Saturday, January 23, 2010

Wandering away to Wordpress.

Starting today, I'm putting all new posts (and there aren't that many of them) on my news Wordpress site, also known as Dave's Fiction Warehouse. I hope the five or six people who look in here periodically will also start looking in over there. Comment early and often. Thanks.

Monday, January 11, 2010

At play in the fields of Pandora

I finally saw Avatar. My short review: Fabulous effects, pedestrian story. James Cameron has certainly set the bar at a great new height for all future action movies, but he hasn't broken much new ground when it comes to sophisticated writing.

Not that it matters. This is not a boring movie, and you won't rue the price of your ticket. It's the first 3D film I've ever seen, and I'm glad I waited this long. For the first few minutes, the 3D effect seems a distracting gimmick, but as the movie unfolds it becomes much more natural. I considered only one scene gratuitous: a machine gun barrel protruding out of the screen. Elsewhere Cameron showed admirable restraint. In the Pandoran jungle, the judicious and subtle use of 3D makes the alien flora and fauna seem vividly real.

My only problem with Avatar is that every character is a stereotype drawn from other films. Remember Vasquez in Aliens? She's back, as Trudy Chacon. Wind in His Hair from Dances With Wolves? That would be in Tsu'Tey in Avatar. And so on. David Brooks has a smart column in the New York Times where he illustrates this quite well. But you don't need to read it recognize this latest incarnation of the White Messiah theme in Avatar.

No, that's not the worst thing in the world. As they say, there's nothing new under the sun. But when you're invoking such an oft-used narrative, it's probably a good idea come up with a few surprises. From the moment you meet each character in Avatar, it's possible to guess the story arc and status of each one by the movie's end. If you haven't seen the movie, try it. Avatar disappoints because the only surprises are visual.

Thursday, January 7, 2010

Larry King and his cast of liars

You know, I don't even blame Richard Heene any more. He's just a terrible human being, and sometimes you have throw up your hands and accept that a person's shortcomings are so comprehensive that he just can't help himself.

Heene, of course, is the guy who lied about his son taking flight in a homemade balloon, finally plead guilty to perpetrating the hoax, and then on "Larry King Live" lied again, saying his earlier lie was not really a lie, and ... well, you get the idea. Heene evidently hopes his awfulness will at last reach critical mass, and, like Rob Blagojevich, earn him the coveted spot on "Celebrity Apprentice" that is his by birthright. I'd say his chances are good.

Awful people show up on "Larry King" all the time, don't they? Somehow they are multiplying. I guess if we want to blame anybody for that, Larry himself is a good place to start.  Larry doesn't discourage venal, self-serving bullshit, nor does he draw the line at turpitude of any kind. Far from it. The greater the depravity, the better he likes it. If Jeffrey Dahmer were still alive, he'd probably be on Larry once a week hawking his cookbook.

This old man has much to answer for, and not just for those stupid suspenders. Yes, so do the people who watch his show in droves, but I don't have their names handy. So Larry will have to do. Remember, any place Americans are behaving badly for the cameras, they're not just doing for themselves. They're doing it for Larry. 

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

Having tea with Ms. James

One of my Christmas gifts this year was P.D. James' Talking About Detective Fiction. At less than 200 pages, it might be the shortest thing she's ever written. But for anybody who enjoys crime-writing in general and British crime-writing in particular, it's a fun, illuminating look at the evolution of the craft over the last 150 years.

The title doesn't exactly grab you by the throat, does it? But it's accurate. It's like having tea with Ms. James as she warms to her subject -- which, as she puts it, "was one of the few on which I felt competent to pontificate." She talks about Arthur Conan Doyle, and Dorothy Sayers and Agatha Christie, but also discusses her own work and those of the modern masters like Ian Rankin. I gather she's not a big fan of Christie, and her view of the Golden Age writers on this side of the pond -- Hammett, Chandler and MacDonald, say -- may be something short of unalloyed admiration.

Which is another reason I like this book. I hate the book jackets where one famous writer is fawning over  another, knowing that a return favor is part of the deal. P.D. James is near 90 and past that now, and has nothing to gain by doling out insincere praise. When she says something she means it. And because of that, I also take heart from her line near the end: "We may well be at the beginning of a new Golden Age."  As someone who loves to read detective fiction and aspires to write it, that's good news indeed.

Tuesday, January 5, 2010

Decamping to a site more complicated

 Because nothing is ever good enough, I've decided to migrate Dave's Fiction Warehouse from good old Blogger to my own domain and Wordpress. The domain is davesfiction.com.

Why? That's an excellent question, since I've burned numerous hours learning the intricacies of the new system, and will probably burn a lot more before I know what I'm doing. In the meantime, I'll keep posting here and use the new one as a lab site. I'll experiment and fiddle incessantly there, then put the word out when I feel it's ready for my seven or so regular readers to have a look at it. Just so you know.

One of the best things about Wordpress (I hope) is this theme called Thesis, which allows for a huge amount of customization without the need for learning a lot of code. That's also one of the worst things about it, since the sheer number of choices and non-intuitive menus make for a steep learning curve.

Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Should aulde resolutions be forgot?

January is named for the two-faced Roman god Janus, who looks into the future with one face and into the past with the other. That's kind of where I'm at, too. On these dark days following the winter solstice, I look at the year ahead and resolve to be better in some small way, even as I look at the year past and realize how unlikely that is.


Was it just 12 months ago I was standing in front of this same mirror, vowing to hit the gym five days a week, cut down on the fatty foods and take it easy on the wine? I think it was. Those vows are too easy to make after the excesses of the holiday season. Suddenly the waistband is a little too snug and you've got some acid reflux going on, and a little headache just behind the eyes, and you realize that in a whole year all you've achieved is another trip around the sun with everybody else. It really is time to make a change, you think, and this time the change will extend beyond the first week of February.

Which no doubt why the Romans invented old Janus, god of gates and portals, god of transitions. In 21st-century America, the transition most sought is the one from fat to slender, or from obscurity to fame, but the idea is the same: If you want to be good-looking and get your own reality show, once a year it's a good idea to take a few minutes and see how things are trending.

Thus are born New Year's resolutions -- the temporary triumph of hope over experience. I make fewer of them than I used to, but I still do. They're mostly mundane: gonna get fit, gonna get better on the guitar, gonna be nicer to everybody. I don't write them down anymore, since it's better not to leave a paper trail, but I still try to convince myself each January that this time it will be different, that I will end the year a better man than when I started.

We'll see about that, won't we? For now, let's drink to the end of an odd year -- and the end of a decade that seemed not so great, even by my lowered expectations. Things can only get better, right? Happy New Year, all.

Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Check your dignity at the gate

As long as they've got a limitless supply of credulous young males who don't mind cramming explosives into their underpants and trying to kill everybody around them, we're not going to prevail in this airport-security thing. Because all we've got are 50,000 TSA employees who are most concerned with preventing your grandmother from getting through security with an artificial hip. If you're a radical young Muslim returning from Yemen, don't have any luggage and are on a terror watch list, basically you're good to go.


If there's a bright spot in the Flight 253 incident, it's that one al-Qaeda-inspired idiot is today having trouble urinating, as the result of a badly burned schlong. Sorry, Umar Farouk Abdul-whatever: That's what happens when you don't pay attention in suicide-bombing class. If permanent disability is too much to hope for, then I wish you a long and painful recovery. Good luck with the 70 virgins. I guess we can also hope that this will be a setback for al-Qaeda recruiting.

Presumably, this means the rest of us will soon be exposing our privates, in one way or other, as a condition of boarding an airplane. Personally, I can't wait. But I wonder: At what level of indignity will travelers finally decide they really don't need to fly to that business meeting in Duluth? Sure, it's a long drive, but at least nobody's frisking you at rest stops, or deciding you've got too much styling gel. And usually you don't have to sit beside some mouth-breathing fanatic with a suspicious bulge in his BVDs.

Look: The terrorists are definitely winning. OK?  Their army of mind-numbed robots is apparently bigger than ours. And certainly more committed.  Anyway, they really don't have to blow up any planes; they just have to make us all disrobe and bend over at the command of somebody making $13 an hour. So far, that seems to be working.

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

The climate outside is frightful

This morning in Wichita, in the pale light of a low-rising sun, the temperature's not so far above zero. That's pretty darned cold for these parts, though it is December and the news stories today about winter storms "crashing" into the Midwest and "hammering" New England seem a little overwrought. People forget from year to year that a certain amount of cold and snow, in the few weeks surrounding the winter solstice, is not really remarkable. At least if you live anywhere north of Texas.

I've seen worse. I'd be happy to share anecdotes about the winters in Montana, the times it got 50 below and your spit, if you were a spitting person, would freeze before it hit the ground. It was way too cold to take a leak outside or start any kind of engine; you bundled up like the Michelin man to grumble through your chores and then you hunkered close to the stove and argued about who was going to bring in some more wood. By the way, if anybody needs advice on unthawing frozen pipes, I'm an expert on the subject.

Most of my weather stories are lies, of course, magnified and distorted through the murky lens of several decades, but I still say they don't make winters like they used to. Which brings me to the subject of global warning, and the idiots who weigh in on the comment boards of newspaper Web sites. Today on the Wichita Eagle's site, the daily weather story has devolved into the usual impassioned diatribes between left and right. One cold snap apparently proves that global warming is a sinister fraud perpetrated by the Trilateral Commission, or somebody. On the other side, it proves that people unsure of the science are creationist morons. As with all discussions among those who prefer to remain anonymous, it's a debate characterized by mindless certainty. Just a matter of time before the Nazi metaphors start flying.

A not-so-great man once said, "People, I just want to say, you know, can we all get along?" I'll field that one, Rodney: The answer is no, as long as nobody's using their real name and every disagreement becomes a matter of faith rather than reason. Look, there can be no question that climate change is occurring, just as it has from the dawn of time. The question is the extent to which mankind causes it, and the extent to which mankind might make it better. There's also the question of weighing the cost of mitigation efforts against the benefits that can be expected to accrue.

Those are complex questions, and way beyond the ken of a man sitting in his bathrobe on a cold winter's day. I have my own opinions on the matter and I will vote accordingly, but at the moment I don't feel like trying to convince some other idiot in his bathrobe that my view is the only one with merit. I suppose that's why I never sought public office. I know it's why I don't attend church regularly. On Planet Dave, there are just too many things that can't be known.

Fortunately, the weather outside right now is not one of them. In a few minutes I'll have to go out in it. Nothing like a wind-chill factor of zero to clear the mind of extraneous details.