Thursday, January 31, 2008

Gosh, I've been a real slacker of a blogger this week. What can I say? Things are slow.

Sunday, January 27, 2008

The Reading Report

After being so impressed with Stephen King's Duma Key, it was hard to find something else to read. Other novels I tried kind of paled in comparison so I decided to read short stories and non fiction for the weekend. I finished up A Vintage From Atlantis, the third volume in the collected short stories of Clark Ashton Smith. There were quite a few pure horror stories in this volume which weren't as effective as Smith's weird fiction. Seemed almost as if he had been trying to write to the horror pulp market, and in fact the notes in the back of the book bore this out. Smith was seeking other places to sell his stories besides Weird Tales, so he wrote some 'standard' horror and science fiction yarns. They're still above average stories but they don't have the same impact as Smith's more personal work.
Then I read L. Sprague de Camp's Literary Swordsmen and Sorcerers, which is a collection of essays about the early writers of heroic fantasy, including William Morris, Lord Dunsany, Robert E. Howard, H.P. Lovecraft, and the aforementioned Clark Aston Smith. The first chapter alone, which is a concise history of the literature of the fantastic, is worth the price of the book. Very cool.
Then I delved into Donald Kagan's The Peloponnesian War, a massive history of the war between the Athenians and the Spartans that lasted almost three decades and changed the course of world history. Probably the definitive modern work on the conflict so far.
Then, still missing Mr. King, I decided on a re-read of his novella, The Library Policeman, one of the stories I was reminded of while reading Duma Key. (From the collection Four Past Midnight) I think this one would make a good movie. It's only a couple of hundred pages and it has a nice, suspenseful structure to it, with the usual King creepy scenes and the occasional gross out.
The weekend isn't quite over so I'll probably read something else before bedtime. I'll let you know.

Saturday, January 26, 2008

The Usual Suspects

Some of you have asked for a picture of my occasional guest cats. That's Bruce on the left and Amelia on the right. They're rarely as calm as they look here...

Friday, January 25, 2008

In Praise of Penguin

Can I just say a quick word about Penguin Classics? I love these books. Penguin publishes affordable trade paperbacks of any number of classic works of literature, folklore, and so forth. They're well made books and rarely cost more than fifteen bucks. Some of my favorites include Michael Psellus' Fourteen Byzantine Rulers, Charles Dickens' Selected Journalism, and The Icelandic Sagas. I also have nifty Penguin editions of The Prisoner of Zenda, The Three Musketeers, A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur's, Court and The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn. In recent months I've bought The Agricola and The Germania by Tacitus, King Harald's Saga by Sturluson, Gothic Tales by Jane Gaskell, Seven Viking Romances from the Norse Sagas, and a new edition of Jane Austen's Sense and Sensibility. All of these books have lengthy introductions, copious notes, and lists of recommended further reading. If there are several editions of a classic work available at the bookstore, I almost always pick the Penguin edition because I know I'll get a quality book with a lot of extras. Just thought I'd mention that since I have a big stack of their books here on my desk right now.

Tuesday, January 22, 2008

Black Pantheon

You know it occurs to me after reading Duma Key that Stephen King has accumulated quite the little pantheon of his own Elder Gods. Things that wait, sleeping in the outer dark and the lost places of the world. Not Cthulhu or Yog Sothoth or Nyarlathotep, but Tak and Perse, and IT and whatever the Library Policeman was. I think H.P. Lovecraft would have approved.

Happy Birthday Two-gun Bob!

Today is Robert E. Howard's birthday. So hoist a tankard of ale, or in my case a Coke Zero, to the creator of Kull, Solomon Kane, Bran Mak Morn, and of course, Conan of Cimmeria.

Duma Key

After a couple of disappointing books, (Cell and The Colorado Kid) I'd begun to think that Stephen King and I might be through. I passed on his recent Richard Bachman novel, Blaze, and on his most recent book written under his own name, Lisey's Story. Figured I might get around to trying them in paperback at some point, but I was in no hurry.
Cliff (who had also been disappointed with a lot of recent King) had heard good things about King's latest, Duma Key, though, and he said he was going to give it a try, so I decided to join him.
Boy am I glad I did.
This is King as I remember him. A six hundred page monster of a book that defies you to put it down. I did all the things that true readers love to do. I stayed up too late, knowing that I had to go to work the next morning. I read until my eyes were tired and my brain was telling me to quit reading because I probably wouldn't remember what I'd read the next morning if I didn't stop. When I wasn't reading the book, I was thinking about it. Ah, I don't get many of those nowadays.
In many ways Duma Key reminds me of what is probably my favorite King novel, Bag of Bones. The protagonist has suffered a tragedy and the story of his recovery is tied up with a slowly unfolding mystery entwined with a growing supernatural menace. Character is everything here and there are people in this book that stay with you long past the final page.
I have to wonder how much of King's own brush with death in a horrendous accident played in his chronicling of the suffering and recovery of his hero, Edgar Freemantle. King writes of pain as only someone who has felt it can write, it seems. There are other parallels to King's life, though I may be projecting, since I know that despite the old "write what you know" adage, some authors write best of things they've never experienced. Edgar Rice Burroughs comes to mind. In particular there is the connection between creativity and depression. One character tells another at one point that,

"Only broken people are special on Duma Key. Once you're no longer broken, you're no longer special."

There are some genuinely creepy moments in Duma Key, as you would expect from Stephen King, but the horror takes back seat to the characters in this one, much as in the aforementioned Bag of Bones. Anyway, as you can probably tell, I really enjoyed this novel. If you've given up on Stephen King, give Duma Key a try.

Monday, January 21, 2008

Dark Dreams

Had another Robert E. Howard style dream this morning, one day before the anniversary of his birth. I was staying in a rustic motel in the mountains and somehow two spiders about the size of German Shepherds got into my room. All I had to fight them with was a hatchet, which meant I had to get a lot closer to them than I really wanted to. I'm not afraid of spiders but when they're that big, they're pretty damn creepy. And they were extremely aggressive, doing their best to get to me while I was hacking at one with the hatchet and holding the other off using a chair as an improvised shield. They made particularly horrible hissing screeches as they died and left great quantities of blackish blood everywhere. (I hope I complained to the management of the motel.)
Trish says I bring this sort of thing on myself with the stuff I read. There's probably some truth in that, though I was having vivid nightmares well before I could read. However, a lifetime's reading of science fiction, fantasy, horror, and mystery has doubtlessly added to the pool from which my subconscious drinks.
Anyway, I woke up about 2:00 to find a gibbous moon shining through the blinds so brightly that it seemed to throw small pools of silver foxfire on the bed and floor. Took me a while to get back to sleep.

Sunday, January 20, 2008

Kothar and the Conjurer's Curse

Oddly enough, this is the one Kothar novel that I didn't own until just recently. There are a couple of reasons for that. First and most important is that I simply never ran across a copy. Of the five Kothar books by Gardner Fox, the two that seem to show up the most in used bookstores are Kothar of the Magic Sword and Kothar and the Wizard Slayer. See those all the time still. After that, in order of descending obscurity, are Kothar and the Demon Queen, and Kothar, Barbarian Swordsman. (Which sounds like what Kothar would have on business cards.)
And Conjurer's Curse? Never saw it in all my years of digging through used book stores. Now of course, I've long known I could order it from various internet sources, but I wasn't in any big hurry to get it because I knew I'd already read the story.
See, back in the day, when Roy Thomas was writing Marvel's Conan the Barbarian comic book, Roy adapted the plots of several non-Conan stories into Conan tales, changing the original protagonist into Conan. I've mentioned his use of Norvell Page's Prester John stories and a couple of others in earlier posts. Well he did the same thing with Fox's Conjurer's Curse, adapting the novel over a half dozen or so issues of Conan. Knowing Roy, I figured he'd stuck pretty close to the plot of the book, so that's why I said I'd already read the story.
But, since I am now attempting to amass the definitive collection of Sword & Sorcery books, with particular focus on the late 1960s early 1970s spate of Conan knock-offs, and because Curse has perhaps the best Jeff Jones cover in the series, and because I suddenly decided I wanted to compare the novel to the comic, I ordered a copy from Amazon.
I was right about the adaptation. Roy followed the plot almost exactly, mostly just changing the names of the places and things to fit the Hyborian Age and leaving everything else. He added a couple of bits of action and made a few changes to the ending, but for the most part, the Conan version is a very tight adaptation of the Kothar adventure.
The book itself is a lot of fun. Fox had a very straight forward narrative style. Nothing fancy, but he could tell a story clearly and the adventures, foes, and monsters he dreams up for Kothar are imaginative and interesting. Anyone who's read any of Fox's comic book stories knows that he was famous for his plots which move along quickly and logically and usually have nifty resolutions. Most of his Super Hero stories are sort of like mysteries in that there's usually one vital thing the hero has to figure out to solve a problem or defeat an enemy. This shows up again and again in his Justice League and Adam Strange stories, and it's there to a lesser degree in Kothar and the Conjurer's Curse. An amulet introduced in the first few pages will become very important to the resolution, but Kothar has to figure that out.
The only problem with the Kothar books is that a modern reader will find them to be almost completely devoid of characterization. The characters are extremely one dimensional so people raised on today's 'heart on the sleeve' writing style may find Kothar and crew to be a little flat. But that's how this sort of book was written in those days, so there's not much point in complaining about it. Best to just put your brain into neutral and ride with Kothar on a quest that includes a lost princess, a living mosaic, goblins, a woman who lives with wolves, three evil sorcerers, two demons from the outer gulfs, and a whole lot of sword slinging fights.

Friday, January 18, 2008

Tarzan and the Jungle Boy

I think I mentioned a while back that I'd bought a DVD set of the three Mike Henry Tarzan movies. 1968's Tarzan and the Jungle Boy was Henry's third and last appearance as the Lord of the Jungle. Technically speaking, it may also be the closest anyone has come to actually putting Edgar Rice Burroughs's vision of Tarzan on the big screen. The first two Henry Tarzan films, Tarzan and the City of Gold and Tarzan and the Great River, both contain elements of the then prevalent 60s James Bond craze, especially City of Gold. Jungle Boy loses the Bond style prologue and just begins with Tarzan in the African rainforest, watching someone parachute out of a prop plane. He goes to investigate and finds a lovely lady reporter who has come to seek his help in locating a boy lost in the jungle seven years earlier. A recent photograph shows what looks like the titular Jungle Boy in a remote area of the jungle. Tarzan agrees to help out, and we're off.
The reason this one comes so close to Burroughs is that Henry not only speaks perfect English, but he really looks like Tarzan. The former football player has the sculpted but not overly heavy physique one would expect from Tarzan and with his chiseled features and black hair, he looks like a Russ Manning drawing come to life. Aside from the fact that he's accompanied by the ubiquitous Cheetah the chimp instead of Nkima the monkey, Henry's Tarzan is pretty spot on for the later ERB books especially, when Jane was seldom mentioned and Tarzan was more of a roving adventurer and guardian of "his" jungle. In his fights with the bad guys he is brutal and no nonsense and has no compunction about killing, just like the Tarzan in the books.
The leading lady in this one is Aliza Gur, looking very sexy in a 1960s way with her false eyelashes and her tight trousers. Furthering the Bond connection, Gur was a bond girl in From Russia with Love. She also made the rounds of the 60s adventure TV shows appearing on The Wild Wild West, The Man From U.N.C.L.E., Daniel Boone, The Big Valley, etc.
I remember seeing this one at the Theater when I was a kid, and I watched it countless times in reruns on TV. This is my first viewing in about a decade though and I thoroughly enjoyed it.
I keep thinking it's about time someone filmed a new version of Tarzan, one that comes closer to the books. If they do, I think they should get away from the origin story and film one of the novels that has a lost civilization or dinosaurs. Tarzan the Terrible comes to mind with its triceratops and its monkey-men and its human sacrifices in barbaric temples. That's the sort of thing that would get audiences fired up these days, not another tired retelling of the old Tarzan meets Jane story. There were two dozen Tarzan novels, but for some reason everyone just keeps adapting the first one over and over.

And More Snow?

According to the weatherman we have about a 90% chance of a couple more inches of snow starting tonight and carrying over into Saturday. That suits me fine. That way I can watch it fall but I don't have to worry about trying to go anywhere. One of the little used (in fact, so far unused) advantages of my knowing how to cook now, is that I actually keep food in the house and I can cook it if I get stuck at home. heh. Made my weekly grocery store run yesterday so I'm stocked up.
I have food and I have books and DVDs. Let it snow.

Thursday, January 17, 2008


The last couple of days, the weather men had been predicting an ice storm or at least some sleet, with some snow in the North Georgia mountains. When the 'winter event' finally arrived though, it was all snow. Fell for about five hours yesterday in my area, fairly steadily. I got home from work shortly before it started. By 5:30 or so, big, heavy flakes were falling, obscuring the world in a glowing white fog.
Made for an interesting ride to Doctor No's once night had fallen. The roads held about an inch of slippery slush and the snow was still falling hard, driving into my windshield (looking rather like a hyper-space jump, as Brett pointed out.) as I made my way down Chastain road amidst the late evening commuter traffic. Pretty hairy trip.
The snow continued for another couple of hours but was changing over to rain by the time the crew left dinner. (We left a little early since we were the only customers left and we could tell the owners wanted to close and go home.)
The drive home, while still a little slippery, was much less tense than the ride over. There was maybe an inch and a half of snow on most of the grassy surfaces. The most I've seen accumulated in quite some time.
Most of the snow is gone this morning since temperatures hung around 34 all night and the rain fell steadily. No dangers for the ride in to work this morning. I was hoping for a snow day, but there ya go. I still got the best part, which is watching the snow fall. I never get tired of that.

Monday, January 14, 2008

Reading Report

Started the weekend by finishing up James Patterson's Maximum Ride: School's Out Forever. Had a lot of fun with it and I'll get the third volume in the series when it comes out in paperback later this month. My only complaint with the book is that it's essentially plotless. It's exciting and entertaining but basically one long series of chases, captures, escapes, and fights.
Then I re-read Robert E. Howard's Conan story 'Iron Shadows in the Moon', which I've already mentioned below, followed by Fritz Leiber's 'The Lords of Quarmal'.
After that I read most of an issue of Ellery Queen's Mystery Magazine and a bunch of Robin solo stories from the DC Showcase volume of Robin's sans Batman adventures. Most of these were pulled from the 70s and 80s when Dick Grayson was a college student at Hudson University and he and Batman were no longer partners, though there are a few stories from the 1950s and 60s. Not a stellar Showcase volume but some fun reading.
Sunday I switched over to some of the Norse sagas before moving on to the first volume in Simon R. Green's Nightside series, 'Something From the Nightside." Sort of a cross between Glen Cook's Garrett series and Neil Gaiman's Neverwhere with Green's private eye hero John Taylor doing the hard boiled thing in creepy pocket universe of London called the Nightside where it's always 3:00 am and all things dark and dangerous live. I enjoyed the book, though like many writers working the hardboiled PI turf, Green relies a little heavily on the Raymond Chandler style wisecracks and similes, so that at times he comes dangerously close to parody. This isn't Green's first time combining the fantasy and mystery fields. A decade or so back he chronicled the adventures of Hawk and Fisher, a husband an wife team of guards in the watch of the city of Haven. These stories mixed sword & sorcery with police procedure. Recently reprinted in two trade paperbacks as Swords of Haven and Guards of Haven. Well worth tracking down. Hawk and Fisher have a connection to a couple of Green's other books which I won't explain here, since discovering it is kind of fun.

Saturday, January 12, 2008

A Poet of the Dark

"The sun sank like a dull-glowing ball into a lake of fire. The blue of the sea merged with the blue of the sky, and both turned to soft dark velvet, clustered with stars and the mirrors of stars. Olivia reclined in the bows of the gently rocking boat in a state dreamy and unreal. She experienced an illusion that she was floating in midair, stars beneath her as well as above. Her silent companion was etched vaguely against the softer darkness. There was no break or falter in the rhythm of his oars: he might have been a fantasmal oarsman rowing her across the dark lake of Death. But the edge of her fear was dulled, and, lulled by the monotony of the motion, she passed into a quiet slumber."

That's Robert E. Howard from the Conan tale 'Iron Shadows in the Moon'. Many who haven't actually read Howard think his work was typical pulp blood and guts. Far from it. His stories are full of dark poetic images like this one. The man could write and he was an expert at setting and mood. It's just one of the things that makes his work stand out among his many imitators.

Thursday, January 10, 2008

900 Words

Over the last several months I've read a lot of novels by James Patterson. Some I really liked. Some were so-so. Some I never finished. Patterson is a book factory, churning out book after book with the help of a legion of ghost writers. The many hands involved in the production of his books probably accounts for some of the inconsistency in quality. No judgments here. A book is enjoyable or not, no matter how it was written and especially in the world of entertainment reading, the bottom line is, did you have a good time when you read the book. If so, the writer or writers did their job.
However, while wandering through Patterson Land, I did notice a couple of things that might be of use to my fellow writers. The main thing I noticed about Patterson's books is that one of his primary methods for giving a book a fast pace is the use of very short chapters. An average chapter is only three pages long and none are longer than five. Mr. Calculator tells me that this means that in a 123,000 word novel, about 415 printed pages in paperback, Patterson has 137 chapters of about 900 words each. Now from a writing standpoint this is kind of interesting. 900 words a day is a pretty small goal. If one were to only write a 900 word chapter every day (about four pages of a double spaced manuscript), one would have a novel in 137 days or roughly four and a half months.
As a test, I wrote such a chapter this morning, just to see how long it took. I got 900 pretty good words in 45 minutes. They'll need some editing, but there you go. So if the idea of writing a whole novel seems insurmountable, you might try for 900 words a day. Start tomorrow and by the end of May you could have a novel.

Wednesday, January 09, 2008

Adept's Gambit

I mentioned, a post or two ago, that Fritz Leiber's 'Adept's Gambit' is one of the stranger stories about Fafhrd and the Gray Mouser. What makes it so strange? It takes place on Earth.
All of the other tales of the Twain take place on the invented other-dimensional world of Newhon (That's No When spelled backwards). I can remember being somewhat confused when I first read the story back in the early 1970s. At that time Ace books was publishing the Fafhrd and Mouser stories in five volumes which gathered the original magazine stories and included new material written especially for the collections. All of the books had the word 'swords' in the title. Swords Against Death, Swords and Deviltry, etc etc. Adept's Gambit appears in the third volume, Swords in the Mist. (Later two more volumes would appear.)
Now being a good little reader, I was reading the books in the established chronological order (Once I had learned of it. I read Swords Against Wizardry first.), so I'd already read three entire volumes of the Twain's adventures on Newhon before I got to Gambit. Needless to say it was a bit odd to suddenly find Fafhrd and the Mouser in ancient Tyre, running into Egyptian priests and traveling to Alexandria. A new story called 'The Wrong Branch' had been tacked on to the beginning of Gambit. It explained that the boys had wandered into the wrong corridor of the labyrinthine caverns of the sorcerer Ningauble of the Seven Eyes and had accidentally crossed from their own universe into ours. The crossover readjusted their memories so that they thought they had always lived on Earth instead of Newhon and did most of their adventuring in Tyre instead of the city of Lankhmar. Very handy, though it seemed to me at the time to be a lot of trouble to go to for one adventure on Earth. (technically the boys visited Earth again in an issue of the Wonder Woman comic book of all places, but that's a story for another time.)
Years later I learned the real reason for the sojourn to Earth. Adept's Gambit was actually the first Fafhrd and the Gray Mouser story that Fritz Leiber ever wrote, though not the first published. When Leiber was originally conceiving the characters along with his friend Harry Otto Fischer, he wasn't exactly sure of their origins and so he set the story in recorded history. Thus the Twain were originally intended to be from our world, albeit an Earth where sorcery really worked in the past. Lieber submitted the story to Weird Tales, but it was rejected by Farnsworth Wright. This put Leiber in good company because Wright had at times rejected the work of Robert E. Howard, H.P. Lovecraft, and Clark Ashton Smith.
The story remained unpublished until it appeared in 'Night's Black Agents', the 1947 Arkham House collection of Leiber's work. By that time, Lieber had published several Fafhrd and Mouser stories in the magazine Unknown and their fictional lives on Newhon were already well established, making Adept's Gambit a bit hard to fit into continuity. When Ace published Swords in the Mist in 1968, Lieber took the opportunity to write 'The Wrong Branch' thereby making Adept's Gambit an official part of the continuity, explaining away its setting in the Seleucid Empire (323-281 BC) with a nice bit of sorcerous slight of hand.
Another weird element to Gambit is the constant mention of the Elder Gods. Leiber was corresponding with H.P. Lovecraft during the writing of Gambit and in fact, Lovecraft read and critiqued the manuscript and showed it around to other members of the 'Lovecraft circle'. Reportedly the manuscript originally contained even more references to Lovecraft's Cthulhu mythos, but those were removed before the story was published. But the references to the Elder Gods remain. See? I told you it was a strange story.

Monday, January 07, 2008

Only in Georgia

Five days ago the temperature was in the teens with wind chills in the single digits. Today I have the windows open and a ceiling fan going as I lift weights. What a nutty state...

Reading Report

Did quite a bit of reading over the weekend. Read a couple of short stories by Ross MacDonald from the collection The Archer Files. MacDonald is considered by most mystery fans and critics to be the third member of the trio of classic private eye writers, the other two being Dashiell Hammett and Raymond Chandler. MacDonald is credited with bringing new levels of realism and psychological elements to the PI school of writing. His influence is perhaps best demonstrated today in the work of Sue Grafton, who not only sets her stories in the California city of Santa Teresa, where some of MacDonald's novels are set, but her plots follow the basic structure of MacDonald's Lew Archer series.
According to Lawrence Block, author of the Matt Scudder mystery novels, MacDonald only had one real plot. Basically something terrible happened twenty or thirty years in the past and it catches up to the people involved decades later, destroying them and usually their families. That's pretty much true. Block also claimed that once you'd read an Archer novel, the plot evaporated form your mind and you could read it again without much trouble. I've found that to be true as well. Much like the work of MacDonald's predecessor and biggest influence, Raymond Chandler, the plots don't really matter in an Archer tale. Character and commentary on the world takes center stage.
The short stories are generally more concerned with traditional whodunits. There isn't really time for MacDonald to get too much into the psychological ramifications, etc, though elements of those things are there. Most of these stories were written relatively early in MacDonald's career and usually appeared in magazines like Manhunt. Still they have MacDonald's distinctive voice. Often called a Chandler imitator, MacDonald had a clearly identifiable style of his own. He was fond of the occasional simile, but for the most part the similarity to Chandler ends there, especially in the later books, written after his 'break-out' novel, the Galton Case.
The new collection, The Archer Files, contains all the Archer shorts and novellas, both published and unpublished. It also includes 13 fragments of never completed Archer stories. A must have for fans and collectors of Ross MacDonald.
Also read Northanger Abbey, which was the only Jane Austen novel I had never read. Often overlooked because it's vastly different from her other novels, Abbey is quite entertaining. The heroine has read entirely too many Gothic novels of the kind I've talked about before, and she tries to live her life as if she was the heroine of one of these books, which doesn't work out well, since the dramatic events and dire turns of fate she keeps waiting for fail to materialize. It's good that I waited until now to read the book because my newly accumulated knowledge of the Gothic novels of the 18th century added much to my enjoyment. I'm amazed as always at the freshness of Austen's prose, which remains surprisingly modern. Much like Dickens, Austen never seems to grow stale.
Also re-read Adept's Gambit, one of the longest of Fritz Lieber's Fafhrd and Gray Mouser stories, and one of the most unusual. I'll have to give it a post of its own, since it requires some explaining.
Currently reading James Patterson's Maximum Ride: School's Out Forever, the second volume in his young adult series about genetically engineered teenagers who have wings and super powers. I really enjoyed the first book. Don't know why it took me so long to get around to reading the second. Patterson (or one of his legion of ghost writers) does a fine job here, moving things along at the proverbial breakneck pace. Lots of action. Lots of fights. A surprising amount of heart.

Sunday, January 06, 2008

My pal Cliff recently upgraded his collection of James Bond DVDs and he gave his previous set to me. While not as big fan of the series as Cliff and Chris Appel, I have always liked James Bond and up until Pierce Brosnan took over the role, I'd seen all the films in the theater. Well, almost all of them. You see, as I was reminded by a documentary on the making of Dr. No, the first bond film, principle photography on the movie commenced shooting on February 2nd, 1962, three days before I was born. I have some memory of seeing part of a Bond movie at Howell's Drive-In in Canton when I was very young. I think it was Goldfinger, though it could have been Thunderball.
Anyway, my original intention was just to watch the DVD extras on the early films, since I'd watched them countless times on TV growing up, but I was so taken with the documentary footage that I've decided instead to have a chronological viewing of the Bond movies. I didn't have time to watch Dr. No today but I'll be watching it soon. I don't know that I've ever seen it sans commercials.

Shoot Em Up

This movie isn't anywhere near as cool as it thinks it is or as it wants to be. That said, it's a lot of fun in a mindless action movie sort of way, and there really are a lot of guns. Clive Owen plays a man with no name who gets pulled into a battle with an army of gunmen when he attempts to rescue a pregnant woman from some bad guys. I say attempts, because the mom doesn't make it. The baby does, however, delivered during the initial gunfight. (Yeah, I'm not kidding)
The main bad guy is played by Paul Giamatti, a really good actor who's woefully underused here. In fact, so is Clive Owen. Giamatti plays slimy and Owen plays tough and that's about the range for the film. Oh, and Monica Bellucci plays sexy as the hooker with a heart of gold. Wait a minute...this really is a spaghetti western. No wonder the lead has no name.
Anyway, if you enjoy John Woo movies, (and I do) you'll probably like Shoot Em Up. This one is rated R for language, violence, and sexual situations. There's some partial nudity and a lot of blood, so not one for the kids.

It's a Maxfield Parrish sky out there this morning, the clouds infused with that glow of rose and gold that appears in so many of his paintings. I'm in more of an Albrecht Durer mood, but we'll let that pass. Still a beautiful sunrise.
I've been out to breakfast and done a little grocery shopping. Usually I shop at a Publix close to work, but I didn't go Friday, so I went this morning to the Publix in my own neighborhood. I don't like it much because it's a bit trendy and attracts the yuppie crowd who are just irritating to watch, and also because everything is backwards from my usual store, which makes it seem as if I'm shopping in an alternate dimension. However at 7:00 am on A Sunday, the only other customer in the entire store is another middle aged guy who can't sleep. Anyway, it's morning and I need more coffee...

Saturday, January 05, 2008

Men of Letters

If you've ever seen any of my original artwork, you'll find that my signature for drawings is generally a C linked through an R. I only sign my name to drawings when requested, and even then I do the linked letters and then print arles utledge beside them. The CR is my signature. And here's why.
Back in 1972 or so when I first started seriously reading comic books, my first "favorite" artist was a guy named Jim Aparo. Aparo drew the Brave and the Bold, which was DC's Batman team-up book. In every issue Batman would team up with a different member (or members) of the DC universe. For some reason he was constantly teaming up with Green Arrow, Black Canary, and Wildcat, but other guest stars would include everyone from Hawkman to Wonder Woman, from Jack Kirby's The Demon to Jack Kirby's Kamandi the Last Boy on Earth. And no matter who guest starred in that issue, Aparo would draw them beautifully, often better than the artist in the characters own comic book.
Aparo's style has always struck me as a cross between Milton Caniff and Neal Adams. His brushwork had the same sort of heavy outlines and black shadows as Caniff (Terry and the Pirates/Steve Canyon) but then he would go in with a pen and do all kinds of feathering and lighting effects much like that of the king of realistic comic art, Neal Adams. Just beautiful stuff.
And the best thing is, you too can now marvel at the artwork of Jim Aparo as DC's Showcase series just released a second Volume of Brave and the Bold Batman team-ups, which features some of Aparo's earliest art on the book. Aparo came on board with issue 98 and would draw most of the issues from there until the comics eventual cancellation in the 1980s. His first story teamed the caped crusader with The Phantom Stranger, another signature character for Aparo. B&B Showcase 2 also features some fantastic art by Nick Cardy and the aforementioned Neal Adams, two artists deserving of their own posts here at Singular Points. I'm sure I'll talk about them eventually. This volume, which ends at issue 108, doesn't quite reach the point where I started reading the title (issue 111), so I'm eagerly looking forward to a volume 3.
Anyway, Jim Aparo was my favorite artist when I first began to learn to draw and so I based my signature on his. To this day, I'll scribble a quick CR on a drawing when I finish it. Now you know my secret.

Friday, January 04, 2008

Car Trouble Redux

Well it turned out to be a clogged heater core, which isn't that big a deal. So hopefully that takes care of that.

Car Trouble

Or more precisely, Truck trouble. My truck is six years old, so it's begun to have a few problems. (And of course cars know when they're paid for they should begin to malfunction.) Anyway, I'm taking it to the shop today to have it looked at, which is always annoying, particularly since my mechanic is in Canton where I used to live, so I have to take it up there and leave it.
However, I must say that one of the nice things about being debt free and having money in the bank is that a car malfunction is no longer a source of panic. I can pay to have it fixed, and if worse came to worse, I can afford a car payment again, though I really don't want one. So hopefully things can be patched up and I can get another year or two out of the truck. Not the way i wanted to begin my weekend, but there ya go.

Thursday, January 03, 2008


Well the new year has begun and I'm still feeling a little out of focus. (Look, my edges are blurry.) Last year at this time I had a couple of major goals. Get out of debt and lose weight. 50 pounds and a clean financial slate later, I have taken care of that. This year I
See what I mean? Not really pushing toward anything at the moment. I do plan to lose a little more weight, but only 10-15 pounds or one more pants size, whichever comes first. But that should only take eight to ten weeks. No big commitment there.
I need to think of what I want to do next, but somehow I'm just not in a planning mood. Guess I'll just continue to make things up as I go...