Not so elementary

We saw Mr. Holmes on Friday evening. It stars Sir Ian McKellan as a 93-year-old Sherlock Holmes, retired to the coast of England, keeping bees and battling the onset of dementia. Laura Linney is his housekeeper. She has a young son who is always trying to get Holmes to “do his thing,” where he tells someone where they’ve been based on observation.

Holmes is struggling to remember his final case, the one that caused him to walk away from his lifelong profession. He knows it must have gone terribly wrong, but Watson’s account of it is benign. He begins to write it down, with the young boy as an eager audience, and bit by bit it comes back to him. He’s also just back from a trip to Japan where he acquired some Hiroshima herbs that are supposed to improve his memory.

It’s a charming, slow-paced film that doles out its secrets reluctantly. There are few whiz-bang feats of observation, but Holmes hasn’t completely lost that faculty. However, he does learn a lesson about the perils of telling the truth and the benefits of the benign lie. It’s a thoroughly enjoyable film, and the little boy is a real charmer, going toe-to-toe and head-to-head with the great detective and the illustrious actor who plays him. The aging process is very well done (we see Holmes in flashback some 30 years earlier), and there’s always a glint in McKellan’s eye. Nicely done.

We also finally found time to watch the two-hour finale of Battlestar Galactica. It was mostly satisfactory, though there were a few things that were hard to swallow. I didn’t mind that Starbuck’s nature wasn’t explained. I decided for myself that post-Earth she was an angel, like Baltar and Caprica’s companions, one that was visible to everyone who needed to see her, which was apparently everyone. I thought the decision to eschew all technology at the new planet was a little glibly handled. A plot necessity that should have involved more angst and discussion instead of being simply accepted by everyone. Adama’s decision was mystifying. We both thought he was going to crash the raptor into a mountain or something, but instead he simply went into isolation. To what end? And I could have totally done without the 150,000 years in the future bit that locked the story into a specific timeframe that causes no end of logical issues. Still, it was a great show while it lasted, and we’re going to move on to Caprica next.

I put up a few book review recently. A mixed bag of the very good and the less-so:

There’s been a lot of bashing of True Detective, Season 2, but I’m glad to be sticking with it. I think there are only two more episodes and it looks like the rubber is starting to hit the road. Also, a fascinating beginning to the “tooth fairy” (Red Dragon) storyline on Hannibal. It is interesting to come to this point after having experienced the entire history between Jack and Walt and Hannibal. I’ve also picked up Mr. Robot and Humans, both of which are off to good beginnings, though I like the former a bit more than the latter. One thing I’ve grown to appreciate about British television shows is their casual multi-ethnicity. Characters are black or Asian or whatever, and nothing is made of the fact. They simply are. The android who is brought into the family home in Humans is Asian, but the only controversy is that one was purchased at all, not its appearance. Wayward Pines lived up to its name, going wayward in its final episode. It was always one of those on-the-fence shows for me, but even if it is miraculously resurrected for another season, I’m done with it.

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Himitsu wo shiri tai

I can’t believe that it’s been a week since I set out for NECON. Where does the time go? I had to get up really (really) early for my flight last Thursday, but the good thing about that was that I arrived in Providence shortly after noon and I got to the convention center in the early afternoon. People gradually filtered in over the course of the next several hours.

Usually a very large group of us went out to dinner at Jacky’s Galaxie, but this year we were just a group of five, which made it more intimate. You could actually talk to everyone there instead of just those people in your immediate proximity. And the servers weren’t overwhelmed by us. It was nice. We followed that with the obligatory trip to 1776 for provisions. Thursday evening was spent in the courtyard talking with old friends and new ones. It was surprisingly cool—I didn’t take a jacket with me.

Friday morning I was supposed to go on an outing to see some of Lovecraft’s papers, but my one panel duty ended up being at the same time, so I had to skip that excursion, which sounded like it was amazing. I had a kaffeeklatsch where four of us, moderated by Jack Haringa, made recommendations from all the books we’d read over the past year.

Although there are panels and interviews, all of which are interesting and worthwhile, and some business gets transacted, a big part of NECON is just talking to people. In the courtyard, in the lobby, in the (new) lounge, in the dealer room, outside the front door, over meals. The con is capped at 200 people and I would guess that at least 120 of those consist of people who go year in and year out, so there are a lot of familiar faces. It’s a little bit like homecoming or a family reunion. I probably talk more during those four days than I do during an ordinary month.

One place I did a lot of talking was when I was interviewed by Brian Keene and Dave Thomas for The Horror Show with Brian Keene podcast. The segment, which starts out with an interview with Paul G. Tremblay, author of A Head Full of Ghosts, which most people are already calling the book of the year, goes live tonight. It was a wide-ranging interview, one of the most in-depth I’ve ever done on audio, and it was all the more fun because it was live, in the lounge at NECON with people wandering through and, occasionally, interrupting.

(Photo by Paul Tremblay — Thomas, Keene and Vincent)

While I may talk more than I normally do at NECON, I sleep a lot less. I stayed up past midnight three nights in a row, which is way outside my normal routine. Plus, I had to get up at 4 am on Sunday to drive back to Providence and catch my early morning flight. The weekend always slips away far too fast, leaving us with a new memories, new laughs (especially from the legendary NECON roast) and new friends and acquaintances. There’s no other con like it.

Over the weekend, I heard about some good TV shows to check out. I’ve already sampled Mr. Robot and I’m digging it. The main character is a depressed hacker who’s hooked on morphine. He works for a cybersecurity company whose biggest client is an “evil” corporation. He comes to the attention of a small group of hacktivists and has an on-again/off-again courtship with them. The leader is played by Christian Slater in one of his best performances in recent memory. The main character, Eliot, is a bit of a zombie, quirky as all get out, but he’s not completely alienated from society. He has friends and a girlfriend and pets. He also uses his skills to bring bad guys to justice, a kind of digilante (which is also the title of an unpublished short story of mine). I’m digging it so far.


Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Going camping

It’s that time of year again: I head off to NECon tomorrow morning on a flight that seemed like a good idea at the time but now I’m facing the reality of having to get up in time to make it. The good news is that it gets me to Providence at a decent time, with lots of the day left. The bad: getting up at 3:45 am.

I’m taking part in a Kaffeeklatsch on Friday at 11 am: The Year’s Best Reading, along with Jack Haringa, Barry Lee Dejasu, and Catherine Grant. I’ve got some fantastic suggestions to make this year—to those who aren’t off playing mini-golf, that is. I hope there’s tea…

I didn’t win the Thriller Award on Saturday evening. I’d asked F. Paul Wilson to accept on my behalf in the unlikely event I won, and he emailed me from the banquet to let me know that I hadn’t. He is sending me a copy of the program booklet from the event, so I’ll have that.

I posted a couple of book reviews over the past several days. The first was for Numero Zero by Umberto Eco, a book that he apparently abandoned back in the early 1990s but picked up again and completed recently. It’s a brief book: Amazon lists it at 208 pages, but my eGalley was even shorter than that. It has a few issues. Then I reviewed Last Words by Michael Koryta, who I met at NECon this time last year. Not for anyone who has claustrophobia issues. A lot of it takes place in caves. In the dark. Whoa. It’s the first book in a series, and the eGalley had the first chapter of the next book, too. Looking forward to that one.

We’ve been chugging along at Stephen King Revisited. I posted my essay about Danse Macabre: (What We Talk About When We Talk About Horror) and Rich’s essay is available, too. I have my essays for the next two books queued up.

I met briefly with editor Danel Olson a couple of nights ago when he delivered my contributor copies of The Shining: Studies in the Horror Film. It’s a massive book and I look forward to ploughing through it, perhaps on my flights tomorrow. So far I’ve read the introduction and the interview with the “Shining twins,” which is hilarious, as they’re now approaching fifty but still seem to complete each other’s thoughts and sentences. It’s interesting to hear about their experiences working on the film. The book has drawn some good publicity, including mentions in The Washington Post, Empire magazine and Independent Publisher review (links available here).

I discovered an overlooked BBC series from a while back that I binged through recently. It’s called Five Days and aired on HBO, too. The conceit is that each episode depicts one of five days during a crime investigation, but they aren’t contiguous. In the first (of two) series, the third day is the day of the 28-day review, for example, something I didn’t know existed until watching The Fall. Like Broadchurch, the series looks at the impact crime and criminal investigations have on the family of the victim, their friends and on the police as well. Lots of familiar actors appear, including Penelope Wilton and Bernard Hill from Doctor Who, David Oyelowo from Selma, Edward Woodward (The Equalizer), Hugh Bonneville (Downton Abbey), Janet McTeer from the short-lived Battle Creek (I didn’t realize she was British) and David Morrisey (the Governor from The Walking Dead). The time jumps don’t do the series a favor, and the second season, which aired three years after the first, has some elements that could have amounted to something but didn’t. For example, there’s a lot of fuss over the main character’s mother’s dementia, but in the final analysis it’s much ado about nothing. The accents in the second series are also challenging enough that I wished for closed captioning at times. Still, not bad stuff.

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Four stories: CD Select

I’m happy to announce the publication of my entry in the new Cemetery Dance Select series of eBooks. This mini-collection contains the following stories:

  • A Murder of Vampires
  • Overtoun Bridge
  • Centralia Is Still Burning
  • What David Was Doing When the Lights Went Out

Plus an afterword by the author (that would be me). These ebooks are a great way to sample a new author, and the price is right, at $2.99. Among the other authors in the first wave: Kealan Patrick Burke, John R. Little, Lisa Tuttle, Michael Marshall Smith, Kaaron Warren, Lisa Morton, Terry Dowling, Lee Thomas, Jeff Strand, Peter Atkins.

This morning I finished The Loney by Andrew Michael Hurley, currently only available in a fine limited edition of 300 copies from Tartarus Press. If you’ve had your ear to the ground, you might have heard mention of it. It was recommended to me by someone whose opinion I respect, and I’m glad I tracked a copy down. Apparently it’s getting a wider release this year, and it is most deserving. It’s a difficult book to describe, but it has drawn comparisons to Henry James and The Wicker Man. Moody, with a very strong sense of place. Almost claustrophobic. Mesmerizing writing. I’ll be reviewing it at greater length soon, but keep an eye out for this one. It’s an impressive debut novel.

Posted in books | Leave a comment

Fireworks

My new short story “The Bottle of Red Zinfandel” is now available in Sci Phi Journal issue 6. Electronic and paper copies of this periodical are available.

My essay for Stephen King Revisted on Roadwork is now available, as is Rich’s commentary essay: The First Energy Crisis.

Stanley Kubrick’s The Shining: Studies in the Horror Film, edited by my buddy Danel Olson, got a nice mention by Michael Dirda in the Washington Post. I haven’t seen the book yet, but I hear it’s quite spectacular.

The Thriller Awards will be presented at ThrillerFest X in NYC this weekend. My short story “The Honey Trap” is vying with four others in the Best Short Story category. I figure my odds of winning are slim, but it was both an honor and a surprise to be nominated.

The past couple of weeks have been exciting and eventful. As I mentioned last time, my daughter got married in mid-June. However, they elected to have the reception this past weekend instead of immediately after the ceremony, and it was held here in Texas. So we’ve had lots of people visiting for the big event, which was on Friday evening. Music was by a “small big band” and a Frank Sinatra cover singer. We had fireworks at the end of the evening, too, a prelude for the July 4th celebration.

On Saturday, we took our visitors to the nearby park, where we understood the viewing would be favorable. Afternoon showers passed through, but it was clear and dry at the park and we essentially had front row seats to the fireworks. Our community launched them from two different locations, in sync with each other. We could see the second batch cresting the trees on the other side of the lake, but the primary fireworks went off right in front of us. Lasted 20 minutes—quite a spectacle. The dog with the people sitting near us wasn’t quite so impressed, though. It bolted during the grand finale, and I was surprised that its owners were able to recapture it in the darkness.

We watched the World Cup final on Sunday evening, which was thrilling in its own right. No one expected the game to start out the way it did, with four US goals in 16 minutes. The one from mid-field was especially impressive. We were glad Japan got back into the game a little, at least, so it wasn’t a total rout. Apparently it was the most-watched soccer match in the US ever.

Less than two weeks until Necon!

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Point Betsie

My essay about Firestarter for Stephen King Revisited went online a few days ago, along with Rich Chizmar’s reminiscences about the book.

I’d be most curious to hear what Thomas Harris thinks of the Hannibal series. They are doing most interesting things with his stories. It’s a mesmerizing series. Truly hypnotic.

I’m going to give Season 2 of True Detectives a few episodes to see if it picks up, but the first episode wasn’t gripping at all, although it had its moments. I’ve never been a huge fan of either Colin Farrell (too bad he doesn’t speak in his normal accent) or Vince Vaughn.

After we left the airport on Thursday, we passed two consecutive intersections that had Tim Hortons restaurants. My wife tuned in CBC Radio 2. But we weren’t in Canada—we were in Michigan, driving between Detroit and the northwestern part of the Upper Peninsula, a place called Frankfort and its environs. The reason? Our daughter’s wedding, which has been in the planning stage for so long that it seems like it has always been!

It was a small affair. Just the parental units and their attendants. The ceremony took place outside of the famous lighthouse at Point Betsie, which the tour guides say is the second most photographed lighthouse in the US (the first being in Maine).

We kept a wary eye on the weather during the preceding days. Thursday and Friday both showed a 30% chance of rain for the time of the wedding, but luck was with us. It was brisk and a bit breezy, definitely overcast, but not a drop fell. Apparently the conditions were ideal for the photographer because it meant no one was squinting in the sun. The ceremony was followed by a dinner at a nearby restaurant. The reception proper will take place here in Texas in the near future, with a larger contingent present.

It was a terrific weekend. We got to meet our new son-in-law’s parents for the first time, and take in a part of the country neither of us had ever seen before. In fact, we’re both quite sure neither of us has been to Michigan in the past except when making connections through the Detroit airport. We envision return trips in the future. There are a lot of wineries in the area. Apparently it’s at the same latitude as the wine regions of France and California.

On Friday, after the rehearsal dinner, a local told us to watch out for deer as we returned to our hotel. We left the restaurant on Saturday evening at about 9:45, which was still twilight that far north. As we skirted the western coast of Crystal Lake, I remembered that advice, but then I told myself that deer probably wouldn’t cross the road here because there was nowhere for them to go on the other side. Just the lake. Not a mile later, I saw out of the corner of my eye something moving fast toward us. A young deer bolted across the road in front of us. I’m not sure we were in danger of hitting it, but I slammed on the brakes all the same, and it zigged and zagged and dashed off into the darkness.

Posted in Uncategorized | Comments Off on Point Betsie

Bill, with the long tail

Bill came calling, but we had plenty of advanced warning. He turned into a tropical storm the other evening. People went crazy, emptying the shelves in the grocery stores, concentrating on water and bread, apparently. I guess they were expecting some sort of apocalyptic event instead of just what we around here affectionately call “showers.” Granted, it rained a fair amount, but I think the storm we had on Memorial Day was worse, and that one didn’t even merit a name. Some wag on Twitter suggested there were going to be a lot of homemade croutons next week as people tried to figure out what to do with the excess bread.

Even though the center of the storm, now a Tropical Depression instead of a Tropical Storm, has moved well past us, Bill has a long tail, as you can see from the accompanying satellite image. That means the storm is still pulling moisture from the Gulf and occasionally dumping it on us. So there could still be some local street flooding but, for the most part, T.S. Bill was a bit of a fizzle. Not that anyone’s complaining. Except the people who bought all that bread.

My short story “The Bottle of Red Zinfandel” will be in issue 6 of SciPhi Journal, due out soon. Their illustrator, Cat Leonard, did spot illustrations for each story. Here’s what she conjured up for mine.

The journal features science fiction stories with a philosophical context and mine contemplates the repercussions of teleportation.

We’re into the fourth season of Battlestar Galactica, after the stunning reveal at the end of the third season: the identities of four of the sleeper cylons. That means there’s just one remaining to be revealed. My money is on the cigarette-smoking doctor! I have to say that this is a more sophisticated and complex series that tackles some interesting issues and develops strong character relationships than anything Star Trek ever managed to do. I still can’t believe I overlooked it for so many years.

In learning some basic guitar chords, I have discovered that the lower-E string, the thickest, is more trouble than it’s worth much of the time. How many of the major chords require you to skip it? The F, B and D chords sound light-weight to my ear without that lower component, compared to the other chords.

I’m reading Last Words by Michael Koryta, who I met at Necon last year. Our hero has just been placed unconscious deep inside a cave. When he comes to, he’s wearing only his underwear and it’s completely dark. Totally. He has no idea where he is (he figures out it’s a cave fairly soon) or how to get out. This is very creepy stuff.

Posted in Uncategorized | Comments Off on Bill, with the long tail

Zero Hour: 5 p.m.

I haven’t owned a suit since I was in high school. I have a tux that I’ve worn a couple of times in recent years, but for other occasions, I’ve relied upon the blazer/dress pants ensemble. Patches on the elbows and everything. However, that won’t do for a wedding, so last night we went out and bought me a suit. Two, in fact, since it was buy-one-get-one-free week at the haberdasher (there’s a word that’s fallen into disuse!). We made a romp of it. Got a lot of laughs from the salesman. At one point, a mustachioed tailor who reminded me of Gepetto sneaked up behind me and took a few rapid measurements with a tape and a piece of chalk.

On a whim, I decided to pick up the guitar and try to learn to play it. After a week, I can now find A, D, E and G without too much trouble and my fingertips are tender. I can also manage C, as well as Emin, Dmin and Amin, although my current favorite is Cadd9. I’m playing around with “Dreamboat Annie” by Heart, but the F chord is a challenge and Fmin even worse. I’ve strummed the guitar many times over the years—I even taught my daughter to pluck the opening to “Dust in the Wind” once—but it’s never stuck with me. Maybe this time will be different.

It’s slow going for TV during these summer months, but there are a few interesting shows all the same. I raced through Aquarius, but was frustrated by its multiple cliff-hangers. Sure hope it gets renewed. Wayward Pines is intriguing, though strongly reminiscent of The Prisoner. Melissa Leo looks like she’s having a great time in it. They’ve already chewed through a couple of big-name actors. I was recommended The Whispers, so I watched the first two episodes of that. The only thing it’s missing is that creepy girl from Intruders. It’s inspired by a Ray Bradbury short story called “Zero Hour” from The Illustrated Man that’s about six pages long. Murder in the First returned last night with a bang, an episode that features a Columbine-style duo on a school bus. And Hannibal is back, that lush, artistic, confounding series that is at least as much style as substance.

On the reading front, I seem to have acquired electronic galleys to a lot of short story collections lately. First I read The Last Drive and Other Stories by Rex Stout, early stories by the creator of Nero Wolfe, many of them involving golf. Then it was The Complete Crime Stories by James M. Cain (author of The Postman Always Rings Twice and Double Indemnity), though in truth a good many of them aren’t crime stories at all. Now it’s Charlie Martz and Other Stories by Elmore Leonard, a short collection of mostly unpublished Leonard stories in which he breaks some of his “10 rules.” For good measure, I’m also reading Pale Grey for Guilt, the ninth Travis McGee novel. I’m slowly working my way through the McGee books in order at the pace of one or two a year.

Posted in Uncategorized | Comments Off on Zero Hour: 5 p.m.

Pet Sounds

I’m thrilled that, over a decade after its release, The Road to the Dark Tower is still delivering semi-annual royalty checks. The latest, through the end of December 2014, was actually nearly twice as much as the one for the previous six-month period.

I’m told by the publisher, Centipede Press, that The Shining: Studies in the Horror Film will ship out starting next Monday, June 15.

I’m not sure that John Cusack would have sprung to mind to play Brian Wilson of the Beach Boys, but that’s who’s the older version of the wunderkind in Love & Mercy, the new biopic that also stars Paul Dano as the pre- and mid-collapse Wilson. Elizabeth Banks is the woman who recognizes the unhealthy control Eugene Landy (Paul Giamatti) exerts over him. It’s an interesting telling of the story, with lots of music. We were particularly fascinated by the bits in the studio where Wilson used the professional studio musicians known as “the Wrecking Crew” to lay down the tracks for Pet Sounds according to the things he was hearing in his head. (We saw a documentary about the Wrecking Crew several weeks ago.) The vocals were all added later, a process that absolutely baffles me. The film has a few spacey moments, especially in the 1960s section, but Cusack and Banks hold it together even when things are spiraling out of control for Wilson.  Dano resembles Wilson more than Cusack does, and Cusack only occasionally attempts some of Wilson’s more notable quirks and tics to remind us who he’s supposed to be.

I read a bit about Landy after we saw the movie yesterday afternoon, and it’s an interesting story. He pretty much saved Wilson’s life. Got him off drugs and back to a normal weight, eating healthy, but at some point he took his work to an extreme, monitored Wilson 24/7, took control of his life, his finances, everything, all apparently because he had unfulfilled musical aspirations of his own. Finally a court intervened, stripped him of his medical license in California and banned him from seeing Wilson ever again. However, that wasn’t the end of his medical practice. Apparently he moved first to New Mexico and then to Hawaii, where he continued to be a psychotherapist. This was before the age of Google, of course. Giamatti chews up the scenery in a terrible mop-top wig. His Landy seems maniacal.

My wife got me a Doctor Who-themed Monopoly game for my birthday, so we played with our daughter and her fiance on Saturday evening. I think it’s the first time I’ve ever played Monopoly through to completion. Usually someone gets bored and we mutually decide to tally up our assets and quit. This time we had three bankruptcies and my wife was victorious, all in under two hours.

Posted in Uncategorized | Comments Off on Pet Sounds

Videodrome

I contributed to the King for a Year blogging site today with my thoughts about Finders Keepers, which is out tomorrow. I also posted the review that will appear in the next issue of Cemetery Dance magazine at News from the Dead Zone online.

My wife was away at a conference last weekend, so I watched some things that she wouldn’t typically enjoy. On Friday night, I went to see Mad Max: Fury Road, and I think my synapses are still firing. I decided against the 3D version, but even so it is visually stunning and appealing. I read that one thing they did to keep everything coherent was to put the major action always at the exact center of the screen so that when there’s a jump cut the viewer doesn’t have to search around. It’s an amazingly coherent movie, given how outlandish and chaotic the action is. It’s an interesting choice to pull Mad Max into the story against his own volition. He’s there more by mischance than design, and he doesn’t really have a dog in the race other than to get free and survive. It’s definitely one that you’d want to see on the big screen. It’s fairly relentless once the action starts, which is about 22 seconds into the film.

I finished Oz, the HBO series that might be considered the precursor to Orange is the New Black. Just about every male actor over 40 who’s been in a TV series in the past decade was probably in this series at some point. It takes place in a Maximum Security prison. One thing it made me think is that it’s a mistake to put prisoners who have committed deliberate acts of violence in with people who have committed “accidental” crimes or non-violent crimes. The through-line character, Beecher, was there because he killed a girl in a DWI accident. During his years of incarceration he is subjected to acts of terrible violence, but is also put in the position of perpetrating them himself.

On Saturday, I binged through the first seven episodes of the third season of Orphan Black. I really liked the first season, but was so-so on the second season. The third one is better than the second so far, I think. Then I watched the two-hour premiere of Aquarius, the NBC series about a cop on the trail of Charles Manson. David Duchovny plays the cop. His face seems to have broadened in recent years, and it’s mottled, which might be a make-up job to indicate his alcoholic past. My first thought was that a cop who can’t find his car keys probably isn’t the best guy to go to when your daughter disappears, but the dynamic between him and his partner is good. It’s all very 60s flower power hippy dippy summer of love, and not quite as strong a series as I’d hoped, but I see all 12 episodes are available on NBC.com so I’ll probably binge through it.

On a recommendation, I also tried out Wayward Pines, which is this summer’s BIG MYSTERY series. It’s about a Secret Service agent looking for a couple of missing agents who ends up in the eponymous little town after having a car accident. Except it’s a strange, strange town that you can’t escape from. The series opens like Lost, with the eyeball shot pulling back to show the protagonist on his back in a remote location, but it quickly switches to full-on McGoohan’s The Prisoner mode. There’s a strong cast (Toby Jones from The Mist, Melissa Leo, Terrence Howard, etc.) and a wacky, off-kilter sense of mystery, so I’ll probably keep up with it.

My wife and I are in the third season of Battlestar Galactica. I can’t believe I was totally oblivious to this series until now. There were cast members at Comicpalooza last summer, and a full-scale viper, and I walked right past them without even a hint of interest. It’s a well done series that tackles a lot of contemporary subjects (war, invading forces, elections where those in the know realize that the populace has made the wrong choice) and has a full slate of fascinating characters.

Posted in Uncategorized | Comments Off on Videodrome