Geoffrey Dow's blog

July 2012



Serendipity detail

(So long, and thanks for all the bagels)

July 31, 2012, OTTAWA — As July comes to a close, so too does my tenure in Ottawa's storied Glebe. Tomorrow, I meet with our new landlord to pick up the keys. Saturday, we pack up our things and move uptown, into the very heart of our nation's capital.

Sometime last week, I decided to test out the new bus route to the airport (hint: it doesn't require a transfer and the bus comes to within a few blocks of our home-to-be). The bus to work was running late but the trip was otherwise uneventful. The ride back, on the other hand, made my heart go boop-oop-a-doop.

As the 97 crosses over the Rideau Canal one looks out upon a skyline that actually looks like that of a city, not of a town with a thyroid problem.

Who knew? In Ottawa there are towers of glass and concrete canyons. It's true, the towers are not that high and there aren't that many of them; nor are the canyons all that deep. But they exist, and it thrilled me to know I would be once again living in an area I can honestly call urban.

* * *

Which is not to say I won't miss the Glebe. I will. I'll miss the fearless cats. I'll miss the quiet streets and their stately arboreal honour guards. I'll miss Kettleman's Bagel Co. and — maybe more in theory than in practice — I'll miss having a sidewalk and driveway to clear of snow.

And so, just because it happened and I like the accidental results, I will say a cyber farewell to the old neighbourhood with a photo I've entitled Serendipity. I took it last week, the day I gave up on playing soccer in the rain and have (finally) decided that I like it quite a lot.

It might seem strange to commemorate a time of drought with a photo of a downpour, but since I am in fact commemorating a time of change — of giving up and taking on, of shedding and growing, of joys to come and regrets past — perhaps the apparent contradiction is a good thing. If there is anything at all consistent about life, it lies in its inconsistency.


Click the picture to embiggen, if you're of a mind to.


Awards among the shallows:


Vernor Vinge and why the golden age of science fiction is still twelve

July 31, 2012, OTTAWA — I really ought to know better by now. It doesn't matter whether an award is given out by fans or by peers, critics or the general public, whether the criteria is ostensibly "best" this or "favourite" that.

Awards are a crap shoot, influenced by fashions, by lobbying and by plain old bad taste.

That's right, I said it. Sometimes an award is given out to a book (or a movie, or a play, or a poem — the list is as endless as variations in the arts) that simply doesn't deserve it. That doesn't even merit being on the short-list in the first place.

Let me tell you about Vernor Vinge and why the golden age of science fiction is still 12.


So Breaking Bad it's good

July 16, 2012, OTTAWA — I can't remember the last time I wrote a preview of some popular entertainment. I'm tempted to say "never", but that's a hell of a long time.

That said, I guess I'm kind of offering a preview of the 5th season of Breaking Bad, by way of a very (for me: circa 800 words) brief review of its first four.

I feel kind of dirty for so looking forward to last night's episode (no, I've not yet watched it), but looking forward to it I am. Breaking Bad is an awesome guilty pleasure.

The Wire meets Wile E. Coyote (not much in the way of spoilers).

Post-script, July 27, 2012: I have now seen the first two episodes and have not been disappointed. That said, the tone seems to have shifted, with the emphasis on Walter White's moral degradation, even as his tangible powers grow. For him, at least, this can't end well. For us? Well, we can but wait and see.


Girls gone funny

July 9, 2012, OTTAWA — The older I get, the less patience I have for ideologues of any description, whether of the right or of the left.

No matter what their intentions — whether it is to combat racism or to combat other races — anyone who believes there is but One True Way to do things, or think about things, has the soul of a fascist.

And so, rather than just recommending you rent or otherwise get a-hold of the now-completed first season of Lena Dunham's Girls, I found myself struggling with people who seem to seriously believe that cliquish exclusion and nepotism is worse than the Holocaust.

My essay is a long one, so I'll put it plainly here. I enjoyed Girls an awful lot and eagerly await its second season. Dunham is an excellent young writer and her show is an excellent professional debut — even if its principals are all privileged white people.

Am I blind to my own privilege as a white guy? As I said, my review is a long one, but I welcome your comments. Also, please note: it is not safe for work! You've been warned. Click here for Privilege and prejudice: The unbearable whiteness of being Lena Dunham.


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June 2012

Prometheus: Ridley Scott's Titanic failure

Look ma! No helmet! (What could possibly go wrong?)

June 22, 2012, OTTAWA — I know it's not very post-modern of me, but I like to suspend my disbelief when a book or film takes me to another world. I like to pretend that Middle Earth is real, that the Doctor's phonebox might really materialize with a voorp-voorp-voorp right in front of me or that I really could thumb a ride to Bellona.

Put it another way. Fiction ought not set off too many of my shit-detectors. A surgeon should know the kidneys are, a cop shouldn't ride a unicorn in present-day Toronto and Richard Nixon shouldn't spout socialist philosophy on the campaign trail.

(For the record, I can also enjoy in-jokes, the breaking down of fourth walls and even direct auctorial interruption of a narrative — when it is done well.)

The worst thing a creator can do to his or her audience's suspension of disbelief is not to ask it to accept the fantastically impossible, but to accept the mundanely improbable. A Doctor who travels through time and space in a magic phone-box is wonderful, but a doctor who doesn't know basic anatomy is ridiculous.

Which brings me to my second foray into a movie theatre in the year of our Lord two thousand and twelve. Once again I was hyped into slapping down my hard-earned money on a block-busting 3D fantasy. Once again, I walked out well, dissatisfied, to put it mildly.

In fact, Ridley Scott's prequel to his 1979 classic, Alien, is one of the dumbest movies I've ever seen. Failing basic archaeology, biology, astronomy and psychology (to name only a few areas of Epic Failure), Prometheus makes no sense and isn't even scary.

Holy von Daniken, Batman! My review is behind the cut. With spoilers? Sure, but who cares!


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May 2012

The prodigal blogs!

Truly, April was the cruelest month!

May 9, 2012, OTTAWA — It's hard to believe how far I have fallen as a blogger, personal and otherwise.

I have been extremely busy, but more than a month between entries is really kind of pushing it; "they" say (and I am inclined to believe 'em) that consistency is one of the most important elements when it comes to building a readership. But, past is past and I can only promise to (try to) do better in future.

But as I said, I have busy with other things. The driving gig alone saw me hit Montreal 13 times in the span of two weeks, along with a trip to Trois Rivières in the same period. And I've been struggling to get back on schedule with the Mystery Ghost-Writing gig, as well as engaging in a long-form debate about socio-biology (I am, largely, fer it) when time allows. The latter may show up here in one form or another one of these days.

And of course, I continue to pretty up True North on a weekly basis while also trying to give sweet Raven the attention she deserves.

And I have, finally, finished a review of the conclusion of Ottawa indie cartoonist Von Allan's children's fantasy, Stargazer. I bought the book back in December, if memory serves, finally read it about a month ago, and have (yes, 'finally') finished typing up my thoughts. (And Von, if it's any consolation, I bought a copy of Eddie Campbell's The Years Have Pants (review of that coming ... whenever) in January and haven't read even half of it yet. Of course, if you'd comped me, I would have felt obliged to be speedier ... But I digress.)

A black and white comic book featuring three pre-pubescent girls in the role of unlikely heroines, Stargazer features a Magic Doorway in the tradition of Alice's rabbit-hole and Narnia's wardrobe (and the Starship Enterprise's warp drive, for that matter).

What I called a "gentle adventure" in my review of the first volume of the story, proves in its second and concluding chapter to be considerably more than that.

What seemed to be turning into an exercise in that hoary old "And then she woke up!" cliché becomes something very different — and very memorable — by the time the story is over.

A little rough-hewn, Stargazer nevertheless has considerable virtues. This story of friendship and loss just might be a gateway drug to comics for that young boy or (especially) girl in your life — but keep a kleenex handy. My full review is here: The monster, the robot and the Artifact".


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April 2012


The poet had it right:
April was the cruelest month
Image by the Phantom Photographer.


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March 2012

Marionettes much more than mere muppets

But Ronnie Burkett's Penny Plain disappoints

March 23, 2012, OTTAWA — I did something I seldom do Wednesday night: went out to the theatre. To the National Arts Centre, no less, having spent a full day's wages on the tickets to take the chance — as the artist put it during a post-performance question and answer session — of being badly disappointed, but guaranteed a unique experience.

The show was Ronnie Burkett's seventh, Penny Plain, and it is one that will never show up on video. Burquett is the singular artist and craftman who has made his career as a marionette artist: he writes the plays, builds the puppets and performs every part.

Burkett's craft is an ancient one and, like other ancient arts — fairy stories, for instance, or poetry — one often perceived as belonging to that oft-maligned, low-status realm of "children's work" (never mind that there is nothing inherently inferior in art meant for children; that is an argument for another time). But Burkett's stories are not intended for children, nor is his love for the art and the craft of puppetry a childish one.

His latest show is not his best, but if you get the chance to see Penny Plain, you should. The technical achievements alone are worth the price of admission. My full review is behind the link: Housebound apocalypse less than the sum of its parts.


Woody Allen's Midnight in Paris, reviewed

'Midnight in Paris' poster

March 14, 2012, OTTAWA — It seems like the American cinema comes up with a good time travel film of a certain kind once every decade or so — Peggy Sue Got Married and Pleasantville come immediately to mind, as does Groundhog Day, in its own way.

Not strictly-speaking science fiction, these movies are more like fables, presenting time travel as an arbitrary fact which allows their protagonists to learn some life lesson, sometimes leading to acceptance of what is, more often leading to some sort of important life change.

That grand old man of American cinema, Woody Allen, is the latest to offer us a nostalgia-steeped visit to the past, along with a cinematic love-letter to a city that is not New York (for a change), but Paris. Paris now and, especially, Paris then.

The Oscar-winning Midnight In Paris has become Allen's most financially successful movie. Though flawed, it is the work of a master-crasftmen that tells its slender tale with style and efficiency, generating laughs and dramatic tension despite its decidedly old-fashioned pacing.

Does it deserve its awards and critical acclaim as Woody Allen's return to form? Click here for my full review (yes, with spoilers), Twilight of an auteur.


The Ballad of Saddam Hussein (and me)
      — Sung to the tune of Joe Hill

Sigmund Freud
Siggy says: "I give up. Vut do you zink it means?"

I dreamed I shot Saddam Hussein,
Left a flechettte in his eye.
But that arrow only slowed him down,
Saddam he didn't die.
Saddam he didn't die.

It started when he walked by
With his ageing Labrador.
That vicious mutt leaped for my throat,
But I blocked him with my arm.
I blocked him with my arm.

The humiliation of his dog,
Angered Saddam, you see.
Right then and there, like Daffy Duck,
He swore revenge on me.
He swore revenge on me.

So I shot him in the head,
The bullet pierced his brain.
Though he collapsed upon the floor,
The wound only made him mad,
It only made him mad.

When I saw that he was coming to,
I kicked him in the side.
He rolled away and called his dog —
The chase was on again.
The chase was on again.

While making plans to kill me off,
He rubbed his hands with glee.
'Twas not only me he wanted dead,
He had a list of enemies.
A list of enemies.

The last I saw, he stood in a line,
Protected by robots.
He was going to torch my house,
And things seemed pretty dire.
Things seemed pretty dire.

Heart-breakingly, I then woke up,
With no resolution found.
For all I know, Saddam's still there,
Plotting my demise.
Plotting my demise.

But that isn't why I will never be president (of anything).

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