Sunday, February 20, 2011

After Deadline

So, no posts this past week because I've been on deadline, which always soaks up all my time and mental energy. Finished it up yesterday and so got to spend the evening decompressing, first with having some friends over for an Anime Night* and then staying up late reading. Today we went for a walk and then had book group; tonight I got together some notes for the project flagging potential concerns --details that might still need changed, bits of missing information, and the like. Tomorrow's the official turnover (wd have been last night, but it's too big to email as an attachment, even when broken into multiple pieces. So tomorrow it's get this project off my desk, straighten up and put away papers and reference books associated with it, and clear the deck for my next project -- in this case, resumption of work on my Kalamazoo piece (abruptly broken off about five weeks ago).

Anime Night
The offerings: KURAU PHANTOM MEMORY (first two episodes), STARSHIP OPERATORS (first episode), NEON GENESIS EVANGELION (random episode from the original 1995 series), and GUNSMITH CATS (first episode). We wd have watched SUMMER WARS but cdn't find a way to play the blueray disk which was all we had available.

Of these, I'd say KURAU went over the best -- that in a hundred years we'll have both flying cars and bicycles sounds more like a believable future than most depictions. But while I find the idea behind STARSHIP OPERATOR a hoot, the depiction of a war sponsored by a news network as a reality-show seemed too bizarre for most. With EVANGELION what struck us was the poor quality of the dub and also how badly the animation held up; with GUNSMITH CATS the photorealism of some elements (e.g., the city streets of Chicago) was what mainly caught our eye.

Although I stayed up late (1.40am) I didn't quite finish my current Kindle book, THE SPHINX OF THE ICE FIELD by Jules Verne -- although the new waterproof cover for the Kindle helped. This is a book I looked for in vain when I first learned about it in the late seventies, read a chapter from in a Chaosium collection about a decade ago, and now easily found for 99 cents for the Kindle (although unfortunately full of typographical glitches, either badly scanned or incompetently typed-in).

For those who haven't read it (which is, frankly, practically everybody), this is Verne's sequel to Edgar Poe's only novel, THE NARRATIVE OF A. GORDON PYM OF NANTUCKET. I'm a great admirer of Poe's original, which I view as a long nightmare the narrator finally wakes up from at the end. Verne's take on it is an odd mix -- at one point he summarizes Poe's tale (a summary which takes up 10% of the length of Verne's whole novel!) and in the main seems to be trying to follow Poe's story closely while trying to make it a little more believable -- but his own portrayal of the antarctic is just as impossible as Poe's despite being written sixty years later when he shd have been able to draw on a lot more real-world discoveries. The idea of a sequel to Poe is an interesting one; too bad it's undone by bad story-telling and bad science.

This is the first time I've read one of Verne's late, lesser-known, works, and the experiment doesn't encourage me to explore more. In fact, having gone to a good deal of trouble to find a faithful modern translation of the last two Verne's I re-read, THE MYSTERIOUS ISLAND and JOURNEY TO THE CENTRE OF THE EARTH, as opposed to a standard out-of-copyright translation of FROM THE EARTH TO THE MOON, I think I'll opt for the old-fashioned translations henceforth -- I've concluded Verne's appeal comes entirely from the ideas rather than the quality of his prose. That is, he's a Clarke, where the idea is everything, rather than a Bradbury, who actually writes well.

The Beavers of Kent
During our walk, we saw two bald eagles, a flicker, some shy ducks, a bird I mistook for a jay which turned out to be neither jay nor woodpecker, several tiny bushtits (who seem to be back -- perhaps another sign of spring's being on the verge of being here?), and of course crows. We saw more signs of the beaver who seems to have taken up residence in the little creek/drainage ditch that runs alongside our complex. Last week we noticed several small trees that had been chopped down along the creek's sloping bank, which on closer examination turned out to look just like the work of a beaver. Then a few blocks further down towards the Kent wetlands Janice spotted the dam -- a small dam, true, befitting a small creek, but a little too regular to be an accidental jam. We haven't seen the beaver yet,* but it's amazing to think there's one living just a few blocks from here in the narrow space on the creek's gully that runs between 64th street (a four-lane highway) on the one side and a bunch of warehouses. I guess like the raccoons and possums, the crows and the coyote, urban wildlife lives alongside us because there isn't anyplace else left to live.

Book Group
Our Mithlond meeting went really well: a lively discussion both of the book itself (JOHANNES CABAL, DETECTIVE) -- e.g. how nice it is to read a story where the protagonist is smart and well-motivated to do what he does, rather than someone who keeps doing stupid things because the book wd end if he did the obvious and natural thing. The discussion was far-ranging, as usual, but kept coming back (more or less) to the topic at hand. A good session. Plus, of course, the host cat (Max) was his usual delightful self.

--John R.

*actually, now that we've seen the little dam and chewed-down trees, I remember that not long after we moved in here we once or twice spotted something in that part of the creek which I thought was a muskrat (there having been plenty of these in Whitnel Park back in Hales Corners) -- but that was the better part of a decade ago, so I suspect this must be a newcomer looking to establish his or her territory. Here's wishing him luck.

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