Sunday, October 28, 2007

Road Trip

I'm gone to World Fantasy Convention. If I don't see you there, I'll check in here when I get back.

Avast, Ye Mummy!

So here I am at Pat and Scott's Halloween party. The party had an Egyptian theme: the conceit is that I am there for the Battle of the Nile. Sage Walker took the picture.
I used to throw Halloween parties myself--- I was born around the holiday, after all. But then once I got invited to Pat and Scott's party, I gave up. My parties were pale, foolish shades compared to theirs.
They work for months on their parties. I walked into the front room and discovered that it had been transformed into an Egyptian tomb. The walls had been covered with dropcloths and then painted with hieroglyphics and lifelike tomb paintings. The casement clock (seen here in the photo) had been transformed into a mummy case.
Fortunately most of the guests take the party as seriously as Pat and Scott. A truly stunning array of costumes greeted the guests. I wished I had remembered to bring a camera.
Thank you, Scott! Thank you, Pat! See you next time!

Geezer Test

Me-Day has dawned.

Since it's now my birthday, and the whole day is entirely about me--- making it not unlike other days, actually--- it's only appropriate that I devise a test to discover if you guys are as wise as I am.

The following questions are devised in order to discover if your brain is as old and filled with trivia as mine. It's no fair looking this stuff up on Wikepedia, you just have to know.
1. The Flintstones were basically the cast of The Honeymooners set in the Stone Age. The characters in Top Cat were also based on those of a popular live-action sitcom (and in at least one case were voiced by the same actor). What was that show?
2. Why does Charlie the Tuna wear a beret?
3. What program featured the Nairobi Trio performing to the tune of Robert Maxwell's "Solfeggio?"
4. The "Here come the Judge" routines performed on Rowan & Martin's Laugh-In are a tribute to which legendary comic?
5. The character of Foghorn Leghorn in Warner Brothers' cartoons are a parody of what character in what popular radio show? (This question predates me, actually, but what the hell.)

Saturday, October 27, 2007


Hey, Sunday is my birthday!

I feel precisely one year older than I did this time last year.

Friday, October 26, 2007


Okay, so here we are on a death metal Japanese cooking show.

Aliens are among us.

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

Running, Jumping, Smashing the Mall

Not much time for posting today, so I thought I might link to another cool parkour video.

And then I thought, hey, why not link to the the guy who really invented this stuff? Doing not only le parkour, but kung fu.

Co-starring Brigitte Lin as the Woman Treated Like a Sack of Potatoes, and Maggie Cheung as the Woman Kicked in the Butt.

Tuesday, October 23, 2007


Just got my copy of Rewired: the Post-Cyberpunk Anthology, edited by Jim Kelly and John Kessel.
My own story "Daddy's World" is featured, along with stories by Pat Cadigan, Charles Stross, Bruce Sterling, William Gibson, Paul Di Filippo, and Many More.
I recommend it to your attention.

2.4 Meters

This is Part II of my adventures, crashing the homecoming of a university that I never actually attended.

After visiting EMRTC, we attended a backyard picnic for alumni, and I was treated to my second chuckwagon BBQ dinner in a week--- naturally, with all the trimmins. I did my best to find millionaire alumni in the crowd and suck up to them--- for the good of the college, naturally. Following the meal were some lengthy speeches in which various people were recognized and awarded. Annoyingly, this event was held in front of the bar, thus preventing me from getting my third beer.

After dinner we put on our cold-weather clothes and met at the Macy Center parking lot, where a sinister-looking line of SUVs awaited us. It looked like the motorcade of some Balkan strong man. We piled in and left town in a convoy, no doubt convincing the locals that Homeland Security had arrived.

Our destination was the Magdalena Ridge Observatory, site of what is probably the world's most advanced optical telescope. The observatory is at an altitude of 10,600 feet, a mile above Socorro, and it takes an hour to climb the precarious switchback road carved into the side of Old Baldy. Four-wheel-drive is mandatory, hence our SUVs. Had it been daylight, we would have seen spectacular and terrifying views, and as it was, we gazed over the verge of the road into a dark abyss.

Because Cambridge is one of the agencies that has put money into this project, Prince Andrew (now officially the world's most boring royal) was sent back in 2003 to do Something to commemorate starting the work. He couldn't break ground, because they hadn't started anything yet, so instead he planted a tree. (This in the middle of a forest, mind you.) Kathy, who was one of the photographers, reported it was amusing to watch Senator Dominici and other New Mexico bigwigs trying to cram themselves into the frame alongside the Duke of York and achieve a whiff of tabloid recognition.

The 2.4-meter telescope is now complete and is undergoing its trials prior to being accepted by MRO. The 70+inch mirror was originally the backup mirror for the Hubble Space Telescope, and was due to be discarded until some canny New Mexico scientist got together with some canny New Mexico politicians and gave birth to the MRO.

We entered the structure and observed, on a large plasma TV, a tumbling object against a background of streaming stars. This, it turned out, was the discarded booster of a Delta rocket, still in orbit around Earth.

We were divided into teams, and half of us sent into the dome. The telescope itself has a separate foundation from the rest of the structure, going 80 feet through rubble down to bedrock. The telescope looks more or less like you'd expect a big telescope to look, a huge mirror gazing out at an open structure of beams, with a collector at the far end--- except this isn't a collector, it's another mirror that shoots the image to a third mirror, which is adjustable and can spin to send the image to any number of collectors--- the optical, the IR, the spectroscope, so that the same image can be analyzed sixteen ways from Sunday. At the moment, though, only the optical collector is installed.

The mirror, which was designed to operate in earth orbit, now has to cope with full gravity, and is now supported by adjustable pneumatic "pillows," which require a lot of pneumatic tubing that coil up the inner support structure.

Since there's defense money in here somewhere, the telescope was designed to track missile launches from White Sands, and unlike other scopes will also track all the way down to the horizon. The telescope tracks with amazing speed, and in complete silence. If you're in the dome and aren't paying strict attention, you can get whacked with tons of equipment.

The dome, on the other hand, makes lots of noise when it spins, which is good because it's got these big blowers attached to the inside that bring the outside air in, so that differences in temperature won't warp the mirror, and those things can mow you down faster than the Marines.

Our guide said that if we looked up while the dome was spinning, we'd experience vertigo, but that wasn't my case. It was looking level that set off my inner alarms, seeing the walls rushing by at great speed.

We were then taken down to the control room again, for hot chocolate, cookies, some viewing and a talk. The computer-guided imaging is quite spectacular, and we saw a glorious image of a spiral galaxy. We also saw some asteroids, which were part of a talk that we were promised would terrify us. Possibly it does terrify some people, but I've known about Earth-crossing asteroids for some time.

The scope's current mission is to locate the estimated 30% of the 1-kilometer-or-larger Earth-crossing asteroids that have yet to be discovered, thus possibly saving civilization. (Our civilization had a near-miss just last week, when an asteroid, discovered just days before, passed within three lunar orbits of the Earth.)

The 2.4 meter scope is not the only facility that the completed MRO will contain. Construction is underway for the Magdalena Ridge Observatory Interferometer, an array of ten 1.4-meter mirrors set along a baseline of 400 meters, which when complete will have the resolving power of a 400-meter telescope, thus doing for optical astronomy what the Very Large Array has done for radio astronomy.

There'll be some great images coming from that, you betcha.

Then it was out into the freezing cold again, and back into our SUV convoy for the return trip to Socorro. The stars seemed very close.

When the MROI is completed in 2-3 years, I'll expect be crashing homecoming yet again.

The Onion Nails the Election

The Onion has nailed this election. Check it out.

Monday, October 22, 2007

Big Bangs

At present my life seems to be interesting, but only when it's October. This was my fourth weekend in a row doing something different and engaging.

This last weekend was the homecoming celebration for the New Mexico Instute of Mining and Technology, where Kathy works. This celebration is known as "Forty-Niners," a name dating from the days when NMT produced more mining engineers than astrophysicists.

On Friday afternoon, Kathy and I stowed away aboard a bus full of alumni being taken on a tour of EMRTC (pronounced "Emmertech"), the Energetic Materials Research and Testing Center. ("Energetic materials," by the way, is techspeak for "things that blow other things up good.")

Along the way we passed IRIS/PASCAL, where they do geology and earthquake research. A number of solar-powered seismographs were set out behind their building for testing--- our friend Noel regularly travels to places like Tibet to plant them on remote tectonic boundaries.

They get a good test in Socorro, which sits on an active earthquake fault as well as being adjacent to EMRTC, where explosions are regularly set off.

EMRTC is splayed out through the valleys, plateaus, and arroyos of M Mountain, the mountain that looms over New Mexico Tech to the west. (As it encloses an entire mountain, NMT is not surprisingly the world's largest university campus.)

EMRTC is doing very well, thriving on Homeland Security grants. They also do consulting for mining firms and others who use explosive, and produce explosive art--- art made with metal sandwiched between high explosive and a mold.

Driving up the unpaved road that led to our demonstration site, we could look out and see not only the usual spectacular Southwestern scenery, bluffs and stone towers striped with red, white, and brown like exotic layer cakes, but a whole feast of military hardware. Tanks and self-propelled artillery were parked here and there along the way, presumably to be used as targets. A couple were Eastern Bloc. Also visible were a rather astounding number of aircraft fuselages ("Hey! That's an F-100!"), lying alongside the road with their wings removed. I'm not sure what these are used for, if anything. (I wonder if the National Guard gets a tax deduction for donating old equipment.)

We climbed high into the mountain to a large bunker, perhaps eighty feet long. Stretched along the top of this was an 80-foot-long mirror, so that tests could be viewed from the bunker in safety.

Our tests would not require the bunker. We loitered outside, drank from the chilled water bottles that NMT had kindly provided, and waited for things to happen.

We saw two demonstrations. The first was a large tank of jet fuel set alight: it burned so brightly that you couldn't look at it.

The second demonstration was the detonation of a fifty-pound bag of ANFO, nitrate fertilizer soaked with diesel fuel, the favorite toy of domestic terrorists. The explosive was set on a pad a mile or more away, and set off remotely.

The explosion occurred in silence, with a background of birdsong. Suddenly there was just an explosion there, the whole dirt pad erupting. It happened a lot faster than in the movies, where explosions are (I guess) all slow-mo, so that you can be all the more impressed.

The sound hit us about three seconds later (I counted). It was a sharp WHAM, and powerful enough that I felt the sound wave pass through my viscera.

There was no ground wave, though I was prepared for one. Possibly the geology in the valley between us and the explosion was not favorable.

(Check this out to see a larger ANFO explosion.)

Fifty pounds of ANFO was one of the smaller explosions they do at EMRTC. They regularly set off conventional explosions up to 10 kilotons, over half the size of the Hiroshima bomb. They often explode car bombs in order to train security personnel, and test new weapons, structures, and armor.

Once the ANFO went off, the demo was over. We had about two minutes of demonstration to an hour or so of driving, but the lovely scenery and the military neep kept it interesting, not to mention overhearing the reminiscences of the alumni, many of whom had blown stuff up in their own time.

This was followed by a more spectacular outing, but I'll have to leave you in what I'll assume to be horrific suspense, and tell it another time.

Saturday, October 20, 2007

Wizard in the Wardrobe

So. It's official.

Dumbledore was gay.

"Oh, my god," Rowling concluded with a laugh, "the fan fiction."

David Milch School of Screenwriting

Apropos our earlier discussions, it's the David Milch School of Screenwriting.

"Hi there. I'm David fucking Milch. You may remember me as the creative tour-de-force behind Deadwood, a critically acclaimed HBO series that ended prematurely so that I could launch John From Cincinnati. Some people say that was like ending Seinfeld in season 3 to jump right into The Michael Richards Show, but those people don't understand the subtlety and nuance of ten annoying surfers in varying states of insanity wandering around and getting into pointless arguments with one another until there's a clumsy physical altercation and a pointless "mysterious" ending.


While sitting at a stoplight, Scott's car is rear-ended by a teenage girl who wasn't paying attention. Scott...

A. Calls for a police officer and writes down the girl's insurance information. The girl is apologetic and has a particularly difficult time coping with her role in the accident because her own daughter was killed by a motorist who hadn't been paying attention. (WRONG)

B. Gets out of the car, lays down in traffic and begins singing a song about aliens as the damage to his car fixes itself. The teenage girl places a hand on her stomach and knows in that instant that she is pregnant. A Latino man holding a sing reading "The End Is Near" gets peed on by a magic dog and turns into an Asian. (Ding ding!)"

Robot Cannon Runs Amok!

Thursday, October 18, 2007

Implied Cover Art

Jeremy Lassen sent me the cover for my next novel, Implied Spaces.
Pretty eye-catching, ne?

Pumpkin Time

Scott and Pat gave us some lovely homegrown pumpkins, so clearly it was time to make Chef Francoise's Creole Pumpkin Soup.
Elsewhere on this blog I have detailed my adventures with Chef Francoise and her husband, Baron le Vison. The Creole Pumpkin Soup was, at least on odd-numbered days, my favorite thing at the Courtyard Kitchen, and after a certain amount of begging, Chef Francoise transmitted the recipe to me in her own hand. So far as I know I'm the only person to have been granted this privilege. But I have been authorized to share it with you, and here it is.

Chef Francoise's Creole Pumpkin Soup

2 lbs pumpkin (about 6 cups), peeled, cleaned, and cut into 3/4" cubes.

1 tablespoon vegetable oil.

1 ounce bacon (about 3 strips), diced.

1 medium onion diced finely.

1/2 teaspoon dry thyme

1 clove garlic chopped finely

1 bay leaf

1/4 teaspoon black pepper

2 tablespoons Worcestershire sauce

2 tablespoons tomato paste

1/4 lb carrots diced finely, cooked separately in a little chicken stock

8 cups chicken stock degreased

1/2 cup cream

2 tablespoons dry sherry

Saute bacon in vegetable oil. Add diced onion, pumpkin, thyme, garlic, bay leaf, black pepper, Worcestershire, tomato paste, and 2 cups of chicken stock. Stir, bring to boil. Cook about 40 minutes until pumpkin grows very soft. (I advise cooking the hell out of this pumpkin!) Add cooked carrots.

Remove bay leaf. Either crush carrots and pumpkin against the side of the pot with a wooden spoon, or puree quickly in a food processor. Do not over-puree, you want to have some texture left.

Add remaining stock cup by cup. Reheat gently.

Off heat. Add cream and sherry. Serve with French bread, butter, and maybe a crisp white Burgundy.

Serves 10. It's very rich.

Try not to die of bliss.

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

Watch the Skies!

Saturday night was spent at the Enchanted Skies Star Party. Traditionally this has been held at a nearly-inaccessible ranch in the Magdalena mountains, but this latest was held at the Camino Real Heritage Center, a remote state monument. I was able to drive to it in my car rather than having to take a shuttle bus.
What happens at the Enchanted Skies star party is that you show up and are given a BBQ chuckwagon dinner with all the trimmins. Then you sit on hay bales around the campfire circle, eat your dinner, and watch the sun set over the San Mateo Mountains while cowboy singer Doug Figgs entertains you with western ballads. ("Let me tell you 'bout the horses on my strang.") This year he brought a fiddler with him.
Next, as the sky darkens and the tiny crescent new moon drops below the horizon, you listen to storyteller Great Bear Cornucopia (he answers to "G.B.") tell Indian legends about the stars. He's the "night sky interpreter" at the Chaco Canyon National Historical Park, living among Anasazi ruins and the Navajo Nation, and he knows a lot of Indian legends about the stars. These always include the story of "How Coyote Fucked Up the Stars," which is told in so many variations that it doesn't get boring when you hear it year after year.
(Navajos have astronomers/astrologers, by the way. Their purpose is to study the stars in order to tell sick people which variety of healer to go to. A list of Navajo constellations may be found here.)
G.B. concludes his stories when it's good and dark. Then you get off your hay bale and go wandering off to look at the sky through other people's telescopes. You also spend a lot of time cursing as you stumble into prickly vegetation.
I haven't been to the Star Party for a couple years, and there have been some changes, both unfortunate. The weather has been bad for the previous three years, so people have got out of the habit of attending. Saturday night the sky was perfect, but there were only about half a dozen telescopes to enjoy.
The other thing I noticed was that many of the scopes were automated and computer-guided. This isn't bad in itself, but it meant that the operators, instead of memorizing the sky and manually shoving the scope where it needed to go, had to spend a lot of time programming their computers, and waiting for their computers to orient themselves, and cursing their computers when the computers failed to operate or got something wrong. The result was that we parasites, who brought no scopes of our own, didn't get to look at the sky as much as we would have liked.
Oddly enough, I didn't once see my old friend M13 in Hercules, which is probably the most-watched nocturnal object, because it's a big globular cluster and it's easy to find. When I go to star parties, I generally spend half my time watching M13. (It's the cluster in the photograph above.)
I never get bored watching M13, because I'm always watching it through different scopes, and the view is always different and interesting. I could easily watch M13 through half a dozen scopes and not yawn once.
Which brings to mind an interesting problem in fiction. It's awe-inspiring to view M13 half a dozen times, but try writing half a dozen awe-inspiring descriptions of M13. Does your reader yawn or not?

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

Suspense (Not)

As I mentioned over here, I've been watching Season Three of Deadwood. Which I have now completed, so consider this a great big

spoiler warning!

. . . tick

. . . tick

. . . tick

What an unfortunate season! The episodes were filled with wonderful writing, terrific production values, and first-rate actors, but Milch neglected to equip his series with more than three or four episodes' worth of plot. Most of the episodes consisted of filler, in which very fine actors were given ample scope for excellent performances, but which amounted to little more than a long, long stall till the final episode.

As I mentioned in my earlier screed, the series was building to a bloody confrontation between the evil George Hearst (and his army of well-armed lackeys) and the (taken as a whole) somewhat less evil forces of Al Swearengen, Seth Bullock, &Co. And as I also remarked, there was no way that Milch could deliver on the promised confrontation, for the simple reason that just about everyone in the cast is a historical character, and history shows us that none of them died in a spectacular shoot-out in the streets of Deadwood in the 1870s.

So I experienced considerable suspense wondering how Milch and his cohorts were going to provide a satisfactory ending for the season, given that the confrontation he promised was going to fizzle.

The fizzle was about all there was.

In short: Hearst wins. Not that this isn't a valid, if depressing, finale. Hearst did purchase the Homestake Mine and live happily ever after. But in Milch's fictional Deadwood this ending was achieved only by having several of the regular cast betray their well-established characters.

Bear in mind that Hearst was clumping around Deadwood for the entire season, frequently watching the goings-on in the street from his balcony opposite Swearengen's Gem Saloon. Bear in mind that he is portrayed as a dispicable character, a cowardly sociopath who commits his murders by proxy. (Even his own hirelings loathe him.) Bear in mind that even if law-abiding characters like Bullock and Charlie Utter might have shied away from assassinating a bad guy, folks like Swearengen and his cohorts would not. In fact assassination is more or less in a day's work for them.

One shot and all the evil that Hearst was perpetrating would end, at least until the next tycoon came to town. Yet no one fired a shot. Swearengen kept restraining his troops till the end, for no damn reason that I could see--- and this after Hearst hacked off Swearengen's finger, just for the pleasure of it. And Alma seemed for the entire season to forget that she was extremely wealthy and could hire her very own army--- at least until the last episode, when she had to explain that if she hired her own army she'd have to leave Deadwood to do so, and she wanted to stay in town, where she and her daughter were helpless against the wickedness that Hearst was perpetrating.

(Technically speaking, this is the informal fallacy of the false dilemma, a dilemma created by the show's writers for artificial reasons totally connected with the way they wanted the season to end, and disregarding all sense and reality.)

In fact, in order to produce the series ending, the characters not only had to betray their own characters, but their own intelligence. Practically everyone in the series took a stupid pill before stepping before the camera.

After this mess of a season, HBO was probably right to cancel the series. The great season of Deadwood was the first, and the second coasted along on the strength of the first. The third was a shambles.

Sad. I had such hopes for something clever.

What should I be watching to make myself feel better?

Monday, October 15, 2007


Twice again, I venture before my public.

Tuesday, October 16--- hey, that's tomorrow!--- I'll be doing a reading and signing at 3:30 at the New Mexico Tech library. If you're in Socorro County, by all means drop by.

On Saturday, Oct 20, Title Wave Books in Albuquerque will be celebrating a significant anniversary--- don't remember which one--- with a science fiction program. Schedule as follows:

2:00 pm Reading/Talk by Daniel Abraham (30 minutes)

2:45 pm Reading/Talk by Robert Vardeman (30 minutes)

3:40 pm Panel Discussion "The State of the Art: What We're Writing Now" (60 minutes) with Doug Clark, Jane Lindskold, John J. Miller, S.M. Stirling, Pari Noskin Taichert and Walter Jon Williams.

So I'll be on at 3:40. Odd timing, but there you go.

Friday, October 12, 2007

Man of the Year

Thursday, October 11, 2007

The Romance of Steam

I'm a sucker for the romance of steam. Steam boats, steam locomotives, steam cars, steam monorails, steam zeppelins . . . I like the whole steampunk vibe so much that it's amazing I've never written anything that fits into that category.
It should be no surprise, therefore, that this last weekend found us in Colorado, riding the Durango and Silverton Narrow Gauge Railroad, a piece of the old Denver & Rio Grande that's been lopped off and turned into a passenger line for tourists and shutterbugs.
In the 1880s, the Denver & Rio Grande was in a race with the Santa Fe for control of critical mountain passes, a race that the Santa Fe won by putting a group of armed men atop the Raton Pass under the command of former mountain man Uncle Dick Wootton, who actually had title to the pass itself. (His family still owns it, I believe.) The D&RG lost the chance to become a continent-spanning railroad and instead was forced to burrow deep into the Rocky Mountains, chiefly in search of gold, silver, and other minerals.
The Durango & Silverton starts in Durango, at an elevation of 6520 feet, and in something like three and a half hours climbs to Silverton, 45 miles away and at 9200 feet. It follows the path of the Animas River, the full name of which--- El Rio de Las Animas Perdidas en Purgatorio, the River of Souls Lost in Purgatory--- tells you that this area was pioneered by some really homesick Mexicans. Probably in winter.
On Friday night we checked into the stately red-and-white Strater Hotel (built 1888), along with our friends Mike and Yvonne and Peggy and Kevin. The whole town was jumping, and filled with people in ten-gallon hats: there was some kind of cowboy festival going on. It took us an hour to get a table in the hotel restaurant, and another hour to get served, by which time I hoovered up my elk loin in record time.
I seem to remember that it tasted pretty good. I also remember that by then I didn't much care how it tasted.
In the morning we walked down to the rail yard and boarded the train. It was the peak of the season for the autumn leaves: the cottonwoods in the valleys were a deep gold color, and the aspens on the slopes were a brighter, brilliant gold. Unfortunately the day was cloudy, with occasional drizzles of rain, and so nature's color palette was somewhat subdued.
I had brought my new(ish) Pentax K110 with its nifty DA 18-55mm zoom lens for its first real field trials. I snapped over 200 pictures, the majority of which turned out very fine indeed. I found that I could stick the camera out the window, aim it in the general direction of the most spectacular scenery, and snap away with firm confidence that I'd get some lovely pictures.
Of course the glorious views helped.
We chugged away upslope, through what are becoming Durango's rather extensive suburbs, all aimed at America's rich new ruling class. (If you've got a couple million to spend, you can get a perfectly acceptable home up there.)
For the most part the D&SNGRR moves alongside the Animas, except in one place where it climbs far above the Animas valley, snaking above the river along the side of the cliff. This is called the Highline, and the train slowed down to about 3mph to allow us to stare and gasp in terror and take lots of pictures of the green river down below. It's the only wild river left in Colorado, and is used by rafters and kayakers. I'm not sure where they'd find a place to camp--- everything seemed made of stone, much of it vertical.
I bought an Official Souvenir Mug, which came with infinite refills, in my case with chai tea. Kathy opined that the pioneers who first rode this railway probably had an inferior grade of chai tea. "Their muffins were better," I said, having seen what was on offer in the club car.
The train stopped three times for water, and a couple times to let off passengers--- hikers, some people who lives in riverside cabins, and visitors to an exclusive outdoor camp for rich people (usually they come in by helicopter). Five tons of coal were consumed in the round-trip journey.
In due time we chugged into Silverton--- which is not short for"Silver Town," but is meant to imply that in its heydey they dug out silver by the ton. Silverton is small, set in a spectacular valley, and features a lot of high Western Victorian architecture--- most of it, seemingly, for sale.
We lunched in the Grand Imperial Hotel (for sale), a Victorian relic full of interesting taxidermy. The place was packed with visitors and our waitress was heroic. Those who had burgers enjoyed them, but I believe my turkey was cut fresh . . . from the can.
After lunch I had some time to wander around and enjoy the architecture, including the extravagant cupola on the Federal-style town hall. There was some kind of biker convention going on, and I snapped a picture of a row of Harleys parked in front of the old livery stable.
Then back to the train for the return journey. During our lunch break the temperature had dropped twenty degrees, snow was coming down on the high mountain peaks, and cold drizzle rained down on our heads. A nasty wind blustered around the buildings, and the glorious golden aspen leaves were blown from their trees by the thousands. But by the time we reached the Highline, the storm had passed and sun had broken out. I took many more lovely pictures.
Back in town, we dined at a Tibetan-Nepalese-Indian joint, where again we had to wait an hour for our food. (It was very fine when it finally came, however.) We had thukpas and momos that weren't as good as Jay Lake's. At least the cowboys weren't firing their six-shooters into the ceiling. Then we went to Kevin and Peggy's room and played card games for a few hours, including one Lovecraft-inspired game that featured little green Cthulhus that represented our Sanity Points. (I kept a tenuous grip on mine.)
Next morning I wandered down to the rail yard to get some pictures of the train leaving on the day's excursion. I was standing by the track, snapping away as the train moved toward me, and that damn whistle kept blowing. "I wonder if it's blowing at me," I wondered, snapped some more pics, and then actually removed the camera from my eye.
Okay, it was blowing at me. I wasn't standing on the tracks and wouldn't have been run down, but I would have been sideswiped, and that would have been no fun. So I took a stride out of the way and took more pictures.
Afterward we spent a couple hours wandering around Durango, enjoying the Victorian architecture that miraculously was not swept away by a forward-thinking Chamber of Commerce back in the 1920s, and then returned home, enjoying glorious autumn scenery almost the entire way.
I should probably get a Flickr account so that I could bore you all with the pictures.

Wednesday, October 10, 2007


I've been watching the third season of Deadwood on DVD, and I'm about halfway through. (No spoilers in the replies, please.)

I felt a surge of pleasure when I spun the first episode and heard David Milch's trademark combination of complex syntax, baroque vocabulary, and utter obscenity. It's the language that makes this show, not the explicit and disturbing violence.

The production values don't hurt, either.

Still, I note that Milch has managed to hoist himself on the petard of history. The series of full of genuine historical characters like Al Swearengen, Sol Star, Charlie Utter, Martha Jane Cannary, Seth Bullock, and this season's villain, George Hearst. (This season Hearst is played as a murderous sociopath, which made me wonder why the character had such a problem with his proxy in the last season, a serial killer.)

The first season beautifully set out the characters and the setting. The second season featured the mainstreaming of the first season's villain, Al Swearengen. Ian McShane's brilliant, dynamic performance as Swearangen so outshone the series'
ostensible hero, Tim Olyphant's Seth Bullock, and became so popular, that by the second season Swearangen had become a kind of elder statesman of Deadwood rather than the throat-slitting, mustache-twirling pimp he had been in the first season.

One couldn't help but notice that in the second season Swearengen didn't put out a single contract on a six-year-girl, as he had in the first season.

With Swearengen being mainstreamed, new, more villainous villains had to enter the picture, and so in the second season we had an even more evil pimp played by Powers Booth, plus Francis Richardson, Hearst's legman and killer. And now we've got Hearst himself.

We've even got a couple of the Earp brothers showing up, for no particular reason that I can see other than to occupy an episode.

The problem is the series' twelve-episode arc. Hearst is prowling Deadwood and drawing power to himself, as Gandalf said of Sauron. Yet Swearengen, heading the opposition, keeps saying "the time is not right" for a showdown, even though more troops of Pinkertons keep riding in to strengthen Hearst's hand.

What Big Al means by "the time is not right," is that it's not the final episode of the season. We have to drag this story out. (Yet as far as anything but the series schedule goes, now is the perfect time. One shooter could snipe Hearst as he tromps around on his balcony. Problem solved, except for that bit about there being eight hours left on the season's schedule. )

But that isn't the only difficulty faced by the show's writers. The problem is that this villain can't die. We know from history that Hearst went on to become a US senator, to father William Randolph, and to live happily ever after. History also tells us that Swearengen lives, that Seth and Martha Bullock live, that Martha Jane Cannary lives, that Sol Star and Charlie Utter live. We know that the Earps live. We even know that minor characters like Aunt Lou, John Langrishe, EB Farnum, "General" Fields, Con Stapledon, A.W. Merrick, and Swearengen's henchmen Dan Dority and Johnny survive.

This rather reduces the fallout from any final confrontation. Of course Alma and her daughter, Cy Tolliver, and Joanie Stubbs, all fictional characters, can meet with misfortune, but that's about it. (The series in general is pretty hard on its fictional characters, these being the only ones that can be punished freely.)

I am not unfamiliar with this sort of problem, as I used to write historical fiction myself. But at least I could get my cast of fictional characters on their ship and away from history for a while, and that can't be done on Deadwood.

So I'm in suspense. Not over who lives and dies, because that's pretty much settled by the historical record, but whether or not the series manages to pull off promising a bloody confrontation for ten or eleven episodes, and then delivering something else instead. Can David Milch call off the apocalypse? Stay tuned.

Tuesday, October 09, 2007

Moskau in English

If you've been wondering what the hell 1970s German band Dschinghis Khan is singing in their astounding video artifact "Moskau," here's the answer.

"Mister Disco summoned it." Carry on.

Monday, October 08, 2007

Fantasy--- the Literature of Alienation?

So the other week I was at the Jemez Symposium with Steve Donaldson and Jane Lindskold, and our interlocutor asked, "So what is this 'fantasy,' exactly?" Or words to that effect.

I came up with a rather boiletplate answer, that while SF's contract with the reader was "What you're about to read is possible (however unlikely)," the contract for fantasy was, "We are all agreed that what we're about to read is flat impossible, but will be interesting for other reasons."

Steve said (and I'm quoting from memory here, so I could get elements of this this wrong) that fantasy was a literature of alienation. In his view, there is a line of tension between the protagonist and the frankly impossible things that are going on around him/her, and that the fantasist plays on this tension for all it's worth.

Of course that's what the Covenant books are about, more or less explicitly.

Steve's theory seems to leave out the reader, who while submerged in the text is equally surrounded by impossible events. So if there's any alienation or tension going on, the reader is equally a part of it.

But is there necessarily alienation? A fantasy reader reads specifically for the impossible stuff: he/she may not be alienated from it at all.

Is alienation necessary in fantasy? Is it a literature of alienation?


How Much is That in Imperials?

We now have a new interplanetary currency.

It's called the Quasi Universal Intergalactic Denomination, or Quid.

Here's the story.

(Thanks to Janice Gelb)

Friday, October 05, 2007

Heaven and Earth

I'll be offline for a few days, so I thought I'd entertain y'all with another flashback video review, dating from February of 1994.

Tonight's Hong Kong Klassic was "Royal Tramp I." (Though I couldn't read the
Chinese on the back of the video cassette, the fact that there was a sequel
reassured me that the first one was probably okay.)

As it turns out, the film should have been called "Penis, Penis, Who's got the
Penis." As the following summary will demonstrate.

Our hero, Winston Bond (Stephen Chow) , is a young 19th Century Chinese patriot.
His resourcefulness is demonstrated when, storytelling at a brothel
(apparently his profession), he is called to assist a man whose penis has
retracted entirely into his body. He calls in his sister, a prostitute named
The Sex Goddess of Peking, who knows that the cure is to jab the unfortunate
man in the buttocks with a hairpin, thus causing his member to leap out of the
body to its normal position.

What follows makes this behavior seem perfectly normal.

In short order young Winston is inveigled into joining the patriotic Heaven
and Earth Society, opposed to the Manchus, the motto of which is "Rebel Ch'ing and
Restore Ming!" Winston is ordered to infiltrate the palace of the Empress
Dowager and steal a "42-chapter Book" that details the location of a hidden
Manchu treasure. If the treasure is stolen, the entire Ch'ing Dynasty will
collapse due to "bad Feng- Shui!"

Winston is disguised as a eunuch and inserted into the entourage of Eunuch
Hoi, a plump master martial artist who carries his amputated penis around in a
jar of spirits. Hoi also is master of the "Bone-Dissolving Soft Hand"
technique, which completely dissolves the victim's bones, even at a distance!
Hoi wants the 42-Chapter Book for his own purposes, and soon sends Winston
into the palace of the Empress Dowager to get the book. There Winston meets a
beautiful young princess and her brother the Emperor, both of whom he mistakes for a pair of eunuchs, though after a good deal of crotch-grabbing all is
straightened out (as it were). "In the Palace only the Emperor can have a
dick!" the Emperor says, but eventually he relents and appoints Winston his
Intimate Undercover Agent, whereupon the princess drags our hero to bed and
deprives him of his virginity.

Unfortunately this idyll is interrupted by the evil Sir O'Brian, a Manchurian
warlord (it sez right here in the subtitles). O'Brian commands the military
and even the Emperor must obey him. Winston and the Emperor's chief spy try
to ambush O'Brian, but it turns out O'Brian is invincible due to his ability
to retract his penis entirely into his body. (I just report what the
subtitles say, honest.) Eventually O'Brian is captured by the Empress
Dowager (Brigitte Lin), who turns out to be a foxy lady who flies and does martial arts. She also turns out to be an imposter, the Goddess of the Dragon Society, who is
also after the Ch'ing treasure.

Hmmm. The climax involves an attack by the Heaven and Earth Society, Sir
O'Brian's escape from stir with the help of Flying Cheerleading Tibetan Monks
who use cymbals as weapons, the phony Empress Dowager, the =real= Empress
Dowager, and Emperor, the Emperor's Guard, the naughty princess, and a couple
of Separated Knockout Siamese Twins who I really don't have the energy to
explain but who talk in unison and really kick butt. Eventually Sir O'Brian
is defeated when our hero Winston remembers that a brisk jab up the arse will
cause a retracted penis to pop out, rendering the evil O'Brian vulnerable to
the "Bone-Dissolving Soft Hand" technique of Eunuch Hoi, who has gone mad in a
subplot that I won't bother to explain, but who is now wandering around
dressed as the goddess Guan Yu, with dealy-boppers on his head.

Everyone but O'Brian remains alive for the sequel, and the treasure remains
undiscovered. Stay tuned.

Two and a half chops. It's really not very good, and the penis jokes just
don't translate, but it's sufficiently bizarre that its general weirdness
carries the day. Nicely photographed and directed, too. The Empress Dowager
really looked good up there.

It's really amazing what six thousand years of sexual repression will do to
the cinema.

Thursday, October 04, 2007


The Symposium in the Jemez was most enjoyable. We got two nights at a guest house, free meals, and free trips to the hot springs in exchange for a couple hours' pleasant conversation in front of an audience.

Let's just say that we didn't hate it.

The Jemez Mountains (pronounced HAY-mez) are named after the Jemez Indians (pronounced HAY-mesh), who inhabited the area when the Spanish arrived. The mountains are composed of basalt and tufa, the results of a lengthy history of volcanic eruptions in the area, particularly the two huge eruptions at Valle Grande, one of which is said to be the largest in geologic history.

Human settlement in the area is long but narrow, clustered along the banks of the Jemez River and confined by bluffs and cliffs on either side. Natural hot springs, the remains of the area's volcanism, line the river. Some have been turned into commercial operations, and others are free to the public, albeit after a hike.
I have a degree of nostalgia for trips taken to the Spence Hot Springs years ago, which involved crossing the river on a fallen log, and hiking up a steep slope to plonk down in a hot spring with a spectacular view of the valley. Possibly one of my champagne corks is still there somewhere.

We followed a storm up to Jemez Springs, which left the air fresh and lovely, and which left the road inundated by rivers pouring down off the cliffs. The road had been resurfaced recently, but at no point in its history had the mechanisms known as "culverts" ever been employed. The Jemez is in Sandoval County, home of Rio Rancho, "America's fastest-growing community," which apparently reserves the highway funds for itself.

Nevertheless we managed not to be swept downstream, thanks in large part to the four-wheel-drive Subaru.
We climbed ever upward through cliffs colored a brilliant, unlikely color of red, one which those unfamiliar with the Southwest would believe is natural. Along the way we passed a cliff with a sign on it, "For Sale By Owner." Once at the Springs, we settled into our lodgings at the Casa Blanca guest house, and drank the complimentary bottle of wine our hosts had left for us. Jane Lindskold and her husband Jim Moore were our neighbors, in a small cottage close to the river.

We all met with our wrangler Kathleen Weigner for dinner, along with other members of the Friends of the Library, and had a pleasant meal at the Laughing Lizard restaurant--- which is for sale, by the way, if you've ever wanted to run an eatery in a remote location on the edge of a mountain.

Much of the evening was spent on the porch, watching the willows droop and listening to the rushing of the waters.
Next day Kathy had a fierce headache, and I decided she needed a massage. So we took off for one of the two bath houses in town, this one appropriately named the Bath House. (The other is Giggling Springs) We each had been given certificates good for a half-hour soak, so that's how we started.
The Bath House is a 19th-century bath house. It's got that lived-in look. We each got our own long tub with two huge fire-hydrant-sized taps. The hot water came in at 180 degrees F, so it needed to be mixed with cold to make it so you didn't didn't die. The sulphur smell was considerable. I very much appreciated the fact that the tub was long enough for me to stretch out in. I stretched out and thought of nothing in particular for half an hour.
While Kathy was having a half-hour massage, I ate lunch and rehydrated at the deli next door, and returned to be told that Kathy'd decided to remain in the hands of the masseur for another half hour. This was getting close to the time of my official appearance, so I left the car keys with the spa manager and hiked back to Casa Blanca, where I hitched a ride to the Symposium with Stephen Donaldson and his wife Jennifer.
The Symposium went on for two hours, followed by a signing. Kathleen Weigner moderated. It was a refreshing change to be asked questions by a moderator who had prepared by actually reading my books. This is kind of a rare thing. Sometimes I go through hour-long interviews where I discover, usually toward the start, that my interviewer hasn't read a single word I've written. (Some are better at faking it than others.)
After the Symposium we looked outside and saw a spectacular rainbow stretching over the red-rock cliffs. It was impossible to photograph the whole thing without including power lines and a fence, and I'm too lazy today to Photoshop those away, so you're stuck with a partial.
Then there was another communal dinner, this time at an Italian place, and a lengthy discussion back at the Casa Blanca.
Next morning I headed north of town to check out the Soda Dam, a natural mineral formation created when a mineral-heavy hot spring pours into the cold Jemez river, and the other notable landmark Battleship Rock. Battleship Rock resisted my efforts to take a good picture of it, but part of the Soda Dam is shown above. Then we were back at the deli, sampling the blue corn blueberry pancakes that had been recommended to us, when Jane and Jim walked by. Kathy and I had planned on using our gift certificate to Giggling Springs, but J&J had decided to visit the Jemez Monument, a large pueblo that had been abandoned about the time of the Pueblo Revolt, in 1680. Since Jim's an archaeologist who's worked Northern New Mexico for a long time, we decided to feed our brains instead of relaxing our muscles.
The only part of the pueblo that has been excavated is the huge stone mission church and attendant buildings that the Spaniards compelled the Jemez to build. During the Pueblo Revolt the Jemez killed their priest and several converts and built a more defensible pueblo atop a nearby mesa. During the reconquest of 1692, Spanish soldiers stormed the pueblo and took several hundred prisoners. After a few more revolts, the Jemez and the Spanish decided to get along. Sort of. Except for the taxes and the religious and political repression, of course.
The museum is run by the Jemez tribe and features their worldview, a refreshing choice.
Afterwards we headed home, winding down the roads that were now clear of racing water. We stopped briefly in Bernalillo, where Pat and Scott were kind enough to load us with pumpkins and tomatoes from their gardens. I've been enjoying the tomatoes all week, and I think the pumpkins will become Chef Francoise's Soup when I have enough time to put it together.
I was pleased to discover that the Symposium was funded by Intel. After all the money I've given Intel over the years, I'm very pleased to be spending their funds.
We still have gift certificates for Giggling Springs, so we'll probably be back sometime soon.

Wednesday, October 03, 2007

Pink Force

It's been a busy week, and I've been too occupied to post much here. So instead I offer this flashback from June of 1994, from the online diary I was keeping at that time.

My apologies for the weird formatting. The system doesn't seem to want to let me correct it.

Pink Force Commando was mentioned a few topics back. Here's my reaction to seeing the film:

For my first night of fun in weeks, I went over to Michael Barrett's place for barbecue, Guinness, and Hong Kong cinema, all of which blended together remarkably well. Tonight's Hong Kong Klassic was PINK FORCE COMMANDO, which fits into the HK genre known as "girls-with-guns." This genre started with the ANGEL series, which was inspired by the Charlie's Angels TV show, and all of which feature extraordinarily beautiful women armed with lots and lots of modern weaponry, all of which they use with great and more or less continuous effect.

This film was directed by Lawrence Full (Chu Yen Ping), who also directed the
surreal Jackie Chan film FANTASY MISSION FORCE--- a film I didn't care for,
incidentally. PINK FORCE COMMANDO has all the same elements, but without Chan--- and they work this time. The style is similar to that of a Sergio Leone
western, if Sergio were Chinese and were on a 900-mike acid trip.

We open with our four heroines, and stacks of gold, beseiged in a house by the
Pink Force Commander and his army. The Commander's men are all dressed in
recognizeable German World War II uniforms, though with different insignia,
and the Commander (a skinny, weaselly-looking Chinese) is dressed up as Erwin
Rommel, complete with goggles perched on his peaked cap. Our heroines include
Dynamite Sally (the thoroughly pulchritudinous Sally Yeh) and Jackal (Lin
Ching Hsia, otherwise known as Brigitte Lin or Venus Lin). This is the young,
more feminine Brigitte Lin, before she cut her hair and started dressing like
Oscar Wilde in films like PEKING OPERA BLUES.

The girls swear to meet again in a year and divide up the gold, after which
Dynamite Sally and Jackal break out of the encircling troops, aided in their
case by a jeep with a .50 caliber Browning mounted on top. But the Pink Force
Commander turns up, wounds Jackal, and grabs the gold, while Sally escapes.
Then it turns out that Jackal isn't hurt after all--- she's partners with the
Commander. The two go off to live happily ever after with the gold.

In the meantime, the other girls are having various adventures, including an
encounter with the mysterious Heartbroken Man--- that's his name, really!---
who dresses like a Western gunfighter, with a black frock coat and Stetson,
carries a shotgun, and looks as much as possible like a Chinese Lee Van Cleef.

On the anniversary of their battle, the girl gang gets together on the site of
the showdown with the Pink Force, only to discover that Jackal and the
Commander have built a mini Las Vegas on the site--- it's called Sin City---
that looks like a Western frontier town if it had been designed by Levitt, the
guy who built Levittown. There's a street fair going on, including jugglers,
cowboys on horses, martial artists, Western gunfighters, the occasional
Mercedes limo cruising through . . . you know, just like Vegas.

We should point out that the women all have quite different styles. Jackal
dresses like a gunfighter, with a six-gun on her hip. Dynamite Sally carries
dynamite on a cartridge belt. Rebel dresses in a pink Chinese gown. And the
fourth heroine, whose name I never caught, was dressed like a superhero in
tights and a gold-lined cape. (never flew, though) The Commander has doffed
his Erwin Rommel getup for a 19th century frock coat, 1970s black bellbottoms,
and a Russian fur hat.

The girls decide on revenge, but the Commander is ahead of them, and hires a
group of Girl Ninjas to attack them. The head Ninjette would seem to be his
new girlfriend. The Ninjette is wounded and the others killed. The girls rob
the Sin City casino, but are caught by the Commander's goons, led by a Chinese
Marlon Brando impersonator who dresses like the Wild One, rides a motorcycle,
and mumbles.

I'm not making this up, you know.

The girls are saved by Jackal, who orders the guard to leave. Her ex-
partners remind her that she's been a rat, betrayed them, and spent all their
money, and by way of atonement Jackal cuts off her left arm with a ninja sword
that's been carelessly left lying around from the previous battle. The
Commander is upset when he finds this out, but eventually everyone agrees to
join forces and steal this huge diamond that happens to be passing by.

They attack the caravan guarding the diamond and a huge battle results. The
diamond turns out to be a fake, but the Commander finds a map to the real
diamond and runs off with it. Jackal, realizing she's been betrayed by her
lover, runs off to intercept him. She and the Commander fight, and Jackal is
wounded and flung into a river. She is rescued by the Heartbroken Man, who
turns out to be an expert in prosthetics. He makes her a new arm with several
attachments, including a six-gun and a gatling gun.

I'm really not making any of this up.

Jackal rejoins her buddies, and they raid the Commander's encampment and steal
the map, then fort up in Sin City, which while no one was looking became a
palisaded encampment--- like a Western fort with Mercedeses.

The Commander calls a meeting of all the bad men in the world and borrows
their armies. The united forces of the Chinese Nazis, the White Lotus
Society, the Ku Klux Klan (in white hooded outfits), the Mongols, and a whole
lot of groups I didn't recognize march on Sin City to get the map back. Plus
of course the Brando Impersonator and the Danger Ninjettes.

I swear to GOD I'm not making this up.

There's a huge battle. Everybody dies. The Ninjette takes a bullet meant for
the commander and dies. Jackal kills the Commander and dies happily. the
Heartbroken Man kills the Brando Impersonator--- Battle of the Icons!--- and
rides off alone into the sunset, the sole survivor.

Three chops. Primitive, low-budget, violent, but has a certain je ne sais
quoi that can't be denied. It's definitely an artifact, but I can't say of
what. I've never seen anything like this film.

Don't see it alone, because you'll want a witness . . . otherwise no one will
believe it when you tell them

Monday, October 01, 2007

Ambiguous Souvenir

This could be a metaphor.
Or an allegory.
Or the visual equivalent of found poetry.
Perhaps it could be thought disturbing.
Or odd.
Or quaint.
Or amusing.
It's a snail on a jawbone. But it could also be any or all of the above.