Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Yes, as a matter of fact, I am a science fiction nerd...

I spent Thanksgiving weekend at a science fiction convention.

No, no, no...not like the one in Galaxy Quest. Well, not exactly like it. Although there were costumes, and silliness, and a good deal of fun. But as far as I am aware, there were no aliens who believe that a Star Trek-like show was real life.

As far as I am aware.

Part of the difference is that LosCon is more of a writers and artists con than a media con. That means that many of the panelists are writers and artists rather than actors or producers of science fiction and fantasy films and television shows. Although some of the writers write for those media as well as writing books and short stories, and some of the organizers and participants do sometimes act and work in other aspects of film and television. It's just that the emphasis is a little more literary.

Which makes sense. LosCon is presented every year over Thanksgiving weekend by the Los Angeles Science Fantasy Society (LASFS), which bills itself as the longest running science fiction club in the world. Which it very likely is, having had its first incarnation in the 1930s. It has been operating under the current name since March of 1940. Some of the biggest names in the genre have been active in the Society, as have a few of the most infamous.

They put on a great gathering...part literary discussion, part gathering of like-minded souls, part party. This was the fifth time I have attended LosCon since 1998, and each time I have had a great time.

Some of the highlights this year for me were the panels. No mere human can get to all the panels, and no one would probably want to because they cover a wide variety of subject matter from science fiction to fantasy to horror to anime to science to...oh, to lots of things.

The first panel I attended centered on the topic of "Horror and Religion". There were interesting perspectives, especially since one panelist was a Baptist minister and another is a Buddhist...his take was that horror and Buddhism is a non-sequitor, since the most horrible thing in Buddhism is delusion. The consensus of the panel seemed to be that it isn't the gore that makes horror horror, but that what is horrifying has more to do with the violation of the moral order of the universe and the relinquishment of control. It isn't the blood that is shed, but the soul that is stolen that creates horror, at least in the Western way of looking at things. There was also some discussion of the horror of H. P. Lovecraft and his portrayal of an uncaring universe and ultimate nothingness.

Attendance at that panel has spurred me to pick up Stephen King's Danse Macabre for yet another perspective on the effect of the horror genre on culture.

Another panel, a discussion of what books should be in the canon of the science fiction greats was interesting, not the least for the fact that it went from zero to argument in almost nothing flat when one gentleman in the audience took exception to the suggestion that A Canticle for Leibowitz belongs on the list. A lot of names of authors and books were presented, very few concrete conclusions were made, and I now have a much longer list of books that I need to find and read.

That is another consequence of attending these cons...I always leave with my list of books to find and read having been about doubled from what it was before I arrived.

My favorite panel of the weekend, though, was a discussion of world-building. That panel consisted of David Gerrold and Harry Turtledove riffing off each other for about an hour and fifteen minutes. I left inspired to get back to work on that novel, and with a lot of new perspectives to bring to it.

It was a good weekend. I bought a few books, I got a book I took down with me signed by the author, which is cool because he is one of my favorites. I had a lot of good conversations with interesting people.

And I came home with a cold, apparently, since I woke up with stuffed sinuses and a runny nose this morning. A souvenir of the weekend, I suppose.

Sunday, November 18, 2007

Addicted....addicted, I say...

Yeah. It's happened again.

I found a new author.

Well, not new, but new to me.

Back in July I was in the grocery store and happened to steer up the aisle where the books are kept. I usually don't even bother, because they usually have a lousy selection. If there are five books that look interesting, it's a good day...and I've ordinarily read all five of them.

But on that day, I saw a book called Echo Park, by Michael Connelly. I'd heard of him, vaguely, and I knew that Echo Park is a section of Los Angeles, and having grown up in Southern California, I adore books that take place there. So I picked the book up and took it home.

Well, I bought it, but you know...

Once I started reading, I couldn't put it down. And once I was done with it, I had to find more of the adventures of Hieronymous (Harry) Bosch, LAPD detective. I picked up the first book in the series, The Black Echo, and it was wonderful as well. The next one I was able to find (while I've been advised that it is better to read this series in order, I've been reading them as I can find them) was The Closers, which happened to take place in parts of L.A. County that I am very familiar with. Connelly even got the street names right. If I hadn't been hooked already, that would have done it.

So, now I've read nine of the thirteen Harry Bosch mysteries and I'm in the middle of another. Well, two more...but that's a weird story. One night I was in bed reading The Black Ice and happened upon a specific reference to the cemetery in which my father and much of his side of the family are buried. Kind of freaked me out. I had to put that book down and haven't managed to finish it yet. But I will.

I haven't devoured a mystery series in big gulps this way since I discovered Travis McGee in the late 1970s. By the time I had found my way to John D. MacDonald's knight errant, all but three of the books in that series were already in print. I likely would have done the same with Faye Kellerman's Rina Lazarus/Peter Decker mysteries when I discovered them, but I think there were only two or three of them in print when I happened on The Ritual Bath at the library.

Even in my preferred genre, science fiction/fantasy, I've only rarely been driven to search out all the books in a series immediately a few times. I read the first two Thomas Covenant trilogies, by Stephen R. Donaldson (which were all that existed then), one after the other in the space of about a month when I first discovered them. And I was entranced by Piers Anthony's Incarnations of Immortality and Bio of a Space Tyrant series when I found them (even though I thought that the last couple of the Incarnations of Immortality books weren't quite up to the quality of the earlier volumes). After I came upon the first volume of Kage Baker's Company series, In the Garden of Iden, I pestered the library ladies until I got hold of all of those, even to the point of insisting that the library system order one of the volumes when it turned out they didn't have it in their holdings. To my surprise, they actually added it to the collection. There have been other sff series that I've read in their entirety, but in a much more leisurely fashion.

Which is a really long way around of saying that I've been spending my free time (what free time?) lately reading rather than blogging.

And also a long way of saying, if you like mystery novels and haven't read Michael Connelly, you really should make his acquaintance. that you've read this...Go. Read. A. Book.

Wednesday, November 07, 2007

A limo for a 12-year-old...

Okay. Up-front admission. I am, by choice, childless. So I probably don't have any right to have an opinion on anything having to do with parenting. But still...

A couple of nights ago the Miley Cyrus/Hannah Montana concert tour hit my town. I probably wouldn't have known anything about it, but I live about two blocks from the largest concert venue in town. For those of you who are also out of touch with kids' culture, "Hannah Montana" is a comedy on Disney Channel about a teenage girl who is a pop star (sort of like Britney Spears before she became a bad girl, I guess), but no one knows this but her family and a few close friends and she appears to spend a lot of time trying to make sure the kids at school don't find out so she can be a "normal" kid.

I've actually seen the show a couple of times, and it is cute for what it is, but most of the fans are in the 6 to 12 age range from what I understand. Which is fine. It is a good thing that there are touring shows for those 'tweeners, I think they're called now - the kids who aren't toddlers but aren't teens, either.

But why...please, someone tell me why...when I happened to drive by the arena during the show, there were limos lining the curb in front of the arena. More limos than I've seen for any other event there in the over two and a half years I've been living in the neighborhood. Who spends the money (and I'll bet it is a lot, although having never rented a limo myself, I wouldn't know) to rent a limo to take a 12-year-old to a concert?

I don't know how much the tickets for the concert ran, but I'm betting they were in the $40 to $50 range for the cheap seats, if you could get them. I heard news reports that this tour is so hot that scalpers are getting $1000, $2000, and more for a ticket in some cities. Which brings up another question...who would spend $2000 dollars for one ticket for a 12-year-old to go to a concert.

I wouldn't pay $1000 to see anyone, and I'm a pretty big music fan.

Heck, the most I've ever paid for a concert ticket is about $35, and that was for (separately, of course) U2 and Prince. In San Francisco and Oakland. Okay. So it was a few years ago, in both cases. I've considered paying around $100 a couple of times for a concert ticket, but I got over it in each case.

But $1000? Or more? That's just nuts.

It's even more nuts, when the concert-goer is 12 years old and probably won't care that she saw the show in a year or two. Add the cost of limo for the evening. Probably dinner out. It adds up quickly.

Well. I was a 12-year-old a long time ago. And I understand that there is inflation and all. But I nearly didn't get to go to my first concert (very teeny-bopper - that'd be about the same thing as a 'tweener - but at least the opening act was a very young Steve Martin) when I told my parents that the price of the ticket was $5. I'm pretty sure that $5 in 1970 does not translate to $1000 today. I doubt it even translates to $50 today. Actually, as of last year, with inflation, something that cost $5 in 1970 would have cost $26.56 in 2006. I looked it up.

So, maybe I'm just old and don't understand a culture in which someone would give a kid $1000 to go to a concert, who would hire a limo to take them. But it just doesn't make sense to me. Not even a little bit.

Sunday, November 04, 2007

Real time returns

Did you remember to set your clock back last night before you went to bed?

I did. Well, one. I traditionally change on clock on the Saturday night and the rest when I get up on the Sunday morning. I guess it's kind of like opening one gift on Christmas Eve and leaving the rest for Christmas morning.

And, yes, I really do look forward to the return of standard (what I think of as "real") time that much.

I don't know why it is, but I just feel more balanced with the sun rising earlier and setting earlier than it does during Daylight Savings Time. The rhythm of the day seems more normal when the sun is at least thinking about coming up when I get up (at 6 am during the week) and when it goes down when evening comes rather than waiting until 9 p.m. or a bit later to get full dark at the height of summer (in these latitudes, at any was even worse when I visited England and the sun didn't go down until around 10:30 p.m.)

Now, of course, none of this means that my inner clock will adjust to the time change automatically just because it has gone back to the way I like it. I'll still be off-balance for at least a week, maybe two, until the inner clock gets back in sync with the clock on the wall.

Still, it's moving toward evening now, and it looks like it outside the window next to my desk. And that is a good thing.

Saturday, November 03, 2007

Another (tradition) bites the dust...sort of

Sad news (with a silver lining) from Hollywood, especially for an old parade-goer like myself.

I see in an article in today's Los Angeles Times, via Yahoo!News, that after a close call the Hollywood Christmas Parade, now to be known as the Hollywood Santa Parade, will go on on the traditional Sunday after Thanksgiving.

However, it will be much scaled back and will no longer be produced by the Hollywood Chamber of Commerce after it washed its hand of the event after last year's parade lost $100,000. It has been rescued by the Los Angeles City Council, via council president Eric Garcetti, who represents the area of the parade route along Hollywood Boulevard, Highland Avenue and Sunset Boulevard. Garcetti, who got the council to act after protests from a private group which formed after it was announced that the parade would not go on this year, was quoted in the article as saying that he "couldn't in good conscience let die" at least in part because it is "one of the last free things families can do."

The plan is to build the parade back up to its former glory, but this year's parade will be just a shadow of its former self, with thirty-five bands signed up so far, plus some floats and equestrian units. Retired "Price Is Right" host Bob Barker has signed on, as has the cast of Disney's "High School Musical", slim pickings for a parade that once boasted the participation of some of the biggest stars in Hollywood. In fact, one of the reasons the parade was not able to make money recently was because broadcasters lost interest in showing the parade once ratings began to fall once "A-list" stars became more reluctant to appear in the parade. Much of the parade's revenues have come from broadcast fees.

Apparently the Hollywood Chamber of Commerce hasn't completely deserted the idea of a Christmas parade and is urging its members to support this year's parade. It is also offered use of signs and parade workers' vests if the new group putting the parade together, Pageantry Productions. Also, the Chamber has said it will consider letting the parade use the name "Hollywood Christmas Parade" in future years if this year's parade is of high enough quality.

This is all very sad for me. Growing up in Southern California, my family attended the parade several times in the early 1970s, when it was still known as the "Santa Claus Lane Parade" (which prompted Gene Autry to record the Christmas classic "Here Comes Santa Claus" know: "Here comes Santa Claus/Here comes Santa Claus/Right down Santa Claus Lane"). It was sort of the official end of the Thanksgiving weekend and the beginning of the Christmas Season.

I've got some lovely memories of going out on a cool (well, usually) winter evening to see the bands and the floats and the stars...who still participated in numbers at that time. There would be everyone from the old-time stars like Bob Hope to the casts of many of the network TV series then current. I'll never forget one time when the two elderly ladies next to my family on the parade route (I'd say they were probably in their seventies at the time) were there in their finest clothes, evening make-up and nicest jewelry, so excited because Cesar Romero was going to be in the parade that year. They were very cute ladies, just like a couple of teenagers. During the years I went to the parade, the tradition was that Natalie Wood and Robert Wagner (then on their second marriage to each other) and their children rode on the last float of the parade...with Santa Claus on his sleigh.

It was just a fun time. Not the big production the Tournament of Roses Parade on New Year's Day in Pasadena is, but a nice hometown Christmas's just that the hometown happened to be Hollywood and lots of the participants were very, very famous.

I hope the new version of the parade succeeds. I hope that the Hollywood community returns to participation in the coming years. I'd hate to know that this part of my growing up wasn't there any more.