Thursday, October 30, 2008

Random Interlude


So I'm driving in to work today, and as I hit the area of 183 & I35, I am suddenly surrounded by brown. I felt like I had driven into the middle of The Italian Job with Coopers no longer very Mini. I counted 22 trucks before I gave up. So tell me, Austin, what's up with the Running of the UPS Trucks?

Sunday, October 26, 2008

Life Out of Balance


As I mentioned a few posts back, I've started a new job. It's not something I ever thought I would be doing, but I'm having a great time so far. Of course, part of that is the thrill of simply having a job to go to again--being unemployed sucks. Part of it is lucking into a great office situation; it's always nice to actually enjoy the people you have to spend 8-9 hours a day with, especially in an office with under ten people. But there's another part, too, which is a much bigger deal than I realized: being back in Austin, at least part time.

It's not that I don't love Kenedy. I grew up here, after all. Kenedy is the home of my heart: it's my memories and my history. I fit in here because I know how things work. I know the community, and they know me and we all make allowances because of it. But Austin, Austin is the home of my spirit. I fit in there because there are people like me--people with similar views and hobbies and backgrounds. There's a shared cultural history here that's very different than the one I share with Kenedy.

I don't mean that one is any better than the other, just that my life seems much more balanced when I have both. And what am I doing with my newly-rediscovered balance, you ask? Well, reading more, for one thing. A friend recommended that I take a look at Tobias S. Buckell's Sly Mongoose, a Caribbean-flavored, Aztec-infused space opera. With zombies.

Not only was this my first book-length Buckell, it's the third book set in the same universe. This can be a huge disadvantage. Since I am completely unfamiliar with the previous works, there has to be enough detail to get me oriented in this universe. Take that a step too far and what should be a fairly fast-moving storyline (this is Space Opera with zombies, after all) bogs down.
Luckily, Buckell neatly avoids both traps. I'm sure I would have gotten more out of this book had I read the previous two, but Sly Mongoose stands pretty well on its own.

One of the things I really liked about the book was it's cast of characters. It's not just that they're well-drawn or sympathetic (although they are), it's that they're multi-cultural, with aspirations and motivations drawn from that culture as well as circumstance. For a genre so concerned with epic stories and galactic scale, the descriptions of human culture remain distressingly homogeneous. Authors that make their extrapolations from more varied cultures like Buckell or Chris Roberson really are a breath of fresh air in a genre that can feel rote and stale.

And from the epic scope of Buckell's space opera, I moved to the goofy farce of John Scalzi's Agent to the Stars. This was Scalzi's "starter novel;" the novel he wrote to prove to himself & others that he could really write a novel. He posted it online for free, asking readers who enjoyed it to send him a dollar. Over the years, he actually made $4000. The good folks at Subterranean Press came calling & published a limited edition, which sold out. Now the folks at Tor have brought it out in an exceedingly snappy trade paperback, making this, The Little Practice Novel That Could.

It's not Great Literature, but it was never intended to be. What it is is a fantastically quick, fun read with characters it's a real pleasure to spend time with. The dialogue is snappy, the plot really moves, and if you enjoyed Scalzi's The Android's Dream, you'll be pleased to see another race that communicates by smell, albeit a much less stuffy and insufferable one.

So let's see here: two homes, one familiar that feeds my heart, one dynamic that feeds my spirit, and two books, one epic in scale and intent, one tight and endearingly goofy. Sure, I could just stick with one or the other, but what fun would that be? A little balance is a good thing. A really, really good thing. And that ridiculously long commute I have? Really not so ridiculous after all when you look at the bigger picture.

Wednesday, October 1, 2008

The Writing Class



My return to the ranks of the working poor has also meant the return of my reading jones. I've burned through Tattoo Blues (a quick, fun read in the Hiaasen mode, featuring a farting manatee and the immortal phrase "lesbian clam pirate"), Liz Williams' second Inspector Chen novel, The Demon & the City (I read them all out of order, but this is a great detective series set in a world where Chinese mythology is real), and both Darkly Dreaming Dexter and Dearly Devoted Dexter (I hate to say it, but the series is better). But my favorite recent read is Jincy Willett's The Writing Class.

Firstly, a confession: I've never taken a writing class. But I know a lot of people who have both taken them and taught them, so I do have some passing familiarity with the beast. Clearly Willett knows some of the same people, because she's got it nailed. The teacher, Amy Gallup, is a woman who was published in her 20's then watched her career slowly fade away. She's cynical, out of shape, and borderline agoraphobic. The students will be instantly familiar if you've spent time around writers, from the serious students to the student with an over-developed sense of self-importance to the students just there to meet someone. But the best part is, as familiar as all of these characters are, Willett takes her time fleshing them out and giving them some reality beyond the stereotypes.

Now add The Stalker, one of the group who starts by making cruel comments on others' papers and escalates into nasty practical jokes and then murder, and you've got a great story. Will they figure out who the Stalker is? Will they be forced to perform someone's terrifically bad play? Will Amy be able to overcome her fears in time to save her life? Will her dog ever actually like her? You'll have to read it to find out, and the answers are well worth it.

Amy Gallup is certainly the heart of this book, and I really liked her. She's smart and clever and a good teacher, but she has some real, albeit understandable, problems. Watching her wrestle with her demons was inspiring, and she also made me laugh out loud.

So spend some time with Amy Gallup and The Writing Class; I think you'll enjoy the coursework.

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

R.I.P. David Foster Wallace


I was deeply saddened to learn that author and teacher David Foster Wallace had taken his own life. He had a unique way of looking at the world, and it's depressing to think that I'll never see something through his eyes again. It's sad when anyone leaves us before their time. But when they're someone who actually managed to communicate their unique way of looking at the world to others, the loss of that voice is a tragedy.

He wrote some terrific non-fiction pieces, and his collections A Supposedly Fun Thing I'll Never Do Again, Brief Interviews With Hideous Men, and Consider the Lobster are well worth a look. When he took on politics, you got the fervor and anger of a Raoul Duke combined with the vocabulary of Gore Vidal.

But like many, when I think of David Foster Wallace, I think of The Infinite Jest. People loved to take potshots at Jest, and goodness knows, I've taken a few myself: huge, sprawling, confusing, disjointed, self-indulgent. The thing is, all of that stuff is true--it is all of that and more. But it's also sharp, funny, satirical, intricate, and worth every hour I spent negotiating its 1104 pages. I've been thinking of a re-read for awhile; maybe now's the time.

Monday, September 15, 2008

Put On A Happy Face


Hello there, nice people. It has been brought to my attention (in no uncertain terms) that I have been neglecting our conversation. It's true. I have gone silent as of late. But it's not you; it's me.

You see, back in April, I was laid off from my job at Book People. 13 years of doing something I truly loved down the tubes. It hurt. Heck, it still hurts. And when I hurt, I withdraw to lick my wounds. Not the most sociable reaction, I admit, but at least I'm consistent.

So now that I'm ready to rejoin the living, I'd like to take a moment to thank those who've gone out of their way to brighten a very dark 6 months: my cousin, who invited me to help her move back to Florida and let me pretend that I was on vacation rather than out of work; Jeff and Ann VanderMeer, who offered us their generous hospitality on our trip; Rick and Brandy, who always know exactly what to say; Don, Lynne, and Michelle, who've become a second family; my book group, who are well worth that drive to Austin; Karen, in the midst of a tough time herself, who always has time for me, Jim R., a former colleague and generous friend; Joe Domenici, another former colleague (and first-time author) who's made a point to stay in touch; and Scott C., who refused to let me blow off this conversation any longer. I've gotten a lot of good wishes and encouraging words, but these folks really have gone above and beyond.

So why poke my head out now, you ask? Firstly, it's time--one can only hide in a cave for so long. Secondly, I am once again gainfully employed. It's not much to start, but there's a future, and it's a future that will let me stay in Kenedy. For the first time in almost 20 years my job will not involve books, which is a little scary. But I have to say, I've printed and sent out a lot of resumes, clicked and filled out numerous online applications, and gone on "you're overqualified" interview after "you're overqualified" interview, and it was a relief simply to sit in an interview with someone who was genuinely excited to talk to me, and who seemed to believe that I might have something to contribute, overqualified or not.

So here we are again, you and I, beginning another dance. Thank you for being my partner, and I'll try not to step on your toes too often.

Thursday, April 3, 2008

The Story of Forgetting


Some books are easy: they engage your head with strong characters and/or good storytelling, but somehow miss connecting with your heart. That's not necessarily a bad thing--I'm wholly in favor of reading for the sheer fun of it, and every book isn't going to connect with every reader.

But some books...some books are hard. They hit you in the gut, and once they have you, they don't let go. You can still get the strong characters and the good storytelling, but this time they're wedded to a plot or situation that grabs you by the heart and squeezes till you can hardly breathe. The experience isn't always enjoyable, but when it's all over, it feels right, somehow. Necessary.

The Story of Forgetting is about a family devastated by a genetic variant of early onset Alzheimer's. We spend our time alternating between Abel, a hunchback who lives with his twin brother Paul and Paul's wife May in the 40s, and Seth, a modern day teenager whose mother is suffering from the disease. The connection between these two threads is a family story of the golden city of Isadora, where there is no sorrow because there is no memory.

Maybe it hit me so hard because, like most people passing 40, Alzheimer's is the biggest Bogeyman in my personal Anxiety Closet. Diseases of the body are bad, no doubt. But in most cases they can be fought, and even if they can't, you don't lose who you are in the process. You will be changed, certainly, but not lost. With Alzheimer's, you can lose everything: friends, family, security. Worse, your shell is still around, but none of the people who care about you can connect with you.

Maybe it hit me so hard because I was thinking about my own mother, who passed away a few years ago. Her problems were physical, to start with, but soon her mind began to go, too. We were luckier than many--she lost track of time, but she still recognized us till right at the end. Still, her confusion was heartbreaking.

So yeah, this book was difficult for me. But having gone through it and come out the other side, I feel a little bit better about it all. Don't get me wrong--there are no easy answers. But sometimes, it's enough to spend some time with someone who understands.

Wednesday, March 26, 2008

A Tapestry of Wonder


Did you ever read a book so good that you had an actual physical reaction to something you read? Perhaps you were startled into a gasp of surprise when the killer was revealed. Maybe you shed a tear of joy when the good guys finally won, or your heart pounded when things weren't going so well. Or maybe, just maybe, if the story was good enough you dropped all of your barriers and immersed yourself in the world on the page, and suddenly this was no longer a book that you were reading but a story that you were living.

This doesn't happen very often any more. More often than not, even if it's a delightful book that I enjoy reading, I don't fall into the book, losing all track of where I am or how much time is passing. Every once in a while, I get lucky and a book grabs hold that just won't let me go. But even more rare is when I get so caught up in the story that I won't let go, either, actually slowing my reading to make the book last as long as possible.

This has happened twice in recent years: once with David Mitchell's Cloud Atlas, and once with Carlos Ruiz Zafon's The Shadow of the Wind. Both of these books absolutely transported me, and in both cases I didn't want to come back. And now it's happened again with Rabih Alameddine's upcoming The Hakawati.

At its simplest level, The Hakawati (Lebanese for storyteller), is the story of Osama al-Kharrat as he arrives home in Beirut to celebrate Eid al-Hada with his dying father. But there are so many other levels to enjoy! Alameddine weaves a beautiful tapestry of family history and Middle Eastern history which he then embellishes with all kinds of stories: adventures, romances, fables, tall tales, and myths. There are stories within stories within stories, yet you never get lost or even impatient--the storyteller's voice is so amazing and the characters so entertaining that you surrender to the pace of the storyteller and the will of the tale.

Pigeon wars in the skies above Beirut, war, family secrets, djinn in the underworld, hope, cruelty, privation, and so much more are all waiting for you between these covers; I hope you enjoy the journey as much as I did.

Friday, March 21, 2008

Lost Talk, The Extended Version


We have a bit of catching up to do here, so please indulge us.

Episode 5

Mark: Best. Episode. Ever.

Okay, that's a little dramatic, but seriously, one of the best episodes of all time. It was so nice to see someone that you genuinely like finally have that cathartic moment of connection with the outside world.

We like Des, and he's been one of the more sympathetic characters since he was introduced back in, what, season 2? Sheesh. Has it been that long? There was more 'oomph' in their thirty-second phone conversation than I've seen in a long time on this show. Well done, everyone.

Peggy: I totally agree. I was riveted through the whole thing and even teary-eyed at the end.

And finally, some solid clues and explanations!

Mark: Okay, so, we've got a guy traveling back and forth through his own timeline--and it's related to a massive exposure to electromagnetic energy--and time is different on the island than it is everywhere else--and you know what? It looks like I was right, after all! Quantum Physics--the 21st century version of magic! Hooray for me! And really, seeing this much of the process only makes me want to get to the hows and the whys of the island that much more. We're eventually going to hit the phrase "string theory," and then all bets are off. Mark my words on this.

Peggy: Duly marked. “Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic.” RIP, Sir Arthur.

Mark: Who is Ben's inside man on the boat? I think myself that it's the captain. Notice how he was referenced often, but never shown? There's a big reveal coming up. Or, conversely, it could be another someone we haven't seen yet...like, oh, maybe MICHAEL?

Peggy: Good call. We know Michael will be back sometime, but if it is him, haven’t they blown their reveal? And who are these Freightees, anyway?

Mark: I'm still thinking this is the enforcer branch of the Dharma Initiative. They know an awful lot about the island and its properties. I think this is the remnants of that program, backed off to a safe distance where Ben can't gas anyone, and they are still trying to figure out what the island is. Oooh, I just had a thought: if Dharma "solves" the mystery of what the island is, does that take the island's power away?

Peggy: Hmmmmm. Maybe. But Dharma’s initial goals had nothing to do with the island—they were about human potential. It was really just their bad luck to hire Ben’s Awful Daddy, who brought his spawn along for the ride.

Mark: Say what you want about Juliet, she's at least acting as if she has some brains. Instead of inarticulately stomping around on the beach, she says to the Breakfast Club, "we're worried because you're not. So what do you know that we don't?" Jack could take a few lessons in communication with her.

Peggy: Heh. You said “Jack” and “communication” in the same sentence.

Mark: My one niggling concern is that now the Losties are split into three groups. I hope they continue to share equal time each episode rather than the more full-blown "let's follow this group around for a while" style. That really adds to the perceived drag of the show. Everyone advancing a little bit is just fine with me, thank you. Helps to keep the threads fresh from week to week, too.

Peggy: Sure, that’d be nice, but if you throw in flashbacks and flash forwards, I don’t see how they’d be able to do it. Still, you said it up top: Best Episode in a good long while, arguably the Best Episode Ever.

Episodes 6 & 7

Okay, about Last-Last Week:

Mark: First off, if Michael Emerson ISN'T nominated for an Emmy next year, I'm going to freak out. He is bloody brilliant as Ben Linus, and this episode, where he goes from Sinister Ben to down-to-Earth Ben to earnest and manipulative Ben to "You're MINE" freaked out Ben is just...well, it's really really good TV. And this is spot-on Villain 101 Writing, here: he's the bad guy, but he's not bad. He's just way more committed to his goals than you. So committed that he's not above mass-murdering.

Peggy: Agreed. He is the most compelling character on the island, doling out information and misinformation with equal aplomb. How the hell are they going to deal with this character for 2 more years?

Mark: Well, I'm all for a spin-off show with him and Sayid, wherein Ben gets even with everyone who ever crossed him for one reason or another. But let's wrap Lost up first before we talk about that.

I like that the island was just honeycombed with this deadly gas, and it took but a throw of the switch to activate it and kill everyone. Very Bond-villain. But, then again, Ben's really really committed, isn't he?

Peggy: Didn't you just love that jawdrop on Sawyer & Hurley when Ben joined their happy family? And why is Locke such a terrible leader? I mean, seriously. Terrible. He could not step more wrongly in getting folks to join up on his "Let's Save the Island" Train if he tried. His Otherville comapnions may be sheep, but sheep stick with someone they can trust. Once he loses their trust, it's just Locke & Ben, playing house in Otherville, and Locke won't last a day against Ben.

Mark: Yeah, that was good stuff. "See you guys at dinner!" Like a little kid.

Peggy: A particularly bratty one, yes. I kind of like Take All My Toys And Go Home!Ben, even if he is over-attached to Shady!Juliet.

Mark: Actually, this episode made me like Juliet a little bit more, as well. It helped to explain that pained look on her face from time to time when Ben came up in conversation.

Peggy: It does beg the question, though, of what else she hasn't been honest or forthcoming about. Although Kate's assumption that she was deliberately misleading Jack by calling a poison gas factory a power station was definitely jealousy talking. I seriously doubt that Goodwin, Harper, or Ben ever sat Juliet down and said, “Hey, you know that power station we’re always talking about? It’s really a poison gas factory. Just thought you should know.”

Mark: At this point, the triangle is done. Kate has made her choice, and Jack has made his. It's time for her to live with it and let both Jack and Juliet do...whatever it is they are going to do. We know they don't end up together, unless the Flash Forwards didn't go forward enough. But this star-crossed stuff is just forced. The characters are all going their own way. Now, if only Kate could see it that way...

Peggy: From your mouth to God's ears, but I'm afraid God is in the tub on this one. We will never be done with this damnable Love Tetrahedron or whatever it is these days. Much like Kate looooooooves Sawyer, but thinks she should be with Jack, Jack looooooooooves Kate but thinks he should be with Juliet. It'd never work out--she's not broken enough for him to fix.

Mark: Well, you're probably right about that. But I'm thinking if we all WILL it so, then they will have no choice but to write about other things...

Peggy: *snort*

Mark: Ooooh, and how about that--Whisper whisper whisper--BANG! Here's an Other!--whisper whisper whisper--BANG! there they go again? Teleporting? Time tunnel? Someone yo-yoing with a cosmic string?

There's a hyperpocket there in that grove—or something quantum-ish. Can't wait until they finally get around to explaining that.

Peggy: Maybe. But Whisper whisper whisper PERSON could also be Smokey projecting, couldn't it?

Mark: Yes, it could be a projector of some sort--but then again, that's a pretty damn sophisticated piece of equipment.

Peggy: No, no. Smokey. As in the Smoke monster. Remember when it appeared to Eko as his dead brother? Or to young Ben as his dead Momma? Maybe the island is being proactive, taking a hand in its own survival, using Harper to bring Ben's message to Juliet in order to hit every one of Juliet's guilt buttons.

Mark: Argh. Yeah, I wasn't even thinking about that. Good point.

Peggy: And what's with the return of Bubblehead!Kate! this week? These people are not trustworthy. They have just lied to your face, and you turn your back on one of them. Sorry, darlin', but you deserved that clock on the head, as much as I still hate Charlotte.

If Daniel and Charlotte were doing something good, why not tell SOMEONE--Jack, Juliet, Vincent, ANYBODY, where they were going and why? They'd better thank their lucky stars that it was Juliet who got in and she was capable of looking past the sneaking, the lying, and the attack from behind and not shoot Daniel and Charlotte both. Dear Lord, what if it had been Jack? He would have demanded explanations until everyone on the island was breathing the gas.

It's funny how everyone, characters and fans alike, trusts Daniel. Charlotte gets something of a free pass because Daniel likes her.

Mark: Yes, that is funny because, empirically, those kinds of people are not the ones you look to in a crisis situation.

And you're right about Juliet being ideal for the two of them to run across. Birds of a feather, I guess. I, too, wonder aloud why the dorks from the boat don't just explain it to everyone what's going on. Of course, now we sorta know...they are just there for Ben.

Peggy: Well, sure, but why be all cagey about it? "Killing/Capturing Ben Linus is our primary objective. Help us, and we'll take you with us when we leave." Hell, even Locke's group doesn't like Ben and would pitch in (with the possible exception of Locke himself).

Mark: I got the impression that the Freighties don't trust the Losties because they don't know who's who yet. But yes, now, having identified the castaways, you'd think they would be a skosh more forthcoming.

Peggy: Well, yes, initially, the Breakfast Club would be right to be cautious. But by now, they know there's a Locke/Jack rift, Ben's with Locke (although as far as they know, he's still a prisoner), and Jack's group doesn't like/trust Locke OR Ben. Why not just ask for their help?

Mark: Okay, now on to Last Week:

Man, why a Korean man gotta die? I almost don't want to know how it happened. Hurley's presence at the grave would seem to indicate that the rescue isn't smooth sailing. But damn, man.

Peggy: The death date on the stone is the crash date, so he's not the "survived the crash, then died" person. Is he really dead? He could be back on the island, couldn't he? This clearly took place before all of Hurley's "We've got to go back. They want us to go back" stuff, so it's possible, right? Right? Dammit. Bastardy bastarding bastards.

Mark: I am going to call a cheat, here. That was a dirty trick, putting a flashback AND a flashforward in the same episode. I'll allow it once, but frankly, that had better not get to be a habit. I know they were waiting until the end for the suckerpunch, but in the future, find some other way of doing it that doesn't violate the storytelling structure. Please. Thank you.

Peggy: Yep. Clever, but using it more than once would be cheating.

Why was Hurley in Korea? Have we seen anything that would indicate that he felt particularly close to Sun? Where were the hordes of paparazzi writing about the birth of a child of one of the Oceanic 6, especially with another member of the 6 there to visit? This is, at most, 6 months after our current island time, so the Oceanic 6 would still be white-hot media darlings.

Mark: It may have just been that the "6" got closer for their shared experience of getting OFF the island. The lack of media is either bad writing on their part (see the trial, three shows ago), or Korea doesn't brook paparazzi interference at all.

And how about Juliet, taking a page from Ben's book? "I'll give you birth council by Any Means Necessary!" Nicely done, if only to get Jin killed, now that I think about it. Damn old Juliet.

Peggy: Even if her story & motivations remain kind of shadowy, she is dead serious about her vocation, and does not want to see another mother and child die.

Captain Gault? As in Ayn Rand's John Gault? I wonder how that ties in.

Mark: I don't know, and now I'm worried that you brought it up. I can't get to my copy of Valis soon enough. *sigh*.

Peggy: The TWOP folks pointed out a better Gault tie-in than Rand (which, I just realized, is spelled GALT, not GAULT. Doh!): William Hope Hodgson wrote many weird seas stories about a Captain Gault. Niiiiiiiice.

Mark: Indeed. Gotta love the think-tank out there. Apparently, there are a shitload of readers who watch Lost. And write for it.

Peggy: Did Zoe Bell really get all that credit time for reading a book upside down and killing herself, or will she be back?

Mark: We'll see her in flashbacks. There’s something up with that ship, too. And don't forget, we'll get Michael's story of how he came to be on the boat. Zoe will get her day or four to act.

Peggy: The return of Michael was one of the biggest anti-climaxes ever--way to settle for the obvious there, Lost. Granted, his story might turn out to be interesting, but it was telegraphed since last year at Comic-Con,and I thought Lost was better than that.

Mark: I agree, but wasn't it good to see him? You know, only Sayid can pull off that suave James Bond shit. Here comes Michael, who looks Sayid in the eye and says nice ta meetcha, and Sayid doesn't bat an eye. As you say, had it been Jack, the janitor would have been tackled and beaten until Jack "understood" what was happening.

Peggy: Do you get to feel good about fixing someone if you broke them yourself?

Mark: I'm all atwitter at what happens next!

Peggy: I know! We have, what, 5,6 more episodes left? I'm no longer sure that we're going to get off the island this season.

Mark: I think we're so close that there's no way to NOT finish up. Here's how I think it'll go down: Season four ends with them that get rescued gettting rescued. Season Five? Cut back and forth between what's going on with the island, and Jack trying to get back there. Five ends with him back on the Island, an echo of the first season opener...and then six is the final showdown between Locke and Jack. That's how I think it will fall.

Peggy: You make some good points with your timeline, but what about the Widmore/Paik/Ben side of the story? Is Widmore the big bad, or was it just Ben manipulating Locke yet again? (And if you believe that this info was Ben's last bargaining chip, I've got a bridge I want you to take a look at.)

Mark: I think Widmore is the "real" bad guy. He's never been anything but. He was the wedge between Penny and Des, he's seen buying the log to the Black Rock, and then there was that around the world boat race, or as I like to call it now, "The Bermuda Triangle 10,000"--no, he's got some agenda, and he always has, and it's always been about the boats and the ocean and presumably the island.

Peggy: I want to agree with you. I really do. I want to believe that having that definite end time has sharpened up the storylines and made it okay to actually drop some answers now and then. But then I remember that this is Lost, and I mistrust such obvious, easy answers. Especially since one of the people we've heard tell us Widmore is the Big Bad is Ben, who we all know is a lying liar who lies, and the other is Captain Gault, who Michael or someone on the freighter doesn't trust.

Mark: Of course, Ben has scads of secrets for Locke. I'm just hoping that Locke doesn't think that. He's still got some gullibility problems now and again.

Peggy: Now and again? Has Ben ever not been totally in control of Locke?

Mark: I'll see your *snort* and I'll raise you a "touche."

Peggy: How do Penny & Desmond tie in to either storyline? Why does proximity to the island make some folks skip around in time and others forget how to read and kill themselves? Captain Gault seemed awfully blase about yet another crewman offing herself. Did they bring a huge crew, or are they reaching the point of not enough people to run the boat?

Mark: Penny & Des--innocent bystanders. Pulled in because of sheer proximity to father Widmore. When Penny finds out what pop has been up to, I predict she'll go nuclear.

Daniel said (and I believe him) that there had to be exposure to radiation or an EMP for that possibility to occur. Des was the guy who popped the EMP, so, naturally, he's unstuck in time. Anyone ELSE close to the island when that EMP went off would have been (potentially) exposed, as well. Who knows why it takes EMPs or radiation to unhinge the timeline, but now that I know it's physics, I'm breathing a little easier about it.

Peggy: But as far as we know, none of the Lostaways (who were certainly closer to the hatch explosion than the Freightees) are losing their minds, forgetting how to read, or contemplating suicide. I'll give you that only certain people or really high doses of radiation or EMP cause the time slips. But there are too many other symptoms, and they're only manifesting on the freighter. You don’t see Hurley going all Marley’s Ghost, although come to think of it, there was that whole “Dave” episode. Hmmmm.

And speaking of Hurley, how does Hurley end up rescued? How do Jin and Claire die (if, indeed, they do)? How does Ben get off the island, not to mention get Sayid to kill people for him?

Mark: Is it possible that there's a LOT more than the Oceanic 6 that get off the island by secret or other means? Ben's probably got another sub or something. Or how about the supply planes that drop the Dharma groceries? You're right--maybe they don't get off the island this season.

Peggy: Does Miles still have that grenade in his mouth?

Mark: Well, in Lost-Time, it's only been a day. But yes, I think he does.

Peggy: I’m sure this makes me a bad person, but Hee!

Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Scrambled Eggtown


Peggy: Aaron? AARON?

And a moment of rage for characters saying (or not saying) stupid things to further the thrice-bedamned Love Quadrangle: Sawyer could so easily have ameliorated Kate's "How can you possibly not want a baby with me, even though I would totally do Jack in a minute" huffiness with a simple, "I'm glad you're not pregnant because if you were, you could die." Do we get that? Nope. Yet another misunderstanding, yet another fight, yet another bounce of the Kate-pong ball in Sawyer & Jack's seemingly never-ending game.

Mark: I have to try and remember just exactly WHO knows about the unique, baby-mama killing properties of the island. I thought Kate knew, and I'm pretty sure that Sawyer didn't know. But that's neither here nor there.

Peggy: Sawyer might not know, but Kate sure as heck does. She was standing next to Sun when Juliet dropped the "They DIE!!!" bomb.

Mark: Okay, then, that was a fight deliberately picked.

The WHOLE fight was a set-up for us to get that Aaron-punch at the end of the episode. This also explains last season's cryptic "I have to get back to him," comment at the airport. It was a baby boy. And not hers, at that.

Peggy: Since Aaron had actual blood relatives living in Australia, Kate is clearly pretending that Aaron is hers, because no one would give a toddler to an accused murderer, bank robber, resisting arrest-er, Heroine of Oceanic 815 or no. And how old is Aaron, anyway? If we assume that the story is that Kate got pregnant on the island (since she wasn't pregnant when she boarded the plane), they could be years (literally or island time-wonkiness) away from rescue.

Mark: Old enough to talk is, what, 3ish? 4? Hell, I don't know. There is another possibility, of course--mama dies and Kate assumes responsibility. I don't think I like that, but it could be that.

Peggy: Yes, but if Aaron is still "Claire's baby" and not Kate's baby, Oceanic 6 rock-star fame or no, Aaron's biological father, aunt, and even the adoptive couple in LA have more of claim on him than Kate does, no matter what Claire wanted as she was left behind or on her deathbed or whatever. Add in the pricey settlement from Oceanic that Aaron would be getting, and relatives would be coming out of the woodwork to claim him.

Mark: Well, yeah, sure, but as we've seen before, Kate does whatever Kate wants to do. She's a bad girl at heart, no matter what her noble reasoning may be. So, she's got SOME reason for having that kid, and I'm sure it's believable to her own internal Kate-logic.

But Jack's reaction to the baby begs another question: he sure seems like he doesn't like the kid, eh? I think something awful happened that Jack is responsible for, and THAT'S why he doesn't want to see Aaron.

Peggy: Possible. Jack has to make a big-time, life or death-level choice between Claire and Kate. He chooses Kate. Now he and Kate are splitsville, he's found out that Claire was his half-sister, and we're a step closer to Grizzly Jack and the Beard of Guilt and Shame. It would help explain both Jack's need to get back and Kate's reluctance to go.

Mark: This was the first episode that seemed to stall out a bit for me. Oh, there was movement, sure, but it was lateral movement rather than forward movement. The Miles and Ben conversation meant nothing to nobody.

Peggy: Unless, as my imaginary internet friends have suggested, Miles & Ben were speaking in code.

Mark: They did seem rather emphatic, didn't they? No, as of right now, I'm going to say that what they said was what they meant. Miles has proven he's after money. This is par for the course, so far.

Of course Kate was going to get snuggly with Sawyer one last time before getting the boot back to Jack. There was an inevitability to that, probably based on the fact that we know she gets off of the island.

Peggy: Hmmpf. The only reason there's an inevitability to this is the investment TPTB have in that junior high love triangle.

Mark: Heh. Bitter much? No, it was only in the flash forward that we got an answer, even if it raised two more questions: how did Kate get off the island and go free? Simple. Courtroom theatrics. Nothing to it. I liked that part a lot.

Peggy: Legally speaking, that trial? Sucked. Charges from a number of different states, yet the venue is in Cali, where Kate committed no crime? The defense speaks first? Character witnesses before the prosecution speaks? Our star witness for 1 charge is unavailable, so we'll drop the other 7, too? I mean, seriously, it was awful. The procedural mishaps might have been excusable if it was a fix-up and everyone was in on it, but they'll have to ret-con the shit out of that scene to make me believe it.

Mark: You know, now that you mention it, the whole thing seemed a farce, didn't it? Tch. California courts. They'll let any celebrity go free!

But why was Jack lying about the *8* survivors of the crash? Was HE protecting them? Making it so that no one else would look for them? I'm convinced that as of the flash forwards, Jack knows way more about the island and its set-up than he ever thought he would. Otherwise, why try to protect it and deflect interest from it with this fictional story?

Peggy: Clearly the survivors have made a pact with SOMEBODY, guaranteeing them money and fame if they just follow the script. After all, Kate said she's heard Jack tell that story a lot. Because it's Jack and he's the hero (blech), we're meant to assume that he's doing it for what he believes is a noble cause. Of course, he later changes his mind, but heaven forfend we imply that Jacksus is venal.

Now let's talk about the 8 for a minute. How do we get from 6 to 8? Who might those 2dead bodies be? We know that Ben, Juliet, Rousseau, Alex, Karl, and probably Desmond can't possibly be one of the 6, or even the 8--they weren't on the plane, so they couldn't "survive" the crash. I'm going to assume for my own sanity that the 2 won't be useless redshirts. Who does that leave? We know Jack, Kate, Sayid, and Hurley are part of the 6. Is Aaron? Of our other Losties that leaves Sun, Jin, Locke, Sawyer, Claire, Rose, Bernard, and technically Michael and Waaaaaaaaalt. Neither Locke nor Sawyer want to go. I think we can assume that Claire isn't one of the 6. That leaves Sun, Jin, Rose, and Bernard (Michael and Waaaaaalt are either the 2 or not a part of this equation). Sun has a compelling reason to leave the island. Rose has a compelling reason to stay, and both Jin and Bernard would stay with their wives. I'm betting Sun & Jin for our last 2 spots. The question is the 2--who "survived the crash" but died awaiting rescue? Do we have 2 bodies to explain? Is it simply part of a more compelling cover story?

Mark: I think one of the "two dead" is Charlie--a way to honor his sacrifice without tipping anyone's hand. That way, he can be named and recognized. As for the other one--wouldn't it be funny if it was the buried alive B-actress from season 3?

Peggy: The TWOP folks have noted that Charlie talked to Penny, so he may have to be one of the two to explain that. But it's not like he would go unnoticed if he wasn't one of the two—he's (sort of) a celebrity, as is Niki; their names/photos/bios are going to be freakin' EVERYWHERE in the media circus surrounding the survivors.

Mark: That is an aspect of the flash forwards I'm starting to enjoy--the idea that these 6 folks are rock stars thanks to the media.

Peggy: The EEFP's at TWOP have pointed out that each flash forward so far has taken place before the previous one; i.e., the FFs are moving backwards in time, perhaps leaving us a season ender where we get our "rescue" and our earliest FF all at once. I like it.

Mark: Ooooh, me too! That satisfies the writer in me, that elegant structure.

Oh, and that concentration experiment that those two Breakfast Clubbers were running--I'm betting that's a test of the island's power to repair damage. What do you think?

Peggy: Either repairing damage (say, short-term memory loss) or focusing ESP. And where do you suppose they got Dharma Swan cards? Coincidence, or did we just get a big smackin' clue that the Breakfast Club is Dharma?

Mark: It would be nice if I'm right about one damn thing on this show.

Peggy: Heh. I have to admit to a few chinks in my Team Locke armor, though. I believe that the island has spoken to Locke, but he's such a damn child! The minute he's frustrated or loses confidence, he lashes out. Does the island only speak to deviant/defective personalities? This would explain Manipulative Ben, Terrible Twos Locke, and Sad Fragile Hurley. Of course if this were true, we'd have to at least allow for the possibility of Enigmatic Rousseau being special in the same way (which I would LOVE). The only other personality troubled enough to trigger an island experience is Jack's, and he did see his dead dad. Hmmmmmm.

Mark: Locke still has his baggage, despite having his dad out of the picture. What he has to remember is that Ben lives to screw with people. I was pissed at Locke's temper-tantrum...as if it were the first time he's encountered Ben! It's an echo of that "Jack bosses you around" talk—and the exact same reaction.

As for who the island speaks to--remember we have to put Mr. Echo on that list, too, even though he didn't survive the smoke. I think it's less sentient than that--the island is what it is, and you either pick up on it, or you'll never see it (or rationalize it away if you do, JACK!).

Peggy: Mr. Eko was carrying some serious guilt around for the life he led and for impersonating a man of God. Then on the island, he had a Locke-ian religious conversion that managed to out-Locke Locke himself. If someone wants to argue that he might not be the most emotionally or psychologically stable person, then I'm not sure they would be wrong.

I guess I do think there's more of a sentience there. If Jacob is a manifestation of the island, the only reason to appear in human form is to communicate on some more sophisticated level than "Island good. Outsiders bad. Make be gone."

But armor chinks and all, I'm still on Team Locke, if only because the alternative is so distasteful.

Monday, February 25, 2008

The Billionaire's Vinegar


I seem to be drawn to true-life tales of con artists, scoundrels, and scallywags (see my earlier review of Charlatan and my fondness for The Whiskey Robber and The Magician and the Cardsharp).

It's not that I admire them, per se; they have all cheated, defrauded, and stolen from both governments and individuals for no higher purpose than their own gain.

But I do have to admit that I can't help but admire their chutzpah--the sheer ballsiness of their schemes. You can't help but wonder what this combination of confidence, nerve, and ambition could accomplish in more legitimate pursuits.

The nervy bastard at the center of The Billionaire's Vinegar is Hardy Rodenstock, a self-made wine connoisseur/dealer from Germany who ascended to the top of the rare wine market in the 80s via some incredible "finds" of rare vintages. Chief among these finds was a cache of rare bottles dating from the late 1700s, each engraved "Th:J." implying that they once belonged to Thomas Jefferson.

Despite the fact that questions are raised about the bottles' authenticity (from historical sources outside the wine industry/culture) from the beginning, the Forbes family paid $156,000 for a single bottle of "Jefferson wine" to be displayed along with other Jeffersonian artifacts owned by the family. This purchase sent the market for rare wines into the stratosphere.

Rodenstock was everywhere after this, with a seemingly never-ending supply of the rarest wines, a prickly personality, and a shady background.

Wallace does an excellent job setting up the culture of folks who buy and drink rare wines and how that culture changed once the paradigm shifted from buying rare wines to drink to buying rare wines as an investment or a way to show off (predictably, this vulgarization occurs once the Americans really get involved). He also does an excellent job showing how snobbery, pride, and tradition made supposed experts willfully blind to the idea of fraud.

Definitive answers are hard to come by in books like this; it's difficult to test the wine without ruining it, and no one who's paid an insane amount for a bottle of wine wants to be proved a fool. Still, the circumstantial evidence of fraud is pretty clear, meaning many very, very wealthy people spent outrageous amounts of money for wine not nearly as old or rare as what they thought.

And maybe it makes me a bad person, but it's hard not to take some small measure of satisfaction in snobby rich folks looking like fools.

Friday, February 22, 2008

Lost Talk, Episode 3


Mark: Let me just start this one off:

I LOVE SAYID!

Peggy: Well, who doesn't, when he can do that break-dancing-neck-breaking thing? Seriously though, when you get an ep like this, you do have to wonder why Sayid gets relegated to anonymity so often.

Mark: Well, now we know, he's not on the sidelines. There's just no one for him to torture or kill, is there?

How COOL is that? "Hello. I'm Sayid. I'm one of the Oceanic Six. Prepare to die."

You want to know what I think? I think we are closer to the event of the 6 getting off of the island than ever. I think that may happen at the end of this season, if not sooner.

Peggy: Possible, although what effect the shortened season will have on the storyline remains to be seen. 16 epsisodes squeezed into 13 may juggle things a bit.

PanteneAssassin!Sayid was all kinds of awesome, and yet again, this episode flat MOVED. Even adding the new pop-up episode ahead of it, it certainly didn't feel like 2 hours.

Mark: Do I need to be watching the pop-up recap? I mean, I can live without the wordplay confirmation, and it doesn't seem like they are doing anything else noteworthy other than confirming that stuff.

Peggy: I'll watch again this week to make sure, but week 3's pop-ups only confirmed some things ("Miles Straume = maelstrom") that the message board folk had figured out, but didn't really add anything new to the mix (unless you're deeply interested to know tidbits like "Most of Lost is filmed in Hawaii. Even the stuff that might look like somewhere else. Really."). Crickets were chirping during the whole ghostbuster/picture frame incident.

Interesting mind-fuck question from the first few pages of TWOP: is Jacob's cabin gone because Hurley wished it away?

Neat.

Probably not, but the implication is that it comes & goes in different places, since we are a long walk in the opposite direction from where Hurley saw it.

Mark: Well, this is time and space muckety-muck we're dealing with here, as our resident nervous physicist confirmed. A thirty-one minute time difference from when the payload was supposed to hit the island and when it actually did hit the island. Something is out of synch, and the cabin may be the very LEAST of what's wrong with that piece of beachfront real estate.

Peggy: And what about that dust around the cabin? Is it debris/cast-off from that constantly BAMF-ing cabin, or is it deliberate--a summoning circle/ pentagram kind of thing?

And can I just say how happy I am that Ben is clearly in the mix for whatever endgame we're headed towards? What do you suppose he might have over Sayid? And which of Sayid's "friends" is he killing to protect?

Mark: Well, my guess is that Sayid ends up on the freighter and becomes one of them (he's a joiner, after all) and then the inside mole gets to Sayid and he becomes a double agent. Or would he be a triple agent by this time? I can't keep up with it all; I just want him to keep assassinating people. I think that makes me a terrible person.

Peggy: Lingering questions (off the top of my head--your mileage may vary):

Where the hell is Smokey? Is there more to Danielle than we've seen so far? What "work" does Charlotte have to do that would keep her from returning to the boat after having been kidnapped by island hostiles? Who do the Breakfast Club work for? What happened to all those kidnapped kids from season 2? What happened to the gravelly-voiced lady sheriff? Does Ben have a secret way off the island (and does he have to go through the wardrobe to use it)? Why wasn't Juliet a candidate for a trip to the ship, given how badly she wants off the island?

Mark: Working backwards, Juliet is in LUVVVV with Jack, so they will go together or not at all. Or, opionally, Juliet is never getting off of the island because she "belongs there." I DO think Ben has another way off the island that he rarely uses. Another sub? A helicopter? Dunno, but yeah, in the end, he can come and go as he pleases. He just doesn't want to. I don't remember the lady sheriff at all; she had better not be important! The kids from Season two are still with the rest of the others--or in bunkers being poked and prodded. Or both. I still think the Breakfast Club are the shattered remnants of the original Dharma Initiative. Charlotte is probably checking to see if there's an anthropological reason for the others being there for so long. I think we're done with Danielle in terms of character development, though. But I miss Smokey too, so maybe we'll get a double shot here in
the next week or two.

No real complaints from me so far. Just keep going, Lost People, and move that narrative!

Wednesday, February 13, 2008

Lost Talk, Episode 2


Peggy: That? May well have been the fastest-moving episode of Lost ever.

"Pay no attention to: the numbers, Claire's psychic, Lostzilla, Nadia, not-dead Mikhail behind that curtain! Look at all the shiny new questions to wonder about!"

Mark: Although I really liked the lip-service attempt that Locke made, on behalf of us fans, by asking Ben a direct question: What is the monster? It happened so fast and was so out-of-character that I half-expected Ben to answer John. Heh. They almost had me there, for a second.

Peggy: That really did seem calculated on someone's part. Perhaps they thought they were throwing us a bone, but the general internet buzz seems to be a resounding WTF? I wonder what question Ben was expecting, since that so clearly wasn't it.

Mark: Yes, that was it. It was that Ben wasn't expecting that question, either. I was sharing Ben's wonderment at the out-of-the-blueness of it all.

Bottom of the ocean floor? Man...I don't need this. We're only two episodes in. I really don't need this.

Peggy: Polar bears in Tunisia? Ancient polar bears in Tunisia? Check out Lostpedia on the topic of vile vortices.

And do keep in mind those 2 bunnies in the recent Dharma video.

Mark: That's a nice theory, and that's what I meant about the fans doing all of the work for us. Wow.

No, I think it's modern polar bears in ancient Tunisia, and this was part of the big 'accident' that made the island burp every 108 minutes. Either that or the island, as I suspected, is a hotbed of theoretical physics, including bifurcating timelines that allow one polar bear to remain on the island and get shot in season one, and another polar bear to end up buried alive in the sand in season four.

Peggy: And speaking of the internet doing our heavy lifting for us, according to the EEFP at TWOP, the original Henry Gale's balloon was from Widmore.

They also point out that the pictures on Grandma's wall where Miles was ghostbusting change, in both content and framing between when he goes up to the room and when he comes down. Before. After.

And one more: the episode was titled "Confirmed Dead," referring, apparently, to the passengers of 815 and also to Naomi. However, as we know, the passengers of 815 are not dead (at least not all of them), so maybe Naomi isn't, either (which would make her having a flashback more reasonable).

Mark: Wow. That's a lot to absorb. You know, there was a time when that stuff could just be written off as a prop gaff. But not this show. It's so deliberate--but, why? To what end? I've got these theories in my head now, each more improbable than the last, and I just KNOW that there's a more simple (yet still clever) explanation to it all. This is television, after all, and before this show was pounced upon by all of the fans, they still had to sell it as a way to move tampons and dish soap--and that means an ultimately simple concept that the flapping head-studio execs could understand. I just know there's a forest here, but I can't see it because all of these damn trees are in the way.

Peggy: Popular internet theory # infinity: When the purple light killed Oceanic 815, what it really did was split off an alternate timeline wherein 815 really did crash and everyone really did die. Our Losties are survivors of an alternate 815.

I'm not sure if I want to go here, or at least not yet. For some reason although I have no problem contemplating vile vortices, temporal anomalies, time travel or teleportation, I am having difficulties going all the way to alternate timelines/universes, perhaps because I am, shall we say, concerned over TPTB's ability to sustain that explanation.

Mark: Oh, yeah, I'm with you, there. Anything BUT alternate realities, please. I really like the vile vortices idea. Years ago, when writing comics for Absolute Comics, we came up with a planet called Axys, which was the center of the universe and where all of the various black holes and worm holes and such ended up. It was the septic tank of the universe. The Lost island could be the planet's septic tank! I would love that.

Peggy: Of the new 4, I like Dan (although clearly I’m supposed to, which makes me wonder. I both love and hate that about this show), I'm amused by Angry!Miles (who had some great lines), I like Lapidus, the pilot (although by casting Jeff Fahey, they raise the possibility of some explosive Crazy yet to be revealed), and I dislike Charlotte (She creeps me out. Big time. She has too many teeth when she smiles.).

Mark: Well, the second I saw Jeff Fahey, I yelled, "Cyboman!" I like Miles the bestest of the new bad-guys. He got the best lines (love the smart asses!) and he also seems to have a genuine whoo-whoo power without being on the island. This now begs a question: were THESE people kicked off and have been trying to get back? With the exception of Dan, everyone else seemed either relieved or pleased that they were there. And if they had been previous occupants, it would certainly explain the hostility towards Ben. He seems to engender that.

Peggy: Popular internet theory # infinity +1: The Breakfast Club ("a headcase, a Ghostbuster, a scientist, and a drunk" --nickname via TWOP) were all "supposed" to be on 815 and somehow missed their flight. Thus they're supposed to be on the island, and don't return with the Oceanic 6.

Mark: Nah, I don't buy it. Miles was way too pissed off at Ben. My wife, Cathy, thought that maybe they were the children of the people Ben murdered from the Dharma Initiative, which would make Spooky Guy the remnants of said Initiative. Again, it would explain the ire towards Ben, and there had to be some folks from Dharma NOT on the island to maybe piece it together. Anyway, it's a theory that may have some legs.

Peggy: How did we get a Naomi flashback if Naomi is dead? Is Naomi dead? Why was she even bringing up Oceanic in her discussion with Abaddon (who was still scary, but not as creeeeeeeepy this week)?

Mark: Yeah, I was initially tossed, wondering if we were getting a "real" flashback, or a flash forward. Turns out it was just a flashback to set up the four people. And it handily confirms that Abaddon was real and not a Hurley figment. And also was working with the Freighter folk. So, that's one small mystery tied off, there, leaving only the freighter folk to concentrate on.

Peggy: The TWOP folks have advanced the theory that the "they" that Abaddon was asking Hurley about were his team, who never make it back. I guess this assumes that somebody (Sayid?) manages to fly the Oceanic 6 off the island.

Mark: They train the shit out of those Republican Guard, don't they? Torture, helicopter piloting, etc. I'll betcha Sayid bakes a mean bundt cake, too!

Peggy: I really wanted Lostzilla to shake Charlotte out of that tree. Shouldn't he have shown up by now?

Mark: If only to get the newcomer's reactions to the roar, yeah, I'd like to see Lostzilla come back.

Peggy: Their reactions would be key, I think, as would Ben's.

"If I still had a kidney, I'd probably be dead." Pure awesome, and just perfectly designed to feed Locke's idea of his own special-ness in being chosen.

Mark: Also, the first time that Locke has been more-or-less straight with anyone regarding the island. No, he didn't tell them he used to be in a wheelchair, but he could have hidden the bullet wound and just played the strong, silent type. I think he knows he's going to have to talk about some stuff or no one will trust him at all.

Oh, and Hurley's not fooling anyone. Not Locke, nor Ben. Did you see that scary look in Ben's eyes? Helter-skelter, man.

Peggy: Ben was definitely freaked right the fuck out at the idea that Hurley knew where the cabin was, but I couldn't get a read on Locke's reaction. Was it "How the hell does he know about the cabin?" or "Ixnay on the abin-cay alk-tay, ummy-day!" If Locke knows that Hurley saw the cabin, why did he use that as an excuse when clearly going in the opposite direction of the last cabin sighting?

Mark: IF that's the theory they are floating--ghosts are people out of phase with our reality, and schitzos and mediums can see 'em--then it's not a new one, but it would certainly work as a larger part of the quantum puzzle.

And then there's the possibility that the cabin itself moves about, but I don't think that's very plausible. Maybe Locke was just backtracking to a different reference point, or something inane like that. Clearly, that scene was meant to convey that (a) Hurley saw the cabin, and (b) he now joins a pretty exclusive club comprised of Locke and Ben, and (c) they all know it, too.

Peggy: Although Jack bugged less than usual (and even got a funny line!), how lame was his posturing with Miles over the satellite phone:

"Tell me what I want to know and I'll give you the phone."

"Give me the phone and I'll tell you what you want to know."

"Okay."


Mark: I think it's funny that even when they get it right (Sayid in the jungle) you can just tell that it's about to all cave in on them. Like a cloud hanging over his head. Thunder is coming. I just know it.

Peggy: I realize that it's something of an unpopular opinion, but I like Juliet. I still don't trust Juliet, but I do like her, and it was nice to see her as accepted by the Losties (presuming they don't give guns out to just anybody).

Mark: I like her too, from the specific point-of-view that Jack has. They are a lot alike, and certainly a better match for each other. But Juliet has learned how to play Ben's game, so she is still capable of being sneaky. I think (rather, I hope) she's still got a few twists and turns left in her character arc.

Peggy: Oh, yeah. In fact, I kinda hope she turns out to be Eeeeeeeeevil.

And why oh why must Kate lose her Kick-Ass!Kate-ness whenever she's around Jack? She narcs out Locke immediately, and she (the one who correctly tracked Naomi yesterday) misses both Sayid and Juliet, yet Jack manages to see them? Ick.

Mark: It's how she first saw Jack--the protector and savior. She's reverting to type. When she first encountered Sawyer, it was as an equal. And remember, she's trying NOT to be the outlaw, even as it's clear to everyone that she is born for criminal behavior.

Peggy: I repeat: ick.

That said, excellent recall of the Jack and Tom meeting in the woods, this time with our Losties as the Others. It's been bandied around ever since Ben identified the Others as the good guys that maybe we just had a skewed perspective, so this scene really resonated.

Mark: Yeah, and considering how the first three or four episodes of the last two seasons have drug out, it's nice to see them getting on with things, moving the plot forward with minimal distractions.

Peggy: Heh. Only on this show would the introduction of 4 out-of-the-blue characters with shadowy or strange backgrounds be considered a “minimal distraction.”

So we’re both still firmly ensconced on Team Locke, eh? And eagerly awaiting the revelation of yet another piece of the Oceanic 6 puzzle. As frustrating as this show can be, I still love it. I think I’ve managed to convince myself that if I just try hard enough (and have enough discussions with my Imaginary Internet Friends), I can figure it all out. I’m an idiot, of course, but at least for now I’m a happy idiot.

Mark: My poor wife watches the show with me, I think, out of survivor’s guilt for something from her past. Otherwise, why willingly torture yourself like that? Yeah, I’m still pro-Locke, and get this, I’m also pro-Ben right now. It’s SO obvious that leaving the island screws at least Jack and Hurley up. So anything that would keep them around is going to be better than anything taking them away. And best of all, we know that some of them make it off the island, so we’re watching things play out with a kind of inevitability. That’s another big mystery answered: YES, some of them DO get off the island. Me, I’m still reveling in all of the other mysteries.

Wednesday, February 6, 2008

Lost Talk, Episode 1


My friend Mark and I used to work togther at the bookstore (before he & his wife got way cool and decided to go live in and operate a movie theatre). The morning after an episode of Lost was an excuse for both of us to come in to work early, just so we could try and figure the show out together. We now live too far apart to do it in person, so we're gonna do it online, and invite all of y'all to join in. Herewith, Lost Talk, Episode 1:

Mark: So are we gonna do this?

Peggy: Oh, we’re doing it, all right. Our regular post-Lost conversations, in handy print form, to share with all our friends.

Mark: Great! So, about the

Peggy: SQUEEEEEEE!

Mark: .....

Peggy: Sorry. Little excited about the new season. Better now.

So, I don't want to spend a lot of time on the hour-long catch-up, but I will say I liked it better than the intro to season 3.5. I found it fascinating that they got Michael Emerson to be the narrator. Given the way certain situations were described ("Ben was strong enough to do what had to be done"), it almost sounded like Ben was the narrator. Can we trust his interpretation of the events?

Mark: I think we CAN trust his narration, for the simple fact that the language was so plain and really confirmed a number of things.

Peggy: Some of the posters at TWOP seem to feel that this special confirmed that Desmond time-traveled. Did you see that?

Mark: No, I didn't see that, either. It just confirmed that he was having visions--but that's not a confirmation, so much as a "No DUH!"

Peggy: Hmmm. Lostpedia mentions a podcast where Demon & Curse state that Desmond really did travel back to relive the events of 1996. They also say that he changed those events, and so might have changed other things as well. Stupid podcasts.

Mark: Thank god superfans are out there to do all of the heavy lifting for us.

The narration, along with the pop-up video commentary on the finale re-run, locked in the idea that our castaways are all here for a reason. A purpose. They have something to do, something to fix, etc. Some people are learning that, and others (hello, Jack) obviously don't. Ever, apparently.

Peggy: Heh. Welcome to my world, brotha: all Jack-hate, all the time.

They also made a point to bring up Nadia, who they haven't mentioned in, what, 2 seasons now? And they gave Jack's ex as much screen time in this as she's had in the previous 3 seasons. I wonder if that's significant.

Now onto the show itself: a car chase with a smashed fruit cart? Awesome! The implication from later events is that this particular flash forward takes place before the one we saw in the finale. Jack is clean-shaven and working, but he's also drinking.

Mark: Yep, I caught that, too. And Hugo said something about going back for them. So did Charlie. Is it possible that the end of this season has them using Hurley's Lotto money to get back onto the island? I really love the flash forward idea. It's too cool.

Peggy: It’s a nice switch-up, all right. Will we ever reach a point, say Season 6, where we’re all caught up backwards and forwards and can just have a straight-forward narrative? Would I even want that? I’m in the minority that actually likes the flashbacks.

Both Charlie and Michael were in the credits, confirming that Harold Perrineau is back. John Terry, the actor who plays Christian Shephard, was also in the credits. One of the many Lost sites (I think it was Lostpedia again) has stated that Cuse has confirmed that the eye that Hurley saw in the cabin was Jacob, which would mean that it was, indeed, Jack's dad (or something that had taken on his appearance) sitting in that rocking chair in Jacob’s cabin.

Mark: Heh. Fans. I would have never thought to look there for answers.

Peggy: Right? Given the intensity with which all aspects of each episode are picked apart and studied, you’d think they’d be more circumspect about the credits.

Have I mentioned my overwhelming love for Rousseau? Forget Team Locke vs. Team Jack. I’m Team Rousseau all the way.

Mark: I still have a lot of affection for Benry, too. The "you beat me up. I owed you one." had such a schoolyard feel to it, but it was cool because it was still a deception--crude, yes--but we STILL can't trust ANYTHING that comes out of his mouth. What an antagonist!

Peggy: Oh yeah. Michael Emerson owns that character and can turn your emotions about him on a dime. Heck, the acting all around in this one was stellar: the acting by the entire ensemble when they first learn of Charlie's death was some of the best on the show to date--kudos all around. Hurley telling Claire about Charlie was a close second.

Mark: Yeah, to make Hurley cry, man...that's a kick to the spleen, right there. But it was great. And also nice to see Hurley asserting himself amongst the group--from the rescue in the van to the pointing out that Charlie's last act was a warning, he's come into his own on the island.

And that brings up the notion of what if the island fixed Hurley's schizophrenia? It hasn't come up since that first flashback of him, and they made a point of bringing it up now in the recap show. Hmmmm.

Peggy: Has he seen any of the "island visions" that everyone else has seen, or just the imaginary friend he already knew? If he hasn't been around any of the weirdness, there's no way they can St. Elsewhere this. TELL ME THERE’S NO WAY THEY CAN ST. ELSEWHERE THIS!

Mark: Could be worse.

Peggy: If you say Starlight People, I swear I’ll bring up Conan and the furry underpants.

Mark: *twitch* Moving on.

Peggy: Did you notice that, if, in fact, leaving the island was a mistake, from the time Jack decided to fight back his plans haven't worked exactly right and all of his decisions are wrong? He made the call. He believed Naomi. He let her get away. He followed the wrong trail. He attacked Locke. He tried to shoot Locke. And to project into the flash forwards, he's taken up his father's vice. He becomes a junkie. His attempted suicide causes a serious accident. No wonder he's a mess.

Not that I want him to stop being wrong all the time. It's quite a delightful change from the litany of “Jack can do no wrong” we’ve had to swallow so far.

Mark: Through it all, and maybe it's because of the pop-up show and the recap, I still have a soft spot for him. He didn't ask to be the leader, didn't want the role, overmuch. But he stepped up. And boy, has he been miserable ever since. But his actions have not been as random and WTF as we thought. Or rather, not as complicated. The key to figuring out what Jack's on about is to draw a straight line at what he wants. That's what he does. Simple and direct. He ain't that clever. Makes me appreciate him a little bit more.

Peggy: Just can't go there with you. While I still enjoy Matthew Fox's performance, Jack's insufferable "I'm right because I'm Jack" shtick pisses me off. And that's really the producers’ and writers’ fault, as they have certainly missed no opportunity to publicly grovel at the base of Jack's awesome hero-ness. Did you watch that last season of Buffy? Whenever there were multiple plausible explanations for something, Buffy was always right, not because she was smarter or had any knowledge that the others didn't, but because she was Buffy and the hero. I hated that then, and I don't like it any better here, which is why I am taking such delight in this episode's constant reiteration that Jack is wrong, wrong, wrong.

Mark: So, not a Jack fan?

Peggy: Shut. Up.

Mark: Heh.

Peggy: So who (or what) is Charlie? Did the other crazy see him, too, or did Hurley hallucinate that, too? Is he Hurley's conscience? The island reaching waaaaaaaaaay out? Hurley did hear something at Jacob's cabin. And did Jacob's cabin really appear and disappear at Hurley's insistence, like Charlie?

Mark: Well, I am more inclined to think that Hurley hallucinates when he's feeling guilty, and so Charlie was a figment of his own conscious--and maybe the Island triggered that, too. I think the cabin isn't always visible because it's shifting in and out on a quantum level, like Jacob. That's where Locke came from. Maybe Locke doesn't grok that yet because he can see it ALL the time. He's special.

Peggy: Could Charlie be shifting, too? "I am dead, but I'm here, too." That could apply to, oh, say, Christian Shephard as well, maybe.

Wait a minute. The Eagle-Eyed Forum Posters over at TWOP have pointed out something that I missed during the episode:

Ben is tied to the tree, Naomi is "dead" on the ground, Ben begs Danielle to save his daughter, Rousseau clocks Ben, then walks towards Naomi's body and a close-up of the knife in Naomi's back.

THEN...

Jack and Kate turn around, Ben is still tied to the tree, Naomi is gone, Danielle is gone. Kate goes scouting, Danielle returns with news about a bloody trail, Kate returns with news about a different trail, Jack ignores Kate, goes with Rousseau (who has mad jungle skillz and is an expert tracker), and travels down the wrong trail.

MEANWHILE...

Kate, on the right trail, is attacked by Naomi, who holds her at knifepoint. Lest we somehow assume that Naomi might have another knife, we are explicitly shown Naomi's back, which no longer has a giant knife in the middle of it.

Now, Naomi couldn't have pulled that knife out by herself, nor was there time enough for badly-wounded Naomi to create the false trail, double back through the camp, and take off in another direction (where she would then climb a tree and fall on Kate). Did Danielle create the false trail and lead Jack astray?

Mark: I think there is evidence to suggest that she did. Remember, this is her home now, and she is tied to the island. As much as she hates Ben for swiping her child, she also knows he's right. I could see that with the look passing between them. She goes with Locke at the end of the episode, so clearly, she's got a vested interest in keeping Jack from screwing up more than he already has. She may not have known what was going on before, but when she saw the panic in Ben's eyes over Danielle, she realized she screwed up. That's my guess.

Peggy: So is this really a conflict of Faith vs. Science? Both Locke & Jack seem pretty darned self-centered to me. They’d clearly like to believe that whole Man of Science, Man of Faith shtick, but should we? And if so, where do you fall? Team Locke or Team Jack?

Mark: While I can certainly sympathize with Jack, I gotta back Team Locke (which means that I am de facto also backing Team Benry). I mean, the man said it best when he asked Jack why he was in such a hurry to get back to his car crash of a life. Also, I think I want to believe that there’s stuff on this planet that we just can’t explain. So, yeah, I’m Pro-Island, and anti-Civilization. Provided we don’t get all Lord of the Flies, which, I think, will inevitably happen.

Peggy: Yeah, I’d have to go Pro-Island, too, for the mystery of it all. I’d like to believe that, despite appearances so far, the Island isn’t the villain of the whole story. Although that would be kind of cool, in a way.

So a big thumbs up from both of us on the premiere, then, and we await with bated breath to see what Demon & Curse have in store for us. I’ll get to work on our Team Locke shirts immediately.

Monday, February 4, 2008

A Call For Help


Scott Cupp alerted me to some sad news this past week:

From the Western Writers of America:

Longtime Western writer and WWA member James Reasoner and wife Livia (also an author, under the name L.J. Washburn) lost their house and studio, and all their belongings, in a fire earlier this week. They're OK, as are their dogs and children, but got out with only their clothes they were wearing. Books, pulps, comics, everything else, gone. "This is totally overwhelming," James says.

To help the family, Western Writers of America and Kensington Books have agreed to make sizable contributions and ask anyone who would also like to contribute to send cash donations to the WWA Executive Director's office in Albuquerque, N.M. Make the check out to Western Writers of America and put in the memo that the money is for the James Reasoner Emergency Fund.

Checks should be mailed to:

WWA
MSC06 3770
1 University of New Mexico
Albuquerque, NM 87131-0001

Since James and Livia also lost their sizable library, donations are also being sought to help restock their bookcases whenever they have a new home. Kim Lionetti, Livia's agent at BookEnds, has generously agreed to accept any BOOK donations and keep them until the Reasoners have a place to put them. Books should be sent to:

Kim Lionetti
BookEnds Inc.
136 Long Hill Road
Gillette, NJ 07933

Our thoughts and prayers are with James, Livia and family during this trying time. Thanks for your help.
Johnny D. Boggs
WWA Vice President

I can't even imagine what this would be like: to lose everything; clothes, pets (although the dogs survived, 3 cats, a parakeet, and a Nigerian dwarf goat did not make it), books (the Reasoners had a library of over 10,000 books), pictures, all gone in a instant. It's almost too painful to think about.

But I have recently been reminded of the good that a relatively small number of people can do when they all work together, so I'm adding my plea to the list: if you can spare something, be it money or an extra copy of a book (especially westerns, histories of the West, and western pulps), won't you please send it along?

You can keep up with the Reasoners at James Reasoner's blog, which currently includes pictures of what's left of their house and truck.

Thursday, January 17, 2008

Catching Up


Since we last spoke, I've been a busy girl.

If you head over to Revolution SF, you'll find my review of Jonathan Barnes' The Somnambulist, my contribution to our yearly Best Of feature, What Is Best In Life, and a full confession of one of my dirty little book secrets.

Then you can visit Readerville.com and see my Odd Shelf article, wherein I am, once again, a naughty, naughty girl.

For my reading challenge I finished Ellen Datlow's original horror anthology Inferno, which has some terrific horror mood pieces in it, as well as some of my favorite authors (Jeffrey Ford, K.W. Jeter, Lucius Shepard, Glen Hirschberg, and others).

I also finished The Snake Charmer by Jamie James, whch is due out this June. It tells the story of a brilliant, arrogant herpetologist who was bitten by a many-banded krait while on a collecting trip in Burma. Despite 26 hours of mouth to mouth resucitation by his team and heroic efforts from many others, he died, and the story of how it all went down was fascinating.

My current book is One Big Damn Puzzler by John Harding. I'm about halfway through, and it's been enjoyable so far. The title comes from the efforts of the one islander on this particular South Pacific island who can read to translate Hamlet into pidgin so he can share it with the rest of the island: "Is be, or no is be? That one big damn puzzler!"

After that, I've got Victor Gischler's upcoming Go-Go Girls of the Apocalypse and a manuscript for the new Dennis Lehane.

Wednesday, January 9, 2008

Progress Report--Week 1


It's been a week since I announced my participation in a reading challenge over on Goodreads.Com, so I thought I'd post a quick update.

Book #01 was Jeff and Ann VanderMeer's anthology The New Weird. An anthology like this really serves to make one thing clear: writers hate labels. Everyone else, though, (readers,booksellers,publishers) kind of likes them, or at least finds them useful. The New Weird is such a new phenomenon that everyone is still really wrestling with what it is, or even if it exists at all, outside of marketing departments desperate for a hook to hang a writer on. The VanderMeers have chosen to present the actual message board transcripts as writers and readers and critcs struggle to define (or debunk) the New Weird, and the pull between Art and necessity in the debate is fascinating. The VanderMeers include stories from pre-cursors of and influences on this nascent movement, as well as examples of some of its current practitioners. Any book that reprints Clive Barker's magnificent "In the Hills, the Cities" is high on my list, and the stories that follow do their influences proud.

Book #02 was the upcoming P. Craig Russell graphic novel adaptation of Neil Gaiman's Coraline. I loved Gaiman's story when I first read it. It managed to be heartwarming, funny, and ultra-creepy all at the same time. I would never have believed that an artist's rendition of the button-eyed Other Mother could be more unsettling than the picture in my imagination, but I was oh so wrong. Russell has done a mighty-fine job adapting Gaiman's prose into an illustrated format.

Book #03 was The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen: The Black Dossier by Alan Moore. Every time I pick up one of Moore's League books, I'm blown away. He somehow manages to make me feel smart for all of the references I catch and stupid for all the ones I know I've missed simultaneously. This mad notion of knitting together all of the fabled literary worlds and characters into one (mostly) coherent history shouldn't work, but it does. This newest bit of League history has a whisper-thin plot, but that's really just an excuse to further flesh out this amazing world and to have terrific fun experimenting with different forms and styles. Some of these experiments work better than others: I find both the Beat novels and Lovecraft's work almost unreadable; combining the two (however cleverly) didn't help; on the other hand, if Jeeves and Bertie appeared in all of Lovecraft's stories, I'd read them a lot more frequently.

Up on deck I have Ellen Datlow's original horror anthology Inferno and an ARC called The Snake Charmer.

Happy reading, and let me know how your own challenges are going.

Tuesday, January 1, 2008

Reading Challenge


One of my friends over on Goodreads.com has invited me to join a reading challenge for 2008. The stated goal is 50 books, but I'm going to see how far I can get.

Book number one will be Jeff and Ann VanderMeer's anthology The New Weird. I've followed some of the debates about what is and is not New Weird, and I'm still kind of confused, but a quick glance at the table of contents tells me I'm bound to like it. Barker's "In the Hills, the Cities" is one of my favorite stories, and the other contributors are all either writers I'm familiar with and enjoy, or writers I've meant to get around to reading and just haven't yet, so I'm excited to get started.

I'll keep you updated as I go along with which books I'm reading and what I thought of them. But don't wait for me; join me! C'mon, you can do it. It's only 50 books, and you have a whole year!