Wednesday, April 26, 2006


There has been an uptick in notices about Fanfic (Fan Fiction) of late, particularly involving an aspiring author who tried to offer her Star Wars fan fiction for sale on (The lawyers stepped in and hilarity commenced). I've always thought of fanfic as a child of a lesser god, at best warm-up excercises for real writing. But Theresa Nielsen Hayden really nails the nature of fan fiction on the head here.

I think the operative line is this: "Fanfic is a legal category created by the modern system of trademarks and copyrights". And she's right. The borders of the fan fiction enclosure are determined by who owns the property and whether it is still enforced. It used to be the Fanfic was easily identified by mimeo paper and typoes. Now with the Internet and print-on-demand, those easy tell-tales are missing, and the phrase, while it retains a legal meaning, has no literary meaning.

Depending on where you set down those borders, I have either written no fan fiction in my life, or written almost exclusively fan fiction. The work on Starcraft and Warcraft books were licenses, but while I expanded those worlds, I did not generate the original properties. The FR, DL, and Magic: The Gathering books I've written have been in worlds/Intellectual Properties I've helped develop, but there are many original hands involved in the mix. And most recently, I've written a short story for The Further Adventures of Beowulf (coming this fall), which could be considered fanfic except for the fact it has a major publisher and the Geats don't have a legal staff anymore.

Once sensitized, I started going through my bookshelf for other examples: Shadows Over Baker Street, which merged the Cthulhu and Holmes mythoi, is only done well because the writers engage with both universes. Pride and Prescience, a charming book by Carrie Bebris, takes Jane Austin's Elizabeth and Lord Darcy and turns them into detectives. The Mad Merlin books by J. Robert King build heavily on not only the Authurian mythos, but other concurrent legends and works as well. All build directly on predecessors, using characters created by others.

Fan fiction, in the broadest sense, all. Because you have to be a fan in order to put up with all the pain involved with writing.

More later,

Monday, April 24, 2006

Torus, Torus, Torus!

"You have tori," said my dentist, "That's plural for torus"

And actually it wasn't my regular dentist, who was on vacation, but his associate, but she was wearing the nice white coat so I believed her.

Actually, I always called these things "two bumps in my mouth", on the upper jaw, on each side of my face, right above the teeth. I've been aware of them for years, primarily because the occasional wad of food was stuck up there, but when I thought of them, I thought they were natural, or at worst the result of getting old.

According to the dentist, they are bony growths in the mouth, often the result of braces or grinding teeth. I did have the former, along with a procedure that removed four of my teeth so my wisdoms could come in. I don't do the latter, but I do bite down on pens when I'm working - often shattering them. Sort of a "bite the bullet" thing when I'm engaged in literary surgery.

Tori are pretty harmless growths of bone, but they do explain something I've wondered about. Because they are there, they do tend to shove the sides of my mouth up a little, giving me apple cheeks and leaves me with an apparent smile when I'm not otherwise engaged.

So, it turns out there is a reason for that dumb grin on my face.

More later,

Sunday, April 23, 2006

Comics: Golden Age

So a lot of the comics blogs I've been haunting have been talking about "first comics" - the comic books you read as a kid that convinced you that comic books were worth reading, and leading to comics collecting and in many cases writing and drawing and editing comics. In my case, I don't think it is "first comics" that are important, but rather where one's personal "golden age" of comics is located.

No, I'm not going all nostalgic on you - well, OK, just a little. All this has an eventual point, so bear with me.

I read comics as a kid, and the more I think about it, the more comics I remember I've read. Sad Sack and Lil' Hot Stuff from Harvey, Sugar and Spike, Jimmy Olsen, Dial H for Hero, the occasional Flash (Carmine Infantino chins that could be used to open cans!) from DC, a big pile of Classics Illustrated, and even some Charlton heroes. Not much Marvel because Marvel was always in the middle of some storylines, and my buying habits (summers, vacations, etc . . .) never guarenteed I could catch the next issue. But I did read some of Marvel monster books (Where Creatures Dwell and that ilk) and their war books (both Sargent Fury and Captain Sawyer).

Anyway, I read comics, then like most people in the universe, I stopped. Moved on - one relic of those days was continuing to read MAD magazine and the bajillion paperbacks they were putting out in those days, and the paperback collections of Peanuts. So fade out on comic books until my sophmore year of college.

Two things contributed to my return to comics - Star Wars and a guy named Joe Karpierz (Hey, Joe!). First off, Star Wars had come out and hit big with me and my gang, even though we had cinderella licenses and the only place it played in Pittsburgh was in Monroeville (the last time we passed the site, the theater was shut down and abandoned, but that's another rant). In the wake of the movie, we wanted to know more, and Marvel was there with really bad comic books (Ask a die-hard Star Warrior about the giant green carnivorous bunny that teamed with Han Solo and watch him recoil in horror). So I picked up these books while I was in college, read them, and then mailed them to the Lovely Bride (back when she was still the Lovely Girlfriend). And I picked up a Howard the Duck or three, as well, but had not been drawn over to the long-underwear heroes yet.

Now Joe was next door, and he did read comics - those long-running, multi-part Marvels - FF, Iron Man, Thor. And of course I started reading them as well. And during the summer break, I would pick up the ones that were missing, since Joe was not around to lean on. And suddenly I got hooked into comics again. This was a time when Claremont and Byrne were getting their start on X-Men (and there was only one X-Man book, published every two months), when Micheline and Layton were on Iron Man, when Two-in-One (with the Thing) and Team-Up (with Spiderman) were the continuity books, and Mark Gruenwald was doing Captain America. The Beast was part of the Avengers, and was not only smart and agile, but happy about it.

And this, not Sugar and Spike, was my personal golden age. This time I was firmly ensconsed in the Marvel Universe, though the Teen Titans and Legion of Superheroes (team books) brought me back to DC. It was the start of the direct-sale comic market, and with it both imports (Titan collections of Judge Dredd, translations of Asterix and Obelix) and independents (Elfquest, Love and Rockets, Cerebus before Sim went insane). For me this was a time when comics were new, and things were better, before Mutant Angst and a million different spinoffs and Punisher showing up everywhere and yeah, this is turning into an old-guy rant, so I'll stop.

The comics I liked during that golden age would become the type of comics I would then write when I got a chance. Team books where the participants bounced off each other, but pretty much liked each other. Forgotten Realms is the example. There is a good feeling around these books that dates back to Shooter-era Marvels and early X-men. The heroes were pretty happy about their lives, even if they were feared by a humanity they were sworn to protect. If heroes failed, it was so they could rise again. Those were the stories of "when the world was new" for me, and is reflected in the kind of stories I wanted to tell.

This comes to me when I see things within the current comic book universes, a history where changes are made and then reversed. The decision-makers (writers, artists, and most of all editors) reflect their own personal golden ages in their choices.

Let me give you an example based on the editorial zig-zags that have plagued one silver-age hero - Green Lantern

You'd think I'd be a big fan of the Hal Jordan Green Lantern, the GL from when I was a kid (and I suppose should be written Hal (Green Lantern) Jordan). But in my memory, that Green Lantern was pretty much interchangeable with Hawkman, Flash, and Green Arrow. They all had their own schtick as far as powers were concerned, but they were pretty whitebread - just another supersuit. (I left before the classic Neil Adams GL/GA stories, so don't bust my chops). It is only retcon (Retroactive Continuity) that gives these guys their own personalities (I think that's a rant for another day as well). So I found the Hal Jordan of my later "Golden Age" a little stuffy, his John Stewart replacement more intereresting, and despite my age bracket, I liked Kyle Rayner the best (known to one of my comic-book friends as "crab-face-boy" for his mask). I really wasn't too bothered when Hal Jordan turned to the dark side, became a villain, and was replaced.

But some (well, many) were - those who had Hal Jordan stories as part of their personal golden age. And when those individuals rose to the age where they were writing and making decisions, Hal started his comback - first sacrificing himself to save the universe, then coming back as the mystic hero Spectre (another candidate for this Golden Age analysis) and finally becoming Green Lantern again, nudging aside Kyle and bringing us back to the 60s.

Here is another possible Personal Golden age - the current All-Star Superman by Grant Morrison. Great stuff, and highly recommended, but I see the "goofy Silver Age" of my youth peaking through his stories. When Superman cranked out a new super-power every other issue, when a tour of his Fortress of Solitude was cool, and when Atlas charming Lois Lane was considered a threat. It is all done lovingly, and despite being billed as a new approach, it is really a very old approach, and, I think, is another personal Golden Age at work.

So here's my point: There is a conservative nature within comics in that everyone is influenced by the personal golden ages of their youth. It is not the only influence, and does not mean that comics are continually damned to repeat themselves as the Kyle Rayner fans grow up and turn into the next generation of writers, artists, and editors, but there it will be that influence. Were I to start writing comics again (holds imaginary phone to ear and mouthing the words "call me"), I don't doubt that the soft-touch, personality driven, full-color world of early Claremont and Byrne, Layton and Micheline, and continuity-gathering Mark Gruenwald would influence the stories I tell.

Oh, and my version of the Beast? Definitely Blue and Bouncing.

More later,

Saturday, April 22, 2006

Play: Good Cry

Tuesdays with Morrie by Jeffrey Hatcher & Mitch Albom, Seattle Repertory Theatre, Directed by David Esbjornson, April 8 - May 7, 2006.

So the curtains fall on the Seattle Rep's season with a weeper, a soft, sentimental, feel-good piece based on a nationally-known best-seller. The theatrical equivalent of a chick-flick, all about emotions and lessons learned.

And, blast it all, if I wasn't crying at the end, and rising with the rest of the house in a standing ovation.

OK, so I am not made of stone. Now you know.

Here's the short version - the play is based on the book Mitch Ablom wrote about his former mentor, Morrie Schwartz. Morrie was Mitch's favorite professor in college. Mitch grew up, grew away, lost touch, made the big time as a sports journalist. Morrie get ALS (Lou Gehrig's disease) and starts dying. Mitch gets back in touch, and through regular Tuesday get-togethers, learns to be less of a schmuck.

And Mitch, in the play, is a schmuck. Played by Lorenzo Pisoni, he's that 90's kind of success story, someone superficially successful through sheer activity but inwardly hollow. The good news is that the play gets into the whys and wherefores of his nature as it gets towards how he learns to be a better person. Though to be honest, a zen sensei would be breaking his zen sensei staff over his zen sensei knees over the length of Mitch's path to enlightenment.

And Morrie is that sensei, his death sentence from the disease pushing himself to reach out even more. Played by Alvin Epstein, Morrie is a character, and within moments of him arriving on the stage, you know this, and you're rooting for him. He's that lovable uncle, that kind mentor figure, that cool old guy that we all want to be someday. Epstein also doesn't stint on the debilitating nature of the disease, and that gives his common-sense wisdom and good nature the gravitas it needs to be less than mere sentimentality.

I don't think I've had a mentor of that type - non-blood relation, serious age difference. My main industry is relatively new, such that we were building our own tools as we went forward. Most of my generation of game designers were in the same age group, and are more of a band of brothers (and sisters) than mentor/students. But the Lovely Bride has this kind of relationship, a former English teacher, and early in the relationship (when we were in college), she was kind enough to share her. On the first meeting, she wanted to know about this new "Cyberpunk" sf. It's been good talking to her ever since (though it has been too long - she's taken to retiring to Florida for the winter when we're back in town for Thanksgiving).

So back to the play. Yep, it's sentimental. Yep, it plays on the heart strings. Yep, it has that self-improvement, feel-good nature that you connect with an afterschool special. But it works, and works well. And it was the first full-house standing ovation I've seen this season.

More later,

Wednesday, April 19, 2006

Local Politics - First Pitch of the Season

Gracious, we're seven months out and I’m already behind the curve.

Yeah, that sounds weird, but the movers and shakers and shakey movers and movey shakers have all been working behind the scenes, so that by the time you’re asked to make any decisions as a voter, a lot of the decisions have already been made. Here's where we stand, seven months out.

US Senator - this is the marquee event, and has already turned strange. The incumbent is Maria Cantwell, who has served out her freshman term as a bit of policy wonk - doing her job well, but not making enough waves to really call attention to herself. In political terms, that makes her supposedly vulnerable. The GOP cleared the field in favor of executive Mike McGavick, who resigned from his gig at Safeco with a large "have fun storming the castle" departure package, and should have been able to close the gap, in the GOP tradition of laying low about one's own backing and intentions while combing over your opponent's record. (His initial pitch was to make Washington more polite, I suppose by removing ALL non-Republicans)

And then the odd thing happened. The Senator of Alaska, Ted Stevens, whose porcine-cylindrical-container habits exceed those of Mr. Byrd of West Virginia, got into a spitting match with Ms. Cantwell over, among other things, drilling in Alaska. And Big Ted lost, in the process showing Maria to be of sterner stuff than it had previously seemed. So Ted is now a big booster of Mr. McGavick, going so far as to campaign and fundraise for him. Because, you know, Alaska doesn’t get enough porkbarrel already - it really needs a third senator to handle all the boodle.

So as a result of this, McGavick looks like an Alaskan handpuppet, but Cantwell is far from healthy, in part because of her support of the war. Or rather, not being sufficiently AGAINST the war, which has peeved off our extreme liberal wing just at the same time Mike is cleaving mightily to his party's conservative wing. So the left is edgy about her, even though she has come through time and again on other progressive issues. Now add into the mix a protest candidate from the Greens (who desite their name, don't seem to care as much about the environment as they once did), and you have a potential mess.

Stay tuned. This has nowhere to go but down.

House of Representatives -– The Undercard is just as interesting in the 8th district, my home town. Here the freshman is Dave Reichert, and the challenger a grass-roots progressive named Darcy Burner who got in early and swept most of the establishment Dems aside. Mind you, her early work was at a time when no one even thought the Eighth was going to competitive. The Stranger, of all people, does a nice writeup on her here for those locals who want to know who’s going after the new sherrif.

And for his part, Reichert has been like Cantwell - the new kid, though he's been much better at getting out the press releases when he's done good. And I think he has fulfilled the First Commandment”that every voter asks of an elected official: For Gods Sake, Don't Embarrass Us. Yet his nice-guy demeanor and strong homeland security approach is hampered by the fact that he is in a party that thinks government consists of shoving huge amounts of cash down your pants. He's the rookie cop who is asked to wait outside while his veteran partners shake down the bookie for their weekly taste. It's gotta hurt.

You've met people in Reichert's position before –- he's the nice guy with the psycho fiance. You're sitting in the bar with him, and he's telling you about how good the relationship is and how they both respect each other's space. Then his cell phone rings, and he says "hello", and you can hear the screaming on the other end from four feet way. And he says "uh-huh" and you hear more screaming. And he says "OK" and folds up the phone, lets out a deep sigh, and says "Well, I gotta go. She needs me to go approve drilling in Alaska".

Our much-disliked, trigger-happy Veep came out to campaign for candidates in Washington State (thanks to the rest of the nation for footing the bill for his trip, but, sadly, we're sending him back). That put Reichert in the nasty position of either cheesing off the GOP stalwarts by snubbing the shindig, or cheesing off the rest of the population by supporting an incredibly unpopular party leader. He showed up (good for him), but I haven't seen any photos of the two together yet.

State Supreme Court - This is usually pretty quiet, but we already we have a jump on this one. The same conservative business interests that installed Jim Johnson are now putting up my former state senator Stephen Johnson for Supreme Court, based on the triple whammy of a) he's not scary looking, b) he does what he's told, and c) his last name is Johnson. How can they lose?

State Senator - but with Johnson running for supreme, we have a hole in the 47th district. And finally we get to the stage where the candidates are not selected in advance. Dave Reichert's younger brother was considering the run, but bowed out (pity - if he's the one I spoke with on the phone, he seems like a nice guy). So the rumors are afoot that my State Representitive Geoff Simpson (who has been excellent in his job) may take on the position. Which, I suppose, means we have to find a new State Rep, but more on that as it plays out.

And THEN we have the clown car which are state initiatives. These are still in the sig-gathering stage, but I see on the list here, there is a Tim Eyeman-sponsored initiative to keep car tabs at 30 bucks, an Tim Eyeman-sponsored initiative to open carpool lanes, and a couple other Tim Eyeman-sponsored initiatives geared to make state government more like Tim Eyeman. More on these as they develop as well.

And finally, on the national level, the President of China was in town today, meeting with the most important man in America, our Chief Executive. After leaving Microsoft, he'll meet with President Bush.

More later,

Monday, April 17, 2006

State of the Blog

So what is the state of the blog? Well, I've been meaning to write this since January, so that's a hint.

It is not that there has not been content on this site for the past few months, it is just that more stuff has been lining up behind it. Things I have meant to note, reviews I have intended to make, subjects I have intended to broach once I had things sorted out in my own mind. As a result, there are a number of outtakes, half-entries, and other musings that never make it into digital print.

And blogging, much like newspapers, is time sensitive.

Here's an example. On my "finished" pile is a copy of John Scalzi's Old Man's War, which is an good book and an excellent first novel and I wanted to tell you so. Unfortunately, the I've taken so long to tell you that it's been nominated for a Hugo this year. Ditto for the work of another author I've wanted to tell you about, Charles Stross, who is also very good and is ALSO a Hugo nominee. Both gave me a chance to get in on a loud and public fan early on, but now they've gone on an succeeded without me.

In politics, I have a similar case of Jeffrey-come-lately with Darcy Burner, the Democrat challenger for Dave Reichert's seat in the 8th district. Five months ago I got a fundraising note from her that made me smile - Reichert is one of the few members of this GOP congress who is not up to his armpits in scandal, so I thought him an easy re-election. Now there is suddenly national attention to this ground-level campaign and the elephants are deeply concerned. It turns out that Ms. Burner has put together an effective grass-roots campaign, convinced the establishment Dems to let her take her chance, and mobilized an effective team of supportness bloggers and net-root activitists. So there is another chance to get in on the ground floor and report from the trenches.

And here's the opening line of another entry, half-written - "The recent protests in the Middle East are as much about cartoons as the Sepoy mutiny was about bacon-flavored bullet cartridges". But I think that ground has been stomped and re-stomped so many times that it is getting a bit thin.

I think part of the backlog has been the fact I want to get things right, or at least create the illusion of getting things right. There are always going to be information that trickles out later, or hunches that prove to be false, but I'd like to as right as possible for the then-situation. And there are also things that I want to track down (in the case of the Scalzi review, it is a simple matter of confirming a memory I had about Heinlein - I just haven't gotten around to it). And part of it is that if I start talking about it, be is Katrina or state quarters, I feel a need to keep people informed. So the longer I go, the more of a train of earlier work I bring with me.

I am also very aware that the nature of blogging seems to have changed as well in the past couple years. It has gone from a bunch of folk talking about their lives to a semi-effective media tool. That means some people want to regulate it more, while others want to harness it. Look for more attempts to clamp down on blogging over the next year, as well as more major-league political and corporate entities to move into the fray, adding bloggers to the tool box of getting their message across.

This arrival of major players on the field is nothing new. Back in the day where people bought sheet-music as opposed to records or Itunes, the methods of promoting were the local taverns and theaters. And if your publishing house wanted to get attention for your songs, you'd hire a boomer - someone who would go into the bars and request the company's tunes, or go to the theater and enthusiastically lead the applause. I expect to see a lot more boomers on the net than there are already, so always be aware of who is doing the writing.

Similarly, the blogosphere is fragile. It is NOT as if everyone has a printing press in their house. Rather, it is as if everyone has ACCESS to a printing press, which is kept somewhere else, and could be hauled away in the dead of night. The difference is telling. Something can happen, when political or legal (or both), and all this can evaporate like a summer mist off the lake. You show up one day and its gone, replaced with something that is more controlled (and boring) or more corporately focused (and suspect). And it doesn't even have to be corporately controlled - a few hedgehog-shaped lawsuits, all bristles and litigation, can send out the chilling effect to shut down all but the most dedicated of opponents on a subject.

So for the time being, enjoy what goes on here - Quarters, Katrina, Local Politics, Play Reviews and all. This blog is going to remain about my life (mostly) and what I think (get used to it). After careful consideration, I am still choosing not to enable comments - the rising tide of comment spam makes me think it is the right choice, but more importantly, I'm treating this as a broadcast medium. If you want to send a letter to the editor, the email address it there in the righthand corner. I am also not putting any trackers on this site, yet, since it still feels a little too calculating. Quite simply, I would start slanting my coverage to my market, and that way lies madness. I think I want to stay an amateur in this - I have been swallowed by too many of my hobbies over the years, and I already have a job (a couple of jobs), and I want to keep this one enjoyable.

More later,

Thursday, April 13, 2006

No Quarter: Voting Restored

So the voting has been re-enabled here for the Washington State Quarter. As noted previously, the earlier vote was freeped in the manner that often accompanies such polls. In this case, the damage was caught and they did something about it, which is appreciated.

The state government also did two other things of note to change the page. First, they no longer are presenting the up-to-the-minute numbers of the votes, so there is no way of knowing how your choice is doing. This may result less of a temptation to skew the poll (if your fave is losing), but also sort of defeats the "horse race" nature of such polls.

Secondly, and more importantly, they now have a disclaimer stating that the poll will only be "a part of the process". How big a part is kind of nebulous, and will probably have influence only if it agrees with the people in the room making the decision at the end of the day. So if the apple lobbyists are there, we may be looking at a very, very ugly coin.

More later,

Tuesday, April 11, 2006

On The Road Again: Fast Lane

So, from my morning commute, I can only assume that we won the war. I mean, is there any reason for the fact I don't see any of those magnetic yellow ribbons anymore?

OK, OK, I'm not here to talk about that, but rather about another interesting phenomenon.

Since taking the new gig my driving habits have changed radically. Last time I had to make the Bellevue commute, I would be up before dawn and take surface streets as much as I could to avoid I-405, the main artery north. Now that I arrive at a more . . . leisurely hour, I tend to just take 405 North. And its pretty smooth - a couple slowdowns, some dead stops, but easier than navigating through the stoplights of downtown Renton.

Now the thing that I've noticed that's interesting is this: the right lane moves faster. It seems counter-intuitive - the right lane should be the slowest lane, but from non-scientific analysis, it gets you there faster.

And by non-scientific analysis, I mean the following: I get on 405 and pick a distinctive vehicle in the middle lane (the far left lane is HOV). A strange color car, a pickup hauling stuff, a particular truck. Then you hang in the right lane pace it, and see which one reaches the I-90 intersection first.

And lo and behold, more often than not its the right lane that moves faster. With the trucks, and continual merging from the entrance ramps. As a former civil engineer, it feels wrong, but so far the commute has been a breeze.

Now, there is one exception to the above rule - when someone suddenly switches from the middle lane to the right lane (usually right in front of you, because your lane is moving and theirs is not), THEN the right lane will suddenly stop completely. Because thats just the way Car Karma works.

More later,

Monday, April 10, 2006

No Quarter: Hack the Vote

Yah know, when something seems too good to be true, it usually is:

Case in point, the selection of the state quarter voting. When I first recommended it, it was at about 500,000 votes, which surprised but did not alarm me. Oddly enough, the quarter I favored (the Native American Orca) was significantly ahead.

Now, I am many things, but a finger on the pulse of the popular mood is not one of them. I thought most of the voting public would jump for the middle design (Fishzilla), which is nice but not as risky. Surprised but with no sense of unease, I turned to other matters.

Then I checked in today - even more votes, and the Orca was ahead by even more. At this point my shennanigans-detector was fully alerted, and I mentioned that something seemed wrong with the voting to my fellow inebriants at the Alliterates.

Well, it turns out someone hacked the vote. The story is here, again one of those stories brought forward by local bloggers. Now, I LIKE the orca, but even I'm not going to buy that it was such a hands-down favorite. Kudos to those who brought it out to light of day, and I hope the state gov fixes the problem and then makes sure we aren't using the same software in the next election, mmmmkay?

More later,

Performance: L. Ron Half-Elven

Great Men of Genius: created and performed by Mike Daisey, directed by Jean-Michele Gregory, Capitol Hill Arts Center, April 6, 7, 8 and 9.

OK, you know the drill by now. Yadda yada yada Mike Daisey, yada yada Four nights, four geniuses, yada yada Lovely Bride and I got tickets.

And now we have the wrap-up - L. Ron Hubbard.

So this one was packed – I mean line-down-the-block, seats-put-everywhere, hope-the-fire-marshal-doesn't-show-up packed. And it was warm from body heat and stage lights.

And there was something else as well – a feeling of potential danger. While all the others of the series had their devotees, Mr. Hubbard has followers, as befits one who has created his own religion. Fanatical followers. Fanatical followers with sharp teeth and lawyers.

So there was very much a feeling of a Sword of Damocles hanging over Daisey's table, as if he had volunteered to disassemble a live explosive while we watched. OR was doing a show about that whacky Martin Luther in Lake Woebegone. Or he's telling a story about his Mother and you know his Mom is sitting right next to you.

And indeed Daisey pulls it off, mostly. I picked up a lot about L. Ron Hubbard's life, primarily because I've never paid attention to him previously. He was always this old-time SF Writer who I don't remember ever reading, a minor leaguer compared to Asimov, Bradbury, and Clarke, who hit it big with Carlin's Law: "If you stick two things together that have never been stuck together before, some schmuck will buy it". In this case the two things were SF and Organized Religion. And I guess I always thought less of Hubbard because he sort of cut out on geekdom.

Daisey takes an interesting road, of how we create our realities and reassurances, and in turn compares Scientology with autohypnosis, acting exercises, the Upright Citizens Brigade comedy troupe (who gets pummeled much worse about the head and shoulders than Scientology), psychoanalysis, Microsoft "special retreats" and the reward system in most computer games (and, yahknow, it is only that last one that makes me mildly uncomfortable). He probably could have thrown in the Masons and other fraternal orgs like the Elks, Eagles, and Oddfellows as well. And while on one hand his comparisons are all over the board, they are also much more comforting, making L. Rod's belief organization not seem so alien after all.

End result? Worth three nights – really worth all four, if you can make it. The show goes to New York, and for those readers of this journal out there, is worth checking out.

Sunday, April 09, 2006

Performance: A Feast of St. Nikola

Great Men of Genius created and performed by Mike Daisey, directed by Jean-Michele Gregory, Capitol Hill Arts Center, April 6, 7, 8 and 9.

OK, so if you skip down a couple entries in this journal, you get the background on how we ended up at CHAC for Mike Daisey's Great Men of Genius series - four nights, each night on a different man. We caught Brecht on Thursday, missed Barnum on Friday, and Saturday night was Nikola Tesla's turn.

Tesla was a patron saint of mad scientists, which is odd since so much of his work is actually incredibly vital for what we call the modern world. AC current, electromagnetic motors, X-Rays - all Tesla coolness. Yet this crucial figure has been marginized over the decades, probably because of things like his (possibly successful) earthquake machine and his (possibly unsuccessful) death ray. Yet even among the mads, Tesla is more exciting in theory than in reality - he was mild-mannered, quirky guy, likely with OCD, someone you would not want to hang around. He was brilliant, but sounds more dynamic in vague memory than in the man he was. In this he reminds me of Lovecraft, another creator that he both predates and postdates.

Daisey bounces through Tesla life, in particularly his relationships with men we DO remember, Edison and Westinghouse. Telsa may have been the last great creator/inventors, who produced wonders out of the air, carving in images in his mind that only he could see. Edison was a technologist, who invented a better way to invent, and in that way shared a history with Eli Whitney, who made a better way to make things. Edison was process, Tesla was genius. Westinghouse, a patron saint within my home town (Pittsburgh), comes out as a tool of Tesla's vengeance against Edison - the method by which he proves them all wrong in classic Mad Science style.

Daisey weaves Tesla's life through his own, in particular his youth, when he was a Big Science Geek. His romance with science was both longer and deeper than my own, and more passionate, spurred by early-80s fears of mass apocalypse. I can see his point, in that I went through my own "big science" phase as well as "end of the world" phase, though mine was fueled more by Late Great Planet Earth than by Red Dawn. And how in the end he turned away from Big Science (indeed, towards the Brechtian Era covered in the first performance), and brought it full circle to Tesla's Death Ray.

Daisey feels on firmer ground here - while his Brecht monologue was strong, his Tesla work feels more rooted (he has visited the subject before, and I think there is enough Teslania out there for a couple more monologues). And in dredging up those old memories, he reminded me of my own Big Science Romance, tucked like a bookmark in the back of Scientific America. And yeah, while I too have fallen to wayside in my scientific geekery, there is still a spark of the Tesla Coil within me, looking for ground.

And yes, the Lovely Bride moved around her schedule so we can do Hubbard on Sunday night. I'm interested in how this all falls together. In the mean time, I want to really check out the dates of Tesla's death ray demonstration at the Tungusta Explosion in Siberia.

More later,

PS - Hi to Chris and Nikchik from across the crowded room!

PPS - Written at 3 AM local time when awakened with a sour stomach, corrected ten hours later when I discovered a major piece of dislexia in the writeup.

Saturday, April 08, 2006

No Quarter (Special SayWA Edition)

So Washington State has opened up the voting for the new Washington State Quarter here. Since I've gone to such great lengths to go after the other quarters, it is only fitting to take on this group as well.

Well, this is the typical mixmaster disaster that we've seen so often before - a glumping together of elements against the shape of the state, a reminder that, without the Pacific and Columbia River, we'd look like Kansas. In addition to the state shape, we have state nickname, Mt. Rainier, a dying salmon, and a roll-over for the state apple-growers. I'm just surprised the powerful asparagus lobby didn't get their mitts on this. Brutally uninspired.

Rating: D=Real Lame

Better, commemorating the first siting of Fishzilla, the giant tail-walking salmon that haunts the wide lakes that surround the base of Mt. Rainier. Actually, this coin is gifted with both a natural scene and a bit more animation than is normal for a coin. Plus, as a bonus, the salmon shown doesn't have the rictus grin of a spawning and soon-to-perish fish. I kinda like this one, and we could do worse. And I think that Fishzilla could take on Minnesota's giant loon any day of the week.

Rating: B= Not Bad

I am really partial to this one - one image that strongly underscores the uniqueness of Washington State. No other state could use a NW Native American killer whale (well, maybe Alaska, but I understand they're going to use a drilling rig punching through the head of a polar bear). This would a distinctive coin. The tipping point would be feel - would it give me the intersting surface of the Connecticut Quarter's tree, or the parking-slug emptiness of the Texas "big nothing" coin? I really, really like the design.

Rating: A=Real Cool.

So go vote - they have half a million votes in the queue already, and the Killer Whale is currently in the lead!

Thursday, April 06, 2006

Performance: Bertholt and Me

Great Men of Genius created and performed by Mike Daisey, directd by Jean-Michele Gregory, Capitol Hill Arts Center, April 6, 7, 8 and 9.

So when we were at the REP last weekend (after the play, before the resturant quest), the Lovely Bride picked up one of the postcard promos for monologuist Mike Daisey's latest work. We knew Daisey from his 21 Dog Years: Doing Time on Amazon.Com, and I really liked his geek-brother style, The flier was for Great Men of Genius, a set of "bio-logues" on Bertolt Brecht, P. T. Barnum, Nikola Tesla, and L. Ron Hubbard. Liked the artist, liked the subject matter. Sure, we can do the Thursday show.

Then the wrinkle, the small print, as it were - he is actually doing four separate monologues on four separate nights - First Brecht tonight, Barnum Friday, Tesla Saturday, and Hubbard wrapping on Sunday. And with the Lovely Bride's work schedule, we could make Brecht and Tesla, but not Barnum and Hubbard. So we did get up to Cap Hill for CHAC, a nice space with a brick wall background and mostly full house, for the first one in the series.

Now monologuists are one of those few jobs where you are forgiven, nay, you are expected, to talk about yourself at length. In addition to Daisey, Spalding Grey and Josh Kornbluth fit this model - their lives become their subject matter. So it should not be a surprise that these bio-logues are not Daisey channeling these various 20th Cent. Geniuses, or even providing a hard and fast biography of the Great Men (though he catches the high point and illuminates a few shadows along the way). Rather, the lives of his subjects are springboards of how they intersect with Daisey's past and allow Daisey to compare his own experiences with those of his subject. Brecht enters through Daisey's theater class background, with the concepts of alienism and the epic theatre of ideas.

Alienism, the best I can figure out, is the disengagement of viewer from the work, usually carried out through unsympathetic main characters, to better allow the ideas and purpose of the piece ultimately resonate with the viewer. This is of course anathema to my own style, where I am usually looking to create bridges between reader and character, the better to "sell" my concepts to an increasingly-sympathetic audience. Daisey, in one of the first of many solid laughs of the night, points out that this is why so much bad theatre is called "Brechtian" - both it and Brecht's work makes you not care about the characters.

[The Lovely Bride was a BIG Brecht fan when she was young, and she's the one that explained all this to me. And then explained it to me again. And then explained it a third time, by which point we had gotten home and she is now under the misconception that I understood it. Please don't tell her otherwise].

So anyway, we get Brecht's life and Daisey performing Brecht. Brecht's relationship to a Praetorian Guard of female fellow-playrights and Daisey's own relationship with his director/lovely bride. Brecht's time in Hollywood and Daisey's, at the same theater that The Life of Galileo debuted at. Brecht dealing with the HUAC as a real honest-to-god communist (though wasn't a party member because he was cheap) and Daisey's own Libertarian attempt at overly free-speech. It is Brecht and Daisey, Daisey and Brecht.

So does he pull it off? Oh yeah. There are parts that he had gathered the small audience (100? 120?) into a sympathizing, supportive band of brothers, and parts where he got extreme reactions from individual members of the audience, striking personal memories through his own (To the people taping that evening - the loud, rattling laughter during the discussion of Daisey and his wife/director going over notes at 3 AM? That laugh belongs to the Lovely Bride. Yes, its mirrored experiences when we work together - yes, Daisey takes it better than I do).

So it feels like a shakedown flight, a trying out of material to see what works and what sits there. Daisey works from notes but not from a script, and while parts have the solid patter of someone who has worked out the discussion in their head to the ultimate fineness, other parts feel like they are still searching for the right word, the right angle, the right something to hit them out of the park. But he hits pretty darn often.

So yes, I'm looking forward to the Tesla monologue, and I'm thinking of hitting the Hubbard one alone (though I'll bet that one will be packed). I'm looking forward to what Daisey has to say. And that's a compliment for any storyteller.

More later,

A Writer's Life

So further down the page you have an update on the new job, in particular how it has really moved around my biological clock as well as my writing habits. In particular, how I was doing my writing in the morning and then just collapsing when I got home at night.

Well, I have to fess up, while it sounds good on paper, the new process wasn't really working, and I have returned to my nightowl ways.

The morning writing worked OK, particularly for short stuff (like this blog), but over a longer haul it was more difficult to get up and into a groove when I knew that in an hour (forty-five minutes, twenty minutes) I would have to rise from my task and head out.

But writing in the evening? All you're doing is putting off sleep.

And it shows in the writing. I've been working on (and been late on) a short story (more on that when it is accepted). And the text flow has been choppy, more centered on vignettes, than a smooth flow. And it has taken forever. So this week I have started the writing process at ten or so, gone to one, and then crashed. It has been more productive, since the wrap point is determined by me, not the clock.

In addition, in the evening I'm a little less active and bouncy (and therefore less easily distracted), which is important when you have access to the Internet.

The end result is that the short story first draft is done, and I am just a little frayed around the edges. But that feels . . . normal.

More later,

Wednesday, April 05, 2006

Report from the Front

It is the middle of the week, and I am wrapped up with finishing another project, but this needs to be shared.

We've covered a lot of Katrina news here, and I don't want people to think that just because the news has fallen off (what with was and scandals and other stuff), things have mysteriously and miraculously improved on that front. The city remains mortally stricken. This was posted by Poppy Z. Brite, New Orleans native (still) and author, who is still struggling with the devastation, and has been going through five stages of grief like they were mounted on a twenty-sided die. She has given permission for reposting:

Not OK

Occasionally I'm asked by friends Not From Here, "New Orleans is better now, right? You had Mardi Gras!" or "Are you doing OK?" or some variation. Sometimes, particularly if they're contemplating a visit, I even try to reassure them: it's very possible to have a good, safe time here; the French Quarter is fine; lots of restaurants and bars are open. In truth, though, New Orleans and most of its inhabitants are very much Not OK. I present to you a baker's dozen facts about life in the city seven months after the storm. Some are large, some small. I think many of them will surprise you.

1. Most of the city is still officially uninhabitable. We and most other current New Orleanians live in what is sometimes known as The Sliver By The River, a section between the Mississippi River and St. Charles Avenue that didn't flood, as well as in the French Quarter and part of the Faubourg Marigny. In the "uninhabitable sections," there are hundreds of people living clandestinely in their homes with no lights, power, or (in many cases) drinkable water. They cannot afford generators or the gasoline it takes to run them, or if they have generators, they can only run them for part of the day. They cook on camp stoves and light their homes with candles or oil lamps at night.

2. There is a minimal police presence, and most of it is concentrated in the Sliver. Homes in other parts of the city are still being looted, vandalized, and burned.

3. Many parts of the city have had no trash pickup -- either FEMA or municipal -- for weeks. Things improved for a while, but now there are nearly as many piles of debris and stinking garbage as there were right after the storm.

4. There are no street lights in many of the "uninhabited" sections, which makes for very dark nights for their residents.

5. Many of the stoplights, including some at large, busy intersections, still don't work. They have become four-way stops (with small, hard-to-see stop signs propped up near the ground) and there are countless wrecks.

6. There is hardly any medical care in the city. As far as I know, only two hospitals and an emergency facility in the convention center are currently operating. Emergency room patients, even those having serious symptoms like chest pains, routinely wait eight hours or more to be seen by a doctor. We have, I believe, 600 hospital beds in a city whose population is approaching (and may have surpassed) 250,000.

7. Most grocery stores, many drugstores, and countless other important retail establishments are only open until 5, 6, or at best 8:00 PM because of the lack of staffing. This is only an inconvenience for me, but it's crippling for people who work "normal" hours.

8. The city's recycling program has been suspended indefinitely. We talk about restoring the wetlands that could buffer us from another storm surge, but every day we throw away tons of recyclables that will end up in the landfills that help poison our wetlands.

9. Cadaver dogs and youth volunteers gutting houses are still finding bodies in the Lower Ninth Ward. Of course these corpses are just skeletons by now -- the other day they found a six-year-old girl with an older person, possibly a grandmother, located near her -- and they may never be identified. The bodies are hidden under debris piles and collapsed houses. This is in the same section of town that some of the politicians are aching to bulldoze.

10. Thousands of people who lived in public housing were forcibly removed from their homes. It is now being suggested by much of the current power structure, including our very liberal Councilman at Large Oliver Thomas, that they not be allowed back into these homes unless they can prove they had jobs before the storm or are willing to sign up for job training. (Many of you may agree with this, and I did too, sort of, until I really thought about it. Hadn't they already qualified for the housing? What about the ones who had jobs that don't exist anymore? How can they find jobs in New Orleans if they don't live here?)

11. There are still flooded, wrecked, and abandoned cars all over the streets, parked in the neutral grounds, and in many cases partly submerged in the canals out East. Now that it's campaign time, Mayor Nagin is trying to come up with a solution for this, but he thinks maybe we should wait for FEMA to do it (!!!!!) and he claims the best removal offer he's gotten so far was "written on the back of a napkin."

12. Many of the FEMA trailers -- you know, the ones costing taxpayers $70,000 each -- have been delivered to homeless New Orleanians but cannot be lived in because the city doesn't have enough people to come out and do electrical inspections, and the trailers need a separate hookup instead of being hooked into the house's power supply, and a dozen other damn fool things. While these trailers sit empty, there is an easily constructed, far more attractive structure called a "Katrina cottage" that could easily be built all over south Louisiana. It costs about $25,000 less than the flimsy, uncomfortable trailers. FEMA refuses to use it because they're not allowed to provide permanent housing.

13. A large percentage -- I've heard figures ranging from 60 to 75% -- of current New Orleanians are on some form of antidepressant or anti-anxiety drug. The lines at the pharmacy windows have become a running joke. When a visiting "expert" gave a Power Point presentation on post-traumatic stress disorder recently, the entire audience dissolved into hysterical laughter.

Appropo of nothing, we are now less than two months away from the 2007 Hurricane Season.

More later,

Sunday, April 02, 2006

Restaurant Quest

So the play started at 2 and let out about 3:30, and the Lovely Bride and I decided to do dinner up near Seattle Center. And that turned out to be a mistake.

We normally hit Racha, a Thai place at the northwest corner of the Seattle Center, but we had done that two weeks before and were looking for something else. A new restaurant, Moxie, had opened nearby, but they didn't open until 4. So the Lovely Bride suggested the Melting Pot, a Fondue Restaurant. Fondue never did it for me, but I was good for it. But they didn't open until 4 either.

I think you know where we're going here. We hit a couple resturants - none of them opened before 4. So we walked through the Center, back to Moxie's after 4, and found that yes, they were open, but didn't serve dinner until 5:30 (their sign on the front window lies), but they did have bar food. So BACK to the Melting Pot, where, yes, they were open, but they were full up and the first opening they had was at 9 - would we want to come back in 5 hours?

Now, through the Monkey King's excellent Friend's List, I read Waiter Rant, a great little blog by a waiter in New York, who regularly confronts the irate couple that comes in without a reservation and demands a table (usually one reserved for a couple that met at the resturant and is coming in tonight to celebrate their 20th anniversary). But in this case the Melting Pot was stone-cold empty at opening, not a paying customer present, waitstaff leaning on the tables and examining the glasses for spots, and there was nothing available for the next five hours.

I think I've mentioned that the Lovely Bride runs a tax office, and this is their busy season. But even they keep a number of slots available for the walk-in trade, since those people are where you draw your regular customers from in future years. But apparently the Melting Pot is doing so well, it doesn't have to worry about stuff like that. And mind you, these are restaurants that are within walking distance of two full theaters that let out at 3:30-4ish - theater-goers who are apparently trained to go directly to their cars and drive back to Bellevue to get something to eat.

And I've noticed this odd restaurant/theatre disconnect in the program books at the REP as well - from the Pittsburgh Public Theatre and the Milwaukee Rep, I am used to seeing local restaurants taking little ads to drum up post-show trade. Here? Not so much.

Where did we end up? At the bottom of the hill, near Lake Union, at a place called Bonefish Grill - Its a chain, and it was OK - the halibut and bacon-wrapped scallops were excellent, but the tuna was a little tough and the breading on the calimari bland. Service was great and I would definately give it a second shot. It had a few people as we entered and was pretty active by the time we left.

Now, there has been some gripes from the local eateries that, in the event of another Key Arena expansion, they will have to carry the freight of a continuing tax to effectively support their own competition. Normally, I'm with the little guys against the bigs, but after this little experience, unable to find a good sitdown place at 4 PM on a weekend, my sympathy for them is minimal - maybe now they will have to go looking for customers as opposed to keeping banker's hours.

Oh, and my desire for cheese-covered bread? Definitely reduced.

More later,

Saturday, April 01, 2006

Play: Life in Wartime

9 Parts of Desire by Heather Raffo. Seattle Repertory Theatre, through April 15

Ah, the one woman show - another potentially perilous part of the theater experience, but the Rep tends to do it well. Not only I am thinking about Lily Tomlin's The Search for Sign of Intelligent Life in the Universe from a few years back, or Sandra Tsing Loh's Sugar Plum Fairy, a show I dreaded in theory and enjoyed in reality, but also Theresa Rebeck's Bad Dates, which is known in the household as "the Shoe Play". I dodged out of it, the Lovely Bride took a friend, and thought it was delightful and I would have enjoyed it (Such that it has become the standard shorthand for male sluggishness to engage - "Well, you never went to the Shoe Play, either").

And there is this - 9 Parts of Desire, which is a nine-character, one-woman show on Iraqi women. The title comes from the old story of how god divided desire into ten parts, and gave nine of those parts to woman. And while the concepts of husbands, lovers, long-distance relationships, and others float through these women's serial narations, this doesn't seem to be about love, but rather about the destruction of a culture and a civilization.

The stories pull no punches as the horrors of the Saddam Hussein's regime and the destruction of the wars (Iran, First Gulf, Second Gulf). These are women from a world rolling backwards, where the evil is rewarded and incautious truth mercilessly punished. They are victimized but do not see themselves as victims. Their world has been shredded into bits. Some have left and feel drawn to return. Some have remained and feel the tug to leave. Doctor, Artist, Intellectual, much-married Bedouin, Street Vendor, Teeny-Bopper, American TV Viewer. All are pulled into the maelstrom.

Actress Nalja Said moves effortlessly from one role to the next in serial style, giving each woman her own presence and style. I connected with the artist, parleying off parts of her soul for survival and advancement under Saddam. The Lovely Bride gelled with both the second-Generation teen watching her uncles' homes be destroyed on CNN and the whiskey-swilling refugee in London, trying to give background to the struggle and explain why she won't go back, this time.

What the play does well is provide a spectrum of women, from smart to foolish, from elite to struggling, and shows it is as impossible to encapsulate the land in nine women in ninety minutes as it is to capture it in a two-minute bit on the evening news. It does have the horror-show of a civilized land destroyed from within and without. It has a nasty frisson to it all, a feeling that yes, with a proper nudge here and bit of finesse there, it can happen here.

In the end, however, the play is a collection of nine individuals talking, what links between them tenuous and late in the play. The Lovely Bride thinks that treating it as a real play with nine actresses would have strengthened it, but I disagree. I think a straight-line narative would have forced the play like a river being channeled to a set goal and a set resolution. What is here is chaos, what these women's world has become, and the end does not resolve neatly. Like a river, it leaves you with muddy water and reflections at the end. and I don't know if I would tidy up the events to fit any of the potential messages in the least.

It was a troubling play, and that seems to be the whole point.

More later,