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The Drums of Pictdom
by Eric Martel
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30th-Apr-2011 04:07 pm - Sansa's Puppy

It's been forever and a day, again.  I have much to complain about, but why bother?  Suffice to say I have little time or privacy, my job exhausts me, so, many things are left to rot, like this blog.  But the drums keep pounding away at me.  Pictdom calls to me.

Since St. Patrick's Day I've been re-reading Game of Thrones, Clash of Kings, and Storm of Swords.  I have about a hundred pages to go with Storm of Swords.  I last read these ten years ago, but I'm trying to get through them to watch the HBO series.  It's surprising how much I've forgotten in ten years.  And, maybe I'll finally read the fourth book (Feast of Crows?).  After the first three, I somehow got distracted and never noticed the fourth book, and was too full up with other things to read another huge doorstop book.  Plus, face it, your heart wasn't in it then.  You no longer cared what happened in real life, so imaginary lives sure as hell coudn't interest you.

I'm noticing a lot I either skipped or forgot.  I try not to skip, but when there's yet another description of clothes or food...anyway, I don't remember the clues that Renly and Ser Loras are lovers, that Joffrey sent the assassin to kill Bran, the whole big secret about Jon Snow's mother, and I also forgot a whole subplot about Beric Dondarrion the Dead Robin Hood.  I think somewhere else in this blog I reminisced about the first time I saw the Fellowship of the Ring movie--somehow or other I watched the whole thing, was talking to a friend and he pointed out that they cut the whole Tom Bombadil thing and I said, "Oh, they did!"  I must have read that trilogy seven or eight times between sixth grade and sophomore year of college, but somehow in the many years between I managed to forget whole chunks of stuff.

What I didn't forget was the killing of Sansa's wolf pup Lady.  This part of the book bothers me so much that I skipped it and trusted to memory, because the first time I hated it so--plus it's such a weird plot twist, I still don't understand it, and the tv series doesn't explain it either.  It's not clear at all why exactly Cersei wants the pup dead.  Simple revenge?  Cruelty?  She just wants to do something nasty to the Starks for hurting Joffrey?  Maybe she's worried Sansa's betrothal means the wolf will be too near the prince, so she's afraid of it?  This is not clear.  Plus, I have never been able to fully believe Sansa's reaction.  Now I like the books and Martin's a first-rate writer, I could bore myself and anyone reading this useless rant/blog going on about his books and other writings.  (I gotta say I love those Haviland Tuf stories).  But I have never been able to believe the way she forgives Joffrey and Cersei for demanding the death of her wolf, for no apparent reason.  Show me an eleven/twelve-year-old girl who forgives and forgets and trusts you that easily when you demand the death of her puppy!  You'll be waiting decades for her to forgive you.  I'll believe in white walkers first.

Also:  why is it that you aren't bothered by the imaginary deaths of characters you like, Eddard and Robb, for example, but you cannot tolerate to read the bit where Lady is killed?
7th-Nov-2009 07:17 pm - Stargate Universe

I never liked Stargate. The movie stunk, and the follow-up series never grabbed my attention. It always seemed too Flash Gordon/Buck Rogers. A little of that is good, but a lot of that is corny and tiresome. I never made it through more than about ten or fifteen minutes of any Stargate episode when I happened to chance across one.


But I find I’m really liking Stargate Universe. I gave this thing a chance because of the hyperbole about rebooting it so that it was ‘darker’ and more like the modern Battlestar Galactica. (This is what I mean by a little Flash/Buck is good, but a lot makes for drivel. The old 70s BSG was unwatchable, even for a kid, because of all the hokey flashbuck.)


I just made up a term! 


Flashbuck: when a science fiction novel, movie, or tv show is ruined by crotchety, hokey, corny stuff reminiscent of the comic serials Buck Rogers and Flash Gordon. Best used in very small doses for flavouring.


Much of what has been broadcast so far has been much more interesting than the other Stargates. There’s a couple things that the show could do without: (1) the floating camera balls and (2) the magic rocks that allow you to exchange personalities with someone back on Earth. They could keep the floating camera balls if they would use them when they need them, like when the soldiers were wandering about looking for a dry lake bed, well, why not use the flying balls to help look around? 


Also, the Scottish scientist/engineer needs help figuring out the alien technology and we have ‘all the wrong people’ onboard. (They never tire of reminding us how many useless people the show has.) Well, why not use the magic rocks to float someone’s personality out there to help him? Someone who can help Scotty fix the warp engines or whatever? (In SF, why the hell are the engineers and scientists always Celts of some kind?) No, instead, the magic rocks are used exclusively for the commanders to have chats with their superiors and their wives back on Earth. It’s completely stupid.


But there’s a lot of good things about the show to outweigh those two not-good things. The sets, costumes, etc., have been great; no flashbuck at all, thank goodness. Plot and character have been fun and interesting, most of the time, with a few petty exceptions—however, here’s hoping the characters develop some more, because there’s a lot of cliché (fat math guy dropout, plays games all the time, afraid of girls; sophisticated, smart, gorgeous upper-class babe; hard-ass commander; violent African-American soldier; conflicted Anglo-Saxon soldier-boy; and so on.)


25th-Mar-2009 07:49 pm - Cinderella

I saw the Disney film Cinderella a while ago.  It has been a long time since the last viewing.  Two or three decades have probably passed, so I hardly remembered a thing about it.  What struck me was how little the title character has to do!  She more or less passively allows things to happen to her, doing her duties and trying to keep her cheerfulness and politeness.  The most aggressive thing she does is stick her foot in the glass slipper.  She's rewarded for her virtuous and patient suffering (and for being a blonde beauty); perhaps this was a Christian moral lesson from the original fairy tale.

Oddly the most active characters are the mice!  The animal characters do practically everything and the only active human is the wicked stepmother, who for that good reason is the character I remembered best.  The mice do all the spying, planning, dressmaking, stealing, running, fighting, hiding, and so forth, with a little help from the dog and the horse and the birds (and the one big assist from the fairy godmother.)  Cinderella passively allows the wicked stepsisters to tear her dress apart and hardly struggles when the wicked stepmother locks her in the tower.  The outcome of the plot depends completely on the battle of the mice to steal the key and drag it up the stairs to the room, fighting with the cat all the way.  In a way the movie is an extended Tom and Jerry episode, with a little fairy tale romance thrown in.
1st-Mar-2009 07:54 pm - The Drums of Pictdom

The Drums of Pictdom


How can I wear the harness of toil

And sweat at the daily round

While in my soul forever

The drums of Pictdom sound?

--Robert E. Howard



The Harness of Toil. That describes my life for the past year, working in a pair of rowdy schools as a babysitter. It’s been a very hard pull in the harness.


And a mostly pointless task it is. I’d feel more satisfaction from shoveling sand into the tide, or rolling a rock uphill and endlessly watching it roll back down. This work often discourages me two ways: its own uselessness and that it keeps me from my own work.


But there’s no two ways about it; I need the job, I need the money, and with the economy imploding, there’s nowhere else to go. So somehow I’ve got to get my own time back, one way or another.


Those Drums! They pull me and sadden me because I know that when I have time and energy I have to go to work, and when I have my own time I’ll be drained, or kept busy, or annoyed or pestered or something, and I won’t be able to write a word to quiet the drumming. For almost twelve months now my reading projects, my studies, and my writing have all stalled or dwindled to near nothing. It’s probably going to take days just to figure out where I was. And for seven months before that I had been firing blanks, with nothing but false starts, dead ends, and big empty spaces.


The Drums! They make me anxious when I’m at the daily round. I don’t want to be there. I want to be doing my own work for my own purposes—I’m sick unto death of babysitting a bunch of unruly brats. Somehow I must get to the drums or I’m going to go crazy.


So I feel what Howard felt when he dreamt of the drums—though I don’t feel the same interest in the Picts that he did, it still seems like the right title for the blog now. “Writer’s Nightmare” aptly described what I felt for some time, but I don’t want to think about it anymore. I just want to get to the drums.


I’ve been reading Howard anthologies recently, one about Kull and the other about Bran Mak Morn. I’m not familiar with his non-Conan work. I admit that these stories aren’t very good. I see he was only 20 years old or so when he wrote them.


Anyway, I suspect he had his own harness of toil. I do not know a lot about Howard’s life, but I feel a certain kinship anyway, because like me, he grew up at the end of the highway. Like me, he had to give himself a half-ass, half-education through his own curiosity reading. And like me, he had the misfortune to read many worthless books. He has a lot of curious ideas about evolution, race, and history. I know that a lot of pseudoscience about race was intellectually respectable in his day. The anthologies contain letters between Howard and Lovecraft in which they go on about Mongoloids, Aryans, Nordics, Mediterraneans, Picts, and other false notions. I always found it odd that so many of his stories involve Picts; it turns out he was obsessed with them. He considered them some sort of First Race of Neolithic times, or something. He also believed, it seems, in Atlantis, and Lemuria, and reincarnation. Strangest of all some of his work reads like he believes that humans evolved from apes more than once in more than one locality, and can devolve back into a sort of ape-man, then re-evolve back into humans. It’s too bad he wasn’t better educated, didn’t live longer and develop more skill, because his pure storytelling talent still manages to overcome so much deficiency.

16th-Feb-2008 08:42 pm - This Simian World! by Clarence Day
Boy, have I been under a lot of things, and I never update any more.  I suppose if I ever want to get a couple readers I'd better post more than every six months...


I've read a great deal but the most interesting item I've read lately is This Simian World by Clarence Day.  It's a short book; a collection of musing about the fact that humans are all simians, and how our monkey past betrays itself in our 'civilized' behaviour.  He wasn't meaning to write a science-fiction book, he was a humourist, but he wrote an sf book nevertheless.


Day was a famous humourist of the early part of the 20th Century; his most famous book was Life With Father which was made into a movie starring Irene Dunne and a really young Elizabeth Taylor; it's about his Victorian boyhood.  This book is clever and often funny; he had a real talent for making pithy and true observations about people that were funny as well.  For instance: how an endless amount of pointless chatter would be the outstanding trait of any intelligent creature descended from monkeys, who would praise endlessly any contraption that allows them to keep chattering to each other.  He was talking about the telephone.  If only he knew how the Internet and cell phones and wireless tech would increase all that aimlessness!  Rather like this blog.


The science-fictional content is funny as well.  He imagines intelligent creatures descended from all manner of animals in convincing and hilarious way.  Tiger- or leopard-men would not brook any law that curtailed their right of personal combat.  Elephant-men would have astonishingly long and deep philosophical works, but they would build no zeppelins or airplanes.  Eagle-men would have never have a vaudeville (only monkeys would want to watch so much capering about.)  Such a fun and clever writer, but I had hardly heard of him!  I wonder who still recalls his works who is not a professor, or over eighty years old.

7th-Aug-2007 09:33 pm - "Prott" by Margaret St. Clair

Recently I read Science Fiction Terror Tales, edited by Groff Conklin, copyright 1955, though my cheapo paperback was printed in 1969.  I've been collecting older SF down at the used bookstore, reading short stories from the past to give myself a broader background.  Anyway, most of the stories in here weren't all that scary and some weren't very good.  But there was one startling exception: "Prott" by Margaret St. Clair.  It's one hell of a story in that it has a genuinely scary premise and is funny at the same time.  Really, it's funny.

I had never heard of this author, so I wikied her, and she was a well-known female sf writer back in the 50s.  I'm constantly discovering names of people who wrote all this notable stuff and I've never heard of them or seen their works.  Apparently she was a pagan before pagans became cool.

The only other really good story is 'They' by Heinlein, in which it turns out that there really is a conspiracy to deceive you about what the world is really like.  It's vaguely similar to the Matrix movies which shows how hoary that idea is.  This is the use I'm finding in reading older short stories--there is a lot to learn about forgotten authors, and themes that have been worked to death (or ignored) over time.

28th-Jun-2007 03:20 pm - Lipstick Jihad by Azadeh Moaveni
Done a lot of reading, but not much time to think it over, so I'll start with the last book first:

This was a book I wanted to read after I’d read Persepolis by Marjane Satrapi and Reading Lolita in Teheran by Azar Nafisi. This book isn’t a bad book, but not as good as the other two, sadly. The funniest thing in her memoir is her constant search for her ‘identity.’ Am I Persian? Am I American? Why doesn’t anybody accept me in either country, boo hoo.  This goes on every two or three pages and the reason this is funny is that she is obviously a Californian. She was raised in San Jose, and every page screams “I am a coastal Californian!” as loud as possible. If she had tried to carefully conceal that she was raised in California, you’d still know…but the effect is tiresome, you just want to yell at her: You’re a California girl, so get over it. (It could easily be retitled All About Me.)  Like a lot of young people she has this idea that she'll achieve peace of mind if she can just homogenize her different parts, as if it were abnormal to have conflicting and irrational emotions and thoughts.
It’s also obvious in her schooling and reportage, that she’s been initiated as a priestess of the High Cult of Ambiguity, Nuance, Subtlety and Moral Relativity. (Of course, she works for Time magazine, so of course she’d have to pass through the narrow gate of that temple before writing so much as a headline.) 
The book doesn’t tell you too much you didn’t already know about Iran if you’ve done some reading, but that’s okay because the interesting stuff is all about her family life, anyway. Unhappy families are all different, aren’t they? And endlessly fascinating.
Two interesting notes about Lipstick Jihad: First, every book by an Iranian I’ve read is by someone who was a member of the Tehran upper class before the Revolution, so it would be interesting to see something written by someone who wasn’t knocked off their priviliged perch. Second, Why is it that every book written by a Persian takes at least one or two shots at the movie Not Without My Daughter?
8th-May-2007 03:11 pm - Elric of Melnibone
I’ve been so darn busy. I am right now reading Creating Short Fiction by Damon Knight, and I wish I had read it twenty years ago. So many things I could have known without having to suffer! Anyway, I read three of the Elric books recently in a single omnibus. They were a little disappointing and I think this was because the character is so famous that I was expecting too much.
Anyway, the interesting thing about the books is the listing of its particulars: Elric is the albino, sickly ruler of a semi-human race of cruel, post-imperial people. They live on a golden island, whose city is still the merchant capital and wonder of the world. The glories of the empire are still everywhere evident, tradition and custom are still important. The empire had depended on a glorious royal navy, consisting of these huge golden battleships equipped with magical weapons. They’re still a powerful navy, but only in home waters. Chaos is starting to take over the world. The ‘Young Kingdoms’ which were the former imperial domains are flexing their muscles and trying to replace Melnibone and also to copy its government, culture, etc. The people of Melnibone haven’t quite got the idea yet that they’re a fading nation, they still carry on as if nothing has changed. They are not much liked but anybody, but they do not care because they are famously cruel and amoral. They serve a weird combination of gods of Chaos. Do I need to add that Moorcock is British, and that he was writing these in the 1960s?
One of the odd things is that the third book seems to have been written first, the first book second, and the second book third. So that might explain some of the strange inconsistencies.
Sometimes the books are really good and sometimes sort of pointless and dull. Elric has a magic black runesword that drinks souls. He continually runs into nasty magical creatures, which he whacks with his sword until they die. It can get a little tiresome. Other times he makes inexplicable decisions. For example, he sneaks into his own city to rescue his lover, but when he has the opportunity to do so, he doesn’t take her with him. Instead he tries to storm the city, so naturally his rival kills her before Elric can rescue her a second time…? Plus, the wonderful golden battleships don’t descend and destroy the attackers until after they’ve already destroyed the city…why wait? But there are some really fun supernatural worlds and problems for Elric to solve and it is most interesting when he solves these in some way other than whacking them with his soul-eating black sword.
I have been trying since the New Year to apply a new strategy to writing. I’ve been trying to monitor the way I think, and how much I allow the Ten Thousand Things to intefere in my thinking. I have a lot of trouble sometimes making contact with my Underneath, by which I mean the sub- or un- conscious world where thoughts come from. 


I read this last summer in Storyteller by Kate Wilhelm. (She calls the Underneath her Silent Partner. Damon Knight called it Fred.) I have never been a good regular producer. I think this is because there is so often a block between me and my Underneath. The Ten Thousand Things are that block. But what are they? It’s a Taoist concept and means the hurly-burly of everyday life, chores and appointments and all the stuff that makes life one damned thing after another. So the first step for me is blocking that stuff out physically, as much as possible.
But then the curious thing is that so much of the Ten Thousand Things live and thrive in your Underneath. When I can ignore or escape the racket outside of me, I am often dismayed to find the racket inside. I’ll sit here and think about past regrets and future worries, things I have to do, shit people said to me during the day, the astonishing number of times I had resist giving someone a smack just in the last 24 hours, how much my back hurts, how much money I do not have, my last disastrous date, or any of the Ten Thousand. Pretty soon I find myself looking for distraction, particularly if it involves the tv and a peanut butter cup. (And of course this means getting out of the chair, a bad move, because if I leave the room that means I am now available for chitchat about something incredibly irritating. At that point there is no escape.)


So I’m working on consciously putting that stuff out of my mind. For years I’ve done this by bringing my attention into the here and now; so my method has become to bring my attention into the here and now of the viewpoint character, where it was that we left off. I try to look around, see what he or she sees, hears, feels, is thinking about. Then a lot of the time my Underneath suddenly becomes enthusiastic and feeds me what comes next
11th-Feb-2007 10:45 pm - Nuts
I hope this entry makes it on...though I've learned my lesson and from now on if I'm going to write a real post with something important to me, I'll write it in the word processor first. Twice in January I wrote posts that disappeared forever before they made it into the blog. I'm going to post about my brain and my reading soon.
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