Archive for August, 2008

Looks like my laptop croaked.  Good thing I archived the latest book stuff the night before!  But alas, my latest post material may not be recoverable, so here I am with zip-nada for even a pathetic menagerie update.

I’ve been reading about psychic monsters these last few days, and so of course I’m now looking around nervously in case one of The Unbelievables tries to steal my lunch money.  Could have sworn I saw a black dog meandering around UFO girl’s hill as I was taking out the trash last night.  Several minutes later, whirrr-whirrr-whirrr (hard drive making unhealthy sound).  Thanks for the radiation exposure, ya mutt!

I think I’m going to have to go ghostbusting in retaliation tonight.  I’ll be packing photon milkbones with phrases set on stun.

A friend of mine gave me the hookup to Twilight. That’s the title of a supernatural romance novel I’ve been hearing on the communications channels a lot lately. Basically girl meets boy, boy and girl fall in love, boy is really a vampire, complication, resolution, and kissy-kiss fade to black until next sequel.

I guess the buzz rose above the usual chatter static on the pop culture bandwidth, primarily because the last book in the quadrology just came out, and the movie version of Twilight is approaching theaters soon. I like vampires, and I’m into romances with a weird twist right now, so I figured what the hey.

I find the trailer interesting, so I’ll very likely rent it from Netflix to see how an actual random Hollywood script compares to the book. I see nowhere for the book version to go but up, so unless the movie is Return of Captain Invincible bad, a thankfully rare event, chances are good it’ll be an improvement.

Spoliers are a’ comin’ in, so ahrrooo!

The book annoys me, because I want to like it. The premise is a solid one (you either buy it or you don’t, there’s no middle ground here), the characters sound good at first, and the setting in pretty nifty – spooky and natural at the same time, with a hint of small town claustrophobia.

Unfortunately, the danger implied by the premise of the book never feels real. The threat supposedly hanging over the romance is that Edward the vampire will go nuts and drink Bella the protagonist’s blood. About three quarters of the way through the book it’s obvious that Edward is never going to lose control. So a bad guy is thrown in from nowhere to manufacture tension.

This is where another weakness in the book comes forward. The characters are portrayed throughout the book as shallow and not-too-on-the ball. Their response to the crisis caused by the appearance of random bad guy is confusing and ultimately, dumb. When it becomes obvious that there’s no way these losers are going to outsmart the bad guy, Bella gets herself beaten to a bloody pulp so her rescue by the good vampires doesn’t seem unearned. Not!

Another weakness is a failure to fully realize the setting, and the secondary small town characters that inhabit it. All the high school students, and even Bella’s parents, are shown to be boring and unimportant – even annoyances to Da One Twu Womance. The other good vampires exist only to validate Bella and Edward’s love for each other. There’s no real meaningful conflict or argument worth paying attention to.

What is it about this book that has got so many folks all interested in it? I kept thinking about Bella, with her self-centered, inconsiderate and arrogant attitude. We never get a sense for why she’s that way, and none of her interactions with the characters reveal any clues. Good luck with those theories! But I think the fact that she is such a horrible person, with no self-awareness or empathy is what makes her appealing. Anyone can read the book and feel superior to her, and thus displace Bella in favor of personal projections.

Edward is the strongest part of the book, I think, and represents a powerful Animus figure – supernatural abilities, no need to live in the real world, incredibly handsome, supremely loyal to Bella (the reader), and possessing an aura of danger (even though it’s phony). I don’t think anyone actually wants to be Bella, but they want to live like her, have her situation – a fantasy focused entirely on her with no demands or attachments.

That’s the magic formula in a nutshell – wearable Bella suit allowing interaction with virtual boyfriend. That’s too bad, because I think there were a lot of really cool possibilities for conflict and complications.  Without any zany bad guy vampire coming out of nowhere and eating up the  book. Heck, the manga I’m reading that take place in supernatural settings dance circles around this book, with intrigue and teen problems galore.

I know a lot has been made of the “sparkly vampire” sequence, but I thought that was cool. It’s certainly one of the more original vampire ideas I’ve seen in a while. I also liked the idea that the vampires never sleep – what does that do to your sense of time? Some of the vampire stuff is explored a little – the baseball game the vampires play because of their speed was fascinating. But it’s always a backdrop, never a focus in and of itself – fluff, as it were.

Probably my biggest problem with the book, and this stems from the lack of danger in the romance, is how chaste and repressed the whole relationship is. I never buy that Edward is in any way fighting to control his “nature”, so the tame way the two lovers approach one another starts to get on my nerves. Whenever the two of them are acting normally with each other the material is interesting. When they stoop to going on about how indescribably lovely the other looks, or how dangerous Edward is, the material starts to drag.

If their mutual good looks are generating temptations in each other, you need to see the risk they are taking. Because “forbidden love-not really” is a bummer, dude. Quite frankly, Edward suddenly losing it and almost making a snack out of Bella would be awesome. This comes to the core of my dislike of the love story. If you want me to believe in their love, you have to put it to the test. What does Bella sacrifice for her love of Edward? Her father’s image of her? Her standing at school? Her friendship with Jacob?

So I’m not going to read another book in the hopes it’ll get better. What I’ve read is all I’m going to get, and that was more than enough. But it gets me to thinking about the development of the vampire, from “symbol of unrepentant evil” and tragic figure, to cool anti-hero and stock demihuman.

I wonder if removing all trace of threat from the human-vampire relationship, as Twilight does, has not in some way robbed us of an important human quality. I keep going back to the vampire Lestat, who reveled in and embraced the guilt of his condition. Abnegation and denial of the world, as the vegetarian vampires of Twilight seem to do, doesn’t seem to me to be healthy or a proper solution to the problem of evil.

Or, to put it another way, you cannot avoid the fundamental fact of life by eating only plants. Life lives on life, no matter how you slice it. Everything you eat was at one time alive or part of a living thing. To say “we’re only killing animals instead of humans” is splitting hairs where vampires are concerned. It works only if you assume human beings are superior to all other forms of life, an assumption based on self-interest not morality. This is the mirror the vampire holds before us.

Speaking psychologically, Bella already is a vampire, because she thinks she’s the only person in the universe that counts. Everyone else is just there. Free from remorse, she casts no reflection, and sucks the life out of those around her. Her only companions are members of a magical family living on the fringes of reality.


Somewhere along the way in this labyrinth, the vampire story took a wrong turn into a dead end. Time to retrace the steps and go back to the last vital revelation of the undead monster that walks in the shadows where we dare not go. Give the vampire back their fangs, and look for an unknown, secret way still to come.

I finished reading the graphic novel/trade paperback Watchmen for the first time. I suppose it’s about time, seeing as the movie is coming out (which I won’t see until it comes out on Netflix). The comic people have only been talking about it for decades as one of the best comic series ever produced. Now that I’ve had the experience of reading it, I can finally comment and throw my two cents into the collective reaction. Spoilers follow, so beware, ahhrooo!

For those not in the know, Watchmen is a story about a group of super heroes under the premise, “what if super heroes were real?” It takes place in an authoritarian world, where America won the Vietnam war because of superheroes (well, one really), and Nixon is running for his third term. It’s America versus the Russians, with a nuclear confrontation approaching over Afghanistan. Super heroes who don’t work for the government are not allowed to practice as heroes, and the public more or less hates them.

Into this background comes the story of a number of heroes who have mostly retired or sold out (as it is often believed of the so-called “hippies”). They are getting fat, old, and nostalgic. Someone begins killing or neutralizing them one by one, and an investigation begins. At the center of this is a plot to change the world by a mysterious villain, who wishes to save the world by causing a disaster so horrible the world will have to unite in order to face it. The heroes fail to stop the plot, and become collaborators in a new world order based on fear of a manufactured enemy. Almost sounds prophetic, given this comic came out in the eighties.

I read this book, and I admit it’s done well considering it’s stance. Back then, the dark realism must have seemed really cool back then. I don’t know how well it holds up now, however. It’s too safe, ultimately, skirting the boundaries of super hero comic books but never really crossing over the safety line into where comics need to go now, to be relevant. Now that we’ve arrived at a time that evokes some of the background of the book, the book itself is no longer a warning of a nightmare world to come but a sign of how long things have been stagnant and flat.

I’ll say it again. Comic book heroes are obsolete. The premise being put forth shouldn’t be “what if super heroes were real?”, because that’s the same as “what if super villains were real?” The super villain in Watchmen is a former super hero himself, a reflection of the dark truth that super heroes are becoming power fantasies for the rich and powerful, instead of the weak and oppressed. “I have seen the face of the enemy and the enemy is us.” The premise should be “what if super heroes were real and were still super heroes?” Because super villains exist by default. Can any normal person fight a concentrated system of power by themselves? The super hero is an attempt to manifest the transcendent function in the psyche.

1. The super heroes in Watchmen are all without morals.
All of them have cracked under the strain of being super heroes and become disconnected from normal people, the people they are supposed to be serving.

Dr. Manhattan: Commits war crimes on a vast scale. Does research and development for the military. Manufactures raw materials for big business. Has no empathy with human beings. Never follows his own discoveries of the universe – showing wonder at the thermo-dynamic miracle when it suits him, never following up on his “puppet strings” observation to its logical conclusion, ignoring his one-channel omniscience so he can pursue his “work”. At the end of the story he abandons earth to pursue delusions of godhood. This guy is the biggest moral coward and one-sided nutcase in the story.

The Comedian: Wow, talk about a cynic who has totally cracked. Murders and rapes without remorse. Mocks anyone if they show a shred of moral qualms or decency. But his tough guy act is all a farce – when he finds out the big dude plot, instead of joining in he runs and waits to die.

Rorschach: Psychopath who terrorizes criminals, sometimes torturing them and sometimes killing them. Never once applying to himself the standards he applies to others, a victim of abuse who now abuses others, he dies abandoned by his only “friend”, with his journal presumably about to inspire someone to follow in his footsteps into insanity.

Night Owl: At first, he seems like the only genuine nice guy in the film. Rich dude with lots of cool gadgets, Rorschach’s only “friend”, and no vices or skeletons in his closet (that we know of). He caves in like a pack of cards when the chips are down, however, becoming Miss Jupiter’s next surrogate father, abandoning his “friend” like it was nothing, and agreeing not to reveal the doomsday plot of the villain.

Miss Jupiter: The only female character besides her mother. The military pays her to be Dr. Manhattan’s lover, so he will have a “human connection” and continue to work for the military instead of spacing out and leaving the solar system. After a while she can’t handle Dr. Manhattan’s lack of empathy and leaves him for Night Owl, who shows her at least some affection and a chance to be a co-partner. Unfortunately, she exists pretty much as a satellite character, having no impact on the story at all. Her dialogue with Dr. Manhattan to return and save the earth is wasted – he’s only acting out his watchmaker complex and having her mouth the lines he knows she will make.

Veidt: This disconnected, cuckoo guy is “the world’s smartest man”, taking as his role models Rameses the second and Aleksander the Great (ancient world monarchs, what wonderful role models). He ends up being the super villain, enacting yet another elitist plot to “destroy the world in order to save it”. His idea is that in order to stop the world from blowing itself up, it needs to be unified under a greater threat. He teleports a fake alien monster into Manhattan, causing a psychic shock wave that kills half the city and drives half the survivors insane from nightmares. Great guy. What’s even better is how everyone else but Rorschach buys into this. So Dr. Manhattan kills Rorschach and a new age of fascism begins.

Yes, these are “real” super heroes…who also happen to be “real” loonies. Where are the sane or moral “super heroes” as there would be in real life? It’s one-sided, and the audience is cheated of any chance to see what the whole big picture is. Most people don’t notice, because they are too busy fawning over how “realistic” and “cool” the messed up psychos and morally bankrupt characters placed before them are.

2. Normal people are ridiculed and demonized.
Every single normal person in the Watchmen world is a thug, punk, grimy street dweller, disinterested working stiff, cynical jerk, or clueless citizen in need of some educatin’ in the ways of the world. There’s some character development in the form of a newsstand operator and a young boy who reads comics, but the face of “the public” is an extremely negative one, as if they alone were to blame for all the horrors going on in the world.

It’s an elitist worldview, not uncommon of those who regurgitate the stock apologist support of power structures. The “great unwashed mass” cannot tell right from wrong, nor can it make decisions — look at the world, look at all the democracy the people have, and look how they squander it! Well, it’s obvious that an aristocratic super heroic elite must make the decisions for them by staging a catastrophe and shocking everyone into accepting absolute state rule.

All the popular movements of the sixties, which have grown and expanded since then are largely absent, except as scenes of riots and mentions of unrest throughout the country. Granted, it’s a “dark alternate world”, but the premise that people have become mindless rioters is one-sided. None of the heroes ever explains what people are upset about, except that “super heroes are taking over”, based around a police strike. That strikes me as an interesting statement – were super heroes becoming the new state police, and due to protest the power centers were forced to outlaw unsanctioned heroes to maintain power? Whenever the public protests a state act of violence that elites wish to propagate, they take it underground and “covert”. Iran-Contra, anyone?

That means people aren’t the mindless drones portrayed in the story. They have “realistic” self-interest and a desire for “the right thing”. It just isn’t what the “powerful” want. This reveals that the lens of the book is strongly on the side of the super heroes who are themselves privileged aristocrats. We are reading through the point of view of jerks and loonies, and expected to identify with them! How’s that for propaganda and indoctrination? The book you are reading is meant, by means of sleight of hand, to make you sympathetic to the people who own your country and make decisions for you.

3. Time for the Unforgiven of comic book heroes.
I’m not going to go into the convoluted logic of the ending, and how messed up Veidt’s infantile view of how the world works is going to make things worse for normal people. Nor am I going to comment much on Dr. Manhattan’s two-faced viewpoint on the world, collaborating with a plot he knows doesn’t mean anything and abandoning earth to go play god somewhere (or just go irrevocably crazy in the vast emptiness of space without anyone to point out his shadow).

If this is what super heroes really are, one could be tempted to lose faith in heroism or the struggle to better humanity by means of “super powers”, which really means collective powers moving to counteract damaged structures and build systems that actually work. I think the time has come for mainstream comic book writers to admit that what they are writing is meaningless escapism without fun that serves the interests of the rich and powerful, and either confess they are sons of bees whacks churning out industry, or walk away and do something more interesting with their talents. Like, you know, actually cross the line.

The story is over. Super heroes have been shown to be failed idealists like the “hippies”. They tried to change the world and failed. Just keep telling the same old story over and over again thinking you are cool and hip. Too late! The ship has sailed, and we’re all left holding the bag of an art form that has rotted into compost.

Time for a new beginning. The next generation of youngsters growing out of the compost to save us old losers from the dragon that slew us, and make comics count again. Because the truth is, the idealists of the past didn’t fail, they succeeded in softening up the belly of the beast so the next attack run could get set up. Watchmen gets one thing right, with Dr. Manhattan revealing to Veidt that “it never ends”, that Veidt’s “end of history” moment is temporary. The unwashed masses could come back at any time and finish the job, because it is they who hold the “ultimate weapon” of public opinion.

The geeky kid about to pick up the journal is wrong in an objective sense, but in a subjective moment, it’s the image of hope – that the story is not over. Now you get to write what happens next. And if what Dr. Manhattan said about thermo-dynamic miracles is true, then there is a probability that it will end, or begin anew.

Watchmen is a well crafted and enjoyable nightmare world. But if it’s on Time Magazine’s “100 best novels”, I know exactly who Watchmen is serving. Sorry dudes, but with Pluto entering Capricorn, we’re all about to find out just how crazy it can get. The “hippies” are getting their second wind, just like a WWE wrestler who’s been taking a beating for twenty minutes.

Hulkin’ up, fools!

Time for a mega-destructoid garden update from the depths of the pond.  K and I returned to the never-ending battle to provide the other honeycomb hideout with fresh nutrient supplies.  The weeds were waving their Bermuda grass tentacles, morning glory tendrils, and thistle spines at us with much mockery and daring.  Our crops withered under the assault of the weed choke cutting off their nutrients and water supply.  “Save us you idiots,” they cried.

The time had come to harvest the potatoes.  The ones still remaining looked sickly and small.  Nevertheless, we dug away, and found only a few small potatoes eaten to bits by worms, or mini potato numbs that would hardly feed a beetle.  Yes, the entire potato crop this year is now officially a miserable bust.  Famine rocking you back to the crypt!  Good thing the supermarkets haven’t closed, or we’d be cryin’ in our beer.

The Marigolds growing around the potatoes are huge, and blooming as if they were given the super plant food power pill from Pac man fever.  The onions are also now officially all finished.  The weeds killed them off, and have overgrown 70% of our plot.  K got mad, and decided it was time to cause some damage.  She grabbed a shovel and started a long term project to overturn all the soil.  Weeds not so good against being turned upside down and buried in soil.  It’s the clearest I’ve seen the garden since April!

Meanwhile, I pulled and plucked weeds at a furious rate, cutting myself on rusty wire as I removed morning glories twisting and twining their way to overwhelming firepower.  So far, the tomatoes are holding their ground, and are starting to actually grow now.  They all have fruits growing and ripening.  We could see some real action in the next few weeks if they hold on.  One plant is already producing beyond the chipmunk’s ability to eat and toss, or the birds to peck and drain.  Some mini cherry tomatoes are ripe now, and they tasted so juicy and good!

Alas, the mint patch has done the underground root attack at +125, and is moving into the tomato territory.  I had to beat it back and take a mint harvest a little earlier than I was ready for.  Not a big loss or setback, but annoying.  The leeks and peppers seem to have stabilized and are now growing rapidly.  That’s good.  If we can hold the line, they will succeed in giving us some succor from the crummy harvest so far.  Our corn is the most fragile right now, but another week and they’ll grow above the weeds and we can keep the buggers back with ease.  For now though, whew, gnat and sweat face city!

The basils have grown huge, so now we have more than we can use.  They are the big win, despite a quarter of them getting jacked by the weed triple team.  Bees and bugs are pollinating them happily, and the birds are plunging in and among them.  It’s like last season’s glory days.  Sigh.  Meanwhile, the parental unit’s garden is out of sight.  Their potato harvest was so huge, they gave us a bag of the things as a consolation prize.  Sheesh!  Their corn will be ready next week by the looks of it.

And finally, the humble horseradish is growing huge and well.  For some reason, the weeds aren’t doing so well near the plant.  No bugs are taking a bite out of the leaves either.  Weird.  So, in short, the side crops are holding on or starting to prosper, while the main crop we planted is a total and complete failure.  All those days spent smashing bugs, watering, digging, and fertilizing are officially down the tubes.  I sense a mirage in the mix somewhere, laughing as he pumps a little more of that special sauce into my folks’ garden.

August 1st was the one year anniversary of my setting up this website. I wasn’t able to post that day, owing to an overload of stress causing my body to weird out on me. Not like the fuel cells were full of anything exciting to say, anyway.

K nursed me back to auxiliary power with a combination of tea and chicken soup. The backyard garden is doing way better than our association plot, so she was able to toss in all sorts of yummy fresh herbs like parsley and rosemary to kick it up a notch. I’m going to have to post my chicken soup recipe at some point.

Here I am, still working on that dang first book a year and half later. Who would have guessed revisions and editing were such a chore? A dream suggested a title to me, which I’ve been rolling around in my head. I’ve decided on a cover, so pretty soon I’ll be doing the illustration for that. Also, I’ve strained my brain over POD versus mainstream publishing, and I’m committed to POD now. There’s too much freedom to turn it down. I’m doing this for the work, wherever it goes.

The website itself hasn’t progressed as much as I’d have liked, but I’m satisfied with the results so far. I’m thinking simple is good, and if the energy to make major changes hasn’t been there, then it’s not time to do anything complicated yet. My desire has been to be a word of mouth affair, centered on the people in my life who actually know me. I’ve cut out the search engines because I’m shy and withdrawn, even now.

I’ve heard tell that it takes two years for a website to be discovered. For now, I’m enjoying the creative anonymity of being known to only fifty-eight unique visitors, even if ten of them are bots.