Thursday, December 18, 2014

The Christmas Noun, 2014

(the following should play in your head like a voice-over by Don Lafontaine) "And now, the continuation of a fine Christmas tradition: Larry Correia's annual Christmas Noun short story. You are not ready for... Christmas Noun 7: the Attack of the Social Justice Noun."

For die hard completionists, there are links to all six of the previous installments at the top of the post.

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

The Lord of the Rings etc. explained in 4.5 minutes

Yes, I'm the worst blogger ever.

Now that's out of the way, here's a cool video commentary, found through My friend Jessica, explaining Tolkien's Middle Earth mythos in less than five minutes. It's actually pretty awesome. Enjoy!

Sunday, November 30, 2014

Just under the wire: I made it!

It is by no means done, but I got the 50,000 words in before midnight, despite the best efforts of dying cars, sick cats, family emergencies, and the Thanksgiving holiday. Right now it's a pile of poo, but it is going to be a novel someday soon, oh yes.

Tuesday, November 25, 2014

25,000 words!

I am SO behind. Why is it that whenever I try to do NaNo that a giant train wreck of things conspire to thwart me? Writing must be my divinely-ordained profession, because Satan and his minions sure seem hell-bent on throwing monkey wrenches.

My computer is making ominous "last gasp" noises, we had to replace our car, spouse has so few students that we are making decisions like "pay the power bill or buy food?", our oldest cat has developed hyperthyroidism, and the well house roof is in danger of rotting through. And let's not talk about holiday stuff. Still, winning this is not impossible, just hard. I'm not giving up just yet.

Thursday, November 06, 2014

Wednesday, November 05, 2014

NaNoWriMo: day 5

A bit of a slog today, only 1,200 or so words today. Part of the blame lies on finding out that our car is utterly not worth fixing, and so we are sans vehicle (a good, reliable one, anyway) for the time being. Boo.

Oh, well. Yesterday I jammed and got my average way back up to where I'm in good shape. Yay me! Yesterday, by the end of the day, it was an ugly pile of words. Today it's slowly starting to take the shape of a novel instead of a pile of word garbage.

Someday it will be a first draft!

Sunday, November 02, 2014

Day two: NaNoWriMo

I'm a bit behind but I WILL catch up. Tomorrow is another day etc.

Also: this is my first serious attempt at going full-tilt at a novel, and HOLY EXPLETIVE IT'S A PILE OF POO so far, but I guess that's normal.

Just keep swimming just keep swimming just keep swimming....

Friday, October 31, 2014

Last day before NaNoWriMo

I feel your panic, marmalade cat.
...and I'm kind of terrified. Am I ready? No. Is anybody ever really ready? I vowed to Be Prepared like a good little scout, but I'm way behind. Today's goal is to sketch out fifteen more scenes. I banged out fifteen yesterday, and that will give me thirty scenes/chapters which is a good place to start. They will no doubt be shuffled, re-worked, and some of them scrapped and/or replaced before it's all over, but at least I'll have a framework to start hanging words on.

Still kind of scared.

Tenting with panthers
...and I just realized we missed Elanor's birthday on the second! I'm a terrible mom!!!! Yeah, she's "just" a cat, but that's still lame. She's my youngest and will be my baby for a long time. Happy second birthday, Spook! May the coming year bring you many more (safe) adventures.

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Pre-writing: backstory

Pre-writing and all that it entails is actually a lot of fun, for me, anyway. To learn more about pre-writing in general, check out a couple of great podcasts from the Writing Excuses team. I love doing research and am one of those people who can take an hour to look up something in a dictionary because of distractions that lead down rabbit trails. The internet is even worse: global rabbit trails!

The guest post today over at Kristen Lamb's Blog is all about creating backstory as part of your pre-writing. Piper Bayard gives us license, nay, orders, to backstory the heck out of not just the main characters in our writing but pretty much everybody who walks across the stage and has a line. I can see this as a series of great warm-up sessions, but it's also just a really great way to get your characters and world fully realized. If anybody struggles with plotting like I do, this kind of world-building is going to help a LOT, because the more you know about the people and places of your creation the more naturally events and decisions are going to flow from your fertile imagination.

At any rate, it's another way to play "God", and writers are nothing if not control freaks.

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

National Novel Writing Month is nigh

Recent events in my life have reminded me that if you don't do get moving and try to do those things that you really want to do ASAP, then you may get to the end of your life never having done anything. With that in mind, I'm going to jump off the deep end and charge into National Novel Writing Month, colloquially known as NaNoWriMo, in a few weeks. It's a personal challenge to write at least 50,000 words in the month of November: basically, get a book written. It's do-able, I just have to DO IT.

I took a stab at it back in 2006 but was derailed when the Spouse's computer died and I loaned him mine to keep him functional. I think I was about 18,000 words in when that happened. I probably still could have done it, but between writing challenges and other life stuff that November, I was pretty much doomed.

This year the decks are more clear, I have more than one machine to write on, and I'm kicking around an idea for what I think could be a fun, lightweight romance novel. I am "outlining" and casting it even now. Stay tuned...

Saturday, September 20, 2014

PSA: you're not alone

There is much darkness in this world. If you are hurting, deeply and profoundly, and it seems you'll never escape it, and if you try to it will just make things worse... those are the demons talking. Whether these demons are literal or figurative is not for me to decipher. The bottom line is that, whatever they are in a given situation, they LIE. They want you to suffer alone and hopeless and absolutely sure that nobody can understand or help. They are wrong. Your inner torment, your horrible secret, is never so extreme that it can't be shared and healed, but that knowledge is power the "voices" don't want you to have.

The real secret that those lying S.O.B.s don't want you to know is that you are loved by people around you and the Creator of the Universe, even if you can't see it. Those "demons" will do ANYTHING to stop you from understanding this. If you make a decision to get help, they will double their efforts to sabotage you. Someone once asked the great evangelist Charles Finney, "Do you really believe in a literal devil?" He responded, "You try opposing him for a while, and you see if he's literal or not."

It is very hard for most of us to ask for help, almost impossible if you're a man. It's part of the Frontier Code to be self-reliant. What we forget is that the Frontier Code also includes a lot of group support, like getting together to erect barns and houses, maple sugar boiling, harvests, childbirth, defending each other from bandits and other predators, and other events we should always be ready to help with.

If you have children, please, please teach them and model for them that there's nothing weak about asking for help, especially if it's with something serious. Tell and show the people close to you that you are always there to lend an ear if they need to unburden themselves. Will this end all personal suffering? Will it fix everybody's problems? No, but it might help somebody get to a place where they feel they can share the load.

Sometimes, no matter how much a person is offered help or told and shown that they have a "safe place" to find help, they fall under the constant onslaught from the darkness. Yesterday a friend of mine lost her spouse, and I lost a friend, to that oppression. I'm still in shock, but not so much that I can't be sad and angry.

Just remember: the darkness fears the light. The demons don't want you to know they're always, always running scared. [Mark 1:24] This is why they're so nasty. There's nothing like a cornered predator to show you a fight. You don't have to fight alone.

Monday, September 15, 2014

Chicken & Rice: the new, healthy version

And now, for something completely different: food!

Mom used to make a version of this that probably originated with a Campbell's soup ad in the 50s, since the principal ingredients other than "chicken" and "rice" were cream of mushroom and chicken gumbo canned soups. Oh, and a package of onion soup mix. I grew up on this and it's great hot or as a leftover (hot or cold). However.... packaged soups are full of really unhealthy ingredients. In the last few years I've noticed that I have serious GI issues after eating it, so I stopped making it. The other day I asked my spouse what some of his favorite foods were, and "chicken and rice" came up, so I decided to try to re-invent this thing without all the pasteurized milk, bad sodium, corn syrup, wheat thickener, MSG, and who knows what else. I think it's pretty darned good. Our local Costco is now carrying organic chicken, so it’s even better!

Remember: none of this is set in stone. Want to add peas? Hate mushrooms? Think it needs some celery seed? Go for it.

Oven to 350°


2 cups of rice (I use brown, but you can use whatever you want)
4 cups of water & 1 tsp. bullion paste, or 2 cups of water and 2 cups of chicken stock
Half a large onion cut into chunks
2 carrots, diced
Some sliced mushrooms
2 celery stalks, diced
Some paprika
2 packages of onion soup mix (I use Trader Joe’s, because it isn’t full of weird stuff)
Chicken pieces, as many as you want to fit in there.


In a 9x13 or equivalent baking dish/pan….

-  Stir up everything but the chicken and one of the packages of onion soup mix until distributed evenly.
-  Sprinkle some of the second soup mix on top.
-  Place the chicken in, pushing into the mix slightly.
-  Sprinkle the rest of the soup mix on top.
-  Cover with foil and bake for two hours. Take it out and let it sit for a few minutes before serving.

Thursday, August 14, 2014

"Monster Hunter Alpha" by Larry Correia

Monster Hunter Alpha (MHI, #3)Monster Hunter Alpha by Larry Correia
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

The third installment in the Monster Hunter International saga takes us in a slightly different direction and focuses entirely on The Boss: Earl Harbinger. Artfully told in a real-time style and peppered with flashbacks that give us Earl's back story, this novel hits the ground running and doesn't let up. This is the kind of page-turner that will keep you up past your bed time. That's what it did to me, anyway: hello, three AM.

This story also introduces one of the most interesting origin stories for a particular type of supernatural creature that I've ever encountered.

Intelligent characters with plausible arcs, nail-bitingly intense running battles, and enough weapons tech to keep the hardcore gun guys entertained. Bonus: female characters you can cheer for, sympathize with, and admire. No screaming "arm candy" babes or "faux dude" chicks here.

Great Summer or vacation reading.

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Wednesday, August 06, 2014

Rising Tides (#5 in the Destroyermen series) by Taylor Anderson

Rising Tides (Destroyermen, #5)Rising Tides by Taylor Anderson
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This isn't much of a real review, but I'm happy to save that until after I've finished the last book in this series. I'd been way behind and made an effort a few weeks ago to catch up, and now I can't stop reading. This series is like candy for action-adventure or space-time FUBAR stories (whatever that means to you). The actual genre is "cross-time shipwreck", and this is all that and more. "Rising Tides" became a real page-turner for me at about the halfway mark. Power reading through these novels is exhausting, though, because the characters really get put through the wringer again and again. Still, the payoffs are good and the world-building is utterly engrossing. I'll be sad when I get to the end.

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Thursday, April 03, 2014

"On Stranger Tides", by Tim Powers

On Stranger TidesOn Stranger Tides by Tim Powers
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I'm a huge Powers fan, so it's no surprise that I loved this. It's not your typical pirate tale, but then what's typical? This is not YA. It is, however, obvious to me that the writers of the "Pirates of the Caribbean" films had a copy of this in their possession from early on. In fact, I'd surmise that it has been the inspiration for the franchise since day one and not just for the fourth film, which bears almost no resemblance to this novel beyond the title and the fact that there are pirates, including Blackbeard (named "Thatch" instead of "Teach" in the novel), and a trip to the "fountain of youth".

***** minor spoilers *****

So many elements from the films seem cherry-picked from this novel that I couldn't get through more than a handful of scenes without flashing to aspects of the PotC franchise. Ironically, the only element that seems original is Cpt. Jack Sparrow, who has no counterpart in the book. Here you will find the basis for all the "voodoo"-inspired magic and sorcery, including crews of "undead" sailors, which add up to what amounts to a perfect back-story for Cpt. Barbossa (Phil Davies in the book). Although the female lead in the novel bears little resemblance to the films' Elizabeth Swann, it's no surprise that her name is "Elizabeth" and that she is placed in proximity to a mild-mannered but capable young man who ends up having to spend some time posing as a pirate.

My guess is that the screenwriters read this, saw it as great buffet of source material from which they selected a plate-full of tasty bits. Perhaps they optioned the book then and there. Perhaps they tried to get away with making enough changes that they wouldn't have to buy the option, but got called out on it after the first film and then entered in to a formal agreement with Powers, culminating in the fourth film using the book's title as the film's subtitle. Does it really matter? Not particularly. The films are what they are. The book is a separate entity. Powers certainly seems happy with the arrangement, and that's all that matters. To people who would cry, "But they ruined the book!" I would echo Powers' assertion that no film can "ruin" a book. The book stands alone. It has not changed. The films are what they are, which is to say that they are a different thing entirely. Nobody can change the content of a book by making a film that takes the story and turns it all topsy-turvy. That would be voodoo indeed.

I read some of this in paper, and listened to it all via audio book from Blackstone. The reader is pitch perfect, and manages to create distinctive voices from the very French Jack Shandy to the Robert Newton-esque Phil Davies to a hulking giant black voodoo practitioner with a voice like a sepulcher.  Imagine my surprise at finding it to be none other than.... Bronson Pinchot. I knew he was a good actor, but his character voices are a revelation. Well done.

By the way...  Tim, if you're reading this, I'm so sorry it took me so long to read this to completion. It seems like every time I picked it up something came up, or I had to read something else for a project, or who knows what else. Maybe I was hexed. Anyway, I hope they paid you a wheelbarrow of doubloons for the rights, because it looks like they were using it all along.

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Sunday, March 23, 2014

Victorian Heritage Festival recap

Cpt. Frye leads the cavalry.
This isn't much of a recap of the annual Port Townsend Victorian Heritage Festival since I was only there one day and worked most of it at the Old Consulate Inn (a fabulous place). I helped out with the parade as a cavalry "outwalker" and then rushed down the hill to shoot pics and video of the Gatling Gun demonstration. Next year I hope to be more involved...beyond just doing all the graphic design. I'd really like to have gone to some of the panels, and it's been ages since I've been able to get to a ball. 
Next year...
Col Marshall explains the gatling gun.
Cpt. Frye distracts the press at the gat demo.

Cpt. Frye and Mrs. Snow

Thursday, March 13, 2014

Port Townsend Victorian Heritage Festival 2014

My writing in general, and blogging specifically, has been a bit spotty lately as I've been teetering between nursing a bad back and grinding out graphics for the looming Victorian Heritage Festival in Pt. Townsend, WA. If you're interested at all in history, and in the Puget Sound area weekend after next, come pay us a visit!

Sunday, March 02, 2014

Film Sack: "The Man From Planet X", or "I'd Run a Mile for a Cuppa"

This is appearing a bit late in the week because life got in the way. Stupid "going places and doing things"! It's been a week since I sat down with the spouse and took in the wonder of The Man From Planet X (1951), but the experience lingers fresh in my mind like a pine cone on the noggin launched by an angry squirrel. As usual, the Film Sack treatment made up for any trauma experienced by viewing the film du jour. Just what the movie doctor ordered.

This movie tries so hard to be Serious Science Fiction but fails on almost every level. I'm fairly easy to entertain, but this cinematic relic is dangerously close to dull. From the overly formal and pretentious language of the principal characters, to the loving pans across the artificially moody "Scottish" landscape, to the slow-motion tussles of the listless alien with various ineffectual humans... I found myself checking my watch for the first time since The Thin Red Line.

Best to begin at the beginning, I suppose, and we don't have to wait long for the WTH? moments. Before even the first shot of the actual film, we're treated to a credit sequence created entirely from one inexplicable font, which I'll call Hobo Plank Sans, or maybe Paper Chain Rivets Extra Bold. Not just the main title, but the entire credit sequence uses this inappropriately whimsical type style. Somebody was dang proud of that font.

On to the first establishing shot, which is clearly a lovely stretch of the California coastline near Monterey. They immediately cut to an adorable model shot of the Scottish Moors: the comparison between the two shots does not reflect well on the model. Fog machines are used abundantly in this movie, but it doesn't really make things better. It just looks like a bad model/set with lots of fog. Also, I believe this is supposed to take place on an island. To my knowledge there are no "moors" on any small islands in the UK. You can have a rugged island setting or you can have creepy moors, not both, but the filmmakers were making use of leftover sets from Joan of Arc so there you go.

We then cut to an interior shot and an ominous voice over from "John", our male lead. The tone of this monologue is reminiscent of the opening words of H.G. Wells' War of the Worlds, and indeed the rest of the film is basically a flashback, but the rest of the film never really delivers on the promise set up here. Mostly we get a bunch of bad fake science gobbledegook that wouldn't impress the average primary schooler, a lethargic alien, the requisite smarmy male lead, and the requisite screaming ninny female lead.

There's really no excuse for the bad science and lazy characterizations in this. Actual good movies were being made in the early 50s, even good sci-fi like The Day the Earth Stood Still. When I saw William Schallert was in the cast I was kind of excited: Patty Duke's TV dad! This is an early role for him and he plays totally against type as a sneaky bad guy who, you guessed it, wants the alien tech to Rule the World! Yeah, I drop spoilers. You've had since 1951 to see this. Deal.

The usual parade of tropes are all present and correct: Leading man who is supposed to be worldly and wry but comes off as smarmy and patronizing ("Your face has changed, but I remember your legs...wink wink"): check! Frail old scientist with pretty daughter: check! Aforementioned Evil Scientist who screws everything up: check! Rustic but charming local rubes who alternately show the only common sense or get out the torches and pitchforks: check! Rustic locals with bad accents: check! Spaceship that wouldn't be safe at any speed: check! Terrible fake car driving: check! Female lead who screams at every little thing and exists solely as eye-candy and for the leading man to paw and condescend to: check! This female lead really takes the cake, too. Not only is she a screaming ninny, but she's so traumatized by being LOOKED AT by the slow-moving, not really scary alien that she spends a goodly portion of the film off-screen under sedation.

The Film Sack crew didn't care much for the score under this film, but I thought it was fine for the grade of film...with one caveat. The "lightening counting" scene. Every flash of lightening is accompanied by trilling flutes. Ouch. Treading dangerously close to Hannah-Barbara SFX there. We don't need musical punctuation, thanks. I didn't like the Don Ameche-esque mustache on the male lead, either. This is 1951, not 1931, and this guy is not old enough to work a look like that properly. Ronald Coleman called and he wants his look back! Clarke looks great without the 'stache. With it, he just looks like he's trying to be a 1930s leading man. My opinion, but there it is.

There's the requisite amount of 50s-era sexism here, too. It's not worth over-analyzing, but there are some cringe-worthy moments. The "I may not be much of a cook, but I can brew a mean cup of tea!" moment isn't particularly surprising or onerous, but the male lead basically leering at her every minute is beyond patronizing. It's an artifact of the times in a way, but there are plenty of films from the 50s that don't fall in to these traps, too. The actors are doing their jobs, and the director could have asked for more nuanced and less clichéd performances. Especially irritating was the female lead, "Enid", who drove me nuts with a really annoying yodeling/warbling vocal technique for conveying distress, excitement, or happiness. Picture Bobby Brady's voice cracking, with a forced trans-Atlantic accent, when he hit puberty. It gets really old after a few lines.

The movie ends with the "we must withhold this distressing knowledge from humanity for their own good" trope, which is so last century. The US government has been preaching this for years and it's not exactly a secret that they're keeping secrets. In 1951 we were just getting in to the age of the "flying saucer", MJ-12, and Project Blue Book. The epilogue of Man From Planet X is a perfect kick-off to this era.

The truth is out there, but it's kind of slow and can't reach its air valve.

Tuesday, February 18, 2014

The SFWA Kerfuffle and Why it Matters

I'm pretty oblivious of most mainstream current events. We don't take a newspaper or have a TV. I get my news and TV from the 'net, and I'm happy with that. My Twitter feed is like a little mini news ticker tailored exactly to my interests. It evolves over time, it's flexible, and it's far more up-to-the minute than mainstream news sources. I still miss a lot, but that's fine because I can only read so much in a day and still get anything done in my own life.

A few weeks ago, maybe months, I started to register recurring mentions of some kind of sexism flap in the science fiction and fantasy writing world. You'd think that this segment of society would be long past gender bias, but human nature is what it is. If you don't think there is raging sexism in the geek world, try to function as a female in the gaming community, especially online. For more on that, see Anita Sarkeesian's video series "Tropes vs. Women".

Anyway, there was talk of sexism rearing its ugly head again in the form of some person or persons involved with the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America (SFWA). There was mention of some kind of backlash to complaints about an demonstration of antiquated sexist views of women in SFF writing. Re-read the previous sentence in case my clumsy writing confused you: backlash to a complaint about sexism. People, not just women, called the writers of an opinion piece on their condescending references to women and the internet exploded. This kind of thing happens, unfortunately even in this enlightened age.

I wondered what had happened and assumed it was of recent origin. No, this particular poop storm started nearly a year ago with issue #200 of the SFWA bulletin. It contained a paid article (not a letter to the editor) by two writers that reads like it fell out of the Time Tunnel from sometime in the Edwardian Era. It became the last straw in a series of eyebrow-raising choices on the part of the bulletin's editors, such as this cover art (Bikini babe barbarian? Is is meant to be ironic?) The response from the writers of the original dialogue is summed up nicely here by Kameron Hurley as "... if I punched you, and you said 'Gosh, that really hurt' and I said, 'YOU ARE FUCKING CENSORING ME YOU FUCKING COMMUNIST' you’d think I was insane." If you want the Reader's Digest version of the whole kerfuffle, this is a good start.

Why are people so upset? Why is this such a big deal? Everybody is going to have an opinion, and this is mine. I'm personally saddened by the fact that there is still so much condescension toward women in any professional field, but especially writing and especially SFF writing. In genres that look to alternate realities and often posit scenarios where gender biases are stable or non-existent (Gene Roddenberry, anybody?), it's frustrating that there are content creators who think that patronizing behavior toward women is ok or cute or funny. What's more, this is not just an "old white guy" problem, as some have suggested. There are plenty of younger creators who are just as bad.

Every generation, every new batch of children, have to be educated about morals and manners and what we've learned from the past. Just because there is no more (overt) slavery in the civilized world, and women have the vote, and segregation by race is over, and people of color have equal rights, it doesn't mean that kids are born with these ideas hard-wired in to them. Anybody who deals with little kids knows that they are born barbarians with only self-interest in mind. They have to be taught that ostracizing, taunting, or attacking somebody because they are "different" in some way is unacceptable. The difference can be body shape, color, or gender, it doesn't matter. It can be as innocuous as red hair; kids will find something to pick on somebody about.

This sandbox behavior is all over the internet. Just look at YouTube comments on literally anything. The hills are alive with trolls who sound like dimwitted teenage boys. No offense meant to all the intelligent, well-spoken teenage boys out there. Some of them could be older, but that's how they sound.

Which all brings me to why I'm writing this today. When a known adult comes across as an immature, misogynistic idiot it's really disappointing. When a group of writers struggle for decades to garner credibility for their genre and then a few throwbacks threaten that credibility for the sake of a few yuks, it's careless at best and outrageous at worst. For one thing, it's sending out the message that misogyny is acceptable, and it's not surprising that the majority of the members of the SFWA don't want to be a part of that message.

Thanks to the information superhighway, this uproar isn't just a private argument behind the closed doors of the SFWA. People have been blogging about it for the last year. Google "sfwa kerfuffle" and knock yourself out. The dust was just starting to settle when links to a conversation on the listserv began to appear. Details here. Particularly excecrable were some comments by one Sean Fodera, directed at Mary Robinette Kowal (author and former VP of SFWA), which ammounted to childish ranting and name-calling. When Fodera noticed that links to the thread were cropping up he lost his cool and threatened all linkers with an illogical suit of libel. It's 2014, most sentient life forms have figured out that what is posted online in public forums is public. Fodera is doing his impression of the teenager caught posting drunk pics of themselves on Facebook and then moaning because "My parents saw! Oh noooooooes!"

I think the time of "ignore it and it will go away" is over. I am also fully against angry women with torches having hissy fits. There's a middle ground where people tell bullies and sexist ding dongs, "Wait a minute. What you just said/did is not OK by me." If that person reacts with venom and cries of "censorship!" or "communist!" or "crazy bitch feminist!" then it's time to say, "This conversation is over." I've done that a couple of times in my life, in person and on the 'net. Why waste your time with somebody who just wants to be hateful? Why waste your time with somebody who's looking to be offended by your being offended? Applying this to companies and clubs and organizations is more difficult, but not impossible. I was sorry to hear that a number of people have left SFWA because of all the hoo hah. Fortunately, a greater number have stayed in order to "be the change."

One of the more colorful comments on that thread likened the folks warring against misogyny as a "vocal minority of insects" who "don’t scramble for the shadows when outside lights shines on them—they bare their pincers and go for the jugular." John Scalzi (former president of the SFWA and thoroughly caught in the middle of all the uproar) has decided to turn that insult into a rallying cry:
"Join John and Mary’s Insect Army! You must write! You must be fearless! You must stand your ground in the face of deeply silly insults, clacking your pincers derisively at them! And, if you believe that every person — writer, “insect” and otherwise — should be treated with the same dignity and honor that you would accord yourself, so much the better. Together we can swarm to make science fiction and fantasy awesome!"
This stuff won't go away. Go ahead and get angry, but don't just be angry, be the change. Call people on their nonsense. Don't get all huffy and pitch a fit or take your toys and go home, but please DO let people know when you think they've said or done something hurtful, whatever their age. I guess it's still baby steps for civilization on this planet.

10 Disastrous Panels (from Mary Robinette Kowal's Twitter feed)

I'm about to dump my Tumblr account because it's just another social media site that I don't really need, and I don't find it particularly useful for discussions. Before I do, however, I'll post this one last link to "10 Disastrous Panels You Have Been on or Seen" by Mette Ivie Harrison. If you've attended even a few conventions and participated or seen a panel or two, you'll see something you recognize here. I'm not sure I would call any of the bullet points a "disaster". Somebody having a stroke or starting a fist fight during a panel would be a disaster. Still, it's a pretty spot not, if not comprehensive, list of typical annoyances and embarrassments.

The first point is something with which I'm going to have to respectfully disagree: "Microphone Hog who will grab it every change he has. Always a he. Sad, but true."

Always a "he"? Are you absolutely sure about that? I can't speak to your personal experience, but I've seen plenty where the mic hog was a woman. Granted, these panels were at more specialized conventions like Steampunk-themed and Historically-focused cons, but I'm sure there must be female mic hogs at comics conventions and other nerd fests, as well as more average settings. With all the talk around the web currently about sexism and discrimination and all that it entails, words like "always" in this context seem a bit careless.

My sympathies are definitely with the "Moderator looks ready to walk out...because no one actually answers the questions she asks and she is working so hard to try to get the panel to address the topic the audience came to hear about." Talk about herding cats. Ugh.

As for point "D"? "I think that I have something interesting to say, but I’ve hooked my mouth up directly to the rambling section of my brain and it will just keep pouring out words until someone takes away the mic." That's never happened to me. Well, hardly ever.

Sunday, February 09, 2014

Film Sack: "Angry Red Planet" or "The Adventures of Cpt. Smarmy"

A week ago I wrote about Autopilot, a super podcast from the super Frogpants Studio family of shows. Today's musing is on the 1959 classic (color!) sci-fi film Angry Red Planet, which I would never had heard of if I weren't a fan of FilmSack. Per the web site, "Each week, the FilmSack crew picks a strange movie from the bowels of Netflix streaming and splatters it all over your inner ear. Sometimes it’s a long forgotten horror movie from the 70′. Sometimes it’s a under the radar gem of brilliance from last year. One way or the other, this is not your typical movie show." Atypical goodness=podcast brilliance.

Anyway, I thought I'd do my homework early for once and, since I got up far too early in order to photograph cats in the snow before it melts away, watch this bad boy. It's only 83 minutes, so it's not a huge time commitment. Bonus: if you're of the drinking persuasion, there is much drinking games potential in this one, but more about that later.

The story starts out promisingly enough for a late 50s sci-fi film. Yes, there's lots of stock footage, but the editor really made an effort to blend it in with the new footage in a way that makes sense. They even looped decent sound and FX with the stock stuff. The Air Force officers are all played by actors who are firm adherents to the "look at me...I'm ACTING!" school of acting. There is one gem of on-screen talent in this cheese fest, though, and that is the supporting role of Prof. Paul Weiner, played by J. Edward McKinley. We meet him in the backstory-laden initial briefing, in the control center when the rocket is recalled and landed by remote control, and then in various moments throughout the rest of the story. He plays the character straight and natural, in contrast to the rest of the cast, pretty much stealing that opening scene and setting a serious and believable tone that, alas, doesn't last for long. If they'd sent him to Mars, instead of the four ninnies they did send, it would have been a completely different story.

That this film is a festival of tropes is no surprise, but the first five minutes or so are Citizen Kane compared to the rest of it. The character types are all stock tropey characters. Do we have a rugged, wry, vaguely (or not so much) lecherous expedition leader? Check. Vaguely European older scientist with Prussian facial hair and fatal disability? Check. Smack-talking, rough-hewn yet lovable fireplug of an engineer/security guy? Check. Token hot chick who talks tough and then screams and/or faints at the first sign of threat? Check. Superior aliens warning Earthlings that they are "not ready to leave Earth because they're too violent and stupid"? Check. Random technobabble cherry-picked from medical dictionaries and Popular Science? Check. Recycling now commonplace tech to represent Space Equipment? Check. Strange rocket design that makes no logical sense other than to make it easy to frame shots? Check. Who puts the access hatch in the engine area?! The FilmSackers think the sets look like they were assembled by kids, and they really do, at least to our 21st-century eyes, look pretty juvenile. They do get some points for using chairs that actually look like shipboard gear, unlike the hilarious deck chairs from 12 to the Moon (see the MST3k version). However, I might have to subtract those points because they are ejector seats, and when my spouse saw them he immediately said, "Where are they supposed to eject to?" Oh, well; at least they tried.

My favorite bit of set dressing is a panel over Sam's workstation labeled "Oxygen Consumption". It sports two lights, the green one marked "Normal" and the red one marked "Excessive". No guages of any kind, just sternly-labeled idiot lights. I had a vision of Mission Control calling them up on their magical instant communication radio saying, "Hey, you guys pipe down up there. Your O2 consumption is EXCESSIVE!" Obviously two-dimensional  drawings and paintings stand in for landscapes, buildings, and even the ship, and of course we can't leave out the classic "reverse the rocket launching footage to simulate a rocket landing".

Speaking of special effects, almost all the FX in this thing are appalling, with one exception: the amazing giant spider bat thing, an elaborate puppet designed by marionettist Bob Baker. It's so much better than everything else that it looks like it wandered in from another movie. The giant amoeba thing that chases them out of the lake takes us back to goofyville with it's top-mounted eye that rotates  like a tank turret on speed.

Biggest annoyance: Captain Smarmypants leching all over Dr. Redhead every minute. Seriously. He makes Cpt. Kirk seem subtle by comparison. There is more than one shot of her, say, descending a ladder backward with Cpt. Smarmy checking out her hinder, or gazing out the porthole (a popular spot on this ship) looming over her from behind.
Bonus annoyance: he insists on calling her "Irish" instead of by her actual name, "Iris". It's a joke! Get it? Har har. It just made me want to slap him. Hard. She even calls him on it at some point and he manages to turn it into yet another sleazy line, "When I call you by your name, you'll know it." Also: zip up your shirt! Nobody wants to see your scrawny, bony chesticular area. This character can basically be summed up by "Ew".

On the plus side, this movie is a goldmine for drinking games. Take a drink a) every time you see stock footage (you'll be drunk about five minutes in), b) every time Cpt. Smarmy sweeps his crew with his Colt 1911 pistol (all the astronauts carry them, along with their space machetes**) in some of the worst weapon handling I've ever seen on screen, c) every time Cpt. Smarmy committs an act of sexual harrassment (you'll be hospitalized before the end credits).

Do catch this on Netflix streaming while you can. It's a gem of an example of the tail end of the golden age of 1950s sci-fi and a time-capsule of the social climate before feminism really started taking a stand against the truly egregious sexism in popular culture.* Plus: giant bat spiders!

* It's MY run-on sentence and I stand by it. 
** 02-10-2014  Changed "sabers" to "machetes" upon further reflection and a word from the spouse.

Friday, February 07, 2014

The cheapening of the vampire

Apparently NBC has a new series about, stop me if you've heard this one, a modern-day Dracula.  Anyway, it's called (are you ready?) "Dracula"! No, wait....don't leave. It's totally original! The vampires are sexy, you see, and... Where'd you go?

Yeah, me too.

Here's a nice review of it over at Salon, and by "nice" I mean critical and unflinching.

I can't help but agree with this guy. If you're going to write about a vampire(s), then make it be for a reason that calls for vampires. There's a problem with the cheap "he's sexy because he's a vampire" trope, and this also applies to the "pirates are sexy" trope that's been going on for even longer. It doesn't mean I don't love me some Douglas Fairbanks or Errol Flynn movies, but anybody who stops to think about what a vampire (or a pirate) really IS for half a minute is not going to find anything inherently sexy in either camp.

This doesn't mean vampire stories are passé‎ and nobody should ever write about them again, but I agree that the vampire as an instant embodiment of "brooding man with dark secret who just needs love to save his soul" has been done to, well, you know...death.

Sunday, February 02, 2014

Ceiling Cat's terrible replacement

Poor Maude (a.k.a. "Granny"). She has no idea that the Devil Cat is hovering, waiting for just the right moment to... "Oh hai!" Satanic photobomb. Maybe I should sent this to Coast to Coast. Nah, lolcats is getting it.

Saturday, February 01, 2014

Autopilot, from "Space: 1999" to "UFO"
Frogpants studios has some really outstanding podcasts, including Sword and Laser and Film Sack. I also really love Autopilot, which runs a bit shorter than the aforementioned shows, but is still a nice juicy nugget of audio goodness. It's basically Scott Johnson (Film Sack, Current Geek, etc.) and Tom Merrit (Sword & Laser, Current Geek, etc.) discussing one vintage TV pilot per episode. There's a lot of sci-fi in the mix, but that's understandable considering the interests of the hosts, but they've also done shows like Dragnet and Magnum P.I.. They just finished airing season two, and I've been going crazy listening my way through the episodes which runs the gamut from Buffy the Vampire Slayer (the un-aired pilot that you've probably never seen) to Jason of Star Command to Kolchak: The Night Stalker.

After listening to their take on Space: 1999 (1975-77), I was motivated to watch that pilot, and luckily it's on YouTube. As they noted, it holds up pretty well. It's a British take on serious sci-fi and apparently one of the most expensive TV shows ever produced there. In an era of Star Trek re-runs, and not much else, it filled a need in the very sparse landscape of post Star Trek television. It's very talky, and feels a bit like a modern police procedural, but the sets and props are very well-designed and, for the time, pretty convincingly "futuristic" without being goofy. I also like the way that women are just "there" as crew and the story presents this as business as usual. This is not to say that there is no fraternization on this moon base. In later episodes they explore various relationships, but when it comes to work, it's all business.

This is sadly not the case in this show's predecessor, UFO. I'd never watched it as a kid but only seen a few snippets while channel surfing on the occasional weekend. It's telling that I didn't stop to watch a whole episode, because I was hungry for good sci-fi as a pre-teen in the 70s when sci-fi fans in the USA made do with The Six-Million Dollar Man, The Incredible Hulk, and Wonder Woman (and the aforementioned Trek re-runs). I was curious, though, to give it a look after watching the Space: 1999 pilot, and sure enough it's all on YouTube.

It's not good. This is truly a textbook case of a seriously dated piece of TV history. If you're a fan of the ultra-mod aspects of the 1960s, this show is a cornucopia of style elements including furniture, gadgets, clothes, hairstyles, theatrical makeup, and super-hip cars. Princess phones are featured prominently: so mod! Mini-skirts and jumpsuits abound, hair is teased, cigarettes are smoked, sideburns are lavish, and extruded plastic chairs dot the landscape. There's more bright orange than the hunting clothes section at Cabella's, and that's just the interior decorating. All this in itself is not really bad, but it does date the show albeit in a charming way.

What I didn't find charming were things like the jarring groovy pop music score and the overtly sexual attitudes of many of the characters. Maybe it's just an Austin Powers backlash, but the music, even in tense moments, is so groove-a-licious that it really undermines the atmosphere for me. As far as the sexual tone in many of the scenes; I realize this was the "free-love" era and all that, but some of the men in at least this first episode are downright lecherous toward female co-workers. Several scenes introduce female characters with an obvious "toes to hair" look-over by some male, and there is so much sexual innuendo in many of the casual conversations I kept waiting for "Nudge, nudge. Wink, wink." In a few scenes the sleazy guy isn't even needed because the camera's POV does just as well. At one point we're offered shot of a lone woman walking away from the camera...which starts tight on her mini-skirted derriere and slowly pulls back. Later another shapely lady appears in a skin-tight, beige jumpsuit and elicits a typical clichéd innuendo from a male co-worker.

Just when you think it can't get any more sleazy, we're whisked off to the moon base where all the women have purple hair and wear tight, silver jumpsuits. At some point one of the women goes off duty and retires to some kind of communal relaxation area. At first I gave points for the very forward concept of a co-educational outpost with men and women working together in a seemingly professional way. I took the points away seconds later when the off-duty woman, whilst speaking to a male crew-member, started doing a Barbarella-style striptease, peeling off her sleeves and leggings accompanied by some downright porn-style music. I can see that the show creators were trying to be very hip and modern, but that's not really the kind of "hard" I'm looking for in my hard sci-fi, if you know what I mean.

Still, it is a fine example of the media climate of the time, and definitely a window on the not-to-distant past. TV sci-fi was still struggling for mainstream credibility, and Star Trek had blazed the trail for more serious sci-fi. Why the UK was so utterly incapable of following suit until much later I have no idea. UFO even has a lead character who keeps pronouncing the acronym "U.F.O" as a word that sounds like "oofoe". He's the only one who does it, and why the director didn't call him on it is beyond me, because the other actors manage to say it correctly. The BBC seemed to have figured things out by 1975 with Space: 1999, but three years later they were back to the usual ticky-tacky BBC TV production design with Blake's 7. It's not terrible, and it's definitely serious sci-fi, but it's a definite step backward.

It took awhile, but at least these days the UK can actually manage serious sci-fi and fantasy TV, and has some really fine programming including the ubiquitous re-boot of Doctor Who. No more tinfoil striptease, please.

Saturday, January 25, 2014

"The Proposal", Regency romance by Mary Balogh

The Proposal (The Survivors' Club #1)The Proposal by Mary Balogh
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Finally, a romance novel that I actually like without reservation. Very few historical faux pax, and sexy without being trashy. Chock full of believable characters and dialogue, interesting settings, and story and character arcs. I was beginning to think this animal didn't exist, but here it is. I'm actually looking forward to trying something else by this author.

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Thursday, January 16, 2014

Casting Notice of the Day: a couple of birds walk in to a mine...

There are many current misspellings bouncing around the 'net these days. There's the classic "alot" for "a lot" (see Hyperbole and a Half's adorable illustrated essay on that topic), the "there"/"they're"/"their" connundrum, and then things like "suposably" for "supposedly". For more crazy spellings you can always browse through the You Suck at Craigslist blog. Trust me, it's always good for a pained laugh.

Today's winner is yet another casting notice posted over at Performer's Callboard, a Yahoo Group through which I actually get an occasional job. It's sort of the shallow end of the casting pool, though, so there are at least one or two gems of grammaticide every week. Here's a sample of today's offerings, a call for a short:
[name of project] - Thriller

synopsis: Two college students venture into the mountains to find lost gold
hidden by a long dead relative. They run a fowl of menacing claim jumpers.

Looking for 2 females age 18-27 college type, normal height and weight.
3 males age 23-30 college type, athletic, brawny
First female - smart, energetic, full of life.
Second Female - conniving, mean spirited, villain.
First male - smart, kind spirited, humorous, strong.
Second male - villain, smart, strong, always smiling.
Third male - Villain, follower, grunt, side kick, henchman.

Please communicate if you are wanting to audition on one of the following
days in your responds....
I wonder what kind of "fowl" they are running? Is chicken smuggling rampant in the Pacific Northwest?  Of course in a bit of industry irony the Cascades Mountains could be standing in for New Zealand or the Czech Republic in this case. I'm also bemused by the use of "respond" as a noun. Is that some new kind of slang that the kids are using these days, like "my bad" (My bad what?) or "text" as a verb? Is it too stodgy to use "response", or is "responds" the new plural of "response" and they expect you to send multiple missives?  As the kids these days say; whatevs.

The rest of it is pretty typical, however I must give them full marks for actually sending out this notice more than 48 hours in advance, which seems to be the MO of alot (ha ha) of casting "directors". An extra point for giving the city of the location of the audition, too. You wouldn't think this would be a problem, but many casting people seem to think that the only work in the country is going on within 15 miles of their current location. Points off for it wanting to be a gritty thriller yet insisting on casting children in the leads. Two Barbies "menaced" by three Kens doesn't sound that compelling.

Tuesday, January 14, 2014

The Cove, by Ron Rash, or "I lemmed another one"

As a kid I was a voracious reader. I would have been the cowboy on a long cattle drive who shot another cowboy for throwing the soup can in the fire before he could read the label. When I go to the library I usually come home with a big bag of paper books and CDs. The CDs are recorded books, because I want somebody to tell me a story whilst I'm driving or sewing or cooking or doing other onerous chores. I go through them like a chicken through a bowl of pumpkin seeds.  In my old age, however, I've grown very, very picky about what I read. The world is full of millions of good books. I do not wish to devote any time to reading something lackluster, trashy, offensive, or even just mediocre.

What this boils down to is this: I've become pretty ruthless about bailing on books that just don't enthrall me. The good folks at Sword & Laser coined a term a few years ago for this: to "lem".
'The term "Lem" means to not finish a book and abandon it. This term comes from when Sword and Laser were reading Stanisław Lem's Memoirs Found in a Bathtub. Veronica couldn't make it through the book so just gave up reading it.             (From the Sword & Laser FAQ at Goodreads)
I've started a lot of books in the last few years that have alienated me before the second disk (or chapter, whichever comes first). Most of them are not what I would call "bad" books, but they just didn't make me happy for one or more reasons. Some of those reasons could be things like unrealistic dialogue, glaring historical inaccuracies, glaring tech or weapons inaccuracies, women in romance novels acting like ninnies, lack of even one appealing character, gratuitous violence or sexual situations, sparkly get the gist.

Sometimes the book is good, but the reader of the audio version I've chosen is annoying. I lemmed a romance novel a few months ago despite the interesting story because sound engineering was appallingly inconsistent. It was one of those efforts where somebody decided that a man should read the male POV parts and a woman should read the female POV parts despite the fact that it was mostly female POV. Anyway, the male POV sections sounded like they were recorded in somebody's bathroom on a dictaphone. The female reader's sections were nicely engineered, but the reader herself drove me nuts with her syrup on quaaludes interpretation of a Georgian accent. More recently I was saddened to lem a recorded book read by Will Patton, a fabulous actor and voice artist, because even after several chapters I hadn't come to a single likeable character in the story. Every character was evil or stupid or sleazy or all of the above. Yuck. Not my speed.

Today I lemmed "The Cove", by Ron Rash. Apparently he has some serious fans out there, if you look at the reader reviews over at Goodreads. I found his prose lovely and the setting of the story interesting, but this is another case where a voice artist alienated me. I think she was going for "down-home, unsophisticated but pure" but came across as flat and bored to my ear. The real deal-breaker was a scene where the female protagonist recalls the incident where she lost her virginity as a naive high schooler. It's appalling and tragic, and yet it's written in an off-hand manner that struck me as pretty callous. This is a traumatic moment in this girl's life, and I don't know if the subject ever comes up again in the story, but the way it's presented to the reader is so casual and bland that it's almost as if it's coming from the POV of the despicable boys who committed the violence. "Yeah, whatever. We did her. Har har." No thanks. I didn't need our girl to hark back to that day and lament, "...and then she spent the next forty-eight hours sobbing. She was scarred for life", but some kind of tone that conveys the shock and sadness of an event like that would have kept me engaged. As it was, I decided that it wasn't worth the risk of more of the same, so I moved on. I'd be interested to try something else by the same author, with a different reader or in a hard copy, because it was otherwise excellent.

Scarecrow and the Army of Thieves (no, it's not a YA fantasy novel)

Scarecrow and the Army of Thieves (Shane Schofield, #5)Scarecrow and the Army of Thieves by Matthew Reilly
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

This book reads like a James Bond story on steroids. It's basically a running battle from start to finish, rarely slowing down to ease up on the running and gunning (and driving and exploding). In that way it's fluff candy for action-adventure enthusiasts, and I'm not saying that's a bad thing, but there are just too many really implausible moments for me to give it an enthusiastic recommendation. I'll say this much: at least Reilly knows his firearms. This in itself made the book more readable (listenable) than it could have been. Reilly is not a bad writer, in fact it's a telling thing that I made it to the end. I liked the characters, the dialogue is believable, the situation intriguing, the tech is cool, and the pacing is good. At some point, though, I realized that I was making the same pained face I made when I first watched "Van Helsing" (the Sommers film starring Hugh Jackman). The pain was from too many cartoony moments of disbelief suspended so thin it was beginning to fray and about to snap. No, wait, it did snap. Several times.

* * * Spoilers * * * when our hero is electrocuted to death and then miraculously resuscitated via defibrillator, and immediately leaps back in to action. Want more of that kind of "getting blown across the room and through a window by an explosion with no apparent injury" type of thing? Read the book. The author also needs to bone up on how and why explosive compression works underwater. If an object sinks because it's open to the sea at multiple gaping points, it's not going to collapse catastrophically due to crushing pressure...because there is no pressure because it's open to the sea. And if our hero were in a water-tight compartment in said sinking object, which then would be in danger of structural failure due to high pressure, then he'd be awfully deep to swim to the surface for several reasons. Ask a diver. Ask any grade-school kid. Seriously. This is basic science stuff. Anyway, it was fun, but kind of goofy at times.

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Saturday, January 11, 2014

Blustery winter night musings

Hurts to sit, hurts to stand, let's see if I can type semi-reclined...with a cat on my arms because apparently this is an open invetation.

Quote of the day: "Isn't it funny how day by day nothing changes but when you look back everything's different." C.S. Lewis

Current weather: pouring down rain, windy, January! The exclamation point is for the temp, not the wind and the rain.

                                                            *     *    *

Apparently I am terrified of "doing it wrong" or not knowing how to start or over-thinking everything I want to do, so I've made a vow to just write something, anything, every day. There used to be a nifty little web site where you typed like a crazy person and earned little rewards for typing more than X amount every day, but about two months after I discovered it the site went to paid subscriptions and I bailed because I just can't afford pretty much anything that isn't food, household expenses, gas, and other boring grownup things. I'm just going to have to make my daily quota without benefit of virtual awards, because I really need to make writing a habit and a need as much as brushing my teeth and drinking enough water. I think it's that important for me.

I don't have kids, but that doesn't mean I don't have plenty of distractions to keep me from just sitting down (or standing up) and getting the writing done. At this moment I can just barely hear my rooster crowing in the henhouse behind the gusting wind and the rumble of the rain on the kitchen skylights, and I'm tempted to go see if they're all right. Even though I know the difference between the squawk of a terrified chicken and the casual call of a rooster who doesn't care that it's the middle of the night but feels the urge to alert the world to his magnificence, I still worry, because a few minutes ago I heard the neighbor's mare whinnying in her paddock next to my chicken coop. In a suspense film this would be a dead giveaway that some creature, human or otherwise, was lurking about in my yard. In this case, however, knowing what I know about horses in general and this one in particular, I'm pretty sure she's just annoyed that her "boyfriends", the two geldings who live in our pasture, are locked up in the barn for the night and not able to visit with her across the fence, and she's calling to them for attention. A whole pack of coyotes could parade by any of those horses and they wouldn't bat an eyelash, but separate them for five minutes and it's the end of the world.

Being very distractable means I tend to go through my day bouncing from one task to another and not really completing anything. I start to do something, but then that something reminds me of another thing I should do first, so I defer to that, then the process repeats itself. Making a list of things to do helps a bit, but I still rarely if ever get to the end of a list, no matter how small I make it. Right now the most important thing I keep putting off, besides writing, is walking. I really need to walk at least three times a week, and really more than that, if I ever want to get my health back up to a decent level. The flat disk in my spine is acutely painful all the time these days, but I don't think walking on level ground will exacerbate it much. I have to get my overall health buffed up or I'm doomed. Walking, pilates, and some free weights are where I need to start. I was doing pretty well with weights over the past few months, but then I dropped the ball over the holidays. I'm trying to keep painkiller use to a minimum, so I'm in pain most of the time and spend several sessions each day lying on ice packs so I can stand and walk a bit. Maybe the walking will help with pain management as much as taking vitamin C seems to help, I don't know, but it can't hurt to try, I guess. If my pain escalates I'll have to do something different.

Changing my diet has certainly helped. Removing wheat from my life was huge. Within a week I saw a major change in my GI system and went from borderline IBS to almost normal function for the first time in my life. After a week or so I noticed something else: my headaches, an almost daily condition, almost disappeared. Now, instead of being thankful for the occasional headache-free day, I'm surprised by the occasional headache. Again, this had been going on pretty much since my teenage years, non-stop. Nothing seemed to help prevent them, and only ibuprofen relieved them. Now I rarely take anything for a headache, and it's usually because I cheated and ate wheat or too much sugar and that triggered it.

Fixing my terrible sleep patterns is an ongoing struggle. I know I'd feel better, have less depression, and probably less pain if I could get to bed earlier and sleep through the night, but I fail more often than not in this department. My biggest hurdle is having to share a bed with my spouse, whom I love, but...I'm just not great with sharing sleeping space with another human. It's hard for me to relax when there's another person in my bed because I really need my personal space. The cats are fine, but another human, especially one who becomes very annoyed if awakened in the night by anything, makes for stress that impairs my ability to relax most nights. The upshot of this is that I want to be sure he's good and solidly asleep before I crawl into bed. Occasionally I make an attempt at getting to bed before him, but this usually results in us heading for the shower at the same time and then doing the "After you." "Oh no, after you!" dance. Then either I feel like I need to rush through my ablutions and race for bed, or I send him in and start some project which results in my usual staying up too late again. Someday I hope we have a house with two bedrooms so this won't be an issue. Until then, I really need to find a way to get to bed earlier, because I need a lot more sleep than he does. He seems to be good with around eight hours, but I'm groggy with less than nine or ten, especially if I don't sleep soundly. I'm experimenting with various supplements to help with this, and niacin is helping a lot. Valerian root and melatonin never seemed to do much, but 1,000 mg of niacin about an hour before bed seems to help me relax. Herbal tea is good, too. I read an article that talked about using honey before bed, so I try that sometimes, too. Then there's the pain management. Right now I'm pretty much stuck with taking a couple of naproxen every night in order to notch the spinal pain down enough to get to sleep. By morning it's worn off, but it usually gets me through the night. Getting a better form of magnesium has helped with muscle cramping, too. It's a constant experiment to adjust the supplements and diet and painkillers, but I kept myself out of the ER in 2013: yay!

It's half-past midnight, so I should quit. I dreamed about the "square house" night before last. It shows up every once in awhile. Not sure what it means. In my dreams it's supposed to be the house of a family in Seattle, the kids of which are friends of mine and I believe my sister's. It's not really the old Lyons' house on Queen Anne, at least I don't think it is, but then I barely remember that place. It's like a cross between that house and a place near the U of WA in which I rented a room for a few months after college, not long before I moved to Japan. Edwardian, square, bigger than a bungalow. Three stories with a central staircase and a sun porch on the East side. A house of many rooms, once grand but now a bit frayed at the edges. Lived in, loved, and full of the accumulated detritus of the years. It doesn't represent "home" to me, but I'm not sure what it does represent, then. I've been dreaming about it since the 80s, I think. One of these days I'll figure it out. In the meanwhile, time to hit the shower and sneak in to bed. Sam cat is probably warming up my spot right now, as is his wont. He won't mind when I move him over so I have a place for my feet. He'll just curl up and go back to sleep. Cats are pretty unflappable when it comes to sleeping arrangements.