Showing posts with label Leigh Lundin. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Leigh Lundin. Show all posts

21 May 2017

Imagination

by Leigh Lundin

You can learn a lot about story-telling from movies, but ounce-for-ounce, you might learn even more from short films. Much like comparing short stories to novels, these compact stretches of faux celluloid take a lot of work and often collaborative effort.

I've kept the examples short, partly because our time is valuable but also to demonstrate the impact of tight story telling. An issue seen in YouTube shorts is that student movie-makers sometimes haven't figured out the definition of plot. Instead, some present vignettes masquerading as stories. Undoubtedly our editors at AHMM and EQMM come across the same problem when parsing new submissions.

Following are three short samplings. Pick and choose as you will. I saved the most unexpected for last.

Print Your Guy


Old theme, new technology. You know what's going to happen, but it's still fun watching it play out.



Waltz Duet

This brilliant little film packs a lot into three minutes. You'll notice the music-box theme. I don't have sufficient adjectives to describe the plot and I've struggled to come up with a way of explaining it without giving it away. Let me know what you think in the comments.



The Future

You'll need 3-D VR googles (like a high-tech stereiscope) and  an Android or iPad tablet or smart phone. Google Cardboard goggles priced at $10-20 are very cheap and easy to use. Without the right gear, you'll only get a hint of what to expect, but imagine a modern-day ViewMaster and watch this Justin Lin short movie to see where the future or presentation technology is heading.

14 May 2017

Opposites Attract

  Family Fortnight +   Leading up to the International Day of Families on the 15th of May, we bring you the sixteenth in a series about mystery writers’ take on families. Settle back and enjoy this Mother’s Day article!

by Leigh Lundin

My parents were complete opposites. Dad was tall and enormously strong at 6’4 and 240 pounds. Legend said he once lifted a tractor off a man. On the way into the city for my world debut, their car slid off an icy Iowa country road. Dad shouldered the car back onto the track, and they continued to the hospital.

Mom weighed a hundred pounds and topped a shade over five feet. Even so, she could be ferocious. Dad was easy-going; Mom was anything but. The word ‘feisty’ was one of the milder applicable adjectives.

Dad was slow-talking and patient. Mom wasn’t. She could fit a couple of paragraphs in between any two words of his. As for patience, I think she ripped that page out of the dictionary.

Animals, children, and women of all sorts loved Dad. Mom could stare down lions and tigers.

Dad farmed and was gifted at mechanics, but unexpectedly, he was a self-taught polymath. It’s difficult to discuss his range of interests, because they included pretty much everything– math, science, psychology, philosophy, literature, art, poetry, and world events. On Sundays, he’d listen to opera on the radio followed by baseball. He was a google before Google– it seemed impossible to name a subject he either didn’t know or know where to find it.

Each year, my mother purchased a Playboy subscription for my father. She often pointed out pretty women on the street. When her friends questioned her sanity, she said she liked that her husband appreciated beautiful women and preferred her most of all.

In these days of parental hysteria, if little Johnny or Jane sees a bare boob or bottom, the child’s life is considered ruined. This seems so alien to the way I was raised given not only my parents, but my artist Aunt Rae. Nudity in art hung on walls and appeared in books all around us. We weren’t actually proffered Playboy, but being kids, we discovered where they were kept and we caught up on the ‘articles’ from time to time. We learned the lesson that sex was natural and part of a loving environment. When I moved to New York, many residents appeared repressed to me. Bear in mind that New York then had restrictions on selling of condoms and even discussions of birth control.

Swelter Smelter

Dad slept two to four hours a night. Mom could sleep twelve and take an afternoon nap. My father owned pajamas, but apparently never wore them. My mother would appear in the late morning swathed in his oversized PJs, a fuzzy towel pinned around her neck, an ancient green cardigan buttoned over that, boy’s argyle socks… and that’s merely the part we could see. If Dad slept nude, Mom covered up for an Arctic winter.

Once a year, Mother made an exception when Dad’s mother visited. My mom and grandmother loved each other, but they also loved to annoy each other. During her mother-in-law’s visits, Mom wore short-shorts and a halter top, clearly hoping to needle Granny. How Mom survived those freezing 98° temperatures, no one knows.

Mom’s broken thermostat and susceptibility to chills carried over into the car. On a summer day with the windows rolled up and no air conditioning, we kids gasped for oxygen. If we dared roll down the window a crack, Mom would say, “There’s a draft… I can feel it.” Dad typically responded with a dry admonition. “Boys, it’s only 98° and your mother’s chilled. If your flesh isn’t melting, roll up the window.”

Supercharged Action Heroine

Dad usually drove an old truck or car that interested him at the time, but he made sure Mom had a nice car. He bought Mom a Packard with a supercharged V-8 and the acceleration of a Lear Jet.

Mom sat on a cushion to peer over the hood. To a casual observer unable to see a driver, the Packard must have looked like it drove itself.

For such a tiny thing, Mom had a lead foot. Her gas pedal had only two positions– off and full on. One of my grade school classmates described a Sunday morning when we met at a highway crossroads. Both vehicles politely stopped at the stop signs and then Mom rocketed off. Roger claimed that by the time their family reached the town limits, we were sitting in church singing hymns.

Mom versus Chuck Berry

Two branches of a local Everhart family turned out wildly divergent. One exhibited a wicked sense of humor, the other had no humor gene at all. Naturally this latter bullying branch, Lloyd, Floyd, and Lester, rode our school bus and made life miserable for the rest of us. Actually Lloyd wasn’t bad, but the other two had the girth and temperament of constipated Cape buffalo. Flexing arms the size of 55-gallon drums, they boyishly liked to stress-test the reflexes of kids three, four, five years younger. As long as they didn't get blood or body parts on the seats, our school bus driver was content to ignore their playful antics.

Slight relief came about when Floyd reached high school age and bought an old Studebaker junker. He souped up the engine and from there on out, terrified citizens on the highway instead of us kids on the bus.

Studebaker versus the Packard
1951 Studebaker Commander 1958 Studebaker Packard Hawk

One fine day on a ride with Mom, she swept up on the bumper of Everhart, who wasn't used to seeing anything arrive in his rear-view mirror. About now you can start humming Maybellene.
As we was motivatin’ over the hill,
Everhart was whuppin’ a Coup de Ville.
His Studebaker a-rollin’ out of the gate,
But nothin’ outrun Mom’s Packard V-8.
Mom swung out to pass him, again not something bully boy Everhart was used to seeing. He leaned forward and gripped the wheel.
His Studebaker doin’ about ninety-five,
She's bumper to bumper, rollin’ side by side.
He punched the accelerator. The barrels of his carburetor opened, gulping raw gasoline into the cylinders. The gutted mufflers roared flaming unburned fuel.
Next thing I saw that Studebaker grill
Doin’ a hundred and ten gallopin’ over that hill.
Off hill curve, a downhill stretch,
We and that Studebaker neck and neck.
Realizing she wasn't passing as expected, Mom goosed the accelerator. Thrown back in our seats, my brother and I, mouths agape in horror, were petrified– NO ONE messed with an angry Everhart. Seeing he was losing ground, he plunged his pedal to the floor. He was determined no broad was going to pull ahead of him.
The Studebaker pulled up door to door,
Struggling and straining, it wouldn't do no more.
The sky clouded over and it started to rain.
Mom tooted her horn from the passin’ lane.
Still in the left side of the road, Mom glanced over and said, "What is that boy doing?" She floored it. The supercharger clutch engaged. Its rotors whined as it spun up, pressurizing air, vaporizing fuel, taching 6000… 7000 RPM.
The motor wound up, the shift went down
And that’s when we heard that highway sound.
The Studebaker lookin’ like it’s sittin’ still
She passed Everhart at the top of the hill.
Everhart faded to a dim speck on the horizon. Uh-oh.

My brother and I, half the size of Everhart, fully expected him to corner us and beat us to death with a rusty tire iron. We hadn’t, however, counted on his embarrassment. Everhart was so mortified, so humiliated to be out-raced by our tiny mother, he avoided us, turning away whenever he saw us coming.

Gossip of the escapade reached my father. He quietly removed the belt from the supercharger, claiming its bearings had overheated. Mom noticed something amiss and complained its get-up-and-go had got up and gone.

Just another day in the life of my family. With characters like my parents, how could anyone not expect me to write?

23 April 2017

International Good Books • Great Writers Series

by Leigh Lundin

Last month, I talked about Alice and how buying from International GoodBooks (GoGoodBooks.com) donates to a humanitarian cause. From the land of Stephen Ross, the New Zealand Oxfam charity has created two other ads, one I’d seen before and another recommended by a reader (thanks ABA), I wasn’t aware of.

Whereas Alice was surreal, one of the others defines racy and the other esoteric noir. Let’s start with the dark esoteric and save the sexy one to wrap up.

Metamorphosis

This way lies madness…


An advanced education gone horribly wrong.

Havana Heat

This way lays… well…


Once your panting subsides, you know where to order your books.

Go ask Alice.

16 April 2017

Model Employees

by Leigh Lundin

The French noun librairie looks obvious, right? Library? Mais non, it is one of those words related yet different… it means bookstore. Library en français is bibliothèque. Biblio– the root is obvious once you know the word.

La Librairie Mollat is a sizable bookstore in Bordeaux that has gained a reputation not only for books, but for its photography of books as modeled by store employees. By reputation, I refer to its 50 000 Instagram fans. What makes Librairie Mollat special? Take for example:



The employees photograph book covers… modeled with fellow employees.


Most are amusing, but the precision of the photos astonishes me.




Employees lend body parts or portions of their faces.






The eyes in this lady amaze me.


This case looks almost transparent.


Mustaches are a thing.




Charming, isn't it!


I love this one.


Our paranormal pal Charlaine Harris is very much a thing, too.












Charlaine Harris' covers are by far the most popular.


Enjoy the rest of the show.








Clever!














Backstory…


 Finally for you Star Wars fans…


Thanks to the reader who brought the bookstore to my attention. For other examples, visit here. For the full collection, check the store's Instagram page.

09 April 2017

The Expanse

by Leigh Lundin

A month ago, when Barb Goffman wrote about new television shows, she touched on the sci-fi series, Timeless which, in my opinion, is pretty good as long as they keep SOS out of it.

Becoming an adherent of hard science fiction was foreordained– my first or second adult novel in the third grade was Fritz Lieber’s Gather Darkness (serialized 1943, published in book form 1950). I still keep that novel. Part of its technology of light wave cancellation is under study ¾ of a century later– Harry Potter’s cloak of invisibility could become a real thing one day.

Mysteries and sci-fi formed two great genre loves, and their golden ages lived for me. Blade Runner, The Man in the High Castle… stories like those formed the bookscape of middle and high school.

Soft on Hard Fiction

The term ‘hard’ science fiction defines the purest form harking back to the golden and silver ages. At one time, adherents adopted ‘SF’ to distinguish the real stuff from the lighter fare enjoyed by science fantasy and space opera (e.g, Star Wars) fans, but others resented the co-optation of sci-fi.

This may surprise to those who aren’t yet fans: Hard sci-fi isn’t about monsters or wookies or paranormal. Hard science fiction is about society and ‘what’s possible’ propositions.

The Science of Imagination

One unspoken maxim rules sci-fi… the science must either be real or at least possible. That’s why Superman would be classified more as science fantasy because the physics doesn’t compute. Writers can exploit an exception– they may devise a universe with its own physics as long as the science can logically and consistently be extrapolated.

Consider Michael Crichton’s Jurassic Park (1990). Dinosaurs in modern times? What could be sillier? Except Crichton knew his biology. He delved into considerable detail (in a clever Disney Epcot-like presentation) how dinosaur DNA might be trapped in amber. DNA has also also been recently found in mammoth bone marrow, so these ideas lie within the realm of possibility.

Likewise, Crichton’s 1999 Timeline might seem preposterous to congressional and cabinet appointees to science and environmental committees, guys who failed sixth grade Creationism in the Classroom. Facing a career as vacuum cleaner salesmen, they opted to enter politics specializing in the myths of global climate change and those unexplained mysteries of female fertility. Crichton, in fact, based the premise on actual physics experiments of space-time teleportation.

Those then-current experiments in space-time underlaid “Think Like a Dinosaur”, a subtle, almost tender, bitter-sweet episode of The Outer Limits, (2001, S07E08) which had nothing to do with dinosaurs. The program explored ethics and commitment through a vehicle of love and quiet despair.

Hard-Boiled Directives

Dashiel Hammett’s and Raymond Chandler’s stories touched upon socialism and capitalism gone bad. We’ve read that Ross MacDonald’s works were a commentary on the indolently wealthy 1%, and Dennis Lehane writes about a civilization uncaring about about cops, crime, and corruption. These societal undercurrents– intended or not– are a side-effect of their crime writing. In contrast, the best science fiction centralizes social themes as the core thrust.

For example, 2001, A Space Odyssey reimagined evolution of the human species. Soylent Green and one of my favorites, Silent Running, dealt with a society increasingly indifferent about pollution, over-population, and food shortages. Why fictionalize these issues? The creators want you to care while largely avoiding the politics of the day.

No Expanse Spared

The Expanse
My attention was drawn to the 2015 SyFy television series, The Expanse. Sporting a title in homage to Star Trek, it’s based on the novels of James S.A. Corey, nom de plume of writers Daniel Abraham and Ty Franck. (Their pseudonym combines their middle names.)

The Expanse skipped 2016 but returned this year for a second season, which is running now. A third series is in the works for 2018.

The Expanse… within thirty seconds it hooked me. The music… the dark theme– trust me, this program is so Stygian, it makes noir look like Easter pastels in kindergarten.

The cast includes an intriguing classic detective, Josephus Miller, who channels the quintessential Marlowe and Spade. Another fascinating character is the assistant undersecretary to the UN, Chrisjen Avasarala, played to perfection in the smoker’s voice of actress Shohreh Aghdashloo. A third complex character is Colonel Fred Johnson, former UN Marine and accused war criminal who runs a ship-building base at Tycho Station.

And then we have the crew of the Rocinante, kind of a Firefly on steroids. (Firefly was a great but short-lived sci-fi series also made into a movie.) The crews take a while to set aside their trust issues and realize the innate decency of the others.

To my surprise, I came to like the character of Amos Burton, a marine and mechanic, extremely devoted to his colleague Naomi Nagata. ‘Character’ is the key word. Appearing as a man of deceptively simple outlook and tastes, Burton wins over the audience and crew thanks to his private code of loyalty, decency, bravery, and level-headedness. He’s the kind of guy you wouldn’t want to marry your sister until you suddenly realized how wrong you were and what a great man she’d miss out on.

A kind of perfect resolution unexpectedly came about in the midst of season 2 titled “Home”. (S02E05) It achieved an unheard-of 9.6 rating in IMDB. At the moment, I’m enjoying a break from viewing, savoring the episode.

The Science of Silence

Last week, John wrote about guilty pleasures. I can’t say space battles do much for me, but The Expanse is enjoyably different. Mainly, it’s much more realistic. For example, rail guns, capable of high ‘muzzle’ velocities, are a real ‘thing’. The US Navy electromagnetically launched projectiles without the aid of chemical propellants or explosives at 8600kmph, seven times the speed of sound, double the speed of a very fast bullet. Think of a hi-tech slingshot powered by magnets.


The shows contain a few mistakes, including a deliberate one. Like every movie and television show ever filmed, you hear the roar of rockets, the sounds of gunfire, and the boom of explosions in outer space. Except… space is absolutely silent. Alien capitalized on this with the tag-line, “In space, no one can hear you scream.” Space movies would be boring without sound effects and a lot of foley artists would find themselves out of work, so phony sfx are forgivable. (2001 might have used silence in the outdoor scenes.)

And so?

Earlier, I rattled on about societal themes in hard science fiction. What are the underlying social issues of The Expanse? Politics, greed, exploration and exploitation, war and weaponry. Look for a scathing side note vis-à-vis the amoral symbiosis of Werhner von Braun-type Nazi technocrats as exploited by Germany and then the Allied Powers.

Like I said it’s all about society.

02 April 2017

Nothing to Crow About

by Leigh Lundin

April Fool's Day has passed, but…

Attempted Murder

attempted murder of crows
Attempted Murder

19 March 2017

Florida News – Sudden Death Edition

by Leigh Lundin

Florida postcard Death and Texas

Florida’s corporate prisons face a major problem. Our inmate population is so huge that even a death a day from guards and other inmates can’t cure the overload. We proudly possess the second largest death row in the nation and we can’t kill the convicted fast enough. Believe me, Florida tries and we compete fiercely.

Surmounting our rivalry with Texas came with bitter disappointment. Just as we pulled ahead of the Lone Star State, California came from behind to pass us both. That sound of gnashing teeth means we’re still Nº 2.

The Supreme Court keeps telling us our capital punishment statutes aren’t constitutional. Hey, as long as jurors had a ⅚ majority and it was fishing season, we were good to kill. We didn’t need no stinking 100% unanimosity. If a misguided jury decided the accused didn’t deserve death, our statutes allowed a hanging judge (who in Florida isn’t?) to override those wussy jurors and impose a death penalty anyway. How dare the Supreme Court tell us that’s not fair!

The Florida legislature raced forward and not only patched statutes making it easier to execute, they also enhanced the Shoot First / Stand Your Ground law, making it even easier for Floridians to kill each other and stray tourists caught in the crosshairs, not that anyone bothers aiming.

Originally, like Britain and most of North America, we relied upon the Castle Defense, a code aimed toward preserving life. If your land or your home was invaded, your first duty was to retreat, phone 911, and fire a warning shot if you were armed. You weren’t authorized to kill unless you were in imminent danger.

The Shoot First / Stand Your Ground law changed that. The NRA didn’t like the idea of strategically retreating and especially didn’t want good ammo going to waste. The SF/SYG law allowed you to shoot anyone who trespassed or stood in your way if you felt fearful. As has been noted, the legislation was written by white people for white people. Whereas a few hundred citizens have escaped prosecution or conviction, ask black folks how well that law worked for them.

Flush with the heaving, panting bosomy excitement of seeing the SF/SYG metastasize across the country, Florida decided it could do better. The new, enhanced law, making its way through the Florida legislature, adds new benefits for lucky gun owners.
  1. Just as SF/SYG removed the requirement of first attempting to retreat, the new and improved revision says you won’t even have to stand your ground. You could actively pursue your victim, er, fear-causing-person.
  2. In the original SF/SYG incarnation, you merely had to show you were afraid. The revision places the onus on police and prosecutors to prove beyond a reasonable doubt the use of deadly force was not justified. A perpetrator relying upon the new law, could without risk, ask for a hearing, claim self-defense, ask a judge for immunity from criminal and civil prosecution, and thus short-circuit a trial.
  3. If (2) seems in conflict with (1), don’t worry your pretty little non-Floridian head about facts and logic. (2) still applies.

Choice and Challenge

Along comes a bad guy named Markeith Loyd. He’s big, he’s scary, he’s black. He kills his pregnant girlfriend and goes on the lam, as golden-age crime novels say. While visiting a WalMart a few minutes from my house, he and a lady cop, Sgt. Debra Clayton, recognize each other. Before she can react, he shoots– kills her– and continues on the lam.

Markeith Loyd
Markeith Loyd © Orlando Sentinel
In mid-January, authorities captured the fugitive after he discarded his weapons and surrendered, then sustained “minor facial injuries as he resisted officers,” according to Orlando Police Chief John Mina. While I’m cynical about how he gave up and subsequently obtained facial injuries, I’m pleased to report police didn’t overreact.

Florida polished its latest in capital killing laws and salivated at the prospect of frying Loyd in the ‘new’ Old Sparky. If anyone deserved electric execution, Mr. Loyd did. As some might argue, he merited death writhing in ‘the chair’, his hair smoking, skin cooking, eyes bulging and face contorting so much executioners close the curtains to the sensitive in the viewing room.

And then…

Aramis Ayala
Aramis Ayala © Blue Lives Matter
Orange/Osceola County State Attorney Aramis Ayala, did the unthinkable. The first and only black State Attorney elected in Florida said enough, no more will I seek the death penalty. Quoting concerns about the latest version of Florida's death statute, she correctly added no evidence shows the death penalty improves public safety for citizens or law enforcement, it's costly and drags on for years for victims' families. Despite a spurious claim from the Governor's office, at no time did she say she wouldn't fight for justice– quite the opposite in fact.

Virtually everyone in the Sunshine State gasped in horror. All turned against her… women, men, black, white, Florida Republicans and Democrats (all four of them). Kinder blogs called her misguided. Some claimed she was blinded by BLM. The cruder, calloused, and clamorous referred to her as a traitor… and worse. One man is floating a petition demanding the Governor fire her.

Who couldn’t understand Police Chief Mina’s anger? Who could blame the families of the two women killed if they too were frustrated? No one could, not even Aramis Ayala.

One trait her multitude of opponents couldn’t accuse her of was a lack of bravery. She appears tiny but holds an outsized heart… in the senses of commitment, compassion and fortitude. People like her take the heat but eventually help turn the tide toward justice. Think of those who preceded her who just said no:
  • the suffragette who sought the right to vote.
  • the woman who wouldn’t sit in the back of the bus.
  • the little girl who attended school surrounded by the National Guard.
  • the teen who protested the Vietnam War.
  • the Son of Man alone in the Garden of Gethsemane.
She gave a comprehensive well-reasoned explanation for her decision without mentioning moral issues or her personal feelings on the topic. While fully cognizant of the desire for revenge and retribution, I admire what Aramis Ayala is trying to accomplish as she stands alone. That doesn’t negate the feelings of victims’ colleagues, family and friends, but her decision makes her a heroine… even if she’s wrong…but history says she isn’t.

The drama was far from over.

Our corrupt Governor Rick Scott (I use that term advisedly about a man who committed the largest fraud in Medicare/Medicaid in history and was fined $1.7-billion) read the polls and flew into a rage. He pulled Aramis Ayala from prosecution. Scott installed his own minion to erect the legal scaffolding around Markeith Loyd and grease the skids to the death chamber in that jewel of Florida, beautiful, exciting Raiford.
To reiterate, Gov. Scott removed a duly elected official from my county and substituted his own choice of prosecutor, subverting yet again our election process.
Could a defense attorney argue on appeal that Florida’s governor stacked the deck against the defendant? It would take someone with far more legal knowledge and imagination than I to construct such an argument, but clearly the governor is not above meddling in the legal system, a dangerous precedent. Ayala has received some support from state attorneys and at least one public defender who question Scott's subverting the election process and pressuring state lawyers to do his bidding.

Wait! We have good news! Florida is back on track for executions. With luck, the day may come when we no longer defensively chant, “We’re Number 2! We’re Number 2! We’re Number 2!”

Oh! If you feel like killing someone, come to Florida where your chance of prosecution is rapidly diminishing. We need the tourism dollars.

12 March 2017

International GoodBooks

by Leigh Lundin

I love Looking Glass Alice and good books and well-done animation and charitable causes. When they come together, that's Wonderland. Check out this lovely Alice clip from the land of Stephen Ross— New Zealand.


The good folks at International GoodBooks (GoGoodBooks.com) can apparently deliver pretty much anything worldwide through Amazon channels. I haven’t tried it yet, but if you use their portal rather than Amazon’s, purchases are supposed to work the same but they get credit.

Brilliant, both the sentiment and the advert. Let me know how you make out.

For fans of the surreal Alice like me, Disney’s 2010 Alice in Wonderland is delightful and much better than the 2016 Through the Looking Glass follow-up. I also admired the computer game America McGee’s Alice for its brilliant music and surrealism.

Before leaving New Zealand and the phantasmagorical, check out this 1967 NZ classic by House of Nimrod, Slightly-Delic. (Page includes a free download.)

05 March 2017

Behind Closed Doors

by Leigh Lundin

Paris — Behind Closed Doors
B. A. Paris’ Behind Closed Doors represents another in a long series of HIM— ‘husband is monstrous’— novels, also known as HIS, HIT, HIC (husband is sociopath, toxic, cruel) etc. They’re everywhere. The last one I read (and saw as a film) was The Girl on the Train. Both were recommended by my writer/editor friend Sharon.

It comes as no surprise that half the population devour these books with glee. The key to bridging the gender gap in Women Good / Men Bad literature is whether the author can bring the bad guy convincingly to life. Therein lies the strength of Closed Doors but also its main shortcoming.

Behind Closed Doors is the story of a woman whose nightmare begins when she marries a lawyer. Bad first move of course, but matters immediately grow worse, much worse. No matter how stepfordized she becomes, her situation can never improve but only deepen and darken.

I didn’t fall easily into the story. I wrote Sharon,
“I’m finding Behind Closed Doors … well, uncomfortable. 160 pages in, I keep looking for a place to grab hold, mainly a character to really like. It’s not that I dislike the protagonist but it’s taking time to reveal her. … The writing is a bit high-schoolish with godawful word substitutions for ‘said’. One I remember was “Blah, blah, blah,” he smoothed. But I’m trusting the plot will pay off.”
Eventually it did.

The part about ‘said’ refers to speech tags, which Rob Lopresti calls unnecessary stage directions. Fancy speech tags ‘tell, not show.’ In other words, if the dialogue is strong enough, a writer shouldn’t have to sit down with a thesaurus and tell the reader what to think or feel. The rule isn’t absolute, so we’re taught if we must use supplemental speech tags, to make certain they actually mean to communicate, to pass on words through talking. ‘Frowned’ and ‘smiled’ fail that test but it didn’t stop the author from employing them.

Right about now, the author is probably sticking voodoo pins in a Leigh doll ($5.99 at the SleuthSayers store), but bear with me, our policy is to write why we like books. Besides, this is a first-time author, so getting a book out in this market is a success in itself.

After finishing the book, I wrote to Sharon again,
“The payoff in the last chapter was worth it– I really liked how Esther involved herself. The writing became stronger as it neared the end, where her internal dialogue of her fear and hope takes over as events wrap up in Thailand and she rehashes everything in her mind during the flight home.”
As I touched upon earlier, characterization proves to be the author’s weakness and great strength. Until the final fifth of the book, I found it difficult to identify with the narrator/heroine. I’m ashamed to say I couldn’t quite decide why– after all, she’s a devoted sister and a potentially loving wife. Yet one gem leapt out to bring our protagonist into focus. As an artist, she created a large painting for her fiancé, literally kissing the canvas using differing shades of lipstick. That’s a lovely hint what she’s like and I wanted more. This is why I stayed with the book despite early reservations.

Behind the Door
Behind Closed Doors is another in a series of novels brought to my attention by my friend Sharon– teacher, editor, writer, my friend Steve’s inamorata. She analyzes recommendations from magazines, the Oprah Book Club, and featured reads from her local library web site. Of her choices, Gone Girl remains my favorite.
For once, I would have loved to know more about secondary characters, especially Esther, but as we discover, Esther isn’t merely a secondary character.

Unlike The Girl on the Train, the author doesn’t play around trying to fool us. From the outset, we learn this man who came into her life is one sick, well… I can’t think of a sufficiently awful word to describe him.

Paris has created one of the most evil antagonists ever, one who makes Gregory Anton / Sergius Bauer / Jack Manningham (Gaslight) seem like a maladjusted schoolboy. For someone who breaks a heart for enjoyment, there should be a special Dantean subcircle, but this fiend goes several levels worse. I reached a point I felt no ill could match what this guy deserved.

Shortly past the halfway mark, I began to see how this must end. The payoff was worth the trip. In approval, I sipped a glass of sherry, a special red from the Montilla region of Spain. Taste the story; I think you’ll like it.

12 February 2017

The Aging of Information

by Leigh Lundin

Ada, Countess of Lovelace
What degree of separation lies between the legendary Lord Byron and the developer of the first computer? The answer is one. In writing an article describing the connection, I fell into another story.

Wikipedia appears at the top of on-line searches. I often do quick look-ups because I know exactly where to glance to find a birth date, an affiliation, or a geographic location. As for opinion-free articles, it’s a bit less useful, but it provides links to launch research projects.

Supposedly anyone can edit Wikipedia but, for someone not familiar with the mountain of rules and the complexity of cliques and cadres with their own agendas, adding or modifying an article can drop one into a minefield. So I’m reading the article on Charles Babbage and I see a note questioning a salient point in the article. I knew I’d seen that before and found it in the Encyclopædia Britannica, 11th edition. No harm opening Wikipedia and documenting that, right?

Except it was immediately reverted. What? Why?

“The reference is too old,” I’m told. That made the second time that’s happened to me.

Modern teenagers abhor anything ‘old’… old music, old movies, old technology, even if a song, film, or cell phone is a two-week-old antiquity, and God forbid if a recording or movie happens to be years old. But I had committed the unpardonable… I’d used a reference a century old, because the latest edition resides behind a paywall.

It never pays to argue with rabid Wiki bureaucrats, but I did. I pointed out Wikipedia was founded on the public domain 11th edition of the Encyclopædia Britannica. (Trivia: The Britannica was subsequently purchased by Sears, Roebuck & Co. in 1920.)

Wikipedia’s administrator replied, “We don’t use it because it’s unreliable, sexist, racist, elitist, ethno-centrist, …” (and a passel of other -ists). In fact, no less than mystery author S. S. Van Dine (Willard Huntington Wright) claimed Britannica was “characterized by misstatement, inexcusable omissions, rabid and patriotic prejudices, personal animosities, blatant errors of fact, scholastic ignorance, gross neglect of non-British culture, an astounding egotism, and an undisguised contempt for American progress.”

Funny, that seems ironically close to the same accusations leveled at Wikipedia. But they try.

For three-quarters of a century, the massive encyclopedia has been lauded “the finest edition of the Britannica ever issued, and ranks with the Enciclopedia Italiana and the Espasa as one of the three greatest encyclopædias.” It was the edition when T. S. Eliot wrote Animula:
Curl up the small soul in the window seat
Behind the Encyclopædia Britannica.
Sir Kenneth Clark referred to Eliot’s poem when he wrote, “It must be the last encyclopædia in the tradition of Diderot (writer and editor of the famous French Encyclopédie) which assumes that information can be made memorable only when it is slightly coloured by prejudice.”

Therein lies the rub. The 1911 edition is prejudiced. Americans were struggling with racism, but Britain lagged far behind and it shows in the articles. Our physical sciences have pushed unimaginably ahead and mathematics was never Britannica’s strong suit.

My own Marshall McLuhan-like rule runs something like “Data is not knowledge, knowledge is not wisdom.” Data ages. Knowledge can be updated and kept current. But does wisdom age?

Should Socrates be ignored because he’s too ancient to know anything? Should the music of Bach, as I was told, stop being published because it’s ‘old’ and its attention shifted to young, new, upcoming songwriters? Should an entire century-old reference be discarded because some few articles are now out of date, racist or sexist?

What do you think?

Lord Byron and the Analytical Difference Engines

The irascible Lord Byron not only became the focus of modern romantic literature, he was also an example of the picaresque anti-hero found throughout English literature. He bore only one legitimate daughter, Augusta ‘Ada’ Byron, Countess of Lovelace, whom he called ‘Ada’.

Men of science and mathematics respected Ada for her brilliant mind and interest in ‘poetic science’. Starting as a teen, she became acquainted with Sir David Brewster, Andrew Crosse, Charles Dickens, Michael Faraday, Charles Wheatstone, and Charles Babbage, this last introduced by her tutor, science writer and polymath Mary Fairfax Somerville.

Babbage designed what many consider the first mechanical computer. We software people fondly refer to Ada Lovelace as our first programmer. We even named a programming language after her. That she’s not mentioned in the 11th edition might be less a case of sexism (Lord Byron isn’t listed either) and more a lack of prognostication– computers wouldn’t be invented for another half century. But to be sure, Lady Lovelace was well regarded in her own time and remains highly respected today.

Both Ada and her father died at the young age of 36.



Bonus material for picaresque/romance fans: Lord Byron as a Boy

05 February 2017

How to Vanish a Car

by Leigh Lundin

Previously, David Edgerley Gates mentioned the Orson Welles Cinema in Cambridge. That brought back memories of the theatre and a sports car. Don’t worry, I can connect the two. I can even tell you how to spirit an automobile out of a closed parking lot.

Brockton Historical Notes
of major importance
  • 1896, Brockton became the first city in the country to abolish railroad grade crossings.
  • 2011, Brockton doubled the city's Santa Claus hat-wearing record.
(source: Wikipedia)
In the 1970s, I lived in the scenic town of Brockton. For those who might not know Eastern Massachusetts, Brockton’s an industrial site south of Boston, having neither the charm nor historical significance of surrounding settlements. Brockton was named after a British Army officer, Isaac Brock, known for ignoring United States sovereignty, kicking Detroit’s ass in the War of 1812, and never setting foot in the village named after him. Naming the hamlet after one of our nation’s enemies was considered a step up since previously the burg had unimaginatively borrowed the name of a neighboring town.

Once known for shoe production, Brockton’s major output has been Brockton Girls.™ As explained to me, Brockton girls are known for their toughness and making roller derby dames tremble and cry like third graders. Seriously. It should be noted that no wussy member of Daesh/ISIS has ever tangled with a Brockton girl and lived to tell about it.
[Brockton letters of complaint should be addressed to Velma@idontcare.com]
This cultural background should give you an idea why I liked visiting Cambridge, Boston, Plymouth, Buzzard’s Bay or pretty much any place other than Brockton.

The Cambridge Culture

After David Edgerley Gates’ article, he and I exchanged notes about the Orson Welles. I asked if he remembered the Exeter Street Theater, my other favorite movie house. David wrote:
Orson Welles Cinema
I started writing movie columns for the Cambridge Phoenix in late 1970, which is when the Orson Welles, WBCN, and the Tea Party were just getting legs. Boston Tea Party was one of the two big clubs that headlined live bands, aside from theatrical venues. It was started by a guy named Ray Riepen from Kansas City, who also began ’BCN and the Phoenix. Ray brought in a guy named Harper Barnes from St. Louis as editor of the Phoenix. and it was Harper who hired me. I was at the Welles a lot over the next three years or so, the theater, the restaurant, and the film school– there was some talk about my doing a course (film appreciation, something along those lines) but we never firmed it up.

I remember the Exeter well. My family took me when I was little because it was basically a high-end art house and by myself later. That's where we saw Olivier’s Richard III.

My neighborhood theater was the University in Harvard Square (later renamed the Harvard Sq.), sometimes the Brattle, and very occasionally the Eliot, which was further up Mass. Ave. past Porter Sq. and the Sears, so North Cambridge and off my turf. I took the subway downtown all the time, probably from the time I was 8 or 9, to the theaters on Washington St. A misspent youth.
Meanwhile, back at the ranch…

The Orson Welles, the Exeter, and the Brattle were everything the local Cineplex wasn’t. They offered film festivals and celluloid that had withstood the test of time.

My date loved noir and particularly Bogart. If Bogie hadn’t died when she was about seven, Wendy might have arm-wrestled that bitch Bacall for him.

My car at the time was a Saab Sonett III, which looked like a baby Corvette in peculiar green. It was a cute little car. The sobriquet ‘Sonett’ had nothing to do with music but came from the Swedish phrase “Så nätt!” which translates “So neat!”

Saab Sonett III

Despite the fact its roofline came only to my belt buckle, the car easily accommodated my long legs. It attained much better gas mileage than my Land Cruiser and Saab’s front-wheel-drive made for good road-handing. But…

It had frightfully expensive mufflers that rusted out between car washes. With its little Ford V-4 engine, I could buy off-the-shelf Pinto and Mercury Capri parts, but changing the Nº 1 spark plug meant loosening the damned engine mounts. Worst of all, it was a crash magnet. Bostonians are infamously terrible drivers (think citywide dodge’em bumper cars) and they seemed to target the little machine.

The Sonett Saves the Evening

Near the Orson Welles Cinema was a large walled parking lot next to a dry cleaners where I usually parked. This particular evening, we attended a Warner Bros. film festival of World War II propaganda cartoons, Bugs Bunny takes on Hitler, and the like.

The parking lot looked unusually empty, but I didn’t pay particular attention. We strolled to the theatre, enjoyed the show and left around midnight. When we arrived at the parking lot, we were shocked to find a heavy chain across the entrance.

What the hell? Then we saw it: On the back wall hung a sign that said the lot closed when the cleaners closed. After so many years, it seemed selfish to ban visitors from a public lot after hours, but it was their property and perhaps they’d endured problems we didn’t know about.

Damn. I inspected the chain, secured by sturdy bolts. The threads hadn’t been peened down and simple wrenches could have undone them, but I carried no tools in the car. We were nearly an hour away from my house in Brockton and more than an hour from Wendy’s home in Plymouth– 45 miles. A taxi wasn’t feasible. We weren’t even close to a hotel.

We debated options, none of them good. We might have found a pay phone, but we were desperately short of change. No cell phone of course… early mobile phones were just hitting the market, briefcase-size units affordable only to the wealthy.

A fun evening appeared ruined. Worse, we looked forward to a miserable night if we couldn’t find a motel.

And then an idea struck. The back of the Sonett featured kind of a hatchback with a floor covered by heavy carpet. I pulled out the carpet and the floor mats as Wendy climbed in the driver’s seat.

She let in the clutch as I positioned the carpet and mats over the windshield and roof. I raised the chain… it cleared the hood. Wendy eased the car forward. I hefted the heavy steel segments to bypass the wipers. The car inched ahead until the chain met the floor mats covering the upper windscreen. The links tightened. I forced them up.

The car crept onward. The chain, now taut, remained an inch short of clearing the glass; it had maxed out. Still pulling up on it, I put my body weight on the car, cursing the heavy-duty shocks I’d installed.

But as Wendy edged the Sonett ever forward, the swept-back windshield and my muscling the chain up while forcing the car down brought the steel links up to the roofline.

Carefully, ever carefully, its fiberglass top protected by the carpet, Saab slid under the chain. And then…

The worst had passed. We were on the down slope. Now it was a matter of protecting the paint and rear window as the chain slid away.

Whew! We were ebullient, exuberant, joyful to be on our way, but grateful and well aware of our blessed luck and fortunate outcome.

Even so, we would have loved to be flies on the wall (or pigeons on the pavement) when the mean parking lot owners returned and found the vehicle missing. They must have scratched their heads wondering how we spirited that car out of a walled parking lot.

What magic tricks have caught your fancy?

22 January 2017

Yet Another Computer Scam

by Leigh Lundin

 WARNING A scam involving Google and clever programming sleight-of-hand has hit the scene. It’s not entirely new– a prototype showed up in 2014– but it fools many professionals. Apologies in advance for the technical parts below.

A new month, a new scam, this one brought to our attention by a reader. Although widely reported, this scam hasn’t shown up in the ACM Risks Digest yet. Surprise– the scheme starts with your GMail where a note from a friend or colleague contains a link to another page or document. You click and receive a message you must log in again. Happens every so often, annoying but sign in again for security.

false URL

A Google log-in page shows up– the URL field (web page address) contains google.com. Enter your name, enter your password. Click. The document your compatriot sent now appears.

You may not know it, but you just lost exclusive control of your Google account. Your pal didn’t send that email and the link was plucked out of your emails.

Let’s look at the sign-on dialogue boxes again. Which one is counterfeit? Hover your mouse over them for the answer, but the fact is, they’re indistinguishable.

fake sign-in box
real sign-in box

The insidious part is that email web sites– Yahoo and AOL included– train us by periodically forcing us to relog in. Hold on… didn’t the URL box contain google.com?

Yes. Over the years we’ve seen clever fraudsters incorporate target domain names similar to this:

http://w5.to/google.com

The trick here is that the real domain, web address of the bad guys, is w5.to. The google.com is only a web page set up to fool you. Other examples might look like the following:

http://citibank.net.w5.to/index.html

This is a variation of the bad guy’s domain, w5.to, above.

http://citybank.net

Here the bad guys registered a variation of the real name made a little easier by CitiBank using a non-standard spelling. These three examples are reasonably clever and some scammers don’t take that much trouble. However, this new one can catch even professionals by surprise:

data:text/html,https://accounts.google.com/ServiceLogin

The clue something is very wrong lies in the first three words, data:text/html – you shouldn't see that at all. The opening letters of an URL don’t have to be http – they can be file, data, help, about, chrome, gopher or possibly another protocol, but ‘data’ is the only hint the page is abnormal.

Browsers have become more sophisticated over the years, so web pages might include additional capabilities such as setting preferences. The ‘data’ keyword allows HTML to be embedded in the URL field, but more insidiously, it allows JavaScript, and that’s how this particular exploit fools us. Following the ServiceLogin part of the URL are dozens upon dozens of spaces so you can’t see what comes next. Far beyond the right side of that URL field is where the real sorcery begins with <script…>. This malware program throws up a fake Google sign-in page to capture your ID and password.

Expect Google to quickly mount an update, but beware, look ever more critically at URLs when you’re asked to type in your credentials. It might save your on-line life.