Inhuman Swill : January 2007

Is it something in the water?

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What is going on in Mexico? First Pan's Labyrinth from Guillermo del Toro, and now Children of Men from Alfonso Cuarón, both directors whose work I've admired in the past but who have far exceeded themselves this movie season.

I finally saw Children of Men last night, and I wish I'd done so sooner since then my Hugo nominating ballot would have looked a bit different. I can't say enough good about this film. Adapted very loosely from the bloodless P.D. James novel, it's dystopian science fiction of a high order, and movie-making of an even higher order.

I won't belabor the wealth of throwaway details tucked away throughout the movie that makes its near-future landscape seem so real and plausible, like the little laser-painted warning symbol that appears on a shattered car windshield in a corner of the screen. I won't touch on the subtleties of character and symbolism worked almost subliminally into the fabric of the film, such as the way the inherent trustworthiness of Clive Owens' character is illustrated in the way all the animals in the movie are quietly drawn to him.

But I will rhapsodize about the way Cuarón directs his spectacular, thrilling, and harrowing action set pieces. From a terrifying ambush shot mostly from inside the crowded target car to a tense escape scene where both the pursuers and their quarry are trying to compression-start their vehicles on a long-but-not-long-enough downslope to Owens' epic scamper through a battle between various insurgent groups and Homeland Security troops in a refugee camp for illegal aliens that looks more like Beirut than Brixham, Cuarón manages to put the viewer right in the center of the brilliantly choreographed action while still conveying a perfect sense of what's going on everywhere at every moment. His mastery is such that you don't lose your place in the action or have any trouble following what's happening. His vision is cohesive and coherent.

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Casting a not-so-cold eye

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I don't often post about my writing progress here, because usually it inches along with such dismal slowness. I have been unusually disciplined working on projects over the past few months, though, and am feeling good about it all this morning.

My normal writing routine, even most weekends, is to get up at 5:00 a.m., fire up the laptop, pour the coffee that is automatically brewing for me, and try to write for as long as I possibly can before the needs of the day force me to stop. I have for years paid lip service to this schedule. The times I've managed to stick to it have been the overall (though not overwhelming) exceptions.

Part of it is that, though I usually do my best work if I can get started first thing in the day, it's always hard for me to get up at that hour. I have a lifetime's practice at ignoring my alarm clock, and Laura gets justifiably annoyed at the expectation that she will kick my ass out of bed at five. Thank goodness for the BlackBerry my in-laws gave me for my birthday in August. For some reason, its alarm gets me up almost without fail.

For the past three weeks or so, I've been working on a fresh draft of this ghost story Derryl Murphy and I have been tossing back and forth like a cold potato for probably three years now, "Cast a Cold Eye." He may be terrified to learn that it has just this morning edged into novella territory. I regret that a bit myself, but I am thrilled to report that since five this morning I've done about 2,400 new words. This, for me, means I'm well into the stretch and racing toward the tape. I should wrap up this draft tomorrow or thereabouts and toss it back to Derryl.

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29 of 365

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I sneaked out of the office for a while this afternoon and met photographer+ Bill Wadman at Grand Central Station. The goal was to shoot portrait #29 for his excellent 365 Portraits project, where he shoots and posts a portrait a day for a year.

We—I say we but it was really he—tried various high-concept shots in and around Grand Central, but the one he ended up using he took while I was leaning against a mailbox at Madison & 41st, signing the photo release. Bill's a nice guy, and it was a lot of fun. I hope I get to see some of the shots that didn't make the cut.

The photo is on the 365 Portraits home page for the next day or so. The permanent link is here.

I heard about the project from [info]steelbrassnwood, who was 6 of 365. If you're in NYC and you want to participate, you can hunt around Bill's sites for his email address and get in touch, or write to me and I'll send it to you. He's got plenty of white people on the roster, he tells me, and is hoping to have more people of color sign on.

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Why she couldn't come

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I had forgotten until now, but Netherview Station (setting of "Inclination") has been illustrated before, by Dominic Harman.

The station is also the setting of my 1998 Science Fiction Age story "The Practical Ramifications of Interstellar Packet Loss," which is about a boy 70 light-years from home trying to figure out why his girlfriend isn't there to meet him when he arrives as they had arranged. I was thrilled with the illustration when I first saw it. This was the first far-future, space-based SF story I had ever sold, and seeing someone else's interpretation of my world was pretty mind-blowing.

Check it out.

In one of those stranges coincidences, I really was, purely by chance, listening to a track called "Why She Couldn't Come" when I started this post.
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Happy birthday, Robert Burns!

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Yesterday's Times had an interesting and often amusing article about how haggis in America has mutated into something rather tastier than one can gets in Scotland, thanks in part to the fact that FDA regulations and other factors prevent the use of much of the offal that traditionally gets used as ingredients.

The article was strange to see when Laura pointed it out to me, because just Tuesday night we had met Paul and Kim for dinner and scotch—lots of it—at what purports to be the only Scottish restaurant and pub in the city, St. Andrews on 44th Street near Times Square. We had a fabulous time, and the haggis was very tasty indeed. (Not that Laura and I are afraid of traditional haggis, which we have eaten in Scotland and more or less enjoyed.) So was the other delicious food, which for me and Paul both included an entree of fresh brook trout stuffed with crab meat and oatmeal, in a whisky-maple sauce. Dessert for Laura and me was the cranachan, which is essentially whisky and whipped cream with berries and oatmeal.

Take note that it was painfully easy to get a table on a Tuesday night.

But while it was the prospect of haggis that drew us all there, it was the amazing scotch selection that had us arrive early and stay late afterward. I mean, 200 whiskies? Please. The bar at St. Andrews is our new favorite place in the world.

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Hugo nominating ballot

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I keep meaning to remind eligible Hugo nominators (i.e., members of this year's or last year's Worldcon) to keep "Inclination" in mind in the novella category. Asimov's, April/May 2006.

(Hey, [info]paulmelko's novella from the same issue, "The Walls of the Universe," isn't bad either, if you must nominate something else.)

What else did I nominate? Let's see...

Novels: Crystal Rain by Tobias S. Buckell, Rainbows End by Vernor Vinge, Red Lightning by John Varley, The Road by Cormac McCarthy.

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Rollick this

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If I never again hear the word "rollicking" employed to describe a novel, it will be too soon.

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The description of today's Woot! is very funny. I am on the twelfth floor.

[permanent product link]

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ShunnCast #35

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Epidode #35 of "ShunnCast" is now available, in which Bill, against his better judgment, accompanies a runaway Elder Finn to the airport, where he experiments with phrases you must never use whilst frequenting such establishments. In other words, this is the episode you've been waiting for!

See also [info]shunncast.

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Almost snuck that one past, eh?

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What is wrong with the following sentence (from a New York Times article by Manohla Dargis)?

Still, it proved that a studio division could make money, win awards, attract talent and excite the audience, which is why Miramax and all it helped wrought is one of the best things to happen to Hollywood since the end of the old studio system.
Or am I, like Jennifer Garner trying to tell Conan O'Brien that snuck is not a word, stumbling over some once-bad English that quietly gained acceptance while grammarians' heads were turned?
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William Shunn

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This page is an archive of entries from January 2007 listed from newest to oldest.

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