The usual long gap. Blame it, at least partially, on Quincunx and his latest puzzle rally. That's been occupying most of my free time since Friday, at least. And my mom and stepdad were in town before that. With our current TV schedule--"24" on Tuesday, "West Wing" on Wednesday, and "Friends" and "Scrubs" on Thursday, that leaves Friday to Monday as prime blogging times. And often I am just not in that space.
This weekend was a little bit different, too, because Nicole was working on Saturday. Well, she was teaching a course for junior-high kids, ones that are interested enough in writing to sign up for a workshop on the weekend. It was pretty cold, in the -20s, so at least they didn't miss any prime sledding time. (Today it's already back close to freezing.) Then we went shopping on Sunday. My mom had brought in Chinese food for us once, and taken us out to dinner twice, so we were three days overextended on our groceries; we could barely scrape together breakfast, and we gave up on lunch and just went out to the mall.
They're working on our roof at work. We're on the second floor of a two-storey building, which we do not own--the building changed owners a year or two ago. The roof has leaked on us, most notable in the washrooms, in the past few years, so it looked like they were going to actually do something about it. In the middle of winter, for some reason. (Maybe just to fix the leaks before the spring thaw.)
It's quite unnerving, though. We can hear footsteps, and sometimes poundings, but quite often crashes, like something weighing a few hundred pounds was dropped, or fell over. One or two of the covers for our fluorescent light fixtures actually fell out of the ceiling, and frankly I almost expected more of them.
Oh, and then there's the lovely tar smell. They've got one of those big tar makers that sits on the ground, with a big pipe that goes right past Edna's window(I'm in the next office)up to the ceiling. So the smell comes right in. They went away for a few days when it was really cold, but they left the tar pipe in place so we knew they were coming back. And they did, yesterday.
It was more fun when they had those guys in removing a tree from the back alley area. That's fun--chopping off the branches, slicing up the trunk, and then grinding up the stump. And doesn't smell nearly as bad.
Digging into the news archives...here's some stuff that I didn't manage to fit into the last blog entry...
We went and saw "Shanghai Knights" on the Tuesday before Valentine's Day. I've become quite a Jackie Chan convert--I remember when "Rumble In The Bronx" came out, I had never heard of the guy, and a few people were gushing about him on alt.pub.coffeehouse.amethyst. I think I first saw him in "Rush Hour", and was instantly a fan of his style. I'm not as big a fan of Owen Wilson's Big Dumb American routine(which is, at least, how he comes off up here).
But this movie was, overall, a lot of fun. Not deep, and contained a number of cheap shots, but there were some hysterical scenes. I don't know why there still seemed to be some people who, by the end, had not figured out that the detective "Artie" was actually Conan Doyle(though he was, of course, never a detective himself). I was, however, convinced throughout the movie that the thieving orphaned workhouse urchin was a girl, and this would be revealed at some point; however, instead he turned out at the end(this is in no way a spoiler)to be Charlie Chaplin.
I would really like to see "Daredevil" sometime. I was never a big reader of the comics, but I knew of him from his appearances with the Defenders, and I know of Elektra mostly from the "Elektra:Assassin" series, illustrated by Bill Sienkiewicz and written by...Frank Miller, I think. That's still a favourite series of mine, and probably due for a reread. But everything I've heard about the movie has been good. "Phone Booth" sounds like it might be an interesting movie, too...
Anyway, when we went to see "Shanghai Knights" we dropped the kids off at Sharna's. This was at the end of quite a few days of snow, and while the main streets had been plowed, most of the residential ones had not. Ours was not too bad, but Sharna's was awful. People were out there shoveling out their parking spots...and putting the snow from there mostly into the middle of the street, so on one street we were actually scraping it with the undercarriage of the car.
Luckily, they started plowing the residential streets out a few days later. Ours was done on Sunday morning, and was really quite fun to watch, as the two plows went back and forth, scraping up the chunks of dirty ice and snow and then maneuvering them around with their blades. There are a lot of driveways on our side of the street, and they didn't leave a single one of them blocked. The streets are all narrower where they plowed, with big piles of ice just off the curb, and if anyone's parked there it can be down to one-lane traffic. I'm glad we have a driveway.
The place where we went to see the movie was...well, it used to be called Eaton Centre, anyway, from the Eaton's department store chain. It's called City Centre now(boooring), probably because Eaton's went bankrupt a few years ago and had to sell off a lot of stuff. We used to see movies there all the time, when we lived just west of downtown. Often we'd take the bus down, but sometime we drove in and parked in the parkade. It was a little weird going back after all this time, but at least the theatres aren't as dilapidated as the Paramount. Still, for a cheap Tuesday, the theatre was not all that busy, compared to the new big multiplexes. Little bit of nostalgia there...
Here's another golden oldie for you. On...what, January 25th? a month ago?...Robert Jordan did his book signing at Greenwood's Bookstore. I went to that. I'm not sure if it was worth it, but what the heck, it was an experience.
I showed up about 10-15 minutes before the signing was due to start. At that point the end of the lineup happened to be near the doors, but it had already snaked around the shelves in one half of the bookstore, and was starting on the other half. I was amazed that they continued to fit people in until Jordan actually showed up(complaining about the cold, of course--why is it that every famous person who's visited Edmonton this winter has done so on our coldest days?), and the line started, desultorily, to move.
The people behind me started talking about the series, and I joined in the conversation. Then a friend came up and joined the woman two behind me, so then it was me and the guy behind me. We talked amiably enough, about the series and other books, especially as we filed ever so slowly past them. I was reading Mirror Dance at the time, and I probably would have been happy keeping to that, but sometimes I guess it's nice to actually talk to someone. I hardly ever stay in contact with these people, but then keeping in touch is hard.
Anyway, he had a digital camera, so when we got closer he said that he'd take my picture with Jordan if I took his. Then he emailed it to me. I decided to put it up, and it will be practically the first picture of me ever to make it onto the Net. He also sent me the practice shot I did, trying to figure out how exactly the camera worked. Here they are:
Sharna & Nick came to the signing too, but about an hour after I did, so when I was crossing from one side of the store to the other, they were just at the back of the line...and when I left, they had just crossed over. So we didn't chat much. Anyway, I now have a signed(though not personalized)copy of Crossroads of Twilight, and I've met the man. He seemed a little bit curmudgeonly, but then I imagine he's answered a lot of the same questions over and over and over again. He did some frequently asked ones before the signing proper started, including some pronunciations. While he was signing, I asked him the only question I could think of, about whether or not there were female ta'veren. (His answer was that there was no reason there couldn't be, but they were uncommon enough that the odds we'd see any during the series were pretty much zero. Ah, well. I thought maybe they were just a different type entirely.)
I'm always a bit tongue-tied with writers like that. If we go to Worldcon this year, I'll have to see what I can do about that. Especially if I run into Steven Brust or something.
I'm going to finish up with here with some of the books I've been reading recently--no library CDs this time, trying to save something for the next post in the hopes(possibly vain)that I might post again a little bit sooner.
Right now I'm reading The Second Summoning by Tanya Huff. This is the sequel to Summon The Keeper, and both of them are humorous fantasy about a Keeper, sealing rifts in Earth's reality, her cat, her companion/boyfriend(who she meets in the first book), and her sister, also a Keeper but still in the throes of adolescence. I've been going a bit slow through this book, though--possibly because of the more interesting nonfiction books I've been reading, but the plot has just not been pulling me along, either. The humour seems a bit juvenile sometimes, and the books also feel a bit overwritten, with sentences or whole paragraphs that could have been cut out without affecting the book in any way except thickness. But it's still cute in places.
In my nonfiction stream, I just finished rereading Isaac Asimov's View From A Height. This was, I think, his second collection of the science essays that were published monthly in The Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction for many, many years. This book dates from 1963, and I imagine the essays came from a year or two before that. Some things that he seems to be introducing for the first time have become common knowledge, and some have not--whether because they've been discredited(like the possibility of vast liquid water oceans under Jupiter's atmosphere, which I think I would've heard about)or just discounted. It boggled me a little bit when he introduced the exotic "dolphin" and "porpoise" to his reader, and explained their sonar abilities. Did readers of forty years ago really not know that much about dolphins? But then, it's sometimes hard to figure out exactly what went on before one was born... And the essays on fundamental particles obviously predate the discovery of the quark, too.
It was a fun read, even though my copy of the book was falling apart. I seem to recall that the first five Asimov essay collections went out of print, so he went through and reorganized some of the articles into four books by topic(Asimov On Physics, Asimov On Chemistry, etc.), but I think I've found all or most of them second-hand, so I could read the essays that slipped through the cracks. I wonder if they ever got reprinted since...
After that, I went immediately on to What's In A Name?, by Paul Dickson, which I just picked up a few days ago from the Safeway remaindered book table. Every once in a while there is such a find... It's sort of halfway between All Those Wonderful Names and The Joy of Lex, with various chapters discussing name-related topics. So far I've seen a whole chapter dedicated to a sampling of the many thousands(!) of varieties of apples; "aptronyms", or names that make a person seem suited to their profession(e.g. Dick Curd, spokesman for Carnation Milk, or Zoltan Ovary, gynecologist); and anagrams and such. It's entertaining, and(an advantage over your average novel)easy to pick up and put down repeatedly.
I read three other books after finishing The Black Chalice. The first was Madeleine L'Engle's And Both Were Young, an interesting but slight story of a girl going to a boarding school in Switzerland shortly after WWII. I had of course read L'Engle's "Time Trilogy" early on(though I only encountered the fourth, Many Waters, after meeting Nicole), but somehow I had never gone on to reading any of her other books. When I started going to the adult section of the Grande Prairie library, I often went to the back left corner, where the Fritz Leibers were, because I was big into Fafhrd & Grey Mouser at the time. I saw the L'Engles, and I also saw Stanislaw Lems, but I wasn't brave enough to try them. This may not have been the best place to start, but it was readable enough, and not too time-consuming.
Then there was Waiting For The Galactic Bus by Parke Godwin. This one was a totally random pick from my collection, and I first bought it...September 20, 1992. It had an interesting-looking cover, and a blurb that made it sound like the next Hitchhiker's Guide To The Galaxy or something, but...well, it's not. It was a mildly entertaining satire, heavy-handed in spots, almost devoid of plot. Two stranded aliens on Earth meddle in human evolution, giving us consciousness, and eventually end up running Heaven and Hell. Then they have to prevent the birth of a child who would apparently be likely to bring about Armageddon. Features John Wilkes Booth in a prominent role. It could have been really tedious if it had been long, but luckily 300-page books were considered long back in 1992.
Finally, there was a reread of Nerilka's Story by Anne McCaffrey. I reread Moreta not long ago, and since this one overlaps with it, I thought I'd try to read it while the other one was still reasonably fresh. Moreta's plot has a habit of slipping out of my mind, as had this one's. On balance, though, I liked it better than Moreta. It's first person, and Nerilka was one of the more interesting characters in the earlier novel, so I actually looked forward to finding out more about what had happened behind the scenes. It actually resonated with And Both Were Young to some extent, with similarly-aged characters.
I'm not sure what I'll be going on to after The Second Summoning. Nightwings by Robert Silverberg is a possibility--another thin one, which I may have read before, but I can't be sure. I read one or two omnibuses of Silverberg novels from the library, and I can't remember which ones were in them. I don't remember the stories anyway. There's also the possibility of Blake's Progress by R.F. Nelson, which is a book I picked up for my brother, a big William Blake fan. It's from the Laser line of SF novels, which was apparently Harlequin's abandoned attempt to enter the genre. They tried to treat SF novels the way they did romance novels, and I guess it didn't work...
Shambling ever onward through the countdown of my 750 favourite songs:
346. The Buggles: Elstree, from The Age of Plastic
For a long time I thought this was a woman's name, but then it turned out to be the heart of the British film industry or something. Too late--Elstree became the name of one of the major characters in the D&D campaign that also featured Alfvaen. I do think it's a good girl's name, too. The song itself is a tasty slice of pop, a wistful memoir of B-movie roles over new wave synths.
345. Heart: Just The Wine, from Magazine
I first encountered Heart with their 1985 self-titled album, trying to recast them as a heavy-metal hair band, and "Magazine" was practically my first glimpse at their earlier career. It made a big impression on me, even though it's apparently considered one of their weaker efforts, released unfinished in the middle of label battles. This one is also wistful in tone, and quite affecting considering that it's mostly about hippies trying to figure out what happened to the 60's. Better than it sounds, honest.
George Harrison: Brainwashed I confess, when I heard this album, it basically sounded like more George Harrison to me, nothing special or trascendental. Still sort of like "Cloud Nine", because of the continuing presence of Jeff Lynne, but the songs weren't as interesting. The song that stuck with me the best was "Devil And The Deep Blue Sea", because it was in a different musical style(which, without the song actually playing, I find hard to recall). So I'm afraid that his final effort didn't make a big impression on me.
Matthew Shipp:Nu Bop Tom's list was heavy on jazz, at least for me. I'm not normally big on jazz, but I decided to try some of them anyway. This one I actually quite liked. It had enough drum-loops and such to be not quite so musically amorphous as jazz often seems to me. It had a beat, and(apart from the noodly "Nu Abstract")was good listening. This might be an actual wishlist item.
To Rococo Rot & I-Sound:Music Is A Hungry Ghost This one was also instrumental, but much closer to drum 'n' bass than jazz. It was pretty cool, but didn't leave much of an impression on me. I did like the closer, though, "The Trance of Travel". (This precise album wasn't the one on Tom's list, but I thought I'd try the band anyway...)
Bill Frisell:The Willies While labeled as jazz, this album was really more instrumental guitar, like Leo Kottke's "Guitar Music" or Ben Hadley's "Tunes From The Well". Once again, most of it didn't really grab me, and there was a little too much banjo for my tastes. There were one or two cool numbers, though, like the haunting "If I Could I Surely Would".
Dave Douglas:The Infinite And this was precisely the kind of jazz that I have little tolerance for that just noodled around with no perceptible beat or time signature. Didn't do a single thing for me.
Aimee Mann:Lost In Space Apart from the edgy "Pavlov's Bell", this suffers from what all Aimee Mann's solo albums suffer from--a lack of memorable music. When she was in 'Til Tuesday, they could pull off some great melodies--from the edgy new wave sound of "Voices Carry"(the album)to some powerful pop pieces on the next two albums. But her solo work focuses on vocals and lyrics, to the extent that the rest of the song is sublimated, subjugated, and subdued. I'd rather have goofy lyrics that make no sense with a kick-ass tune any day.
John Mellencamp:Cuttin' Heads Mellencamp has been up and down lately. "Whenever We Wanted" has become perhaps my favourite of his albums, and "Human Wheels" was pretty good, but the last two or three(or more--I might have lost track)have sounded a bit tired and/or bland. This one might be a little more of an upswing, with at least the first two tracks, "Cuttin' Heads"(featuring a rap bridge from Chuck D!)and "Peaceful World", showing a bit more energy.
Anastacia:Freak of Nature This one was recommended by another blogger friend, the "Guy in DKNY", who's big into pop. This isn't really my thing, but it was a passable listen. Anastacia has a vaguely Shakira-ish voice, and at least doesn't descend too often into sappy ballads.
I also bought a few at Southside Sound on Whyte Avenue this past weekend. Most of them I had heard before, but I grabbed a copy of Wall of Voodoo's "Seven Days In Sammystown" on the strength of one song, "Far Side of Crazy", and of course having heard some other albums. This one is interesting, with some of the new wave touches of their first album with Stan Ridgway(you may recall their "Mexican Radio"), and only a few tracks(like "Far Side of Crazy")from Andy Prieboy, who came to dominate by "Happy Planet". It sounded promising on first listen, at least, though certainly "FSoC" was still the standout track. It's also funny to look at the group photo of the band on the back--one guy looking like he's in Lords of The New Church, one from The Cult, one in a string tie, and a couple more in reasonable normal-looking suits. A wee bit of contrast there...
I also picked up a copy of Chris Mars's "Horseshoes And Hand Grenades", but haven't listened to it yet. It's weird--after listening to that "Free At Last" sampler album, I ran across this album(not the one with the Chris Mars song featured thereon), and the Mind Bomb album, which was the one being promoted there. I opted for the Chris Mars, because Mind Bomb sounded more glam-metalish and may not have held up for an entire album. They were both on the $5 racks, too, but I had already blown enough money there. I also grabbed vinyl copies of King Crimson's "Beat" and The GoGo's "Talk Show", though my stereo is still shot and who knows when I'll get around to taping them. The other ones I bought include Maren Ord's "Waiting", The Wallflowers' "(Breach)", and Avril Lavigne's "Let Go". Though I realized too late that that was one I'd put on the list I gave my wife when she went shopping for my Valentine's present...well, I'll know soon enough if I goofed.
On to the countdown, I guess:
348. Aerosmith: Livin' On The Edge, from Get A Grip
Apart from having a great video, this is a pretty kickass song, too. I wouldn't say that the lyrics are profound, but they are serious, and it's just generally got great music to it.
347. Steve Winwood: Freedom Overspill, from Back In The High Life
When I first heard this, it was a long time before I could figure out the title of the song. It's a nice jazzy song, but the lyrics are a little bit oblique, and that adds quite a bit to it. Hard to express why I like it so much, really, so I'll just say it's a great combination of music and lyrics, and definitely the high point of the album.
Oh, and by the way, Erik has correctly pointed out that in my "Bacon boxes" a few posts ago, I goofed, because Dianne Wiest was not, in fact, in "Independence Day", or anything else, with Jeff Goldblum. Apparently my data has a few mistakes in it...
Your folks fell in love; love's a very deep hole. --Loudon Wainwright III, "Your Mother And I"
As for books, I've been reading Marie Jakober's The Black Chalice for a few days now, going pretty slowly. It's a historical fantasy, set in the early 1100's, just after the First Crusade, in Germany. One of my problems with it so far, I think, is that much of it comes from a first-person transcription by a person that I'm growing to really, really dislike. He's so totally clueless, and almost mindlessly devout Christian, that he gives all the Christians in the story a bad name. All the pagan and atheist characters are more sympathetic. So it's a bit loaded...and while I may agree with the book's general theme, it seems to be a bit heavy-handed. I mean, it's like trying to tar modern Christians with the same brush as twelfth-century ones. There are some commonalities, but come on.
I also, in an attempt to actually work through some of those nonfiction books I was complaining about earlier, picked up one I had started some time ago and never finished. It's called Cyberpunk, but it's not about cyberpunk--it's about computer criminals. The first part of the book, which I finished last weekend, was about a guy named Kevin Mitnick who, well, broke into a lot of computers, played around with Pacific Bell's phone service more or less at will, and only got caught when his own friend turned him in. The style is a bit hard to read, though, because it's not written like a novel--it's written like a huge newspaper article. The authors are so obviously journalists, and that's just how they write. Better than many scientists, but still a bit deadening to read. Hopefully they're not all like that...or else I'm going back to Isaac Asimov's science columns.
Also in there I read Lois McMaster Bujold's Mirror Dance. Back in 1994, when we bought memberships in the Winnipeg Worldcon, I read all of the Hugo nominees...except for that one, because I hadn't read most of the intervening books in Bujold's Miles Vorkosigan series, and felt that I should. It won the award, and until now I wasn't sure if it should. It's been a long time since I read John Barnes's Mother of Storms, which had been my first choice, but I think it would have been pretty close. Miles spends a lot of time...offscreen...in the book, leaving his clone-brother Mark to take up the slack, and Mark's development as a character is really the central plot of the book. I hope to see more of him in future Miles books. (I've still got a few more to go...)
Then there was Janette Oke's Love's Enduring Promise. Oke's books are a little bit like Laura Ingalls Wilder's, in some ways, with the whole frontier setting; it's hard to tell, but I think the books are set in Canada, not the U.S. I read the first book in this series, Love Comes Softly, a few years ago, and then read her Seasons of The Heart tetralogy instead. Now I'm back to this one. (These are all really Nicole's books, not mine...) It's very strongly Christian, which is a bit unsettling at times, but also informative, as someone who just doesn't understand how such people think. And in some ways it also reminds me of my colony-world simulation, as the children grow up and get married to other grown-up children... I mean, it's just the way of the world, I know, but it's interesting to see it in the story like that. Especially when you have a family as complicated as this one--husband and wife both widowed, husband with daughter, wife with unborn son, and then three children together, as well as two fostered from a no-account neighbour when he decided to head further west. That's the stuff.
I'm considering changing my email address, being tired of sorting through spam. Nothing major, maybe just adding a "1" onto the end of my name. That'll be fairly easy for people to remember, hopefully.
On to the countdown:
350. The Colourfield: Miss Texas 1967, from Deception
I love the Colourfield, with Terry Hall's sardonic voice and lyrics over beautiful pop melodies. This song is wistful, but I'm not quite sure about what. (Who was Miss Texas 1967, for one thing?)
349. Holly Cole Trio: Calling You, from Blame It On My Youth
Holly Cole pretty much sticks to cover versions, so I'm pretty sure this is not original to her, but she does a wonderful version of it. Aaron Davis's piano starts out haunting and then builds up speed to bring a sense of urgency to the climax of the song, just as Holly's vocals are starting to soar. There's a great video, too, full of surreal sepia images.
A quick search on allmusic.com has revealed that the song is from the 1988 film Bagdad Cafe, and was nominated for an Oscar. And, apparently, widely covered--Natalie Cole(no relation), Celine Dion, and Patti LuPone, among others. Now I have to check out at least some of those other versions to see how they compare...
If you think this sentence is confusing, then change one pig.