Derik Badman's Journal

October 2020

2020-10-04 11:00

Going through the latest batch of posts to upload and realizing things I failed to mention.

I read the third of Lois Bujold McMaster's Penric & Desdemona novella series, Penric's Mission. More enjoyable than the second one, as it did more with the interactions between the two protagonists, and there were more secondary characters that were interesting and in conflict. Light, enjoyable, I've got one more from the library, we'll see if after that I am interested enough to request more of them (I think there's seven novellas total).

Started it at the shore and read more of it yesterday, Caravaggio: The Complete Works by Sebastian Schutze, a large hardcover packed with images. I no longer remember what article or essay I read that made me interested in looking at more of Caravaggio's work, but somehow it ended up with me ordering this book. The reproductions are amazing. The book is large, so full paintings get a good viewing and there are pages and pages of details of the paintings too. The text is interesting enough, better when it is analyzing the paintings and how they differ from predecessor's work, less so when it is an endless stream of old Italian names about patrons and priests and such (which is where most of the biographical info comes from). There are multiple smaller reproductions of older or contemporary (to Caravagggio) paintings of similar subjects that really give a sense of how powerfully different his work was/is. The main thing that annoys about the book is while the text and images are interspersed, they don't stay in sync for very long, so at first the text is discussing a painting on the next page or two, but as the chapter goes on the paintings get further and further away from the text discussing them. I think the designers could have done better work spacing out the text so it's easier to go back and forth between the two.

Gave up on the collection of Clark Ashton Smith I was reading. I might try a more specialized collection of his stories at some point (as I did prefer the more other/alternate world fantasy ones to the weird/horror/contemporary ones), but on the whole I found myself tiring of the overwrought language, which is even worse if one samples the prose poems and poetry (of which there is way too much in the collection).

Started rereading the Fritz Leiber "Fafhrd and the Gray Mouser" stories instead. I was rereading them awhile back and got stalled, so I started over from the beginning again. He is much more restrained in his language and descriptions than Smith or C.L. Moore (gave up on a Jirel of Joiry collection too), and the stories are less weird/horror and more fun.

Still playing Kingdoms of Amalur: Re-Reckoning, mostly mindless but satisfying in some way.

I read Hugo Pratt's Mu the last of the Corto Maltese books. The story is wrapped up in myth and legend and esoterism but none of it feels like it has any meaning beyond the surface, it's just a lot of verbiage and imagery signifying nothing, used to propel a mostly non-existent plot. Pratt is great for social media, there are so many interesting panels and sequences of his art and pacing, but as a whole it just feels pointless, and not very well written. The beginning finds Corto on a ship with a whole cast of characters from previous stories, for no clear reason all together, and the dialogue awkwardly makes sure to get everyone's name mentioned. Was thinking about writing an essay about the whole series now that the translations are done, but I'm not sure. Need to think on it more.

Stalled mightily on the story I was writing. I was trying on a stream of consciousness mode for it, as a change from the more external narration of the previous stories, but I think I chose a poor time to do that in regards to how the larger timeline/plot was progressing. Might need to restart with some other method.

2020-10-10 14:17

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My review of Borja Gonzalez's A Gift for a Ghost went up at The Comics Journal this week. I have another one coming soon, and I'm thinking about writing more. Not that I've read many comics I really liked lately, my comics reading has gone down immensely over the past few years. I follow a few series and artists but find very little new that looks of interest, and I've become much more wary of trying books because they so often end up being not worth the money or time.

Did not get a lot of reading done this week. Read a few more Fafhrd and the Gray Mouser stories, and now have gone back to The Book of the New Sun. I had stopped after finishing book three, so I've start up on book four. Just read an article about the Jacob Lawrence show up at the Met, of his "The American Struggle" series and they look amazing. I have not known much about Lawrence's work, I know he came up in art school, but I don't think it was until much later that I learned he did all these narrative series. Last time I was at the MoMA in New York I was really impressed with the many works from his "The Migration Series" and later got to see the rest of them at the Phillips Collection in DC. Maybe it's time to give his work another look.

I haven't been watching many movies either, a few tv shows though. We've been rewatching Mad Men which has aged well. Lovecraft Country on HBO has improved a lot as it goes on, still more scary for its real evils then its imagined ones. The new season of Fargo is off to an interesting start, though sometimes I feel it tries to hard with its quirkiness. I was watching the pirate drama from a few years back Black Sails but shortly into the second season I kind of lost interest.

I rewatched Kelly Reichardt's Certain Women the other day and really enjoyed it a second time through. It's quiet and subtle, beautiful to watch, well acted. Looking her up right now I realize I somehow completely missed Night Moves from 2013, even though by that point I was a fan of her work. I'll have to look that one up. And I still haven't seen her latest First Cow. Watched most of Eliza Hittman's It Felt Like Love this morning but just couldn't really enjoy it. I liked the way it was shot, lots of close ups, a frequent use of changing focus from one thing to another (I'm sure there's some technical term for that I am forgetting), and it's all rather impressionistic, but the story about a teen girl was just too much to watch. She makes awful decisions and says things that are obvious lies, all in the pursuit of boys that seem pretty despicable.

This all feels very list like and uninsightful. I doubt the utility of even writing it all down. Who would care about such shallow commentary?

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2020-10-14 07:20

I finished up my reread of The Book of the New Sun last night. I think I enjoyed volume four a lot more this time, probably because on my first time I was reading much more for plot and to find out what happens next while this time I could slow down and read more for the subtler revelations that Wolfe works in at the end. That seems to be his modus operandi, many of his books, certainly The Wizard Knight and The Book of the Long Sun, also pack a lot into the end. They were a lot easier to understand on a reread.

I'm going to take a break before I read the sequel, as I have a few other things I'm excited to get to such as John M Ford's The Dragon Waiting, which I read a great article about a few months back and it just came out in a new edition, as well as the latest Ursula Le Guin Library of America volume of another fantasy series of hers that I have not read. I also bought Artemisia Gentileschi and Feminism in Early Modern Europe that I read a good review of at Hyperallergic. Similarly just this week they have review of the Gentileschi show up at the Tate in London. Worth checking out that article even if just to browse the images.

I've been listening to a lot of Crass lately, as they've been re-rereleasing their "Crassical Collection" of remastered/expanded albums on Bandcamp, who just put an overview of the band's career. I still remember listening to The Feeding of the 5000 on vinyl at my friends' houses and just being floored by the staccato assault that is "Do They Owe Us a Living." My Crass records (and my Phil Ochs records, what a combo) were the last ones I got rid of when I gave up my record collection. It's weird how a lot of what they and other later punk bands were singing about has become almost mainstream now. Shuffling music yesterday a Broadways song from the 90s came on that is about police brutality and the role of police in society. Sonic Youth's "Youth Against Fascism" seems even more appropriate now than the 90s when it came out. I guess a lot of that music I listened to is partly why so much that goes on lately doesn't feel surprising to me.

I think I finally gave up on Kingdom of Amalur as it's gotten a little too repetitive. I finished the main storyline and was playing one of the DLC (that is oddly like one of the Assassin's Creed: Odyssey DLCs), but it's just so many quests that are alike: go to a place, fight some monsters, get an object, return back. The classic fetch quest over and over, and I'm not sure if at any point anything made any difference to the game's plot or world. It was entertaining for a while, certainly as I clearly played it too much, but there are other things I can focus on. I have a lot of books piled up I want to get to, so I'll try to take a break from video games until mid-November when the new Assassin's Creed Viking game comes out and the Cyberpunk game (unfortunately in the same week so I will have to decide which to play first and which to hold on to).

Started watching Raised by Wolves on HBO, a science fiction show that is unusual and even in the first episode quite unexpected and really unclear where it's going which I quite appreciate. I don't have any immediate sense of what is going to happen or even what the main setup of the show is as it all feels very temporary. Most tv shows have a central premise that is easy to grasp, but this show is unfolding more like a movie or miniseries (maybe it is?) than an episodic narrative. So far though it is visually stark, well designed, well acted, and does a good job of world building without excessive dumps of information. I also like that the main conflict that pre-dates the show's timeline was between atheists and monotheists. You don't see many mainstream sci-fi that address religion at all (as always, Star Trek: Deep Space Nine being a great exception).

2020-10-15 09:17

My review of Ephameron's Us Two Together went up at The Comics Journal, the second of two reviews I wrote while on vacation. I'm quite proud of this one, I think it works well as critique, both positive and negative, about a book which I had very mixed feelings about.

The Art of the Pre-Raphaelites by Elizabeth Prettejohn caught my eye the other morning as I was idly looking at the bookshelves, so I pulled it out and have started reading. It's not a catalogue or based on an exhibition, but rather a monograph, text interspersed with a lot of art. In the first chapter Prettejohn discusses the origin of the group ("Brotherhood") and makes a case for the Pre-Raphaelites as an avant-garde (which I don't totally agree with, as my impression is the avant-garde has a political element which seems missing in this case). She also, with a selection of images from contemporaneous painters, discusses how different their early style was from what else would have been showing in England at the time. To the modern eye at least, their work seems so much more lively and interesting than their contemporaries. Another focus of the book is the woman involved with the group, who, of course have gotten much less attention than Rossetti, Millais, Hunt, etc. So far I am quite enjoying it. I realized I never actually read this book. With many of the art books I have, often just looking at the images in more worthwhile than trying to read the text, but I think that is not the case here, or at least the text is worth reading as well as looking at the images. I wouldn't say I was ever a massive fan of the group, but I did buy this book (at some point, for some reason), and I am really appreciating the work I see, the compositions, the texture of the paint (in many of the early ones it seems very rough, with many brushstrokes rather than the very smooth looking surface of their contemporaries), the figures in all their occasional strangeness, as well as the attention to little details (one of the paintings (I need to look it up) is outside with the ground littered with all these leaves).

Still reading the Caravaggio book too, which is a whole different kind of style, but no less bold and impressive. Reading the text in that book is also very helpful, both for the biographical aspects of the artist (what there is to know), but for explicating the religious iconography and narrative in so many of the painter's work. I have a passing familiarity with many of the subjects, but understanding all the details of them, and the ways Caravaggio strayed from the orthodox, requires a much greater knowledge, that the descriptions of the paintings help elucidate.

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2020-10-19 08:27

Had two days off work and then the weekend, spent a lot of it handling things that had been on my todo list for awhile (and didn't play any video games). Set up email on my domain so I can try to move away from gmail and better control my email. Trying out Fastmail which so far I like. Just forwarding from gmail for now, until I can get a lot of accounts switched over.

Also spend a long time cleaning up my computer, deleting old stuff, moving things around for better organization. Moving more stuff out of Evernote and into Joplin, another way to better control my data. Evernote had a lot of notes and images and clippings that had been in there for years which I didn't need. Not quite done yet, but I made a ton of progress. I gathered together all the notes from our D&D campaigns and shared a big zip file with everyone in case they want it.

Finished up Elizabeth Prettejohn's The Art of the Pre-Raphaelites the other day. Her discussion of their use of painting from life, en plair air, and specificity was quite interesting. They were concerned with painting truth, such that in Millais' "Ophelia" all the flowers and plants in it are very specifically painted from a location, but since it took him months to paint all the landscape, the flowers and plants changed over time, so while everything in the image is what he actually saw, it's not what one would actually see at any one time.

Started John M. Ford's The Dragon Waiting and am just over halfway through. While I am enjoying it, I'm also not finding it to be as amazing as the essay I read about it, the introduction (which was really overdone), or the blurbs would have me believe. A lot of it just feels under explained. Wolfe has as a tendency to not explain everything and to leave large gaps, but it's all done via a specific intradiegetic narrator, who doesn't know everything, who forgets things, who purposefully omits things, who misses events for various reasons. This novel does not (as far as I can tell) have such a narrator, so when it under explains and keeps secrets it just feels cheap. There are points where I'm just like "what the hell is going on." It doesn't help that the motivation for and goal of the protagonists feels very opaque even halfway through. There is a lot to do with English kings and queens and succession but the quantity of similar names and my lack of knowledge in that arena makes it pretty confusing too, but at the same time I'm not even sure if its important to understand it all. I'll keep reading hoping things become clearer but so far I'm not overly impressed.

Watched Tsai Ming-Liang's Children of the Neon God, which... meh... I did not enjoy as much as a number of his other works like What Time is it There or Goodbye Dragon Inn. It was his first film and felt familiar in many ways but less focused and sure of itself. Watching it I was oddly thinking of cyberpunk. While the movie is set in Taiwan in the early 90s, something about the atmosphere felt very cyberpunk: run down apartment buildings, lot of crowded streets, neon, old video games, motorcycles, tiny hotel rooms, petty crime. There was nothing futuristic about it, but it had a similar vibe one might get from an early cyberpunk story.

We also watched Only Angels Have Wings an old Howard Hawks movie with Cary Grant and Jean Arthur. It was an odd one. The description billed it as a romance between the two, which it was, but really the focus of the movie was about all these airplane pilots somewhere in Mexico or Central America trying to fly mail on a schedule despite dangerous weather in the mountains that separate their coastal town from the inland where they need to go. The plot had a strange way of having these scenes that seemed really odd and unnecessary but which later on made sense. For instance, at one point a guy fails at getting some nitroglycerine past the mountains and bad weather, so he's told to drop it. Their mountain lookout guy is like, "There's a bunch of condors; drop it on them." And sot there is then a scene of the plane dropping the nitroglycerine on some birds on a mountain. It seems completely weird and random and cruel, until a number of scenes later, a condor crashes through the windshield of the one of the plans and almost kills two guys. Strange.

2020-10-24 10:48

Another week passing by. My second weekend raking up leaves in the front yard. Some days are cool and dark, some warm and sunny. I found a dead mouse in the basement yesterday, not in one of my traps (the whole reason I went down there), just hidden behind my grandfather's old paper roll holder and very dead. The outside stairs down to the basement door are also, it turns out, a worm haven. Having neglected to really clear leaves out from that area, it now has a nice dark soil around the corners, home to some rather large worms.

I guess I gave up on The Dragon Waiting, as I've not returned to it all week. Instead I read Mary Garrard’s Artemisia Gentileschi and Feminism in Early Modern Europe, part biographay, part art history, part feminist history. At times I feel it strayed too far away from the first two. Certain chapters used the feminist history to discuss Artemisia and her work, readings, possible influences, etc., but other chapters (the last one in particular) felt like they were more about the feminist history and only very slightly about the painter, which one does not expect given the title. Still, it was an engaging read, and a nice complement to the Caravaggio book I'm still working through.

I'm supposed to fill in running an rpg for our group tomorrow and I'm stumped. A one session (and lately pretty short session) adventure that seems worth the effort is hard to find. I've browsed through a ton of pdfs (and some books) I have and anything that seems interesting enough is too long, we'd not get far enough in a few hours. I'm currently fighting myself on either trying to write something real fast or just cancelling the session. On one hand, does it really matter if I make up something and it's not that good? No one will really care, as long as we get to hang out together. So is it just my pride, that I don't want to run something crappy? On the the other hand, how much effort will I put in to come up with something and if it's crappy, was that a good use of my time? I think I've just been feeling a little worn out and a bit off lately, unfocused at times. I just want to disappear into a video game and not have to think about anything. But I'm really trying not to.

Star Trek: Discovery came back for seasson 3, so I watched the first episode yesterday. The basic concept for the season is a novel one for Star Trek, the ship and main crew travelled forward in time at the end of last season, and in this one they arrive almost 1000 years in their future to a universe that is a lot different than the one they left, the main part being the Federation is no more. The first episode introduces a new character (one assumes to be the person who can tell the other characters stuff about their new present) and immediately falls in to a worn cliché, because he is a rogue with a heart of gold. Of course Burnham has to fight with him when they meet, and he has to steal from her, but then when faced with a common enemy they of course work together and come to realize the other isn't so bad after all and blah blah. It's such a tired plot device and nothing about how it was handled was interesting enough to make up for it.

This morning I watched Apichatpong Weerasethakul's Uncle Boonmee Who Can Recall His Past Lives (and yes I had to look it up and copy/paste his name), a very unusual movie that I sort of like and sort of was disappointed with (mostly at the end). I'm not sure it's a film one can logically make sense of, but it does have some haunting moments. It works a line being fantasy and belief that is pretty interesting. A man is dying and one evening the ghost of his wife just appears at the table. Then his son, turned into some kind of monkey spirit (he looks like a man in a gorilla suit with glowing red eyes), walks in. Clear more from the title than anything in the film itself, there are scenes that can be read as the man's past lives (as a water buffalo? as a princess?). In some sense these things could be religious beliefs made manifest, but in another sense they can be read as fantasy (to a non-believer). Thinking about it, a lot of fantastical concepts were once things people believed were real/true in some way. But as time goes on those things became explicitly fanatasy as they are divorced from belief.

An article in Senses of Cinema on Meek's Cutoff and slow cinema I read today.

2020-10-26 08:38

A gray cool morning where I woke up far too early. Ended up not running the game yesterday, as ███ was feeling up for it. But I did end up starting to write down some ideas for a little adventure area, stealing some inspiration from Uncle Boonmee and The Book of the New Sun. So I'm going to keep working on that and see what comes of it. If nothing else, I can have something ready next time I need it, and if I like it and can find a good way to lay it out, I can always post it online.

Started the new Library of American collection of Ursula Le Guin's Annals of the Western Shore trilogy. I'm always impressed with how she can evoke the cultures of her worlds, making them explicable and interesting without feeling like a massive information dump. We are told much by the narrator, but also must infer a good bit from what is said and unsaid. I'm about halfway through the first book Gifts and enjoying it.

Watched the second episode of the new Star Trek: Discovery season. The first episode was all about Burnham, so it was nice when this one brought back all the other characters, it is so much more interesting when the writers can have the main characters interacting with each other, as that is such a big part of Star Trek in general. I am concerned though that they've pulled the old hoary cliché of the enemy that seems defeated at the end of a season but then really managed to survive somehow. That's mostly an inference from what they chose to show in the recap, so I'm hoping I'm wrong about it.

2020-10-28 08:21

Finished up Gifts the other night, a quiet fantasy novel. I guess it is considered YA and has a bit of that feel to it, which is hard for me to describe, but it's about children turning into adults and part of the conflict is with parents and taking on responsibility and education and the things that the children aren't told or don't know and also about moving away from home and loss and grief. Le Guin kind of works it all in, without having the protagonists travel far or get into high drama. I think there's only one fight/battle scene and it is extremely short/quick and decisive in its results. Also, I realized that I think this "trilogy" is more about setting than plot/characters, as my impression is the narrative/protagonist of the first book is not continued into the others (unless they are just secondary). Curious to see where the second one goes, but taking a break to read some other things before I start it.

Last night, in one sitting, I read Don Delillo's new book Silence. It is subtitled "A novel" which feels like an oversell on the part of the publisher. It's about 115 pages with large text and line spacing and a lot of white space in some parts, at best it's a novella, and certainly doesn't have the depth or scope to feel like a novel. Not exactly sci-fi, but kind of apocalyptic, it covers one night when suddenly all power seems to stop working. Or first all the "screens" stop working and then later it seems electricity stops working. There's no explanation or attempt at one, or even logic to it (why would battery powered devices stop working at the same time as plugged in devices), so you have to read it more as allegory than sci-fi. Trying to make sense of it logically fails. Two of the characters are on a trans-atlantic flight when the event happens, yet somehow the jet lands with only some trouble (it does crash, but only in landing and its not clear anyone is seriously hurt).

Two other characters are in their apartment in NYC (expecting the other two as guests to watch the Super Bowl) with a third guy who talks a lot about Einstein. Not much happens. People monologue. I... can't say I got anything out of it. A lot of the reviews (I've read a few now) talk about the themes of the book, but Delillo more points at themes than actually exploring them. It all feels shallow and cold. I doubt I would have finished it if it weren't so short.

2020-10-31 10:48

Saturday feels like Sunday after having yesterday off.

Finished up Raised By Wolves yesterday, an engaging sci-fi show, but for me it feels like it constantly just raises more mysteries without resolving much of anything, which makes it not very narratively satisfying on some level, especially when the season ends with a whole host of new surprises and mysteries. How can the writers dig themselves out of that hole in a way that will end up being satisfying? Makes me think of Lost. Also, one of the bigger revelations at the end, was really pretty obvious from early on, which made it less "oh wow" and more "yeah, of course". For the most part the acting and production and setting are all really excellent, though the one lead guy who I know from Vikings feels like... he's kind of playing the same part.

This morning I watched Breadcrumb Trail a documentary about the band Slint. I've had Ian's copy of the DVD for years now, it kept disappearing on my desk because it's in a plain white sleeve. I finally put it someplace prominent and watched it. Slint has always had a bit of a mystique to them, and the film does a good job in at least providing insight into where they came from and how their albums came together. I remember first hearing them on WPRB (Princeton's radio station which reached us in Pennsylvania) while on my way to the comic book shop (so probably a Wednesday evening). Sometimes I'd hear new music I was interested in, and I'd have to listen really carefully, counting the number of songs until the d.j. would then recap what he just played in a very quiet almost monotone voice. Slint's Spiderland is one of those albums that I've never really grown cold on over the many years since I first got it (which must have been around 1993 maybe). Though I had totally forgotten there was a remaster plus bonus tracks edition which I've now downloaded for this week's listening.

At least one person I've seen so far is planning on doing #30dayscomics for November. I started that back in 2009 to force myself to make one comic a day for the month. Over time I got a few other people to join in. I think I only managed to keep myself going until 2012. Selections from that years project are in my old MadInkBeard No. 4 comic (readable online at that link). Will I really be able to go through with NaNoWriMo this year? I don't know, but I feel like I do need to find some focus for myself.