Thursday, June 29, 2006

Wayne's New Job - Two Takes

You have to have a look at two blog posts.

My friend, Wayne, wrote an entry about the wending journey he takes from his home in the suburbs to his job in Chicago.

Meaningless digression
For some reason one of my favorite lines from The Rockford Files just popped into my head when I said Chicago. Angel reports to Jim Rockford that a couple of hitmen have come to town by saying: "They sent a couple of violinists from Chicago."

That's not relevant to this post. I just always thought it was funny.

Wayne's not a hit man, although I believe there is a multifuction digital color copier he might whack given the opportunity. But isn't there a copier in everyone's life that needs a good kick now and again?

So anyway
Visit Wayne's blog, pause to admire the potential cover art for his new book coming out in August, and read the entry: Doctor Richard Kimbal Fugitive. (Wayne's always liked The Fugitive, although he thinks: "Everybody Gets Hit in the Mouth Sometime" is a lame episode title, while we both like "Landscape With Running Figures" from Season 3. That's the two-parter where Kimble goes Greyhound with Lt. Gerard's wife.)

You with me still? After you read Wayne's blog entry, go to his buddy's blog:

Ormondroyd's Encyclopedia Esoterica: Latest Research

and check out how he illustrated Wayne's tale of his trip into Chicago.

And take this as an example of how to say something in 200 words, when two hyperlinks could have handled the task:

A. Wayne's Entry: Dr. Ricahrd Kimble Fugitive

B. Ormondroyd's Entry: Wayne's New Job

Sunday, June 25, 2006

Dracula, vampire detectives and musty bookshops of the mind

I love the blog The Groovy Age of Horror because it's like a stroll through a great used bookshop. Some stores are cropping up at strip shopping centers these days, filled with books that were at Borders or Barnes and Noble five minutes ago. Those are nice for a bargain, but they're not as prone to offer some creased and dog-eared gem you've never heard of.

I love finding used bookshops that have been around forever and boast obscure works, especially in the genre sections.
Groovy Age
reveals such lost treasures from obscure publishers like Lancer. You can almost smell that musty paperback smell. Actually I can smell that smell because my office is filled with old paperbacks.

Sometimes Groovy Age spotlights quirky greats that never had a marketing budget to push them into wide awareness. There's also complete crap, the so-bad-it's-good stuff.

The Dracula horror series

Groovy Age
has a whole section devoted to one of my favorite series of horror paperbacks, which I read back when I was living through the '70s. That's the Dracula horror series written by Robert Lory. We have lots of vampire detective series today, but back in the day the Lord of the Undead was a crimebuster. Unwillingly, but still…

The series was published by Pinnacle--later, under new ownership to become the publisher of much of my work--and it came out at a time when articles about the true Dracula, Vlad the Impaler, were first gaining popular attention. It must have seemed like the perfect time for new Dracula adventures.

Pinnacle was still devoted to genre series at that time, and they were a major outlet for book packager Lyle Kenyon Engle who did the preliminary outlines that a host of writers turned into novels and series. He re-launched the dime novel Nick Carter series in a '70s setting and had books in many other genres, even a deep-sea adventure series called The Aquanauts.

Robert Lory, a science fiction writer, actually penned the Drac novels.

Harmon vs. Harvey

The series revolves around Prof. Damien Harmon who resurrects the Count in the present day of 1974. As the books begin, Drac is still resting, that is to say dead dead vs undead, after the action of the Stoker novel. But Harmon - who was paralyzed in an attack as a young policeman--unstakes him. Not before he puts a sliver of the stake in a device in the Count's chest, however.

Harmon's psychic ability allows him to trigger the device at will and drive the stake back into Drac's dark heart if necessary i.e. when he isn’t cooperating and crimebusting. Thus Harmon’s able to bend Drac to his will.

The two are helped by Harmon’s assistant Cameron Sanchez and by the mystery woman Katara, whom the Count brings to the picture. In the back of some Pinnacle titles of the day, ads probably based on the original Engle outline touted the series featuring Prof. Charles Harvey and his assistant Eric Fromann.

No pulp please, we're waiting for disco

We didn't have pulp magazines when I was a kid, so things like the Drac series and other 95 cent paperbacks were the next best thing. They were a step up from comic books and a bridge to weightier novels.They were a great stimulant for my imagination. My favorite of the books at least back in the day was "The Hand of Dracula." You can read a synopsis and review of each title over at Groovy Age, and they're certainly some fun, light reads. You can probably find them online or in the musty corners of some used bookstores.


Wednesday, June 21, 2006

What Meatloaf again?

Christine came into my office the other day to talk about something while I was streaming Virgin Radio from the UK. They play a nice, eclectic--which should be my middle name I guess--mixture of new and classic rock and I inexplicably find it cool to listen to what's their late show while it's the middle of the afternoon in Sidland.

As we talked, Bat Out of Hell came on and I turned up the volume.

"Not many people go, `Meat Loaf's on turn it up,'" Christine chided.

"That was a very popular album," I countered and jacked the volume higher for the chorus. Christine was talking about deocrating or something--nothing serious like rock and roll or whether James West could beat up Capt. Kirk.

As the hard-boiled imagry of Jim Steinman's lyrics unrolled, I was reminded of how horroresque Meat Loaf music's trappings are.

A horror place
The album covers and the videos have always appealed to the autumn side of me that likes Stephen King, Poe, rustling leaves and a full moon through rickety, leafless branches. Ozzy gets front-of-the-mind awareness for horror themes, he turned into a werewolf, but M.L. helped me get into a horror writing place many times.

The "Bat Out of Hell" video opens with eerie shots of a full moon through twisted trees, and the images in "I Would Do Anything For Love" are like 10 cool horror movies condensed to a few minutes. The shots of the guys searching dark domains with flashlights always makes me want to be at a keyboard, walking characters through similar chilling scenes.

I don't know what "Bat Out of Hell III: The Monster is Loose" holds. There's unfortunate legal wrangling and unrest between Loaf and Steinman, but I'll be glad when that's over and the album hits the shelves and iPods in October. What better month for it's release?

Monday, June 19, 2006

Monty meets Bigfoot

My hand's almost back to normal size today.

I spent the weekend with it looking like the hand of a cartoon character who's been hit with hammer. I know that's a cliché, but if I could have managed a picture that wasn't too washed out by the flash I'd show you.

It all started when Monty, our mostly inside cat, decided to grant himself a furlough. He's mostly an inside cat because he goes insane when he's outside. His hair stands on end, his tail becomes a bottle brush and he prances about seemingly saying: "Oh my god! I'm outside. I'm outside. I'm outside." As Christine puts it, outside gets him over stimulated.

Since he's used to having a roof over his head, he usually tries to get under something once he's outside.

This time he chose a sycamore near our fence.

"We need to corral him," Christine said.

About then he found the route under the fence that Oliver The Tunnel King uses, and into the woods he went, where there's a lot of "over his head."

Since I couldn't follow him at his point of departure, I went tearing down to the gate where a family of yellow jackets had moved into the space previously occupied by the wasps who stung me there last fall.

One of them zapped me as I went through. It's the yellow jacket way of saying howdy.

What I learned from the experience: Yellow jacket venom makes my hand swell more than wasp venom.

Ignoring the pain I started a commando raid through thickets to the spot where Monty was hanging out. Since I'm taller than he is I had to chart a wending course around things I couldn't walk under. When I made it to the clearing that would lead to the approximate spot he was sniffing, my presence scared him and he fired himself back under the fence, past Christine and to the back door.

Christine sometimes supplies dialog for Monty, or perhaps she channels his thoughts.

She observed that he must be saying: "Let's get back in the house, Sasquatch is out there!"

That's probably how myths are born. Judging by the sniffing the other cats were certainly impressed by his big adventure.

Far more than my swollen hand.

"That's bad," they seemed to say. "But did you hear Sasquatch almost got Monty?"

Friday, June 16, 2006

British TV

Now that 24 and Lost are on vacation, my viewing lineup seems more British than ever. Christine and I have always enjoyed British mystery telefilms. They are often more novelistic than American mysteries. She's reading her way through the Poirot novels this summer, so when she finishes a volume we watch for the TV version to air.

But this summer, even with probably more good shows on American television than ever --because average doesn't draw a thimble full of audience--programming from across the pond is drawing me in more and more.

Midsommer Murders
It's the best, pushing 10 years of two-hour installments. At its most average it's superior. At it's best it's intricate, clever and enthralling. Inspector Barnaby--played by John Nettles, who brought British television into the modern era with the detective drama Bergerac--solves murders in quiet little villages prone to agrarian festivals and dark secrets. I agree with TV Guide's jeer to A&E for dumping it to The Biography Channel. It deserves better placement and a bigger U.S. audience. Of course, it's on DVD. Check out installments "Dead Man's 11," "Ghosts of Christmas Past" and "Hidden Depths" as some of the best of the best. It's on Sundays.

BBC America has at lost brought this British Buffy to our shores. Set in a boarding school that's darker than Hogwarts or perhaps the Hell Mouth, it's paced a little more leisurely than Buffy but with an engaging style that eventually draws you into its mix of ancient evil and modern adolescent infighting. Oh, and there's a lesbian ghost.

As devishly clever a series as you'll find anywhere. Robert Vaughn is the American mentor to a group of Brit con artists. It's fast-paced, and each episode unfolds like The Sting with elaborate setups, twists and slight of hand. Remind me to tell you about the time I interviewed Vaughn, but in the meantime, watch this on AMC. Really. Make time.

BBC America Mystery Monday
Even British Lifetime movies just play out better than ours do. Of late their Monday programming has consisted of miniseries that are cut from the Lifetime telefilm thriller cloth, but with a little more panache than your average Jaclyn Smith vehicle. Secret Smile recently featured a quietly menacing David Tennant (Doctor Who). The lineup actually is like a tour of current and ex-Doctor's other roles. Paul McGann turns up periodically as shady and mysterious characters.
Which brings us to -

Doctor Who
Catch it while it's still on here. Sci Fi Channel has only one more marathon to go, but the DVD is out in July. The marathon unfortunately doesn't include the episodes most likely to hook Americans, but Series 1 should be watched in order for the full effect. Get over the fart jokes and open your eyes. It's Brilliant. It has hidden clues like Lost, special effects to rival Trek and yeah Harlan Ellison was right all those years ago in his introductory material for Who novelizations. It's better than Trek. And I love Trek.

Thursday, June 15, 2006

Wicker Expectations

The Wicker Man, you know, the original with The Equalizer, is one of those quietly chilling films. No mutants nor rampant bloodshed required for its ominous, lingering scare.

It comes from one of those through-the-looking-glass revelations, that the rules you've always known don't apply, that civilization is superceded by something darker.

I'm not sure what I was expecting when I saw stills for a remake a while back, but now that the trailer is online it's encouraging. View it online here. It's also available for the iPod.

Nicolas Cage, also seen with head aflame in the Ghost Rider trailer, replaces Edward Woodward, and the clips look faithful to the original's imagry from the sea plane entry to the strange world to the encounters with odd villagers and hints of old ways in practice. I'm sure the plot will diverge, but I'm kind of excited to see this revision.

I never get as bent out of shape about remakes as some people do, and I don't expect it to recapture the quaint eeriness, but with a few rock-'em-sock-'em updates, it may still be good.

Monday, June 05, 2006

Tech Mag Dodging

I feel like I'm on the run from the demographic police.

I get a few free tech magazines. If you touch anything like a computer mouse you qualify because it's circulation figures for industry professionals that matter to their advertisers. Your eyes on their ad = money.

The tradeoff is that every 45 minutes or so you have to be reevaluated in order to confirm your value to makers of network solutions.

"It'll only take a few minutes," the caller says. "Just a few questions. How many people in your office?At your location? At all of your company's locations? At your competitor's locations? At all of the companies in your industry? How many people live on planet Earth? Two comets leave a solar system. One is traveling at a speed of... Do you influence the purchase of comets at your lcation? At all of your company's locations? In this galaxy?"

I'm not alone in finding those moments annoying right?

I've started letting them roll to voice mail along with the sales calls. I even keep a quick link to area code listings on my desktop. If I'm fast I can check an area code and evaluate it for potential annoyance before voice mail picks up.

Sometimes if I don't take the call, they telephone our office secretary and try to get her to put me on.

They threaten to stop the subscriptions if you don't answer. But they don't. They never stop.

One day I suspect someone's going to show up on the doorstep.

"How many employees at this office? Your location? You entire company? Don't try to go out the back way. We have the exits covered. You cannot escape...this location...your company's location...really don't try."

The Simpson's as philosophy

Years ago I wrote a newspaper column that mentioned The Simpsons. I used the word zeitgeist in referring to the show's brilliance.

Our copy editor sent the story back to me electronically with a glowing green note in the reverse field that often made our green and black screens seem like Kryptonite:

"Are you sure you want to use the word zeitgeist refer to a cartoon?"

My answer was yes and I left it in. Ours was an ongoing war about what belonged in the lifestyle pages. I lobbied for movie, book and television reviews of programs people watched, that actually reached the masses.

Like The Simpsons.

I was kind of excited to read this lead on a BBC news article this morning:

"The Simpsons is more than a funny cartoon - it reveals truths about human nature that rival the observations of great philosophers from Plato to Kant... while Homer sets his house on fire, says philosopher Julian Baggini."

Full story

Let's see now what does that make me? I believe it starts with an "R."
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