Saturday, October 31, 2009

Book: Tin Type

Boilerplate - History's Mechanical Marvel by Paul Guinan and Anina Bennett, Abrams Image, 2009.

Where I got this book: Spy Comics. It was a light week for my regular comics pull, and the cover of the 168-page hardback shows Pancho Villa posing next to a Victorian robot. Call me an easy sell.

Boilerplate is a pictorial history of the robot of the same name who made its debut at the 1893 Chicago World's Fair and disappeared in action during WWI, and during its brief time experienced just about every important moment of that age without changing history in the least. And it makes for a very entertaining book.

Boilerplate the robot is the creation of Prof. Archibald Campion, constructed in the wake of the death of the fiance of his sister, Lily, in a military action. With the aid of fuel cell inventor Edward Fullerton, mad-science genius Nikolai Tesla, and the brilliant Frank Reade Jr, who had previous invented a steam-powered man, Campion created Boilerplate, a free-standing, self-propelled, talking robot who was supposed to replace man on the battlefield.

All those people in the previous paragraph, with the exception of the fiance and Tesla, are fictional. Furthermore, they are the ONLY fictional people in the book. In fact, Frank Reade Jr was a fictional character from earlier source: the early Edisonades, the star of Frank Reade and his Steam Man of the Plain,. Everyone else is a historical figure, including Hugh McKee, the fiance, who did die in a military action in Korea in 1871.

And that is the strange thing about Boilerplate - he and his creators Forrest-Gump their their way through the First American Age of Imperialism without leaving much of a ripple. Here is Boilerplate making his debut at the Hall of Machinery in the Chicago Exposition. Here are Archie and Boilerplate in the Klondike. Here is the robot is working with TE Lawrence, Black Jack Pershing, posing with Pancho Villa. Here is Archie dealing with the house arrest of Queen Lili'uokalani of Hawai'i. Yet in no case do they jostle history in the slightest. It is all sort of "And here is Teddy Roosevelt and the Roughriders charging up San Juan Hill (actually Kettle Hill), oh, and Boilerplate is there as well."

Boilerplate, for being a weapon of war (created so men would not be lost in battle) is extremely progressive, even for his age, and Archie and his marvel hobnob with buffalo soldiers, suffragettes, Pullman strikers, and child laborers. They peel back the cultured veneer of that gilded age and get to the human beings that the beaux-arts columns are resting upon.

The book itself is lavishly illustrated, with pieces either duplicating the artistic styles of the age (Boilerplate in a Winsor McCay piece) or using period photographs (identifying the original photographers) and inserting Boilerplate and Archie. The latter is usually targeted as being some mustachioed individual, while the latter is tucked in the background somewhere, oddly ignored for what he is.

And through it all, the book is historically accurate, once you, you know, ignore the robot, which is what a lot of those present seem to be doing. The history is rock-solid, peeking into areas forgotten by modern Americans. Yet the robot does not affect that history, other than to give it the same result as we have in our timeline. Boilerplate passes effortlessly through the process, a quiet tour guide, an excuse to pay attention to the era, but remains unchanged and changing little of the world around it.

I highly recommend this book as an tour of the Age of Imperialism and Gilded Age of America, a time when America was mechanizing and dealing with larger social issues. The period from the end of the Civil War to WWI is blipped over to a great degree in our schools, with only a head-nod to the Maine. It is an excellent history book, sheathed in the cladding of a imaginary robot, and brings a lot to the table.

More later,

Thursday, October 29, 2009


The seasons changed while I was comatose. The Puget Sound region reached the end of a glorious summer, tripped over the skateboard concealed in the detritus of big leaf maple leaves and pitched headlong down the stairs into autumn, at the base of which it now lies, twitching occasionally and hoping that some passerby will hear its mewling cries for help.

Most of the northern US classifies fall as being emotionally signaled by the first frost. For us, it is the first fall storms, which wind up through the valleys, bringing hail and thunder and leaving in their wake a chill in the air. We don't get the swath of color, but rather bursts of turning leaves against an evergreen background. The clouds clear and Rainier is wrapped in a mantle of new snow.

And being Seattle, we tend to overreact just a tad. The initial rained turned all eyes to the levees in the Green, while it was the Snohomish that had worse flooding. And every flooded porch and patio is the harbinger of the upcoming floodpocalypse. Always skittery about snow, the populace is now particularly freaked about rain.

Freaked about the rain. In Seattle.

Yeah, its going to be an interesting autumn.

More later,

Monday, October 26, 2009

Fever Dreams

Personal media and social software such as facebooks, blogs, myspaces, twitters and whatnot rely on user-generated content. They also are positive pressure systems - they count on more stuff coming in over time. There is nothing pulling that content into the system other than the users' own desire to participate.

One of the results of this, though, is that someone you normally feel connected to, through their webpages or livejournals or tweets can suddenly drop off the face of the earth for a few days or even weeks, and only by more traditional forms of communication (or by the return of the prodigal)does it become clear what happened. Friend X had a family tragedy. Blogger Y was in the hospital with the swine flu. Facebooker Z is dealing with a breakup.

This stuff won't get into the system unless the poster so chooses it. In fact, unless you're paying attention to that particular individual and know their habits well, you might not even notice they were gone.

So in my case. I've been radio silent not because I've been out of town (a usual reason), but because I have been recovering from one of the nastiest cases of food poisoning/stomach flu it has been my misfortune to get.

Thursday lunch I has a "almost reuben" from a local sandwich shop, sent into the office. the coleslaw tasted a little iffy, but I did not think much of it at the time. That was about 1 PM. By 2 PM I started feeling queasy, and by 3 PM I started getting cold shakes. I went home at 4 which proved wise because by the time the Lovely Brid got home at 6, I was totally incapacitated with at temp of 100.4.

Now, as you can guess, I got better (well, getting better - still a bit woozy and break out in a sweat when I have to lift anything heavier than a mug of tea) but I completely lost Friday, and missed most of the weekend (a Bookfair, Steamcon, and my Sister In Law was up for a visit - she didn't see me until Sunday and was convinced that "Jeff has a stomach bug" was a cunning plan the LB had dreamed up to cover the fact she had killed me with a trowel and buried me under the tomato beds).

But man, the dreams from Friday - color, three dimensional primitive atari art dreams (mind you, I don't think I actually dreamed in color, but I remember dreaming in color, as my fever-infused mind tried to deal with with overheated surroundings). Here's what I ended up with:

Our universe is bounded by other universe (nothing new there), connected by tubes in which the nature of other universe pour into our universes (an upsurge of magic from a more magical universe, an upswing of evil from a more evil universe, an increase of fresh water from a fresh water universe)and vice versa (nothing surprising there).

But the competition is not between opposed universe (evil vs good, salt vs fresh), but rather by factions within each of the universes - those who favor incremental changes versus those who prefer sudden, major jumps in the influences levels. Think of the first as damage over time, and the second a damage from a single hit of a weapon. Gradualists versus Catastrophists.

And agents of each side are convinced that their method of maintaining the tubeways is the correct one - the gradualists feels that the sudden shocks of the catastrophists weakens the structure of the multiverse, while the catastrophists feel the gradualists are slowing the nature sudden ebb and flow of the multiple cosmos. Both sides think of themselves as the good (well, right) guys, and that the others are sworn, wrong enemies.

And it came through is such incredible interwoven clarity that such dreams of capable of, that the curtain has been pulled back and now I get a view of the workings of the cosmos itself.

Basis for a fantasy campaign? Maybe. Foundation for a religion? Heck yeah. And anyone who picks this up remember that I get a piece of the take (no martyrdoms, please)

More later,

Wednesday, October 21, 2009


So I'm leaning on the porch rail of an apartment downtown, looking at a vista that included the Smith Tower, Pioneer Park, and Quest Field. It is an impromptu fundraiser for R-71, supporting domestic partnerships, which is on the ballot this fall. And I thought to myself, in my best Dave Byrne interior voice "Well, how did we get here?"

And it is a bit interesting.

You see, the laws that we are voting on, supporting domestic partnerships in an "everything but marriage" context are already on the books. This involves such basic matters that married couples take for granted - sick leave to care for a domestic partner, wages and benefits, adoption, powers of attorney, insurance rights, child custody and support. This referendum is an "Are you REALLY sure?" vote pushed by people that don't believe in domestic partnerships. Actually, despite the chaff that's being thrown up by those who don't want domestic partnerships (and there is a lot of it), the main reason to vote against it is simple homophobia.

The most recent laws for domestic partners (who are mostly, but not exclusively, gay men and women) swept through the state legislature and were signed into law by the governor. Hang on, say the opponents. It is not enough for our duly-elected officials to make such a law, we the people should have the ultimate say. And got enough signatures to challenge it and put it on the ballot.

So, the people who DON'T want domestic partnerships put a measure on the ballot in order to confirm domestic partnerships because they want that measure to lose. Yeah, its a bit of a mind-twist.

And who would be dumb enough to sign a petition for such an initiative? We dunno, because the names are being held secret. And I actually think this is a good thing. The people who signed the petitions may be haters, delusional, illusional, or just plain wrong. But I don't think anything can be solved by, um, "outing" them. Oddly enough, our GOP Attorney General disagrees with me, thinks they should be released, and the matter will end up at the Supreme Court. Yeah, I'm to the RIGHT of a Republican. Told you this was a bit of a mind-twist.

We do know about the people behind this referendum (which they want to defeat) - and well, it ain't pretty (and I picked the most innocuous report about them). One is a save-traditional-marriage type on his third wife (and with accusations of abuse from a previous wife). The other is a minister from Oregon (yeah, out of state) who has had a spate of tax problems. I don't know if it bothers me that these guys are hiding behind family and cross, or that this is the best the field could offer as leaders.

And most of the learned heads think this is referendum is a foolish idea (which means that the learned heads SUPPORT it). Most of the major state newspapers AND both candidates for mayor AND both candidates for King County Executive support the referendum. You have to get pretty deep into the religious weeds to find those speaking against the measure.

So how can these guys carry the day to defeat the measure they put on the ballot. By lies, mostly. Ginning this up as a "Marriage for Gays" measure. It's not, it's pretty much "Everything BUT marriage. And even if it were, my marriage is pretty much unthreatened by gays getting married (too bad about yours). There is also a commercial about how the government is wasting its time with this instead of solving real problems (ignoring the fact that the government settled this issue - its the anti forces that are wasting more time and money). And the idea that gays get "special rights" ("special" in this case means "the same as other people"). And it's NOT a free speech issue.

But last night I got a robo-call, a push poll from some letter-jumble "survey firm" which pitched the question as "Homosexuals have put R-71 on the ballot" (They didn't, unless there's something about the sponsors that we don't know) and after sneering at it a couple times, asked my opinion. I pressed the button indicating support. Then I also told them I was a conservative pro-life Republican.

Hey, they lie, I lie.

Go and support R-71.

More later,

Update: This blog is reposted over on Facebook, and a comment from Geoff Simpson sent me to this bit of high bigotry in an mailer from up in Snohomish, sort of a grand central station of lies on the subject, debunked by the PI. (and the complete text of this vile and noxious concoction can be found at Publicola).

Oddly, for some reason, we don't get many mailers at Grubb Street anymore. Wonder why...

Saturday, October 17, 2009

Election 2009: The Jeff Recommends

If you live in King County, you have received your 2009 Civic Intelligence Test, better known as the ballot. As is my wont, I'm sharing my endorsements and encouragements for things I can vote on. I will attempt to be short and pithy, and reserve the right to come back to this stuff later.

Remember, the penalty for failing your 2009 Civic Intelligence Test is that you get the government you deserve. Oddly enough, that is also the benefit for passing it.

Now turn over you papers and begin:

Initiative Measure No. 1033, hiding in the lower left-hand corner of your ballot (if it were a menu, that would be the dead zone), is this year's Tim Eyeman Magic Pony initiative. I don't remember ever seeing an initiative that has had more serious opposition across the political spectrum, from Republicans to the hipsters at The Stranger. Vote NO on this.

Referendum Measure No. 71 is an "are your sure?" referendum about the recent "Everything but marriage" granting of rights to domestic partners (said partners being mostly, but not exclusively gay). I am a "Everything including marriage" kinda guy, so I recognize this as a small step in the right direction. Vote Approved on this one.

King County Charter Amendments are deep geek civic wonkery for the most past, the first three tidying up the language on the Charter. The fourth, however, changes how the county handles lands with "high conservation value", which includes of the open public land, including Cougar Mountain, and requires a larger majority and public hearings when the status of those lands change. Vote Yes for all of them, in particular number four.

County Executive to replace Ron Sims for the last month of his term and then a full term thereafter. Dow Constantine is not as flashy as his Reaganite opponent, but has done well on the County Council, and has already been facing the problems (budgets, getting a preliminary declaration of emergency for the Green River) that will test the next County Executive. Of course, I'm always a fan of granular, progressive policy-wonkiness. Vote Dow Constantine

Sheriff, Metropolitan King County Council District No. 5, Court of Appeals, Port of Seattle Commissioner Position No. 1, and similar offices. It is not the position of Grubb Street to venture opinions and endorsements for candidates running unopposed. However, Susan Rahr should be commended for firing the officer that was caught on tape beating the crap out of teenage girl in a holding cell. Just saying.

Assessor causes me to address something that I have not seen from other sources that engage in recommendations and endorsements. Last time out, I reviewed all the available data and endorsed incumbent Scott Noble. Earlier this year, Mr. Noble, driving under the influence of alcohol, went the wrong way on I-5 and crashed into another vehicle, injuring two women. Mr. Noble has stepped down, but there is the fact that I said "Yeah, let's keep him." In other words, take everything said here (and elsewhere) under advisement - we don't EVER have complete knowledge.

That said, the seat is open and there are a number of strong candidates. I recommend Bob Rosenberger, who has served the assessor's office, has the experience and the ability to get the job done.

Port of Seattle Commissioner Position No. 3 - Ah, the port, my favorite hive of scandal and villainy. I am pro-reform on this as such recommend Rob Holland for the position.

Port of Seattle Commissioner Position No. 4 - Ah, the port, my favorite hive of scandal and villainy. I am pro-reform on this as such recommend Max Vekich for the position. I will note that his opponent, Tom Albro, gets an Outstanding rating from the Municipal League, but provide the grain of salt that he's served as the head of the Municipal League. I don't think that's a secret, but just so you know.

Kent School District No. 415 Director District No 5 OK, I am seriously downballot now, and there is going to be like THREE people who will vote on this AND read this blog AND unfortunately, there is no way to PUNISH the school board for handling the teachers' strike so badly (one incumbent is running unopposed, the other is running for Mayor of Kent). Because in addition to ALL this, there is another screwup. There were three candidates originally, and after the primary the lower two were separated by a fraction of a percentage. However, the winner of those two has publicly dropped out, leaving Tim Clark as the only candidate on the ballot who can take the position. However, there is a write-in slot if you want to vote for Dave Watson, the guy who got edged out, anyway.

Really into the weeds now, King County Fire Protection District No 37, Commissioner position No.1 - Allan Barrie. Soos Creek Water and Sewer District Commissioner Position No. 5 - Alice Marshall (with a headnod to the work of incumbent Connie Sullivan as well). Public Hospital District No 1 Position 4 ....

Yah got me on this one. One one side we have a lot of new development at Valley Medical, with a strongly endorsed incumbent in Mike Miller challenged by the scandal de jour and Aaron Heide. I'd go tentative to Mr. Miller over Dr. Heide, but keep up the heat to keep the board public.

You will notice a definite lack of snark in all these proceedings, and I appreciate your patience, for the last item on my list is Panther Lake Annexation Area Proposition No. 1 Proposed Annexation to the City of Kent. I strongly endorse For Annexation. Grubb Street is situated in one of the suburban archipelagos of unincorporated King County, and I think a more local government (one within arm's reach) better serve us. The area around Panther Lake as grown and developed extensively in the short decade I have been here, and it is time to join up with a more local (as opposed to county wide) authority.

When I started going through the Voters' Pamphlets, it was with an eye towards pointing out the well-intended, the underqualified, and the raving nutters in the pack. But with the recent reforms, I will admit, there isn't as much in the way of characters and sprawling rants as there once was. But for your own amusement, go read the Voters Pamphlet writeup on this. I will direct you to the last line of the "Rebuttal of Statement For" - "The ShoWare Center hosts a Lingerie Football League team. Women’s rights groups say it’s degrading to women, Kent says it’s entertainment."

Yep, that's why we should vote against annexation - lingerie football. Of course, they also have roller derby, and I think they call THAT entertainment as well.

So get out there and vote, people. And more later,

Friday, October 16, 2009

Song of the Cosmos

The Voter's Guides are out, the ballots are arriving in the mailboxes, and I will be doing my recommendation thing. But in the meantime, have a Carl Sagan/Stephen Hawkings mashup.

Two things here - it may look so cheesy and "Star Trek Next Gen" now, but Carl Sagan was a spokesman that married knowledge with eloquence and poetry. The other thing is that it reminded me about something George Carlin once said - "Comedy is music you make with your mouth". The cadence and rhythm of Sagan's statements, easily parodied ("Beel-yuns and beel-yuns of stars") was one of the things that made him so listenable.

More later,

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

DOW Breaks 10000 (uh, yay)

The Great Intercession continues, and you have to admit the all the intervention of the previous year (when the DOW last stood at this point), has brought things back, at least for Wall Street.

In fact, there is almost a feeling that it came back too fast, like those chest pangs that subsided after a quick aortal boring. But after a few days of salad, the patient start reaching for the back ribs dipped in chocolate again. We got through the emergency room, but unless we see some major reforms from those ordering off the menus, we may be back in ICU, sooner as opposed to later.

I'm not quite ready to trade in my "Wall Street getting its comeuppance" duds for my "well Wall Street is doing well, how about some love for Main street" ensemble, and it is much too early to declare recovery on any front. But that time may come sooner than even I think.

More later,

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Cthulhu Recthidered

A while back. I pitched the idea of 6 Ages of Lovecraft, looking at how the mythos has evolved. The last of those generations seemed to me to be a bit loose, and after thinking about it a while, I realized I was honing in on one particular modern phenomena while ignoring others. So here goes, with a new Generation 5 - The Ages of Lovecraft's Mythos.

Generation 0: The Progenitors. These are the fantasy writers that predate the Mythos, who were evoked by Lovecraft and his contemporaries, and, as we shall see, later grouped into the mythos long after their earthy remains had rejoined the soil. Lord Dunsany is here, as is Arthur Machen, and Robert Chambers and his Yellow Sign. They are laying the foundation work for the shared universe that is Lovecraftian horror. They are Romantics to a great degree, and seeking to evoke an emotion in their work.

Generation 1: The Originators. Lovecraft, of course, and I would include Clark Ashton Smith as well. They were notable not only for their writing, but also for the fact that they corresponded frequently (the primitive Internet), critiqued each other, and most importantly, shared their creations back and forth. It was a bit of game in that a Lovecraftian creation popped up in a Smith story and vice versa. We are not looking at a coherent mythos here, as the creations sometimes varied from story to story by the same author (making opportunities for later writers). They are looking for mood and effect, and the mythos horrors are tools to that end. Their motto - "Here be uncaring monsters of the universe - gaze upon them in wonder."

Generation 2: The Organizers. August Derlith, who kept the flame alive, is the central figure of this generation, thought Lin Carter is also of this group and maybe Robert Bloch. These are the folk who have seized on the idea of a unified mythos and expanded it out. They conceived the mythos as an organized pantheon. The downside is that they (Derlith in particular) put into handy slots and assigned elemental sides, the Great Old Ones don't look nearly as great. Their motto: "The Monsters are definable"

Generation 3: The Explainers. Call these the 50s and 60s generations where Lovecraft's horror is adopted fully by Sci-Fi with the result that the gods are not uncaring beings but merely scientfic archtypes. Azathoth is a nuclear reaction, Cthulhu the dreamstate id, and the Mi-go are from Pluto, not Yuggoth. Fritz Lieber was the American version of this generation, but the king was Brian Lumley, who converts the big bads of the Cthulhu mythos into hapless villains to be foiled by Titus Crow. I'd throw a lot of Lovecraftian movies into this bunch where they seek to explain the mythos. Their motto: "The Monsters are nothing more than science. They can be beaten".

Generation 4: The Gamers. We jump track entirely from short fiction to RPGs as the chosen vector for expansion. The Call of Cthulhu game by Sandy Peterson, of course is the heart here, but Lovecraftian tentacles are found throughout the gaming industry, right down to the D&D mind flayers. The gamers went back to the hopelessness of fighting the mythos to create a different type of story than the standard RPG "Kill-the-monster-take-the-treasure". As they expanded, they are more responsible for gathering up the Generation 0 and Generation 1 creators and putting them into a one-stop shop for all your mythos need. The team-approach of Derlith is pushed aside, as is the rational successes of Titus Crow and his crowd. Their motto: "The monsters are unbeatable - take what solace you may."

And the new 5th Age.

Generation 5: The Diaspora. The Cthulhu mythos has always been a shared world, but a combination of copyright laws, dicey ownership, and accommodating licensing has opened the door to a broad spectrum of Cthulhiana from multiple sources and multiple viewpoints. This ranges from the dark modern horror of Delta Green to the pulpiness of Goodwin Games and the both-camps approach of Trail of Cthulhu, with sidepaths through the stuffed Cthulhu dolls, web comics, and Steve Jackson Munchkin expansions. Every historical time period seems to spawn its own Cthulhian bit - Rome! The Colonial Period! The Middle Ages! The mythos has become a canvas, and its creatures merely paints on the palette. Lovecraft would have loved some of this, hated other parts. "The monsters are ours, to do with as we see fit." And the elder gods have never been popular.

Yeah, that feels right.

More later.

Sunday, October 11, 2009

Play: What's Opera Doc?

Lend Me A Tenor by Ken Ludwig, Directed by Lee Paasch, Valley Community Players, Carco Theatre, through 18 October.

I'll be honest. I went this performance because it has cost our gaming group its paladin, and cost our paladin his beard. I'll explain this later, but first let's talk about the play.

Lend Me A Tenor is a behind-the-scenes comedy set in Cleveland of the 1930s. The local opera group is celebrating its ten year anniversary by bringing in a great Italian opera singer, Tito Merelli (Peter Herpst). Tito accidentally overdoses on sleeping pills and is thought dead. The opera's General Manager, Saunders (Jon Loina) and his hapless, nervous, weak-kneed assistant Max (James Wyatt) hatch a plan - Max will impersonate Tito for the performance. But Tito is not really dead, and soon there are two Titos dressed up as Othello (in blackface - deal with it, it's an opera thing) running around. Plus all the women, including Max's girlfriend Maggie (Wendy Enden) want to sleep with the famous tenor.

James Wyatt (who is Max) is part of our Thursday night dungeon group, and is our group's paladin, tank, and general meat shield. So we have been suffering the past few weeks as my warlord, usually a supportive class, has been taking most of the damage while he's been preparing for the role. Furthermore, James is normally bearded, and shed his face fuzz so that he can add a beard to imitate Tito over the course of the play.

Because, you know, a beard and blackface will convince people who know you that you're someone else. It is that sort of sitcom reasoning that pervades the plot, a tenuously-moored edifice constructed by Ken Ludwig (who also wrote the Three Musketeers adaptation at the Rep last year) which threatens to crumble if you think about it too much. So don't think about it too much.

And there is much to distract you from deeper thoughts. The stereotypes are broad and humor effective, though the first act is used pretty much to get things up to speed for a second act filled with mistaken assumptions, double entendres and slamming doors. And James has a marvelous singing voice (who knew?) and his duet with Herpst's Tito is the highpoint of the first act.

The production does have the errors wont to plague small community operations - Peter Herpst and James are hardly doubles, the latter having six inches of height on the former. And when you do a door-slamming force, you really need the doors to stay shut once slammed.

But really, the disappointment is not on the stage, but in the audience. We attended a Friday night performance at the well-appointed and comfortable Carco Theater, and to say the house was light was to be kind. I mean we're in Renton - what else is going on that would compete? Yes, this is a "eat-your-vegetables" rant about the importance of local theater. Community theatre is not the REP, but is a homebuilt, local, volunteer operation that delivers laughs, songs, and entertainment. You really should check it out. Even if your paladin isn't playing the lead.

More later,

Wednesday, October 07, 2009

Space Invaders

Rather busy at the moment, so enjoy some Science Fiction from the New Yorker

Yeah, the New Yorker.

More later,

Tuesday, October 06, 2009

Play: Step by Step

The 39 Steps, Adapted by Patrick Barlow, Based on an Original Concept by Simon Corble & Nobby Dimon, Based on the book by John Buchan, (but based more on the Alfred Hitchcock-directed movie written by Charles Bennett (adaptation) and Ian Hay (dialogue)),Directed by Maria Aitken. Seattle Repertory Theatre, Through 24 October 2009.

The Seattle Rep slides into its new season with a comedy, not exactly lightweight but definitely buoyant, based on a movie based on a book.

As can be denoted from the annotated credits above, The 39 Steps has a storied heritage. Indeed, it seems like the Book of Matthew has fewer "begats". Originally a popular pre-WWI Spy novel by John Buchan, it was reinvented (keeping the name, tweaking the main character, adding female characters, changing the meaning of the title) by Alfred Hitchcock into the version that modern audiences know. The play, then, is deeply based on this Hitchcock version.

Here's the overview. Richard Hannay (Ted Deasy) is bored and goes to the theater, where he hooks up with a foreign-accented damsel in distress (Claire Brownell), who meets a horrible fate in his digs, for which he is blamed. To prove his innocence, Hannay flees to Scotland, where he confronts a larger plot and gets himself into more scrapes and escapes as he struggles to figure out the meaning of the Thirty-Nine Steps.

Turning a movie (with motion, chase scenes, vistas, and changing scenes) into a play (with constricted space and time limitations) is a challenge, and all the moreso since the team uses but four actors - Deasy as the stiff-upper lip Canadian Hannay, Brownell in all the female roles, and Eric Hissom and Scott Parkinson as everybody else. Yes, really, everybody else. Hissom channels an inner James Coco, while Scott Parkinson elastically and plastically morphs between characters with a frightening ease.

And unlike the film, it is played for fun. The characters are very much aware that they are in a play, from the running gag of continual wind blowing to uncooperative terrain for a flight across the moors. There are evocations of Python and rapid-fire 30s banter, and eye-rolling shout-outs to other Hitchcock films. Every accent is dialed up to 11 or 12. Despite that, the thriller aspect refuses to be subdued, and bubbles to the surface, capturing a chase across the top of a train and a singularly Hitchcockian moment when the hero is mistaken for a wrong man, but in this case mistaken for a man about to give a political speech (a basic fear played both lightly and with the growing suspense of being discovered).

And there's a bit more going on here, a little bit of depth about the Hannay's own personal journey. He's a Hitchcock hero - the wrong man in the wrong place, but over the course of his fight resolves his own internal problems that exist at the play's outset. So we have the recognized layer of the thriller, with a coating of comedy on top and an underlying bit of real character development beneath.

So we have a piece that has passed through the creative processes of a numerous talents to create a final process. It works, it is a light beginning to the season, and an excellent afternoon's play. You don't have to be a fan of Hitchcock (and the audience was younger than usually expected) to enjoy it.

More later,

Friday, October 02, 2009

Book: Eldritch Primer

Cthulhu 101 By Kenneth Hite, Illustrations by Drew Pocza, Atomic Overmind Press, 2009

Where I Got This Book: I bought this on a whim at The Dreaming up in the U District. The Dreaming , a full service game and comic store, is usually my first stop for Cthulhiana. In this case, I picked up the short (128-page digest-sized) book, opened it to a random page, discovered it told me something I didn’t already know about the Cthulhu Mythos, and on that alone determined to buy it.

Here is what it is: A basic introduction to the madness that is the Cthulhu mythos. It feels like it got its origin in people reading Ken’s earlier work Tour De Lovecraft and wondering what all the nasty references to August Derelith were all about.

This book, large-typed, equipped with cartoons, looks at the mythos from the outside in, as the phenomena of a shared world that has gotten out of control of its original creator. It examines the myth and lore of Lovecraft himself (and does a good job attacking the whole “spooky recluse” moniker that has settled on the writer), as well as case a wide net through through literature and popular culture.

So we have explanations of Cthulhu, Arkham, and Miskatonic, a waltz through the races and gods, an overview of movies about the mythos, connected to the mythos, and those that just steal a couple names to sound cool. Games and comic books and toys. And all in all, it’s a pretty good intro to the mythos to those wondering where all this craziness involving that giant squid-headed Godzilla came from.

The book does have at least one big globby typo (it states that Cthulhu rose briefly in 1923 in the classic “The Call of Cthulhu” when in fact it was 1925), but otherwise it is a fast-paced, info-packed, neat little bonbon of a book, perfect to that player new to the CoC game that doesn’t understand why it’s a bad thing to say “Hastur” three times fast (something that neither Lovecraft nor Derelith asserted back in the day).

More later,

Thursday, October 01, 2009

Hit the Bleach

As anyone who looks at the nearby author photo knows, I am not a vain individual. And yet, I am about to start bleaching my teeth.

Here's the whys and wherefores. As a young man, I lost a front tooth in a caving accident (I caught a hard-hat in the face). I had a root canal and a crown installed, which I replaced in the early eighties (and resolved never to bite down on beef jerky again). Now, twenty plus years later, the rest of my teeth have aged and yellowed a bit, but the crown is still near its original color. So it is obvious, particularly in recent photos.

So I've been talking about this with my dentist. Side note here - My dentist is Dr. Jay Deiglmeier, DDS, located in the Panther Lake Professional Building on 208th Street in Kent. My dental hygienist is Bernadette, and I've been with them for ten years, since coming out here, and they are both incredibly warm, personable, and professional. So I trust them.

Anyway, for the past year or so, I've been edging up to the idea of bleaching my teeth, a process where you put fitted plate in your mouth for an hour or so for twenty days, and the bleach on that plate lightens your enamel. This is not an over-the-counter operation, but something done with a dentist's oversight and input. So I finally decided to pull the trigger and give it a shot.

As with all things, I will post further as we go along. But right now, it feels odd to have embarked on this new course.

Who knows, maybe I'll start wearing socks that match next.

More later,