Wednesday, July 30, 2008

What Do We Do With Our Dreams?

My apologies for the format of the following text - I'm certain it won't reproduce properly. Rather than following up with my own words, I'm going to use the poet Langston Hughes' words from "A Dream Deferred" (also named "Harlem"):

What happens to a dream deferred?

Does it dry up
like a raisin in the sun?
Or fester like a sore—
And then run?
Does it stink like rotten meat?
Or crust and sugar over—
like a syrupy sweet?
Maybe it just sags
like a heavy load.
Or does it explode?

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Tales Out of Miskatonic University

Things are going smoothly with the Tales Out of Miskatonic University anthology. So, I thought I'd take the time to remind anyone interested that the Miskatonic University blog contest is still open. You do not have to email me your blog entry, you are welcome to post it on the post link below. Or, you can email it. I'll select at least five winners and include them in the anthology. There is no payment for winning, but the prize is a free copy of the anthology, with your name credited to the blog entry.

For all of the details, follow the like below!

Miskatonic University Blogger Contest

Sunday, July 27, 2008

Watching Movies is a Lonely Business

Movies, or "films," have been around since the late 1800s. In the early days of the Lumiere brothers, films was in its infancy. This famous team of film makers produced hits about "quitting time at work," and train arrivals. The technology was new to the public - and difficult to get to the public. There were no film theaters, so the films can to go to the viewers. Or, folks could visit a Kinetoscopes - a machine that the viewer peered into and watched the film. This was a lonely form of film watching, and usually required standing to look into the viewer.

It didn't take long for the inventive Thomas Edison to find a means of delivering the entertainment. Not only did he improve camera technology (putting those tiny track feeds on the side to keep the film steady), but he also created the Vitascope. The Vitascope projected the film onto a large screen so many people could view at once. This increased profit per showing, and increased the market for films.

Throughout the 1920s and 1930s, the film industry grew (moving from New York City to Hollywood Land). And the theater grew as well. Vast movie palaces were built, with multi-screen theaters, restaurants, entertainment, and quite a few other things (such as roller rinks and child care facilities). All seemed well. By the 1940s, film had peaked with box office sales. In fact, even with the large numbers produced by blockbuster films today, theaters have never seen the level of viewers in a theater since the 1940s. Yes, the price has gone up, and the money earned has increased, but the total number of people visiting the theater has continued to drop.

Some blame television. Why go to the theater when you can stay at home, watch a film and eat a "television dinner" on a tray in front of the 12 inch screen?

Well, to skip ahead, around the 1980s the film industry seemed like it was on a comeback. After countless inventions such as 3-d, sense-o-vision (which included odors, fragrant scents, vibrating chairs, and other oddities that went with the film), people returned to the theaters. The industry flourished. And new movie palaces were built - this time called "multiplexes." I wondered at the time if that was a wise choice. Had the golden age of film viewership returned, or was it simply a wish?

Then something changed again. The VCR gave theaters a run for their money. The theaters won for the most part. But that didn't last, as the DVD came into existence. In the 1990s, theaters started to see declines in attendance. Multiplexes were still being built, and were starting to go out of business. People were renting DVDs and watching them on 27 inch screens, or even larger projection screens.

This time the film industry embraced the change, and lowered the price of DVDs. The joke of a "straight to DVD" release started to lose its meaning as many studios bypassed theaters, cable, and television, taking a straight to DVD path for a larger profit. The DVD industry boomed, and theaters fell behind. Attempting to compete with this market, cable companies start providing On Demand films. Then a decline in DVD sales, renting, and profits occurred.

Now we add in the Internet and home theaters into the fray. Film studios have been looking for a means of cutting out the added material costs of films. Digital sounded like the answer, but digital theaters are costly, and still compete with the vast array of film available directly to consumers. Mailing DVDs is helpful for those in rural areas, and organized people who return them :), but it still didn't pep up the industry. As with Edison's Vitascope, several companies have come to the rescue. Except, rather than producing a technology that allows people to gather together and watch a film, now they can stay at home. TiVo is capable of downloading movies from and other sites, allowing "on demand" watching, without having to drive to the video store, or to wait a day or more for a DVD to be mailed. Apple has also jumped into the arena. Well, they already were with the new generation iPods. However, Apple TV promises consumers much more than the hand-held devices. The list of similar devices are countless. I'm just referencing the two that seem to be dominating the market. And of course, a personal computer can do the very same thing.

I wonder if this will be the "hook" that studios have been looking for. And are viewers happier with it? Sure, there is no large audience to share in the enjoyment, but then "blockbuster" films and classics are readily available (if you have a good Internet connection). In a way, we've come full circle, returning to the Kinetoscopes.

Thursday, July 24, 2008

Mysteries to Secrets

I always enjoy finishing a book. There is no ritual I perform when this happens - maybe because even when a book is finished it isn't finished. There are still potential delays. Proofs to be reviewed, mishaps at the printer, and various other events that can "open" the project again. Even with all of those potential calamities, there is a sense of completion when looking at the final galley. Or even more so when the book is shipped off to the printer.

It so happens that Secrets of Morocco (formerly Mysteries of Morocco) is at the printer. In a previous post I mentioned the difference between the two "editions" of the book. Nothing much has changed since then. The book is still set in Morocco (this is a relief otherwise the title would make no sense), and it has plenty of information about the history of the nation from its early days as a Roman outpost through the 1930s. There is one thing that I didn't elaborate on previously, and that is the inclusion of some Pulp Cthulhu content. This material can be used by Call of Cthulhu players, or by Pulp Cthulhu players. At the very least, the Pulp Cthulhu content should offer a sneak peek into the upcoming Pulp Cthulhu book.

All that is left to do now is wait...

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

It's in the Air

Sometimes it is good to relax. I often say this, have it told to me, and I've read about it. And sometimes, I spot people simply having fun. A good example is the group of people laughing and having fun over my house. It appears that they've opted for an archaic mode of transportation. Those of you who have heard hot-air balloons, know that you can often hear the "heater" (is that the correct term?) long before you hear the screams of delight from the travelers. That was the case here. I was busy answering emails when suddenly a "whoosh" sounded from outside. Okay, I admit, I already knew what it was. In my town, quite a few people take air-tours. It was the sound of the balloon approaching.

I wonder how many people have tried this. I live in an area where I can be in a balloon in 15 minutes, but I've never went up in one. Instead, I wait for them to pass over and write blog posts. :) In lieu of taking the time to ride over the trees in a lighter than air creation, I thought I'd make a light post. Basically just having fun and sharing some pictures.

If anyone is in doubt, the folks hanging in the air were having a grand time. Waving to everyone, posing for photos, and even dipping a bit. This is a bit risky near my house as there are a few tall trees in the area. But I suspect in that slight risk is some fun. And it's always nice when fun is in the air.

Thursday, July 10, 2008

The Grin of the Dark - Ramsey Campbell

Ramsey Campbell is a master of horror literature. And fans of Campbell will delight in his latest novel. In his typical style, he creates a dark narrative that draws the reader into the story. While I'm not particularly a fan of "clown horror," Campbell manages to win me over with unsettling, spooky scenes containing these notorious circus performers. But he does much more than this.

The story is centered around Simon Lester and his quest to write a book about the silent film star Tubby Thackeray. The task takes him to a variety of locations, all wonderfully filled with intriguing characters. As the novel progresses, the surreal narrative grows strong - as though there is something from the past awakening. The style works well with novel's subject.

As Lester continues to research Tubby Thackeray, things become more mysterious. There is little material to be found about a silent film star who rivaled Charlie Chaplin in fame. It is as though someone is intentionally trying to erase him from history.

With each passing page the novel grows darker, and yet maintains lighter moments - humorous elements that lift the gloom long enough for the reader to dive in again. At first glance, a novel about a character who is researching a silent film star, perhaps doesn't "sound" like horror. But when handled this well, the mystery and the horror unravel into a brilliant tale.

I would suggest that readers who are new to Ramsey Campbell start with one of his other books. The Grin of the Dark is stylish and well done, but it is perhaps not the starting point for acolytes. In this novel, he works with the prose, making the the writing as much a part of the story as the characters and plot. It is an excellent example of why he is a modern horror master.

Tuesday, July 08, 2008

Seeding the Universe - or at Least Earth

I intended to post this some time ago, but I've been too busy. Maybe most everyone has heard about it, but for those who haven't, it is interesting. A couple of months ago, several scientists reported that they found proto-DNA in a meteorite that collided with the Earth back in the 1960s. What this does is lend some support to the panspermia theory - that life on Earth came from someplace other than Earth.

Most scientists are not willing to go as far as stating "life came from outer space," but a few are suggesting that meteorites such as this one might have provided life on Earth with an evolutionary advantage.

The researchers did indeed check the meteorite to see if it was contaminated by material from Earth, and according to their findings, it was not. This rock came with its own proto-DNA. Members of the research time are quoted everywhere, and now here:

Lead author Dr Zita Martins, of the Department of Earth Science and Engineering at Imperial College London, says that the research may provide another piece of evidence explaining the evolution of early life. She says:

“We believe early life may have adopted nucleobases from meteoritic fragments for use in genetic coding which enabled them to pass on their successful features to subsequent generations.”

Between 3.8 to 4.5 billion years ago large numbers of rocks similar to the Murchison meteorite rained down on Earth at the time when primitive life was forming. The heavy bombardment would have dropped large amounts of meteorite material to the surface on planets like Earth and Mars.

Of course the panspermia theory isn't new either. Speculation that life on Earth might have come from Mars, Europa, Titan, or other remote regions have existed for years. Fans of science fiction are likely thinking this is old news, and in that genre it is. In any case, it is certainly exciting to think about.

Podcast Available

For those who have not dropped by my website, there is a new link with a month podcast available. The first tale is "The Tiger," and it is in two parts. You can subscribe to it, download it, or listen online. The tale is unabridged. I must put a warning in there. The story has some explicit content.

Here is a link to follow: William's Podcasts