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Journal of No. 118

February 10th, 2016

Eulogy for the Whopping Great Daddy-Long-Legs in the Shower @ 07:54 am


I know you meant me no harm, and I much admired your impressive bulk and supermodel legs.

Truly, you must have been a Methuselah or Samson of the Arachnidae!

But no Solomon.

Had you kept in your corner, all might have ended well.

But perhaps distressed by a stray droplet, or pungent steam, or the sight of a hominid,

You ventured out across the ceiling,

Dancing jerkily across gossamer threads that threatened to deposit your magnificence upon my head.

And so you met the fate of many sailors, from the companions of Odysseus to the Ty-D-Bol man.

Transported by the gods upon a magic shampoo bottle, and cast into Charybdis.

January 29th, 2016

"... and some were human." by Lester del Rey @ 04:29 pm


I know Lester del Rey more for his work alongside his wife at Del Rey books. If you had looked at my shelves in 1980, the proportion of Del Rey and Ballantine on there would be considerable.

But of course, he was a writer in his own right, and this is his first anthology from 1948 by Prime Press, a short-lived specialty sf press out of Philly.

Some of the shorter ones have some vim and life, and definitely stand out for their focus on the human condition, rather than just being rocketships going whiz. But the longer ones seem to be written for the word count. Among the former is "Helen O'Loy" (should I say Spoilers! for an 80 year old story?) which was voted by the SFWA as one of the best stories from the pre-Nebula Award period. The story has aged a bit--or maybe it's because I've read it before.

Fun fact: my brain files Helen O'Loy right next to Teela O'Malley, so I can't think of one without the other and vice versa.


Authentic Western Gibberish @ 07:48 am

I was idly poking around Supreme Court decisions about ranching land. As one does. And stumbled across this great description of authentic Zane Grey era cattle ranchers versus sheep ranchers sorta stuff. McKelvey v. United States (1922). The legal stiffs just need to punch up the word choices a little bit.

"One of the defendants then requested his comrades to line up with their rifles, which they did, whereupon he proceeded to make a hostile demonstration against one of the employees and to chase him about, obviously as a matter of intimidation."
Early the next morning, before the employees started the sheep again, one of the defendants returned and inquired what was going to be done and, on learning what the owner had directed, said: "You can't go through there." "Something will happen to you this morning." "Are you willing to take the consequences?" This defendant then rode away and a little later others of them rode up on a gallop, ordered the employees to put up their hands, which was done, and then began shooting. They shot and seriously injured one of the employees, threatened to finish him, and did other things calculated to put all three in terror."

January 22nd, 2016

The Strange Case of the Rickety Cossack, by Ian Tattersall @ 05:06 pm

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This book traces the history of the discovery of various human and hominid fossils, and gives us Tattersall's boldly biased opinions about everything. I don't know enough to say whether he's right or wrong, but he clearly has an axe to grind (or flake from rock cores, I suppose). The rickety Cossack of the title refers to a mid 19th century opinion about a Neanderthal fossil -- a quickly discarded idea now only remembered and promulgated by creationists.
The story of all the early finds is interesting and well-told. As we get further into the 20th century, Tattersall starts to name names and call people idiots. Unfortunately, the level of detail is sometimes too much for a dabbler like myself. But what I take from it is that his beef is largely with the lumpers, while he is more of a splitter. And that early thinking locked later thinking too much into the idea that we are the unique descendants of a single line of descent from an early hominid ancestor. When it's become clear that our genus has been fairly bushy, even in relatively recent times, as H. floresiensis shows.
While reading the book, I also happened upon an essay on the controversy about the evenmorerecent discovery of H. naledi. The brief exchanges quoted there give something of the flavor of Tattersall's view:

Echoes of that type of extreme lumping can be found in Tim White’s criticism of H. naledi, who similarly criticized the discovery of Australopithecus deyiremeda earlier this year, insisting that it was no more than a variant of A. afarensis, the species of Lucy.

I spoke with Ian Tattersall and asked his opinion of the controversy. While he was loathe to criticize colleagues whom he greatly respects, he did admit that “Tim’s definition of erectus is so broad so as to make that sort of thing inevitable.” When I asked for his opinion, he said “I don’t think there’s any chance this is erectus. It had a very small brain, but some surprisingly modern features to accompany that tiny brain.”
Tattersall bemoaned this as well. “Because they found a brow ridge in some of the crania [of naledi] and you don’t see brow ridges in Australopithecus, it had to be Homo. That’s pretty much how it works. If something is not Australopithecus, it’s Homo. If it’s not Homo, it’s Australopithecus. Maybe it’s time for us to stop stuffing new morphologies into the old pigeonholes we’ve had for a hundred years.”

Just because he's a bit argumentative doesn't mean that Tattersall is wrong; indeed, I rather think he's on the right side of things. Or at least more right than the lumpers.

January 13th, 2016

Random Ram Reverie @ 05:31 pm

So it looks like the Rams are coming back to LA (and thence to Inglewood).

A neuron popped, and before it dies forever, I'm spilling out its contents.

Former Ram running back Tommy Mason lived in the same development I did in Brea back in the early 1980s. He had two sons that were younger than me, but they had a sweet videogame setup, so I spent a few lazy hours there every once in a while. Mr. Mason was a nice guy, but kinda sad... no doubt partially due to the recent break-up of his marriage to Cathy Rigby, who I met a couple times as the kids were shuttled back and forth. Yes, all the kids in the neighborhood made maxipad jokes (not in their hearing).

Looks like Mason passed away about a year ago.

January 9th, 2016

Girls' Night In, by Jim Smiley @ 04:33 pm

I met Jim in Portland at the HPLFF. I was intrigued by a horror-tinged mystery novel with the action set at a girls' school. Dr. Pookie and I both love a couple such, written by female authors -- Gaudy Night, by Dorothy Sayers & Miss Pym Disposes, by Josephine Tey. It was too much to hope that Smiley's first novel would live up to those. And it doesn't, though it's really of a different genre -- more hard-boiled pulp detective. He has some good, snappy dialogue and character interaction, but there's a lot to be desired. Ostensibly set in Prohibition-era Los Angeles, there are very few details that set the scene in either time or place. Of course, as an Angeleno, one of my favorite things is reading a story set in my town that feels like my town. And it's a consequent bugaboo if it's not done well. As a feminist, another one of my favorite things is female characters that have more than one dimension. And it's a consequent bugaboo if it's not done well. Most of the students at the school may actually have zero dimensions; they are shuttled from a dorm to another place to keep them safe, but I'll be damned if anyone actually ever talks to them, or asks them questions about the murder in their midst.

Observation of the day @ 03:21 pm

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Plywood sheets come in different thicknesses. Virtually all of them are fractions of the form (odd #)/32 inches. I saw a few 3/8 inch, but the rest were 7/32, 11/32, 15/32, 17/32, 19/32, 23/32... It was crazy.

January 6th, 2016

Cloak of Aesir, by John W. Campbell @ 05:14 pm

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This collection of Campbell stories, like Who Goes There? is from Shasta Press.

While there's still a lot of man-scientists using their man-science to be manly, this collection is a lot more pessimistic/dystopian. "The Escape" is particularly bleak. It ends on a "Wesley died" moment and there is no next chapter with Miracle Max. I most liked the connected stories of "The Machine"/"The Invaders"/"Rebellion". Eugenics saves the day! I didn't much care for the titular story, or its prequel "Out of Night". That's not fair -- it isn't me, it's them. They stink.

January 3rd, 2016

Ancillary Justice, by Ann Leckie / Fallout 4 / Star Wars Battlesomething / Until Dawn @ 11:26 am

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Ancillary Justice won the Hugo, Nebula, and so on, so there's not much I can do either way for its reputation. But for what it's worth, I give it two thumbs up. Certainly extraordinary for a first novel. You can (well, I can) easily imagine the novel taking place in some part of the Iain Banks-verse. Not in the Culture, but nearby. So, if (like me) you like Banks, I feel certain you'll like this as well.

Fallout 4 is lovely, expansive, polished, enjoyable, but stretches the formula very little.

Star Wars ShootPeople suffers the usual problems of these things. The professional virtual soldier types level up and get even better stuff so they are even better at killing newbs like me. The single-player stuff is okay at best, and doesn't actually do a very good job of 'training'. But still, the Walker Assault multiplayer is still pretty enjoyable -- 20 on 20 battles, with the Rebels working on objectives to destroy the marching AT-ATs, and the Imperials working to stop them.

Until Dawn is a lot like the Walking Dead game -- a horror movie (or TV show) where decisions affect future outcomes, interspersed with occasional press-the-right-button episodes. Lots of unlikeable teenage-ish characters, but still strangely compellingly playable/watchable. I had hoped it has replay value, and maybe it does, but now it seems like quite a slog to get through all the watch-y parts. And I once again failed to save Jessica. Oh well.

January 2nd, 2016

Two Synchronicities @ 10:50 pm

Was considering Mexican places for lunch today. Discovered that Margaritas on Crenshaw wouldn't open until 2pm. [Ended up at the El Cholo on Western]

KCET showed a nice documentary [interspersed with begging for money] about Endeavour's trip down the streets of LA. As it trundles down Crenshaw, there's a nice shot of it through the archway at Margaritas.

ThisTV was (well, still is) having a Bond film marathon. ThisTV has an interesting assortment of advertising, including one for a little hand-operated food processor thing that has a pull cord that moves the blades. I was a bit shocked that the smiling loud man chopped some vegetables, dropped them into his stir-fry, looked into the camera, and said "Me so Hungry" as though he had done nothing wrong.

Then when the credits of A View to a Kill came on [I said it was a marathon of Bond films, not a marathon of good Bond films. Only watchable for Grace Jones and the fact that the ridiculous plot involving injecting water into oilwells to cause earthquakes has turned out to not be so ridiculous.] and it was hard to let a name like Papillon Soo Soo go by without further investigation.

"Papillon Soo Soo appeared as Pan Ho in the 1985 James Bond film A View to a Kill, the first of three films that she appeared in.

She is also well known for playing the role of the Da Nang hooker who uttered the famous "Hey baby, you got girlfriend Vietnam? Me so horny. Me love you long time," and "Me sucky sucky" lines in Stanley Kubrick's 1987 film Full Metal Jacket, which continues to be referenced in popular culture..." such as advertising on This TV.

[Since things come in threes, we can further connect synchronicities #1 and #2 via Moonraker, which is just as bad as I remember it.]

Journal of No. 118