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System Shutdown

System Shutdown

January 1st

Dear Diary,

In an attempt to embrace change and personal growth, I’ve decided to challenge myself, and so my next project will be an edgy cyberpunk novel. This will allow me to plumb the darkest depths of cynicism, as well as the steep cliffs of optimism by which one must escape. Accordingly, I have delved into the technology of tomorrow, studying it while it is just a looming threat, and have also fixed on a number of social ills that I plan on putting front and center in my worldbuilding. I am virtually quivering with excitement! Virtually? Ha ha!

A book about a game about a genre.

In order to leaven the darkness with a touch of whimsy, I have decided to code-name this project Mirrorball. Though, now that I write it, this may be a bit retro-techno, with sinister undertones, and far too close to serve as a working title. I shall just have to learn to enjoy the subtle frisson this name evokes within me. Can you say “Hello, world!” Mirrorball? I knew you could!

And more good news! The realtor’s sign is gone from the house next door. I eagerly await the arrival of my new neighbors!

Techno-Inspiration: Google Time Crystals, of course!

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Fantasia 2021, Part II: Beyond The Infinite Two Minutes

Fantasia 2021, Part II: Beyond The Infinite Two Minutes

Beyond The Infinite Two MinutesThe 2021 Fantasia International Film Festival presented most of its hundred-plus feature films over the internet, some of them streaming at scheduled times, others available across the duration of the festival. (Which ended on the 25th; I ended up watching so many movies during the three weeks the festival ran I didn’t have time to write about them.) Looking at the schedule for August 5th, the first day, I didn’t see anything scheduled that I wanted to cover, and decided to watch some of the on-demand titles. Which raised the question of which film would be the best way to start my Fantasia 2021 experience. After some havering, I made my pick.

But before describing it, I’ll note that many of the features at Fantasia came bundled with a short film, and that was the case here. “Viewers:1” is a five-minute film written and directed by Daigo Hariya and Yosuke Kobayashi, starring Yuki Hashiguchi as the last man on Earth, desperately trying to present a smiling, optimistic take on the end of the world as he live-streams his wanderings. The world’s haunted by vast mechanical forms but deserted by humanity — and then comes a twist. It’s a well-made piece, carried by Hashiguchi’s ability to convey a sense of profound despair under a facade of crazed buoyancy. Strong special effects support the story and add to the menace.

Then the feature: Beyond the Infinite Two Minutes (ドロステのはてで僕ら, Droste no hate de bokura), a time-twisting one-take comedy from Japan. Kato (Kazunori Tosa) owns a café in Kyoto. He has an apartment above the café, and a crush on a young lady, Megumi (Aki Asakura), who works in the neighbouring barbershop. And one day after work he goes upstairs to find that there’s a delay between the computer monitor in his apartment and the screen it’s linked to downstairs — the café screen communicates to his monitor from two minutes in the future. The downbeat Kato is at first distinctly unimpressed, but his friends and his employee Aya (Riko Fujitani) are excited and start figuring out ways to take advantage of the two-minute glimpse of the future. Their future selves speak to them — but can they be trusted? And what happens if some actions have consequences that extend beyond two minutes?

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Treading Carefully

Treading Carefully

As soon as the bag was swept off of my head, I knew that I hadn’t been taken to Black Gate‘s legal department for a refresher in corporate espionage. Rather, I was in a clean, well-lit room, circular in shape and towering in height. Wide windows let in shafts of morning light, filtered through the vines and flowers that hung in streamers from planters at intervals, and trellises rising up the walls. I hadn’t suspected a place like this existed outside of the Editorial Spa, and found it to be a pleasant surprise.

The man who had removed my hood, however, shoved me backward as I got my bearings, and I fell unceremoniously into a massive beanbag just behind me. As I struggled to sit upright once more, a woman took a position across from me before a plush divan, and while her dusky Mediterranean skin contrasted with the sharp white of her suit, her cool gaze contrasted with literally every other emotional cue in the room. She sat.

“You’re not with Black Gate, are you?” I ventured.

“No, Mr. Starr. I’m with the Office of Regionally Generated Attitudes.”

The crew of the Starship Diversity is ready for adventure!

“Am I in some sort of trouble?” I was suddenly a lot less comfortable sprawled out in the beanbag, but all efforts to sit straight and match her bearing failed. I slumped back.

“Oh, no. Not yet. We are simply here to review the situation, before it gets out of hand.”

“The… situation?”

“Your current project. It’s a diversity issue, you see.”

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A (Black) Gat in the Hand: Norbert Davis in Black Mask – Vol 1

A (Black) Gat in the Hand: Norbert Davis in Black Mask – Vol 1

You’re the second guy I’ve met within hours who seems to think a gat in the hand means a world by the tail.” – Phillip Marlowe in Raymond Chandler’s The Big Sleep

(Gat — Prohibition Era term for a gun. Shortened version of Gatling Gun)

This past weekend was PulpFest 2021. It used to be here in Columbus, but moved to the Pittsburgh area a few years ago. Steeger Books released several new titles, including one from Norbert Davis. If you’ve been reading A (Black) Gat in the Hand here at Black Gate, you know I’m on a mission to raise Davis’ modern day profile.

Steeger is issuing a two-volume set with all the stories Davis sold to Black Mask editor Joe ‘Cap’ Shaw. And I’ve written new introductions for each one. I’m thrilled to see more of Davis’ stories back in print, and you can get a preview of volume one below; It’s my intro. I know, I know – how exciting! Keep reading for my thoughts on Davis and four of his Black Mask tales.

Like many of his contemporaries, Norbert Davis wrote for different outlets, including for the Westerns, war stories, and even romance markets. But he was at his best in the private eye/mystery field. Davis could write standard hardboiled fare, but he excelled at mixing humor into the genre. Unfortunately (and aided and abetted by his wonderful Doan and Carstairs novels), that has left the skewed view that he could only write screwball hardboiled stories. And that’s simply not accurate.

Davis was a law student at Stanford when “The Bonded Stuff” appeared in the March, 1932 issue of Real Detective. A mere three months later in June, his first submission to Black Mask, “Reform Racket,” saw print. Davis continued writing, and after he graduated in 1934, he never bothered to take the bar exam: A career in the pulps beckoned instead.

Though Joe ‘Cap’ Shaw, legendary editor of Black Mask, accepted that first submission, he didn’t feel that Davis’ hardboiled humor really fit the magazine. So, even with a home run in his first at-bat, the writer only managed to break into Black Mask a total of five times duringthe years of Shaw’s reign: 1932 – 1937. Davis had success in other markets, however, with eighteen mystery stories seeing print in 1936, for example. And several stories appeared in Black Mask after Shaw departed. Davis later ‘moved up’ to the higher-paying, more respectable, glossy slicks.

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What I’ve Been Watching – August 2021

What I’ve Been Watching – August 2021

Been streaming a lot of shows lately, including on my  Fire as ‘background’ to whatever I’m doing. Shows I’ve seen before, like the first one below, are great for that. It’s amazing how many old shows can be streamed now. I just found season one of Royal Pains, which I have not watched since the show originally aired. And Paramount+ has the original Twin Peaks. And there are quality new shows streaming, like Bosch, The Expanse, and Cobra Kai. It’s a great time for viewing.

MONK

I watched Monk back when it first ran. I’ve rewatched it a couple times since, including with my son Sean, who is also a fan. I’ve read all of Lee Goldberg’s books in the series, and most of Hy Conrad’s. I enjoy them. I decided to take a break from my ongoing viewing of Psych (I can’t even count how many times I’ve watched episodes of that), so I watched most of the ABC reboot of Columbo. They’re not bad, but further proof that the marriage of role and actor has never been better. And then I went back to season one of Monk, and started all over again. Monk is absolutely the successor to Columbo. I cannot imagine Columbo fans not enjoying the show. The show features recognizable guest stars, just as Columbo did. It’s one of my favorite elements of the show. And many of the antagonists are cut exactly out of the Columbo mold, including their superior attitudes and condescension towards the detective. I’m in the final season, in which Monk finally closes in on the person responsible for Trudy’s murder. Showrunner Andy Breckman did a wonderful job managing the entire series, including providing closure. I found it satisfying. And it was another great guest appearance. I think Monk is one of the greatest detective shows of all time, and I’ll eventually write an in-depth post about it. It’s streaming on IMDB/Prime.

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The Hidden Path

The Hidden Path

Once there was a young girl who lived in a large village surrounded by forests. Though these woods came right up to the village, and were of a pleasant nature, the villagers mostly ignored them. As the girl’s childhood progressed, she would venture further and further among these trees, until she had worn tracks through the nearby underbrush.

…she had established quite a maze…

It seemed to the girl that she knew the closest trees of the woods almost as well as she knew the homes and shops of the village. And so, as her childhood continued, she ventured farther and farther afield, continuing along the tracks she had worn in the forest floor until they faded from view, so new were they, and extending them into the unknown, or turning aside early, exploring some side way she had previously not thought to explore. And so, by the time she had become a young woman, she had established quite a maze of ways through those trees.

Of all the people in her village, only she bothered to follow those pathways, for the villagers, though kind, were uninterested in exploring the deeper regions of the woods, and quickly turned back as the shadows grew deep. Even if the young woman tried to guide them, she could never lead them very far before they turned back, all apologies. And so she walked the forest alone, always seeking new ways, always and extending her travels within the forest, trying to go beyond what was now known to her, as the lengthening pathways proved.

And thus it came as quite a surprise to the young woman to discover herself, after a period of meandering, having come upon a fairy circle. Though she had never seen such a thing before, the girl stepped forward at once, eager to enter the world of the fey.

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My Robert A. Heinlein Problem

My Robert A. Heinlein Problem

Robert A. Heinlein. Art by Donato.

Do you know someone — a friend, a coworker, a family member — whom you esteem for their many good qualities… and yet whose extreme and undeniable character flaws can sometimes make you want to banish them from your life forever? Of course you do. (Humility and the law of averages should also make you acknowledge that for someone else you know, there’s a good chance that you are that person.)

For me, that problematic individual is Robert A. Heinlein. Dominating the science fiction field from the moment his first story, “Lifeline,” appeared in the August, 1939 issue of Astounding Science Fiction to his death almost a half century later, Heinlein was arguably the most important writer in the history of American genre sf. In 1974 he was the first writer named a Grand Master by the Science Fiction Writers of America and was the winner of four Hugo Awards for best novel (and seven “retro” Hugos for works published prior to 1953). Invoking his name can start a passionate argument even now, and he’s been gone for thirty-three years.

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Warrior Women Watch-a-thon Part 2: The Middle Ground

Warrior Women Watch-a-thon Part 2: The Middle Ground

My look back on my Warrior Women film marathon continues with a clutch of movies that I don’t consider terrible, but don’t meet many of my requirements either. For a detailed rundown of the criteria I imposed on this project, see Part 1 here.

The first four in this group actually pass the Bedschel Test, but are still lacking in anything resembling practical armour. This group also includes a cheat film, as I had seen Red Sonja back in the day (and had mostly forgotten it), but I got around this using an entirely unnecessary loophole, which meant watching it in Spanish on YouTube with a translated transcription on my phone. Red Sonja still feels like a bit of a wasted opportunity and merely a vehicle for more Schwarzenegger flexing (who reportedly regards it as one of his worst films).

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Deep in the Northern Thing: The Saga of the Volsungs, translated by Jesse L. Byock

Deep in the Northern Thing: The Saga of the Volsungs, translated by Jesse L. Byock

Murder begets murder, everybody dies, usually badly, and the gods are bastards. Those are the lessons taught in The Saga of the Volsungs, the history of the doomed Volsung family. The historical events reflected in the saga took place between the end of the 4th and beginning of the 5th centuries AD, a period of great tribal migrations and unrest among the Germanic people of Central and Eastern Europe.

Starting around 1000 BC, tribes from the region now called Scandinavia began migrating south and west into present-day Germany, pushing out the Celtic tribes, before running up against the Roman Empire along a frontier that extended from the mouth of the Rhine River and all along it and the Danube River to the Black Sea. To the east, German kingdoms stretched as far as the Pontic Steppe in modern Ukraine and Russia. At the end of the 4th Century AD, the Huns came roaring out of the distant East and began conquering or driving out the German tribes in Eastern and Central Europe. The historic destruction of the Kingdom of Burgundy by the Huns in 436 AD is a major part of the saga, though scaled down from war to a family feud. It is in this age of chaos and death that the stories of the Volsungs were born. The oldest artistic representations of the Volsunga Saga are found in stone carvings in Ramslund, Sweden, but it wasn’t written down until the late 13th century, in Iceland. The more well-known German telling of the story, The Nibelungenlied, was written earlier, about 1200 AD. Wagner drew on both as sources for his epic four-opera cycle, The Ring of the Nibelung.

If the courtly tales of King Arthur and Roland point toward high fantasy, this German legend and its ilk point straight to sword & sorcery. There are no great heroes moved by devotion to home and family to pursue noble deeds, only murderers driven by greed or vengeance to commit deeds of great violence. Good and evil are abstractions that have no place in a blood-drowned age. The violence is direct and driven by personal motives far more often than by ideals or the needs of any kingdom.

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Fantasia 2021, Part I: Introduction and Preview

Fantasia 2021, Part I: Introduction and Preview

Summer’s come around again, and with it another installment of the Fantasia International Film Festival, the Montreal-based genre festival it’s been my pleasure and privilege to cover for Black Gate since 2014. Fantasia’s back up to a full three weeks after last year’s two-week version, starting today and running until August 25; here’s the full schedule. COVID-19’s still out there, though, so this year like last most of the films are streaming rather than shown in a threatre. Some are at scheduled times, others are available on demand over the course of the festival, and all movies are geo-locked to Canada though panels and discussions will be available worldwide through Zoom or YouTube.

But a few films have in-person screenings at Montreal’s venerable Imperial Theatre. This briefly caused me to ponder: doubly vaccinated as I am, am I comfortable going to a movie theatre? I never came to a conclusion because at the start of July I felt a pain in my foot, and when I finally bothered to have a doctor look at it two weeks later, found out it was a stress fracture. I now have a boot cast to wear through the end of August, and while it lets me get around it’s probably still a good idea to avoid needless strain on the foot. So I’ll be taking in the festival from the comfort of my couch.

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