Saturday, May 16, 2009

A movie gem

Last night, we watched In the Electric Mist on DVD, the only (legal) way you can catch this film in the U.S. As its IMBD entry implies (and further online research confirmed), this movie never played in theaters here. It went straight to DVD, as many films do.

Most of the direct-to-DVD movies I've watched deserved that fate.

This one does not.

I highly recommend you pick it up at Amazon or your own favorite source of DVDs and give it a look.

The movie is an adaptation of James Lee Burke's novel, In the Electric Mist With Confederate Dead. It follows Burke's best-known character, Detective Dave Robicheaux, through a complex plot that links two sets of crimes, one current and one decades old.

Burke's prose at its best is lyrical, magical, evocative, and powerful. For my money, when he's at the top of his game he's as good as anyone writing in English today. Period.

As I watched this movie, each scene captured perfectly for me the way I'd imagined the setting while reading the book. Tommy Lee Jones flawlessly portrayed the nobility, strength, fragility, and underlying deep rage of Robicheaux.

Don't miss this one.

The rice problem

The following is a reasonably accurate transcript of my phone call earlier tonight with the young woman taking phone orders at the Pei Wei nearest me.

I am not making this up. I wish I were.

PW: Welcome to Pei Wei.

Me: I'd like to place a take-out order.

PW: How can I help you?

Me: I'd like to place a take-out order.

PW: Can I have a name for your order?

Me: Mark.

PW: Okay, what would you like?

Me: Several things. First, one order of crispy chicken.

PW: What kind of rice?

Me: White. I'd like to end up with enough white rice for six.

PW: We don't do things that way. What kind of rice would you like with the chicken?

Me: White.

PW: Is that all?

Me: No. I have several more dishes to order.

PW: Go ahead.

Me: Two orders of spring rolls.

PW: The one with two rolls, or the one with six?

Me: The large one.

PW: Both?

Me: Yes.

PW: So is that the one with two rolls, or the one with six?

Me: The one with six.

PW: Those don't come with rice.

Me: That's okay.

PW: Okay. Is that it?

Me: No. I want--

PW: So do you want something else?

Me: Yes. Two orders of orange peel beef.

PW: What kind of rice?

Me: White.

PW: Okay. It'll be ready in fifteen minutes.

Me: I'm not done.

PW: Oh, okay. So do you want something else?

Me: Yes.

PW: What would you like?

Me: An order of edamame.

PW: Is that all?

Me: No. I need to enough extra rice to bring the total to six orders of rice.

PW: We don't do it that way. The rice comes with some of them, but not with others.

Me: I understand. Surely there must be some way I can buy more rice.

PW: I have to think about it.

Me: Okay.

We pass about fifteen seconds in silence.

PW: I have an idea! I think I know how to solve the rice problem.

Me: How?

PW: I could sell you three side orders of rice.

Me: Great. I'll take them.

PW: You have to pay for them.

Me: That's fine.

PW: They're fifty cents each.

Me: That's fine.

PW: As long as you're sure. Are you sure?

Me: Yes.

PW: So, is that all?

Me: Yes.

PW: So, I have two spring roll orders of the six rolls--they don't come with rice--an order of edamame--no rice with it, either--an order of crispy chicken with white rice, two orders of orange peel beef, both with white rice, and, let me see...yes, three side orders of rice. Is that right?

Me: Yes.

PW: It'll be ready in fifteen minutes.

Me: Thank you.

When I walked into the Pei Wei, two people, one young man and one young woman, were serving a single line of people picking up their orders. I ended up with the young woman--yes, it was the same one--taking my money.

I didn't say a word. I didn't drag her over the counter. I paid, said, "Thank you," and left.

I am amazed at my own self control.

Thursday, May 14, 2009

There will be merch

I've mentioned before the Science Magic Sex spoken-word show I'll be doing as one of the Balticon special events. I've also mentioned there might be tour shirts. Well, that possibility has turned real: at Balticon (and afterward) you will be able to buy your very own Science Magic Sex merch.

I'll have pictures as soon as we receive the shirts, but trust me that Jennie did a pretty sweet red and white design that we're having printed on these black garments of awesomeness. Wearing one of these babies will make you taller and slimmer, cure migraines, and improve your sexual prowess. Okay, okay, maybe it won't do any of those things, but you'll certainly own a cool shirt you won't see on just anyone.

You can have your very own for the remarkable price of fifteen bucks--and all profit will go to Reading Is Fundamental, Balticon's favorite charity.

If you're going to the con, come to the show, laugh your ass off at my insanity, and then buy a nifty shirt--and help a good cause in the process.

I'll be easy to spot: I'll be the guy on the stage with the microphone.

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Overthrowing Heaven is in the house!

Well, it's in my house anyway, courtesy of the shipment straight from the printer of my author copies. Here it is, looking lovely on the Aeron chair:

The foil on the cover (silver on my name, gold on the title) is catching the light a bit oddly, but that's my fault, not the book's.

I think it's an attractive book, one that in three weeks, when it goes on sale, will, I hope, appeal to millions of browsers at Barnes and Nobles and Borders stores around the country, as well as to millions more shopping online at Amazon, Barnes and Noble, and other booksellers--and of course to the millions of fine people supporting their local independent booksellers should want a copy as well.

Okay, okay: Millions might be pushing it. Might I perhaps just have one million sales? Think how happy that would make me. Think how happy it would make Publisher Toni. Don't you want to make us happy?

Hey, a guy has to dream.

With 409 pages of action-packed Jon & Lobo adventure, I think this is my best book yet. I hope to be able to say that about each novel I write, of course, but I really do believe it about this volume.

I hope those of you who read it feel the same way.

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

A Raleigh winner: great food, great prices

Long-time readers may recall my many posts lauding the food at The Mint, which when it allows Chef Eric Foster to prepare (and charge for) a top-drawer tasting menu is to my taste easily the best restaurant in the area. Back before hard economic times hit The Mint, Eric was part of a team whose lead was Jeremy Clayman, another wonderful chef. We've been waiting to discover where Jeremy would surface so we could rush there and try his cooking. Last week, we found out: the Busy Bee Cafe.

Having read a glowing newspaper article on it and having learned the place does not take reservations, we showed up about 6:45 this past Saturday night hoping we were early enough. We were--though just barely. We seated ourselves, and moments later, the place was 100% full. We were happy to have our table but still a little apprehensive, because one glance at the food menu made it clear that we were a long way from The Mint.

We need not have worried. We sampled four of the five sides (we skipped the salad), the cheese appetizer, a couple individual salads, two entrees, and the featured dessert (strawberry shortcake made with a lavender biscuit and ice cream on top). Every single dish I tried was wonderful. The macaroni and cheese was the best I've ever tasted, light and yet intense, as if the kitchen had somehow infused the pasta with the cheese. The fried green tomatoes showed me once again how a dish I normally find pedestrian can turn into a shining star in the hands of a great chef.

The meal was also a bargain: With a soda (and many free refills), a beer, some coffee, and all that food, the tab (before tip) for four of us was eighty-four bucks. Had we eaten at all sensibly, we could have easily shaved ten or twenty dollars off that total. You could make a meal of the mac and cheese and the tomatoes and escape for less than ten bucks--and be stuffed.

The Busy Bee is loud and rocking and will often make you wait for a seat, but I heartily recommend it. If I had an idle night on my hands (yeah, right), I'd head there in a heartbeat.

Check it out.

Monday, May 11, 2009

The other side: Star Trek's failures

I wanted to do the positive review of Star Trek before I discussed its weaknesses, because I truly enjoyed the movie tremendously and recommend it strongly.

That said, the film is weak in two key areas that are normally essential to good SF: science and plot.

That science was a tertiary consideration of the filmmakers is clearest in the treatment of black holes, which can not only eat a planet and not touch its star but also be caused by a drop of a mysterious "red matter." The level of the science is so inconsistent, in fact, that it's tempting to critique it as a major problem on its own, but I don't think that's the right analysis. Instead, I believe the science is weak because the writers manipulated it as necessary to serve the plot, the true central problem of the film.

The issue with the plot is that some key events do not occur because they reflect the motivations of the characters or are inevitable consequences of previous events or for any of the other valid reasons for fictional things to happen. Instead, some parts of the story occur simply because the filmmakers needed them to happen. I could give examples, but I don't want to spoil the movie if you haven't seen it.

Okay, one example, which I'll keep vague: the means by which one key character meets a major player from the past is utterly nonsensical, both on its own and in light of later vital events in the plot.

If you've read both this post and my previous one, and if you haven't seen the movie, you may be wondering how an SF film can have bad science and weak plotting and still be such a joy. I've wondered that a bit myself, and I've concluded that the answer is partly that we expect weak plotting and weak science from Star Trek and partly that there is so much joy, so much energy, and so much good in the characters that the movie overcomes its weaknesses and makes you love it.

So, despite these problems, go see it.

Sunday, May 10, 2009

Star Trek: I loved it

I really did. Based on the overwhelmingly positive reviews, I thought I'd like it, but I walked out loving it. J.J. Abrams took a moribund, if not completely dead, franchise and brought it back to live as a younger, sexier version of itself--but without abandoning any of the basic tenets and the fundamental optimism of Roddenberry's original.

For those who'd seen the original series, as most folks in my group had, the movie was full of little in-jokes and touches that rewarded our knowledge. At least from the comments of many in our audience and of Scott, those who'd never watched a full episode of the first show also greatly enjoyed this new version.

The first sight of the Enterprise, always a challenge for a film given the ship's near-legendary status among fans, was perfect, as inspiring as it should be.

I don't like giving spoilers, but I believe because of all the trailers the following comment won't unveil any secrets: at the very end, when Leonard Nimoy read the Star Trek mission statement, I teared up. Other long-time fans did, too. I'm sure that was part of the goal, but I don't care; it was an act of manipulation that worked.

I'll see this one again, and I'll watch for the sequel, which Abrams' IMDB entry mentions.

Star Trek is the first absolutely must-see SF movie of the year. Don't miss it.


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