Quickie Review: THE DEAD MOUNTAINEER’S INN

The Dead Mountaineer's Inn: One More Last Rite for the Detective GenreThe Dead Mountaineer’s Inn: One More Last Rite for the Detective Genre by Arkady Strugatsky
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I got this book as a gift and I was happy to get it; my reading of Soviet era science fiction has been nonexistent. This book is now my new standard for judging the “genre mashups” I read from now on. The book really is everything that Jeff VanderMeer promises it is in his introduction. It’s all here: shades of mystery, hints of the occult, and a bit of science fiction (some of which brought R.A. Lafferty to mind). A little surrealism and magical realism too, but with a twist. I loved how the Brothers Strugatsky almost always had a rational narrative explanation… which the reader is free to accept or reject.

There’s so much delicious meta in the book, too. In one scene, the main character breaks into a fellow guest’s room thinking, “I did this just like a hero in a spy thriller would have — I didn’t know how else to do it.” Meta is the book’s mission statement, in a way. It’s theme is how “The unknown makes us think — it makes our blood run a little quicker and gives rise to various delightful trains of thought. It beckons, it promises. It’s like a fire flickering in the depths of the night.” And, it’s a warning that, “You’re following the most natural roads, and for that reason you’ve ended up in unnatural places.” It’s elements like these, and the timelessness of the story’s setting that allows this 1970 novel to age well.

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So If You’re Tired of the Same Old Story…

I hit a couple of milestones this year. As always, I just need to capitalize on them. Leverage them into the next step in my master plan. As always, it’s that easy, and that hard.

But it’s been a tough year on top of that. It’s changed a lot of us, especially after November 9. And don’t get me started on the veritable icons we lost…

And now it’s time to turn some pages.

Lots of people have reason to be afraid in the next four years, and there are some people who get a big kick out of that. Fuck them. We might feel like we’ve been kicked in stomach by Bruce Lee straight into a spear stuck on the wall. But we have to toughen up, do your thing, and use that thing to stand up and get in the faces of the people who feel they can tell us to sit down and shut up.

2017, do not fuck with me. I’m going into next year angry, and so are a lot of my friends.

Go on, try us.

Quickie Review: ARRIVAL (2016)

I first heard of Ted Chiang’s “Story of Your Life,” on which ARRIVAL is based, at the very first con I attended as a wannabe writer about seven or eight years ago. It was on a panel that included among other luminaries, Nancy Kress, who cited “Story of Your Life” as the best short story dealing with the idea of translating of alien languages. I read it soon thereafter, a couple of times over. It’s been about 3-4 years since I read it last.

It’s a Ted Chiang story (everyone in the SF/F writing business knows what that means), so it left enough of an impression on me that when I saw ARRIVAL, I knew that whatever liberties this film adaptation took didn’t take away from the fundamental truth of the story. Sure, a film with Amy Adams, Jeremy Renner, and Forest Whitaker would have to kick things up a notch to justify their salaries. But I’m extremely tickled by how this story about translation was in fact a very good translation. Nothing was lost. And just maybe one or two things were gained.

Offering This Simple Phrase

For five years I worked for my current boss, but on a different team. And every year around this time, she’d give that team some choice goodies from the Cuba Cheese Shoppe in Cuba, NY about a couple of hours away from us. I’ve moved on from that team to lead my own, and I wondered if I’d get the tasty cheese products this year. Turns out, I did!

My boss really is an example (in many ways, but this one in particular) of the simple phrase “Do unto others….” On one hand, she’s Administration and the general workplace rule is to be as neutral as possible during the holiday season, because we serve a lot of folks at the dayjob who don’t celebrate Christmas, or anything at all. But if you do, she’ll throw out a Merry Christmas in a second, and if you’d accept it you’ll get a gift of fine local cheeses.

For those of who aren’t into this particular holiday, I hope this time of year is exactly whatever you want it to be.

For those who are, Merry Christmas!

Plenty of Fluids

It’s been 9-10 hours days at the dayjob this week even though I was knocked out for a lot of last week by some kind of lung pox. The occasional cough and sneeze hasn’t stopped karma from arranging things for me to work 9-10 hour days. I’ve been trying to drink plenty of fluids, per the advice of the medical professionals surrounding me. Sort of. Okay, maybe this wasn’t what they had in mind.

I’ve become what I have beheld — in this case, my old high school band director who would regularly accumulate coffee cups of varying levels of fullness on his desk (and cigarette butts; it was the ’80s). There’s really no reason for me to have all this fluid on my desk. The sad part is, the coffee is what took my mind back to high school band and not the old Chicago album I had playing when I snapped this.

Anyway, I’m at lunch this second, sitting at a table next to a group of four students who are just chattering away. Writer Me wants to transcribe every word; the stuff I’m hearing is fiction dialogue gold. But not today. Today, I’ll just sip my coffee (that WON’T be going back to my desk) and soak up the fluid of stories gushing out next to me. Somehow, this stuff is actually making me feel a little better.

Serling Awards

I missed the livestream of the 2016 Rod Serling Award for Advancing Social Justice Through Popular Media honoring BLACK-ISH creator Kenya Barris a couple of weeks ago. The presentation included remarks by writer, producer, and director Bill Froehlich, Diane Gayeski, the Dean of Ithaca College’s Roy H. Park School of Communication (where Serling taught),  and actor Marcus Scribner who plays Andre, Jr. on BLACK-ISH.

I miss the old Rod Serling Conferences they used to hold. Full disclosure: I presented at two of them, and was looking forward to more. I’ve no clue why TPTB decided to make the transition, but it’s understandable. Mining the past has its benefits but so does looking forward, which is what this award does.

I will say this year’s award seems an improvement over last year’s with respect to diversity and representation. I didn’t read about (or, look for to be honest) any criticism about the award then, but I have to give it props that it turned things around 180 degrees in a year. Barris was definitely an inspired pick, with his work on BLACK-ISH being the most recent best example of fulfilling what Rod Serling thought as the writer’s role…

The writer’s role is to menace the public’s conscience. He must have a position, a point of view. He must see the arts as a vehicle of social criticism. And he must focus on the issues of his time.

–Rod Serling

Quickie Review: A MAN CALLED OVE (2015)

a-man-called-ove-poster-2It was long enough since I’ve been to my local indie theater that my membership lapsed, so the ticket for this film essentially cost me $83. No complaints at all.

I haven’t read Fredrik Backman’s EN MAN SOM HETER OVE on which the film’s based. A lot of my film-going acquaintances have been saying lately of film adaptations, “I don’t know if I should read the book first.” I’ll usually see an adaptation but rarely go back and read the book. I probably will in this case. I’m very curious to see how many of the film’s themes came from the source material, because I don’t think I see too many films that feature an older character growing, at least in a direction other than “feeling young again.”

It’d be easy to watch the trailer and be tempted to dismiss the film as being about a grumpy old bastard who rediscovers life and joy by the end of it.

What I saw in this film, though, was a character transforming into the role of elder. Ove is someone who moves past simply enforcing the rules as a way of adhering to some idealized past. He comes to accept an expanding world, which doesn’t mean he has to give up on core values. Instead, the elements of the expanding world bring some of Ove’s values into focus, moving him forward which enables him to help others do the same. The best part is how, in the end, he does rediscover life and joy in spite of — and due to — being the grumpy old bastard that he is.

Breakfast with the Social Medias

I’m at the cafe I usually sit in on Sundays, gearing up for today’s writing with coffee and baked goods. I decided to dive into my social media networks (and, tweak the new site here a little bit). I spent what I felt to have been a productive hour interacting a bit. As soon as I post this, I’m going to turn all of that off but then I realized something — sure, the next time I tune in again, I might’ve missed something. But because of how big the big things tend to stick on social media, it’ll be back around again like a TV rerun.

Which then made me think that just because social media is designed to be a stream and is meant to be consumed as such (since it’s on 24/7, nonstop because of its ubiquitous presence on all of our devices), it doesn’t mean I have to treat it that way. Just what is the actual difference between the social media stream, and any other media stream I had coming up in the 80s and 90s (TV, radio, recorded media, etc.) with respect to its demands on my attention and how I choose to respond to that demand?

Dressing for the Job I Want

I finally bit the bullet and got my own hosting. Not everything survived the Blogger-to-WordPress transition, but I’m working on it. Yeah, yeah, I know. Say what you will about Blogger but the fact is, most of my life is in teh Googles and rolling a Blogger blog (tackiness and all) was more efficient. Still, this move had to happen sooner or later. As they say, “Dress for the job you want.” and the people with the jobs I want roll their own sites.

I still have a punch list of issues to work through. So far, the only two “cons” of this whole process are: (a) The random few pictures that didn’t import from my old site. I went back and manually updated the last few posts, but not any further. (b) The fact that my research led me to believe I could write posts in Markdown (my style of choice for drafting every text-related thing in life), and I can’t seem to enable the feature. Yes, the WP editor is so much better. Still, it annoys me that I can’t just bracket words and just copy/paste a link without having to use the link UI like a peasant. Oh well.

I guess now would be a good time to actually do some writing. Have an essay and an overdue (by my personal calendar) story to edit.

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Today’s soundtrack: Jean-Luc Ponty, “Aurora, Pt. I”

This Is My Thanksgiving

In the immortal words of Don Henley…

And I don’t mind saying that I still love it all
I wallowed in the springtime
Now I’m welcoming the fall
For every moment of joy
Every hour of fear
For every winding road that brought me here
For every breath, for every day of living
This is my Thanksgiving