October 31, 2003

The Power of Prayer

We went trick-or-treating in the rain tonight, which is unique in my experience. To my knowledge, we haven't had a wet Halloween night here since I was born.

Just goes to show what can happen when everybody in Southern California prays for rain at the same time.

Posted by Will Duquette at 08:38 PM | Comments(0)

October 30, 2003

Advice for Writers

Lynn Sislo just read some advice for writers that struck her the wrong way. Me, I think Lynn misses the point in a couple of places--though that's the fault of the author of the advice.

Lynn quotes:

3. EMPTY ADVERBS Actually, totally, absolutely, completely, continually, constantly, continuously, literally, really, unfortunately, ironically, incredibly, hopefully, finally - these and others are words that promise emphasis, but too often they do the reverse. They suck the meaning out of every sentence.

She feels that this rule is contradictory with--excuse me--contradicts the writer's previous rule about avoiding flat prose. I disagree. When I write, I try to write with nouns and verbs, and avoid using any adjectives and adverbs at all. I can't quite manage it--but the result is that I only use them when they add value.

She then quotes,

Once your eye is attuned to the frequent use of the "to be" words - "am," "is," "are," "was," "were," "be," "being," "been" and others - you'll be appalled at how quickly they flatten prose and slow your pace to a crawl....

Here's Lynn's appalled that evidently we don't even get to use the verb "to be",
but I don't think that's the point.

I think the writer is suggesting that writers should avoid using the passive voice. It is understood, of course, that sometimes it is necessary to write in this way. But for the most part, my prose is read more happily by others if I avoid it.

Or, as I might rephrase it,

Avoid using the passive voice. Sometimes you'll have to. But you'll write more enjoyable prose if you avoid it.

Passive voice tends to be more wordy, too.

Finally, Lynn's mistaken about one other thing as well--she thinks she doesn't write well, when in fact she writes simply, directly, and clearly. 'nuff said.

Posted by Will Duquette at 07:47 PM | Comments(0)

The Looney Tunes Golden Collection...

...arrived today.

You can get your own here.

Bye bye.

Posted by Will Duquette at 07:18 PM | Comments(0)

October 29, 2003

Monstrous Regiment, by Terry Pratchett

The little country of Borogravia has been at war for as long as anyone can remember, often with next-door neighbor Zlobenia, but generally with anyone who's handy. And the leading nations of the Discworld have paid little attention, for Borogravia and its neighbors are far-off, backwards, and dull. And then Nuggan, the god worshipped by the Borogravians, decrees that the line of semaphore towers built by Ankh-Morpork on the border between Borogravia and Zlobenia are an Abomination Unto Nuggan--and they are torn down.

Meanwhile, young Polly Perks, the daughter of a prosperous innkeeper, cuts off her hair, dresses as a man, and runs off to join the Borogravian army. As usual, she's following a man--her brother Paul. If Paul comes home from the wars, he'll inherit the inn, and Polly can go on running it as she has been for her father. But it's an Abomination Unto Nuggan for a woman to own property, so if Paul dies in battle the inn will pass to a distant cousin.

And so the next day we find Private Oliver "Ozzer" Perks marching off to war behind one of God's own noncoms, Sergeant Jackrum, with a squad of other raw recruits.

You might think you've heard this story. You might think you can guess what's going to happen. You're sorely mistaken, I feel sure.

This is vintage Pratchett, not his best but much better than his worst, and I spent a quite pleasant week of evenings reading it to Jane. Recommended.

Posted by Will Duquette at 07:09 PM | Comments(1)

October 28, 2003

Snit's Not Incr Tcl V0.9

Version 0.9 of Snit's Not Incr Tcl, my Tcl object system, is now available for download!
Posted by Will Duquette at 06:37 PM | Comments(0)

October 27, 2003

A Clash of Kings, by George R.R. Martin

This is the second volume of Martin's epic fantasy "A Song of Ice and Fire", the first being A Game of Thrones, which I've just re-read in preparation for reading the third volume, A Storm of Swords.

In this volume, the Seven Kingdoms, long united under the Targaryen and Baratheon dynasties, is beginning to splinter into its component pieces as different lords vie for kingship over the whole realm or just their own neighborhood. The effluent hit the fan in the previous book, and in this one we get to watch it spatter.

Enjoying this series, I've decided, requires that you carefully manage your expectations, and that you be patient. Each volume has something like eight or ten major viewpoint characters, with the corresponding number of simultaneous plot lines, which mingle and separate and entwine in the most intricate possible way. He's telling a big story, and a political story, and he wants to work in all of the details. And that means it takes forever for anything to actually get resolved. If you try to read it too quickly it becomes tedious and boring, and you'll begin to wonder why you're bothering.

This time through, though, I've made it a point to take it slow, and to read it at its own pace, and I'm enjoying it considerably. Yes, the broad sweep of the story takes far longer to progress than I'd like, but the incidents along the way, the roadside scenery as it were, easily holds my attention. And at the end of every chapter, I want more.

It's a lot like reading Anthony Trollope, really, only with sex and violence and walking corpses.

Posted by Will Duquette at 07:31 PM | Comments(4)

October 26, 2003

Support Your Local Sheriff

One of my favorite movies of all time is Support Your Local Sheriff, a western spoof starring James Garner, Bruce Dern, Harry Morgan, Walter Brennan, and a whole host of other faces you'd recognize immediately. We got the DVD some while back, and every so often when I'm tired and I just want to sit down and veg I'll pull it out and be happy for an hour or so.

Garner drifts into a small Western town where there's recently been a goldstrike. The town has grown enormously in just a short time, and law is in short supply. The chief bad guys are a family of ranchers from out of town; their spread just happens to sit across the route to the railroad station. So not only do the townsmen have to put up the rancher's bad behavior, they have to pay them a tariff to get their gold out of town.

What with the gold-induced inflation, Garner can't afford to stay in town for more than about two hours; on the other hand, he really needs a stake to get him to Australia. That's the frontier, you know ("I thought we lived on the frontier," says one of the mine owners). As a result, he takes the job of town sheriff. Will he survive longer than the last three? Will he clean up the town? Will he wed the mayor's pretty if accident prone daughter?

What do you think?

This movie is a gem, and I think it's for the same reason that Singing in the Rain is also a gem (though, admittedly, a larger one)--a group of talented people got together and had one heck of a good time doing something they loved.

I bring it up now for two reasons. First, because Garner's side kick is played by Jack Elam, who passed away at 84 just a few days ago. He appears here in his first comic role--a marvelous, glorious instance of casting against type, for he usually played the really, really bad guys.

And second, before I could manage to write something up about him, Terry Teachout beat me to it--and pointed to Support Your Local Sheriff as his best role.

First Looney Tunes, now Support Your Local Sheriff. I've got to hand it to Mr. Teachout: he might be the arts critic for the Wall Street Journal, but he's no snob.

Posted by Will Duquette at 03:45 PM | Comments(0)

The Stainless Steel Rat Joins The Circus, by Harry Harrison

This is the latest (I think) in Harrison's long-running "Stainless Steel Rat" series, and I confess I have mixed feelings about it.

Slippery Jim diGriz is a thief, fraudster, and bank robber--a self-proclaimed rat living in the walls of modern society. And he's a stainless steel rat, because in his world "modern society" is high-tech indeed, spanning thousands or hundreds of thousands of worlds all across the galaxy. At times, diGriz has been an agent of the Special Corps, the galactic police force, following the old "set a thief to catch a thief" principle.

The series is written for laughs, and historically has included some of the best light comedy in science fiction. But the quality is spotty--a Stainless Steel Rat book is generally a good time, but it's the difference between a top-notch rollercoaster at a theme park and those rattly little things they sometimes have at neighborhood carnivals to scare the five-year-olds.

What's unusual about this particular volume is that the quality varies from neighborhood carnival to theme park just over the course of the book.

The first half or so has some amusing moments, but is mostly just dumb. Slippery Jim spends virtually all of it sitting around and imbibing alcoholic beverages while his wife and sons pull rabbits out of hats in the best deus ex machina fashion. I began to think that Harrison had completely lost it.

The last half picks up considerably. Every Stainless Steel Rat book has elements of the caper novel, and it's only in the last half that they show up, along with a sense of real danger, so that the characters are no longer just drifting about with drinks in their hands but are actually doing things.

I dunno. At the time I read it I was in the mood for something light and airy, and it kept me occupied for a few hours. But Harrison really is capable of better.

Posted by Will Duquette at 07:32 AM | Comments(0)

October 24, 2003

Bodies, by Robert Barnard

This is a competently written novel, but I confess that though I usually like Robert Barnard I didn't like it much.

It's a police procedural. A quadruple murder occurs in a photo studio belonging to a skin magazine called Bodies. Superintendant Percy Trethowan must dig into the weird world of elite body building to find out whodunnit.

Didn't much like Percy, didn't much like the folks who helped him, didn't know any of the victims, didn't much care whodunnit.

Which is sad, because as I say it was technically speaking not a bad mystery. It just didn't appeal to me.

Posted by Will Duquette at 07:39 PM | Comments(0)

Daughter Unclear On The Concept

So my three kids are off to a Halloween party tonight, and my wife gets them dressed in their costumes. The boys are dressed as snakes (snakes? but they have arms and legs? They're snakes, Will, get over it), and sweet little Anne, my two-year-old, is dressed as a sweet little pony, white with a long brown mane.

She's just the cutest thing. And what does she do as soon as she has the costume on? She starts chasing her brothers--and roaring at them, hands outstretched to claw the flesh from their bones.

Yep--that's one pretty pony.

Posted by Will Duquette at 06:08 PM | Comments(0)

October 23, 2003

Blogging may be light...

...for a couple of days. I'm suffering from a head cold, and it's left me dopey and unenthusiastic. And let's face it--if I were sufficiently with it to write anything worth reading, I'd be at work now.

(The really annoying thing is that I don't feel that bad, physically. I'm just too dopey for words. Lack of sleep, that'll do it every time.)

Posted by Will Duquette at 09:32 AM | Comments(0)

October 21, 2003

The Bear in the Attic, by Patrick F. McManus

This is yet another collection of tall tales of the outdoor life by humorist McManus, the second that I've read. Not bad--McManus doesn't hit my funnybone square on the way some authors do, but I nevertheless laughed out loud at regular intervals.

This isn't a book to sit down and read straight through; the individual pieces are quite short, rather like potato chips, and like potato chips a surfeit of them is an unpleasant meal. But it's great for dipping into every so often.

Posted by Will Duquette at 05:45 PM | Comments(0)

October 20, 2003

All Quiet on the Western Front, by Erich Maria Remarque

For me, like many people of my generation, WWI took place back in the mists of history. I never heard stories of the war told at family gatherings. Movies don't really deal with it much anymore. And when I studied history in college, it was the aftermath with the League of Nations and the reparations payments that were more interesting than the actual war itself. WWII, Korea, Vietnam were the wars that were real to me as a young person. The horror of Auschwitz and the body bag counts on the nightly news were the realities of war. Later, it was terms like "surgical strikes" and "collateral damage."

Then, when my kids were small and I was a broke, stay home mommy shopping at Goodwill for clothes and books and everything else I could find cheap, I picked up a book called "Testament of Youth" by a woman named Vera Brittain. It cost a dime. I took it home and found a whole generation I had completely missed. It's a book about a nurse's experience before, during and after the war and it wasnít a pretty book to read. It made a huge impression.

Now I have read this book. It's well known and on the bookshelves at all the bookstores. It doesn't take long; it's short and the writing is easy and accessible. That is fortunate because the words tell a story more horrific than anything I have read in a long, long time. It hit me in the gut and made me sick. It made me cry and it made me angry. I could probably do a nifty analysis on the use of Nature as a backdrop to the works of Man or the development of the character but realistically, I donít want to. I donít even want to do a plot synopsis. I want to give this book to everyone I know and say "Read it. Read it now and think about it." I want to give it to national leaders and clergy and farmers and New York intellectuals and say "Read it!"

Read it.

Posted by Deb English at 07:31 PM | Comments(0)

October 18, 2003

Princess Mononoke, by Miyazaki Hayao

This is one strange film.

Long-time readers will remember that after buying Spirited Away on Ian Hamet's recommendation I was so impressed that I went out and got a number of other Miyazaki movies. This is the last of the set so far.

And it is one strange film.

First, some things that stand out. The animation is stunning; I'm not sure I've ever seen it equaled, even in Miyazaki's other movies. There are some shots that reminded my friend and I of Kurosawa's movies. Second, this movie is definitely not for kids. Some of this is simply the language, which is a little more colorful than usual; there's some (very mild) profanity, and frequent references to certain of the characters as being (reformed) brothel girls. On the one hand my kids have certainly heard worse; on the other hand, I'd rather not explain brothel girls to them.

But the language is more a reflection that the English adaptation wasn't done by Disney. The thing that really makes it kid-unfriendly is the blood and gore--as Ian Hamet described it to me some time ago, "The first decapitation surprised me." There's lots of blood, lots of arms lopped off (along with the occasional head), and some really horrific monsters, all exquisitely animated.

None of this makes it a bad movie, just a movie intended for grown-ups. And it isn't this that gives the movie its strangeness either--it's just out of character for Miyazaki.

No, what makes this movie strange is the plot and the characters.

At first, things seem to make sense--at least, if you think about it you can come up with explanations that make things fit. But ultimately, too much is unexplained. Why are samurais attacking Iron Town? And why does our hero care? Princess Mononoke was raised by wolves--but if she's a princess, who are her parents? What's she the princess of? And in fact the name "Princess Mononoke" is used only once--and how does the person who uses it know that that's the girl's name? It's not what she calls herself. What's with the brothel girls? How come lepers are so good at designing guns? (You might think that it's a comment on the sort of people who make guns, but it doesn't seem to be.)

A lot of the movie resonates with the kind of anti-technological spiritual-but-not-religious worship of nature that I associate with New Agers and Hollywood stars--but not quite. It's all very strange, and the characters' motivations become increasingly hard to understand as the movie progresses.

Perhaps it's just a Japanese thing that doesn't translate well; perhaps the movie depends on some Japanese legend that fills in the gaps. I don't know.

Bottom line: I loved the animation, which was easily enough to hold my attention. It was truly gorgeous. The story, such as it was, left me cold.

Posted by Will Duquette at 08:42 PM | Comments(3)

October 17, 2003

Paladin of Souls, by Lois McMaster Bujold

Capsule summary: We loved it.

I've been known to read a new Bujold novel to Jane in one weekend; my throat was sore for a week. This one took us eight evenings, because I read no more than four chapters a night to save my voice. (I did overdo it on the last day, so we could finish up.)

This is a sequel to The Curse of Chalion, though it can be read independently. It concerns Ista dy Chalion, the dowager royina (she's the mother of Royina Iselle, the reigning monarch). During the dark days of the curse which was the topic of the previous book, Ista was thought to be mad. In fact, she pretty well was mad, thanks to getting a really raw deal from the gods.

See, this is a fantasy series, but it's almost what you might call theological science fiction. That is to say, Bujold has invented a theology (a very interesting one, I might add) and a religion to go with it--and then, having set up the rules, she's seeing where they take her.

So Ista is now a youngish 40, she's no longer mad, and she's being stifled by idiot ladies-in-waiting who treat her like she's made of china and won't leave her alone for fear she'll throw herself off of a tower. She married Roya Ias as a young woman, was caught up in the curse, and has had little but hell since then. She finally has a chance to have a life of her own, if she can rid herself of her protectors. If only the gods will leave her alone...

...but they won't, of course.

Posted by Will Duquette at 07:45 PM | Comments(2)

Worried about Global Warming?

Then you might want to read this.

Posted by Will Duquette at 03:28 PM | Comments(2)

October 16, 2003

The Curse of Chalion, by Lois McMaster Bujold

Bujold's latest book, Paladin of Souls, is a sequel to The Curse of Chalion which I read and reviewed almost exactly two years ago. As I hadn't reread it since, and as I like to have the story fresh in my mind, and because almost any excuse is sufficient to reread a Bujold book, I picked it up and devoured it for the second time.

In our library, Bujold stands alone as the only author whose new books I always read aloud to Jane. I'll sometimes read P.G. Wodehouse to her (not that he's really writing anything new), and I'll almost always read new Terry Pratchett and Steven Brust books to her--but not invariably. She likes Pratchett, she likes Brust, she likes Wodehouse, but (with three kids in the house) only Bujold will cause her to drop everything for a week until we've finished.

Anyway, I liked the book just as much this time as I did the first time. You can go read my earlier review to get a feel for what it's about; I rather doubt I can improve on it without giving away too much.

Posted by Will Duquette at 04:47 PM | Comments(0)

October 14, 2003

The Regulators, by Stephen King

When King is good, he's very good. This, on the other hand, is just 500 pages of blood, gore, violence, and rude words. I'm still not exactly sure what his good books add to that mix, but there must be something.

This is the companion to King's novel Desperation, which I read and reviewed some while back. I liked Desperation. It had blood, gore, violence, and rude words too, but it was good. It took place over a few hours in a small town in Nevada. This one takes place over a few hours in a small neighborhood in the Mid-West. Some of the same people are involved, sort of. It's got some interesting bits in it. But unlike Desperation, it failed to hold my attention.

I dunno. I guess you win some, you lose some.

(On the other hand, it's not Pet Sematary, either. So I suppose it isn't truly dire.)

Posted by Will Duquette at 07:02 PM | Comments(1)

On The Proper Use Of Words

Jane found this, and passed it along to me. I think it's worth your time.
Posted by Will Duquette at 06:35 PM | Comments(1)

October 13, 2003

I Capture the Castle, by Dodie Smith

This book is such a treat. I read it the first time 4 or 5 years ago when they first republished it after recognizing the author's name as the author of the original novel "101 Dalmatians." And then hearing that it is being made into a movie, I pulled it back off the shelf to see if it was as much fun as I remembered.

It's the story of the Mortmain family as told by the youngest daughter in her diary. The father had years before written a breakthrough book that afforded them the luxury of taking up residence in an old castle somewhere in rural England. In the years since, the mother has died and been replaced by a stepmother, Topaz, who is not at all evil although a bit eccentric and embarrassing. Father has quit writing completely and spends his days reading detective novels and doing crosswords. The family has taken in the orphaned son, Stephen, of their deceased housekeeper. And the two daughters have grown from children to young women with all the angst adolescents go thru. They are struggling along admirably with their poverty when the owner of the castle dies and leaves it to his two American raised sons. And of course, young men in the neighborhood send the two girls into a romantic tizzy.

There is another book about young women looking for husbands that starts "It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a single man in possession of a fortune must be in want of a wife." Smith keep making references to Jane Austen throughout the book and after the first couple I started paying attention to them. And there are a lot of them. She takes elements of many of Austen's characters and recreates them in the modern world with modern circumstances.

There's the father who shuts himself up in the study. There is a Vicar and a village spinster who are important parts of the story. There are the two young men, one of whom is destined for one sister and the other who may or may not be destined for the other. There are the two sisters, one who is flighty and emotional and the other who is rational and dependable. It's not a perfect synthesis and she certainly doesnít have the skill with words and humor that Austen has, but it makes for a very entertaining read.

Posted by Deb English at 07:10 PM | Comments(0)

October 11, 2003

SueŮos y Encuentros

SueŮos y Encuentros is a new exhibit that's just opened at the Long Beach Museum of Art; it's a celebration of 20th-century Latin American artists. I'm no expert in Latin American art; I was there because Mexican art is an interest of my father's. It was not a big exhibit--it's not a big museum--but they had some interesting stuff, including a sketch by Orozco, a rather cartoonish watercolor of a Mexican peasant by Diego Rivera, several Tamayos, only of which I liked much, a Cuevas I thought was interesting, and a Wilfredo Lam I'd gladly take home. There were also quite a few ceramics, which uniformly left me cold. I dunno; I can appreciate the amount of work that went into them, but they don't grab me at all.

The exhibit was paired with two others, one of Staffordshire pottery figures (no, I didn't go for them, either--too cutesy) and one of turned wood and wood sculptures that had some dynamite pieces.

I took the video camera, and if I have a few minutes later on I'll capture some stills and add them to this post.

Update: Here's the Wilfredo Lam I spoke of. I apologize for the quality of the image; it doesn't do the picture justice.

And here's a Rufino Tamayo (that's my dad's hand, pointing at it). Once you've seen a Tamayo, his style is unmistakeable.

Finally, here's a piece from an unrelated exhibit that I rather like. The frog is made of poppy-seed bread, specially baked; and it has a ceramic bake sale on its back.

Posted by Will Duquette at 08:25 PM | Comments(0)

How you know you've grownup:

It's when afternoon naps start sounding like a good idea.
Posted by Will Duquette at 11:13 AM | Comments(4)

October 10, 2003

Ender's Game, by Orson Scott Card

During one of my regular weekly exchange of emails with my daughter's special ed teacher, she asked me to recommend books for boys who are reluctant readers. Specifically, one she could read aloud to them that was part of a series. She was thinking of Lemony Snickett and after gacking all over my keyboard--donít these teachers actually read kids books?-- I suggested this one as one that might interest boys who like video games or who feel different because of the way their brain works. I just read it on the strong recommendation of my son who, though he has never been reluctant to read anything, fits all the other criteria.

Essentially, the plot revolves around a 6 year old boy and intellectual prodigy named Andrew Wiggin, nicknamed Ender, who is taken from his parents and family and put into a military training academy in space for future commanders of warships. Earth had been invaded a generation ago by aliens resembling wasps or bees, nicknamed Buggers, and a global effort is on to find the best military minds early and train them from childhood to defend the planet from the expected upcoming invasion. The school curricula is completely dedicated to train them as military strategists and training in command is supplied by team sports in The Battle Room. Those who fail are sent back to Earth in disgrace; those who succeed are promoted up the militaristic school hierarchy. Ender is a perfect candidate because he displays both a ruthless determination to survive when confronted by danger and a real sense of empathy for those around him, enabling him to predict how others will think and act.

For the most part, I enjoyed the book. The writing is good and the character of Ender is well drawn and complete. The plot moves along fast enough that I had a hard time putting it down at times. There is plenty of cool techie stuff and world building going on to keep me interested. And The Battle Room and the games the kids play in it are fascinating, often the best part of the whole story. That could have been a book all by itself.

However, some things did bother me. One is that Ender is a 6 year old. He doesnít act or talk or think like any 6 year old I know. He's too emotionally mature even for a kid with a huge intellect. He is making decisions based on adult reasoning and experience which, as a 6 year old, he is too young to have.

And then the whole thing about using children in this way bugged me. I couldnít leave behind my own principles on how children should be treated while reading. I didnít like what they were doing to Ender and the rest of the kids at the school.

I didnít like how it ended either. I think Scott Card wimped out. It should have followed the harshness of the rest of the book and ended just as brutally. However, he is writing for young adults and children. I told my son that and he totally disagreed with me on that point. We actually had quite a good discussion about the book and why certain things happen as they do. As a device to get kids reading and actually thinking about what they are reading, I can see this book as an effective tool, especially if read aloud and talked about as you go. What I saw as problems with the book would make great topics to chat about with a young reader.

Posted by Deb English at 04:48 PM | Comments(5)

October 09, 2003

Death of a Peer, by Ngaio Marsh

This is the book that turned Deb English back on to Ngaio Marsh after reading one or two that she didn't much care for. Unlike her previous two books it's set in London, but like them she spends a great deal of time developing the characters before the murder occurs. Usually she adopts a relatively omniscient point of view when she does this, but in this case she gives us a delightful viewpoint character, a young woman named Roberta Grey.

Roberta is a native of New Zealand. Her parents die, and as she's not quite old enough to live on her own she comes to England to live with a maiden aunt. First on the agenda, though, when she arrives is a blissful month with old friends, the Lampreys. The Lampreys are an amazing crowd of popinjays who bought a farm in New Zealand on a whim; Roberta became acquainted with them through Frid Lamprey with whom she was in school, and soon became close friends with the entire family. The Lampreys are eternally having money trouble--it flows through their fingers like sand-- and yet are equally unable to give up their ritzy life-style. Something always happens, and they are saved for another day.

I didn't warm up to the Lampreys quite as much as Debbie did--this is far from my favorite Marsh--but it's a good 'un none the less.

Posted by Will Duquette at 07:30 PM | Comments(0)

October 07, 2003

Death at the Bar, by Ngaio Marsh

Like Overture to Death, this murder mystery is set in a small village--in this case, a seaside village in Devon. And also like Overture to Death, it has a very long lead-in before the murder is even committed. But instead of being about the tensions that naturally arise in a small village, it's about the tension between the locals and visitors: in this case, three friends--a barrister, an actor, and a painter--who have come to stay at the local inn for a few weeks for the second year in a row.

One of them is killed in the inn's common room, and Alleyn (helped, most unusually, solely by the stalwart Inspector Fox) must determine not only who killed him, but also how. It's rather like a locked-room mystery--we know he was poisoned, but except for the evidence of poison in his blood, it seems impossible that he could have been.

I didn't like this one much when I first read it--other than Alleyn and Fox I found few of the characters to be particularly sympathetic--but it began to grow on me this time.

Posted by Will Duquette at 05:23 PM | Comments(0)

October 05, 2003

A Major Publishing Event

Posting might be light over the next few days; Lois McMaster Bujold's latest book, Paladin of Souls, has just come out, which means I'll be spending my free time reading to Jane.

Paladin of Souls is a sequel to The Curse of Chalion, and so far (we read two chapters last night) we're enjoying it immensely.

(Many thanks to Dave Jaffe for letting me know that the book was available; I went out almost immediately and snagged a copy.)

Posted by Will Duquette at 11:32 AM | Comments(0)

Overture to Death, by Ngaio Marsh

This is Marsh's first use of a device that later becomes one of her trademarks--the novel in which she spends many chapters introducing her characters before the murder actually takes place. Alleyn is not called in until page 94, by which time Marsh has given us an excellent portrait of the village of Chipping and its denizens, including two poisonous old spinsters, a pair of young lovers, an aging squire, a handsome but timid vicar, a doctor with an invalid wife, and a Scarlet Woman. These folks gather together to put on an amateur play; it will be a local charity event, with the proceeds going toward a new piano for the parish hall. There are considerable undercurrents of tension among the group. The spinsters disapprove of the Scarlet Woman, though the squire and the doctor rather like her; the squire is against his son marrying his beloved, the vicar's daughter; both spinsters are in love with the vicar, who does his best to discourage them without losing charity. It's an interesting soup, and the two spinsters are especially well drawn. This is one of Marsh's better outings to date.

Posted by Will Duquette at 11:26 AM | Comments(3)

October 04, 2003

A Gentleman of Leisure, by P.G. Wodehouse

Published late in 1910, this is one of Wodehouse' earliest novels. Prior to this he had published seven books of school stories, to which I'll add an eighth, Psmith in the City, as it involves two characters from his school stories, a children's novel, a book of newspaper columns, a book about journalism, an Ukridge novel, and one other novel about which I know nothing. As such, it's in a transitional position between his school stories and his first Blandings novel, Something Fresh, published in 1915. By 1915, Wodehouse had gotten his comedic style down pat. There's little difference in tone or skill between Something Fresh and its 1929 sequel, Summer Lightning.

But A Gentleman of Leisure is something else again.

The plot leaves nothing to be desired; it's pure Wodehouse, with all the elements we've come to know and love. It's got thwarted lovers, upperclass twits, imposters, jewel thieves, private detectives, a country house, curmudgeonly aunts and uncles, and all the usual trappings.

What it doesn't have is the easy, effortless tone of Wodehouse's later work. Bertie, Jeeves, the Earl of Blandings, and all the rest seem to inhabit a timeless world of their own. This book, on the other hand, seems too firmly grounded in the real world. The characters are too real, and their reality demands that we take them seriously, despite all of the ludicrous events going on around them.

The results are often painful. One doesn't mind if Bertie Wooster is caught stealing a silver cow creamer; it's just the sort of thing that would happen to him, and we know he'll get out of it somehow. Bertie's world operates according to its own absurd rules--for example, if any woman of any age decides that she wants to marry Bertie, then Bertie is bound to go through with it unless she changes her mind. It doesn't matter whether he wants to marry her or not, or whether she's entirely mistaken about the nature of his regard for her. He's not allowed to tell her directly that he doesn't want to marry her; although the phrase seldom arises, this is the reduction to absurdity of the whole "breach of promise" thing so common in Victorian novels. Instead, he must work behind the scenes, with the help of Jeeves and his friends, to persuade her that she'd really rather marry someone else. And, as one of the other rules is that Bertie must remain a bachelor, he naturally and inevitably succeeds. We know this; the dramatic tension is all about how he'll get out of it this time, not whether he will or not.

But in this book, it's different. It seems mostly to follow the rules of the real world. Consider Lord Dreever, a young, improvident Lordling kept on a short leash by his wealthy capitalistic uncle. In a normal Wodehouse novel, we'd feel sorry for him, and applaud his attempts to squeeze a little money out of the old man. In Dreever's case, I tended to agree with the uncle. Dreever's an idiot and a wastrel who'd clearly run through any amount of money provided to him in a matter of months. He's not a scoundrel, there's no harm in him, but there's not much good either.

The love interest is young Molly McEachern. Molly's father wants his daughter to marry a title; Dreever's uncle wants his nephew to marry money. To these two old men it seems a match made in heaven. But it would clearly be a catastrophe for sweet young Molly to marry Lord Dreever. And because of Wodehouse' tone and the way the detail grounds it in the real world, it matters. And consequently, comic situations that I find hilarious in his latter books are positively painful in this one.


As a Wodehouse fan and would-be novelist, I found it fascinating--a wonderful example of how not to build a comic soufflé. As a reader, though, I wasn't as pleased.

Posted by Will Duquette at 11:41 AM | Comments(12)

Through Darkest Zymurgia!

Chapter 40 and Chapter 41 of my novel Through Darkest Zymurgia! are now available for your delectation at Once-Told Tales

This concludes the novel! If you've been waiting until it's all there to give it a read, now's your chance.

Posted by Will Duquette at 10:56 AM | Comments(0)

October 02, 2003

Belles On Their Toes, by Frank B. Gilbreth, Jr., and Ernestine Gilbreth Carey

Belles On Their Toes, by Frank B. Gilbreth, Jr., and Ernestine Gilbreth Carey

This is the sequel to Cheaper by the Dozen, which I reviewed some years ago. If you aren't familiar with that wonderful book, go read the review now. I'll wait.

Cheaper by the Dozen ends with the death of Frank Gilbreth, motion studies expert and patriarch of a large family. His wife Lillian, an equal partner in her husband's motion studies work, must decide whether to take the family to California, where the children can be parceled out to various relatives, or to stay in New Jersey and try to make her own way as a motion studies expert. She (with encouragement from her children) chooses the latter. And just as the prior novel is the story of Frank Gilbreth, Belles on their Toes is the story of Lillian Gilbreth.

It's as funny and heartwarming as its predecessor--I enjoyed it thoroughly--though possibly a bit lighter weight, especially toward the end. The two authors are the oldest boy and the next-to-oldest girl, and both went off to college within a few years of their father's death. Consequently we cover just a few years in the first half of the book, and a couple of decades in the second half.

Anyway, you should read it; it's a classic.

Posted by Will Duquette at 05:03 PM | Comments(0)

October 01, 2003

High Society, by Dave Sim

High Society is the second volume of the saga of Cerebus the Aardvark, comprising issues 26 through 50 of the original comic book. And unlike the first volume, it's essentially one long 500-page story.

The overall plot is remarkably straightforward if you don't examine it too closely. Cerebus stomps into the city of Iest after a long slog through the marshes. He's tired, he's angry, and he's looking for a fight. He seeks out the best hotel in town mostly so he can get into a brawl with the hotel guards over whether he can get a room or not. And instead, everything goes suspiciously smoothly as soon as the desk clerk learns his name.

It turns out that it's all thanks to being the Supervisor of the Staff Kitchen for Lord Julius of Palnu, a post Cerebus held for a time in the previous volume. Lord Julius (who is played fetchingly by Groucho Marx--no, really!) funds his government by selling titles to the highest bidder, and as a result most titles in Palnu don't mean what you'd think they mean. Supervisor of the Staff Kitchen is in fact the title held by the head of Julius' personal bodyguard. As such, then, Cerebus is presumed to have considerable pull with Lord Julius, and has been elected by the people of Iest to be (I think--it's a little fuzzy) Palnu's diplomatic representative in Iest. Hence his popularity and inability to get into a fight.

This is just the first twenty pages, you understand. What follows is a wild tiger ride in which Cerebus is kidnapped, rescued, manipulated, outvoted, elected, and nearly becomes pope. (No, not that pope. A different pope altogether.) It's a tale of economics, politics, religion, interest rates, graft, teamsters, surly farmers, and a couple of whackos who talk like Yosemite Sam. I enjoyed it thoroughly, and I suspect I missed about half of what was going on.

In one regard I prefer the earlier Swords of Cerebus collections (four issues per volume) to the new larger format--in the smaller collections, each issue is preceded by an introduction. Not all of them are timeless, but they not only provide interesting background to the story, they also chronicle Sim's growth as a writer and artist. For me, comics illiterate that I am, it was a fascinating glimpse at how comic books are created. I missed all that in the current volume.

Nevertheless, it was an enjoyable interlude, and one I intend to repeat in a few months, just to see what I missed the first time around.

Posted by Will Duquette at 06:47 PM | Comments(3)