Wednesday, November 25, 2020

Plague Books: Time Travel, By the Rules

The Anubis Gates by Tim Powers, Ace Books, 1983

Provenance: I only read this about 10 years ago. I didn't read it when it came out in part because it released in one of those sections of my life where I didn't read a lot of new fiction. I had graduated, got a "real job" as civil engineer, was laid off from that "new job" and had found another job in Wisconsin, moved, got married, and eventually was hip-deep in Dragonlance and Marvel Super Heroes. So I was, like, BUSY at the time. So lay off, OK?

Anyway, I missed the boat and the book, though friends recommended it strongly over the years. And I finally came across a copy in 2009. I know this because I have the receipt as a book mark, from the Barnes & Nobles Booksellers at the University Village (now no longer there). Also in the book was a take-out menu from the Delfino's (really good Chicago Deep Dish), and a flyer for a Butoh performance at the Richard Hugo House that I never attended. So I have a good idea of the time and place for this one.

Review: I'm sorry I missed it the first time around, but happy I caught up with it later. I've gone on about playing fair with the reader, and Powers does this in spades. But first, let me give you the back story:

A group of Egyptian cultists back at the start of the 1800s try to summon their god to drive the English out of Egypt. They don't succeed, but do manage to punch a number of discrete holes in the timestream. In the present day, a dying millionaire discovers those holes and sees them as a way of time travel. He hires Brendan Doyle, English professor and expert on an obscure author named Ashbless to lead a group back in time to a lecture by Samuel Coleridge. Of course the millionaire has a secret agenda, as almost every does - well, everyone except Doyle.

Things go casters up  in the past, and Doyle is kidnapped and stuck there, with multiple factions all with different aims hunting for him. Now, the book does two things I like - one is how Powers handles the man from the future in the past, and the other is writing a book in which time travel is inelastic while still maintaining suspense.

For the first part, there is a classic bit of SF from L Sprague DeCamp called Lest Darkness Fall, about a modern archaeologist who finds himself trapped in Late-Roman Empire Times. Using his 20th Century knowledge of the past, he proceeds to turn things around, rally the Ostrogoths, and stave off the Dark Ages. DeCamp's protagonist is the capable, competent, professional that inhabits such stories. 

Doyle? Not so much. His knowledge of the future doesn't help, and his ineptness with his current present results in him being reduced to starvation and begging almost immediately. Far from being the competent nigh-omniscient, Doyle is overwhelmed by his new situation. Things he knows from the future turn out to be untrue, and things get worse as the other factions move in.

The other thing I liked about the plot is that it works off the fact that time travel is inelastic - you can't change the past. No bumping off the Emperor, because your history will not allow it. Now, writing a book with the protagonist having agency in a deterministic universe is a bit of a challenge, but Powers pulls it off neatly, because a lot of specific knowledge gets lost over time, and the escapes lay in the details. Doyle knows his "death date", which cannot be changed, but if and how he avoids it is part of the charm of the book.

Yeah, I can see how this hit a lot of people hard when its first came out. It is tightly written, and plays by the rules while opening the doors to some truly strange occurrences (which we don't know about tucked away safely uptime). We have werewolves, we have ancient gods, we have wizards so evil that they cannot walk on the earth (one has stilts). We have body swapping and simulacra. We have history and secret history.

There feels to be long standing effects on gaming Shadowfist/Feng Shui (card game and RPG set in the same universe) uses the idea of multiple fixed time portals. World of Darkness embraces the entire secret history (though there are other volumes of this ilk). And the entire vibe of Egyptian Cult and 19th centruy England has a very Masks of Nyarlathetop feel to it. And while it does not make the list of various Appendix N's, it feels like a D&D adventure in many ways. So I'm going to hazard a guess that this has book, combining fantasy with strict adherence to history, had a definite impact on gaming.

It is worth digging out all these years later, so go take a look.

More later,


Sunday, November 22, 2020

Plague Books: Baker Street Blues

The Baker Street Jurors
by Michael Robertson

Provenance: Here's a secret - Amazon has a free bookstore available in one of its buildings.

OK, it isn't much of a secret, since it was mentioned in an article in the Seattle Times a few years back. And I don't know if it is still there, particularly in these Pandemic times. And what it is is a room with a lot of publishers copies that have been sent in for review for, like the Amazon Book Review that no one else claimed. So it is more of a "free giveway table" situated on one floor of a building that I will not divulge. And it is for Amazon employees, since you have to use your keycard to get in. Many of the books available are bound galleries (Here's the text, but we don't have a final cover or front matter") or Uncorrected Proof ("Here's the text and what we THINK is the cover, but we need to go through it one more time"), so they may not be the finished production you see at the B&N. 

But, hey, free books.

I hit the library few times and, to be honest, found it pretty picked over. I don't know if they restocked every Monday or what, but is had a scattering of SF, a lot of memoirs, some popular fiction, and a good selection of mysteries. Mysteries were well represented, and on a whim I picked up a copy of The Baker Street Jurors there.

And, spoilers, I didn't care much for it at all.

Review: I've nattered on about genre more than a few times to different degrees in this blog. How it is ultimately a marketing term - "If you liked X, you'll like THIS!", How it accumulates its own ancestors (Verne, Wells, or Shelly may have "invented" SF, but none of it was WRITING it when they composed their well-known works). How it changes over time ("Horror becomes Paranormal Romance", or most recently, we've see the mitosis of Fantasy and Science Fiction into two separate sections of the book store.). I don't HATE genre - I'm a big practitioner of it myself - but I do recognize it for what it it.

Well here's another rule about genre - when a genre gets big enough, it starts spawning off sub-genres. Mysteries is a great example. There are cat mysteries, dog mysteries, medieval monk mysteries, feminist mysteries, food mysteries, cozies, police procedurals, ancient Egyptian mysteries, dark Scandinavian mysteries, urban mysteries, and supernatural mysteries. Each of these subgenres may attract general "mysteries" crowd, but they are spot-targeted on appealing to a particular sort of buyer looking for a particular kind of story.

So. Sherlock Holmes mysteries. It it is a successful subgenre in its own right. stepping outside of books, look at the amount of TV shows and movies that have spawned off Holmes over the years, but that's a subject for a different rant. Heck, we have secret Holmes stories, young Holmes stories, lost Holmes stories (like the year he spent after Reichenbach) and even here in this blog, retired Holmes stories.

Baker Street Jurors, and the other books of the series (and yes, it is a series, another hallmark of genre), has an initially tangential connection to the Holmes oeuvre. Its protagonists are lawyers whose offices are at 221B Baker Street. And that's the initial connection. Within this fictional universe, like ours, Holmes is a created character, but that doesn't stop them from getting into Holmes-related mysteries.

In this case, one of the lawyers is summoned to jury duty (Yes, it is a conceit. Would YOU want a lawyer in a jury you were presenting to? But, this is Britain). He ALSO gets a jury summons for Sherlock Holmes at the same address. He bins the second one as a joke, but then, a long, hawk-nosed lanky violinist shows up for the jury duty, looking very Basil Rathbonish. And they are both assigned to the same case, which is a high-profile murder of a famous cricket-player's wife by a famous cricket-player with his famous cricket-playing bat. The game is afoot!

OK, there are conceits in this game. But then, in the midst of the proceedings, they decamp the jurors to the quote-scene-of-the-crime-end-quote. And then jurors start, um, dropping off, in shades of Agatha Christie and her Ten Little Indians (which would be Twelve in this case, plus spares).

Not great, but not criminal, in a writing sense. And the protagonist, Nigel Health (Brother Rory is off on a honeymoon) is fairly likable and a positive character. No, what irritated me about this book, and so irritated me that I kept it on my desk until I could properly dispose of it, was this: Robertson is not playing fair by the reader. If, in a mystery, you say something like "It couldn't possibly be an evil twin", then no matter who says it, you are reassuring the reader that the solution does not involve an evil twin. If the resolution of the crime then proceeds to be, "Ahah! It was an evil twin!" well, yeah, people are going to come after you with cricket bats.

And that's what happens in BSJ. No, not evil twins, but something similar, which left me a little put out. I can put up with the matters of coincidence (like how the guy that looks and acts like Sherlock Holmes ended up on the jury), but this is an outright fib to reader. And that's pretty much a violation of a core concept of mysteries. 

*Deep Breath*, and I've had this volume tucked away behind my monitor for several years waiting for me to get around to dunning it. And now that I have done so, I can safely put it into a box and inflict it on someone at a library sale. 

And feel, somehow, liberated.

More later, 

Monday, November 16, 2020

Life In the Time of the Virus - The Abyss Yawns

Automat by Edward Hopper 1927
Month Eight. 

Things are getting worse in the outside world. You knew it was coming, those of you were that were paying attention to how these things work. As we move from summer into fall, people move indoors, so spreading the virus is easier among groups. As a result, we are spiking, both here in King County and across the nation. A spike happened during the winter months in the Great Influenza a century ago and is happening here.

We are better prepared, the disease is more survivable, and vaccines and treatments, while still unproven, are promising. But hospital beds are filling up again and patients are being airlifted into Seattle from overloaded states like Utah and Idaho. The Federal Response remains abysmal, and the states are once more left to shift for themselves. It is the sort of thing that everyone was aware was in the works, but nothing much was done, so we confront another potential seasons of lockdowns, self-quarantines and shifting away from voluntary semi-isolation to a more hard-edged version once more.

[And over the course of writing this, news comes that we are shutting down further. No small gatherings. No meals in restaurants. No museums. Not a complete lock-down, but still extremely severe and stronger than any time since March. If I knew of a better way forward, I would definitely suggest it, but I don't.]

Of course, in the midst of this there was an election. Look elsewhere on this page for all the commentary therein. On election day, I turned down the media, social and otherwise, and retreated into a book. Unfortunately, the book was a Mary Beard volume on Rome, detailing its slide from sort-of-a-Republic into full-fledged authoritarianism, so probably it was not the most relaxing choice. I shifted over to a collection of Nero Wolfe stories about halfway through the evening.

I think that the sense of quarantine and isolation may be more pronounced as we move to the winter months, which in the Puget Sound means grey, rain, cold, the rare snowstorm and the occasional high winds. We had been eating out (or sending out) for food more of late, and that may get cut back if the restaurants have to reduce again. 

All work in on-line and with video chat, and while that keeps me going, the lack of in-person relationship and general haranguing is felt. Meetings in conference calls are usually for a purpose, and less for just messing about - talking about the latest professional sports game, the latest computer game everyone is playing, the latest movie. We do an on-line happy hour once a week, which is very good, but still does not match the sudden digressions into medieval trade practices that once marked the middle of my work day.

Pro sports teams are playing to empty stadiums with piped-in crowd noises. The newspaper is a slender thing, lacking a lot of its advertising. Catalogs, however, have made a comeback, and the Post Office has been loading the mailbox with the pre-holiday crush. And I am getting spam robocalls (Currently Kate from the Warranty department wants to get in touch with me. A lot.), so they have returned to their natural habitat, at least.

But I miss live theatre. I miss museums. I miss bookstores. I miss going to new restaurants. I miss sudden decisions to go shopping. I miss sushi. As it grows chiller, I miss sitting on the beneath the new deck, watching the daylight linger..I miss sunlight late into the evening, and soft rains that clear by morning. Now comes the winter of our discontent, lacking a glorious summer in the immediate future.

More later,

Saturday, November 14, 2020

Plague Books: A Pirate's Life For Me

Fast Ships, Black Sails, Edited by Ann & Jeff VanderMeer, Night Shade Books, 2008

Provenance: NorthWestCon. Gotta be NorthWestCon. Night Shade had a table in the Dealer's Room that year, one of the few publishers that did. It has been a source of trade-paperback-sized volumes in my library over the years.

Review: I have a soft spot for the Age of Fighting Sail. It shows in Spelljammer. It shows in the world I pitched that never was. And It shows in a short story I wrote for Oceans of Magic. I've read/listened to the Aubrey/Maturin books by Patrick O'Brian, but never really got any traction with Hornblower or the Bolitho series. So Pirates? An easy sale for me. 

And this collection of pirates definitely scratches the itch. I have space pirates. I have fantasy pirates. I have alt-world pirates. I have cyber-pirates. I have poetic pirates. I have a surprising amount of cannibals. And most of them are pretty darn good.

One of the challenges in a pirate story, or any story in the Age of Fighting Sail, is that the sailing ship is the most complex machine of its age. Naval architecture was precise and unforgiving, and the the operating system consisted of the living crew who had to operate in co-ordination to keep things from going hull-sided up. Even operating a ship was a challenge and a craft, much less fighting to the death with another of these complex battle-wagons.

And there is the romance of the sea, of foreign lands, and of the promise of treasure and riches for those who who can bear up, and are fortunate. The 18 stories here range from pure fantasy to alternate histories to horror in tone, and most of them are pretty good. The best from my opinion was "Araminta, Or, The Wreck of the Amphidrake" by Naomi Novik, but a lot of the tales take on a distaff view of the historically (though not exclusively) male-dominated profession of piracy. A couple of the tales, did feel like the background music was "Brandi, you're a fine girl". Kate Sparrow's "Pirate Solutions" features hackers with historical and mystical piratical connections, with nods to Anne Bonny and Mary Read. Howard Waldrop and Michael Moorcock are here with name recognition, though Waldrop's is a mashup of Gilbert and Sullivan with Peter Pan, while Moorcock's contribution is a vignette, at best. Elizabeth Bear/Sarah Monette roll out a Cthuloid space tale with "Boojum", and Paul Batteiger does a nifty bit of worldbuilding with an ice-bound world in "Cold Day in Hell" which smacks of a Patrick O'Brien tale (on skates). 

The only story that left me cold was Steve Aylett's "Voyage of the Iguana", which seeks to take the terminology and jargon of the old salts and make it completely impregnable. I think it was humor, but the shot was wide and failed to take down any rigging. Rhys Hughes drops a shaggy dog story in "Castor on Troubled Waters", but that was forgivable. All in all, a good collection, nicely paced and well-put-together.

And it has just a hint of spray of sea salt on it.

More later, 

Sunday, November 08, 2020

The Political Desk: Last Call

 So, how did things turn out?

Not horribly at all. Not everything went the way I recommended, but that's the nature of having an election - they let all sorts of people have their say. There have been a number of interesting wrinkles, including the fact that the late ballots in the State of Washington have been more Republican, when normally the last-minute surge has been urban and Democrat. Other notes as we will go through.  

Referendum Measure No. 90 - Approved  by healthy amount.

     Right before the election I got a robo-call against the measure that was positively frothing at the mouth about how it was a horrible things because it would do all sorts of thing that the measure specifically said it was not going to do.

Advisory Vote No 32 - All REJECTED by healthy amounts. 

    Which goes to show you that 1) They still don't matter, 2) Their wording is pure scare-tactics, but 3) We really hate taxes, even if it does not affect us directly. But those of you who were running a multi-billion dollar aircraft assembly plant in your basement as a side gig, the voters of Washington State have your back.

Engrossed Senate Joint Resolution No. 8212  - Rejected    

  This one is a surprise. I thought this one, to help fund elder care, was a no brainer. THIS ONE, I believe, has teeth to it, so as a future old person, I'm interested in seeing what happens next. 

harter Amendment No 1 - Inquests - Yes
Charter Amendment No 2 - Disposition of Real Property for Affordable Housing- Yes
Charter Amendment No.3 - References to Citizens - Yes
Charter Amendment No. 4 - Office of Law Enforcement Oversight - Subpoena Authority - Yes
Charter Amendment No. 5 - Making the King County Sheriff an Appointed Position - Yes
Charter Amendment No. 6 - Structure and Duties of the Department of Public Safety - Yes
Charter Amendment No. 7 - Prohibiting Discrimination on the Basis of Family Caregiver, Military, or Veteran Status - Yes

Proposition No. 1
Harborview Medical Center Health and Safety Improvement Bonds - Approved. 

President and Vice President of the United States: Joseph R. Biden and Kamala D. Harris.

    At 9 AM, our neighbor sounded an airhorn, which usually he uses for Seahawk touchdowns. That was the point that the AP declared that PA flipped and declared Mr. Biden the winner (it doesn't work EXACTLY like that, but its the way it has been done all the way along). My Facebook page is filled with co-workers and former colleagues dancing in the streets. Looking at the big picture, it doesn't look as much like a refutation of the GOP as a refutation of the horrible man who has squatted in the White House for the past four years. But that's enough, right now.
United States Representative Congressional District No. 9 - Adam Smith.

    I did get a couple robo-calls on this one, encouraging I vote for someone who stood for people, not party (which this year means being a Republican but not wanting to admit it). Problem was that it was for the 8th District, not the 9th (The Democrat won there as well). Way to spend your campaign bucks, folks. 

Governor: Jay Inslee
Lt. Governor: Danny Heck 

    This was a no-lose situation with two Democrats in the running, and the winner had the best yard sign of the season "Give Olympia HECK!". But what is interesting is that there was a 20% write-in, most of it for Joshua Freed, GOP, who ran for Governor in the Primary (and lost), and who is in trouble for funny-money business in his funding (so, you know, GOP). But it is phenomenally tough to run a write-in campaign, even when it is all mail-in. So that's worth noting.

Secretary of State: Kim Wyman. 

    Here's one I can't say I'm sad to be wrong about, even though Ms. Wyman is a Republican. She has done a very good job in a position that a lot of her party hates. The GOP tends to hide behind her pant-suit cuffs when they need to point to an "honest Republican", but she has proved herself capable and competent repeatedly over the years. 

State Treasurer: Mike Pellicciotti
State Auditor: Pat (Patrice) McCarthy
Attourney General : Bob Ferguson
Commissioner of Public Lands: Hilary Franz
Superintendent of Public Instruction: Chris Reykdal
Insurance Commissioner: Mike Kreidler

Legislative District No. 11 State Senator: Bob Hasegawa
Legislative District No. 11 Representative Position No. 1: David Hackney
Legislative District No. 11 Representative Position No. 2: Steve Berquist

State Supreme Court Justice Position No. 3 - Raquel Montoya-Lewis
State Supreme Court Justice Position No. 6 - G. Helen Whitener

Superior Court Judge Position No. 12 - Andrea Robertson
Superior Court Judge Position No. 30 - Doug North

And with that, we slap the Political Desk back into its cryogenic chamber and let it rest until the next set of ballots come out.

More later,

Saturday, October 31, 2020

Plague Books: Stark Sixties

Richard Stark's Parker:The Hunter, Adapted and Illustrated by Darwyn Cooke, IDW Publishing, 2009

Richard Stark's Parker: The Outfit, Adapted and Illustrated by Darwyn Cooke, IDW Publishing, 2010

Richard Stark's Parker: The Score, Adapted and Illustrated by Darwyn Cooke, IDW Publishing, 2012

Richard Stark's Parker: Slayground, Adapted and Illustrated by Darwyn Cooke, IDW Publishing, 2013

Provenance: Loaned from Stan! Brown.

Review: Real good. Lemme give you the backstory.

Author Donald Westlake wrote under a wide variety of pen names to match his various styles and markets, and one of the most successful was Richard Stark, who penned a long-running series about Parker (no other name given, may not even be his real name), a successful career criminal. Parker specializes in large scale heists, then lives well off the proceeds for a few months, until the bank account drops and he goes back for another score. He ties not to kill innocents (there is a lot of knocking people on the head and tying them up), but needless to say, he ends up killing a lot of not-so-innocents. The books have been wildly popular and turned into various movies over the years.

Artist Darwyn Cooke, who passed on in 2016, has a distinctive and unique style. I always connect him with New Frontier, a DC series from 2004 but set in DC's "Silver Age" of the early 60's. In both instances he has a clean, open style and an incredibly dynamic handle on action. When Stan! lent me the books, I did not expect to see how much he translated the novels into wordless action sequences where every beat landed and carried the reader from one panel to the next.

Back to Parker of the moment. He's the guy you're rooting for, in part because the people he is up against are so much worse. He's ice-cold and callous on the job so he can relax later. In his stories, Parker is on the job, and then gets betrayed, and then gets revenge. That's the basic plot of  both The Hunter (the first of the books by Stark) and The Outfit. When I read The Hunter, it tickled a memory of an old movie with Lee Marvin and Angie Dickenson.. Point Blank. And yep, it is based on the novel. 

 In many ways, Parker is kinfolk to the Continental Op, who lives on the other side of the lawful divide. Parker lives in that twilight world of crime, where everyone is a little bit crooked, and a lot of the crooks don't even think of what they do is criminal. Maybe they drop off a briefcase. Maybe they make a call. Maybe they wait by the track for someone to make a call. They are cogs in the greater machine. They don't do well, but they get by.

And then someone gets greedy, or stupid, or crazy and it all goes to hell. In The Hunter, one of Parker's confederates betrays the rest of the crew and leaves Parker for dead - he gets revenge. In The Outfit, someone sells Parker out to help himself, and Parker brings down the entire organization on the other side. In The Score, Parker puts together a crew of people on a chancy job against a mining operation in a box canyon. In Slayground, an armored car job goes casters up and Parker is trapped in an shut-down amusement park as gunmen hunt him. Slayground also has a short backup story - The 7th, which collapses an entire novel down into a double-handful of pages without losing much of the plot. 

And Cooke is brilliant in the art. His command of the medium is perfect as wordless panels show as opposed to tell. He works with the black and white medium with its long shadows and silhouettes and makes it sing. And he gets down into the weeds of the procedure of the crimes and counter-crimes and he explains it all, summarizing the challenges and opportunities, laying out how things are supposed to go and how Parker crashes the party. His character's best weapons are knowledge and understanding of the human condition - he can kill without remorse but also knows how to calm down his targets.

Cooke also situates the work squarely in the 60s, with Esso stations and road maps and cars with big fins, Tiki decor and night clubs and risque matchbook covers. Angular clothing for the men and soft tight-fitting curves for the women. This is lightyears away from New Frontier in its darkness and brutality, but has that same openness of line and sense of hope that the Kennedy era spawned. 

Cooke passed on in 2016, so there will only be these four volumes, but that will be enough. It is strong enough to make me look for the old Stark novels themselves when I can get into the used book stores again. Or even dig up a Lee Marvin movie.

More later, 

Tuesday, October 27, 2020

Plague Book: Baker Street Boys

 The Final Solution, A Story of Detection by Michael Chabon. HarperCollins 2004

Provenance: From the collection of John (Sacnoth) Rateliff. John notes within the book when and where he purchased the book, and when he read it. IN this case, it was purchased from Borders' Books on February 5 on 2005 and finished the next day, when it was raining..

Review: Short novel, but for me it proved to be a long read.

I think this slender book can be entered as evidence into the argument of the difference between Literary Fiction and Popular Fiction. Chabon has set up his shop in this borderland, with tales that sound like Genre Fiction. The Yiddish Policeman's Union is Alt-World SF, Gentlemen of the Road is Historical Fantasy, Yet I won't dare to say he elevates the genre so much as applies Literary Fiction techniques to what might otherwise be popular fare.

Here the story is a Sherlock Holmes story. Holmes is never identified as anything other than the old man or the detective, retired and tending to his bees. It is in the heart of WWII and the ancient detective comes up on a young boy, a mute refugee from Europe, who has a grey parrot. The parrot recites numbers in German. No one knows what the numbers mean, but it could be important, which in turn kicks off a number of other things, including the theft of said parrot and a murder. 

Chabon's style is ... ornate, bordering on baroque in places - thickly layered and crossing back on itself, so I am often reading a single paragraph as second or third time to figure out what I missed. His pacing, as in Gentlemen of the Road, is a stone skipped across a lake surface - each chapter involves a direct change of scene, time, and often narrator, and it takes a while for the mental gears to catch and the reader to understand what it going on. 

From the genre side, the author plays fair with the reader - the clues are presented in a fashion that when the reveal is made, it does note require knowledge the characters might know but was denied to the reader. From the literary side, the tale is much more about in interior lives of the characters - the detective, the police, the inhabitants of the house where the young mute boy resides, even the parrot itself Even the curiosity of the the parrot is not revealed to the characters inhabiting the book, but the reader is rewarded with a hint of what is truly going on. Holmes does not solve that particular mystery, but it is not one he is charged with solving.

The illustrations, by Jay Ryan, are good, weaving the text itself into the art. I've noticed this with a number of short books - is interior art a value-added for such short volumes, to make up for the lake of tonnage in the page count itself?

It does occur to me that I have been more successful listening to Chabon's books on audio than actually reading them. The text does flow if read by someone who knows what is going on, though I still need to back up occaisionally in case my mind wanders and I miss something.

More later, 

Friday, October 23, 2020

The Political Desk: The Jeff Recommends

So, this has been a marathon. How did we do? 

Well, the pledge of "No Republicans" was pretty easy to adhere to, in that some of the Republican candidates were SO BADSOME that such a choice would be easy even in normal years. But the fact that the state and managed some really choppy times of late and come out mostly whole has shown that the folk in charge at least have a clue. And it would be a good thing that expand that out to the rest of the nation. Here's the summary:

Referendum Measure No/ 90 - Approved

Advisory Vote No 32 - Approved
Advisory Vote No 33 - Approved
Advisory Vote No 34 - Approved
Advisory Vote No 35 - Approved

Engrossed Senate Joint Resolution No. 8212  - Approved 

harter Amendment No 1 - Inquests - Yes
Charter Amendment No 2 - Disposition of Real Property for Affordable Housing- Yes
Charter Amendment No.3 - References to Citizens - Yes
Charter Amendment No. 4 - Office of Law Enforcement Oversight - Subpoena Authority - Yes
Charter Amendment No. 5 - Making the King County Sheriff an Appointed Position - No
Charter Amendment No. 6 - Structure and Duties of the Department of Public Safety - Yes
Charter Amendment No. 7 - Prohibiting Discrimination on the Basis of Family Caregiver, Military, or Veteran Status - Yes

Proposition No. 1
Harborview Medical Center Health and Safety Improvement Bonds - Approved. 

President and Vice President of the United States: Joseph R. Biden and Kamala D. Harris
United States Representative Congressional District No. 9 - Adam Smith

Governor: Jay Inslee
Lt. Governor: Markos Liias
Secretary of State: Gael Tarleton
State Treasurer: Mike Pellicciotti
State Auditor: Pat (Patrice) McCarthy
Attourney General : Bob Ferguson
Commissioner of Public Lands: Hilary Franz
Superintendent of Public Instruction: Chris Reykdal
Insurance Commissioner: Mike Kreidler

Legislative District No. 11 State Senator: Bob Hasegawa
Legislative District No. 11 Representative Postion No. 1: Zack Hudgins
Legislative District No. 11 Representative Postion No. 2: Steve Berquist

State Supreme Court Justice Position No. 3 - Raquel Montoya-Lewis
State Supreme Court Justice Position No. 6 - G. Helen Whitener

Superior Court Judge Position No. 12 - Andrea Robertson
Superior Court Judge Position No. 30 - Doug North

So, if you haven't voted, go vote now. Vote like it matters, because it does. See you after the 3rd.

More later

Thursday, October 22, 2020

The Political Desk: Judges

In Washington State, we elect our Judges. I'm good with that, and it is part of the direct democacy that works for us. And I say this fully admitting that a LOT of positions don'r even have two candidates in them. I will only cover those that have compeititve races here.

When I recommend Judges, I keep a tab open to, which does a nifty job aggregating the important endorsements for the various positions. Unless the candidate in question has other black marks against them, I tend to listen to it. It has served me well, and should work for your locality.

State Supreme Court Justice Position No. 3 - Raquel Montoya-Lewis
State Supreme Court Justice Position No. 6 - G. Helen Whitener

Superior Court Judge Position No. 12 -  Andrea Robertson
Superior Court Judge Position No. 30 - Doug North, though his opponent, Carolyn Ladd, also gets extremely high marks. This is a toss-up, but I give it to Judge North based on his experience. 

Finally, we sum up.

More later, 

The Political Desk: State Legislature

Ah, now we are down in the weeds. These are the folks we are sending to Olympia for part of the year to sort things out. Even if you are voting in Washington, you might not know these folks. They are pretty good, and gives me hope for politicians. 

Legislative District No. 11 State Senator: Bob Hasegawa
Legislative District No. 11 Representative Postion No. 1: Zack Hudgins
Legislative District No. 11 Representative Postion No. 2: Steve Berquist

Bob Hasegawa has no opposition this time. Congratulations, Bob Hasegawa!

Zack Hudgins versus newcomer David Hackney. I'll be honest, both are good, and this is one of those races where we will get fine service regardless. I go back and forth on this, but ultimately  I will go with Zack Hudgins - he's been sending out newsletters.

Steve Berquist is a teacher who went to Olympia because they were slack on teachers in the State House. And he's done a good job. Let's keep him.

That's it for our State Legislators, at least the ones I can elect. 

More later, 

Wednesday, October 21, 2020

The Political Desk: State Level Offices

So the entire state executive branch goes up for re-election every four years. A lot of this we've covered back in the primaries, so this is more of an update.

Governor: Jay Inslee
Lt. Governor: Markos Liias
Secretary of State: Gael Tarleton
State Treasurer: Mike Pellicciotti
State Auditor: Pat (Patrice) McCarthy
Attourney General : Bob Ferguson
Commissioner of Public Lands: Hilary Franz
Superintendent of Public Instruction: Chris Reykdal
Insurance Commissioner: Mike Kreidler

Governor: If we put responsibility of the reacting to the current national crisis upon the President, it only makes sense to put state challenges on the Governor. And Inslee has been up to the task. At the start of the year, we were the epicenter of the pandemic, with minimal help from the Federal Level (there were exceptions, like the Army Corps of Engineers). Inslee went with the science, and we now are not even in the top half of states measuring by per capita. So, good job, there (though the numbers are creeping up again). His opponent is a short-term small town sheriff who doesn't believe in enforcing laws he doesn't like, and has Fox News as a podium for it. Yeah, let's go with the grown-up - Jay Inslee.

Lieutenant Governor is between two Democrats, both with experience and capability. Markos Liias is more activist as opposed to conciliatory, and I'm in for that. A former GOP candidate for Governor is running as a write-in, hope the Dems split the vote neatly enough for him to squeeze in. It is a tough sell, particularly since this Republican is already in trouble for lending personal money for his own campaign, then taking it back after he lost. 

Secretary of State is the one office that I regret my "No Republicans" stance. The incumbent is capable, competent, and no fan of the current administrations' War on Democracy. Her opponent, Gael Tarleton, is actually pretty good as well, writing bills on cyber-security and election protection, so she is a reasonable choice. This is one of those situations where you really have a choice between two good candidates, we will be well served with either. But go with Gael Tarleton.

Fun Trivia Fact: The State GOP gripes about not having a Republican Governor since 1985, but we have not had a Democratic SoS since 1964.

State Treasurer: We currently have a Republican State Treasurer because of a split primary ballot resulting in two GOPs running against each other in the general election four years ago. This time there is a choice. The incumbent Republican has been relatively inert, despite federal threats to deny the state funding because the White House doesn't like our politics. Let's get a little more progressive - Vote for Mike Pellicciotti 

State Auditor: So we DID have a big scandal this year, with crooks ripping off the State Unemployment Bureau in the opening act of the Pandemic. Who spearheaded tracking the money down and getting a good chunk of it back? Incumbent Pat (Patrice) McCarthy. So yeah, let's keep her.

Attorney General: We have a superstar in Bob Ferguson, who has been an activist in resisting the utter stupidity of the Federal Executive Branch of the Federal Government. He's been on his toes working as "the people's lawyer" for everything from Eyeman's poltical scams to credit card fraud to Facebook to being 22-0 (so far) against Trump. Yeah, Let's keep him as well.

Commissioner of Public Lands: Are we still on fire? Not so  much? Let's keep Hilary Franz. She has a strong balance between commercial forestry needs and the environment, and has worked hard to reduce the impact of wildfires. She's done a good job.

Superintendent of Public Instruction: The incumbent is Chris Reykdal. He has had his hands full recently (pandemic, online teaching, you know, the usual), but has been up to the task. And he's carrying the responsibility (and brunt) of Ref 90 to make sure your kids aren't getting all their sexual health education off the Internet. So let's keep him as well.

Insurance Commissioner: I always feel bad about this, because I get down to this level and just say that Mike Kreidler has done a good job for twenty years and you should vote for him. Because he has and you should.

That's the State of the State - More later, 

The Political Desk: The Feds

 So, at the Federal Level : Joseph R. Biden for President and Kamala D. Harris for Veep. Because D'uh.

Let's see if I can frame this without referring to the occupant currently squatting in the White House. Joe Biden would make a good president. Period. Now, usually comes the caveats about how he would not be my first choice, or that some of stands have been incorrect, well-intentioned,but wrong, or about how he's a little bit boring. But actually, I think he would a good job, and that's what I'm looking for. 

Biden is an experienced legislator with a long track record. He plays well with others, and is willing to reach across the aisle to those who disagree with him (some see this as a weakness, but I say it is a requirement). He not only believes in what he says, he is willing to listen and sometimes change his mind. I don't agree with all his positions, but I do trust opposing views will at least get a fair hearing. 

He has also been in the White House before, knows how it operates, and where Obama hid the keys for the liquor cabinet. He was an engaged, active Vice President who worked with his administration to get things done. So he's done the tutorial.

In the period of the campaign season itself, he has navigated the pitfalls of the campaign amazingly well. His former Democratic opponents endorse him, and endorse him heartily. He has pulled together the various wings and factions of the Democrats into a generally consistent whole. The Democratic showcase of the convention was a showcase of unity. At the best of times, the Democratic Big Tent resembles a rugby scrum more than a processional, but has he has provided leadership to pull it all together. 

His choice of Veep has been inspired as well. Kamala Harris is Shroedinger's Vice President - Both the top cop of California as Attorney General and to the left of Bernie Sanders in her voting record in the Senate, she has confounded detractors on both sides. She's been strong and resolute and capable, unlike a couple of the spare tires on the GOP side over the past few elections. 

In the debates and town halls, Biden has been resolute, calm, and almost incredibly patient in the face of national meltdowns. He has weathered all sorts of personal attacks and came out of it. Pseudo-scandals have brewed up and evaporated time and again. There may be something he has done out there somewhere, but compared to the present admin, he's practically a paladin.

Endorsements? A bunch. Most of them are the usual suspects, but there are a lot of former members of the current administration who think he'd be the better choice. A lot of folk who are now retired and no longer have to kneel before their political masters. And people who don't normally endorse, like Scientific America, or USA Today. The other side? Rosanne Barr, the Klan, and the Taliban (though to be fair, they rejected the Taliban's endorsement).

And Biden  has plans. Plans he has actually shared with people. He actually has a platform, which it sounds like he has read. He's let other people read those plans. And they have said "Yep, These are plans". Surprisingly good plans. 

Lastly, and this is a person thing - he comes across as nice. One of the Trump flunkies compared him to Mr. Rogers in a negative way, inadvertently kissing off any chance for the GOP to take the Pittsburgh area. I don't buy that, no more than the Onion portrayal of the man as wearing denim shorts while hand-washing his Trans-Am behind the White House. But even I have to admit he comes across as a caring, reasonable human being.

Let's end the chaos. We need someone who can lead us out of this mess. I think we need Joe Fixit. He's going to have a huge to-do list should he win, and I think he and his vice president are up for it.

More la... Oh, hang on, there is another Federal Level to look at.

Congressional District Number 9 - Adam Smith is the incumbent, the head of the House Armed Services Committee, and has been doing the job for a while. He deserves to go back. His opponent is a conservative talk show host who lost to him several times already. Not a lot to say here, so let's go with Adam Smith.

NOW we say, More later.

Tuesday, October 20, 2020

The Political Desk: King County Measures

Not content with just giving us advisory votes, the ballot has seven Charter Amendments (changes to the King County Charter, our operating system) and a Bond Proposition. These are the nuts and bolts of local government, and while I mock the Advisory Votes, these have real weight. Five of the Amendments are pretty tame (And don't even have people arguing against them in the Voter's Guide), but two are doozies.

Charter Amendment No 1 - Inquests - Yes
Charter Amendment No 2 - Disposition of Real Property for Affordable Housing- Yes
Charter Amendment No.3 - References to Citizens - Yes
Charter Amendment No. 4 - Office of Law Enforcement Oversight - Subpoena Authority - Yes
Charter Amendment No. 5 - Making the King County Sheriff an Appointed Position - No
Charter Amendment No. 6 - Structure and Duties of the Department of Public Safety - Yes
Charter Amendment No. 7 - Prohibiting Descrimination on the Basis of Family Caregiver, Military, or Veteran Status - Yes

Proposition No. 1
Harborview Medical Center Health and Safety Improvement Bonds - Approved. 

Charter Amendment No. 1 - We have to have a inquest if the police are involved in someone's death. We have to make sure the deceased's family has adequate representation. What, we don't have that already? - Yes

Charter Amendment No. 2 - Remove restrictions on letting the county sell real estate for less than fair market value IF the property will be used for affordable housing. - I can see how this might be gamed, and needs proper oversight, but Yes.

Charter Amendment No 3 - Change to replace the word Citizen" in the preamble with "public", "member of the public", or "resident". - OK, that makes sense. Yes.

Charter Amendment No. 4 - Lets the Office of Law Enforcement Oversight (OLEO) Subpoena people in investigations - Sure.

Charter Amendment No. 5 - Making the King County Sheriff an Appointed Position - No. Here's where I break with the other amendments. I don't think we are well-served by going back to an appointed position, as an elected position tends to make the position a) local and b) more responsive to the citizens./public/residents than one whose primary task it keep the Council happy. King County has bounced back and forth on this a couple times - Elected until 1968, then appointed until 1996, and now elected again. Both have strengths and weaknesses. One weakness of the current system is when the current Sheriff retires/leaves mid-term, their replacement then runs as an incumbent, which sort of defeats the entire idea of fresh elections (and happens a LOT). But I don't think the appointed position has done us any great favors in the past, so this may not be the solution people are looking for.

Charter Amendment No. 6 - Changes to the Structure and Duties of the Department of Public Safety. On the other hand, I am good with the County Council setting up the structure of the Department of Public Safety. I am not a fan of defunding the police - if anything, they need more training and applicable resources, but a good solid re-org would be to everyone's advantage - sending non-police matters to other agencies, for example, as opposed to piling it on other police responsibilities - So, Yes

Charter Amendment No,. 7 Prohibiting Discrimination on the Basis of Family Caregiver, Military or Veteran status. The county can't discriminate against people who are in the above categories, even they were discharged from the military for being gay. Again, we don't have this already? Yeah.

And finally - 

Proposition No. 1 - Harborview Medical Center Health and Safety Improvement Bonds. Yep, we're in a pandemic. Approved.

More later,

The Political Desk: State Measures

This year, is a bit odd (I know, it's 2020 - EVERYTHING is odd). But this year is PARTICULARLY odd in that a lot of people who read this blog (both of you), have already voted. The turnout for early voting nationally has been incredible, despite blatant attempts at vote suppression. Washington State, with its complete mail-in ballots, has usually had the jump on the rest of the nation with its habits, but it is in the middle of the pack. And, among the people I pay attention to on Facebook, people are spinning their ballots around fast. I just got mine, and they have a message on the envvelope recommending mailing your ballot in the Friday before election day (because the Feds are messing with the Post Office).

So I'm going through the ballot in order, and summarizing as opposed to going into excruciating detail here, just to get through everything. And we are starting out with the boring part, as listed on my ballot - State Measures. Here's the head's up: Approve all this stuff.

Referendum Measure No/ 90 - Approved

Advisory Vote No 32 - Maintained
Advisory Vote No 33 - Maintained
Advisory Vote No 34 - Maintained
Advisory Vote No 35 - Maintained

Engrossed Senate Joint Resolution No. 8212  - Approved

Intrigued? Let me go into detail.

Ref 90 is the probably the flashiest measure on the ballot this year, because it about sex. Education. Sex education. I would require districts to adopt a uniform, age appropriate sexual health education. Like 28 other states have already. Like parts of Washington have already. Should be a no-brainer (and yeah, the State Government is charged with the education of its citizens), but it has the fundie undies in a twist. Apparently, they feel that informing kids will result in perverted twister in the classrooms and the pop-up kama sutra in their book bags. They are incensed that the state government passed this law, and are using the Referendum system to try to overturn it (which is their right, even though they are wrong).

I am surprisingly in favor of not having stupid kids, and with giving them a better view of sex than what they get on the Internet. So yeah, Approved.

The Advisory Votes 32-35 are just filler.They are literally votes that don't matter. They exist because of a measure passed by initiative maven/gadfly Tim Eyeman that was not entirely thrown out of court. As a result, the state is obligated to ask your approval whenever approval of a new tax (with very broad definitions of what a new tax is). However, they are under no obligation to DO anything about it. It is sort of like a poll - You still hate taxes? That's nice. Anyway:

Advisory Vote 32 (Engrossed Substitute Senate Bill 5323 adds a small tax on carryout plastic bags. Yes, this is how down in the weeds you can get.  Maintained

Advisory Vote 33 (Substitute Senate Bill 5628) is a tax on heavy equipment rentals - Maintained

Advisory Vote 34 (Engrossed Substitute Senate Bill 6492) increased B&O taxes on certain businesses while reducing surcharges. What certain businesses? Big computer companies (I had to dig for this - increases the B&O tax a tiny bit on businesses making over $100 billion a year). - Maintained!

Advisory Vote 35 (Engrossed Senate Bill 6690) raised B&O taxes on manufacturers of commercial airplanes. Which is to say, Boeing,This one is interesting in that Boeing SUPPORTS this tax, because it offsets other bennies the state gives it that WTO thinks are illegal - Maintained.

Proposed Constitutional Amendments - Are changes to the state constitution. They DO have weight as opposed to the Advisory votes.

Engrossed Senate Joint Resolution No 8212 - Raising funds for long-term care for the elderly. Since I am planning, some time in the far future, to be elderly, I think this is a good thing. - Approved.

So that's it for the boring order of business, now on to ... what's that? We still have to do the COUNTY Amendments and propositions.

Fine. More later,

Monday, October 19, 2020

The Political Desk Opens: All The Marbles

Every election I do this - go through the ballot and make recommendations. Have done so for years, for an audience that is fives if not tens of people. But it helps me sort a few things out and do some research. Other people's recommendations are at the bottom of this entry. 

But spoilers: No Republicans.

Sorry folks, I’m just about done with the Republican Party. Every year I find worthy, experienced candidates from the GOP side, and common-sense initiatives supported by conservative causes. Not so much in recent years and not so much this time.
Starting at the top, if you still support the infected, immoral, incompetent, impeached, incumbent you have just not been paying much attention for the past four years, or you just don't care. There has been just so much wrong with executive branch - the lack of planning as the pandemic has hit us, the corruption, the indictments, the graft, the sexual assaults, the raw, ever-growing, angry insanity. There’s much, much more and much, much worse, but I’m keeping it to one paragraph. Four years ago I something to the effect that I would not let him work the grill at a fast food joint. Now I wouldn’t let him in the building.

And it rolls all the way downhill. The Republican-held Senate has its own cast of miscreants, and has been completely inert on any legislation that doesn’t put money into the pockets of rich people and corporations. The latest is denying Covid relief while pushing through the latest underqualified Supreme Court justice. 300-some bipartisan bills from the House have not even had a hearing, let alone a vote. Enough.

So yeah, no Republicans.Clear 'em out and get some people who want to do the job in there.

I’d like to say that things are better for the GOP here in blue Washington, but the nutters are in control of the party here as well. We have a GOP candidate for Governor is a small town sherriff who aches to be a conservative media star, a former GOP gubernatorial candidate now running a write-in for Lt. Governor, and the conservatives rallying around the idea of keeping kids stupid.

And those in the party that are not outright crazy are enablers to this horrorshow. They may not be racists, or fascists, or criminals, but they decided those things aren’t deal-breakers. And I understand. I still consider myself a fan of the Pittsburgh Pirates, but I haven’t seen a game since Willie Stargell retired. I check them in the standing about once a week (yep, they still suck), but that's about it. Habit is something comprehensible, but take a good hard look at what you’re supporting.

So, from me, I’m just done with Republicans.

I’m not alone. A lot of Republicans are done with Republicans. I have never seen so many groups have that traditionally been supportive of the GOP backing away cautiously. Military folk. Wall Street, Retirees. People who work for Republicans. Even traditional Republicans have had it. The most vocal gang - The Lincoln Project, is a bunch of old-time GOP backers who have been tearing into the present administration with abandon for destroying their party. The conservatives have always been better at slinging mud at their opponents, and this group, the mean girls table of the GOP, has been nastily effective in ways that the lefties and progressives have not.

But what about the other guys making recommendations?. The Stranger's recommendations can be trusted to be progressive (in fact, they are bashing a lot of candidates they are supporting for being less-than-left to their tastes), but even the stolid, stodgy Seattle Times has skewed solidly blue this time, I always point folk to VotingForJudges for a good read on the few competitive judge races. The Progressive are here. The Muni League looks like it folded up its tents back in 2017. And my friend and youtuber Sig Trent walks through his ballot for Pierce County. As others show up I will pass them along here as well.

So Let’s hit this thing and make it happen.

But remember, No Republicans.

More later,

Friday, October 16, 2020

Life in the Time of Virus - Changes

Office in a Small City, 1953

The world is frozen. The world is always in motion.

Month Seven has passed and change is in the offing. Still working from home, but I have changed positions. Crucible has been “sunset” (cancelled) and now I am working on a new project for Amazon, of which I cannot speak.

However, this has resulted in several changes. For the past 6 months I have been camped out in the basement library with two laptops and my personal monitor. My desk has been an old oak table purchased from Milt’s Woodshed in Walworth (Milt’s a character, yaknow), and my chair has been a straight-backed dining room chair. The table is littered with piles of games and vinyl record albums, and my monitor has been perched on a couple boxes of the Dominion game. And that’s OK, because I thought this was a temporary measure and we would be back in the office soon.

But there may no longer be an office for a cancelled project, and when my new team heard about the strength of my computers, the feeling was that I needed some real firepower. So I have a new desk chair, desk, laptop and tower, along with sundry additional things. I took down the drafting table I had in the corner of my personal office (I try to keep church and state separate as much as possible), and installed myself there, which will be warmer during the coming winter months. But it has been a weird feeling, sort of a permanent shift for me.

Oh. Also, got a haircut, finally.

We have recovered from the smoky days of previous month, and slipped effortlessly into fall, which in Seattle terms means rain, windstorms, and the occasional clap of thunder. The birds disappeared during the worst of the smoke, but seem to have returned, though I don’t know if they are the originals or migratory versions that are passing through. In any event, the hummingbirds are now at the feeder, and chickadees battle over the fountain.

The outer world continues. The Lovely Bride is wrapping up tax extensions from last year, already extended by the government once. Spot shortages continue – the latest is caffeine-free diet soda and shower cleaner. Also rubbing alcohol, which people are turning into hand sanitizer and shower cleaner. The Lovely B has gone to vodka for her mix. Which is OK, since I haven’t picked up any ginger beer lately.

I actually got sick the other week. It was probably a reaction to a shingles vaccine (I had gotten a flu shot at the same time - why not go for two?), and it left me achy and congested for a few days. The Lovely Bride had some back spasms and is now doing physical therapy. But I have been stunned to discover that there is more out there than just the virus. But at the same time, this has been the longest time without some cold, flu, or other physical illness. 

Not so for everyone in the outside. And we humans like stories, and stories of hubris are particularly appealing. The guy who swears there in no monster getting eaten by the monster - that's a story that resonates. And those who oppose masks, social distancing, and other measures while trying to live a life from before the coronovirus, who then come down with it in droves is that sort of story. And you know, despite the nature of such stories, I feel empathy for these folk, even though they will likely survive it (through the very actions they despised before) but learn nothing from the experience. Perhaps.

And so we row on.It is grey and cool and fall is starting roll in. But at least the birds are back.

More later. 

Friday, September 25, 2020

Plague Books: Operative

The Big Knockover by Dashiell Hammett, Selected Stories and Short Novels, edited and with an introduction by Lillian Hellman, Vintage Books, 1989, originally published by Random House, 1966

Provenance: The volume, shown right, is from the collection of John Rateliff, known to the 'net as Sacnoth. John has been cleaning out his library, and a lot of his mystery novels have found a space at Grubb Street. So while his shelves start to sort themselves out, mine groan with Hammett, Stout, Allingham, Sayers, and Peters. The copy I have is more grey than green, but that may just be from age.

Review: Our protagonist for all but one of these stories is only known as the Continental Op - an agent of the Continental Detective Agency. We don't know a lot about him. He's middle-aged, shorter than most and little wider, but we only know him by his actions - he will lie for a good cause, he will make deals with criminals if he must, he'll feel bad shooting a woman but will do so if he needs to. No one calls him by name that he records. He narrates in first person. He is a bit of a cipher, one of the first of the hard-boiled, noir detectives. 

The bulk of the stories in the volume are from the 20's, when Hammett dominated Black Mask magazine, and given my preference for that era, I enjoyed the tales a great deal. Due to the movies like The Maltese Falcon and The Thin Man (also Hammett), I tend to mentally put Hammett's work in the Depression and the War Years as opposed to the Roaring Twenties, but it fits just as well here. 

One of the things that strikes me, going through stories, is the neatness of his language and the broadness of his scope. Hammett does not use five words where three will do. And when I don't quite get what the Op is up to, I just have to wait a few paragraphs before all becomes clear. By broadness of scope, we see a medley of situations and places - not just San Francisco in the second quarter of the century. The Op goes to a pocket kingdom in Europe. The Op goes to Arizona and hangs with cowpokes. The Op goes to Chinatown and Beacon Hill as well, but he carries his noir with him, and fits in equally well.

One story is from a later period, his unfinished book, "Tulip," exhumed and presented here. And it is a unfinished first draft and tough read. A former Army buddy looks up a friend and they tell stories. A lot of the stories sound like things Hammett experienced. Here the sparceness of his prose works against it, and the lack of the formula for a detective story leaves it without a central spine. Good words, though.

This volume takes its name from the final story, which is two stories, one story carrying that name, then a second tale added almost as a coda. A mastermind puts together an ultimate heist - calls in criminal talent from all over the country, and they hit two banks in the same morning, sealing off the streets and making a clear getaway. Then all the participants get bumped off by the lieutenants in the robbery, who are then bumped off by their higher ups. A very corporate chain of command. And all the wise guys and grifters have names like Bluepoint Vance and Red O'Leary and Happy Jack Hacker. Just the plot itself makes for a great Gangbusters adventure, or with a little more eldritch horror, a Call of Cthulhu evening. With Hammett's hands on the typewriter keys, it shines. I am surprised that this hasn't become a film over the years. Amazon Prime, take heed. 

Turns out I have a later edition of the book on my shelf, tucked between The Dain Curse and Red Harvest. The Big Knockover makes me want to revisit them and reminds me that this is the stuff that set American detective fiction up as a country in its own right, and made San Francisco its capital.

More later,

Thursday, September 17, 2020

Life in the Time of Virus - Under the Smoke

Railroad Sunset by Hopper

Month Six, in which the outdoors has been taken away from me.

You have seen the news about California being on fire and San Francisco looking like a set from Bladerunner. The fires in California and Oregon (mostly brush, not forests, mostly lightning-started, not gender reveal parties) have pumped a lot of smoke into the air, which has drifted north into our neck of the woods, leaving the land consumed by an acrid-tinged fog. My neighbor has a smoker, and I would often return at night to the smell of alderwood or hickory in the air. This is nothing like that. It is the entire Puget Sound area in a toxic smoker, with relief tantalizingly offered by the weather report, then denied.

As a result, I am approaching full shut-in status. No longer can I spend the after-hours on the back porch, sipping Cuba Libres and reading the New Yorker. Well, I can still do all that indoors, but its not the same. Even checking the mailbox leaves me a little wheezing. Winter, I can tell, will be difficult.

As seclusion continues, my bad habits are slowly re-instituting themselves. I am reading five books at a time again, as opposed to finishing one, writing about it, then moving onto a new volume. Currently reading a collection of Hammett's Continental Op stories, a slender volume from Michael Chabon, a book of pirate fantasy short stories, something by Frederick Brown, a Nisi Shawl, and the occasional chapter of Mary Beard's book on Rome. Books are scattered through the house. Should any of those conclude I will post about them. 

Part of this recidivism has been the result of my latest COVID project - reorging the hardback shelves. When we moved in 20+ years ago I had them organized, but twenty years of pulling stuff out, and putting things back in the approximate location has taken its toll. Have actually taken a Marie Kondo approach to this. Does this book bring me joy? Does it feel like something I will go back to, either for research or for enjoyment? Does it spark a pleasant memory? A lot of big thick SF novels are meeting their demise this way, along with some of the lesser books by Hunter Thompson and other authors I have accumulated by habit. Could not get rid of all the Garrison Keillors - my Lovely Bride would not let me, and I still have way too many Stephen J Goulds still stacked on the shelf. But there is actually blank spaces on my shelf (awaiting more books, of course).

Look, Honey! Tile!
As far as Kate is concerned,  HER big project has been putting tile behind the stovetop. When we lived in Lake Geneva, we re-did the bathroom in tile, and she saved the remains of the tile and shipped them out here to eventually do something with them. So she found something to do with them. She still has to grout them

Our largest cat, Keckovar, has been scratching his face open, and as such is now being medicated and wearing a pink "Cone of Shame". He is not amused, but has forgotten that his head is now three times as wide as before. Kia, the small ninja kitty, is amused by this turn of events.

Despite the smoke, we are continuing our Plague Pod of six people, almost all (except the Lovely Bride) who work from home. We usually gather at Sacnoth's backyard, but with the smoke and shrinking daylight have moved the festivities to our living room, where we push the sofas back against the wall for social distancing.

I realize how important the Internet has been during our seclusion We lost it briefly over the weekend because of laundry. OK, let me explain. The Lovely Bride was folding laundry while watching Tivo. Tivo is not updating. In the process of trying to reset the Tivo, we brought down the entire wifi system, and spent four hours resetting it (ultimately - unplugging everything and plugging it back in). During that time I kept picking up my iPad, intent on checking something online, and realizing I was totally isolated. Surprisingly frustrating. So, yeah, the Internet should be a utility.

In the outside world, we are aware that there are still shortages and reductions of the variety of items. The latest short supply has been in canning lids (A neighbor ran out and could not find them, but we ALSO had a supply, brought from Wisconsin over 20 years ago). Cleaning supplies are also a case of not getting your preferred brand. The good news is that whenever I get to the local store, masks are aplenty and worn correctly. 

The local newspaper, the Seattle Times, is hitting its own challenges. I am very aware of the fact that the (two) sections are smaller, and the margins are larger. With Sunday, the area of the headlines is carrying a lot more whitespace. The good news is, with the return of soccer and pro football (both without crowds, the noise pumped in), they have other things to write about. 

And so we row on. Working from home continues. The browning grass is revealing exactly were the septic system runs. Pedestrian passing our frontage are fewer. And the smoky fog is with us, yet to dissipate.

More later,

Monday, September 14, 2020

Recent Arrivals

[Blogger's Note: I had this entry all written up with all manner of individual photos of the games, but the most recent incarnation of Blogger is a pig as far as layout is concerned, and in the process of formatting the dratted thing, I ended up deleting the entire text, and the blank file was immediately saved to the cloud and lost entirely. Blogspot has made its platform less usable. Thanks, guys.]

For someone who hasn't been going anywhere lately, I continue to accumulate gaming material. Part of this is from Kickstarters resolving, part of it purchased from t my local comic shop, Fantasium, thatis back in business, and from the occasional field trip elsewhere. 

All of this that follows are not reviews per se - I believe you should actually play something before your review it. This is first-glance stuff, initial impressions, surface judgements, and I reserve the right to think otherwise after I dig into it. Your own mileage may vary. Here goes:

The Mythic Odysseys of Theros (WotC, purchased at the Fantasium) is a nice single-book world. Like the earlier Ravnica, Theros is based on a Magic The Gathering campaign, turning the MTG background world into the basis of an RPG campaign.The idea of combining MTG and D&D has been around since WotC bought TSR back in the 90s. and the campaign settings chosen have been relatively "small" worlds - Ravnica being an urban setting while Theros pulling heavily from Greek Myth, to the point of you recognizing the characters they are playing off of. I like the 5E approach of combining Players and DM info in a single book, though wonder if they are going to hit the same problem as 2E where we had way more campaigns than time to play them.

I actually warmed up to Spectacular Settlements (Nord Games, Kickstarter) as I dug into it. My first reaction was "Hey, there are a lot of tables here." as the heavy (450+ pages) book is filled with tables telling you how to fill out everything about settlements from trading posts to capitals. But where it excels is when it takes that data and creates playable baseline towns and cities for the DM to slot into their campaign.I liked it.

On the other hand, A Time for Sacrifice: (New Comet Games, Kickstarter) just ground my gears. A series of Call of Cthulhu adventures set in the Yucatan seems to be a perfect set-up - during the 1920s, the Mayan cities were the great lost civilizations, their statues enigmatic, their writing impenetrable. Sadly, the first adventure requires knowledge of written Mayan to solve some of its puzzles, and there is a pre-Columbian contact book in the local library, which can be read even through the Mayan written language was almost completely destroyed and only recently deciphered. That sort of thing just put me off a bit, and I don't know if I will get to the rest of it, or ever run it. Time for Sacrifice is not the only Cythulhu to get lost in the jungles of the Yucatan - Pagan's Mysteries of Mesoamerica has some similar pitfalls as well.

Absynthe in Carcossa (Pelegrane Press, purchased at Gabi's Olympic Cards and Comics down in Lacey) is an oddity. Created for The Yellow King Roleplaying Game, and descended from the Gumshoe system, the book itself is missing any game text, but rather is one of those game-adjacent projects the Pelgrane does every so often. It is a scrapbook of clippings from other sources to describe La Belle Epoque in Paris. Like any good mythos tome, you have to really dig into it to figure out what it is all about. I believe this won and ENNIE this year, which is nice, but I need to really read it.

Zafir (Zafir Press, Kickstarter).I kickstarted this one, but picked up my copy personally from the designer - he's local Seattle. It is a magitech-flavored fantasy RPG, which gives us access to ballistic vests and zeppelins, but where it shines is the level of detail in its combat. It is definitely a descendant of old wargames, addresses three-dimensional movement and combat head-on, and has a lot of D&D Fourth Edition's DNA in its rules. Leafing through it reminded me a playing 4E with Bill Slavicsek on Thursday nights way too many years ago.

Lancer (Massif Press, Kickstarter) has that same crunchy-bit rules approach as Zafir, but its bloodline comes more from Battletech (which is to say, managing the heat of your battlemech). It is a strongly anime-influenced game where you are a mech pilot in the far future. The humans have spread throughout the Orion Arm, and there are great peacefu lhuman civilizations at the heart of it all. For a lot of humanity, it is a golden age. You aren't there - you and your squad are in the outlands, the border kingdoms, the scrapyards where previous human expansions have petered out. The art is beautiful, and the mech designs are frankly wild. I look forward to digging into this one.

Pan Am (Funko Games, a Target exclusive, so I masked up and braved an actual chain store for it). A friend of mine raved about this board game, which if from the designers of the Waterdeep board game and sharing a lot of its mechanics. The idea is that you are running small airlines in the Golden Age of Air Travel (20s to 60s). You're gaining rights to air routes around the world, and then Pan Am will roll in and pay you big bucks for your work (which you then use to buy Pan Am stock). It has a lot of fiddly mechanics to it, and while the Lovely Bride and I enjoyed ourselves with it, a later four-person game with members of our plague pod turned into a long, painful slog. Maybe three players are the sweet spot. 

A Visitor's Guide to the Rainy City (Superhero Necromancer, Kickstarter) is a gem. Part of a 'zine initiative in Kickstarter, it is a 60-page description of a half-sunken city at the end of the world. It is system agnostic, but the company's web site gives ideas of working it into the major game systems, include 5E and Blades in the Dark. Amusing in that it gives you a half-destroyed Hogwarts infested with pirates. Good world-building. Good stuff.

The Excellent Traveling Volume Issues 11 and 12 are simply great I am an avowed Petal-head, a fan of Tekumel and the Empire of the Petal Throne RPG. James Maliszewski has, after a long hiatus, returned to both these fanzines and his Grognardia blog to create wonderful stuff. If you are a fan, you should really take these books in. And his blog. Consider this one a review.

That's it. I made more comments on all of these originally, but they are lost to the ether. Let's see if I can keep this version alive long enough to publish. 

More later,

Sunday, September 13, 2020

Exchange of Views


You’re wrong.

Totally wrong.

He never said that.

He never did that.

That can’t be right.

You must be mistaken.

You must have heard it wrong.

It was a misinterpretation.

They're lying.

You’re lying.

I don’t want to hear it.

Fake news.

Who says that?

Who would even say that?

They must have an agenda.

Anonymous sources don’t count.

Only traitors say that.

Why don’t people come forward?

There has to be proof.

A report means nothing.

Witnesses mean nothing.

A video means nothing.

Confirmation means nothing.

He didn’t mean it the way you take it.

It was taken out of context.

You have to listen the full tape.

You have to admire him for admitting it.

We all do stupid things.

Why didn’t you say something before?

Why are you going on about it?

Why did you wait so long?

That was then. This is now.

What’s done is done.

It’s too late to do anything.

You should have said something at the time.

Why must you persecute him?

Why is it such a big deal?

Why is that a surprise?

Everyone knows about it.

Old news.

He's changed.

Must you fixate on it?

What more do you want?

More important things going on.

You're going over old ground.

Why stir things up?

Ancient history.

That was in another country.

And besides, the wench is dead.

Monday, September 07, 2020

Plague Book: Loom of Myth

Circe by Madeline Miller, Back Bay Books, trade paperback edition 2020

Provenance: Selected by my Science Fiction Book Club at work, to be finished by the end of July. Ordered from Amazon. Did not finish until the first week of August. Took this long to put a review together.

The argument of whether this is a "science fiction book" can be made, but really that does not matter. No, it is not SF in that there are no aliens, robots, or other futuristic trappings. And I could argue against fantasy as well, as it is well-grounded in mythology. But ultimately, genre terms like SF and Fantasy are marketing terms - "If you liked X, you will like Y". Like all those fantasy books in the 80s that were "In the tradition of Lord of the Rings", no matter how tenuous the connection was. Ultimately, genres are a mall map, telling you where in the bookstore you can find books that are science-fictionish (remember bookstores? I remember bookstores). Amazon, by the way, slots SF and Fantasy in a more generic "genre fiction" categories and trusts to its algorithms to send the consumer to related works.

But the nature of genre marketing reaches down into the physical presentation of the book itself. From initial contact with the dead-tree copy you can tell this is "Literary Fiction", or "Bestseller Fiction", or even "New York Times Bestseller Fiction". The book cover is dramatic and high-concept, it is embossed and foiled (this stuff ain't cheap, in book terms). Two-color endpapers, a map on the inside cover. Listing of praise and awards on glossy insert on page 1, five MORE pages of praise follow that one, concluding with one from Gwyneth Paltrow, actor and owner of Goop. Reading Group Guide in the back and recommendations for further reading. Everything about it says "This is literary! This is important!"

This is marketing.

But what about the words themselves, Jeff?

Actually, it's pretty good.

Review: Here is the short version: All gods are A-holes. Humans are only marginally better.

Circe is a goddess. A very minor one, but a general-terms a goddess nonetheless. And despite her goddess status she gets kicked around a lot. Her family are notable names in the mythos. She is the Daughter of Helios (pre-Olympian Titan of the Sun), sister to Aeetes (original owner of the Golden Fleece), and Pasiphae (Mom of the minotaur). There is not a thimbleful of empathy or self-reflection anywhere in the family, and that's what sets Circe apart from them. Circe has a sliver of concern for others, and worries about her own lot in life. She discovers real magic, she creates the monstrous Scylla out of petty jealousy, she is exiled to an island lest she upset the Olympian gods (shown here as another godly crime family), hooks up with Daedalus and later Odysseus, raises Odysseus' child, and ultimately comes to terms with what she wants in the world. 

 A lot of what I just said is already in the mythology. I knew Circe primarily from the Odyssey, and yeah, I get her confused with Calypso, with whom she shares some traits (has an island, has powers, slept with Odysseus). There is a lot of Circe threaded through Greek Mythology, and more got added over time. Miller weaves together all these connections to create a solid tale with Circe at the center.

 In writing this up, I went to the Emily Wilson translation of Homer's version for the traditional story of Odysseus. In that version, Odysseus' men are welcomed, fed, and transformed by Circe, with no idea why she acts that way. One sailor escapes to warn Odysseus, who is then given a cheat code (antidote) by Hermes, and when he does not fall to her spells, Circe throws herself at the hero's knees and begs his forgiveness. Mind you, the story doesn't make a lot of sense, but then it is Odysseus' retelling of the encounter. Miller's makes much more sense, grounding Circe's actions, and her heroine is taking the measure of clever man who will not walk blindly into a trap. Miller is much more sympathetic to Odysseus as well, and more grounded, portraying him both as hero and villain.

And through the bulk of the book, no act of kindness, sympathy, or honesty goes unpunished. Miller's Circe lives in an unjust world, and has to deal with that continual injustice. She gets her moments - her relationship will the brilliant human Daedalus, raising Odysseus' child, life with Penelope after Odysseus' death, and there is even a reference at the end of a wandering carpenter and his wise-woman wife which bespeaks of the new god that will replace the old (but perhaps I read too much into it). Having confronted a horrible world, Circe ultimately dreams of making a better one.

Miller's Circe its into the category of a lot of modern retelling - take a traditional villain and turn her (it is often a her) into a fully-rounded protagonist. Wicked. Hook. The latest Beowulf translation with more space allotted for Grendel's Mom. Challenges to a (usually male-dominated) traditional canon, adding nuance to the tale. Miller weaves like Circe at Daedalus' loom, pulling the scraps and threadbare references together, adding new work entirely, to end up creating a better portrait of what has been a traditionally wafer-thin antagonist. 

More later,