Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Hallowe'en 2012




And, this year's jack'o lantern, the Orange Hillbilly Peril ...

News of the Empire





Not sure which picture I like better, but they both catch the tone. Try to imagine Donald Duck saying, "No, I'm your father ..."

What does it mean for me? Not a whole lot–I've played in the Lucasfilm yard several times, books, even a graphic novel series, enjoyed those experiences tremendously; GL was very good to me. (I immodestly offer that Shadows of the Empire can run with any of the other EU books, and I think the two Medstar novels and Death Star were underrated ...)

Probably I won't be doing any more work in the SW's universe. (I'm still a little ticked they didn't ask me to take a shot at the animated Clone Wars series: Hey, I'm a Star Wars writer and did a slew of animation for the tube, who was better qualified?–Yoo hoo! Over here!)

Do I think the sale is a good or bad thing? Good, I suspect. The Mouse knows how to fill theater seats, and we are talking about folks who run Pixar and the Marvel movies, so they can do it as well as anybody. They can get the best writers, actors, directors, producers, and I suspect they will, to make back their money. Reboot? Why not? 

Plus GL will have even more money he can put into his education foundation to help folks.
Sounds like a win-win to me. 

Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Undecided?


This'll be my last political post before the election, unless there is some kind of major change in the world; I've kept it down this time, but I have to get this off my chest:

If you haven't decided for whom you are going to vote by now, be it President, Senator, or your local dog-catcher? 

My opinion, of course, but I suspect that you are 1) an idiot, and 2) you don't deserve a vote.

Lean left or right? Vote for the D or the R. Don't like the major parties? Believe the Libertarians or the Greens deserve your vote? Go for it. 

Think that it doesn't matter because the world is secretly run by three little old Jewish guys who live in a vault in Zurich and they have already chosen the winner? If that's what you believe, at least you have a position.

But you haven't gotten around to deciding yet? 

Yes, of course, politics is a pain, and by this time in a cycle, we are all up to here with the ads and claims, but it's part of what being a citizen requires of you–that you educate yourself enough to make a choice based on something other than hair style or tie color or flipping a coin. If you can't, you are a crappy citizen. 

We live in a sea of information. Anything you want to know about pretty much anything is out there to be found. If you can't garner enough data about candidates to come to a decision about which to choose? You aren't trying.

You really aren't.

If you simply don't care, that's fine, you are allowed to maintain your ignorance and I pity you, but for God's sake, don't vote. Stay home. Because you surely don't know the issues, what is at stake, nor, I suspect, which way the sun comes up. You are part of the problem. Not a matter of whether or not you agree with my choice, but that you are so out-of-touch with consensus reality that you haven't managed to form an opinion. 

Stay home, dullard, and leave the elections to people who care.

Laying Down Tracks


So I while I should have been working, I instead spent a pleasant morning recording a new version of "Woke Up Dead Blues," working in GarageBand, the Mac's music-editing software program.

It's a great toy. Gives the user the ability to record and fiddle with stuff way beyond what the best recording gear at the top studios in the world back in the Beatles' days couldn't do. (They had what? A four-track system? GarageBand will let you lay down as many tracks as you can, as long as you have enough computer memory.)

I've uploaded the result to SoundClick! but since the net is doing funny things today, probably as a result of the mega-storm back east, it hasn't shown up to replace the old version yet. 

Um. Anyway, the fun part is, I decided to try it differently. Normally, I sit in front of the Samson mike with my guitar, sing and play together, then take the resulting file and tweak it. Not much, no drum tracks, I'm not into major EQ stuff, don't want echo chambers and wah-wah EFX. My goal is to get it to sound as much like I hear it as I can. Never actually get that organic, but it's not for lack of trying ...

There are bands today who plunk a mike down and they all perform in front it, that's it.
There are other groups who never actually get together to play. They lay down their own tracks here or there, and somebody puts them together. Some of this kind of collab can sound fantastic, but I think the all-t0gether-in-the-room-playing-at-once is more satisfying, both to play and to listen to ...

What I did was, first I laid down the guitar's rhythm track, i.e. the chords. Doubled that. Left one track Acoustic Natural, made the other one Bright.  Since my guitar is a nylon stringer, the Bright setting is a little, well, brighter ...

That done, I put on the headphones and sang the vocals with the guitar part. Since I'm on the edge of a cold, my voice is kind of ragged, but hey, it's blues. 

I doubled that track, and left one No Effects and the other Female Vocals. (Dunno why Female Vocals sounds better in this case, but it does.)

Then I recorded a third track playing some small lead fills. Since I didn't want this to be too loud, I left it a single track.

So, I wound up with five tracks, though I recorded only three. 

I fiddled with the volume controls until I got a sound I liked, then exported it as an MP3, and voila! I was done. Sounds pretty good, if I do say so myself. At least better than the original version I did.

What I didn't do was use the Audio Region feature. For those of you who don't know, one of the things recorders now have at their disposal with digitized music is something called Auto-Tune™. 

Apple's version of this allows for several things: automatic tempo and pitch corrections, limiting to a key, and auto-quantizing.

What this means is, if you drift off time or sing a note flat or sharp? The computer will fix it for you. You can, with the more complicated versions, anyway, come up with a finished product that will be perfect.

Too perfect, for my taste. It has a kind of homogenized sound, and people who know music say they can always tell if somebody uses this on a commercial recording. If I drift off-key, you get to hear it.

Lucky you.

Well,  I do what I can do; and since I'm having fun? That's all that really matters ...

Monday, October 29, 2012

Guilty Pleasure


I must point out that if you live in a metropolis wherein there resides a costumed crime-fighting vigilante, the first person you should suspect as his secret identity is the playboy rich guy who appears to be a drunken womanizer.

Seriously.

Why do I say this? Well, because fiction is filthy with these guys, going way back: The Scarlet Pimpernel, Zorro, The Shadow, The Green Hornet, Batman, Super Chicken ...

Which brings us to Oliver Queen. Those of you who are old DC comic book fans know him as The Green Arrow, another rich playboy who kicks ass and takes names, aided by a deadly eye and a recurve bow. Had a Robin-like sidekick, Speedy, but apparently the kid hasn't made it into the reboot yet.

Speaking here of the TV version on The CW–and the network alone is enough to tell you it's a guilty pleasure–is simply titled Arrow, and if the arc seems a whole like like Batman's, that's because it was pretty much swiped from the caped crusader lock, stock, and barrel. Well, and maybe a little Hamlet mixed in, you'll see why pretty quickly.

The rich ne'er-do-well playboy's yacht sinks and he's the only survivor. He somehow stays alive on a middle-of-nowhere island somewhere near China, I think, and is rescued five years later. 

As the first couple of episodes unfurl, you learn that things weren't quite what they seemed, on the island or at home, and without too many spoilers, there is Much More Going On than our hero knows about.

First time you see this guy, played by a very fit Stephen Amell, a whole slew of questions pop up, least they did for me. And by the end of the second episode, most of those have been answered; plus, the audience gets shown PDQ that our hero better Trust No One ...

The basic set-up is that on this island, Queen learned some heavy-duty costumed crimefighter stuff, parkour, gymnastics, martial arts, archery, and came back scarred and built like a serious jock. He is determined to fulfill a promise he made to his father, who was on the yacht with Ollie and who didn't make it. (Ollie's girl didn't make it, either, and she just happened to be the sister of his girlfriend, and the daughter of the local police detective who kinda hates Oliver a whole lot.)

There are several flashbacks to bring us up to speed, and nicely done. I speak here as a fan of flashbacks-when they are nicely done.

Two things come to mind here. First, this fellow isn't TV Batman, no batarangs to knock the guns out of the bad guys' hands, no fancy jujitsu flips to toss them silly but unhurt. No, he's closer to the Dark Knight: Arrow throws bad guys off bridges and tall buildings and when he shoots them with his razor-tipped hunting arrows? He shoots to kill. 

How good is he? This is a bowman who can throw a handful of tennis balls down the hallway and pin then all to the wall without a miss. 

I lost tract of the body count, but in the first couple of episodes, he took out more than a few. Cops arrive and found bodies hither and yon.

Little grittier than Smallville ...

Second thing is, it is beautifully staged and photographed. Got guys behind the camera who can set up a great shot and capture it. 

I'm not impressed with the writing, and the plots thus far are so old hat they should be tricornes; still, I've seen a lot worse, and it is, after all, a guilty pleasure ...

See if I Can Make This Work ..


Blogger doesn't much like tablets, least not iPads, and posting from them, especially pictures, is a pain. Can't select images from the camera roll, and it doesn't like to link to URLs online. The workaround is to post in a photo-sharing site, Flickr or PhotoBucket, then link to that. Since I can't get to my real computer and I thought  this was funny, I'll give it a shot and fix it when I get home ...

Sunday, October 28, 2012

How the Rich Folks Live


We have some friends who are well-off. And as they are patrons of the arts, they, from time-to-time, bid on those support-the-arts packages offered by the local museums, orchestras, operas and like that. These typically consist of some kind of group adventure or dinner, and when they get one, they invite folks they know to come along.

So the latest was for the local science museum, and consisted of a two-hour ride up and down the Willamette River in a multi-level party boat, to learn about the bridges and local history along the river, followed by a whiskey tasting at the museum.

The rain was coming and going, but it was mild, and I spent a fair amount of time either on the bow, or when it cranked back up, under the overhang at the stern. This is the kind of boat that has a wet bar and a baby grand piano in the lounge ...

Saw this Spanish-style stucco and tile monster mansion on the river bank, probably in West Linn. Seventeen thousand square feet, the guide said. Not to mention a private dock with three boats and a float plane ...

The tasting  was fun, seven different kinds of hootch, ranging from Scottish single malt, blended scotch, to Canadian whiskey, to American whiskey to Kentucky Bourbon. The tasting was guided by a Master of Whiskey who knew his stuff, and I learned all kinds of interesting things about the spirit world.

I confess to a taste for Tennessee whiskey and bourbon over the scotch stuff. What can I say? I even like Southern Comfort, which is full of dye, added sugar, and peaches ...

Not a bad way to spend a rainy Saturday afternoon. And no, I didn't drive home ...



Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Eh? Say Again?


When we got rid of our old analog TV, which was a block the size of a dishwasher and as heavy as that much concrete, we also shed our surround-sound speaker system. This was a nice set-up, five small speakers and a bass that would really fill the room. Also analog, it had to be hard-wired to the TV, and this necessitated holes in the floor and me scrabbling around in the crawl space to string a couple miles of wire.

We figured the new TV, being digital and a flatscreen and modern all, we didn't need to have all that sound, it was just us, and we could crank it up loud enough to hear the dialog, right? Didn't need the THX sound, it would be just fine.

Well, not exactly. Turns out the price you pay for a flatscreen is a built-in speaker the size of the one inside an iPhone. Yeah, you can raise the volume so you can hear the dialog just fine, but any music that might be played in the b.g. suddenly sounds like the mothership responding to the little musical ditty in Close Encounters of the Third Kind.

NYAAAH! NYAAH!

That is to say, the speaker buzzes like twelve hives of demented bees if the volume is above a certain number, and since no two shows seem to use the same levels, there comes a time in the evening when the speaker cries with the effort.

Not a pleasant sound.

What to do?

You can get a wireless home theater rig now, but I didn't want to be spending that kind of money, so I poked around and found there is a newly-emerging industry that is designed to give you the kind of sound the old B&W TVs had back in the day when the speakers were big enough you could plug your guitar into them and take the paint off the walls ...

Found one for a reasonable price, a plug-and-play unit that sits on the table under the tube, got a couple small speakers in it, and all I had to do was stick the optic cable from the TV into it and plug it into the wall. Got plenty of volume, no more buzz. 

Never a dull moment ...

Monday, October 22, 2012

Micro-Nutrients


In an effort to get more fruit and vegetables into our diets, my wife and I have gotten into smoothies. Have a look at the ingredients of this morning's concoction: A pear, apple, orange, carrot, kale, plum, and a little crushed pineapple.

Here's how it works: Take out the seeds and stems, peel the orange (though if you like a little more bitterness in your drink, you can leave that on) dump it all into the blender. On top of that, add a little ice or a handful of frozen blueberries, or both. Set it awhirl ...

After a while you get this. Without the blueberries, it comes out a nice green; with them, you get a chocolate milkshake color.



Works out to be a little over three cups, plenty for your breakfast, tasty, and all the benefits of the pulp instead of just the juice. Kale is really good for you, but there are only so many ways you can prepare that so it doesn't taste like weeds with the dirt still on them.

The ingredient choices are endless. Yesterday, I had one with most of what you see, plus a banana, a couple of green peppers, half an unpeeled lemon, almond milk, and a dried red pepper, which added a nice afterburner.

If, like me, you aren't the world's biggest fan of cooked vegetables, especially bitter greens, this is a great way to get them into your diet without really noticing them, and raw preserves most of the nutrients. Don't need to add sugar, because there is plenty of that in the fruit, and it tastes good, and is good for you. 

And at the risk of TMI, it also makes certain you are ... ah, regular in your visits to the loo.

Saturday, October 20, 2012

B Ball

video

Went to a pre-season exhibition Blazer game last night, courtesy of my son–and courtesy of his boss, who was out-of-town and who has court side season tickets.

How close to the action were we? Stretch out a foot, you could trip a player going by. 

I wonder how many people have ever been tempted by that notion?

Couple times, the ball came our way. First time, I just moved my head to one side and let the little kid behind me catch it. Second time, my son grabbed it and I tossed it back to the ref. 

Don't get to do that in the cheap seats.

This is the way to watch a pro basketball game. Of course, you have to be rich and to stand in line to manage that, since court side tickets are as readily available as hen's teeth here. 

Golden State won–the Blazers have a new starting lineup that can run with anybody, but the bench is erratic, and at one point in the third quarter, four of the five players for Portland on the court I'd never seen before, and the fifth was a reserve guard only on the team for a couple years. 

What they call a rebuilding year for the Blazers: New GM, new coach, new players. 

Always a bridesmaid up here ...

Thursday, October 18, 2012

Heartbreaker


My son's best friend had a minor heart-attack–well, as minor as such things can be spoken about.  A big surprise to him and my son, because his buddy is a serious handball player who works out a lot.

Speaks to a point I've made here a time or twelve: You mostly can't eat your way out of poor health, nor can you just jock your way out–you need to do both

Just because you look fit and healthy doesn't mean you are, and there all kinds of guys who are serious athletes who aren't nearly as fit as they thought. Call it the Fixx Syndrome, after the late Jim Fixx, who ran marathons but who keeled over of a heart-attack while running in his forties. Proving that the assertion at the time, if you could run a marathon you'd never die of a heart-attack, was wrong. 

That's not the one you want to disprove yourself.

Fixx's contention was that diet didn't matter, and he got quite irate at people pushing all that rabbit foot and roots and twigs. A fatal error.

Yeah, yeah, we all gonna die, and you pays your money and you makes your choice, but whatever time you have can be made much better if you are riding in the limo of good health until you get there. Ask anybody who is ill; remember what it feels like when you have the flu or even a bad cold or a tight back? How much better it is not to be there? 

Remember Richard Pryor's routine where he's lying on the floor praying for God not to let him die because he's having a heart-attack? And God says: YOU SHOULD HAVE THOUGHT ABOUT THAT WHILE YOU WERE EATING ALL THAT PORK!

And there is some evidence that diet and exercise, along with decreased risk factors, will let you live longer. 

Whip up some smoothies with some green leaves in 'em. Leave off most of that empty calories crap we all lust after. There's a reason they call sugar "white death," and point out that the whiter the bread, the quicker you're dead ...

Word. 

Everybody's a Critic ...


Last session of my jam group, we sang and played one of the King's classic numbers, "Can't Help Falling in Love." 

Here's what it said in the wiki:

"Can't Help Falling in Love" is a pop song originally recorded by American singer Elvis Presley and published by Gladys Music, Elvis Presley's publishing company. It was written by Hugo Peretti, Luigi Creatore, and George David Weiss. The melody is based on "Plaisir d'Amour"[2], a popular romance by Johann Martini (1741-1816). 

Um. Anyway, we do a pretty good three-part harmony on it, one of our group plays harmonica, and the banjo guy was there, so we thought it sounded pretty good. 

Next gig, it'll be on our play list, no question. 

After we were done, one of the women said, "I'd love to hear what that sounds like recorded." So I whipped out my iPod and clicked on the recorder. "Let's do it again and see what we get."

What you get with an iPod sitting on a bongo drum more or less in the middle of the room is not what you'd call recording-studio quality. And what it sounds like played from the microscopic speaker in the iPod is fairly chipmunky and ... underwhelming.

Still and all, I downloaded the file into my computer, ran it through GarageBand, quad-tracked it, panned one track left, one right, to get pseudo-stereo, used the Gospel Singer  and Basic Guitar, Female Vocal, and Male Vocal settings on the various tracks, and exported it. 

Given the basic recording, it didn't sound completely awful. I sent copies of the MP3 to the other players. 

Got back a note from one of them that I loved. It impressed her, and:

"I forwarded it already to my relatives....if my sister still says we are *lame*, she is hopeless."

Funny.

I would put it up for all to hear, but I don't want the ghost of Colonel Parker hunting me down for ASCAP/BMI license fees, so you'll just have to trust me that it ain't all that bad. 

Monday, October 15, 2012

Book for the Fanboys


If you are comic fanboy, here's a book for you: Marvel Comics: The Untold Story, by Sean Howe. It is a history of Marvel from the beginning, exhaustive in its detail, and what most reviews call a warts-and-all tale. I'm not quite finished with it, but I already know how it ends, and so far, it seems to be mostly a warts-and-not-much-else portrait ...

There is material on comics in general to set it all up, and back and forth with some of the other comic companies back in the day. 

I grew up with Marvel. Bought the first one featuring The Fantastic Four off the rack at the Pak-a-Sak store on Evangeline Street, next to the Rexall Drugs, in what? 1961? Back in the days when comic book racks were everywhere, the comics cost a dime or twelve cents, except for Classics Illustrated, which ran fifteen cents. 

I was a fanboy. Still am, if to a lesser degree ...

When I became a writer and did my stint in animation down in LaLaLand, a whole bunch of the second- and third-generation Marvel guys who are mentioned and detailed in Howe's book were by then in L.A. writing for tube animation, too. Some of them freelancers, some story editors or show runners. (The biggest difference between comics and animation are that the pictures don't move in the former and do in the latter. If you can write for one, you can write for the other, speaking from experience.)

I have heard some of these stories, though not quite as detailed, directly from the guys who were there. Many of them–most of them–were not happily-ever-after tales.

Howe digs up the dirt and lays it out. More than I needed to know, but you have to give him credit for the work. There's a lot of material. 

In fact, Howe's book, aside from mentioning every one of the ninety-million titles Marvel has done, how it came to be, who wrote it,  penciled it, inked it, colored it, sold it, and hated it, doesn't seem to have anybody in it to root for. So-and-so starts out a nice enough guy, but quickly turns into Mister Hyde, gets a terminal case of ego-bloat and thinks he is God because he can create his own universes. Then, he either quits or gets fired, and goes off in a huff to work for DC. And after a while, he comes back to Marvel, usually for more money, and starts the cycle over again.

Not a lot of women in this one, and a lot of the writers and artists subsist on coffee, cigarettes, and pizza, and drop dead young, stressed out from too much work, too many deadlines, and no exercise. 

You hear all the tales you used to hear whenever two or more fans talked. Who created which character? You hear Stan's version, you hear Jack Kirby's side, Steve Ditko's, and when the next round of guys come in, you hear theirs. The good old days when the fanboy writers and editors played practical jokes on each other, and liked each other gives way to fuming resentment and outright hatred, with public utterances that sometimes lead to fists flying.

What happens when you kill off a favorite comic book character? You get a spate of death threats. People take their comics seriously in some places, maniacally so. 

There are dyed-in-the-wool writers and artists who love the work, who break their backs trying to do the best comics they can, and then there are the egotistical assholes who have to have it their way or not at all, who sabotage stuff, kill titles, and get in everybody's way, and a lot of the time, you can't tell from the stories which is which ...

More Jekyll and Hyde.

I have some personal dealings with some of these folks, and most of them behaved decently with me. I wrote with and for some of them when I was doing animation. I have a great cover quote on one of my books from a well-known comic book writer who later did some novels of his own. There is one guy who showed me his ass pretty good, so I am inclined to believe all the bad stuff written about him, and there is plenty of bad stuff ...

This would be a must-read for any serious comic fanboy, and chances are if you are one, you already know about it, but if not, check it out.

Movie Review - Rock of Ages


Caught Rock of Ages on the cable last night, and my review can be boiled down to:

"Run away!" (And thank you, Monty Python.)

Normally, I don't do completely negative reviews of movies or books, but there is so much here not to like. The story and writing thereof is a rehash of every movie musical ever made: The girl from flyover country comes to Hollywood to become a singer, gets her suitcase stolen just off the bus. Meets the gofer at the big rock club who is also a rock wanna-be, who has such terrible stage fright that it takes him four whole seconds to get over it the first time the girl asks him to play something for her. They fall in love in a montage.

The old has-been rock star is coming to the club play his last gig. He has a pet baboon named "Hey Man." Smartest character in the movie.

The opening act goes into rehab on the day of the gig. Is there anybody who has ever seen a movie who doesn't know who is going to step in to replace the drop-outs?

Or anybody who doesn't know that as soon as boy-gets-girl, he is going to be boy-loses-girl, suffer the requisite agony for his stupid mistake before they get back together? She quits and winds up working the pole in a strip club–a PG club, no more skin revealed than you'd see on the fake beach at Disneyworld. He gets snapped up by the sleazy agent and put into a hip-hop boy band with a lot of zees in their names ...

Help me, Spock!

Throw in a crusading mayor's wife who is out to get rid of the filthy rock and roll, and who has A Deep  Dark Secret concerning the old rock star, that the baboon could figure out the first time her husband wonders why she hates the rocker so much. I mean, come on!

I think they were trying to be wry, to play with the tropes, but it skews closer to Rocky Horror than it does to Grease. Way closer. Might wind up becoming a cult movie. It's that bad.

Hell, it doesn't even look like Hollywood. Well, no, strike that. It does look like Hollywood. The one in Florida, because that's where it was shot. Sets, on a sound stage, and it looks it. 

Based on a stage play, and every actor in it is wasted in his or her role. It was as if all the stage mikes went out and they were playing to the cheap seats, hamming it up and chewing scenery so broadly that it could have been a silent film. The better the actor, the more they seemed to phone it in. In this case, you have to blame the director, because at least some of these actors know better. 

No, Tom, I want you to be really, really drunk here, and unhinged. You are almost completely burned out, there's just a tiny, itty-bitty spark left down in the depths of your drug and booze-addled brain. (Which gets relit when the reporter from Rolling Stone sticks her tongue in Tom's ear ...)

I laughed at one line, when the drunk rock star calls Rolling Stone looking for his new love, and the guy on the other end worries about being killed by a nutso on his way home.

If you are a fan of eighties glam and arena rock, you'll like the music. I think there's a crowd scene in which a lot of old guys with long hair look suspiciously like some of the groups whose music is featured. Didn't see Steve Perry of Journey in there, but his music is well-represented.

My wife and I kept watching, thinking, Well, it has to get better, right?

No. We were wrong. It never did.

Movie died at the box office, and rightfully so. 

Stay away. You'll never get those two hours of your life back, and it will feel like a lot longer.

P.S. If you want to see an adult movie? Crank the cable or rent The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel. Yes, it's a movie about old Brits who go off to India to retire and die, but an absolute delight. Dame Judi Dench could read the phone book and it would worth paying to see and hear.

Saturday, October 13, 2012

Axe: Stem-Winder


I'm three books away from a clean writing plate–one more in the Cutter's Wars series and two Matador novels, so naturally, as is wont to happen, another one that has been rattling around in the back corridors of my mind has chosen this time to arrive.

Last night, while watching the news, bam! the potential book kicked in the door and presented itself, pretty much all of a piece, a nasty, mean-looking urban fantasy. 

Hey. Listen up. You got to tell my story, writer-man ...

And here it is: 

Reilly "Reach" Wells is a blues guitarist and singer who plies the small venues in the Shift Circuit–clubs on Earth, in Faerie, and in Between. Not many humans can travel the Shift, which allows transit from one world to the other; not many humans even know it exists.

For a dozen years Wells has played the smoky bars and pubs, mostly in the Between, where he has a reputation as somebody who can get into a groove and hold an audience rapt with his performance, be they human or fay. 

Some of those who know that Faerie exists in an alternate reality next door have been tasked with maintaining some kind of legal equilibrium between that world and this. There are criminals on both sides who prey upon their own and each other's people. Fairies get taken and forced into various kinds of slavery by humans; humans are kidnapped and made to serve likewise in Faerie.

On Earth, there exists a secret organization called the Apposition Bureau, usually referred to as "Abby." Essentially a combination FBI-CIA, with dashes of NSA and ATF, Abby fields spies, agents, analysts, and ambassadors.

On Faerie, the counterpart to Abby is called Wisp. While these two organizations are often at odds with each other, they sometimes work together. 

For seven years, Reach Wells (code name "Axe") has been an agent of the AB. Mostly, he gathers information and passes it along, but now and again, he has been pressed into more active service. 

He is a reluctant operative who does the job only because Abby can effectively deny him access to Between and Faerie, and he needs to be able to go there. Fay blues are, to the susceptible, psychologically-addictive, and Reach needs to hear them, sing them, play them.

There is, of course, a tragedy in his past about which he has never spoken, and the otherwordly blues help keep him going.

Over the years, Wells has run into one of Wisp's field ops a few times, the fay femme, code name "Scar." She is so-named for a slash on her face that, when not hidden by glamour, disfigures her otherwise jaw-dropping beauty. She doesn't talk about that, either.

They have an ... interesting relationship ...

"Reach, if you call me 'Tinker Bell' one more time, I am going to shrivel your manhood to the size of a dwarf flea's dick!"

Magic exists in Faerie, of course, but it is not all-encompassing, nor is it effortless,  save for a few powerful adepts. The mundane chores of daily life have to be done manually, and in Faerie, there's no electricity, no batteries. Devices that make things easier are mechanically-operated, and mostly powered by springs. 

Somebody has to charge these springs, and this is considered unskilled labor and low-paying work, so stem-winders are not held in high regard. But even though these workers are cheap, there are those who would avoid paying them, and these folk sometimes kidnap and enslave humans to do the job.

Wisp has an investigation going seeking missing fay femmes, and she bumps into Reach after he has been assigned to track down missing humans.

Together, they come to realize that the two assignments are entwined in ways they have to uncover to find out who is doing what and why. Naturally, this turns out to be a nest of worms, complex and twisted, and those responsible really don't want to be outed, so Reach and Scar's lives are going to be at serious risk ...




Friday, October 12, 2012

Leather Boys


I am not a clothes horse; I've always believed it's not clothes that make the man, that the man starts where the clothes leave off. It's true that threads can hide a multitude of sins, but I've mostly tended toward the notion that it's better to work off the flab than have a good tailor hide it.

When I worked in the clinic, I came to realize it is true– that most people look a lot better dressed than naked.

Like a lot of men who have been married a long time, the only reason I have clothes at all is because my wife dresses me. 

Listen:

You need a new jacket. Some slacks. You aren't going to wear those shoes, are you? That shirt is getting threadbare, you need a new one. Here, try this on.

I can hear some of you smiling. Weren't for our women, we'd mostly be wearing gunny sacks.

When I shop, it goes like this: I need a new pair of shoes because the old ones have worn out. I go to a store and walk down the shoe aisle. I see a pair I like. I look for my size. If they have it, I try them on. If they fit and feel pretty good, then I'm done. I buy them and leave.

No desire to try on a dozen other pairs. Why would I want to do that? There's no point. 

As Elayne Boosler used to say in her stand-up routine, men don't have the shopping gene; certainly I don't.

But recently, I looked up and felt the need to get a new leather jacket. I have one, about eighteen or twenty years old, nicely-distressed by now, black-going-to-gray, but it's starting to wear out on the inside. 

Leather is not the best choice for our climate. Once the rains start, usually about this time of year, they continue until June, and a Gortex windbreaker with a hood is my outer wear of choice. There are times, however, when I want something a little warmer than a shell, but not as heavy as the full-on winter jacket with the ski gloves. That one is for when the temperature drops into the low-twenties or high teens, and that doesn't happen often in these parts.

With leather, a little rain isn't a problem, but big rain is, and you need a hat. 

Plus leather means some critter had to provide it, and while I know it is a by-product of the meat industry, I don't want the PETA folks throwing blood on me. Still, pleather mostly looks cheap, smells funny, and doesn't wear well. I guess I could try to find out where Sir Paul gets his faux-leather, but I suspect I couldn't afford it. 

Um. Anyway, I figured out what I wanted–a field jacket, little longer than a bomber jacket, not as long as an overcoat, and I wanted cargo pockets. I carry a lot of stuff around I don't want falling out when I take the jacket off and drape it over a chair or whatever. Those cool-looking slash pockets are pretty much useless except for putting your hands into them to warm, and with two dogs on leashes, that doesn't happen much.

I wanted something that wasn't too shiny, and nothing that looked like it was designed for a drugstore-Harley-riding-wanna-be. 

Or a real biker. Langlitz is right here in Portland, and they make 'em custom, but I don't ride any more, and a motorcycle jacket that good needs a hog to go with it.

I mentioned this interested-in-a-jacket notion to my wife. 

Oh, my! You have thought I'd announced the Second Coming. She was so thrilled with the idea that I wanted to buy clothes of any kind that she jumped onto the internet and spent hours shopping for jackets. As I was dropping off to sleep, she was over there on her side of the bed scritching away at her iPad, searching far and wide ...

You shoppers will understand this. Most of you are probably women.

Found some really fine leather for sale out there. I loved the field jacket from Orvitz, but not for two thousand bucks. 

Two thousand dollars? Are you kidding me? If I went for a walk and it started to rain, I'd have to call 911. Help! Come get me! I need a ride home, my coat will get wet!

Two thousand dollars. Uh huh. 

We poked around hither and yon, and eventually wound up at The Men's Wearhouse, of all places. I'll skip the You're-gonna-like-the-way-you-look jokes. Turns out they had what I wanted, looked a whole lot like the two grand job, at a most reasonable price, and it was on sale, and it was buy-one-get-one-free day ...

Can't beat that. 

The end result of which is that I now have a new leather coat. And if it gets wet and distressed, so much the better. 

Look for me soon on the cover of GQ ...



Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Pistol Particulars


A posting for the gun folk; if you aren't interested in handgun minutia, you can skip this one.

I got a note from an LEO I know in South Louisiana regarding a problem with his off-duty carry gun. 

His issue sidearm is a Glock 17, and if ever there was a place where a plastic pistol is useful, it is the tropics, even if Louisiana is only considered semi-tropical.

When he is off-duty in the summer, he needs something a bit more concealable, and remember, this is a climate where, if you are wearing shorts, sandals, and a T-shirt, you can often be considered overdressed ...

So for a time, he wore a belly pouch with a Glock 26, which is a chopped-down version of his duty gun. Same ammo, same operation, easier to hide. Worked okay, but in some circles, a belly pouch is a give-away that you are carrying a handgun, and he has a bit of a muffin top, so the thing wasn't really comfortable when he was sitting.

Plus he didn't really like Glocks all that much. 

Eventually, he did what a lot of concealed-carry people do, he got a small-frame semi-auto and put it into a wallet holder that he stuck into his back pocket.

This is not a wallet that folds, but an open-top holster designed to slip into a pocket to disguise the shape of the pistol while allowing relatively-quick access.

Being a gun-guy, he wanted to personalize the pistol, and so he bought a nice set of custom wood grips and was good to go.

After a few months of carrying this way, he was pleased enough–until he ran into a mechanical problem. One fine day, as he was getting ready to head out, he checked the action, which worked okay, but when he went to eject the magazine, pushing the button didn't work. It unlocked, so he was able to pry the magazine out, but it wouldn't drop on its own.

He got out the Break Free CLP, lubed things. 

Still no love.

He had seven rounds, but if he needed to reload, not being able to extract the magazine in a hurry could be bad. And if something was wrong, something else might be wrong.

So he field-stripped the pistol and had a look. Nothing apparent, the mechanism of the release seemed to be working just fine, but the magazine was binding.

He took the grips off, and voila! it worked just fine.


Sometimes, it's the grip screws are too long, but the customs came with shorter ones that seemed to fit right.


After a bit, he puzzled it out: The custom grips he had installed were much thinner than the ones that came with the piece. A selling point in concealment, since they allow for a flatter package. However: In some small-frame pistols, parts of the mechanism in the magazine wells are actually kept in place by the grips. (The tolerances here are not what you'd call precise.)

What had apparently happened was, the pressure of his butt when he sat on the gun had slightly deformed the thin grips so they pressed one of the tie-bars against the magazine, causing it to bind. 

Easy fix–he re-installed the old grips, and it worked just fine. 

This points at a couple things you need to consider if you carry a concealed handgun. First, realize that changing the configuration of the weapon might do something to its function. Had he carried this gun in a waistband holster or a belly pouch, chances are the thickness of the grips would not have mattered–there'd be much less pressure against the thin wood.

Second, you need to check the operation of your weapon frequently to make sure it is doing what it is supposed to do. Supposedly, Wild Bill Hickok would get up every morning and fire off the whole cylinder load of his old cap 'n' ball revolvers, then reload 'em, to make sure the powder was fresh. The notion was that when you needed to hear bang! you did not want to hear click! which is, I am told, the loudest sound in the world ...

Monday, October 08, 2012

Chapstick Country


Odd weather around the country this year, and no less so here. Coming off one of the wettest springs since they started keeping records, we are now into the driest summer on record. One tiny bit of measurable rain on one day in July, that's it. 

This week, we had an east wind that, along with dropping trees and a lot of small limbs hither and yon, also dropped the relative humidity into the teens, getting into Las Vegas numbers along about Friday. 11%? That's not Willamette Valley, that's Mojave Desert dry, and membranes do get crispy ...

Supposedly the rain will start this weekend, at least there is a fair chance of it, and it will be a relief to folks whose lawns have been crackling underfoot, and those of us who are starting to look like lizards every time we come back from walking the dogs. Much more of this? We'd have to start wearing stillsuits and setting the thumpers for the sandworms ...

Saturday, October 06, 2012

Looper


First, let's get that pesky business about suspension of disbelief out of the way. Long-time readers here know what that is, but if not, it's the notion that when you read a science fiction or fantasy novel, or see a movie or TV show, you agree to go along with the big unreal premise. You, as the lawyers say, stipulate that certain things are a given. So if you have a story about space ships and robots and galactic empires, you shrug and give them that. Or magical stuff. Or time travel. Your part of the deal.

Now, Looper. Here is the set-up, and I'm not giving anything away unless you have been living in a cave or following the Mars Rover around for the last few months. 

The story mostly takes place in our near-future, where things look a lot like they do now, but worse. Thirty years in their future, time travel gets invented. It is immediately made illegal, and the only people who have it are the criminal gangs who run rampant all over the world. 

These criminals use the machine to get rid of folks they don't like. How it works is, they ship them back in time, where a hit man, called a Looper, is waiting to execute them and get rid of the body. They arrive bound, with bars of silver strapped to their back to pay the hit man.

The Looper blows them away with a really ugly shotgun, burns the body in a furnace, and goes on about his business. 

The rest of it gets complicated pretty quick, and it's full of twists and turns that lead eventually to a fairly-well laid in ending. No real surprises to anybody who reads the literature or watches the movies, but well-done and paid-off nicely.

Probably you know already that the Looper telling the story is going to see his 30-year-older self pop into existence, and it's not going to ruin anything that you know such a thing is going to cause problems.

But back to the suspension of disbelief: Not that there is a time machine, that's okay, it's a standard  device, and the grandfather paradox and all like that. And there is another one, having to do with TK, but I'll leave that one alone. You'll know it when you see it and it won't be a surprise.

No, the big ones that are really hard to swallow involve why the bad guys ship them back to be busted and dusted:

Because in the future, it's really hard to hide a body.

We know this because of the voice-over narration the protagonist offers in the first three or four minutes, another standard and lazy-ass device SF&F movie makers use because the audience is obviously too ignorant to figure shit out on their own. A head-shaker for me, but maybe that's just because I'm in the biz.

In the future, it's really hard to hide a body.

Oh? How come? Because we get to see that future as the movie progresses and there are still oceans and land, and I'm assuming, fire, acid, and tree shredders ...

That's a howler. I might have tried to explain it using some kind of tech-talk DNA stuff, but even so, I wouldn't believe me. Besides which, there is a spoiler involving somebody who gets shot and killed in the future  that makes it all moot.

Apparently some bodies are not so hard to hide.

So you have a time machine and you don't send somebody back to make you king of the world? Write out all the lottery winners and send them back to your partner? Know when Apple will release the next iPhone? The possibilities are endless, but no, we use the past as a dumping ground for people we can't murder in our own time, because, er ... um ... ah ... ?

Uh huh. 

I don't understand how there can be time-machine-owning gangs in the future, because they have to be so stupid that remembering how to breathe would be beyond them, much less, you know, pushing a button ...

(And I must point out, if you have a time machine, you don't need to do anything but send them back a couple hours, because they will appear where the Earth was, which will then be in the middle of fucking nowhere, since the planet is traveling at something around 67,000 miles an hour in orbit around the sun and it won't be there when the time traveler arrives. 

Even if they are in the same spot next year–and they won't be–they'd burn up entering the atmosphere. But leave that.)

So them's the suspensions of disbelief you need to accept. If you can do that, and it takes some effort,then you'll have a fine time, because it's a good movie. It has Bruce Willis in it, and it is a cut above summer action flicks because you actually get some real characters to care abou,t and some emotional content other than watching stuff blow up. I much enjoyed it, caveats notwithstanding.