Getting Bookish

Well, this past month has been rather trying, hasn’t it?

In the Top 3 for the Google Image Search "This Year Sucks".

In the Top 3 for the Google Image Search “This Year Sucks”.

Oh, all right, this entire year thus far isn’t going to win any Good Citizenship Awards, but that’s speaking on a national, nay, global level. I’m actually just talking about the only level that I can speak on with any authority whatsoever, and that is the personal level.

My son turned 18 this year. He graduated high school as the Valedictorian. He is attending a good college in August on an academic scholarship. All these are awesome achievements for a kid the regular school establishment wanted held back for a year and more because of his dyslexia. I am justifiably proud of him. I also had to track down music and make a synchronized slide show for him and his graduating class. Of eight.

Oh yeah, he’s the reason my wife created a private school for children with learning disabilities. That’s eight kids who would have dropped through the cracks. Eight kids who might not have graduated high school at all. Several of them, like my son, are going to some pretty high-powered colleges. On academic scholarships.

This is because my wife is awesome.

Any achievement I want to claim for myself looks pretty paltry after that, but it’s all I got. I did pull some remarkable stuff – for me, anyway – while I wasn’t scanning photos and cursing the vagaries of projection systems. The Great Villain Blogathon, which necessitated watching and writing up six movies. The Blood Bath Box Set, which required watching four even though all four were basically the same movie.

In the Top 3 Google Image Search for "Me and Everybody I Know".

In the Top 3 Google Image Search for “Me and Everybody I Know”.

Now here we are in Summer, and I find myself in the financial doldrums as I cast about for another writing contract or another part-time job or gee maybe a full-time job whattaya think are the chances I’m only 59 years old. Some things have to give. One of those was the overpriced-yet-still-somehow-unreliable-anyway home broadband.

My son thinks it’s the end of the world. Too much of his beloved gaming requires the Internet. This is cold turkey before you head off to college, my boy, I tell him. It will hurt less when you head off to Academic Land. He doesn’t believe me. Neither do I, really.

The book cover that glared at me from the Science Fiction Book Club flyers forever.

The book cover that glared at me from the Science Fiction Book Club flyers forever.

Watching ten movies (and that’s not counting the five at the last Crapfest) in a rush has taken the blush off the rose of movie-watching. So I’ve been using the time which was normally spent being distracted by social media to re-visit my older passion, reading. I’ve read something like nine books in the past week. This is, really, something I should have been doing all along but there wasn’t time. I was too busy being distracted. How could I call myself a science fiction fan when I’d never read isaac Asimov’s Foundation Trilogy? I’ll probably finish that this evening. I’m enjoying it but I’m surprised that an acknowledged classic breaks so many rules; almost all the action takes place offstage, in defiance of everything I’ve ever been told. It is a tale composed of conversations, literally a story of ideas.

This brings us to the odd announcement that next week will probably be a book review. Oh, don’t look at me like that, it’s a book about movies, and it’s been quite interesting. But it’s also so dense I’ve only managed a chapter a night.

Hey, Alex Proyas! Whatever happened to this movie?

Hey, Alex Proyas! Whatever happened to this movie?

It turns out that over the years I’ve squirreled away a ton of e-books on my hard drive, and it’s pretty satisfying to finally give those the once-over. The aforementioned Foundation Trilogy. Finally read Harry Harrison’s Deathworld. I’d read Robert Heinlein’s The Unpleasant Profession of Jonathan Hoag in my youth, and didn’t remember the first thing about it (I now realize there was a reason for that). I’ve read several of Basil Copper’s Sherlock Holmes pastiches about Solar Pons (a name which, while unlikely, has the appropriate number of syllables), who is even more of a condescending dick than Holmes, and I find the mysteries are rather transparent when they aren’t outright copies of other writers. Yet I cannot stop reading the things. They are the damned Pringles of detective fiction.

Back when Remo looked like Daniel Craig.

Back when Remo looked like Daniel Craig.

And most surprisingly, I have a number of The Destroyer novels, or as you might better know them, the basis for Remo Williams: The Adventure Begins. About the time I ran out of Doc Savage novels in my teen years, these came along, like The Executioner but with kung fu and ridiculous 70s casual sex and even more ridiculous 70s casual racism. These were always very fast reads, and I re-read the first three in the same number of non-consecutive nights. The most amazing thing to me is that it took the writing team of Richard Sapir and Warren Murphy three outings to realize how essential the character of Chiun, the aged Korean master assassin, was to the success of the series. How when he was promoted from a background character to a full partner, the odd master/pupil father/son dynamic elevated it from stupid action porn to something actually interesting. Still stupid, admittedly, but interesting. The Destroyer went on to have a downright silly number of entries. Don’t ask me how many, I don’t have access to Google right now.

I’m telling myself that this is actually essential stuff to be doing. That my own writing had become rather unsatisfactory to me of late. That I had done too much writing by committee for the contract work, and I need to start writing for myself again, and to do that, I needed to get back in touch with what worked for me, way back then, when I was writing every night instead of being questionably clever on Twitter.

God knows I have the time now.

Absentee Landlord Writes In

You may not believe it, but I do try to post here at least once a week. That really doesn’t seem too much to ask, does it? A few hours a week, devoted to this little corner of the Web? Except that this hasn’t happened this month, and here’s why.

The stunningly obvious: there was that Roger Ebert month burning me out on watching movies and writing about them, followed up by the local Independence Day festivities, which always serves to point up exactly how old I am and how many of my body parts have been busted over the years (fewer than Jackie Chan or Evel Kneivel, but then, I don’t feel their pain except in the most vicarious ways). I retreated to one of my older favorite activities: sitting in my easy chair and reading.

devil saidSo, for our first digression: I finished Richard Kadrey’s Devil Said Bang, the fourth Sandman Slim novel. I love Kadrey’s work – its punk tone, the characters, the dialogue. It’s Raymond Chandler for people who cut their teeth on splatterpunk and b-movies. If I have one complaint about Kadrey’s novels, it’s that his prose is so stripped down, eschewing even the idea of chapters, that his novel’s climaxes don’t have as much raw power as they deserve. His endings seem a little too tidy, with the exception of Aloha From Hell, which had a pretty remarkable game-changing denouement. I still look forward to Kill City Blues, out at the end of this month – his novels are great rides, and the pros far outweigh the cons.

gun machineWarren Ellis’ Gun Machine was taken up after that, which, while not as gonzo as his previous prose novel, Crooked Little Vein, is still a bracing, fiery beast of a detective novel. In one day, NYPD detective John Tallow loses his partner and opens the most bizarre case in the city’s history when he discovers evidence of a serial killer’s work going back 20 years: a room decorated with guns used in practically every unsolved homicide in that time. He’s aided in his investigation by two eccentric CSUs named Bat and Scarly, a very entertaining Odd Couple. Intriguingly, the killer himself seems to slip and slide between present day and pre-Revolutionary War Manhattan. The ending was a tad disappointing, but the characters are incredible, and it’s with a mixture of joy and sorrow that I find out Gun Machine is being developed for TV.

I needed something to fill my time between Gun Machine and the release of Kill City Blues (which I hope to tide me over until Lyndsay Faye’s Seven for a Secret comes out in September), when I remembered Andrew Vachss had a new novel out, Aftershock.

andrew-vachss-aftershockI’ve been reading Vachss for years, starting with his Burke books. He writes fascinating, dark books filled with compelling characters on the fringe of society. He’s also a writer who pumps a very large amount of his personal rage into his novels. Aftershock is very obviously based on the Stubenville High School rape case, and presents a new character, Dell, a highly-trained, emotionally-damaged mercenary trying to make a new life with the woman he loves (a former nurse with Doctors Without Frontiers who saved his life and his soul). Dell has the smarts and the skills to take on the people responsible for the rape culture in his new hometown, but is savvy enough to use the System to pull it up by the roots. Not my favorite Vachss novel, but I also have to admit I could not put the book down in the last 75 pages or so.

Well, that was a nice diversion. Now let’s get to the bad stuff.

There has, thank God, been an uptick in paying work this year. The hanging on by fingernails stuff was getting very wearying. That, you might point out, is good, and I agree. I enjoy having a little money as compared to no money at all. But. This also means I was able to pay for the labwork my doctor was insisting on. Oh, it was high time for it, I admit. I’ve been on blood pressure and two forms of cholesterol medication for the past year and a half. In my last bout of dental work, a routine BP check showed it to be running a little high, so that dosage needed to be looked at, blah blah blah.

When I received my copy of the lab results, I knew trouble was on the way. I had successfully gotten a couple of the cholesterol counts down, but one was still a little too high and my triglycerides were through the roof, and probably took out three jet liners on their way up. But there were other indicators that confirmed some suspicions I’d had for a year and more.

At my last eye exam, the optometrist said, “Hm, your eyes are dilating very slowly.” There was a lessening of sensation in my feet. My vision would be very blurry after waking up – when I managed to sleep. My blood pressure med is a diuretic, so I had to go to the bathroom more often, but I was doing that with ridiculous frequency. Constant fatigue was beginning to be a problem.

hmmm-diabeetus-you-saySo while the nurse practitioner was going over my results with me, she looked up and said, “Have you gone diabetic on me?” I could only say, “Sure looks like it, doesn’t it?” Following in the footsteps of my father and his father before him.

So I have more pills now. No insulin – at this point, we try to control it with pills, diet and (ha!) exercise, meaning I have to find one that doesn’t put me on the cane more than I already am. A lot of the lifestyle changes I had already made; I’m now working on stuff like reducing carbs and saying farewell to my beloved hot dogs. Sugar I largely cut out years ago. I stick myself for the glucometer twice a day; the initial outrageous readings have trended downward since.

The blurry vision has abated. I’m sleeping a little better. I may not have pep in my step but my mind seems clearer of late. It’s kind of like I was cocooned in some sort of white noise for the last few months and that’s finally diminishing as my chemistry normalizes.

Needless to say, this isn’t an experience I recommend. Just stepping into the field of glucometers was a nasty eye-opener, as those things and their test strips are based on the printer/ink cartridge business model. The first thing I did was search the Internet for a place that sold test strips at a quarter of the price of my drug store. My wife, who has years of experience as a diabetic, has been an invaluable resource to me in this time. I think she’s glad to finally have someone close to share this with.

fail-owned-wendys-failSo that took up quite a lot of my time (the saga of six separate trips to the lab? Won’t bore you with that story). Finally, in attempting to end this on an up note, I’ll say that a couple more writing projects have presented themselves. One won’t start paying off until next year, but another will this year – and the other writer backed out on this one due to time constraints, so I’m flying it solo – for more money – but that means my work there just doubled. My weekend acting gig has decided it is time to mount a new show NOW DAMMIT, so there goes even more time. My time management skills will get a workout, even if it’s not the kind of workout I need.

I’m still finding time to watch the occasional movie, though. Maybe I’ll even have time to tell you about those. Some time.