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Steve Roby

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Of LJ and other things [Jan. 9th, 2016|09:19 am]
Steve Roby
[music |Wire: 154]

I'm doing most of my terse communicating on facebook and my rambling on thefifteenth.wordpress.com. I started over there to get familiar with Wordpress, to write about music, and to give myself something to do back when I was laid off. When I started working again I didn't do much with it, but lately I've been posting Netgalley reviews there, and I've been adding other reviews and whatnot over there. It's mainly an unread blog, like most blogs these days, but I like having a place to keep things, a place to ramble, and, if necessary, a place I can point to from fb to say, here's the long version.

All the changes on LJ over the years have led to a lot of people abandoning it. I keep checking but the handful of people I know here tend to post a lot of the same things on fb or link back to lj. Communities have collapsed. Syndicated pages have stopped distributing content. It's just not fun here. Facebook was never as fun as this place was at its peak. Alas.
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LJ icons [Nov. 27th, 2015|08:30 pm]
Steve Roby
Keith DeCandido posted something explaining the backstory of his LJ icons. I haven't posted much here lately (the action is on facebook and thefifteenth.wordpress.com) but what the heck. I'm not sure I even remember all my lj icons. So let's go!

This is a photo Laura took of me in Pictou, Nova Scotia, in 2007. Pictou is known as the birthplace of New Scotland because it's where the first big load of Scottish immigrants landed in Nova Scotia in the late 1700s, on the ship Hector. It's also the birthplace of my mother and me, too. And a few years back a replica of the Hector was built by the Pictou waterfront. And that's where we were. I was wearing a Telesat Canada golf shirt, because the Americans hadn't yet bought the company and laid off me and most of the people I worked with.

Ten or eleven years ago, in the space of a few months, Laura lost her grandmother, her mother, and a cat she'd had since she moved out of her mother's home. We needed a new cat to bring some happiness and life, and we got Spencer. This is one of my favourite photos of him. He died a year or two ago, and although he had issues and was a lot of work, he was the first cat Laura and I got together, and I miss him.

During that 2007 Nova Scotia trip we spent a little time at the Pictou Lodge (then-Foreign Affairs minister Peter MacKay took then-US bigwig Condoleeza Rice there a bit later). Laura took this photo bright and early looking across the Northumberland Strait.

Humphrey Bogart and Lauren Bacall. They met filming To Have and Have Not and fell in love and made three more movies together, The Big Sleep, Key Largo, and Dark Passage, all well worth seeing.

A photo taken on the Leeds University campus and used as a placeholder image for a planned John Foxx album. He never actually used it, but I always liked it and I've used it as an icon/avatar in a few places online. I like the greyscale and the geometry.
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Casablanca Blues [Mar. 24th, 2014|08:37 pm]
Steve Roby
Casablanca is one of my favourite movies. I love the movie and I love stuff about the movie — I’ve got several books about it, including the not-very-good official tie-in As Time Goes By from a few years back. I’ve got other movies that I love and see as having thematic or other connections to it, like Pepe le Moko, Algiers, To Have and Have Not. I bought a copy of the original Murray Burnett and Joan Alison play Everybody Comes to Rick’s from the Warner Bros Archive. (Though now you can just download a pdf from Drexel University.)

So when I heard about Casablanca Blues by Tahir Shah I was curious. Shah’s a British writer of Afghan ancestry who moved with his family to Casablanca and wrote a Year in Provence-type nonfiction book about it, and later decided to write a novel in which a modern American obsessed with Casablanca the movie finds himself in the real Casablanca of the 21st century. The description promised adventure, humour, and romance, and of course the contrast between the fake Casablanca and the real.

Turns out that the book shares something important with the movie: it’s a melodrama that you can’t really take seriously, a confection that’s wholly enjoyable but not really any more realistic than the movie. But, like the movie, it sweeps you along. The Bogart secret mcguffin, the spoiled rich girl, the millionaire who decides to fight the corruption in his city, the mysterious villains, the raggamuffin thief with a heart of gold, the fights, chases, all of it is a long way from realism. But if it’s pulp melodrama, at least it’s well written pulp melodrama with a satisfying payoff. The characters may be a little thin, the exotic settings described in less detail than they might be, but I raced through the book and had a fine time doing so.

I think Shah understands something important about Casablanca that Michael Walsh failed to grasp when he wrote As Time Goes By, which served as a prequel and sequel to the movie. Yes, there’s death and sacrifice in Casablanca, and yes, it’s about the evil of the Nazis and the importance of taking sides when things get bad. But it’s heightened, melodramatic, and relatively safe. The Nazis even play nicely, not simply murdering Laszlo when he shows up in a territory run by the Nazi collaborators of Vichy France. Walsh’s decision to involve several of the film’s characters in a dangerous mission to kill a real SS leader, Reinhard Heydrich, just doesn’t work for me. It’s too real. Shah wants to talk about corruption, orientalism, and other things, but he’s learned from Casablanca (the film and the city) that gritty, brutal realism isn’t the only way to talk about them. Casablanca the movie is fun. As Time Goes By is not fun. Casablanca Blues is fun. Didn’t teach me a lot about the real 21st century city, but I can always get Shah’s nonfiction book The Caliph’s House for that, and I probably will.
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io9 on tie-ins [Jan. 20th, 2014|08:04 pm]
Steve Roby
I hate the commenting interface on io9, so here I am.

Katharine Trendacosta wrote a post called Why Expanded Universes Are Important. I agree with the basic idea, but not all the details. Trendacosta looks at a handful of reasons why tie-ins are good things.

The Expanded Universe as a Gateway to Science Fiction Reading. It works for some people, but I've encountered too many people who read tie-ins and find "real" SF uninteresting, and SF fans who sneer at tie-ins. Personally, I got into them more or less simultaneously, for different reasons.

Expanded Universes as Gateways to Fandom. Sure, to an extent. But I was a dedicated tie-in reader for a long time in isolation. The Internet was a more important route to fandom for me.

Expanded Universes as Gateways to Writers and Writing. Well, blogging, maybe. I've never been a fanfic writer. Closest I came was working on an interactive Star Trek story in Apple Basic on my old Apple ][+ many years ago. It wad fun, mapping out paths, giving a hypothetical player some choices that led in different directions... but I hit the 128k barrier way too early in the story and couldn't figure out how to get each strand of the story to continue properly on the next program. Fun while it lasted, though. (Post-TMP Enterprise encounters a huge derelict starship that turns out to be a Preserver vessel. Didn't plot it much beyond that that I can recall.)

Conclusion and a Look at Star Wars' EU. In which Trendacosta basically says I love the Star Wars expanded universe and it was CANON! Well, actually, no. Despite the people with full-time jobs sorting out EU continuity, despite the levels of canonicity, George Lucas clearly said that there was his stuff and then there was all that other stuff he didn't pay much attention to. In other words: NOT CANON. (And the correct response is Says you, and who cares>)

Here's what makes tie-in fiction important and necessary and sometimes so damn good. When you see a filmed version of a beloved literary work, chances are, even if you like it you're well aware of how much is missing -- the interior lives of the characters, the background information that was dropped because the movie would run too long, scenes dropped because they just wouldn't work in a visual medium. Play that in reverse. A good tie-in novel takes a visual world and expands it into an ocean of words that can bring us into characters' interior lives as the show never could; they can show us all the little things that don't make sense in a fast-paced movie or TV episode; they can be crazy big epic beyond a budget's ability to realize. Try to imagine Doctor Who doing something like Alien Bodies or Star Trek doing something like Destiny (or How Much for Just the Planet, for that matter). It wouldn't work as well on screen.

In short, tie-ins make a fictional universe bigger, deeper, and better. That's why they matter. Says me, anyway.
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Shared universes, tie-ins, crossovers, swords, sorcery [Dec. 22nd, 2013|08:54 pm]
Steve Roby
Star Trek and Doctor Who are the big multimedia fictional universes for me these days, but one of the first to demonstrate to me how this kind of thing could work would have been the world of Robert E. Howard’s characters. I first encountered Howard back in 1978 when I picked up a used copy of The Hour of the Dragon at the base library paperback exchange.

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Lovecraft season [Dec. 21st, 2013|06:51 pm]
Steve Roby
For me, Christmas is Lovecraft season.

It was the Yuletide, that men call Christmas though they know in their hearts it is older than Bethlehem and Babylon, older than Memphis and mankind. It was the Yuletide, and I had come at last to the ancient sea town where my people had dwelt and kept festival in the elder time when festival was forbidden; where also they had commanded their sons to keep festival once every century, that the memory of primal secrets might not be forgotten. (H.P. Lovecraft, "The Festival")

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More than 140 characters or a like icon [Dec. 21st, 2013|05:27 pm]
Steve Roby

(posted at thefiteenth.wordpress.com)

I used to blog a lot, despite not having an audience. That wasn’t really the point a lot of the time. Sometimes it was about throwing something out to see if someone had a shared interest, sometimes (as with livejournal) it was more social. But livejournal isn’t what it used to be. A lot of the old familar faces have moved on to other platforms.

Meanwhile, on a personal level, my life has changed. I started on wordpress when I was laid off from a job I’d had for just shy of 20 years, and I needed something to do online besides applying for jobs. So I blogged about music here. Back then the tradeoff was between having plenty of time to blog and being too depressed to want to, but I made an effort. And then I got a job and didn’t need the outlet so much and didn’t have the time.

And now I’ve been working again for four years and suddenly I miss blogging. I rarely tweet, I facebook a bit (but don’t find it conducive to and kind of in-depth discussion, I want to write longer messages and, frankly, not really worry whether I’m flooding anyone’s feed. If you want to follow, follow; if you stumble across a post that interests you, cool, say something.

I’ll try to find the time to restart the Trek books website, too. The Star Trek: The Fall novels have been pretty damn enjoyable so far, so maybe I can get excited about Star Trek again…

This isn’t just a music blog any more, though no doubt I’ll go on about music occasionally. Oh, and I’ll try to make this and LJ mutual mirrors. No need to follow both.

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So long, Hellblazer [Jul. 27th, 2013|06:50 pm]
Steve Roby
TLDR version: Hellblazer was great and I'll miss it. And this new Constantine comic? I'll give it a longer chance but it's not the comic I'm looking for.

I don't think I encountered John Constantine when he first appeared in Swamp Thing in 1985, I think I was a year or two late. But when he got his own comic, Hellblazer, in 1988, I was ready. I bought all 300 issues right up to the comic's recent end, plus a bunch of spinoff miniseries and specials.

In the last ten of those 25 years, I changed my comic reading habits, due to significant life changes -- being married, mainly. Whereas it used to make sense to go to the comic shop every week and either sit at Irene's Pub reading them afterwards or just going home to my apartment and plowing through all the stuff I bought, that doesn't always work so well when there's someone else around and you don't get to the store every week any more. (Why do the characters on Big Bang Theory spend new comic book day looking through the back issue bins instead of picking up new issues? Anyway.)

Now, I go once or twice a month. And I let comics pile up until I have a good run of issues of a particular title to plow through, so I don't have to worry about forgetting what's going on, I sometimes let some titles pile up a little too long, though. So today I read issues 251 through 300 of Hellblazer and 1-4 of Constantine, the new series that plops John Constantine solidly back in the DC universe.

And damn, those 50 issues were good. There have been some runs of issues by certain writers who didn't seem to get it, but Peter Milligan did a fine job. Those 50 issues flow very nicely; though there are individual storylines, there are a few big arcs that work really well. Reminded me of those glory days when Garth Ennis was writing the title, before he got (imho) tiresome with that Preacher comic that to me felt like his 49th attempt at being oh so shockingly blasphemous. I've got no use for Christianity either, but I'm not obsessed with it. I digress again.

Milligan stays true to Constantine and his world and his recurring characters; he does the classic stuff while also going where the comic had never gone before by letting Constantine actually marry a woman he loved. And then the comic ends in a way that surprised me, given that I knew the character was coming back in that other series.

But reading the first few issues of that other series, well, the ending made sense, because this is not the same John Constantine, he does not have the same life history or friends or home or dialogue. Jeff Lemire may be a longtime fan of the character, and he may think he's being true to him, and he may be a popular and critically acclaimed writer, but compared to the 50 Hellblazers I read, the four Constantines were generic piffle.
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The problem with tablets... [Jun. 2nd, 2013|10:15 am]
Steve Roby
... is that they're great for reading the Internet on, but nor so great for writing. Which is a partial explanation for the lack of new content around here.
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Anybody want a bunch of old Mike Resnick books? [Jun. 2nd, 2013|10:13 am]
Steve Roby
You can have the two Malzbergs, too, And I think I have three Orson Scott Card books.
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