Tuesday, March 03, 2015

This Is Not The Reality You've Been Searching For

So, I watched ep. 1 of House of Cards' newest season last night, and again I was astounded by the alternate reality of politics and news media the show displays. We have Republicrats and Demoplicans in charge of the government and a truth-seeking news media hounding them for honest governing. I get that it's fiction and the writers are striving for drama and intrigue, but it's enough to make you gag at the willful misrepresentation of what is actually going on in reality. Through the looking glass madness, it is.
But I guess a television show about leftwing totalitarians hollowing out a political party and lying about its agenda while a complacent "opposition party" sits idly by while the news media hails the former and shames the latter while the citizens live through an economic depression is too much to ask.
This explains why there are so many television shows depicting dystopian futures...(and, perhaps, why marijuana legalization is so popular these days)

Wednesday, February 25, 2015

The Reason It's Called "Home Moanership"

Dr. Helen writes a bit about the downsides of "owning" a home:

One of the things no one talks about much when pushing home ownership is how much time and money goes into fixing these broken things just to keep your house functional. I am starting to really understand why older people just let their houses go; it’s a full-time job making sure your house doesn’t fall in around you with the broken pipes, busted lights, and appliances that need to be maintained.
My house was built in 1911. When my wife and I decided to buy it, I turned to her and said, "Every room in this place needs to be rebuilt, and I don't have the tools or the experience to do it."

She smiled and said, "You will."

We've now been in it eight years and I've completely rebuilt the first floor, turning the living room and dining room into one giant room by tearing down the partitioning wall and anchoring the plaster ceiling, and laying down a new hardwood floor. I took out the "television" room built in the 1960s (drop ceiling, paneled walls) and put in a modern kitchen (that room was the house's original kitchen) and turned the unheated galley kitchen at the back of the house into a mud room.

I turned the "home office" into my study and refinished my daughter's room (grunt work, each, involving many hours on the floor with a belt sander). I've got more rooms to go, but along the way I've accumulated tools and experience. I can now do basic electrical and plumbing work, which saves money otherwise spent on professional help (for instance, yesterday I replaced the TPR valve on my water heater, which, eight years ago, I would never have considered doing, even though it only takes $20 in parts and 15 minutes of labor to do, saving me a plumber visit).

Granted, as a SAHD/fiction writer, I have more time to learn and do these DIY remodeling/fix-it tasks, but doing them yourself rather than paying a pro is substantially rewarding. Not calling a plumber to fix your water heater gives you "man cred" you didn't realize would make you feel good about. (And I say that after having called a plumber to "maintain" my kitchen sink pipes after I couldn't turn the off valve for fear of breaking it, and the plumber showed up and turned it in five seconds {it was under warranty, so no charge, and the plumber - Jason - was the guy who installed it and graciously allowed that I shouldn't have tried to force it, not knowing why it didn't turn with normal force})

Doing DIY is also made infinitely easier by the amount of video on YouTube showing both pros and amateurs doing exactly what you need to do, with step-by-step instructions. Watch a couple of videos before you go to work, and you know what you need to do.

Home remodeling/improvement/upkeep is a hassle, but it goes with the territory. I've never lived in a rental that didn't require upkeep of the same kind, and it was always a hassle to get the landlord to address an issue, which is how I long-ago learned how to change sink faucet cartridges. Which the landlord would have paid a plumber to do, but costs $10 and takes five minutes to do. The pros oversell their experience; there is much you can learn to do that is far easier to do than you would have thought before you set out to do it. If you think your "modern" home is built like crap, well, pros built it. And now you're going to hire more pros to come in a remodel it?

Now, yes, screwing something up and worrying about having to call in a pro to undo your DIY failure is a feature of the DIY mindset. It took me more than a year to convince myself that I could frame and install sheetrock in my current kitchen because I had never done such a thing before. But with the aid of a friend and father-in-law, I had the experience I needed to try, and to look at the room, you'd never know it was done by me and not a professional.

And, the savings are substantial: a typical kitchen installation of the sort I did would cost $30,000-$50,000 but me doing it cost $10,000 (I paid for the plumbing to be professionally done, as noted above, and the granite counters, which were the two big ticket items making up more than 50% of the construction costs). I salvaged the cabinetry from a home remodel and refurbished them at the cost of renting a truck to haul them from the construction site, saving me thousands of dollars on custom-built/Ikea-purchased cabinets.

You can't do everything, but you can do a lot more than you think you can.

Wednesday, December 31, 2014

The Year Ends on a Good Review

The year 2014 ends on a good note for my zombie shorts Cities of the Dead: Stories from the Zombie Apocalypse, with a glowing four-star review on Amazon:

One of the things that impressed me most about this collection is that it is written by one author. If that sounds weird let me explain. There are twenty stories in the book that ALL deal with zombies. In order to create twenty stories that don't keep covering the same ground takes a great deal of imagination (not to mention a whole lot of time spent thinking about zombies). There are a few characteristics that remain the same- zombies love brains and prefer their food uncooked- but there are more that are quite different. There are super zombies, zombies who fall into different classifications and even zombies who appear to be evolving into something new. The people are also varied. They are good, evil and everything in between. There are people who adapt quickly and others who cling to their faith in a world that has abruptly disappeared. People who are convinced they are helping humanity by performing atrocities, and others who beat themselves up for not being able to protect everyone in their groups.
Overall, this is a fun collection that left me with a lot to think about. Zombies...who knew?
If you're wondering, yes, 2015 will feature at least one new collection of stories set in the same zombie world.

And not to short Barnes and Noble, but I did get a 5-star there:
Posted December 26, 2014

No text was provided for this review.

Saturday, December 20, 2014

New Book, New Dog

So, the year started out in earnest with me working on a brand-new genre-defying novel that slowly ground to a halt around page 200 and was shelved. Hopefully only temporarily, but, well, some things that die do not return from the dead.

Unlike my latest Cities of the Dead project, "Winters of Discontent," which I bum rushed out the door and through the various digital publishing sources just in time for Christmas. The stories were written in-between attempts at the novel and had been sitting, unedited, on the computer, begging for attention. That attention was given, and I can now brag that for the fourth year going, I have managed to publish fiction for the universe to enjoy. It's only available at Amazon and Smashwords as an eBook, but will be up everywhere, soon, including a 66 page paperback version.

It's four stories. I had meant to do an entire book as a sequel, but it was that kind of year. I think my model going forward will be to something like this, a small number of shorts, released periodically to advance and develop the zombie apocalypse. This one continues the stories of the gyrocopter pilots from the first book, and I'm thinking I may continue to do that as well as maybe with some of the other survivors from the first book. We'll see.
In personal life, I got a dog. We got a dog. After a year of resisting, I relented and we rescued a hound mix (mutt) from the local ASPCA. She's a beauty, and possibly a mix of Jack Russell terrier, beagle, and pointer (but, nobody really knows).

I was surprised to find all the legends of dogs true: they'll eat anything at this stage. Especially anything made of wood or that smells of foot. I'd like to say that two months of constant training have her house trained, but I'm not going to say that quite yet, even though she has developed cues to alert you to her need to head outside. She hasn't gone inside in more than a month, but I don't trust her, yet, for long periods of time (especially overnight), so she's still relegated to the crate from time to time.

We named her Calico after tossing out a few names both pre- and post-adoption. How did we get that, you wonder? Well, the first rule of dog-naming was no common human names. I wanted to name it Amdiranifani from the Vernor Vinge books about the Tines world, but was over-ruled. So, on the drive home from the shelter, I was daydreaming about 1700s pirate "Calico" Jack Rackham, and suddenly blurted out, "How about Calico?"

Everyone agreed. She's Cali most of the time, to the kids.

It's nice to have her around during the day, when I'm alone with the house. Unlike the previous cat, Calico follows me around to see what I'm doing when she's not balled up on the couch dreaming of squirrels.
As usual, I'm looking forward to Christmas. I love this time of year.

Thursday, October 23, 2014

Z Nation Review

Five episodes in, and the new Syfy show Z Nation puts you on notice: don't worship your heroes. The pilot episode introduced a special operations soldier as the potential hero of the show, only to kill him before the end of the episode, much to my kids' disbelief.

By the end of the pilot, you meet Garnett, a former National Guard soldier who takes over the special operator's mission to transport a kinda-sorta infected/cured human from the East Coast to California, where there's supposedly a lab that can use his blood to create a cure for the zombie virus.  Okay, fine. It's not the rambling bumbling premise of The Walking Dead, but, rather, a "man goes on a journey" archetype.

It would be unfair to compare the two shows, but I will contrast them. TWD is all grim reality designed to make you despair for the characters week-in, week-out. There's no real nugget of story to the season-to-season arc, it's just a handful of characters doing whatever they have to do to survive this week's episode. It's well done for what it is, but it isn't compelling story-telling and most of the characters are so flawed as to be barely likable. So far, only "the Governor" had a plan for the post-apocalypse, but he was an unlikable tyrant. Rick doesn't have a plan, and, I'd wager, neither do the writers or producers. Fun to watch, but frustrating as hell, too, to see everything wasted on gibberish.

Z Nation aims to change that formula, by doing something almost logical: forming a group of disparate weirdos and sending them on a journey. Along the way, they encounter all sorts of interesting scenarios, including the entirely-plausible humans using zombies as a ruse to rob humans. It's a dog-eat-dog world in the apocalypse. The tenor of the show is the opposite of TWD, too. TWD is dark and gritty; Z Nation is almost-but-not-quite campy. The appearance of the show - cinematographically - is light and airy, almost "clean" and sunny.

Frustratingly, neither of the shows explains the origin of the zombie apocalypse, which is a common failure in zombie fiction. Apparently, nobody can come up with anything that isn't a military/pharmaceutical experiment gone wrong, so everybody ignores the "why" question of the zombie end times. [Cities of the Dead does not do this, by the way: you get a reason] Both shows more-or-less start after-the-fact, and you just have to deal with it. Fine.

The zombies in Z Nation are ragers while in TWD they're slow pokes. Nothing new there. I don't know why both shows - and much of zombie fiction - assumes that everyone is pre-infected with the zombie bug, but you just have to accept it. You die, you turn.

The ragtag band of characters in Z Nation complement each other well, even if their clothes are too clean and the ammo limitless. Stupidly, there's character who calls himself "10 Thousand," quickly rebranded 10K by the others in the group, because that's how many zombies he's going to kill before he reverts to his given name (Kyle, Eric, whatever). He's also the "cool character," dressed in black, loaded with weapons and an expert marksman (he'd be the hero in a video game version of the show).

Doc is comic relief and more-or-less uninteresting as an aged drug-loving hippie. Murphy is the comic foil-slash-infected-savior of humanity, if they can get him to California. The others are standard-issue cardboard cut-out characters along for the ride. If they live, maybe they'll be developed by the writers into more than what they are, now.

If they live. Mid-way through the season, they bring us to a mostly-plausible location in the mid-west where - implausibly - Garnet meets an old Army buddy running a high security refugee camp. Okay, fine, you go with that because it's an interesting idea melded into a B-story featuring a psychotic church pastor who thinks the undead are "the resurrected." Okay. Story A and B crash together in an almost-but-not-quite unbelievable moment, but, come on, this is zombie fiction, so run with it.

And then the show kills off Garnett just as you've gotten to like him.

For realz? Yes. This bodes ill for the rest of the characters (except, maybe, 10K, who seems to be slowly rising as the main character/hero [and who is, yes, likable and even desirable as the lead, but I contradict myself].

The only real stupid stupid stupid aspect of the show has to do with a character named Citizen Z, a lone surviving military operative at a super-secret military base somewhere in the arctic/antarctic/Alaska/snowy wilderness. He has limitless supplies and access to every known computer network on the planet. And he spends his time broadcasting in the blind to whoever might be able to have found batteries to power a portable radio. Three years into the apocalypse and this unbelievable character (he's the most non-military soldier you'll seen portrayed) is still at his post, trying to stitch civilization back together via radio waves.

On the whole, a likable and well-done show with a healthy dose of humor that doesn't take itself as seriously as TWD. There's a lot to work with in this particular apocalypse, and I hope to see something emerge as the rest of the season progresses.

Thursday, October 09, 2014

Still Looking

Had to head to Walmart this afternoon to pick up an online order of bedding for my daughter's room. Finished the remodel on it last week - stripped the walls and repainted them, tore up the carpet and refinished the hardwood floor underneath, stripped the woodwork of paint and stained it. So, it was time to get rid of the makeshift bedding she's been making do with and girlie her room up.

So, while I'm waiting for the clerk to find the package in the warehouse, I notice a large area where there are photos of missing kids, some of which are age progressed to what they might look like now after years of being gone. And then I saw a pair of 40-year old women on one poster, taken as young girls in 1975 and never heard from again. And my heart broke a little bit, knowing that there is still someone out there looking for them after all these years, hoping against hope to be reunited.

Thursday, September 25, 2014

The "Science" Behind CotD

In Cities of the Dead, victims of the zombie plague die when the essentially bleed out. Doesn't matter if a person was bitten or got the virus through the air or direct contact: that person will suffer a day-long gradually increasing flu-like infection which will eventually knock them unconscious and cause them to bleed out. The person dies, then is "resurrected."

And now, "science" confirms the process: "Two Ebola patients, who died of the virus in separate communities in Nimba County have reportedly resurrected in the county. The victims, both females, believed to be in their 60s and 40s respectively, died of the Ebola virus recently in Hope Village Community and the Catholic Community in Ganta, Nimba."

Okay, okay, so maybe not science. Time to ready up with guns, ammo and canned goods, though...