How I love listening to intelligent people! And it’s exhilarating (if scary) to try to make sense on panels.
Only three mishaps, one on the way over. The highway traffic was appalling, bumper-to-bumper, and my lift, distracted by Siri’s countermands, slid gently into the car ahead, out of which burst an irate and vengeful Chinese couple, dancing like furies round and round both cars, heedless of the six-lane traffic, shouting, “You pay cash! You pay cash!” But on the sight of a cellphone, they vanished like spirits at cockcrow.
Next, I discovered that I’d left my carefully curated selection of chocolate and tea—all carefully matched to my program—on a chair at home. Ah well, there were M&Ms in the green room. And Taylor’s of Harrogate tea, not at all shabby.
After my reading, I found I’d lost an especially pretty and unmatchable hand-painted bead-button from a favorite dress, and was disconsolate. It could have fallen off anywhere in the hotel. But I searched what I could search—my room—before checking out, and discovered the button in the darkest corner of the closet, glinting back at my Light app like a mouse’s eye. I felt (as one does) disproportionately elated. I swear it hadn't been there the first six times I looked. Don’t you love happy endings?
I heard four remarkable readings. Sonya Taaffe gave us intense shards of poetry and a short story about the post-punk tutelary spirit of a Birmingham canal; Lila Garrott read from their astonishing misfits-in-Utopia novel-in-progress, which is stranger than you can imagine, and utterly lucid; Kathleen Jennings read part of an Australian Gothic novella about an outback town invaded, all but strangled, by alien intrusive flowers, and a tale of a wandering exile oneirically entangled in a Briar-Rose-like labyrinth. And the peerless John Crowley read from his essential mythic tale of an immortal crow, Ka : Dar Oakley in the ruin of Ymr. It will be out at last in September! He gave me an ARC! Calloo!
For all the brilliance, all the wisdom, wit, and passion lavished on the dizzying array of panels, the hour I remember most vividly was the hilarious Terrible But Great, on irresistibly awful books. What a hoot!
Of my own panels, Good Influences and Sororal Fantasies were simply a joy; and I plume myself on getting through the Deaths of Gods with James Morrow and Max Gladstone without being cut to ribbons intellectually. It was like jumping into Double Dutch with lasers. But I sideslipped the Tetragrammaton: I went pagan, and talked about the voice from the island crying, “The great Pan is dead,” and about walking down through San Clemente in Rome, from Baroque exultation, down through mediaeval austerity, the abyssal ἰχθύς of the catacombs, the rock-hewn and bull-blooded temple of Mithras, down to the ever-welling spring.
And my reading—always the locus of hope and anxiety—went quite well. There were more than a handful in the audience: they listened intently, laughed at the right places, and asked impassioned questions. They loved the scene I hadn’t read before, about John Donne’s wife and daughter and the compasses. And wonder of wonders, I have a recording! As many of you know, Readercon has been recording its panels and readings for decades, way back to wax cylinders (for all I know), and squirreling them away in a vault somewhere. Possibly in catacombs. After the apocalypse, I imagine they’ll be used to recreate civilization from scratch. Gods help us all. I’ve been asking forever and ever where the archived recordings go. Some of us would love to revisit fondly remembered hours. (There was that panel on language when Crowley recited the first page of Lolita...) This time, the sound guy (there's only one, racing about like an electron) said, Sure. Got a USB stick? I had, and he just popped the files onto it. Golly.
The bookroom is simply paradise.
Over the four days, I had lively and engaging conversations with (among others) ashnistrike , sovay , rushthatspeaks , gaudior , yhlee , negothick , Crowley, Michael Swanwick and Marianne Porter, Glenn Grant, Michael Damian Thomas, and too little time with John Clute and Liz Hand, Chip Delany, and Suzy McKee Charnas. Long may they all continue! Oh, and the little Fox came on Sunday and charmed everyone. He's just learned to wave bye-bye, and has acquired an enchanting deep chortle when you fly him overhead.
Then I tottered home and slept eleven hours...
The complete Derek Jarman, Super 8 shorts and music videos included. Herzog's Fitzcarraldo (1982), because it has always confused me that you can get the documentary from Criterion but not the film itself. Anything by Ulrike Ottinger, but especially Johanna d'Arc of Mongolia (1989) and Taiga (1992), which one could and should pair. Some kind of box set of Dennis Potter, making sure not to leave out the long-banned original TV version of Brimstone and Treacle (1976). Wayne Wang and Paul Auster's Smoke (1995). Some reasonable amount of Peter Greenaway, but The Pillow Book (1996) and Prospero's Books (1991) in their proper aspect ratio should head the list. Fred Zinnemann's Act of Violence (1948), a knockout noir about memory and atrocity with far less of a reputation than it deserves. Max Ophüls' The Reckless Moment (1949), one of the most devastating—and feminist—noirs I've ever seen. John Ford's The Long Voyage Home (1940), Eugene O'Neill's favorite film realization of any of his plays. Ben Wheatley's A Field in England (2013). And while I'm dreaming of ponies, The 5,000 Fingers of Dr. T (1953).
—There are other movies I'd like to see from Criterion, of course. Robin Hardy's The Wicker Man (1973), especially considering the plethora of versions that have existed over the years (and may still be buried under the M4). I don't know if they'd go for Roy Ward Baker's The October Man (1947) unless it was part of a set of British noir, but seriously, how bad would that be? If they can announce an upcoming release of Agnieszka Smoczyńska's The Lure (2015)—the day after my birthday, I appreciate it—surely they could provide me with a nice edition of Marcin Wrona's Demon (2015). I'm sort of confused they've never done anything by Dorothy Arzner. I'm really confused they haven't already done the Wachowskis' Bound (1996). And so on. Some of it is the definitive home release idea, but a lot of these movies I would just like to be able to show people more easily than 35 mm or unpredictable flybys on TCM.
Remember our posts on this little guy, rescued on June 25 and taken in by Vancouver Aquarium? Well, now it's time to give this tiny fluffball a name! Vancouver Aquarium is holding a naming contest to help decide on a name, and a winner will receive admission to the Vancouver Aquarium and a Sea Otter Aquadopt kit!
The nominated names are:
- Hardy: The tiny male otter pup was found swimming along off northern Vancouver Island, and first taken to the District of Port Hardy for initial treatment.
- Kasa: In Kwak̓wala — the language of the Kwakwa̱ka̱'wakw First Nations on the northeast coast of Vancouver Island — ḵ̓asa is the word for sea otter.
- Masik: Also in Kwak̓wala, ma̱si'ḵw is the word for large sea urchins
Vote here! The contest is only open to Canadian residents (excluding Quebec), and Vancouver Aquarium will announce the pup's new name on July 24.
I had heard absolutely nothing of Guillermo del Toro's The Shape of Water (2017) until this afternoon, but the trailer makes it look like something I should very definitely see in December. It looks like William Alland and Jack Arnold's Creature from the Black Lagoon (1954) retold through Jane Yolen's "The Lady and the Merman," which has haunted me since elementary school when I first read Neptune Rising: Songs and Tales of the Undersea Folk (1982). It looks sea-deep.
Speaking of oceanic things for which I may existentially blame Caitlín R. Kiernan: Delphine Cencig, "Poulpe Fiction."
In fact, I have another doctor's appointment tomorrow.
1. spatch sent me this handy-dandy list: "Times Doctor Who Was Ruined Forever." The site is snarky and some of their tags are jerkass, but the article itself is gold. "21/03/1981 – The best Doctor ever is replaced by a vet. Doctor Who dies."
2. Following my belated discovery of Jack Buchanan, I am pleased to see that the HFA will be showing Ernst Lubitsch's Monte Carlo (1930) on Friday. I wonder if I have ever actually seen Jeanette MacDonald.
3. I had no idea one of the performers of "The Grass Is Always Greener" was Lauren Bacall (and I think I had forgotten the song came from a musical by Kander and Ebb, although listening to its brassy swing, I don't know who else it could have been). Standing Room Only on WERS used to play it all the time. I like how her voice softens on the repeated line That's wonderful, but her unimpressed What's so wonderful? could pass for Elaine Stritch. This makes me desperately sad that Bacall never recorded "The Ladies Who Lunch."
4. This is a gorgeous photoset, but I would love to see the on-set photos from the shoot. Like, the backstage stuff. People just standing around on snack breaks, being Klimt paintings.
5. This was true last weekend as well, but I was at Readercon and couldn't do anything about it: spatch swapped in for one of the hosts of the PMRP's Murders and Scandals: Poe and Doyle at the last minute, so I'll see him this weekend on one of the nights I'm not seeing Jack Buchanan.
It is rare for me not to like Heflin in a film, even when he's playing kind of a dick, and he makes an engaging proto-nerd here, a slouchy, grouchy smart-ass in a lab coat who has managed to figure out that he's in love with his educated, attractive coworker but not yet that flirting by insult only works for Oscar Levant. (His eventual apology is legitimately adorable.) Hunt as Mitchell is nicely, unequivocally competent and has little time for her colleague's negging even as it's clear from space that she'd reciprocate his interest if he were only a little less schoolyard about it, but her character feels like a conservative compromise when she insists repeatedly—despite sufficient aptitude for chemistry that she has a master's degree in it—that forensics is "no career for a woman." I do appreciate that heteronormativity is defused at least once by McKay conceding wryly that it's "not much of a career for a man, either. No prestige, no glamour, no money. People holler at you when there are no miracles." I suppose it is also sociologically interesting that the script's anxiety about science and gender runs both ways—unless it's to prove that spending nine-tenths of your life behind a microscope doesn't make you less of a man, I have no idea why McKay is apparently incapable of confronting a suspect without a fight scene. He is otherwise not very macho, which I am fine with. He can't throw a dart straight to save his life. If the human heart were located in the right elbow, though, that firing-range target would have totally had it.
The extremely spoilery original trailer suggests that Kid Glove Killer was intended as the start of a series and I'm almost surprised it didn't happen—if Thin Man stand-ins Joel and Garda Sloane could get a trilogy, I don't see why we couldn't have enjoyed more McKay and Mitchell. As it is, the one film is all we've got. It runs 72 minutes and they are worth it all for the scene in which Heflin performs a precise, self-annotated mime of catching, cleaning, preparing, and then jettisoning a trout, all with the serious concentration of the slightly sloshed. He handles plain air so confidently, you can see the glint of the butter knife he's cleaning on the tablecloth and want to hand him one of those modern-day rubber grips for the ketchup bottle with the sticky cap. I have no idea if it was part of the original script or improvised on set or what on earth, but now I want to know where I can find more Van Heflin doing mime. He and Zinnemann would later reteam to superb and less comic effect in Act of Violence (1948). I appear to have seen Hunt as the Broadway-bent eldest of Frank Borzage's Seven Sweethearts (1942), but I don't hold it against her. Ava Gardner cameos as a cute married carhop. I hope to God mineral oil salad dressing is as much a thing of the past as the constant chain-smoking in chemically sensitive laboratory conditions. [edit: WHAT THE HELL IT'S NOT.] This investigation brought to you by my scientific backers at Patreon.
I had five program items on Friday. The first was my reading, which I think went well; it was recorded by both Readercon and Jim Freund of Hour of the Wolf, so I'll link to either or both as they're made available. I read from my recently completed, as yet unpublished short story "The Face of the Waters" with new poetry on either side and wore glasses in public for the first time, which was less a cosmetic issue than a matter of figuring out how to negotiate eye contact with my audience without bifocals. Of the panels that followed, I don't think any of them were trainwrecks: "I Am Become Death . . . No, I Mean Literally" went off-script almost immediately, but in an abstract, ethnographic way that the audience as well as the panelists seem to have enjoyed, and "The Works of Tanith Lee" was as wide-ranging as the literature we were talking about. I feel bad about overstating the degree to which I believe Owen Davies is a parental fuck-up during "Classic YA Book Club: The Dark Is Rising by Susan Cooper," but I regret nothing about rhapsodically anti-recommending Kathleen Sky's Witchdame (1985) in "Terrible . . . but Great" because somebody turned to me abruptly in an elevator the next day and complimented me on my flailing. More seriously, someone else told me that they had scoured the dealer's room for Lee's work because of the way I talked about her on the panel and been rewarded by everything they had read so far. That was really nice to hear.
In the one non-programming group activity I managed all weekend, I joined rushthatspeaks, ashnistrike, skygiants, and kate_nepveu for dinner at Taipei Cuisine, with dessert at Yocha afterward. There was sweet corn with salty egg yolk and chili-fried shrimp with peanuts and lotus root with mushrooms and sesame chicken and a couple of dishes that didn't work out but were worth ordering just to see what they were like, although "with bones in" is not how anybody was expecting the popcorn frog. I hope I can get a coconut smoothie with lychee jelly other places than Yocha, because it's a really nice dessert. I would not be the person to write it, but I hope someone does a serious critical survey of that phase of '80's fantasy when it was all idtastic, all the time.
I do not know if I can promise a Patreon review of it, but I nonetheless recommend "Level Seven" (1966), a formerly lost episode of Out of the Unknown (1965–71) adapted by J.B. Priestley from Mordecai Roshwald's 1959 pre-and-post-apocalyptic novel of the same name; it is more streamlined and more of a parable than its source material, but pulls no more punches when it comes to the likelihood of surviving MAD. Young David Collings turns out to remind me of Peter Cushing. I think it's the cheekbones and the breakdowns.
The rest of Friday night was terrible. Between four and five in the morning, I had some kind of severe allergic reaction to an unknown trigger. It was like anaphylaxis with violent nausea: I took Benadryl as soon as I realized that my throat and mouth were prickling and swelling and I had suddenly stopped being able to breathe through my nose and for all I know it saved my life, but did not prevent the rash all over my body or the wheezing when I breathed. Sleep was not so much a thing for the rest of the night. I took Benadryl conscientiously round the clock until this evening and the symptoms gradually subsided, but it took a full twelve hours for my mouth to stop being numb. I have no known food allergies; I am hoping I have not suddenly developed any. The best medical guess right now is either one bad shrimp or some kind of slow-building reaction to a medication I started a week and a half ago. I will be calling my doctors about it on Monday. It was scary.
I had one panel on Saturday at noon and I feel slightly as though I hallucinated my way through it, but I remember talking about Phyllis Gotlieb and Yoon Ha Lee and The Robots of Death (1977), because the panel was "Life, Love, and Robots," and then I drifted briefly through the dealers' room with my mother and ran into aedifica for a very careful lunch (I dissected the chicken out of a chicken sandwich) and then I slept for the rest of the afternoon. I did not manage to have dinner with yhlee. I did not manage to have dinner at all. I did manage to spend portions of the evening hanging out with Yoon and choco_frosh and Rush-That-Speaks and Ashnistrike and nineweaving, cautiously drinking herbal tea and eating my way through the pocketful of ginger chews I stole from the green room. Instead of attending any of the con's numerous room parties, I went back upstairs and answered some e-mail and continued reading Susan Cooper's The Dark Is Rising (1973), which I had brought in hardcover to the previous day's panel. spatch came out after his evening show and stayed with me just in case I stopped breathing in the middle of the night. I didn't.
I got the news about Jodie Whittaker's Thirteenth Doctor right before arriving for "Disturbed by Her Song: Gender, Queerness, and Sexuality in the Works of Tanith Lee," so Rush-That-Speaks and Steve Berman and I talked about Doctor Who for the first five minutes and I maintain gender-changing, self-reinventing immortals are totally on point for a discussion of Tanith Lee anyway. It was an enormously fun panel and may have repercussions.
This was a good year for books. I came away from the convention with Michael Thomas Ford's Lily (2016), L.A. Fields' Homo Superiors (2016), John Maddox Roberts' The Seven Hills (2005), Michael Cisco's The Wretch of the Sun (2016), Yevgeny Zamyatin's The Dragon (ed. and trans. Mirra Ginsburg, 1967), and five pulp novels by Fredric Brown all courtesy of alexxkay: The Fabulous Clipjoint (1947), The Dead Ringer (1948), The Bloody Moonlight (1949), The Screaming Mimi (1949), and Compliments of a Fiend (1950). I could not afford the first edition of Nicholas Stuart Gray's The Apple-Stone (1965) on display at Somewhere in Time Books, but I am going to look for it in libraries because either I've read the Nesbit-like scene in which the children bring a Bonfire Night guy to life and it takes its face and voice from all of them by turns or someone once described it to me and either way it gave me the same jolt of half-recognition as Eleanor Farjeon's The Silver Curlew (1953), so I need to figure out what happened there. This was not a good year for seeing people, but I am glad to have caught the people I did, like lesser_celery and Gillian Daniels and briefly rosefox, and especially pleased that I managed to snag a conversation with Michael Cisco and Farah Rose Smith on Friday before my corporeal manifestation blew up. I did not take notes on any programming, but Kate Nepveu did.
(Can Martin Landau have played one of the first queer characters I ever saw in a movie? We can argue about the positive representation of "Call it my woman's intuition, if you will" Leonard in North by Northwest (1959), but he's not even subtext: I always read him and James Mason and Eva Marie Saint as a triangle. I found out he had died as soon as I got home; I had already seen the same about George Romero and Maryam Mirzakhani. Jeez, Sunday.)
Either to sum up or really bury the lede, I can now announce that Steve Berman of Lethe Press will be publishing a collection of my short fiction in 2018. Details are yet to be determined, but it will be my first fiction collection since Singing Innocence and Experience in 2005 and I am incredibly happy about it. I will share the details as soon as they exist.
My plans for the immediate future involve sleep.
From Planet of the Spiders part one, as it might be re-edited:
LUPTON: Not only a Doctor, but a woman Doctor. We do not want her here.
CHO-JE: We cannot shut out the world entirely, my brother.
LUPTON: Why not? You used to, in Tibet.
CHO-JE: All things pass away, as you will learn in your meditation. This world of samsara, the world of appearance, is the world of change.
LUPTON: Yes, but I came here to get away from the world. So did the others. We came here to find solitude.
CHO-JE: One day you will learn to walk in solitude amidst the traffic of the world.
LUPTON: It's still not too late to stop her coming.
CHO-JE: But it is. Mister Chibnall has already gone to the station to fetch her.
CHO-JE: We can but point a finger along the way. A man must go inside and face his fears and hopes, his hates and his loves, and watch them wither away. Then he will find his true self, which is no self. He will see his true mind, which is no mind.
SARAH: And that's what meditation's all about?
CHO-JE: Yes! The old man must die and the new woman will discover to her inexpressible joy that he has never existed.
SARAH: Well, good luck, mate.
From Chrissie's Transcripts Site, with alterations.