October 2015

October was a relatively quiet month. I spent a lot of it watching episodes of Person of Interest.

I did manage to see sixteen movies:

  • Kumiko, the Treasure Hunter
  • The Martian
  • The Final Girls
  • Casino Royale
  • Focus
  • Tremors 5: Bloodlines
  • The Trip to Italy
  • No Way Out
  • The Day the Earth Stood Still
  • Barbarella
  • Crimson Peak
  • A Bridge too Far
  • The Uninvited
  • Saw
  • Ju-On: The Grudge
  • Dracula

I think Crimson Peak was easily my favorite of them — almost not at all the horror movie its advertising seems to suggest, but a remarkably well crafted gothic romance. How well it adheres to the accepted “rules” of that genre, I couldn’t necessarily say, but it was a ridiculously beautiful (and sometimes beautifully ridiculous) movie, and it’s definitely, as the lead character says at the top, not a ghost story but a story with a ghost in it.

Kumiko, the Treasure Hunter is such a strange movie. There are some stunningly beautiful shots, a great performance by Rinko Kikuchi, but it’s so desperately, weirdly sad.

The Martian is a very entertaining movie of no real depth or consequence. It might therefore be the most faithful book adaptation of all time. The movie drops some of the book’s engineering procedures and mishaps in favor of making the characters seem more like real humans. But most of the heavy lifting is done by casting good actors and hoping the problem-plot will move fast enough you can ignore that the characters themselves are remarkably underwritten. (When I read the book in September I was hesitant to even call anyone in the book a character, they’re so thinly sketched.) Like the book, it’s unremarkable but enjoyably successful for what it is.

The Final Girls looked a lot more fun in its trailer, a silly meta-commentary on ’70s and ’80s slasher movies. And it is that…to a point, with some amusing moments and occasional cleverness, and the cast is really good. Heaven knows the movie wears its heart on its sleeve. But ultimately it was just disappointing.

But then, so too were some of the actual horror movies I watched this month — particularly Saw and Ju-On: The Grudge. I think I understand what it is about Saw that spawned so many sequels, and even when he’s making terrible movies I think James Wan is a talented director. But hoo boy, Saw really is a bad movie. It’s one of those things you maybe have to watch if you’re going to stay culturally aware, if you’re going to talk knowledgeably about the horror genre. And it’s legitimately tense. But it’s also ridiculous, a whole lot less clever than it thinks, and ending on what’s both an incredible twist and just plain dumb. The idea of watching six more of them makes me want to saw my own leg off.

Ju-On was a lot better, but also a whole lot less scary than I was expecting. I don’t know if it’s the practical nature of the effects — ghosts played by actors in white makeup — or that I’ve seen these j-horror tropes repeated so often elsewhere, but for me the movie failed on its most fundamental level: it didn’t scare me. It’s interesting beyond that — if only to glimpse a more suburban Japan — but not hugely compelling.

In fact, despite Halloween, and despite having watched a fair number of horror movies this month, the scariest was probably 1944’s The Uninvited. And, good as that is, it’s also not especially frightening.

As for Tremors 5…well, if you absolutely loved all the other movies in the franchise…this might still be a Graboid too far, but it’s not without its entertainment value, thanks mostly to Michael Gross, who’s basically the only thing still tying this to the original film. I’m not exactly a Tremors completist — I saw most but not all of the prequel movie and didn’t see the TV series at all — but that’s basically who this was made for.

Lots of older movies in the list. Like Casino Royale and Barbarella, which are both ridiculous, but only one of which wears that well. (Hint: it’s the movie with the weightlessly floating naked Jane Fonda in it.) Roger Ebert pretty accurately summed up Casino Royale — not the Daniel Craig version — as “…a definitive example of what can happen when everybody working on a film goes simultaneously berserk.” It has a sort of shiny incoherence to it, a totally terrible movie, but one worth watching strictly because of that terribleness. I finished watching it and my only thought was, “What even was that movie?”

But hey, it gave us Burt Bacharach’s “The Look of Love”, so it’s not all bad.

Barbarella, on the other hand, I found delightful. I don’t want to suggest it’s a good movie, since it is deeply weirdly and nonsensical. But…well, you have to understand, I’ve seen Zardoz, so my tolerance for weird and nonsensical might be a little inflated.

There’s not a lot to say about the other movies. Focus was better than I’d been led to believe, but I’d been led to believe it was pretty dire, so… The Trip to Italy isn’t much different than the original The Trip, although this one maybe belongs more to Rob Brydon than Steve Coogan. No Way Out is very much a late-’80s political thriller, just like The Day the Earth Stood Still is very much early-’50s message SF, both effective for what they are. Dracula has Lugosi’s performance — and such a legacy you almost have to watch it — in what’s a very condensed version of the book, closer, apparently, to the stage play, which I’ve never seen. And A Bridge Too Far does a good job of recreating an unsuccessful war operation, and an even better job of creating an unsuccessful movie. I spent a lot of time talking about it on Twitter, but I think that’s only because the movie itself is several months long.

I read two very good books in October: Zen Cho’s Sorcerer to the Crown and M.R. Carey’s The Girl With All the Gifts.

I knew Cho’s work mostly from a story I published earlier this year in Kaleidotrope, while Carey’s work I knew exclusively from comics, like his long run on DC’s Lucifer. Both books were great, very different from each other, but highly recommended.

I read thirty-six short stories in October. My favorites among them:

  • “Solder and Seam” by Maria Dahvana Headley (Lightspeed)
  • “Follow Me Down” by Nicolette Barischoff (Fireside Fiction)
  • “Silencer, Head Like a Hole Remix” by E. Catherine Tobler (Interzone)
  • “The Fresh Prince of Gamma World” by Austin Grossman (Press Start to Play)
  • “The Shapes of Us, Translucent to Your Eye” by Rose Lemberg (Unlikely Story)
  • “Soteriology And Stephen Greenwood: The Role of Salus in the Codex Lucis” by Julia August (Unlikely Story)
  • “Crystal” by Ken Liu (Daily Science Fiction)
  • “The Game of Smash and Recovery” by Kelly Link (Strange Horizons)
  • “8 Steps to Winning Your Partner Back (From the Server)” by A. T. Greenblatt (Daily Science Fiction)
  • “The Law of the Conservation of Hair” by Rachael K. Jones (Shimmer)
  • “The Devil Is Beating His Wife Today” by Sandra McDonald (Daily Science Fiction)
  • “The Lonesome Place” by August Derleth (American Supernatural Tales)

And my own story from Andromeda Spaceways Inflight Magazine #61, “When Jane Was Nine,” finally became available in electronic format. Just five bucks — and that might be in Australian dollars — you can read my robot shark meets girl detective story, plus lots of other great work!

And finally, in October, I listened to some music. If you wanted, you could listen to it too:

September 2015

September. September. What the heck did I do in September?

Well, I went to Washington, DC, for work for a few days. Unfortunately, my visit coincided with the Pope’s, which kept a lot of the faculty members I had planned to meet with on campus away. I didn’t have any problem at Georgetown, the Tuesday the Pontiff was still in transit, but Wednesday at GWU in Foggy Bottom was pretty quiet. I met with only one professor all day, which is an all-time low. I had plenty of cancellations the next day at American University, too, but there I easily met with three times as many people.

I’ve spent a lot of this past week making phone calls with instructors to reschedule our chats. It’s now finally done, for better or worse, and I have notes from about seventeen instructors I’ll likely spend most of this coming Monday typing up.

Beyond that, I’m hard-pressed to think what I actually did with the month.

I watched five movies:

  • Next
  • The Rules of the Game
  • Kwaidan
  • The Secret Life of Walter Mitty
  • Byzantium

I think Byzantium was the best of them, and Next easily the worst. The former’s a genuinely interesting and unique take on the vampire myth, with really great performances by Saoirse Ronan and Gemma Arterton, while the latter’s a painfully dumb Nicolas Cage movie. (And to think, it’s the movie I decided on after I quit watching Crank midway though because I thought it was unenjoyable and stupid.)

Kwaidan is gorgeous, if very slow, but at least it does something with its beautiful visuals. Walter Mitty, on the other hand, looks great, but in the service of such an uninteresting story.

I liked The Rules of the Game a lot, but I don’t have a whole lot to say about it, I guess.

In September, I managed to read three books, which is at least one better than what I’ve been averaging each month this year. (Seriously, as of today, I’ve only read sixteen books since January. It’s a little sad.) This month, I was helped by my long drive to and from DC, listening to Amy Poehler read from her memoir Yes Please along the way. (It’s really great.) I also read A Stranger in Olondria by Sofia Samatar, which is kind of deliriously beautiful, and The Martian, which is…well, it’s enjoyable for what it is.

I finally caught up with Andy Weir’s book in anticipation of the movie, opening this weekend I think, and I’m a little surprised it became such a sensation. Mark Watney, Weir’s stranded astronaut, can be entertaining, but I hesitate to call him, much less anyone else in the book, a character. There’s nothing elegant to Weir’s prose, nor any real depth to the people he’s writing about. I didn’t dislike the book, and heaven knows it reads quickly and does exactly what it says on the tin, but at times I felt like I was trapped inside a math problem.

I feel like Weir would write a really interesting intro science textbook, but I’m not losing sleep waiting on his next novel.

I read fifty-two stories in September. (I may have been helped considerably by the purchase of this flash fiction collection. The stories are very short.) Favorites, listed in the order I read them, include:

I do note most of those Flash Fiction International stories, much as I may like them in the moment — and as much as they may help me make my story-a-day quota — don’t really stick with me, nor make the favorites list. Oh well.

I don’t include any of my own stories, of course — though I do have one in Mythic Delirium that just went live — or the stories I bought and edited for Kaleidotrope — whose newest issue also just went live, by the way. Let’s take it as read that I love all of those and you will too.

Finally, in September, I listed to some music. If you’re so inclined, you could listen to it too:

August 2015

So. August. A mostly uneventful month.

My parents spent a week or two of it vacationing in Scotland, leaving me on my lonesome, and I decided to live it up by catching a cold. I’m feeling a lot better, even if I still haven’t completely shaken the cough, but I spent the Saturday night before their return huddled under a blanket watching the live-stream of the Hugo Awards.

You can read more about that — the Awards, not the blanket — well, pretty much anywhere. This year got a mite contentious, so it was really nice to see fandom step up for diversity, good writing, and for generally not behaving like an asshole.

Anyway, when I haven’t been sick, I’ve still be writing. The issue of Andromeda Spaceways with my story “When Jane Was Nine” ame in the mail in August, and I’ve just this week seen the cover art for the issue of Mythic Delirium that will include my story “Directions.” I’ll post more about those when the issues are available online for sale, both of which will hopefully be before the year’s out. I have a number of other flash pieces I’m in the process of either writing or submitting, and a longer story I need to go back to at some point and revise, but the short-lived streak I had at the beginning of the year of selling stories (three of them!) seems to have slowed into a steady pattern of rejection. But we’ll see.

In August, I read two books, which sadly doubled my recent average. They were Counting Heads by David Marusek, which had long been on my to-read list but moved up after Kelly Link recommended it on Twitter, and Fearful Symmetries, a horror anthology I picked up at Readercon in July. I enjoyed them both.

In August, I saw eight movies:

  • Silver Streak
  • Mission: Impossible – Rogue Nation
  • Tig
  • The Guest
  • A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night
  • The Man from U.N.C.L.E.
  • Seeking a Friend for the End of the World
  • Grabbers

Mission Impossible was probably the best of these, though I’m not sure there was a true stinker in the mix. Silver Streak is kind of dated, weirdly paced, and actually less funny than I expected for the iconic first pairing of Gene Wilder and Richard Pryor. But it’s okay. The Guest is violent and stylized — it feels like a pastiche of ’80s movies without actually being one — but also a lot of fun. I didn’t love A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night, but I’ve never really seen anything like it — it bills itself as “the first Iranian vampire Western” — and I can see why so many people have loved it. U.N.C.L.E. was a surprising amount of fun. There’s no reason for it to exist, but its leads are good, it’s funny, and there are some really decent action set-pieces. Seeking a Friend is a weird mix of comedy and drama that doesn’t always work — it gets very dark, then very broad — but it’s remarkably sweet and touching thanks to its own two leads. And Grabbers…well, that was suggested by Heather, who watched it with me over Twitter, and it was also good fun. A smartly goofy horror comedy.

In July, I read thirty-five short stories, a whole bunch from the aforementioned Fearful Symmetries. Favorites included:

  • “Life on the Sun” by C.S.E. Cooney (Bone Swans)
  • “Her Pound of Flesh” by Cassandra Khaw (Mythic Delirium)
  • “And We Were Left Darkling” by Sarah Pinsker (Lightspeed)
  • “A Wish from a Bone” by Gemma Files (Fearful Symmetries)
  • “It is Healing, It is Never Whole” by Sunny Morraine (Apex)
  • “Given the Advantage of the Blade” by Genevieve Valentine (Lightspeed)
  • “Mount Chary Galore” by Jeffrey Ford (Fearful Symmetries)
  • “The Atlas of Hell” by Nathan Ballingrud (Fearful Symmetries)
  • “Suffer Little Children” by Robert Shearman (Fearful Symmetries)

And in August I listened to some music:

That, and work, was basically my month. How about you?

July 2015

July was pretty good.

I attended Readercon near the start of the month, and that was a lot of fun. I met a few people, briefly, some I’d only chatted with on Twitter, some I’d never met before. (I chatted for a few minutes with Ted Chiang, and am deeply embarrassed to admit I didn’t know that’s who I was talking to. I made sure to buy a copy of his short story collection, on sale in the dealer’s room.) I attended a lot of great panels and readings, and had to miss out on a lot of others. It was a good time, and I’m seriously considering going back next year.

I read what I guess is one book last month: Wool by Hugh Howey. I say “guess” because it wasn’t written as a single book originally. It’s an “omnibus” edition of stories he released online. I liked it, and some of it a lot, but it definitely felt too long and pieced together. I mean, I’ve been reading fewer full books this year, and tend to read slowly as is, but it really shouldn’t have taken me quite so long. It was an interesting enough world that I’d consider looking into the follow-up books/collections, Shift and Dust, but for right now I’m just kind of glad it’s done.

I saw five movies once again in July:

  • Interstellar
  • It Follows
  • The Warriors
  • Ant-Man
  • Ex Machina

With the exception of Interstellar, I liked them all, even the dated and fairly silly The Warriors. Interstellar, meanwhile, is sometimes great to look at and has its moments, but it’s not very good as a movie.

Seriously, it’s three hours long and feels every one of them. It’s a very well made, sometimes well acted, bad movie. It made me happy that the Bad Astronomy blog agreed.

In July, I read thirty-two short stories. Favorites included:

  • “Pirate Songs” by Nicolette Barischoff (Accessing the Future)
  • “Courting the Silent Sun” by Rachael K. Jones (Accessing the Future)
  • “Wendigo Nights” by Siobhan Carroll (Fearful Symmetries)
  • “Episode Three: On the Great Plains, In the Snow” by John Langan (Fearful Symmetries)
  • “The Magical Negro” by Nnedi Okorafor (Kabu-Kabu)
  • “Hell Is the Absence of God” by Ted Chiang (Stories of Your Life and Others)
  • “Shay Corsham Worsted” by Garth Nix (Fearful Symmetries)
  • “Catching Flies” by Carole Johnstone (Fearful Symmetries)
  • “The Button Bin” by Mike Allen (Unseaming)
  • “Shoggoths in Bloom” by Elizabeth Bear (Shoggoths in Bloom)
  • “The Other Forty-Two” by Sean Williams (Daily Science Fiction)

Most of those were from collections I bought at Readercon. (I came back with a lot of books and could have come back with a lot more.) The Ted Chiang book and Fearful Symmetries, which won the Shirley Jackson Award for best edited anthology while I was at the con, have so far been every penny I spent on them and then some.

Of course, July was also the first time that I managed to miss reading a story one day, the first time that’s happened since January 1. I know it shouldn’t, but it still really bugs me.

I wrote some, never as much as I should have, but I’m plugging away at some things. A few stories out for submission, a few more that will (hopefully) publish before the end of the year. And I’m still meeting with my weekly free-writing group.

And in July I listened to a little, though not a whole lot of actually, music:

I think that’s mostly been the month. How’s been yours?

June 2015

June was better than May, I guess, even if I’m still not 100% convinced by this 2015 thing.

I read two books, which seems to be what I’m averaging lately each month. The first was Nemesis Games by James S.A. Corey, the latest book in the Expanse series, which did not disappoint. And the second was Sourcery by Terry Pratchett, continuing my slowly ongoing read of the entire Discworld series.

Pratchett has his weaknesses — he’s maybe not phenomenal at describing big action set-pieces, of which there are occasionally a few — but the warmth and humor in the books just keeps getting stronger with each volume. (And here it was just nice to see Rincewind and the Luggage again.) I’m led to understand the some of the very late books, like Raising Steam, might not be as good, but right now I’m really enjoying the series and discovering it all for the first time.

Right now, though, I’m taking a short break before moving on to Pratchett’s Wyrd Sisters and reading Wool by Hugh Howey.

I saw only five movies in June:

  • The Curse of Frankenstein
  • Kingsman: The Secret Service
  • Jupiter Ascending
  • The Falcon and the Snowman
  • Dumbo

None were what I’d call remarkable, though they all had some great moments.

Well, maybe not Jupiter Ascending, but that sure isn’t for lack of trying. I don’t think there’s anything that movie doesn’t try. I give the Wachowskis a whole lot of credit this kind of ballsy, heart-on-their-sleeve kind of film-making, even when it when really doesn’t pay off.

The biggest problem with Jupiter Ascending — beyond whatever it is that Eddie Redmayne’s doing with his voice, which is also the best thing about the movie — is that instead of being one big space opera epic it tries to be about twenty. It’s better once you figure out the basic plot underlying all the other exposition and window-dressing, but oh man is there a lot of that to get through.

I was a much bigger fan of the Wachowskis’ recent Netflix series Sense8, which also really shouldn’t work on paper. (It’s not the place to go, for instance, if you’re looking for propulsive narrative. Or maybe narrative at all.) But it’s so risky and courageous, and strange and diverse, and made with such warmth and love, that I completely and totally fell for it.

Frankenstein was good solid Hammer horror, the first pairing of Peter Cushing and Christopher Lee. (Lee’s recent passing was why I sought the movie out.) The Falcon and the Snowman has good performances, particularly from Sean Penn. Kingsman has an uber-British Colin Firth and a couple of genuinely incredible set-pieces, though it’s considerably weaker in other respects. And Dumbo is…well, it’s short, only about an hour in total, and some of it’s quite lovely. But maybe it’s the short length, maybe it’s that Dumbo as a character never speaks, or maybe it’s just a product of when it was made — the movie’s not overtly racist, but those crows aren’t the best characters. I’d just say it’s not essential Disney, I guess.

In June, I read 34 short stories. My favorites were:

I didn’t write as much, and it’s been many weeks since my online writing group last met, but I’m hoping to change that. The former part — the writing — that I need to change.

I also listened to some music in June, though not as much new stuff:

There are months like that. Some months, it’s like I can’t stop stumbling over new songs I want to keep listening to, and then some months…there are only seven.

Anyway, that was June for me. Beyond that, it was mostly work and getting the tires on my car replaced. Exciting times, I know. I did put together a new issue of Kaleidotrope that I’m really happy with. So there’s that.

How have you been?