Friday, August 31, 2007

Happy Birthday ....

... Steve Perry. Today is Steve's 60th birthday, and I want to wish him a happy birthday and congratulate him on still being on the right side of the dirt, which is a real accomplishment when you're as ancient as he is.

Steve is a man of superb good taste, as partly evidenced by the fact that he's repeatedly said nice things about my writing, and without actual payment. Probably more indicative is the list of other work he likes -- Ursula Le Guin, Roger Zelazny, Lonesome Dove, the Travis McGee series -- the dedication to the Machiavelli Interface mentions both the McGee series and "Great Souled Sam" -- and you know, McGee is McGee and Great Souled Sam is the guy I took my handle from: I've been FatSam online for closing in on 30 years now, and Mahasamatman from Lord of Light is where that came from. (Frequently people think it's the drug dealer in "Fletch" -- which is one of my favorite novels -- and is the only other FatSam I know of in fiction, outside my own work. But it's the Zelazny.)

If it turns out he's a fan of "Rustler's Rhapsody" as well, I might have to travel to the northwest to marry the guy. ("Rustler's Rhapsody? Rex O'Herlihan, the Singing Cowboy? No, no, no," Perry said hastily, "I swear I've never heard of it.")

Steve does beautiful work. The trilogy he's probably best known for, starting with The Man Who Never Missed, features a protagonist who's non-violently waging war against a corrupt, failing, centralized government ... which I wish I'd read before writing The Long Run, because there's stuff in there I could easily have lifted and rubbed the serial numbers off of. Steve Perry: one of the writers I wish I'd stolen from, and will steal from going forward.

Happy Birthday, Steve. :-)

Wednesday, August 29, 2007

The Long Run is off ...

-- and available at Immunity.

Anyone wanting to volunteer to help proof Last Dancer, I'd appreciate the help. I just don't see this text any more. (For that matter, typos in the existing documents at immunity -- let me know. I'll correct them.)

There were two blogs I read daily until I ran across Steve Perry's blog, when it turned into 3. They're all in good shape lately --

Scott Adams on urine-drinking coal miners.
Steve Barnes on flying chickens.
Steve Perry links to a very cool website showing your "real age," sort of.

Coolest thing I've seen in a while -- very high-res photos from the latest Shuttle mission. Just outstanding.

Sunday, August 26, 2007

The Foolishness of the Martial Arts ...

But first: I've been on vacation. Sorry for the gap in posts, I thought I'd have internet while on the road, turned out to be not the case.

The Long Run is finally edited. My apologies on the delays. It'll go to Immunity tomorrow and should be up sometime on Monday.

... so I'm catching up this evening with the various blogs I read and ran across an interesting post over on Steve Perry's blog. It's here. Go take a look at it ...

OK, power politics in the martial arts community. They exist everywhere, even in sciences which have actual rigor in them -- people are people. So in any field that's essentially artistic, you expect to find stupid politics to one degree or another: I've known enough martial artists over the years that nothing in Steve's post surprises me. Good, bad, smart, dumb, wise, foolish ... just people, same as everywhere.

But serious martial artists, as a group, are every bit as much dilettantes as, say, middle-aged guys playing basketball....

Look, the core of the martial arts is Kicking Ass. (And yeah, I'm painting with a pretty broad brush here, and the emphasis varies among disciplines. Nonetheless.) And Kicking Ass, as a business rather than an art form, changed forever with the introduction of the Colt revolver. You want to protect yourself? You don't need years or decades in some esoteric eastern discipline. You need, roughly, the following --

A little boxing. Not a lot: enough to learn how to throw and slip a punch, and how to deal with your fear of pain -- and learning to cope with your fear is by far the most important part of that. You don't need to learn to like being hit, that's excessive. But the fear of pain shouldn't weaken your knees.

A moderate amount of judo or some other grappling, wrestling discipline. Most fights end up with people grabbing onto one another and you should know what to do once you've clinched.

The above will get your average American male through a lifetime without worrying about his own safety too much -- maybe a touchup once a decade to remember what the shock of pain feels like.

If you're a woman or a smaller man, I'd add pepper spray and make sure that, having used it, you're ready to run -- pepper spray will blind your attacker but it won't stop him from putting his hands on you: spray him, separate from him, and get the hell out of the area quickly.

(For that matter even if you're a big tough guy who's in a bad spot -- no rule says you can't carry spray and then run. I like to say that for a writer I'm a tough guy -- but for a tough guy, I'm a writer. Getting out in one piece is the point of the exercise. Your ego will heal.

(My father once beat a pair of muggers half to death -- and I do love telling that story. But he was 70 and couldn't run.)

And finally, and almost solely for those women who know there's a real threat in their lives, buy a gun and learn to use it. (The NRA and I frequently disagree, but their instructors are first rate.) There are enough brutal sub-human "men" floating around out there that failing to take that next step can be fatal. Don't make the mistake of not taking every advantage you can get. (Guns as a rule are a bad idea. A gun is a tool and if you're in real danger, a tool you should consider: but "real danger." If you don't know there's a monster at the door, I'd skip it.)

And that's it. Take reasonable precautions, do a reasonable amount of preparation, and the martial arts are not cost-effective when it comes to time and energy vs. reward.

Nothing wrong with martial arts as a hobby. But the number of people in this world who need to spend decades studying any martial discipline for any pragmatic reason is vanishingly small. And if you do get into a given martial discipline ... and run into a Guru ... hang onto your wallet and your good judgement, and be damned wary of certainty.

If you meet the Buddha on the road ...

Friday, August 17, 2007

The Best Cheeseburger in Los Angeles, Roundup Edition

There's a a competitor at Club 26 on Washington Boulevard. Took my oldest daughter to lunch yesterday at Club 26 -- took along a copy of the Steve Perry novel I've been reading -- she took that as a challenge and was relentlessly witty and charming throughout lunch, so I never got to the Perry.

They have a variety of burgers at Club 26, including an obscene 5x5 patty plus cheese stack that no one over the age of 25 should even be in the same room with -- regular cheeseburgers are bad enough for you. This is the 3rd time I've eaten at Club 26, and both previous occasions I had the Old Fashioned -- medium rare burger, shredded lettuce, tomato, mustard, relish, wheat bun, cheddar. They grind their own meat at Club 26 and you can taste it. Twice previously I've rated this burger a 9 -- meat a little cold once, lettuce and tomato a little warm another time. Yesterday it was perfect -- burger doesn't make it into the Top 3 because of past inconsistency, but if I get another 10 out of them, I'll add it. (One of the 3 burgers in the Top 3 is the Pie'N'Burger in Pasadena -- which I've only had once, so it hasn't had a chance to exhibit inconsistency.)

It's a charming little restaurant, too, beyond the first-rate burgers. The beef chili nachos my daughter ordered were very good, and we split a lemon bar Sunday that was superb. It verges on romantic, as far as mood and setting, while being reasonably priced.


Elsewhere and on other websites I've rated the burger at Marie Callendar's a 7. Had it again since the last time I blogged the Best Cheeseburger, and it's still a 7. Competent, fresh ingredients, nicely prepared. I like the pickles and thousand island a lot -- mostly I don't like thousand on burgers, but Marie Callendar's has the world's best thousand island, and it takes a burger that would be a 5 and makes it a 7, all by itself.


There's a particular class of burger, the Plain Hamburger -- ketchup, mustard, pickles, burger, bun -- that very few places make well. Burger King's burger is a 4, for example, and the only Plain Burger that rates a 5 was at Mi Taco in Upland, California -- until recently. The Sunrise , fast-food joint on Venice Boulevard near where I live, about a mile west of the 405 on the north side of the street, produces a Kid's Hamburger on a toasted bun that's a 7. Burger goodness distilled to its essence. They also have a plain burger -- same thing with more bread around it -- a 5. Crispy toasted bread, hot from the toaster, good meat, good pickles, ketchup and mustard. I could eat that burger every day and weigh 300 pounds.


About 2 in the morning some Fridays back I pulled through a 24-hour McDonald's and ordered the 2-cheeseburger meal. These aren't very good burgers, but you can improve them immensely by ordering them off-standard -- that way you don't get one of the pre-made burgers they stick under the lamps. I order mine without onions. Fresh and without onions, a 3. It's the only McDonald's burger that ranks that high -- the Quarter Pounder is a 1 and the Big Mac a zero. They now have adult burgers with lettuce and tomato, but I haven't tried them, and probably won't.

The Caltrans Murderers

Driving down to Irvine this morning -- about a 50 mile commute. Been a busy couple weeks, working 60 hours plus commute time -- fortunately next week looks quiet, because we all need that in my family ...

On the way down to Irvine I blew out my front left tire. Doing about 70 mph in the leftmost lane, heard not one but two distinct rifle crack bangs, and abruptly the car was pulling left really hard. Fortunately I've driven over half a million miles and I knew what to do -- while I still had some air left in the tire I drifted right across 5 lanes to get onto the side of the road. Called Triple A -- the best single investment you can make if you own a car -- and half an hour later they had a tow truck there to put on my spare and get me on my way.

Spent most of that time standing by the side of the road, about 10 feet back in a convenient spot of shade, watching people get off the freeway. At one point eight passenger cars went by, in a row, with eight women in identical postures: right hand on the top of the steering wheel, left hand up to the left ear.

So I started counting. (I count trains, too -- to this day the largest number I've ever counted was as a teenager, 153 cars, while sitting at a crossing on the way to Kaiser Permanente with a shattered eardrum.) While I was waiting for the tow truck, 313 cars (passenger cars, vans, SUVs -- non-commercial) and 38 trucks went by me on that offramp. I don't know how many of the truck drivers were on the job versus passenger, but I included all vehicles with a flatbed in the truck count.

140 of the 313 passenger cars had someone on the cell phone as they pulled onto that offramp. Two of the 38 trucks did. I didn't keep exact counts of the gender split, but women were far likelier to be on the phone than men.


A recent study shows that talking on your cell phone impairs your ability to operate a vehicle about as much as being drunk.


The other day I was driving down the 101 freeway and on one of the big signs they had the blinking message: "Call 911 to report drunk drivers."

Now ... our society is run by the clinically insane, that's true: but this has to be intentional. Some malicious yokel at CalTrans thought to himself, "I wonder how many people I can kill before they catch me?"

One drunk-who-should-be-horsewhipped gets on the freeway. An alert but foolish soul catches sight of him ... and gets on the cell phone to alert 911. While she's doing this, I'm going with "she" here because I counted this morning, two more alert Good Citizens are noticing her abruptly swerving around the road, bouncing over the Botts dots, endangering the lives and paint jobs of those around her ... so, having just seen the Sign of Doom, they get on 911: "There's a dangerous drunk on the road! And she's tailing another dangerous drunk!" And those two start staggering around the road while making their call, and pretty soon everyone within two miles is inundating 911 all at once, chattering away about the danger they're alertly observing, when the first drunk looks up at his rear view mirror and sees a shark's pack of hundreds of swerving maniacal drunks bearing down on him, and panics and stomps on the brakes, causing the biggest pileup in American history ... and some socipath at Caltrans sits there, watching the cameras, counting: 150, 151, 152, 153 ... 154! Screw Moran! Ha ha haaaaa......

Let's be careful out there. Lay off the cell phones and don't let Caltrans kill you.

Tuesday, August 14, 2007

Saturday, August 11, 2007

Time for a new wallet ...

I've bought 3 of these at -- two of the black and one of the brown imprinted. I think this time I'm actually going for the authentic in-the-movie wallet ...

This is the opening page of The Hotel California:

Jules: You read the Bible?

Pumpkin: Not regularly.

Jules: There's a passage I got memorized. Ezekiel 25:17. "The path of the righteous man is beset on all sides by the inequities of the selfish and the tyranny of evil men. Blessed is he who, in the name of charity and good will, shepherds the weak through the valley of the darkness. For he is truly his brother's keeper and the finder of lost children. And I will strike down upon thee with great vengeance and furious anger those who attempt to poison and destroy my brothers. And you will know I am the Lord when I lay my vengeance upon you…"

Now I'm thinkin': it could mean you're the evil man. And I'm the righteous man. And Mr. 9mm here, he's the shepherd protecting my righteous ass in the valley of darkness. Or it could be you're the righteous man and I'm the shepherd and it's the world that's evil and selfish. I'd like that. But that shit ain't the truth. The truth is you're the weak. And I'm the tyranny of evil men. But I'm tryin', Ringo. I'm tryin' real hard to be the shepherd.
—Pulp Fiction

It is waking that understands sleep and not sleep that understands waking. There is an ignorance of evil that comes from being young: there is a darker ignorance that comes from doing it, as men by sleeping lose the knowledge of sleep.
—C.S. Lewis, Perelandra


That's probably the first time "bad mother fucker" and C.S. Lewis have been on the same page of one book, ever.

Thursday, August 9, 2007

Docs available at Immunity ...

I'll put the link to Immunity up as a permanent sidebar when I redo the blog layout. It's here, for reference:

The docs available there are, roughly grouped:

A Moment In Time (script) PDF RTF
All Possible Worlds Pilot (script) PDF RTF

A Moment in Time should be read prior to All Possible Worlds.

Old Man (story) PDF RTF
On Sequoia Time (story) PDF RTF

Same universe -- there's a couple bridge stories that link them, "Unification" and "Sea of Light," both unwritten.

The Armageddon Blues (book) PDF RTF
Emerald Eyes (book) (Also includes "The Star", a short story) PDF RTF

Both set on the Great Wheel, though not linked much otherwise -- characters from both of them do appear in "The Collapse of the Levels," and the Corvichi spacetime gypsies in Armageddon Blues appear in the Man-Spacething War. Emerald Eyes is the first Continuing Time novel.

Sorry about how slow publishing this to e-books is going -- for text that's been around decades in some cases, there are still typos ... if I ever produce copies of these books absolutely without typos, doubtless the universe will end.

Wednesday, August 8, 2007

Blog Look And Feel ...

I'm looking to update the look and feel of the blog -- anyone have any strong preferences for blogs they enjoy, or that have some particular functionality they like? All suggestions appreciated.

Tuesday, August 7, 2007

Emerald Eyes, Infinite Methods rewrite, L.A. Family Court ...

We went to court again yesterday -- fourth or fifth time, I've lost track already -- and we're pleased with how it's going so far, and that's probably all I should say at this point. We go back again early October.

Finished proofing & typesetting EE late last night and went to bed -- I'll read it one more time tonight and send it to Immunity -- should be up tomorrow, along with a corrected version of Armageddon Blues.

Haven't done a bit of work on the Infinite Methods rewrite. I'm interested in doing it, but it's going to have to wait until I can squeeze out a free hour somewhere.

Friday, August 3, 2007

Bourne Ultimatum --

Saw it with Amy last night at a midnight showing. It was worth staying up for -- the first two Bourne movies were better than average spy fare, better than any but a couple of the Bonds, for example. (Casino Royale and From Russia With Love) --

Ultimatum may be the best serious action movie I've ever seen. (Raiders of the Lost Ark is the best action movie ever, but it's a featherweight piece with no serious intent behind it. Nothing wrong with that.)

Been an interesting trend in recent years -- the serious, no-apology blockbuster sequel. For most of Hollywood's existence sequels existed to suck the remaining dollars out of a franchise, and serious artists looked down on them. The people who made sequels didn't treat them with respect, and the results showed --

There've always been exceptions, but they're so few they stand out: what would have been Superman II, had Richard Donner been permitted to finish it. (See the Donner cut of Superman II, if you haven't -- it's much better than the Lester version.) The Empire Strikes Back. Aliens. Batman Returns. T2. And despite my distaste for the Roger Moore era, the entire Bond series was always treated with real seriousness by the people making it, though with varying results. And that's been about it -- I could easily name dozens (hundreds, maybe) of sequels that were much worse than the movies they referenced. Rambo might be the best example of a series that started out very promisingly, and degenerated into Something Awful with the first few seconds of the first sequel ... but there are dozens of examples.

But in the last several years there've been a lot of first-rate sequels -- movies no one had to apologize for. X-Men II is better than X-Men. Spiderman 2 is better than Spiderman. Casino Royale is superb.

But Ultimatum is the Godfather II of the action movie world, the movie that stands atop first rate work -- and then gets better. It's up there with Die Hard for sheer kinetic energy. There's a hand to hand combat scene midway through the movie that might be the best single fight I've ever seen in a movie. It reminded me, and this is high praise, of the fight in "From Russia With Love" -- two strong men trying to kill each other with their bare hands. Very few movie fights ever have any emotional impact past the visceral -- but this does. Ultimatum is The Passion of the Bourne, and the violence has an impact, on Bourne, on us watching, that far exceeds what most action movies ask of their audiences. And Bourne's quest for the truth, which in a second rate work would be a Maguffin with no impact, here has a payoff that has real moral weight.

I keep coming back to Casino Royale. I'm a big Bond fan, and Casino Royale was a great Bond movie. But it wasn't a great movie -- and Ultimatum is. Can't wait to go see it again.

Thursday, August 2, 2007

John D. MacDonald ...

This is incestuous, since he starts out mentioning this blog, but even so:

Really nice post by Steve Perry on the late great John D.

Patricia McKillip's Riddle Master series ...

... is two very good books, and one novel that's a real mess. "The Riddlemaster of Hed," "Heir of Sea and Fire," and "Harpist in the Wind."

Forty pages into Riddlemaster I was thrilled to be in the presence of the anti-Rowling. By then this had happened:

We'd been introduced to Morgon, Prince of the island of Hed, a peaceful farming kingdom. Morgon's parents have died mysteriously. We learn he has the "land rule," a mystic sense of what's going on in his kingdom, and that his brother Eliard is his heir. He has a sister, Tristan, who's 11 and isn't coping too well with her parents' deaths. Morgon studied riddle mastery at the College of Riddles in Caithnard, and sometime after his parents' deaths, he played a riddle game with a thousand year old ghost ... and won, and lived, and escaped with a famous crown. Which is now hidden under his bed and his sister Tristan has found it.

So Morgon fights with Eliard over having risked his life to get the crown, and then the High One's Harpist, Deth, shows up on Hed, and Morgon and Deth take a ship to the mainland, to the College of the Riddle Masters. There we meet Morgon's friend Rood, who's the brother of Raederle; Raederle was promised in marriage, by her shapechanging father, to the man who defeated the thousand year old ghost ... which is convenient, since Morgon and Raederle love one another anyway.

Morgon and Deth inform everyone at the college that Morgon won the crown from the ghost, and they head off on a ship together to go see Raederle ... but along the way the ship's crew vanishes, the ship cracks apart, Morgon is nearly drowned and awakens with his memory gone.

He's rescued by a solitary hermit, Astrin, who turns out to be the land-heir of Ymris, and now lives in exile among the ruins of the great city of the long-vanished Earth Masters, on Wind Plain. And then two assassins attack and try to kill Astrin and Morgon, but are killed instead ...

Her text is beautiful. This one paragraph would have taken JK Rowling two chapters:

"He retrieved his pack from the chaos of Rood's room and bade the Masters farewell. The sky darkened slowly as he and the harpist took the long road back to the city; on the rough horns of the bay the warning fires had been lit; tiny lights from homes and taverns made random stars against the well of darkness. The tide boomed and slapped against the cliffs, and an evening wind stirred, strengthened, blowing the scent of salt and night. The trade ship stirred reslessly in the deep water as they boarded; a loose sail cupped the wind, taut and ghostly under the moon. Morgon, standing at the stern, watched the lights of the harbor ripple across the water and vanish."

Aside from the trade ship stirring restlessly, there's not a word in that paragraph I'd change. And that's true of nearly all her text.

The third book disappoints, though. The first two novels are character driven -- we follow Morgon as he learns his destiny, and then Raederle as she learns hers. They both take their lumps.

Harpist in the Wind has a lot more magic in it -- Morgon and Raederle have grown powerful, but they have enemies as powerful as themselves, and the mechanisms of plot nearly swamp the novel. And the things that McKillip does superbly the rest of the series falter here -- her characters do things because the plot requires it of them, not because it's organic to who they are. Morgon is driven, enraged, possessed at the end of the second novel: midway through the third, he wanders off and chills out for a while. Her beautiful language suffers -- instead of saying things once and trusting the reader to pay attention, she says them repeatedly: say things three times, the editors in New York will tell you. Probably someone told McKillip that, back in the day -- the editors are wrong on this one. You can't help inattentive readers and shouldn't try. (In a long series, sure -- but Harpist repeats itself in-novel.)

The ending is a very nice sequence of powerful forces squaring off, and she pays it off well enough.

In the book's introduction, McKillip says that at one time these were her favorite works, but no longer -- I'm not suprised. I'm looking forward to reading some of her later works -- she was a remarkable talent even when she wrote this, and I have to think she got better. Some of the false notes she hit here -- the unfortunate use of various homophones for names, as one example, stuff like "Hel" and "Deth" -- are things I suspect a more mature writer would have avoided.

Two very good books, and overall a good trilogy -- not Earthsea, but then, not much is. I'd stick it on the shelf next to "The Dark Is Rising," which has its own huge strengths to go along with structural and quality issues.


I've been revisiting my source material, the stuff that inspired me to write in the first place, for close to 2 years now. I'm close to done -- haven't yet finished the Travis McGee series, but I'm down to the last 6-7 books, and then I'm going to re-read Gregory McDonald's Fletch novels -- and that's about it. Maybe one quick pass through "Fear and Loathing." :-)