Sorcerer 1977Sorcerer (1977) has absolutely nothing to do with magic or sorcerers. Four men have come to a wretched South American hellhole. Most of the work here for an oil company but these men are here because they’re on the run. A terrorist, an assassin, a gangster, and a banker. They’ve all left behind–even if indirectly–death.

The oil well blows up. The oil company needs it put out and the only way to do that is blow it up again. The only dynamite available has been sitting in a hut in the jungle for over a year and the nitroglycerin is leaking out, leaving it highly unstable. The four protagonists take the job of transporting the nitro over two hundred miles.

Sorcerer 1977What follows is an edge of your seat, nail biting thriller. Four men against the road, the jungle, the elements, and a few other men. You might expect that the main characters would come more into conflict with each other–especially when the assassin’s motivations for being on the trip are left in question–but no, there’s little characterization. The movie focuses instead on the driving rain and the cracking of boards on the bridges they cross.

The tension is punctuated by a few bursts of violence and sudden terrible disaster. Even at the end, when the journey was complete, the feeling of impending doom doesn’t quite go away.

I’m not sure that the movie is ultimately nihilistic or merely possessing of a perverted sense of justice. None of the main characters are good people. But neither are we led to believe that all of them deserve the fates they’re meted out. The lack of characterization one way or another doesn’t leave you with the feeling that they got what was coming to them or with any particular sadness because you’d come to like them. Regardless the end feels pointless. Their actions weren’t such that they accomplished something amazing or extremely good. The struggle was more a selfish one; the characters have no motivation other than personal gain. And none of them gains anything ultimately. They could have all sat in the hellhole and suffered and at least three of them probably would have been better off. For them, the attempt to drag themselves out of the situation their bad choices or actions have brought them to backfires horribly. The other guy was probably doomed no matter what he did.

The movie is visually stunning, though it has a few too many jerky/shaky camera shots for my taste. Unfortunately, the unpleasantness of ending makes the experience less than fun. There’s no heroic sacrifices here. Just four men doomed.


The Devil in the White City

The Devil in the White City by Erik Larson is a strange book. I almost didn’t read because I expected it to be too gruesome. And it most certainly has some fairly disturbing parts but not as many as you’d expect for a book which is about a serial killer. DitWC is more about the White City than it is the Devil.

For me that was only a problem in terms of expectations. When a book is advertised a certain way you go into it thinking it will be that way. “Murder, Magic, and Madness at the Fair That Changed America” the subtitle proclaims. Descriptions and reviews emphasize that the book is both about the fair and about a psychopath who was murdering people by the dozens at the same time. You’d really think at least half the book would be devoted to mangled corpses. No, it’s not.

the white city 1893 Chicago World's FairThe book is about the White City and the White City is magnificent. The story of how it came to be and the people who created it is amazing. An architectural marvel only intended to exist six months, the Columbian Exposition (AKA 1893 Chicago’s World’s Fair) was the show case of changing world. New technologies and innovations. The story DitWC tells is really a fascinating tale. To be honest, however, I could have done with even more details than Larson chooses to give. At least ones which were specifically about the fair.

The details he includes seems somewhat odd as sometimes they’re not very relevant. Theodore Dreiser pursuing a teacher the fair for instance. Adding every famous person who might have gone to the fair or missed going to the fair or was barely connected to someone who worked on the fair just pads the book out. Why bother, for instance, mentioning that Madison Square Garden was designed by Stanford White? White’s only relevance is that he was partner to one of the architects involved with the fair. Anyone who knows who White is probably also knows he designed the Garden (and that he was murdered there) so what’s the point to that bit of information?

First Ferris WheelSimilarly to the expectations set up by the advertising, Larson does a bad job setting up expectations inside the book itself. He’s far too frequently dropping hints and mentions of bad things about to happen… and then it just doesn’t turn out that badly. Or what you’d expect. He repeatedly makes comments as if some terrible disaster will befall in regards to the Ferris Wheel and (spoiler!) nothing bad happens to the Ferris Wheel. He may very well have not intended it to come across this way but that’s what I kept getting out of it.

The other problem is one which always makes me very hesitant to read anything that falls under the “true crime” genre. Larson devotes a couple chapters to Holmes murdering young women. If you take the time to read over the end notes (who does that?), you’ll find the admission that these scenes are almost completely fiction. Perhaps speculation would be a nicer way to put it. The simple fact is there really isn’t that much known about Holmes. No one even has any idea how many people he killed. (It’s at least nine.)

Again problems with the details: Larson says that the strange footprint found on the door of Holmes’ vault was believed to that of a particular woman… but why did anyone think that when multiple women are missing? He says the police believed it but never mentions the evidence that led them to that conclusion.

The parts about the fair are great and most people probably wouldn’t care one jot that Larson fails to mention anything more about Elcos or what type of light bulb Westinghouse used. (I care but I know I’m weird.) The parts about Holmes are small and too much fiction. At the end I found myself much more curious about the account of the detective involved… oh, look, there it is on

2017 Reading List

This list is chronological rather any other organization which would probably make more sense.  Everything that I have at some point in the past read before is marked with an asterisk.

*The Two Towers — JRR Tolkien
*The Return of the King — ”
The Five Chameleons — Maxwell Grant
The Living Shadow — ”
*The High Window — Raymond Chandler
Burn, Withc, Burn! — A Merritt
*The Lost World — Arthur Conan Doyle
*A Princess of Mars — Edgar Rice Burroughs
*The Moonspinners — Mary Stewart
The Sleeping Dragon — Miyuki Miyabe
The Devotion of Suspect X — Keigo Higashino
The Little Sister — Raymond Chandler
The Missionaries — Owen Stanley
The Screaming Staircase — Jonathan Stroud
CTRL ALT Revolt! — Nick Cole
Monster Hunter Siege — Larry Correia
Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? — Philip K Dick
A Scanner Darkly — ”
*Strong Poison — Dorothy L Sayers
The Black Hush — Maxwell Grant
The Universe Between — Alan E Nourse
Crime, Insured — Maxwell Grant
The Golden Vulture — ”
The Black Falcon — ”
The Salamanders — ”
The Shadow Unmasks — ”
The Case of the Silent Partner — Erle Stanley Gardner

Witness — Whittaker Chambers
The Big Short — Michael Lewis
Zebra — Clark Howard
A Night to Remember — Walter Lord
The Plague and I — Betty MacDonald
The Devil in the White City — Erik Larson

Rereading things is funny. If you’re lucky, they’re still as good as you remember them. Of course Tolkien, Chandler, ERB, and Doyle are going to stand up. Sayers does as well. Mary Stewart… no. I don’t know why it popped into my head to read The Moonspinners again. It’s been probably more than 15 years since I read it and the reason for reading it back then was curiosity about the differences between it and the movie which is loosely based on it. I remember thinking it a solid okay but it’s really just meh.

My goal was (and has been for long while) to read 24 novels in a year. I met the goal obviously but… this is sort of cheating. All of the Shadow “novels” are so short that I wasn’t sure if I should count them as novels at all. But I wanted to keep track of reading them so here they are. Of course, the issue of length works both ways. It doesn’t look like I read more nonfiction this year than last, but last year none of those books were gigantic tomes like Witness is. 706 pages not counting the 50 pages of forewords my edition has.

Obviously I really liked the Shadow. But I can’t really say which one of those I liked the best. I’m not sure which book was more disappointing: Monster Hunter Siege or CTRL ALT Revolt. MHS is just the set up for the next book and not very good plot by itself, and I positively HATED the ending of CTRL ALT Revolt.

Having finally, after three years, reached my goal, I find myself without any inclination towards a goal for this year.  Maybe read more nonfiction?

New Years Time Loop

I love the Shadow.  There’s problems with the radio show (which perhaps I will go into more detail some day) but this story illustrates one in particular: format strangling story.  Imagine if they’d had more than 30 minutes for this one.

Farewell 2017

At the end of 2016 I thought to myself I hope 2017 is better. I’d thought approximately the same thing the year before and the year before that. Not because they were particularly bad years but because they weren’t good either. More like the dull nothing in between caused by working dead end jobs and not accomplishing anything, topped off by a helping of the annual December bought of depression. But nothing awful happened either.

Apparently I needed to be taught a lesson about being ungrateful when nothing really bad was happening.

I got sick on January. I’ve been sick off and on since. And not just the January sickness (though that shows no signs of completely going away). It’s like my immune system said sayonara sucker and left. Then to cap the year off my right knee decided right before Christmas that it was just not down with this bending thing anymore. Hell if I know why.

But a bunch of good things happened this year. Finally done with college once and for all. (I will not be persuaded to go back again. I will not.) Found a full time job that doesn’t make me want to kill myself. And a pile of smaller events and accomplishments which are too dull and quotidian to bother listing but they were still good things and I managed to do them regardless of being sick.

For every bad thing something good happened and for every good thing something bad.

And just like the unpleasant dualistic nature of this year, I’m left with competing notions of gratitude and pointlessness.

The conclusion I came to last year that I was not cut out to be a professional writer and never would be turned out to be both freeing and crippling. Freeing because I can waste four months writing a Raymond Chandler pastiche because I feel like it and crippling because if no one if ever going to read it what is the point of writing it down at all?

I have a similar problem when it comes to blogging. I finally, after letting this blog molder for over a year unsure what to do with, got down and actually tried to make it into something. I’m somewhat pleased with the end product but have to ask: what good is it? I am exceedingly annoyed to be continuing blogging because I “feel” like it not because I have an actual reason to do so.

Eh, that’s depression talking. I’ll get over it. The flip side of all the awful and pointlessness is it could be worse. Not only could it be worse but it’s pretty damn good even as it is. I have to be grateful because: I’m not dying. I’m not incapacitated or crippled. I’ve got a good job, good place to live, good people to live with. I’ve got the best friends and the absolute best family anybody could ever ask for.

I’m grateful to Verity for being the only person I know if real life who’s interested in reading anything I’ve written, and I’m grateful to the couple other people who’ve bothered to check this blog from time to time.

I won’t bother to try to speculate or hope that 2018 is going to be one way or another.  It’ll be what it is.

JJ Abrams Sucks

I couldn’t care less if Star Wars really counts as science fiction or not (Jeffro has that covered anyway) but Bruce Bethke has something else in his post which is even stupider:

But if you’re an adult, then it really comes down to just one question: either you really love the way J. J. Abrams makes new movies for the new generation by mashing up scenes, samples, and even entire set pieces lifted whole from movies you loved when you were young—only bigger, longer, and louder in the Abrams Remix—or you don’t. If you loved what Abrams did with the recent Star Trek reboot, or loved Star Wars: The Force Awakens, you will love this movie. If not—

Well, it’s still a fun ride and worth watching, but wait for the Blu-Ray. Your bladder will thank you.

No, it’s not worth watching and Abrams is an overrated hack. George Lucas was a mash up artist. He was a genius at before he got stupid and decided he was smart enough to do his own thing. Abrams is garbage. Almost everything he’s done is garbage. For Star Wars and Star Trek he simply took the universe he was supposed to work in, hacked recognizable pieces out of them, and sewed them back together in a drooling, shambling Frankenstein.

There is only one thing that Abrams has done that I actually like: Fringe. And Fringe is a horrifically flawed show which ended badly and the fourth season should have been erased from existence (and if they’d ended it right would have been). Someone I once knew, back when the show first came out, said it wasn’t worth watching because it was “just an X-Files rip off.” I thought she meant it was about FBI agents investigating paranormal stuff. Oh, no. That was before I’d seen X-Files. The pilot of Fringe is X-Files season 5, episode 18, “The Pine Bluff Variant.” It’s one thing to steal an idea or two. It’s another to take so much that the end product is instantly recognizable as its source matter.

As previously noted, I might be able to watch Yojimbo and instantly see a scene that Lucas took and turned into the cantina scene from A New Hope and I might see a similarity between C-3PO and R2-D2 and the peasants in The Hidden Fortress but the original trilogy was what a mash up is supposed to be: its own thing. Just as Yojimbo itself is its own thing but A Fist Full of Dollars is not. A Fist Full of Dollars, however, is an honest remake and a good movie. The Force Awakens isn’t. It tries to lie to you, to pretend be something new, but the seams show and the monster drools too much. The Last Jedi is even worse.