Movie Goodness

A few movies have magically appeared on my computer recently. There’s The Grudge (which I said was the scariest damn movie I’d ever seen the first time I saw it, but its effect has been diluted since I saw the original Ju-On), and its (surprisingly halfway decent) sequel The Grudge 2. But today I’ve gotten to see:

  1. Run Lola Run, a wonderfully stylistic German film from 1998 which everyone ought to see, if they haven’t already. It appeals to the philosophy/sci fi nerd in me, and is a good flick as well; and
  2. Slither, with Nathan Fillion. This film bombed spectacularly at the box office, probably because it was a horror/comedy in the line of Evolution or Shaun of the Dead at a time when Hollywood horror was dominated by Japanese Yurei and brutal blood-and-guts films like Hostel and Saw I, II, III, etc.. In addition to its gross-out factor, this film is honestly one of the most intelligent monster movies I’ve seen; there’s an attempt to explain the critters in terms of Darwinian evolution, something most such films don’t bother with, and the characters are all well drawn and well written. There are some unsavory folks in the film, but the script, actors, and director make even those characters sympathetic. The world that the film creates has rules, and it follows those rules (and the Grudge films, in spite of their creepy imagery which is what freaks me out, are really bad at following the rules set out in their own premise — the second is by far the worse offender in this regard). You should see this film not just because it’s funny and scary and achieves that mood without the spitefulness that often marks this type of film, but also because Nathan Fillion deserves more work than he gets, and because Jenna Fischer (another woefully underrated performer) is brilliant in her small role.

I recently also saw Feast, another horror comedy which has its moments (but which doesn’t establish clear in-story rules and isn’t particularly noteworthy except for an amusing performance by Jason Mewes). Meh. And The Return, which I saw mostly because I like Sarah Michelle Gellar (I think she’s cute and very talented; so sue me). This film has some genuinely creepy moments, but isn’t complex or interesting enough to warrant multiple viewings.

I’m now seriously looking forward to seeing The Host. I’ve heard good things about that one.

Writing Update

I know this is going to frustrate some of you.

Even though I’m not finished with the current crap draft of The Solitude of the Tentacled Space Monster, I feel that I’m ready to get moving on the first major draft.  I know where the plot’s headed, and I have my "outline draft" that I wrote in November 2005.

So I’m looking for beta readers to give me serious critiques on this rewrite as I start it.  Please let me know if you’d like to join in by commenting on this entry or by dropping me  an email.

What is "Santanic", anyway?

From the Columbia Chronicle:  "Secret Service investigates Santanic [sic] Vampire".  I’m not entirely sure what to make of the headline; all I can figure is that certain Latin rock musicians are recruiting legions of the undead to violently influence the political process.  With "Likens", no less.

But law professor Neil Richards makes the most important point, I think: "[I]f he’s a vampire, why is he the one staking people? Shouldn’t he want to bite the president and feed on him?"  Yeah, that’s right.  Suck it, fang boy.

Easter Eggs

So, I love the show Heroes, as any red-blooded American geek should.  And I recently listened to the episode of Mur Lafferty’s podcast I Should Be Writing, where she interviewed Paul Malmont, author of the Chinatown Death Cloud Peril (and Paul Malmont is on my list of "good guys" because, although I haven’t read his novel, he didn’t start writing novels until he was roughly my age, which makes me feel better about that whippersnapper who wrote, in an issue of Writers’ Digest a couple of years ago, that 32 was "a bit old" to start writing).

What these two items have in common is "Easter eggs".  Heroes is full of them, from Stan Lee as the bus driver a couple of episodes back to Hiro’s dad’s license plate ("NCC-1701"); you know, little inside jokes and bits of humor that writers and producers put into the show as nods to the people who are really looking for such things (of course, there are such "Easter eggs" in video games and DVD menus as well, but I’m not counting those because I’ve never been clever enough to find any of those).  Lost is full of this kind of thing as well: little tiny clues that may or may not offer just a tad more insight into what’s going on, or at least a little more amusement or intrigue for sharp-eyed viewers.  And in his interview, Malmont said that he’s put a few little Easter eggs like that into his novel.  As I said, I haven’t read the novel, so I’m not privy to any of those little gems, but I’m sure they’re there and I’m sure they’re clever.

And naturally, because I am a narcissist, I began to think about my own writing.  I’ve thrown a few little Easter eggs into Solitude of the Tentacled Space Monster; not to be pretentious or anything, just because I thought it was fun to have the cat be named Banzai, or have Jenny Grist imprisoned in Cell 37 of Doctor Nefario’s prison.  These don’t really mean anything; they’re just symptoms and signs of the overly narcissistic and perhaps fatally self-referential culture in which we live.

Then there’s my Mollyverse stories, which are sort of turning into one huge Easter egg hunt, if you will, what with all the little references to one another that I’m deliberately putting in.  The challenge with that — and the reason I’ve stalled so long with The Winds of Patwin County — is putting in these references in such a way so that each story can be read and enjoyed on its own, but all of the Easter eggs, when taken together, create an additional layer of narrative which gives deeper insight into the stories.

Man, I like saying shit like that.  "Create an additional layer of narrative."  Makes me sound smart, like my five years of college working for that philosophy degree weren’t wasted after all.

What about you?  Have you written any Easter eggs or inside jokes into any of your stories?  What are some of your favorite examples, both in your own writing or in others’?

A Writer-ly Meme

Replicated from just about every writer whose journal, both on LiveJournal and elsewhere, that I read:

Turn to page 123 in your work-in-progress. (If you haven’t gotten to page 123 yet, then turn to page 23. If you haven’t gotten there yet, then get busy and write page 23.) Count down four sentences and then instead of just the fifth sentence, give us the whole paragraph.

This is from page 123 of the crap draft The Solitude of the Tentacled Space Monster.  As always, I’m behind in my writing.

Hector sauntered outside.  This was great.  He even felt taller.  The world could be his; he could have anything he wanted, and anyone.  And, of course, there was only one thing that he wanted right now.

In a way, it bothers me that this is still my crap draft.  I want to have this thing DONE, I don’t want to have to go through another major revision.  I’ve got too many other ideas that desperately want to be written.  But at least I’m seeing it through to the end.

38 Random Things About Me

In lieu of content, here’s a meme that I swiped ruthlessly from Tim Pratt’s blog.  He did 52 things, but I’m too tired to come up with that many.

  1. When I was a kid I was scared of the dark.  I still am, and sometimes when Jennifer spends the night elsewhere, I turn on all the lights in the house.
  2. Also when I was a kid I used to draw a series of comic strips about cats and dogs with superpowers.  The strip was called Superpets, which was my mom’s suggestion.
  3. I’ve taken lessons for two different musical instruments in my life.  First, I took piano lessons when I was a kid, but I made my mom let me quit because they were at the same time as Land of the Lost.  And after college I took some fiddle lessons, for which I paid a pot of home made split pea soup.
  4. To this day I still enjoy watching people play the piano or the fiddle.
  5. My grandmother tried to teach me how to crochet, but I never managed to make anything more than a long, long crotched string.
  6. When I started UC Davis in 1986 I was going to be a physician specializing in neuroprosthetics.
  7. …and yet I went through about a dozen majors in my first two years of college.  I settled on philosophy because I had to choose something.
  8. I’ve tried to be a morning person.  But, really, I’m a night person, and I hate mornings.
  9. Both of my grandmothers died of cancer, but my own fear of cancer predates either of their diagnoses.
  10. I hate cleaning bathtubs.  I even prefer cleaning toilets over cleaning bathtubs.  Go figure.
  11. Mary Anne, all the way.
  12. Micronauts were my favorite toy when I was a kid.  I never got into Transformers, though.  Weird, huh?
  13. When I was a senior in high school, I wrote a fully functioning calendar and contacts program, including its own API, in BASIC on a computer with only 32K of RAM.  Then I didn’t bother with computers again until about 1994, when I wrote my first web page.
  14. Favorite snack as a kid: salami and peanut butter on a Ritz cracker.
  15. I have never, ever wanted to be a sports star.
  16. My hands and feet are disproportionately large for my body.  I think I was supposed to be a much taller man than I am.
  17. I’ve studied four different language to the point of conversational proficiency in my life: French, Spanish, German, and Japanese.  Now I can’t speak any of them.
  18. I had a huge crush on Kathy Coleman (you know, Holly Marshall from the original Land of the Lost), just like every other male in my age group.  I saw her at Dragon*Con last year, and she was still smoking hot.
  19. Denise Crosby is the only celebrity I’ve ever made an idiot of myself in front of.  No really.
  20. I have a tattoo of a Celtic dragon on my right upper arm.  When I was choosing a design, I found one that I thought was really, really cool off the web.  But then I realized it was a white supremacist site, I couldn’t bring myself to use the design.
  21. I hate olives.  But I love olive oil.
  22. The first IQ test I was allowed to see the results of put my IQ at 165.  The next one I saw put my score at 180.  I think the truth is probably a hell of a lot lower, though.
  23. I can’t remember a time in my life when I didn’t know how to read or write.
  24. I still miss my Grandpa.  Apparently he used to hang out with William Saroyan and Ernest Hemmingway.
  25. When I was 9 or 10 I was convinced I could build a time machine.  I was going to send my sister back to the time of the dinosaurs.  My mom wouldn’t let me finish it, though.
  26. The first movie I remember seeing in the theater was The Sword in the Stone.  And the first time I saw Star Wars (back when it was just Star Wars, not Episode IV: A New Hope) was at a drive in movie theater.
  27. I keep forgetting that 27 is not a prime number.
  28. I honestly can’t believe you’re still reading this.
  29. I’ve never been scared of vampires, werewolves, zombies, witches, or any other kind of monster.  Ghosts give me the willies big time, though.
  30. I enjoy fishing but I haven’t been for close to twenty years.  Anyone want to go fishing?
  31. I remember that I inherited a set of carving tools from my great-grandpa when I was a kid, but that I wasn’t allowed to play with them until I was ten.  But I cheated once when I was 9 and started playing with them and then I cut myself on my thumb.  I still have a scar.
  32. My friend Chuck and I wanted to start a band when we were in grade school.  We were Hot Dog and the Mustards.  When I tracked down Chuck again online about ten years ago, he had no idea who I was.  That made me sad.
  33. I think that more than anything else I am scared of dying alone.
  34. My parents didn’t let me read anything by Stephen King until I was 16 years old.  But I snuck my mom’s copy of The Dead Zone to school anyway.
  35. I love splashing in tide pools.
  36. I’d like to go see the elephant seals at Ano Neuvo again sometime soon.  Anyone want to go with me?
  37. I really miss playing Dungeons and Dragons.
  38. I sure was into dinosaurs when I was a kid.  I should write a story about dinosaurs.

More Joy

Via the Panda’s Thumb, I found this video of Carl Sagan’s Cosmos, "edited for rednecks".  It’s lifted straight from last night’s episode of Family Guy, which I’m afraid I missed.

Occasionally people ask me how I can be a Christian and still believe in things like evolution, the big bang, and so on.  Putting aside for a moment the fact that the majority of Christians in the world actually have no problem reconciling their faith with these concepts (the official position of most mainstream Christian denominations in America, such as the Methodists, the Catholics, and Episcopalians, and so on) is that the theory of evolution poses no threat at all to the faith), I usually try to explain that these scientific theories actually help me understand my own faith.  The idea of sin, for example, is easier for me to understand as a set of selfish and self-driven behaviors that are left over as baggage from our evolutionary heritage and that we hang on to because they’re easier than following the Christian ethic (of course, the Christian ethic is twisted far too often to justify these behaviors — people like to hate, and they’ll use any excuse, including religion, to do so).

In writing news, I’m falling behind in NaNoEdMo with Solitude of the Tentacled Space Monster.  Hopefully I can catch up tonight.


For some reason, people often seem surprised when I tell them that I’m essentially a loner.  I mean it.  I guess I’m really good at interacting with people when I’m in social situations, but I don’t seek out such situations very often.  I love my friends dearly and I enjoy the time I have with them, but I often end up seeking out my own solitude rather than friends or family.  I don’t know why.  Sometimes I feel anxious even in front of the people I love the most, the people I know who love me the most; and sometimes my solitude is preferable to that anxiety, even though, as I said, I love my friends and family with all my heart.

I really want to emphasize this: I love my friends.  But I worry that they don’t know that because my own anxiety in front of the people I love makes me prefer my own company.  I rarely get anxious just hanging out by myself.  But why is the anxiety there?  I don’t know, but I’m working on it.  I can tell you it does annoy me, though.

So basically, it’s easy for me to go for weeks without seeing any of the friends I love, interacting only with co-workers or my wife (and sometimes if I’m working at home, only with my wife).  There were times, before I was married, when I could go for an entire weekend without interacting with anyone at all.  Strange times, those were.  Sometimes I felt like a ghost, sort of floating through the world, unable to interact at all.  I’d spend my days sitting in cafes, reading books or writing in my notebooks.

Which makes this past weekend even more great.  Saturday afternoon, Jennifer and I spent time with two close friends, Z- and E-, neither of whom I get to see as often as I’d like.  We talked, naturally, about gaming, though Z-, whose sense of humor is disturbingly similar to my own (pity her — we all do) did end up briefly on a tangent involving elephant ears. 

And this afternoon while I was at Borders in Davis working on Solitude of the Tentacled Space Monster, my very good friend K- (we were best man at each other’s weddings) dropped by.  We talked for a long time, sometimes about gaming, sometimes about politics, sometimes about his adventures as an RA at the art college he attends, sometimes about other mutual friends we haven’t seen in forever.  Jennifer showed up, and we went off to Baker’s Square for dinner, then back to my house to watch Battlestar Galactica.  Afterwards, we chatted more; K- is a talented artist and brilliant storyteller, and we talked about comic books and about some of our different projects.  If you ever get a chance to hang out with K-, do so; he can tell you a story about buying socks at Wal*Mart which will have you giggling hysterically.

Gaming is something I used to do pretty regularly.  Heck, there was a five year stretch of time when I was gaming almost constantly, running my own campaigns at least twice a week and sometimes three times a week.  Pretty much always with the same people: good friends that I had grown to know and trust pretty well.  It was always stressful for me whenever a new player would enter the game: that old anxiety would rear up its ugly head, and I would be sure that the game, which had been entertaining my friends for so long, would suddenly suck big time.

I’ve pondered running a one-shot game at DunDraCon or DragonCon or some other big convention somewhere in the world, but sometimes the idea seems downright impossible.  Anxiety would eat me alive, and my own conviction of my incompetence at running such a game would just make things even worse.

On the other hand, when gaming was going well, when sessions were at their peak and the role-playing was intense, those are the times when I would feel the closest to my friends, which in a way is kind of sad.

Now that I’m pushing 40, gaming is far less a part of my life.  Most of the people I used to game with regularly have all moved away, have families, have jobs that keep them busy more than 40 hours a week; so as a result, I spend less time with my friends now than I used to.

I’ve talked before about the similarities between gaming and writing.  When you’re a GM, as I almost always was, you’re creating worlds for people to explore and interact with, much as you do as a writer.  But on the other hand, with writing, you’re not getting the immediate response you would get if you were gaming.  If I sit down to run a game session with five of my closest friends, the creative impulse is certainly fulfilled, as is the social impulse; but when I write a story or a novel, the creative impulse is fulfilled, and hundreds (ideally millions) of people will read the story; but there’s no social interaction.  So I’m forced to find other ways to interact with my friends.  Much as I love them, this can be hard for me to do.

I don’t have much of a point here.  It’s late, I’m still happy from having spent time with good friends over the weekend, and I suppose I ought to head off to bed.

Y’all have a good day now.

Oh, and attached is the song "Big Bad World, One" by Jonathan Coulton.  Pretty much expresses how I’ve too often felt.  Listen, enjoy, then give Jonathan Coulton your money.  He’s a talented and brilliant musician, and deserves it.


Let's Break Your Brain

Via David Brin’s blog (have you not read anything by David Brin? No? What the hell’s wrong with you?) I found this article regarding another idea about the ultimate fate of our universe; rather than the ultimate heat death as has been occasionally predicted, or the Big Crunch as has alternately predicted, this new model suggests that if there’s enough "dark energy", then the universe will eventually rip apart into little shards that become new universes themselves.  Our own universe may have begun as a shard of a previously exploded universe; this would explain how it was that our universe, at the very beginning, started out in a state of high order instead of disorder, since as the shards rip apart from the exploded universe, they take along with them high states of order.  As the universe transitions from the state of high order to disorder, all kinds of neat things happen: galaxies, stars, planets, life, and so on.  Everything we know, see, etc., it’s all the universe just running down from its original highly ordered state.  Until the universe explodes, creating new daughter universes that will begin their own processes of entropy.  And so on.

The problem with this model, as Brin explains it, is that it requires an actual empty space for universes to explode into.  No big deal, except that standard models of the universe and of the Big Bang over the past fifty years or so have all suggested that the Big Bang did not explode into empty space, because empty space came into being as part of the Big Bang itself.  In a way, the new model of universes exploding into empty space makes a little more sense, because it’s easier to think of empty space rather than… well, than nothing, not even space.  Although I imagine that the empty space into which these daughter universes explode is very different from the empty space that we think of as existing between the galaxies or between President Bush’s ears.  The spacetime into which a universe comes into being is flat, rather than curved as the empty space in our own universe is.

Damn cosmologists.  Just when we get used to one counter-intuitive, paradoxical idea of how the universe works, they come up with another.  I swear, they do this to us on purpose.

Now, if pondering the Big Bang and the nature of the universe, hasn’t broken your brain, perhaps this video — which my younger sister first clued me in to — will do the job. Below the fold and through the cut. Enjoy.
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