Elanor 129 arrived in the mail the other day, and reading it brought a lot of different threads together for me, so I decided I should write something and submit it. Besides, if I don’t, I could get hit with the minimum submission rule.
The contact info for me on the membership list is correct so far as it goes. My home phone number is 281-491-5192, and home e-mail is email@example.com. The web page is at www.netcom.com/~shelley7/Index.html (and that is case-sensitive, so watch out.) Eventually I may put the Ratte Archives online, or at least as much of them as I can locate.
Boring Work Stuff
For the last two months or so, I’ve been unable to make any long-term plans because of the possibility of relocating me to Yanbu, Saudi Arabia for nine months. It looks like it’s fallen through once and for all. The actual incentive package to relocate turned out to be much less than what was discussed. The days of going to work overseas and make a ton of money are over, I fear. Plus another guy here at work is going who should be able to do the same work as I would.
Saudi Arabia is not the sort of place you just pick up and go to, so there aren’t many travel guides for the place. I actually found one (Lonely Planet’s Guide to the Middle East, I think) that even mentioned Yanbu. Paraphrased, it said “If you thought Jubail was boring, wait until you see Yanbu.” Not promising. I’ve heard the scuba diving is good, but I don’t dive. A friend later located a copy of “The Green Book Guide for Living in Saudi Arabia”, which would be useful to anyone moving there. Since I think it’s published in conjunction with the Saudi government, it paints a pretty positive picture of the place and its populace. (Experimental word usage there; sorry.)
I even tried to plan ahead, and bought a cassette tape set for learning Arabic. I later found out that most of the people at the plant were US and UK expatriates, with a handful of Indo-Pakistani-Bangladeshis thrown in. The Saudis in the plant all speak English. Which is just as well, as I never got much past “where is the bathroom” and “I have a reservation here.” If any of you go to Saudi and get a language tape, you can ignore all forms of address used when speaking to women. You won’t be seeing any. The tape I have is geared towards tourism in Egypt, which I suspect is typical of all of the Arabic language programs.
And now for the historical perspective. Yanbu is where T.E. Lawrence (of Arabia) cut the Turkish-controlled rail line. The line has been abandoned since 1917.
My work environment over the past few months can be summarized as follows: You aren’t getting raises, your coworkers are getting laid off, you don’t get an annual bonus, our stock is up so we’re paying a dividend. Oh, and the president of your division just left. Now get to work. (update: due to a large contract awarded this year, raises and bonuses were reinstated. And more recently, we were bought by Allied Signal.)
Last-minute update: I am going to Yanbu after all. Probably leaving in August and returning in February. Of course I don’t have my visa yet, or travel plans, or anything else.
Not Quite as Boring Non-work Stuff
Enough about the job. What spare time I’ve had has been spent planting flowers, digging in the yard, painting, and the like. Eventually we’ll get this place fixed up more or less the way we want it. Maybe.
I’ve also finally started construction on the long-planned (probably over-planned) model railroad layout. So far it’s not much to look at, but at least there is a bit of track down and it carries power. It shares a room with Amanda’s sewing machine.
The most exciting thing to happen in recent memory (faulty as it is) was the acquisition of a dog in February. Some friends of ours, the Knightons, found her wandering the streets at 3am one morning without collar or tags and picked her up. After a couple of weeks (and some prodding), we decided that we would take her rather than let them send her to a shelter. Beasley is a mostly beagle, mostly housetrained, about a year and a half old. Alternate names include Beasley the Beastly Beagle Beastie and Beasleybub, Lord of the Fleas. (And of course the ever-popular “You rotten dog!”)
I’ll try not to bore you with dog stories, but I make no guarantees. Both of us really enjoy having her around, and it’s gotten Amanda to finally pick her shoes up off the floor. (After a couple of rather expensive incidents.) It’s meant a big lifestyle change, though. More responsibility, and daily walks (which we could use anyway.) Amanda had a beagle growing up, and I had a dog that I didn’t take care of (didn’t everyone?) but this is the first one we’ve been responsible for. Cats, fish, and plants are pretty low-maintenance, but a dog requires more attention.
The Movie Review Shtick
We haven’t seen many movies since getting the dog. (We don’t quite trust her by herself for long periods of time.) By the time you read this, I suspect that whatever we’ve seen is on video. We saw a sneak preview of The Mummy, which was pretty good since it didn’t take itself too seriously. It reminded me of the Indiana Jones movies, so if you liked them, you might like this as well. Especially if you’ve ever seen any of Ray Harryhausen’s stop-motion fight scenes; there is a nice tribute to them towards the end. I haven’t seen the original Mummy, so I don’t know if this is a strict remake or not. No explicit blood or sex, although some of each is implied. Be warned, though, that Brendan Fraser is not the world’s greatest actor.
But he’s still better than Keanu Reeves was in The Matrix, which we didn’t enjoy as much as The Mummy. Keanu has at least improved on his less-than-exciting performance in Johnny Mnemonic. Not the most original of movies, but decent if you suspend disbelief. But isn’t that what going to the movies is all about anyway? (Unless you’re my dad, who only wants realistic movies.) I’m getting tired of True Love Reviving the Hero from Death™, though, and I could have come up with at least two other ways to get out of that particular plot problem.
To stay on the good side of people who disdain such low-brow fare, we also saw the recent Midsummer Night’s Dream with Kevin Kline. I don’t think I’d ever seen the entire play before, either live or on film. This version is pretty good, if you can pretend that Callista (“Ally McBeal”) Flockhart can perform Shakespeare. Although Amanda thought she was okay.
We also managed to rent a couple of videotapes. The Spanish Prisoner wasn’t bad, but not as interesting as I would have hoped. The plot seemed straight out of an old episode of Mission:Impossible but without all the action. I liked The Usual Suspects better, which generally acknowledged as a good movie anyway. Amanda picked out Ever After, and it was better than I expected. Again rather low-key, not great, but not quite a complete waste of time.
We even watched some TV - A&E’s four-part Hornblower series. I hadn’t read the novels in years so I couldn’t compare for consistency, but the shows were enjoyable. We’re hoping that they’ll produce more of them. C.S. Forester books seemed to be scarce (at least at the stores and libraries I visited) for about a month after the series ended, which I interpret as a good sign. If I can’t find them, then someone else is reading them.
Some Book Opinions
I haven’t been reading as much as I would like. I recently went back to Dashiel Hammett’s Red Harvest and The Dain Curse, both of which I enjoyed. Every once in a while a detective story is just the thing. As far as SF/F, I remember reading Dan Simmons’ Hyperion and being disappointed in it. For those not familiar with it, the book won the Hugo in 1990 and is a sort of Canterbury Tales in a SF setting. I enjoyed some of the individual tales and the overall story, but the ending was a huge letdown for me. Especially after slogging through what is not a small book.
I’ve also read Rudy Rucker’s The Hacker and the Ants, which isn’t bad. Sort of borderline cyberpunk, with a fairly heavy virtual reality element, but more believable than most. I had earlier read a couple of his books, but they didn’t really do anything for me. It helps to be up on your computer terminology for his work.
Most recently I finished Sean Stewart’s Mockingbird (semi-related info later) and thought it was excellent. Plus, it’s set in Houston instead of Los Angeles or Vienna or New York or someplace else I’ve never been, which is a nice change. It reminded me of Jonathan Carroll’s Bones of the Moon, with fantasy – or at least the unusual – intruding into the normal world. Here’s a brief synopsis: Toni Beauchamp’s (pronounced “Beechum” in true East Texas fashion) mother is occasionally possessed by voodoo-like spirits. She dies, and now the spirits move to the daughter, Toni, who gets pregnant, then fired, and tries to put her life back together. Not a lot of physical action; it’s a book about characters. The setting is a lot closer to the ‘real world’ than most SF/F genre works, but the world in Mockingbird is closer to home than that of Resurrection Man or The Night Watch. Currently available only in hardback, but I’m told Nobody’s Son is about to be re-released in paperback, so you can get that one if the budget won’t allow Mockingbird. But if it does, read it.
In the pipeline is Neal Stephenson’s The Diamond Age. Halfway through and it isn’t bad. His writing is improving.
I haven’t had much time to keep up with my recorder playing. My fingers get stiff after a single sonata (about ten minutes), but that could be age, arthritis, carpal tunnel syndrome, or just not warming up before playing. One of Amanda’s coworkers has a daughter that is taking recorder in school and has expressed interested in it, so Amanda volunteered me for free lessons. I’ll give it a shot, as teaching is something I’ve thought about doing as a sideline now and then. So far they’ve cancelled twice. Not an auspicious beginning. It looks like I’ll have plenty of time for some solo practice later this year, if the hotel residents don’t mind.
Important Social Commentary
Hopefully the Littleton, Colorado shootings will have died down (shooting – died, get it?) by the time you read this. Better still, but unlikely, would be if those Elanor readers not in the US had not even heard about the incident. I had recently reestablished contact via e-mail with a friend of mine currently in New York City when this happened. Both of us were nerdy (at best) in high school and sympathized, to some extent, with the shooters. A lot of high school age kids that aren’t in the mainstream of fashion or popularity have been getting hassled in various ways, apparently just for being different or wearing unusual clothes. It got us started on a wave of reminiscing and trying to figure out what was going on in our lives at the time, why we were such idiots, and what we could do about pointless discrimination based on who you associate with. I’m thinking about starting my oft-contemplated “Memoir of a Nerd,” but I suspect it’s just my hubris showing. (Guess I need a bigger shirt.) Really, now, who would be interested in reading about a kid that watched ants during recess in second grade?
Or you could take the side of the Village Voice (week of May 26) and say it’s all just a bunch of whiny white American kids that were able to blow it all out of proportion because they have access to the Internet. Which is not entirely false.
I had hoped that all the noise would have subsided by now, but it looks as if it’s just changed its tune to that of gun control and media censorship. Which I think everyone is familiar with, so I won’t speak of it here.
For inexplicable reasons (like all my reasons), I’ve rekindled an interest in board games. A couple of weekend get-togethers with Catie & Kelson, and with Marvin & Barbara Knighton (see above) have been spent sitting around a table entertaining one another. Marvin used to work at a game and comic book store, and has a small mountain of old stock. He’s currently a representative for Iron Crown Enterprises, and usually has something new for us to try. Last weekend (June 5th) I went with him to a local (in Houston, that means less than one hour by car) game store for some open gaming. I avoided the miniatures, role-playing, and heavier wargaming, and had a good time. I’ve also been keeping up with the rec.games.board newsgroup on Usenet, and looking around on the WWW for general information, and that’s how I found out about. . .
I Think Therefore I Con 2
And What I Did There
The last convention I went to was Uthercon in around 1984 at the University of Texas at Austin. It was sponsored by the UT game club, and since it was on-campus, there were no dealer rooms, art exhibits, or guests. ITTICon was sponsored by a local RPG company and was billed as a multi-media con, with guests Robert Trebor (Salmoneus on Hercules/Xena), Eli Stone (artist for The Tick comic), Susan Van Camp (artist), P.N. Elrod, C.S. Friedman, and Sean Stewart (authors). Two local bands (Sinister Sirens and Crooked Jones), a costume contest, an art room, game rooms, and a video room were also mentioned in what little advertising I saw. So I was expecting a smallish, but reasonably well-rounded con.
Unfortunately I wasn’t able to find my “Nixon – Now More Than Ever” 1972 campaign button to wear, so I went in my normal weekend garb of deck shoes, twill shorts, and an abstract-patterned sport shirt. I was overdressed. I also had a tan from mowing the lawn, which helped set me apart from most of the attendees. So I didn’t really need the button after all.
After battling the heavy rain to get to the hotel, I paid my $20 for a one-day pass, which seemed rather high to me. I had about half an hour before the panel I was most interested in – Masterpieces and Pulp – started, so I headed to the art room, bringing the total number of inhabitants of that room to four. Including the person in charge of it. I’m not really into SF/F art, so I didn’t spend a lot of time looking, but the quality looked to range from pretty good to excellent. Most of the items were paintings, but there were a handful of unidentifiable sculpture-type objects, some jewelry (abstract), and some Star Trek:CCG (collectible card game) cards made into three-dimensional displays and mounted in a small box. Not my cup of tea, but neat-looking. I went once around the room and decided I’d had enough culture for one day.
I went to the dealers’ room next. The ads had boasted fifty dealers last year and hoped to double it this year, but I think they fell short. I estimated about twenty-five dealers, tops. Most carried comics, CCGs, Warhammer 40,000 miniatures, and RPG (role-playing game) accessories, with the obligatory t-shirts, buttons, bumper stickers, and used books. (Not much that interested me, unfortunately.) The ones that held my interest were a lady selling herbs, massage oils, scented candles, and backrubs (on a massage chair), the handful of new and used board and card games, and a table set up by Barnes and Noble. By the time I looked around once, it was time for the panel discussion.
I entered the room a few minutes early, and was a bit concerned. Over a hundred chairs were set up for the audience, but only two were filled. One MC, a photographer, and the three authors were on the dais. (Eli Stone was eventually wrangled in to help take up space.) The maximum audience count was about eight, but I don’t think all eight were in the room at the same time. There was no real structure, just a statement of “Are there any questions?” and someone asked about research techniques, and they were off for about thirty minutes. Then the subject of cover art came up, which took another thirty minutes, and it was over. Nothing about the advertised subject, Masterpieces and Pulp (whatever that would have been.) Since I had no experience with panel discussions, I wasn’t really disappointed, but it wasn’t what I expected.
An autograph session was scheduled for 6pm, and I’d brought my paperback copy of Nobody’s Son for Sean Stewart to sign. (Two of his other books – Passion Play and Resurrection Man – I was able to buy already autographed. Nobody’s Son is currently out of print, but is being re-released.) However, I had run into Marvin and Barbara Knighton, and we were scheduled to eat a 5pm, so I hung around after the panel in the dealers’ room. Sean Stewart came in to sign someone’s book, so I bought Mockingbird in hardcover and asked him to sign it. This led to an informal discussion with him for about thirty minutes about books in general, SF/F in particular, and the arts in Houston. He apologized for the lack of focus of the panel, and observed that this con seemed to be more oriented toward the RPG crowd (which I had also noticed.) I was impressed with his skill at conversation, which I suppose is not surprising in someone who works with words. I’m used to talking to people who deal more with machines, and while they can communicate well, the flavor of their conversations is quite different.
Dinner was with the Knightons and and a guy named Chris at a local Chinese buffet. Since I work near the convention hotel, I was able to steer away from the closer, but unsavory, establishments just up the street.
After dinner it was time to check out the gaming and video rooms. About ten meeting rooms had been reserved, but over half had the doors closed and a “RPG in progress” or equivalent sign on the door. I don’t play RPGs, so this didn’t bother me too much. It was definitely an RPG crowd, though, with a fair smattering of SCA and Amtgard people thrown in with the Vampire Live-action RPG (VLARP) folks. (I never use the word “folks” when speaking. I wonder why.) The open rooms seemed to contain mostly Warhammer 40K or similar miniature combat setups. I didn’t actually go into the video room, but never saw more than three bodies in front of the TV showing anime. There were sign-up sheets for game sessions, and I have to admit that I didn’t recognize the names of most of the games being played.
The overall impression I had was one of an RPG convention with a bit of non-game activity thrown in. I skipped the costume contest, as the only costumes I saw fell into two categories: SCA/Amtgard garb, and VLARP clothes. (wear a cloak over your jeans and black t-shirt, and put on makeup.) The bands playing at the costume ball were described to me as “We must be good because of all our body piercings.” Now I have nothing against body piercing, although I don’t care for it myself, but I find that I dislike the music played by bands with more metal than clothes on their bodies. Besides, we had plenty of music from the other function at the hotel, which appeared to be a prom, or wedding, or something that featured a lot of ΩΨФ fraternity members and their dates. For those unfamiliar with them, ΩΨФ, also known as the Q-Dogs, is a large African-American fraternity that contains a substantial proportion of football players. They can be recognized by a branded Ω on the upper arm. I’d be curious to know what they thought of the weird white kids running around in funny clothes.
At any rate, I spent the rest of the evening playing a variety of non-CCG, non-RPG, non-miniature games with whoever wandered in. (For those wanting details, I played Golf Mania in a group of about nine, Pyramidis – a four-player game – twice, Bosworth once, and Pirateer about four times.) I’ll spare you my opinions about the games, but summarize by saying that I had a pretty good time. Don’t look for me next year, though, unless there is another interesting guest I’d like to see. I could have had just as much fun getting together with friends without the convention atmosphere.
I felt the con was too heavily weighted toward RPGs, but the RPGers complained there was too much non-game activity, so I guess the balance was about right. I don’t foresee this convention making money, which is too bad, because that means that Houston SF/F/game fans have to travel to Austin, Dallas, or College Station for a decent convention.
Other random opinions – The word for the day was “vertiginous,” at least for the panel authors. P.N. Elrod thinks it’s underutilized.
Anagrams and wordplay in names seem to be not uncommon in SF works, especially if the author and editor don’t get along. Eli Stone puts messages in backgrounds, and P.N. Elrod has some rather nasty anagrams for character names.
I intend to try some P.N. Elrod and C.S. Friedman books just to see what they write, after having listened to them speak. Authors that Sean Stewart recommended to me are Iain M. Banks’ non-genre books, William McCarthy, Patrick O’Brian (hailed as the successor to C.S. Forester), and Maureen McHugh’s China Mountain Zhang.
I felt kind of old, based mainly on clothing. There were people there besides myself that had a bit of grey hair, but the average age looked to be about twenty-five years.
I saw some VLARP in action and was not impressed. I’ve heard of some games getting out of hand and causing property damage. It just isn’t something I want to try. But then, I hated drama class.
Eli Stone is a fairly good pianist. Whoever played after him wasn’t, but was still more accomplished than I am on a piano keyboard.
San Con, the San Jacinto Junior College game club’s convention, is coming up in July. No LARPing (sounds vaguely scatological, doesn’t it?) and possibly no dealers. Just playing. Maybe I’ll have a report in the next issue. Same Ratte-time, same Ratte-channel.
Unsolicited Mailing Comments
Jason – I was fairly heavily into wargames (the more rules and cardboard chits, the better) up until about 1983, then slumped off to about 1990, and I don’t think I’ve played anything that could be considered a “historical simulation” since then. As I recall, I started on “Tactics II” and rapidly moved on to other Avalon Hill titles. Then it was onward to games by a bunch of companies that are now out of business. I never got into the miniatures scene (we called them “leadheads” – this was before lead-free alloys were used) except for RPGs. (D&D to start with, back when the “Basic Set” was brand new, but we soon decided it wasn’t complicated enough and moved to RuneQuest.) Recently I gave away some 25mm dwarves and miscellaneous figures for Call of Cthulhu to a friend who could actually use them, instead of letting them undergo radioactive decay like they were around my house. I didn’t have a gaming specialty, and in fact, was not very good at most of them. It didn’t matter, as I enjoyed playing even if I lost. I eventually decided the time needed for the monster games was just too great. When it takes over four hours just to set up for GDW’s “La Battalia de la Moskova” (Borodino, and probably misspelled) you have to wonder if it’s really worth it. And besides, women don’t play them much, but I can get Amanda to sit down for a round of The Great Dalmuti or Pyramidis. This eventually became a big deal to me. If you happen to come across a woman that really likes a round of Nude Crisco Twister, hang on to her. (Assuming you can get a good grip – I suggest the ankle.)
Randi – Unfortunately, shootings are not uncommon in the local school districts. Hardly a year goes by without some disgruntled parent breaking into a class with a machine gun, or a student showing up with a pistol. Some of the schools have metal detectors at the entrance, and I vaguely recall one requiring see-though purses for easy inspection.
I’m glad you’re enjoying your work; I’m in a slump. This happens near the end of engineering projects, when most of the real work is done but people still come in with last-minute changes.
I like the mystery, but the name Cupcake Hydrangea stopped me in my tracks. (Unfortunate that the explanation of the name was on the next page, but that can’t be helped.) Then I thought about it and realized that we live in a place where people are named Yahoo Serious, Yanni, Cher, “The Artist” (whose name can’t be produced using normal writing instruments, much less pronounced), and Peter O’Toole (possibly the most pornographic name in showbiz.)
Speaking of writing instruments, I noticed that my computer keyboard at work doesn’t have a ¢ key. I haven’t checked the ones at home yet. I know the old manual Sears typewriter had it.
John L – Your SCA news reminds me of just how long ago I was involved in the organization. About five years ago, I think, and I have little desire to return. I sometimes see people around that I know from the SCA, and realize I don’t know what their names are. I miss playing dance music sometimes, but not the politics that seemed to be unavoidable in our local groups. Now I see that there is a group called Amtgard based in El Paso that could be an offshoot of the SCA, with an emphasis on combat and fantasy elements. I think they have rules for magic, for example.
I never really liked the super-long fantasy genre, except for Kay’s Tigana, Gene Wolfe (recently named Most Underrated SF Author by American Heritage magazine – Tom Disch picked him out), and (until I learned better) Sword of Shanarra. Oh, and the Narnia books (none of which I consider long individually) and LotR. I prefer books that leave you wanting the author to write a sequel, although too often it’s disappointing. Tim Powers (with Earthquake Weather) and Sean Stewart (with The Night Watch) have both done this to me.
Prince of Egypt was not a great movie, and looked sort of pasted-together to me. Pretty entertaining, though.
Amy – Congrats on the new job. I don’t want to sound overly negative, but I hate hate hate “God Bless the USA”. I hated it the first time I heard it. I hate it every time a little 8-yr-old girl sings it (Ain’t she cute?) Blech. But then I don’t like hardly none of that C&W nohow. (Look what it’s done to my sentence structure, ma.) Although I have been known to do a two-step, Cotton-Eyed-Joe, and even a schottische on rare occasions.