Thursday, September 28, 2006

The Dark Tower Diaries -- Day Twenty-Nine

The end is in sight. The end of the fourth book, anyway.
With Wizard and Glass, King is telling a flashback, the long, very long telling of the story of Roland's long-gone first love Susan. After Roland became a gunslinger, he and two friends were sent away by Roland's father to a far off village where they found strange goigns-on that threaten their homeland. Roland also finds his first love with Susan Delgado, who has "sold" to the local mayor as a consort, since his wife is barren, alas.
King has dropped enough hints about Susan that we know that it will not end well. With about 150 pages to go, Roland's and Susan's illicit liasons have been revealed, and Roland and his friends have been captured, framed for the murder of the mayor, who was actually killed by the dark forces that have infiltrated the town.
This is the first book of the series when I started to think that King was padding things a bit. Mind you, padded King is better than many authors' tight prose, so that's not much of a complaint.

Monday, September 25, 2006

Seals of Approval

Saw some seals on the weekend.

Then we crossed towards Coal Island and this little guy insisted on posing for me.

Thursday, September 21, 2006

The Dark Tower Diaries -- Day Thirteen

Alright, we've knocked off The Waste Lands and are now 82 pages into book four, Wizard and Glass. This one was written five years after book three and checks in a whopping 694 pages.
They ain't getting any smaller, these books.
The Waste Lands ends on a bit of cliff hanger. Roland and company have fought there way into an old city and found a train (actually a monorail) that will take them on their next step towards the tower. But (and there's always a "but") its AI unit is hundreds (thousands?) of years old and has gone bananas. It agrees to take them to their destination, but it plans to commit suicide at the end of the line by crashing, taking Roland and co. with it. It agrees to spare the group only if they can tell it a riddle that it cannot solve.
Wizard and Glass opens with the crazy monorail driving them to their doom, and the group doing their best to our riddle-it. Surprisingly, it is Eddie who ends up Kirk-ing the monorail whose mind goes up in a puff of its own illogic. But where Roland and gang end up is the flu-ravenged world of King's earlier novel The Stand.
There is something I've always found eminently readible about the best of King's work, and certainly this is his magnum opus. It should be fun to see how he starts tying all this into his other works.

Wednesday, September 20, 2006

Let's Be Careful Out There

While riding my bike home yesterday across the Gorge Bridge, I saw a kayaker get in trouble. He was in a long Current Design boat, possibly a racing boat. He had just gone under the bridge and was followed by a eight-man sculling boat and the coach in a small motorboat.
I'm guessing that the kayaker did not see the motorboat go by, or he didn't realize that he needed to turn into the wake. Either way, the wake of the motorboat broadsided him and he went half-way over.
He shoved his paddle down into the bottom and stopped himself from going totally over. But he was stuck on his side, half in the water and half out.
There was little I could do up on the bridge except have my cell phone handy to call 911 if he needed help. And he did -- he was calling out.
Another kayaker and a pair in an outrigger were quickly there and helped right him. The coach in the motorboat puttered away in blissful ignorance.
So today's lesson, Grasshopper: even in calm, shallow, well-travelled and familiar water, accidents can happen. Let's be careful out there.

Tuesday, September 19, 2006

Hey! Let's Kayak Here!

Stephanie and Louise think this picture is a fake. What do you think?

The Dark Tower Diaries -- Day, er, um, er, Eleven...?

Now I'm deep in the meat of the last half of The Waste Lands. It checks in at 588 pages and fits in quite nicely with the previous book.
Turns out that I was correct, Roland is slowly going mad because of the paradox he created by saving Jake. Turns out that Jake, back in his world, is also going mad because he's living out the other end of the paradox -- he should have died, but he's alive.
Neeless to say the paradox will be resolved, sort of, and Jake will join Roland's merry band of gunslingers.
They'll also be attacked by a giant robot bear, travel through ancient ruins, and encounter artifacts far beyond the current technological abilities of Roland's world. I keep thinking of Atlantis as I read these passages, that Roland and his pals have discovered an ancient civilization.
But the roads must roll, and I must keep reading.

Friday, September 15, 2006

The Who on Tour

The Who kicked off the North American leg of their new world tour a couple of nights ago. From Rolling Stone:

The new tracks seem to form another installment of the Who’s ongoing musical autobiography: “We Got a Hit” even directly quoted the “Substitute” guitar riff. Daltrey hit some clunker notes and even got tangled up in his own microphone cord while executing a baroque twirl, but nailed the climactic scream in “Won’t Get Fooled Again.” And hits like “Anyway, Anyhow, Anywhere,” “Who Are You,” and “My Generation” sounded sufficiently great. Townshend, as ever, had the last word: After the band flubbed the intro to “You Better You Bet,” he cracked, “See? The old stuff can sound just as crappy and unrehearsed as the new stuff.”

Thursday, September 14, 2006

Even in Winter, the Arctic Ice is Melting

Scientist are very worried because it appears that Arctic ice is melting even in the winter:

Ice core borings in Antarctica have produced a record of historic carbon dioxide concentrations over the last 600,000 years. The borings show that the levels of carbon dioxide, a greenhouse gas, are at their highest ever because of the burning of fossil fuels, Mark Serreze, senior research scientist at the National Snow and Ice Data Center in Boulder, Colo.
Serreze said he was surprised to see a new lake, or polynya, the size of Maryland, opening up in the sea ice north of the Beaufort Sea.
In 20 years of looking at sea ice, he has never seen anything like it.
"If you asked me five years ago if it was human activity (causing global warming) versus natural variability, I was a fence-sitter,'' Serreze said.
"The magnitude of the changes is starting to rise above the noise of natural variability. There is a continuing trend. What we see in the Arctic is part of a much larger picture. We hate to say, 'We told you so.' But we told you so.''

Montréal Shootings

It turns out that my great-nephew spent two hours holed up in a classroom in Dawson College yesterday while a nut was shooting up his school and his classmates. He's fine, physically anyway, and his girlfriend who also attends the college was off campus when the shooting began.
I tried to think of something profound to say about the nature of violence in our society but I've come up blank. We are violent; we are hunters, predators, meateaters. And some of us can't seem to get beyond that. But why should we when our leaders can't see beyond that, either? When the answer to every international crisis is to threaten force, to use force, to bomb innocents, to invade sovreign nations, to lock people away, to execute, to intimidate, to torture.
Perhaps violence is the nature of our society.

Linus Health Update #11

After about a year on his meds, Linus is holding his own and doing fine.
I've worked out the cost of his meds to roughly $3.50 a day, not counting actual visits to the vet.
But he seems happy and healthy and he purrs a lot.

Wednesday, September 13, 2006

The Bicycle Diaries: Make Room, Make Room

According to this report, car drivers tend to drive closer to helmeted cyclists than unhelmeted cyclists.
They also apparently give female cyclists more room than male cyclists.

Tuesday, September 12, 2006

The Dark Towers Diaries - Days Six and Seven

I've finished off The Drawing of the Three, and have moved into The Waste Lands.
After picking up Eddie, Roland has gone through the second door and picked up Odetta, a black woman from 1964 whose legs were cut off when she was pushed in front of a New York subway train. She is damaged in other ways, too, and this plays a key role in the story of the third person Roland must meet. I'm not going to give that part of the story away -- suffice it to say, that King pulls some unexpected rabbits out of his hat. (Eddie also makes reference to having seen the movie version of The Shining. I'll save that piece of info for later.)
By the end of the book, Roland and Eddie are joined by a "new" companion, Susannah, and the story segues into The Waste Lands. It seems that at the end of Drawing, Roland may have prevented the death of Jake (the boy from The Gunslinger that Roland had to sacrifice) in our world. This creates a paradox, of course, since if Roland had saved Jake, Jake would never have been drawn into Roland's world and his quest would have ended.
This fact doesn't seem to be sitting well with Roland. And since the first part of the book is called Jake, one suspects that something is up.

Monday, September 11, 2006

Things We Saw While Paddling This Weekend

A crazy parking sign.

A cove.

A bunch of sunning seals.

A flock of cormornats.

An underwater egg sack.

And another.

And another.

A creek.

A flock of geese.
A heron in a tree.

A posing heron.

A Bernie.
A seal.

9/11 was when...?

According to this story, 30% of Americans don't know what year the 9/11 terrorist attacks occured (although 95% did know the month and date of the attacks....)

Sunday, September 10, 2006

The Dark Tower Diaries -- Day Five

Eddie has his showdown with the mob bosses who think he's turned over for The Feds, then he well and truly joins Roland on his quest.
And after all this talk about the "man in black," it had to be only a matter of time until some reference was made to Johnny Cash. And a pretty fun one it was, too.
I'd forgotten how time can stop when reading novel. The best of King has always done that to me. Sucked me in, wrapped me in up a blanket and fed me cookies
sour milk and poisoned cookies, of course, with maggots in them
and made time simply disappear. Subjectively, of course. Objectively, time has not halted its relentless march and suddenly the lunch break has vanished without a trace.
Einstein was right. Time is relative.

Saturday, September 09, 2006

The Dark Towers Diaries - Day Four

Now I'm 100 pages into book 2, The Drawing of the Three.
The first door appeared to Roland, and it was a nice bit of business, how Roland could see the door from one side, but not the other.
We also meet the first of the "three," Eddie Dean, drug dealer and user. Interestingly, he has a family member (brother?) named Henry Dean. Named after Harry Dean Stanton?
Nice stuff on the airplane, through customs and Eddie's police interrogation.
Back to the quest!

Friday, September 08, 2006

Still Trekkin' at 40

Star Trek premiered 40 years ago on NBC in the US (and 40 years ago yesterday on CTV in Canada... proving once again that Canada is ahead of the curve... but I digress...)

The Dark Tower Diaries -- Day Three

Has this ever happened to you?
You're reading a book at work. It's going to be a photo finish to see which finishes first, the book or your lunch hour. You find yourself skimming quickly, trying to squeeze every last second of readable time out of your break, a desperate race to beat the clock. But in the end, you just run out of time (much like Jake did a couple of pages back).
That's where I am with The Gunslinger. Page 292 out of 300.
Maybe I can sneak a quick glance at the book at my desk. It's not like I have any real work right now. Wait -- is that the boss? Gack!
It appears that the end of The Gunslinger is not the beginning of the end, but the end of the beginning. I know this because Roland says it, the man in black says it, the narrator says it, heck, I think even Jake says it.
Thanks to the man in black's explanations (of which he has not yet finished -- curse that lunchroom clock!), Roland appears to live on a parallel earth, one that may have suffered some sort of plague, possibly man-made. Hmmm, some tie-in to The Stand here? Anyway, it appears that Roland's quest will take him to the Tower, some sort of nexus point of all these parallel universes.
Well, d'uh. The series is called The Dark Tower, after all.

Okay, I've finished off The Gunslinger and moved onto book two, The Drawing of the Three. At 463 pages, this is more like a typical length for King, as opposed to The Gunslinger's rather scant (scant for King, anyway) 300 pages. And it reads like a more typical King book. Drawing was published in 1987, five years after Gunslinger, and seems less stylish and more assured in its narrative voice. King had also just finished an amazing run of releasing four novels in a year, including two of my favourite King novels, It and Eyes of the Dragon. The other two were Misery, not exactly a slouch itself, and The Tommyknockers (as Meatloaf might have said, three out of four ain't bad).
Anyway, I'm not too far in. Roland has just gone sleepwalking in the surf and has had bits of himself eaten by the giant lobster.

Thursday, September 07, 2006

The Dark Tower Diaries -- Day Two

Now we're well into the meat of The Gunslinger. In the second novella, The Way Station, we officially learn that he is called Roland -- he is no longer the gunslinger with no name. While continuing his pursuit of the man in black, he encounters a boy named Jake. Here King drops all kinds of hints about the connection between Roland's world and ours. Jake lived in "our" world, until he was killed by the man in black who pushed Jake out into traffic. Jake is slowly forgetting his connection to our world, only through hypnotism can Roland learn Jake's story. And we flash back and experience an incident from Roland's childhood, where we learn that the mysterious Cort alluded to earlier was Roland's teacher who talks like the drill sergeant from Full Metal Jacket. Roland seems to have some knowledge of "our" world as well. It will be interesting to see how all this is tied together.
This is an early King novel, his eighth published, but one of the first he started writing and it will be also interesting to see how the novels' voice changes over the 30 years he took to write the series. (That makes me feel old, imagine how old that makes King feel!) King also made me go "Ick!" over one line of dialogue as Jake remembers his accident. I've read a lot of King; there isn't much that can make me squirm anymore, but he managed to at the top of page 114.
Today I finished off the second and third novella (The Oracle and The Mountains) and got into the fourth one, The Slow Mutants (no, it's not about Star Trek fans). We keep learning little things about Roland's past --Cuthbert and the horn, Susan Delgado-- but also more things about the strange world he lives in. An underground railroad with talking hand-cars? What is going on here?
We also get the first mention of The Tower. Some sort of nexus in time. And time has gone soft here, as Roland says.
And more numerology. I assume that King is using "nineteen" because he was 19 when he started writing this, but the oracle mentions the number three (which I assume plays into the next book, The Drawing of the Three), and then the oracle mentions that another number will become important later.
But now Roland has just had his first conversation with the man in black. Back to the book!

Wednesday, September 06, 2006

The Dark Tower Diaries -- Day One

One day in and I'm well into the first book. Volume One is called The Gunslinger and is divided into five novellas. (Disclosure: I should point out that I am reading the 2003 revised and expanded text.) I've finished the first novella, the longest in the book, which is called (surprise!) The Gunslinger.
King seems to have a fascination with "Nineteen." I wonder what that's about.
This is our introduction to Roland the gunslinger. King is doing a good job at slowly constructing his world, a strange Sergio Leono western-world that seems lost somewhere else in time and space, yet clearly has some connection to our own (with the bar patrons belting out a boisterous version of "Hey Jude.) It's these little details that King has always excelled at. We don't even know Roland's name at this point, yet King has dropped tantilizing little hints at his back story and his pursuit of the man in black. And who's Cort? (Named after Bud Cort, I'm guessing.)

Tuesday, September 05, 2006

Freddie Mercury...

...would have been 60 today.
I saw Queen in Vancouver in 1982. Awesome show. What a great band! There can be only one Freddie.

Monday, September 04, 2006

Sunday Paddle

I found a cave while kayaking on Sunday.

A lone seagull stood sentry... I moved in slowly.

I made it in.

It's actually not much of a cave, more like a very very small cove.

The seagull is still watching.

It was a fun little spot to explore.

And look - seals!

Sunday, September 03, 2006

The Dark Towers Diaries - Prologue

Many years ago I knew a fellow who would buy all the books in a series in hardcover and not read them until the series was complete. I thought this was interesting because at the time we were reading the same five-book series, The Incarnations of Immortality by Piers Anthony. I used the word "reading" rather loosely here; I was reading them in paperback as they came out, he was collecting them in hardcover to read when the entire five-book series was published. I asked him why he was doing this, and he said something about reading them all in one go like a giant novel so that he could enjoy the subtle nuiances that are lost by reading each one a year apart.
"Subtle nuiance"??!? It's Piers Anthony! His writing style is about as subtle as W's smirk!
Anyway, I bumped into him again just after book five, the final book, came out in hardcover and he was merrily reading the series and enjoying it very much. He was having such a good time reading it that I didn't have the heart to tell him that Anthony had gone to another publisher for books six and seven.
And I guess he's still hasn't cracked the spine on any of his Robert Jordan books.
(For the record, The Incarnations of Immortality series was a nifty idea and the first couple of books were great, but it became progressively less great as the series went on. And on.)
Okay. I'm going to do something crazy. Starting today, I am going to start to read all seven volumes of Stephen King's Dark Tower series in a row.
I've never read a completed series all the way through in one go. (The clever dicks among you will now realize that I've never read The Lord of the Rings all the way through. Loved the movies, hated the books. Couldn't make it through Fellowship. If those stinky little hobbits had stopped for another meal, I'd have killed the little fucks myself.)
I've read the Dune books, but Frank Herbert was still adding to the series when I was reading it so it wasn't complete when I read it. (And it still isn't, apparently. There's so many Dune prequels and sequels coming out these days. Fishmonger of Dune is the latest, where Paul learns that to catch the legendary sandfish of Dune, he's going to need a mighty big worm.)
I have no illusions that I'll finish all seven books in seven days. That'd be really nuts to expect that's gonna happen. But with lunchbreaks at work, I should get through them at a fair clip. Except that the last one is 1072 pages. In paperback.
Call me nuts if you want. Better people than you already have.

Saturday, September 02, 2006

De-Criminalizing Bush

According to this story at Counterpunch, Bush et al are planning to enact legisaltion that will retroactively "protect" Bush from war crimes charges.
"Under the Nuremberg standard, Bush is definitely a war criminal. The US Supreme Court also exposed Bush to war crime charges under both the US War Crimes Act of 1996 and the Geneva Conventions when the Court ruled in Hamdan v. Rumsfeld against the Bush administration's military tribunals and inhumane treatment of detainees.
"President Bush and his Attorney General agree that under existing laws and treaties Bush is a war criminal together with many members of his government. To make his war crimes legal after the fact, Bush has instructed the Justice (sic) Department to draft changes to the War Crimes Act and to US treaty obligations under the Geneva Conventions.
"One of Bush's changes would deny protection of the Geneva Conventions to anyone in any American court.
"Bush's other change would protect from prosecution any US government official or military personnel guilty of violating Article 3 of the Geneva Conventions. Article 3 prohibits "at any time and in any place whatsoever outrages upon personal dignity, in particular, humiliating and degrading treatment." As civil libertarian Nat Hentoff observes, this change would also undo Senator John McCain's amendment against torture.
"Eugene Fidell, president of the National Institute of Military Justice says that Bush's changes 'immunize past crimes.'"