Sunday, May 30, 2010

Today Is Yesterday

Current Reading: Haven't decided yet.

Inspirational Quote: "How can I miss you, if you won't go away?" -- I have no idea who said this first. All I know is that you can find it on a T-shirt, and that Mark Hamill said it in an episode of the 1990 television show The Flash.

Getting older is fascinating.

One thing about it is how much faster time seems to pass. Weeks snap by, months, years. I'm always surprised to look back at events and realize just how long ago they really were. And, as occasionally happens, I recently experienced a synchronicity of nostalgic events. The first was the 20-year reunion of my wife's university class. We spent the weekend in Toronto catching up with friends I swore I'd last spoken to only a few years ago. It turned out to be more like one and a half decades. Oops.

The second came as the result of an IM conversation I had with the best man from my wedding (almost 21 years ago). We've known each other since I was twelve, still talk and have never lost touch, so although he is a carrier of nostalgia, he is not infected by it. We googled ourselves (which sounds dirty, but isn't), and discovered that our names, far from being unique, are shared by people who do all kinds of things. I'm an artist in the U.K., a business consultant, an American politician, and a bunch of other stuff.

We talked of the wonderous web, and how you can find almost anyone if you really try. So I tried, and ended up reconnecting with a friend from my high-school days. A lot has happened since then.

Of course, this leads my thoughts in the somewhat less rosy direction of how difficult it is to hide in this era of the web. I wonder how many times a day someone is tracked down by someone they would rather avoid.

Although I believe I'm... unusual, I'm not malicious and if the person I contacted failed to respond, or responded with the equivalent of "I don't want to talk to you," I'd back off. But the web is not exclusive. You don't need to pass a sanity or stability test in order to use it, and many people who use it would fail such a test. Cyberstalking is a reality, and a frightening one.

On the other hand, it's nice to find someone you'd thought you'd only ever see again in memories.

Book Report: Set the Seas On Fire, by Chris Roberson

I was all set to love this book before I even cracked the cover. High seas adventure during the Napleonic Era. What's not to love? The writing is top notch, and the setting intriguing. The characters are flawed and interesting, although I found the most interesting characters raised questions about themselves that I wanted answered, but weren't. I suspect that this is because this book was conceived as part of a larger series, but if that series actually exists I could find no indication of it.

My biggest problem with this work is the plot. The story question, which I'm told is vital to story coherence, keeps changing. At the opening of the book, the English attack a Spanish ship. Very exciting stuff (the research done here is flawless). The Spanish escape, making me thing that the story is about the pursuit of the Spanish into unknown waters. However, at that point, the story switches to a kind of Robinson Crusoe/Fletcher Christian thing. The protagonist meets a native woman in paradise and has to decide between his duty and his heart. This decision takes about half a page, which I thought killed the tension that had built up over the middle 2/3 of the book. At the end of the book, we switch back to catching the Spanish, only with supernatural elements that have been foreshadowed and hinted at through the rest of the book.

Honestly, it started like a historical adventure, switched to a romance, then finished off with a fantasy.

Sorry, but although I enjoyed this enough to finish reading it, I just can't admire it.

Ulysses Rating: 2 - I finished this, but I had a tough go.

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

The Drink Takes the Man

Current Reading: Set the Seas On Fire, by Chris Roberson

Inspirational Quote: "Always do sober what you said you'd do drunk. That will teach you to keep your mouth shut." -- Ernest Hemingway

"First the man takes a drink, then the drink takes a drink, then the drink takes the man."

I've never understood why writers have such an affiinity for addiction. You'd think that because we spend so much time in a solitary pursuit that we'd be less prone to social vices. And you'd be wrong. It sometimes seems that we have as high a percentage of alcoholics and coke-addicts as do musicians or actors, who publicly fall apart with staggering frequency.

In the latest big news, Robert Munsch (famous Canadian children's writer... Cassandra loves his books) has publicly acknowledged his battles with alcohol and cocaine. I never considered this a possibility. Like most, I guess I figured that being a children's author partook of some of childhood's innocence. That the author of "Aaron's Hair" and "More Pies" spent so much of his time stoned came as an unwelcome revelation.

I shouldn't be surprised, though. I have no doubt that being a children's author requires the same sort of mind and carries with it the same sort of pressures that come with all writing. Or artistry of any kind, I guess. I'm sure there are painters out there chasing heroin, sculptors picking up chisels when they can barely pick up themselves, and fashion designers trying through bloodshot eyes to get fabrics to drape just right.

Writers have a long history of battling addiction, and it seems that the more well-known an author is, the more likely it is that they are susceptible. Stephen King's On Writing documents his battles with cocaine and booze. Ernie Hemingway is famous for hard drinking. Dorothy Parker likewise. One writer I admire, Barry B. Longyear, wrote a fictionalized memoire of his time in rehab called Saint Mary Blue. It's an eye opener.

I don't believe I have an addiction (unless chocolate counts). I don't drink or smoke anything. I have a horror of needles and I haven't put anything up my nose since I was two (it took mom ten minutes to dig the peas out, so it's not something I'm anxious to try again). However, I come from a long line of alcoholics and the children of alcoholics are statistically more likely to become alcoholics themselves.

Of course, as Mr. Longyear mentions in his book, addiction is the only disease that tells you that you haven't got it.

Monday, May 17, 2010

I Don't Make Up The News... I Just Report It.

Inspirational Quote: "It was very good of God to let Carlyle and Mrs. Carlyle marry one another and so make only two people miserable instead of four, besides being very amusing." -- Samuel Butler

Current Reading: Set the Seas on Fire, by Chris Roberson

Today's Toronto Star carried a story about a woman who is suing Rogers Wireless.

It seems that she had a personal cell phone in her maiden name with a Rogers account. Rogers offered her husband one of their bundling options where he could get his home phone, cable, internet and cell phones all on one bill and save a few dollars as a result. He went for it, and his first bill contained several hour-long calls to a number he didn't recognize. He investigated, discovered his wife's affair, and then he left.

She claims Rogers ruined her marriage.

What follows is my opinion on the matter:

Um, no.

Rogers Wireless just exposed her infidelity. Had she kept her pants on, she'd still be married. Now, had Rogers Wireless seduced her in a moment of weakness with a video invitation (delivered by cable), taken compromising pictures (with a cell phone) and then e-mailed them (internet) to her husband... THEN she'd have reason to sue.

Please don't assume that I think her husband's flawless. When he discovered her affair, he abandoned her and their children (which I find reprehensible), and it may be that some action or behavior of his made her susceptible to another man's charms. Regardless, Roger's ain't at fault here.

It'll be interesting to see if the Canadian Legal Establishment agrees with me.

I love the human species. Not just because I'm a lifetime member, either. I love it because, whenever I find myself without something to write about, someone on this wonderful planet comes up with something absurd enough to catch my attention.

Sunday, May 16, 2010

Book Report: Forty Signs of Rain, by Kim Stanley Robinson

One upon a time, I read Red Mars. That was as far as I got. For reasons lost in the mists of time, it didn't move me enough to buy the next book. Now, I've read Forty Signs of Rain, and I am ashamed to say that history has repeated itself.

I had no difficulty reading this book, in the sense that it read fluidly and I never felt compelled to put it down. However, once I put it down, I never felt compelled to pick it up again. I found the characters realistic and believable, so that wasn't my problem. I think it was the plot. Much of the book seemed taken up with the minutae of the everyday lives of several scientists which, although written well, did not seem to signify much. At one point, a character breaks into his office building using climbing gear in order to retrieve a letter he had regretted writing. He failed, but the episode left me scratching my head. I couldn't figure out why it was important enough to have been included in the story.

The truly significant events occupied only the last fifty pages of the book, during which all the major characters are helpless in the face of angry nature. I'm afraid I just didn't care enough about the characters or the events to feel satisfied by this.

Ulysses Rating: 2 - I finished this, but I didn't enjoy it.

Book Report: The Great Gatsby, by F. Scott Fitzgerald

If the Roaring Twenties have a flavor on this side of the Atlantic, it tastes like F. Scott Fitzgerald writes. There is a beauty and a despair in his writing which makes it incredibly memorable. The parallels between his time and our own, the widening gap between rich and poor not just economically but culturally and, to a certain extent, morally, are chilling at times.

As often happens with classics, I find myself in way over my head and I can only sense the greater themes moving somewhere just out of my sight, like ripples on the surface marking the passage of something larger underneath. (I mix a mean metaphor).

Ulysses Rating: 3 - I enjoyed this.

Friday, May 7, 2010

Canadian Publishing: Just Like Everywhere Else

Geoff Pevere, one of the Toronto Star's entertainment columnists, has an article about getting published. Although written within a Canadian environment and with reference to Canadian sources, what he outlines is pretty much what I've been reading about everywhere else for the last few years.

Key takeaways:
  • Getting published is harder now than it used to be. Publishing has consolidated.
  • Fiction isn't known for making money.
  • It pays to know the industry, and the internet has made a lot of information, opinions and advice available.
  • You need to write a book people will want to read.

Thursday, May 6, 2010

Because I Don't Have Enough Pictures/Videos/Sound Clips

Like many would-be novelists, I've found a lot of ideas germinating when I'm listening to music. The images and feelings inspired by various tunes help the mind bring in and make connections between different thoughts that may be stirred up by a particular melody or lyric.

My musical tastes are not broad, I'm afraid. I'm not the one to help you expand your audio horizons. However, I will point out this, by the Goo-Goo Dolls. I enjoy their music, although I've given up trying to make sense of their lyrics ("Why don't you slide?"... umm, because I left my toboggan at home) , and the particularly tired and melancholy tone of this appeals to me today.

I hope you enjoy it, and if it sparks a story, I shall be tremendously pleased.

A Vast Cultural Wasteland

Current Reading: Forty Signs of Rain, by Kim Stanley Robinson

Inspirational Quote: "All of time and space, everything that ever was or ever will be... where do you want to start?" -- The Doctor

You'll need a time machine for this one.

I think the year was 1981. I was a high-school teenager, and spent most of my evenings, especially on Fridays, hanging with my friends playing RPGs and crude video games like Pac-Man. But Friday nights, when I got home late, I'd tune in channel 5 which was a PBS channel broadcast up from Rochester New York, I think... WXXI if memory holds.

They played Doctor Who! And not just one episode, but the whole week's worth of half-hour Doctor in one sitting!

Tom Baker was the Doctor, and he was brilliant. Funny, charming, wise... I remember him holding off a group of primitive warriors by threatening one of them with "an explosive jelly-baby." Great stuff. The last episode I ever saw was the one where the Tom-Doctor regenerates. For some reason, I never got into the Peter Davison version and don't remember ever seeing a full episode of his. It's possible that around that time WXXI found something more important to do with their funding.

Anyway, skip ahead a few decades and The Doctor is back. It's not that I've been avoiding him, it's just that I've been a little busy the last while and haven't been able to catch ANY of the previous four seasons. A couple of weeks ago, though, I sat through a Saturday afternoon of Doctor Who movies on the Space Channel. David Tennant was wonderful, but the marathon led up to the 10th Doctor's regeneration.

And now I'm watching the new 11th Doctor episodes, trying to make it appointment television. It's everything I remember: silly, melodramatic, surreal... and vastly entertaining even though the spaceships aren't cardboard anymore and it's harder to see the zippers in the monster costumes. If you're looking for good science fiction... well, I can't help you. If you're looking for gripping drama... again, nothing to see here. But if you're looking for a series infused with intelligence, humor and whimsy, any season of Doctor Who will work for you and this is as good a point to start watching as any. The next episode has Vampires! In Venice! And probably other things that start with V! (Vegetables? Vagabonds? Violence?)

None of which has anything to do with Stargate Universe, which I'm enjoying immensely. This show has some great acting and some serious drama. Cast in the Battlestar Galactica mode of character-based plots, it too is heavy going for those used to the lighter Stargate series. Although the show is set in a science-fiction universe, I don't consider it true science fiction because it doesn't explore the impact of science or technology on the characters. It does, however, explore the impact of isolation, deprivation and interpersonal conflict on some deeply flawed characters.