Apropos of Nothing: December Reading And Attendant Guilt

…A look at what I’ve been doing in my free time this month, as compared to the vision in my head of some perfected J.A.:

The Thing I Read: Don’t Dare a Dame by M. Ruth Myers

This is the third book in a hard-boiled detective series starring young Maggie Sullivan, a P.I. trying to make her way in 1930s Dayton (at some point, Ohio seems to have become the new Chicago as far as the detective novels I read are concerned). Maggie and her friends and helpers are beautifully written, the historical setting is interesting, the mysteries are excellent, and if she doesn’t give her possible love interest a break I am going to explode from frustration. The man can play a penny whistle and catch bad guys, for god’s sake.

What I Should Have Been Reading: I just bought a three-in-one volume of Philip Marlowe novels after seeing The Big Sleep for the first time this summer. Until then, I’d just assumed there were Hammett people and Chandler people in the world and I was clearly Team Dashiell; if I can ever stop reading about Maggie Sullivan, I’m going to put that hypothesis to the test.

Chandler even seems to be looking at me reproachfully from the book jacket.
Chandler even seems to be watching me reproachfully from the book jacket.

(On a side note, any fellow mystery/movie buffs who are reading this: isn’t The Big Sleep odd? I can’t think of any other movie I enjoyed so much that seemed so much longer than its actual runtime.)

The Thing I Read: Weird Romance: A Sparrow & Crowe Anthology by various authors, including the creators of the Wormwood podcast that originated the characters

I came late to podcasted dramas after a few years of subscribing to the driest “Boring Fact of the Day”-type podcasts you could imagine.  I was therefore probably the last to know about Wormwood, a sort of supernatural(…er) Twin Peaks in which a vision leads booze-swilling former psychologist/current sorcerer Dr. Xander Crowe and his technomancer assistant Sparrow to the titular town. When I did find the 2007 series, I promptly put off listening to the last season for months on end because I didn’t want Wormwood to stop. Fortunately, there’s also a comic book series and two short-story anthologies to keep fans of Crowe and Sparrow from languishing. The book badly needed more proofreading, but the stories are often excellent as two of the most entertaining misanthropes in fiction take on demons, mythical creatures, themselves and each other.

What I Should Have Been Reading: I’ve been on a weird-fiction kick of late and took a chance on a book of Thomas Ligotti stories. I’ve paused halfway through, but the man is a master of elegant prose about horrible things, and I can’t believe I’d never heard of him before this year. I suspect this is how I’m supposed to feel about Raymond Carver but don’t.

I should also start re-listening to Wormwood, for that matter.

The Thing I (Re)Read: Various portions of the Addison Holmes mysteries by Liliana Hart

These books have a special place in my heart—extra-special, considering I’ve read four of them and can’t decide if I like them, and I’ll probably buy the next one and feel the same way. It might be more accurate to say they have a special place in my wallet. But the Addison Holmes books are the story of one woman, not particularly suited for the job, becoming a private investigator—a subject I’m currently trying to write about myself. Watching Addison train and deal with an increasingly demanding vocation when she starts out as a schoolteacher is, dare I say it, educational.

What I Should Have Been Reading: Oh, maybe something from this nice collection of mystery-writing books I have?

Is there a group called "People Who Haven't Worked Out Which Gun Their Fictional P.I. Carries Anonymous"?
Is there a group called “People Who Haven’t Worked Out Which Gun Their Fictional P.I. Carries Anonymous”?

Additional Warning About The Dangerous Ease of Buying E-books: I own Claire DeWitt and the City of the Dead on Nook? When the hell did that happen? You should pick it up, though; it’s really good.


Next time: What anybody who was all Frankensteined out for the year would do: watch Abbott & Costello Meet Frankenstein for the first time since the oughts.


Apropos of Nothing: My Writing Tics

A list of things I’ve noticed in my stories and should probably shake up:

  • The use of “…well” in the same way movies use a fade to black to indicate a sex scene. I see I’ve even managed to put this one in a story I started specifically to practice sex scenes. That’s …welled up, as it were.
  • At some point a character will glare at someone and say “Oh, good” in tones of doom.
  • My main characters are very considerate: after they bop someone in the head, they always check to make sure they’re still breathing, even if running the hell for safety would be a smarter option.
  • The furniture’s usually pretty good.
  • So’s the food.
  • Someone will get a main character’s name wrong in what I hope to god isn’t a Bewitched-level event.

There are probably a lot more, sad to say.

Apropos of Our Cynical Omelet: Admin Note

Just a quick note in case anything I do turns out to affect any RSS feeds, etc.: I will be making some changes over the next few days here at the site. Mostly, I will be adding links to all the Highlander posts so they can more easily be read sequentially (if only by me—hey, I enjoyed those) and adding a brief episode synopsis to each Jonny Quest post, for anyone who wants a less…interpretive idea of what’s going on in those.


In thanks for your attention, here is some of the currency of the internet: a cat picture.

Incubus thanks you too.
Incubus thanks you too.

Apropos of Nothing: Sadness in Print

Inspired by watching Heaven’s Prisoners last week, a list of (other) books I stopped reading because they were getting too depressing, with the reasons:

The Repairman Jack series (F. Paul Wilson) <—- Apocalypse seemed nigh (may have occurred in later books I haven’t read).

Hellboy (Mignola et al) <—- Apocalypse definitely occurred.*

The Kay Scarpetta books (Patricia Cornwell) <—- Unrelenting human malice, from the killers and from not a few of the recurring characters.

Charles de Lint’s novels <—- Unrelenting human and supernatural malice; it’s a bad old world out there, and the presence of magic just means more of it can literally steal your soul before it harms or kills you.

The Amelia Peabody Mysteries (Elizabeth Peters) <—- WWI. ‘Nuff said.

The V.I. Warshawski books (Sara Paretsky) <—- Unrelenting human malice again,  with a soupçon of hideous sexism on top.

The novels of Thomas Hardy <—-To be fair, I barely started these, because depressing is what Hardy is known for. Hardy’s books are all beautifully written—but my god, at least none of the V.I. Warshawsky novels has anybody being sold at the farmers’ market.

King Lear <—- I used to think Hamlet was a little depressing, and then this. I’m not even going to give it the same semi-endorsement as Hardy, because even the power of Shakespeare’s writing can’t mitigate how much I hated King Lear. I’ve read less nihilism in actual nihilist philosophy.


*I’ve noted before that I find it really hard to stay away from Hellboy, but at the moment I’m holding strong.

Next time: On Friday, I continue this mournful theme with another Musical Interlude.


Thoughts on Soylent Green

Last weekend, I finally watched 1973’s Soylent Green. I have a rule that if I make repeated references to a film over time, I’ll make an effort to see the original film at some point (called, for obvious reasons, “The Deliverance Rule”); in the case of Soylent Green, however, I’d been putting it off for years.

I have a problem, you see: years of religious education as a youngster have given me a lasting aversion to apocalypses and dystopias. I’m probably the only person who felt sick after Tom Cruise’s War of the Worlds movie because of the actual plot. The only exception is Hellboy, and as I read more of that, it seems less like an exception and more like long-form masochism on my part*. So I expected that Soylent Green would, at a minimum, ruin my day.

It didn’t come close.

If you’re not familiar with anything about the movie but the titular Soylent Green food substance being made of “Peeeeople!,” a brief rundown: in an environmentally depleted near future, Detective Thorn (Charlton Heston) stumbles onto a secret when a member of the Soylent Company’s board is assassinated. Soylent makes nutrition squares that meet the food needs of most of the non-wealthy in this society: think Clif Bars without the cachet and tastiness. Along the way we see glimpses of $150 vegetables, apartments that come with supplied concubines, and suicide parlors—where Thorn’s roommate eventually checks in after learning the truth about Soylent Green. In the tradition of ’70s nihilistic movies of all stripes, Thorn is fatally wounded before he can broadcast the news of Soylent Green’s very special recipe.

I think there are several reasons the movie didn’t work for me, many of which aren’t really its fault:

  • Their near-future plot takes place in 2022, and we’re supposed to believe the planet has been screwed up for so long that Heston’s character can’t really remember real food. I’ve never been happier about the state of the earth in 2015 in my entire life as I was while watching Soylent Green.
  • The scene in which Thorn is running around the factory and discovering the truth is almost laughable: bodies are apparently being turned into food while still in bags. New Chewy Soylent Green, I guess?
  • There are two things TV and movies in the 1970s seemed sure were imminent: the unlocking of the mind’s psychic potential and the American adoption of the metric system. This would have been a better movie if they’d gone with that first one.
  • The look of the downtrodden citizenry in Soylent Green is heavily derivative of pictures of Soviet breadlines, which probably worked for the film’s viewers for a while, but which now suggests that anyone looking to get rich in 2022 might want to invest heavily in headscarf manufacture.
  • The movie steps on its own premise as far as I’m concerned, making a world so grim it’s hard to believe anybody would care that they’re eating people. Hey, at least someone’s recycling. (This may well be just me: in an ideal world, my mortal remains would be turned into a skeleton in someone’s science class, or they’d overturn the law about binding books in human skin and I’d have to finally finish a novel before making my will. I have a very flexible idea of respect for the dead, I guess.)

As a cultural artifact, Soylent Green is people!!!! interesting, but it’s so rare that I get to write about a movie and conclude that yes, in this day and age, it maybe is for the faint of heart.


*Don’t get me wrong: Hellboy is excellent, but I shouldn’t be reading it.


Apropos of Nothing: A Non-Exhaustive List of Things That Will Buy My Goodwill in Movies/TV/Books

  • The dog doesn’t die. It barely matters what dog or why; I just assume that any canine on my screen or in the pages of the book I’m reading has a large target on its back, and I enjoy being wrong about this.
  • Mummies (animate, French-speaking mummies a plus, as I mentioned last Halloween).
  • The Loch Ness Monster. I have watched some incredible crap just to see a few seconds of CGI Nessie. The same could be said for dragons.
  • A small, informal list of actors I would follow to cinematic hell and back (in some cases literally: are we ever going to get a third Hellboy movie?). When I say informal, I mean even to me: until quite recently I thought Tim Curry was on it, yet my Wiseguy DVDs go unwatched.
  • Spy crap. Any spy crap, really.
  • Architecture. I didn’t like Numb3rs much at all, but stuck around far longer than I should have just to see the house.
  • “They’re romantically involved, and they solve crimes!”
  • Owls. There’s no good reason. I just like owls.
  • Homages to film noir. Oddly, I often enjoy these more than the bona fide noirs themselves.
  • Mythology/folklore: I was going to narrow this down to actual mythology/folklore, but the first season of Sleepy Hollow was so gut-bustingly funny in its zeal to make things up that I’m going to leave this a broad category.
  • Any included reference to 1) Sherlock Holmes, 2) The Pirates of Penzance, 3) poetry, preferably Victorian, or 4) art.

So there you have it, just as I realize this list could in most respects be retitledMy Love For Castle Explained, Plus Owls.”

Apropos of Something!

There will be visiting going on at the end of this week, so I thought I’d throw this one out to the readers, all 1.2 of you:

[socialpoll id=”2260523″]

Now’s your chance to order me around, so vote, you magnificent decimal-point-ridden creatures!


Personal: Jasper

Incubus and Jasper in 2006.
Incubus and Jasper in 2006.

If you read my Twitter feed, you probably know I lost my oldest cat recently: Jasper was over 17 years old, so in a way it wasn’t a surprise, but I’d somehow got my heart set on 19 to be the age at which I’d be sort of okay if the cat died of old age.

In 1998, my future ex-husband and I heard a sad little noise outside the door of our apartment. I opened it and there he was, a half-grown tabby kitten begging for food. I gave him a little of the kibble we had for our cat, and soon we were on a route the cat took around the building: on the first floor, the people who’d turned him loose in the first place were still occasionally feeding him, and he also had a benefactor on the third floor.

And on every floor he had a name. On the first floor he’d been Princess until certain facts made themselves apparent, then Prince. The third floor called him Toby. To me, he was Jasper.


Things continued like that until one day his former owner popped his head out on the balcony below ours. “You gonna take that cat?” he asked.

I said I was, and he handed up the remaining food and litter from Jasper’s brief tenure as an indoor kitten, and I was suddenly the proud owner of Princess Prince Toby Jasper, a cat who loved attention so much he purred if you made extended eye contact. When the FEH and I separated, there was no doubt who was going to take him, and Jasper and I became single at the same time.

He seemed bored, so I got him a friend.

I subsequently apologized.

A few weeks ago, it became clear that Jasper was wasting away. At his next-to-last vet appointment, he was diagnosed with kidney failure. (I’d already suspected it, since I’d seen my dad suffer kidney failure too.) As though he’d heard the diagnosis, in the space of a weekend the cat went from “kind of weak” to not being able to stand on his own. He wouldn’t eat or drink. When I carried him to the litter box, he simply fell over and stayed fallen.

Jasper with Inky, three days before the end.
Jasper with Inky, three days before the end.

As I told them vet who helped put him out of pain, I’d really hoped he’d go on the top of the sofa in his sleep. “It rarely happens that way,” she said.

I never thought I’d be one of those people who had their animal’s ashes in the house, but when it came down to it, I couldn’t put him outside again. So now there’s a little urn that wears his collar, and Jasper is again sitting on the furniture. And I am training myself to say “Let’s go feed the fish!” to the other cat in the morning when I used to say “Let’s go see Mr. J!” and not to turn back to his place on the sofa to say goodnight every night. I never look down to find I’m petting a cat with no recollection of how he got there: Inky’s no lap cat, while Jasper’s spy name was The Insinuator. No one steps on me on the way to find out how much milk is in my coffee. It’s surprisingly awful.

Goodbye, Jasper: you were one of the best.


Next time: Something slightly more cheerful.


Valentine’s Day: Ill-Advised Loves

Presented for your perusal this super-cold Valentine’s Day: everyone can think back to a person they desired for reasons that were poorly thought out, or because they looked good on paper even if it was a bad fit in real life. But what about things?

1. The Jeep Wrangler Sahara

I have wanted one of these cars since I was 14 years old, when I entered a contest to win one in my mother’s name. There’s something about the squared-off, almost classical lines of a Jeep that really, viscerally grabs me: coupled with the unbounded potential of being able to drive anywhere you want, it’s thoroughly seductive. Less seductive, of course, are some of the safety ratings, some of the prices, and the fact that I could probably get better gas mileage driving literally anything except an older Jeep. That doesn’t stop me from sighing over them on my daily commute like some weird car lecher, however.

2. The Newfoundland Dog

I live in a small space, have other pets, and am a pretty avid opponent of drool, and yet whenever I watch the Westminster Dog Show on television, I’m drawn in by the description of the Newfie. Who wouldn’t want a big, handsome, friendly companion who’ll be kind to your other pets and frolic in the water, something 0% of my family’s dogs have ever done? An avid opponent of drool, that’s who—at least, that’s what I tell myself.

3. Excessive Amounts of High-Endish Audio Equipment

I have a pretty good car stereo and a sound system at home that justifies my Pandora subscription nicely, but I will look at literally anything that sounds (no pun intended) interesting online, and when I encounter a Bose store, it’s extremely hard not to go in and poke around. I somehow wound up on the e-mail list for these folks and have been pining for this ever since. Do I need it? Not even close. Have a place to put it? Not really. Do I recognize that part of this stems from the same aesthetic that makes me lust after the Jeep? With distressing clarity! Still: Cherry and metallic taupe 4-eva!

Honorable Mention: Amazon Prime

Like a lot of people, I got Prime a while ago, when it was discounted, even though I knew it would unhealthily feed my caffeinated-puppy level of impatience. On the other hand, if you ever want a nice fountain pen in a hurry, I can’t recommend it enough, and I am slowly working through Instant Video even though it reminds me that HBO never loved any of the same shows the same way I did.



What are your ill-advised lust objects?

As for my Valentine’s Day, I’m going to be at my second science museum in as many weeks, because nothing says romance like fossils and visible tiger willies.