Thursday, July 18, 2024

not my day

I've been having online vendor problems.

Last night I went to my health care website to order some medication refills, only to find that the system had no record of my having any prescriptions on file at all. I called the help line, and after having gotten trapped several times in automated subsystems I didn't intend and having to hang up and call again to get out, finally reached a person by repeatedly pressing 0. Of course they couldn't fix it themselves, but they reset my account and then sent a trouble ticket to IT.
This morning I tried again and it worked OK.

Then I went to our grocer's website to place our big weekly order for pickup tomorrow. I was halfway through choosing the substitutes (you want to do this, otherwise if your item is unavailable they're sure to pick a substitute you don't want) when I started getting flashing messages that most of our items were not on the shelf, and then the substitute lists went blank, then the entire order disappeared. When I tried again, it wanted me to log in in a different way than I ever had before, and when I gave the information it said "Are you sure you want to change to a business account?" What? No! Start over yet again, redo the entire thing, it worked this time.
Let's see what happens when I go to pick it up in the morning. All kinds of weird things often happen at that stage.

Nothing went wrong in logging in to my monthly Zoom conversation. When I arrived, everyone else was discussing one person's acquisition of a new pet animal. They were already into the conversation, and nobody said for a while what kind of animal it was, dog cat or ?? When someone said the word "puppy," I had the weird sensation of feeling the wave function collapse.
But then B. came in and reported that her car was ready, which was a surprise because the shop had told her it wouldn't be done until tomorrow. But we had to go now to pick it up before they closed, so I had to bow out of the meeting.

I haven't been watching the RNC. I am not interested in what Republicans have to say. I am only watching the late-night comedians' reports, and skipping over the tape clips, also the parts where they irritatingly imitate DT's voice.

I see that Bob Newhart died. He was always very funny in a quiet, sneak-up-from-behind way, but I was never a big fan of his, because I found his calculated stutter to be too irritating to listen to for very long. I didn't like it much from Hugh Grant, either. It's entirely different when someone stutters naturally because they can no other - in any case the natural stutterers I've known don't sound like that.

Wednesday, July 17, 2024

been away

I'm back from a couple days out on the coast, where mostly it's cool. Stepping out of the car and feeling a cool breeze for the first time in months - I'd forgotten what one feels like. One day I even wore my light jacket for a while.

I went out there to hear music, but more about that later.

A couple major events happened in the world while I was gone, but contrary to declarations that everybody gets their news through social media these days, I did not. I don't read social media of the Facebook/Twitter sort, because I don't enjoy reading in such fragmented bites, and none of the bloggers I read has discussed the events directly, not even as of now. Instead, I got my news as I normally do, through the websites of newspapers and political commentary magazines or their simulacra.

Saturday, July 13, 2024

calm down

The high-90s low-100s F heat wave (and higher inland) that's been hitting us continually since July 2 is finally breaking, and we're down to the mid-80s which is tolerable. I've been spending a lot of days in libraries for relief, and have entirely avoided using the oven. Once a week I make Chinese-style chicken salad, which is the only cold dinner in my repertoire. Meanwhile the oppressive heat is moving to the eastern US.

Tybalt has backed down from aggressive Defender of the Territory mode and is back to his normal rambunctiousness. But Maia, having been burned badly already, is having none of it and avoids him entirely, which leaves Tybalt rather lonely. Maia won't even come up into the bathroom to eat alongside Tybalt, so we have to take her dish downstairs, usually putting it by the living room couch, the underneath of which is her safe spot. It's armed camp mode.

Wednesday, July 10, 2024

one done

Well, I've finished my paper for Mythcon in three weeks. That will give me time to write the shorter presentations for the two or three (I'm not sure if the third one has been confirmed) panels that I'm on.

I've written several papers on "the minor Inklings" over the years, and decided that this was the year I was going to complete my long-mooted intent to write one on John Wain. At which point, especially when describing this orally, I have to confirm that that's WAIN not WAYNE and that they have nothing to do with each other. John Wain was a pupil of C.S. Lewis's whom he invited to the Inklings, but he didn't really fit in and much of my paper is about why. As a writer, he's faded into complete obscurity today, but on a time when Kingsley Amis's Lucky Jim was first published, Wain's Hurry on Down came out almost simultaneously and was much discussed with it. They're remarkably similar novels in some respects, completely different in others. Amis and Wain had gone to the same college in Oxford at sort of the same time, and were friends. At least then; later their friendship decayed, mostly because Amis thought Wain was a pompous git. He wasn't entirely wrong.

Writing this paper went very fast, because I'd been holding most of it in my head for years. This includes summary characterizations of some of Wain's novels, which I read some 20 years ago but haven't forgotten. I got the books out to check the facts, but only afterwards.

Of course the first thing I did on completing the draft was to read it aloud to see how long it was. 40 minutes: that's about the maximum I can get away with without cuts. This procedure has the further advantage of bringing out verbal infelicities for correction.

Sunday, July 7, 2024

world according to cats

Things are not going so well again.

One day recently while I was out, seeking relief from the heat, that cat from the apartment building next door showed up at our living room window again, curious about the cats it could see inside.

The cats inside, meanwhile, consider any other cats within their line of vision to be interlopers to be attacked with fury. This is normal expected indoor-cat behavior, and despite alarming hissing and fluffing it normally causes no harm, as the indoor cats can't get at the outdoor cat.

What's not normal or acceptable is that Tybalt, unable to get at that other cat, then takes his fury out on Maia. He's been going into attack mode whenever he sees her, and she, meanwhile, is terrified of him and keeps hiding. Peaceful coexistence, which was the case most of the time in the past, is gone.

What we've been doing about it:

1. Trying to block off the weak spot in the decaying fence by which the cat is entering our property. We're not handy types, so this is kind of awkward.

2. Installing a pheromone diffuser that's been recommended to us as a way to calm down overexcited cats. It doesn't work immediately, though.

3. Keeping them separated. When I was in college we had two cats who didn't get along, so we partitioned the house between them, which was easy because there was a heavy swinging door between the living room on one side and the kitchen on the other. But there's nothing like that here.

Maia has been spending part of the time living in B's office, where her food and water and a litter box have been installed. But she doesn't like being shut up in there, but she also doesn't like coming out only to find Tybalt. So part of the time we were letting Maia loose and shutting Tybalt up in the bathroom (the regular food and litter box location), where he howls like a banshee and hurls his little body against the door. Eventually we - and by "we" I mostly mean B., who has more cat experience and has been doing most of the heavy lifting here - let them both out and hope they don't kill each other.

Meanwhile we're watching the fence and hoping the outdoor cat doesn't get through again. If it does we'll paper over the window it goes to.

Saturday, July 6, 2024

one more little anecdote

about the backyard party on the Fourth.

One of the Norwegian guests mentioned that he was reading, in English, the great Russian novel The Brothers ... and then he had trouble with the last word.

I knew how to pronounce Karamazov. Why do you think that is?

Friday, July 5, 2024

on the UK election

1. Contrary to the headlines, it's highly misleading to say that Labour won the election. They had little more of a vote percentage than the last election five years ago, when they did poorly in the results. What really happened this time is that the Conservatives lost decisively, and Labour got to pick up the pieces..

2. In the west of England, the Conservatives lost due to tactical voting for the Liberal Democrats, the longstanding third party, which has finally rid itself of the stain of its unfortunate coalition with the Conservatives in 2010-15, and now has more seats than it's had since its predecessor party in the 1920s.

3. In the east of England, they lost due to defections to Reform, which got a lot of votes but only 4 seats, fewer than they were expecting. That's specifically why Liz Truss, the infamous momentary prime minister, lost her parliamentary seat. And now Nigel Farage, Reform's toxic leader, is an MP. Well, there have been toxic MPs before and the kingdom has survived; remember Ian Paisley?

4. As of now, mid-afternoon Friday British time, two seats have still not declared a winner. What's with that? This was supposed to have been completed by early this morning.

5. Labour has about as many seats as it did during the last blowout, in 1997, and it follows the same pattern: purging the party leadership of its leftist elements and adopting some of the less savory principles of the Conservatives. Only this time, they went so far as to expel their previous leftist leader, Jeremy Corbyn. Who won his seat as an independent, a feat expelled party members rarely achieve. (Because tribal unity has been so strong in the UK, a feature now evidently on the wane.)

6. The main difference from 1997 is, though, that nobody seems very excited about Labour, as witnessed by their vote share and voters' comments. Maybe the voters learned their lesson from the overblown hopes of last time. Maybe it's because Labour's policies are so damp and unexciting, or maybe it's because Keir Starmer, the new PM, is damp and unexciting.

7. Starmer is so private that his two teenage children have never been seen in public and even their names are literally unknown. I'm astonished an intrusive media lets him get away with this.

8. Starmer is also an atheist. His wife is Jewish, and that's how they're raising their children, just about the only thing they've ever said in public about them. Hard to imagine an atheist getting elected to any major office in the US. Also, his wife is a vegetarian. Starmer himself eats fish but not other meat. Another thing hard to imagine among major politicians in the US.

9. The new Chancellor of the Exchequer is a woman, first ever in that job. Rachel Reeves is her name. They've had 3 woman prime ministers, but never before one of these.

Thursday, July 4, 2024

heat

As you may have heard, we've been having a heat wave since Tuesday, with another three days at least to go. It's been over 100F here, and we're in the first valley in from the coast (which is moderated due to a cold current). Further inland it's much hotter. Fortunately it's dry in these parts and the temperature goes down, at least somewhat, at night.

Having no air conditioning here, we've used that fact to evolve a pattern for dealing with this. About 5 p.m., B. turns on the fan in the bedroom window. This cools the bedroom off enough by bedtime to sleep in. Further judicious window-opening elsewhere in the house also helps. Generally it remains tolerable until about 11 a.m. At that point I head out for lunch and then spend the afternoon in the public library, both air conditioned places. B. manages the heat better than I do and stays home and watches the cats.

Wildfires out in the mountains and prairies are extensive, but they haven't come around here. What I'm more worried about is something breaking out due to excessive illegal fireworks usage, but it's 11.30 pm on the Fourth now and I've heard much less random banging than in most years.

Since the libraries weren't open today (holiday, natch), I took advantage of the annual invitation to attend a backyard party at the house of friends in Berkeley, which is exposed to the Golden Gate and thus not quite so warm. Pleasant all day, and didn't cool down enough in the late afternoon too much: usually the stragglers wind up chasing the remaining sun across the back yard, but we didn't do that this year.

Pleasant conversations as usual. Hostess is recovering from knee replacement surgery and is reaching the point where the benefits outweigh the discomfort. Other interesting people around: how often do you meet someone whose job is drug-testing athletes in Oslo, Norway?

Wednesday, July 3, 2024

from the title by Harlan Ellison

Nigh on four years ago now, J. Michael Straczynski, executor of the estate of Harlan Ellison, announced that he would be completing and submitting for publication The Last Dangerous Visions, the long-lost anthology of other people's stories that Harlan had first announced for publication in 1973 and kept on dangling before the public, and the authors in it, with promises for another decade or so, but which kept sitting unpublished in his files for 45 years until his death in 2018.

Progress has been slow, but publication was eventually arranged and announced for Oct. 1 of this year. (To which many wits replied with the title of an old sf story, "October the First Is Too Late.") ARCs are apparently going out, and behold, here's the table of contents.

So what's in there? Harlan had kept buying stories for LDV while not publishing it, so there's no definitive list of what was to be in it, but the single most comprehensive TOC was one associated with an impending three-volume set that was scheduled to appear in 1979. It had, according to my count, stories by 98 separate authors in it. Another dozen or so stories have been known to be on the book's list at other times.

Again, according to my count, 14 of those 98 authors are on the current TOC, along with another 4 from the other miscellanea assorted list. A couple of the titles are different, so it's not entirely sure if they're the same stories. Leaving aside two authors for whom I have no information, 8 of the remaining 16 are deceased.

Plus another 6 stories newly commissioned and added.

As far as I know, only 2 of the 18 backlog authors are female, and only 1 of the 6 new ones is. At least 5 of the 6 are in their 50s.

Let's compare this result with what JMS originally announced in 2020. He notes that "a number of [the original stories] were withdrawn by the writers and published elsewhere," adding that "it makes no sense to republish stories that are otherwise available." Big of him; if the stories were withdrawn, then the Ellison estate no longer owns the rights. He also says that "some of the remaining stories have been overtaken by real-world events, rendering them less relevant or timely, and regrettably will be omitted," but he assures us that "many more" are still "fresh" (yes, after half a century) and that only a "few stories" will be omitted.

Let's note, then, that of the 98 stories on the 1979 list, by my latest count 36 have been published elsewhere by now - enough to make a heftier reprint anthology than the size of this book. With 14 of the remainder being published here, that leaves 48 stories which JMS chose to leave unpublished. That's a lot more than a "few," and includes never-seen work by authors such as Alfred Bester, George Alec Effinger, Vonda N. McIntyre, Edgar Pangborn, Mack Reynolds, Wilson Tucker - all of them deceased - and many others whose work, tucked away in Harlan's closet for decades, will still not be published. Though JMS says he will formally return the rights to all stories he does not include.

The discussion of what's new in the book also sounds as if it'll be a lot more extensive than what we see here, though it's known that a lot of authors JMS approached turned him down, largely due to not wanting to be associated with Harlan's besmirched reputation.

Then JMS writes of "one last, significant work by Harlan that has never been published" that will be included. There's no apparent trace of this in the TOC.

What he doesn't mention that I was most curious about was the introductions. Harlan wrote long and characterful introductions to the stories in his earlier Dangerous Visions anthologies, and when he announced various publication dates for LDV, he'd usually say something like "I just have to go home and finish up the introductions," but the introductions to a hundred-story anthology would be a massive project. Did he ever get them done? Apparently not, though he did start, because Harlan's introduction to exactly one story is included in the TOC.

So it's apparent that LDV as JMS announced it would be a massive project, much bigger than what's being published now, and I wondered if, like Harlan before him, JMS had simply bitten off something bigger than he could chew. My doubt that what he described was feasible, together with his disconcertingly Harlan-like insistence that it was really in the works, led one incontinent Harlan-booster to make the absurd claim that I was invested in the book never appearing. Why would I want that? All I wanted was not to be burned again as Harlan had burned the entire SF community many times.

Had I seen - which I did not, until now - a further announcement by JMS the next year, 2021, I would have seen him backing down. Here he admits that a large percentage, not just "a number", of the original stories were withdrawn, and points out that publishing anywhere near all of the remainder would result in too large a book to be feasible. Yes, well, Christopher Priest pointed that problem out in The Book on the Edge of Forever 30 years ago, so glad that JMS caught up. Though who knows ... with electronic publishing, length of text is less a restriction, but JMS is wedded to the idea of print, as he says Harlan was also.

The second announcement uses the fact that there was never a lasting definitive list of stories for LDV as an excuse for publishing only a tiny selection. That's a fakeout; Harlan's list did alter but it was always very long. And as far as I know he only ever added stories, not voluntarily took them away. JMS says that Harlan "was the first to say that some stories would have to be trimmed to make room for ones that were more current." I don't recall Harlan ever saying anything like that; do you? With that view he ought to have been relieved when space appeared, but he was extremely cross whenever any authors withdrew their stories.

And JMS includes in this second announcement a pitch promoting the idea of what it turns out now that he's actually publishing ... a small selection from The Last Dangerous Visions. Not LDV itself or anything like it, but a nugget. Well, it's better than nothing, to be sure, and I intend to read it; and despite his rhetoric it's a good thing that JMS chose to back down to a reasonable size rather than give up or disappear; but to read an announcement that says The Last Dangerous Visions will be published and then get this ... it's a deflating rather than fulfilling sensation. I was right, whatever the Harlan-boosters may say: what JMS originally described in 2020 could not and never would appear. But I'm not happy about it.

Tuesday, July 2, 2024

concert review: San Francisco Symphony

I didn't ask to review EPS conducting Mahler's Third. My editor assigned me the job and I didn't object. But I wasn't looking forward to it. The last time I heard the Third, MTT was conducting and I castigated myself afterwards for having subjected myself to an hour and a half of tedious undifferentiated sludge.

But I equipped myself with a score from the library - wasn't going to cover a work like this without one - and braced myself to my duty. As I was sitting there waiting for the start, my colleague Lisa of the Iron Tongue came by and expressed surprise to see me there, knowing my take on Mahler. I explained my duty. What she did not say was that she was reviewing it for the Chronicle, though I was hardly surprised to find it there later. She's been writing for them about once a week for a month now, and the more she steps into Kosman's retired shoes the happier I'll be. (It's an important and necessary job, but not one I'd want to undertake myself.)

Anyway, we basically agreed on EPS's approach; the difference was that I was even happier with it. I've heard occasional successful Mahler performances before, but this one took the cake. I wonder if, as with the saying "There are no bad dogs, only bad owners," that there are no bad composers (at least among the big names), only bad conductors. As with the realization I had about the hideous Anton Webern the time I heard him played to sound tender and attractive, I wonder if the reason I normally loathe Mahler so much is because most people insist on playing him so badly.

At least with his earlier work: I find even sympathetic performances of his later symphonies to be impenetrable. There's room for contemplation here.