Wednesday, May 27, 2015

three short reads; novellas and a short novel

The Dunfield Terror by William Meikle

In this short novel, a deadly interdimensional fog bank attacks an isolated Newfoundland town at the height of a disastrous blizzard. This book is a quick read with nifty backstory simultaneously explored as the "now" story rages on. There are even flashbacks to the 1800s, establishing that the phenomena genesis in the 1950s caused a rift in time, too.

The only negative was some repetitive incidental action - drink coffee, drink rum, smoke a cigarette. Then again, at the height of a Newfie blizzard, what else can you do?

Good feel of winter storms and isolation, and interesting scifi/horror monster(s.)

I am trying to explore genres and read some tales from NECON attendees before this July's next con. Bracken MacLeod and Chris Irvin both had crime novellas out last year.

White Knight by Bracken MacLeod

Tight, quick read that hits hard and fast. An idealistic prosecutor tries to help outside the boundaries and gets caught in a noir-ish trap. Things only get worse and darker from there.

I like that MacLeod's stage was quick and small, befitting the story and novella length. The tale happens quickly, over a few days, and the setting is a smaller city of Massachusetts. When we say "Lynn, Lynn, city of sin," we aren't kidding. It works far better than trying to stage this noir-ish tale in New York City or Los Angeles. It works.

(also, see review by Charles Rutledge)

Federales by Christopher Irvin

In Mexico, law enforcement comes in shades of grey, never black & white. An idealistic Federale, Marcos Camarena, finally gives in under pressure (and threat to his life) and leaves law enforcement. He can't keep from trying to help, though. He is hired as a bodyguard to an anti-drug crusader who has already had brushes with death and assassination attempts.

On the plus side, this tale has very evocative characters and tone. I felt the heat, the sweat, the hopelessness. On the negative side, the narrative sputtered and gave out at the end, I thought. It felt like a setup for a longer work, a shift into the second act, but then it hurriedly ended.

Rather bleak stuff, but the war on drugs is a bleak subject, especially over the border in Mexico.

Wednesday, May 20, 2015

movie; River Queen

I've been doing research on the Maori wars of the mid-1800s. These were the battles fought between Maori New Zealand natives and the British colonizing forces. It all sounds far too familiar - forcing people off their lands to appease settlers, miners and other greedy people. Maori fought Maori, too, as some tribes considered allying with the British as their best option.

Thanks to Jim Cornelius' review of River Queen, I thought it would be a good way to get some feel for the era.

You should read Jim's review, it's short and to the point.

As with many such movies, it is not about the war specifically, but about the people caught in the middle. But there are combat and battle scenes, and those alone are worth a viewing if you are a military history buff and you don't know much about these conflicts.

My take away; it had great visuals, and excellent battle scenes. It especially highlights the rugged NZ forests that made the fighting a hard slog.

On the other hand, the main narrative was all over the place and got worse near the end of the movie. It felt like scenes were strung one after another without a polish to pull them all together. I felt like some scenes were almost out of order, and quickly reworked to fit the new order. More and more characters started vying for the story's attention, too.

There was too much use of voice over. Never a good sign. On top of that, the sound was muddy. I finally turned on captions, though I am usually all right discerning accented dialog.

River Queen is a decent historical drama with some nice visuals and battles, but it's a bit of a jumble. It's one of those movies I wish I could like a bit more than I did.

Thursday, May 14, 2015

movie; Northwest Passage

Growing up, more than once my mother mentioned the classic movie, Northwest Passage. At some point I finally did see it via broadcast television. I had it on VHS tape at one point. It was one of the movies I waited forever to come to DVD. It was finally released via the Warner Archive. The Archive features no-frills transfers of older, less-than-big-hits. The films aren't cleaned up, feature no or very little bonus material.

The movie follows the exploits of Rogers' Rangers during the French & Indian War. Specifically, it focuses on the Saint Francis Raid - an expedition deep into hostile French and Abenaki territory to destroy a base of operations the Abenakis used for raids deep into English colonial territory.

I finally sat down and gave it a re-watch this week.

As with many things through rosy glasses, it's not nearly as good the second time around.

Not surprisingly for 1940s Hollywood, the "Indian" portrayals are weak. The first indian we meet is drunk. The Abenaki village Roberts' Rangers assault and destroy just happens to be overpopulated by males. There is a token appearance of kids & women to be spared. And, if they don't look Mohawk, then they look Apache. There is much told of "innocent" settler folks being butchered by Natives, and nothing said of things from the Natives' viewpoint.

Speaking of the Abenaki village, that's the only combat action in the entire movie. The rest of the action centers around the Rangers arduous journey to make the attack in surprise. Boats hauled over hills, swamps, rain, creating a human chain across a fast running river, discord among the troops and their Native allies.

The screenplay was adapted from a 1930s popular novel by Kenneth Roberts. It's out-of-print, and I'm surprised it hasn't been given the ebook treatment. Part of me still wants to read it. But if the movie followed it closely, it might not be my cup of tea. It does appear to have had a longer story than the movie, going beyond the Saint Francis Raid.

If you like old Hollywood frontier movies, you should probably watch this one at least once. I don't know about repeated viewings, though.

Historical note; while Rogers and his Rangers were heroes of the French & Indian War, in the end, Rogers washed out and sold out.

Monday, May 11, 2015

Personal effects; World War I paraphernalia

On my bucket list, and on my Dad's bucket list, unfortunately, was to get my mother's father's (my maternal grandfather) World War I paraphernalia into a display case. We finally did so this weekend.

His flag was undersized, but that worked out perfectly. My wife put together a shadow box that fitted into the bottom of the case. (For the record, he didn't die in the war, he died in 1943.) Under the flag we have a doughboy sewing kit, his dog-tags, a French Verdun medal (see Unofficial medals, on the linked page) American World War I Victory medal with three battle clasps, and rifle bullet shells.

This case now stands on our fireplace mantle, but the glare from the light didn't make for a good photo. Hence, the floor shot.

One other item did not fit into the case. A rather unique crucifix.

 "Gott mit uns" - God with us. Sorry Kaiser, better luck next time.

As a side story, my six-year old daughter recognizes Jesus and crucifixes. She wanted to know why Jesus was on 'that' (the cross of bullets.) I was a bit on the spot. The best I came out with was, "The problem with war is that sometimes both sides think God is with them. But it's a just a terrible thing." Or something to that effect.

Wednesday, April 29, 2015

Back on the wagon

Yep, quiet blog month from me.

I've read a few books but nothing screamed for a post. I'll probably try a catch-all summary if anything. Other personal things are keeping me busy.

The writing wagon. Get back on it.
Part of that busy-ness is writing. Specifically, establishing a daily writing habit. I know the lack of a daily writing habit is my Achilles' heel. I've finally leveraged my cat's help.

Yes, seriously.

She wakes us up way before the morning alarm, now that the days start early. Instead of being tired, grumpy and half-sleeping my way until the alarm rings, I've decided to leverage the issue in my favor.

I am now writing in the morning, first thing (after I feed the cats) before my regular day starts. I write for 40-60 minutes, with a daily session goal of 750 words. I never thought of myself as a 'morning person' but the fact is, waiting until evening is real hit-or-miss. Half the time I can't motivate myself to write.

The morning slot is working. I output an average of 700 words or so nearly every morning last week. I finished a rough draft short story in that time.

My motivational coach
If I go to bed an hour earlier now, so what? It's generally not an hour I used for writing. Most of that hour is just spent online or watching news, anyway. No loss there.

The other neat thing is that once I've done 750 words, I don't feel guilty if I can't get anything more out in the evening. On the other hand, after you've done 750 words 300 doesn't seem so hard and on some nights, I can push to that goal and have a 1000 words for the entire day.

And, if I can't reach the 750 in the morning, I can get some portion done and it seems much more manageable and believable that I will complete at least the 750 by bedtime.

I also know that I probably need outlines to do this. Part of my initial success was knowing what a scene needed to do. That early in the morning, I do need that.

Once the days grow shorter, and the cat stops her morning obnoxiousness, I will switch to using the alarm. By then I hope to have my habit firmly established.

A daily habit will be the only way to get novel(s) done, and I know I need to get there.

Tuesday, April 7, 2015

recent read; The Monster Club

One of my favorite horror movies filed under "far from a classic - campy - but I like it anyway" is the anthology flick, The Monster Club. Despite its goofy tongue-in-cheek framing device, it contains one of my favorite all-time creepy tales. The story involves a stranger driving into a lost village which he eventually comes to realize is populated by ghouls.

I finally read the book by R. Chetwynd-Hayes. As with collections spawned movies, only two tales from The Monster Club book (and the framing device) were used in the movie. Other material came from other Chetwynd-Hayes tales from other sources. Fortunately, the ghouls story was one of the stories included in The Monster Club collection. It goes by the title "The Humgoo" which is unfortunate - it is much better than the title. The title comes from the half-breed girl in the story, a human/ghoul. In fact, all the stories in The Monster Club deal with cross-bred monsters and their strange powers.

R. Chetwynd-Hayes includes more than a bit of humor in his tales, and some of his stories are played for laughs. Some are played straight with humorous moments. Either way, he still manages to convey some good chills even in the more humorous stories.

Thanks to yet another informative introduction by Stephen Jones, I now know that there is another movie of Chetwynd-Hayes tales, From Beyond the Grave. I'll be seeking it out, along with more Chetwynd-Hayes story collections. Right now, the only two in print are The Monster Club and Looking for Something to Suck (I just ordered the last Amazon print copy yesterday!) R. Chetwynd-Hayes appears in a few (or more) Mammoth Book of horror anthologies, too.

Sunday, March 22, 2015

Blues Pills & "classic rock"

When I was growing up in the early 1980s, I was (no surprise) a bit of an odd duck. I did not listen to the pop or rock of the day. I was entrenched in blues and what we now call “classic rock” of the 1960s & 1970s. Except for surviving holdovers (The Rolling Stones, The Kinks, The Who, etc.,) very few bands were doing that style of rock'n'roll. So, in my defense, that was what I liked and that is what I sought out.

Along came The Black Crowes and I realized I wasn't entirely alone.

Now, if you want to talk about being out of your expected of time-stream, there is a whole 'nother generation of “kids” out there, harkening back like I did – Grace Potter & the Nocturnals, London Souls, Saint Jude, Rival Sons, the Sheepdogs and my newest discovery, Blues Pills.

It's great that nowadays “doing your own music thing” is even more prevalent. In Europe there is a large fanbase for “classic rock.” But, not the same old tired FM radio anthems, but new bands performing & writing with classic rock influence. It's a genre, just like “classical” music is. They've been doing festivals and award shows for a while now, and this year (or 2014) America finally held its first “classic rock” awards show which includes awards for new music in that style.

's all good!

Check out this live Blues Pills show, and check out the absolutely rockin' song, “Gypsy.”