Sunday, June 17, 2018

Recommended Movies June 2018

Here are some films I've watched recently that you should check out, if your taste is as impeccable as mine.

1. Solo: A Star Wars Story

Thought I'd start with a small indie film that most probably missed. But seriously, folks! It's a bit odd to have a Star Wars movie with no Force, no Jedi, no lightsabers, but I think Solo pulled it off. This isn't changing the paradigm or breaking new ground, but it is a very, very solid entry in the Star Wars saga and the most straight-foward fun of any of them since Episode IV. Probably my favorite of the Disney Star Wars movies. Alden Ehrenreich ain't Harrison Ford, but then no one is, and he does a good job of filling the Han Solo riding boots.

2. You Were Never Really Here

Arty, intense film about a man who rescues underage girls who have been sold into the sex trade. Not the slam-dunk I was hoping for, but Joaquin Phoenix delivers. Lynne Ramsay also directed We Need to Talk About Kevin, and if you liked that, you'll probably like this. You Were Never Really Here is based on a novella by Jonathan Ames, who created the HBO series Bored to Death, which also didn't quite deliver as much as I wished but which was still worth a watch.

3. The Woman Chaser

Great movie or the greatest movie? This black-and-white comedy stars Patrick Wharburton as a car salesman turned filmmaker. Set in 1960 Los Angeles, it's period details are spot on. The Woman Chaser is based on a novel by the great paperback writer Charles Willeford, and if you've read Willeford, you know what you're in for. Hilarious, if you've got a twisted sense of humor.  Released in 1999 to much critical acclaim but no audience interest whatsoever, it's now available on various streaming platforms.

4. Small Town Crime

John Hawkes plays an ex-cop who tries to solve the murder of a woman he finds on the side of the road after an alcoholic blackout. If that sounds too cliche for you, then you should probably skip this one. But if you are me and that sounds right up your alley, then Small Town Crime is worth watching. It's Tarrantino-esque and Coen Brothers-y. Like Solo it doesn't exactly break new ground, but it does what it does very well.

5. First Reformed

Though The Woman Chaser is one of my all-time favorite movies, I've saved the best for last here. Written and directed by the great Paul Schrader of Taxi Driver and Raging Bull fame (among others), First Reformed is going to be a serious contender come awards season, particularly for Ethan Hawke, who turns in as good a performance as he ever has as an alcoholic minister struggling with his faith and the loss of his family. Filmed in Academy ratio and without a score, this is definitely in the "art house" vein, but don't let that trick you into thinking this is some pretentious, navel-gazing horse hockey. The intensity and tension mount throughout until you reach an ending that will keep you thinking for days.

Friday, June 8, 2018

Recommended Reads June 2018

I've been wanting to write more reviews on here, but haven't been able to find the time to do them in-depth. So instead, I'm going to try to post more frequent, but shorter reviews of books, movies, ketchup, whatever. Starting with . . .

1. Dope by Sara Gran

Pitch-black noir set in 1950s New York City. The main character is a recovering heroin addict who is hired by the wealthy family to find their daughter, who has fallen deep into dope addiction herself. The characterization and the plot are both top-notch, but the period details are what sells this. Seriously, I read a lot of hardboiled crime and noir from the 40s-60s and if you told be this was written back then, I would have believed you. One of the best noir novels I've ever read, from any period--period. Check it out, but be warned: this is Noir with a capital N. The ending is devastating in the best noir tradition. Not for the faint-hearted.

2. The Adjustment by Scott Phillips

Another modern crime novel I would have believed was written in the mid-twentieth century. (How do these people do that?!) This one is from The Ice Harvest scribe Scott Phillips, and like that novel, is set in Kansas, though The Adjustment takes place just after WWII. Wayne Ogden is perhaps the most unlikable protagonist I've ever read--and I've read lots of Jim Thompson and Charles Willeford--so if that's not your cup of tea, skip this one. But if you're a fan of Thompson or Willeford and like your crime fiction tinged with misanthropy and nihilism, check this one out.

3. One Summer: America, 1927 by Bill Bryson

Though it's another period piece, this one couldn't be more different from the previous two books on this list. Bryson is one of the best nonfiction writers working and though I'm only 100 pages into One Summer, I feel no reservations adding it to this list. If you're a fan of American history and/or great writing, this one is for you.

Wednesday, June 6, 2018

The Year's Best Military & Adventure SF, Volume 4 Out Now!

Well, well, well . . . look what hit bookstore shelves (both real and virtual) yesterday: it's The Year's Best Military & Adventure SF, Volume 4, edited by yours truly! Buy multiple copies for friends, relatives, and strangers you sit next to at the bus stop. It's guaranteed to satisfy!

Buy it on Amazon, Barnes & Noble, or Baen eBooks. Or even better, support your favorite local indie bookstore. If they don't have it in stock, ask for it by name.

Still not convinced? Well, take a look at the table of contents:

Preface by David Afsharirad
The Secret Life of Bots by Suzanne Palmer
The Snatchers by Edward McDermott
Imperium Imposter by Jody Lynn Nye
A Thousand Deaths through Flesh and Stone by Brian Trent
Hope Springs by Lindsay Buroker
Orphans of Aries by Brad R. Torgersen
By the Red Giant’s Light by Larry Niven
Family over Blood by Kacey Ezell
A Man They Didn’t Know by David Hardy
Swarm by Sean Patrick Hazlett
A Hamal in Hollywood by Martin L. Shoemaker
Lovers by Tony Daniel
The Ghost Ship Anastasia by Rich Larson
You Can Always Change the Past by George Nikolopoulos
Our Sacred Honor by David Weber

Friend, you won't find a better collection of short fiction with a military or action/adventure science fiction theme!

Thursday, March 22, 2018

Another Dimension Anthology Wins Serling Award

Another Dimension, edited by Angel Leigh McCoy, was the recipient of a 2017 Serling Award.

The Serling Award is bestowed annually by the Rod Serling Memorial Foundation. It is "given for achievement in the artistic aesthetic Mr. Serling endowed upon the world." 

I am thrilled to have been a part of this anthology. I contributed two pieces: a short story, "The Next Thing," and an essay in celebration of Twlight Zone writer George Clayton Johnson called "Selling Daydreams: The Life and Work of George Clayton Johnson."

Thanks to Angel Leigh McCoy for including me, the other contributors for thier excellent stories and essays, and the Serling Foundation.

You can read about the award and the Rod Serling Memorial Foundation here.

And pick yourself up a copy of Another Dimension here.

Thursday, March 8, 2018

Movie Review (Sort Of): Buddy, Buddy

Buddy, Buddy was the last film directed by Billy Wilder, one of the greatest directors who ever lived. It was written by Wilder and longtime collaborator I.A.L. Diamond, the writing team behind Some Like it Hot, The Apartment, Irma la Douce, and The Fortune Cookie. It stars the comedy gold team of Walter Mathau and Jack Lemmon.

And it isn't good. Which is so weird!

In his review of the movie, Roger Ebert proclaimed that Buddy, Buddy contained no laughs. Zero. And while he might be overstating things a bit, I can't really argue with him, either. It's just not funny. It's just not good.

That said, it's not bad, per se. Watching the film was a pleasant enough way to spend a little under 2 hours.

I've turned movies off they were so bad, but I didn't want to turn off Buddy, Buddy.

I've rolled my eyes at the stupidity of movies, but I didn't roll my eyes at Buddy, Buddy.

I've spent hours detailing the plot and character problems in movies, but I have nothing to say about Buddy, Buddy in this regard.

I've railed against certain movies (looking at you Human Centipede) whose very existence feels like an affront to the concept of film making, but I won't go on a rant about Buddy, Buddy.

And of course I've enjoyed bad movies in a so-bad-they're-good sort of what, but not so Buddy, Buddy.

It's not bad; it's just not good. (And I know I've said that several times already, but I just can't get over the fact.)

At some point, I read an interview with someone involved in the movie industry that has stuck with me. I can't remember if this person was a writer, actor, director, producer or what, but he said that there is no way to tell if a movie is going to be great or going to be a pile of hot garbage until you see the finished product. This sounds absurd, but the more I learn about the film industry, the more I believe it to be true.

Let's take two movies from the opposite end of the spectrum: Jean Luc Goddard's Breathless and Star Wars. During the making of both films, the crew supposedly though that they would be a disaster. Yet both films were, essentially, saved in the editing room. You hear about this a lot. Or you hear about movies like Swamp Thing. By all accounts, the script for Swamp Thing was really good. Craven thought it would be his ticket out of the horror movie ghetto. Adrienne Barbeau thought it could be the next Star Wars. Then the budget got cut during filming. Then cut again. Then again. If you've seen the finished product . . . well, it ain't Star Wars, let's just say that.

So no matter how good a movie looks or doesn't look on paper, what matters is the end product. I kept thinking about this as I watched and reflected on Buddy, Buddy. This should have been a comedy classic. First off, there's the pedigree, which I mentioned in the opening paragraph. But even leaving that aside, it's just a really great concept. Mathau plays a hitman who sets up in a hotel room across from the courthouse where a star witness is set to testify against the mob. His job: assassinate the guy as he climbs the courthouse steps and then beat a hasty retreat. Lemmon is a standards and practises executive at CBS whose wife has left him for the founder of a Sexual Research Institute. He's taken the hotel room that connects with Mathau's and plans to commit suicide. Of course, their paths cross and hilarity ensues.

Only it doesn't.

All of the story beats are there, and on paper they're all funny. But on screen they fall utterly flat. Buddy, Buddy is a testament to the fact that when it comes to film making, the whole has to be greater than the sum of its parts.

After all of this, would I recommend watching Buddy, Buddy? I don't know. Maybe? It's certainly a curiosity.

It is a shame that Wilder went out on such a low-note. Probably it's best to rewatch Sunset Boulevard or The Apartment or Some Like it Hot. Or if you want to see what the team of Wilder/Diamond/Lemmon/Mathau were capable of, check out The Fortune Cookie.

But if you want to watch a movie that will keep you scratching your head as to why it's so utterly forgettable when it shouldn't be, in that case, I wholeheartedly recommend Buddy, Buddy.

See a Penny . . .

My short story "See a Penny . . ." was published earlier this year in the January/February issue of Mike Resnick's Galaxy's Edge Magazine (issue #30). You can buy it in various formats (paper and ebook) here. Or go to Amazon here, where you can buy it for your Kindle or, if you're old-school, in paperback.

I'm glad that "See a Penny . . ." found a home in Galaxy's Edge, which is one of my favorite science fiction magazines being published today.

Wednesday, September 6, 2017

Random Thoughts on DragonCon 2017

Another DragonCon is in the books. This was my third year going and it was, as always, a blast. An exhausting blast, but still a blast. Here are some random thoughts on the convention.
  • It strikes me that there isn't really a DragonCon so much as there are multiple DragonCons running concurrently. Total attendance at the convention is somewhere north of 80,000 people. The sheer number of folks who attend paired with the fact that it takes place in multiple hotels, plus the fact that there are multiple fandoms represented (literature, film, television, anime, gaming, comics, etc.) means that one attendee will have a very different experience than another.
  • The first year I attended, I was excited about all the craziness: the cool stuff in the vendor halls, the creative cosplay, the general madness. Three years in, that stuff has become less interesting, even annoying at times. (See: waiting half an hour plus to cram into an elevator with many smelly people.) However, what has now become the highlight is getting to hang out with old friends and new. Seeing people I don't normally get to, making connections, talking with FBI agents and NASA scientists, screenwriters and NYT best-selling authors, established pros and scrappy up-and-comers. That's what makes DragonCon badass these days.
  • As I have the last three years, I kicked off DC with a Mai Tai at Trader Vic's. Sweet nectar of the Gods!
  • Here's a fun story. A group of us were going to hang out at Baen Barfly Central. The Barfly suite is a DragonCon tradition, as well as a staple at several other cons. Essentially, some of Baen's awesome fans set up a hangout in their hotel room for Baen fans, authors, and editors to socialize. It's much more low-key and quiet than hanging out at one of the hotel bars. The room was on the sixteenth floor of one of the host hotels. We were waiting on the elevator. And waiting. And waiting. And waiting. Finally, someone (I'm pretty sure it was LJ Hachmeister) got the idea that we should just take the stairs. A handful of folks bowed out, saying they'd hang out at Barfly Central another night. Another handful of folks said they'd climb the stairs. Stupidly, I was in group two. The scene from the end of Ghostbusters is what you should be picturing. Later, when it was time to head out for the night, another person suggested we take the stairs back down. Going down is easier, but not that much easier. All this would have been fine, except when we got back to our hotel that night we were told that some jackass had pulled the fire alarm and the elevators were not working. We were staying on floor 57 and before you get excited, no, this story doesn't end with me climbing 57 flights of stairs. See, the Westin has two elevator banks: one that goes to floors 1-45 and another that goes from floors 46-70. After waiting an hour for the elevators to get reset, only the bank that went up to floor 45 was working. By this point it was almost one a.m. We had a choice: wait until the other elevators were running again or ride up to floor 45 and climb another 12 flights to our room. We chose choice B. Were my legs sore the next day? Readers, what do you think?
  • I would list all the cool folks I got to hang out with but I know that I'd accidentally leave some folks off, so I'll just say that I had a great time with you all!
  • I got to present the Year's Best Military and Adventure Science Fiction Readers' Choice Award once again this year, at The Baen Traveling Roadshow. For this, the third year we've presented the award, Sharon Lee & Steve Miller took home the prize for their short story "Wise Child."
  • Best cosplay: Elvis/Glen Danzig mashup. A guy in a black leather Elvis jumpsuit with devil lock hair. On the back of his cape was the Elvis TCB lightning bolt in rhinestones, only instead of "TCB" it said "138." Nice touch, dude.
  • Actually, the best cosplay was Baen Factotum and soon-to-be-published-space-opera-author Christopher Ruocchio as me. (See photo.) This was rather impromptu but I think he pulled it off. His impression of me hocking Year's Best was even more impressive, right down to me forgetting which story was in which volume.
    "You like science fiction short stories? Let me show you this."--Me and/or Christopher cosplaying me
  • Sold a solid number of copies of Year's Best. When I left there were only 3 left on the shelf out of a dozen or more. (I didn't count how many there were to start with).
  • Went to The Armory for the first time. This is two rooms downstairs in the Hyatt that feature edged weapons as well as firearms that are donated (temporarily, of course) to the convention. I'm not super into swords or guns, but this was really cool. (At least for me. Michael Z. Williamson referred to it as "a good start" and looking like the closet in his spare bedroom. Ha!) Highlights included an actual Vietnam-era rocket launcher, several suits of armor, a "Brown Bess" that was longer than I am tall, and a Tommy Gun.
    Clyde Barrow-style. (Okay, technically I don't think Clyde Barrow used a Thompson. Whatever. You get the idea.)
  • Another story: We got back to our hotel rather late Thursday night. We'd eaten a late dinner, but I was pretty hungry. However, I was exhausted and already in the room, so I figured I'd just turn in. Three hours of tossing and turning later, I was starving and had a splitting low-blood-sugar-induced migraine. At this point it was 3:30 in the morning, but I had such a bad headache and was so hungry that I couldn't even feel how tired I was. There was nothing to do but throw on clothes and go in search of something to eat. The hotel bar had long since closed, as had the Starbucks in the lobby and the gift shop. The front desk was still manned and I asked the employee if there was a vending machine anywhere. I was told no, but that there was a 24-hour CVS just down the block. Now, here's the thing about DragonCon: Yes, it's in downtown Atlanta, which can be a rather dangerous place after dark. But it's usually so chockablock full of nerds walking around and Atlanta PD making sure the peace is kept that you never feel unsafe. Let me tell you: Not so much at 3:30 in the morning! The streets were more or less deserted except for a few sketchy folks, including one (presumably) homeless man yelling obscenities to no one in particular and another who got into a screaming match with a young lady he felt was dressed too scantily. (Don't worry, she gave as good as she got and then some.) Luckily, I made it back to the hotel in one piece, but yikes! Moral of the story: Always bring snacks.
  • My degree of separation from John W. Campbell and Isaac Asimov is now as low as it ever will be. I met superfan Ben Yalow, who knew both gentlemen (and many, many other greats of the genre who have since passed away), and he regaled me with stories. It should be said that Mr. Yalow is a great guy in and of himself. One of the great old-school fans, from back when everyone knew everyone if not in person, than in the letters columns of the various magazines. Only Robert Silverberg has attended more WorldCons than Yalow. A very cool dude!

I'm sure I'm leaving out a bunch. It was a great time and I look forward to next year. If you get a chance, DragonCon is worth checking out.