….or spoken: write this down

“On the bright side, you may get to see two shitshows in one day.”

“Just so you know, N and I are going out to see M on Wednesday….so if you see a mushroom cloud coming from Dodge County way…”

“Wow, he’s an ass.”
“Yeah…..that whole family…E used to date him y’know.”
“E needs better taste in men!”

“Hey, if you’re coming down from the office can you bring me some notebooks and a couple reams of printer paper? And also some pens?”
“Hang on, I’m writing this down. ‘Notebooks….one thousand pages printer paper…'”
“And a big ‘ol handful of pens.”
“…’big handful of pens.'”

“Well hey, the rest of the day may go swimmingly!”
“….one certainly hopes so, Riders.”

kinda is


The mud-covered, shuffling figure halted. Swiveled. Blue eyes, entirely too innocently, blinked out of the grime. “Yeah?”

“What happened?”

Another blink, but zero hesitation: “You know that old Indian trick of hanging off the side of your horse so the cowboys can’t shoot you?…it’s harder than it looks.”

Poetry Corner – Hymn to Mithras

Mithras, God of the Morning, our trumpets waken the Wall!
'Rome is above the Nations, but Thou art over all!'
Now as the names are answered, and the guards are marched away,
Mithras, also a soldier, give us strength for the day!
Mithras, God of the Noontide, the heather swims in the heat,
Our helmets scorch our foreheads, our sandals burn our feet.
Now in the ungirt hour; now ere we blink and drowse,
Mithras, also a soldier, keep us true to our vows!
Mithras, God of the Sunset, low on the Western main,
Thou descending immortal, immortal to rise again!
Now when the watch is ended, now when the wine is drawn,
Mithras, also a soldier, keep us pure till the dawn!
Mithras, God of the Midnight, here where the great bull dies,
Look on Thy children in darkness. Oh, take our sacrifice!
Many roads Thou hast fashioned: all of them lead to the Light!
Mithras, also a soldier, teach us to die aright!

- Rudyard Kipling

QuikReview: Oblivion (2013)

So I watched Oblivion, a 2013 movie scifi movie starring predominantly Tom Cruise.

Now, I’ve opined at length as to the fact that straight scifi movies tend not to be very good. This is because a) filmmakers are stupid, b) they think their audiences are stupid, too. Most SF movies only achieve greatness synthetically, by cribbing off other genres, especially Westerns, but occasionally also horror, or even war-stories. (Pssst, has anyone noticed that Aliens is actually a Western? Everyone thinks it’s an action movie, but it’s got the Red Injuns, the cocky cavalry detachment with the inexperienced leader and the experienced and knowledgeable civilians….)

Anyway, much to my surprise, Oblivion is a straight scifi movie, and it’s….good! It has a simple and unexceptional but solid plot, and it relies on its characters and worldbuilding to reveal that plot point by point and–crucially–twist by twist (there’s a reveal about halfway through that made me actually sit up and grin.) Now, at a certain point it largely gives up on the thoughtful, measured approach and leans hard into the by-golly-I-have-an-explodey-things-budget-and-I’m-gonna-use-it syndrome, but please note I said “leans” not “dives” and entirely omitted “headlong.” The second half of the movie had more than enough built-up good will to keep my attention, but the thing with scifi movies is that they should never try to explain themselves out loud. See a), above. This movie did very, very well when it showed its protagonist–and its audience–what was going on; it only started to fumble when it switched over to telling.

What is there to show, then? Well, Tom Cruise is Jack Harper, Tech-49, who with his communications officer/lover/partner Vika, are the last humans left on Earth after an absolutely devastating war with the alien Scavs that, among other things, destroyed the moon. Most of the human population is on Titan, and some of it is on the orbital space station, the Tet. They have been mind-wiped prior to their mission, because….

Jack maintains the drone fleet that protects the ocean-water-sucking thingies that are destroying what’s left of the earth for power. (Why not just mine some comets, asks no screenwriter ever.) There are still some remnant Scavs on Earth that attack the drones and the power platforms. Vika is his mission control and interface with Command. The two are an effective team, but there are still some conflicts. Jack has dreams of the future and thoughts of the past; Vika resolutely suppresses such things. Jack has a relaxed view of orders and is fully aware that Command has them on a very long leash; Vika has a much stronger belief in regulations.

And then, a signal beamed from Earth brings an ancient spacecraft back to ground….a spacecraft containing living human crewmembers. Living, that is, until Jack’s own drones destroy all but one of the sleep-pods, utterly ignoring his orders to stand down. The sole survivor is Julia, a woman who refuses to reveal anything more to Jack, Vika, or Command until she retrieves the flight recorder from her ship…and shows them the truth. At about this point, Morgan Freeman also enters the picture, and I do have to ask: if Earth is that destroyed, where’d his cigars come from?

And so it goes with the movie, having accumulated this many questions, starting to tip over into revealing the answers (except the one about the cigars.) And so it goes, with the one problem that it reveals rather too many answers and in rather too bald-face a manner for my views.

Other good stuff: the cinematography of this film is really good. Like, I watched it entirely on my phone and I was watching for those little triggering points that normally break my suspension of disbelief (s/a: mysterious, additional light sources when there should not be light sources), and I noticed how good it was. Apparently a chunk of the movie was filmed on location….in Iceland, lending a barren, surreal, beautiful backdrop that works very well indeed. The sets and designs are also very good. Tom Cruise does an expert job as the personable, handsome hero; Morgan Freeman, well, Morgan-Freemans his way through dialogue that is 99% exposition as only Morgan Freeman can or could. Andrea Riseborough and Olga Kurylenko are incredibly outmatched in this movie, talent-wise, which is a shame, but they do their best and, in Riseborough’s case, mostly match up to the challenge.

Okay so, although I’ve spent a long while in this review complaining about the movie when it shifts focus to the action, I will also state that the action scenes themselves are largely quite good….at first, when they don’t involve humans. The drones are an incredible threat / weapon / ally, and  it’s an annoying waste of potential that the movie ends up ultimately wimping out and choosing the cheap (explodey) way of making those bits be exciting. That being said, the cinematography still makes everything look good, the characterization makes them be tense and engaging, and, yeah, it’s pretty good.

Overall, I do think that the movie could have been better if it maintained a better balance between its initial, more thoughtful tone and the faster-paced finale (honestly, delete half the expository dialogue and you wouldn’t have to change another thing else), I still have to admit straight-up that, yeah, it’s pretty good.

Rated: Oh wow, you’re in luck, Julie. There’s two of them for you now!

Overheard: HIGH STRUNG

“O.K. I will say good-bye now, before I go in and my children are all over me like little shaggy dogs.”

“What is wrong with the Jamaicans? I mean, seriously what is up with them?!”
“I don’t know what is wrong with the Jamaicans….are they trying to marry you off, bro?”

“That is a nice truck, though.”
“That is a very nice truck.”

The Shadow Magazine #14 – Hidden Death

15469463An unexpected haul led me to begin my physical collection of The Shadow novels with Hidden Death, first published in 1932 and then reprinted in 1970, if you couldn’t tell by the swoopy block print.

As indicated, this is a very early Shadow story, and it has some iconic sequences, not to mention the very first appearance of the brisk, brusque, bull-headed Commissioner Ralph Weston and Commissioner Weston’s unique weakness for the theories of “crime experts.” There’s a mad scientist, murders on schedule, and what might be the first instance of gangdom waging all-out war against their greatest foe, united despite their standing feuds by the sinister rallying cry, “Death to The Shadow!”

So, great stuff, obviously.

As mentioned, this book begins with the introduction of Commissioner Weston, first seen grilling Joe Cardona on his seeming overreliance on hard evidence over theory to solve crimes….when in fact he, Cardona, relies heavily on the outlandish theory of a man in black appearing to give aid when needed and vanishing mysteriously afterwards! Why, it’s absurd! Weston demands that Cardona henceforth accept theories only from established experts, such as the his friend the eminent Professor Fredericks (and also stop following his own theories aka Joe’s celebrated “hunches.”) Anyhow, such is the state of affairs when Cardona produces a letter announcing the death of “S.H.”–“HE WAS THE FIRST.”

S. H. is soon discovered to be Silas Harshaw, an eccentric inventor who was having money troubles, somewhat related to his inability to surrender details of his plans to investors, but also partially related to being an eccentric crank. The fact that he was found shot to death inside a locked room on the tenth floor is negated by the presence of a large window, reachable by ladder from the lower floors. Cardona’s theories (and Professor Fredericks’) center on a burglary motive, possibly featuring Harshaw’s recently-discharged servant.

Except that the next intruder is found lying dead in the exact same spot, and detectives on guard report the escape of a dark-clad figure that went through their ranks like a hurricane. And then, forty-eight hours after the first death was discovered, another letter arrives, announcing the death of another set of initials: “HE WAS THE SECOND.” The corresponding death is soon discovered. And so it continues.

Poor Cardona is left with not a lot of facts and much theorizing to do. Who is posting the letters from the hotel when every postbox from the tenth floor down is being watched? Who is arranging these fiendish deaths? What could possibly be their connection? With even the Professorial expert stymied, it seems as though the police are powerless to find and stop these hidden deaths! Someone is on track to figure it all out, though….guess who.

The early Shadow spent a lot of time mixing it with street-level crime and this is no exception, albeit that the gangster angle is wrapped up in the middle of the novel and so eliminates an angle of mystery.  Still, there is an incredible sequence where the crooks make a bold and simple plan: to lure The Shadow into their hideout, a basement with one door off a blind alley with none…after first tipping off every gat-wielder and smoke-wagon toter in town to be there, waiting. Harry Vincent unwittingly sends his chief into a trap but is too late to warn him away! (Because, duh, Harry Vincent.) Danger lurks in every street corner and doorway! Death to The Shadow!

Except that, in an all-things-awesome reversal, The Shadow–simply by way of being cautious, stealthy, and the utterly fearless master of darkness–discovers the cordon, bypasses it without being spotted, and commences to shoot it out with not only the crooks he needs to question, but the entire army of the underworld as well when it comes barging in. And escapes (almost) unscathed with the information he wanted. Because he’s just. that. awesome. Any future movie adaptation is going to have to pick and choose between what elements from what books it wants to to adapt, as 1990s movie obviously did between the four Shiwan Khan stories. For my money, any adaptation worth its salt is going to need to include this scene. (I would also want the opening interview from Spoils of The Shadow.)

Obviously a lot of what The Shadow can do is informed by Walter B. Gibson’s background as a stage magician, and this is one of the stellar examples. The Shadow has a full bag of tricks to distract and mislead, including one that involves propping up his cloak and hat with extensible rods while crouching beneath them that would frankly be kind of terrifying if witnessed in real life. This being an earlier Shadow novel, he uses quite a few guises, and doesn’t solely rely on the Lamont Cranston identity, which is only used briefly. He remains an almost-unseen figure even to the forces of good that he aids (Commissioner Weston in particular remains stubbornly unconvinced as to his existence, even after having been held at gunpoint in this book by The Shadow. It’s to save his life, never mind.)

That being said, the Shadow also never shies away from boasting of his prowess and presence….and he always laughs last. The Black Falcon ends with the (dead) Falcon left hooded and jessed for the police to find just as a final F-U from The Shadow, who has to pause whilst making his escape in order to set it up. The Plot Master ends with the jet black king chessman standing supreme and alone over the cityscape chessboard, all other pieces fallen. Hidden Death, with its gloating letters celebrating the murders of innocent men, finds the fifth and final letter headed by a declaration in brilliant blue ink that vanishes before it can be read again: Annulled. By the Shadow.

Which also allows me to wrap up this review simply.

Rated: Approved. By Riders.