30 January 2011


Reading Diary: Mrs. Frisby and the Rats of NIMH by Robert C. O'Brien

Surely rats would have developed reading and writing, judging by the way we took to it. But what about machines? What about cars and airplanes? Maybe not airplanes . . . Rats may not have that instinct.

In the same way, a rat civilisation would probably never have built skyscrapers, since rats prefer to live underground. But think of the endless subways-below-subways they would have had.

We thought and talked quite a bit about all this, and we realised that a rat civilisation, if one ever did grow up, would not necessarily turn out to be anything at all like human civilisation . . .

It was interesting to reread this book while still in "Full Dystopia Mode." (Hi, Kate!) Dystopian novels and films always feature civilisations which are either already dead or stretching out an inevitable death in some intellectually gruesome way. They make a morbid spectacle that I'm not quite sure is good for the soul, although that impression wasn't clear to me until I varied my diet with this decidedly different novel.

Mrs. Frisby and the Rats of NIMH is one of those rare children's books that can take an epic theme and make it work wonderfully. It gives us another look at civilisation, with a special focus on what it takes to keep one healthy.

And yes, the keepers of this very healthy civilisation are rats. I hope that's not a problem for you, because they're wiser about theirs than we are about our own.

29 January 2011


Locus Focus: Take Thirty-Eight!

Welcome to "Worlds of Tomorrow": The Movie Edition!

Now that "Future Settings" month is coming to a close, I have a few thoughts on my blogging experience. I chose this theme for January, the first month of the year, to reflect the general spirit of looking forward. And despite the fact that most future-set novels (and movies!) feature dystopian worlds, I was confident that I'd be able to come up with four positive projections of tomorrow.

If you've been paying attention, you'll know that was an Epic Fail--if only because I opened the month with a ruined and desolate Palace of Green Porcelain, a kind of mausoleum for Victorian civilisation. The next week, I nearly balanced it with the libertarian utopia that is the North American Confederacy--and probably would have, had this future world not come with a dystopian twin. (Parallel universes, you know?) And if I was still going for two out of three, I shot myself in the foot with Mr. Charrington's Shop, a place where history--and human nature--get to die an unnatural death. Happy futures seem kind of pointless in fiction.

And that is why I started this month intending to write about the colourful, family-friendly future in the animated film Meet the Robinsons . . . but ended up going full dystopia again today . . .

27 January 2011


Tutor Tales, Volume 26

Remember that study of story about the children and the marshmallows? Researchers gave each of a bunch of children a choice: one marshmallow now or two marshmallows later. Then they tracked the progress of their subjects and discovered that those who had been able "to delay gratification" were the ones doing better in life.

I was thinking of that early this week, at Scrap Metal's house, as I organised the work he'd have to do during our hour together . . .

25 January 2011


Long Time No Tenner

This Week's Topic:
Books I Wish I'd Read as a Kid

This topic reminds me a little of the nursery rhyme that begins . . .

If wishes were horses, beggars would ride.
If watches were turnips, I'd wear one by my side . . .

It's a bit of folk poetry I've been carrying around with me since childhood, when a cousin sent me a huge collection of nursery rhymes. So huge, in fact, that I became wonderfully familiar with more than the usual Humpty Dumpty or Little Bo Peep fare. Which would help me argue--should I choose to do so--that some texts in the "Children's Canon" really should be read when one is a child.

Then again, I've always been a big believer in reading the right book at the right time--and sometimes childhood isn't the right time for one to read a children's classic. I can think of a couple of novels that didn't land on my shelves until much later in life, but were all the more loved for it. (Perhaps I could come up with another Tenner someday!)

Yet there are also a few books that make me feel as if I'm just catching up--that, indeed, I might not catch up at all. To quote some more sophisticated literature now . . .

There is a tide in the affairs of men,
Which, taken at the flood, leads on to fortune . . .

There are tides in the affairs of readers, too--and there are about ten I don't think I took when I should have.

A Tenner:
Books I Wish I Had Read in Childhood

23 January 2011


Behold the Badge: Young Detectives

Thanks to Passions by Ashley for this original design!

Isn't it cute?!?!? When I gave her my specs, I didn't know she would make it so adorable!

Just note that the loud, lime-green URL on the bottom is my personal graffiti, not part of her original artwork. Just discouraging graphics lifters, you know. I paid good money for this design!

(And now that the transaction has been made, I wonder whether I should have chosen the name "Junior Sleuths". =P Oh, never mind . . .)

22 January 2011


Locus Focus: Take Thirty-Seven!

Check the specs, grab the badge, and share a great setting!

When I came up with this "futuristic" theme for January, I knew I didn't want to write about one very famous future-set novel. To do that, I would have to reread it; and to reread it would be to discover that it had, once again, become a very different book from what I remembered. It always does that, and it drives me crazy--for it does not change randomly, but changes as I change. (Kind of like, you know, the future.)

But as my deadline loomed, I realised I had no other choice. Of all the future-set novels I owned, this was the only one that still screamed to me from the shelf. My own personal Horror fantasy. So yeah, I read parts of it again . . . and yeah, it had changed again . . . and oh, yeah, I'm paranoid again. Just as the author intended . . .

You can guess what it is now, right? =P

21 January 2011


Twelve Things about The Lodger

12. This might have gone directly to DVD (and got slapped with the year's worst cover), but don't let that fool you. It has far more class than cheese. Admittedly, not the kind of movie I usually review here.

11. Furthermore, I'm not usually into psychological Thrillers. Give me a psycho and give him a knife--or a hook--or a chainsaw--or even a tire iron--and I'm happy. No need to explain his motivations; I watch Horror from the Morality Play school. Scratch a two-dimensional villain and you'll find evil worthy of the most profound theology. Scratch a complex psychiatric case and you have a villain who isn't really a villain. (Unless, of course, his name is Hannibal Lecter!)

10. Besides, I once knew a girl who was a Psychology major and who couldn't stand most psychiatric evaluations that made their way into scripts. The way she complained about them, they seemed roughly on the level of a Cozy Mystery writer explaining that the dead body in a locked room had been killed by the fallout from radioactive pixies.

20 January 2011


Character Connection 19

Link up your own post about a character you love
--or even a character you love to hate--
at The Introverted Reader!

One rule of this weekly meme is to avoid spoilers. I stand wholeheartedly behind that, of course, but see that it's a little tricky now that I want to feature a character who gets to grow throughout a series.

The last book has already been written, but I'm not going to go that far in his development. Instead, I'll write about him as I knew him for years--until just two weeks ago, really, when I finally learned whether my faith in him had been misplaced or not.

19 January 2011


First Poems of the Year!


First, an administrative note: Crosses and Cradles will be hosting February's W&Q game. (Thanks again, Dauvit!)

And now for my first poem of the year--one that almost became a free verse love letter to a vampire lover. (Seriously. I'm not just saying that so that what I was actually able to produce looks better in comparison. Really!)

18 January 2011


Life as a Reading Challenge, Chapter 3

I have started to see challenges everywhere I go. Just a few days ago, I stumbled upon this seemingly innocent quote from C.S. Lewis . . .

"It is a good rule, after reading a new book, never to allow yourself another new one till you have read an old one in between. If that is too much for you, you should at least read one old one for every three new ones."

. . . and I wondered why there isn't (to paraphrase his contemporary, G.K. Chesterton) a "Save Me from Being a Child of My Age!" Challenge. =P

16 January 2011


Reading Challenge the Fifth

Challenge Objective:
To read stories that have taken classic fairy tales that we all know and love,
and have woven them into a new alternative tale that mirrors the original.

And here we have another mix of the old and the new, which I'm pleasantly surprised to find has become a "life theme" in my 2011 reading. More on that next time.

For now, here are the four books I'm planning to read to qualify for the challenge's "Magical" level:

15 January 2011


Locus Focus: Take Thirty-Six!

Join us every Saturday as we write about our favourite settings
and the books that make them come alive!

The theories of time travel and the idea of parallel universes are philosophical twins. In a sense, traveling into the past or the future is a lot like crossing into a parallel universe--but not exactly so.

I once saw a fellow on TV who explained the "Grandfather Paradox" in time travel by saying that it doesn't matter if you do go back in time and kill an ancestor: you'll still exist because you've only killed him in a parallel universe and not in your own. Totally bogus, of course. James Cameron got closer to the truth when he had a character from the future send his own father into the past to meet his mother. There was never a John Connor who wasn't Kyle Reese's son; and there was never a 1984 without Kyle Reese. Cameron's only mistake was writing that "The future is not set." To be totally accurate, the line should be, "The present is not set."

But never mind that now, while we look at a setting that combines both the fantasy of parallel universes and an imaginative look at the future.

14 January 2011


Twelve Things about I Know What You Did Last Summer

12. After Scream, this movie had a lot to live up to. But I like to be fair in both the viewing and reviewing, so this will be my last mention of Kevin Williamson's other movie in this post. =P

11. But I think I can mention that campy, ultimately implausible Urban Legend, if only because I Know What You Did Last Summer is leaps and bounds ahead of it in everything except 90s pop culture markers. For a while, I even thought that the scene introducing our four leads should have been the one where they are gathered around a bonfire on the beach, arguing about the urban legend of the killer with a hook--which is pure Williamson, you know?

10. Yet the small-town pageant in which we first see them is very significant. It helps drive home the difference between "last summer," when Helen wins the crown, and this summer, when she has to accept that she can't have everything she has dreamed of, not even this bit of glittery glory.

Notice, however, that it also turns Helen into the central character of the story, when she isn't supposed to be.

9. Before we go on, let's have some "Who's Who"--which I had to play for an entire hour into the movie because the baby brother watching with me was born at the end of the 90s and didn't know who any of these young stars were . . .

13 January 2011


Character Connection 18

Read about Merricat Blackwood and other great characters
at the Introverted Reader!

I've just remembered another writer I've read a lot of who can, on some golden occasions, pull out a minor character who steals every scene from his leads. I just finished an old novel of his this week and knew I couldn't let another Character Connection link up go by without featuring the following character, who made me laugh out loud for hours afterwards.

12 January 2011


New Year, New Prompts, New Poems

Caslon metal type letter W & letter Q
speed limit 8 knots
New to "Word & Question"?
Check out the Playing Poetry Page!

Whenever I put out the first W&P post of the month, I feel like I'm deploying a bright bat signal into the murky night . . .

11 January 2011


Reading Diary: King Solomon's Mines by H. Rider Haggard
("Reviewed" for the Victorian Literature Challenge 2011 and submitted to the January link up)

"Well," I began, "as you may guess, in a general way elephant-hunters are a rough set of men, and don't trouble themselves with much beyond the facts of life and the ways of Kaffirs. But here and there you meet a man who takes the trouble to collect traditions from the natives, and triest o make out a little piece of hte history of this dark land. It was such a man as this who first told me the legend of Solomon's Mines . . .

". . . He went on to tell me how he had found in the far interior a ruined city, which he believed to be the Ophir of the Bible . . . 'Lad, did you ever hear of the Suliman mountains up to the northwest of the Mashukulumbwe country?' I told him that I never had. 'Ah, well,' he said, 'that was where Solomon really had his mines--his diamond mines . . .'"

You might remember that the primary reason I decided to read this book was to see whether the LXG's Allan Quatermain was worthy of H. Rider Haggard's original creation.

So let it be the primary point of this post that I would never have cast Sean Connery to play Quatermain--a character whose greatest virtues are his humility . . . and a certain amount of scrappiness. I might have cast Connery as the slightly vain and always neat Captain John Good . . . but I don't think he'd like playing second fiddle to my dream Sir Henry Curtis, Dolph Lundgren. =P

But of course, there is more to say about the novel than that. I started it expecting no more than a rollicking adventure story; after I finished it, I needed a few days to swallow the fact that what I had read was no less than an epic.

10 January 2011


Life As a Reading Challenge, Chapter 2

A few weeks ago, I left a comment on a friend's post about a Thomas Hardy novel he has been reading. In his reply, he expressed surprise that someone who spent so much time reading YA (and MG) would have such insight into one of the greatest novelists of the Victorian Era.

He was just teasing, of course. (Most people, even friends, are typically reluctant to acknowledge my genius.) But he got me thinking about a certain "turning point" in my past, which I remember whenever someone makes some remark about my "low-brow" reading preferences.

08 January 2011


Locus Focus: Take Thirty-Five!

Welcome to "Worlds of Tomorrow" Day!
Ready to look into the future?

When I started Locus Focus, the following was one of the settings I knew I'd feature someday. Which means it has taken about 254 days for me to get around to it. (I like being right on schedule. Don't you? =P)

As for the next few days (easily counted on one's fingers and toes), tell me what you think of this prospective schedule:

29 January: "Worlds of Tomorrow" Challenge: The Movie Edition
Same principle: pick a futuristic setting, but get it from a movie.

5 February: Theme Challenge Day
I can't decide between romantic settings (because it's February, after all) and crime scenes (because modern Valentine sentiment makes me want to murder someone). Just let me know whether you'd like to be sweet or cynical next month, and I'll be an accommodating hostess.

And would you like "Wizarding World Day" for J.K. Rowling's settings to fall in late February or early March? Or does the idea of "Wizarding World Day" not appeal at all? Let me know, please . . .

07 January 2011


Beyond Fairy Gold

Read about The Iron Ring and other fairy tales
at This Miss Loves to Read!

Before I did my Top 5 "Golden" Fairy Tales post, I actually wanted to make one for Top 5 Colours in Fairy Tales. Gold was to be #1, of course, with Red as #2 . . . but then I realised that colours don't really call attention to themselves in fairy tales. Snow White's dreamy mother is a real anomaly. Indeed, until these stories moved from a mostly oral tradition to be interpreted in a primarily visual medium, we didn't really care about details such as the colour of Sleeping Beauty's gown.

So I've had these two "colourful" fairy tales on my mind--if not always the conscious part--for quite a while, even if they weren't always facing off.

06 January 2011


Punk Catholic Thought of the Year

This will probably be my last Punk Catholic post ever because I take longer and longer these days to come up with these topics. So if this is solely what you come to this blog for, well, you'll have to find someplace else to lurk.

I was going to post this on the last day of 2010, to mark a special anniversary that perhaps only six readers still remember; but now I'm glad that fell through, because that means I get to publish it on the traditional day of the Feast of the Epiphany. This post, you see, is all about tradition . . . and personal epiphanies.

04 January 2011


Life As a Reading Challenge

Last year, I was fond of saying that I don't join Reading Challenges because my life is already a reading challenge. Then the R.I.P. V Challenge reared its Gothic head--with a "Peril of the Screen" portion for movies--and I just "sold out." =P

But I'm still pretty picky, which is why I have only three challenges lined up for this year:

YA of the 80s and 90s Reading Challenge

The first one came out of nowhere. (I still think Birdie has mysterious powers.) But the second and third are kind of meaningful to me in a special way I'll tell you about the next time I do a random post about nothing at all. This post's proper focus is the challenge which would have been my fourth . . . had it not come with a rule I just couldn't live with.

03 January 2011


Twelve Things about Shake, Rattle and Roll 12

12. Christmas feels more like Christmas when it comes with a new Shake, Rattle and Roll movie. Since this is the second year in a row we've had one, Regal Films might not put out another next year. Which would be a very sad thing to do to Horror fans who have been nice all year.

(And come on: Shake, Rattle and Roll 13 is bound to be epic!!!)

11. Say it with me: Short is scary. Some master storytellers can stretch out a terrifying tale until it becomes a novel or a full-length film (or even a full-length film adaptation of a novel); but for the rest of us, a good rule is to keep the creepiness as concentrated as possible.

Then there are real Masters like George Romero who have their feature film length and get their shorts, too. Remind me to post my review of Creepshow one of these days. In the meantime, let's see how each of this year's three stories fares . . .

01 January 2011


Locus Focus: Take Thirty-Four!

Happy New Year!

The first day of the new year is also the Eighth Day of Christmas, so I'm going to stick with the seasonal theme. Our first setting of 2011 shows us what happens when the warp of a place and the woof of such a season meet in a story. Say what you like about cliched Christmas-set reads (and in particular, cliched Christmas-set Romances): I'll still eat them all up with a spoon. =P

And if that admission doesn't make me too uncool to hang around, remember to join us next week, 8 January, as we ponder the future with our "Worlds of Tomorrow" Challenge!