Tag Archives: reviews

Review of ‘Light and Death’ in Locus

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I was delighted to find that ‘Light and Death on the Indian Battle Station was reviewed in Locus at Locusmag.com. Karen Burnham mentions it as one of the two stories she most enjoyed in the October 2018 issue of Fireside (together with the amazing and powerful ‘STET’).

“Lord Yama, god of death, is involved with all the telepaths, and it is with him that Savi must eventually bargain.”

And because I really loved the art for that story, here it is again.

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First Time at ‘Convolution’ near SFO

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freebie table

Convolution, held last weekend at the Hyatt Airport Hotel near San Francisco Airport, started only 3 years ago. I’d never attended before, and really enjoyed it. I came at it from a literary con experience – Wiscon, World Fantasy, FOGcon.  I’m not giving up those Cons, but this was different.

people in awesome costumesConvolution was a multi-con, a big tent. From steam-punk people in gorgeous gowns or vests and hats to a troop of Vulcans and Darth Vader himself, to singers and authors and gamers, it seemed to have something for every flavor of fan.  It had literary tracks with discussions of genre divisions and publicity for authors. It had science tracks, and a Silicon Valley Science Fiction short film festival (which unfortunately I missed). It had filks and karaoke (going on simultaneously). It had costuming – people making them, people wearing them, and people entering a masquerade contest.  It had a whole children’s track – Playzone. And a Dealers Room and an Art Show. I even got to attend a panel about Babs Con, a convention for the thousands of followers of My Little Pony.

masquerade costumesThe programming was insanely wonderful. For a 700-hundred person Con, it had up to 10 events going on simultaneously! I always found 3 or 4 I wanted to attend at the same time.  The downside was that the audience for each thing was small – sometimes only 3-4 people. With such small groups, they tended to run out of steam before the allotted 90 minutes, though all the panelists were very good. (Well done, Convolution!) The only really well-attended events I went to were the Masquerade, and then the closing ceremony. Convolution hopes to grow into this amount of programming – they would like to see 1000 people there next year.

Costumes. Other Cons I’ve attended don’t encourage costuming. I thought it added atmosphere. This was especially important because owing to the hotel’s layout, Convolution doesn’t have a hub. There’s no place where people can hang out and gather.  The hotel is laid out in a giant square, with a beautiful tree-lined atrium with a restaurant. There’s no place to gravitate to. The sports bar is off to one side. The Con suite was up on the 2nd floor, a long walk from the elevator. (There’s only one set of elevators, so it can be a very long walk indeed.)

Convolution had events going in multiple venues on 3 sides of the square, which diffused the effect and reduced the buzz – except that there were all these people in awesome costumes wandering around.

dragon hunterI wondered how many of the 700 people attending actually stuck around the whole time.  I went in on Friday evening, after the opening ceremonies, and stayed through the closing ceremony  – but I think quite a few people only came for a day or even just a few hours.  That’s the downside of the location being so accessible.

The hotel is ADA-compliant, and quite a few people with mobility issues attended. It didn’t seem easy, exactly, because the hotel had some many different levels with steps up and down, but it was generally feasible.  It was also nice to see gender and race diversity.

The food situation at the hotel wasn’t great. It was not too bad in the morning and until 2 p.m., though their cafe easily gets overloaded. But from 2 p.m., there’s either nothing but the sports bar, or the rather expensive restaurant for dinner. The Con Suite, to my surprise, closed at 8 p.m. (though  parties went later, to maybe 2 in the morning). Some people ordered in food from outside restaurants. Next year, I might bring a care package from home and stick it in the mini-fridge.

Victorian wonder womanThe hotel apparently discouraged signage, and so there wasn’t enough. It took a while to get oriented, especially since the Con had so many venues . The parties (on the 2nd floor) were especially tough to find. I never was quite sure whether I was in the right room for a panel, because the doors didn’t have signs on them saying what was going on. Unlike FOGcon and Wiscon, where the hotel seems to welcome the Con and want to support and be part of it, this hotel seemed to just tolerate it. At the feedback session, some people mentioned maintenance issues, like the mini-fridge not working or not existing.

role reversal leia and slave Han SoloOther than that, the hotel was nice. The atrium was awesome – my room looked out onto trees inside the hotel! The hallway also had windows overlooking SFO’s runway, and planes were always landing or taking off. The staff were friendly. The person who checked me in comped my parking when I said I was at the Con but hadn’t registered early enough to get the block rate. They also comped the internet, which was good enough though not as fast as I would have liked. Apparently, they normally charge for it – even in the 21st century.

hyatt sfo atrium at night

 

 

 

The Third Pig by Kater Cheek

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3rd pig - kater cheek

Cover by Kater Cheek

Kater Cheek, my friend and Clarion-mate, has several novels and stories for sale on Amazon.

She’s put her short stories out out as ‘doubles’ – two short stories per download. Recently I bought “The Third Pig” & “Sleeps with the Fishes” for my Kindle. I always enjoy Kater’s work, but these two might just be my favorites among her short stories. They’re both clever, funny, and wonderfully satirical.

The Third Pig” retells the story of the three little pigs. Johannes, the 3rd pig, is hanging out with his two brothers Aloysius  (the aesthete who is going to make his house of sticks – wattle and daub, that is – but is delayed because the bathroom tiles didn’t match and ad to be sent back) and Fritz, who’s planning an environmentally-friendly straw-bale house with solar panels. Hans is building his house of bricks of onsite river mud. They’re all behind schedule on construction and living in a flimsy tent, but fortunately Conn the wolf is vegan…

…and then Al and Fritz disappear. Now it’s up to Hans to unravel the mystery and decide just how far he can trust Conn.

If you like fairytales retold and updated as light-hearted satires – check this out.

I can’t decide which the best bits are, there are too many good ones. (It would be perfect for a drinking game, catching allusions to fairy tales and nursery rhymes.) The reference to “Sty” magazine (Al’s inspiration); the bar scene with Elsie the sheep and a couple of others, where the party gets a little wooly and she gets three sheep to the wind and they’re all talking about a touring band from Bremen; or Rosie, who has the misfortune to help a witch and now gold coins fall from her mouth when she talks, so she has to use a chalkboard to communicate; or when Hans describes the filthy conditions at the Seven Dwarves’ cottage and adds, “bear in mind it’s a pig that’s telling you this”.  It’s a hoot with heart.

So is “Sleeps with the Fishes,”  which is set in a college dorm. “It’s one thing to read about spontaneous therianthropy, and quite another to suddenly find yourself dick-deep in a mermaid’s cloaca.

And when the said mermaid – who is your college classmate Ashlee, transformed just at the most inappropriate moment – starts to drown on dry land, you have to do something. You can get her head into a trashcan full of water – but now the water’s getting stale. She needs to be in the ocean.

How are you going to get a slippery, 8-foot mermaid to the ocean before she suffocates? Well, with the help of Luo, Karl (who’s supposed to bring a truck but his sister borrowed it and all he has is her Honda), the RA who keeps flapping on about 911, the Chinese guy from down the Hall who doesn’t speak English but quickly figures out the situation, a four-woman Taiwanese flag corp, and Karl’s girlfriend’s Dad…

If you’re in the mood for something light-hearted, try these two stories.

Blue Jasmine – Woody Allen’s Anti-love Letter

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Warning: Spoilers!

Blue_Jasmine_posterI’d never been particularly drawn to Woody Allen movies. But then I saw To Rome with Love, followed soon after by Midnight in Paris. Both of them were delightful, a mixture of romantic travelogue, appealing characters, and a satisfying story arc. So last year, when he was spotted filming here in San Francisco, I hoped to see something in the same vein in America’s most romantic city.

Last week, I saw Blue Jasmine, and that story definitely wasn’t it.

If the first two movies were love-letters, this was the kind of snarky missive someone might write to an ex while still counting grievances. Woody Allen seemed to dislike all his characters, and San Francisco. It was a mystery to me why he even bothered, unless he’s a little in love with Cate Blanchett. You know the movie has problems when the only thing you can say is, “Cate Blanchett really acted well.”

In brief:

Jasmine, a beautiful self-centered housewife, has had a nervous breakdown when her marriage to wealthy Hal comes to a very sticky conclusion, with his imprisonment and suicide.  Penniless, adrift and mentally ill, she lands in San Francisco to stay with her sister Ginger, who has a nice little apartment in the Mission despite working mainly as a grocery bagger. (Perhaps she lucked into something rent-controlled.)  Jasmine ditched college to marry Hal, and has only her looks and poise going for her.  Since she’s not stable, she can’t make it work. She breaks down, lies, and talks to herself. (Lots of people do, these days, but a cellphone or earbuds are a useful prop.)

I spent the whole movie waiting for something to actually happen. Nothing does. It raises false hopes that there’ll actually be a story arc, but they all collapse.

Jasmine can’t get it together because she’s having a nervous breakdown, and no one addresses that. (Presumably she lost her health coverage together with her previous wealthy-chick life.) Ginger, encouraged by Jasmine, has a brief fling but gets back together with the same guy she intended to marry when the movie started.  Nothing’s changed.

It might as well have ended with “It was all a dream.”

A disturbing thread of misogyny ran through the whole thing.  The choices it makes are unpleasant. Hal, the husband, is apparently modeled on Bernie Madoff; it would be interesting to explore the impact of the implosion of such a career on his immediate family.  But this movie focuses on Jasmine as a despicable character whose only redeeming feature is perhaps that she loves her step-son.

Ginger, the grocery-bagger sister, has an affair with an apparently successful man who seems to admire her. She’s punished by finding out that he’s married, and finds redemption by returning to the working-class fiance she started with.

Woody Allen definitely didn’t leave his heart in San Francisco either. Maybe his liver.  There were no glamor shots. Even the ones that were meant to be beautiful were just blah. Ginger’s neighborhood is rundown and grotty.  This is not the San Francisco visitors or even residents experience. This is a city with spectacular views, but you’ll probably find better ones on Youtube than in this movie. Instead, the movie celebrates the Hamptons. Charitably, you could say it’s interpreting it through Jasmine’s POV, where the Hamptons represent the luxurious and happy life she lost; and San Francisco the unpleasant present. Or you could blame Woody Allen.

This movie was the equivalent of those dreary literary efforts where Miserable Character Stays Miserable in a Dismal Setting.

Clearly, most people don’t agree with me. It has a 90% rating on Rotten Tomatoes. I guess seeing a beautiful woman fall apart has a certain allure.