Wednesday, February 29, 2012

The Best of Poul Anderson (Book Review)

     Malzberg, Barry ed. The Best of Poul Anderson (1976) Anderson (1926-2001) was a gifted and prolific SF writer, whose need to make a living made much of his work formulaic. But he was a master at playing with formula and cliche, and his stories range from satire to tragedy. He was a pioneer in the development of "future history", a concept that morphed into something like a movement in the 1950s-70s (see Asimov's Foundation series, or Herbert's Dune) and is now an SF cliche. He liked to set stories in the past as well, finding great inspiration in the medieval romance (which he both parodied and emulated). He tried, and succeeded at, every SF form and genre. provides a well-done overview.
     Anderson was an economic libertarian, but with an acute sense of the paradoxes and contradictions of the free-market economics he espoused. He disliked hypocrisy, and many of his stories have political or moral/ethical themes. He liked swashbuckling, too, and had a rather ambivalent attitude towards women, whom he often presents as sex objects, albeit usually as tough, intelligent, and resourceful as the men. His books and stories are fun to read when you are in the mood for fantasy or hard SF. He's very good at plotting a story around a technical problem, and making us care that the protagonists get it right. Like a surprising number of his contemporaries, his most common mood is elegiac, even in the tales of the Polysotechnic League, which are essentially space-operas. Technology cannot protect us from the loss of friends and lovers, nor can it make freedom and justice any more likely. Freedom must be taken and defended. Justice depends on individual choice and action, not on systems and protocols.
     In essence, Anderson sees the future pretty much as a variation on the present: people are people, and none of us is perfect. Many of his tales are thinly veiled satires on the present, which he saw as lacking in honour, generosity, scholarship, courage, and various other of the masculine and chivalric virtues.
     A common motif in his stories is the under-estimated underdog. Sometimes a rascal, sometimes an uncouth peon, sometimes an apparently primitive alien, sometimes an apparently weak human on an alien world, but always someone whom the antagonist sees as less than what he is, the underdog wins by means of his wit and insight into his superiors' weaknesses. Anderson likes to show that a presumed superiority based on social status, academic learning, political power, bureaucratic process, or other social constructs, is in the long run a guarantee of failure. It's your character, your virtues, and your skills that ensure your success.
     I 've actually started re-reading this book, which will explain why I rate it at **1/2 to ****.

Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Digital Crops

 White iris

Red poppy

These images were made by repeatedly enlarging and cropping an image. I like the abstract patterns made by the pixels.

Sunday, February 19, 2012


Revelation 1985

Time is money 1975 

Pharaoh 1980

Venus 2009
I've made many collages over the years. One can juxtapose images, and experiment with pattern or form, and play with colour harmonies and contrasts. Content, form, and colour do affect each other, I think. I'm in two minds about titles. They tend to be corny, but also suggest a meaning. They may even impose an interpretation, because many viewers want to know what the artist "had in mind", or what the pictures means". I'm not sure what I had in mind for "Revelation". It's actually half a collage which I thought was too large and complicated. so I cut it apart. The other half included a portrait of Freud. So there's a clue. Maybe artworks should be labelled and numbered, the way most music is.

Art blog link

Try it, you'll like it. ;-)

Saturday, February 18, 2012

Politics: What else is new?

     The Harper government is being noticed. It's not only Bill C-19, renamed the "Protecting Children from Internet Preadtor's Act", but in fact a blatant attempt to enable spying by the government on us, the citizens who employ it. Now a Boing-Boing contributor has noticed another Harper government attempt to control the spread of information that we, the taxpayers, have paid for. Here's Boing-Boing's note. I guess the Harper government worries that the more we know, the less we will believe Harper government propaganda. As if that were possible.
     Have a good sleep.

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Art Trading Cards

In Loomis  & Tooles, when it still was Loomis & Tooles, I found a packet of 2-1/2 x 3-1/2 inch blank cards, labelled "Art Trading cards". The image above is one of the first I made. Mixed media: gel and felt pen. Search on "artist trading cards" for more information. They're fun to do. The small size pretty well forces you to make a simple design. I've also made small collages, such as this one:

The small circles are hole-punch confetti. I tend to doodle, then fill in the spaces with gel pen, like this:

I like gel pens because they cover well. Since they're aimed at children, they come in bright colours, or odd metallic tints. If you want to trade cards, e-mail me at

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Sunshine Sketches of a Little Town (Movie review)

Sunshine Sketches of a Little Town (Premiere, CBC, Sunday 12 February 2012) A nice little movie, of the type that has "Canadian" written all over it. Think Anne of Green Gables, The Wind at My Back, Lives of Girls and Women, Who Has seen the Wind, and so on.
     But Stephen Leacock it ain't, despite the copious use of dialogue from his book, and allusions to several of his best-known pieces from Literary Lapses etc, Blending facts from Leacock's life with loose adaptations of two of the Sunshine stories, it gives us what is now a typically Canadian coming-of-age and life-changing-insights story that our film-makers are so adept at creating. It's well-done: we spent an enjoyable two hours including commercials (which have their own bizarre charm.)
     There's an issue of truth-in-advertising here. I don't think the movie should have borrowed Leacock's title. It's too far removed from the original. Call it Mariposa Stories, or something similar that will warn the viewer that it's not Leacock's work. Malcolm MacRury imposed his own story on the material, which in itself not a bad idea. But did he have to revise the characters and their relationships so far from the originals in Sunshine Sketches? I don't think so. There was no need, for example, to make Peter Pupkin's inamorata the Reverend Drone's daughter instead of Judge Pepperleigh's.
      Leacock's Sunshine Sketches has an acidly dark subtext, which MacRury used as an opportunity for surreal farce. This, too, is fine as far as it goes, but it weakens the satire. Or maybe not: Canadian politics have often descended into farce, and recently have taken on more than a tinge of the surreal.
     Bottom line: a well-done movie, worth watching, but not an adaptation of Sunshine Sketches. It has the feel of a series pilot. **-1/2

Wild Turkeys (Music Review)

The Wild Turkeys are a country band located in Sault Ste Marie, Ontario. They call their variation "swamp stomp country", but it sounds more bluegrass to me. Their concert on 11 February in Blind River was fun. Young (Sheldon Jääskeläinen appears under 30, he plays a mean fiddle) and energetic, they do a good show. Their hollers are quite funny. Only downside: their pieces all have pretty much the same tempo and licks, which gets a bit wearing after a while. Devin Alexander on bass guitar did a good cover of Johnny Cash's Ring of Fire, and Jay Case on guitar did a creditable blues. So they do have the versatility that would raise their show from very good to excellent. They have pages on MySpace ( and Facebook (

Sunday, February 05, 2012

Link to classic art, altered

Art works altered to include a science fiction theme or motif. Fun.

Saturday, February 04, 2012

Cabaret (Movie Review)

Cabaret (1972) [D: Bob Fosse. Liza Minelli, Michael York¸ Joel Grey] This is one of those movies that succeeds in spite of itself. The performances of the central actors hold the movie together, and while the movie runs, we overlook the cliches, the uneasy mix of social and character study. It’s a very competently done movie, nominated for ten Academy Awards, and winning eight (but not Best Picture). Like most “Oscar movies”, it consists of a self conscious mix of entertainment and attempts at serious social significance.
     The main plot is sad romance. York plays Brian Roberts, an Englishman spending time in Berlin to study German, and earning extra money giving English lessons. Minelli plays Sally Bowles, an American working at the Kit Kat Klub trying to become a star. Grey plays the MC at the Kit Kat Klub; he has found his milieu, and is the only character completely at home in his own skin. The time is 1931,  when the Weimar Republic was declining into insignificance. Sally shows Brian around the boarding house, and eventually they start an affair, which is briefly diverted by a the interference of Maximilian von Heune (Maximilian Griem), a bisexual decadent, who seduces them both. Sally becomes pregnant, but she can’t give up her show business ambitions, so she has an abortion. Brian and Sally part.
     A second love story concerns Fritz Wendel (Fritz Wepper), a respectable bank clerk who wants to marry a rich woman. He finds a likely candidate in Anna Landauer (Marisa Berenson), daughter of a very rich Jewish family, whom he meets at Brian’s English lessons. Wendel is a Jew, but has been passing as Christian. Their romance ends happily with a wedding.
     The glue for this combination of tales is the Kit Kat Klub. The skits and songs are alternately satirical, burlesque, and romantic, and provide a chorus-like commentary on the action. There’s no question that the lovers are doomed: Fascism is on the rise and will soon engulf Germany and Europe. But in the meantime, enjoy yourself as best you can. “Life is a cabaret, old chum....”
     I first saw this movie when it came out 40 years ago. It holds up well. The performances are superb, the photography well done, the overall look and feel convincing enough. Several of the songs (written especially for the movie) became hits. But the narrative rhythm frequently falters, especially when the rise of the Nazi Party is depicted. Unusually for an Oscar-winning film, its sociopolitical message is restrained, and the focus is on character and mood. Unusually for a musical, several of the major characters sing no songs.
     Sally’s self-destructiveness elicits pity, Brian’s naivete sympathetic wonder. Grey’s frenetic and knowing performance is all show business, a reminder that a professional performer hides his true self so well that we cannot even guess at it. Wepper and Berenson’s courtship is both amusing and moving.
     All in all, the movie works well: while I watched it, I was drawn into its world. But on reflection, after the effects of the Kit Kat Klub have worn off, it fails to convince. I think it’s the short scenes of the Nazi Party’s rise that punctuate the central stories that mar the overall effect and break the movie’s unity. They seem more contrived than the bizarre performances at the night club. Is the movie about the clash between the anarchic freedom of the Weimar Republic and the disciplined regime of the Nazis? Or is it about two pairs of lovers, whose contrasting stories engage our sympathy and interest? ***


Hugo (2011) [D: Martin Scorcese. Ben Kingsley, Asa Butterfield, Chloe Grace Moretz, Sacha Baron Cohen.] Hugo Cabret, an orphan living in and servicing the clocks of a Paris train station, is trying to repair an automaton, which his father had rescued from a museum. He strikes up a friendship with Isabelle, granddaughter of Georges Melies, who built the automaton many years before, and now runs a toy booth at the station. Since the tale is a fantasy, everything ends happily: the automaton is repaired, one of Melies’ films is restored, the station master marries the flower girl, and so on. The look of the movie is steampunk overlaid on 1930s Paris. A good deal of CGI is used, and a some of the scenes are gratuitous, notably a train wreck. We saw the 2D version, but it’s obvious that much of the movie was photographed to exaggerate the 3D effect.
     So is it a good movie? Yes, mostly because it’s not only a homage to the beginnings of movies, but because most of the story and all its nuances are conveyed through images and music, not words. I think it was Auden who noted that movies are like opera: The music is half the story. Sure, the conventions of movie music have become cliches, and when poorly applied become intrusive rather than supportive, often no more than a weak attempt to male up for bad photography and lackadaisical editing. But when well done, so that music and image complete each other, you hardly notice the music. That was the case here. The acting is also very good, with a lot of body language and subtle changes in expression, the kind for which the closeup was invented. And as in all properly constructed mysteries, the hero doesn’t know the significance of his knowledge until the puzzles are resolved. Am I blathering a bit? I guess so. I’m a sucker for romantic confections of all kinds, and this confection is tastier than most.
     The book on which the movie’s based also makes use of images: I didn’t read it, but when I saw Connor's on a visit, I noticed that about half of it was pictures. More or less, I didn’t actually count the pages.
     Good movie, recommended. From the comments of people who’ve seen the 3D version, I suggest you steer clear of it. 3D draws too much attention to itself as a medium. ***