I have just had (and I hope resolved) an unfortunately exciting batch of phone calls. I was discussing the plans for the eye surgery, and specifically for practicing with the drops, in email with rysmiel. That led me to check my instructions, and discover I am supposed to be taking _three_ kinds of eye drop with me on Wednesday. Of which I have two. After multiple conversations with Dr Lazzara's office and the pharmacy, he is going to leave some free samples at the front desk of the Arlington office for me to pick up on Monday.
This is all left over from discovering that this prescription isn't covered by my insurance, and the pharmacy confusing me about whether I needed a discount card from the drug manufacturer. When I mentioned that they were going to be sending me a discount card the clerk said that the copay on the ones they were giving me was "reasonable" (by American standards), which led to me paying for two kinds of eye drops, putting them in the cabinet, and not thinking about it, until @rysmiel asked. The *pre*-surgical instructions are to use one kind four times a day, and the other once a day; the paperwork I hadn't looked at recently tells me to bring all three with me, after instructions including that I should wash my hair the night before and that I can have a light meal the morning of the surgery.
I've booked movers for an arrival between 3pm and 5pm on next Tuesday.
The place I went with, I picked because they were highly recommended and can handle that time window, but also: they have a reasonable price, but also a 10% discount if you pay in cash, which I am happy to do. :D (NTS: I ordered a mattress bag from them, so I don't need to buy one independently.)
I also booked a second pick up of book boxes for this coming Saturday.
Not sure if I mentioned; tn3270 and I have been taking carloads of stuff over, to drain the swamp. Stuff that can be put away in the kitchen and closets, so it's not in the way of rug deployment or the movers.
(Huh, while I was writing this, the old landlord called. I didn't pick up. He doesn't seem to have left a vmail.)
I am more exhausted than I need to be, because I slept terribly, because bad vibrations last night. So that's validating, in case I needed further reminder of why I'm leaving.
Also, I got an email from the property manager that the heating person was coming to check out my bathroom radiator later this morning. This is great, yay repairs, however I delicately let him I know am generally asleep 4am to noon, and that emailing me at 9am about coming by at 11am isn't going to work.
Last night, the toilet at the new place malfunctioned. I discovered that the handle rod had been being attached to the connector thingy on the flap by a – get this – safety pin. An old, rusty safety pin which had finally bent out of shape and let go. I replaced it with a mini ziptie, which will presumably survive the heat death of the universe, and it's fine now. Let the propmgr know though.
Arkady Martine, Django Wexler, John Chu, and I had so much fun teaching the workshop at 4th St. Fantasy convention last year that we're doing it again this year...but with a twist! This year's theme is "Getting Unstuck." Participants in the workshop should submit pieces they're stuck on--not outlines but some prose written--and we'll use tactics both usual and zany to get through the block. We'll work on identifying patterns that contribute to getting stuck as well as ways out.
The deadline for signing up for the workshop is May 20, but it's first-come first-served--AND convention membership rates go up on March 1--so now is a great time to sign up!
Got back Tuesday night, had one more unexpected day off when we got four inches of snow dumped on us on Wednesday, and now am almost caught up at work. Also nursing a very sore strained shoulder, because I am 40 years old and slept on a couch for four nights, and maybe I shouldn't do that.
Reading Log: Undead Girl Gang by Lily Anderson; Little Women and Me by Lauren Baratz-Logsted; The Magpie Lord by KJ Charles; Period 8 by Chris Crutcher; The Cursed Sea by Lauren DeStefano; Steel Blues by Jo Graham and Melissa Scott; Mary Russell's War by Laurie King; The Good Neighbor by Maxwell King; The Governess Affair by Courtney Milan; My Life Among the Underdogs by Tia Torres; Vultures by Chuck Wendig
Anons, you can email me via this account (me @dreamwidth) if you have a pseudonymous or burner email account, if you want a more-or-less anonymous way to send me comments.
Sorry about this.
I had intended just to listen. I was (am) very tired and had planned just to sit at the back of the free lecture and try not to fall asleep. But then in context of our ideas of magic versus magic in ancient Egypt, she said, "Magic is a god," and I sat up. Magic's name in Egyptian is Heka; she showed a slide of him on the boat of Ra, a rather ordinary-looking male human figure holding the tail of a serpent squiggling in protective waves all around the sun-god as he journeys through the underworld night. Magic is not trickery, blasphemy, a practice against the gods. Magic is an integral part of creation, of maintaining the world. It can be distinguished from religion, just as demons can be distinguished from gods. By humans, it's used for defensive, curative, and transformative purposes, with love-spells serving as a subset of that last; they are considered aggressive magic, forcibly changing a person. But there is no concept of black magic in ancient Egypt, though any spell practiced against the pharaoh can be banned. A magician is not someone secretive and strange but a priest, a doctor, a local scholar. Anyone who deals with the liminal world.
Which is where demons come in. We see them represented side by side with gods, but gods exist in the mythic dimension, it is their work to look out for the living and the dead, they have cults, shrines, are worshipped; demons are appeased. They protect, but they have to be asked to do it. But they are not figures of inherent evil, even though the word we use for them has picked up so many connotations of temptation, punishment etc. in its passage through Christianity from the Greek δαίμων; that is all irrelevant to an Egyptian demon. They don't possess people, either. The closest we get is the language of disease personified as a demon seizing a patient, which anyone who has ever spoken of being knocked on their ass by a cold can comprehend without needing to call in Father Merrin. Lucarelli likened them more to Plato's original definition of daimones, liminal messengers between the mortal world and the divine; she likes Gregor Ahn's term Grenzgänger, which he considers untranslatable and she thinks can be adequately rendered as "boundary-crosser." They do not polarize between good and evil as in ancient Greek religion, however; there is no such thing as an Egyptian agathodaimon. They can be either or neither or both; it can be a meaningless question. Seen in the underworld of the Book of the Dead, they are not devils of hell but guardians, protectors, dangerous only to those who approach them without the right spells. Many-named and nameless, Lucarelli called them; some have snake wands in their hands; one has a duck on his head. There is no one word for what they are.
I could not write fast enough by hand to take down the names of some demons she identified when I was also trying to copy their Egyptian names; the only one I got in full was "Face-downward, numerous of shapes" (sḫd-ḥr, ʿšȝ ir.w). Others translated to "Radiant," "Sad of voice," "One who stretches out his brow." The otherwise human-formed demon with four cobras quirked above his head like interrobangs is known as "He who protects his body," i.e., the body of the deceased: the body that is his to guard. The wooden figurine of a gazelle-headed demon twists as dramatically as a Fosse dancer, an aggressive pose, Lucarelli said; it's part of the same group, crumbling black with plastered linen, as the demon with a turtle for a head. They too are tomb guardians. To address the question of scary rather than protective demons, she called up a criminally cute cartoon of Anubis and the Devourer, whose name now appears to be rendered "Amemet." Certainly she looks like a monster to us, that hulking composite of hippo-crocodile-lion alertly poised ("She's ready to go!") to engulf the heart that drops truth's scales with its weight of sin, but in a culture that represents its gods therianthropomorphically, her hybrid nature is not intrinsically monstrous nor even necessarily ugly. The same goes for the crocodile-vulture demon with snakes in its hands, frightening off the nightmare demons—it's the ones you don't see that you should fear, the ones so bad they are never depicted, only written about, falling from the sky to fasten on the breast of the sleeper. They may be atypically represented in an image of crocodiles swarming a human form, but if so Lucarelli has never seen anything like the iconography again. More often they are the fill-in-the-blank in the oracular formulae of amulets: I/you/we shall keep him/her/NN safe from any kind of evil dead/demon . . . wanderers, disease-bringers, messengers, murderers. They can be subordinated to the goddess Sekhmet. Somewhere in here she introduced us to the headache demon Sehaqeq, scratched in black ink on an ostrakon—his name means "half-head" (shȝḳḳ), migraine. He looks like a young man with his arm flung over his face, as if he is having trouble bearing the light, but he has a tongue growing down his back. I would almost expect to find him in a collection of yōkai, but he's more than three thousand years old. It is still common to demonize illness, Lucarelli noted. Black dogs, brainweasels. It seems to help the patient. I had no idea that was what Tiny Wittgenstein was doing.
There is no formal demonology in ancient Egyptian culture as there is in Judaism. The demons in Mesopotamia seem to lean more toward the evil than the amoral. An incantation bowl is inscribed spiraling inward in Jewish Babylonian Aramaic, an owl-like, bat-like demon at its center; it's Ashmedai, seen a beat later as Asmodeus in Collin de Plancy's nineteenth-century Dictionnaire infernal. (The bowls seem to have functioned as one-way fish-traps, drawing in the demon, containing it from moving around the house under whose threshold it was buried.) An amulet against Lamaštu depicts her trampling a donkey, overseen by her enemy Pazuzu, in nearly the same pose as the infant Horus trampling crocodiles under the approving eye of Bes: they look so similar and mean such different things. Everyone in the ancient world believed in demons, even if not exactly the same kind. It would have been strange only if the ancient Egyptians had not. The last slide was a modern photograph of a gazelle and a lizard hung apotropaically in the grate of a window. Demons and magic are still with us today.
There were questions afterward. Lucarelli pointed the audience toward the websites she's involved with: the interactive Book of the Dead in 3D, the snazzily named Demon Things. I tried not to mourn how badly my fast-penciled handwriting has disintegrated in the thirteen years since I was using it on the regular. The professor who had introduced the lecture wished everyone well on their way, safely protected by the right demons. I couldn't help noticing as I came home in the slushy black ice that I didn't have to wait for a bus once.
Akata Witch introduces Sunny Nwazue, an albino Nigerian-American adolescent who discovers after moving back to Nigeria that she's part of a parallel magical society known as Leopard People. The story follows some fairly standard beats - Bullied Kid Discovers She's Secretly Magic, Makes Team of Magic Friends, Plays Magic Sports, Finds Magic Mentor, Defeats Magic Evil. It also follows some non-standard beats; for example, when Sunny finds a guidebook on How To Navigate Magic Land As An Outsider With Non-Magic Parents -- a guidebook which provides both Sunny and the reader a lot of helpful worldbuilding information -- she learns several chapters later about all the prejudices held by the guidebook's author that means everything within it has to be taken with a grain of salt. Nnedi Okorafor's interest in biased narrators and unreliable texts is something I consistently appreciate about her.
Akata Warrior is better, or at least more interesting to me, because it engages a lot more with Sunny's non-magical family (whom she's not allowed to tell about her magic powers) and the in-between-ness of her attempts to live with one foot in each world. In particular I am REALLY FOND of her stupid jock oldest brother, who gets into stupid jock trouble at college from which Sunny has to rescue him -- I love sibling stories in pretty much every configuration, but 'little sister rescues dumb older brother from his own own stupidity' is not a situation I feel like I see particularly often in fiction, and it is both refreshing and delightful.
AND THEN THERE'S A TERRIBLE SIBLING + MAGIC FRIENDS ROAD TRIP.
...and then Sunny and her friends defeat some more magic evil, in a magic battle that's a bit cooler than the magic battle in the last book and also features the gang making friends with an asshole flying animal companion, which is all good but honestly the squabbling magical road trip is a thousand percent what I'm here for.
(I am less thrilled about the endless love triangle between Sunny's brother and her friends Chichi and Sasha (the brilliant hothead members of the party), but on the other hand Sunny is ALSO so annoyed by it all the time that it makes her a very relatable narrator?)
They said to expect the driver between 11:45pm and 3:10pm. At 3:30, I check the website and the last update is the day before, the package arriving in Connecticut.
Maybe the system isn't showing timely updates? Because despite that, it's still saying by "end of day" today, which the agent said was 7pm-ish.
I have to see patients. During a break at 6:30, I call and force the system to have me talk to a human, who tells me he'll look into it, and have someone call me back.
I haven't gotten a call back, but as of the last time I checked the website, I no longer have any ETA at all, and the package left Connecticut at 6:48pm. Eighteen minutes after I called and nicely asked where the hell it was.
It was really a wonderful experience, and I'm glad it's something I got to do. As an only child who isn't that emotionally close to their parents, chosen family is really important to me, and it's always a worry for me that my feelings about it, and about specific people, are asymmetrical, so it was nice to formally recognize how we both feel.
The text of the ritual, and more photos, follow behind a cut in case you're interested. As always with rituals I post publicly, feel free to adapt bits of it that you find useful for your own use.
( Read more... )
Anyways, I've turned on Captchas for anon commenting, because I really don't have time for this right now.
If that doesn't stop it, I'll be turning off anon commenting.
We got back about a week ago from my wife’s latest round of chemo. She had an infusion reaction and a painful (but not life-threatening) side effect from one of the meds, but otherwise things went pretty well. The oncologist says the lymphoma is responding well to treatment.
In better news, it sounds like they’re going to transfer her care from the hospital in Detroit to a more local cancer center, which means no more 90-minute drives back and forth, and no more needing to stay in the hospital apartments for 1-2 weeks at a time. (At least until we get to the bone marrow transplant part of the process.)
People have asked what they could do, which is very kind and much appreciated. I don’t think there’s much we need at the moment, so my suggestion would be to look into donating blood. Amy needed a lot of blood products at the beginning, and will probably need additional transfusions, and it all drove home how important it is to have a well-supplied local blood bank.
On the writing front, I actually got a little work done on Terminal Peace earlier this week. Not much, but it was something. I’m hoping as the cancer stuff calms down a bit, I’ll be able to keep making progress there. But helping my wife to get well again and taking care of the kids is still the priority.
Thanks to everyone who boosted about Terminal Uprising coming out last week, and to those of you who’ve commented how much you enjoyed it and/or posted reviews. I haven’t been able to do as much promo this time, for obvious reasons, so I’m even more appreciative.
I’m still hit-or-miss on emails and such, but I’m trying to catch up and stay on top of things.
I’ve talked about my depression off and on. I’d expect, given everything that’s happened these past two months, that I’d be drowning in a nasty brain-weasel flare-up. Surprisingly, I haven’t seen too much sign of that yet.
Yet being the key word there. My response to crisis has always been to focus on helping the person in crisis and doing whatever I can do. I’ve been in that mode for two+ months now.
I suspect sooner or later it’s going to catch up and knock me on my ass. So I’m trying to watch my own symptoms, and to do what I can to take care of myself. Things like letting other people around town help out, or even asking for help when I need it. I also scheduled an appointment with my former therapist for next week, just to come in and talk and vent and see what happens. Then there’s stuff like sitting around and watching the second season of Dragon Prince with my son to relax and unwind a little.
I know I’m keeping some things stuffed down for now to help me function. But I don’t feel like I’m hiding from it. So far, this seems to be working.
Random Cancer-Related Observation
I’ve lost about ten pounds since this all started. This diet plan sucks!
Mirrored from Jim C. Hines.
Into the Drowning Deep by Seanan McGuire features killer!mermaids and a large cast of scientists and other interesting people, some of whom get their faces eaten, alas, so I had to stay braced for that. However, I loved the worldbuilding of the siren creatures and their physiologies and hunting techniques, the sort of thing that would have likely been left out had this been a disaster movie instead of a book.
We had to resort to a taxi because the buses of the Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority grow more theoretical by the day, but this year we made it to the Somerville in time to secure seats in the balcony, fill our pockets with Atomic Fireballs, and shout the noon countdown to the marathon's traditional kickoff, Duck Dodgers in the 24½th Century (1953). I have not yet reached the point of being able to recite the dialogue in time with Mel Blanc and a significant percentage of the audience, but I have also not gotten bored with its jetpack-jonesing mix of double-talk, technobabble, and sight gags that generally go boom, not to mention the wonderfully ingenuous line "Happy birthday, you thing from another world, you." I just wish the smithereening ending didn't feel like it was circling around to relevance again.
Joe Dante's Innerspace (1987) is at least three different movies in the same two-hour runtime, but I liked the majority of all of them. The plot is basically spy-fi, with miniaturization technology serving as both premise and MacGuffin: the interruption of a maiden fantastic voyage by industrial espionage leaves the teeny-tiny test pilot injected into, instead of a placid white lab rabbit, a high-anxiety supermarket clerk who was just trying to talk himself into a vacation, not dodge corporate assassins all over Silicon Valley. Emotionally, it works like a three-way buddy movie: the test pilot (Dennis Quaid) is a hotshot screw-up whose laid-back bravado covers badly for a broken heart, the clerk (Martin Short) is a dead-end milquetoast who has nightmares about register errors, and the woman they both love (Meg Ryan) is a Taser-toting reporter chasing a high-profile story until it starts chasing her in the form of a robot-handed henchman of a kinky mad scientist working for a megalomaniacal CEO who likes to monologue in refrigerator trucks. And in case it was not at all clear from the end of that last sentence, the execution is comedy, at points approaching live-action cartoon: Frank Tashlin would appreciate the commitment to zaniness that sees a self-sacrificing scientist respectfully remembered as "a good man who tried to save my ass by injecting me into yours." The supporting cast is such a rogue's gallery that while William Schallert, Henry Gibson, and Dick Miller—deservedly applauded for his one scene which he steals along with accidentally Quaid's towel—feel like no-brainers, even a random couple of doctor's patients are played by Andrea Martin and Joe Flaherty and Ryan's editor turned out to be Orson Bean. I have now seen Robert Picardo pop a bottle of champagne while wearing a cowboy hat, cowboy boots, and what looked for all the world like a genuine lizard codpiece. I have also seen Kevin McCarthy shrunk half-size trying to make a pay phone call. Plus a lot of the inside of the human body, squishily and Oscar-winningly represented by practical effects of fuming stomach acid and a sleeting maelstrom of red blood cells. The script does not often go for the gross-out, however, and it almost strictly eschews cringe comedy, and its characters retain recognizable human proportions even when one of them is microscopic and the other is panicking that he's possessed; that really counts with me, especially in a story so dedicated to mining its sci-fi tropes for screwball applications ("Congratulations, you just digested the bad guy"). I like the giddiness of the non-ending, which doesn't beg for a sequel so much as it invites noodle incident. I am beginning to feel the '80's are severely underrated as a decade for weird film.
It is not the fault of either Merian C. Cooper or Ernest B. Schoedsack that the placement of a character named Dr. Bullfinch in a story about shrinking made me wonder where my copy of Danny Dunn and the Smallifying Machine (1969) had got to, but no one in Dr. Cyclops (1940) gets small enough to scoop nectar out of the flower-spikes of clover, merely to be menaced in a rough-hewn laboratory high in the Andes by Albert Dekker's Dr. Thorkel, whose Coke-bottled vision provides the eponymous allusion. Plotwise, it's fairly standard-issue mad science, with radioactivity rhapsodized as "the cosmic force of creation itself" and our band of scientist-heroes pitted against the wrong 'un literally playing God with miniaturized pigs and horses and human beings; it was filmed in three-strip Technicolor and it looks like a million bucks of pulp comics, mottled with eerie blue-greens in the rays of the doctor's experiments, lush with ferns and lianas in the soundstage jungle, half-ruins shored up like a prospector's shack over a near-bottomless mine of uranium that would make any fortune twice over, so Dr. Thorkel decides to use it to shrink things. The special effects are still solid, both the oversized sets and the process shots and even some theatrically effective moments like a tiny horse seen as nothing more than a disturbance in the tall grass and a thrashing in a butterfly net. I cannot really say the same for the characters, each of whom has a scientific specialty and a personality trait. I do appreciate that the personality trait of Janice Logan's Dr. Mary Robinson is not screaming all the time but bravely decoying crocodiles and reminding her male comrades about basic principles of engineering, but I could have done without her inevitable romantic pairing with the only male character in her age bracket, since as far as I could tell the personality trait of Thomas Coley's Dr. Bill Stockton was lying around being a smart-ass. Both Rob and I felt strongly that it is unfair to demonize a black cat for hunting the prey it's given, even if that prey is technically the protagonists.
Half of Norman Jewison's Rollerball (1975) is a chilly, clever dystopia about professional sports and corporate government; the other half is future-shock swords-and-sandals so heavy-handed that triclinia have come back into fashion. Taken individually, each is a perfectly respectable mode of screen science fiction. They go together like Andes mints and béchamel sauce. I ended up feeling much more invested in discrete elements of the film than the overall experience. I like the cold open of the rollerball match between Houston and Madrid, dynamically filmed and vigorously edited and not so initially gruesome that a contemporary audience would reject it out of hand. The game itself recalls a bone-crunching combination of football, roller derby, and pinball, sufficiently worked out that the rules can be deduced beyond the necessities of the screenplay; it was apparently played on set by the cast and stunt crew in between scenes. I like the low-key early worldbuilding of "our corporate anthem" and the realization that when John Houseman's Mr. Bartholomew speaks of "executives," he doesn't mean men with particular jobs, he means the ruling social class. I like James Caan as Jonathan E, undisputed champion of a game designed to show how the tallest poppies are the soonest cut down—not a dissenter or a rebel by nature, but so baffled at being asked to relinquish the one thing he's good at that his mere pushback sets in motion a conspiracy whose full lineaments we never learn because Jonathan doesn't. I don't enjoy that the function of non-executive women in this world appears to be interchangeably sexual-ornamental, but I get the point it's making. And I appreciate the scenes of Jonathan and his trainer reclining at dinner served by his concubine and the party scenes where executive women eye the rollerball players like a stud service ("You can almost smell the lions") and the environmentally pointed scene in which a gang of drunken executives stumble out into a pre-dawn field with a plasma pistol and gigglingly waste a harmless copse of trees, but they're received images of decadent empire rather than extrapolations of the real ills of 1970's America and they don't match moments like Jonathan's prescient attempt to research his own society's history, only to be told that all his requested books have been digitized and classified, but the summaries are electronically available and what did he need them for, anyway? There is one splendid fusion of the two modes before the finale and it involves Ralph Richardson. He's a character actor and able to appear anywhere once seen, so I don't know why I didn't expect to find him as the distracted librarian of Zero, the great global supercomputer that either doesn't do its job or does it scarily well: on the morning that Jonathan visits Geneva, it's lost an entire century. "Poor old thirteenth century," Richardson mourns. "Just Dante and a few corrupt popes." He coaxes the computer to explain the Corporate Wars, but it just repeats buzzword tautologies until it bluescreens; the librarian kicks it annoyedly to no avail. It's funny and chilling, satirical and plausible. Why go to the drama of burning books when you can just warehouse history and make it disappear? The brutal victory of the ending seems deeply ambiguous; you worry about what happens after the freeze-frame. It is similarly not this movie's fault that I associate Bach's Toccata and Fugue in D minor so inextricably with A Canterbury Tale (1944) that when we were supposed to be watching the setup for a game, all I could hear was Sergeant John Sweet saying, "Well, that was a good job too."
We did not see any of this year's short films; their slot was our only chance at a dinner break before a movie we really wanted to see. We walked very quickly to Dakzen and got curry puffs, khao soi, and pad thai with enormous, delicate, head-on shrimp. They were out of kanom moh kang—a taro-thickened coconut custard I have been trying to eat for like two months now—but sold me a coconut-milk panna cotta topped with chopped fruits, which was delicious. We ate upstairs at the theater, since the mezzanine benches were not yet covered with sleeping bags and bodies. It would start to snow a few hours later.
I wrote extensively about Fritz Lang's Frau im Mond (Woman in the Moon, 1929) when I saw it for the first time in 2014: I adored it. Watching the digital restoration with live music by Jeff Rapsis, my feelings hadn't changed. It's hard science fiction with a romantic heart; it flirts with science fantasy but really has a thing for cold equations; it solves them passionately, but it expects its audience to love the technical minutiae of a moon shot as much as the characters who work toward it. The accuracy of its foreshadowing of the Apollo program looks like precognition in 1929, but it's merely cause and effect of the history of rocketry. (Hermann Oberth and Willy Ley served as technical advisors on this movie, designing trajectories and models for manned and unmanned moon missions. The models were lost during World War II, confiscated by the Nazis—foreign prints of the film were suppressed—for fear they would give the secrets of the V-2 away. Cf. Tom Lehrer: "And what is it that put America in the forefront of the nuclear nations? And what is it that will make it possible to spend twenty billion dollars of your money to put some clown on the moon? Well, it was good old American know-how, that's what, as provided by good old Americans like Dr. Wernher von Braun.") Except that it runs almost three hours, it could be a proto-blockbuster with its high-concept effects and grounding love story, but it's not impersonal—it's full of small superfluous human details like one character nervously scissoring a Christmas cactus to confetti while trying to place a vital call or another sitting quietly alone, sick at heart, in the midst of brilliant excitement and expectation. I was delighted to hear the audience cheer just as loudly for Gerda Maurus' Friede when she refused to be left out of the crew of her namesake spaceship as they shouted for the launch countdown of the Friede herself. Fritz Rasp also received somewhat dubious applause when "the man currently calling himself Walter Turner" did his quick-change trick, going from sharkish operative to obsequious nonentity and back with little more than a pair of wire-rimmed glasses, some hair oil, and a discreet cut. I still feel for Gustav von Wangenheim's Windegger, who would have been just fine as mission control. I don't understand the criticisms of this movie as unemotional or laborious or unnecessarily plotty; it would be fairer to fault it for the sense of wonder coming out its ears. It's got great rocket science. It's got a great heroine. It's even got an only sort of love triangle that I don't want to shoot in the face. This time around, I didn't have to worry that something terrible was going to happen to the spacefaring mouse.
We went home to feed the cats during Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country (1991). It was supposed to be loud. The cats were very grateful. We made sure to be back by midnight and the buses almost complied.
I loved Alex Garland's Annihilation (2018) so much when I saw it last spring, I never figured out how to write about it. I still don't know that I have. The film is not a direct transfer of the award-winning novel by Jeff VanderMeer, although it retains the key elements of a biologist on an all-female expedition into an unknown region of recombinant horror and beauty; it remixes them aptly and lyrically into a dream-quest of self-destruction and self-discovery, all within an ever-changing alien environment that three years ago was just part of the Florida coast. Something fell from the sky, earthed itself within a lighthouse. Something blooms outward from the site, a slippery, prismatic phenomenon known as "the Shimmer" where the sky is filmed like a soap bubble, the sun is lost in a haze of rainbows, all water reflects a motor-oil sheen. Drones, animals, radio transmissions, people, nothing and no one has ever returned from within its steadily spreading bounds except for one man, lying now in critical condition in the government facility of Area X as his body tries to bleed itself apart. His name is Kane; he is played chiefly in flashback by Oscar Isaac and his wife is Lena, a soldier-scientist with the finely hardened face of Natalie Portman, carrying a movie as if she's carrying nothing more than the kind of grief that buries knives in its own heart if nothing else is closer to hand. Something went wrong between them. To understand what happened to her husband, to rescue him from it or revenge herself, to atone, to follow him down, Lena joins the next expedition being organized into the Shimmer. Her colleagues are played by Jennifer Jason Leigh, Gina Rodriguez, Tuva Novotny, and Tessa Thompson and they are as damaged, diverse, compelling, and unpredictable as women who don't have to take the weight of being the girl in the story; the screenplay like the novel whittles them away until, as forewarned by the quarantine frame-story, only Lena is left to face the heart of the Shimmer, but none of them are disposable and the emotional effect is far less the who's-next of survival horror than a general disorientation from narrative expectations as well as time, cardinal directions, and morphology. "It's a one-way trip." The alienness of the Shimmer is never confused with malevolence or mere fatality. The production design has a genius for Rilke-style beauty as just bearable terror—a soldier's cut-open corpse burst against a wall like a crystalline seed pod, an immense white alligator with its throat swirling away into tiny, grainy shark-teeth—but it doesn't make the mistake of thinking there's no other kind. Mitotic white deer with antlers of soft pink fungi do not suddenly split open predator's mouths; they bound away into the undergrowth, as easily spooked as the white-tailed deer that were their template. Leafy, human-Hox-gened silhouettes in a lichened-over neighborhood are not full of bones under their bark and branches; they are in bloom. The glassy trees that spike like fulgurites or neurons from a sunset strip of beach-sand never do anything but stand and eventually fall burning. Even the shaggy, skull-faced thing that might once have been a bear, that cries out in the degraded signal of a woman's dying voice, is curiously innocent in its assimilation of its kills into itself—it is not clear that the process is even conscious, much less a decoy. Despite a couple of legitimately stomach-jolting scenes, I have a hard time thinking of this movie as horror. One of its most beautiful images is a character's acceptance of her abandoning humanity, her scars keloiding into leaves, her skin blossoming. Another becomes mercury and white fire, a sibyl in a cave of fractal transformation. The film never sets itself as a puzzle for the viewer—nothing about the plot is difficult to follow—but I like how much it plays with resonance and juxtaposition, edging up against surrealism, teasing human pattern-finding in a space where human laws no longer apply. I do not think it is an accident that one of its most contagious symbols is the alchemical ouroboros. I also think it's important that you can enjoy it without knowing anything about alchemy. It teaches you to read itself as it goes along, like the writing on the walls of a lighthouse; it grows on you. I was very glad to see it in a theater where the exit lights were not shining on the screen. "You forgot the flag."
I was sufficiently punchy by the time of Robert Wise's The Andromeda Strain (1971) that when I realized one of the four protagonists was played by David Wayne, my reaction was straightforwardly "Dude! The last time I heard from you, you were a leprechaun!" (Since the leprechaun turns human at the end of that musical, obviously he went into the arts.) Beyond that and an instantly favorable reaction to Kate Reid's sharp-tongued, chain-smoking microbiologist, I'm not sure how I feel about the movie. The procedural aspect is clipped, taut, and creepy: if some extraterrestrial contagion brought back on a government satellite really killed an entire small town in New Mexico in virtually one blow, leaving only the mystifying survivors of one crying infant and one Sterno-tanked elder, can the team of scientists pre-selected for just this far-fetched extremity identify, isolate, and contain something so alien, they might not even recognize it as life, or is humanity about to go out with a whimper, dry red sand in our veins instead of blood? It's yet another variation on the Michael Crichton moral that science will fuck you up, but at least its heroes are scientists themselves and presented as neither eccentrically reckless nor clinically inhumane; they are intelligent people with a terrifying job which they go about with urgency, care, and fallibility. Like a Golden Age mystery, the screenplay by Nelson Gidding gives the characters no information not also available to the audience, so everyone has a fair chance of figuring it out. And then the movie seems to get lost in a fetish of containment levels and decontamination procedures and subterranean architecture of the school of smooth curving plastic interrupted at decorative intervals by geometric banks of lights and monitors, all seamlessly color-coded; it's like living in refrigerator coils. I like the late, dark accusation that the top-secret government facility of Wildfire was developed not as a fail-safe for Project Scoop but as a refinery for biological warfare in the guise of benign SETI, but it's dropped in the wake of an inconvenient seizure and forgotten in the ensuing race to disable the nuclear self-destruct. Which is the other problem I had after the first act. The stakes of this movie are high enough when all earthly life might be wiped out by a cluster of mutating crystals; we don't need anyone dodging lasers in a five-story airshaft. Rob just confirmed my suspicion that during this exciting climax I briefly fell asleep.
Previous iterations of the 'Thon have shown episodes of The Twilight Zone as early-morning shorts, so it feels only equitable that this year we got our horizontal and vertical controlled by The Outer Limits. "Soldier" (1964) was the first of two episodes Harlan Ellison wrote for the show, the other being "Demon with a Glass Hand" (1964). I had seen the latter but not the former; I knew mostly that Ellison sued James Cameron over the similarities between it and The Terminator (1984), which now that I've seen the episode seem mostly to consist of time travel from the future to the present day. In fact the time travel is the least important aspect of the story: Michael Ansara's Qarlo Clobregnny may have been knocked back through time from the laser-ridden forever war of the thirty-eighth century into the comparative or at least more complicated peace of mid-twentieth-century America, crèche-bred as cannon fodder by his all-powerful "State" and mechanically indoctrinated to have no purpose or desire but to kill "the Enemy," but we have child soldiers in this time and we have veterans dehumanized by their wars and except for his slangy future-speak ("I don't peep . . . Freddit! Think-speakable me") and his streamlined medieval armor this tall man with radiation burns on his face might pass for one of them, trying to adjust to even the concept of life outside the battlefield. He reacts violently to all confusions; he doesn't feel safe without a weapon; he keeps trying to parse family dynamics in context of command. He's treated like an animal and he's not stupid. There is little science fictional and a lot difficult in that. The ending is kind of a slingshot, but it makes its poignant, ambiguous point. Lloyd Nolan plays a compassionate philologist, Tim O'Connor a gum-chewing G-man. The idea of cats telepathically linked with troopers as reconnaissance units reminded me of Cordwainer Smith's "The Game of Rat and Dragon" (1954) and for all I know it was an homage; Ellison didn't get that pseudonym of "Cordwainer Bird" from nowhere.
The problem with Destination Moon (1950) is that it can be devastatingly and accurately summarized as the stupid American version of Frau im Mond. I wanted to see it; it was produced by George Pal, directed by Irving Pichel, and co-written by Robert Heinlein partly from his novel Rocket Ship Galileo (1947) and novella "The Man Who Sold the Moon" (1950). I couldn't do it. I got through the first act on the strength of curiosity and a genuinely charming introduction to spaceflight by Woody Woodpecker and then even the iconic space paintings of Chesley Bonestell couldn't keep me watching. The rocketry was single-stage-to-orbit atomic, the motive was rah-rah-America militarism, and the launch was rushed ahead of schedule to get out of answering to the authorities for nuclear safety. The four male protagonists were interchangeable except for the comic relief. No one had thought of handholds inside the Luna; instead they relied on dramatically clanking—and totally impractical if you want working navcom—magnetic boots. It is possible that my mood would have improved if I had stuck it out to the heroic engineering, but the marathon program had already given away that the third-act crisis involved the cold equations of the trip home and I don't want to get near either of their politics, really, but screenplay-wise it's Thea von Harbou by yards. Rob was experiencing similar difficulties. With all due to respect to its Oscar for special effects, we bailed.
The time was nearing seven in the morning; we had hit a scheduling impasse. Rob was interested in Danny Boyle's Sunshine (2007), I was interested in John Carpenter's Escape from New York (1981), and in order to watch either we had to figure out what to do for the ninety minutes occupied by Duncan Jones' Source Code (2011), a film which my husband saw once in theaters and is never, ever seeing again. We were pretty sure that if we went home we'd stay there. Waiting for the donut-and-bagel shop to open late for the holiday so that we could camp out in it was not an incredibly appealing option. It was snowing beautifully but briskly. Plus my lower back was starting to threaten me where I had pulled a muscle coughing last week and the buses, as previously mentioned, were running on a schedule composed of pure nope. We tried to stick our heads back into Destination Moon and confirmed that we just didn't care whether any of the characters made it back to Earth or explosively decompressed. We waited for a bus which came unsurprisingly late and went home. The cats rejoiced. No regrets, except about the donuts. This observance brought to you by my technical backers at Patreon.
I asked him to stick his head out the door, so I could confirm it was indeed him. We had a bit of a chat. He hadn't known (no reason to) that I was moving too. So this was all very serendipitous.
I am now going to be