Saturday, January 19, 2008

Happy Birthday, E. A. Poe!

Edgar Allan Poe, January 19, 1809-October 7, 1849

After the somewhat pointless controversy over the summer I was pleasantly surprised to see the Poe Toaster managed to complete his annual tribute to ol' Edgar this year. I'd have been deeply saddened if the tradition had ended because some dillwad couldn't stand to leave a perfectly good mystery alone.

MetaFilter notes from 2003

For a fictionalized Poe-tesquerie, check out In A Strange City by Baltimore native Laura Lippman and pass on The Poe Shadow unless you're a true die-hard.

Wednesday, January 16, 2008

Links Of Interest

I've got nothing in particular to say today, just a bunch of links I've been accumulating and thought I'd share with the group starting with this plaque:

From Jenny Holzer

--If you're looking for a new decorating scheme (or are considering building a temple devoted to the Great Old Ones) you might consider Adam Wallacavage's Cthulhu-esque, be-tentacled chandeliers.

--And speaking of Ol' Squidface, I recently ran across Calls For Cthulhu, a sort of online clearinghouse for all things Lovecraftian with links to such things as Baby's First Mythos and Neil Gaiman's wonderful little story, "I, Cthulhu."

--And speaking of stories, I've noticed more and more authors posting their works online for all to enjoy. Spotted recently: a vintage piece of cholesterol noir, "Lipidleggin," by science fiction/horror writer F. Paul Wilson and Bruce Sterling's "Kiosk," which he describes as "a kind of science fiction that could only be written in the 21st century" (see the Boing Boing blurb).

--And further speaking of online stories, I've just discovered the world of Creepypasta, "scary microfiction for the internet age." No question about it, "creepy" is the proper term. A Google search will pretty much guarantee you won't be sleeping anytime soon.

--On a lighter note, sort of, Turn Your Hamster Into A Fighting Machine (my guess is someone's been reading too much Sluggy Freelance).

--Should the current economic downturn have you worried about global Apocalypse and Armageddon or if you're merely a casual survivalist/preparedness junkie, you may want to scan the list of 100 Items To Disappear First and begin your stockpiling accordingly.

--And finally, be sure to check out Scott Meyer's webcomic, Basic Instructions, on a regular basis.

Tuesday, January 8, 2008

Post-Christmas Buying Orgy/Book Notes

So, Saturday, armed with a fistful of gift certificates and some parentally-donated Christmas Cash, I headed off to the local bookstores to do me a little book buyin'.

Because, you know, I don't have anywhere near enough books.*

My first stop was Books-A-Million, the poor man's Barnes & Noble and a store I rarely visit for just that reason (I'm a snob; sue me), but my co-worker Carolyn had given me four (!) gift cards meant for her and her kids saying she had neither the time nor inclination to use 'em. Oh well, her loss, my gain, and in less than ten minutes I settled on Motherless Brooklyn by Jonathan Lethem (because I'm LOVING The Fortress of Solitude) and Heart-Shaped Box by Joe "Stephen King's My Father But Don't Tell Anyone" Hill, which has been getting rave reviews in the horror community.**

A couple of oatmeal raisin cookies later and it was off to the more familiar stomping grounds of Barnes & Noble where I picked up A Long Way Down by Nick Hornby, If You Liked School, You'll Love Work by Irvine Welsh, Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close by Jonathan Safran Foer, and Rewired: The Post-Cyberpunk Anthology ed. by James Patrick Kelly & John Kessel, books that look really interesting (your mileage may vary) and have been languishing on my wish list for far too long.

Bottom line: I have a comforting pile o' books to read in the coming weeks.

In other news, author Tony Ruggiero {Aliens and Satanic Creatures Wanted (Humans Need Not Apply)} is making an appearance Saturday, January 12 at one of my favorite local bookstores, Creatures 'n' Crooks, which means, I suppose, that I'll be adding a few more items to the aforementioned pile.

Science fiction/science fact fans will have noted that Wednesday was Isaac Asimov's birthday, but, sadly, for devotees of Historical Novels Which Do Not Suck, this was also the day George MacDonald Fraser, creator of the wonderfully slapstick and outrageously funny Flashman*** series, died (nice tribute here). I've been a fan ever since reading Playboy's serialization of Flashman At the Charge way back in (gasp!) 1973 (and, no, I didn't buy Playboy for the articles, but I read 'em anyway), so I'm pretty much sad and nostalgic in equal parts.

By the way, I finished Sara Gruen's Water For Elephants the other day and in one of those...interesting (interesting to me, at least) coincidences, finished it on January 4th. "So, what?" I hear you thinking. "What's interesting about that?" Well, as you might have guessed from the title a crucial plot element revolves around a circus elephant named Rosie who, the author notes, is a composite of a number of real-life circus elephants including the notorious Topsy, responsible for the deaths of three men within three years (though, as far as I'm concerned, for good reason). Topsy was deemed dangerous and in 1903 was killed by electrocution at the (self-serving****) suggestion of Thomas Edison, who also filmed the event. The date? January 4th.

* There are those who claim my book hoarding is merely an attempt to create a gravitational locus strong enough to shift the earth's orbit in such a way as to end global warming. I only wish my motives were that honorable.

** Horror novels are strict adherents to Sturgeon's Law--90% of 'em are pure, unadulterated crap--and having wasted far too much money on what aren't even polished turds (*cough* Dean Koontz *cough*) I'm leery of anything not first recommended to me by people whose opinions I respect. In this case, however, the reviews have been so strongly positive I was more than willing to risk someone else's money.

*** You've got to love a character who freely admits his only talents are horsemanship, languages, fornication, and cricket!

**** Edison was pimping... uh... extolling the virtues of DC current and warning of the dangers of rival George Westinghouse's AC system. See Jan. 4. 1903: Edison Fries An Elephant to Prove His Point.

Happy Birthday, Elvis!

Friday, January 4, 2008

In Case You Were Wondering...

Faithful readers will wonder (as did I) what, exactly, garnered me an "R" rating. Believe it or not, it's because I used the words "knife," "death," and "dead." C'mon people, if you're gonna lump me in with soft-core 'Eighties near-porn at least wait until I post details of my sex life!

Which, given the current state of affairs, could be a loooooong time in coming (puns intended).

Wednesday, January 2, 2008

Oh, Yeah--Happy New Year!

Wow. I got so caught up in all sorts of self-involved shenanigans I forgot to wish everyone a Happy New Year!

New Year's Eve was a quiet affair for me... by choice. At 7:00 p. m. I met up with ratpackdude (aka Cliff), Dodger Dave and his date*, and a woman I didn't know (whose name, I'm ashamed to admit, I've forgotten--Kim, maybe?) at Mandarin Palace for a veritable orgy of Chinese food goodness, then Cliff and I, feeling it best to avoid the inherent drama of the Super-Secret Support Group Dance**, headed over to Alex's to welcome in the New Year.

I made a new friend at Alex's--Mocha the Hyperactive Weimaraner, who at first wasn't too sure about this big guy reeking of cat and cigarette smoke until he realized I was an indefatigable source of butt scratching, belly-scritching, and ear massaging, then it was all "love me, love me, LOVE ME MORE AND NEVER, EVER STOP!"

TV, Times Square, Dick Clark, dropped ball...

And outside, right on cue, the Richmond Volunteer Militia opened fire***, because, let's face it, what else says "Happy New Year" better than several hundred rounds of high-powered ammunition?

We ended the evening by watching The Proposition and thus continuing my five year tradition of viewing wildly inappropriate movies during the early hours of January 1st.

One more thing. I sent a text message to my friend Sarah jokingly asking what outrages she was committing for New Year's Eve. Her reply?

"Killing babies and turning tricks, you know, the usual."

Welcome to 2008!

Oh, and Sid-the-Cat (annoyed that I'm using the lolcat-i-cizer) wants to remind everyone...

* Who was young and attractive and vivacious as hell, but won my heart when she started rambling on about plate tectonics and physical chemistry. There's something about a woman with an in-depth knowledge of quantum mechanics that makes my pulse quicken!

** Every single time I've attended this abomination someone always manages to get his or her ass out of joint over something ridiculously trivial like who didn't hug whom or who was paying more attention to whom or who was being "inappropriate" or whatever. You'd think we were in middle school.

*** Thank tupelo for sharing the love.

Tuesday, January 1, 2008

Strangely Enough...Metaweirdness

Earlier I mentioned my fascination with all things Fortean, strange, and weird, though I hasten to add I swallow none of this stuff without a side order of skepticism--Sturgeon's Law still applies and one must, therefore, be careful with what one believes. Still, it's fun to think there might be sea serpents, undiscovered animals, ghostly doings, gifts of prophecy, Mothmen, UFOs, mysterious fires and lights, lost treasures, and so forth.

Blame it on my babysitter.

Poor thing, for a couple of years she got saddled with a yakky child just about every other Saturday night because, well, I loved an audience--there were no kids my age in my neighborhood and, let's be honest, I was too damned weird for most of the kids at school. Even my parents had limited tolerance for my Aspergerian perseverations, and so, basically, I had no one with which to share the current week's obsession...except for unsuspecting relatives and hapless babysitters.

But Lisa A. was one smart cookie and quickly figured out that giving me something interesting to read would shut me up for the entire evening, thus allowing her to do homework, read teen magazines, chat with her boyfriend by phone, or whatever it was teenage babysitters did for amusement in the 'Sixties. On one particular occasion she tossed me a copy of the Scholastic Book Services (and there's a piece of nostalgia for the Baby Boomers--remember getting those flimsy little paperback catalogs in school once a month?) hottest offering, Strangely Enough! by C. B. Colby--an anthology of weird-but-supposedly-true tales.

She should have just given me crack--crack is less addictive.

The Money Pit at Oak Island, ghostly apparitions, haunted sentry boxes, ghost ships, flying saucers, mysterious TV signals, the strange behavior of felines (is your snoozing puddy actually King of the Cats?)--oh, it was great stuff! Over the next few years I wound up amassing a HUGE collection of similarly-themed paperbacks, discarded issues of Fate magazine, and UFO books, which was easy enough to do since this stuff was all the rage way back then.*

But that's not the story I'm here to tell.

Are you familiar with Michael Chabon? Author of The Mysteries of Pittsburgh, The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay, Wonder Boys, and, most recently, The Yiddish Policemen's Union? Well, a few years ago Chabon gave a lecture in which he revealed that not only had he read Strangely Enough as a child, but its author, C. B. Colby, lived at the end of the same street he did and when movers were emptying Colby's house years later Chabon saw them carry out what looked suspiciously like... a golem (be sure to read "Where Things Get Weird" later, but not right this minute).

Spooky, ain't it? Oh, wait; there's more. Chabon went on to say that C. B. Colby was actually a Holocaust survivor named Joseph Adler who wrote of his experiences in a memoir, The Book of Hell.

Except Adler wasn't a Holocaust survivor at all; he was a former Nazi named Viktor Fischer.

Let that bit of weirdness sink in for a minute.

Now, let's get to the real weirdness-- there was a C. B. Colby, he did write a slew of informative books for grade-school kids including Strangely Enough, but he was not an ex-Nazi nor was he a Holocaust survivor--Michael Chabon made it up.

(see "Fiction, Hoax or Neither? A Literary Dust-Up" and "Revenge of the Regressive Avant-Garde.")

Certain literary types went absolutely ape-shit, as certain literary types are apt to do (witness the furor over James Frey's otherwise inconsequential piece o' fluff A Million Little Pieces), griping (with, maybe, some, but only some, justification) that Chabon had no right to appropriate the "Jewish Experience" for his own, personal aggrandizement, nor should he have presented fiction as fact without a suitable warning label.

(see "Anatomy of A Hoax: An Interview With Paul Maliszewski," the man who broke the story)

Oh, pish-posh. They're just pissed because they got taken in by a storyteller. Chabon tells stories. We all tell stories and we all embellish them to greater or lesser degrees so as to entertain out audience. That's what storytellers do! Debate the ethics all you want, but I've never turned to the fictionistas when I'm looking for hard-core facts; I automatically assume a significantly high Embellishment Factor. Then again, my personality is such that I enjoy sifting signal from noise.

The brilliance of Michael Chabon is not only did he present a perfectly plausible weird story in his lectures (and let's be honest here, careful listeners received ample warning that what was to follow was not strictly true), he generated an entire meta-story as well.

Bottom line? Truth is stranger than fiction.

Strangely enough.

* The few friends I did have shared my interests and Saturdays often found us haunting dingy thrift stores in dodgy parts of town (especially the Cracker Barrel and the Nine-To-Nine Newstand in Basic City), scrounging for whatever coffee-stained, water-warped, mildew-scented treasures by Brad Steiger, Hans Holzer, and Frank Edwards we could get out grubby hands upon--rarely could we afford new copies, priced as they were at 75 cents, 95 cents, and, occasionally, an astounding $1.25.

Books Read In 2007

--Books I Particularly Enjoyed Though Your Mileage May Differ: (marked with *****)
--Most Disturbing Book of 2007: Three-way tie among The Wasp Factory (#57), Gemma (#76), and Crooked Little Vein (#52).
--Biggest disappointment of 2007: Farewell Summer (#69) by Ray Bradbury.
--Biggest surprise of 2007: Gemma (#76) by Meg Tilly (yes, that Meg Tilly!).
--Book With Plot Holes Large Enough Through Which One Could Drive A Mack Truck Yet Remain Readable): The Ruins (#81) by Scott Smith.
--Best Use of a Substitution Cipher: The Boy Detective Fails (#1) by Joe Meno (beating out the only other candidate, Enigma (#60), by a substantial margin)
--Biggest Waste of Neurons: Eat This Book: A Year of Gorging and Glory On the Competitive Eating Circuit (#72) by Ryan Nerz.

1. 3/Jan/07--The Boy Detective Fails by Joe Meno (2006).
2. 6/Jan/07--Monster Island by David Wellington (2006). *****
3. 7/Jan/07--Soul Kitchen by Poppy Z. Brite (2006).
4. 13/Jan/07--Fragile Things by Neil Gaiman (2006). *****
5. 16/Jan/07--Cosmic Trigger Volume II: Down To Earth by Robert Anton Wilson (1991, 1996).
6. 23/Jan/06--A Good Man Is Hard To Find by Flannery O'Connor (1955). *****
7. 29/Jan/07--Music For Chameleons by Truman Capote (1980). *****
8. 31/Jan/07--Monster Nation by David Wellington(2006). *****
9. 6/Feb/07--World War Z: An Oral History of the Zombie War by Max Brooks (2006). *****
10. 6/Feb/07--How To Smash Everyone To Pieces by Mike Segretto (2004).
11. 13/Feb/07--The Identity Club by Richard Burgin (2005).
12. 14/Feb/07--Between the Bridge and the River by Craig Ferguson (2006). *****
13. 16/Feb/07--A Dirty Job by Christopher Moore (2006).
14. 20/Feb/07--How To Talk Dirty and Influence People by Lenny Bruce (1963, 1992).
15. 23/Feb/07--The Things They Carried by Tim O'Brien (1990)
16. 8/Mar/07--The Big Chunk of Ice by Bertrand R. Brinley (1986, 2005).
17. 8/Mar/07--Underworld by Don DeLillo (1997).
18. 14/Mar/07--Those Who Walk In Darkness by John Ridley (2003).
19. 20/Mar/07--Blindness by Jose Saramago (1998). *****
20. 27/Mar/07--Life House by Spider Robinson (1997).
21. 28/Mar/07--My Friend Leonard by James Frey (2005). *****
22. 3/Apr/07--Irons In the Fire by John McPhee (1997). *****
23. 4/Apr/07--Encounters With the Archdruid by John McPhee (1971). *****
24. 6/Apr/07--Dress Your Family in Corduroy and Denim by David Sedaris (2004).
25. 12/Apr/07--A Million Little Pieces by James Frey (2003).
26. 18/Apr/07 Visionary In Residence by Bruce Sterling (2006).
27. 23/Apr/07--White Noise by Don DeLillo (1984, 1998).
28. 26/Apr/07 Fuzzy Dice by Paul Di Filippo (2003).
29. 2/May/07--Bitterroot by James Lee Burke (2001).
30. 8/Apr/07--Salt: A World History by Mark Kurlansky (2002).
31. 10/May/07--Rose of No Man's Land by Michelle Tea (2005).
32. 15/May/07--The Gun Seller by Hugh Laurie (1996).
33. 18.May/07--Snow Crash by Neal Stephenson (1992). *****
34. 23/May/07--The Prestige by Christopher Priest (1995). *****
35. 30/May/07--Lucifer's Hammer by Larry Niven & Jerry Pournelle (1977).
36. 31/May/06 Hannibal Rising by Thomas Harris (2006).
37. 4/Jun/07--Fabrication: Essays On Making Things and Making Meaning by Susan Neville (2001).
38. 12/Jun/07--Microserfs by Douglas Coupland (1995). *****
39. 15/Jun/07--Vamped by David Sosnowski (2004).
40. 21/Jun/07--A Specter Is Haunting Texas by Fritz Leiber (1968).
41. 27/Jun/07--Mammoth by John Varley (2005).
42. 28/Jun/07--Flow My Tears, the Policeman Said by Philip K. Dick (1974).
43. 10/Jul/07--Rainbows End by Vernor Vinge (2006).
44. 13/Jul/07--Reading Lolita in Tehran: A Memoir in Books by Azar Nafisi (2003).
45. 16/Jul/07--The Falling Season: Inside the Life and Death Drama of Aspen's Mountain Rescue Team by Hal Clifford (1998).
46. 17/Jul/07--It Was Gonna Be Like Paris by Emily Listfield (1984).
47. 20/Jul/07--Crimes and Misdemeanors: New and Original Stories of Love and Death ed. by Elaine Koster and Joseph Pittman (1998).
48. 26/Jul/07--How To Survive Anything, Anywhere: A Handbook of Survival Skills For Every Scenario and Environment by Chris McNab (2004).
49. 31/Jul/07--Trawler: A Journey Through the North Atlantic by Redmond O'Hanlon (2003).
50. 9/Aug/07--An American Dream by Norman Mailer (1964).
51. 19/Aug/07--Spook Country by William Gibson (2007).
52. 22/Aug/07--Crooked Little Vein by Warren Ellis (2007). *****
53. 29/Aug/07-- Stiff: The Curious Lives of Human Cadavers by Mary Roach (2003).
54. 29/Aug/07--Gun, With Occasional Music by Jonathan Letham (1994).
55. 7/Sept/07--All The Pretty Horses by Cormac McCarthy (1992). *****
56. 15/Sept/07--The Rift by Walter J. Williams (1999). *****
57. 18/Sept/07--The Wasp Factory by Iain Banks (1984). *****
58. 20/Sept/07--Uncommon Carriers by John McPhee (2006). *****
59. 25/Sept/07--The Backpacker's Handbook by Chris Townsend (2005).
60. 26/Sept/07--Enigma by Robert Harris (1995).
61. 2/Oct/07--The Strange Adventures of Rangergirl by Tim Pratt (2005).
62. 4/Oct/07--Hit Parade by Lawrence Block (2006). *****
63. 9/Oct/07--Consider the Lobster and Other Essays by David Foster Wallace (2006). *****
64. 17/Oct/07--Men and Cartoons by Jonathan Letham (2005).
65. 23/Oct/07--A Walk In the Woods: Rediscovering America on the Appalachian Trail by Bill Bryson (1998).
66. 25/Oct/07--The Life and Times of the Thunderbolt Kid: A Memoir by Bill Bryson (2006). *****
67. 30/Oct/07--Jaguars Ripped My Flesh: Adventure Is A Risky Business by Tim Cahill (1987). *****
68. 5/Oct/07--Girlbomb--A Halfway Homeless Memoir by Janice Erlbaum (2006).
69. 14/Nov/07--Farewell Summer by Ray Bradbury (2006).
70. 14/Nov/07--The Poe Shadow by Matthew Pearl (2007).
71. 20/Nov/07-- The Bookwoman's Last Fling by John Dunning (2006).
72. 27/Nov/07--Eat This Book: A Year of Gorging and Glory on the Competitive Eating Circuit by Ryan Nerz (2006).
73. 29/Nov/07--The Messiah of Morris Avenue by Tony Hendra (2006). *****
74. 4/Dec/07--Travels With Alice by Calvin Trillin (1989).
75. 7/Dec/07--Lost Echoes by Joe R. Lansdale (2007). *****
76. 10/Dec/07--Gemma by Meg Tilly (2006). *****
77. 12/Dec/07--Possible Side Effects by Augusten Burroughs (2006). *****
78. 16/Dec/07--A Pound Of Paper: Confessions Of A Book Addict by John Baxter (2002).
79. 18/Dec/07--Fast Company: A Memoir of Life, Love, and Motorcycles in Italy by David. M. Gross (2007).
80. 20/Dec/07--No Country For Old Men by Cormac McCarthy (2005). *****
81. 23/Dec/07--The Ruins by Scott Smith (2006).
82. 28/Dec/07--Red Thunder by John Varley (2003).