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Below are 20 journal entries, after skipping by the 20 most recent ones recorded in bev_vincent's LiveJournal:

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Tuesday, September 8th, 2015
1:22 pm
Everywhere we looked...Sam Elliott
We saw a lot of movies this weekend. It seemed like Sam Elliott was in most of them, but it was only a couple.

First, we watched an oddball film called The Age of Adaline. It stars Blake Lively as a woman who has an accident in her late twenties that mysteriously causes her to stop aging. She has a daughter who catches up to her and surpasses her in apparent age, and she comes to the attention of some government agencies who want to study her, so she has to go off the radar, switching identities every decade or so. When she's about 107, she meets and falls in love with a man (Treme's Michael Huisman) but she knows that, like all the other times she's gotten involved, it must end because, as with Doctor Who, the other person will grow old and die while she remains the same. Then she meets the man's father (Harrison Ford) and all manner of mayhem breaks out. It's a cute movie. The stentorian narrator is a bit of a buzz kill, but Lively (who I've never seen in a movie before) is good and Harrison Ford is great.

We went retro on Saturday night and watched a couple of films from the early 1980s: Heavy Metal and The Wall. Here's the thing: I'd never seen either of them before. I couldn't have told you what Heavy Metal was about to save my soul, and I was under the impression that The Wall was mostly animated, that's how little I knew about them. Heavy Metal hasn't aged well. It was clearly targeted at teenage boys, who probably don't care that the film doesn't make a lick of sense whatsoever. At least it was short. The Wall, however, was worthwhile seeing, even thirty years after its release. It was a lot different than I expected. I think Geldof says about 15 words in total in the film, other than what he sings. The film does a fine job of amplifying on the album's story and themes, and it's clear that losing his father in WWII had a lasting impact on Roger Waters. The animation, when it happens, looks decent for its era. The marching hammers (about the only impression I had of what the film was like) still look cool.

Then we watched Mystic River because we inherited a copy of the DVD. Still an impressive film, one that I saw on the big screen when it came out. It has Marcia Gay Harden in it—I got to spend some time with her on the set of The Mist. That wouldn't be the last time we saw her this weekend, either.

On Sunday we saw A Walk in the Woods, starring Robert Redford and Nick Nolte, based on the memoir by Bill Bryson, which I read many years ago. We didn't even see the trailer. Redford and Nolte sold us on it, and we later discovered that it also has Emma Thompson and Mary Steenburgen. It's about a guy (Redford is quite a bit older than Bryson was in the memoir, I believe) who decides to walk the Appalachian Trail, which spans a distance of over 2100 miles from Georgia to Maine. His wife (Thompson) thinks he's crazy and forbids him to go unless he can find someone to go with him. His friends all think he's nuts, too, until his old friend (Nolte) hears about the adventure from another friend and volunteers to go with him. Nolte's character is a recovering alcoholic with two bad knees and incipient diabetes, but he's better than nothing. In fact, the two men are polar opposites and haven't spoken in years. The movie is a milder version of the Reese Witherspoon movie Wild. The two men get up to some hijinx and have some funny encounters (one with an annoying no-it-all hiker, another with a couple of grizzly bears, and the funniest of all with the husband of a woman Nolte tries to charm at a laundromat). They have some minor crises but for the most part it's just fun to watch the two together, and Nolte hasn't been this laugh-out-loud funny in a long time. He enters the movie looking not too different from that famous mug shot from a number of years ago and you'd think two months on the trail would slim him down a little more than it did, but we enjoyed the heck out of the film.

Then we saw I'll See You In My Dreams, which stars Blythe Danner (apparently in her first starring role in a feature), Rhea Perlman, Max Gail (from Barney Miller) and Sam Elliott. Danner plays a woman who has been a widow for decades. She has a group of women friends her age that she spends time with. Her dog dies early in the film, which is sort of a catalyst for change. She meets Sam Elliott, a suave and debonair guy who has decided to spend all his money before he dies. She has an adult daughter who drops by for a visit. She goes karaoke singing with the pool guy. Dope is smoked. It's just a nice film about growing older and deciding to entertain the possibility of one's life having a second or third act.

Finally, last night we saw Grandma, starring Lily Tomlin, and it was the best of the bunch. Ellie's (Tomlin) teenage granddaughter Sage (Julia Garner from The Americans) needs $650 by the end of the day for an abortion and Ellie has no money so she has to go around visiting people from her past to try to raise the dough. She's just broken up with her recent lover (Judy Greer, cute as always). She'd had a 38-year relationship with a woman called Violet, who is only referenced but never seen, but she'd also knocked boots with Sam Elliott (hey, there he is again) a long time ago. He's not nearly as nice a guy in this movie, but it's still fun to watch and listen to him. Sage's mother is Marcia Gay Harden (her again!) and eventually they have to go visit her and put up with her disapproval. Along the way we run into Elizabeth Pena (in her last role) and a hilarious John Cho and we piece together all the parts of Ellie's life. The morality of abortion isn't a big part of the film (the only person who actively tries to talk Sage out of it is a protester at a clinic) but Ellie knows the lasting impact the procedure will have on Sage, so it isn't dismissed out of hand, either. Lily Tomlin has rarely been more charming, saltier, tougher or funnier, and she's all these things and more. Garner keeps pace with her, too. This is a small movie, shot in 19 days for a $1 million budget, but it should be a big hit for Tomlin. Go see it: you won't be sorry.
Monday, August 31st, 2015
12:56 pm
...that keeps on giving
Looks like we're going to be getting new next door neighbors fairly soon. The SOLD tab has gone up on the realtor's sign. I can't say we'll miss the previous neighbors and their increasing pack of barky dogs. We never really got to know them. The neighbors, not the dogs, I mean. We got to know the dogs very well.

At least they didn't bring as much baggage with them as the family that moves into the new house in the excellent thriller The Gift, which we saw yesterday morning. The husband and wife move from Chicago to L.A. for his job. She had to leave her job behind, though she's doing some stuff online. There are hints of possible instability in her past. It's a new start, perhaps time to add to their family, though that has been problematic in the past. Then he (Jason Bateman) runs into someone from high school while they're out shopping. Dude is a little creepy. A little stalkerish. The guy is played by Joel Edgerton, who also wrote and directed the film. Bateman's Simon (as in Simon Says) remembers him as Gordo, though in private he recalls him as Weirdo. He seems a little off kilter, and he keeps showing up, often bearing gifts. Is he obsessed with Simon's wife, Robyn? Did he do something to the family dog, Jangles? And what really happened back in high school?

There are a few jump-scares, but mostly this is a taut thriller with a very well developed story and characters. Edgerton's script leads you in all manner of directions and raises any number of suspicions, some of them legitimate, some of them red herrings. He also manages to shift the viewer's allegiances throughout, until he punches everyone in the stomach with a wholly substantiated but unforeseen revelation. My wife, who generally doesn't like scary movies, really enjoyed The Gift, because it was all about the characters. No guts or gore. Highly recommended.

We also watched a documentary called Iris, about Iris Apfel, though I'm hard pressed to explain what it is she's famous for. She became renowned for her rather quirky fashion taste, I guess is the easiest way to say it. She likes gaudy bangles and intriguing textiles and somehow parlayed that into celebrity. She's in her early 90s and still does all these interviews and talk shows about fashion. Her husband, who turns 100 at the end of the movie, just died this month, I see. It was an oddball film—were she less famous, she could have been featured on an episode of Hoarders, or perhaps even an entire season—but a look at something with which we have no direct exposure, so that's always interesting.

Hannibal went out with a bang and a few stabs and lots of blood. It was a very strange, entrancing series. In this incarnation, it's almost a love story between Hannibal and Will Graham, and the final moments were very Reichenbach Falls, although if you didn't wait for it there was a post-credits scene not to be missed in which Gillian Anderson looked quite ravishing and delectable. Even if there is never a Season 4, which looks like less of a possibility with each passing day, it was a good way to end things.
Wednesday, August 26th, 2015
4:00 pm
Not Kansas Any More
Last summer it was Styx and Foreigner. Last night it was Toto and Yes. Gradually I'm finally getting the chance to see in concert all the bands who I first discovered in high school or as a university undergrad, many of whom I still listen to this day or have recently rediscovered.

Styx fell off my radar for a long time until I stumbled upon their 2003 album Cyclorama, which is very good. That was when I learned that they'd brought on Lawrence Gowan as a singer-keyboardist, the guy I knew of as just Gowan, a well-known Canadian performer from the early 80s. I started filling in the gaps and then they came to the local concert pavilion last summer, along with Don Felder from the Eagles and Foreigner, who put on an impressive show, too. I'd seen Tommy Shaw before when he toured with the Damned Yankees back in the early 90s.

Similarly, I'd lost touch with Toto until something put them back on my radar again and I caught up. They have a new album out, Toto XIV, which is very good indeed. I've been looking forward to this concert for a few months, and I was surprised that they were the support act. Turns out it was almost a co-billing. Toto played from 7:30 until 9:00 and Yes played from 9:15 until 11:00 or so. Toto had the bigger stage presence, with two keyboard players (Paich and Porcaro), a percussionist in addition to a drummer, two backup singers, in addition to Steve Lukather, vocalist Joseph Williams and more. Lukather is amazing on the guitar, but I see he's still "old-school"—plugged in. A roadie had to lurk behind him to make sure his guitar chord didn't get tangled up. Yes was just five guys: drums, bass, keyboards, guitar and vocals.

I was surprised that the pavilion was in its small configuration for the concert: no lawn seats were sold. The Pavilion has 6500 reserved seats and can put another 10,000 people on the hill, and it routinely sells out the full capacity. For this show, it was all reserved seating. A rainstorm passed through in the mid-afternoon, so I was glad we wouldn't be sitting on the hill, but as it turns out, no one was. They seemed to know in advance that this was a concert with somewhat limited appeal. It was certainly an enthusiastic audience, albeit a relatively small one.

I'm much less familiar with Yes's music. I knew a few of their songs, but not most of them. I appreciate their musical talents (Steve Howe still has his guitar chops, Geoff Downes can still play his wall of keyboards with the best of them), but their songs don't grab me the same way many other bands' songs do. I have a hard time latching onto them. They meander and seem to be without structure in some cases. I guess that just comes from not having listened to them for decades, as I have with the other groups. The lead singer can reproduce Jon Anderson's sound pretty well (I liked Anderson's project with Vangelis from the 1980s), though he looked a little like a cross between a religious cult leader and Kid Rock. It was fun watching them (the bass player was impressive, though Chris Squire's shadow hung over them literally and figuratively), but I just didn't connect to the music in the same way. I was on my feet for much of Toto, but I sat back for Yes, mostly. I remember feeling much the same when I saw Emerson, Lake and Palmer many years ago: the musicians seemed to be offering a master class in music performance rather than putting on a show. But that's just me. The English bloke sitting next to us was having the time of his life during Yes.

I think that leaves only Kansas as the one major band from my college years that I haven't seen in concert.
Monday, August 24th, 2015
12:27 pm
Working Class Dog
My review of The Shining: Studies in the Horror Film just went live at Cemetery Dance Online.

We watched a couple of documentaries and a couple of films this weekend. First, we saw An Honest Liar, a documentary about James ("The Amazing") Randi, the magician and escape artist who has been one of the leading crusaders against fraud, especially from people who claim to have magical or mystical powers. Uri Geller has been one of his lifelong nemeses.

I'd forgotten that Randi was born in Canada. He became a magician and illusionist at an early age, joining the circus instead of graduating from high school. However, he reached a decision point when he realized that he could use his skills for ill or for good. He's taken on faith healers and psychics, and has posted $1 million of his own money to anyone who can prove psychic abilities. He executed elaborate cons to show that PSI research at reputable institutions was fundamentally flawed, and he coached the producers at the Tonight Show on how to set up Uri Geller's demonstrations so they were guaranteed to fail. He then started following Geller on the talk show circuit to reproduce everything Geller had done the previous day to show that there was nothing magical about it. His credo is that magicians are the most honest people around: they'll tell you they're going to lie to you and fool you, and then they lie to you and fool you.

On a more personal level, the documentary revealed some surprises about his long-term relationship and a deception that was either perpetrated upon him or with his full cooperation for a quarter of a century. We've always liked Randi and his JREF organization's goals. We came away from the documentary liking him even more. But, man, those eyebrows. They're a ZIP code all their own.

Then we watched A Year in Champagne, which is a companion film to A Year in Burgandy, which we watched a few months ago. It examines the production of champagne wine in northeastern France by showing what goes on during a typical year at a variety of vineyards and companies. The year chosen happened to be a particularly gloomy one and it looked like the crop would be a complete failure, but season-end conditions improved enough so that, although the crop was small, it was very good. A fascinating look at the way champagne emerged as something associated with celebrations, and the people who've made it for centuries.

Yesterday we saw Ricki and the Flash, starring Meryl Streep as a woman who abandoned her family to pursue her dream of being a musician. A crisis emerges when her daughter's husband divorces her and her ex-husband (Kevin Kline) is ill-equipped to manage her volatile emotions. So he puts in a call to Ricki (who the family knew as Linda) and asks her to come back to Indiana. This opens up all sorts of old wounds and issues. Ricki's partner, in the band and off, is played by the most excellent Rick Springfield, who still has his guitar chops (and looks much better than he did in True Detective, see above) and delivered a surprisingly emotional performance as a sensitive guy trying to break down the borders of a somewhat closed-off woman. The script was by Diablo Cody, and it makes some very interesting (and, from my perspective, good) choices about what threads to follow and how to wrap them up. There's no tidy bow at the end, but there is the possibility of further healing of broken bonds. It gave us a lot to talk about at the pub after the matinee. Good music, too, all performed by the actors and musicians.

Then, in the afternoon we watched an Australian film called Strangerland starring Nicole Kidman, Joseph Fiennes and Hugo Weaving. It's set in a small, remote Australian town prone to dust storms. Kidman and Fiennes have moved there to get away from some family problem that occurred in their previous domicile. They have a 12- or 13-year old son who likes to go walkabout at night and a 15-year-old hypersexual daughter. There's unexplained tension in the marriage that is exacerbated when the two kids go missing one night. Everything from everyone's past comes out in the subsequent investigation, led by Weaving's town sheriff. Strong performances, but things sort of meander without much explanation and the film has one of those dreaded "French movie" endings where the credits start rolling and you slap your forehead and say, "Oh, no!" An intriguing movie, but ultimately less than satisfying, although it's got Nicole Kidman, and that's always good.
Wednesday, August 19th, 2015
1:48 pm
Johnny B. Goode
I went to a book signing last night and came home smelling of smoke.

No, it didn't turn into a book burning.

I first met Michael Koryta at Necon in 2014. We hit it off quickly and I found myself thinking that if he lived closer, he'd be the sort of guy I'd like to hang around with. A seriously smart guy, and very nice. He also happens to be a helluva writer.

I'd been introduced to his work by accident. I was using my computer-fu for my pals at Cemetery Dance, helping them extract the text from an obstinate pdf. All the running headers and footers and page numbers were giving them fits. So I took a crack at it and managed to come up with a solution to the problem. As it happened, the pdf was Koryta's The Prophet. I figured, since I had the file, I'd load it onto my iPad and read it. I was majorly impressed.

Those Who Wish Me Dead was his 2014 novel, a full-out thriller set in Big Sky Country. Impressive. I managed to get an eGalley of his latest, Last Words, the beginning of a series, and was also impressed. I think I'd known he was coming to Houston on his book tour, but all of a sudden, on Monday, I realized it was going to be the following day, publication day for the new book. I sent him a DM on Twitter and said to give me a shout if he was bored yesterday afternoon. He had an interview to take care of, but in between that and his appearance at Murder By the Book, he had an hour or so, so I met up with him at the bar at his hotel, and then drove him over to the bookstore.

Following his own tradition with MBTB, he read from his next book instead of the current one. They're parts of a series, and he originally decided to shift the second book from third person to first to indicate the growth and evolution of his character, Mark Novak. He was some 300 pages into the book when he realized it wasn't working, so he went back to the beginning (oh, what a brave decision that was) and started over again in third person. However, before he made the choice, the decision had been made to include the first chapter as a teaser in the hardcover of Last Words, a fairly rare occurrence. Even rarer, now that the chapter is a lot different than it will be in Echoes, when it appears next year.

He asked me to stick around after the signing, so we went out to dinner. As a nod to being in Texas, I suggest barbecue. The original Goode Company Barbeque is only a few blocks from MBTB, and it was a good choice. By then it was nice enough that we could sit outdoors while we had our dinner and Texas beer (Lone Star for him, Shiner Bock for me). That's where the smell of smoke came from—we were downwind from the kitchen, I guess. I could still smell it on my clothes this morning. A nice smell.

Anyhow, it was a pleasant evening. Had a great time chatting with Michael about everything under the sun. Took him back to his hotel, as he had to catch an early flight this morning for the next leg of his book tour.




We watched American Sniper on the weekend. It had been on my radar for a long time, just never got around to it before. I'm glad we saw it. I had a different impression about what happened to him after he came back after his last tour of duty. As good as the film was, I have to wonder how Eastwood and the producers and the studio executives and everyone else who sticks their collective noses into a movie allowed it to go out with that scene of the baby played by a plastic doll. Surely the scene could have been shot differently so it wasn't so blatant. As long as it was breast feeding, it was hardly noticeable, but once Cooper's character started waving it in front of the camera, it left no doubt that this was not a real baby, crying noises in the soundtrack notwithstanding.

We also watched a documentary on Netflix called The Search for General Tso. While nominally devoted to determining the origins of the ubiquitous dish, it also explored Chinese immigration into the US and the reasons why they scattered across the country after originally concentrating in San Francisco. It's not a long film, a little over an hour, but it presented some interesting information about how American Chinese food evolved because the Chinese understood that they had to adapt the cuisine to the local palate, which gives rise to such weirdnesses as General Tso's Alligator in Louisiana. They tracked down the originator of the dish, an aging Chinese man from Hunan Province who lived in Taiwan, who was flabbergasted and dismayed by the variations of his invention presented to him. A fun, light, entertaining program that will likely leave you with a sudden urge to head off to the local Chinese takeaway.
Monday, August 10th, 2015
2:37 pm
Ride-along with the True Detectives
What's a person to do when your spouse is out of town for the weekend and the daytime high temperatures are hovering around 102° with a heat index over 110°?

I had a plan and a backup plan. Fortunately, everything came together for the main plan because in hindsight i don't think the backup plan would have worked out so well. I had this idea that I'd go down to the coast, where it would be 10-15° cooler, set up a canopy on the beach, bring along a cooler of beverages and a chair and write to the sound of the Gulf of Mexico's constant waves. It was a romantic idea, but I don't think it was that much cooler down there, and a few minutes out in the blanket of heat late on Saturday afternoon told me that it probably wouldn't have been terribly productive time.

Instead, I went out to Trivia Night on Friday evening. The first time I've ever done that, and it was a lot of fun. Sponsored by a local organization that liaises between local businesses and schools. They organize the district science fair and mentoring programs, stuff like that. This was a fund raiser for their organization, the third year they've done it. There were some corporate teams, but I ended up sitting with five strangers. We sat at table 12 so when we were tasked with coming up with a team name, I suggested "The Dirty Dozen," but since there were six of us, we modified it to "The Dirty Half Dozen." There were eight rounds of ten questions and we did surprisingly well. We were the leaders at the midway point and ended up coming in second overall, losing out to the returning champions from last year. One of the rounds consisted of a baggie containing ten pieces of breakfast cereal that we had to identify. That was pretty clever, I thought.

Then on Saturday, the HPD ridealong I'd requested a couple of weeks ago came together. I had to be at the South Central station at 6:45 for roll call, so that meant getting up early. I was assigned, as requested, to a female officer, as I wanted to hear her perspective on the job. How her colleagues treated her, and how the public did. It was a fairly uneventful tour of duty—the officer kept looking for something interesting to show me, but the closest we came was a wellness check at a house where the resident hadn't been heard from for four days. The front door was barred, so HFD was called in to pop the gate and then break down the door. Everyone expected to find a body inside, but the house was empty, so the resident will return home to a surprise. I learned all about the new street drug that is turning people into zombies and got the inside scoop on how cops handle certain kinds of routine situations. It's been a decade since my last ridealong, so their tech has been upgraded a little in the interim. Cops have to be experts at distracted driving, as they're always responding to messages on the computer, over the radio and on their phones, sometimes simultaneously. I think she was disappointed that it was a boring day, but I got a lot of material and we got to spend most of the time inside the air conditioned car!

Yesterday I watched a documentary called Lost Soul: The Doomed Journey of Richard Stanley's Island of Dr. Moreau, which tells the story of how a director's vision for an adaptation of the Jules Verne novel went off the rails. The movie ended up being made, but with a new director (after Stanley spent months on the script and preproduction), but went through various cast changes and suffered from the presence of two demanding and cantankerous actors: Marlon Brando and Val Kilmer. It was filmed in a remote section of a remote section of Australia—an hour through the rain forest from Cairns, which is way up on the northeast corner of the continent, near the barrier reef. I spent a week there on vacation, a little before this film was made, I believe, and it's beautiful but a long way from everything, and prone to bad weather. The movie makes one wonder how on earth films ever get made. This was a case of giving a guy a ton of money and plopping him down in the rain forest and letting him hang himself. Fascinating stuff, even if you've never heard of Richard Stanley.

I also saw the last part of True Detectives. The show had big boots to fill, and for the most part it didn't live up to the standards of the first season. The plot was as convoluted as hell, but that's almost a noir tradition and in the final analysis did it really matter? There were the good guys (a bunch of broken, wounded men and women) and the bad guys (corrupt politicians, etc.) and the very bad guys (Russian and Mexican gangs) all bumping up against each other. It was Chandler-esque and Ross Macdonald-esque and Ellroy-esque all at the same time, which isn't a boon to the intelligibility quotient, but all in all I thought it was worth while.

I stuck my toe into the Sense8 waters. I'm not sold on it yet, but I'll watch the next episode to see where it's going.
Thursday, August 6th, 2015
11:17 am
BSP
It's been nearly two years since we saw the mercury rise past 100°F (37.8°C), but we're making up for lost time. Triple digits day in and day out, with heat indices in the 108-109° range. Fortunately, I'm not outdoors very much, so I barely notice. The heat radiating from the (black) seat in my car actually feels kind of nice when I drive home at the end of the workday.

Cemetery Dance announced a couple of relevant things recently. First, the signed/limited edition of The Dark Tower Companion is almost done at the printer and should be shipping by the end of the month. Their eye-catching notices start off by saying, "Stephen King Says This Book Will Delight Dark Tower Fans!" Well, who can argue with that? This massive book is still available from CD for the bargain price of $60, and it has material (mostly pertaining to the Marvel graphic novels) not found in the NAL trade edition, which is also still available, by the way. The timing is decent given this week's announcement that the Dark Tower movie will be in theaters in January 2017.

Then came the official announcement of the CD Select series, which consists of eBooks containing about four stories from a single author. Here's the promo copy:

This new series invites some of our favorite authors to spotlight a sampling of their own short fiction: award-winners, stories they consider their best or that had the most impact on their career—or neglected favorites they feel deserve a second look.


Long-time fans will enjoy revisiting some classic tales. New readers will find this series a handy introduction to each author’s best work.


Each Cemetery Dance Select mini-collection includes an exclusive Afterword where the author explains the reasoning behind each selection, and provides insights into the writing of each story.


Check out their webpage for a list of the authors from the "first wave," which includes me. The eBooks are available from all of the usual online vendors.

I finally bit the bullet and deleted Under the Dome from the DVR. I almost did it at the end of Season 2, but I decided to give the show another chance to redeem itself. The two-hour premiere was a train wreck. Still, I watched one more episode because it promised to "answer all the questions." I wasn't impressed.

I am still digging Mr. Robot, though. "Was that what you wanted to hear?" Eliot says to his therapist after admitting to creeping her, and just about everyone else in his life. She was stunned, to put it mildly. And then there was that bit on the roof. I kept waiting for her to get up, gasping, but no.
Friday, July 31st, 2015
2:02 pm
Living on the Edge
My latest essay at Stephen King Revisited is now online. It's called A brick heaved through a window, and it's the history behind Cujo. The title comes from a comment King once made about the way he wanted the book to impact people.

I received word from the good folks at Cemetery Dance today that their limited edition of The Dark Tower Companion is almost done at the printer and will begin shipping in late August. Can't wait to see this one. I signed a galley at NECON, the first time I'd seen one, in fact. All of my proofing on it for them was done with pdfs.

I decided to take the plunge and upgrade my PC from Windows 7 to Windows 10 yesterday. I was very cavalier about it. I didn't do a special documents backup (I have a dedicated terrabyte drive that constantly backs things up for me). I set the upgrade going and left for work after I clicked all the approval buttons that needed clicking, trusting that it would all happen without me needing to be present. And it did. Nary a hitch, and the interface and computing experience is only slightly different than before. It seems a little slicker and faster. I've discovered one program to date that no longer works, but I shouldn't have been surprised. Support for it had ended years ago, and the complaint the program made when I tried to launch it was "This program requires Internet Explorer 6 to run," so that gives an indication of its vintage. I was able to migrate the data from it to a newer, supported program, so nothing was lost. I worried that my manuscript submission tracker wouldn't work, but it started up without a problem. It's almost like having a new computer. Almost.
Monday, July 27th, 2015
3:58 pm
Not so elementary
We saw Mr. Holmes on Friday evening. It stars Sir Ian McKellan as a 93-year-old Sherlock Holmes, retired to the coast of England, keeping bees and battling the onset of dementia. Laura Linney is his housekeeper. She has a young son who is always trying to get Holmes to "do his thing," where he tells someone where they've been based on observation.

Holmes is struggling to remember his final case, the one that caused him to walk away from his lifelong profession. He knows it must have gone terribly wrong, but Watson's account of it is benign. He begins to write it down, with the young boy as an eager audience, and bit by bit it comes back to him. He's also just back from a trip to Japan where he acquired some Hiroshima herbs that are supposed to improve his memory.

It's a charming, slow-paced film that doles out its secrets reluctantly. There are few whiz-bang feats of observation, but Holmes hasn't completely lost that faculty. However, he does learn a lesson about the perils of telling the truth and the benefits of the benign lie. It's a thoroughly enjoyable film, and the little boy is a real charmer, going toe-to-toe and head-to-head with the great detective and the illustrious actor who plays him. The aging process is very well done (we see Holmes in flashback some 30 years earlier), and there's always a glint in McKellan's eye. Nicely done.

We also finally found time to watch the two-hour finale of Battlestar Galactica. It was mostly satisfactory, though there were a few things that were hard to swallow. I didn't mind that Starbuck's nature wasn't explained. I decided for myself that post-Earth she was an angel, like Baltar and Caprica's companions, one that was visible to everyone who needed to see her, which was apparently everyone. I thought the decision to eschew all technology at the new planet was a little glibly handled. A plot necessity that should have involved more angst and discussion instead of being simply accepted by everyone. Adama's decision was mystifying. We both thought he was going to crash the raptor into a mountain or something, but instead he simply went into isolation. To what end? And I could have totally done without the 150,000 years in the future bit that locked the story into a specific timeframe that causes no end of logical issues. Still, it was a great show while it lasted, and we're going to move on to Caprica next.

I put up a few book review recently. A mixed bag of the very good and the less-so:

There's been a lot of bashing of True Detective, Season 2, but I'm glad to be sticking with it. I think there are only two more episodes and it looks like the rubber is starting to hit the road. Also, a fascinating beginning to the "tooth fairy" (Red Dragon) storyline on Hannibal. It is interesting to come to this point after having experienced the entire history between Jack and Walt and Hannibal. I've also picked up Mr. Robot and Humans, both of which are off to good beginnings, though I like the former a bit more than the latter. One thing I've grown to appreciate about British television shows is their casual multi-ethnicity. Characters are black or Asian or whatever, and nothing is made of the fact. They simply are. The android who is brought into the family home in Humans is Asian, but the only controversy is that one was purchased at all, not its appearance. Wayward Pines lived up to its name, going wayward in its final episode. It was always one of those on-the-fence shows for me, but even if it is miraculously resurrected for another season, I'm done with it.
Thursday, July 23rd, 2015
2:38 pm
Himitsu wo shiri tai
I can't believe that it's been a week since I set out for NECON. Where does the time go? I had to get up really (really) early for my flight last Thursday, but the good thing about that was that I arrived in Providence shortly after noon and I got to the convention center in the early afternoon. People gradually filtered in over the course of the next several hours.

Usually a very large group of us went out to dinner at Jacky's Galaxie, but this year we were just a group of five, which made it more intimate. You could actually talk to everyone there instead of just those people in your immediate proximity. And the servers weren't overwhelmed by us. It was nice. We followed that with the obligatory trip to 1776 for provisions. Thursday evening was spent in the courtyard talking with old friends and new ones. It was surprisingly cool—I didn't take a jacket with me.

Friday morning I was supposed to go on an outing to see some of Lovecraft's papers, but my one panel duty ended up being at the same time, so I had to skip that excursion, which sounded like it was amazing. I had a kaffeeklatsch where four of us, moderated by Jack Haringa, made recommendations from all the books we'd read over the past year.

Although there are panels and interviews, all of which are interesting and worthwhile, and some business gets transacted, a big part of NECON is just talking to people. In the courtyard, in the lobby, in the (new) lounge, in the dealer room, outside the front door, over meals. The con is capped at 200 people and I would guess that at least 120 of those consist of people who go year in and year out, so there are a lot of familiar faces. It's a little bit like homecoming or a family reunion. I probably talk more during those four days than I do during an ordinary month.

One place I did a lot of talking was when I was interviewed by Brian Keene and Dave Thomas for The Horror Show with Brian Keene podcast. The segment, which starts out with an interview with Paul G. Tremblay, author of A Head Full of Ghosts, which most people are already calling the book of the year, goes live tonight. It was a wide-ranging interview, one of the most in-depth I've ever done on audio, and it was all the more fun because it was live, in the lounge at NECON with people wandering through and, occasionally, interrupting.

(Photo by Paul Tremblay -- Thomas, Keene and Vincent)

While I may talk more than I normally do at NECON, I sleep a lot less. I stayed up past midnight three nights in a row, which is way outside my normal routine. Plus, I had to get up at 4 am on Sunday to drive back to Providence and catch my early morning flight. The weekend always slips away far too fast, leaving us with a new memories, new laughs (especially from the legendary NECON roast) and new friends and acquaintances. There's no other con like it.

Over the weekend, I heard about some good TV shows to check out. I've already sampled Mr. Robot and I'm digging it. The main character is a depressed hacker who's hooked on morphine. He works for a cybersecurity company whose biggest client is an "evil" corporation. He comes to the attention of a small group of hacktivists and has an on-again/off-again courtship with them. The leader is played by Christian Slater in one of his best performances in recent memory. The main character, Eliot, is a bit of a zombie, quirky as all get out, but he's not completely alienated from society. He has friends and a girlfriend and pets. He also uses his skills to bring bad guys to justice, a kind of digilante (which is also the title of an unpublished short story of mine). I'm digging it so far.


Wednesday, July 15th, 2015
12:27 pm
Going camping
It's that time of year again: I head off to NECon tomorrow morning on a flight that seemed like a good idea at the time but now I'm facing the reality of having to get up in time to make it. The good news is that it gets me to Providence at a decent time, with lots of the day left. The bad: getting up at 3:45 am.

I'm taking part in a Kaffeeklatsch on Friday at 11 am: The Year’s Best Reading, along with Jack Haringa, Barry Lee Dejasu, and Catherine Grant. I've got some fantastic suggestions to make this year—to those who aren't off playing mini-golf, that is. I hope there's tea...

I didn't win the Thriller Award on Saturday evening. I'd asked F. Paul Wilson to accept on my behalf in the unlikely event I won, and he emailed me from the banquet to let me know that I hadn't. He is sending me a copy of the program booklet from the event, so I'll have that.

I posted a couple of book reviews over the past several days. The first was for Numero Zero by Umberto Eco, a book that he apparently abandoned back in the early 1990s but picked up again and completed recently. It's a brief book: Amazon lists it at 208 pages, but my eGalley was even shorter than that. It has a few issues. Then I reviewed Last Words by Michael Koryta, who I met at NECon this time last year. Not for anyone who has claustrophobia issues. A lot of it takes place in caves. In the dark. Whoa. It's the first book in a series, and the eGalley had the first chapter of the next book, too. Looking forward to that one.

We've been chugging along at Stephen King Revisited. I posted my essay about Danse Macabre: (What We Talk About When We Talk About Horror) and Rich's essay is available, too. I have my essays for the next two books queued up.

I met briefly with editor Danel Olson a couple of nights ago when he delivered my contributor copies of The Shining: Studies in the Horror Film. It's a massive book and I look forward to ploughing through it, perhaps on my flights tomorrow. So far I've read the introduction and the interview with the "Shining twins," which is hilarious, as they're now approaching fifty but still seem to complete each other's thoughts and sentences. It's interesting to hear about their experiences working on the film. The book has drawn some good publicity, including mentions in The Washington Post, Empire magazine and Independent Publisher review (links available here).

I discovered an overlooked BBC series from a while back that I binged through recently. It's called Five Days and aired on HBO, too. The conceit is that each episode depicts one of five days during a crime investigation, but they aren't contiguous. In the first (of two) series, the third day is the day of the 28-day review, for example, something I didn't know existed until watching The Fall. Like Broadchurch, the series looks at the impact crime and criminal investigations have on the family of the victim, their friends and on the police as well. Lots of familiar actors appear, including Penelope Wilton and Bernard Hill from Doctor Who, David Oyelowo from Selma, Edward Woodward (The Equalizer), Hugh Bonneville (Downton Abbey), Janet McTeer from the short-lived Battle Creek (I didn't realize she was British) and David Morrisey (the Governor from The Walking Dead). The time jumps don't do the series a favor, and the second season, which aired three years after the first, has some elements that could have amounted to something but didn't. For example, there's a lot of fuss over the main character's mother's dementia, but in the final analysis it's much ado about nothing. The accents in the second series are also challenging enough that I wished for closed captioning at times. Still, not bad stuff.
Friday, July 10th, 2015
11:56 am
Four stories: CD Select
I'm happy to announce the publication of my entry in the new Cemetery Dance Select series of eBooks. This mini-collection contains the following stories:

  • A Murder of Vampires

  • Overtoun Bridge

  • Centralia Is Still Burning

  • What David Was Doing When the Lights Went Out


Plus an afterword by the author (that would be me). These ebooks are a great way to sample a new author, and the price is right, at $2.99. Among the other authors in the first wave: Kealan Patrick Burke, John R. Little, Lisa Tuttle, Michael Marshall Smith, Kaaron Warren, Lisa Morton, Terry Dowling, Lee Thomas, Jeff Strand, Peter Atkins.

This morning I finished The Loney by Andrew Michael Hurley, currently only available in a fine limited edition of 300 copies from Tartarus Press. If you've had your ear to the ground, you might have heard mention of it. It was recommended to me by someone whose opinion I respect, and I'm glad I tracked a copy down. Apparently it's getting a wider release this year, and it is most deserving. It's a difficult book to describe, but it has drawn comparisons to Henry James and The Wicker Man. Moody, with a very strong sense of place. Almost claustrophobic. Mesmerizing writing. I'll be reviewing it at greater length soon, but keep an eye out for this one. It's an impressive debut novel.
Tuesday, July 7th, 2015
12:50 pm
Fireworks
My new short story "The Bottle of Red Zinfandel" is now available in Sci Phi Journal issue 6. Electronic and paper copies of this periodical are available.

My essay for Stephen King Revisted on Roadwork is now available, as is Rich's commentary essay: The First Energy Crisis.

Stanley Kubrick's The Shining: Studies in the Horror Film, edited by my buddy Danel Olson, got a nice mention by Michael Dirda in the Washington Post. I haven't seen the book yet, but I hear it's quite spectacular.

The Thriller Awards will be presented at ThrillerFest X in NYC this weekend. My short story "The Honey Trap" is vying with four others in the Best Short Story category. I figure my odds of winning are slim, but it was both an honor and a surprise to be nominated.

The past couple of weeks have been exciting and eventful. As I mentioned last time, my daughter got married in mid-June. However, they elected to have the reception this past weekend instead of immediately after the ceremony, and it was held here in Texas. So we've had lots of people visiting for the big event, which was on Friday evening. Music was by a "small big band" and a Frank Sinatra cover singer. We had fireworks at the end of the evening, too, a prelude for the July 4th celebration.

On Saturday, we took our visitors to the nearby park, where we understood the viewing would be favorable. Afternoon showers passed through, but it was clear and dry at the park and we essentially had front row seats to the fireworks. Our community launched them from two different locations, in sync with each other. We could see the second batch cresting the trees on the other side of the lake, but the primary fireworks went off right in front of us. Lasted 20 minutes—quite a spectacle. The dog with the people sitting near us wasn't quite so impressed, though. It bolted during the grand finale, and I was surprised that its owners were able to recapture it in the darkness.

We watched the World Cup final on Sunday evening, which was thrilling in its own right. No one expected the game to start out the way it did, with four US goals in 16 minutes. The one from mid-field was especially impressive. We were glad Japan got back into the game a little, at least, so it wasn't a total rout. Apparently it was the most-watched soccer match in the US ever.

Less than two weeks until Necon!
Monday, June 22nd, 2015
4:44 pm
Point Betsie
My essay about Firestarter for Stephen King Revisited went online a few days ago, along with Rich Chizmar's reminiscences about the book.

I'd be most curious to hear what Thomas Harris thinks of the Hannibal series. They are doing most interesting things with his stories. It's a mesmerizing series. Truly hypnotic.

I'm going to give Season 2 of True Detectives a few episodes to see if it picks up, but the first episode wasn't gripping at all, although it had its moments. I've never been a huge fan of either Colin Farrell (too bad he doesn't speak in his normal accent) or Vince Vaughn.

After we left the airport on Thursday, we passed two consecutive intersections that had Tim Hortons restaurants. My wife tuned in CBC Radio 2. But we weren't in Canada—we were in Michigan, driving between Detroit and the northwestern part of the Upper Peninsula, a place called Frankfort and its environs. The reason? Our daughter's wedding, which has been in the planning stage for so long that it seems like it has always been!

It was a small affair. Just the parental units and their attendants. The ceremony took place outside of the famous lighthouse at Point Betsie, which the tour guides say is the second most photographed lighthouse in the US (the first being in Maine).

We kept a wary eye on the weather during the preceding days. Thursday and Friday both showed a 30% chance of rain for the time of the wedding, but luck was with us. It was brisk and a bit breezy, definitely overcast, but not a drop fell. Apparently the conditions were ideal for the photographer because it meant no one was squinting in the sun. The ceremony was followed by a dinner at a nearby restaurant. The reception proper will take place here in Texas in the near future, with a larger contingent present.



It was a terrific weekend. We got to meet our new son-in-law's parents for the first time, and take in a part of the country neither of us had ever seen before. In fact, we're both quite sure neither of us has been to Michigan in the past except when making connections through the Detroit airport. We envision return trips in the future. There are a lot of wineries in the area. Apparently it's at the same latitude as the wine regions of France and California.

On Friday, after the rehearsal dinner, a local told us to watch out for deer as we returned to our hotel. We left the restaurant on Saturday evening at about 9:45, which was still twilight that far north. As we skirted the western coast of Crystal Lake, I remembered that advice, but then I told myself that deer probably wouldn't cross the road here because there was nowhere for them to go on the other side. Just the lake. Not a mile later, I saw out of the corner of my eye something moving fast toward us. A young deer bolted across the road in front of us. I'm not sure we were in danger of hitting it, but I slammed on the brakes all the same, and it zigged and zagged and dashed off into the darkness.
Wednesday, June 17th, 2015
12:53 pm
Bill, with the long tail
Bill came calling, but we had plenty of advanced warning. He turned into a tropical storm the other evening. People went crazy, emptying the shelves in the grocery stores, concentrating on water and bread, apparently. I guess they were expecting some sort of apocalyptic event instead of just what we around here affectionately call "showers." Granted, it rained a fair amount, but I think the storm we had on Memorial Day was worse, and that one didn't even merit a name. Some wag on Twitter suggested there were going to be a lot of homemade croutons next week as people tried to figure out what to do with the excess bread.

Even though the center of the storm, now a Tropical Depression instead of a Tropical Storm, has moved well past us, Bill has a long tail, as you can see from the accompanying satellite image. That means the storm is still pulling moisture from the Gulf and occasionally dumping it on us. So there could still be some local street flooding but, for the most part, T.S. Bill was a bit of a fizzle. Not that anyone's complaining. Except the people who bought all that bread.

My short story "The Bottle of Red Zinfandel" will be in issue 6 of SciPhi Journal, due out soon. Their illustrator, Cat Leonard, did spot illustrations for each story. Here's what she conjured up for mine.

The journal features science fiction stories with a philosophical context and mine contemplates the repercussions of teleportation.

We're into the fourth season of Battlestar Galactica, after the stunning reveal at the end of the third season: the identities of four of the sleeper cylons. That means there's just one remaining to be revealed. My money is on the cigarette-smoking doctor! I have to say that this is a more sophisticated and complex series that tackles some interesting issues and develops strong character relationships than anything Star Trek ever managed to do. I still can't believe I overlooked it for so many years.

In learning some basic guitar chords, I have discovered that the lower-E string, the thickest, is more trouble than it's worth much of the time. How many of the major chords require you to skip it? The F, B and D chords sound light-weight to my ear without that lower component, compared to the other chords.

I'm reading Last Words by Michael Koryta, who I met at Necon last year. Our hero has just been placed unconscious deep inside a cave. When he comes to, he's wearing only his underwear and it's completely dark. Totally. He has no idea where he is (he figures out it's a cave fairly soon) or how to get out. This is very creepy stuff.
Tuesday, June 9th, 2015
2:55 pm
Zero Hour: 5 p.m.
I haven't owned a suit since I was in high school. I have a tux that I've worn a couple of times in recent years, but for other occasions, I've relied upon the blazer/dress pants ensemble. Patches on the elbows and everything. However, that won't do for a wedding, so last night we went out and bought me a suit. Two, in fact, since it was buy-one-get-one-free week at the haberdasher (there's a word that's fallen into disuse!). We made a romp of it. Got a lot of laughs from the salesman. At one point, a mustachioed tailor who reminded me of Gepetto sneaked up behind me and took a few rapid measurements with a tape and a piece of chalk.

On a whim, I decided to pick up the guitar and try to learn to play it. After a week, I can now find A, D, E and G without too much trouble and my fingertips are tender. I can also manage C, as well as Emin, Dmin and Amin, although my current favorite is Cadd9. I'm playing around with "Dreamboat Annie" by Heart, but the F chord is a challenge and Fmin even worse. I've strummed the guitar many times over the years—I even taught my daughter to pluck the opening to "Dust in the Wind" once—but it's never stuck with me. Maybe this time will be different.

It's slow going for TV during these summer months, but there are a few interesting shows all the same. I raced through Aquarius, but was frustrated by its multiple cliff-hangers. Sure hope it gets renewed. Wayward Pines is intriguing, though strongly reminiscent of The Prisoner. Melissa Leo looks like she's having a great time in it. They've already chewed through a couple of big-name actors. I was recommended The Whispers, so I watched the first two episodes of that. The only thing it's missing is that creepy girl from Intruders. It's inspired by a Ray Bradbury short story called "Zero Hour" from The Illustrated Man that's about six pages long. Murder in the First returned last night with a bang, an episode that features a Columbine-style duo on a school bus. And Hannibal is back, that lush, artistic, confounding series that is at least as much style as substance.

On the reading front, I seem to have acquired electronic galleys to a lot of short story collections lately. First I read The Last Drive and Other Stories by Rex Stout, early stories by the creator of Nero Wolfe, many of them involving golf. Then it was The Complete Crime Stories by James M. Cain (author of The Postman Always Rings Twice and Double Indemnity), though in truth a good many of them aren't crime stories at all. Now it's Charlie Martz and Other Stories by Elmore Leonard, a short collection of mostly unpublished Leonard stories in which he breaks some of his "10 rules." For good measure, I'm also reading Pale Grey for Guilt, the ninth Travis McGee novel. I'm slowly working my way through the McGee books in order at the pace of one or two a year.
Monday, June 8th, 2015
2:31 pm
Pet Sounds
I'm thrilled that, over a decade after its release, The Road to the Dark Tower is still delivering semi-annual royalty checks. The latest, through the end of December 2014, was actually nearly twice as much as the one for the previous six-month period.

I'm told by the publisher, Centipede Press, that The Shining: Studies in the Horror Film will ship out starting next Monday, June 15.

I'm not sure that John Cusack would have sprung to mind to play Brian Wilson of the Beach Boys, but that's who's the older version of the wunderkind in Love & Mercy, the new biopic that also stars Paul Dano as the pre- and mid-collapse Wilson. Elizabeth Banks is the woman who recognizes the unhealthy control Eugene Landy (Paul Giamatti) exerts over him. It's an interesting telling of the story, with lots of music. We were particularly fascinated by the bits in the studio where Wilson used the professional studio musicians known as "the Wrecking Crew" to lay down the tracks for Pet Sounds according to the things he was hearing in his head. (We saw a documentary about the Wrecking Crew several weeks ago.) The vocals were all added later, a process that absolutely baffles me. The film has a few spacey moments, especially in the 1960s section, but Cusack and Banks hold it together even when things are spiraling out of control for Wilson.  Dano resembles Wilson more than Cusack does, and Cusack only occasionally attempts some of Wilson's more notable quirks and tics to remind us who he's supposed to be.

I read a bit about Landy after we saw the movie yesterday afternoon, and it's an interesting story. He pretty much saved Wilson's life. Got him off drugs and back to a normal weight, eating healthy, but at some point he took his work to an extreme, monitored Wilson 24/7, took control of his life, his finances, everything, all apparently because he had unfulfilled musical aspirations of his own. Finally a court intervened, stripped him of his medical license in California and banned him from seeing Wilson ever again. However, that wasn't the end of his medical practice. Apparently he moved first to New Mexico and then to Hawaii, where he continued to be a psychotherapist. This was before the age of Google, of course. Giamatti chews up the scenery in a terrible mop-top wig. His Landy seems maniacal.

My wife got me a Doctor Who-themed Monopoly game for my birthday, so we played with our daughter and her fiance on Saturday evening. I think it's the first time I've ever played Monopoly through to completion. Usually someone gets bored and we mutually decide to tally up our assets and quit. This time we had three bankruptcies and my wife was victorious, all in under two hours.
Monday, June 1st, 2015
3:31 pm
Videodrome
I contributed to the King for a Year blogging site today with my thoughts about Finders Keepers, which is out tomorrow. I also posted the review that will appear in the next issue of Cemetery Dance magazine at News from the Dead Zone online.

My wife was away at a conference last weekend, so I watched some things that she wouldn't typically enjoy. On Friday night, I went to see Mad Max: Fury Road, and I think my synapses are still firing. I decided against the 3D version, but even so it is visually stunning and appealing. I read that one thing they did to keep everything coherent was to put the major action always at the exact center of the screen so that when there's a jump cut the viewer doesn't have to search around. It's an amazingly coherent movie, given how outlandish and chaotic the action is. It's an interesting choice to pull Mad Max into the story against his own volition. He's there more by mischance than design, and he doesn't really have a dog in the race other than to get free and survive. It's definitely one that you'd want to see on the big screen. It's fairly relentless once the action starts, which is about 22 seconds into the film.

I finished Oz, the HBO series that might be considered the precursor to Orange is the New Black. Just about every male actor over 40 who's been in a TV series in the past decade was probably in this series at some point. It takes place in a Maximum Security prison. One thing it made me think is that it's a mistake to put prisoners who have committed deliberate acts of violence in with people who have committed "accidental" crimes or non-violent crimes. The through-line character, Beecher, was there because he killed a girl in a DWI accident. During his years of incarceration he is subjected to acts of terrible violence, but is also put in the position of perpetrating them himself.

On Saturday, I binged through the first seven episodes of the third season of Orphan Black. I really liked the first season, but was so-so on the second season. The third one is better than the second so far, I think. Then I watched the two-hour premiere of Aquarius, the NBC series about a cop on the trail of Charles Manson. David Duchovny plays the cop. His face seems to have broadened in recent years, and it's mottled, which might be a make-up job to indicate his alcoholic past. My first thought was that a cop who can't find his car keys probably isn't the best guy to go to when your daughter disappears, but the dynamic between him and his partner is good. It's all very 60s flower power hippy dippy summer of love, and not quite as strong a series as I'd hoped, but I see all 12 episodes are available on NBC.com so I'll probably binge through it.

On a recommendation, I also tried out Wayward Pines, which is this summer's BIG MYSTERY series. It's about a Secret Service agent looking for a couple of missing agents who ends up in the eponymous little town after having a car accident. Except it's a strange, strange town that you can't escape from. The series opens like Lost, with the eyeball shot pulling back to show the protagonist on his back in a remote location, but it quickly switches to full-on McGoohan's The Prisoner mode. There's a strong cast (Toby Jones from The Mist, Melissa Leo, Terrence Howard, etc.) and a wacky, off-kilter sense of mystery, so I'll probably keep up with it.

My wife and I are in the third season of Battlestar Galactica. I can't believe I was totally oblivious to this series until now. There were cast members at Comicpalooza last summer, and a full-scale viper, and I walked right past them without even a hint of interest. It's a well done series that tackles a lot of contemporary subjects (war, invading forces, elections where those in the know realize that the populace has made the wrong choice) and has a full slate of fascinating characters.
Tuesday, May 26th, 2015
2:22 pm
Glug, glug, glug
It's been raining pretty regularly for the past two weeks around here, but nothing compared with the storm that blew through here on Monday evening. We went out for TCBY at 6:30 and half an hour after we got home, the storm arrived. I don't think we've ever gotten so many calls from the Emergency Weather Service in one evening. It rained solidly until at least 11 pm, and off and on throughout the night. There was probably some hail mixed in, the thunder was loud enough to shake the house, and the lightening was almost constant.

Still, the place where we live is just a tad higher than the surroundings, so while we probably got 4 or 5" of rain, the ditches handled most of it. The yard got soggy, but that happens during most downpours. We heard about flooding a few miles from us, closer to the interstate, where surface streets were impassable, but our streets were clear.

Still, nothing compared to what happened downtown, which was reminiscent of what happened with Tropical Storm Allison a dozen or more years ago. The ground was already saturated, so the bayous filled up and overflowed fast. People attending the Houston Rockets game at the Toyota Center were advised to stay put after the game ended, and many complied, including one of the Rockets players. Some people were still trying to get home at 7 am.

When we got up this morning, we started checking the media to find out about the situation. The first traffic maps we looked at showed a couple of accidents, but nothing serious. They lied! As we dug in deeper, we found out that many of the major roads were way underwater. I saw a picture that looked like a nice, sedate river well within its banks, only to read the caption and see that it was Highway 288, a major Houston artery that runs past the med center down to the gulf coast. There were abandoned cars all over the place, transports stranded in feet of water. Another picture showed water lapping at the undersides of an overpass under which there was normally 13 feet of clearance. Finally we found an accurate map that showed which roads were flooded. Darned near all of them downtown. Fortunately, neither of us had to go into town, so we can go about our business up here, where it's relatively high and dry.
Tuesday, May 12th, 2015
12:53 pm
The post has no title, just words and a tune
No drought issues in eastern Texas this year. I've been riding my bike to work lately—it's a little over 2 miles each way, mostly on bike trails—but not this week. Every day on the 10-day forecast except for one has a 30-70% chance of rain, some of it heavy. We've been spared the brutal winds and tornadoes experienced by the northern part of the state, but I'm not biking in this weather. I rolled the dice and won on Friday: when I left the house in the morning it was sprinkling a little and I almost turned back, but I ploughed ahead and managed to not get wet. Ditto on my return trip. I figure anything more than that would be pressing my luck.

We went to see Woman in Gold on the weekend. The film stars Helen Mirren as a woman who escaped from Austria as WWII was about to begin, leaving behind her parents. The family's apartment was plundered of all of its artwork, most prominent among which was a Klimt painting of her aunt that is adorned in gold foil (hence the title). In the late 1990s, she hires the son (Ryan Reynolds) of a friend to attempt restitution, even though everyone tells her the painting is Austria's Mona Lisa and they'll never get it back. Based on a true story. Tatiana Maslany from Orphan Black plays the younger German-speaking version of Mirren's character. An interesting exploration of Austria's attitude toward the war. Jonathan Pryce has a bit part as the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court, which is where the case ends up at one point. Beautiful Viennese scenery as an added bonus. I visited the city twice in the 1980s.

Last night I read Perdido, the novel fragment by Peter Straub published by Subterranean Press. I hope someday he finds the time to go back to this story. It has his trademarked unreliable narrator aspect, as well as a mysterious setting (and, only alluded to, two even more mysterious settings beyond). I'd love to see how the performance piece Murder Among Friends evolves.

This morning I started Tin Men by Christopher Golden. It's a near-future military thriller with a fascinating premise. The US is now policing the world with soldiers who are tucked up safe and sound in pods in a bunker while wired up to virtually indestructible robots assigned to foreign lands. Unlike many military thrillers I've read (for example, Tom Clancy, who I eventually gave up in disgust), this isn't a jingoistic story. The US isn't pursuing world peace for altruistic reasons, but rather to further its own agenda. Any border crisis that threatens the US's interests is immediately put down, even if the conflict might have shaken out naturally in the long run. It's a fascinating and refreshing approach to the world stage.

We watched the first two episodes of Grace and Frankie last night. It's a Netflix original starring Jane Fonda and Lily Tomlin about two couples broken up by divorce when the husbands finally come out of the closet and announce their lifelong love for each other (Martin Sheen and Law & Order's Sam Waterston). Alas, I think the series' best moment was probably the last part of the first episode, where Tomlin's character is on a vision quest and Fonda's accidentally ingests some of her peyote beverage (worst-tasting iced-tea ever) and they stumble around on the beach while the visions play out. Hilarious and almost impossible to top. "Stop yelling," Tomlin's character says. "You're upsetting the sand." Otherwise it's a bit tedious and boring. Not sure we'll return to it.
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