Sunday, September 28, 2008

A Moment

Current Reading: The Doomsday Book, by Connie Willis

Inspirational Quote: ""When in doubt, make a fool of yourself. There is a microscopically thin line between being brilliantly creative and acting like the most gigantic idiot on earth. So what the hell, leap." -- Cynthia Heimel

"Sorry, but if you're finished with that, could I have a look?"
"What? NewsMaker Monthly?"
"Yes, please."
"You do know it's the January issue, right?"
"I can see that, yes."
"That would explain C-3PO on the cover, yes."
"You can't really count on it for current news then."
"Granted. It is a way to kill time, though, and it's always a laugh seeing what everyone thought was important back then."
"If you like that, there's a March '68 here with Nixon on it."
"Nixon? Oooh! That'll double me over for sure."
"Here you go, then. Have you been waiting long?"
"Two NewsMaker Monthlies, a Northern Hunting and the June through September issue of the Sears catalog from 1984. Oh, and the Cat In the Hat. I can't resist Dr. Seuss."
"I had a ten-thirty appointment. It's quarter to two now."
"So it is. Time flies, hm?"
"The funny thing is, I haven't seen anyone come in or out of the office. Not even the receptionist."
"She's a nurse, actually."
"Nurse, then. I haven't even seen her."
"No, you wouldn't have. She's been let go. A bit incompetent, she was. Obsessive. She booked every appointment for 10:30 and filed everything under P for paperwork."
"How do you know so much about it?"
"Well, that is my name on the door."
"You're doctor Ramone the proctologist?"
"It's pronounced 'Ram-own,' actually. I think the sign maker was having a bit of a laugh. 'Ram-one' indeed."
"Shouldn't you be in the office instead of out here reading magazines?"
"Well, yes."
"Why aren't you?"
"A little problem with the door."
"The door?"
"Yes, it's locked."
"Locked. And I supposed the receptionist nurse has the keys."
"Oh, you're very good."
"Couldn't you call the landlord?"
"That would be me. I own the building."
"Then surely you have another set of keys."
"Actually, no. My wife handles all that. I'm too busy with my practice."
"Well then, why don't you call your wife and have her bring you the spare set?"
"Um... I could. Yes, I could try that. Unfortunately, she's not answering the phone. She's a little despondent."
"Oh, yes. Recently lost her job. Fired, actually."
"Ah. Fired. Receptionist, was she?"
"Nurse, actually."
"Yes, I thought as much."
"Still, so long as your here I suppose we could proceed with your examination."
"Do you think the waiting room is really the best place?"
"Oh, fine. Perhaps it's a good thing the office is closed. You're a very unco-operative patient."

Monday, September 22, 2008

Not On My Reading Shelf

Current Reading: The Doomsday Book, by Connie Willis

Inspirational Quote: "Times are bad. Children no longer obey their parents, and everyone is writing a book." -- Marcus Tullius Cicero

I see Kelly Osbourne (Ozzy's progeny) has signed a deal with Virgin books to write her memoir.

I prefer that interesting people write their memoirs in the year before they die. Their age gives them a certain perspective that 23-year-olds just haven't been on the planet long enough to acquire. Since they have only a year to go, they're not likely to do anything so interesting as to require a new edition of the book.

At 23, Ms. Osbourne still has lots of years ahead to make mistakes and court public humiliation. Why write a book that doesn't have an end yet?

I much prefer to think of Warren Buffet's forthcoming biography, The Snowball: Warren Buffet and the Business of Life. Here is an interesting man old enough to have thought deeply about his life before authorizing a book. He's had a profound effect on the financial world, and he may have some things to say that will cause a reader to re-examine their own time on the planet.

I prefer that uninteresting people stick to boring the rest of us with long-winded, rambling, pointless blogs like... well, this one, I guess.

Three frightening things about Ms. Osbourne's literary aspirations:

  1. So many celebrities have train-wreck lives.
  2. So many of them write memoirs.
  3. So many people must buy these in order to support their production.

Honestly, do I have to go out, obtain photographs of me sleeping with Paris Hilton, devolve into a mess of drugs and alcohol and spend six years in rehab just to get a book deal?

I'm willing. I'd just... you know, like to be sure it's all going to work before I take such drastic steps.

Honestly.I couldn't make this stuff up.

Further to last week's post, I have just discovered that we have a Marijuana party. There's a candidate running in one of the local ridings... assuming, of course, he can get off his couch.

It's difficult to be a comedian in a world that comes up with its own punchlines.

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

An Unpaid Political Announcement

Current Reading: The Doomsday Book, by Connie Willis

Inspirational Quote: "Vote early and vote often." -- Al Capone.
"I don't even know what street Canada is on." -- Mr. Capone, again.

Here in Canada, as in the U.S., we are having an election.

I thought this would be a dandy time to point out a few differences between the American and Canadian political process. Mind you, both are ridiculous, but as Winston Churchill observed, "democracy is the worst form of government except all the others that have been tried."

First, we have more than two parties. We have a plethora. Don't believe me?

So how do we make sense of so many bewildering choices?

We don't bother. We're pretty laid back about the whole thing. We vote for the people we like and let party affiliations sort out everything else.

The U.S. has the Democrats and the Republicans. Since the U.S. can be described as a democratic republic, I think they are even more confused than we are.

They have the House of Representatives, the Senate and the White House. They can have a Republican House and Senate, but a Democrat in the oval office. They can't get much done, but sometimes that's a good thing.

Here in Canada, we've just got the House of Parliament, the Senate (a retirement home for long-serving members of parliament who wake up long enough to rubber-stamp whatever gets put in front of them), and the Governor General.

Who's the Governor General? Well, she's (it's a she at the moment) the local representative of the true head of our government: the Queen of England. Yep. A woman who has tea in a country thousands of miles away and about 1/50th our size. Fortunately, the Governor General is given simple instructions: rubber stamp anything the Senate rubber stamps. The upshot is that all of our laws are laid down and passed by Parliament, an elected body whose sole purpose is to argue about trivia and occasionally dissolve into expletives and fistfights.

Of course, after the fights, everyone goes out for apologies over beer. We are Canadian after all.

The party which wins the most Parliamentary seats in the election wins the right to form the government. The party leader becomes our Prime Minister.

A Prime Minister is like a President but with fewer perks.

Unlike our American cousins, elections are not a televised sport. There isn't enough time. Once the government announces an election (every four years), everyone has about six weeks to campaign, and that's not enough time to book ahead on talk shows or variety hours. Of course, we don't really have any talk shows or variety hours anyway. There's Canada A.M., which no one watches, and Royal Canadian Air Farce, which everyone watches and therefore has been taken off the air. Instead, we have radio and print coverage, sound bites on the six-o'clock news and the occasional local speech or fundraiser. We also have web sites because we're techologically savvy, but don't visit them because we're politically apathetic.

Six weeks every four years, that's it. In the U.S., elections seem perpetual, with candidates showing up on Oprah and Saturday Night Live. They say Laugh-In helped get Nixon elected, and Clinton's sax solo on Arsenio was a prelude to his sax in the Oval Office. American politicians have to be celebrities. We've only had one celebrity leader: Pierre Trudeau, Canada's answer to J.F.K. Since then, we seem to prefer our Prime Ministers be uninteresting.

That's Canadian politics in a nutshell, an appropriate repository.

And yet... a moment of seriousness: vote. We are part of a minority in the world, countries where democratic principles exist and have not been entirely subverted or corrupted by the powerful. We must defend that by letting our voices be heard. Apathy is our greatest enemy, and will level great empires faster than any barbarian invasion. There's a wonderful line from "V for Vendetta:" People should not be afraid of their government. Governments should be afraid of their people.

I am Ulysses, and I approve this message.

Sunday, September 14, 2008

Beware Solitary Eaters in the Food Court

Current Reading: The Doomsday Book, by Connie Willis

Inspirational Quote: “It was impossible to get a conversation going; everybody was talking too much.” -- Yogi Berra

Do you every listen to people? I don't mean really listen to them, like "active listening," or whatever. I mean just listen.

Once in a while, I treat myself to a solitary lunch in the food court of the local mall. I don't go there for the food, although there's a nice sushi place nearby and the bulk store around the corner sells chocolate covered almonds (if you see no value in chocolate covered almonds, then we have nothing more to say to each other). Also, Colonel Harlan Saunders seems to have come up with a recipe for kryptonite that people from my planet cannot resist.

I go there to listen to people. So many different people, so many different voices. I don't pay much attention to what people they say. I listen to how they say it: the rhythm, the give and take of conversation. I've noticed something interesting: few people actually talk to each other. I don't mean, "you gonna eat that?" or, "there's special sauce on your sleeve," I mean the things that people say to each other when they're eating.

First of all, eating's kind of a special activity. It brings people together, loosens them up, gets them talking about things that are less immediate than who ordered the chicken nuggets.

Some conversations consist of a speaker and a listener who never change roles. One person talks constantly, and the other person's contribution consists almost solely of nods, grunts and "uh-huh"'s. The speaker goes on about things at length and in detail, while the listener eats, or watches passersby, or rummages through their shopping bags examining their purchases. I wonder what they're thinking, and I wonder if the speaker ever realizes or cares that their words are just passing by.

Some conversations consist of two speakers. While one's talking, the other one is busy thinking about what they're going to say next. They take turns, usually by interrupting each other with phrases like "Yeah, that happened to me last week when..." or "Maybe, but you know..." and then they carry on with something they said on their previous turn. It's basically two monologues with no audience. It's funny to hear, but listening to them leaves me a little sad.

If I'm lucky and am sitting near some speakers who have a long, close history together, I get to hear the most remarkable kind of conversation. It sounds like two different ones, like each person is talking about something else, but there's a subtext there and the clue to it is carried in the rise and fall of voices. They're talking about the same thing, the same feeling or the same idea or the same experience from different points of view. It's like listening to harmony, but it's harmony of thought instead of sound:
"Sheesh, up at the lake, man, we had this thing."
"Sure. Like that time Happy and I took the ferry and we were looking down at this school of fish."
"The stars up there, y'know? I didn't even know what the Milky Way looked like."
"Big. Sure. Big like giants. I didn't want to move, to scare them. Never mind I was on a bloody big smelly noisy ferry. Ha!"
"Small. Right, y'know? Small like nothing mattered, and big like everything did."

There's a beauty to that kind of conversation. There's a magic I can't capture, but of which I wish I could be a part.

Once in a while, once in a rare while, I'll hear some true conversation: people saying what they mean and meaning something important. It frequently comes out in anger. I think it's so hard to say honest and important things sometimes that people need to get angry before they can have the courage to say them. Of course, a lot of things get said in anger just to lash out and hurt the person at whom the anger is directed. Those things are easy to recognize because they're usually followed by uncomfortable silences as the listener deals with hearing those words while the speaker can't believe they were actually stupid enough to say them. It's the ones that get said quietly, usually while the speaker is looking down, that carry the most meaning.
"I won't be strong enough to tell them without you there."
"I'm so scared I haven't been able to sh*t in two days."
"I don't want to go, but I have to."

When I hear part of one of those conversations, I try to listen to something else. They're too intense, too important for some stranger to hear. It's the sound of people being desperate and needy and honest and human, and I prefer to leave them to it.

On a good day, a very good day, some of these kinds of conversations find their way into my writing. Those days are beautiful because then I feel I've captured character with which a reader might really identify.

Tuesday, September 9, 2008

And the Winner Is...

Current Reading: The Doomsday Book, by Connie Willis

Inspirational Quote: ""A jury consists of twelve persons chosen to decide who has the better lawyer." -- Robert Lee Frost

I mentioned J.K. Rowling's case against the administrator of the Harry Potter Lexicon back in May. According the news, judgement was rendered yesterday.

The case hinged on interpretation of "fair use" (that portions of a book may be appropriated for use in a scholarly analysis). The judge ruled that the "Lexicon appropriates too much of Rowling's creative work for its purposes as a reference guide."

Of course, there will be appeals.

Still, it's an interesting outcome, and many authors who lack Ms. Rowling's financial resources will be breathing easier knowing that fans will have a more difficult time misrepresenting the author's work as their own.

Monday, September 8, 2008

100 Classics, Revisited

Current Reading: The Doomsday Book, by Connie Willis

Inspirational Quote: "A classic is classic not because it conforms to certain structural rules, or fits certain definitions (of which its author had quite probably never heard). It is classic because of a certain eternal and irrepressible freshness." -- Edith Wharton

Science fiction is a fairly young field. I don't think it existed before Verne and Wells. If you include folklore, myth and legend, then Fantasy goes back as far as the human capability for story telling. That's a lot of material to consider when trying to construct a list of classics.

One way to narrow it down is to define what a classic must be. My blog, my rules, so here goes: a classic is a book that has had an impact on the genre, influencing the work that came after it. If it's new, then it's a book that I believe is likely to have that kind of impact. It's also a book that is likely to be read by the next generation.

I have yet to come up with an entire 100 classics for this list, and what appears here is in the order the titles occurred to me, or to others who contributed their thoughts. As before, the ones I've read are in bold:

100 Classics of SF and F

01 The Lord of the Rings - Tolkein
02 The Hobbit - Tolkein
03 Earthsea - LeGuin
04 Neuromancer - Gibson
05 The Time Machine - Wells
06 The Invisible Man - Wells
07 Frankenstein - Shelley
08 20000 Leagues Under the Sea - Verne
09 Dune - Herbert

10 Farenheit 451 - Bradbury
11 2001 - Clarke
12 Foundation - Asimov
13 I Robot - Asimov
14 Rendezvous with Rama - Clarke
15 Discworld - Pratchett
16 Harry Potter - Rowling
17 Lathe of Heaven - LeGuin
18 Left Hand of Darkness - LeGuin
19 War of the Worlds - Wells
20 Childhood's End - Clarke

21 The Songs of Distant Earth - Clarke
22 1984 - Orwell
23 Animal Farm - Orwell
24 A Clockwork Orange - Burgess
25 Fantastic Voyage - Asimov
26 Journey to the Center of the Earth - Verne
27 From the Earth to the Moon - Verne
28 The Island of Dr. Moreau - Wells

29 The Shape of Things to Come - Wells
30 The War of the Worlds - Wells
31 Ringworld - Larry Niven
32 Enemy Mine - Longyear
33 Conan - Howard (I haven't read all of these)
34 Elric - Moorcock (I haven't read all of these)
35 Flowers for Algernon - Keyes
36 Pern - Norton (I haven't read all of these)
37 The Forever War - Haldeman
38 Starship Troopers - Heinlein
39 The Integral Trees - Niven
40 Wheel of Time - Jordan (I haven't read all of these)
41 Daughter of the Empire - Wurts
42 Magician - Feist (I haven't read all of these)
43 Man Plus - Pohl
44 Ender's Game - Card
45 Red/Green/Blue Mars - Robinson (I haven't read all of these)
46 The Demolished Man - Bester
47 A Canticle for Leibowitz - Miller
48 Stranger in a Strange Land - Heinlein
49 The Moon is a Harsh Mistress - Heinlein
50 Stand on Zanzibar - Brunner
51 Riverworld - Farmer
52 Gateway - Pohl
53 Lucifer's Hammer - Niven / Pournelle
54 Hyperion - Simmons
55 Fafhred and the Gray Mouser - Leiber
56 To Say Nothing of the Dog - Willis
57 Alice in Wonderland - Caroll
58 Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy - Adams
59 Day of the Triffids - Wyndham
60 The Iliad - Homer
61 The Odyssey - Homer
62 Gilgamesh
63 Beowulf
64 His Dark Materials - Pullman
65 The Faerie Queene - Spencer
66 Midsummer Night's Dream - Shakespeare
67 The Metamorphoses - Ovid
68 A Christmas Carol - Dickens

69 Wizard of Oz - Baum

I'm always open for suggestions and disputes on this list.