May, 2015


31
May 15

CHEP…CHIRP….ATTAAAAAAACK!

We try to keep the murderous thug in the house, but sometimes he escapes–and sometimes there are vigilantes waiting for him. I refer to our thuggish black cat (who has been known to steal neighbor cats’ food and pet toys). He likes to go out and kill birds…

But lately he’s been attacked by birds, mostly mockingbirds, who give off a distinctive warning sound when he appears. I’ve observed this, heard this, over and over. The sound is like, “CHEP! …CHEP!…CHEP!..CHEP!” Not cheep–chep. A harsh repetitive sound, like an alarm siren. It’s like they’re saying, “Cat!…Cat!..Cat!” Then–the mockingbird dives at the cat and, sometimes striking it with its claws. The mockingbird often adds a second sound –softer–like “CHEP!…chirp…CHEP!…chirp….” ANd when it does this *another mockingbird shows up.*. It’s well known that birds sometimes call for assistance…When this happens, the cat pussies out, his thug ways vanish–he has no instinct for repelling this kind of assault–and makes a pathetic “Meep!” sound, then runs and hides under low hanging limbs.

To my surprise, the mockingbird will sometimes hover, in the course of this harassment. Most birds can hover, but many only do it on special occasions, it appears.

Meanwhile this thug cat comes in and whines to me that he’s being persecuted by the birds. He’s actually been driven to take refuge back in the house by them at times…


25
May 15

An Off the Cuff Review of MAD MAX: FURY ROAD

We saw MAD MAX: FURY ROAD. “Paraphrasing Alfred Hitchcock, Miller said that he wanted the film to be understood in Japan without the use of subtitles.” So Miller said in an interview at SD Comic Con. Good thing, because despite the delicious energy and power of this movie, I couldn’t make out a lot that was said in the dialogue, which was often shouted over loud engines and gunshots. Admittedly, I’m 62 now (hard for me to believe but true) and have many rock concerts both facing and with back to the amplifiers in my past, so my hearing has the edges worn off it. Maybe younger viewers didn’t have the problem. Fortunately for me Miller accomplished his visual storytelling effectively, and I was able to follow the movie well. Eg, I love that they were carrying a tank of mother’s milk as trade for fuel and bullets. That seems rife with symbolism.

We had a great time watching the film, it’s a feast of cinematic visuals, but I left determined to see it again, in theater or at least on DVD, as there were countless shots and angles and design intricacies, and I feel that, swept up in the action, I didn’t quite absorb these details and nuances.

Perhaps the main characters don’t quite come alive as much as they did in Road Warrior; could be Miller almost tries to do too much–but I was involved and touched and adrenalized by FURY ROAD. The actors helped; Tom Hardy was great as Max; Theron projected a strong character–yes there were many strong women in the film. I don’t know about a feminist statement but it’s takes for granted that women can kick your ass.

Sometimes –as in many modern films–you find yourself “seeing” the design boards of things. As you watch the film you imagine a film development artist showing an image to the director and saying, “How about this?” and he loves it and has it built…The vehicles had that effect…They’re wonderful to look at, however.

“In a July 2014 interview at San Diego Comic-Con International, Miller said he designed the film in storyboard form before writing the screenplay, working with five storyboard artists. It came out as about 3,500 panels, almost the same number of shots as in the finished film. He wanted the film to be almost a continuous chase, with relatively little dialogue, and to have the visuals come first.” Also accomplished, and indeed the images starred in this film, in a way that –along with the handling of Max– makes this movie rather like a classic western. Think of John Ford movies. And Miller acknowledged that it’s very like a western.

As for the story, it’s strong, but there’s not much time to digest it. Most movies build to a climax but like Road Warrior this movie is almost all “climax”. It’s almost startling when Max and his allies stop in the desert to communicate.

I found the visual creation of the Citadel, the villain’s butte-based headquarters, especially powerful. The mechanics of it, the use of extras.

Apparently they already have a script for a sequel to Fury Road–I’m still unclear if this is a remake, a reboot, a prequel, a sequel or what–and if it’ makes enough money there’ll be another. It’s *almost* made back its 150 mil budget, and when it’s done with theaters and DVDs and paid downloads I reckon it’ll make 60 mil in profit or so. So I’m optimistic there’ll be a sequel.

I dug this–how am I not going to love the metal guitarist who’s used as a kind of (as my wife said) battle bagpiper for the legions of the charismatic villain? That’s like something from one of my own books, quite accidentally I”m sure…same culture of “mad” excess…


24
May 15

What if You Lived Before But it WAS NOT Reincarnation?

What if you’ve lived before–but not in a reincarnation sense. If you’re Frank Futz, well then, what if Frank Futz existed before this life, *as Frank Futz*, when time ran its course *before* — the theory goes, that time does that over and over and over. eternally, like an infinitely complex song playing from beginning to end and restarting. The idea is called recurrence or…

Eternal recurrence, some call it. There is more than one form of this concept. Nietzsche developed one notion of it, the stoics another, some Indian philosophies another, Ouspensky still another. They more or less converge in the idea that the universe plays out its time over and over, hence Deja Vu (I know, deja vu is more easily explainable as an illusion caused by normal brain activity) and hence some form of destiny. But…does that mean everything is pre-ordained, that destiny is always inexorable? Not necessarily.

Ouspensky, among others, believed that there can be endless variants of the universe playing out–alternative time flows, perhaps, as we see so often in science fiction–and that the life patterns for living beings are caused by decisions made at a critical moments. Usually, behaving with relatively low-consciousness, sentient beings always make the same decision, in each re-run of time, repeating their lives over and over without alteration–so this idea goes…BUT sometimes the person has a chance (because of quantum fluctuations?) to be more conscious, to remember things as they happen and glimpse choices they never saw before. So they make a different choice the next time and that time recurrence is, for that person, contravened, and the universe’s playing out in time is altered just that much. Each little variant makes a kind of endless kaleidoscopic play out of time, at least as far as sentient beings go… There’s also the possibility that the universe itself shifts a little each time, so little we don’t notice, but enough that it’s another universe that only seems entirely recurrent…Yes kind of like the movie Groundhog Day–a movie I admire–but the drama plays out from the beginning of time to the end…

There’s also the idea dramatized by Michael Moorcock–his Eternal Hero, who comes back in various versions of the multiverse in various forms. Why? Because Something is nudging the random universe, bit by bit by bit, toward a more orderly state.

It’s just a what-if…But–what if?


24
May 15

TEN THOUSAND OAK TREES

My wife Micky was just reminding me how the original site of the Renaissance Faire in Marin County, in which she participated for so many years, was in a giant grove of old, old oak trees on beautiful rolling California hills. When the Faire ended the land was sold off to developers, who cut TEN THOUSAND old oak trees down to make a really big McMansions development of badly built bloated cookie-cutter houses.

In Portland, Oregon, now, classic old houses –and houses rented by people of modest income–are being torn down to be replaced by hideous Mcmansions and other junky high priced housing. There should be a federal inquiry into the relationship between real estate developers and local politicos; into the means and extent of BRIBERY..

There is room for housing development–but there have to be strict rules about WHERE.


21
May 15

Obama and the Trans Pacific Trade Deal: An Interpretation

Obama catches a lot of flak from the left for his advocacy of the TPP, the Trans Pacific Trade deal. It’s true it’s not yet entirely out in the open–apparently because they’re still not sure of all its components–but the Obama administration claims, “The administration is seeking rules that require countries to provide workers with fundamental rights “as well as new protections for importing goods made with forced labor, adopting laws on acceptable conditions of work and upholding labor standards in export processing zones…The Obama administration has insisted that labor provisions be at the core of the agreement, subject to full dispute settlement and the full range of trade sanctions.” (TheHill dot com… ) – However…

Senator Warren says it’s feeble and too general on those issues and environmental issues and doesn’t go far enough.

Obama seems to be a pragmatist who goes for a deal, in Congress or internationally, that gives him some “profit”, some headway, though it’s not always dramatic headway, rather than holding out for something he’s not likely to get. It’s a tactic and it may be a good one sometimes, may be unnecessarily defeatist at other times. I’m not sure anyone knows except perhaps future historians. One thing he seems to be hoping for, with the TPP, is a stimulation of the American economy through an increase of exports. This in turn suggests more incentive for manufacturing within the USA. Which means more American jobs. Whether or not the TPP will deliver that, I don’t know. I can’t see that far ahead–I hope he can. One thing I feel sure of is that this is not a sweetheart deal with international business interests–it’s more like negotiating with the mafia; that is, when you are, in the short term, unable to get rid of the gangsters, you make a deal.


15
May 15

PORN with ALIENS from OUTER SPACE

The rumor of extraterrestrials having been spotted in pornography, engaged in coitus with humans, is…Well, wait, I’m getting ahead of myself. First, other porn issues.

I’ve got nothing against porn as long as it’s consenting adult humans–*real* adults, and *real* consenting. Some is rumored to be “actually underage” and sometimes people are enslaved into it. That’s bad. I don’t survey porn so I don’t know how much of that there is, but there’s said to be so much porn it seems likely some involves human trafficking. You’ll notice I said “consenting adult humans”. I’m opposed to bestiality in porn or outside it. Even if the animal appears to be “consenting”–it isn’t. It’s not good for animals, however they may feel in the sexual moment. It’s a form of cruelty to animals.

As for “alien” porn…Of course you can probably find people dressed as extraterrestrials engaging in porn. Gray Alien rubber masks, what have you. But the reason there isn’t real ET/alien porn (that we know of) has something to do with the same feeling that underlies my proscription against bestiality–and it’s not because the extraterrestrials are beasts. It’s because we are. From the extraterrestrial point of view, sex with humans is a degrading form of bestiality. They regard us as very, very primitive. It’s would be something like a human having sex with a well-trained orangutan.

I have intercepted an extraterrestrial message from a certain very advanced, somewhat-humanoid race; the message apparently is a small part of the sex education for the ET young. Thanks to being the pet of an an indulgent extraterrestrial (who has turned me down for sex many times), I was able to have the message translated into English. Here is the message, sent to juvenile aliens on field trips:

“Yes Earth humans are hominids, as they term it, and we observers from Slixnux are also technically hominids. But taking into account the feeble brain size, comprehension levels, and the savagery of these humans, along with their spiritual baseness, it would be a striking indication of a sexual pathology to engage in sexual intimacy with the human race of Earth. If other intelligent galactic races choose to have sex with Earth humans, we will not interfere. It is their own responsibility, should they choose to debase themselves. The giant furred arachnids of SKLSJ6867, however, might be deemed reprehensible in such a case, since their mating with humans could well lead to feeding on them at the climax of the nuptial ritual…”


8
May 15

BLACK BUTTERFLIES: A FLOCK ON THE DARK SIDE

This is Paula Guran’s Foreword to my book Black Butterflies.

Black Butterflies won the Bram Stoker award. It’s coming back into print as an ebook from Start Publications soon. The paperback versions can be gotten, used, pretty cheaply, too, at Amazon…

Foreword to Black Butterflies:

In the hours past midnight, jet-black butterflies flock into John Shirley’s dreams. If he tries to ignore them, if he doesn’t sing cold-metal songs to them, the black butterflies slice him with their razorsharp onyx wings. He has to write stories as dark and sharp and cold and beautiful as the butterflies—or they will cut him up from the inside then flutter out to infect the world.

Once written and read, the stories still infect. They divinto your brain and change you in small but unalterable ways. Because of this it is difficult, perhaps impossible, to ever entirely forget a John Shirley story.

This collection brings together some of John Shirley’s unforgettable dark stories from the last decade. BLACK BUTTERFLIES is divided into two parts. THIS WORLD offers stories set in the what we call the “real” world—the everyday world of the humans thrashing about in dilemma, twisting in obsession; stories from streets and bedrooms and bars and, offices peopled with characters whose reality you can never deny or escape—although you may try to.

THAT WORLD comprises the second part of BLACK BUTTERFLIES: tales of the surreal and supernatural, the skewed truth—reaching slightly beyond reality…or, perhaps, there is something reaching out of that Beyond and grabbing you.

In other introductions to other John Shirley books, you’ll find writers who have known him and his work for two decades. They introduce him as the original cyberpunk or an always surprising, constantly amazing progenitor of strange fiction often arising from the chaos of his life.

That’s all true, but I never knew the chaos or the punk. The John Shirley I know has, with no small amount of effort, achieved a balance in his life and work. And, unlike others, I first met him through the exquisite nightmares of his dark fiction. Before I ever walked the cyberpunk’s fictional future streets and battlegrounds, I knew only the nakedly gruesome, explicitly intense, yet utterly appealing noir of his dark side. His stories made me look inward. Like life they are tragic, sometimes cruel, but—also like life—consistently convey a message for us to discover. Invariably Shirley’s tales touch a spiritual, and often wryly humorous, resonance by exposing human paradox and exploring the deviations we sometimes call evil. Where there is danger, there is also deliverance.

John Shirley mapped the cyber-wilderness before that terrain was even identified; he creates style before it is acceptable; his dark imaginings are often too extreme for the times in which they are created; he assumes an intelligent reader in an age of “dumbing down;” he writes what he writes regardless of labels in an era typified by niches.

That’s why I wanted him to do BLACK BUTTERFLIES—stories from the last dark decade compiled as the arbitrary, but symbolic, millennium approaches. Maybe, finally, the world is ready for John Shirley.


7
May 15

THE AVENGERS: AGE OF ULTRON–An off-the-cuff review

We saw THE AVENGERS: Age of Ultron today. When I heard they were going to do Avengers movies with all those high cost special effects, big money actor superheroes, I thought, they at least have to have a decent budget, good production values–they did and do–but they could still screw it up. But, they had Joss Whedon, good director and writer who respected the underlying comic book fantasy (though if it’s technically genre science fiction…let’s face, it’s fantasy) and I thought …even THEN juggling, all these huge, wild characters, all these over the top story elements, how does it not come off awful? Big money, good actors behind that Green Lantern picture but that was mostly a mess. And only one big superhero in Green Lantern! Somehow, Whedon pulled it off…of course, I thought, it’s at best only going to be like a high quality amusement park ride. And that’s okay, it should be a ride, it should be thrilling and fun and nostalgic and colorful and a blast. The first Avengers film was that, and had some classic moments.

The second–I figured it’d be okay but a step downward. But in fact–to my astonishment– it’s a better movie. It’s sometimes better than a cinematic amusement park ride. It has actual character development in it. The special effects on the Hulk are of variable verisimilitude–sometimes he looks real, sometimes not so much. But he seems like a real person in the story. The production makes it work.

I guess I could complain they almost went too far; tried to do too much. Quicksilver, the Scarlet Witch, the Vision–all brought in. The Vision is done very well indeed. Paul Bettany plays him–actually he and the animators play him–and he really brings it off. James Spaader as the voice of Ultron–very good, distinctive character, not a cliched super villain. Something of Tony Stark in him, for a reason. (They didn’t, for me, quite pay off that part–Stark never quite came to terms with that…)

Robt Downey Jr makes the trip worthwhile anyway…He’s such great company as Tony Stark. Scarlett Johansson makes her “Black Widow” character come alive. She’s quite touching as the powerful adult woman who has grown up as best she can from a damaged, cruelly conditioned little girl.

They had this incredibly powerful superhero The Vision in there, he was in the battle, toward the end…then they sort of lost him. Where’d he go? He shows up at the climax, sure but–in between? There’s a continuity gap there.

Hawkeye was developed quite well as a character; Captain America was exactly the heroic leader, the almost Presidential (in the best sense) character of the comics…The science-fictional ideas underlying Ultron, a bit like Terminator 2 concepts, were realized with visual aids, holographic imagery that went a long ways toward making them believable: well-thought-out science fiction woven into the comic-book fantasy.

It was all very much like Marvel. The battles, the slowed down action in places, very much evoked big action panels in old Avengers. I don’t see how the Marvel fans could be unsatisfied. The young Marvel comics fan in me really enjoyed it.

Listen, the point I was trying to make at the beginning …it’s amazing they can make this cinematic carnival work at all. Whedon just somehow…did it. Making a GOOD movie is an act of will. The director has to will it into being despite the producers…Whedon does it.

And again, this is not Olivier in a movie of Hamlet or something. This is a Superhero Movie. So hold it to THOSE standards, superhero movie standards…and it pays off.