WORLD FANTASY NEW ORLEANS, REVIEW AND RUMINATION

Well, World Fantasy Convention 2022 in New Orleans is over, and as usual, it is followed by my ongoing existential crisis.

Overall, the big positive of the experience was that it was New Orleans. Storied, marvellous New Orleans, capital of French North America, traded back and forth between the Spanish, French, British and the Americans, birthplace of Jazz and blues, center of Cajun and creole culture, gateway to the Mississippi and entrance to the Caribbean and Gulf of Mexico, the ultimate crossroads, alluring, magical, historical, every bit of it steeped in romance. There are other remarkable cities in North America, but there’s none quite like New Orleans.

I’ve wanted to see it my whole life. I remember being heartbroken by Hurricane Katrina, horrified by the devastation, but heartbroken by the idea that something unique and marvellous might be destroyed forever, that I’d never get to see it.

My brother, in a moment of insight, tells me I’m A to B. That my trajectory is a straight line, I am purpose driven as an arrow, launching relentlessly towards a target. I am object oriented. I couldn’t just go to New Orleans. I needed a purpose.

And the World Fantasy Convention gave that to me – a reason to be there.

I took advantage of it, arriving several days early to play tourist and go sightseeing, delighting in buying overpriced merch, because this was New Orleans tourist junk. I took the tourist tours on double decker buses and ghost walks, spent Halloween night on Bourbon Street, rode the streetcars to the ends of their line, took a ferry. I wandered all over the French Quarter, Algiers Point, the Waterfront and Riverwalk, Garden District, Business district, visited the Graveyards. Ate in restaurants. Made and hung out with friends. There was music and musicians everywhere, on streets, in restaurants, everyone playing. I love the way people spoke, the cheerful rush of words, the playfulness of the banter.

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Goodbye Whittaker

Well, The Power of the Doctor aired this week, officially bringing the Jody Whittaker/Chis Chibnall era to an end.  The five year reign of Jody Whittaker, through three foreshortened seasons and a handful of specials is over and done with. So it goes.  What a waste of time and money.
I don’t suppose this matters to anyone. The Misogyny brigade will cheer. The feminist brigade will gnash their teeth.
But honestly, I ended up watching Legends of the Sea Devils three times over a few months, and it broke me. I’ve rewatched Flux,  Whittaker’s third series. I rewatched her Dalek specials.  I’ve been rewatching episodes from the first and second series.
And you know what? It’s just terrible.  Half assed, appalling writing, trite and cliched. Endless dropped threads, subplots that get abandoned. Even the episodes we’re supposed to like because they’re ‘good for us’ are sub-par and trading on their virtue.  Once in a while something good or interesting comes along, a notion, an idea, a bit of characterization. But it’s immediately ganged up on and beaten to death by the mediocre elements.
But watching it all over again made me realize something.
Whittaker herself?  She was terrible.  She was absolutely terrible.
Maybe she’s a really good actress in other movies or television series. But she’s not here. Her performance is flat, wooden, preening.  It’s a terrible, inconsistent performance without a scintilla of life or charisma.
And before you call me a misogynist pig, I’ve actually written books about Women playing the Doctor and succeeding. The Pirate Histories of Doctor Who.  Barbara Benedetti played the Doctor through four stories from 1984 to 1988, and the Seattle actress was flat out brilliant.  Sharon Horton played the Doctor in two stories, one of which was a three part serial in the 1990s, and she did it well.  Lily Daniel played the Doctor through two episodes of the Ginger Chronicles a decade ago.  Krystal Moore played the Doctor in Doctor Who – Velocity, through nine short episodes, right now.
They all brought different interpretations to the Doctor – confidence, resilience, flamboyance, cleverness, compassion. But they all had one thing in common: They were better Doctors than Whittaker.

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And now I have Audio Books!

So here’s what happened.

I finally get around to doing print books. Yay, I suppose.

But actually, I do print editions of my LEXX series. And I’m really happy about that. LEXX has been a really long drawn out project for me, almost twenty-five years, with a lot of work, a lot of money, a lot of ups and downs.

In the end, I poured it all into writing the book I wanted to write, the way I wanted to write it. And eventually, starting in 2017, I started releasing the series as ebooks, finishing in 2021. And now in 2022, I’d done print editions.

I was happy. After all these years, all this work, I had a sense of closure, of finality. With print books, I’d taken it as far as it could go, polished it as much as I could. I had something physical that I could autograph and ship to Brian, Paul, Jeff and other people, “Here’s my tribute to your good work, have a nice life.”

It was done, I had closure and completion, and I could finally let it go, lay down the burden.

So I post on the Facebook LEXX groups that I’ve done print books, they’re all out. That’s right.  For anyone who is still a fan of LEXX after 20 years, and somehow can’t get enough about LEXX through wikipedia and other Wiki’s, etc. etc., there is now an actual series of trade paperbacks chronicling the rise and fall of both Salter Street Films and the LEXX series, in excruciating detail.

Some dick write back.

“Print books are okay, I suppose. But I don’t like to read. I’d rather have an audiobook. Could you do an audiobook?”

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Okay, so now I have PRINT books!

“Why don’t you have print books?” Fran Bitney, a friend of mine, asked me.

I like Fran, she’s one of the local Keycon people. Very nice, very sweet person. Her mother is a poet. We’re on speaking terms, we have friends in common, no animosity, friendly enough. So when I say friend, that’s basically the category of people who don’t throw rocks and sticks at me when they’re sure I’m out of range.

Look, I take what I can get.

Anyway, Fran asked the question.

I’ve been doing eBooks. Been really fine doing eBooks. Been happy doing eBooks.

I have avoided doing print books.

Theoretically you can. There’s presses like Friesen that do small print runs. If you want to pay for a hundred or a couple of hundred and try and sell them, go ahead.

There’s Print On Demand (POD), and that’s getting better and better. There’s companies that do POD – Ingram Spark, Lulu.com, Amazon, Draft2Digital, probably others. There’s even POD machines in bookstores, McNally Robinson, the local independent bookseller had one.

I haven’t really been interested. The possibility is there, but so what?

Basically, if you’re self publishing 98% of your sales will be eBooks. That’s just how it is. You don’t get to be in bookstores, where print books are sold. You don’t get to have the commercial infrastructure of major or medium presses and publishers with their infrastructure to push print books. Print books are expensive, that’s asking people to take a big chance.

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Keycon Post-Mortem

Well, admittedly this is late. Be nice, I’m finally catching up after the beating Covid handed me in May and June.

Yeah, June. Did I post on June 2, 2022, saying I was finally recovered? I wish. It’s insidious, you think you’re fine, until you actually try and do something, then everything takes twice as long and is twice as hard. There was steady improvement. But I think it took me the middle of June to shake the damned thing completely. I got my fourth shot as soon as possible. Had a bunch of health issues to deal with, still dealing with them, and a lot of catching up to do.

So Keycon?

Normally, if I’m there and doing things, I’d be announcing on the blog in advance, to make sure people had extra time to skip readings and avoid my stuff. Also, it’s kind of handy to have the note so I can update my artists resume.

Honestly, I was barely functioning this Keycon. I was clear of the virus by the time it rolled around, and definitely not infectious. But I was still depleted. I was good for a few hours, then it was time to go home, or find a soft spot on the floor for a nap.

This Keycon was a bit interesting for a few reasons. It was physically back for one, which was nice for the people attending. Keycon is the huge social event for the Winnipeg fan community, and while I’m not really part of that community, or any community, I respect that importance. And let’s face it, that social event is the primary function, no one really cares about writers or panels or programming. It works on other levels, and that’s a good thing. The point is it works.

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Farewell to LEXX

As of June/July, 2022, literally twenty years after the show went off the air, long after almost anyone else cared, my long, long relationship with LEXX comes to an end, with the release of trade paperbacks of each of the four volume LEXX Unauthorized series, and the release of an audio-book version of volume one.

This feels significant, if only to me. But here I am, I’ve got a blog, so I’ve got a forum to talk about it.

To begin with: What is LEXX?

It’s a television series that ran four seasons from 1997 to 2002, about an organic spaceship, a ten mile long dragonfly designed to blow up planets. The ship was stolen by a wayward crew of misfits – Stanley Tweedle, a former security guard fourth class; Zev or Xev Bellringer, a rebellious wife and escaped love slave; Kai, an undead former assassin, and 790 a love-struck robot head.

Over the course of four seasons, they fought an evil empire, destroyed a planet sized bug, presided over the destruction of an entire universe, went to heaven and hell, and ended up on Earth, where things didn’t go well.

It was also a marvellously surreal and subversive show, owing as much to Barbarella and film makers like Bunuel and Jodorowsky as it did Star Trek and Star Wars. It frequently indulged surrealist and absurdist sensibilities, introducing stunning images and ideas. It was, quite simply unique.

And it was a thoroughly Canadian product, even a regional product, conceived, produced and populated by Atlantic Canadians, from Salter Street Films in Halifax. The background story of its creation and production was almost as unconventional, bizarre and entertaining as anything on camera.

I loved it.

I loved it enough to write books about it.

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Did the Covid thing

As nearly as I can tell, I contracted Covid on a flight back from The Pas at the end of April.  I’d spent a week up in The Pas, but I’m pretty sure I wasn’t infected or infectious there, as I phoned around and checked with contacts.

Symptoms started in heavy on April 29. I won’t bore you with them. They were the usual. I went downhill fast. I was exhausted, but I could only sleep for short spells and only sitting up. If I laid down, I could feel my lungs filling with fluid. When I went to sleep, I’d startle awake within an hour, with the sensation I was drowning inside my own lungs.  That lasted a miserable week.

After that, symptoms abated rapidly, with a minor relapse. But at the end of two weeks, the home Covid test was clear.

It was over and done.  Except it wasn’t.  For the next two weeks, I struggled with the after effects – exhaustion and fatigue, even minor exertions left me worn out. I had trouble remembering, trouble focusing.  I would watch a sitcom and be unable to follow the plot. At one point, I almost set fire to my kitchen making dinner. Underneath the feeling of normality, I could tell I was off, I wasn’t safe to drive a car on the road.

It was odd, I felt normal, and with effort could even function or act relatively competently for a brief spell.  I was certainly free of the nightmare of the first two weeks.  But this normality was deceptive.  I think it’s called brain fog, but the truth was that I wasn’t functioning, or couldn’t function effectively. The simplest things, everything took so much longer, felt so much more difficult.  It’s insidious, it’s almost impossible to describe how disabling it was, particularly when I could force moments of clarity, and yet it was disabling.  Brain fog.

Instead, I drifted through the next two weeks like a ghost, trying to do the absolute minimum, trying for recovery.

So here I am, June 1. I’ve lost the entire month of May. It feels like a hazy blur. I did some work for clients, did some panels at Keycon, I had contact with friends, did basic maintenance. But it all feels so remote, barely remembered, half forgotten. Mostly, it’s exhaustion and incomprehension, waiting in a kind of limbo to swim slowly back to myself. I lost a month from my life, and I have this desperate sense of everything slipping through my fingers, I need to do things, I need to do so much, I need to live while I can… and instead, I just existed.

Hoping to get back to myself.  I think I’m getting better, clearer, more lucid. I think I’m getting clear of it. But this is deceptive. Sitting here, you can feel fine, it’s only when you try something you discover you’re still dragged down.  What I’m most worried about is Long Covid, that this haze I struggle with will last and last and be my new reality.

But here we are in June, a new month, a new chance. I want to live, not just exist.

The Ukraine Invasion – It’s not about NATO, it’s about the Oil

How about that war? Huh?

Nobody saw that coming. Go figure.

Exactly how or why the war started, and what the motivations are is a bit of a mystery. When you look at it, there doesn’t seem to be a precipitating incident. Relations had not worsened. There was no crisis. Instead, Russia calmly builds up troops along the border for several months, assuring that everything is business as normal, and Whoops! Invasion!

To be fair, Russia has been invading Ukraine since 2014, when they took over Crimea and set up the phony Donbas and Luhansk “People’s Republics.” Since that time, there’s been ongoing low level terrorist attacks and fatalities arising from Donbas and Luhansk. So this seems to be a continuation of Russian aggression starting in 2014.

But why now? The situation’s been reasonably stable for eight years. It’s not like any of the conquered areas were destabilizing or boiling over. It was an unhappy state of affairs for Ukraine, but Russia was still sitting pretty. It’s not like the Crimeans were revolting.

There were some issues in Crimea. The Ukrainians cut off the canal that supplied water, and Crimean farmland was undergoing desertification. But that wasn’t yet a crisis, and the Russians had invested in desalinisation.

On the lefty side, there’s the theory repeated and regurgitated this is all NATO’s fault. Basically, the idea goes, NATO’s relentless expansion as a warmongering alliance relentlessly enlisting new members has pushed Russia into a corner. Expansion has left Russia no ‘comfort’ space, and therefore, it’s defending itself by invading Ukraine.

Okay, got to call bullshit on that one. NATO’s last eastward expansion was 2004 – eighteen years ago. That’s when Latvia, Lithuania and Estonia joined. Call me crazy, but if the expansion was eighteen years ago, I’m not convinced. What? The Russians didn’t notice? Nobody gave them the memo? The mail was really slow? Seriously.

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My Forty K Challenge

A while back, a famous local artist came to me with a challenge. Write a story about one of their artworks. More than one actually.  Anything I wanted.

Actually, there’s a little more to it than that. They were doing a portfolio, fifty or sixty pieces of art, full of surreal images and scenes, glimpses into a strange otherworld, both Buck Rogers and profoundly abstract. Here were the rules of the game.

There would be four writers, working independently:

  1. Write stories about the artworks and the artworks only.
  2. No cheating, no going by artwork titles, or by the artists sequence, no asking the artist, no talking to each other, no inside knowledge, outside knowledge, nothing.
  3. No limits – write about as many or as few pieces of art as you wanted. Write as much or as little as you wanted, for each artwork and for the whole. Write anything you wanted. You could write a hundred words on a single drawing, or a hundred thousand words on all of them. Write it any way you wanted.
  4. In six months, send it in.

That sounded like a blast. It was definitely working without a net. Of course I said yes.

So here I am, a week ahead of schedule, and I’ve delivered – thirty stories and forty thousand words.

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Stumbling Toward the Desperate Hours

Well, I know this is a writers blog. But what the hell, I’ve got a platform here, and the beauty of obscurity, is that I can say anything I want at any time I want.  Most of us trudge through life in silence, or we ‘tweet’ or post ‘memes.’  But I’m a writer, I like to write. I like to develop complex thoughts and ideas. In this world of flash and brevity, I like to go a little longer.

Anyway, back to the war.  The Ukraine/Russia War. March 17, officially three weeks in. When it started, everyone thought it would be a rout. Two weeks or less. Russian tanks would be in Kyiv in days. Funny how it didn’t turn out like that.

It’s still Russia’s to lose. They’re probably going to conquer Ukraine, but it’s not looking nearly as certain as it once did, and it’s definitely not going to be as easy as anyone thought.

I’m going to offer a few meditations and thoughts as to how things are going.

Stalin is alleged to have said “Quantity has a quality all its own.”

I don’t know if he actually said that. Stalin was at heart, a cheap thug and something of a buffoon. So maybe he said it. Maybe someone else did, and it just got attributed to him.

So it may be that sheer overwhelming numbers are going to win out.  Putin has gone in big.  Just to repeat – the Russian armed forces are about 750,000 strong. It’s supposed to be just over a million, but there’s evidence that they don’t have a full head count. Of that 750,000, a lot are engaged in aeronautics and space, a lot are in the navy, a lot are in the border patrol, and some are in the National Guard.

The actual effective Russian army, ground forces, including air support and Special Forces, are around 325,000 give or take. Of that, it looks like the invasion, counting both the forces in Ukraine, and the folk just outsides supporting in Russia and Belarus are about 210,000.  I’m ballparking obviously.  But that means that about 65% of Russia’s entire ground army has been committed.  That’s a huge effort, that’s about the maximum you can get away with – the rest is infrastructure, manning bases, readiness, basically all going on skeleton crews.

Now, some interesting things coming out of this. Almost from the beginning, we’ve been hearing stories about Russians running out of gas, short on food, uncoordinated actions, etc.  I tended to dismiss a lot of that for three reasons. First, its not propaganda, but they’re the bad guys, so the media is interested in making them look bad, there’s bias there; Second, there may be a lot of ignorance of tactics and operations and stuff that might make no sense or look like weakness to a layman is actually seasoned soldiers methodically making their preparations;  Third, sure its real, or some of it is, but in an operation this gigantic, taking up so much of the army, even with extraordinary preparedness, hiccups and screw ups are going to be an inevitable drumbeat.

I wasn’t sure it was real. Probably wasn’t. If it was an illusion, or simple teething, that would prove out over a couple of weeks.

But it’s persisted.

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