So I’m reading a mystery novel, and the heroes are talking to the medical examiner about what she’s learned from the as-yet-unidentified murder victim.

The ME gives a quick rundown of the useless information she’s gathered so far, including the detail that the deceased “flossed conscientiously.”

I did not fling the book across the room, but I winced. You see, the reason they hadn’t yet identified the body was that the head was missing. I’d like to know how you can tell someone flossed regularly from looking at her headless corpse.

I can’t believe nobody caught that. What was the copy editor thinking?

Trailer Park

Seven trailers with “Age of Ultron”; apparently the last couple of movies we saw were flukes in having fewer.

“Ant Man” looks like a lot of fun. I’d seen much of what’s in the trailer somewhere before, probably an ad or “sneak peek” on TV, but there was some new-to-me material, and it all looked pretty good. I’m pretty amazed at Marvel’s track record this century.

“Tomorrowland” — this was a new trailer, not the one I saw in January and March. That earlier one I think was what they call a “teaser trailer” on DVDs, while this was a full trailer, and it took a very different slant. George Clooney wasn’t even in the other trailer, but he’s the focus of this one. This one is also much more action-oriented, which is probably going to draw a larger audience, but honestly, I liked the mystery & wonder feel of the first one better. Where my reaction to the first was, “I think I want to see this,” the new one elicits, “Let’s see what people I trust think of it.”

“Fantastic Four” — another relaunch. One thing I like about the mainline/Avengers cinematic Marvel universe is that so far it’s all of a piece, no reboots or major retcons, while the folks with the rights to Spider-Man and the FF keep starting over. Going by this trailer they’ve got a few things right — changing the origin trip to an interdimensional one instead of a space shot makes sense, and the way the four powers are shown looks great (especially the Thing), but I have serious reservations about Sue and Johnny not being blood siblings, and Sue’s father still being alive*. Where previous versions looked a bit cheap, this one doesn’t, but… I dunno. I’m wary.

“San Andreas” — why was this made? Is there any reason we need another earthquake disaster movie? The footage of collapsing cities was all stuff we saw in Emmerich’s “2012.” And one line in the trailer pissed me off, where someone says that this quake is a “global” disaster. No, it isn’t. The San Andreas Fault isn’t going to do any damage beyond the Pacific Rim no matter how completely it goes. I’d rather watch “Sharknado 3” than this.

“Jurassic World” — is this a sequel to the previous three Jurassic Park movies, or a reboot? Because if it’s a sequel, do these people never learn from their mistakes? If it’s a reboot — why bother? It does look better than “San Andreas,” and I’d probably pick it over “Sharknado 3,” but that’s a pretty low bar. I mean, I bought the Jurassic Park trilogy on Blu-Ray months ago, and still haven’t bothered to watch 2 or 3, so I’m not about to pay to see this new one. The first one covered all the ground I cared about.

“Pixels” — I’d seen this somewhere before, but maybe it was just an ad on TV. Or maybe I forgot it in a previous post here, and it accompanied another movie. It has a ridiculous premise — alien beings who resemble old video game creatures have come to Earth seeking revenge for all their kin we’ve slaughtered in arcades and on consoles — that could be lots of fun. Unfortunately, it doesn’t look like they’ve managed to bring out that fun. It mostly looks dumb. The bits in the trailer that are clearly intended to be comic highlights did not elicit laughter, but only a wry smile. Not promising.

“Self/Less” appears to be playing on SF themes that have been kicking around for decades — as in, Heinlein’s I Will Fear No Evil, or horror treatments in EC comics or before. I’m not particularly interested in seeing a feature film about it.

To sum up: I think I want to see “Ant Man” and “Tomorrowland,” while the other five evoke varying levels of disinterest.

* I was informed after posting this elsewhere that Franklin Storm showed up alive in FF #31 (and then died in #32). I had completely misremembered that, but it does render my objection to his presence in the trailer inappropriate.

Movies That Don’t Suck: The Avengers: Age of Ultron

We went to see “Avengers: Age of Ultron.”

I have some issues with it — the color palette tends toward grays, the fight scenes are sometimes hard to follow, some of it feels a bit rushed, and I really wanted at least a glimpse of Gwyneth Paltrow as Pepper Potts — but all in all, it was a good movie and lots of fun.

I liked this version of the Maximoff twins; Pietro came across as more likeable than his comic book incarnation while still being a bit of a jerk, and Wanda had a great mix of vulnerability and self-confidence.

And the Vision was excellent, if somewhat ill-defined (see above, re: rushed).

This Ultron was as psychotic as the comic book version, but in a different way. I liked that.

I’d like to see the rumored 3.5-hour director’s cut; I hope they do a Blu-Ray release of it.

Trailer Park

There were five trailers with “Cinderella,” starting with “Tomorrowland.” It’s a pretty good trailer for a film that looks moderately intriguing — which I hope is the movie they actually made. Sometimes the trailer is utterly misleading. Anyway, I may want to see this one.

It appears, by the way, to have much less to do with the Tomorrowland area at Disneyland than “Pirates of the Caribbean” had to do with the ride.

Next was “Inside Out,” the new Pixar feature. I’ve seen stuff about this film before, and thought it might be Pixar’s first outright flop, because the premise is pretty outre, and the central characters are by definition one-dimensional. The trailer, though, has me reconsidering — it looks interesting, and they’re clever with those one-dimensional characters. Still not sure it’ll work, but if anyone can pull it off, it’s Pixar.

“Pan,” on the other hand, is a prequel to “Peter Pan,” and it did not look like a good idea to me. Unless it gets amazing buzz, I’ll pass. (I recently re-watched Disney’s 1952 “Peter Pan,” by the way, and would be willing to comment on it if anyone’s interested.)

“Hotel Transylvania 2” — okay, I didn’t see the first one. Ads and trailers, yes, but not the actual movie. This probably means I’m not the target audience. Besides, I’ve never really liked the notion that all the classic movie monsters are pals, and in general I prefer my traditional monsters to be monsters, not just weird-looking nice guys.

That said, the trailer is a single complete episode — don’t know whether it’s even in the actual movie, or it’s like the trailers for “The Incredibles” that were new footage that conveyed the mood and concept without using real scenes from the movie. Either way, the trailer does manage to be fairly clever and moderately funny; some of the comic timing is just perfect. But I still don’t plan to see the movie.

And finally, “Minions” — jeez, where do I even start? Gru’s entire world in the “Despicable Me” movies is just so utterly bizarre, and here we have Gru’s minions looking for a master before Gru is even born — i.e., 1968 — and winding up at a villains convention in Florida…

And at least in the trailer, they use music that’s actually from 1968, by the Doors and Jimi Hendrix.

If you loved Gru’s minions, here’s an entire movie about them. What more could you want? I suspect they work better as supporting characters, but who knows? I will say they got a lot of stuff right. Since Julie didn’t like “Despicable Me” anywhere near as much as I did we never saw the second one, and probably won’t see this, but I admit a sneaking wistfulness about that.

We’ve been to two movies so far this year; one had four trailers and the other five, where for the past several years six or even seven was the norm. Are the theaters cutting back?

Movies That Don’t Suck: Cinderella

Julie decided we should go see Disney’s live-action “Cinderella” — apparently it was getting good buzz at her office.

So we went and we saw it, and it was pleasant — a good movie, but not a great one. Very well cast, and the production design was good, but don’t try to pin down the historical setting, as it’s simply seething with anachronisms. Clothing and architecture ranges from (I am not exaggerating) the 15th century to the late 1920s. I’d say the preponderance of the evidence puts it late in the first half of the 19th century.

I’ve seen several versions of the Cinderella story recently, for one reason or another, and I’d have to say this was one of the better ones, but it never really surprised me. There were several good bits, but no “wow” moments, though the Fairy Godmother’s magic was some impressive CGI.

There are several nods to the animated version, but this really is not the same. Nor is it exactly Perrault’s version, though the credits list both his story and the earlier Disney as sources.

There are CGI mice with the same names as the mice in the animated film, and when they first appeared I thought, “Oh, dear — it’s a straight remake with CGI instead of ink and paint.” But it’s not. The mice and Lucifer, the stepmother’s cat, are there, but they aren’t involved in anything like the same ways. The stepmother and stepsisters are not the same characters — similar, of course, but not the same. Helena Bonham Carter is a very different fairy godmother.

Most of the human characters are given significantly more depth than in the animated film. I suppose that’s easier to do with real actors.

Anyway, it’s a successful adaptation, but not the sort of masterpiece that would make future versions pointless.

On the other hand, it came with a cartoon before the feature, and I loved the cartoon. “Frozen Fever” is a sequel to “Frozen,” apparently set not more than a couple of months after the end of the film, and I thought it was lots of fun. I laughed out loud a couple of times, and grinned pretty much all through it.

A Little Chit-Chat: Two Topics

First: Writing

I’ve been working seriously on five different novels lately — Ishta’s Companion (an Ethshar novel that’s been in the works under various titles for more than twenty years), The Innkeeper’s Daughter (a fantasy with romantic elements I started on a whim last year), On A Field Sable (third in the Bound Lands series, after A Young Man Without Magic and Above His Proper Station), Stone Unturned (a big complicated Ethshar story), and Graveyard Girl (a young adult novel about a girl with a specialized psychic power). That’s not counting assorted revisions, proofs, editing, etc. People have asked me how I can do that, work on five at once — how can I keep them all straight? Why don’t I focus on one?

The answer is, I don’t know how I do it, or even really why. I learned to work on two novels at once back in the late 1980s, so if I hit a slow patch on one I could switch to the other for awhile and refresh myself; I did that fairly often, though not all the time. Typically one would be Ethshar, and one would be something else. I once tried working on three simultaneously, and back then it didn’t work, I’d lose track of things and get confused — so why is it working now? I dunno. Practice, maybe. I know that not only am I now able to juggle five, I could actually handle more — I deliberately cut the number down to five awhile back because I was working on so many at once that none of them was making much headway. I counted eighteen at one point that were nominally active works in progress, though I wasn’t actually getting much of anywhere on several of them.

How can I do that? No idea. It just happens. Sometimes when I switch from one to the next I need to re-read a little to remind myself where I was, but the voice and storyline are all there in my head, ready to go.

Why am I doing it? Well, mostly, I think, because I don’t have a reliable major market at present. For most of my thirty-five years of writing novels professionally, I’ve had books under contract to a publisher, so I worked on those. When I didn’t actually have a contract, I still knew more or less what the market wanted. After Tor cut me loose by rejecting On A Field Sable, though, I didn’t know what would or wouldn’t sell, so I’ve been trying lots of different things, and so far most of them haven’t worked. No major publisher was interested in One-Eyed Jack or Vika’s Avenger. Tom Derringer and the Aluminum Airship is still out there, but the prospects don’t look good. My agent had ideas about what he could sell for me, but they mostly didn’t mesh with what I wanted to write. (Graveyard Girl is the exception, but I’ve been working on that for three years now and it still isn’t finished because I ran into plot problems and it’s hard for a guy in his fifties to write from the point of view of a contemporary fifteen-year-old girl, especially when the story’s all about coming to terms with death.)

So I’ve been jumping around, looking for something that would reconnect with the market. Why I haven’t focused on one project at a time I couldn’t really tell you.

At this point, I’d really like to get some of these done, and off the list — partly so I can get back to others I put aside when I cut the list from eighteen to five. I’d like to work on The Dragon’s Price, for example, or Earthright, but am resisting until I finish one of the five.

Second: Travel

On a whim, we spent last weekend in Rhode Island — mostly Newport, looking at the “summer cottages” of the rich and famous of a century ago, but with a couple of stops in Providence, as well. Toured five mansions in Newport — the Elms, the Breakers, Chateau-sur-Mer, Rosecliff, and Marble House.

The variety was interesting. Rosecliff was designed entirely to throw lavish parties in — the whole house is built around the magnificent ballroom. The “marble” facade is fake — it’s terra cotta. There have been some major movies that used Rosecliff when they needed a lush 1920s ballroom. The original owner, a silver heiress named Theresa Fair Oelrichs, intended to establish herself in high society simply by throwing the best parties, and seems to have succeeded — though when the Gilded Age passed and such entertainments were no longer the thing, she went a bit dotty and died relatively young.

Marble House was built entirely to show off — the people who grew up in it hated it and found it depressing, because it wasn’t really meant to be lived in, it was meant to impress people. Each room was a recreation of a particular era in French design, all of them overblown. Alva Vanderbilt, who built Marble House, may have been important in the women’s suffrage movement, but she was apparently a pretty horrible person.

The other three were all actual homes; yes, they were meant to impress people, but they were also meant to be comfortable places to live in and raise kids. The Breakers, built by Cornelius Vanderbilt II, is the best of them. The people who grew up summering there, or at the Elms, remember them very fondly.

Chateau-sur-Mer, the oldest of them, was the only one meant for year-round living; the others were just for the summer.

It was an entertaining trip — and since I’m currently writing scenes set in huge upper-class estates in On A Field Sable, the whole thing is legitimate research and therefore tax deductible!

Cats and Dogs Living Together!

I watch a lot of TV competitions, especially singing, dancing, and cooking shows. I watch other TV, too, of course. (No, I am not one of those pseudo-intellectuals who boasts about not owning a TV; I prefer to stay connected to my native culture.) Two of my favorites are Dancing with the Stars and So You Think You Can Dance (hereafter SYTYCD).

I was watching SYTYCD last night, when they introduced this year’s Top Twenty, the ones who survived the audition process and now move on to the live shows where viewers vote on who stays. This year they had three ballroom dancers make the cut, a man and two women, and when they were introduced they danced a trio. I made some remark to my wife about ballroom dancers not generally having much experience in trios, but then I remembered that on the season recently completed, Dancing with the Stars did ballroom trios one night. Maybe this is the coming thing?

And if so, what does this mean?

I’ll tell you what it means — it means that all those people saying that legalizing gay marriage means that soon we’ll be bringing back polygamy were right! Yes, the evil masterminds who have been running Hollywood’s propaganda campaigns foresee inevitable victory in their drive for same-sex marriage, and are starting on the next step in destroying all that’s right and pure in American marriage.

After all, we all know that Hollywood has been pushing the homosexual agenda ever since they introduced a gay neighbor on The Jeffersons and presented him as a regular person rather than a disgusting pervert. That was back in 1975; they think long-term, those evil masterminds. They’ve kept up a steady pressure ever since, indoctrinating young viewers, which has finally paid off in half a dozen states. Now that they’ve got a foothold there, they assume that in time the rest of the country will come around, and it’s time to start gearing up the next phase.

What better place than dance shows? SYTYCD has already been doing same-sex couples for a few seasons now, so now they can advance beyond that. Add that to cable shows like Big Love, and prominent Mormons like Mitt Romney and the Osmonds, and it becomes obvious where this is going.

Thirty years from now, polygamy will be back, you can bet on it.

And then — well, then, just as the right wing warned us, it’ll be time to remove the laws limiting us to marrying within our own species. I think we can expect to see Hollywood presenting us with images of people dancing with all sorts of things, rather than just other people.

Oh, wait — they already have!


You would think that, since I don’t have a day job or kids at home, I’d be able to get lots of writing done, wouldn’t you? Yet here I am, turning out maybe fifteen-twenty pages in a good week. So what do I do with my time?

Well, eating, sleeping, housekeeping, web-surfing — all the obvious stuff. But I manage to find some more eccentric ways to put off work, as well.

Right now, for example, I’m in the middle of carefully editing a digital transfer of the Moody Blues’ “Seventh Sojourn” from LP to iTunes. This is an album I haven’t played in four or five years, but it suddenly seemed urgent to get it archived on my computer.

And I just wrote a letter to a bank to let them know that the guy they’re looking for at this address hasn’t lived here for at least five years. Anyone sensible would have just tossed their letter, instead of answering it.

Earlier I spent some time identifying a coverless old book I inherited, which turns out to be A.D. 2000, by Lieutenant Alvarado M. Fuller, published in 1890 — while I knew the title, the author’s name does not appear anywhere after the title page, which is missing from my copy. Now I’ve not only identified it, but was able to print out scans of the pages I was missing. Which was entertaining, but not very useful.

I also sorted a bunch of old manuscripts as part of an ongoing effort to tidy my office. This had me happily contemplating questions such as, “Do comic book scripts go with novels or short stories?” “Do I need to keep all the drafts of short stories?” “Did I really do that many rewrites of my scripts for Tekno*Comix? Well, at least they’re all dated, and therefore easy to sort.”

And of course, I’m writing this blog entry, instead of something that might make money.

So now you know why I’m still only a paragraph into Chapter Seven of The Sorcerer’s Widow.

Weirdness about Beards

I have a beard, as anyone who’s met me or seen my picture probably knows. I’ve had it a long, long time.

I started out with just a mustache — and when I say “started out,” I mean I have literally never shaved my upper lip (though it was once, and only once, shaved for me), so by the time I graduated from high school I had a mustache.

That was 1972.

I got kicked out of Princeton in February, 1974, and that was when I grew a beard — a Van Dyke.

Then when I dropped out in 1977, I stopped shaving entirely and grew a full beard. I eventually started shaving again when my neck got excessively fuzzy, but I still have a full beard, and except for two brief interruptions I’ve had it since 1977.

I used to have long hair. I started growing it out in 1969. It got cut back somewhat a couple of times, but basically stayed long until 1984, when I cut it for my youngest sister’s wedding, and so Kyrith, who was then a baby, would stop grabbing and pulling it.

I kept it short for a few years, and honestly, I don’t remember exactly when I grew it back out, but it was long (below my shoulders) through most of the 1990s and well into the 21st century. In 2008, though — I think it was 2008, might have been a year or two earlier — I saw a picture of the back of my head and realized I had a bald spot, and that, combined with the long hair, had me looking uncomfortably like Riff Raff from “The Rocky Horror Picture Show.” So that October I cut it short, and it’s been fairly short ever since.

There were other variations along the way, such as color, but we won’t go into that right now — the basics, long hair and full beard, were pretty much as described above.

And here’s the weird thing: People don’t see this.

The first time I encountered this was when I was readmitted to Princeton in the fall of 1975. People who hadn’t seen me since February of ’74 got to see me with my new beard.

Some people didn’t notice. Some saw that there was something different about me, but couldn’t place it exactly. The strangest was the girl who exclaimed, “You cut your hair!”

I pointed out that no, I hadn’t, my hair was still halfway down my back, but I’d grown a beard. She stared and said, “Didn’t you always have a beard?”

I never did convince her that I hadn’t.

Then at my sister’s wedding in 1984, nobody noticed that I had cut my hair, that it was at least eight inches shorter than before. I mean, nobody noticed. No one. When I finally mentioned it to someone, he asked, “Didn’t you cut it back in 1972?”

He’d seen me several times between 1972 and 1984. It was long every time.

I mentioned two interruptions in my beard. One of them was when I sold my beard to Gillette, for research, and there aren’t any odd stories about that, but the other one, well, one morning I just decided to experiment, and shaved half of it off, trimming it back down to the old Van Dyke.

No one noticed. It was like the wedding, except that this time even my own kids didn’t notice anything. So I grew the full beard back, because why bother maintaining the trim if nobody notices?

And I bring this all up now because at Capricon last month, someone I hadn’t seen for a few years saw me and exclaimed, “You grew a beard!”

She had never, ever seen me without a full beard. The actual difference was that I’d cut my hair since she last saw me. Well, that, and I’ve gone mostly gray.

But she saw a difference, and somehow that became I’d grown a beard.

I find this phenomenon baffling.

Skating Away

Last night Julie and I had one of our rarer-than-I’d-like nights out, and went to dinner and a show.

Due to time constraints dinner was just burgers at Fuddruckers — we’d planned to do something classier, but things at the Bureau ran late and the show started at 7:00, so we made do.

The show was at the Verizon Center, and was “Kaleidoscope: Skating, Song, and Survivorship,” a cancer benefit put together by Scott Hamilton and friends. At least in theory it’s going to be a TV event, shown on Fox on Thanksgiving Day after the football game, though I didn’t see it on the schedule here. The main sponsor was Sanofi-Aventis, and there were ten cancer support organizations involved, but we mostly went because hey, it was a good show.

Our seats were nine rows back, near the stage end of the ice. Very good view.

They featured three famous cancer survivors: Hamilton, Dorothy Hamill, and Olivia Newton-John. This was Hamilton’s first skating performance in six years, but he was still good, and still did his trademark flips.

Really, everyone was good.

Newton-John only sang one song, and that was backed up with a children’s chorus (flown in from Santa Barbara), but it was nice. The other two singers on the program were Katherine McPhee and David Archuleta, who both have new albums coming out that they want to publicize, but Archuleta’s is a Christmas album, so his three songs were all traditional stuff, not his own compositions.

Archuleta has an absolutely beautiful voice; I hadn’t realized, watching him on TV, just how beautiful, as our TV’s speakers aren’t good enough to do it justice. He also looked genuinely happy to be there, and connected with the crowd more than McPhee or Newton-John; he’s very endearing in person.

As for the skating, Hamill doesn’t do a lot of jumping or other really difficult stuff these days, since she hasn’t competed in years, but she’s still performing, and still very good at it. She looked like she was having fun.

Nancy Kerrigan did a couple of performances, and while she hasn’t competed in years either, she did include difficult jumps — one of which she missed, but after the show they did a re-take for TV, so you won’t get to see her fall; the audience was invited to hang around to provide background, which we did.

Ashley Wagner and Rachael Flatt represented the younger generation of skaters, and gave splendid performances.

Ice dancers Charlie White and Meryl Davis were beautiful. Davis is a tiny little thing, and beautiful quite aside from her skating, but on the ice they’re stunning.

Johnny Weir was supposed to skate, but cancelled at the last minute, we don’t know why, and was replaced by Viktor Petrenko, who did two numbers, both of which were very slick and lots of fun — a cowboy number and a mambo. The guy’s a great showman.

I’m probably forgetting someone; it was quite a show.

Oh, David Foster (fifteen-time Grammy winner — as a producer, if you’re wondering why you don’t know the name) was the host, and played piano for a couple of the songs.

Because it was being done as a TV show there were several delays while technical stuff got squared away, and some of the introductions got repeated — in one case a skater was introduced, did her stuff, and then got announced again when they realized the first take wasn’t good. She did not skate again, though. The audience was also asked for random applause every so often, to be plugged in after pre-recorded stuff we didn’t see, and we obliged — the crowd was very enthusiastic. Not as big as we expected, actually, but loud.

All in all, we were there from 7:00 until 10:30 for a show that I believe will be ninety minutes on TV. (I don’t think the actual skating began until 8:00, but stuff was going on before that.)

It was fun.