Spawn of Mars
Story vignettes are all well and good, but the best story is not a day in the life; the best story is the day between lives.
Mermaids & Termites
As of July
Wednesday, July 6, 2022 2:35 pm
There's no two ways about it. I am capricious. Every few weeks I have a new plan for what I want to do. I can't stick to anything.

Honestly, these posts should just be updates about what has happened, not what may. I have no idea, really, what I'll be doing in a month.

So what has happened? 

I suppose there's some conformity to prior plans.

I am still working on Stellar Stories Vol. 1. Much as I like a little proofreading and getting things in order, I am truly reaching my limit. But what must be done, must be done. A small excitement is that I have hired an actual illustrator for the cover. I still did the overall design, but getting real art will be nice.

And my plan is still to release the book sometime before the release of Cirsova's Fall issue, to capitalize on my story being the cover story.

But there has been a big distraction. It was my own fault. My collaboration with Misha Burnett had been idle for a year. That bugged me. So I contacted him to get it going again and he agreed. Over the next few weeks we finished the novella. It's quite good, and a bit unusual. Misha came up with an idea to get it out to the public and we are pursuing that, but who knows what will happen.

And as for my own unfinished stories? What are my priorities right now?

My standard for prioritizing has been: "What if I got hit by a truck tomorrow?" What simply must be finished? But that standard has been oddly debilitating. I recognize that writing is work, but writing just to forestall the nonexistence of a story is truly just work. Whether or not it's frivolous, I'd rather be writing for fun.

The sixth Hamlin Becker story — the likely finale — excites me in all that I want to accomplish; but by golly, I'm not in the mood for it. Same goes for the second Hak Iri story. Never mind my poor, moribund novel The Remnant. Those are my top three Get-It-Done-Before-the-Truck-Hits-Me and I just don't care.

So what am I going to do next? Who knows. Come back in a month or two and I'll tell you what I actually did.
Frodo's Adventure

I never got more than a few pages into The Lord of the Rings. I thought the movies were, in the end, boring. Over the years I have acquired a lot of cultural knowledge about Tolkien's intent and craft and, thus intrigued, I have always wished his work would simply attract me, if only so I wasn't the odd man out among my fellow odd men out.

Well, I'm still not planning on reading the book, but on a whim I bought the extended edition of the movie trilogy, and... it's not boring. It may be an unremarkable thing to say, but Lord of the Rings needed the miniseries feel of the extended films. Even though I had never read the books, the theatrical versions had seemed a collection of steps, of scenes, of highlights from something greater.

Now, I have no idea if the extended versions truly represent the books better (aye, there's still no Tom Bombadil, haha), but they at least represent the movies better. There is an epic feel at last, and somehow the human (hobbit, elf, whatever) moments are better grounded.
The "Arts Community"

There are many reasons I did not become an illustrator or painter. Oh, I had the talent. I truly did. I just needed the development.

But I couldn't stand the artists.

They're such a degenerate bunch. And even when I was a teenager, I felt it in my bones: These people aren't right. And as I aged, I wondered why art should arise from such a sorry lot of people. True enough, most of their "art" is, as I often say, Art with a capital F. Even so, why were — why are! — the "arts" so populated with leftists, deviants, and perverts?

The leftists, deviants, and perverts like to pretend that it is only their kind that can even create art; that of course they dominate, because they are necessary. But I have realized something else, something not really that profound but worth remembering.

The leftists, deviants, and perverts have no other home. The "arts community" arises because its denizens revile the true communities of family, neighborhood, nation, and church. For them it is all about the alternate family, the family that has nothing to do with parents and siblings. The artists who are not oikophobes nor freaks blend with the population of the normal world. The "arts community" is just a trap in a greasy drain.

Even then, it does seem that LDPs dominate the production of "art." This is an illusion. Among LDPs there are genuine artists, just as there are among the rest of us, and no more than among the rest of us; but the genuinely talented LDP sets the tone for the "arts community," and that community is profoundly conformist.

We do not have a multitude of LDP artists; we have a handful of such artists and a horde desperately mimicking them. The lowly LDP needs affirmation from his alternate family. The NPC is as much a reality in the arts as in politics.

And, of course, as far as "dominance" is concerned, the "arts community" actively suppresses, or seeks to appropriate and corrupt, any non-LDP art. Their family, not yours, is all and only! They revile that which birthed and nurtured them, and us who represent the communities they have forsaken.

You Will Be Assimilated
My Career as a Cartoonist
Tuesday, May 12, 2020 10:33 pm
Recently I noted that I have, on occasion, attempted to make clever-funny comics. Prompted by that note I have finally finished a certain comic, the rough pencil sketch of which has been stashed near my desk for years.

Since there is a lot of talking in the comic, I didn't directly ink the text. The text and layout and so on were done on PC (in GIMP). I did draw the one character, in ink and water (using nib and brush). I then scanned the drawing and integrated it with the layout.

My scanner is so old — an Epson Perfection 1200U — that a driver hasn't been released since Windows XP. Luckily I can use one of the later Epson drivers, although there's a bit of jiggering to do so. I thought it was already installed on my PC but apparently my Windows 7 64-bit forgot it was there, and I had to reinstall. Bothersome.

To keep the comic legible I had to make it too big to fit in the normal column of this blog. The image will overlap to the right but should be fine on most browsers. If not so on yours, download the image (via right-click) and view it elsewise.

Enjoy!  


24-Hour Bacon
My Career as a Cartoonist
Sunday, May 3, 2020 4:02 am
Many thousands of years ago, given that I have something of a talent for art and (maybe) for humor, I tried making some clever-funny comics. Not many have survived. I unearthed this one an hour ago. It was drawn with ink and brush. There was a bit of photo-duping and keylining (e.g., you can see that the frame outlines are all the same). It's amusing.

Close to the Heart
On the Occasion of Neil Peart's Death
Thursday, February 6, 2020 3:26 pm
While it is not unreasonable to wonder about the life of an artist — or even to admire an artist's everyday conduct — I am of the mind that the artist does not matter (beyond his getting the proper credit and payment). To be sure, his life is relevant insofar as it clarifies his work; but other than that...

Most artists are scum. Beethoven was a bitter bastard. Shostakovich was a pathetic collaborator. As men, neither merits celebration. Celebrity for artists should be rejected. Go ahead and admire Haydn because he was kind, pious, and hard-working; then pity and decry him because he was adulterous; but remember that there were many kind, pious, hard-working, and adulterous men in the world. It was not Haydn's life that distinguished him; and it is not his life that should concern us. 

Which is all to say, that callous as it may sound, the death of Neil Peart does not move me at all. And I say that as a guy who has loved Rush since the release of A Farewell to Kings.

In 1977 I was a kid working in a bagel shop, mixing and baking bagels. We were allowed to work with the radio on. I actually remember one of the times I heard Closer to the Heart, which was in rotation then. I can see the fluorescent light, the white walls, and the chrome trim on the portable. And I remember being enchanted by the bells in this rocking song. It was percussion quite distinctive. I had no idea who was striking those bells. But it didn't matter. I was only glad he had thought to do it.

No, I am not saying that art is more important than the man. Any man is worth more than any work of art. I've even said art itself doesn't matter (see, for example, this post). But the artist matters even less. It is rightly sad for some people that Neil Peart — friend, bandmate, husband, and father — has died. It should be sad for no one that the drummer of Rush has died.

Except, I suppose, inasmuch as one might be sad because there will never be another album by Rush. But really — if I may double-down on my tactlessness — Rush haven't made a good album since the mid-1980s.

So. There's that.

A few years ago, roundabout the release of Rush's final album, I saw a listicle of the "Top Ten" Rush albums. It was immediately apparent that the listmaker was an idiot. There were nineteen albums to choose from. He chose ten of those. More than half, in other words.

His list included Counterparts.

It did not include A Farewell to Kings.

Idiot. QED.

It was clear he was a Johnny-come-lately. His list was heavily weighted to the later albums. He had a certain taste; and the fact is, the later albums do have a certain flavor. There was a transition in Rush's music that began with 1982's Signals and finished with 1989's Presto. Some people have said that Rush were a little protean, a little reactive to the times, trying this, trying that, becoming something fresh; but really, they just stopped being good.

Oh, I kept buying their albums. It was RUSH, for God's sake! I liked the albums at the time. I was genuinely thrilled by 2002's Vapor Trails, and not only because it had been six years since the last. But you know what? None of them stayed with me. Indeed, years later, when I'd try to listen to something like Counterparts, I'd not even finish listening. It was all so meh.

I had become clear-eyed enough about the mehhing of my favorite band, that when their final album came out in 2012, I prudently sampled it on Amazon, winced, and didn't even buy it.

So what is the correct Top Ten? Well, simply enough, it's the first ten albums. The final nine are genuinely disposable. I know that this is a cruel thing to say — especially on the occasion of Neil Peart's death — but it's true. You can argue there's good songs on the final nine and I'll not throw my drink in your face; but those are from a different Rush. A Rush that I, in my sober old age, do not like.

Now, although I love their debut album, it does not include Peart, who joined Rush with the second album. Even the band marks their true foundation with Peart's arrival. There was certainly a change in tone. So we'll instead go with a Top Nine.

1. A Farewell to Kings
2. 2112
3. Moving Pictures
4. Hemispheres
5. Grace Under Pressure
6. Permanent Waves
7. Fly by Night
8. Caress of Steel
9. Signals

Depending on the day of the week and my mood, #4, #5, and #6 would be switched around. And I know there are those who probably boggle at my putting Signals below Caress of Steel, but honestly, Signals is relatively weak, Analog Kid and Subdivisions notwithstanding. Besides, this is not a list of best to worst; it's a list of descending best.

And much as I consider the final nine albums "disposable," I confess to a weird affection for 1987's Hold Your Fire. This one I can finish when I put it on. So, without granting it a place on the best list, I'll still give it an honorary #10, next to 1974's debut Rush.

I have said before that there's something misaligned about me. I'll concede that my indifference to Neil Peart's death, art versus artist aside, might just be unnatural. I don't think I was given sufficient training to mix with you humans when I was sent here from Proxima Centauri.

As it is, I still wish Neil a good place in the Heaven he disbelieved in, and meanwhile I'll enjoy the enduring work he made with Alex and Geddy. Perhaps it is suspicious that my favorite Rush is also my first Rush, but Closer to the Heart epitomizes their goodness, and it's a comfortable thing, really, that a band once so important to me remains, in its best music, close to my heart.

Favor the Heart Over the Tail
Hacksaw Ridge  Is an Amazing 40 Minutes
Tuesday, November 28, 2017 9:14 pm
Beware! Spoilers follow.

For its first hour or so, Hacksaw Ridge is very disappointing. For another half hour it is active, if not exciting. And then there is a scene that is transcendent; and the remainder of the movie is wonderful. 

If you haven't seen the movie yet, still do so. But a little advice: As soon as there is text on the screen noting that Doss died at age 87, stop the movie. What follows the note are snippets of genuine documentary — still shots and actual interviews — that, like all documentary postscripts to "true-story" movies, yank you right out of the wonder. And considering that the wonder of Hacksaw Ridge was great and long in coming, it's a shame to let it be killed at last.

The transcendent scene comes after the "active" half hour, after we've been watching Doss's company assault Hacksaw Ridge.

The combat is decently choreographed. There is a clear plot of advancing on bunkers and being driven back. Yet somehow it wasn't exciting. It was only agitating. Every death is sudden. The deaths accumulate like falling marbles. We're given no time to feel any loss. Even the overnight mid-combat respite in the foxhole was not especially anything. Perhaps I had been numbed by the first hour of the movie, but I kept waiting to be moved by the combat.

I will say this, though. The suddenness of every death made everything relentless. Thus, one could get a proper sense of chaos. And futility.

So when the company has retreated to the cliff's edge, and every able man but Doss has retreated down the ropes, the tiring brutality has been presented. When Doss looks back on the devastation, we at least know what we're supposed to be feeling.

Now, here's an important point about Doss. I'll touch on this again, but even in the disappointing parts of the movie, Doss is a solid and interesting character. It is established well that he is a godly and patriotic medic who refuses to carry a weapon. I believed everything about his courage and conviction. So when he looks back and starts despairing, I believed he was despairing. I despaired only because he did. In the chaos he has not been killing the enemy; he has been scrambling to save his fellows. Some he saved; some he didn't. He is crouched over the corpse of one he didn't.

There were so many he didn't. Though he tried so hard!

And despairing he says, "What is it you want of me?" He is of course speaking to God. He gazes on the field of failure and complains, "I don't understand." Finally he laments, "I can't hear you."

And across the shattered ground, out of the smoke and silence, someone calls, "Medic! Help me!" More voices say the same. There is even a cry of "Help me, Lord!"

The moment is so well constructed, that of course we infer that God has effectively spoken to Doss. And Doss hears. He no longer despairs. He rises and purposefully sets out into the devastation. The scene is simply transcendent.

Then comes a genuinely thrilling quest, as Doss seeks out the wounded and, one by one, brings them back to the cliff and lowers them by rope. The danger is acute, of course, because Doss is unarmed and will not kill. He must evade the scouting enemy. And even as he becomes exhausted, he repeatedly gasps, "Please, Lord, help me get one more."

I did wonder why no one simply joined him up on the ridge to help him. There had been only two sentries at the base of the cliff; but once the wounded men started appearing from above, others came to ferry them back to the base. To be sure, Doss's quest would have been less thrilling if it had not been solo, and I realize that his solo quest is what actually happened; but it did seem odd.

Still, it was thrilling. There was a heroism and excitement that I had missed in the earlier chaos of combat. Again, though that combat was good, there was something rote about it — much like the rest of the movie.

How I wished I could simply remove the rest of the movie! The last forty minutes — even after Doss's quest has ended and he returns with his company to take the ridge (and, not incidentally, heroically save his captain from a grenade) — deserved better than what preceded it.

The particular weakness of the first hour is exemplified by Doss's time in boot camp. It is one cliché after another, right down to the melting-pot-of-America cast of soldiers and the barking from the sergeant about not calling him "sir." The tension with the other soldiers, their bullying and such, reminded me of everything from Pvt. Pyle's troubles in Full Metal Jacket to any nerd's troubles in some 1980s teen comedy. It was flat. Even the scenes of Doss's wooing of his wife, or the scene of his drunkard, abusive father (in Great War dress uniform) soberly interrupting Doss's court martial to save his son, were just checking off Hollywood expectations. I wanted it all gone.

And yet, without the information provided by these scenes, that transcendent moment wouldn't have had any foundation. The quest would not have been credible.

The key mistake of Hacksaw Ridge is in making Doss's quest the tail of the movie. Every part is developed too much for its own sake, all equally weighted, as we work through one to another until we reach that tail. Instead the quest should be the heart, the beginning and the end, with everything else attached only enough to explain and illuminate that heart.

There is a great vignette of Doss as a boy, violently harming his brother and then, in his dismay, gazing upon an illustration of the Ten Commandments and coming upon Thou shall not kill. Yes, this vignette is in the disappointing first hour; but it is an exception to the clichés. It is also a clue to a better construction of the movie. Rather than progress conventionally to the combat (checking boxes as we go), decide what is most relevant about, for example, Doss's wooing and present some vignette succinctly. We need only enough information to achieve that coming transcendence. Hack off the rest.

Every vignette could be embedded in the narrative frame of the combat. Or, if that proved cumbersome, the vignettes could still be presented serially, but with each presenting a rather specific facet of Doss's character. Because, in the end, it is Doss's character that matters. One could radically not even name the other characters and still have a complete and powerful movie. Doss is just that interesting.

Even as it is, the movie is good. It succeeds at depicting Doss and his heroism. Ultimately, Hacksaw Ridge is that sort of art that completes it most important act so well, its many other shortcomings should be endured.

That's Where You'll Find Me
Maybe Dorothy Sings About the Wrong Thing
Saturday, August 12, 2017 12:19 pm
There's a misalignment in The Wizard of Oz.

What is its moral? "There's no place like home." Dorothy has found herself in a land over the rainbow, and yet her ultimate desire — the fulfillment of which she asks of the Wizard — is to return to Kansas. Near the end, Glinda prompts Dorothy to articulate the lesson that she, Dorothy, has learned; and Dorothy replies:
If I ever go looking for my heart's desire, I won't look any futher than my own backyard. Because if it's not there I never lost it to begin with.
This lesson, of course, accords with the narrative facts that the Scarecrow, the Tin Man, and the Cowardly Lion each already had the thing he sought. The Scarecrow was already brainy; the Tin Man, full of heart; the Lion, courageous. And Dorothy, in Kansas, already had the place most free of trouble: her home with Aunt Em and Uncle Henry. 

"There's no place like home" has certainly stuck. The phrase is a commonplace. And yet, in the movie, what is the initial counter-sentiment? That there is a better place "somewhere over the rainbow." And this does not persist as merely a phrase. This sentiment was given a song, a song used in the opening and closing thematic music, a lovely song that has been counted among the most popular and greatest songs of the 20th Century.

Nobody sings, à la Dorothy, "There's no place like home." There's nothing to sing.

In other words, the delusion that grips Dorothy, that there is a place where troubles melt like lemon drops, away above the chimney tops, where skies are blue and dreams really do come true, is given the tremendous, emotional weight that only song can impart. While, on the other hand, the truth she finally discovers is presented in a brief speech — which, while not necessarily platitudinous, is certainly nothing worth humming.

This is a great danger in creating a work: That something tangential — or worse, contrary — to your theme is given a greater prominence, a better presentation, a more memorable form, than the point you are trying to make.

When writing, I have often worried about expending artistry on this or that small scene or second-tier character. I fear my reader will like my villain more than my hero, or find the collapse of my characters more interesting than their restoration. It is a hard thing to make the proper alignment; to best present what should be presented best.

Some contemporary critics of The Brothers Karamazov argued that the devilish points of Ivan Karamazov, as given in "The Grand Inquisitor" section, were more compelling, more substantive, than Alexei's Christ-like response. They argued that Dostoevsky had not really addressed Ivan's points. Dostoevsky replied (perhaps with some exasperation) that the entire novel was the response to Ivan.

One could likewise say that, however compelling may be Somewhere Over the Rainbow, it is countered not merely by some speech at the end of the movie, nor by some brief chant with ruby slippers, but by the movie as a whole. Perhaps. Whether The Wizard of Oz successfully establishes that there's no place like home is a bigger question. I'm not sure it does, beyond somewhat artfully asserting the point. In the end, the writers should have worked a little harder and come up with a compelling tune for There's No Place Like Home.

I know that "there's no place like home" didn't originate with The Wizard of Oz (however much the movie has claimed it). And I know that there is a very old and popular song with that very lyric ("Be it ever so humble..."). And so, yes, the writers, had they written a new song, would have been contending with a standard.

Could they argue they were alluding to that standard, which was possibly more well known in the 1930s, and therefore they didn't need to write their own? I suppose. But the allusion, if any, is weak, and still profoundly overshadowed by Somewhere Over the Rainbow, which resides right there in the work and not in some presumed cultural background.

Concert After the Fish-Fry
Arvo Pärt's Passio 
Sunday, April 9, 2017 10:48 am
I've been listening to Arvo Pärt for quite a while. I'm not sure how I discovered him. He is still alive and still composing. His work, since the 1980s, has been generally focused on the sacred, using chant and polyphony.

I don't know much about music. I know most definitions; I can follow a discussion well enough. But I cannot explain to you the difference between a harmony and a melody — not with understanding. And I cannot distinguish either in a work. I am stupid when it comes to music. Fundamentally I am sub-intellectual. For me, a musical work is either a good noise or it's disposable. 

Whenever I tried listening to Pärt's Passio, it left me cold. It's a setting of St. John's Passion verses. It's about the Passion of Christ and yet, as sound, it caused me no passion.

I shrugged it off. Pärt has always been hot or cold for me. One work is transcendent and always too brief; another is flat and not even worth finishing. So it goes, eh? No oeuvre is consistent; no listener other than fickle.

Well, this past Friday my parish ambitiously presented a complete performance of Passio. It was performed by our usual Sunday chorus and some local singers and musicians, all led by the parish's musical director. I realize that Pärt is not obscure (indeed he has even been appointed to the Pontifical Council for Culture by Benedict XVI) and I don't think my parish is filled with philistines, but the choice of Pärt nonetheless seemed unusual. I was curious how it would play out.

We were given programs and naturally, as the work proceeded, I read along. I had never actually done this with Passio before. These days I tend not to read along with any vocal works, except when I am specifically curious about the words. I seek only noise, after all.

As I read I realized that Passio is not meant to be listened to. Not as music. It is a reading of a text. I can listen to Bach's Johannes-Passion and never know what's going on and still enjoy the glorious noise. If you don't know what is being said in Passio, the musical carriage, the musical adornment, the musical shaping, will sound almost random. It may leave you cold. Its fundamental structure is not a musical form, like sonata; its fundamental structure is spoken Latin. No poem or song is involved.

And so, when you actually attend to the text, the shifts between chorus and soloists and instruments, and between this note and that, make sense. The words are not an excuse for the voice as another instrument; they are the impetus for everything. Only with the words in your eyes is there any music in your ears.

So is Passio even "music"? It's like a musical without any catchy tunes. Whatever specific melodies or harmonies there may be, I'm not tapping my foot or bobbing my head to any of it. Is that just the definition of chant, perhaps? But you can be carried away by Gregorian chant. Passio seems to be something else. It's a text that is not silent.

There must be a name for that.

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