Blogs

December 2012

Return to Middle Earth: The Hobbit


Detail from a painting by J.R.R. Tolkien

December 29, 2012, OTTAWA — Believe it or not, Peter Jackson's latest film is only indirectly responsible for my decision to re-read The Hobbit (again). The proximal cause was Tor.com's (no-doubt entirely commercial) decision to ask the redoubtable Kate Nepveu to lead a weekly, chapter-by-chapter "re-read" of the novel in conjunction with the release of the first (of three!) movies based on J.R.R. Tolkien's 300 page children's story.

My intention had been to follow along at Nepveu's chapter-a-week pace and, perhaps, to contribute to the ongoing conversation she was (and is!) sure to inspire, but Tolkien's deceptively simple prose and thematically complex fairy story swept me away (as it has a number of times before). I finished the book in a couple of days.

The short version is that The Hobbit remains a delightful adventure story and fairy tale, even if it is the work of a writer who has yet to reach the full extent of his creative powers.

That said, it also a very strange book, that strays very far indeed from a typical heroic path in favour of wandering the fields of moral complexity and (relatively) complex characterizations. The protagonists are far from perfect and even the villains show surprising signs of humanity.

A lovely book to read aloud to a child, there is every chance that you will have to read it twice, since you'll likely treat yourself to the whole thing before you sit down for Chapter Two with said youngster.

The long version lives inside. (As usual, there are spoilers.)

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How to defeat piracy and keep your readers happy

December 14, 2012, OTTAWA — I'm more than halfway through the new novel by the excellent story-teller Kristine Kathryn Rusch. As I fully-expected, Blowback is proving to be a hell of a page-turner — or rather, a hell of a screen-changer.

"Screen-changer"? Okay, I'm sure there's a better term out there. What I mean is, I bought Blowback as an electronic book, not paper book.

I pretty much fell in love with e-books from the moment I bought an reader just over a year ago, but it's been a problem getting books for it. Too often, new books are either not available in electronic versions in Canada or else they are available but encumbered by Digital Rights Management systems that don't play nice with my Linux-based operating system.

So it felt almost revolutionary to be able to simply buy, and then read Rusch's new novel without either stealing it or jumping through a myriad of electronic hoops in order to do so.

Defeating Piracy: Kristyne Kathryn Rusch is doing it right.

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Neil Young, Crazy Horse and Me (then, and now)


Neil Young and Crazy Horse in Ottawa, November 24, 2012. Screen-shot lifted from a video posted to YouTube by Tom Kelly.

December 10, 2012, OTTAWA — I did something I swore I'd never do again a couple of decades ago: saw a concert at a big venue.

The band was Neil Young and Crazy Horse, on whose film, Rust Never Sleeps, I walked out in outrage when I was a kid.

I've written about that memory here.

As for the concert (and what a concert!) itself, my review lives at Young and Crazy: The alchemy of defiance.

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November 2012

Helsinki, Moscow, Oslo ... eat your hearts out!

Ottawa is the world's real Winter Capital!

The weather tried to freeze him
    it tried its level best.
At a hundred degrees below zero,
    he buttoned up his vest.

— James Stevens, 'The Frozen Logger'

November 17, 2012, OTTAWA — With the official start to winter still more than a month away, the evening of Wednesday, November 14, 2012, felt unusually cold to Ottawa bicyclist, writer and all-round bon vivant Geoffrey Dow when he unlocked his bicycle outside the Ottawa International Airport.

His machine's saddle was dusted with frost, as if the atmosphere itself was freezing out of the sky.

Not to put too fine a point on it, he deemed it unusually cold for the middle of November.

Cycling towards home he soon saw why. He pulled to the side of the road to document the situation some 15 kilometres south of his home in downtown Ottawa.


Electronic sign seen on the evening of Wednesday, November 14, 2012, near the MacDonald-Cartier International Airport.

"Why yes," Mr. Dow agreed when asked if he felt cold. "Now that you mention it, it is a touch on the nippy side!"

Having snapped the photo, he zipped up his jacket and clambered back aboard his bicyle for the long ride home.

  — 30 —

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October 2012

In lieu of trick-or-treating

October 31, 2012, OTTAWA — Click here for the details if you missed the link below. And happy Hallowe'en for real.

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Magazine, found at a newstand

October 31, 2012, OTTAWA — Click here for the details if you missed the link below. And happy Hallowe'en for real.

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Happy Hallowe'en, bitches!

October 27, 2012, OTTAWA — It's nearly two o'clock on a Saturday morning. I'm tired and cranky and feeling a tad contrarian.

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Nalo Hopkinson's nightmare of Blackness


October 7, 2012, OTTAWA — Drawing on myths from Jamaica to Russia, on folk tales of Coyote and Brer Rabbit, and maybe from sources as disparate as Chuck Jones, J.R.R. Tolkien and Mervyn Peake (not to mention Lewis Carroll), Nalo Hopkinson's "Young Adult" debut is as singular a creation as it has been my pleasure to read in a very long time.

All at once a surreal adventure, a subtle exploration of privilege in caste-ridden society and a daring push against the walls of narrative fiction itself, The Chaos has no villain and its (black, Canadian) heroine never wields a blade nor fires a gun.

Though questions of race and identify form organic parts of how the novel's characters view and interact with the world (none of the book's major characters is white), race is not what the book is about. Hopkinson is telling a story, she is not preaching.

Narrated by probably the most fully-realized teenager I have come across in fiction, The Chaos is always surprising, a thoroughly unconventional page-turner you owe it to yourself to read — to pass on to any literate young person you know.

For my full review, click, "When I cried, the tears were black."

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Meet Geoffrey Dow: Art Director


October 5, 2012, OTTAWA — It might only be a one-shot title (mine, that is; Humanist Perspectives itself has been around since 1967), but "Art Director: Geoffrey Dow" has a very nice ring to it.

I've always enjoyed layout and design, going as far back as the halcyon days of Letraset, and getting the chance to produce a 40-page, slick magazine was the fulfillment of a dream I had almost forgotten I had.

Though the work is now done on computer, not paper, the sensation of doing tactile work remains.

At this point, I don't know whether I will get the chance to repeat the process, but I hope so!

Click here for details.

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September 2012 (B)

Linguistic relativism or, Losing my obsession

College and Bathurst
Does anybody have a photo of the facade of the old KOS (just around the corner from this streetcar)? I'd be most gratified to use it here.

September 14, 2012, OTTAWA — As one of maternally Finnish origin, I for many years insisted that the word, sauna, is properly (Correctly! I would insist) pronounced SOW-A-NA, not "SAWN-A" as is the flat and nasal fashion among Anglo-Canadians.

I knew it was a losing battle, yet I kept up the fight; in life, as it would be on the internet, I could not easily let anyone just get away with Being Wrong.

I must have been in my late 20s or early 30s when, having a drink at the restaurant, KOS, in Toronto, I had a similar argument with my friend John.

John, who is of paternally Greek background, corrected me when I uttered the restaurant's name as COSS. The word, he insisted, is pronounced KHOCSH, not COSS. "It's a Greek word," he said, "and I know."

"Oh come on," said I, "we're in Toronto and it's become an English word now. So let it go."

We argued about it for a while, until the parallel with John's obsessive need for me to pronounce Kos "correctly" and my own to correct others in their pronunciation of sauna finally dawned upon me, a slow-motion intellectual sunrise.

And so, upon reflection, did I give up my fight. Languages evolve, and there is little to be gained in raging against the tides of pronunciation, or even (usually) of definition.

Let's let XKDC plays us out ..., since Randall Munroe's latest cartoon inspired this in the first place.

Cautionary Ghost
Cartoon is reproduced under the Creative Commons Licence 2.5. The original lives at http://xkcd.com/1108/.

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September 2012 (A)

No escaping the Tedium of the Daleks

September 6, 2012, OTTAWA — It's not too far off a year since Doctor Who last graced our screens, the 2011 Christmas special. Which I know I watched, but about which I did not blog and of which now I remember precisely nothing at all — save that I found it dull but not outrageously offensive.

(Oh. Wait. As I typed the preceding, I began to recall that episode's companion of the hour. A woman, naturally, and one whose identify (correct me if I'm wrong) and whose heroism was entirely bound up in the fact of her motherhood. Hot mother or hot model, that's our Mr. Moffat. Ah well, onwards.)

Between that ostensible special then and the program's resumption now, I made the mistake of paying good money to see Moffat (et al)'s Tintin: The Secret of the Unicorn (which was only the second worst movie I have seen this year). So it comes as no surprise that "Asylum of the Daleks" shows no sign that Moffat has taken a remedial course in story-telling. Indeed, the new outing only provides further proof that Steven Moffat has forgotten everything there is to know about the basics of narrative fiction.

What Moffat does have is a strong command of the idea of story-telling, the parts that make up a story. But of story itself? Fuggedaboutit.

Does it sound as if I repeat myself? No doubt: I repeat myself. If that bothers you, please just pass on by. Otherwise, please click the link to (re)discover the moral vacuum at the heart of Steven Moffat's Doctor Who. Spoilers within, of course.

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