The fluffy bunnies are here to get their revenge

My friend Craig Shaw Gardner has ever-so-slowly been releasing his funny fantasy novels as ebooks.  His Cineverse Cycle has finally arrived, and that’s a good thing for humanity.  Here’s the overall plot summary, such as it is:

Roger Gordon’s life was dull until a Captain Crusader Decoder Ring unlocked a door to the world of B-movies. Now his life is filled with adventure as he frolics through the silver screen’s weirdest westerns, thrillers, and romances.

The three books are Slaves of the Volcano God, Bride of the Slime Monsterand Revenge of the Fluffy Bunnies.  I have previously expressed my opinion that Revenge of the Fluffy Bunnies is the best book title in the history of Western Civilization.  I stand by this opinion. Here’s its cover:

So why are you just sitting there like a doofus reading my stupid blog?  Go enter the Cineverse!

God’s Bankers and Pontiff: Too Improbable for Fiction

A major subplot of my twisty thriller Pontiff involves the secretive Vatican Bank and a new pope’s desire to clean it up.  There’s a new book out called God’s Bankers by Gerald Posner that goes into 700 pages worth of detail on just this subject.  It’s been getting rave reviews all over the place, including the New York Times.  Much of what Posner talks image002about is familiar to me from my reading when I was working on Pontiff — for example, this:

Posner’s gifts as a reporter and story­teller are most vividly displayed in a series of lurid chapters on the ­American ­archbishop Paul Marcinkus, the arch-Machiavellian who ran the Vatican Bank from 1971 to 1989. Notorious for ­declaring that “you can’t run the church on Hail Marys,” ­Marcinkus ended up ­implicated in several sensational scandals. The biggest by far was the collapse of Italy’s largest private bank, Banco ­Ambrosiano, in 1982 — an event ­preceded by mob hits on a string of investigators looking into corruption in the Italian banking industry and followed by the spectacular (and still unsolved) murder of Ambrosiano’s ­chairman ­Roberto Calvi, who was found hanging from scaffolding beneath Blackfriars Bridge in London shortly after news of the bank’s implosion began to break. (Although the Vatican Bank was eventually absolved of legal culpability in Ambrosiano’s collapse, it did concede “moral involvement” and agreed to pay its creditors the enormous sum of $244 million.)

But I didn’t know this part, which seems too improbable to put into a thriller:

In one of his biggest scoops, ­Posner ­reveals that while Marcinkus was ­running his shell game at the Vatican Bank, he also served as a spy for the State Department, providing the American ­government with “personal details” about John Paul II, and even encouraging the pope “at the behest of embassy officials . . . to publicly endorse American positions on a broad range of political issues, ­including: the war on drugs; the ­guerrilla fighting in El Salvador; bigger defense budgets; the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan; and even Reagan’s ambitious ­missile defense shield.”

I don’t suppose I’ll have the time or the energy to read the book.  The story makes wonderful fodder for thrillers, but it’s pretty depressing to realize that this is real life.

First person, third person

I continue to intermittently make my way through Lee Child’s oeuvre, and I recently listened to The Enemy, from 2004.. It has much of what I’ve come to expect from a Jack Reacher novel: a crackerjack (if occasionally absurd) plot, much gratuitous violence, well-developed (if occasionally absurdly villainous) characters, and a ton of background information, some interesting, some not so much (for example, there is a multi-page essay on crowbars that I could have done without).

What’s different about The Enemy is that it’s told in the first person (and, less importantly, it’s a prequel, taking place back in 1990, when he was still in the military). I didn’t know you could mix third-person and first-person narrative in a series!  Does anyone else do it? It works just fine, although I always have the same reaction to first-person stories like The Enemy: when is the narrator writing this story down?  Why?

This sort of baffles me in the books in my first-person Last P.I. series (the most recent of which, Where All the Ladders Start, is available at fine online retailers everywhere!). Walter’s friend Art, proprietor of Art’s Filthy Bookstore, is always badgering him to write up his cases, and Walter is always making excuses about why he can’t do it.  But in fact, here we are reading the first-person narratives.of those very cases.   How did that happen?  Is Walter lying to Art?  Does the writing take place some time in the future?  No explanation is given, perhaps because no explanation is possible.

I’m pretty sure I’m the only one who worries about stuff like this.

Spring, the sweet spring

Here’s what Thomas Nashe has to say about spring:

Spring, the sweet spring, is the year’s pleasant king,
Then blooms each thing, then maids dance in a ring,
Cold doth not sting, the pretty birds do sing:
Cuckoo, jug-jug, pu-we, to-witta-woo!

The palm and may make country houses gay,
Lambs frisk and play, the shepherds pipe all day,
And we hear aye birds tune this merry lay:
Cuckoo, jug-jug, pu-we, to-witta-woo!

The fields breathe sweet, the daisies kiss our feet,
Young lovers meet, old wives a-sunning sit,
In every street these tunes our ears do greet:
Cuckoo, jug-jug, pu-we, to witta-woo!

 Presumably he wasn’t looking out my front door when he wrote the poem:
2015-03-21 07.32.43
Here’s a view of spring from my son in the north of Jordan today.  Maybe this is what Nashe was thinking of:
2015-03-21 07.28.22
The weather is bound to get better.  Isn’t it?

The Maysles Brothers and “Salesman”

The documentary film-maker Albert Maysles has died, and the media is awash in appreciations.  I’m no expert on documentaries, but the Maysles brothers’ first major film, Salesman, has haunted me ever since I first saw it.  It’s about four door-to-door Bible salesmen from the Boston area in the late 1960s.  They sell Bibles in a grimy Boston winter; they go to a Bible-selling convention in Chicago; they sell Bibles in Florida.  Gradually the film starts to focus on one of the salesmen, Paul Brennan, “The Badger”, who has lost his Bible-selling mojo.  We see him struggle; we see the other salesmen try to help him.  We yearn for him to succeed.

Here is the description of the movie from the Criterion web site:

A landmark American documentary, Salesman captures in vivid detail the bygone era of the door-to-door salesman. While laboring to sell a gold-embossed version of the Good Book, Paul Brennan and his colleagues target the beleaguered masses—then face the demands of quotas and the frustrations of life on the road. Following Brennan on his daily rounds, the Maysles discover a real-life Willy Loman, walking the line from hype to despair.

But, you know, Brennan isn’t really Willy Loman.  There is no dramatic ending to his story.  Nothing is resolved, because in real life, life just goes on.  But it all seems somehow indescribably weird and poignant at the same time.

Here is a brief scene from the movie on YouTube.

Isn’t that strange?  Why did the husband put on that awful version of “Yesterday”?  If he didn’t want his wife to buy the Bible, why didn’t he just say so?  Or did he just like his music loud?  I don’t get it, but it happened, and life goes on.

Part of Salesman‘s appeal for me, I suppose, is that I grew up in Boston (as did the Maysles) and I knew people like Paul Brennan and the other salesmen.  But there’s something universal about the movie–and something unforgettable, for me at least.  Their later movie Grey Gardens is much more famous and is also unforgettable, but that’s at least partially because of the over-the-top characters it focuses on.  In Salesman, the characters are as ordinary as you and me.  And forty years later, I still remember them.

A short post in regards to language peevery

It’s National Grammar Day!  In honor of the day, Poynter listed some of their pet peeves..Here’s one of mine.

In my very important day job I read the weekly status reports of a number of highly experienced professional writers.  This week one writer used the phrase “in regards to”. Two reports later, another writer offered up “with regards to”.

Where did I go wrong?

Some people don’t like split infinitives (I don’t know why).  Some people are annoyed by due to.  “With regards to” and “in regards to” are like fingernails on a blackboard to me. This guy tells me I’m wrong to be annoyed.  Google Ngram Viewer tells me their use has exploded since 1960 or so.  I don’t care.  They sound awful.  And people who use them should get off my lawn.

Leonard Nimoy

As a science fiction writer, I guess I should say a few words about Leonard Nimoy.  Star Trek was a pretty cheesy show, but the character of Spock was inspired, and Nimoy’s portrayal of him was the best thing about the show.  There can’t really be a second act after that, but Nimoy seemed to conduct the rest of his career with dignity.

In particular, I used to like his opening narration for IMAX movies at Boston’s Museum of Science.  He grew up in the West End, not far from the museum, so it was a great choice. (He attended high school at Boston English; decades after him I attended Boston Latin, across the street from English on Avenue Louis Pasteur.  We looked down on the English kids because we were jerks.)

Nimoy isn’t remembered for his singing, but what the heck, here he is doing his best to get through “Proud Mary”:

Fine, he’s no Tina Turner, I get it, but at least he’s better than William Shatner attempting, say, “Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds” from his immortal album “The Transformed Man”:

The New York Times obit of Nimoy refers to these as “marvelously dreadful period artifacts,” which sounds about right.

Here is my friend Jeff Carver’s lovely tribute to Nimoy.