Mad Times

“To be sane in a mad time is bad for the brain, worse for the heart.” – Wendell Berry

February 26th, 2007 at 10:54 pm

Connie Willis at Richard Hugo House

Connie WillisConnie WillisConnie Willis
Connie WillisConnie WillisConnie Willis

These aren’t the greatest pictures ever, but they’ll give you a bit of an idea of how dynamic a speaker author Connie Willis was this evening at Richard Hugo House. She talked about and read a passage from her work in progress about the Blitz in England during WWII. and then did an extensive Q&A which included fascinating answers about her research methods and the nature of science fiction.

As has become my habit, I recorded the talk. If you’d like to hear the recording, leave a comment or drop me an email and I’ll send you a link.

February 24th, 2007 at 1:22 am


cat staring into space

I think I’d just woken the poor boy up by taking a bunch of pictures of the cuter pose he was in before this.

February 20th, 2007 at 12:01 am

Limited fame

The Issaquah Press, our local weekly newspaper, did an article on local bloggers for their winter “Issaquah Living” insert. Unfortunately it’s not online so I can’t link you to it, but if you’re in the area you might be able to find a copy somewhere.

The author was a little confused about the distinction between my homepage and my blog, but hopefully the curious will have found their way here through the homepage->blog link.

Other area blogs referenced in the article include:

What other Issaquah bloggers were overlooked? I know of these:

and that’s it. There must be more Issaquahnian bloggers out there. Leave a comment.

I liked what Jon Savelle said about my lost glove series:

It’s creepier than it sounds. There is something faintly disturbing about a single, lost glove: a hint of loss, of loneliness, of mishap. Seeing a lot of them only makes it worse, particularly when they are squashed flat in the road or reaching, zombie like, from a pond.

February 16th, 2007 at 10:45 pm

Endangered pleasure

Cat curled on a computer monitor

That monitor is flaking out and I’ve already bought the 22-inch widescreen ViewSonic LCD that will replace it. No room for kitties on that. Poor Alice.

February 10th, 2007 at 3:56 am

Not a negative

Two black cats cuddling on a blanket

It’s Alice and Theo’s California cousins, Cosmo and Angie in a rare moment free of sibling rivalry.

February 8th, 2007 at 4:36 am

The Highest Tide by Jim Lynch

blue starfish on a bed of dark green seaweedMiles O’Malley, the protagonist of this book, is thirteen years old. He lives in Olympia, Washington on the shores of Puget Sound. He is completely engrossed in his study of the sea life he finds in the bay outside his front door. Well, not quite completely. He also has a bit of an obsession with Angie Stegner, his one-time baby sitter who has grown up to be a bit of a rebel. And he finds time to be friend and partial caretaker to Florence, an elderly retired psychic with a degenerative disease. Then there’s Phelps, a more typical sex-obsessed teenage boy with a gift for air guitar.

The book has a plot that centers around Miles’s discovery of some remarkable sea life and the consequences of those discoveries. And there’s an earthquake (clearly based on the 2001 Nisqually Earthquake, except that one happened in February and the one in the book is in the summer) and the titular high tide.

But the book is mostly about character. From a distance, the characters are recognizable types, but Lynch has imbued them with enough personality that they don’t feel like types. Miles at times threatens to subside into a miniature version of Cannery Row‘s Doc, but he has a rich enough inner life that it becomes easy to think of him as a real person. But the most interesting character of all is Puget Sound as seen through Miles’s eyes. I kept wanting to write the descriptions off as wild exaggeration, but the very first paragraph of the book is an assurance that this instinct is incorrect. Lynch packs an incredible amount of information about the state and fate of sea life in the Sound into the book without ever making it feel preachy or like a gratuitous info dump. What makes that possible is Miles’s completely believable obsession.

Lovely thought-provoking book.

February 7th, 2007 at 5:16 am

2nd annual Science Fiction Short Film Festival

Saturday was the second annual SF short film festival at the Cinerama. I’d have a hard time saying whether the overall quality of the entries was significantly different from last year. In other words, good stuff!

Here’s quick takes on the films (in order they were shown). I’ve put links where I could find a web page or trailer or the whole movie online. Some have multiple links. Hover over the links to see what they point to.

Fantastic Fortune: computer animated dialog-free story about an asteroid miner who finds a super-rich rock that turns out to be inhabited. Cool whimsical tri-laterally symmetric aliens, and a refreshingly civil first contact.

Spaceball: not sure how this made the cut. A dude in a cheesy space suit, a big rubber ball, and liberal use of mirrored split screen set to music. Nothing really happens.

The Realm: Cyberpunk noir. One of the lowest budget feels of anything in the festival, but I gave it points for intent despite the low quality.

The Inedible Bulk: A broccoli farmer and inventor has an unfortunate interaction with the machine he designed to imbue broccoli with the properties of other more savory comestibles. Think The Fly. Pretty funny in spite of its fizzle of an ending. The maker of this one was there and was so annoying in the post-screening Q&A that my memory of his film has suffered some degradation.

Atomic Banana: Another computer animated offering. Similar MacGuffin to Inedible Bulk in that a gadget causes the principal characters to make a transition from animal to vegetable. This one was more short and sweet than the other, making its joke and getting out while the laughs were still going. Very cute.

Machinations: A malfunctioning garage door opener leads to a startling revelation about a politician. Nice cohesive story with a simple, but resonant SF element.

The Un-Gone: Relatively polished entry from the UK explores the question of what happens if your matter transmitter transmits but fails to dematerialize. Fun dystopic comment on technology. Second prize winner.

F*ck You, Pay Me: Another high-budget dystopia, this one follows around a couple of Debt Enforcement Officers through several different cases highlighting different aspects of our consumer culture. Funny, but dark and just plausible enough to be scary.

Life Signs: Computer animated, but in a style that made me think of those computer animation samplers from the late 1980s. A few chuckles, but not otherwise a contender.

Singularity: A paraplegic gulf war vet accidentally creates an AI (by doing a web search. Whatever.) Better than it sounds. Great example of how a good meaty idea and a smart script can have more impact than a bunch of digital effects.

The Tragical Historie of Guidolon the Giant Space Chicken: Story of a movie monster’s attempt to direct his own biopic. Computer animated with a bright painterly style and an irreverent sense of humor. Beautiful and hilarious. This film maker was at the festival and the movie was clearly a labor of love for him (and his understated cheerful enthusiasm made me like the movie even better). Go watch it.

13 Ways to Die at Home: Very short short with quick title cards describing the 13 menaces (“carpet leech”, “poison toad”, etc.) with the action being clips from old 1950s-style household scenes doctored to include the danger in question. The audio seemed to have been clipped from similar sources and was a little elliptical and hard to follow. Went by too fast, I want to see it a few more times. Huge laughs for this one. Interestingly it got the Trumbull award for best visual effects. Also third place overall.

Project K.A.T.: Try at a big-budget actioner except short and low-budget. It was a little hard to follow the action. Highlights the fact that the only real attraction of this kind of movie is the spectacle. Without the spectacle there’s nothing really there.

Transgressions: Look at a dystopia where the law is focussed on punishing what we would consider minor infractions yet ignores what we would consider more major offenses (murder, spousal abuse, little things like that). Excellent pacing and a wonderful twist ending. Well-deserved recipient of the festival’s grand prize.

Agnieszka: Woman finds a little box, takes it home, and all hell breaks loose. The most beautifully photographed of all the films in the festival. There were a few shots that just took my breath away. The leggy scantily-clad Polish lead actresses didn’t hurt either. Nonsense plot, more of a Lovecraftian creeping dread kind of thing. Not that that’s bad.

Maklar, Anyone?: Audience award winner. Kind of a cross between Galaxy Quest and Terminator with a sprinkling of other homages. Very funny. I liked it better after hearing in the Q&A that it was created in a film shootout so it was written and produced in something like 48 hours.

TV Man: What’s with all the dystopias? TV advertising-dominated world love story. A little confusing. Nice production values.

Mizar: I thought this was a shoo-in for the Trumbull award. First off, it was the only movie in the festival shot in a wide enough aspect ratio to use most of the Cinerama’s huge screen, and even projected at that size (and viewing it from the 7th row!) it looked better than some big hollywood pictures. Very pretty visuals. Last year’s Trumbull went to a film that did a decent job depicting zero-gee, and that might point to why this one was overlooked since it had magical gravity generators on its space ship. It also had a nonsensical plot and stilted acting. Lovely to look at, though.

Haunted Planet: Talky story about a woman who sees dead people (and animals) and her theory that it’s all a dream. Great production values, nice effects and a decent script, but the dream thing seemed like something that would sound better in the dorm room after a couple tokes than it did on the screen.

Face Machine: Weird title. Set in a world where the atmosphere is unbreathable so everyone wears full face oxygen masks and images of the human face have been outlawed. Story follows a couple who fight the system for love. Not bad, but needed something to get me emotionally involved enough to appreciate it. Not sure what. Maybe a snack, cause I was pretty much worn out by this point in the festival. Speaking of which, there was no explanation of how people ate with their permanent masks.

As with last year’s lineup I found something to appreciate in every single film. And that made me a little bummed for the film makers who didn’t win one of the five awards the festival gives. A number of excellent films didn’t get any recognition at all. Except for being chosen for the festival which I guess is something. Still, it disappoints me to see so much great stuff get brushed aside when it comes time to give the awards.

The festival also makes me really curious about the economics of short films. Does anyone make any money off a short film? If so, how? You don’t seem to be able to buy them. Is there a market on some cable channel somewhere? As with last year, I’d love to be able to buy a DVD of all the films. Only a couple of the films are available online. Are they just portfolio pieces? If so, why aren’t they all online? Color me confused.

February 6th, 2007 at 3:30 am

Blackcollar by Timothy Zahn

guy with spinning nunchaku fighting a big scary monsterNinja commandos! The Blackcollars are an elite military unit formed through a combination of training and the use of a drug which permanently enhances their reaction time. They’re nearly invincible, but they weren’t enough to save humans from losing an interstellar war with the Ryqril, a poorly drawn race of scary aliens with paws and swords.

The book is split evenly into two near novel-length sections. In the first, Caine, a deep cover agent of the human underground resistance goes on a mission to the planet Plinry where rather than the contact he expects to find he runs into a team of Blackcollars and with their help manages to complete his mission. In the second, Caine has been given training by the Blackcollars (but not their magical reaction enhancing drug since the formula for that was lost in the war) and heads back to Earth on his first mission as leader not knowing that his Blackcollar buddies from the first book follow him there as backup.

The book reads like a novelization of a military commando video game. Crazy scheme follows crazy scheme and all depends on the magical powers of the Blackcollar commandos and their shuriken and nunchaku. It’s an okay book if you like this sort of thing. I read it cause it’s eligible for the Endeavour Award.

February 6th, 2007 at 3:15 am

Lost Glove #118

glove in the gutter

All that sand is left over from the snow we had a few weeks ago. It’s starting to get annoying.

February 3rd, 2007 at 2:11 am

Kitty containment

cat curled in a fleece ring

When we got the cat tree, this ring was hanging under one of the platforms. The cats ignored it until one day the string broke and it was suddenly horizontal, then, presto! cat bed.


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