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…

“It’s such a crude attitude / It’s back where it belongs”

For the first weekend in several weeks (at least since 4th Street Fantasy), I’ve had time to just sit and catch my breath. I got back to New York last Tuesday after 2 weeks+change in Cleveland, and after two days of utter exhaustion and incomplete recovery, I went back to work. No writing to speak of, but I think this is the one (and only!) time I can completely forgive myself. So, let’s catch up:

PROGENITRIX UPDATE. Mom started her rehab the other day. So far, so good except for a PEG tube glitch that necessitated another trip to the ER last night. She’s okay, though. I have to say though, this whole experience has driven home how privileged I am (in the social sense of the word) to have had a job in healthcare for so long. It’s given me a certain level of patience and peace of mind most people don’t have otherwise. Understandably, when it’s you or your loved one, you don’t want to hear all the reasons that doctors or nurses can’t return your phone calls, or why one or another near-miss happened. Your natural reaction is, “WTF, you jackholes!” I had it too, but I understood exactly how/why these sorts of things can happen, I could see the various providers and aides doing what they could, and I communicated that to them.

PASSING. In two different senses of the word, here are a couple of calls for submissions that I’m passing on. I might’ve technically fit in the past with what they’re looking for, but you might be a better fit now! They’re both for Belt Magazine, that’s published me before:

THE COLUMBUS ANTHOLOGY “…will attempt to capture what Columbus is becoming, and to define a distinct cultural presence for Columbus and its citizens. Through the voices of local artists, activists, writers, musicians, and other enthusiastic residents who want to contribute, “The Columbus Anthology” presents a collective wisdom through its collected work.”

BLUE CITY, RED STATE. “We’re collecting essays about living blue in a red state—whatever that means to you—by writers who live in or have ties to a Midwestern state.”

IT’S ABOUT TIME. ‘Nuff said

That’s about all I have energy for today. Now if you’ll excuse me, I’m going to have a scotch or three before I head out to get some things done… and then return home for two or three more.

Chapter XLIV

This chapter, I dedicate to my Mom. And not just for obvious reasons. I’m spending my birthday this year in the 216 because she’s been in the hospital for the past week and some change. It’s been a long, tough week–mostly for her. And thankfully, there is a road ahead. It’ll just be bumpy. In any case, considering there wouldn’t have even been a Chapter I of my life without her, I’m glad to be here for her. THANKS, MOM!

That aside, what a year! I went through Viable Paradise and lived to tell the tale! I went to cons and survived their controversies. I renewed some friendships, made some new friends, and now I’m looking at some dayjob changes that might actually benefit me (as well as adding more responsibilities of course).

What’s to come? Your guess is as good as mine, but I feel the answer is wrapped up in a Luis Buñuel tribute, inside the lyrics of a New Pornographers song…

Vade ultra!

“I can still hear you saying you would never break the chain…” [March 2017]

Well, I warned you last time this wouldn’t look pretty. That there is 7 days of writing in a 31 day month. Still, better to light an inch than curse the dark.

One of my VP20 crew told me, “Output is not a measure of value.” Which other friends and loved ones have told me before, of course. I’ve always known this intellectually, but deprogramming is hard. I’ve taken a step in that direction (I hope) by realizing that maybe for right now the fact of having to re-invent my writing process wheel after the sorts of interruptions I’m facing (almost exclusively dayjob-related stuff) is just a feature and not a bug.

That doesn’t mean I stay happy with it, though. But maybe I don’t have to resent it so much until I can make changes. And changes are on the horizon. I’ve got a new short story I’m working on for a particular market; just 3 weeks until the deadline. Plenty of time–if I can stay on the stick, that is.