Chapter XLV

In the last chapter, our man was at the beginning of 12 months of chaotic change, coincidentally book-ended by the 4th Street Fantasy conventions of 2017 and a couple of weeks ago. I need to write about that, soon. Anyway, it was a year with ups and whole lot of downs, and very little writing progress. Hopefully, that ends now, once I get my feet back under me again.

In the meantime, as hip and cool as I am for 45, I hope to age more gracefully than this guy There, but for the grace…

So, what’s ahead for the next year, I wonder?

Don’s Boskone 55 Schedule

I know, I know — this is a really cheap way to do this. Life’s been busy. Not too busy, however, to pass up an opportunity to once again take up space in the program! Here’s where you can find me…

And if you don’t catch me at these panels, I’m sure you’ll catch me at others or roaming the halls or in the con suite. Step up and say hi!

“You gotta try to keep your head above the water / You gotta try to keep a step ahead of time…”

I’m in Cleveland in the house where I grew up, and I dug up that picture of my sixth birthday. It brings to mind a couple of things. First, my mother who we lost before the holidays, which necessitated traveling a week before I’d planned. Second, it’s a pretty funny reminder to myself that the struggle is real. That’s right, Don, raise that fist!

It was a collision of blessings and curses. Things gained, things lost, people lost, opportunities gained, lost, and re-gained. My writing life all but halted this year. It was only because of the connections I have with my friends and allies in the SF/F/H writing community (You all know who you are!) that kept me going.

The first part of 2018 will be finishing up all the old business (mine and my mother’s) from 2017. And then I’ll ease back into my backlog of short stories in preparation for rejoining proper society (read: the SF/F/H community) at Boskone in February. As for the rest of it…? Well, I’m usually further along at this point in formulating a loose idea of what my resolutions will be for the new year than I am right now. What can I tell you, it’s been a busy few weeks. And anyway, I’ve become less and less of a “Resolutions” person over time, and more of a “Here’s a GTD Projects List for the Year” guy.

2017 had its way with us. And if you’re like me and most people I know, we need some get back (metaphorically speaking) in 2018. How? Well, Mom might not have said these exact lyrics to me, but if I boil down everything she’s said to me over the years, it all comes down to the same good advice…

Thanks, Mom.

Quickie Review // THE SKELETON TWINS (2014)

(I wrote this ages ago, left it sitting as a draft, and then apparently forgot all about it until I rediscovered it the other day. So I figured, why not just hit “publish”?)

It’ll sound like a backhanded compliment for me to say this, but it’s not: All THE SKELETON TWINS did was fulfill my high expectations.

Nothing in the plot explicitly waves its arms and telegraphs itself, yet it weaves through and touches all the areas you expect the film to touch on. And the ending is the sort I’ve come to expect from any Duplass Brothers project (cf. my review of THE ONE I LOVE): a small, smoldering fire, quickly resolved because, hey, it has to end somewhere.

To me, the thrill of this film is in the acting. I cannot see anyone else in the roles of Maggie and Milo playing out scenes that can switch on a dime into something heavy, surreal, or crude. Bill Hader and Kristen Wiig are that talented, so much so that their excellent performances aren’t exactly a shock. Am I that jaded? Maybe. Still, this film still gets high marks all for a lot of reasons, not the least of which is having validated my dedication to not have “peaked in high school.”

Backlog Catch-Up // “Knock” by Fredric Brown

Hi, I’m Don and I have a problem — I can’t stop accumulating short story collections and anthologies. A few, I actually finish. Some I start and never get around to finishing. Others sit gathering dust. So I’ve decided that once a week I’m going to blindly pull a book from my pile, read one story, and talk about it.

This is a day late and I’m cheating a bit this week because this pick isn’t all that random.

From my list of Items From the Nerd Canon I’ve Missed But Dread Admitting Lest I Lose My Nerd Credentials, this classic short story I haven’t gotten around to reading before now, despite having owned FROM THESE ASHES for quite awhile.

This piece is renowned for having one of the shortest stories in sci-fi. You’ve probably seen this reference before…

The last man on Earth sat alone in a room. There was a knock on the door…

With the way it’s been presented out of context sometimes, you’d think that was the entire story. What follows after this quote is, for the time in which it was written (1948), a short subversive tale about a scientist avenging the planet Earth in the aftermath of an alien invasion. Subversive because Brown knows all the questions you’ll ask yourself at the start – What does “last man on Earth” mean? Where’s the emphasis, on last or on man? – and he toys with them. Subversive because Brown takes some jabs at some Golden Age of Sci-Fi tropes. This isn’t the story of a stereotypical pulp scientist action hero smashing the aliens with technical ingenuity and  inevitably getting the last woman on earth in the end. It’s about a quiet, homely brainiac who wins with his brainiac knowledge combined with psychological manipulation, and leaves it entirely to the last woman on earth to make the choice to repopulate the planet with him… you know, or not… whatever…

And in that case, maybe it’s not all that subversive at least by today’s standards. But I would still call it an early baby step toward progress.

Quickie Review // IN THIS CORNER OF THE WORLD (2016)

The film’s animation style is mostly understated, which is appropriate I think. We see the metaphorical cloud hovering over the place. We see the obvious foreshadows, and know how some of the characters’ stories will end, during and after the film. Still, I was compelled to watch as references to Hiroshima slowly built up my unease at the knowledge of a future of which the film’s characters are completely unaware.

The strength of this film is how it clings to the everyday POV of ordinary folks — not Tōjō or his adjutants, not Yamamoto’s admirals, not to anyone monologuing or otherwise giving too much thought to which side is right or wrong. The focus isn’t on the world stage. Just on a girl, her family, her community, and how they cope with life during wartime, with rationing, air raids, and much, much more.

IN THIS CORNER OF THE WORLD definitely gave me a new sympathy for Japan and what it went through. I know it’s a little counterintuitive, being an American and a Filipino, but it isn’t really. I was born almost thirty years after all of that. And despite everything my parents’ families went through during the occupation of the Philippines, it wasn’t as if I grew up inundated with vitriol against the Japanese. But neither was it ever suggested by anyone that I view the Japan of that period, and everyone in it, in any frame other than Axis vs. Ally, winner vs. loser, us vs. them.

Backlog Catch-Up // “Riya’s Foundling” by Algis Budrys

Hi, I’m Don and I have a problem — I can’t stop accumulating short story collections and anthologies. A few, I actually finish. Some I start and never get around to finishing. Others sit gathering dust. So I’ve decided that once a week I’m going to blindly pull a book from my pile, read one story, and talk about it.

Judith Merril, the editor of this anthology, employs Fredric Brown (one of my personal favorites) to introduce it by posing questions about the qualities which define “human.” Merril divides the stories into three sections. The first section — which contains Budrys’s story — juxtaposes humans against extra-terrestrials.

A lonely little boy with dimension-folding and other powers, transports himself to the dimension of a lonely female with powers of her own and whose nature is pitted against the boy’s desire to return home. And as the reader tries to parse the strange details and qualities of both characters and of each of their worlds, one doesn’t immediately expect to be confronted with such an array of heart-tugging, almost heartbreaking, emotions in such a small space as this story occupies.

Maybe my next reach into my reading backlog shouldn’t be so random — I know I have some more Merril (i.e. her writing), Brown, and Budrys around here somewhere…

Quickie Review // THE NEW YORKER PRESENTS (2016)

Call me pretentious or whatever else. I’m the target audience for this show and I’m proud of it. This may be the first and only time I feel good about binge-watching anything for hours at a time with no guilt whatsoever. I can’t remember when I’ve seen a literary property adapted for any visual medium in a way that retains that property’s essence so completely. The producers have basically bottled and sold THE NEW YORKER in a different package. It does seem — and I’m saying this a little tongue in cheek — like the perfect scam in a way. I mean, when you have a century of material to draw from, you can concentrate on production values and hiring well-known character actors.

It hurts me that at the time I’m posting this, I can’t find any indication of whether or not there will l ever be a season 2. Luckily, as a recent subscriber to the magazine, I’ll be okay for now.

Clips from My Favorite Segments:
A profile of exótico luchador Cassandro
A nurse’s in-home visits with teen moms in Texas
An adaptation of “Last Session” by John Kinney, starring John Turturro and Charles Grodin
Paul Giamatti as Balzac — ’nuff said.
Every single Making of a Cartoon bump.

Backlog Catch-Up // “Free Dirt” by Charles Beaumont

Hi, I’m Don and I have a problem — I can’t stop accumulating short story collections and anthologies. A few, I actually finish. Some I start and never get around to finishing. Others sit gathering dust. So I’ve decided that once a week I’m going to blindly pull a book from my pile, read one story, and talk about it.

“Free Dirt” by Charles Beaumont
From THE HUNGER AND OTHER STORIES (1959, Bantam)

This is the story of one Mr. Aorta — See, already that sounds like the beginning of a Rod Serling TWILIGHT ZONE intro, which is fitting given Beaumont’s relationship to that show as well as the tone of this piece. First published in F&SF in 1957, it’s a cautionary tale of a lazy man’s petty dreams of avarice coming true thanks to some magic dirt. The wonder of Beaumont’s writing is that while you know Mr. Aorta is headed for a not-so-happy ending, Beaumont’s dreams go a step beyond what you expect.

“You thought I was sleeping at the wheel / I thought that you were driving”

I’m hoping we can skip the usual apologia this time. We’ve heard it all before, right? New job role/title + ill family members + all the things = not enough time to blog. I knew you’d understand — thanks. So, let’s catch up…

NERD CORNER. I’ve never had so many personal objects at the dayjob, but since this is the first private office I’ve had, why not? I’ve been waiting for someone to call me out for daring to have THE PLAYBOY BOOK OF SCIENCE FICTION AND FANTASY at work, even though nothing in it comes close to being as salacious as the DANGEROUS VISIONS books. I’m curious to see what would happen if I was reported to TPTB for having AGAIN, DANGEROUS VISIONS which has a piece called “The Big Space Fuck.” Could I get nailed for a book having a story written by someone who’s sort of a big deal in the institution for which I work?

CURRENTLY READING. The memoir LITHIUM JESUS by Charles Monroe-Kane who tells the story of his path through mental illness, missionary work, faith healing, activism, and various forms of self-medication in (judging from the 3/4 of it that I tore through in two days) every sense of the word. I heard about this book from Monroe-Kane himself in a video from a MOOC I took — he had me as soon as I heard Northeast Ohio (where I’m also from) and faith-healing in the Philippines (because, Filipino) in the same sentence.

BINGE WATCHED. A throwback to my early 2000s late night cable anime viewing RURONI KENSHIN on Netflix. I was nostalgic, what can I tell you? There’s a lot more humor in it than I remembered there being when I caught it (half-awake and sometimes drunk) after midnight on Toonami back in the day. I recalled a lot more angst, but that might just been a reflection of my life at the time. After a few episodes though, I realized that the series resonates with me and my life at this point in time, as a person trying to make my way forward a decade after a dark period.

ALSO BINGE WATCHED. Thanks to Amazon Prime and my Smart TV, THE NEW YORKER PRESENTS. I have more thoughts on it, which I’ll save for later.

LEN WEIN. I can’t tell you with any certainty just how many Len Wein comics I’ve read in my decades of comic book nerdery. Just that I recall a distinct period where I saw his credit so many times, I thought he wrote all the comics. It’s foolish obviously, but I still had that same childhood sense of awe when I approached him a few years ago at the 2013 Rod Serling Conference. RIP, sir.

++

Thanks for the title, Rick…