Monthly Archives: September 2005

The Fire When It Comes

Yes, there’s a big wildfire in the hills on the northwest edge of Los Angeles, just a few miles west of where I live and work. No, I’m not in any danger. The fire is burning southward, and there’s a huge pall of brown smoke in the sky — with the setting sun now shining an apocalyptic red through it — but it’s still mostly a brushfire, with only one house burned.

Southern California had a very wet winter last year, but the irony of that is that the rain causes the brush to grow and thus enhances the fire danger in the following summer — or fall, actually, which is when most of the fires occur. This summer was not especially hot, but once the Santa Ana winds kicked up yesterday morning — that hot dry breeze rustling the leaves and tinkling the chimes, at 6 a.m. — the stage was set.

So, no worries for now. The winds, actually, have died down… so that the smoke spreads in every direction… There’s the strong smell of smoke here now, and a premature twilight.

UPDATE 6:15: And the power went out, for just a couple minutes…


I’ve not been as diligent lately about tracking upcoming movie schedules, or I would have made earlier plans and submitted a more complete Table of Contents blurb about the website for the magazine’s October issue. As it is, I blurbed an upcoming Rich Horton article doing an analysis of the magazine editors responsible for the most Hugo Award winners — an article which is almost ready to post but which will wait until a suitable space between movie reviews appears — and an upcoming review by Cynthia Ward of the Battlestar Galactica DVD.

Just in the past week, I’ve scheduled review coverage of two imminent films — Howard and Lawrence will cover MirrorMask, as their own schedules permit, and Gary Westfahl will check out Serenity when it opens this weekend. I confess I don’t always see all the films I have reviewers cover for the website, but I’ve heard enough buzz about Serenity and its predecessor Firefly (which I never saw when it was broadcast on TV) to have ordered the DVD set of same. In addition to the Battlestar Galactica set. Yet more.

Lost Transmission

Wouldn’t you know, but as soon as I get myself committed to watching a TV show every week — which I’ve rarely done in the past decade — then my cable signal goes out. Here it is time for this week’s episode of Lost, and my CABLE SIGNAL WENT OUT 45 MINUTES AGO and all I see is static on every channel! (That would be my ADELPHIA cable signal.)

Possibly the disruption is related to the nearby brush fire that erupted this afternoon, on the first late Summer day of Santa Ana winds in the Los Angeles area? No way to know for sure.

UPDATE 9:45: the signal is back. But I can’t stand watching a movie or TV episode from part-way through without having seen the beginning. I no more willingly do that than I would pick up a book and start reading from Chapter 12. Grrr.

UPDATE next morning: I’ve gotten a videotape of the episode. The brush fire rages; only one house burned, but big enough to make national news (e.g. CNN).


Many years ago, I would walk, or bicycle, or drive to A Change of Hobbit bookstore, first in Westwood village near UCLA (where I was a student), then in a Westwood storefront, and finally in a Santa Monica shop on Lincoln Avenue, to see and buy the latest SF books and magazines. Before chain superstores and online booksellers, it was the only source in LA for the true stuff, especially hardcovers, anything other than the generic paperbacks available anywhere. But what I remember, in one of those latter days before Sherry Gotlieb finally shut down back around 1992, was that she casually told me one day as I checked my biweekly purchases that she hadn’t actually read the stuff in years. She liked it, liked the people, but didn’t really need to read it anymore.

At times I wonder if I’m slipping into the same condition, the same trap — though involuntarily. I can go for weeks, sometimes, without reading a book, depending on circumstances — some of them personal issues, but mostly due to the demands of doing the website. I still buy books I’d like to read. I get a handful in the mail from publishers each month. I troll the bookstores weekly to see as many others as I can find, of those scheduled. I browse and research them for the (nominally) weekly new books pages, thereby facilitating others to find worthy books to read. But the cost, ironically, is the time I might otherwise read books myself. Is it worth it? Good question. It’s not as if the website is making me rich…


Corpse Bride? Just Like Heaven? We compromised on Flightplan, a decent Jodie Foster thriller about a bereaved woman whose 6-year-old daughter apparently vanishes while on a flight from Berlin to New York. It has the techie attraction of taking place aboard a fictitious jumbo airliner, obviously modeled on the new Airbus A380 but designated in the film as the Aalto Air [the name of the airline] E-474, a more Boeing-like nomenclature. (And Jodie Foster is a ‘propulsion engineer’ [whose name is Pratt!], but she’s an American who’s been stationed in Europe.) The plane has two complete passenger decks, enough below-the-belt cargo space to sit a full-sized Mercedes in crossways amongst all the containers, and an improbably spacious Avionics pod below the nose, complete with a Cray-like monster computer, where the actors have their final confrontation. The movie’s official site has an elaborate flash tour of the plane, complete with floorplans.

If you wonder whether the little girl is real or a figment of her mother’s distraught imagination, or whether the girl is safe or not, you’re forgetting this is a Hollywood film. Still, the mystery of the missing girl is more-or-less cleverly solved, and the acting of the two leads is terrific. The ending reminded me just a bit of a now-obscure Jimmy Stewart film, No Highway in the Sky, in which he plays an absent-minded aeronautical engineer worried that the dangers of metal fatigue are being ignored. That one too, if I recall correctly, ends in Newfoundland, though a key difference between the films concerns which end of the plane suffers its ignominious fate…

Story Arcs

The season premiere of Lost was something of a hoot; the mysterious metallic ‘hatch’ found last season in the middle of the island was revealed to lead to some sort of underground bunker, whose resident was seen waking from sleep, popping an LP of The Mamas & the Papas onto a turntable, and walking through a room furnished with tape drives and upright computer panels full of flashing lights straight off a 1960s set of Time Tunnel, or Lost in Space. Hmm.

The great danger of this series, given its popularity, is that the writers/producers will string out the suspense and the explanations past the point of plausibility and audience patience. As with Twin Peaks. As many columnists have noted. I’m sure ABC would like a 5-year hit. This first episode of the new season did seem a bit thin. The same motivation might explain why the first season went a remarkable 24 episodes, in these days when a typical cable TV season lasts only 12 or 15. My benefit of the doubt remains pacified, for now, enough to keep watching it. Still, I remain dubious enough about the SFnal content of the show to have declined the offer, by one of my reviewers, to review the first season DVD for Locus Online

The final Myst game, Myst V [Wikipedia | official site], was released last week, and I spent the spare time of only three days playing it through — the fastest I’ve ever played any game of the series. The puzzles were somewhat simpler than usual, and the game-play more expeditious (avoiding the time-consuming back-and-forthing implicit in some of the earlier installments); the graphics adequate; the other-worldly visions as great as ever. The overreaching story arc, concerning the Atrus family and his daughter’s attempts to revive the D’ni culture with its technology of linking books, was brought to a rather arbitrary end, as if the creators simply wanted to be done with it and free to move on to something else; the fannish speculation and spin-off books have perhaps clotted the whole enterprise. Still, that was never the attraction; the immersion into unique worlds with schemes to be figured out, was, and each of the six Myst games (five numbered, plus Uru), provided anywhere from four to ten such independent worlds. Given the passionate fan-base for such games (small as it might be compared to that for the more popular first-person shooter games), it’s hard to believe that some comparable series will not appear in the not so far future.

Author Events, and More Stories

It’s a busy season for author tours. Over the last week I’ve received, or sought out, tour schedules for a number of authors with eagerly anticipated new books out this Fall… Terry Brooks, Neil Gaiman, Robert Jordan, George R.R. Martin, Richard K. Morgan, Terry Pratchett, John Ringo, R.A. Salvatore. The author events pages — the one by author is the most relevant — are as long at this given moment as they’ve ever been.

It brings to mind the contrast between art and commerce. The books our field’s most visible readers — Jonathan Strahan, Cheryl Morgan, Matt Cheney — might be looking forward to this Fall — by Neil Gaiman, Octavia Butler, Jonathan Carroll, George R.R. Martin, Terry Pratchett, David Marusek, Kim Stanley Robinson, if I might hazard to guess (based on Forthcoming Books) — overlap by no more than half those that booksellers (who host those author events) and many bookbuyers are most interested in.

• I’ve just watched, live on TV, the landing of a passenger jet with skewed front landing gear on a runway at LAX. Remarkably, the landing gear didn’t collapse, though it did appear to burn down to the nub…

• Two ongoing stories continue today: Lost’s second season begins tonight, and Myst V arrived in the mail today. No, I haven’t given up reading; I’m part way through books by David Berlinski and Kim Stanley Robinson currently. I do need to update the sidebar column of cover thumbnails…


Hurricane Max brought thunderstorms to southern California last night (we get them for one reason or another maybe twice a year), causing power outages and snarled traffic, not to mention downed servers, which disrupted my email and internet access for much of this morning. All this from a hurricane still 1000 miles away.

• Here’s an amusing site, not quite relevant enough to SF to be Blink-worthy.

Lost Won

It would have been more fun to say Lost Lost, but it didn’t. It’s been at least a decade since I’ve watched any TV series with regularity, but since I followed at least a couple this past year — Six Feet Under, Queer as Folk, and Lost, which I finished watching on DVD this weekend — I tuned in the Emmy Awards last night to if anyone won from those shows. (No, William Shatner performing the old Star Trek theme was not a draw.)

What’s striking about the win of Lost as best dramatic series is that… I think this is the first time that the dramatic series Emmy Award Winner has been even remotely SF or fantasy. (I’m still dubious about Lost’s credentials here, but I’m hopeful.) A glance through the Emmy database (select drama series under category) shows recent winners The Sopranos, The West Wing, The Practice… etc etc.. Northern Exposure? Did that have supernatural elements? (I never saw it). Way back in the ’60s, Mission: Impossible won a couple times, and though not SF, it had its outre elements, in a James Bond sort of way. It won the same two years the original Star Trek was nominated; more recent nominated series with SF flavors include The X-Files, Quantum Leap, ST TNG, Twin Peaks, and Beauty and the Beast. But none of them won.

I haven’t looked at any of the Lost fan sites, with their endless speculation about the meaning of the monster, the Others, and the hatch, but I think it would be cool if the hatch revealed that the whole island was in fact a ship…

UPDATE early evening — Steven Johnson, author of Everything Bad Is Good For Your, has this interesting post about the attraction of the series.

The genius of Lost is that its mysteries are fractal: at every scale — from the macro to the micro — the series delivers a consistent payload of confusion. There are the biographical riddles: why was the beautiful Kate accompanied by a federal marshal on the flight? There are geographic riddles (“why have the rescue teams missed the island, and why does it appear to have a history of attracting castaways?”) and historical ones (“why has that SOS signal been playing for so many years?”) And then there are existential riddles: are these people even alive at all? Perhaps there were no survivors, and these characters are just ghosts haunting an island of lost souls. Or does Abrams have up his sleeve an elaborate homage to The Island Of Dr. Moreau?

Quick Update

I completed adding references to the 2005 Magazines Directory page last weekend — Friday, actually.

As for TV, I meant to mention that I was dazzled and moved by the finale to Six Feet Under, and that having watched the first four episodes of Lost during summer reruns, pre-ordered the DVD of the complete first season, which arrived last week… we spent a marathon Friday evening and Saturday watching the first 12 episodes, and have another 10 days to watch the remaining 12 before the 2nd seasons premiere shows on the 21st. I’m still not sure the show is SF in any fundamental way, but the vagueness of the skiffy/horror allusions (monstrous sounds in the jungle; the appearance of a polar bear on a tropical island; etc.) are more than compensated by the basic drama, in which each episode explores via flashbacks the backstory of one of the characters, giving the overall story depth, and adding intriguing new clues to the central mystery of why the airplane crashed on the island in the first place.