Thursday, May 26, 2011

Old Man's War, a Review

On John Perry's 75th birthday, he went and visited his wife's grave and then enrolled in the army.  If Kathy were still alive, she'd be signing up, too.  In fact, almost everyone that makes it to 75 enlists, largely due to the rumors that the Colonial Defense Force have some way to make you young again.  And who would turn down a shot at being young again, or at least going out in glory, defending the planet you've called home for many years.

John Scalzi's Old Man's War is reminiscent of Starship Troopers with a little Ender's Game thrown in.  Humanity has advanced in a lot of ways, from technology that allows interstellar travel to mysterious sciences that augment the aged human body.  And while mankind still wars with themselves on Earth, largely the greater threats come from other species among the stars.  These are the enemies the CDF fights, year after year, as humanity seeks to colonize other planets and survive the harsh battles of space.

Told in a reflective, first-person narrative, there's no doubt that John Perry survives through the end of the book.  While I'm not a *huge* fan of this style (I feel it takes away a lot of tension), it nevertheless worked well with this novel.  I felt like I was listening to an old veteran tell his story of how he came to be where he is now, and what a story it was.

Perry is a likable character, from his quick wit to his deadpan humor, but its his love for his deceased wife that really shines.  And perhaps this is what sets Old Man's War apart from other military sci-fi novels (of which I have read few).  Perry's a widower that misses his wife.  Sure, he's brazened and foul-mouthed, just like the rest of the soldiers, but he's also undoubtedly a romantic.  I found this delightful and sweet, and completely understandable.  After all, the two were married for many, many years.  It's no wonder he misses her.

Old Man's War is by no means a romance novel, though.  It's light, science-fiction with some exciting battles, fascinating technology, and interesting other-worldly creatures.  The Consu, in particularly, were very cool.  Because this is a military-type book, there's plenty of colorful language and other adult activities galore, but nowhere as jarring as it could've been, and certainly not as "wordy" as Kubrick's Full Metal Jacket.

I quite enjoyed Scalzi's debut novel.  It was fast-paced and thrilling, and there weren't any dull moments to be found in the relatively short book.  Yes, people died (sometimes graphically), people cussed, people sexed it up, and engaged in other vices as well, but that's to be expected in a military setting.  What was unexpected was how much fun I had reading this book.  Old Man's War has a few sequels, but its contained enough that this single volume leaves few (I can't really think of any, but to be safe) questions unanswered.

If you're wanting to read an acclaimed, heavily-decorated and lauded science-fiction novel that defies some of your expectations, check out John Scalzi's Old Man's War.  It's a quick, fun read that deserves the praise its received.

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

surviving, a poem

scattered in the gales,
arms flapping and body spinning over
and over
and over
into a tree
stripped bare,
naked fingers pointing heavenward

he fumbles for a moment in the branches
before breaking free and plummeting to the ground

cold. piercing. personal.
slapping the body over
and over
and over
his eyes watch the clouds gyrate,
hefting automobiles and crushing houses,
sending them all hellward

he cries as a photo of his daughter dances above,
and sees her for a second before its whisked away

louder than the storm,
pulse throbbing over
and over
and o v e r
a n d     o      v      e     r
a     n     d               o          v          e          r
its rhythm a lullaby
he sleeps. he dies. he’s buried. he’s found,
barely breathing and busted up, but alive.

his daughter’s eyes,
and she hugs and kisses him over
and over
and over
professing her love,
as does his wife,
beautiful as the morning sun

It's tornado season.  After seeing the devastating pictures of Joplin, I thought it prudent to create something with a shiny side to it.  To all the Joplin tornado victims, as well as others, know that I'm praying for you.

Monday, May 23, 2011

The Great Blogger Fiasco Hypothesis

For some reason this is the third time the "Nine Things" post has been posted here on Rememorandom, which was earlier today.  Confusing.  If I had time to investigate, I would, but I don't, so I'll hypothesize.

The thing that keeps the Internets working is not a caravan of large hamsters running on giant wheels, but actually two sad brothers separated by long distance and a tragic allergic reaction to one another.  It's their love for one another that keeps the Internets working. 

On Friday 13, 2011, these two brothers decided to meet for an impromptu luncheon.  They made an appointment at a mom & pop diner, where Eugene had two fried eggs, six pieces of candied bacon, one habenero pepper, a venti glass of soy milk, two antacid tablets, and six pieces of single-sided toasted bread.  Esther, who happened to be named after a somewhat famous woman of the bible and who, as it were, always despised being named after a woman (ironically, his favorite song was Johnny Cash's anthem "Boy Named Sue"), had a small cup of coffee (black) and two peppermints.  The meeting was to be short, but the waiter, Julius, somehow messed up Eugene's order, and the grouch made the waiter grovel before sending him away to fetch some fresh milk.

As it goes, their meeting went too long, and Eugene had an allergic reaction, which caused him to delay on his trip back home.  He stopped in a convenient care to get some STAT medical attention, but it just so happened that an entire busload of senior citizens (and six very unhappy grandchildren) all came down with some rather mysterious illness while on their tour of Washington DC.  So Eugene had to wait.  And wait.  And wait.

By this time, Esther had returned home (via some sort of vague and unimportant teleportation device) and started up his Internets Making Machine* and sent Eugene an IM.  His brother did not respond.  It was at this time that Blogger crashed, destroying posts far and wide, creating a rift in the time-space continuum that Walter Bishop could only understand.  It is here, into the multiverse of the Internets, that "Nine Things" vanished.  And then it reappeared some time ago, with strange symbols at the bottom.  And then it reappeared again today, symbols removed.

Eugene eventually recovered and managed to get home in time to salvage his half of the Internets, but not quickly enough to save face.  Esther had posted humiliating pictures of their sad childhood onto Facebook, tagging all six of Eugene's friends in the process.  Esther laughed; Eugene was inconsolable. 

I have personally sent Eugene an email asking for verification, but as of publication, I've not heard back from him.

Thanks Eugene for being a sickly little punk, picky and proud.  You must be pleased!  Way to go Esther!

Hopefully we never have to see "Nine Things" again, though, insidiously methinks 'twould be funny to post it again on April Fool's Day next year...

*Powered by a group of traveling, giant hamsters

Nine Things

I'm really not feeling one of the books I'm currently reading.  There are simply too many characters and unfamiliar words to take in, thrown at you all at once.  Typically I'm okay with this, but this is just too frantic and too different for me to take in right now.  I think I'm gonna take a break from it and read something else for a bit first and then try again.

Similarly, I had someone recommend a book to me, and I devoured its 120 pages in record time.  I'm now re-reading it, this time aloud to Keisha.  I've scribbled and highlighted and noted so many different things.  Expect a review next week.  Honestly, though, it's a life-changing philosophy that has made me rethink a lot of my outlook on things.  Amazing.

I've finally got around to uploading my song I did for the Good Friday service, a cover of Leeland's "Carried to the Table."  I'm rather proud of it.

I'm also rather proud of the flash fiction piece that I'm putting up tomorrow.  It's called "The Hollis Idaho Incident."  The idea just hit me, and I banged it out in a handful of minutes.  It's easy to see the inspiration behind it, but still, I think it's a fun little piece, and I hope you (read it) enjoy it.

Oho, tomorrow, tomorrow, I've got an "informal" meeting.  Not sure what we're discussing, but we're driving 2 hours for a 2 hour meeting.  These things used to make me all nervy, but after the life-changing philosophy and a hefty dose of meh, I'm ready for it.

Yeah, that was me playing Fallout New Vegas yesterday.  I was off, it was 90 degrees, and I didn't much feel like doing anything.  I think that's the first time I've had the game on in over a month.  I've still not beat it.  Too many side quests.  Nevertheless, a few hours in the Mojave Wastes made for a fun afternoon.

Off topic, but in seriousness, I'd appreciate any prayers for Keisha.  She's had chest pain off-and-on for a few years now, but the pregnancy has made it more acute.  She had a heart test done, which came back with inconclusive results, and they scheduled another type of test.  This one came back with the announcement that she has a "moderate sized hole" in her septum.  It's called a PFO (Patent foramen ovale), which is a rather common heart defect, and generally is treatable with a heart catheter or surgery.  Of course, her being pregnant tends to complicate the things, and she's been stressed, so, yeah.  You know.  And thanks.

Oh yeah, and you know what else?  A Blog of Note the other day took me to a place called Grilled Cheese Social.  This blogger apparently makes mean, awesome grilled cheese sandwiches, and she takes nice pictures of them, too.  Check it out for a long list of many delicious looking recipes guaranteed to make you salivate.

Okay then.

Friday, May 20, 2011

Just Do Something, a Review+

Every once in a while we have an epiphany.  It may come while we're brushing our teeth and staring at ourselves in the mirror.  It may come when we're pouring soy into the wok, whiffing the wonderful scents of the steam.  Or, as often is the case, it may come from a book.  The Bible is great at this.  It's amazing how we can read the same passages through the years, but still find so much truth with its words.  This post isn't about the Bible, though.  It's about Kevin DeYoung's book (which is based on the Bible) Just Do Something.

Just Do Something has literally changed the way I think about a lot of stuff.  Many Christians tend to "overspiritualize" things, some going so far as to avoid doing anything for fear of making a wrong choice.  (Note: this problem isn't just related to Christians, but to anyone suffering from indecision, at least I suspect so.)  We're inclined to believe that every choice we make in life ultimately affects some outcome at the end, and this simply is not true.

In Just Do Something, DeYoung presents a case for simply doing, not worrying about the results.  He argues that as long as a decision isn't sinful (what he calls "unethical" choices), then the choice is solely up to us and God doesn't care.  Does it really matter what job we take and what school we attend?  What car we buy?  Who we marry, even?  To God, these decisions are simply less important than "ethical" ones (i.e., God is supremely concerned with our choice on how we view His Son, Jesus).  While this may seem infuriating or insensitive, DeYoung uses plenty of scripture to back up his beliefs, and I'm inclined to agree (with most)*.

Early in the book DeYoung presents the problem many of us face.  We want to be in the will of God and make Him happy with every thing we do.  Agreed.  And how often do we pray or hear others pray "if it's according to Your will...?"  DeYoung states that there are three distinct categories for the will of God, and understanding these three is the first step to a new way of thinking.

1.  The decreed will of God.  God has already decreed everything from before time began, down to the hairs on our heads falling out and the sparrow's food for today.  This is all sovereign and unchangeable. 
2.  The desired will of God.  This is what God wants to happen and what He desires.  It begs the question why isn't the desired will the decreed will.**
3.  The directive will of God.  This is often what people pray for, wanting clear direction from God, sometimes verbally, sometimes with a sign, etc.

So, without getting too deep, everything we ever do is already in God's will.  Everything that ever happens is already in God's will.  He's already taken into consideration everything and allowed it all to happen "for the good" (Romans 8:28).  This is God's decreed will, and we can never be out of it.

What we should pray for is to be in God's desired will.  I suspect (as does DeYoung) that as long as we make decisions based on biblical wisdom, then we'll always be in God's desired will, as it is the Spirit that speaks to us through God's Word.  One chapter even presents practical things to pray for, and I found this quite helpful.  How often we tend to overlook the obvious.

What many of us actually pray for is for God's will of direction to be obvious, like Gideon's fleeces or the clouds above spelling out a phrase.  This is just setting ourselves up for disappointment time and time again.  Can God show us direction?  Absolutely, but it's a rarity, both in scripture and now.
"Apart from the Spirit working through Scripture, God does not promise to use any other means to guide us, nor should we expect him to."  (p. 68)
It seems to (once again) boil down to semantics.  The English language lacks the proper capabilities to articulate clearly***.  For example, our word hot may mean many different things, from spicy to scalding to sexy to trendy and on and on.  One word for multiple meanings.  That's why I try to use picante if I mean spicy; caliente for high temperatures; etc.  Likewise, we shouldn't group God's Will into one phrase.

This is key to understanding the book.

DeYoung also posits that cultural differences between our time and a century ago is responsible for a lot of our indecision, especially with the privileged, instantaneous society we now find ourselves in.  Most of us are spoiled and rich (in 1999, 3 billion people lived on less than $2 per day [source]) and impatient and the list goes on.  These factors (especially growing up in America) certainly affect our outlook on life, as well as our parents and their parents, too.  As such, we've been raised to think a certain way--that our each and every choice and action is extremely important.  Look at "Choose Your Own Adventure" books or karma based video games like Fallout.  They pander to the fact that every choice matters.  No wonder we're so indecisive.

The answer to the dilemma, as DeYoung would have us think, is to basically love God with our whole hearts, bodies, minds, and souls, and everything else will be in God's will.  With everything we do, we should to it to glorify God.  As I post this review, it should be for God's glory.  As I chew on the black liquorice jelly bean I just ate, I should glorify God.  For without Him, there would be nothing, and He alone is worthy to be praised.
"Live for God.  Obey the Scriptures.  Think of others before yourself.  Be holy.  Love Jesus.  And as you do these things, do whatever else you like, with whomever you like, wherever you like, and you'll be walking in the will of God."  (p.122)
"Study the Scriptures, listen to others, and pray continually--that's the best course of action."  (p.98)
It should also be noted that Just Do Something is a funny book.  DeYoung writes with communicable language, which is perfect for this type of book.  It's not too deep and eloquently written (a la CS Lewis), but it's friendly and conversational.  There were stories that literally had me laughing aloud.

In the end, Just Do Something was a powerful book.  It has literally changed my views on how I see God's will working in my life, and how I work into God's will.  My copy is heavily noted and written in (don't you just love books like that?), and I'm currently reading it aloud to Keisha.  If you suffer from anxiety, indecision, and general fear from being out of God's will, then I highly recommend Just Do Something.  Heck, even if you don't (which, coincidentally, I didn't/don't), the book is still worth the read.  In fact, if you would like a copy of the book, let me know and I'll personally mail you one FREE of charge****.  Or you can download the Kindle version for $6.43 if you have an e-reader.  Whatever the case, I would love for everyone to read this book (and take to heart its message) so they can live life liberated.  Jesus didn't die for us to tie ourselves up in bondage and serve tradition and fear; He died for our freedom and so that we can have life in Him.^
"...,the will of God for your life is pretty straightforward: Be holy like Jesus, by the power of the Spirit, for the glory of God."  (p. 62)

*My wife didn't particularly care for the non-romantic view on marriage.  DeYoung doesn't believe in "soul mates" and that stuff.  I don't know whether I do or not, but I do believe that Keisha is my soul mate, if that makes sense.  She is who I am supposed to be with and I love her more than she knows.

**DeYoung doesn't get into this issue very much, and neither will I.  In short, God didn't create robots, but independent creatures gifted with free will.  He holds us responsible for our "ethical" choices.  Everything else we do, we do for the glory of God.

***I started an outline and an essay a few months back on my problem(s) with language, in particular English language.  Perhaps I'll have to revisit this again...

****Limited time only.  Offer good while I have the funds to do such a thing.  But seriously, email me your addy and I'll do everything in my power to send you a copy.

^This was a difficult review to write, and I feel like I either a) rambled, b) left out a lot, or c) both a & b.  I easily could have kept going, but in an effort to not reveal too much, I chose to only approach certain topics of DeYoung's book.  There are only 10 chapters across 128 pages or so, so there's not that much quantity-wise in it, but enough quality that there's plenty more to think about.

Thursday, May 19, 2011

Fleeting Hymn #2b

I'm having *difficulties* writing the review to the life-changing book I mentioned last week.  I suppose that's to be expected.  The draft, so far, is looong, which qualifies it as a Review+ instead of a typical review.  But, if I keep going, it may reach Review++ status, which would be a first.

Keisha met with the cardiologist Tuesday.  I wish all doctors were as great as this guy was.  He obviously read and was familiar with Keisha's file before he entered the room, and his care and assurance were obvious.  Thankfully, and praise God, I might add, he sees no cause for immediate concern, and says that she can continue on with the labor plans as normal (instead of an induction and C-section).  She does have high BP, which is a somewhat common concern many pregnant women face, but other than that, the cardiologist sees nothing as bad as Keisha feared.

I'm almost a hundred pages into Scalzi's Old Man's War, which showed up at my house in an unmarked padded envelope one evening with the post.  Through careful deduction and innocent skullduggery, I tracked down who sent it to me.  It's a reader of this blog.  So thanks for that gift, and I'm really enjoying it so far. 

(As a side, it's amazing how generous bloggers and blog-readers are.  Humanity, it seems, hasn't hit the crapper yet.  Sure, there are jerks out there, and we're all idiots, but as far as I can tell, the readers of Rememorandom are some of the finest out there.)

There once was a band that had a single on a Paste sampler I once owned.  This song always brought a smile to my ears (?) whenever it entered the straits of my iPod.  And then, later, there was another free single from the band, which again was marvelous.  But that was as far as I got with them.  Until recently.  For you see, I was perusing the cd shelves in the library when, by crazy random happenstance, I saw their eponymous album.  I checked it out and have nearly swooned with tweenage giddiness at their delightful harmonies and exotic sounds.  I am talking about Dr. Funke's 100 Percent Natural Good Time Family Band Solution Fleet Foxes.  Oh my.  Fleet Foxes' Fleet Foxes is an amazing album.  Wow.  Now I need to wait for Amazon to put it on their $5 mp3 albums and get it.  Listen to this all the way to the end.  How awesome is that?

I miss Arrested Development...  Sure, Modern Family is pretty funny, but there's nothing out there that compares to the humor AD had.  Not even How I Met Your Mother, which, let's face it, is losing steam.  Uh, what?

I'm rambling.  Must be time to end this sucker.  Maybe a review tomorrow, I dunno.  Probably no flash-fic, unless I get a chance to edit some.  We'll see.  Okay then.

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Fringe Season 1, a Review

It's no wonder that I love Fringe.  The show, created by J.J. Abrams, Alex Kurtzman and Roberto Orci, is about a team of investigators that solve crimes using "fringe science."  I describe it as X-Files meets CSI meets LOST meets Twilight Zone.  It's gruesome, sometimes disturbing, nail-bitingly tense, and often graphic, but it's one of my favorite shows out there now.

Part of the appeal is the pervasive mystery that grows with each episode.  While LOST was built on questions without answers, Fringe is built on questions with answers.  Each episode follows a typical pattern, starting with an off-POV that ends up with somebody dead.  The rest of the show deals with the investigators trying to solve the case.  However, since the cases are things that aren't generally in the realm of possibility, special investigators do the work.

FBI Agent Olivia Dunham (Anna Torv) works with the infamous scientist Walter Bishop (John Noble) and his son Peter (Joshua Jackson) to understand better what's going on and stop any more deaths.  Walter is one of the most famous scientists in the world, and the show begins with him sitting inside St. Claire's Asylum, where he's been prisoner for seventeen years after the accidental death of his lab assistant.  His work in the fringe science field has him released in lieu of his cooperation with the newly created Fringe Division.

What sort of crimes are we talking about here that fall within Fringe Division?  Crimes that are related to something called the Pattern.  For example, the pilot episode begins with an international flight landing in Boston and everyone on board dead, decayed and rotted away into foul looking blobs of flesh and blood.  Or maybe people crystallizing.  Or turning into monsters.  Whatever the case, the crimes are unnatural, a particular predilection of Walter's.

And even though the mysteries of the Pattern and its webs are highly entertaining and interesting, the even greater joy of Fringe is the characters.  Walter Bishop is hilarious.  He's crazy and says the most random things at the most random times, and his ability to think (ir)rationally--often aloud--makes for many memorable quotes.  Also, the relationship between Peter and his father is strained and awkward, perfect fodder for a television drama, and I enjoy watching it change and grow.  Dunham, arguably the shows protagonist, is also an interesting character, though she sometimes comes across as shallow and lacking.

While most episodes fall neatly into a predictable formula, the show is still an absolute blast to watch.  What's more is that Keisha has even fallen in love with the show, and I daresay she enjoys it as much as I.  We'll laugh at something Walter's said or muse at what's going to happen next.  It's great having another show to watch together like this.  Fringe is not LOST, even if Michael Giacchino* wants you to think it is, but it's similar enough that fans of the Island's mysteries would likely enjoy the show, and haters of the Island's lack of answers would be satisfied, too.

If you're looking for something to throw on your DVD queue (or ask your public library to purchase), then I recommend Fringe.  It's been delightfully freaky and amusingly tense, hitting all the right notes at the right times. 

*There's quite a bit of very similar sounding music making up the score for both shows, and some re-use, even.

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

I Am Not A Serial Killer, a Review

It's been a long time since I've literally not been able to put down a book. Dan Wells' I Am Not A Serial Killer is such a book, though. It's been on my radar for a while now, and, as I've been rather unsatisfied in my reading lot for a bit, I spontaneously decided to check the book out at the library.

Truth be told, I devoured this book in about five hours, taking in the bulk of it on a business trip commute, and then finishing it off once I arrived home. But enough about my reading habits.

John Wayne Cleaver is a fifteen year old kid that's struggling to fit in. His mom owns and runs a mortuary, where he helps out, in the small county of Clayton. Furthermore, he's just starting high school, and he's universally accepted as a weird kid. Part of this is because John is obsessed with serial killers, and he'll gladly discuss them with anyone who'll give him an ear.

John knows he's dysfunctional. He accepts it. He also knows that within, behind carefully constructed and guarded walls, a monster lurks. He recognizes how dangerous he is. And even though he loves serial killers, he doesn't want to become one.

When a mutilated body is found behind the local laundromat, John recognizes the signs. It's not a random act of violence, but the work of a real live serial killer. And what can one do when one has a dark obsession?

I was blown away by the book. Dan Wells (who helps run the "Writing Excuses" podcast, along with Brandon Sanderson and Howard Tayler) crafts beautiful prose and vivid stories. His characters are heartfelt and real (the first-person POV captures John's emotions beautifully and is the perfect perspective for this book). His pacing is that of a 100m-dash, quick and relentless. His comedic timing is literally laugh-out-loud. Below are two of my favorite (SPOILER-FREE) quotes.
Exposure to nature--cold, heat, water--is the most dehumanizing way to die. Violence is passionate and real--the final moments as you struggle for your life, firing a gun or wrestling a mugger or screaming for help, your heart pumps loudly and your body tingles with energy; you are alert and awake and, for that brief moment, more alive and human than you've ever been before. Not so with nature.

It was creepy at first--like sitting very still while a cockroach climbs onto your shoe, up your leg, and under your shirt, and not brushing it away. I imagine myself covered with roaches, spiders, leeches, and more, all wriggling, probing, and tasting, and I had to stay motionless, and let myself become completely accustomed to them.

Are those not wonderful? And this is the tip of the iceberg. His descriptions with fire are also brilliant.

In part, I expected I Am Not A Serial Killer to be a lot like Dexter. What I got was something similar, but altogether different. And this difference--something so completely unexpected--is part of the reason I really enjoyed the book. At first I was like... wait. What?! I re-read the paragraph, and then shrugged and continued on. It worked for me.

Unfortunately, this seems to be a hang up many people have, too. So, you may or may not appreciate the change, but I did, and it works perfectly within the setting of the story. It also opens up possibilities for other things, which is probably why Wells has written two other books featuring John Wayne Cleaver.

Overall, I unexpectedly enjoyed immensely I Am Not A Serial Killer. John was a perfect protagonist, one that I could relate to quite often, as I suspect we all could. For who among us is not intrigued by such dark and morbid creatures, killers that are slaves to their compulsions? I know my thoughts tend to turn dark quite often, and I appreciated Wells creating a flawed character that can (and likely does) exist smoothly in our world.

If you're looking for a book that'll sink its claws in you and drag you along through its bizarre twists and turns, rarely giving you a chance to breathe, then I highly recommend Dan Wells' I Am Not A Serial Killer.

Friday, May 13, 2011

Flash Fiction Friday (the 13th): The Hollis Idaho Incident

I'm not sure what happened to my blog, but this post was scheduled to go out this morning and it's now well into the afternoon.  I've just returned from my meeting to discover that not only did this post not go out, but yesterday's has completely vanished from all records.  Confusing.  Mayhap it's a curse from the day.

Anyway, I put this story up with a request from all who read it.  It seems to me that this piece evokes certain questions, and I'm curious what question(s) it brings to your mind.  I would greatly appreciate feedback.  Thank you, and enjoy.  Happy Friday the 13th!

     Kathleen Johnson thought she was making the right decision when she pulled the lever down. Little did she know that her doing so would set off a series of events that led to what historians (what few there are left) now call the Day of Delirium.
     No one knows for sure how the lever came to be. There exists no method for creating such an instrument of madness, at least none I am aware of. Its location is unpredictable and ever changing. Science cannot comprehend its mechanics; sorcerers cannot fathom its mystics. It simply is, and that must be enough for us all.
     Its first discovery was accidental, though some no doubt call it fate. Henry Hoster (a blue-collared American if there ever was one), born and raised in Hollis, Idaho, happened upon the lever one evening as he was feeding the dogs. Houston and Humphrey, as it was, happened upon it as they were chasing one another around the fields, pursuing a squirrel that happened to be pursuing a bite of something to eat. Well, Henry hollered up for the dogs, but they didn’t come when he called, so he went off to look for them. Had a bad feeling, he told me.
     “And I walked up towards the lake, and there I found ‘em. Both dogs, a squirrel, and plenty more animals, just sitting on their haunches and staring at the ground,” Henry claimed. I got no reason to think he lied about it, considering what all happened after Kathleen got her hands on the lever. Seems perfectly legit, you ask me. Anyway. “So I walk over to the animals and peer down in the midst of them, and there it was, sticking up outta the ground like it had always been there. Two feet of steel and a black handled grip on the end. I know my land like the back of my hands, especially down by the lake, and I ain’t never seen nothing like it before. Looked like someone just stuck a stick shift down in the ground.”
     Henry, too, became entranced by the lever, and he took a seat on the ground by Houston and Humphrey. Later on, after he didn’t come in for supper, his wife, Hilda, came out to look for him. She found him much like Henry found the dogs. Now this scared her pretty good, and she ran back to the house and called 911. Along came the police, and before long, a whole slew of officials were at the Hoster residence. Many fell victim to the siren song of the lever, and I suppose many more would have if the government hadn’t’a showed up.
     Six men, all in plain black garb. “What’s going on here?” one of them asked Hilda.
     “I’m not sure,” she answered, and then proceeded to tell her side of the story. They listened, nodding like they understood exactly what she was talking about. When she was finished, one of them said something into his shoulder, but Hilda couldn’t hear what it was.
     “Ma’am,” said the man who called himself John, “we’re going to have to ask you to stay here. We’ll get your husband and bring him back for you. It won’t be long.” With that, the six turned and headed up to the lake.
     What happened next is a mystery. Hilda watched the local policemen and others make their way back from the lake. They each got into their vehicles and just sat there, unable to leave, told to wait for further instructions. A few hours passed. The night grew cold. Clouds rolled in and it rained a little. Hilda remained at the backdoor, waiting anxiously for the men and her husband to return.
     When the sun started leaking over the horizon and Henry still hadn’t come home, Hilda began to pace the kitchen floor. Then, just before ten o’clock, she saw them coming over the ridge. Henry in the front, the dogs just behind, and the other men and women that had been hypnotized. They all gathered around the porch, and minutes later the six men emerged.
     “Thank you all for your patience,” the one called John said. “You will each be getting an affidavit in the mail within two days. Please fill it out the best you can and return it to the address listed. Thank you.” With that, they filed into their black SUVs and left.
     Oddly enough, no one had much to say about the incident. People just left, and soon the Hosters were alone. “What do ya reckon that was about?” Henry asked his wife. Hilda said she didn’t know, but she was glad it was over. Henry was, too, he said. They walked up to the lake then, just to take another peek at the lever. “I wanna pull it,” Henry said. “Just to see what it does.”
     They circled the lake for two hours, unable to find any trace of the lever. The switch, it seemed, had left them, as if it never had even been there in the first place. I guess it’s probably best that it disappeared. By the time it appeared to Kathleen, some ten years later, the lever had been seen by over two hundred people in twenty-nine different countries, but she was the first to actually pull the switch. And you know what happened then.

Monday, May 09, 2011

Thor and True Grit, a Double Review

A curious thing happened on Saturday night.  See, Keisha and I had plans.  Her aunt cooked us a nice, big meal and invited us over.  We couldn't refuse.  But then, the cogs in my brain started working, and on the off-chance that we were done early enough, I thought we'd go to the drive-in.  Thor was playing with True Grit on the B-side.  As it turned out, we finished our meal and fellowship at 7:30ish, and the movie started at 7:55.  So, into the car--blankets, seats, and a stereo in the trunk--and onto the road, we hit the drive-in.

I didn't really have much interest in seeing Thor.  But, I thought, it could be like Iron Man.  I decided not to watch Iron Man until several months after it was out on DVD, cause frankly, it looked ridiculous, and I never was much of an Iron Man fan.  But, as it turned out, I enjoyed the movie.  And (here's the curious part) similarly, I wound up rather enjoying Thor.

Thor, starring a cast of handsome and pretty actors, is a movie about mythology and aliens and sibling rivalry and evil government agencies and science and interstellar weather patterns.  In Asgard, where Thor and the Norse pantheon reside, Odin is ready to settle down into retirement and pass the mantle of king off to his eldest son, Thor.  Loki, Thor's jealous brother, doesn't like this idea too much, and so he plays the role of the antagonist.  Oh, and there's also Natalie Portman hanging out in the New Mexico desert.

In short, Thor is largely a movie that serves as a stepping stone into next summer's massively epic (redundant?), Joss Whedon-directed Avengers.  It also helps to introduce the Norse god-alien-man-thing to the American audience, as I suspect Thor ranks on a lower tier than many other superheroes (since we're Marvel here, I'll mention Spider-Man, Wolverine, and Iron Man, to name a few).  But, oddly enough, the movie had enough action and plot (plus some good humor) to keep me interested.  In particular, I really thought the frost giants were a very cool enemy people.

Overall, if you're looking for a mindless, fun action film, Thor is it.


The highlight of the night, though, definitely rested in the Coen Brothers' recent adaptation of True Grit.  This movie has been out so long that there's probably no reason to review it, but I do so, if only for completion purposes.  True Grit is the story about vengeance and retaliation.  Mattie Ross, played by the delightful Hailee Stienfeld, is directly involved in a manhunt for Tom Chaney, the man who murdered her father.  She's forced to take matters into her own hands, as she fears nothing will be done about his death.  So, she hires the meanest US Marshal in town, Rooster Cogburn (Jeff Bridges), to help track Chaney.

The story is simple, but the film is wonderful.  From the faint opening chords of an old-timey piano through the start of the credit reel, True Grit keeps you captive.  Bridges performance as Cogburn is hilarious and masterful.  His mannerisms and brogue are fitting and perfect.  Stienfeld does a remarkable job in her first feature film and definitely steals the scenes with her quick tongue and sharp wit.  The movie is somehow both funny and serious, and the Coens did a great job with the movie.  Every actor played their parts perfectly.

In addition, the score is beautiful.  Old hymns whisper through the scenes, always on an old-sounding piano and rustic accompaniment.  It seems the Coens always have great scores and soundtracks (Raising Arizona is a classic, O Brother started a revival of bluegrass across America, and many more are memorable), and this film is no different.

If you've not yet watched True Grit, do yourself a favor and pick it up.  A good western is hard to beat, and True Grit is a good western.*  Paced perfectly and cast the same, this is a film well worth the Oscar nominations it received.**

*Let it be noted that I've not seen the original True Grit, starring John Wayne, though my wife informs me that it, too, is quite good.

**Check out Omphaloskepsis for another review of True Grit.  L always has excellent reviews, and if you aren't reading her blog, then you should be.

Friday, May 06, 2011

Flash Fiction Friday: The Doom of the Salt People Conclusion

We've reached the end of this particular tale.  I hope you enjoyed.  If you need to catch up, click here.  Thanks for reading and for any feedback!

     Hu took a deep drink of his wine. He wondered if perhaps the “story” was too dark for the boys, but it was important that they fear the dark. Did they understand the lesson in the tale? Kile and Ken stared at him with huge eyes. It was enough for one night, he decided. If they weren’t afraid before, surely they were by now.
     “And that’s ‘The Doom of the Salt People.’ Now go to sleep.”
     Kile immediately nodded, but Ken spoke up. “Salt people? But there were only two.”
     Hu’s face flushed, but years of patience kept him from scolding the boy. “Yes, there were only two directly, but what about the people of the capital? How do you imagine their fate?”
     Ken’s eyes narrowed. “Yes, but...” He paused, chewing his lower lip. Hu could almost hear the boy’s brain working, stripping apart the tale and weighing truth from fiction. “What did they find at the homestead when they got back? You’ve gave us no ending!” 
     For a moment Hu considered telling the rest. What they found and the journey that took the children into the Deep of the World. The meeting with the Lady. Crossing paths with the Priest. “Well”, he said, a wry smile blooming across his face, “that’s a tale for another night. Tonight our deal was one story and then sleep. Tomorrow, maybe, you’ll hear more. It’s about time you boys learned some of your history anyway.”
     Hu was surprised to hear it from Kile. He inhaled. “These aren’t just stories, Kile. They’re real. Things that actually happened, back Before.”
     The terror that rolled across the boy’s eyes was visible even in the dim light. Hu loathed himself for it, but he knew deep down that they had to know the truth if they were going to make it in the world. Ken started to complain, but Kile whispered for him to be quiet. “I’m sleepy, Ken,” Kile said, smiling weakly at Hu. 
     “That’s a good boy.”
     Hu kissed them both on the forehead and pulled the covers up to their chins. He drained the remainder of the wine and pulled his chair to the hearth. The embers were winking low now, the color of sunset and thunderheads. Hu sat and stared into the flames, letting his thoughts drift elsewhere. He sighed deeply. It was a sigh that carried the weight of too-many hard years and the despair of too-many tragedies.
     Soon he heard the soft sounds of sleep from the bed behind him. Wind beat against the shingles and windowpanes, slapping loud enough Hu wondered how the boys slept. Uneasily, he pulled the weathered, green-handled knife from his side and began whittling for want of something to do. The wind moaned through a gap in the house, sending a shudder down Hu’s back. Another sleepless night, he thought darkly, sliding the knife across the stick.
     His eyes slowly moved to the locked chest resting in the flickering shadow beside the hearth. He thought of the contents, two knives, similar to his own, and the three dull rings. He’d hoped for more time, more life for the boys, but life cares nothing for Man’s hopes. Sooner or later, he knew he’d have to give the boys their inheritance. The shingles slammed against the roof; something howled out in the wilderness, a lonesome cry; the boys inhaled-exhaled gently. Hu sighed.

Thursday, May 05, 2011

Happy 4th Anniversary

I would like to take this time to say (publicly) happy anniversary to my sweet, funny, compassionate, beautiful, loving, pregnant wife.  Four years ago today I was up and getting ready to marry the love of my life.  Then, a few hours and several hangman games later, we both said "I do."

So thanks for putting up with me all these years.  I hope my craziness hasn't rubbed off too much.  I love you.

Wednesday, May 04, 2011

House, a Review

 House, by Josh Simmons, is a silent graphic novel. From the back cover,
Josh Simmons' first original graphic novel is a haunting, entirely wordless story about a group of teenagers who discover a mysterious, abandoned mansion in the the forest. Their curiosity draws them inside, where both adventure and unexpected tragedy await.
I was intrigued by the silent graphic novel concept, plus the book was short and beautifully illustrated, so I checked it out from the library.

Because there are no words, much of the plot is left up to the reader, using the illustrated panels as guidance. Dialogue is inferred from facial expressions and body language. Unless explicitly drawn, I took it upon myself to have the freedom to do anything I wanted.

The story has a simple premise, and it works wonderful with the medium used. Simmons' use of black and white pen drawings is moody and reminiscent of Edward Gorey. It captures the abandoned feel of the house perfectly. The color balance subtly shifts from start to close, adding a thick atmosphere to the bleak tale.

And that's pretty much it. The book is very short and some of the illustrations are confusing (I had to study a few panels to understand what happened), but for the most part, House is an engrossing tale. Granted, because of the open-plot, there are many questions unanswered by the conclusion. Prominently, who the heck is the guy on the cover?

I have my theories and ideas, but in the end, they don't really matter. If you're looking for an eye-opening, brilliant graphic novel, House isn't it. But if you're wanting an adventure, thick with claustrophobia and tragedy, and some beautiful artwork, check this book out.
It's interesting to note that I dreaded turning the pages as I progressed through the book. Suffice it to say, again, this book is a tragedy and will leave you feeling uneasy by its conclusion.  It's also been classified as a horror story, and I can agree with this to an extent. 
For anyone that's read the book, were you as curious as I was about the abandoned city the trio found first?  What happened?  A massive sinkhole?  I thought that was pretty cool.

Monday, May 02, 2011

On Subtlety, or A Secret is Revealed

There's an art to subtlety.  See, when saying things, you've got options.  You can throw open the door and scream at the top of your lungs, "My toes are turning purple," but that's not subtle.  Plus, that would get a lot of awkward stares and generate interesting responses.  "Really, my good man?  Pray tell why." 

There's also the general announcement:
Dear Sirs,

I am loathe to inform you of my ailment, but the doctors heavily suggest that I do so, if only for your own good.  It appears that some time ago I concocted a pox that, oddly, has turned my toes the color of ripened Concord grapes.  Not all of them--God forbid!--but enough so that it's given me cause for concern.  Please consider this memorandum your fair warning.

At first, this may seem the most obvious way to let the world know something.  The Memorandum Announcement Act of 1996 practically made this way the standard operating procedure for the last fifteen years, but SOP is anything but subtle.  (And subtlety is what we're after, after all.)  This type of information conveyance comes in many forms, from blog posts to hand-written notes penned in invisible ink and delivered by the Pony Express.  Oh, and email and text messages, too, though they're generally less verbose.

Similar to a memo is the Facebook status update.  This time-honored tradition (if you're an infant and have no idea what the words time-honored or tradition mean) is akin to a thought going off in your head.  A friend makes a status update,
XXXXX:  Uh, my toes are all purpley.
2 minutes ago - Like[] - Comment[]
     AAAA:  GROSS!
     BBBB:  lol
and 'ere long the world knows that his toes have gone all purpley.   The same is apparently true with Twitter, yet another social media webservice, though it somehow uses birds to deliver messages across the globe.

And yet none of these are subtle.  Subtleness is an art.  It's concealing hidden messages on old records that can only be heard while tripping on quaaludes and playing the record backwards for some reason.  It's Sauron giving out nineteen rings as Christmas presents while crafting a secret ring to control those nineteen ring-wearers.  It's subliminal messages that are only made apparent after the fact.  This, friends, is subtlety.  And subtlety is where it's at.

When I'm reading a book and the author subtly drops hints that you pick up on during the conclusion, I smile at the author's cleverness, especially when I can look back and see the obvious buried nuggets.  Being subtle is a thought-shaping art that, when done correctly, can create a legion of followers that all get the wool pulled over their eyes.  We're not a people that enjoys being fooled, but we are a people that enjoys being played with, relishing intelligent television shows or movies. 

Of course, one can be too subtle, and this is worse than being forthright and blunt.  Being too subtle obfuscates meaning and leaves an audience aggravated and confused.  This, I feel, is a problem I wrestle with in my writing.  When one is being clever, the balance between revelation and subtlety is manageable; when one is being cleverer, the balance is a tilted see-saw and ain't nobody gettin' what you trying to say.

If I were clever, I would have hidden the name of my daughter in this post somewhere, but I'm not, and I didn't.  Instead, I made a Facebook announcement Saturday night, officially making her name public knowledge.  And that, as it were, is the point of this post.  So, with a slight build up of dramatic tension, I would like to announce that when our daughter is born come June-30th-ish, we will be calling her

Avonlea Brynn Stewart.

(There's no period after her name, but, you know, for the sake of grammatical correctness.)  Avonlea comes from L.M. Montgomery's Anne of Green Gables series, which my wife loves, and I thought the name beautiful.  Brynn is a mixture of Keisha's middle name (Lynn) and something that sounds Celtic.  Stewart comes from a long line of nobles that live somewhere across the pond.

Thank you.  That is all.