June 17, 2015

May was the wettest month on record for the U.S., and for many parts of Colorado (But not all.  Interesting!).  Here in the Boulder area it’s been raining outrageously, which has confused all the growing things.  Some plants went wild, while some forgot to leaf out at all.

This is my flower patch:


It’s going like gangbusters.  I’ve never had this many blooms.  I love this little patch because a) it’s so productive, and b) it’s so weird.  I didn’t plant it — it was like this when I moved in, and it’s such an odd combination of colors and plants.  Like whoever did it got random plants and just stuck them in.  Purple, orange, pink?  I would not have thought of that.

But I did plant the columbines:


Because you can’t get any more Colorado than columbines and aspen.



Monday update

June 15, 2015

It’s less than two months until the release of KITTY SAVES THE WORLD!  OMG!  I’m starting to ramp up the promotion right now, so you’ll be seeing more about this in coming weeks.

First off:  You still have a couple of weeks to sign up for this Goodreads giveaway.  Get the book before everyone else!

kitty saves the world MM - Copy

I turned on the new SyFy show Dark Matter right in the middle and here’s my impression:  It seems like it’s trying really really hard to be Firefly, but dark, and with no wit or charm. I turned it on in time to see the young woman character explain that she’s actually River Tam.

And I’m finally halfway through Netflix’s Daredevil, a month after everyone else stopped talking about it.  I am intrigued.  And it’s really really violent.  Like, amazingly violent.  But what I’m liking is the dialog, and what they’re doing with Fisk, making him sympathetic by introducing him as this awkward guy trying to ask a woman on a date — right before showing what a maniac he is.  Hey, Vanessa, when Fisk said, “My painting.”  That’s when you needed to get up and leave the room forever.  (And that’s how you do dialog.  Two words, and the bottom dropped out of my stomach.)



June 12, 2015

I finally got out to see this one, after my three weeks of travel.  I made an effort because I’m worried it’s not going to be around much longer.  So, what’s the verdict?

The short review:  Holy cow, it really is “The Gernsback Continuum” as an action movie!

Let’s get the technical stuff out of the way:  It’s too long, the story takes too long to get going, the action scenes drag, and it divides its plot arc between two different main characters, which doesn’t entirely work.  But I do love that we have a tough, smart girl main character in Casey.  Also, and this just kind of struck me as weird, the movie is entirely devoid of mothers and mother figures.  We briefly glimpse Casey’s mother in an old home video. Then she just vanishes.  Young Frank has a dad but not a mom, and apparently no one even noticed when he hied off to Tomorrowland, effectively vanishing in the real world.  Am I the only one bothered by this?

Now for the philosophy.  The film’s philosophy is ambitious, rather heavy handed, and can be summed up with two quotes and a bunch of jet pack imagery.

First, we have Frank at the start of the movie:  “When I was a kid, the future was different.”  There’s this narrative that goes something like this:  if we had built moon bases in 1973, we’d all have jet packs now and everything would be perfect.  This is an annoying and even dangerous narrative that leads to a kind of cargo cult thinking about space exploration:  if we can just build moon bases/go to Mars, then we’ll all get jet packs and everything will be perfect.  These advocates are the same people who’ve been moaning about the death of NASA since the end of the shuttle program, despite the fact that NASA has more hardware in space doing more awesome science than ever before.  This narrative is rife with nostalgia and ignores all the social and scientific progress that really has been made over the last four decades (including advances in bioengineering that will likely be required if we ever do expect to have permanent settlements in space).

The film is firmly anchored in this nostalgia.  Casey’s big project at the start is sabotaging the dismantling of a launch pad at nearby Cape Canaveral.  As if having a launch pad in place with nothing to launch out of it will somehow save the dream of space travel.  Did I mention cargo cult thinking?

But then we have Casey’s quote:  “This place isn’t about hope.  It’s the opposite of hope.”  Aha, I thought.  Bingo.  An acknowledgement that the Cold War dynamic that drove the early space program was much more likely to lead to the destroyed Mad Max dystopian future than the jet pack future of the ’64 Worlds Fair.  We didn’t miss out on a Gernsback future.  We got exactly the future the 60’s and 70’s set up for us.

I think the movie is trying to have it both ways — indulging in the nostalgia while attempting to acknowledge that the nostalgia is problematic.  It doesn’t quite work — it straddles the philosophies the same way it tries to straddle two different character arcs.  When really, the whole movie should have focused on Casey.  At least the message is ultimately hopeful:  we really can change the fate of the world if we decide to.

And then the villain throws down this long speech about how dystopian post-apocalyptic fiction is destroying the world.  That was kind of hilarious.  As if the fiction drove the world instead of the world inspiring the fiction.

Bonus moment:  The movie is just about worth it for this ten minute stretch in the middle that was pure unbridled steampunk awesomeness.  But it did sort of feel like it belonged in a different movie.


June 10, 2015

I’m just back from almost three weeks of adventures, and I had an excellent time, but it’s really nice to be home and back to a normal schedule, walking the dog and eating my favorite cereal and so on.  I have a pile of work I need to get to.  Don’t I always?

Here’s one of the pictures from Florida, where I went last week, to do some diving out of Key Largo.  Can YOU find the iguana?


And a review:

Game of Thrones:  I gave it a couple more chances but I’m done now.  This past episode, I turned it off in the middle when I realized what was going to happen.  I thought, “Surely they won’t go through with it.”  Then I thought, but this is Game of Thrones.  I just knew I didn’t need to see that.

I also realized something about the show:  for all the tragedy and mayhem, I don’t think I’ve ever cried.  There have been so many sad deaths — and maybe that’s why I haven’t cried.  Sad death is the normal baseline for the show.  What’s more, the show is about shocking the audience. And each shock has to be bigger than the last.  The thing is — shock value is not the same emotional engagement.  Shock value will not make me cry, and will not make me care.

At this point, I might as well be watching demolition derby.

fish ID

June 8, 2015

I found this picture of my underwater note board from when I did the Fish ID portion of my Advanced Open Water certification a few years ago:

fish idea

I think ID-ing fish is actually a lot harder than ID-ing birds, but it may be that I just haven’t had enough practice.


action and story

June 5, 2015

I keep saying how the action of Mad Max: Fury Road is great because it’s supported by story.  Here’s the counter example, of what happens when action isn’t supported by story.

The Day After Tomorrow was a deservedly forgettable movie, despite its fantastic scenes of destruction and classic disaster movie aesthetic.  The story was kind of maudlin.  The climatologist’s son is stuck in New York City, which is about to be caught in this sudden apocalyptic ultra cold snap that is going to plunge half the world in viciously cold temperatures.  He and his friends have found shelter in the Public Library, where, if I recall correctly, they’re burning a Gutenberg bible for warmth because apparently they already used up all the National Geographics? I dunno.  Anyway, the Girlfriend has injured her leg and is experiencing instant gangrene, so the guy decides to rush out for antibiotics, because he thinks he has just enough time before the snap hits.  And because this cargo ship which likely has an infirmary has washed up on 5th Avenue because Reasons. So he makes it out the ship and is foraging for antibiotics.

Suddenly wolves attack.

To be fair, the movie set this up by earlier showing a bunch of animals escaping Central Park Zoo.  But when this happened in the movie I think I laughed, because they’re bad CGI wolves (too large, for one) behaving in ways that actual wolves don’t behave, for the sake of some exciting action sequence and increased tension.  Except it doesn’t work because it’s random, out of left field, and makes no sense.  It must have sounded great when viewed in isolation:  wolf attack in the cold!  It’ll be like Jack London!  But I didn’t feel any increased tension.  I was already focused on the tension of getting the medicine and beating the cold snap.  And now wolves?  Why?  It actually sapped tension from the initial plot beat rather than increasing it.

Contrast this to the bit of action in Fury Road that I believe was featured in trailers because it’s so spectacular:  a Warboy spray paints his mouth chrome, screams “Witness Me!” and dives head first onto porcupine car with a pair of explosive spears, and the whole thing explodes in a ball of fire, and his Warboy friends all cheer in appreciation.

When people are talking about how great the action is in Fury Road, this is the sort of thing they’re talking about.  And the plain surface meaning is clear.  We are supposed to think, “Holy shit these Warboys are really messed up.”  And we do.

But this scene is also so important to the story because it demonstrates the Warboy theology: that they embrace death, that they seek out spectacular deaths and try to one up each other because they believe it will ensure their entrance to their Automobile Valhalla.  Because of this scene, we understand why Nux is so despondent when he keeps failing to enact his own “Witness me!” death tableau.  Without a bit of explanation, we understand.

This is a really simple story. In fact, whenever I start to talk about it I feel like this is so damned obvious I shouldn’t have to explain it at all.  It’s so simple and elegant it’s obvious.  Or should be.


I’m finally caught up on The Flash and now I’m going to talk about why I liked that finale so much.

And it’s not just because I actually had to leave the room to pull myself together after that one scene, because my friends were there and I was blubbering incoherently, and I usually only do that when I’m by myself.

So last week I spent six days reading unpublished short stories and novel excerpts and critiquing them.  All the writers at this workshop are published, accomplished writers, but one issue comes up over and over again, and that’s pacing and tension.  Are things happening too quickly, not quickly enough?  Is the reader looking forward to what happens next or just plodding through?  Is there too much information or not enough?  Is the tension genuine or contrived?  Get any of these points wrong, the piece usually fails.

And then I come home and watch this episode.  This was actually a sedate episode, action wise:  Barry is going around and asking advice about what he should do.  These all turned into really big conversations about fate, relationships, meaning, regret.  And they sparked conversations among all the secondary characters about the same kinds of things.  One of these conversations led to an instant wedding which was just fantastic and I cheered.

Any one of these conversations could have anchored an entire episode of another show, and I thought it was brilliant that The Flash put them all together — not just that, but each conversation triggered the one after it.  This led to such a build up of emotional energy, that by the time the one big action sequence actually starts — Can Barry run fast enough?  Will he survive? — the tension is almost unbearable.

And then when we think he’s made one decision, he changes it.  It’s unexpected, but not in hindsight.  In hindsight it’s perfect, and all that emotional tension breaks.  And that’s why this scene, which could have been too sappy and maudlin (and maybe was for some people) became so freaking powerful.

And then just when we thought it was all over, there’s one more big astonishing action free-for-all, and I kind of lost it, even more than I already had.

Pacing.  This episode built tension with a bunch of conversations, and every one of them was necessary for the pay off.

AND THEN CLIFFHANGER ARGH!  The only other thing I have to say is that helmet better go somewhere and not just be a throwaway easter egg.



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