Monday, September 15, 2014

On to Washington (D.C.)

My nephew got married this weekend, so that meant a whirlwind family trip to the Washington, D. C. area. It was my kids first time on an airplane and they did great. We squeezed in a very brief trip to the Smithsonian Air & Space Museum. The kids are still too young to appreciate the exhibits, but there were some hands on arts & crafts "build your own plane" stuff going on, so it was a good distraction.

The wedding was a fun, pleasant affair. The couple got married at the Old Post Chapel next to Arlington National Cemetery. The reception was back at our hotel, the Hyatt in Crystal City Arlington, VA.

The reception was in the top floor Chesapeake room, and the view of the Potomac River and Washington D.C. were spectacular.

And just to illustrate where my mind goes sometimes...

I've been to Gettysburg and various American Civil War battlefields. I've been to D.C. But, it never really hit me until I had that view of just how fragile the Union's hold on the capitol must have been. I mean, I know D.C. is in Maryland but I guess, in my head, I always pictured it as central in the state, but it's not. Washington is right there, against the river and what was the border of the Confederacy.

I know the war was long before planes and the river is wide, and troops would need to come overland. But - one good bridge in the hands of the Confederacy and who knows what might of happened.

It's somewhat amazing they held not only during the opening days of the war, but throughout the four years.

A while back, The Siege of Washington by John & Charles Lockwood got onto my Kindle via a Daily Deal. I'm going to need to read it soon.

My other geek vibe from the view was from Karl Edward Wagner's gunslinger character, Becker. In his alternate world, he saw Washington D.C. burn and the Confederacy won the war.

Monday, September 1, 2014

recent read; Enemies & Allies

Superman & Batman, set in the late 1950s/early 1960s Cold War. Batman and Superman, fighting crime in their separate manners, find themselves drawn together as defense contractor Lex Luthor sets evil plans in motion. Luthor wants government contracts & power, and is willing to push the superpower nations to the brink of nuclear annihilation to get what he wants. With a nod or two toward Dr. No, he sets up a Caribbean base of operations.

Luthor's co-conspirator in the Soviet Union is trying to establish his own race of supermen from exploited workers who are excavating the site of a meteorite impact. The radiation from the strange, green element cause mutations, which General Ceridov hopes to transmute into a Soviet eugenics program to compete with the American Superman.

This novel was a lot of fun. The characterizations are spot on. Lots of nice period touches without going overboard. Balanced explorations of Bruce Wayne & Clark Kent and their alter egos. Lois Lane is feisty as ever.

I'd love to see this adapted as a DC Universe Animated Original Movie - which is really the highest compliment I can give it.

Monday, August 25, 2014

recent read; The Color Out of Time

Michael Shea, creator of Nifft the Lean, among other great writings, sadly passed away in March (2014.) Shea's books were already hard enough to come by, and predictably the prices at eBay nudged up after his death. Fortunately for those seeking out Shea's Lovecraft pastiche, The Color Out of Time, it was made available as an ebook earlier this year, shortly before his death.

The novel is a direct sequel to the H. P. Lovecraft story, "The Colour Out of Space."

At an idyllic New England lake in summertime, two older college professors, Gerald and Ernst, notice a strange, disturbingly colored halo about the lake one dusk. Later they find twisted, stunted trees and giant insects in an isolated tract of the woods. They also feel depression and dread for no seeming reason. Eventually the horror grows as the strange color exhibits and manifests a malevolent nature - poisoning spirit and body alike.

Things only grow worse, as afflicted and endangered vacationers ignore the warnings - perhaps due to the psychic influence of the entity.  The protagonists come to refer to the alien entity as simply, the Enemy. Murders by physical manifestation of the Enemy, along with madness-inflicted deaths, spread. Eventually our heroes take it upon themselves to solve the mystery and destroy the evil. Along the way they meet an older woman, too, who knows the truth of the Enemy - having seen it kill a family when she was a child - before the area was flooded to make the lake. Before H. P. Lovecraft heard the story and rewrote the details into 'fiction'...

Yes, there is a direct, open link to Lovecraft in the narrative. So, I'll stop there to avoid any further spoilers. As for Lovecraft's inclusion in the narrative, albeit as a person dead and in the past, I'm still not sure it works favorably or not. It did put me out of the tale a little, but as the post-climax tension and stakes rose rapidly, I let the story take me along.

Simply put, this was an enjoyable pastiche. Shea was able to imitate and modernize and put his own unique twists on the Lovecraft tropes. While not delving into purple prose, there is an intentional erudite hand in his word choice, which reminds of Lovecraft without falling into parroted imitation. Instead of an unlikely fainting blueblood protagonist, we get unexpected heroes in a trio of savvy, vigorous, whisky-drinking seniors. Instead of pontifications on race and heritage, we get interesting examination of tribal and mob behavior, and how something from Outside can exploit it.

Shea also includes some absolutely horrific moments along the way - shocking the reader out of the cosmic horror, back into grounded terror.

Having the novel on Kindle is convenient, and it was bittersweet to read the fresh introduction from Shea. But I will keep an eye out for a paperback copy. Especially because of this Ken Kelly cover!

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Return to Lovecraft Country

Well, not so much of a return as a drive-by.

When it comes to Lovecraft Country, there are different regions. The most famous, perhaps, is the northeast coast of Massachusetts, with its fictional Kingsport, Arkham and Innsmouth. Central-western Massachusetts is another area where at least two of his more famous tales were set - "The Colour Out Of Space" and "The Dunwich Horror."

Supposedly, the events of "The Colour Out Of Space" took place in an area that was destined to be forgotten under the waters of the new reservoir for Boston. Though he died before it was completed, Lovecraft cleverly worked the Quabbin Reservoir into "The Colour Out of Space";
Traces...will doubtless linger...even when half the hollows are flooded for the new reservoir. Then the dark woods will be cut down and the blasted heath will slumber...the secrets of the strange days will be one with the deep’s secrets; one with the hidden lore of old ocean, and all mystery of primal earth.
This weekend we attended a picnic in Amherst, MA. Our drive took us past one lookout area over a small portion of the reservoir along Route 202. We didn't have time to stop - the lookout was across the opposite lane anyway. And we took a different way out. So, I had to settle for a drive-by photo op.

(If you zoom on the sign, you will see that it reads, "Quabbin Reservoir - Pelham Lookout." And you can see a bit of water in the far background.)

But, the way out was interesting, too. I forewent the GPS's suggested route on the way to the picnic - mostly for the Quabbin photo op. On the way back, the GPS took us through even deeper backroads, which are also Lovecraft related. I vaguely recognized some of the buildings and crossroads. I had explored around the area in my Lovecraft reading heyday. I had used "Lovecraft and the New England Megaliths" by Andrew E. Rothovius from The Dark Brotherhood and Other Pieces as my guide back then - referred to many USGS maps, too, before Google and Yahoo maps existed.

I sometimes forget how lucky I am to live in such a historical region - fictional history or otherwise. It was nice to drive through there with Lovecraftian fiction in mind, even if it was a brief passing by.

The nights here are already growing colder. It might be time to reread "The Colour Out of Space" and perhaps follow it up with a read of Michael Shea's The Color Out of Time, which is in my to-be-read queue.

Saturday, August 16, 2014

Whovian 2-fer

On the way to NECON last month, I had an hour & a half ride each way, so I loaded up some Doctor Who audio dramas for the ride.

Energy of the Daleks

Though released later in the series, this story was Tom Baker's first audio return to Doctor Who. It is also the first time his companion, Leela, gets to tangle with Daleks.

Speaking of Daleks, this is a welcome return to conniving Daleks with attitude and a plan for world destruction. During Tom Baker's era, Davros, the creator of the Daleks, was invented by Terry Nation. In the two Dalek appearances for Tom Baker run, the focus was more on Davros. The Daleks were reduced to (sometimes none-too-bright) foot soldiers.

This is a very convincing Dalek tale that fits right into the 4th Doctor era. You can almost see the t.v. episode in your head. (My head, anyway.) The Daleks are "old school" and there is a nice return of Robomen (first used and only seen in The Dalek Invasion of Earth.) The Daleks are behind a new "free energy" beaming scheme that will rescue the near-future Earth from its energy crisis. The Doctor intends to find out why.

It is one of those stories that you don't want to think too hard about. If the Daleks can send a scout ship with six Daleks onboard back in time to alter history, why not just send a whole fleet? Such things are easily explained away by "timey wimey wibbly wobbly," so a line or two of dialog to explain away the question would have been nice, but, whatever.

Tom Baker was the first Doctor I ever watched. I don't subscribe to the "your first Doctor is your favorite Doctor" paradigm - especially with all the Doctors to choose from now. But, I had forgotten just how enjoyable he can be as the Doctor.

This was a lot of fun.

This is nearly pitch perfect for a 4th Doctor era story. I will absolutely be visiting more Tom Baker audios from Big Finish.

The Architects of History

This story closes out a trilogy featuring the villain, Elisabeth Klein. Klein is a Nazi from an alternate timeline where the Doctor's negligence helped the Nazis to win World War 2. During their previous adventures, the Doctor obliterated her timeline and tried to enlighten her. But Klein was patient, and gained enough knowledge to abscond with his TARDIS, and establish a future Reich that spread across the galaxy. Now the Doctor has arrived to put things right - which doesn't seem very possible from his prison cell.

Klein is a wonderful, thought out villain (villainess.) I wish she could have been on the t.v. show, proper. (Let's face it, The Rani never came up to potential on t.v.)  She has motivations, she goes toe-to-toe with the Doctor and nearly pulls off her grand schemes.

I really enjoyed this one. There is a second Klein trilogy - as well as a series that focuses on her non-fascist counterpart in the correct timeline. I look forward to listening to all of them.

Friday, August 8, 2014

Running silent

Sorry for lack of posts, interesting or otherwise. NECON is a tough act to follow ;)

I've been reading a lot of different things which means I don't have anything cohesive to review. My current novel read is Kevin J. Anderson's Enemies & Allies which is a period piece (Cold War - late 50s/early 60s) where Superman and Batman meet. I am really enjoying it - just taking a while.

I've started #WellmanWednesday where I read a Manly Wade Wellman short each Wednesday night. This week's read was "The Third Cry to Legba" via the Haffner Press' John Thunstone collection.

I've read some other miscellaneous short stories and lots of comics. I started binging on The Goon last night. Darkly twisted and very funny stuff.

More book scores, too, of course. Nothing super rare or exciting, but they make me happy. I'll be happier when I get around to reading them.


Saturday, July 19, 2014

Camp NECON 34

This past Friday I was fortunate enough to attend one day of "Camp NECON" in Rhode Island. (It is a 4 day affair, but I figured I would ease into it considering family time demands, etc.) NECON is the abbreviation New England Horror Writers Convention. I don't know why HW is left out of the acronym - I guess it's not as fun to say. And NECON is fun!

I haven't really tried my writing pen on horror in a long time, but there have been some short stories in that vein of late on my computer. I've been reading more horror lately, and a lot of the writers attending are genre-crossers anyway.

I met Charles Rutledge and Jim Moore in person. Charles showed me all the ropes. We spent most of the day together and with others chatting & socializing.  I cursorily had brief greetings with Amber Benson, Kasey Lansdale and Christopher Golden, among higher profile names you might recognize.

Yeah, Jim & Charles are big guys!
A panel on Horror & Crime fiction and the lines they blur.
A panel on film making (mostly indie, but some network t.v., too!)
Christopher Golden and James A. Moore
I met and bought a pile of signed books from Darrell Schweitzer, plus a few other books.
Loot! And all signed except the Keith Taylor collection.
I just missed meeting F. Paul Wilson as he showed up just as dinner started, and I headed home afterwards.

Aside from those names you know, I met plenty of other friendly, considerate, passionate and kind folks. The panels were fun. The informal KaffeKlatsch discussions were informative and fun.

I must thank Charles publicly for including me. Learning that he had been in my backyard (so to speak) last year, I wanted to meet up this year. Then I figured I didn't want to just third-wheel my way into a dinner, so I decided to do at least a day of the convention properly. And Charles agreed that was a fine plan.

 I ate well, I talked writing and books and genre and Doctor Who and I had a blast.

The unfortunate bit was that this is NECON's 34th year, and the convention founder and organizer Bob Booth died last year, so I never met him. But there was a wonderful tribute to the man, his legacy. We watched an interview where he went over the history of NECON. It was touching and very informative.

And that was all in one day! And I didn't even get to stay for the evening stuff!

NECON is a great, small, no pretensions, all inclusive little convention.They do keep it small. But, if you ever get the chance to go, especially if you know someone else attending who can guide you through the first time, it's is absolutely worth the experience.

Great motivation, too. I can't show up empty-handed next year, or Jim Moore will look me in the eye and say, "Write your damn book." ;)