Tuesday, November 29, 2016

All's Quiet... I hope

I've got nothing for this morning. Probably nothing for tomorrow, either. Surreal Situations should still be on time, but everything else had just gotten swamped.

Thursday, November 24, 2016

Book Review: 100 Ghost Soup

Hundred Ghost Soup
by Robert Chansky

From the official description:
A Beijing orphan is nearly eighteen. He wants a family and a name, if only for a while. He hacks adoption papers to get them.

He also gets: a long train ride into an empty station in a ghost town. Ghosts. Their leaders, calling themselves Mr. and Mrs. Vulpin, are his new parents. They are illusion-casting fox spirits, glamorous, clever, and trapped. They need him to free themselves of the ghosts.

Our hero works for them and accepts their flaws so long as they pretend to be a family. But then he discovers their wonderful meals are illusory. Are the Vulpins up to no good? And the People’s Republic of China will never allow spirits to possess a town. To save them all, he must travel back to Beijing, rifle the Politburo’s files, and find a Minister’s secrets. When he kindles the wrath of the People’s Liberation Army and the Minister of Fate himself, he must penetrate layers of illusions, decide whom he can trust, and learn to cook.

And then there is the matter of the soup’s main ingredient: him.
I just finished reading this about two weeks ago, and I think it's one of those books that really deserves a signal boost.

Unlike most urban fantasy books (which is broadly how I'd classify this one), Hundred Ghost Soup is set in China. The author handles the setting convincingly (at least to me, a white American who's never set foot in China), striking a nice balance between keeping the reader aware that this isn't a Western setting, and still making the setting comprehensible - without overexplaining. The plot is nicely layered and moves along quickly; there are ghosts, illusions, dreams, and even bits of reality here and there, but while it's sometimes confusing these things are never disruptive. Trying to figure out which is which, in fact, is a large part of the story's charm. The main character is likable and sympathetic, but still flawed and very, very human; the supporting characters are also handled well and fairly. From a technical standpoint, the book is excellent: unlike a great many self-published or even small press books (and I believe Hundred Ghost Soup is the latter) on the market, the editing is all but flawless. I simply didn't see any typos, mis-used words, incorrect grammar, or any of the dozen other kinds of technical mistakes that tend to yank me out of the story and disrupt my reading.

This is a very much a coming-of-age book. It's the story of a young man striking out on his own, using his skills and acquiring new ones, learning more about himself, and finding his place in the world. That said, the approach is anything but typical; Hundred Ghost Soup is fun, funny, sometimes eerie, and often fascinating. If you're looking for an enjoyable, unusual read ten I'd highly recommend giving this one a try. (I enjoyed reading it as an adult, but it would be perfectly suitable reading for high school or even middle school.)

Amazon | Barnes & Noble

Wednesday, November 23, 2016

Meme: We Are Writers

"We consume too much coffee, tea, and wine. We create worlds, people, conversations, relationships. We are the rulers of the mental wards inside our heads. We are authors, hear us procrastinate our roars!" ~Audra Trosper

Tuesday, November 22, 2016

Enthusiasm Gap

From a comment on Facebook:
"Much of this country is extremely frustrated by the inability of the government to take care of the middle and lower class. Hillary represents to a lot of people the class responsible for that failure. That was working against her from the very start and she never addressed it to the American people in a way that was convincing. She simply didn't represent a meaningful change in the states where it mattered. That's why her vote totals were lower than Obama's. The data basically tells you people just didn't show up where they needed to for her."

Meh. Maybe? I mean, you switch from a charismatic 40-something president to a... seventy-something? ...woman, you're going to have an enthusiasm gap. You nominate a candidate who's talking about policy and what can actually be done instead of making "bold" promises that nobody could possibly keep, you're going to have an enthusiasm gap. I'm not sure you can blame Hillary Clinton for that, especially since I'd generally consider a realistic outlook and a desire to present it honestly as, well, Things That Should Be Virtues.

But those virtues cost her votes. That's not all that cost her votes; belonging to the same party as the encumbent also cost her votes, being a woman cost her votes, years of Republican demonization cost her votes, agreeing that Black Lives Matter actually had a point cost her votes.

It isn't just an enthusiasm gap. It's also a perspective gap. Those of the Trump voters that I've actually spoken to (and admittedly, that's a small-as-hell sample size) not only genuinely thought that she was lying, corrupt, and definitely guilty of *something* even if we hadn't quite found out what yet. They also thought that Washington was hopelessly corrupt, even while they cheerfully voted Republican up and down the ticket. They thought that minorities were imagining racism, or maybe manufacturing examples of it to gain advantage for themselves. They genuinely believed that Trump was a bold outsider, and as such was the only person who stood any chance of "draining the swamp".

I don't know how to argue with that. I don't know how to react when someone presents me with "facts" that seem self-evidently wrong, but are just as self-evidently right to them. I don't know where to go when we can't even agree on how to decide on what actually constitutes a fact.

I'm not in touch with the ones who voted for Trump on the basis of open, proud racism. The ones I've spoken to seem, instead, simply to be blind to it: it's horrible, so naturally nobody would actually *do* that, so naturally minorities et al must be making it up. They're not bad people; they just want to get along... and that's precisely the problem: (what I see as) their blind spot is going to hurt an awful lot of my friends and co-workers, and possibly them too, if Paul Ryan gets his way.

Friday, November 18, 2016

Note to the Hero from a Villain's Minion

Hey there. Look, yeah, I know you were right there when the boss handed me your baby and told me to take care of her. But you've just killed the boss, his crazy-ass martial artist sister, both lieutenants, and forty-seven of my co-workers. And that was just while you were rescuing your wife. I'm not even counting the two hundred and sixty-three enforcers that you killed, maimed, or jailed in the process of taking down our regional operation.

So, with all that in mind, I think I'm just going to hand you back the baby and back away slowly. Ready? Here you go. Baby. And this is me, backing away slowly. You guys just, um, get reacquainted, and I'll be somewhere waaaaay over here, checking the classifieds by the light of this burning warehouse and pretending that I never even met any of these guys. Yeah, just a stray passer-by, that's me. Happy to help with the baby.

You just do your thing, and I'll sneak away and do my thing, and... oh, one last thing. Could you do me a huge favor, and never mention this part to anyone? Ever? I'm probably going to have to change my name anyway, but that'd be a big help.

Wednesday, November 16, 2016

So many tea bags...

I used to work with a guy who kept a box of tea bags in his desk drawer. Every morning when he arrived at work, he'd count his tea bags. Every night before he went home, he counted them again.

I never saw him drink any tea, though. Never. He was just...

...a tea-totaler.

Monday, November 14, 2016

November 2016 Grocery List

Was trying to work out my grocery list for this week:
Gallon Ziploc bags
Bubble bath (hypoallergenic)
Apple Sauce (cinammon)
Queso (regular and spicy)
Check w/ pharmacy abt cure for existential despair (must be alchohol-free)
Hair gel

Thursday, November 10, 2016

It's fear.

Guys, it's not hurt feelings. We're not sad or angry that "our" candidate didn't win. It's fear, and it's legitimate fear - fear that we've elected a man who's disastrously unprepared for the job, yes, but also fear that we've just elected the man who spent his entire campaign painting anyone who doesn't happen to be white, straight, Christian, and male as other-than, less-than, unwelcome, untrusted, guilty until proven innocent.

No, I don't think we're going to start rounding people up and putting them in camps come January; but we just elected the candidate who was openly, cheerfully endorsed by the KKK. An awful lot of people with an awful lot of ugly opinions are feeling like it's acceptable to say and do some really ugly things to their fellow citizens, because clearly that's what America wants.

Don't tell me not to worry.

Everybody Knows

Wednesday, November 9, 2016

Secondborn Knows Trump's Plan

Secondborn fell asleep on the couch last night. (He's six, he does that sometimes. Hell, I'm forty-two, I do that sometime.) So this morning, when I woke him up, I told him that Donald Trump had won the election.

"Darn," he said. Then, still half-asleep: "I think I know what he was trying to do. I think he was trying to break the Third Law."


You want it darker

I hope I'm wrong

It looks, at this point, like I'm going to wake up tomorrow to find that Donald Trump will become our next president.

I hope I'm wrong about that.

But if I'm not, I hope I'm wrong about Donald Trump. I hope I'm wrong about what kind of president he will be. I hope, to be honest, that I'm wrong about what kind of man he is -- though he's certainly given enough evidence that there shouldn't be any doubt about that.

I hope he won't start trying to turn our alliances into some sort of protection racket.

I hope he won't start disassembling our trade agreements and destabilizing the international economy.

I hope he won't treat nuclear weapons as something to use on countries, peoples, or forces he doesn't like.

I hope he won't pass massively regressive legislation on women's issues, minority issues, safety net issues.

I hope he won't be appointing Supreme Court justices that want to turn back the cause of equality.

I hope he won't be rounding people up, and putting them in camps or deporting them.

I hope he won't tank the economy.

I hope he won't start shutting down our religious freedom.

Honestly, I kind of hope he's content to just strut around and act important, and leave the governing up to people who know what they're doing. I hope that he doesn't turn out to be the absolute disaster that I think he's going to be. I want so much to be wrong about this.

There are going to be some people who look at this and say, "Oh, you're just sore because your candidate lost." Or words to that effect. And... no. Just, no. I'm not sore, I'm not butthurt, I'm not even angry.

What I am right now... is terrified.

Tuesday, November 8, 2016

Monday, November 7, 2016

Forget the Election. Be afraid of Octopuses.

Also, figure out whether it's supposed to be Octopuses or Octopi, so we don't offend them.

Friday, November 4, 2016

Friday Pun

I once saw a camel with two heads, one at either end. The man riding it didn't seem to know if he was coming or going, but he was friendly enough. I asked him what kind of camel that was, and he told me: "It's a Palindromedary."

Thursday, November 3, 2016

What A Real Vampire Looks Like

Movie vampires are usually pretty sexy. Oh, not always -- and certainly not if you go far enough back. But if you've been watching the genre(s) for the last couple of decades, the pattern is pretty clear. Vampires are exciting. Back in The Lost Boys they were punk-rock outsiders who lived by their own rules -- not the heroes of the story, but a very real temptation that the hero must work to escape. By the time you get to Twilight, they're bad-boy superheroes who sparkle in the sunlight: strong but tormented, powerful but driven, frightening but desirable.

But that's not how vampires really are. They're rich, yes, but not from centuries-old investments; they're rich because they take from everyone else, as much as they can get away with, as much as they want -- and they always want. They're powerful, but not because they've honed their skills and learned to control their appetites; they're powerful because it never occurs to them to control their appetites, and normal people don't know how to deal with that, let alone defend against it.

Go back and re-read Dracula. A vampire is the one who hires you and brings you to his castle, lets you pour your blood and energy -- your life -- into making him stronger, and then casts you aside without a thought. A vampire is the one who follows you back home and tries to seduce your fiance or your wife or your underage daughter. A vampire is the one who demands you feed his pleasure, because why wouldn't you give him what he wants? A vampire is the one who comes into your room and admires your vulnerable nakedness, while you stand powerless to protest... because the vampire is the one who owns the building, owns your job, and probably owns you if it comes right down to it. A vampire is the one who takes whatever he wants, touches whatever he wants, and never feels remorse because what he wants can never be wrong. He thrills in being having the power to do and say things that ordinary people can't or won't. That's exactly what shows that he's better than everyone else.

Real vampires don't spend centuries struggling with doubt and remorse. They take what they want and expect you to give it willingly. After all, it's only their due. They're the special ones, the powerful ones, the noble ones. You should be grateful for the attention. And they do this, draining everyone around them, until and unless the peasants band together to stop them.

Whatever their actual role, they are always the aristocrats of their particular society. They may pretend to be ordinary citizens, but that's all part of the game; that isn't the company they keep or the treatment they expect, and it never will be. They do as they wish, or as their appetites drive them, and consequences are for other people.

You're probably wondering by now if this is a political post, and you probably already know the answer: of course it is. And if you're reading this, you're one of the peasants -- just like me. We don't use fire and pitchforks anymore -- most of us, anyway -- so get out there and vote.

Tuesday, November 1, 2016

How do real cartoonists do it???

I'm currently holding to a Monday/Wednesday/Friday schedule over at Surreal Situations. Understand that my process consists of taking pictures, running them through a filter, taping them to something, arranging action figures in front of them, taking more pictures, then adding text (in word balloons or thought scrolls) to those pictures.

I mean, I'm not actually drawing. Admittedly, when I write it out that way, it turns out that it is rather more labor-intensive than I think it is (and than I think it should be) but still: I'm not drawing in every line.

And yet, it takes up a surprisingly large amount of my time. And I can't do it when the boys are around, which is a problem for pretty much every creative endeavor I've undertaken in the last decade. Which leaves me trying to cram it in either at night, or at odd boy-free moments on the weekends, or just before or after work.

I don't understand how real cartoonists do it.

On the plus side, I discovered this weekend that another line of children's toys, called Woodzeez, has tools and utensils that are size-compatible with the Imaginext guys. All of a sudden, I have props! And I am stupidly excited about it.