Tuesday, July 31, 2007

Tom Ricks coming to Portland!

One of the things I miss about DC is the wealth of speakers, on the political side at least. One person couldn't possibly take in all the testimony, think tank, museum and university speeches on just about every political and international topic under the sun. So I am very happy to see Thomas Ricks coming to Powells to talk about his book Fiasco, now out in paperback. If I had to recommend a single book about the war, it would be that one. Now that it is in paperback, so you really have no excuse not to read it. Ricks will appear on August 9th at 7:30 at the Burnside location. Get there early for a seat. To my great sadness, I will be out of town, but I would be there for certain otherwise.

Have a look at this Ricks chat on the Post for more on Iraq.

Also, he notes that the paperback version contains a new afterword based on more recent events. I wish hardcover readers could have gotten some sort of password with which to access a PDF or a website to visit with the new content.

Not for me

Not to speak ill of the dead, but the allure of the Ingmar Bergman films largely eludes me. And I have certainly tried them. John Podhoretz links to a amusing parody of the Bergman films.

Monday, July 30, 2007

Sugar delights

I have been away from Ken Haedrich's Pie book for far too long. I have been meaning to make the Indiana Sugar Cream Pie, but I am the only one in the house that wants to try it. My wife fears that it will be like the horrid Shoe Fly Pie I made.

I had a pile of blueberries on hand so I made the Blueberry Lime Pie instead. Its simple, a pound of berries, a bit of limeade concentrate (melted) some sugar, some tapioca and some lime zest. It tastes like you think it would, a tart blueberry pie. Quite nice and would have been ever better with a bit of vanilla ice cream.

Beaumont Market carries Mexican Coke, the one made with sugar cane rather than HFCS. I guess I am too used to diet cola, as I thought this was like eating sugar right from the bag. It was certainly cleaner and in a sense thinner than the American version. I didn't feel the urge to immediately brush my teeth, as the I did when I drank HFCS soda. But it was still far too sweet for me to drink. Pity.

See's is now offering a dark chocolate (62% cocoa) bar. It was good and at $2 for a largish bar, a good deal as well. I'm happy to see that See's continues to develop the dark side of things.

You got a lot of nerve to say you are my friend

I am currently watching Scorsese's epic Bob Dylan documentary No Direction Home. While I certainly like Dylan I listen primarily at the hits rather than the album level. As such, the furor that greeted his switch from acoustic to electric was a mystery to me. The movie makes it clear, that it was not the mode that mattered but Dylan's underlying switch in subject matter.

Dylan rose to prominence in part because the counterculture saw their viewpoints presented perfectly in songs like A Hard Rain's Gonna Fall and Blowin in the Wind. When Dylan decided to go in a different direction but stayed acoustic, they were quiescent, but people went crazy when he switched to electric. The shows feature booing and people yelling "unplug it Bobby!"

Pete Seeger explained the problem was that they couldn't hear the words. For the politically motivated ( or to use their word, topical) folk movement, words were everything. Its fascinating to watch the disconnect of the people who wanted Dylan to be something he clearly wasn't. I don't think there is an example in the post-60s era. If Cobain had gone on and made an acoustic record as he planned, I can't see the grunge types rending their flannels.

Here are a few Dylan covers for your morning:
Neil Young - Blowing in the Wind.
The Turtles - It Ain't Me Babe.
Rolling Stones - Like a Rolling Stone.

Saturday, July 28, 2007

If you don't bring up the financial parts, this could be a good time

I was staring at my bookshelves today and wondering how it was they seemed so crowded. I had recently unloaded a big pile of books at Powells and a smaller pile of Powells rejects at Goodwill. I traded in some more at the paperback exchange and I also separated out some to mail to friends. So how can it be that my shelves are still crowded. Let's go to the math. Last week I finished three books, the Harry Potter book, Execution Channel, and Fire in the Sky, a lengthy but fantastic study of the 1942-1944 air campaign in the South Pacific. So that is two books I owned and one from the library.

On the hand, I acquired eight new (to me) books making my net impact on book pile +6 for the week. If I didn't have the habit of putting down a book I am not enjoying I would be completely doomed. Let's review the new titles.

Strange Evil by Jane Gaskell. A paper, the Guardian I think, ran one of those articles where well known writers recommend underappreciated works. China Mieville recommended this one. I picked it up for a few bucks on the Amazon Marketplace.

Thirteen by Richard Morgan. As described here, I couldn't not buy this one. Sale price at Powells.

The Lies of Locke Lamora by Scott Lynch. Supposedly awesome. I was wandering Powells waiting for the Richard Morgan line signing to die down. Didn't have to buy it, but I did anyway. Full price Powells.

Drama City by George Pelecanos. If you want a dark view of DC, Pelecanos is your man. Found this at Goodwill for a few dollars.

Something for Nothing by Jackson Lears. Never heard of this one but I saw it when I got the Pelecanos. Just a few bucks, so I said what the hell.

Carry Me Down by M Hyland. Ah yes, literature. At least I can show I am not all genre all the time. I stopped by Second Glance Books and saw this one. Having some credit made the go/no go decision pretty easy, as I have wanted this one for awhile.

Forty Signs of Rain by Kim Stanley Robinson. I'm a bit dubious on this one. Robinson get all kinds of preachy. I do love a good disaster novel though. And there it was at Second Glance.

What is most disturbing (aside from the fiscal irrationality) is how this accurately describes my book buying as driven primarily by circumstance. And given that I tend to read what I have already, I am probably not setting up my reading queue as well as I could or even should. Ideally I would identify the books I want to read and then go get them. I could do this for less money that I spend now. It would be less fun though and would spoil the joy of the serendipitous find. I suspect I will continue to shop in my sub-optimal manner, and thereby continue to stress my shelves.

Which side of the fence

I enjoyed the Harry Potter novel, but it wasn't perfect by any stretch. I do agree with the criticisms of Ross Douthat, especially how the lack of Hogwarts eliminates the crucial normalcy vs. crisis dynamic of the other books. And ( spoiler) I completely agree that she chickened out when it came to who lives and who dies.

I think Douthat is incorrect when he says "But it's fathers and mothers, not 12-year-olds, who determine which children's books get handed down, and the children's books that are most likely to stand the test of time are those novels that parents love to revisit again and again as adults." I have found that parents are less driven by their own enjoyment as they are by their kid's. They choose books they remember liking (or have been told they liked) at that age. They do this because no one likes to bring home the unpopular book, but also because it helps them bond with their children and recapture something of the glee that children bring to reading. Yes, you are more likely to pick something you enjoyed but it is going to be driven more by your expectation of the child's enjoyment.

And in case you are curious, as of today, the Multnomah County Library has 1478 holds on the book. The wait won't be as bad as it sounds, the library has 500 copies. If you wait long enough they are going to start showing up at the Title Wave Store.

Friday, July 27, 2007

Can I have a cigarette before the execution?

An unpleasant parlor game is to wonder what the world would be like if all the nasty trends of the day were to persist into the coming decades. If this sort of thing interests you, then Ken MacLeod has a book for you. The Execution Channel is set in a unpleasant future of frequent torture, limited civil rights, environmental degradation, refugee crises, terrorist attacks and the use of nuclear weapons. The book starts off with a nuclear detonation at a Scottish air base. That attack is quickly followed by more attacks and the security and intelligence apparatuses quickly go into action.

The main question of the novel is who did it? Is it Al Qaeda, the Sino-Russian Alliance, the French, who are also flirting with the Russians, or is it an inside job by the Americans and British? The plot is a tad complex, especially for such a short novel, and readers may get confused by the multiple agendas and tweaked geopolitical arena. The ex-Commies are now Commies again, more or less. This isn't surprising given the author. MacLeod's novels tend to involve debates over which form of socialism will end up triumphing in the future. What makes little sense is the apparent state of America. While we don't get the full details, the US is in a state of near economic collapse, but is even more engaged in overseas adventures. Conspiracy theorists might buy that the US could maintain a high GDP contribution to military action, but I can't see it.

Speaking of conspiracy theorists, MacLeod serves up some fresh ideas in the book. Blogs have become more powerful and intelligence agencies spend quite a bit of time involved in old school disinformation campaigns to manipulate them. He also makes an argument that the geopolitical mess of today is systemic rather than personality driven. In his world, Gore wins in 00, launches an pre-emptive attack on AQ in Afghanistan, which sets off wars in Iraq and Iran, as well as a different 9/11. The point is that the conditions for a West vs. Islamic world war were already in place and the actual President didn't matter. While I don't necessarily agree, I like seeing this sort of analysis in scifi books, which often take a personality centric approach.

I quite liked this bleak book, up until the ending at least. While it made its own sense and was certainly set up in the book, it felt like a bit of cheat to me. It didn't by any means ruin the experience for me, but it seemed like an ending to a different story, unless of course he is taking the systemic argument further and saying that the action of these people are unimportant, there are larger forces at work.

Thursday, July 26, 2007

Sent to spy on a Cuban talent show

Have a look at this discussion with Tim Weiner as he discusses his book on the CIA. His book is a plea for a more effective CIA as he states here: "We need to create a first-rate spy service -- devoted to espionage, not targeted killing. We need to get good at it. We are by my count in the 11th year of a five-year rebuild at CIA. A great spy service has been five years over the horizon since 1947."

We all scream

Joanna has an article in Willamette Week about PDX ice cream. She notes that there is no in-house made ice cream in Portland. Compare this to ice cream mecca Boston with Toscaninis, Herrell's, JP Licks, Christina's and many more. The only place in metro Portland that serves homemade ice cream is in Vancouver, WA. Lame.

There is hope, as Joanna reports, in the form of Cool Moon Ice Cream. This new spot will open in Fall 07 across from kid-mecca Jameson Park, which already has the kid friendly Sip N Kranz. The owner is going high concept and I have to say this report makes me eager to try the place.

Tuesday, July 24, 2007

Richard Morgan

Richard Morgan is the Guided By Voices of book events. He keeps rocking long past the average show length. In a 2 hour period, he read from his latest book Thirteen, answered a wide range of questions and provided a special encore for those who stayed with him. And once all that was done, he got down to 45 minutes of book signing.

Just before getting to the book signing, he read an excerpt from his in process fantasy novel. It sounds like it will have his usual dystopian take. I suspect it will be somewhat like the Steven Erikson novels, and in fact he said that Erikson offered to give them a read. I am most excited about this one. Fantasy haters, know that the next book will be another scifi.

Morgan was enthusiastic, humorous and friendly. He had long conversations with everyone who waited to get a book signed. I was so charmed that I went ahead and bought the hardback. I was going to wait for the trade paperback, but thought what the hell. This is bad news for book lending friends as I don't lend out signed books.

Among his interesting comments were that he thought the notion of British (as Morgan is) scifi supremacy was bunch of hooey. He pointed to Americans like Jeff Vandermeer an example.

There was also an exciting pop culture moment. Morgan was sitting in the audience beforehand and the conversation turned to music. It turns out that the person sitting next to him was Peter Holstrom of the Dandy Warhols. Morgan proceeded to whip out the latest Dandies CD and praise them. As Morgan signed Holstrom's book they exchanged emails and made plans to get together. Dare we hope for some Morgan-influenced Dandy Warhols songs?

Fanboys take note. Morgan advises you to read The Broken Sword, an early Poul Anderson fantasy novel. I was too slow, by the time I got to A in the sf/fantasy section, all copies had been purchased. Damn!

If you get a chance to go see Morgan, I advise you take it. You will be entertained, although you will probably also buy the hardback.


Well a colleague gave me her copy of the new Harry Potter so that goes to the top of list, displacing China Mieville, Francine Prose's Reading like a Writer, King Leopold's Ghost, and the Pulitzer Prize winning American Prometheus. Despite the length and density of subject matter, the latter is a pleasant and easy read.

In any case due to the desire to avoid the mounting spoilers in the media and my eagerness to find out what happens, Potter wins. Gretchen at the Happiness Project points out an additional reason. There is something fun and exciting about participating in a mass cultural moment. This has gotten harder to do, as music, which once unified people, has splintered into multiple subcultures. So in a sense, the Potter books are the Beatles or the Rolling Stones of our generation.

A pair about which to be excited

Britain is really leading the way in scifi these days ( Stross, Hamilton, Banks, Asher, Reynolds, Morgan (whom I should see this very eve).) The downside for those of us on this side of the pond is that we must wait longer for the books. Peter Hamilton's latest, the Dreaming Void, is now available for preorder. If you are desperate you can swallow the transatlantic shipping fee. Here is a positive initial review. This review notes that the book is amazingly concise (at 650 pages) for Hamilton. Perhaps the editor gained the upper hand this time.

I am also pleased to see that a new Dexter novel is nearly here. I had wondered if the concept of the serial killer of serial killers concept would grow stale. Jeff Lindsay addresses this by having the inner killer (the Dark Passenger) disappear from shock, perhaps. This will be one to watch.

Monday, July 23, 2007

Fun in the Wallowas

I sometimes forget how very large Oregon is. We went to Wallowa Lake for the weekend and it is six hours away, so that is 12 hours of driving for about 18 hours of fun. Not the world's best trade, but we always wanted to get up that way. At first blush, it looks a lot like any other lake on Oregon. Although it is quite expensive ($13 to $20 per person) I recommend taking the Wallowa tramway, which takes you to the summit of Mt. Howard which has a few miles of hiking and stunning views of the Eagle Cap Wilderness. You can also hike in, but that isn't happening with smaller kids as the hikes are up to 12 miles with a couple thousand feet of elevation gain.

We also drove to Hell's Canyon, but a forest fire was obscuring most of the view. Bummer.

I would not have survived without XM radio. Among the treats served up were Blotto's I Wanna Be A Lifeguard, which I have not heard in ages. And I had forgotten Midnight Oil's Truganini as well, which is too crazy as that song is awesome.

While in Joseph, the main tourist town in the region, we hit Mad Mary's Soda Shop, which offers "Everything Fun and Fattening." I can't speak to the pastries or candies but the ice cream sodas were quite good. I was a little confused by the fact that they called a root beer and chocolate ice cream a Black Cow, as I had seen that as a Brown Cow. Mary's called coke and chocolate a brown cow. The wiki page says that there is not agreement on just which is which. Mary's also offered the Purple Cow which is grape juice and vanilla.

I tend to think we're going back to Rome

Cullen Murphy's Are We Rome? is a exploration of the similarities and differences between the United States and Rome. Murphy begins by describing the long tradition (dating to the Revolution) of comparing the two polities. He also notes that it is often used merely as a rhetorical foil. This section goes on for so long that I began to wonder if he really thought comparing ourselves to Rome had any value.

Not surprisingly, he does. Murphy asks us to think beyond the election cycle and in terms of decades. He identifies a number of similarities of today's USA and the late Roman empire and while the excesses of Rome are not present today, he argues they could evolve if they go unchecked.

Although some are moderately dangerous like the mirror gazing of Romans (city variety) and Washingtonians and the reliance on military power, others are more insidious like the creeping privatization of government power. While it is little known outside of policy circles, more and more of core government function is handled by private organizations. While this may all be well and good in the short term, what happens when private and public interest conflict? Ha, ha, ha, silly question, private interest will win.

Murphy doesn't write a doom and gloom tract. He also argues that Rome and the USA are different in critical areas. Among the most important is the presence of a (reasonably) mobile class structure and a dynamic culture. There is also the idea that progress and improvement are always possible (although the left sees this more from the state and the right from private sources). These can help the USA avoid the placid conservatism that helped kill Rome.

Murphy's prose is light and lively and he peppers his arguments with anecdotes , beyond the ones you've heard before. In describing the power of private interest over public in ancient Rome, he notes the story of a regional governor (outsourced) who pocketed the money meant for security. Local citizens complained and a Roman representative was sent. Said rep was bought off and said all was fine. The whistleblowers were executed and when the regional security situation deteriorated, the northern defenses were weakened to rebuild the region.

This is the sort of societal analysis we don't see terribly often in the popular press. While most of the press is about how to either cement/address the Bush changes, this book steps back and looks at the entire national enterprise. And does it in less than 250 pages.

Sunday, July 22, 2007

My Harry Potter dilemma

So, given that spoilers will soon be flying freely, should I wait for my wife to finish her copy, or should I get my hands on another? I suppose I will just have to wait and try to curtail my normal ADD web clicking.

My reading has been a bit slow of late. So much road travel. I have started Perdido Street Station, finally. I'm not sure why I haven't gotten to this one yet, as everyone shouts from the rooftops about how great China Mieville is. Perhaps if I bury myself in that one, I can avoid all the Potter chatter.

Friday, July 20, 2007

Harry Potter Day in PDX

I'm (a little) sad that I am missing the madness that will strike the nation's bookstores this evening. Many are staying open til 1Am or so, so that they might sell the new Harry Potter before morning. Powells has a party planned, and I hear tell they are closing Couch Street so that it can spill into the Pearl streets. If the bridges are really too much, NE residents may just want to go to the Lloyd center Barnes & Noble which also has plans. You might also try the feminist bookstore, In Other Words, which is also holding a party. The Oregonian has a list of many, many more.

My eldest adored the first book and I am a tad sad he is missing the fun. I am not so sure he could make it to midnight anyway.

Thursday, July 19, 2007

Blood Dimmed Tide

As it has been awhile, I can't fully articulate why I loved River of Darkness so. I recall it as a well written and tense mystery set in Britain shortly after the end of World War 1. A rural family is massacred and few clues are left. The Inspector suspects the killing may be linked to the war itself. I believe my favorite moment came in the middle of the book. One of the victims left a strange drawing, and when you realize what it is, it is a wonderful shock.

Having warm memories of the prior book, I was happy to try the Blood Dimmed Tide, a sequel set in 1932. This time someone is killing young girls in the countryside and once again, the killings appeared tied to larger events. I enjoyed the book and finished it rather quickly, but I didn't get the same level of enjoyment that I did from River of Darkness. On the plus side, the pacing was excellent. I also liked the message that actions have consequences. On the negative, the writing seemed a bit off. I can't even guess how many characters would "scowl" in reaction to hearing something. Perhaps England was a bit down in 1932. There was also less suspense as you had a decent sense of what was happening early on. And the story itself seemed a bit more run of the mill. It is better than average, for certain, but unlike River of Darkness, I don't feel compelled to tell people to read it.

Wednesday, July 18, 2007

Falling in love again

With Ian McEwan. Atonement remains one of my favorite books, but when I tried Saturday I just couldn't connect with the book. When I saw his book the Innocent, set in one of my favorite periods, the mid-Cold War, I just had to try it. The setting turns out to be relatively unimportant. This isn't really a Cold War thriller, but is a classic McEwan exploration of the inner life of a few people.

In this case, we have the inexperienced British civil servant, Leonard , who is sent to work on a joint US-British spy operation in mid-50s Berlin. While there he falls in love with a young German woman named Maria. This is his first love affair, and his internal monologues are perfect. Even in this relatively early novel ( 1990) he has mastered the little foibles and mental tricks we play on ourselves. The relationship between them is lovingly rendered, but this is a McEwan novel so you know something is going to go wrong, most likely horribly.

And oh does it ever. McEwan keeps you guessing as to how things will go wrong, as there are a number of characters through which catastrophe might rear its ugly head. Speaking of ugly, the book features one chapter that is flat out disturbing. McEwan shows an act, often used a joke in films and describes in grotesque, lengthly, nearly vomit inducing detail.

While that might seem gratuitous, it ties into the theme of innocence and its loss. For some characters innocence is well and truly lost after that event. But McEwan plays, not unlike William Boyd in a Good Man in Africa, on just who the Innocent in the title is. It would appear that every character is far from it, but that turns out not to be true.

Many authors can conjure up a good wistful, stare thoughtfully into the distance novel, but McEwan goes a step further by arguing, with his ending, that life, despite all its horror and our mistakes, is well worth living and there is still time to do what we must. This ties the book to Atonement as I think McEwan was saying something similar in that book.

Now you are no doubt desperate to buy as much McEwan as you can, but how can you? Well, Powell's is having a McEwan sale, with new books at 30% off and a wide range of used books. I picked up Black Dogs for myself.

New Bond

It looks like the Bond estate is betting they can re-invent the Bond book franchise as they did the movie franchise with Daniel Craig. The estate commissioned literary novelist Sebastian Faulks, author of Birdsong, among others, to write a new Bond novel. It will not be the first post-Fleming Bond novel. John Gardner wrote a passel of them in the 80s and 90s and Raymond Benson picked up after him. I suspect the estate is hoping to go a bit higher profile with the Faulks choice.

Tuesday, July 17, 2007

Unlimited edition with an unlimited supply

Oh man, who pissed in Washington Post critic Ron Charles' Cheerios? I think he is vying for the 2007 Harold Bloom Pompous Critic Award in his piece entitled Harry Potter and the Death of Reading. He basically says you are a jackass if you like Harry Potter and then, gazing sadly at the hoi polloi, wonders why Harry Potter readers don't listen to critics who tell them to read real books. How about we send the critics to business school so they can learn how to sell.

The Death of Reading bit comes from the upcoming NEA report on the decline of reading among young people. (here is the 2004 report). The NYT has a piece about how reading among kids continues to decline despite Harry Potter. It is merely inference that Harry Potter has no effect. In order to truly know, someone would need to study Harry Potter readers and their follow on reading habits and compare it to the general population. It could be that Harry Potter readers are preventing the numbers from slipping more precipitously. Or maybe not, but what I have seen is just guess work.

Oh, and the world's least intelligent news services notes that if you read Harry Potter, you will probably dabble in witchcraft. Of course, the Onion told us this long ago.

Make life worth living

Brack sends along this list of 60 things worth shortening your life for. I must hang my head in shame to say I have only experienced one: #17 Deep fried Twinkees. I would add attending a Jesus Lizard concert....crazy moshing. Also impossible since they are broken up. If you really want to shorten the life, consider trying to get the free 72 oz steak at the Big Texas Steak House. Trouble is, you have to finish it.

Monday, July 16, 2007

PT boat on the way to Havana

In Tango for A Torturer, Daniel Chavarria has created a virtuous vengeance novel, a justice story if you will. Aldo Bianchi was the victim of horrendous torture at the hands of a Argentine torturer and now in Cuba he has the chance to bring his tormentor to justice. He rejects the Death Wish approach for something more akin to the International Court of Justice. The book has a humorous tone which makes the torture, much of it from the Dirty War, all the more shocking when it comes.

Chavarria nicely tweaks genre conventions in this book, with twists and turns that confound the normal progression. His characters are also out of the ordinary. He has a stated interest in prostitutes (as well as Classical literature) and one of his principal characters in the book in a prostitute and not the quite the hooker with a heart of gold stereotype found in most noir books.

Set in Cuba, the book is very pro-Cuba and pro-Castro. While this is all well and good, if only because we don't see much output from Cuba in this country, it can get a bit out of hand. For example, prison is presented as being so awesome in Cuba that I am surprised people aren't breaking into jail. Also, Chavarria mocks Western views about "human rights" as really being about consumption, but that is a bit much coming from one of the more authoritarian regimes on Earth. These qualms aside it is a good read.

Sunday, July 15, 2007

I've got some news for you, nothing is fair

Oh man, I had to stop watching This Film Is Not Yet Rated. It was so solipsistic that I feared I might cease to exist if I continued to watch and validate its logic. Based on the title you might guess that it is an attack on the movie rating system. Various actors and directors are brought out to talk about how the MPAA wanted them to change this or that in their movie. Now all of these people, who have more money and fame than everyone reading this combined, are begging us to see that these minor tweaks to their movies are a great outrage that really must be addressed. You see, the rating system is capricious and arbitrary. Oh bother!

Is there any major policy or rule that is not, at it's base, at the very least arbitrary? The drinking age is 21. The driving age is 16. Abortion is legal in the early trimesters, not in later ones. In some cases, an applicant to a school will get an edge due to race or background, not in others. All of these are arbitrary. And what's more, they are ten thousand times more significant than what a director can show in his or her film. And hey, if you are going to break out the call to action, how a documentary on Iraq (either side is fine), terrorism (again), global warming, racial relations, the food supply or even the state of chocolate.

I am a major free speech advocate and love all the sex and violence you can shovel in my direction. But I beg of you, do not ask me to sympathetic to this wildly successful people, who had their precious films tweaked because of the terrible, wicked studios. Guess what, they have all the money and whether it be the bank, the venture capitalist and the employer, we all have to compromise with those who have the money. If these directors get to have a movie about the nasty studios, can we worker drones have a movie called This Project Is Not Yet Approved, about all the hoops one must jump through to get anything done at work?

Perhaps realizing that their movie is ridiculous, the film-makers bring in the idea that this "censorship" of their movies is really about the control of information and we are all doomed. Yes, unless the South Park guys can get their puppet sex financed and distributed, we are all going to be watched by Big Brother. They also wheel in someone to show that Hollywood promotes the military and that this is dangerous. Andrew Bacevich, in the excellent New American Militarism, makes a nuanced and detailed argument about how pop culture helps create a militarized society. The fellow in this movie undercuts his argument by whining about how the Pentagon wants approval if directors use military assets in their movies. Oh gee, if Mr. Director man uses a real aircraft carrier, is it really so crazy that the Defense Department wants a say so? Jackass.

As you can no doubt discern, this movie made me want to play Misfits songs really loud. So that you might share in this virtual attack, here is Last Caress, Bullet, Ghouls Night Out, and perhaps most appropriately Some Kinda Hate.

Friday, July 13, 2007

And sometimes you close your eyes and see the place where you used to live

The solitary benefit of flying from Portland to New York via San Diego is that you get extra reading time. It doesn't completely compensate for the overall suck factor, but it's best to look on the bright side., isn't it? As it happens, I had the Stolen Child by first time novelist Keith Donohue, which merits the considerable hype.

The book has two narrators. The first is a changeling who takes the place of a seven year old boy in 1940s America. The other is the kidnapped boy who turns into a hobgoblin and lives a hidden life in the woods. The story follows the next 30 years of each one's life, which become intertwined. While the two boys adjust fairly quickly to their new lives, they both become fixated on their pasts, to the detriment of their new lives. Both risk the relationships they develop in hopes of getting back what is forever gone.

The book doesn't reject holding on to the past, as it also argues that memory is a core component of identity. It does say that people must move beyond the past and embrace the present.

While the book sounds like a fantasy novel, it isn't. The stories are presented in a realist fashion and while there is magic, it is kept to a minimum and in distinctly non-fantastic ways. Instead, this is a book about the move from childhood to adulthood, which the book argues requires putting the past aside. In today's age where people don't become truly adult at about age 30, this isn't so far from reality.

I tend not to like children in peril books, ( thank all that is good and holy that I did not read Song of Kali after becoming a parent,) but I must admit I am not all that concerned about a changeling swapping places with one of my kids. This one could creep out new parents, I imagine.

Can you live this fantasy life?

Jonathan Carroll, one of the greatest American fantasists had a bit of a dud in Bones of the Moon. For most authors, it would be reasonably accomplished, but for him, it wasn't quite up to snuff. The book uses the overlapping of a classic good vs. evil fantasy quest with the real world to illustrate how people can cope with loss. The fantasy world was too unrealized and bizarre to have any appeal and the characters were on the thin side.

William Browning Spencer's Zod Wallop is the book that Bones of the Moon could have been. In it, the author of the dark children's book Zod Wallop is wallowing in depression when a number of lunatic asylum escapees, who believe they are characters in the same book, seek to involve him in a heroic quest. Most people who be terrified, but the author is more bemused, as he wrote the book at the same asylum from whence they escaped and knows all the escapees. He is convinced something may be afoot when beasts from his novel start appearing.

The main character lost his daughter and he wrote Zop Wallop as a means of dealing with it. Unfortunately, he did not deal well with it, and he continues in a downward spiral. The quest of the book is really for him to accept life once more and move forward.

The characters are fairly stock, with a few particularly evil ones and few particularly good ones. They are meant to appear as they would in a children's fantasy novel and their reality in the pages is not always clear. There is quite a bit of humor in the book, as well as all kinds of bizarre set pieces. Spencer is nothing if not inventive.

Spencer hasn't written any novels since the 90s, but continues to write short stories. After Zod Wallop, I plan to read more starting with Resume with Monsters.

Wednesday, July 11, 2007

Like a record baby

Reading Robert Charles Wilson's books has been a frustrating experience. While a science fiction writer, he tends to set characters in interesting situations, sees how they react and very often lets the plot wither away. Spin works from start to finish. The characters are solid and interesting as always, but he also keeps the plot moving forward while telling a relevant apocalyptic tale.

The book reads as an allegory about global warming. A few years from now, a shroud falls over the Earth. Scientists calculate that the Earth has about fifty more years of life. At first, no one reacts, but as reality sets in, some turn to end times religion, some seek a scientific solution and others just want to kill themselves. The main character was a childhood friend of twins, one of whom leads the scientific effort while another pursues a faith based path.

The book has a number of fun subplots many of which are ruined by the blurb on the back of the paperback, so don't read it. Wilson is a bit more inventive than usual here, although the ending is a bit standard and predictable. It's a good ending that ties the story together better than he normally does, but it won't blow you over.

Go ahead, bite the Big Apple

Ah work. It has kept me away from some of my hoped for visits here in NYC, including the mythic creatures exhibit at the American Museum of Natural History. Such is life. I did however make it to Grom, the new gelato place that is straight out of Turin. My experience was mixed, one disappointing flavor and one delightful surprise.

The loser was the gianduja, the chocolate hazelnut combo that is one of my gelato standbys (along with pistachio and amaretto.) There just wasn't enough hazelnut flavor to excite me. And the chocolate was not deep enough to make up for it.

The nougat on the other hand was a real treat. The nougat was broken up into small bits and whipped into rich sweet cream that was one of the best ice creams I have ever tried. Really strong flavor with a mild but effective sweetness. So I should have just gotten the nougat, but the nougat was the reach flavor to the gianduja standby.

Hats off to NYC pizza makers. I ran into a little place to grab a quick bite and I had a slice of pie that would put a place at the top of the city in Portland. Bella Faccia is better but not many other places are.

Tuesday, July 10, 2007

Dennis, tell me another story, tell me about the lows and highs

I had more or less written off the possibility of another Kenzie-Gennaro novel, until I read this article. And who do we have to thank for this change of heart? Ben Affleck! (via Sarah Weinman)

Pray for Father roaming free

AICN has some interesting thoughts about the new monster attacking New York trailer, namely that the monster is Cthulhu.

Lost at sea

In the Hunt for Red October, Russian captain Marko Ramius is portrayed as imperturbable and wise. One way in which this is demonstrated is the Captain's critique of Jack Ryan's book on Admiral Halsey. Ramius delivers his negative verdict on the book and Halsey, while his submarine is being stalked by a hostile Russian submarine. Halsey's Typhoon makes the case that Halsey should at the very least be re-evaluated.

In late 1944 while sailing to the Philippines, Halsey's task force sailed right into a typhoon. Three ships were lost and more Americans died than did at Midway. In addition to the lost ships, many ships were badly damaged. The failure to spot the typhoon is laid on mid-level operational failure to communicate, but Halsey is justly reprimanded for continuing to drive the fleet through the storm when it was clear many ships could not make it. One captain is particularly condemned for failing to react at all to his sinking ship's situation.

This book is told from the perspective of the ships that sank and of one ship that rescued most of the survivors. The story is gripping although it is also very narrow. The author's only touch upon the ships that did not sink, including some light carriers. Another new book called Sea Cobra, paints a broader picture. Still, the story of the ship that disobeyed orders to stay behind and rescue sailors is an inspiring one.

Every single one of us, the devil inside

I am a sucker for literary horror novels, so I was thrilled when I heard about A Good and Happy Child. The main character is a man who will not touch his infant son. We learn that he fears he will pass on the taint of demonic possession, which he believes killed his father and nearly killed him. The book is spent mostly in the past, in the form of attempts by the grown man to understand what happened to him in his youth.

The author nicely balances the possibility that the narrator and his family are afflicted by mental illness and the chance that he really is possessed. His mother sees it all as illness, while family friends bring him closer and closer to an exorcism. Whether it be spiritual or not, the final pages are themselves a kind of exorcism. The pacing of the story is excellent, and the author brings in a fine amount of creepy detail without ever becoming base, as most horror novels do.

Anyone familiar with Virginia is likely to spot that the novel's center of action, Preston, is really Lexington, VA. It is a mountain town with a military school and a college that was re-named for a Civil War general. In our world, that is Washington & Lee, in the book it is Jubal Early College. On this page, the author talks a bit about Lexington-Preston.

This book is not the extreme horror of the Ruins, but is more akin to the psychological horror of Flicker or the Secret History. This is the author's first book and I expect there will be a lot more to come.

Sunday, July 08, 2007

Music notes

As Brack notes below, the Interpol album is looking pretty good. "No I in Threesome" is immediately catchy. Sure, the similiarity of this song to some of the nice ones from Bright Lights and Antics makes one wonder if they are merely a nattily dressed Ramones, delivering more of the same each time. If so, sign me up, I love this stuff. If they can serve up something that makes me weep like Leif Erikson, I will be overjoyed.

I am one listen into the new Shellac record, and I have to admit it is a challenge. End of Radio is like a concentrated Mama Gina or the endless song from Terraforming. I feel a bit like I am taking a class when I am listening to the album as a whole. Not a bad thing necessarily, but a bit tough nonetheless.

A little something sweet

I've heard tell of the Elvis Reese's peanut butter cup, but today was the first time I had seen it. So I bought two. The kids needed some of course. Most of the Reese's experiments, including the cookie and the caramel versions, have been lost on me, but this time Reese's pulled it off. You may recall that Elvis enjoyed his peanut butter sandwiches stuffed with bananas and then fried in butter. The Elvis component is a thin layer of banana creme underneath the peanut butter. This one could have gone straight to horribly sweet, but it manages to balance the flavors well enough. Now, keep in mind, I think that Laffy Taffy Banana is a tasty treat, so you may want to approach this candy cautiously. I do wish Reese's had gone balls out and added a little bacon, as Elvis did when he was filling particularly Dionysian.

If candy isn't your bag, check the Last Town Chorus cover of Modern Love on this page.


It has been close to 20 years since I have spent a beach vacation on the Outer Banks, and I was a little leery of the visit. Being crotchety, I was concerned that it would be too overdeveloped to enjoy it. Well, it was certainly more developed than I would like, but it was an ideal family vacation spot. We found just sitting on the beach was great fun, but seeking digging coquinas on Coquina Beach, watching the gators feed at the NC Aquarium at Manteo, sitting on the lawn of the Blue Point, and kayaking at Corolla were all highlights. Sadly, we did not manage a visit to Jockey's Ridge.

Speaking of Jockey's Ridge, I had remembered a mini-gold course located at the south end of the park. I recalled a pirate ship, a castle and other interesting features. On recent day trips to the area, there was no park. Fearing early onset dementia, I kept quiet about it. It turns out that the dune moved on top of the minigolf park. Not crazy yet it seems.