and so on, often was very odd).

The New Wave wasn't even the first revolt against Campbellian SF. It was just the biggest one at the time.

Then "Girish" talked about having a diverse field meaning that each reader had to find the things he liked individually, instead of everyone reading and liking the same stuff.

Fans never all liked the same things, I'm afraid. The first fan-feud over science fiction (as opposed to the first fan-feud over fan personalities) probably happened in the letter columns of Amazing more than a generation earlier. Fans always had to find the things they liked.

The New Wave did not cast us out of a skiffy Eden, in which Bester and Horace Gold lay down with Ray Palmer and Campbell. I'm afraid there never was such a place.

Later, a "Peter Knutsen" claimed that the New Wave was just a smokescreen for writers who couldn't hack the "necessary scientific literacy," a phrase I took exception to.

Because insulting people you know nothing about is so much easier than actually, y'know, reading some stories.

Let us know how that works out for you.

And then you can explain the level of "science literacy" required to justify the Dean Drive, and Dianetics, and the Shaver Mystery, and...

"Science fiction" does not mean "a story in which all of the science is correct." Ray Palmer wrote SF. Volsted Gridban wrote SF. Edmond Hamilton wrote SF. Lionel Fanthorpe wrote SF. And none of them were "New Wave."

Mr. Knutsen replied, and this was my response.

You wrote "necessary science literacy." I, and others, pointed out that there was never any level of science literacy (however low you want to set the bar) that was "necessary" for writing SF. So your contention that the New Wave was some special aberration of sub-scientifically-literate writers was therefore disproven.

The others, if you don't recognize them, are examples of hideous science unmatched by anything in the New Wave (which generally had decent science, as far as it went -- well, let's not look *too* closely at those spiderwebs in Aldiss's Hothouse).

And I couldn't get any snottier than that, so that's where my part of that thread ended.

Tuesday, March 27, 2007

Movie Log: Shortbus

There is now officially nothing I can see in a movie which will surprise me. And many of you reading this will want to move on to something else; You Have Been Warned.

You might remember hearing about a mainstream movie last year with "real sex" in it; Shortbus was that movie. And I will now mention two facts for you that I was a bit too dim to link up for myself ahead of time. One: Shortbus does have real, on-screen sex; there aren't porn-movie camera angles, but you can see what's happening. Two: one of the two main stories in the movie is about a young (male) gay couple.

I didn't run from the room screaming or anything -- in fact, The Wife was more shocked than I was at the sight of on-screen tasteful sex between men -- but it was something I should have expected but didn't. Caveat viewer.

(Sidenote 1: The Wife is never going to be a yaoi fan; boy-sex squicks her out more than many men I know.)

(Sidenote 2: this movie has the weirdest rendition of "The Star-Spangled Banner" I can imagine.)

OK, so we've got two plots here. Plot One is about Sophia, a couples counselor who, we quickly learn, is "pre-orgasmic" -- despite a very acrobatic and active sex life with her husband Rob, she has never had an orgasm in her life. One of the couples she counsels is Jamie and Jamie James, two men who have been together (monogamously) for five years but are thinking about opening up their relationship -- they are Plot Two. There's also a sub-plot about a dominatrix named Severin, but she mostly turns into a supporting character in Sophia's plot.

And, to repeat: we see nearly all of these people get naked and freaky. In fact, the movie opens with James alone at home, testing the limits of his spine, inter cut with Rob & Sophie schtupping through what seems to be their entire apartment. If you start watching this, you'll know, pretty quickly, if you want to keep going. (But wait! There's more! You might well be driven away by another scene, in the middle of the movie, which I will not even attempt to describe.)

This is not a movie for everyone; I expect this is only a movie for quite open-minded people, mostly ones in major metropolitan areas. If it were purely heterosexual, the audience might be slightly bigger, but {shrug} that's not the way they wanted to go -- actually, I think the heterosexuality in this movie is more of the afterthought than vice versa.

The actors are all what is generally called "first-timers;" they're not quite non-actors, but they're not all equally good, and some of them (especially the secondary characters) seem to be essentially playing themselves. That doesn't entirely help the movie. And parts of the script are muddled; this is a semi-improvised movie without a whole lot of plot.

All in all, it's a film that will attract voyeurs, but repel most of them (at least, I'd expect most hetero men will not be keen once they hear that a lot of the sex in the movie -- a majority of the major-character sex-with-partners, honestly -- is between or among men). It's a movie with a message, but the message mostly is "sex is great, even if it's complicated and messy and emotionally painful." I didn't love it; I'm not sure how much I liked it, even. (I want to say that I found it bold and exciting and ground-breaking, to show my solidarity with the Sexually Oppressed Hordes, but I'm not sure the movie itself is that good at doing what it wants to do.)

If nothing else, watching it gave me a tiny tatter of hipster cred, to be balanced against the fact that I'm a minivan-driving, suburbia-living, housewife-supporting, registered-Republican dude. And I'll take that wherever I can get it, especially if it's in a movie that I can be more blase
about than my wife...

Metaphors Gone Wild

Now, don't get the idea that I'm tryin' to muscle in on the Comics Curmudgeon's territory...but what the heck is going on in this Dean Turnbloom editorial cartoon?

The caption is "Iraq Appropriations," and it's original home is here on AAEC (though that will probably disappear in a few weeks or months -- it did the last time I posted something from there).

The big questions are: what do the pig and clock represent? (Pork-barrel spending and the time limit on Iraq War funding? Does that make any sense at all?)

Monday, March 26, 2007

Incoming Books, week of 3/26

The weekend was absolute madness, with two birthday parties on Friday night, a full day of errands (plus a "mini-fair" and Easter egg hunt) and Grandma W's birthday dinner for Thing 1 on Saturday, then Grandma R's birthday dinner for Thing 1 and several hours of gathering Cub Scout food drive bags on Sunday. The two posts I managed to put up only did so because they were essentially already written; I was mostly away from the home computer.

But now I'm back...and catching up on being out of the office all afternoon. Maybe by Wednesday everything will be on schedule. But, for now, here's some stuff I just got:
  • Mouse Tales by David Koenig -- an unauthorized anecdotal history of Disneyland
  • Adventures in Unhistory by Avram Davidson -- I regularly feel guilty for having read very little Davidson (and even more so that I haven't really liked what I've read), so I'm going to try again, eventually.
  • Gods and Pawns by Kage Baker -- OK, if I can read this quickly, I'll be caught up on her for a month or so until Rude Mechanicals comes out...and this after reading two decent-sized novels earlier in the month. (Of course, if the stories here are half as much fun as The Sons of Heaven was, I won't be able to wait for Rude Mechanicals...)
  • Soldier of Sidon by Gene Wolfe -- I need to read this. I've fallen behind on so many people -- and I've fallen behind on Wolfe's story collections, too -- but I just can't get behind on his novels, and I know I'll be finding time to read Pirate Freedom in a couple of months.

No Offense, But...

"Grand Central Publishing" was the best name under consideration?

I won't say that I'm underwhelmed, but my whelming level is very low. That's the name of a two-books-a-year press in Binghamton that's too big for its britches, not for a major New York house.

Update: Now with added, link-happy, context!

Sunday, March 25, 2007

Bedtime Reading: 3/21

I'd said I was going to do this once a week, and that's still my hope -- though it hasn't happened yet. I read some books with Thing 2 (the six-year-old) every night, though the quantity varies depending on how late it is and how much time he wastes. Lately, he's been picking the same few books over and over again (mostly Math Curse and Science Verse, which are wonderful but very long), so I'm trying to find things I haven't mentioned already.

The Dumb Bunnies by Dav Pilkey
My boys love this book (and the sequels). How much? Thing 1, who won't even read with Thing 2 and I at bedtime (the cause of regular consternation to Thing 2), saw that I'd read this, and grabbed it to read in his own room, saying "I still like to read Dumb Bunnies books and Captain Underpants books by myself -- Dav Pilkey is the best!" From the mouth of a nine-year-old, world...

It's a parody of "Goldilocks and the Three Bears," in part, and a parody of the idea of "everyday life" kids books, too. It's extremely funny if you're a boy under the age of twelve, or can get back in touch with the one you once were. Oh, and the joke is: the bunnies are dumb. Really dumb. No, dumber than that.

Skippyjon Jones by Judy Schachner
Thing 2 likes this a lot; quite a bit more than I do, actually. It's the story of a Siamese cat with an overactive imagination who thinks he's a Chihuahua.

The best thing about it, speaking as a reading-books-out-loud parent, is the opportunity to do a lot of silly sub-Speedy Gonzalez Mexican accents. (And, when it comes to reading kids books out loud, I'm all about the funny accents.)

There's at least one sequel (we've got one), which is exactly the same thing all over again. That's OK, but if there's still "Skippyjon Jones" books coming out in twenty years, I will be miffed.

My Cat, The Silliest Cat in the World by Gilles Bachelet
And then here's one I like better than Thing 2 does. The joke, as you can probably tell from the cover, is that the narrator refers to this elephant as his "cat," and it's all about this elephant acting like a cat in the guy's apartment.

The art is charmingly detailed and energetic, with a slightly cartoony look. I love the art, and the story is fun and engaging. I always insist to Thing 2 that it's a cat, because that's what the book says, and he, of course, keeps correcting me.

Saturday, March 24, 2007

Reading Into the Past: Week of 3/18

This week the number is 13, so let's see what books I was reading in 1994:
  • Gardner Dozois, editor, The Year's Best Science Fiction, Eleventh Annual Collection (3/13)
    Like clockwork, the end of winter means that I'm reading the annual Dozois bug-crusher. But that doesn't mean I can remember what stories were in it in any given year...
  • Dennis O'Neil & various artists, Batman: Venom (3/14)
    From evidence below, I seem to have been investigating the whole "Knightfall" plotline this week. I don't recall exactly why, at this point, but I think we were going to offer the novelization of that storyline (by Denny O'Neil, as I recall), and the publisher wouldn't actually let us see any of the prose of the novel itself -- only the comics published to that point. This one was backstory of the nasty new villain.
  • Michael Z. Lewin, The Way We Die Now (3/14)
    A mystery novel with a great title (playing off, of course, an Anthony Trollope novel you all should have read by now). I read a couple of Lewin books in those days, but I can't remember anything about them, or the name of his detective. And I haven't seen his name in a while, so I suspect he's out of the business. I'm pretty sure I liked them, though, since I know I read more than one of his books, so...if you're looking for a solid '80s PI writer, here's one.
  • Dennis O'Neil, et. al., Batman: Sword of Azrael (3/15)
    Another "Knightfall" sidebar (or was this one a prequel? sequel?), about the nutbar who took over as Batman for a while while Bruce was temporarily paralyzed. (Yes, that's what I said. It's comics, don't ask questions. And don't ask why Barbara Gordon couldn't get the same treatment, either...)
  • Fritz Leiber, Conjure Wife (3/15)
    Tor had published this and the book below as a great 2-in-1, so I was re-reading them (and vaguely hoping to do something with them in the club). Now that contemporary fantasy is hot, is there any chance I can get people to read books like these? This one has some strong female characters in it, including the hero's wife, who is a witch....I suspect the sexual politics here are not what the modern, female, vampire shagger audience wants, though.
  • Fritz Leiber, Our Lady of Darkness (3/16)
    An even better contemporary fantasy, from the peak of Leiber's powers (the '70s). Every fantasy reader should read this at least once before they die.
  • Doug Moench, et. al., Batman: Knightfall: Part One: Broken Bat (3/18)
    The first half of the big "Knightfall" storyline in comics form. I have to say I wasn't all that impressed by it; "big event" comics storylines are usually lame.
And at Lunacon that year, I was reading Simon Schama's Citizens, which I finished on the 24th. (Ah, the mid-90s, when I was reading big, important non-genre books at conventions. Where has the time gone?)

Friday, March 23, 2007

Quote of the Week

"All Cretans are liars."
- Epimenides (of Crete)

Random Lunacon Thoughts

OK, I'm a week late, but I haven't been able to tear myself away from the SFWA Election Thinly-Veiled-Attack-Fest. Have you ever seen so many people being excruciatingly polite to each other in your life?

Anyway, back to Lunacon.

A week ago today, at about this time, I sat in my basement trying to catch up on blogging for the SFBC Blog and wondering about the snow. The boys had already learned that school was cancelled, so they were watching TV in the living room and generally bouncing off the walls. The Wife kept telling me to leave -- and so was the weather forecast, to be honest. So I bugged out of there about 11:30 (really early for a Lunacon, since I live 45 minutes away under normal circumstances).

These, of course, weren't normal circumstances, so I plodded along various bits of interstate 287, scoped out the route to the Rye train station, grabbed a quick drive-through lunch, and ended up safely in the parking lot of the beloved Rye Town Escher Hilton about two o'clock.

The rest of the day was spent catching up with old friends (Roger MacBride Allen, Josepha Sherman, etc.) and meeting new folks (Irene Gallo introduced me to Dan Dos Santos during the Art Show Reception, and I was hanging out with a newish YA writer, Sarah Beth Durst, for a while as well). Everybody had their snow-travel horror stories, which were shared. There was also a great camaraderie; we were the folks who had braved the snow and made it in.

(It felt a little bit like a World Fantasy for a while, since the only people that seemed to be there in the late afternoon were pros and con-runners, but that might have just been the corridors I was hanging out in.)

I was scheduled for two panels Friday night:
  • The whole crew for The Prolific, Posthumous Tolkien assembled at the assigned time, but no audience showed up. We all decided to go to the Green Room and hang out together...but the Green Room wasn't open yet.
  • I had a panel scheduled for the very next hour, The State of SF. I was the only person at all to show up, so I sat at the table, reading a book, for about fifteen minutes, and then wandered around until my dinner companion was done with her panel.
Other than the nobody-wanted-to-see-me-talk bit, Friday night was fun; we had dinner in the nice restaurant, and then went off to the Avoid-the-Pros party (weirdly held in a normal meeting room, with chairs in ranks facing forward) and then the Art Show Reception.

Saturday morning was more of a problem. My new assistant, the lovely and talented Ashley Van Winkle, was coming up for the day on a train, and had to be retrieved from the train station. The day after the snow. This was a problem.

My first plan was to drive out and pick her up, but the hotel had plowed all of the cars in the lot into their spaces (and I was on a jog in my row, so there was a larger-than-usual pile of icy snow stacked behind my car). So I asked at the desk for help. The guy was trying, but, after lots and lots of back-and-forth, it came out that:
  • The van was wasn't was wasn't going to run to the station to pick up people.
  • None of the taxi services were available.
  • And there was no man with a shovel, or even a shovel all by its lonesome, to be had.
At this point I was cursing myself for not throwing a shovel into my car at home, and I'd spent much of the last hour on and off the phone with Ashley, who was stranded at the station. Finally, I got fed up and went out to my car to get it clear however I could. With one part kicking and one part using (and breaking) my ice-scraper, I managed to get the car halfway out of the spot and stuck on a just-too-tall clump of ice. More curses followed. Then two fans helped me push the car out, and I was find that Ashley had finally gotten a taxi at the station, so I drove back to the hotel to meet her.

With all that snow drama, I missed my third panel, Jane Austen in SFF. I felt vaguely bad, but I had nothing to say on the topic to begin with.

So I showed Ashley around the con a bit, and then she watched me mostly not talk during my last panel, Is There a Substitute for Story? It was thought up and moderated by Darrell Schweitzer, and was something of an attack (or questioning of, to be more neutral) the farther reaches of Slipstream/Interstitial stuff. The other people on the panel were Ellen Kushner and Delia Sherman, aka Major Interstitial Bigwigs. It wasn't quite the case that I sat quietly while they fought around me, but it was close. It turned out I didn't have much to say on the topic the panel ended up being about.

More wandering ensued, and then I sat in on the Editors' Panel while Ashley went to see something else. (I always like to see trade editors talk at conventions, because I want to know what they're seeing on the submission side, to catch trends before they make it to me in the normal course of business.) Then Ashley was ready to finish her whirlwind visit; she had theater tickets and needed to get back to the city. (She claims to have had a good time at Lunacon, and I guess I believe her...)

When I got back, I had a decision to make: be virtuous and go up to my room to read, or hang out in the bar? Virtue did not win out, and I ended up in the middle of a clutch of editors, making our plans for world domination as we always do.

That led to dinner; since I had a car, Liz Gorinsky and Paul Stevens of Tor jumped at the chance to get out of the hotel, and we went to a nice Italian place just down the road and around the corner (Hostaria Mazzei, if I'm remembering the name correctly). The food was good, the company was good, and the group of six guys at the next table intently talking about baseball and Judaism were only slightly confusing.

When I got back, I went to the Masquerade, mostly because I always do. The new downstairs space is too shallow and makes for bad sight-lines, and there weren't any entrants that really thrilled me this year.

And I don't remember what I did after that. I think I just went to be early.

Sunday was a purely non-professional day, The Wife drove the boys up in her car, and we spent the morning swimming in the hotel pool and then had a birthday dinner for Thing 1 (who had turned 9 on Saturday) on our way home.

I'm thrilled (as seemed to be everyone else) to have Lunacon in its natural home, the "Escher Hilton." It's a great convention hotel -- a decent-sized con just fills it up, and it's very walkable, so most people can avoid the elevators most of the time. And the floor oddities (you come in on the second floor, and the fourth floor on one side connects to the seventh floor on the other -- dead level) are what make it particularly SFnal. It's confusing the first time you go there, but, afterwards, it's like home.

Just Read: Love Trouble Is My Business by Veronica Geng

This was deeply disappointing, and only the fact that it was so short (166 pages) got me to the end at all. It collects twenty-four short "humor" pieces, mostly from The New Yorker, all from the mid-80s (the book is from 1988), with afterwords about how and why they were written.

And every single essay/story is so clotted, so obsessed with itself and its own self-referentiality, that there's no air in the whole damn thing.

There's a style of New Yorker humor -- S.J. Perelman was the master of it -- in which two very disparate things are linked for humorous effect (often via newspaper clippings reprinted at the beginning of the piece). Geng wrote that kind of piece (I found out, via a fit of synchronicity and last week's Publisher's Weekly, that she died in 1997), and I can only hope that they were funny at the time and only seem flat and lifeless due to lack of cultural context. (Though, several times, it's not clear what the two things are until her afterword, which, as you know Bob, is a major handicap for humor.)

Some of the afterwords seem even to be written in a foreign language, as Geng resolutely refuses to explain any of her references or allow light into her narrow Upper-West-Side mindset. If you happen to be a left-wing Mets fan living in New York in 1988, read this book. Otherwise, forget it. (Luckily, it was cheap -- less than five bucks, even with shipping. But it was a big disappointment for a book I was looking for for several years...and now I sympathize with Sharyn November's recent snarky comments about New Yorker humor.)

Thursday, March 22, 2007

Just Read: Adios, Scheherazade by Donald E. Westlake

I finished reading this on Tuesday, and this post has been growing ever since. But I think I'm done now, so I'll just set it free.

There are (as far as I know) two important novels about writing sex books in the '60s; this is one, and the other is Lawrence Block's Ronald Rabbit Is a Dirty Old Man, which I read a few years back when it came back into print briefly. The two books have vast differences in tone: Ronald Rabbit is a joyful book with a lot of actual sex in the narrative, while Adios is a sad, melancholy novel where all the sex is imagined or remembered. Both books do feature manic one-more-damn-thing plotting, in homage to those crappy sex novels (all hacked out at speed in pure first draft, from all accounts).

I'm glad that I finally found and read Adios (it has that inimitable Westlake energy and voice, and there's only a few of the books he wrote under his own name that I haven't read yet), but Ronald Rabbit is a much more exciting (in several senses of the word) book, and the one I liked better. (I guess I should also mention Hal Dresner's The Man Who Wrote Dirty Books, but I didn't think it was all that good.)

The $64,000 question about Adios is how autobiographical it is; some details match up to Westlake's own life (as far as I know them), but some don't. According to an article in an electronic fanzine ("Nobody Can Write This Shit Forever" by Earl Kemp), Westlake himself wrote twenty-eight "sex books" as by Alan Marshall (a house name), and the narrator of Adios also wrote twenty-eight books (and is horribly blocked on writing the twenty-ninth). Westlake attended a small college in upstate New York, like the protagonist of Adios. Westlake was married three times (most recently in 1979); Adios's hero is married with one child as the book opens in 1967. I suspect the two other writer characters are veiled versions of other real-world writers Westlake knew; one of them may even be a version of Block.

On the other hand, Adios's Ed Topliss is a complete failure at every other kind of writing but sex books, while Westlake had, in 1967, already started the Parker novels (as Richard Stark), written a number of pseudonymous thrillers, started the "Mitch Tobin" series as Tucker Coe, and begun the humorous crime novels for which he's now best known. (But that could be one part dramatic license and one part how Westlake felt about churning out all of those bad formulaic soft-porn books.)

The real question, though, is whether it was psychologically meant as a kind of autobiographic catharsis. And it certainly feels that way; there's real emotional force behind Ed Topliss's plight. (It reminds me a bit of Barry Malzberg's mid-'70s meta-science fiction novels like Galaxies, as a portrait of a writer trapped by his work and yearning to break free of himself.)

The other question is why Adios is so rare and has never been reprinted -- it had hardcover and one mass-market paperback editions in 1970 and 1971 (US and UK), and a couple of foreign publications, and then nothing at all for the last 35 years. Westlake's books of the same era under his own name tend to be a bit more common (and cheaper), and all of those have also been reprinted recently (mostly by Warner in the '90s). The "Parker" novel, as by Richard Stark, are pretty expensive, too -- especially the ones that haven't been reprinted, which is too many of them. (I really like those books, but I'm not a collector, so I don't want to spend thirty or so a pop to read a bunch of forty-year-old paperbacks, no matter how much I'll like the books themselves.) Either Westlake hasn't wanted it to be reprinted (which I can certainly see) or no publisher has particularly wanted to reprint it (which I can also see). It's probably some combination of the two.

Adios itself is what Ed types as he's trying to write that twenty-ninth novel; most of it is him narrating his life at the time, as things get worse and worse. But, because it is the random typings of a blocked writer, there's a lot of digressions, mostly about the theory and practice of writing sex books. Should I talk about the plot? There really isn't a hell of a lot of plot; Ed tries to write a sex book, first getting nowhere at all and then spinning fantasies and his own life's events into pieces of plots, which then don't go much of anywhere, either. It's a short book (176 mass-market paperback pages in the edition I got), and most of the external action (no, not that kind of "action" -- get Ronald Rabbit for that) takes place in the last thirty pages. The events of the first half of the book are pretty much "Ed sits down to write each day for several days, and can't get a novel started." But it's a lot more interesting than I'm making it sound...

I suspect Westlake wrote this to purge himself of the sex-novel world and burn his bridges. (He's a bit of a bridge-burner, or was at the time: he wrote a semi-famous kiss-off letter to the SF fanzine Xero when he quit writing SF in the early '60s -- it's in the recent The Best of Xero.) And I wonder if he actually wrote Adios in 1967 (when it is set), possibly nearly as fast as Ed Topliss supposedly lived and typed it, but then couldn't get it published until 1970. (On the other hand, writing a book and having it published three years later isn't horribly delayed, for publishing...)

All in all, I'm not sure it was worth the thirty-two bucks and change I spent on it, but I can check one more book off the long Westlake list, and maybe I'll re-read it some day. (Or, as the pessimist in me insists, maybe it will be republished in about a year as a nice trade paperback.) And, if anyone out there is interested in the '50s and '60s sex-book business, this is one of major books on the subject.

Run Silent, Run Deep

I didn't manage to post yesterday -- though I have about half a dozen drafts at varying states of completion -- and haven't posted yet today. (Pause for your moment of Meta, as I post to say that I haven't posted.)

But I've been reading up a storm at the SFWA Election Blog, and I recommend that to anyone interested in a good old-fashioned bar-brawl. Even if you don't care who wins the election, there's a lot of interesting dirt being dug up and flung about.

And it reinforces my long-held belief that starting an argument with a writer (or, even worse, starting a general fight in a room full of writers) is about as smart as pulling on Superman's cape. These people buy their ink by the barrel, and set it forth in vast torrents at the slightest provocation...

Addendum: Careful readers of the above link will have discovered that this is the sanitized-for-public-consumption version of the debate, and that there is a more contentious, nastier version going on in the super-secret SFWAns-only bowels of It's only about twice a decade that I wish I were a full member of SFWA, but today is one of those times.

Tuesday, March 20, 2007

Movie Log: The Holiday

Have I ever mentioned how I get deeply ambivalent and conflicted about minor things? This puffball of a movie is a good example: the previews made me want to see it, then the reviews made me not want to, then The Wife got it last week from Netflix and watched it on Thursday, but that was the night before Lunacon so I had to pack, so I didn't watch it with her. Finally, she told me it was pretty good, so we saw it last night together.

(It's not worth all that, honestly.)

The Holiday is pretty much an off-the-rack modern romantic comedy, except for the fact that it's really two romantic comedies bolted together through their shared premise. That's one of the best things about it; the problem with most rom-coms is that a feature-length running time requires a lot of complications to keep the romantic duo apart until the end (and that generally seems to be the point), which makes these movies somewhat mechanical. The more romances going on at once, the more the movie has to bounce from one to the next, and the whole thing goes much more smoothly. (The apotheosis of this theory is one of my favorite movies, Love Actually, which is nearly a dozen romances crammed into one normal-length movie -- it's all good scenes, and no stupid look-how-much-we're-in-love montages.)

Back to ambivalence. Romantic comedies are a genre I want to like, since I enjoy both love stories and comedy, but they mostly seem to be really shallow, stupid movies for mid-20s "girls" to whoop at in a big multiplex. So I end up seeing three minutes of things while flipping channels, grimace, and flee in disgust.

This one isn't that bad, but it is infested with montages (particularly in the Cameron Diaz-Jude Law plot, which is otherwise decent) and obvious, pointless low comedy. Everyone in it does a good job, so it's always watchable, but it's never really engaging. It's just up there on the screen, and you can watch it if you're looking that way.

If you're a particularly girly whatever-you-are, you might well like it. And if your significant other is particularly girly, and demands to see it, you probably won't mind much sitting through it, unless your testosterone levels are above 300.

Just Read: How Not to Get Rich by Robert Sullivan

I finished How Not to Get Rich yesterday, after reading bits of it at Lunacon (where I got no reading done; it's like I've actually become a sociable person all of a sudden). It's a very short book -- small format, too. I read it mostly because Sullivan is the author of Rats and Cross Country and The Meadowlands, all of which I really liked.

This book is pleasant but very slight -- it's a short book, and it still feels padded. It's really a moderately amusing magazine article stretched too far. It looks like it's meant to be a parody of all those how-to-get-rich books, but it doesn't play out that way; the book itself is really a back-handed paean to doing what you like and enjoying yourself. That's a great message, but phrased in double-reverse sentences about not getting rich, it becomes a bit murky and indirect.

So this one, unfortunately, is an eh.

Monday, March 19, 2007

Incoming Books, week of 3/19

I usually do these posts on the weekend, but I was at Lunacon (and a post about that will be coming later tonight, maybe) then. And the stack is getting a bit high, so I don't want to wait until next weekend.

So, here's what entered La Casa Hornswoggler over the last eight days or so:
  • Revelation X: The "Bob" Apocryphon by the SubGenius Foundation, Inc.
    It was there, and it was free. How could I not take it? (even if I haven't been even vaguely a SubG for ages)
  • Doing Nothing: A History of Loafers, Loungers, Slackers, and Bums in America by Tom Lutz
    Who keeps leaving these great books on the discard pile at my office? I'll never get to read all of them...
  • Living on the Edge of the World: New Jersey Writers Take on the Garden State edited by Irina Reyn
    It has a new Tom Perotta story in it, and I'm somewhat interested in the rest of it.
  • Working Stiff by Grant Stoddard
    I saw a review of this somewhere a couple of weeks ago, and decided not to put it on my list. Too frivolous, I thought. Then I ran across a free copy, it is.
  • Between the Bridge and the River by Craig Ferguson
    Got great reviews, and sounded interesting, when it came out last year, but I managed not to buy it then. But...yes, another book on the freebie shelf, the love and bane of my existence.
  • The Power Broker: Robert Moses and the Fall of New York by Robert A. Caro
    I feel like I need to read this. On the other hand, it's over twelve hundred pages long. Maybe someday.
  • Little Lulu, Vol. 14: Queen Lulu by John Stanley and Irving Tripp
    I'm finding about every other one of these books on the freebie shelf. Either someone else is grabbing the in-between ones, or Dark Horse has a really quirky sub-rights department. Another comics series I hope to read some of, someday.
  • Only in Books: Writers, Readers, & Bibliophiles on Their Passion edited by J. Kevin Graffagnino
    A quote book...and yet another thing I found on the freebie shelf. At least I'm not spending money...

Sunday, March 18, 2007

Movie Log: Casino Royale

I haven't watched a James Bond movie in probably twenty years, so the fact that I even wanted to see Casino Royale is a good sign. All the critics talked about how "realistic" and "gritty" it was, and how it brought the super-spy genre into the real world.

Well, guess what? It's still ridiculous and silly, but it is noticeably less silly than Bond movies have been since about 1970. That's progress, I suppose...

Like so many "major" modern movies, Casino Royale is too long. It's not desperately too long, but it could stand to have come in right at the two-hour mark rather than running another 25 minutes or so. The main reason it is too long is that the movie's plot spends its first hour running around, and only then gets to the beginning of the novel Casino Royale, which it then follows moderately faithfully. (I say "moderately," but, by James Bond standards, it's amazingly faithful.)

But, before we can get to the plot of Casino Royale, we have to see what a tough guy our new Bond (Daniel Craig) is. So he chases a "bomber" around some African city (I think it was specified, but let's be honest: no one cared) in very silly, very obviously fight-choreographed ways for about half an hour. And then we get some more plotty boom-boom stuff to make the Bond fans happy.

But, eventually we get Bond to the Casino Royale (out in Montenegro now, presumably due to cost-of-shooting reasons) with Vesper Lynd, and then things pretty much run as we remember them from the novel. Sure, here they're playing poker instead of baccarat (in some stupid, big-stakes game that's probably broadcast on the Internet or some such stupidity), because Poker Is Hot Now, but otherwise it's pretty close.

One thing I am compelled to point out: it felt like every single plot point in this movie required Bond to use his own, or someone else's, cell phone. What the hell was up with that? I was expecting him to start TMing Vesper: OMG U R SO HOTT...

Anyway, it's nothing like realistic, but if you drifted away from Bond movies (like I did), you might want to poke your head in and see what they're up to this year. If you didn't drift away from Bond movies, you won't want to take my advice...

Friday, March 16, 2007

Heading to Lunacon

Well, it's snowing, and according to the forecast, it's only going to get worse. So, even though I'm less than an hour from the ol' Escher Hilton under normal conditions, I'll be heading out in a few minutes, to see if I can get safely there before the bulk of the snow falls. Let's hope the Tappan Zee Bridge hasn't frozen solid yet, huh?

If you'll be at Lunacon, I hope I see you there. If not, I probably won't post again here until Sunday night at best. (And maybe not then, since this weekend is Thing 1's ninth birthday, so Sunday will be spent doing various celebratory things.)

Quote of the Week

"Until he is dead, do not yet call a man happy, but only lucky."
- Solon

Thursday, March 15, 2007

Reading Into the Past: Week of 3/11

This week the magic number is 6, so let's see what books I was reading at this time in 2001:
  • Kazuo Koike & Goseki Kojima, Lone Wolf & Cub, Vol. 6: Lanterns for the Dead (3/4)
    I'm afraid I can't remember which one this was, though I'm pretty sure Ogami Itto sulks around for a while, is hired by somebody to do assassinations for an exorbitant fee, and then chops off a lot of heads. It's a good series, but I'm not sure it really lends itself to synopsis.
  • Jacqueline Carey, Kushiel's Dart (3/5)
    I mostly enjoyed this, but it's not my type of fantasy at all -- too overheated, and too much sex (of the beat-me, whip-me, make-me-sell-used-cars type that seems to pass for "really sexy sex" in all media for the past couple of decades -- which I am heartily sick of, since I don't find beatings sexy). I'd probably have preferred James Morrow's take on the theological background (this is an alternate world where not-France is the land of free love, founded by the "son" of Jesus and Mary Magdalene and his rebel angels), but that's my quirky tastes for you.
  • Calvin Trillin, American Fried (3/6)
    The first of Trillin's "Tummy Trilogy" (there was a fourth, much later book, as well) is all about eating local favorites in random American cities, and it's wonderful. I'm glad I wasn't traveling the US on business in the mid-'70s, since it sounds like there were a lot of lousy expensive places that Trillin kept getting dragged to by associates, but there's a lot of fun writing here.
  • Kazuya Kudo & Ryoichi Ikegami, Mai the Psychic Girl: Perfect Collection 1 (3/7)
  • Kudo & Ikegami, Mai the Psychic Girl: Perfect Collection 2 (3/8)
  • Dennis Lehane, Mystic River (3/9)
    Lehane had a great mystery series going -- very dark and gritty, but exceptionally well-written and with a real flair for big but plausible dramatic scenes -- and then jumped into even more commercial thrillers with this book (which is also excellent). For whatever reason, he's published very little since -- and I haven''t managed to read any of it.
  • Kudo & Ikegami, Mai the Psychic Girl: Perfect Collection 3 (3/10)
    Hey, remember the first time manga were going to take over American comics? Dark Horse had Lone Wolf and Cub and Viz had about a dozen books? Well, I dove into a bunch of things at that time. (What ever happened to Area 88, anyway? It hasn't reappeared this time around, so was that just an early-90s flash-in-the-pan?) Mai was one of the best of them, a somewhat overheated but very entertaining Slan-meets-Escape To Witch Mountain kind of thing, only with more violence. And then, when the second manga invasion came around, the series was reprinted in three volumes, which I got in odd ways over a couple of years, and then finally read, more or less back to back, over this week in 2001. Ah, good times.
  • Mark W. Tiedemann, Asimov's Chimera (3/11)
    I enjoyed all of the sharecropped "Asimov's robot mystery" books I read, though each trilogy followed a linear progression downward. (So many Byron Preiss projects had that trajectory, though, so it's not a knock on anyone in particular -- it's probably just that old story, "the man who learned better," in action.) I forget where this one fell, but they were all entertaining, though I think they add even more extra Robot Laws and Codicils for added confusion.
Soon after that, I began my most recent attempt to read through Cerebus (the comic book) straight through -- it foundered, as all such attempts have, on the shores of Reads. I own three collections of that series that I've never read in any form (and two more that I read in comics form, but not as collected). Someday I'll try again; I hope to say, before I die, that I read Cerebus from beginning to end. But the tales of "Vertigo Horse" are hard to get through.

Did a Large Procession Wave Their Torches As My Head Fell in a Basket?

Gwenda Bond did it first...


'What will your obituary say?' at

Wednesday, March 14, 2007

A Listy Music Meme

From Keith DeCandido. (And I see, leaving this sit for an hour or so, that everyone and his mother is doing it today.)

List 10 musical artists you like, in no specific order (do this before reading the questions below).

  1. Tom Waits
  2. They Might Be Giants
  3. Oingo Boingo
  4. Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds
  5. Aimee Mann
  6. Rilo Kiley
  7. Beth Orton
  8. Fountains of Wayne
  9. R.E.M.
  10. Elvis Costello

What was the first song you ever heard by 6?

Maybe "It's a Hit." I'm not sure I ever heard one of their songs before I bought More Adventurous, so that probably was it.

What is your favorite song of 2?

"Why Does the Sun Shine? (The Sun Is a Mass of Incandescent Gas)" -- the live version from Severe Tire Damage. It's the ultimate geek song.

What is your favorite lyric of 5?

From "It's Not":

So here I'm sitting in my car at the same old stoplight

I keep waiting for a change but I don't know what

So red turns into green turning into yellow

But I'm just frozen here on the same old spot

And all I have to do is to press the pedal

But I'm not

No, I'm not

How many times have you seen 4 live?

Never. I haven't seen anybody live for about a decade. (May I mention here that my older son is just about to turn nine? The two facts are not unrelated...) And I never managed to see many concerts even when I was unencumbered. Of the people on this list, I've seen Elvis Costello three or four times, They Might Be Giants twice, and R.E.M. once. And none of the others at all.

What is your favorite song by 7?

"Stolen Car," I guess. The opening still makes me shiver when I hear it unexpectedly.

Is there any song by 3 that makes you sad?

For several of the people on this list (like Orton or Mann), a lot of songs make me sad, as they're supposed to. But, with Oingo Boingo, the song that makes me the saddest is "Insanity," which is mostly a decent song but ends up being a long, overblown, silly attack on Dan Quayle...on a record released in 1994. And that epitomizes everything that sucked the fun out of OB: years between records, a lack of perspective on anything, and songs that overstay their welcome by five or six minutes.

What is your favorite lyric of 2?

So many choices... I'll have to go with this bit from "Whistling In the

There's only one thing that I know how to do well

And I've often been told that you only can do what you know how to do

And that's be you,

Be what you're like,

Be like yourself,

And so I'm having a wonderful time but I'd rather be whistling in the

When did you first get into 1?

I bought a cassette of Rain Dogs back in the mid-80s (probably '85 or '86, just before I went off to college) and loved it.

How did you get into 3?

I first knew they existed from the video for "Little Girls," but I can't remember which record I bought first. (I got all their good stuff in a rush in about 1984.)

What is your favorite song by 4?

"(I'll Love You) Till the End of the World," from the Until the End of the World soundtrack. (I've never seen the movie, and I can't remember why I got the soundtrack -- but it's got a lot of great stuff on it.)

How many times have you seen 9 live?

Once, back in the winter of '89-90. I skipped a senior seminar at Vassar (with a very imposing professor) to run home for a day or two and catch the concert, and then had to lie about why I missed it. That was possibly my first good lie...

What is a good memory concerning 4?

Two or three years ago, there was a big middle-of-the-day storm. I left work as soon as permitted, and waited for a bus at Port Authority for quite a while (memory says close to two hours), and then we made our very slow way home, through snow still falling heavily. A mile or so from home (so, at the speed we were going, still a good fifteen minutes away), "Fifteen Feet of Pure White Snow" came up on my iPod. It was perfect, and I just stared out the window for ten minutes or so, and then finally got home.

Is there a song by 10 that makes you sad?

"Baby Plays Around." (And most of Almost Blue, as well.)

What is your favorite song of 1?

Old-style Tom Waits: "Old Shoes (and Picture Postcards)"

New-style Tom Waits: "Cemetery Polka"

How did you become a fan of 10?

I think I bought King of America as I was going off to college -- I might have had other Elvis records before that, but I wasn't really a fan. That one is transcendently good, and stuck me with EC for life.

My Lunacon Schedule

I thought I'd posted this already, but I can't find it, so I guess I didn't. If anyone is stalking me, here's how to find me this weekend.

The Prolific, Posthumous Tolkien (Brundage B, 5-6)
A look at the ups and downs (and strange twists) Tolkien's literary career has taken since his death.
Participants: Louis Epstein, Daniel Grotta[M], Josepha Sherman, Andrew Wheeler

The State of SF (Poplar, 6-7)
What shape is the field in? How did things change in the last year?
Participants: Marvin Kaye, Paul Levinson, Andrew Porter, Andrew Wheeler[M]

Jane Austen in SFF (Brundage A, 11-12)
While Austen's work seems about as far from speculative fiction as you can get, multiple genre writers have used her characters, books - or Austen herself - in genre stories. Where does the crossover appeal come from?
Participants: Danielle Ackley-McPhail, Patricia Bray, Esther Friesner, Peter Heck, Andrew Wheeler[M]

Is There a Substitute for Story? (Brundage A 1-2)
Once it was New Wave. Now it's Slipstream, Interstitial writing, the 'zine scene. . . . Why do some writers keep trying to write something other than plotted narrative?
Participants: John Joseph Adams, Douglas Elliott Cohen, Ellen Kushner, Darrell Schweitzer[M], Andrew Wheeler

Disappearing from convention activities entirely (I expect) to celebrate Thing 1's birthday.

Tuesday, March 13, 2007

A Minor Note

I just read two different blog posts, both saying some version of "on the Internet, you can't tell if someone is being sarcastic." So this clearly is a common concern right now, and I guess I should clear things up here.

If you're reading Antick Musings, and you're pretty sure I'm being sarcastic, I am.

If you suspect I might be sarcastic, I am.

If there's the slightest chance that what I wrote might be taken sarcastically, it should be.

If you're absolutely sure that I mean something literally...that's probably sarcasm, too.

I hope this has been useful.

Eek! How Did I Miss This?

I've been scanning my feeds much too quickly lately, since I missed entirely that Crown editor Jason Pinter got fired for a post on his personal blog. I caught up with the story today with the news that he has a new job at St. Martin's Press (and good for them for snapping him up).

The post that got him fired is down now, but GalleyCat summarized it here (with added BookScan numbers, which apparently Pinter didn't include in his own post).

If the GalleyCat account of events is correct -- and I don't see why it wouldn't be -- then Pinter was fired, not for revealing anything proprietary, but simply for pointing out that a book from FSG (anointed by Starbucks) was outselling a book published by his employers (anointed by B&N). That's pretty harsh, and it's not as if the Bohjalian book isn't selling really well -- it was the #3 hardcover fiction book the week in question, after all.

GalleyCat says that it was pressure from Random House higher-ups that led to the firing; I would have guessed that B&N demanded that Crown shed him, but I'm cynical like that. The Random House blog guidelines GalleyCat links to in the new-job post leads to an error page, so I don't know what RH's specific rules were -- they may very well have said something like "don't ever talk, in any way that might remotely be viewed as negative, about any book published by any RH imprint," and, if so, I guess Pinter could have violated that. But this certainly looks like massive over-reaction from where I'm sitting. (And where am I sitting? As a blogger who works for another Bertlesmann company, that would be anxiously, pulling on my collar and looking over my shoulder with a nervous chuckle.)

So, if any of you out there have been wondering when I was going to start sharing the juicy stuff...the answer is never. I might have poor impulse control (look at the way I keep walloping on poor ol' Dave Itzkoff, for example), but I'm not stupid.

Movie Log: Quick Change

It's a minor and mostly-forgotten comedy, and The Wife didn't like it at all, but I mostly enjoyed Quick Change. It's from Bill Murray's wandering-in-the-wilderness years, a caper movie set in 1990 New York (which was the city at its nadir, or at least one of its recent nadirs).

Gena Davis is gorgeous and solid (though not given very much to work with, as the Doubting Girlfriend), Murray is funny and not too slickly obnoxious, and Randy Quaid is the obligatory Bumbling, Cowardly Buddy.

The plot starts off with the heist (a bank robbery with Murray in a clown suit), but then meanders off, as our heroes try to get out of the city ahead of the pursuing cops (led by Jason Robards). This movie is very much a collection of loosely connected scenes, filled with a lot of actors you'll recognize -- if you like that sort of thing (and the lack of a serious plot doesn't bother you), you'll probably enjoy this. If you've lived in New York, or knew it pretty well in the late '80s-early '90s, that will definitely help; this is very much a movie of its time and place.

As I said, I liked it (not as much as I might have, if I'd seen it with other people who also liked it), but The Wife definitely did not. I don't think that's a male/female thing; she likes more plot in her movies and has never liked "the city" all that much. But I don't expect everyone will like this, and the people who'll love it probably are the ones who saw it in 1990 and have been talking about it ever since. (There's a few of them on the IMDB boards.)

Monday, March 12, 2007

Movie Log: Kiss Kiss Bang Bang

Into every man's life must come a Shane Black movie every so often -- even a guy like me needs a booster shot of testosterone every so often. However, I like mine with irony, which is why I watched Kiss Kiss Bang Bang on Friday night.

It's not really a parody of the modern buddy action movie; it's more like an affectionate piss-take on the genre. Sure, this movie says, all of this is silly and quite implausible, but aren't you having fun watching it? And I had to reply: yes, I am.

Robert Downey Jr. is a petty thief in New York who wanders into an audition on the run from the cops, seeming to be method-acting, and finds himself in Hollywood on someone's expense account. Val Kilmer is a gay PI (everyone makes a big deal about how gay Kilmer's character is; it's that kind of manly movie -- oh, no one exactly minds, but everyone has to mention it, in bad-taste ways, at every turn), whom Downey will ride along with to get a feel for the work.

And then the real plot kicks in, which is complicated and implausible -- but, of course, that's the point. Without two or three double-reversals and fake-outs, we the audience might fall asleep, and this movie won't be having any of that. We get Downey's long-lost first love, now an aspiring actress. We get an ex-actor turned rich guy. We get a whole army of interchangeable thugs, there to threaten our heroes and to be shot. We get car chases, gun battles, and moving corpses. We get just enough self-aware narration to keep us reminded that this is a movie, and not to worry about anything too much.

Best of all, it's all done with style and flair, and a light touch. Downey's narration is nimble and funny, and disappears during the bang-bang parts, so as not to distract us. All in all, this is what an action movie would look like if it were made for people who were tired of action movies -- it's a meta-action movie. And I quite enjoyed it on that level. (The fact that it's frequently laugh-out-loud funny was a bonus.)

One interesting thing to me is that this is clearly inspired by the Mike Shayne mysteries by Brett Halliday -- the opening credits even say that the movie is partially based on a Halliday novel called Bodies Are Where You Find Them -- but the fictional Shayne-like detective (down to the designs on the book cover props) is called Johnny something-or-other. I suspect this is because the rights to the Shayne name are still tied up somewhere; there was a movie of three made from those books back in the '40s or '50s.