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The Hilliard Ensemble concert tonight was excellent, and definitely worth the drive to Duke Chapel in the snow. Turns out that this 40th anniversary tour is also a farewell tour, so I'm glad I got to hear them a last time. My favorite of the mostly unfamiliar works was Pérotin's Viderunt, a 12th-century work that somehow sounded more modern than the 20th-century works on the program by Gavin Bryars and Arvo Pärt.

On Blu-Ray, I watched Phillip Glass's newest opera, The Perfect American, about the highly imperfect character of Walt Disney. Musically this doesn't break any new ground for Glass, but it's perfectly enjoyable and the Teatro Real production is quite good.

In other news, the Xbox One's Kinect sensor was already gotten flaky. On the plus side, Microsoft's warranty coverage seems to be pretty good, and supposedly a new console is already on its way (and then we ship the old one back). Also, The S-4 and S-5 license tests in Gran Turismo 6 are really painful.

There was a thread a few days back on Facebook in which Gardner Dozois mentioned Avram Davidson's "Full Chicken Richness" as featuring "perhaps the stupidest reason for time-travel in the entire corpus of time-travel stories". So I had to go dig out my copy of Dozois's Year's Best Science Fiction: First Annual Collection and read it, and indeed, it is a pretty silly use for time travel. And a really funny story. I might have to reread Ian Watson's "Slow Birds" and Greg Bear's "Blood Music" while I have this volume upstairs (and maybe the Tiptree and Bruce Sterling and Connie Willis and Jack Dann and Gene Wolfe and GRRM... What a year 1983 must have been!)

I'm three weeks into my physical therapy for my frozen shoulder (idiopathic Adhesive Capsulitis) which I had finally gotten around to having diagnosed right before New Year's. My range of motion in my right arm seems to be coming back reasonably well, which has been nice.

And now I should go kill the fake High Priest and free the Temple of Dharma from the monsters. Yes, with a PS4, Xbox One, and Wii U having been added to the household in the past couple of months, I've found myself with a hankering to play the 13-year-old PS1 Dragon Warrior VII. I've never actually finished DW7, though this is the 3rd or 4th time I'll have started it. Somehow the first 20-30 hours are always really fun before it succumbs to the tedium of random battles (or so I recall). I really wish the industry would make some more good old-fashioned turn-based JRPG's.

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The past few weeks have been spent playing entirely too much Lego Marvel Super Heroes and Assassin's Creed IV (finished the main story in both, leaving trophy mop up and DLC for AC at some point), along with a bit of Gran Turismo 6 and Forza 5 for variety. I do wish the PS4 were backwards compatible with the PS3 (and the XBone with the 360) so we could ditch the old consoles and simplify our wiring. Also finally picked up the new Mario 3D World; Mario's cat form is ridiculously cute.

With all the gaming, I haven't been reading as much as I'd like. I did get through Lavie Tidhar's The Violent Century (from PS Publishing, though I believe there's a trade edition coming soon). It's an alternate history in which an accident in 1932 causes superpowers to randomly manifest in the population (rather than merely being recorded in the pages of comic books). However, since every country has their own superheroes, twentieth-century history (and especially WW2) proceed more or less unchanged except in small details. It's a fairly dark book (focusing as it does on violent upheavals) but still a fun read.

On the short fiction side, only a handful of stories. For Boxing Day, G.K.Chesterson's Father Brown story "The Flying Stars," featuring a jewel theft during a Boxing Day pantomime. Thoroughly charming, as all the Father Brown stories are. Also dipped into the new issue of Crimewave (#12) with Melanie Tem's "Singularity," a somewhat creepy tale about two old friends who are trying to escape their pasts until they're forced to reveal their secrets to one another. And finally, the December 2013 issue of Cosmos includes a short story, "Swarm" by Craig Miller about self-driving cars and the take-over of ordinary life by insurance companies. It starts off with a bit too much info-dumping (especially given the short length), but it comes to a fairly satisfying conclusion once it gets to the plot.

On the music side, I started dipping into Decca's amazing box set of Britten's complete works. Amazing how much wonderful but seldom heard music is in there. One of my favorite new-to-me pieces so far was the posthumously published variations on God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen, "Men of Goodwill" (as performed by the Minnesota Orchestra under Neville Mariner. I do hope Minnesota is eventually successful in preserving that excellent orchestra!)

And to close: Jake & Mimi around the Christmas tree.

Hobbitting

Tonight was Part 2 of the Hobbit at Marbles Imax in 3D, the 3D being entirely unnecessary for this film but the Imax being quite necessary to fully appreciate Smaug. There was definitely some padding for the middle film (the whole side plot with the Tauriel/Legolas/Kili love triangle is rather silly; if there must be an elf-dwarf love story, why not at least stick to the canonical characters and do Legolas & Kili?) But the core of the story is intact, and the visual spectacle is quite entertaining.

Before the movie, we went to Caffe Luna, my first time there (we've tried several times in the past and always been thwarted by long waits or special parties or odd hours). But tonight we got in, and it was definitely yummy! Veal Parmigiana for me, and I got to sample the Tortelli Crostacci, which was also delicious.

Media Consumption

I keep meaning to get back in the habit of LJ to keep track of my media consumption (or at least the books and stories I read). But then I always spend too long thinking about what I might write and never actually do it. So I'm going to try to keep it to a couple sentences, and see what happens. Though who knows whether I'll get around to actually logging into LJ when I'm not bored in a Dallas hotel room surrounded by icy roads.

Anyways, tonight I finished Terry Pratchett's newest Discworld novel, Raising Steam. There are shiny new steam engines! And cameos by just about everybody who's ever been in a Discworld book. And it features Moist von Lipwig, who remains one of my favorite of Pratchett's characters. So, lots of fun reading this one.

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Congratulations to J.A. Pitts for winning this year's Gaylactic Spectrum Award for Honeyed Words. I'll definitely have to read that. (Short list for those interested, since it may take a few days before the web site gets updated: The Cold Commands by Richard K. Morgan, Grail by Elizabeth Bear, Huntress by Malinda Lo, Rule 34 by Charles Stross, God's War & Infidel by Kameron Hurley, The Highest Frontier by Joan Slonczewski, A Rope of Thorns by Gemma Files, Static by L.A. Witt, and The Wild Ways by Tanya Huff).

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Perhaps a John Ajvide Lindqvist story wasn't the best choice of pre-bedtime reading; "The Music of Bengt Karlsson, Murderer" is one creepy scary story.

A reading update

Finished rereading Snow Crash for GGNC book club (which was supposed to be yesterday but got moved to Feb 12 due to the hosts' colds). Holds up surprisingly well for 20-year-old cyberpunk.

Also started in on this years recommended short story reading with the Stoker prelim ballot. Still waiting on a few books before starting the "Long Fiction" category, but finished up the "Short Fiction".

First up were Michael Bailey's "It Tears Away" and Gene O'Neill's "Graffiti Sonata", both in The Shadow of the Unknown (though the O'Neill is apparently a reprint from an out-of-print issue of Dark Discoveries). The best part of these two stories is that they're very short. O'Neill's story at least shows some ambition in its attempt to marry a musical sonata form to the plot development, but it doesn't quite work. The editor's forward notes that "neither myself or any of the talented writers adorning these pages received any payment or compensation." I know lots of small-press horror doesn't make much money, but this isn't something to boast about in the forward. At least these two stories read like trunk stories that should have just stayed there. Not everything in this anthology is bad, though; I read Gary A. Braunbeck's "The Music of Bleak Entrainment", which has a great narrative voice that grabbed me immediately and made for a very enjoyable technological musical Lovecraft pastiche. The Braunbeck was apparently commissioned for a pro anthology edited by John Pelan for Darkside Press that never actually came out (though Camelot Books still optimistically lists it for pre-order).

Next was “Hypergraphia” by Ken Lillie-Paetz, published in the iPad-exclusive publication The Uninvited, which seems to me like a bizarrely limited way to distribute a publication. I don't have an iPad, but there was a PDF of this story floating around on the author's web site. Based on that, The Uninvited does have some fantastic graphic design for its stories. The story itself is a decent tale of an author who can't stop writing and tragic consequences.

John Palisano contributes an entry for "X" in M Is for Monster, featuring a nasty parasitic monster named Xyx. A disturbing little story.

Next is Kaaron Warren's "All You Can Do Is Breathe" (Blood and Other Cravings), a fresh take on a vampire story in which a miner survives a cave-in only to lose everything to a mysterious creature. A very good story that nicely captures the roller-coaster of emotions as the miner is saved, only to lose everything.

Moving on to the jury's picks, next up are two stories from The New Yorker, "Atria" by Ramona Ausubel and "Home" by George Saunders. I'm not sure I'd really classify either of these stories as horror, though they touch on horrific events. "Atria" is very much a New Yorker story about rape that takes itself far too seriously and just comes off as trite. George Saunders writes great humor and satire, but in "Home" he takes on the consequences of war for the survivors in a more serious way and falls flat. I didn't much care for either of these.

In a similar vein, Stephen King continues to strive for Literary Respectability with "Herman Wouk Is Still Alive" in The Atlantic, which riffs off a terrible minivan crash while trying to capture some insight into class in America, but somehow it just ends up being rather boring. I wish King would leave the sex-crazy poetry professors to Houellebecq, et al, and get back to the horror he's good at.

Getting beyond what I can only assume is the Stoker jury's questionable attempt to gain some sort of mainstream respectability for the award, the final two selections are actually good. Nathan Ballingrud's "Sunbleached" (Teeth) is another vampire story, set in a hurricane-ravaged Mississippi. Joshua thinks he can protect his family while gaining the gift of immortality when a vampire is trapped under his house, but things come to an inevitable nasty conclusion. Not the most original premise, but very nicely done.

Finally, the best of the "Short Fiction" on this year's ballot, Adam-Troy Castro's "Her Husband's Hands" from Lightspeed Magazine. Set after a future war when soldiers come home as salvaged body parts with their memories in attached devices, this story has some of the most unsettling scenes I've read in a long time, and the ending is one I don't think I'll ever be able to forget. Unlike the Saunders story, Castro really captures the horrible consequences of war.

March 1, 2010

Feeling a bit sad today, remembering the events of this day last year. It seemed like a good time to go re-read and transcribe from my handwritten scrawl my reactions on receiving Phillip's autopsy report in my inbox not long after.



Report of Autopsy Examination

"The body is semi-clad in a pair of green nylon swim trunks."
They know your name, identified from "papers/ID Tag" but reduce you to "the body." They are the medical examiners. In this system, I am nobody, just a citizen requesting a public record. They will never know how the sight of you in those green nylon swim trunks used to make me tremble slightly and draw me out to the pool with you. But not today. Today I had work to do. I had to stay inside and push meaningless buttons on that silly machine instead of following you out on that first warm sunny day of spring after a too long winter. Now that silly machine brings me this report. Today I cannot push those meaningless button. These words I write longhand.
 
"The myocardium shows no evidence of acute infarction, scarring, or focal lesion."
I never doubted your heart, though you did. You loved everyone and everything in the world around you, bringing me joy, too. Yet you always questioned your own heart, with your mother telling you gays are evil, that you're spending too much time with me instead of looking for girls. It wasn't always easy being near you, and seeing in your eyes the conflict of your love for me and the guilt you felt for that love. In time I know you could have accepted the greatness of what your heart told you. But now that heart has stopped.
 
"The parenchyma of both lungs shows moderate congestion without obvious consolidation or focal lesions."
What an odd way these examiners have of saying there was water in your lungs. Are they afraid of stating the obvious too obviously?
 
"The stomach contains approximately 10 mL of partially-digested food."
Our last lunch together only a few hours before. You wanted Mexican, which I never liked. I got carry-out Chinese next door and then we shared a table. I thought it was funny how you picked out just the steak from the fajita leaving behind a stew of onions and peppers; yet you claimed it was the best fajita you'd ever had. Now the steak has been left behind, too.
 
"The bladder contained urine."
That's how we always seemed to end those wonderful sessions relaxing in the hot tub. One of us would eventually have to go pee, and we'd go inside and the world would being moving again. Except for this time, when it seems to have stopped forever for both of us.
 
"Reproductive: Grossly unremarkable."
"Unremarkable" is not a word anyone would ever have applied to you in life. You were definitely a shower rather than a grower. Sometimes when I would take you into my mouth, I would think it was too big, but then resting my cheek against the warmth afterward, it always seemed just right.
 
"Brain: The leptomeninges are thin, delicate, and congested."
Somehow that seems like it must be a bad thing, whatever the leptomeninges might be. Wikipedia could probably tell me, but they are never mentioned again in the report, so I guess it means nothing.
 
"The decedent is a 29 year old male who was found underwater in a communal hot tub."
It was easy to forget it was a communal hot tub. It was always just you and me taking advantage of it, only a few steps from your door. Our private escape except for the occasional passing dog walker or pigeon flying past. This day, though, was so beautiful that someone else did come to the hot tub. He even knew CPR while I have mostly forgotten it since my college first aid class. But it wasn't enough. The paramedics came, they made their efforts, and they took you away from me to become "the body" of this report.

"The cause of death in this case is drowning."
Such certainty at the end, answering nothing.