8/24/2014

Phrase of the Day: "Attack Eyebrows"

I usually refer to mine as "Hedgerow Eyebrows", but "attack eyebrows" is pretty cool, too.




("attack eyebrows" is from the first episode of the Peter Capaldi version of Doctor Who)

posted from Bloggeroid

8/11/2014

Shadow On The Sky

Striking atmospheric effect this morning. Two levels of clouds, the lower thick and scattered, the higher thin but widespread.  The rising sun behind a knob on the lower clouds cast a long dark shadow over the bottom of the upper clouds.


posted from Bloggeroid

8/08/2014

Book Review: USA Noir




USA noir, edited by Johnny Temple, Akashic Books, 2013

If you're at all a fan of noir fiction, you've probably seen at least one or two volumes of the City Noir anthologies published by Akashic Books. There have been over fifty by this point, so reading them all is a pretty daunting task. USA noir is a "Best Of" selection from the volumes set in USA cities and locales; the separate volumes have pretty good reputations for quality on their own, so USA noir is damn good.

There were a few stories included that left me cold, but almost all were enjoyable reads, with a good number outstanding, Highlights: Dennis LeHane's "Animal Rescue", George Pelecanos' "The Confidential Informant", Maggie Estep's "Alice Fantastic", Tim McCoughlin's "When All This Was Bay Ridge", Reed Farrell Coleman's "Mastermind", Domenic Stansberry's "The Prison", William Kent Krueger's "Bums", T. Jefferson Parker's "Vic Primeval", and Jeffrey Deaver's "A Nice Place To Visit".

7/27/2014

AKA Wallace


Bill Thompson died a few days ago.  That wasn't the name most people of my generation, growing up in the Phoenix area in the 50's, 60's, 70's and even 80's, remembered him by.  To us, he was "Wallace", lead performer of (original title) "It's Wallace", though probably most widely known as "The Wallace and Ladmo Show."

Wallace & Ladmo was a locally produced kids' show that began in early 1950's Phoenix, Arizona. Like a lot of local kids' shows, cartoons were the bait to draw kids into watching.  Where Wallace & Ladmo differed, though, was in the material between those cartoons. Thompson was creative and inspired and, well, kinda goofy. He produced skits and other things far beyond what one would expect from a pocket-change budget and mid-century tech. (W&L was the first place where I saw stop-motion special effects made using Thompson and other living people in place of  Harryhausen-style manipulated models.)

With the introduction of the rubber-faced, even goofier Ladmo (Ladimir Kwiatkowski, previously a cameraman at station KPHO) a year or so into the show, the show's popularity grew even larger. In 1960,local radio personality Pat McMahon joined the cast, bringing an ensemble of outrageous characters (spoiled brat Gerald, superhero Captain Super, and others) with him. The three men were the linchpins for the show's remarkable 36-year run on tv.

Thompson, McMahon, and Kwiatkowski
in character as Wallace, Gerald, and Ladmo

Wallace & Ladmo could be silly, and goofy, and, yeah, sometimes dumb. But the skits and recurring characters could also be a bit subversive, poking holes in institutions and characters that took themselves too seriously. Sometimes they could be absurd to almost Beckett-like proportions. Sometimes, yeah, they fell flat.  Audiences tended to age and drift away (I was a daily watcher for the last half of the 1950's, and a frequent viewer through a lot of the 1960's, before things like college and the military drew my attention away as I got older.), but one reason for the show's longevity was that there was always a new audience coming up. By the show's final episode, there were a lot of second-generation and even third-generation watchers.

But thousands and thousands of kids, over nearly four decades, were kept amused and out of their parents' hair because of Thompson's love and dedication to his show and vision.

Thanks, Wallace.

7/05/2014

Watching Gravity



Yeah, almost everyone else in the world watched Gravity on a big* screen in the theaters when it came out last year. Hilde and I finally got around to watching it from Netflix last night.  The early trailers I saw on TV actually made me reluctant to watch it on a big screen; the many vertiginous sequences of spinning and tumbling were dizzying enough on the small screen.

Great action movie.  One non-stop, barely-survivable crisis after another.  Sort of a gun-free Die Hard sans the human villainy of Alan Rickman.

Post-viewing, some of the presentation and science is questionable.  Here's a list. That "The cables are slipping!" scene gave me momentary pause while watching, but most of what was on the screen was stuff I willingly suspended any disbelief in until afterwards.

As an action movie, I'd give it about a 9 on a 1-to-10 scale.  On the space-geek scale, about a 7.

And I learned that Hilde really doesn't like George Clooney.  (Just because he's a smug jerk who tends to play smug jerks onscreen....) At least he disappears** from the story fairly early on.



*"big" has a flexible value here.  The screens in movie multiplexes are a lot smaller than they were in the standalone theaters I frequented in my youth and young adulthood (though the multiplex screens have gotten better in recent years; for a while, some of the multiplex screens weren't much bigger than the bigger flat-screen TVs found in "home theaters".)  Watching the opening scenes of the first Star Wars movie on the Cine Capri's humonguous screen (70' x 30') was the very definition of awesome.

**Twice, actually, if you want to be picky.

7/02/2014

Opening A Vein


 'There's nothing to writing. All you do is sit down at a typewriter and open a vein.'
-- attributed to various*           


Working on a story during my latest blood donation. (My 67th!)


*The quote at the top has primarily been credited to sportswriter Red Smith.  But an interesting article at Quote Investigator gives a number of variants, some predating Smith's 1949 version.  I think I prefer Paul Gallico's 1946 version best: "It is only when you open your veins and bleed onto the page a little that you establish contact with your reader."

6/18/2014

An Editor's Life: The Glamour! Oh, The Glamour!

Molly Birnbaum shares an example of the work she does for Modern Farmer:




(Modern Farmer is very interesting to read, by the way, even if you're not a farmer or gardener.)

Desert Botanical Garden

More photos from our trip to the Desert Botanical Garden, of some of the permanent items and specimens there:

"St. Earth Walking" statue
at the Herb Garden entrance
Saguaros, but of course.

(More below break)

Chihuly at DBG

Last month, Hilde and I and our friend Meredith visited the Desert Botanical Garden in Phoenix, to catch the exhibition of works by glass artist Dale Chihuly before it moved on to a new venue. I took a lot of photos, some of which are below:



(more below the break)

6/13/2014

Stepping Away For A While

There are some ugly things happening elsewhere online that have me feeling more than a bit soured and disillusioned with the Internet and some of the people on it.  So I'm going to try and spend more time on my fiction writing for a while.  You might see an occasional book review or cat photo here, possibly all cat photos, but probably not much more than that.

6/07/2014

When A Story Makes You Cry

In my "On Audio Fiction: Three Audiobooks and A Podcast" post, I admitted a particular story brought me to tears.

I've had a few people, over the years, tell me that my own "Death and The Ugly Woman" made them cry, so I thought perhaps I should share with you how writers feel when they hear someone say that:








photo from freeimages.com

6/03/2014

On Audio Fiction: Three Audiobooks and A Podcast



I have, on a semi-regular basis over the years, been listening to audiobooks from the local library, either at work or while commuting to and from work. First on cassettes, then CDs, then -- starting about a year ago -- downloaded via the Overdrive app onto my smartphone.  I also use the Podkicker app to download short audio fiction from various SF/F/H podcasters and online magazines (Clarkesworld, Lightspeed, Beneath Ceaseless Skies, the EscapePod/PodCastle/PsuedoPod trio, and a few others).

Sitting in a chair and using all your attention and focus on listening to an audiobook isn't something most people do very often. Most of the time, and certainly in my own case, listening takes place while doing something routine and/or repetitive. (Walking, jogging, driving, housecleaning, and, oh, a big chunk of the hours at my workplace.)

But even routine tasks use part of your attention and brainpower. Leaving not-quite full attention and not-quite full brainpower to use to listen to an audiobook.

Most audiobooks I've listened to without problems. But there have been a few....

I'd like to discuss why these problems might arise, and how they might be avoided, citing a few examples of both good and bad. What makes an audiobook easy to listen to, and what makes it difficult?

To start, a few audiobook principles:
  • Structure matters
  • Characters matter.
  • Presentation matters.

By "Structure", I mean how simple or complex the plotline of a story is. Whether it progresses in straight chronological order, focusing on one or two primary characters, or if it's presented in a more complex manner with flashbacks, asides and sometimes even footnotes, and with multiple characters or viewpoints and changes of setting.

"Characters" can be problematic both numerically and in regard to how complex and deep their characterizations and interactions are.

And "Presentation" is that extra dimension a narrator brings to the written words; the pacing, the emotion, the acting. That extra dimension can be a positive or a negative part of the audiobook experience.

The audiobook of Karen Joy Fowler's The Jane Austen Book Club presented some difficulties when I listened to it recently. There are a half-a-dozen members of the titular book club, and it wasn't clear at first which were going to be the primary characters of the ensemble. (None of the characters are unimportant, but some are more important than others.) Add in flashbacks to the characters' lives prior to the club's first meeting, and things got a little complicated, hard to follow, and I had some difficulty at first remembering which character was which and which backstory was theirs.

did, after a few chapters, get to where I could identify and follow the characters and plot without problems, and I ended up enjoying the novel very much. But if I'd been reading the print version, I could have swiftly flipped back to previous pages to refresh my memory of who was who and what they'd done. With an audiobook, it's very difficult to skim back through earlier sections.

The Golem and the Jinni by Helene Wecker presented much less problem with structure and characters. Although there are numerous flashbacks to the Jinni-trapped-in-human-form's backstory, they were infrequent enough, and distinct enough, they did not disrupt or jar the main narrative. That main narrative, involving the unusual (to say the least) presence of both the Jinni and a masterless female Golem in 1899 New York City, both trying to pass as human, is very straightforward and chronological. Besides one heck of an interesting story, Wecker also paints a portrait of fin-de-siecle New York City, both it's privileged mansion residents and the less fortunate tenants of lower class neighborhoods.

The narrations for the Fowler and Wecker books are well done. No complaints there.

The audiobook for The Rook, by Daniel O'Malley, unfortunately didn't work well in regards to the narration. My wife Hilde read the print-version of The Rook several months ago, and enjoyed it without any serious problems. The audiobook version kicked me out of the story strongly enough that I didn't finish listening to it. (I rarely leave audiobooks unfinished, I think only once or twice before.)

The Rook starts out with the classic trope of a bad-ass amnesiac hero (heroine, in this instance) coming to awareness in a situation where people are trying to kill her. This story's a little different than most in that the protagonist had advance knowledge that she'd be losing her memory, and had left a folder of documents to instruct her forthcoming amnesiac self on how to pass as, well, herself. This shortly involves reporting to her workplace (a secret governmental agency of paranormals, of dubious purpose and morality, other members of which may be the very people who want to kill our heroine) and trying to get through the workday with her loss of memory undetected.

Unfortunately for our heroine, the files left for her instruction are: 1) not as comprehensive as they should be, and 2) she has to impersonate herself before she has time to thoroughly read or study the files. The results are, well, pretty stumble-footed.

Reading that same section in print, one can create their own mental narration, giving the words whatever individual tone or cast of voice that seems best. Readers, as a class, are pretty forgiving. We want to suspend our disbelief. We want to enjoy what we're reading. When we read, we're not the writers of a story, but sometimes we're the director of the mental movie those words evoke in our head. We choose the camera angles, we choose the lighting, we choose wide views or closeups, and we choose the tone and inflection of the words and voices we're working with.

With audiobooks, the narrator provides that tone and inflection. And in the case of The Rook, that tone and inflection didn't work. The scene where Myfanwy Thomas, the "Rook" of the title, tries to pass as herself is presented as so stumble-footed, so awkward, so obvious that, rather than passing, the first co-worker she spoke to should have pointed a gun at her and asked "Who are you and what have you done with the real Rook?" Reading a printed version, the reader can make allowances for the implausibilities of that same scene. (As Hilde apparently did when she read the actual book.) With the audiobook, I found that impossible, and that was the point where I stopped listening.

On the opposite end of that spectrum, an instance where the narration added to a story's impact, I recommend "The Mao Ghost" by Chen Quifan, translated by Ken Liu, originally published in the March 2014 issue of Lightspeed magazine. (There's a "Listen" button for the audio version on the webpage.)

There is a single word in "The Mao Ghost" which is omnipresent but left unwritten/unsaid. The story circles around that word, and circles around it, and circles around it in ever-tightening gyres. The reader becomes aware, with growing dread, of what that word is. And when the single word is said, only the one time, it is devastating.

I listened to the podcast version of "The Mao Ghost", narrated by Alex Hyde-White. I like to think of myself as a tough old guy, replete with manly macho manliness, but I have to admit to this: When that pivotal, essential word was spoken in "The Mao Ghost", I cried. I was just overcome with sadness and grief.

I later went to the Lightspeed website and read the print version of that story. I didn't cry that time. Maybe because I knew what was coming. But I think it was the audio element that made the difference. Alex Hyde-White's narration added an extra element of immediacy and involvement to what was already an outstanding story and made it something even more than that.

Summary reviews:

The Jane Austen Book Club, by Karen Joy Fowler -- Multiple characters and flashbacks caused some difficulty and confusion in early chapters. After becoming familiar with those characters, though, this was highly enjoyable. Recommended.

The Golem and the Jinni, by Helene Wecker -- Supernatural creatures stranded in 1899 New York City. Fascinating concept, well executed, with interesting historical detail. Straightforward plotline, with occasional flashbacks to the Jinni's earlier life. Highly recommended.

The Rook, by Daniel O'Malley -- A scene that stretched the limits of believability in the print version has that believability snapped in audio by an inappropriate narrative voice. Print version may be acceptable. I did not finish the audio version; can't recommend it.

"The Mao Ghost" by Chen Quifan -- Very highly recommended, both in print and especially the audio version. I would expect this to show up on other recommendation lists and possibly as an award nominee.  If the audio version isn't nominated for a podcasting award, well, there just ain't no justice in this world.


5/22/2014

New Cat - Myoshi

As it turns out, Bastet's former place in the household cat pantheon got filled sooner than expected or planned. The local Petsmart has an adoption section where the H.A.L.O. organization keeps adoptable cats on display (dogs are brought in on weekends), and the selection when I went there for cat food yesterday included a striking tortoise-point named Myoshi that caught my attention.  (Danger Point #1.)  So I asked the attendant for a closer look. (Danger Point #2.)  She turned out to be a very calm and sweet-tempered cat. (Danger Point #3.)



So when I went home I told Hilde about her and showed her phonecam pictures I'd taken (Danger Point #4), and we went back over today. Myoshi took well to sitting in Hilde's lap (Danger Point #5.) (Bingo!) So we filled out paperwork, paid the adoption fee, and brought her home.

She's four years old, and was turned in for adoption when her previous owners moved and couldn't keep her.  The adoption organization wasn't sure if she'd lived with other cats before, but she's been taking the presence of our other cats calmly so I suspect she probably did. Still a little nervous about the new household, and presently tucked into a cubbyhole at the back of our bedroom closet. (Mostly calm reactions from the other cats towards her so far, though Tyr has made some "WTF?" noises.)

For the record, yes, I do have the word "SUCKER" tattooed on my forehead in a color only cats can see.

5/21/2014

Anniversary (Informal)

Hilde and I have both our wedding anniversary later this year and a more informal anniversary we celebrate on May 21st.

On this day in 1976, I was driving Hilde to the local SF club's meeting, and in the course of conversation on that drive... it came out that both of us had been thinking "What if?" about the other for the previous few months.

Welp, that sure changed the course of my life.  For the better. Definitely for the better.  I never expected to have joy in my life, and I've had thirty-eight years with someone who can give me that joy.  Not continuously, -- there have been uncomfortable moments in those years, but they never lasted -- but joy was something I never expected to have at all.

(I was talking to Hilde earlier today, and said, "I probably would have done okay if I'd ended up as a solitary unmarried bachelor. Except for the being lonely and miserable all the time part.") 

So thank you, Hilde, for all the past years and the ones to come.  You are the love of my life.

5/20/2014

Steampulp For Oenophiles

Over on behance.net, where artists can post portfolios and projects, photographer Dean Bradshaw, in conjunction with Bulldog Drummond studio, posted a striking set of steampunkish/pulp-hero-ish/mad-scientisty images for the Stark Raving wine brand. Here's the set of labels:

For individual images, without the typography, see the set here.

5/15/2014

Slow Words: Book Titles

Besides having a good cover, a striking and/or memorable title is one of the best ways to get people to take a further look at your book, maybe even the actual words inside. Past titles that have caught my attention in such a manner include THE DIRTY PARTS OF THE BIBLE and DEATH BLIMPS OF DOOM!

Here's the newest one to catch my eye: DIE YOU DOUGHNUT BASTARDS by Cameron Pierce. This falls into the "Bizarro" genre, which is kind of anything-goes, weird, weirder, weirdest combination of magic realism minus the realism, mixed with the brown acid from Woodstock and frequently with a large dose of tastelessness as well. (Pierce is also the author of ASS GOBLINS OF AUSCHWITZ, frequently cited as an exemplar of Bizarro fiction.) Not really to my taste, so I probably won't ever read the book, but I do love DYDB's title; I get a smile on my face every time I read it.

And I note from the latest LOCUS magazine that a fellow named Sam Munson has a book titled THE WAR AGAINST ASSHOLES coming out from Saga Press next year. Another great title, but, dammit!, now I have to come up with a different title for the autobiography I thought I might write someday.

So what are your favorite book titles?

5/08/2014

Next Best Thing To A Unicorn Chaser

After the previous post, maybe it's time for an "Awwww..." moment:

Tyr
posted from Bloggeroid

5/07/2014

My Unexpected Career As A Boing Boing Troll

Popular website Boing Boing just put into effect a major redesign.  A lot of Boing Boing readers, including me, are not happy with it, and have been saying so in the comment thread on the subject.

I was about to post a new comment a few minutes ago, and found that I have been "Suspended For Trolling" and blocked from commenting for the next week.

Really?

I'm going to copy, for the record, all my posts on that thread.

One:
Whoa! Major deja vu! Didn't you guys learn anything from the LAST time you tried a major redesign for the home page? This reminds me a lot of that not-quite-Epic Fail. I've always assumed that the return to a more vintage design was because of all the negative reaction to that earlier attempt at redesign.
The "Classic" Boing Boing design works, and works well.  There was no need to "fix" it.
Two:
"eye-ping-pong" [quoting from a comment by ghostly1, describing the effect of the new BB design]
Yes. This. Exactly.
And there was one more comment I posted, but... it's been deleted from the BB thread.   Hmmph, I guess that was the post that was supposed to be me trolling. 

Then I saw Rob Beschizza, who's moderating the comment thread, had posted this comment:
Disclosure: I just gave a temp ban to a poster -- the only ban or even comment moderation in this lengthy thread so far. Criticism is cool, even a little hostility. But don't make it smarmy and personal, because you'll lose that fight instantly.
Among the many other complaints about the redesign, many people pointed out that the abbreviated teaser text on new posts (only a sentence or two, as opposed to the old design which featured a paragraph or more of teaser text before providing a link to more) sometimes came across as typical of  "clickbait".  The example cited multiple times was a post by Maggie Koerth-Baker about water, with the headline IT CAME FROM THE FAUCET, a microphotograph of bacteria, and the teaser text "There's something nasty in the water, but Maggie Koerth-Baker has you covered."  It had the alarming implications and lack of real content of "clickbait".  Rob Beschizza, the moderator for that discussion thread, kept responding to those complaints by saying that the full article was worthwhile, so there shouldn't be any problem clicking thru to the full piece. He kept ignoring, pointedly ignoring, that the complaints were about the article's front-end presentation, not the article itself.

The deleted comment added my own remarks to those previous complaints, stating that if something looked liked clickbait, smell like clickbait, and walked like clickbait, I was NOT going to click on that link. Even with reassurances that it wasn't actual clickbait.

But I think what got Beschizza riled up, and resulted in my suspension and the deletion of that comment from the BB thread was that I started out the comment with these words:
"Rob, you are coming across as deliberately obtuse..."
That was it?  "Obtuse" is "smarmy"?  "Obtuse" is "personal"?

Jeezus Fucking Christ, I thought I was being nice.  Because if Beschizza wasn't letting defensiveness over the new design keep him from acknowledging legitimate and clearly stated criticisms of the redesign, then he wasn't being obtuse, he was Just Plain Fucking Stupid.

I don't think Rob Beschizza is stupid.

What I think now is that Rob Beschizza is a Special Little Snowflake and a fucking crybaby.   And willing to delete any evidence that might show the "smarmy and personal" words that so upset him weren't so smarmy and personal as he pretends them to have been.

-----

For the record, here's the comment I was trying to post when I found out my BB account was suspended:
I'm going to show my age, and mention that Orson Scott Card might approve of the change. 
Back in the mid-1980's, OSC published a magazine/fanzine titled SHORT FORM, dedicated to reviewing short fiction in the SF/F genre.  Some nice writing there, both by OSC and others.  (He had some very nice things to say about one of my first published short stories.) 
But a lot of people complained about the design.  Because for some reason OSC decided to run with a two-column format, with a different article/column running in each column.
Unfortunately, there was very little in the way of design to distinguish the text of one column from the other.  
The way it was SUPPOSED to work was that you'd read the left-hand column, *then go to the next page* and read the left-hand column there.  Likewise, you were supposed to move from right-hand column to right-hand column. 
But that wasn't how people were used to reading.  Readers would reach the bottom of a left-hand column, and automatically track back up to the top of the right-hand column.   They'd reach the bottom of a right-hand column, and automatically start at the top of the next page's left-hand column.  So, repeatedly, a reader would keep finding themselves *in the middle of a completely different article* than the one they'd been reading. 
It was the in-print equivalent of the "eye-ping-pong" ghostly1 so eloquently coined to describe the BB redesign.  It was difficult, it was frustrating, and to a lot of people it was simply "unreadable". 
And OSC's response to the complaints were along the lines of "I think this is an *interesting* way to do things."  Or "You'll get used to it after awhile."  Or "You're not giving the format a fair chance." 
What the SHORT FORM format did was **get in the way of the content**.  And that's pretty much my complaint about the BB redesign. 
(Plus the discussion here is pretty much a retread of the response to the previous big redesign about, what?, seven or eight years ago.  Which eventually resulted in a return to a mostly "classic" BB format.  Really, I'm flabbergasted that we're going thru all this again.) 
But the BB team might want to pause a moment to consider the fact that Orson Scott Card is their role model.


Update: Rob Bescizza has responded in comments.

Crusie on Story Evolution and the Writer's Mind

On Jennifer Crusie's Argh Ink blog, she had a recent post, "The Wanderer's Guild To Story Evolution" , about the thought processes involved in plotting out a story. Great stuff, as is often the case with Crusie. She goes into very amusing depth about a potential project and the various choices and thoughts she's had so far.

I resemble a lot of the things she mentions, in my own writing, especially when I'm trying to write at longer length. Usually start with an image: Who are these people? Why are they there? Why are they doing what they're doing? All very fuzzy and loose at first, a mystery even to the author.

Build from there. Trying out different possibilities and ideas. Keeping some, discarding others, keeping others in on a provisional basis "for a reason to be named later", or not. That initial fuzzy view gets a little clearer, a little more focused, a little more sensible each time you go back in to give it more thought. Do the new ideas work? Are the characters consistent? Do their new actions make sense with what's already written? If not, revise the old writing or discard the new?

And particularly, that sometimes you have to walk away for a bit, let the story perk away in your subconscious for a while. In Crusie's parlance, let the dough rise before you go back to punch it down and work it some more.

This last is why I'll probably never participate in Nanowrimo. For me, I seem to get better (if slower) results by not forcing myself to write X number of words per day, or to plot according to a strict structure, or by making myself finish one story before starting another.

(It's easier to get away with this when you're only a part-time writer. For Crusie, a professional, it means keeping multiple projects in the air, some at the point of contracts and advances, some not.)

I've been working on... I hesitate to use the N-word, because I've never finished a novel, but... "a longer work", and progress on that has been more a process of punctuated equilibrium than steady evolution. I've taken breaks from that longer work, and written several short stories instead, in recent months. And I think that's been useful. I started out with a fairly strong idea of the backstory and several main characters, what kind of story I wanted it to be, a fairly solid opening image, a rough idea of what the ending would be, and a *B*I*G* *F*U*Z*Z*Y* of everything in between. Those breaks let the story perk in my backbrain, and I think the results have been better than if I'd tried to force the wordcount up in a quicker manner. That *B*I*G* *F*U*Z*Z*Y* is now more of a *M*E*D*I*U*M*-*S*I*Z*E* *F*U*Z*Z*Y* and the choices -- choices that feel like the right choices -- of what needs to happen in the story are coming more quickly and easily.

(It's kind of like working on a jigsaw puzzle after only hearing a brief description of the box illustration. Start with the easier edge pieces. Study the confusing jumble of interior pieces. Find colors and patterns that are similar. Group them together. Twist and turn the pieces, seeing which match and which don't. The more pieces that are fitted in, the fewer left, and the easier it becomes to match and fit those until the puzzle is finally complete.)

Check Crusie's piece out; it's one of the best descriptions of "Writer's Mind" I've seen.


4/26/2014

Some Points Re: Recent Matters


1) If you decide to subvert the nomination process of a literary award in order to score a "Gotcha!" on your political opponents, you're probably kind of a prick.

2) Some people are proud of being a prick.

3) In an ideal world, all fiction would be judged separately from its author.  In the real world, some people are so loathsome and despicable, others may declare them anathema.  In the ecclesiastical sense, that includes excommunication, refusing them the sacraments.  In the literary sense, this equates to refusing to read or consider their writing.

4) Some people are proud of being so loathsome and despicable that others will declare them anathema.

5) However strong and determined their efforts toward that end, there is no one so loathsome or despicable that they cannot find people who will befriend or even love them.

J.T. Ready, neo-Nazi, anti-Semite,
former public voice of white supremacy
in Arizona, and boyfriend of Lisa Mederos,
up until the day he shot and killed
Ms. Mederos, Mederos' daughter,
the daughter's boyfriend, and
the daughter's 15-month old infant
before turning his gun on himself.



4/23/2014

Amazon's 100 Mysteries

Amazon has a recent list of "100 Mysteries and Thrillers To Read In Your Lifetime".  Here are the ones I've read:


  • Caleb Carr, The Alienist
  • Agatha Christie, And Then There Were None
  • James Clavell, Shogun
  • Michael Crichton, The Andromeda Strain
  • Arthur Conan Doyle, The Complete Sherlock Holmes
  • Umberto Eco, The Name of the Rose
  • James Ellroy, L.A. Confidential
  • Frederick Forsyth, The Day of the Jackal
  • Dashiel Hammett, The Maltese Falcon
  • Thomas Harris, Red Dragon
  • Franz Kafka, The Trial
  • Stephen King, Misery
  • Donald Sobol, Encyclopedia Brown
  • Mickey Spillane, I, The Jury
  • Robert Louis Stevenson, The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde
  • Rex Stout, Fer-de-Lance
  • Josephine Tey, The Daughter of Time
  • Jim Thompson, The Killer Inside Me


There were books by additional authors (James Lee Burke, James M. Cain, Raymond Chandler, Ian Fleming, John MacDonald, Ross MacDonald, James Patterson, and Donald Westlake) that I've read some (sometimes a lot) of their work but don't remember for sure if I ever read those specific titles.  (If Kiss The Girls was James Patterson's first book, yes, I read it, and yes, that's why I've never read a second Patterson book.  *ka-zing!*)  A lot of those books were made into movies that I do remember seeing.

The Amazon list tries to provide a cross-section of various subgenres in the mystery/thriller line, so someone who's never read any who tries blind picks from the list is likely to have a roller-coaster ride, from puzzle mysteries to procedurals to noir to historicals.  But it's an interesting list.

The list includes one of Jim Butcher's Harry Dresden detective-with-magic books,so I was a bit surprised that Isaac Asimov's The Caves of Steel wasn't included to represent the SF end of that spectrum.  Other omissions will probably come to mind later.

4/22/2014

Wheel of Time and the Hugo Awards

Based on a technical interpretation of Hugo Award rules, the entire 13-volume Wheel of Time fantasy epic by Robert Jordan was ruled as eligible to be nominated for Best Novel for this year's Hugo awards.  People who bought a supporting or attending membership in this year's Worldcon are able to vote on the awards.

In recent years, a "Hugo Voter Packet" has collected a year's fiction nominees (usually four or five full novels, plus the shorter works) in digital format.  Some people view the HVP as enabling voters to read the full slate of nominees for Hugo consideration, and some people see it as an opportunity to buy a whole bunch of books and stories for a bargain rate.   (Supporting memberships are $40 this year.)

When Jordan's multi-volume epic got enough nominations to end up on the final Hugo ballot, a number of people wondered online whether Tor Books, Jordan's publisher, would actually include the entire three-million-word-plus work in the Hugo Voter Packet.

Yes, they will, it turns out.

In another example of why I am kind of a weirdo, this news actually lessens whatever small* impulse I had to buy a supporting or attending membership in this year's Worldcon.

Because if I bought a membership, I’d feel obligated to actually read the contents of the Hugo Voter Packet, give some consideration to the content’s merits, and actually vote. And one of the reasons I haven’t had a membership in any Worldcon since 1984 is that simply finding time enough to read all the Hugo-nominated work before the voting deadline was difficult if not impossible. I’d feel guilty about not doing that.

Add in a 13-volume, 10,000-page, three-million-word Big Fat Fantasy, and that guilt goes to a whole new level. “Crushing guilt” sounds appropriate.




(portions of this post originally appeared as a comment on File 770)

- - - - -
*microscopic

4/18/2014

A Swarmish Souvenir

The bee swarm that tried to establish a hive in our front yard ash tree a few weeks ago left behind something to remember them by:


posted from Bloggeroid

4/09/2014

Lost Creatures: A Short Story

(I generally don't put my fiction on my blog here. But this isn't my usual science fiction or fantasy. It's over ten years old, and has never been a suitable fit for literary-fiction or other markets. But I think it's a nice little story, so I'm putting it out here as an experiment to see if it has any audience. If you like it, let me know. Better yet, let other people know.)


LOST CREATURES
by Bruce Arthurs

He had been called Handsome Devil. That had been when he had a home, and owners who had fed and brushed him regularly, had played the fetch game with him on an almost daily basis. Then they had left in their car one day, and had never come back. Strangers in black clothing had entered the home after several days, bearing boxes into which they had solemnly packed his owners' belongings, sometimes breaking out in tears. Handsome Devil had hid from them, uncertain what their presence meant. One had opened a window, and failed to close it completely when the strangers left at the end of the day. Handsome Devil had squeezed out the narrow aperture, jumped to the ground, and gone to look for his owners. 
He had been full-bodied and sleek of coat, then. Now he was thin, and his coat was dry and spiky; both ears were ragged from combat, and one leg still ached from the damage when a boy had deliberately ridden his bicycle into Handsome Devil. He had learned that the world beyond his home was a dangerous place, and that many of the people who lived there were not kind, and were best avoided.
Hunger was his constant companion. He caught the occasional bird or lizard, scrounged in trash cans, would sometimes chance stealing food from a dish left outside for a cat or dog who still had their owners. He drank from gutters and puddles. His owners were a fading memory, and survival was his predominant thought.
There were places where finding food was more likely, brightly lit glass-front buildings where people would stop for snacks, drinks, cigarettes and sundries. Handsome Devil could usually find a bit of hot dog, or at least a piece of the bun, dropped on the ground or thrown towards the garbage cans. Sometimes pigeons or sparrows would gather for the crumbs found there, and he would be able to stalk and ambush them for his own needs.
He was in the underbrush near such a place, eyes and attention fixed and tense upon a sparrow pecking at crumbs, when the man approached. The man walked with a heavy step, his head down, his thumbs hooked into the pockets of his worn jeans.
The sparrow looked up at the figure approaching across the asphalt. Handsome Devil began his move, rising and taking several quick panther-steps forward from under the bush, then stopping in frustration as the sparrow rose upwards in a fluster of wings.
The man stopped short as well. Cat and man stared at each other, one wary, the other surprised.
"Christ, puss," the man finally said. "You look like I feel."
The man slowly lowered himself into a crouch and extended a hand towards Handsome Devil; he made come-hither motions, strumming his thumb across his fingers. Handsome Devil stayed frozen in position, ready to flee but not sure this was the safest moment to do so.
The man ceased the come-hither motions. "Nah," he said softly, "you don't trust me. Or anybody else, I reckon. It's a hard world, isn't it, puss? A hard, crappy world."
He reached up slowly and pulled a cord from beneath his shirt. The cord went around his neck; a colored plastic disk was strung on the cord. The man held up the disk and looked at it.
"Ninety days sober, last week. I thought I was pulling things back together. And then..." He paused. "...this morning she told me she wanted the divorce anyway. She's going to take the kids and go to her parents back East."
He yanked at the disk, snapping the string. He rose back to his full height and stared at the storefront ahead of him. "To hell with it," he whispered. "To Hell." The man flung his arm to one side and cast the disk away.
The disk tumbled through the air. Sudden memory blossomed in Handsome Devil's mind as his eyes automatically tracked the colored object.
Fetch it, Handsome Devil, his owners would say, and toss the plastic bottlecap across the tiled kitchen floor.
He burst into a run across the asphalt. The disk struck and bounced, struck again, spinning and tumbling, and then Handsome Devil was on top of it, pinning it, capturing it, rising with it clenched in his mouth and turning proudly to display his catch.
And the man was disappearing into the building, the glass door starting to swing shut behind him.
The door almost closed on Handsome Devil's tail as he scooted through the shrinking opening and into the cooled air of the store.
The man was standing at the counter, staring past the clerk and at the rows of bottles containing amber and clear liquids. He raised a hand, started to point. "Give me one of----"
And stopped, and looked down towards his feet, where Handsome Devil was rubbing back and forth against his pant legs and purring around the disk still held between his jaws.
The clerk looked over. "How'd he get in here?"
The man leaned down and slipped a hand under Handsome Devil's stomach. He lifted him up, took the disk from Handsome Devil, and laid him against his shoulder. The man stared at the disk as he absently stroked the cat's head and shoulders.
Handsome Devil purred louder.
"If he's yours, you can't bring him in here," the clerk said.
The man turned his eyes toward the clerk. "Do you...?" he began. "Do you have any cat food here?"


-end-

The Brave Free Books -- April 2014

Yeah, it's been awhile since I did an installment of "The Brave Free Books", reviews of various books and e-books I've read for free (from promotions, giveaways, sweepstakes wins, and/or the Nook Free Fridays offerings).

In the self-published line, I'm very impressed by the work of a British chap named Luke Smitherd. His novel TheStone Man and novella The Man On Table Ten are both very compelling stories. They might be described as "Science-Fiction/Horror"; both use mysterious aliens manifesting in the normal world. The aliens don't explain themselves (with the strong implication that humans are too insignificant to bother giving explanations), they're close to omnipotent in what they can do, and we can't stop them. In those respects Smitherd's aliens are closer to Lovecraft's Elder Gods than traditional SF aliens. Smitherd draws you into the minds of his characters slowly, layering details and emotions, until you fully believe in them. Most "horror" stories, of whatever genre, slide off me; these stories actually made me anxious, both for the individual characters and for the suddenly-endangered worlds they lived in.  (Current Kindle prices: The Stone Man, 2.99; The Man At Table Ten, Free)

A less impressive self-published work was Strawman Made Steel, by Brett Adams. I picked this up during a free promotion by the author, because the opening scene was a compelling beat-the-clock scenario where the just-poisoned protagonist has to figure out which of two poisons he's been given, because taking the wrong antidote will kill him immediately. The rest of the book didn't live up to that scene, unfortunately. The protagonist can travel, via mirrors, between our normal world and a future where electricity vanished suddenly and the world has had to convert back to steam and kerosene and gas. An interesting premise, but I couldn't believe that the world, and the future New York City, would not only recover from such an overwhelming cataclysm in less than a century, but grow. The premise needed a lot more propping up and development. I also didn't see the need for the protagonist, a hard-boiled private detective, to be hopping back and forth between worlds. The central conceit of the world, the sudden disappearance of electricity, is never examined or solved. Pretty much a standard noir mystery, with gangsters and the spoiled rich and nightclubs, etc., with some fantastical trappings added on. Disappointing.  (Current Kindle Price: 2.99)

Death Blimps of Doom! by James Ivan Greco is a prequel short story to his "Reprobates of the Wasteland" novel Take The All-Mart!  The "Reprobates" series is about a couple of wasted wastrels in a satirical post-apocalypse setting.  (Chinese troops occupy a trashed California; the All-Mart has become self-expanding in runaway-nanotech style and now covers a large portion of North America; etc.)  Trip and Rudy may be the inheritors of all the bad genes from Charlie Sheen, Hunter Thompson, Cheech-and-Chong, and Leopold-and-Loeb; they make Harry Flashman look like a paragon of moral virtue and rectitude, leaving wreckage both literal and metaphorical in their wake.  It's funny, but in a kind of feel-dirty-afterwards way. As a short story, I think this sort of thing works, but I'm reluctant to engage in a full-length novel about these characters, and haven't gone on to read Greco's novel about Trip and Rudy's further adventures.  (Current Kindle price: Free)

Wool - Part One, a novellette in the Silo series, by Hugh Howey.  Oh, so this is what all the fuss has been about the last few years.  Howey was an early self-publisher, and has achieved spectacular success and income from the Silo series and other works.  "Wool" was the story that started it all.  Why did "Wool" succeed, where so many other self-publishers had only limited or negligible results?  Canny marketing and promotion was one reason, but I think the primary reason is that "Wool" is a pretty damn good story.  The post-climate-collapse, dystopian underground society is well thought out, the characters are fully fleshed, there's an underlying mystery to this future setting, all of which draw the reader through to this story's conclusion and make one want to read further works in Howey's world.  The lesson is: Write a good story first.  The rest -- marketing, promotion, etc., whether in traditional publishing or self-publishing -- are secondary.  A reader might be hooked once by marketing, promotion, a striking cover (although "Wool" succeeded despite a, umm, less-than-impressive cover), but being more than a one-shot writer requires being the very best writer you can be.  (Current Kindle price: Free)

Augur is a short story collection by Freya Robertson.  While I was reading the collection, I kept having a vague feeling of dissatisfaction, but wasn't sure why.  The stories were decently written, decently plotted, decently inventive.  But I kept scratching my head as to why I wasn't enjoying them as much as I would have expected.  Until I got to one of the last entries, "Bearcub", about a young boy competing to be chosen for a knight's training, and found myself significantly more "into" the story than I had with earlier entries in the collection.  I thought about this, and went back and reread some passages from the earlier stories.  I think what the mystery was is that Freya Robertson's use of language, overall, tends to a shorter vocabulary, simpler sentences, and uncomplicated character development.  That her natural writing voice seems to be better suited to a middle-school or YA audience; the stories that left me feeling most dissatisfied were those with adult protagonists.  "Bearcub", with its young protagonist, read much more naturally for me; the writing style seemed much more suited to that particular story and character.  (Robertson's novel Heartwood catches up with Bearcub in his early-adult life; the sample chapters included at the end of Augur read pretty well, and it's being promoted as a YA book.) (Current Kindle price: 3.99)

Unnatural History by Jonathan Green is the first novel in the Pax Brittania alternate-history series from Abaddon Books. The cover and blurbs for this made it sound like it would be a fun romp.  (Dinosaurs on the rampage in a Steampunk London!  What's not to love?) Ehh, not so much.  The hero of the series, one Ulysses Quicksilver, appears meant to be an amalgram of Alan Quatermain, Doc Savage, and other heroes from pulp and adventure fiction.  But there's no real depth or development to him, and he came across as very flat and uninvolving.  (As a lead character in a series, it may simply be that he's not permitted to change or grown from episode to episode.)  Another disappointment, and I don't feel any inclination to read more in the Pax Brittania setting.  (Current Kindle Price: Free)

The above were all e-books.  This next was a hardcover I won in a Goodreads giveaway.

I read Jo Baker's Longbourn, a retelling/expansion of Jane Austen's Pride and Prejudice, focusing on the household servants as the primary characters. Much about the wide gulf between the working class and the privileged/wealthy, and the lives of unending drudgery and work most people lived. In some ways it was like reading a well-written science fiction novel, because the society of early 19th-Century Britain is almost like an alien planet. Some of the antiquated terms used were ones I was unfamiliar with, and sometimes context wasn't quite enough to fully grasp the meaning; first time in a long time that I kept a notebook handy to jot an occasional word down to look up later. Baker depicts a very grim society to live in, but I came to... "enjoy" is not the right word... appreciate her depiction of the lower classes struggling to find love and a hope for the future in their harsh lives.  (Hardcover/retail 25.95; Amazon HC 15.11, Kindle version 10.99)

And that's it for this installment of Brave Free Books.

4/06/2014

A Gallery of Godzilla


There's a "Poster Posse" group of artists who do occasional riffs on alternative posters for various movies. Their latest subject is the forthcoming reboot for Godzilla.  I like this traditionalist version, by Daniel Nash, best:



3/27/2014

Hugos and Rockets and The Chain of Connection

The official Hugo Awards site describes the design of the award as having been "based upon the hood ornament from a 1950s American automobile."  They don't give a specific make or model, but I'll wager that the inspiration came from the Oldsmobile 88, aka the "Rocket 88".  There were variant versions of the hood ornament from year to year before the first Hugos were given in 1953, but the version used in advertising that preceded Oldsmobile's public introduction of the 88 line a few years before that makes, I think, a pretty irrefutable argument.



Look familiar?

I came across this image, and others on the vintage site linked above, because I was making notes for a future story where I wanted a young woman traveling in an old car, and I wanted a car whose name would both trigger a science-fictiony association and be "a man's car".  The Rocket 88 fit the bill pretty well; it was one of the first cars with a V-8 engine and other power embellishments, and is now regarded as an early outlier for the "muscle cars" from other makers that started coming on market in the mid-1950's.  But I did a double-take when I did an image search and saw some pictures of the 1950 "fastback" model of the Olds 88.




Because I recognized that distinctive sloping trunk lid.  And I remembered that my grandfather had owned a car with that same trunk lid.  I'd always remembered that it had been an older Oldsmobile, but I'd never remembered the particular model.   And, after I got older and became aware of the Hugo awards, I'd remembered that a car with a Hugo-like ornament on its hood had been around while I was growing up, but I hadn't remembered it as being Grandpa's Oldsmobile.

My grandfather died when I was in sixth grade, I think in late 1963, and I had never remembered him as anything other than as a frail old man and, in his last several months, a dying old man.  So it was a bit of a shock to realize that Grandpa might have been driving a muscle-car all those years.  My grandfather as a bad-ass?  As a tough guy?  Hard to picture.  Even in older family photos, he was thin and non-intimidating, not the type of person you'd expect to see in a fight, not the type of person you'd want on your side in a fight.

Or maybe you would.  Because there was one family story I heard from my mother decades after Grandpa had died, only once, and only in very brief form.  Probably because it was, at heart, a pretty ugly and very discomforting story.  But it showed that when someone tried to harm his children, my grandfather -- and a length of wooden broom handle -- was capable of cold-blooded and deliberate violence.

(I was actually planning on using this family story, with a number of changes and expansions, as the basis for the next story on my "to-write" list.)

So maybe my grandfather really was, or had been, a bad-ass tough guy.  And maybe, on those times when I rode in Grandpa's car to the store or other relatives' homes, I was riding with a Hugo on the hood!  Probably the closest I ever got to a Hugo.

(Although I was told, back in the 1970's when fandom was a lot smaller and I was a much more active fanzine publisher and letterhack, that I'd once come within a few nominations of being on a Hugo ballot for Best Fan Writer one year.  But "within a few nominations" probably doesn't count for much, then or now.)


3/14/2014

Bee Swarm


The ash tree in our front yard got colonized by a bee swarm yesterday afternoon.  I don't particularly freak out about bees or even bee swarms, but the assemblage was hanging almost over the public sidewalk and I thought the rest of the neighborhood might object.  I was also a little worried that some of the young neighborhood kids might decide to do the Rock Test on the swarm.  (Rock Test, as I recall it from my own misspent youth: "There's something unusual over there.  Let's throw a rock at it and see what happens.")

I was hoping the swarm would decide to move on after a night's rest, but no such luck.  So I had a bee service come out to remove it earlier today.  Sorry, bees.

3/05/2014

Brass Brassieres: The Cliche That Will Not Die


So, back in the early days of science fiction, pulp magazines tended to feature garish covers with bug-eyed monsters, phallic spaceships, and -- especially on a magazine called STARTLING STORIES -- skimpily dressed spacewomen whose most striking feature tended to be the brass metal brassieres they wore. Yes, metal. As in cold, hard metal.

Like this:
And this:

And this:
 

And especially this:
No bonus extra sexual subtext
on THIS cover.
Move along, pervert.

That particular trope, memorable as it was (and it was used by critics as an example of science-fiction's essential juvenile/puerile nature for decades), faded away after awhile.  It sometimes appeared on "women warrior" covers for fantasy novels, though that seems to have dropped in frequency as well.  A few notable exceptions include the "Slave Girl Leia" costume from RETURN OF THE JEDI (but then, the whole Star Wars Trilogy -- There can be only one! There was only one! -- was a callback/homage to the old SF pulps), and, in a slightly different design, the ludicrous chain mail bikini worn by Marvel Comics' version of Red Sonja.  (There are also the occasional form-fitting spacesuits or power-armor, but at least they're not bare skin in space!)

So we can all breathe a sigh of relief that the "brass brassiere" cliche has, for the most part, vanished into the dustbin of history.  Right?

Well, not quite.  The BBC television series Da Vinci's Demons (shown on the Starz cable channel in the US) recently put out some publicity stills for the show's second season:


It's official: Brass brassieres are back!

From what I've read about Da Vinci's Demons, the show's first season played a bit fast and loose with historical timelines regarding what happened when, or with the lifespans of various historical characters. (One character depicted as being alive to interact with Da Vinci died, in real life, about thirteen years earlier.)  But they weren't egregiously anhistorical.

For the second season, it sounds like the show's writers are now turning more towards the Holy-Shit-These-Are-GREAT-Drugs! scriptwriting model made popular by ABC's Sleepy Hollow, wherein the historical record is turned inside-out, dressed up in a tutu, and painted in day-glo colors.  (See: Zombie George Washington.) Da Vinci will discover the Americas and have a run-in with the Incan Empire.  Yes, really. One assumes from the photo above that the brass-brassiered beauties are supposed to be the legendary Amazons, or that Da Vinci stumbled onto an Incan fashion-model photo shoot, or, oh fuck, I have no fucking idea what the fuck is going on in that photo, just that it makes me go "GHAAA! MAKE IT STOP, MAKE IT STOP!"


3/02/2014

Wonderella On The Writer's Life

I try to follow a Twitter-avoidance policy (because timesink), but Wonderella is one of the few exceptions:


3/01/2014

Book Review: A Bloodsmoor Romance, by Joyce Carol Oates

Joyce Carol Oates has been turning out novels and short stories on a prolific basis for decades, frequently enough that she's been criticized for writing too quickly, while at the same time being highly regarded in literary circles.  Somehow, except for a few short stories, I'd never read any of her work until recently.

A Bloodsmoor Romance was first published in 1982 and is part of the "Gothic Quintet" (concluded in the recent The Accursed).  Judging from some of the reviews I've read, it has a reputation as a "black sheep" among Oates' work, with irregular and inconsistent plotting and narrative.

I can see where those opinions are coming from.  But I can also see, I think, what Oates was trying to accomplish with the book, not always successfully.  There were moments when I absolutely loved what I was reading, and also moments when I was definitely going "WTF?"  So my reaction is as mixed and inconsistent as the actual book is.  ABR is kind of a mess, but it's a "hot mess".

From The Urban Dictionary:
'Hot messes' are appealing for a variety of reasons, most notably because they're generally unexpected, capricious, & agonizingly provocative. Additionally, numerous contingent factors make duplication rare and continual repetition virtually impossible. 
No one set of guidelines can perpetually determine what distinguishes a "hot mess" from an above-average train wreck. Regardless of the circumstances, you know it when you see it; because they are typically conspicuous, and obviously they are always awesome.
Basics: In late 19th-century America (1879-1899), the Zinn sisters (Constance Philippa, Malvinia, Octavia, Samantha, and the adopted orphan Deidre) are the children of a gifted but irresponsible inventor who fortunately married into a wealthy Pennsylvania family, the Kiddemasters.  Though the backstories of John Quincy Zinn and Prudence Kiddemaster are told in flashbacks, the five sisters' stories are the main narrative. The initiating incident of the book is when Deidre, the youngest sister, is abducted by an unidentified balloonist in a sinister black balloon.

The stories of the five sisters are told by an unnamed female person of the same period and mores.  The Victorian repression and denial of sexuality is paramount in the narrator's voice, augmented by a cloying American fundamentalism.  Since much of the book deals with the sisters' actions in contradiction with those social codes and mores, there is much expression of disapproval from the narrator, couched in florid Victorian prose.

But, by God, it's great use of overblown prose.  Particularly in the early parts of the book, the rhythm and pace of the narrative is almost like poetry.  There were sections I wanted to read out loud.  I would have loved to hear this book done as an audiobook.

Also, there are parts of this book that are just plain goddamned funny.  "Goofball" isn't a term one usually finds applied to Oates, but for this one particular book she seems to have let her inner-goofball out at points.

[Spoilers below]

2/28/2014

Ed Harris, Radio Fantasist

Along with other podcasts, I've been a regular listener to the BBC Radio Drama of the Week.  Sometimes these are modern-day slice-of-life stories about ordinary people, and sometimes they illuminate odd little corners of history (usually British history, for some odd reason).  But they also feature content of a science-fictional or fantastic nature on a surprisingly frequent basis.  And I've noticed the name "Ed Harris" listed as the author of a goodly number of those SF/F type radio plays.  So I decided to try and find out a bit more about him.

Here in America, when one hears the name "Ed Harris", one tends to think of this guy:

Ed Harris, actor
Helluva good actor, but not the guy we're looking for.  The "Ed Harris" writing for the BBC (and elsewhere) is this guy:

Ed Harris, playwright
So it turns out he's only been writing (as in, having his work produced) since 2005, the young snot, and has already become pretty notable in the rarified atmosphere of radio drama and stage plays.  (Radio drama is pretty close to extinct in the US, but it's still a viable medium in Great Britain and elsewhere.)  Several of his plays, Mongrel Island and The Cow Play, are available in book form.

Here's an interesting interview with him on medium.com: "Wanting To Write Is A Ridiculous Idea"  I like the "voice" he uses when discussing writing (I'm reminded a bit of Neil Gaiman), and he says some eminently quotable things:
     Inexperienced writers often put their hand to their forehead and exclaim “Oh my god how indulgent am I? – Why should other people be interested in me?”
     And the truth is, other people aren’t.
     They couldn’t give less of a shit about you and your wry observations or pithy philosophical quips. But, if you’re any kind of writer, you are interested in them. And they, if they read, are also interested in them. In each other. 
Here's a link to the BBC Radio Drama page.  And here's one to the Drama of the Week Podcast page, where the weekly offering can be downloaded onto your own player.  (The drawback to the DOW podcasts is that they're only made available for a week, Fridays-Thursdays, although some of them eventually show up available for purchase on iTunes.)  This week's offering is another Ed Harris work, "Pixie Juice", available until March 6th, 2014.