Thursday, September 26, 2013

#610. The Cephalopod Coffeehouse September 2013

I'm only a day early for this month's Cephalopod Coffeehouse meeting!  All thanks still go to founder, who sometimes refers to himself as A Squid.

As has been my routine, here's a preliminary list of the books I read in the month (now slightly less impressive!):

  • Fated by S.G. Browne
  • How to Live Safely in a Science Ficitional Universe by Charles Yu
  • Monsieur Pain by Roberto Bolano
  • The Skating Rink by Roberto Bolano
  • The Insufferable Gaucho by Roberto Bolano
I'm currently reading The Savage Detectives by...Roberto Bolano.

I've already done a post on HL2SU.  Fated was pretty good, too (although it ends on the most interesting note of the whole piece, like a segue to a Christopher Moore book).  And then I reached Roberto Bolano.

Roberto Bolano is my favorite writer.  He died ten years ago, but you'd hardly know it from his English language publishing schedule.  I first learned about him from the wildly anticipated release of 2666, which was kind of like the Harry Potter of the literary set in 2009.  The massive tome, split into five volumes, is everything conceivable and good about fiction, what I like to consider the ultimate book.  Reading it was the first best way to fall in love with Bolano, which anyone really should have, and in the best of all possible worlds his name would now be as famous as any of the other classics writers you can think of.  At the moment he's not any kind of ready presence in a bookstore, however, at least not here in the States (and my survey is as extensive as it can be), and that's as big a crime as what lies at the heart of 2666.

Anyway, after the massive (and richly deserved) hoopla, it became necessary to release the rest of Bolano's works in English, a project that has only recently, after near a dozen releases, reached its climax.  I haven't managed to collect all of them, but of the ones I have I've finally gotten around to reading them.  That is to say, savoring them.

Most of his books are short works, under two hundred pages.  I'd previously enjoyed By Night in Chile, which affirmed my devotion to Bolano.  Monsieur Pain did likewise, as did The Skating Rink.  The Insufferable Gaucho is a collection of still shorter works, including some essays (and for those interested *cough* Pat Dilloway *cough* in those he sounds a lot like Kurt Vonnegut), and is probably a release better suited to devotists.

Bolano had a rich voice, and he immersed himself deeply in his characters, who tended to be melancholic literary types exploring mysteries without resolution.  It was always the journey that was the point, as his subjects took readers on a guided tour of their lives as they saw them.  Like many writers, Bolano tended toward sensational, often sensual individuals, though ones who lived on the margins, or who interpreted themselves as living on the margins, of society.  The Skating Rink in particular is extraordinary as it explores three different people whose rotating viewpoints pivoting on a murder in the eponymous location, each at different social levels.  Like a lot of his stories, it reads like a prototype 2666, but is also distinctly its own story.

One of the great benefits of reading Bolano is his focus on Latin America as well as locations in Europe, notably Spain and France.  Bolano himself was Chilean, but he traveled extensively.  When I think of ways my life could have gone differently, this is how I imagine the ideal to be.  In Bolano's view, the literary life was still very much the romantic life, with circles of friends the way it was, say, in Woody Allen's Midnight in Paris.  This was something I knew in college, but I had no idea how to sustain that.  Maybe it's something only the young experience?

Before 2666, there was The Savage Detectives, Bolano's second longest work and what originally brought him international acclaim even among English readers.  Having only read the first sixth so far, I can't speak too much about it, but it rings true with everything I've said in this post, and is recognizable as classic Bolano.

To read Bolano is to truly enjoy reading.  Along with a select few, he's the ideal of all writers for me, and the standard by which I compare all writers, why it can sometimes be difficult for me to appreciate not merely other styles but different levels of skill.  To me, you're either this good or aspire to be, and if you don't, I have no idea why you're writing.  Is this elitism?  Perhaps.  The love of writing should look this good.  And the amazing thing is, Bolano considered himself first and foremost to be a poet (and he was good at that, too, as evidenced in The Romantic Dogs).  Perhaps good writers must be good poets, too.  They must be in love with language.

I will be savoring The Savage Detectives for as long as I can, thank you.

Wednesday, September 25, 2013

#609. Longest Game in Professional Baseball History

Sometimes the game doesn't end.

When you think of a baseball game going into extra innings, you probably think tenth innings, maybe a few more, right?  You may have heard of a few major league games that went on for twenty.  Seems pretty extreme, right?  Well, the game I'm going to talk about today had runs scored by both teams in the twenty-first inning, and there were still more than ten innings left to play.

Yes, you read that right.  I'm talking about a game that went on for thirty-three innings.  It lasted for eight hours.

It began on April 18, 1981.  (Yes, began on.)  The teams were the Pawtucket Red Sox and the Rochester Red Wings.  The PawSox are the AAA minor league affiliate of the Boston Red Sox, or otherwise known as the most direct development feeder for the team.  (Incidentally Maine got the AA affiliate, the Portland Sea Dogs, a while back.  Hadlock Field was subsequently retrofitted as a miniature Fenway Park, complete with a Green Monster.)   The Red Wings were at the time an affiliate of the Baltimore Orioles (though currently doing the honors for the Minnesota Twins).

Now, half the reason I'm telling you any of this at all is because a few of the players involved went on to prominent major league careers.  The most famous of them would be Cal Ripkin, Jr., playing for the Red Wings.  He had thirteen at-bats.  (Thirteen!)  Of course, he only got two hits, no runs.  The final score, by the way, was 3-2 PawSox.  There was also Wade Boggs, playing for Pawtucket.  A couple of other names Red Sox fans would recognize are Marty Barrett and Bruce Hurst.  Boggs went on to become one of the best hitters in baseball.  In twelve at-bats he had four hits, one of the best totals in the game, naturally.

The MLB was apparently in the midst of a strike at the time, which was why a lot of reporters were paying attention to this game in the first place, but surely not the reason they wrote about it later.  Normally seven reporters covered PawSox games, but this one drew one hundred seventy-one passes.

The Red Wings scored the first run, in the seven inning.  The PawSox struck back in the bottom of the ninth.  And as you know, no other run was registered until the twenty-first, when both teams reached home once each.  And then it was a long wait until the bottom of the thirty-third.

The Red Wings utilized sixteen fielders, six pitchers (their starter went over eight innings, another went about the same, and then there was one who went ten).  The PawSox were more conservative, sticking to eleven fielders, but eight hurlers, none of whom went for as long as any of the Rochester set, the starter lasting only the first six frames.

The Red Wings had thirty hitters left on base during the game, Pawtucket twenty-three.  PawSox manager Joe Morgan was ejected in the unlucky twenty-first inning.

I'm sure it was a heck of a game to see live, although I'm sure more than a few observers opted out of baseball for at least a few days afterward.  Baseball is oftentimes a game of momentum.  When one team is doing well on the field, it saps the resolve of the other.  And then sometimes it's all about a true showdown (no wonder it was arguably at its most popular when people also loved to watch westerns).  Some people call the game boring, but to me it's packed with dramatic moments, an infinite amount of suspense.  You just never know what's going to happen.

In a game like this one, that was never more true.

Tuesday, September 24, 2013

#608. The 2013 PWI 500

Pro Wrestling Illustrated, as the title suggests, is the Sports Illustrated of professional wrestling magazines.  Since 1991, it has annually compiled a list of the top 500 competitors in the world, so that makes this year's edition the 23rd ranking.

And for most of the past decade, I've been providing a commentary on the results.  Normally I haven't been too happy.  Sometimes PWI makes baffling decisions for the number one slot.  The whole point of lists like this is to spark debate, but sometimes it's seemed as if the magazine has taken a perverse pleasure in selecting the least likely candidate for the slot.  I've found myself thinking that there was a far more obvious prospect.

PWI is an independent entity.  It exists outside the auspices of WWE or any other wrestling promotion.  Still, the top slot often seems to go with whoever WWE has most heavily promoted in the last year, or failing that whoever else has most impressed its editors.  The grading period is roughly midpoint of the year to midpoint of the year.  Since WWE's WrestleMania takes place in the second half of this grading period, most of my frustrations have tended to stem from the fact that anyone who had at least as good or better a first half of this grading period as the star who shined in the second can never seem to overcome this handicap.  They didn't do their best work in the period PWI most values.

Now, PWI is objective to a point.  Famously, it presents the majority of its material from a kayfabe perspective.  "Kayfabe" is when you take professional wrestling at face value.  You believe the competition is real and accept that the way promoters book their talent is basically the only way to evaluate them.  In that sense, the success of a given wrestler's year is based on how they were booked.  PWI most notably breaks kayfabe when its analyzes a wrestler's specific performance, how they present themselves regardless of how they're booked, or in other words what they do with what they're given.

The problem with the PWI 500 is that it has always been driven by kayfabe.  In rare (and some of the key baffling ones) exceptions, the top slot went to someone based on PWI's ability to look beyond kayfabe.  However, since I'm focusing primarily on this year's ranking, I won't reiterate too explicitly on past grievances.

All of this is to say that I've been conflicted over this year's winner of the top slot, John Cena.  Cena had the WrestleMania push.  He won the Royal Rumble and defeated The Rock in the main event of WrestleMania 29, and as of the end of the grading period (but not what has developed since) reigned as WWE champion.  That's action from the second half of the grading period.  In the first half, he had perhaps one of the worst periods of his entire main event career.  He did win a Money in the Bank contract, but became the first person ever to fail in capturing a title after cashing it in.  He also lost time while he rested from injuries.  In the second half of 2012, Cena was not the man.  It was the necessary second act from his heroic efforts in the first part of that year to rebound from losing to The Rock at the previous WrestleMania.

Certainly this year was a triumphant comeback.  But that's only been half the year, and half the grading period.  No, the man who arguably deserved the top spot in ranking came in at the second slot.  He won the top slot last year.  I'm talking about CM Punk.

Punk held the WWE championship for 434 consecutive days, a reign that ended at the start of the second half of the grading period.  It's the longest reign with the title in decades.  True, he did lose two matches to The Rock, and then lost again at WrestleMania to the Undertaker, after which he took some time off, making his second half not nearly as impressive as Cena's, and if anything comparable to Cena's first half, but it's a more than fair argument that Punk's first half was better than Cena's second.  Punk's momentum was better in defeat than Cena's was toward triumph.

By the rules of kayfabe, Cena probably deserves that top slot.  The rematch with The Rock was excellent, and it did more than their first match to put Cena in the same league as The Rock.  It's been weird for me to have to argue that Cena deserves to be in consideration for the title of WWE legend, because I was among his earliest supporters.  I long ago saw that this was a possibility, and the improvements he needed to make he did.  And yet here we are now in 2013 and I'm wondering if PWI should have made that unprecedented move.  Sitting atop this year's ranking gives Cena three such wins in the history of the PWI 500.  This distances him from Bret Hart, Steve Austin, and Triple H, who were also two-time top slot winners.  True, he's been in a position to be a more consistent main event talent for WWE than those guys, but isn't it weird to think he might be considered better than Austin, much less The Rock, who never had such an honor even once to begin with?

Yes, I'm taking all of this pretty seriously.  I'm buying into the kayfabe.  Had Punk gotten the honor, he would have joined Cena and the others among the PWI 500 elite.  And PWI itself would have been more than happy in a lot of other years to have done exactly that.

Does it matter?  I'm asking myself that, on top of a lot of other things I've been asking myself lately.  I've been at a crossroads in my life for what sometimes seems all my life, only moreso lately.  It's fair to say I've been in crisis mode at least for the past two years, reaping what I've sown, learning the results of all my failures to accomplish what anyone else might have taken for granted years ago.  And I look at something like the PWI 500 and debating with myself yet again whether Wrestler A should have been placed above Wrestler B, much less where other familiar and favorite names fell in the ranking, and I wonder if I've been throwing my life away on trivialities.

I wonder, because my whole life I've been working on interests that in a lot of ways have dovetailed very beautifully with each other.  I'm happiest with what I've done with my life when I think about how it has affected the writing I do.  And yet I'm conflicted because even with all the happiness I have with my writing, I've struggled in every other aspect of my life.  I am deep in the heart of the 99%.  Financially, I've always been a kind of mess, but now I'm in a whole heap of trouble, especially considering what I've been mired in for the last few years.

I'm not complaining for sympathy.  A lot of my troubles stem from the natural kind of alienation I bring on myself.  I'm talking about wrestling again even though I know none of my readers particularly cares about it.  In efforts to attract more interest to my blogging, I only alienate myself more.  I can never be the happy little soldier.  In a lot of ways, I isolate myself at least as much by the culmination and expression of my interests as by the instinct to set myself apart, to focus on what makes me different rather than what makes me a part of the community.

I'm a snob.  It seems as if my whole being points in that direction.  I rate myself on my own merits as much as how I compare myself to others.  I'm angry and jealous at the success of others.  What comes easy to them is a constant struggle for me.  And through all of this I know that life doesn't work that way.  Success is arbitrary.

People most appreciate people who don't alienate them.  They gravitate toward those who make them feel good.  In PWI speak, it's easier to root for Cena, who acts the part of the good guy, than for Punk, who spent the whole grading period as a villain.  Am I a villain?  Am I selfish and condescending?

I guess and hope that next time I talk about this, I will have an answer.

Saturday, September 21, 2013

#607. The emerging Star Trek Into Darkness Khan-troversy

There've been a lot of clues lately, but yeah, I've now realized that Star Trek Into Darkness is not especially popular.

It clicked for me when Entertainment Weekly devoted the debut of a new column to the phenomenon.  You can read it here.  The article outlines some of the obvious symptoms, like the convention survey that inexplicably ranked it as the worst of the twelve Star Trek movies, or the spate of defensive comments from its creators.  The whole thing is starting to reek of Superman Returns.

(And incidentally, I remain a passionate fan of Superman Returns, so I never understood that, either.)

I suspect the whole thing has to do with the second great story Star Trek fans love to tell themselves.  The first great story is the initial three seasons and cancellation that did not after all prove the end of Gene Roddenberry's vision.  The second great story is how Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan is the Greatest Star Trek Movie Ever.

I will give those fans the benefit of the doubt.  Without Wrath of Khan, it's very possible that the franchise as we know it today wouldn't exist.  The Motion Picture brought Star Trek back from the dead, but most fans today consider it a boring snorefest.  (And perhaps as a further sign of my cultish incompetence, I've always loved The Motion Picture.)  Everything changed with Wrath of Khan.  The costumes, for one.  And Ricardo Montalban became a true franchise icon.  He made his first appearance as Khan in the episode "Space Seed," but I'm pretty sure if both of them had only appeared then, we wouldn't speak so much about either today.

No, Wrath of Khan became an immediate touchstone.  There are plenty of elements that stopped resonating after a while, but Khan remained.  Kirk's solution to the Kobayashi Maru  test became so iconic that it was featured in the first J.J. Abrams flick.  (That alone should have told fans how much Abrams himself admired Wrath of Khan's importance to Star Trek lore.)

Fans established the odd movie curse in response to it.  They didn't so much like the first one.  They loved this one.  They were less enthusiastic about the third one.  The Voyage Home was the one with the whales.  You know about that one.  The fifth one was the next much-discussed misfire.  And the sixth one was the farewell of the original cast.  And so on.

It was Abrams who broke the curse.  His Star Trek was an odd movie, the eleventh in the series.  (Perhaps this was also because Star Trek Nemesis was an even movie, the tenth, and was such a box office disaster that it helped put the whole franchise in a coma.  Although I love Star Trek Nemesis.  Go figure.)

This one was also the biggest box office success of all the Star Trek films.  Of course, some fans were already grumbling.  The most generous comments suggested that he had made a Star Wars film (years before he accepted the assignment to succeed George Lucas in that franchise).

Abrams rebooted the Star Trek mythos with his film, opting for an origin story in the style that had become popular with movies at the time.  That just happened to mean that Khan, who had been off the board since Wrath of Khan, was back in play.

And why not?  Wrath of Khan established the character as integral to the whole franchise.  Star Trek usually defines itself more by social messages and its lead characters.  Khan's presence just so happened to result in a whole trilogy of linked films, thanks to Spock's death and resurrection (and whales).  His story began and ended, essentially, in the one film, but it was a combination of everything hitting the right marks, and how it helped the fans embrace the new material, and even that it made Star Trek a little like Star Wars, the whole reason Star Trek returned in the first place, that made Wrath of Khan so consistently memorable.

For some people, and not just Star Trek fans, "consistently memorable" is a parallel concept to unquestionable greatness.  Most critics who compile the greatest films ever made operate in this way.  They hit all the milestones like pieces of a puzzle.  To Star Trek fans, the first and most important piece will always be Wrath of Khan.

This is how something like the backlash to Star Trek Into Darkness happens.  Because in bringing back Khan and deliberately echoing Wrath of Khan, Abrams has threatened the legacy of this treasured memory.  Has he made a better version, a better film?  For many fans, this is unthinkable.  Rather than consider this possibility, they will reject the new film outright.

Star Trek has faced this challenge before, in 1987 when The Next Generation debuted in syndication.  This was the start of a new era, too, the beginning of a whole new cast's legacy.  Tellingly, Captain Picard's place in franchise lore was not solidified until he faced the Borg, which is kind of like his version of Wrath of Khan (making the eighth film, First Contact, all the more appropriate, and its own allusions to the second film all the more resonant).

Fans who are rebelling against Star Trek Into Darkness won't admit it, but this is old hat for them.  They rebelled against Deep Space Nine successfully.  There are many passionate fans of DS9, who stand by the opinion that it is the best of the Star Trek series.  Voyager hasn't been so lucky.  Neither has Enterprise.  Fans who try and stick with the simplest version of their devotion, who incidentally will never admit this, split opinions so successfully after Captain Kirk's death in Star Trek Generations that they helped bring the franchise to a standstill less than ten years later.  There were more episodes and more films in that period than at any other point in Star Trek history, but all the while the fans were actually struggling against them rather than embracing this boon period.

And then Abrams brought things back to Kirk, and audiences who weren't as concerned with the purity of it all finally admitted that Star Trek had become an iconic cultural institution, and that's how we got ourselves such a widely embraced film.

And then Star Trek Into Darkness, which dared to storm once more unto the breach.  And thus the backlash.  Terribly inevitable, really.

That's what fans can do.  They can embrace and they can reject.  Star Wars knows a thing or two about that, too.  (Incidentally, I love the prequels.)

And incidentally, I love Star Trek Into Darkness.  I guess I should have seen this backlash coming.  Everyone seemed to love the wild goose chase before the film was released, confirming what the filmmakers kept trying to deny, that Khan was in this movie.  I guess when everyone finally learned the truth, it was not as much fun as the chase.

Fans who thought Abrams didn't bring enough social commentary to his Star Trek don't have nearly as much to complain about in that regard with this one.  While carrying on the spirit of the extreme focus on the character of Captain Kirk that was featured in the first one, the sequel also makes ample room to meditate on the nature of war as we've known it this century, and even as we're dealing with it now, in the time of Syria.

And yet the controversy brews.  You'll pardon me if when I think about it that's not the first thing that comes to mind.  Star Trek Into Darkness joined, for me, the ranks of the elite in the franchise's film series.  And perhaps is one more reason why I can put Wrath of Khan, if anything, further behind.  Or perhaps further ahead.

Friday, September 20, 2013

#606. Write...Edit...Publish: Moving On

The Armchair Squid seems determined to involve me in the blogging community.  He's already got the Cephalopod Coffeehouse I've been enjoying for months now, and now he's alerted me to this writing bloghop, Write...Edit...Publish (WEP).  This month's theme is moving on.  In a roundabout way, the following story follows it.  See if you can tell me how in the comments.  (814 words.)


The cow who was not a cow, more like an extrapolation on the concept, sat there mooing.  
The cow's name was Bessie.  She was looking at a statue that reminded her a great deal of herself. 
This was appropriate because the statue was after all fashioned as a tribute to her.  The thing was, Bessie had a lousy memory.  Her contemporaries forgave her because they adored her.  It should be noted that the statue was not a religious totem, and that Bessie herself was never intended to see it.  There was an idea at one point that it would be unveiled at a surprise party with Bessie as the guest of honor, but then the goat who would one day become the Golden Goat, who was sometimes called Dillon, was recognized as an idiot, and those plans fell apart. 
Bessie had recently returned home after a long exile.  The fact of the exile was not peculiar to her, but rather a dictate of the...Dictator of the Galaxy, who was an extrapolation of a dog.  When the Dictator realized that many of the subjects of his great realm closely resembled creatures on an insignificant planet known as Earth, he'd ordered a large sampling of them to visit.  Such are the whimsies of fate that the Dictator himself ended up becoming an exile there, too.  Some blame Bessie, others the common mischief of Boo.  It is not wise to question matters of that regard. 
Standing not far away from Bessie was a human, an old farmer by the name of Kentucky Joe.  "Kentucky Joe" was not his real name, and is not even close to it.  He never even lived in Kentucky, but rather somewhere deep in Camden County, Missouri.  And speaking of the whimsies of fate, Kentucky Joe had never had a cow on his farm until he acquired Bessie. 
(As to how that occurred, this was the result of a bet the cow lost to Boo.) 
The old farmer was still having a difficult time adjusting to his new surroundings.  So far he had been forced to ride an absurd progression of animals, the last of which and most alarming was a horny toad, or so he called it.  The horny toad was in fact a tree frog, who had in turn lost a bet to a turtle.  The Dictator does not concern himself with gambling, because he himself has a weakness for roulette and the number 23. 
When she noticed Kentucky Joe looking at the statue, Bessie let a sigh loose.  Sooner or later she'd have to tell him something.  There were so few humans here.  Even the ones who visited usually left on some ridiculous quest dreamed up by the Dictator, who had the attention span of a gnat.  She wasn't at all concerned that Kentucky Joe would be drawn up in something like that, though.  As far as she could tell, the only thing he was capable of doing was initiating riding all kinds of weird creatures (as everyone knows, only horses and seahorses are supposed to be treated like that) and working on increasingly feverish projects.  Taken off his farm, the old farmer was just out of place, which is not what Bessie would ever say about herself.   
She was at home anywhere.  Except here.  Staring at her statue.  It was unnerving.  And Kentucky Joe only made it worse.  He kept looking back and forth between them, even though it was plainly evident that they were exactly alike.  The Dictator had a thing for statues.  She suspected that he was trying to send her a message, manipulating everyone into this exact moment.  Since she couldn't remember anything else about it, that seemed to be the logical assumption.  Maybe she was just being paranoid. 
The old farmer somehow came up with an idea to fashion a small scale replica of the statue.  He found some goat milk that had come from Dillon, and set about the task.  Except he soon had the idea to make it bigger, and began to bargain with the goat for more milk, which the goat did not appreciate.  Goats most appreciate leafy greens, and least appreciate when you stop giving leafy greens to them.  If you want your kids to eat leafy greens, have them visit a petting zoo, or a farm.  Kentucky Joe's farm is free for the taking, by the way, and it has goats, one of which is Dillon's kid (no kidding). 
Bessie was not beset with the appallingly lunatic spectacle of watching the old farmer carve a statue of a statue that was in her likeness, and she was no closer to learning why the original had been made in the first place.  Typically, the Dictator was on yet another of his mindless excursions. 
This was why, even though cows don't moo anywhere but on Earth, she did exactly that.  Again.

Wednesday, September 18, 2013

#605. The Star Wars from 1974!

Dark Horse has been publishing Star Wars comics for twenty years.  There's nothing much to say about a new title from them, then, right?

Except with this one, there's plenty.  I'm talking about The Star Wars, the new eight-issue mini-series that adapts George Lucas's original screenplay, the one he developed before his vision became a phenomenon.  Plenty of names and concepts remain familiar, but they all seem to be playing from a different set of rules.  And best of all, Dark Horse made sure it reads as brilliantly as the idea of releasing it in the first place.

J. W. Rinzler is in charge of adapting the script.  He's previously made a name for himself as the chief archivist for books about the creation and world of Star Wars.  If anyone knows the saga backwards and forwards, it's this guy, which makes him the ideal candidate to interpret and translate a completely different version.

The artist is Mike Mayhew (not related to Peter), who has been active in comics for years, but may have found his defining project here.  His stuff is breathtaking, and integral to pulling the whole thing off.  The characters all look unique (except for one who looks like a pint-sized version of Luke Skywalker from A New Hope), while certain ships and locations evoke familiar images from the films, as is acknowledged in accompanying concept sketches.

The opening issue makes it clear that George Lucas extrapolated a lot of what became the later six film saga from the original effort.  There are strong traces of The Phantom Menace (specifically the politics of Naboo), in case you're still wondering how much of the prequel trilogy came from the formative development of the Star Wars universe.  The central ideas of the Jedi and the Empire are here, as well as many names and personalities, all of them shifted just to the side.

It will be intriguing to read the whole thing, and I'm willing to bet that the resulting trade collection will become a staple for all true Star Wars aficionados.

This sort of thing has almost happened for fans before.  Timothy Zahn's original Thrawn trilogy, the books that launched the entire expanded universe outside of Dark Horse's initial efforts, for instance, or Shadow of the Empire.  I still hold to the idea that Lucas remains the heart of the whole thing, and that it's not really, or not enough, Star Wars without a Skywalker at the center worrying about their place in the universe.

With new films on the horizon from people other than George Lucas, this may be the first test of how well that will actually work.  If the films are anything like this, I think we're good.

Tuesday, September 17, 2013

#604. Warrior Orphans, Scarlet Knights, Storms

Continuing with the book talk, I'm officially announcing here at Scouring Monk the release of the Complete Yoshimi, published as The Whole Bloody Affair.  This is half of what I spent this past April's A-to-Z (now helpfully archived in the tabs above) talking about.  I've previously released the first volume separately, and now you have the option for the whole thing.  I've got the Kindle edition listed on the side and here, and the paperback copy will follow [EDIT -- It's here!].  It's the longest book I've yet released!

And because I'm so magnanimous, here's some talk about other people's books, too!

Pat Dilloway has been a blogger buddy for a few years now, and one of his major projects has been the release of his Scarlet Knight series.  He's had ebooks available for a while, but recently completed the paperback editions.  Here's a helpful listing for all!

I've only read Hero's Journey so far.  It's fair to say that Pat and I have different ideas on how to write a superhero novel (he hated my own, Cloak of Shrouded Men), but his Scarlet Knight rings true to the classic Adam West Batman (now with less camp!), and I grew up watching that stuff (and even Batman's publisher, DC, is getting in on the nostalgia of that TV series, with a new comic book dedicated to its legacy).  Pat has shifted it into an obviously more ambitious and expansive experience.  Word to the wise: his favorite is the concluding volume, Heart of Emma Earl.

And like everyone else is doing, I'm also taking a moment today to celebrate the release of Alex Cavanaugh's conclusion of his space opera trilogy!  You can find CassaStorm here!  I've read this book, thanks to an advanced reader from Good Reads (where you can find my full review), and can give a generally positive review, thanks to Alex's ambitious concepts and his ability to tie up loose ends the author didn't even realize were left dangling by previous volumes.  You don't need me to tell you about this one, though.  The ninja captain is the patron saint of this blogging community, after all!

Monday, September 16, 2013

#603. How to Read Safely in a Science Fictional Book

Another major aspect of my recent road trip was reading books (which should be fairly obvious to anyone who's been reading this blog recently).

Now, I'm not stepping on the toes of Armchair Squid's Cephalopod Coffeehouse, because September's topic will be one of my all-time favorite writers, Roberto Bolano.  Instead I'll talk briefly about one of the books I read on the road trip.

That would be Charles Yu's How to Live Safely in a Science Fictional Universe.

It's genius, it really is.  It's the literary version for me of Tarsem's masterful film The Fall.  If you've read my thoughts on this movie before, you may be aware that I associate it as the next level of The Princess Bride, something a little more intricate and perhaps emotionally resonant.  It's become far and away one of my favorite films.

How to Live Safely in a Science Fictional Universe, or HTLSIASFU (which doesn't make it any less of a mouthful!), is likewise analogous to The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy.  Yes, the Douglas Adams cult favorite.

I became a fan of H2G in high school, when it spread like a rash as something everyone had to read (which was a mood that swept through successive generations, because there was a locker forever emblazoned with someone's dedication to Milliways).  (I really need to read the whole series again.)  I'm one of the few people who fell immediately and deeply in love with the 2005 Hammer and Tongs film.  And I continue to add to my Douglas Adams experience to this day because of it.

Chances are I don't need to explain too much about what H2G is.  HL2SFU (which will be my abbreviation of the abbreviation of the album of of the soundtrack of the film of Monty Python and the Holy Grail, I mean the Charles Yu book) needs a little more introduction, however.

HL2SFU is brilliant.  It's a metatextual book (which makes it a little like a Grant Morrison comic in prose), so there's a certain amount of geekery involved (Han Solo is discussed) on any number of levels.  There are clever secondary characters who are real characters, eve if most of them are imaginary or are otherwise not really there.  The title book is also a book within the book, which is one reason why I make the H2G comparison.

But the real reason I make the comparison to my analysis of The Fall is that HL2SFU is really about the main character's efforts to reunite with his father.  Forget the metatextual elements.  The whole thing becomes a giant metaphor about trying to find a way to reconcile with one's past.  It's a lot like the best emotional moments from Futurama, really.

I couldn't recommend Yu's book enough.  I love H2G, but I think I've found my new favorite version of that story.

Friday, September 13, 2013

#602. Slightly More from Road Tripping

(Aside from some edits to the original piece that I will hopefully make to look less cosmetically pathetic, here are thoughts inexplicably left out, including a really obvious bit.)

My nerdy windmill obsession is derived, of course, from Don Quixote.  I explained to my sister all about "tilting at windmills," and the two layers of the famous scene featuring the would-be knight and the topic of that day.  Good stuff.

I didn't mention a single dog!  And there were lots!

The first and foremost was Jack.  Jack is a goofy German short-haired pointer.  He's pretty awesome (although he can sometimes be a handful, and by "sometimes" I mean nearly all the time he is awake).  He made the whole trip with us.

In Stoutland there were a few more dogs!  I had a chance to reunite with Jill, a wonderful little beagle (not lost in a transporter accident by Scotty) who loves to kiss kiss kiss (and lap-snuggle), and Chewy, a black Lab who was a wee puppy when I last saw him.  Not so small anymore!  And slightly less bitey!  When he was small he had the habit of taking his name very literally, and he took to this talent very liberally.  Now in mature mode, he does that only playfully, and I imagine he's great fun to have around on a regular basis, very companionable.

Jilly Bean!

(That's our nickname for her!)

(Chewy doesn't require anything more.)

There were a few more dogs, including Fiona (a running mate of Chewy's) and a neighbor's dog who spends more time there than at home.

But for a time, I was in doggy heaven.  Now with more goats!

Thursday, September 12, 2013

#601. Road Tripping

(Before we begin, I should acknowledge that the road trip couldn't have happened without a very long prelude.  Things happened, items were consolidated, other journeys came to an end, and I ate some cake that was technically meant for someone else's going away party but pretended it was meant for me.)

Then we came to the beginning.

Day 1 (8/30/13, a Friday)

This was the day I left Colorado Springs behind.  I originally arrived there on 10/31/07, arriving on Jet Boo, I mean Jet Blue (Boo is the name of the Best Cat in the World, but the airline had jokingly renamed itself for Halloween that year, or perhaps every year?).  This time it was a departure in a car, my sister's Etta, I mean Jetta (the "j" fell off at some point), following her husband's convoy of truck-pulling-5th-wheel-pulling-small-trailer.

It did not take long, surprisingly, to leave the Rocky Mountains behind.  I used to call them the Ladies (a twist on one of the early Dave Barry touches in the Starcatchers books).  Some days I thought I appreciated them enough, others I took them for granted.  They were a fantastic backdrop.

We reached Kansas soon enough (we left somewhere around 10:30, and were there by the afternoon).  For years I heard incredulous tales of Flat Kansas.  I wrote a whole poem about Flat Kansas in the early days of this blog because of this.  But the truth is, it's not so flat.  More like Wavy Kansas.  But it's really not much more boring than anything else we saw on the trip.  It may be that we managed to see all the most generic gigantic open...tracks of land in America (but I don't want that!).  I don't know.

We saw plenty of oil derricks (but very few Oil Derek Lowes, much less Oil Can Boyds) on this stretch.  Saw a few dust devils, the last of them the most spectacular.  I saw buffalo.  And cows!  Lots of cows!  (And signs repeatedly advertising the freakish five-legged steer of someone's dubious livestock collection!)

(By the way, Dubious Livestock would make a great name for a rock band.)

And corn.  And windmills!  I explained to my sister the nerdy significance windmills have for me.  To her, they're boring, especially as they become more ubiquitous in this particular region.  They occupy whole windmill fields.  They're like a mechanical plague!  Beware the windmill apocalypse!

She also said how impressive they are when you see them in pieces.  Not because my sister revels in blowing them up.  It's because you don't appreciate how big they are until you see their component parts up-close.  And it's true.  One blade looks like a whale's fin.  Ahoy!  Avast!  There be blubber in Kansas!

Day 2 (8/31/13, a Saturday)

We arrived at our first destination, the home of my sister's in-laws, her husband's folks.  This was in Stoutland, in Camden County (Earl was nowhere to be found, alas), just outside Lebanon, Kansas.

Before this, however, we drove through one of the few signs of active civilization on the drive, Lawrence, KS, home of Kansas University.  We were too early for a lot of college babes, alas.

We started counting FedEx double trailers (the highest count came Day 7, I believe, some 90 of them).  You can go crazy on a road trip.

We passed the Lake of the Ozarks.

And we arrived in Stoutland.  Here I was introduced to the goats George and Ginger, and for expediency's sake (and not much exaggeration) we'll say that this was my primary amusement for Days 3 and 4, which were all spent there.

Goats are awesome!

Day 5 (9/3/13, a Tuesday)

We passed the Mark Twain National Forest.  I had no idea he was so closely associated with dry land.  (And dry enough that at least in my late home territory of Colorado Springs the summer was once again festooned with news of raging fires in just such a setting, but with far fewer iconic writers associated with it, apart from myself.)

We also passed the Mississippi River, which for some reason is not known as the Mark Twain River.

We reached Tennessee!  We saw lots of corn!

We passed signs denoting many historical attractions (either in TN or elsewhere, including landmarks for dead presidents like Eisenhower and Truman, because apparently the years following WWII were a good time to have been born in this part of the country and having the hope to attain the highest seat of office).  Anyway, there was also Shiloh, famous for the site of a famous battle in the Civil War.  There was the Tennessee River.  And Nashville.  (Now with more glow-in-the-dark pyramid action!)

Day 6 (9/4/13, a Wednesday)

We reached another Lebanon.  But still not the actual Lebanon.  (Although it's always funny to see places named after more famous destinations that are clearly not in that geographic location.  Think Pluto [Not a Planet Anymore], but located somewhere that has banjo music.)

Anyway, we reached Virginia, our target state!  The Appalachian Mountains!  Tobacco fields!  Apparently, the Misty Mountain (nowhere near Middle Earth).  We visited a Wilco (not the band), which featured Stuckey's (but not Stuckeybowl, much less featuring a practicing lawyer named Ed [but not the talking horse]).  (The day before we stopped at a Casey's and enjoyed a much-ballyhooed fried steak sandwich, which was good, especially with my trademark toppings of banana peppers and honey mustard dressing.)

Day 7 (9/5/13, a Thursday)

We passed through Crozet, Virginia, one of several area locations famous in the Rita Mae Brown cat mystery books.  This pleased my sister's mother-in-law to no end.

Everyone obsessed over the view of the Blue Ridge Mountains.

And we arrived in Williamsburg, our initial destination in VA.  Williamsburg is part of the Historic Triangle tourist trap in the area, which also boasts Jamestown and Yorktown (and now Bootown).  You should know plenty about Jamestown (John Smith, Pocahontas, Colin Farrell).  Yorktown is the site of the end of the American Revolution (besides the tailgate in Hamilton's backyard).  Williamsburg is...really old.

Day 8 (9/6/13, a Friday)

We reached our temporary permanent destination in the Anvil campground.  I would have made more references to Jim Neidhart, Bret Hart's tag team partner in the Hart Foundation, but sometimes a joke only you get isn't really worth it.  But I kept thinking it the whole time we were there anyway.

Day 9 (9/7/13, a Saturday)

I took my first independent excursion of the trip, to a used bookstore, where I found Peter Ackroyd's The Fall of Troy and a Jerome Charyn mystery featuring Isaac Sidel (the latter of which is nearly impossible to do in an actual bookstore).  I was sorely tempted to buy both of them, but I'm just coming off a period where I eliminated a considerable percentage of my things, including many books.  It's hard to jump into buying more.  But I really wanted to.  Ackroyd is a favorite.  He's the measuring stick I hold to judge every bookstore.  If he's in it, it's a good bookstore.  Charyn, he's another favorite, and he's even more scarce.  And as I've suggested, the Isaac Sidel books are especially scarce.  And I have yet to read any of them.  I really should have gotten them both.  (And readers of this blog with some memory know how I also obsess over Troy.  Seems like the whole of 2011 was devoted to it.)

Day 10 (9/8/13, a Sunday)

My birthday.  We hit spots in Jamestown and Yorktown, but avoided being too touristy.

Day 11 (9/9/13, a Monday)

Reached actual final destination at Langley FamCamp.  (The whole point of the road trip was to relocate my sister from the Air Force Academy to Langley AFB; I piggybacked for a relocation of my own.)  I took my second independent excursion of the trip, running across a graveyard and memorial to the Battle of Big Bethel, which was apparently the first fight of the Civil War.  And I dangled my feet at the end of a small dock.

Day 12 (9/10/13, a Tuesday)

This was the end for me.  Two fairly brief plane rides finally landed me in Maine, which is where I am and will be for the foreseeable future.  Yay!

And yesterday was 9/11.  For the first half dozen years or so after it, I wrote a poem in commemoration.  After I lost some of them to a computer crash, I guess I kind of fell out of the habit, or at least the original fervor.  But here goes, for the day after:

When the World Came Tumbling In

we will never forget
a day like none other,
when the world came tumbling in

mad scrambling
and recriminations,
when the world came tumbling in

the heroes and the villains
and the flags waving,
when the world came tumbling in

it's hard to remember
except in images,
when the world came tumbling in

what do we say
except that it happened,
when the world came tumbling in?


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