Another Day, Another Blog

April 30, 2007

Weekend reading

Filed under: books — iamza @ 10:16 am

Behind the Pine Curtain, by Gerri Hill:

When Jacqueline was eighteen, her parents found out she was gay. Jacqueline’s mother gave her a hundred dollars for a bus ticket, and told her to come back home only when she was prepared to do her family duty and get married. Fast forward ten or fifteen years, and Jacqueline is now a successful author living in California when she receives word of her father’s death. Reluctantly, Jacqueline finds herself heading back to her childhood town of Pine Springs, to face the friends and family she was forced to leave behind.

This is a lesbian romance: if you find repulsive the idea of two women getting intimate, then this probably isn’t the novel for you. It is, at heart, a story about rediscovering childhood love, and learning that sometimes what you’re most afraid of may end up giving you the greatest joy.

Sometimes, when reading novels, I find myself wishing I was as smart and as wise and as strong as the characters therein. And sometimes, they really bring home to me moments of past failures. Reading this novel reminded me of one of the moments in high school of which I am most ashamed. See, a rumour went around school that one of my friends, R, might be gay. I wish I could say I dealt with the news as well as Kay does when learning of Jacqueline’s sexuality, but the truth is, I freaked out, and pulled away at a time when R most needed someone to stand by her.

To this day, I don’t know if the rumour was true or not — it doesn’t matter. The fact is I walked away from a friendship not because of anything R had done, but because I was afraid of what everybody else would think of me if I stuck by her. If life were like Hollywood, I would have come to my senses just before the final credits rolled, and R and I would have been reunited in a storm of tears and repentance and forgiveness, and the sun would have come out shining more brightly than ever before as the speakers blared a happy rock song.

But life isn’t a Hollywood movie. And sometimes, shame and regret is all the closure you get.

April 27, 2007

Cowboy Blues (Or, Yet Another Ficlet Fragment)

Filed under: ficlet, western — iamza @ 7:00 am

   The Immortal slid down from his iron horse, his heavy boots sending up a cloud of reddish dust as he landed, knees bent and feet apart. He straightened slowly, teeth clamped tightly around the base of his cigar, and looked about him.

   The town seemed deserted: blinds drawn, shutters fastened, doors locked. Like folks had closed up shop before an approaching storm, and never returned. The Immortal stood for a moment, considering his options. A chance encounter with a passing ancestor may have sent him this way, but the Immortal was under no obligation to stick around to investigate.

   A ball of tumbleweed caught his eye as it rolled into the dirt road and stuttered to a halt in front of the saloon. The Immortal grinned. This was surely a sign that he should quench his thirst before making any decisions about whether or not to solve the mystery of the missing townsfolk.

   The doors to the saloon were made of solid oak. It took three good kicks before the Immortal was able to push his way past the splinters, and into the shadowy room beyond. Inside, dust motes drifted lazily on the few weak sunbeams that managed to limp through the broken doorway. The gloomy light was just bright enough that he could see the chairs in the saloon had been stacked neatly on top of the scattered card tables, and that the bar, which looked like it was made of the same solid oak as the front doors, had recently been wiped clean.

   He held still for a moment, closed his eyes and tilted his head slightly, listening for any sounds of life. But he heard only the sound of the wind as it plucked sadly at the freshly shattered door to the saloon, and the occasional snort and clank of his iron horse outside.

   The Immortal opened his eyes, and moved so that he stood behind the bar. Frowned as he reached up for a bottle of whiskey and a glass, and mechanically poured himself a double shot. The bottle thudded dully against the wooden bar as he set it down, and picked up the glass. 

   Strange. Whatever had happened here had happened quickly, but not without warning. The townspeople had not had time to send notice of their departure to Twin Rivers, though that town was only two days by horse. But they had had enough time to set things in order before they left. That they’d cleaned up, locked their doors, and closed the shutters suggested the townsfolk had had every intention of returning…so what had happened to alter their plans?

   The Immortal lifted the glass to his lips, and tipped his head back as he drained the amber liquid therein with one gulp. The alcohol left in its wake a welcome trail of heat as it went down, and he quickly reached to pour himself another.

   What exactly was it the ancestor had said?

AUTHORIAL INTRUSION: Oh, I don’t know? How about, “Don’t drink and detect.” Or possibly, “Now, son, don’t stay in that there town past sunset, because that’s when the zombie townsfolk return. And they sure ain’t gonna be happy when they see what a mess you’ve made of their nice clean saloon!” (Insert loud THUD as author’s head impacts against the desk)

   “Who said that!?”

April 26, 2007

Dear Mona Clee

Filed under: books — iamza @ 7:00 am

Dear Mona Clee,

     Please don’t take this request as a rampant case of fan entitlement, but rather as proof that, if you ever did decide to write another book, there would be at least one person in the world eagerly waiting to read it.

     Re-reading Overshoot has proven to be an interesting experience, especially after watching a BBC Horizon special highlighting the effect of global dimming on the environment. It is disheartening — and, frankly, terrifying — to think that we might reach the global warming overshoot/point of no return highlighted in your novel much earlier than originally predicted.

     I must admit that I both love and am repulsed by the idea of the virus postulated in your novel. The protagonist, Moira, may have had her fears of brainwashing put to rest, but I cannot help but feel that anything that so radically alters human behaviour also fundamentally changes who we are. And I rather like the person I am today. Humanity may be selfish and unkind, but these flaws define us just as much as the occasional moments of inspired ingenuity and breathtaking creativity. More so, for if we had no flaws to fight against, if we were all born perfect, there would be no need to strive to better ourselves; no way to measure how far we’d come.

     That said, a world at peace with itself sounds idyllic. No more wars — no more foolhardy fighting, victims classed as collateral damage, or orphaned kids on the news. People looking out for each other rather than for how they best can benefit from any given situation. It would be hard for most of us to turn away from such a world.

All the best,

Me

April 25, 2007

Retrospection is over-rated

Filed under: curiosities, the joy of life — iamza @ 7:00 am

In high school, the year before we had to pick our six subjects of interest, we were required to complete an aptitude test. I guess the test was supposed to highlight our interests and the potential careers we might choose — and thus enable the teachers to give us better guidance. All I really remember about the test is that it consisted of pages and pages of pretty much the same choices, over and over:

I would prefer to spend my time:

(a) Reading non-fiction

(b) Reading fiction

(c) Building a house

(d) Taking apart an engine

(e) Cooking

(f) Killing a computer

Tough choice! I mean, I love fiction, but “Oh, I read non-fiction all the time!” sounds much smarter. And then there’s killing a computer — my all-time favourite rage-release mechanism, but you can’t exactly stick that in the aptitude test…

 Teacher: “Mrs Za, we brought you in today because we’re a little worried about some of the answers on your daughter’s test yesterday.”

Mama Za: “Dagnabbit! What’s she done now?”

Teacher: “Well, she’s displaying this disturbing trend for the enjoyment of computer maltreatment. Truth be told, I’m afraid that if we don’t take immediate action, we may have the world’s first serial computer killer on our hands.”

The day after the test, our class was divided up, and taken into individual classrooms for a group “Let’s see what career you’ve won today!” session. At that point, I learned two interesting things:

(1) It is apparently possible to read too much fiction. More than 26 hours a week (or so I was informed after mentioning I was reading about 40 hours of fiction a week), and you’re edging into escapism territory. This is very bad because it means you and reality have unresolved issues that may lead to problems in your relationship down the line. Who knew?! And,

(2) If you play the aptitude test just right, it is possible to get “nothing” as your best potential career choice. 

Ultimately, the whole thing struck me as a bit of a time-waster. I mean, at fourteen, what I was most interested in was Morten Whatshisname of A-Ha, and Tom Cruise (before he lost his mind), and Anne MacCaffrey’s Pern. And somehow I couldn’t see myself getting a degree in any of these subjects.

Frankly, as long as I was allowed to drop history, I didn’t really care what other subjects I would have to take. And, as it turned out, I didn’t have much of a choice. Mama and Papa Za sat me down one evening, and told me I would be doing all the science subjects. “Science,” I thought, “Hm. Can’t be too different from science fiction. Might even be fun.” And that was that. 

Now, I’d love to be able to go back in time, and look over my fourteen-year-old self’s shoulder as I filled in the aptitude test. It’d be interesting to see which answers I’d pick the same, and which would be completely different. In the intervening years, have my interests really changed as much as I think they have? Am I a different person now from that fourteen-year-old self, or am I just older and–hopefully–wiser, but essentially unchanged?

April 24, 2007

Goldfish philosophy

Filed under: ficlet, the joy of life — iamza @ 7:00 am

Goldfish Sam was bored. Sure, he had water in which to swim, and occasionally giant nibbles dropped out of the sky, so he had food to eat. For the most part, though, Sam spent his life swimming around the same concrete pond, darting amongst and around the same rocks and black plastic pond plant holders as he always had, or chatting with Pete and Minnow, passing the hours with the same mundane observations about nothing at all.

Teasing the neighbourhood cats had been a neat diversion for a couple of weeks.

“Here, Kitty-kitty, catch me if you dare.”

The cats had fallen for it every time. They’d stalk over to sit on a sun-warmed rock by the edge of the pond, and peer over the water to see who was talking. And Sam would leap up out of the pond, expertly flicking his tail so that a spray of water droplets shot into wide unsuspecting eyes, and quickly plunge back into the shadowy depths before the cat had gotten much beyond a plaintive, “But, but, water! Ugh!”

Problem was, the trick worked once, twice at the most, on each cat. And the cats had obviously been talking amongst themselves, for the neighbourhood was now suspiciously feline-free.

Sam had tried the same trick on the blackbirds, but the birds just arched into the spray of water, and chirped with glee. As bored as he was, Sam wasn’t quite ready to call it a day and turn himself into a bird shower.

So, here he was, Sam of the yellow-gold scales, son of the house of three black dots, leaper of ponds, bored out of his tiny goldfish skull.

Old Jake swam by, lazily fluffing his orange fins. “Young Sam,” he said, and closed his mouth for a second or two.

Oh great, thought Sam, here we go.

Old Jake had a habit of speaking a word or two at a time, and then pondering for minutes on what he wanted to say next. Simple conversations could take hours.

Sam reluctantly fluttered a dorsal fin in greeting, and racked his brain for an excuse which would allow him to escape before Old Jake remembered what it was he’d wanted to say.

“The world,” said Old Jake.

Too late. Sam sighed, and resigned himself to a long, long afternoon.

“…is a big place.” Old Jake opened his mouth and sucked in some water, as though pondering his comment. A slow blink, and then his mouth closed.

Sam waited.

“Exciting,” continued Old Jake, and mouthed the water a few more times. “But not,” he paused, and blinked again. Silence descended.

Sam flicked his tail a little impatiently, the water offering a welcome resistance. “Yes?”

“…always safe.” Old Jake turned in the water, so that he could look more directly at Sam.

Sam gulped a mouthful of water to give himself time to think. Old Jake’s statement seemed all too obvious. “Uh, okay?”

Old Jake seemed to sigh. “Is it better,” he asked, “to die in a blaze of glory, or live a life of subdued contentment?”

The old goldfish did not seem to require an answer. He blinked once, slowly, at Sam, and then flicked his tail and his fins, swimming off majestically into the shadows. 

April 23, 2007

In which Iamza’s prose becomes more and more purple

Filed under: the joy of life — iamza @ 11:10 am

I am an observer, divorced from reality, watching as the world passes by my window. The double-glazed panes speckled with sea-spray morph into an inter-dimensional wall, separating me from the rest of humanity.

Behind me, on the mantel, a clock beats with monotonous regularity. Tick, the sound expands, tock, filling the room, tick, like the pulse, tock, of another universe.

Unphased by the trans-dimensional journey, sunlight streams through the glass barrier. It drifts lazily across the laminate wood floor, making it glow golden-yellow underfoot. The half-drawn drapes are hot to the touch, and my pocket-dimension smells of heated material, dust, and a hint of vanilla.

I reach out, brush the glass with a finger-tip. It feels cold and smooth, and for one brief fanciful moment, I imagine that it is the surface of a pool of dry water. Is this how fish feel, drifting near the surface of the sea, looking up at the ocean of atmosphere that stretches endlessly overhead? Watching, wondering, as that other world is bathed in light, then darkness, then light again?

Maybe whale-song is a celebration of yearning. For, while it might be lonely to belong solely to one world whilst dreaming of another, how much worse must it feel to belong part to one world, part to another, and yet wholly to neither?

A cloud passes in front of the sun, and my room chills. Still, the clock ticks on monotonously. Time runs its own universe-wide course, a marathon whose finish line signals the ultimate end. And we, we are but spectators. Observers of many realities, and, if we are lucky, participants in one or two.

April 22, 2007

One man’s rubbish is another’s treasure

Filed under: elsewhere, the joy of life — iamza @ 12:03 am

The place I liked to play most as a kid was by the river. My sister and I would walk up sixteenth street to fifth avenue — usually making a brief stopover at Jimmy’s Cafe to replenish the sweet stores, and build up our picnic supplies — and then continue uphill along fifth avenue until it petered out in the red-gum-shaded parklands just after twenty-second street. From there, we followed a dusty pathway leading to an old stone jetty that jutted out over flat sun-baked rocks that had been worn smooth by ice-cold algae-tinged water.

The river — more of a stream really — separated our suburb from Delta Park, a bird sanctuary. Over the years, the river had migrated, leaving the bank on our side a relatively shallow easy walk down to the waterfront, but turning the far bank into a steep, sandy cliff. Someone had hacked a set of rough earth steps into the cliff-face, and an old tree-trunk had been wedged across the stream at it’s narrowest (and fastest flowing) point.

Back then, the river hadn’t been cared for much, and there was a lot of junk floating downstream. One afternoon, we hit paydirt in terms of treasure: A sheet of blue-and-white polystyrene packing had drifted ashore on the exposed granitic rock of the riverbed on our side of the stream. The polystyrene turned out to be a terrific base for making our very own mini-rafts, and some old ice-lolly sticks made great masts/rudders. We launched the rafts carefully into the maelstrom of the rapids just before the white water dropped away under the tree-trunk bridge, and watched with glee as they shot downstream. If we got the angle just right, the rafts would spin at the bottom of the rapids, and circle back towards quieter waters from which we could retrieve them by means of sticks.

Later, we tied notes to the masts.

Hello, fellow traveller.

I am a raft made by some kindly natives upstream. Please give me a bath and a good home.

 And,

J. H. loves C. G.

I used to wonder if anyone ever found our notes, or if they drifted slowly out into the Atlantic, unnoticed and unread. Maybe they even bobbed their way to a distant shore; ink slowly faded to nothing by sunlight and saltwater and rain, so that when they finally arrived, some tourist plucked our masterpieces from a rock pool, and muttered, “Damn kids today. Why don’t they ever pick up after themselves?”

April 21, 2007

The dandelion dilemma

Filed under: curiosities, the dandelion wars, the joy of life — iamza @ 9:24 pm

You know what annoys me most about dandelions? They don’t have the good grace to know when they’re supposed to die, damnit. I have now pulled out the same dandelion plant about three times, and each fortnight, it just grows back. To add insult to injury, it is now sporting a giant yellow flower, and nodding as if laughing at me. “Ha ha, you can’t kill me!”

I know, I know — to get rid of it permanently, I need to take out the roots. But, I swear, this dandelion has a root system that is anchored somewhere down near the asthenosphere. I’m scared if I pull too hard, or dig too deep, I’ll cause a major tectonic incident.

“Extra, extra: Freak magnitude 8.2 earthquake strikes the East Midlands. Gardener held for questioning. Read all about it!”

Another curious observation: I have pansies growing in the cracks in the concrete outside the kitchen. So, weeds have infested the flowerbeds, and the flowers have taken up residence in the cracks in concrete and bricks where weeds more traditionally reside. 

Okay, then.

Finally, a question for the ages: As a kid, I can remember listening to people going on and on about how cockroaches are incredibly hardy, and if there were ever a nuclear winter, cockroaches would likely be amongst the few organisms to survive. Personal experience leads me to think that dandelions, too, have great survival instincts. Now, throw in some radiation-induced mutation, and imagine Godzilla cockroaches battling it out against Day-of-the-Triffids-style dandelions. Who do you think would win?

April 20, 2007

Flying maybe not so high

Filed under: books — iamza @ 8:47 am

Among the six or so books in my ‘currently reading’ pile is Kam Majd’s High Wire. Captain Kate is Jet East’s wonder girl. She outperformed all the men in her pilot training courses, and paved the way for all the Jet East female pilots after her. So when Captain Kate seemingly flies her aircraft into the ground through pilot error, and kills six passengers, people are understandably concerned. The story makes national headlines — especially after Captain Kate’s co-pilot, Ed Dumb-bell goes public with his less-than-enthusiastic opinion of Captain Kate’s mad piloting skillz.

Fortunately, folks at the NSTB the NTSB that airplane crash investigation unit aren’t swayed by the observations of a misogynistic co-pilot (who, incidentally, happened to be present in the cockpit at the time of the crash), or data retrieved from the black box supporting the finding of pilot error. They are, of course, also completely immune to the charms of the beautiful (and hotheaded) Captain Kate, and don’t think about her lovely legs or eyes at all. No, the folks at the NSTB the NTSB that airplane crash investigation unit are utterly professional, completely impartial, and simply wish to find the underlying cause of the aircraft crash so that more people won’t end up injured or dead. (But they also wouldn’t say no to a dinner date with Captain Kate. In a strictly professional capacity, of course).

In addition to luke-warm romances and plane crashes, the novel also contains a solid dose of sordid conspiracy theories, corporate blackmail, back-stabbing office politics, and nasty computer viruses.

This is one of those books you read at the beach, or in the terminal as you’re waiting for your plane to depart. It’s a quick read, with a reasonably entertaining plot and characters who are completely forgettable. (For example, it’s only been a couple of hours since I put this book down, and I cannot for the life of me remember Captain Kate’s full name. As for the romantic male lead from the NSTB the NTSB that airplane crash investigation unit, I think his name might be Michael, but I could be wrong. Now, true, I have a shockingly bad memory, but even I am usually better at remembering characters’ names than that!)

April 19, 2007

If I were a cyber-organism…

Filed under: humour, the joy of life — iamza @ 3:47 pm

WARNING! WARNING! WARNING!

User input detected.

Hibernation mode cancelled.

BEEP! BEEP! BEEP!

Power-up mode activated.

Initiate text box.

Initiating…

WARNING! WARNING! WARNING!

Word overload detected.

BEEEEEEEEP! BEEEEEEEEP!

Initiate evacuation protocol.

Initiating…

Print message.

Printing…

She’s baaaack! Run, people! Run for your lives.

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