Saturday, May 30, 2009


I'll be on a panel of Transformers writers at Botcon tomorrow (Sunday the 31st) in Pasadena along with my good friend Bryce Malek, and my archenemy Flint Dille. (Actually, Flint's a friend too; I just always wanted to have an archenemy.)

I probably should have posted that exciting news a few days ago. I post it now in order to drive the blog entry directly below a little closer to oblivion.

Can I go home now? (whimper)

Every now and then I see something that makes me feel like I'm living on the wrong planet. A Hallmark card that said "Congratulations On Your New Piercing" was one. This is another. And yes, it really is from Gilette.

Thursday, May 28, 2009

While you were sleeping...

Audry was up at 5 in the morning today, and the song of the birds in the front yard so impressed her that she whipped out her Flip HD and shot this.

Meanwhile, I was upstairs, sound asleep, dreaming of -- Dan Quayle? Yaaaaugghhh! No more MSNBC before bed!

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Mirror, mirror.

In the field of intelligence analysis, the CIA has a concept called mirror imaging: the belief that your opponent will think and behave and hold the same values as you do. It is not far-removed from the psychological notion of projection.

What follows is the most graphic showcase of mirror-imaging one could ask for:

Yeah, Beck -- maybe it is just you.

For the record, the quote they're all freaking out over is: "I would hope that a wise Latina woman with the richness of her experiences would more often than not reach a better conclusion than a white male who hasn't lived that life."

What these douchebags fail to mention is that later in the same speech Sotomayor says: "I am reminded each day that I render decisions that affect people concretely and that I owe them constant and complete vigilance in checking my assumptions, presumptions and perspectives and ensuring that to the extent that my limited abilities and capabilities permit me, that I reevaluate them and change as circumstances and cases before me requires. I can and do aspire to be greater than the sum total of my experiences but I accept my limitations." Oops, you can stop freaking out now, boys.

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Phoning it in.

Great artists such as Saul Steinberg and James Thurber have drawn covers for the New Yorker. This week, the cover was made on an Iphone.

It's all courtesy of an app called Brushes, and the talented fingers of Jorge Colombo.

You can read more about it here.

Monday, May 25, 2009

I am now writing in the present tense.

Is there a less useful form of grammar than the present tense? The question should not be dismissed lightly. The present tense has its place in technical writing -- instruction manuals, textbooks, and such -- in specialized writing such as screenplays, and, I must admit, in blogs such as this one. But in everyday conversation about the only time you use it is when you're talking on a cell phone, where it results in some of the least scintillating conversation in human history. ("I'm in the supermarket. I'm looking at the scallops. Okay, now I'm heading toward the macaroons.") Its other big conversational use is as an incorrect substitute for various forms of the future tense. ("I'm going to Fred's house. We're having scallops and macaroons.")

And in fiction it is almost inevitably used as a cheap device to create a phony sense of immediacy by authors who have yet to realize that A) the present tense only draws attention to the fact that the action is not happening in the present moment, and b) every work of fiction begins with the unspoken phrase, "Once upon a time," which immediately demands the past tense.

But without a doubt the worst misuse of the present tense is done by historians and other experts in TV documentaries. One can scarcely turn on PBS, or the History Channel, or TLC, or any of the dozens of other documentary-centric time fillers on basic cable, without encountering some lunkhead with a master's degree babbling on about how "Lincoln senses the Union is in danger, and that night he orders a meeting of his cabinet" or "Octavius sends his fleet to the Ionian Sea, because he knows Mark Antony's forces are sailing out to attack him." Really? Those things are happening even as you speak? Do you live in a bilocated temporal zone or what?

Yet this deplorable practice has become de riguer. You hardly ever see a talking head talking about the past in the past tense anymore. I have reached the point where I'm ready to seek out some of these pundits and whomp them with a sack of horse manure. Don't any of these yo-yo's realize that when you speak of past events in the present tense, you are making a colossal grammatical error? And these people are supposed to be educators? Sheesh.

Sunday, May 24, 2009

Dreams and all that stuff.

The other night I dreamed I met Barak Obama. He was having lunch at the food court of our local mall, with some advisers and a bunch of Secret Service guys. For some reason I had to return his phone book to him. Afterword, I wondered how I would talk about this. After all, it's a pretty big deal, meeting the President of the United States. In my dream, as I left the mall, I started mentally composing a blog entry. The dream blog entry began like this:

(Click to enlarge if you actually want to read it.)

Then I woke up, somewhat disappointed that I wasn't going to be able to write my awesome blog post about how I met the President. For the rest of the night I dreamed about how my meeting with Obama was just a dream not worth writing about.

But I'm blogging about it anyway. Aren't you glad?


As someone who has left his grubby fingerprints on the "Star Trek" franchise, I figured I'd chime in on the new J.J. Abrams reboot. Even before it opened, the film had my heart for casting Simon Pegg as Scottie, but the rest of the cast is note-perfect as well. I love the redesign of the Enterprise, inside and out, and in fact I wish they'd slowed down a little to let us see more of it. As for the people who gripe that the bridge looks like an Apple Store, I say Apple Stores only wish they looked that good.

The time-travel excuse for the reboot is quite clever. Not only does it allow the main characters to take all their positions on the Enterprise over the course of a few days, it in essence frees the franchise for the burden of its history, while retaining the characters and basic situations that have always been the core of "Star Trek"'s appeal. (And best of all, it means that Kirk didn't die on that stupid bridge at the end of "Generations.")

On the other hand, the story is not so hot. In fact, it could be argued that there is no story. The film is filled with set-pieces which could be excised without the slightest impact on the plot. There is a massive infodump in the middle of the film which could charitably be described as inelegant. And the villain (named Nero, and echoing precisely nothing about his Roman namesake) basically just sits around waiting to pound the good guys and in general Do Bad Things. His situation -- the captain of ship full of Romulan miners waiting 25 years to get revenge -- is sort of interesting, but its ramifications have not been thought through at all.

But of course, the bad guy is just an excuse for the good guys to unite in a common cause. And at the end of the film, when Chris Pine sweeps onto the bridge in full Kirk mode and calls out "Bones!', the hairs on the back of my neck stood on end and I forgot all about whatever deficiencies the past two hours might have had.

Get these guys back out in space as soon as possible -- and next time give them a story about the human condition.

Wednesday, May 20, 2009


My belated discovery that H.P. Lovecraft has joined the ranks of the immortals in the Penguin Classics series got me thinking about Penguin books in general, and this book in particular:

I've always been fond of a well-designed book (I'm particularly partial to almost any hardbound from Knopf in the 70's, and similarly vintaged Vintage paperbacks), but there is only one publishing company whose total output would be worthy of an in-depth design survey. It's hard to think of any other publisher with as distinctive a line-look as Penguin. They pretty much own the color orange, and a half-dozen or so sans-serif typefaces as well.

I've always been partial to the English Library series, with their orange spines, their Helvetica logotype, and their beautiful cover illustrations (always a piece of art from the era in which the book was written, usually from a picture library called Snark International). Given a choice at the bookstore between a Signet, Bantam or Penguin edition of the same title, I usually reached for the Penguin. If I look over my bookshelf (which basically involves rotating my chair 180 degrees from my desk), I can't help but thinking there's a lot of orange there. (And some black too, for the translated editions.)

The Penguin Design book is a fascinating read if, like me, you're into such things as the Corvenus family of typefaces and horizontal tripartite cover grids, but I was disappointed to find virtually nothing on the English Library series in the entire book. Those beloved orange spines which have graced the shelves of every house I have lived in for the past 38 years -- who designed them? What were the production standards? And what the heck was Snark International, anyway?

Fortunately, I was able to find this terrific article online by Googling (ta-da!) "Snark International." Turns out the Classics look was the work of Germano Facetti, who was Penguin's art director from 1960 through 1972, and who had founded (ta-da!) Snark International a few years before joining Penguin. A touch of nepotism in the constant usage of his former company's product? Maybe. But in odd moments I still reach for an orange spine just for the pleasure of seeing one of those great paintings or sketches from the Snark library. (And often wind up just rereading the whole book.)

A small sampling of Facetti's masterpieces:

A Link to the Past

Holy Schnitzel! Somewhere out there, there's a geek after my own heart who's a Germano Facetti fan!

You can see more of his Penguin Classic videogame covers here.

Thursday, May 14, 2009


So the Pfizer drug company has offered to give free supplies of such drugs as Lipitor and Viagra to people who've recently lost their jobs and health insurance, which prompted this front page headline on the Huffington Post:

My wife thinks it's hilarious.

Thursday, May 7, 2009

Okay. That's weird.

Last night I dreamed I was discussing the work of Michael Moorcock with Richard Nixon. The disgraced former President said: "We all face times in life when our decisions can alter our very destiny. I call these 'Moorcock moments.'"

Clearly, I have to stop watching Chris Matthews before I go to bed.

Tuesday, May 5, 2009

Whoa, Nellie.

Make way for the Amazing Flying Cheese Wedge!

Actually, it's a Ferrari concept car from 1970. Click for a large view.

(You can finds a lot more of Ron Reznick's amazing photos from the Pebble Beach Concours d'Elegance here.)

Monday, May 4, 2009

Sunday, May 3, 2009


So I have been re-reading H.P. Lovecraft, mainly because I haven't read him lately, but also because I felt it was time to upgrade my tattered old Lancer paperback collections from the 60's with the spiffy collections from Penguin that feature copious annotation by HPL expert S.T. Joshi. So eager was I to jump into the lair of the Elder Gods that I only just now noticed two little words on the cover that I find absolutely astonishing: "Penguin" and "Classics."

Sweet fancy Moses, the world has turned! Was there ever more of an outsider than Lovecraft? Yet this writer of cheapjack pulp horror, whose work was so obscure that his friends had to create their own publishing house to keep it in print after his death, has been placed -- by the editors at Penguin, at least -- on the same shelf as Dickens, the Brontes, Thackeray, Austen, Twain, and Ben Jonson! There couldn't be a greater recognition of his work if Kazuo Ishiguro were to take a stab at writing a Cthulhu Mythos story. Not bad for a guy who never saw any of his work professionally published in book form while he was alive.

(I realize this mainstreaming of genre fiction has been going on for a while -- probably since the 90's, when Vintage Books started publishing guys like Alfred Bester and Phil Dick. But it hadn't really penetrated my thick, defensive skull until I looked at that Lovecraft cover.)

In my subsequent lonely wanderings on the Internet in search of Lovecraftiana, I came across a website called The Modern Word, which may be the most brilliant literary website or the most pretentious, I haven't quite sorted it out yet. It contains a section on "experimental writers," and there to my delight I found listed not just the usual suspects, like Barthelme, Borges, Becket, Pynchon and Robbe-Grillet, but also a host of friends and idols: Chip Delany, Mervyn Peake, Mike Moorcock, J.G. Ballard and, of course, Lovecraft. Not all of them considered "experimental" writers by the cognoscenti, but they all should be. (And frankly, Sturgeon, Ellison, Tom Disch, and quite a few others belong on the list.)

Is this proof that the phantasmagoric (by which I mean fantasy, horror, and -- don't hit me -- SF) has become the dominant literature of the past hundred years? Some of the most mainstream of writers have tried their hand at it -- Updike, Phillip Roth, even J.D. Salinger stuck his toe in the pool of the fantastic, so to speak. The past century has seen such tectonic shifts in technology and culture -- a million eruptions of information, the destruction of cultural space, the rise of hyperlogic. Who else can vanquish the tyranny of the rational and speak of the true human condition, other than crypto-surrealists like Lovecraft, Tolkein, Asimov, Stanislaw Lem, Lord Dunsany, James Blish, Roger Zelazny, Angela Carter, Alfred Bester and Phil Dick? Or for that matter, Stan Lee, Jack Kirby, Steve Ditko, Len Wein, Alan Moore or Wendy and Richard Pini? And if you were to stand up and shout that J.G. Ballard's "The Atrocity Exhibition" was the greatest book of the past 50 years, well, I for one would stand beside you and help you duck the brickbats.

So does Lovecraft deserve to be placed in the same league as George Elliot or Thomas Hardy, as Penguin's designation suggests? In my mind, he has always been there.

Oh, Howard Phillips, you outcast, you leper, you proud and self-designated amateur, you whom Edmund Wilson called "a hack," if you could have just a glimpse of what you have wrought with your provincialism, your xenophobia, and your horror of miscegenation. If you had known that one day your work would have sold in the millions, that your name would be as synonymous as Poe's with a specific brand of existential horror, that children would play with stuffed Cthulhus, would it have fractured your mind? Or has the world itself succumbed to the madness which devoured so many of your narrators?

Simon Pegg on prepping to play Scottie

"I went to live in Scotland for five years and studied as an engineer. I'm that Method."