Orange is the new POTA

We were in a drought for so many summers here that we’ve almost forgotten what “normal” is like. Normal in Texas is temperatures in the high 90s / lower 100s with a 30% chance of rain every afternoon, which translates into about 30 minutes of heavy showers almost every day after 3 pm. That’s what we’ve been getting this year, and I don’t think many people are complaining (except those people whose houses have been struck by lightning).

I first discovered the Planet of the Apes around the time the TV series came on in the 1970s. I was hooked immediately. Because there weren’t video tapes or DVDs at the time, it took me a while to see the movies, so my introduction to them was via the novelizations, which were pretty good, and the graphic adaptations at the back of Planet of the Apes magazine, which I stumbled upon at the local drug store. I read the Pierre Boule novel that got this franchise started while in high school. I’ve now seen the movies any number of times, as well as the cartoon version, the ill-advised Tim Burton movie (Helena Bonham Carter made a cute chimp).

The most recent movies have taken the franchise to a whole new level. Rise of the Planet of the Apes was a re-imagining of Conquest of the Planet of the Apes and the new one, Dawn of the Planet of the Apes is the modern equivalent of Battle for the Planet of the Apes. These aren’t remakes in the conventional sense, which is why I used the word “re-imagining.” You can trace their ancestry, but these versions have bigger budgets, bigger visions and bigger ideas. They’re smart movies regardless of their heritage, and it seems like they’re getting the recognition they deserve, too, which is nice. Some interesting decisions were made in the latest film. First, only a decade has elapsed since the ape uprising, and the apocalypse came in the form of a simian flu rather than a nuclear war. Most of the apes haven’t learned to vocalize—they use the sign language that Caesar was taught. Unlike Battle for the Planet of the Apes, there hasn’t been a role-reversal, even though the scene where the apes pen up the humans is still there. Different context. Apes shall not kill apes is still a mantra, with as many exceptions as in the original. The characters, simian and human, are multilayered and textured. Even Gary Oldman, who is often just a big crazy meanie, has a human side. I am very impressed by the thought that went into this story and encouraged for what the future may hold. I liked all the little call-backs, too. Like naming the orangutan “Maurice,” a nod to Maurice Evans who originated the role of Dr. Zaius. Well done. Go see it, even if you aren’t familiar with the original series or the previous film. It’s good stuff.

I’ve been aware of Orange is the New Black in a vague way, but for some reason never got around to watching it until the past week, when I binged my way through all 26 episodes. I liked most of Jenji Kohan’s previous series, Weeds, and you can see the same hand at work. Piper isn’t exactly Nancy Botwin, but they have a common ancestor. Nancy even did a stint in prison. One thing I really enjoy about the series is getting to know the backstories of the various inmates. How they ended up in their current situation. These are interesting characters. My favorite is Nicky, the heroin addict with the crazy hair. She gets some of the shows best lines and situations. I just hope that she manages to resist the temptation that was placed in front of her at the end of the second season. Everyone gets interesting character arcs, too, even the guards. Healy, for example, started out as a nice guy and then turned into a bit of prick but, by the end, had sort of redeemed himself. You can understand where he’s coming from and how he could feel betrayed. Pennsatucky is a real trip. The show could make you feel bad for the old lady inmate who got dumped, and the one who had cancer (best use of “Don’t Fear the Reaper” on a TV show ever). Like Piper, you start out wary of Red and manage to turn the tables with her. And “Crazy Eyes”—what a seriocomic tragic character. Gah! Now I have to wait another year for the third season. It will be interesting to see the repercussions of Piper’s actions with respect to Alex.

This season of 24 was one of the best ever. It helped, I think, that it was abbreviated to just 12 episodes. Putting it in England was a nice touch, but the producers also made it a no-holds-barred story, too. No one (except, perhaps, Jack) was off limits for terrible treatment and/or death. Nice cleaver scene, too. Jack is bad-ass, but pissed-off Jack is a wonder to behold. Of course he had to go mano-a-mano with the martial arts guy, but I’ll grant them that indulgence. Bonus points for the use of the silent clock.

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What I did on my summer vacation

Necon—which we regulars call “Camp Necon”—is coming up. It’s my writer’s vacation retreat each most years, and I’m very much looking forward to it. I won’t be on any panels (I was scheduled for one, but it conflicted with my departing flight), but I’m gonna have a good time all the same.

A couple of weeks ago, my daughter and I went on a Maritime Canadian vacation. When we first planned it, we were only going to go to Halifax, where we both attended university, but I decided to turn it into a bit of a road trip adventure.

A rainstorm swept through Houston just before our flight, which delayed our departure. I was a little worried, since we had a tight connection in Detroit. Delta now lets you connect to their site in flight, even if you don’t buy WiFi, so I could check up on things. Unfortunately, the site wasn’t updated with our departure, so the alerts grew increasingly alarming: you’re going to miss your connection. Click here to make alternate arrangements. However, the alternate arrangements always involved new flights starting from Houston and we were well into the flight! As it turned out, we were only a few minutes late arriving, and our connecting gate was next to the one at which we arrived. One really nice thing about the Delta app is that you can follow your luggage, and we were able to confirm that our bags had made our connecting flight, too. Useful information, although it wouldn’t be so nice to see that your bags hadn’t made the connection, or were now en route to Katmandu.

Our first stop in Canada was Prince Edward Island. No, that’s not exactly true. Our first stop was at Tim Horton’s in the Halifax airport. We stayed over at the airport hotel and headed off to PEI the next morning. I haven’t been to the island in 40 years, give or take, and my daughter has never been. We crossed the Confederation Bridge for the first time ever on Monday morning and meandered our way to Cavendish, where we visited the Anne of Green Gables tourist attractions. There’s a small museum where we caught a short video about Lucy Maud Montgomery’s life. Then we went through the barn and toured the house that is set up to replicate the one Anne Shirley lived in. Apparently many international tourists come there thinking Anne was a real person. Across the road, there’s a site I’d never visited: the place where LMM grew up. Her mother died of TB when she was two, so she was raised by her grandparents. All that remains of the house now is the stone cellar and a water well, but there’s a bookstore nearby run by relatives. We were treated to a nice talk by a woman whose husband was the great-grandson of the people who raised LMM. She was old enough to have attended LMM’s funeral in 1942, though she didn’t say how old she was at the time.

After Cavendish we went to Charlottetown. If I’ve ever been there before, I don’t remember it. It reminds me a lot of Halifax, in condensed form. The waterfront even has many of the same businesses. Preparations were well under way for the July 1st (Canada Day) celebrations, and it’s the 150th anniversary of the conference that led to the formation of Canada. We walked all over, including a trip through Victoria Park.

The next day, we went to southern New Brunswick to spend a day visiting with my relatives. We had a lobster feast that evening, the first time my daughter’s ever had it. It rained hard during our drive back to Halifax on Wednesday afternoon. The rental car was prone to hydroplaning when there was standing water, so we took our time. We were in no rush, and the sun stayed up until after 9 pm.

When we got to the hotel, we were informed that there was a package for us in the room. The publicist for the Syfy series Haven, which films in nearby Chester, had delivered an amazing gift basket that contained Haven goodies along with chocolate and other delectables. I’m still working my way through it. There was also a DVD that contained an episode of the show and an hour-long behind the scenes feature, so we watched that during the evening. I wrote about our visit to the Haven set earlier: that took up our Thursday. We went to my daughter’s favorite pizza place when we got back into the city.

On Friday morning, I had a taped interview lined up with the German TV station VOX. They have a thing coming out this fall and had reached out to me a few weeks earlier. Rather than having them schlep all the way from NY to Texas, I suggested they come up to Halifax, which worked into their schedule. The interviewer and her videographer arrived on Thursday evening; unfortunately, their gear did not, so we had to push the interview until late in the morning. I spent nearly two hours with them, though the first 30 minutes mostly involved getting the lighting right in the hotel suite where they were set up.

Once that was finished, I walked down to the Public Gardens to meet up with my daughter. We toured the waterfront, had a beavertail (our first) and wound up at the farmer’s market, where we had my daughter’s favorite tamales. She met up with some friends and I had a beer and a salad at a sidewalk cafe on Quinpool, where my daughter joined me later.

All too soon, our Maritime adventure was over, and we headed back home on Saturday afternoon, after having a donair at King of Donair on Quinpool en route to the airport.

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Movies and TV, oh my

We saw Jon Favreau’s new film, Chef, last weekend. A cute flick. Favreau wrote, directed and starred as the chef who works in a restaurant owned by Dustin Hoffman. He gets into a social media tiff with a food critic (Oliver Platt) and, with the encouragement of his ex-wife (Sofia Vergara) and maitre d’ (Scarlett Johansson), goes back to his roots and bonds with his tech-wizard 11-year-old son in the process. It’s partly a road movie, wandering from Miami to L.A. via New Orleans and Austin, and very few will leave the theater without a massive craving for Cuban sandwiches. The power of Twitter is part of the story, and the way they depict tweets flying off into the ether is funny.

While on vacation, we watched the Veronica Mars movie. It was okay, but Mars (from Neptune) gave up on some long-held things far too easily, we thought, and the wrap-up was a little simplistic and convenient. Good seeing the old gang again, though. Light frothy entertainment. Then we saw The Bag Man, starring John Cusack and Robert De Niro. I’d never heard of it, but the trailer was intriguing (and far better than the film proved to be). The first hour was good. Twin Peaks vibe in a remote hotel where Cusack, a gun for hire, is supposed to be paid for his latest gig. The wheels start to fall off in the third act, and there’s a fourth act that felt ripped from a totally different movie. We did insufficient research before watching it OnDemand. The Rotten Tomatoes score is 10% and the viewer score was around 30%.

We watched the Masterpiece Theater two-parter, The Escape Artist, starring David Tennant as a defense barrister who has never lost a case. He doesn’t mind defending the scum of the earth, because everyone’s entitled to a defense, but then bad things happen. It’s always fun watching Tennant and the story was gripping and intriguing, with a particularly wicked ending.

Finally got around to seeing the Orphan Black finale. At some point this show is going to get so bogged down in mythology and so confused that the writers aren’t going to know what’s going on, either, but I’m willing to check out Season 3. The dance scene was clever, but mostly from a “boy, that must have been hard to film” perspective rather than a story-telling perspective.

Still enjoying Murder in the First, which continues to remind me of the better aspects of The Killing. James Cromwell showed up for a couple of episodes as a high-priced defense attorney. 24 is surprisingly good this time around. I didn’t even mind the cheap trick with the president. Lots of people getting shot to death or tossed out windows. And then there was the aircraft carrier thing. That’s gonna suck.

The Bridge is coming back soon. I want to check out the Swedish second season, too. Also watching Longmire, Major Case, and Rizzoli & Isles. Solid return for Covert Affairs, too, which more people should be watching. One of the smarter spy shows out there. And then there was Under the Dome. The recap episode was worth watching, because it’s been nearly a year, and then all manner of chaos in the first episode, including the deaths of two much-loved characters. Especially the second one, who managed to survive much longer than in the novel, but will be missed.

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Welcome to Haven

While we were on vacation in the Maritime provinces last week, my daughter and I had the chance to visit the set of the Syfy TV series Haven, which is a loose adaptation of King’s Hard Case Crime novel, The Colorado Kid.

I first met HCC editor/publisher Charles Ardai at the World Horror Convention in New York in 2005. We’ve kept in touch over the years and I occasionally expressed a desire to visit Haven, a show on which he’s a writer and producer. While I was planning this vacation, he was able to put me in touch with the right people.

Of course, it was the one day of our trip where it absolutely poured. I think the total was something like 25-30 mm for the day, which is around an inch. We didn’t let that dampen our spirits, though. We were determined to have a good time, and we did. As it happened, this was the last day of filming before a hiatus that would last until after the July 4th weekend, so everyone was in a good mood. They were finally going to get some sleep.

The first surprise, though, was finding this gift arrangement in our hotel room when we got to Halifax. In addition to all manner of chocolates, nuts, chips and fudge, we found two Haven hats, two T-shirts, two DVDs (containing the Season 3 episode Real Estate that takes place in a haunted house on Halloween, a lengthy making-of, and footage from Comic-Con), two mini graphic novels, two Grey Gull bottle openers and other trinkets. My daughter asked me if I often got treated like this.

We headed out to Chester that morning, about 50 km down Nova Scotia’s south shore, past Peggy’s Cove. The studio is located in the Chester arena, with Studio A in the hockey rink and Studio B in the curling rink. It’s a good arrangement: the arena would otherwise be unused during the summer. After meeting our host, Skana Gee, the unit publicist, we were given a tour of the facilities, meeting many of the behind-the-scenes people along the way, and of the constructed sets, which include the police station, the hospital (both set up contiguously: you can walk down the hall from one room to the next), Audrey’s apartment and Duke’s boat. The attention to detail is amazing. The jail’s rungs look metal, but they aren’t, the walls look concrete (ditto), and everything is dressed to the nines, including wanted posters that often feature crew members accused of nasty crimes. There are all manner of inside jokes, if you look closely enough. My daughter, the English Literature major, was particularly interested in the books used to dress the various sets, especially those in Duke’s boat.

Next, we were handed off to one of the drivers, a guy named Bruce who took us all over Chester, Mahone Bay and Lunenburg to see the locations used for many of the exterior shots. We saw the town hall that doubles for the police department, for example, and little side streets or random buildings that were used in various episodes. Real churches and buildings that were converted into churches. The street the gigantic boulder rolled down in the first season. The beach where the Colorado Kid was found. Many other familiar locations from the show. Bruce was an engaging and entertaining tour guide who is also a musician, so we talked about many of the people he’s worked with and the places he’s gone with his music. We also stopped off to see the Bluenose, which has just undergone an expensive and controversial makeover.

We next visited the Grey Gull, Duke’s bar, which is a full set constructed from an old fishing shack. Exteriors of Audrey’s apartment are also filmed here, but for reverse shots from inside, shot on the sound stage, an enormous photograph duplicates the view seen below. We got to go inside and look everything over. There’s Canadian Tire money pinned to one wall, and surf boards hanging from the ceiling (Eric Balfour, who plays Duke, is an avid surfer).

We then drove by the house used for the haunted house episode (it’s much smaller than it appears to be on the show) and went to the Haven Herald news office, which is another full set absolutely littered with inside jokes. The newspaper pages that are seen in the opening credits are on one wall. In the back room there’s an old style printing press with all the bits and pieces. One set of filing cabinets is labeled with the names of King works, many of them unreleased, like Keyholes or Aftermath, and with dates that are significant to King’s biography.

We had lunch at the studio (next to the hockey changing rooms!), where we were introduced to many of the people who contribute to the show, which has a crew of nearly 100, many of them locals. Everyone was really friendly. Everyone.

We also got to chat for a while with Shawn Piller, the executive producer who was also part of The Dead Zone series on USA a while back. Then we went to the morgue, where the publicist and a cameraman did a long filmed EPK (electronic press kit) interview with me, bits and pieces of which may show up in various social media venues and maybe even on the season 5 DVD. The interview was “crashed” by one of the guest stars, whose identity I’m not allowed to reveal, but whose appearance livened up the banter a great deal!

Then we were driven over to the active set, where scenes from the eighth episode of Season 5 were being filmed in a house. Quarters were cramped: it wasn’t a huge house and an amazing number of people were crammed into it. We sat at the back, behind the director and the director of photography in what’s called “video village,” where we could see the A and B cameras and listen to the dialog on headsets. The real action was taking place at the other side of the house. We could occasionally see the actors through the doorways, but mostly watched the video displays. After five years, the production has turned into a well-oiled machine. The people are familiar with each other and everyone seems to get along well. There’s a lot going on around “the talent”—they are the focus of all attention ultimately, but it’s a kind of controlled chaos. They’re shifted and moved around, made up, rigged with gadgets, measured with tape measures, shown where to stand and then, all of a sudden, it’s “action” and they’re fully on. During rehearsal, they mumble out the dialog without any rhythm or feeling, but when the cameras are rolling, take after take they’re fully present. Sure, the occasional line gets blown or a blocking action is flubbed, but it is amazing to see all of this chaos gel into something magical. There’s no momentum for the actors to build up to a shot. They get stopped and started and have to be where they’re supposed to be emotionally in that moment, even if it’s from a totally different part of the episode than the scene they shot a few minutes earlier. It’s impressive to watch.

During a break when the cameras and lights were being moved so that the same scene could be filmed from the opposite direction, stars Emily Rose and Lucas Bryant came over and spent some time with us. (Balfour, who you may also know from 24 and as Gabe on Six Feet Under, had already returned to California.) Bryant posed with us for a picture, but the set photographer asked for a do-over because he said that it looked like Bryant was holding my daughter hostage. Since this is well into the season, which hasn’t yet debuted, I can’t say a word about what we saw, or about guest stars who haven’t yet been announced, or anything like that, but I’m looking forward to seeing the scenes in their final versions later this fall.

After a couple of hours in video village, listening to the rain carom off the roof of the house, creating a dull roar overhead, we decided to head back into Halifax during a brief easing of the weather. The cast and crew had another couple of hours of work ahead of them before they would get to go home. Here are a few photos from our visit (if you’re reading this on LiveJournal, you’ll probably need to pop over to my website to see these):

We had a great time in Haven, even though our “trouble” is apparently that we are rainmakers. “Five years we’ve been filming and you picked today to visit,” the supervising producer said. (Rain isn’t all that unusual on the coast of Nova Scotia—one year it rained for many more days than it didn’t during Haven’s production schedule.)

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Non-stop action

We watched the second season of Derek this weekend. Only six episodes, which we divided over two nights. Sad to see Dougie go in the first episode, but apparently the actor was terribly uncomfortable acting with other people, which explains why so many of his scenes in the first series were “diary” scenes, where he was talking to the imaginary documentary filmmakers.

The show doesn’t break a lot of new ground in the second season, but the stuff about the old folks keeping track of Hannah’s efforts to get pregnant are pretty hilarious, and Kev has his usual mix of godawful sexist / sexual obsession and occasional bursts of humanity. A nice arc with Derek and his dad, and it was good to see Hannah confront the new guy at the end and maybe get through a little. It’s a very sentimental show with a good heart. Tugs at the heartstrings.

We saw Non-Stop, too, the thriller featuring Liam Neeson that will probably never be available as an inflight film. It was decent and effective (except for the little bit of fortuitous levitation at the end). It’s sort of an Agatha Christie whodunit, too. Everyone is a potential suspect, including Neeson’s extremely and credibly flawed character. I was sure it was this person and then sure it was that person, and then someone else. Free-flowing suspicion. The actual resolution was, perhaps, a little less rewarding than many of my suspicions, but still, we enjoyed it.

Down to one more episode of Orphan Black. I don’t think I could explain to anyone else everything that has happened this season, that’s how convoluted it is. It was good to see Allison’s husband grow a pair and step up, especially after she out-jackhammered him in the basement. Still enjoying it, have no idea how it’s going to wrap up and basically I’m just along for the ride.

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In the First

I published a couple of reviews last weekend, one for a book I enjoyed, and one for a book that I struggled to finish. I leave it to you to deduce which was which: One Kick by Chelsea Cain or Robogenesis by Daniel H. Wilson. I’m currently reading Phantom Instinct by Meg Gardiner, which features a former cop who has a very strange affliction due to a contrecoup injury.

Both of the movies we watched last weekend were based on true stories. First we saw The Monuments Men, starring Clooney and Damon, John Goodman, Bill Murray, Cate Blanchett and Lord Grantham Hugh Bonneville. A solid, reliable film starring solid, reliable actors. There were some interesting moments but no overall real suspense as the story played out much as one would expect. That’s not a bad thing, necessarily. A good story, well told. Then we saw 12 Years a Slave, which is not light viewing by any measure. You have to wonder what effect playing vicious, evil characters like that has on a person’s psyche after a while. It was interesting to learn that some freemen were sent back into slavery, even though they had documentation that they were free: they simply couldn’t gain access to it once trapped. Tough to watch.

I had already seen the first season of Derek, Ricky Gervais’ surprisingly touching and soulful series about a man whose mantra is “be nice.” He works in a nursing home and is much beloved. There are only seven episodes that run 25 minutes each, so you can tear through the whole thing in an evening, if you want. Watched it again with my wife last night as a prelude to the second season. For a while, I thought that the story would have been much better without Kev, the gross, sexually obsessed character, but I now realize that without him the story might have been schmaltzy and saccharin. He keeps the pendulum from swinging to far in that direction. And then there’s Doug, the hapless, existential everyman who’s been the caretaker / Mr. Fix-it for a decade. He’s the voice of cold, absolute reason. Also the guy who doesn’t take anyone’s crap and sends people running once they’ve worn out their welcome. And, finally, Hannah, the long-suffering and obsessively caring manager who is really the story’s heart. Gervais’ characters in other series tend to be boorish, but not here. Definitely worth seeing, and I’m looking forward to the second season.

For a moment in one of the final scenes of the new series Murder in the First, I thought I was having a flashback to the 90s. The guy standing next to Steven Weber resembled Tim Daly and they were dressed like pilots. Not that Steven Weber’s character ever dressed like a pilot (see picture) on Wings. This new show is reminiscent of The Killing. One case will occupy the entire summer season, and it’s as much about the private lives of the two cops as the case. The woman detective is a divorced single mother struggling to make ends meet and by the end of the first episode her partner is a widower. The initial murder has connections to an asshole version of Steve Jobs, and then there’s another death that is also apparently connected. The early reviews said that the series finds its stride in the second episode. We’ll see. It’s not bad so far—just nothing new.

I thought briefly that Orphan Black might just have jumped the shark with last week’s episode. Yet another clone? But this one is a lot different from the others (in fact, they are all remarkably different from each other) and gives Maslany yet another chance to shine. The story has more twists than a strand of DNA, but it’s never dull.

I finished the third season of Death in Paradise, which has been renewed for a fourth. It’s a whimsical cozy detective show set on a fictional Caribbean island. There’s a new DI this season, a bit of a bumbler, and the stories are very much inspired by Agatha Christie, with arcane clues and motives, and a summing up at the end in front of the suspects, but it’s fun. Sometimes I figure out at least half of the truth ahead of the big reveal but often I’m in the dark until the end.

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Your words, another voice

There’s a particular pleasure in revisiting a story that you haven’t read in a while. A couple of weekends ago, I read “Sturm und Drang” from A Dark and Deadly Valley to my wife. I’m not sure that I’ve read the story since it was published in 2007. It was almost like reading another person’s work and I have to say that I was very pleased with the tale. Alas, the anthology didn’t get very wide distribution.

I was approached by the good folks at The Wicked Library to see if I would give them a story to be read on their weekly podcast. I perused my archives and decided that “Knock ‘em Dead” would be a good fit. It was first published in When the Night Comes Down from Dark Arts Press along with three other of my stories (the closest thing I’ve done to a collection yet). The story was inspired by a story I heard another author tell about someone having a heart attack at or before their reading. It’s a writer’s story, told from the point of view of a debut novelist who is suddenly thrust into the limelight and sees a chance to scale the ladder of success quickly. I think it’s a funny story, one that Jeff Strand might get a kick out of. Again, I haven’t revisited the story in a while, so it was with great pleasure that I listened to Nelson W. Pyles’ terrific narration. You can see something of its vintage with references to PDAs and Larry King, but Nelson’s rendering of Larry King’s voice was one of my favorite parts, so I’m glad I didn’t update it. I hope people will give it a listen: I think it’s a pretty kick-ass story. Or, as the promo copy at the site says, “quite possibly the most actually wicked story [sent] to the Wicked Library.”

There was definitely a Doctor Who sub-theme working on the second episode of the third season of Death in Paradise. One of the guest stars was Doc #5, Peter Davison, who plays the beleaguered screenwriter for a zombie movie being filmed on the island, and the lead actress in the zombie flick was played by Michelle Ryan, aka Lady Christina.

Motive is an underappreciated (in my opinion) crime series. It’s filmed in Vancouver with mostly Canadian actors, including Kristin Lehman from The Killing, and its conceit is that the killer and the victim are revealed before the opening credits, though not in Columbo fashion. A big part of the joy in the show is finding out how these oft-times seemingly unrelated characters come together and what causes one to murder the other. The show usually plays against expectations. The guy just released from prison isn’t the killer, he’s the victim, or the cute little thang is the killer. Also, I really enjoy the relationship between Lehman’s character and her partner, played by Louis Ferreira, who was Declan on Breaking Bad. They have a comfortable familiarity that shines through in underplayed moments and little bits of seemingly impromptu dialog. There’s one episode in the second season that appeals to two aspects of my daily life: crime writing and chemistry.

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As time goes by

Another year older, another year wiser, mayhaps.

I received my copy of CD #71 yesterday, the one that contains my feature review of Mr. Mercedes. On the same day as the book was published, no less. Good timing, or what?

I had an interesting email the other day from an international television station that wants to interview me for a project they’re doing. Logistics and details still to be worked out, but it could be cool if it all comes together.

Stay tuned to The Wicked Library—one of my stories will be narrated by Nelson W. Pyles in the coming days.

On Friday night we saw Mud, another entry in our unintentional Matthew McConaughey film festival. Good film, which didn’t go in any of the directions I expected. One of the kids was played by the actor who went on to be Kendell Crowe on Justified. An unexpected small but crucial role by Reese Witherspoon, plus performances by Sam Shepherd and Sarah Paulson.

Then on Sunday we saw Thérèse, starring Audrey Tautou. She was so endearing in Amelie, and I always want to like her, but she’s never really been as good as in that film. This one was a dire piece about a bourgeois woman “trapped” in an arranged marriage who reacts to her boredom by doing something drastic. It’s hard to feel sorry for any of the characters, really, and Tautou’s is so downbeat all the time that we were fed up with her by the end. Plus the trailer was arranged to engender sympathy for her situation by presenting events that happened after her drastic act as if they happened from the moment she got married, which made her seem more sympathetic than she was.

Thanks to modern technology, I can now get advance review copies on my iPad, which means I don’t have to deal with useless ARCs after I’m done. The only problem is, digital ARCs come with an expiration date in most cases, so now I find myself reading books in the order in which they will expire so I don’t lose them! I just finished One Kick by Chelsea Cain, her first step away from her series. The book gets off to a brilliant start in a deliberately ambiguous scene. It’s a fast read, but it tells a good story well. A beach read, perhaps, but I liked it. Next up is Phantom Instinct by Meg Gardiner.

Only two episodes of Fargo left. This week was like the calm before the storm, with an interesting bit of time dilation thrown in. Lester (Martin Freeman) has gained a new sense of self confidence and seems to be thriving. Characters get married, babies are born, but Malvo, that evil imp, is still out there, and a reckoning has to be on the horizon.

Happy to see Longmire again. A lot of the first episode was shot with handheld cameras, which gave it a claustrophobic and urgent feel. Last season ended with a series of cliffhangers, and it looks like resolving them will be much of the business of season 3.

Some of my favorite scenes in Orphan Black are when one clone has to pretend to be another. This week we were treated to Sarah being forced to be Allison. Then there was the most awesome face plant ever. “I may have drugged his tea,” Felix says. Topped off with a shocking final moment. I figured the character was toast, but never saw him going out that way.

Is Motive the only TV show filmed in Vancouver that’s actually set in Vancouver? There are some very nice aerial shots of the city, now that they’ve decided to be less coy about the setting.

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Where did May go?

For the past few years, we’ve been flirting with drought. Sometimes we’ve been in full-on, high-risk drought conditions, with the local lakes (aka holding ditches) at levels so low that the boats are stuck in mud. Other times we get just enough rain to keep us happy, albeit briefly.

Earlier this week we had two days of torrential rain that, almost literally overnight, took us from “back in serious drought again” to “pretty much caught up to the average rainfall for the year.” Houston has recorded nearly 10″ of rain in May, double the monthly average, and we’re only a tad off for the year. There are hints we might get more heavy rain over the next two days. There was some localized flooding, mostly on low-lying roads and freeway feeders, but no one is complaining. The wildlife is euphoric. You should hear the birds singing. And the frogs. And the mosquitoes…

Today is the official publication day for Joe Mynhardt’s anthology, Tales from the Lake Vol. 1, which contains my story “The Lady of Lost Lake.” The headline author is Graham Masterton, but you’ll probably recognize some other names in the table of contents. It’s available in paperback (Amazon), Kindle, and various other ebook formats from Smashwords. It’s also up at CreateSpace. I did a short interview about my story, which you can read here. The one review to mention my story so far had this to say, “Essentially a lady in the lake story with real no essence but strangely I was riveted to this story and its telling.” I’ll take that.

Although it will also appear in the next issue of Cemetery Dance magazine, we decided to put up my review of Mr. Mercedes at News from the Dead Zone. Check it out!

We’re in that funky limbo time when there’s not much new to watch on TV. Mad Men finished up with an interesting twist, as Don pulls himself from in front of the speeding train with a last-minute gambit. And who couldn’t love the song-and-dance routine that accompanied the departure of one of the original characters? At least he got to see a man on the moon. Fargo continues to be interesting. I loved the way they decided to film the mass shooting at the Fargo office. All exterior tracking as we follow but cannot see Malvo work from room to room and floor to floor. The occasional flash of light from gunfire, but only at the end do we see actual people. Those poor FBI guys.

I’m also still digging Orphan Black, though the show occasionally comes very close to choking on its own twisted plot. It still surprises me how I can look at all these clones as if they were being played by different actresses. Maslany is simply amazing. We watched the original BBC version of House of Cards. Unfortunately the two follow-up series aren’t on Netflix, so I had to order the DVD. The incident at the end of the final installment of the first series perfectly reflects what happened in the first episode of Season 2 of the Spacey remake, but I’d forgotten about it. It has been, after all, a quarter of a century, more or less. It’s a toss-up who breaks the fourth wall better, Spacey or Ian Richardson. They are both so sly.

I’m starting to catch up on the third season of Death in Paradise, a cute cozy-esque murder mystery series set on a fictional Caribbean island. It’s a “fish out of water” story in that the Inspector is British, sent to this outpost because no one much likes his stick-in-the-mud, always-by-the-book ways. Over the course of the first two series, he adjusts to life in the tropics, as much as he can. This makes what happens in the first episode of the third season such a shock. I’m not sure the series can recover from it, but we’ll see. I’m also keeping up with Motive, the Canadian police drama in which the killer and the victim are revealed before the opening credits and you then get to see the police work out what happened and why. It’s pretty good. Not as glossy as CSI, and a little too in love with clever camera transitions, but I like the gruff characters.

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The Doctors Who

I posted a review The Best Horror of the Year, Volume Six, edited by Ellen Datlow, over the weekend. An excellent anthology, and I was especially fond of the final story, a “sequel” to The Shadow Over Innsmouth.

One of my favorite experiences as a writer was getting to write an authorized Doctor Who short story for a BBC Big Finish anthology edited by Steven Saville. We had to pitch our stories before being selected, and then our tales went through a rigorous editing process to make sure they fit into the known chronology. Mine featured the Fifth Doctor and Peri Brown. An earlier anthology also featured that pairing, so I was asked to inject a paragraph that made reference to that adventure to place mine in the timeline properly. We don’t often get to play in our favorite sandboxes like that, so it was a thrill to be part of the project.

I chose Davison’s version because he was “my Doctor.” The one I remember best from the classic series. I watched his entire tenure before writing my story. In recent years, I’ve also seen him in Law & Order: UK, The Last Detective and Campion. I especially liked his turn as “Dangerous” Davies, the least dangerous copper in his division. He had this sort of hang-dog persona that was appealing. So, when I found out Davison would be at Compicpalooza in Houston last weekend, I was set to go. Because my daughter had other plans on Saturday, we waited until Monday to attend, which was probably a good decision because by then the crowds had thinned out considerably.

Davison wasn’t the only Doctor there. Also in attendance were numbers 6 through 8: Colin Baker, Sylvester McCoy (also from The Hobbit), and Paul McGann (also from Luther). Rounding out the Doctor Who experience was John Barrowman, who played Captain Jack Harkness. I took along my copy of Doctor Who: Destination Prague and had the various Doctors sign stories in which their characters appeared. I also had my photo taken with Davison (see above). Then we went home and watched The Five Doctors Reboot. I think it was my third time seeing it, and it’s every bit as charming as the first time.

Over the holiday weekend, we also watched all eight episodes of True Detective, my wife for the first time and me for the second. It stands up well to repeat viewing and binge watching. We started the original BBC House of Cards from 1990 starring Ian Richardson, he of the Grey Poupon commercials. I remember watching the series when it first aired, but that was a long, long time ago. I also finished up the current season of DCI Banks. The final episode was based on the only novel in the series I’ve read, although it was changed a lot for the two-part teleplay.

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