Here’s Something That Ain’t Right

That Ain’t Right: Historical Accounts of the Miskatonic Valley is now available in print!

For the (currently) low, low price of “under $10” you can get your guide to the strange events that have happened along the northern coast of Massachusetts. This collection includes my own story “The Pull of the Sea”, which reveals the terrors that face even the dead in this haunted region.

Buy it from Amazon! You won’t be safe without it!

Bugs and The Loved One are in My Head

I don’t know how old I was when I started reading, but I’ve never stopped. As a little kid I had a small number of my own books, and I read them each many times over. As a teenager I reached the point where I had to be choosy about which ones to re-read, and in college I passed the point where I would ever lack for unread books.

Now, according to LibraryThing, I have 1,218 books that I haven’t read. (Three of them I bought just today.) Keep in mind that I also have a stack of books that LibraryThing won’t acknowledge. It has a feature for adding unknown books — which some wonderful person out there seems to have done for my mini-comic “Dope Fiends of the Zombie Cafe!” — but I am intensely lazy and haven’t entered them.

So with everything I have read and have yet to read, my reaction to the “List 15 Books That Will Always Stay With You” game on Facebook caused me to giggle like Robert Carlyle’s Rumpelstiltskin before staring uncomprehendingly at my life choices.

After a great deal of thought (I need something to do in all those work meetings) I’ve settled on two books that, while rarely in my thoughts, are always on my mind. They are works that didn’t influence me so much as they crystallized realizations I’d come to during that final transition to American adulthood — joining the workforce.

The Loved One
My first exposure to Evelyn Waugh’s critique of life and death in America came in a high school film class, where I saw the movie of it that starred Jonathon Winters and Jonathon Winters as the high and low-class mortician brothers. Then, what I got out of it was mostly just chuckles.

Reading the book as a young man, I noticed that it was about commerce — particularly it was about the subversion of art and culture through commerce. The main character, visiting from England, discovers that his uncle now dashes off paintings for use in movies. The woman he falls in love with works for a mortician for the elite, who has so aggrandized funerals that he has become the leader of a death cult. Meanwhile, the mortician’s brother makes a mockery of ritual with his bombastic pet cemetery.

For me, this book encapsulates my leeriness of motivations where money is involved. Not perhaps an earth-shattering revelation, but one that is expressed with wit and restrained chaos.

Bugs
A short, satiric book by John Sladek, “Bugs” tells the story of a man who accidentally becomes hired to manage a project at a high-tech company. Knowing nothing about management, technology, or the project, he essentially keeps his head down and lets his team run wild. The result is that they produce a sentient robot, who promptly escapes.

I bought this from the clearance table (being a fan of his murderous robot novel “Tik Tok”), and while it amused me I promptly forgot about it. Years later I accidentally became a programmer and found myself expected to perform miracles for which I felt utterly unqualified. I spent ten years feeling like a fraud until I realized that in that time I had actually become a real programmer. I looked around and my skills held up fairly well against those of my colleagues.

Sladek’s absurdist tale of success through pretense came back to me, and it seemed to me to be a fairly accurate portrayal of my career, symbolically. For that reason alone I’m certain I’ll never forget it, but there’s more. As a lead developer, I’ve tried to stay out of everybody’s way as much as possible. I’ll never know if they can make an A.I. if I don’t let them direct their own work.

Film Diary: August

August brought me to 270 films for the year. That puts me at ~74% of the year’s goal at only 67% of the way through the year. There’s still a nice cushion for me to work with, which is good; now that I’ve started drawing a weekly comic, I need to spend more of my free time doing things other than watching movies!

We took a rare trip to see a 1st run movie in the theater because Murderously Violent Space Raccoon. “Guardians of the Galaxy” was a hoot, holler, and a bunch of other synonyms for ‘fun’. Sure it had too much crammed into one movie, leaving it both thin and unwieldy, but I haven’t had that much cinematic joy in a long time. Even my inner comic-nerd shut up about how they got everything wrong and just giggled like a lunatic. As soon as we got home (we had both taken the day off), we put in “The Avengers” just to keep our high going.

That was at the start of the month, and it took a while to get another decent movie in. The worst, in the meantime, was “The House of Seven Corpses”. Such a waste of a good title! The biggest crime was just that it was dull. Then again, I’ve never had a lot of patience for movies about actors. (See, my utter disdain for “Children Shouldn’t Play With Dead Things”, which admittedly has a terrific finale.)

One cinematic bright spot was “Safety Last!”, presented in a glorious Criterion edition. It’s plot rivals many modern films for coherency and tightness, and nearly all of the humor was as funny now as in the 1920s. Harold Lloyd is a delight to watch, and this is a film that I whole-heartedly recommend.

The month closed, as usual, with a mini-marathon. This time, by some miracle, everyone chose good movies. Perhaps it was the theme — a film you haven’t seen from a favorite actor or director — that made us opt for quality, or at least enjoyment. The day’s line-up: “After Hours” (directed by Martin Scorsese), “Cry-Baby” (directed by John Waters), “Easy Living” (starring Ray Milland), and “To Be or Not To Be” (starring Mel Brooks). All in attendance allowed that “Easy Living” had finally broken my streak of showing the worst movies imaginable, so I’ve got that going for me now!

After Hours (1985)
The Avengers (2012)
Count Dracula (1970)
Cry-Baby (1990)
Dead in Tombstone (2013)
Destroy All Planets, aka Gamera vs. Viras (1968)
Easy Living (1937)
Gamera vs. Gaos (1967)
Golden Earrings (1947)
The Green Girl (2014)
Guardians of the Galaxy (2014)
The House of Seven Corpses (1974)
Pale Flower (1964)
Pearls of the Deep (1966)
Safety Last! (1923)
The Shrine (2010)
Speed Racer (2008)
To Be or Not To Be (1983)