Thursday, January 29, 2004

The Beardless Warriors by Richard Matheson

Apparently Matheson was drafted and entered World War II in the European theater in 1944. This story is largely an autobiohraphical bit mixed with a high adventure story. If anything, it seems too... happy. It is also the most straightforward novel about WWII I've ever read. Comparisons to Norman Mailer's 'The Naked and the Dead' and Remerque's "All Quiet On the Western Front" and Slaughterhouse Five and Catch-22 are inevitable. Matheson's novel has none of the cynicism of Heller, none of the post-modern stylings of Vonnegut. He gives a very personal play-by-play account of a young man's introduction to an infantry squad and the ten days that follow. The action seqeunces (which comprise at least 80% of the book) are well narrated. It is no wonder that Matheson is such a hollywood favorite; his descriptions of physical spaces, characteristics, and stage direction are precise. The emotional depth in his characters is no deeper than the puddles gathering outside on First street. From the gruff sarge with the heart of gold (the cliche-ness of which one of his characters even comments on) to the numb protaganist, these characters are almost all stock.

If all this sounds like I didn't enjoy this book, I've given the wrong impression. It is an exciting account of an infantry unit whose members learn to work together to overcome the horrors of war. It reads like a John Wayne movie, or an episode of Band of Brothers. Yes, it's a little bit obvious and makes you feel a bit guilty, but it's still damn entertaining and well executed.
Yesterday morning on the drive back in from visiting the Professor in College Station I finished Matheson's The Beardless Warriors. Yesterday was so hectic that I didn't have time to write down my thoughts. It's grey and cold outside here. It's rush hour. So now is a great time for me to stay here at work and consider how pleased I am not to be invading Germany with an M1 Garand.

Saturday, January 24, 2004

It's pouring rain here. Poor Texas. There are few things sadder than a black dog alone in the rain in the middle of the night.

This was a hell of a week. On balance, it was a very good one, really, as the very good outweighed the pretty bad. Three things of note happened:

1) Vic got a great job offer from a firm that seems like a perfect fit. This is such great news. It takes a real load off of my mind, and I know that it will lift a great weight from his shoulders, which in turn, takes another load off my mind.
2) Rebecca does NOT have cervical cancer. Words can't express how great this is.
3) Brute Force 2 was killed today. This sucks. Looks like I've got to figure out what to do next.

I'm reading Richard Matheson's The Beardless Warriors. It is a really wonderful novel about WWII. I expect to finish it this weekend, as soon as this hangover goes away and I can focus on words again.


PS: Godda,m I hate the DTs. When did I get to be such a fucking drunk? I can barely type because my fucking hands are too shaky. This sucks. Must stop.

Saturday, January 17, 2004


Here at the Professor's house, I just finished up the horror novel I'd been ripping through in the last few days. It was okay, except for the end, which was very unsatisfying. Review:

A Terrible Beauty by Graham Masterton

Set in modern day Cork in Ireland, this largely forgettable horror story details the intertwined investigation of two ritualistic mass murderers. The heroine, a tough detective superintendent in the Irish Guarda (don't know how to include an accent mark in this editor), starts by trying to track down historical information on a mass grave discovered on a local farie hill. The tale ends in a harrowing confrontation between her, a buddy cop, some random guy, and a modern copycat killer.

The Irish mythological darkness that pervades this story is cool. The main character is interesting and likeable. The plot is complex enough, and has enough forensic details and political intrigue to keep you going. A series of scenes dealing with the abduction, torture and murder of young women are pretty fucking grueseome. The end sucks, cause the rabbit pulled out of the hat is, well, dumb.

Writing and language are overall pretty good. Masterson won a Brahm Stoker award for another of his novels. Maybe that one will be a little better. In the meantime, I'll give this one a B+ (way better than most Koontz or Barker, not in the same league as Thomas Harris or Stephen King.

The Prof. & sis are ready to go. Check ya later. :)


Thursday, January 15, 2004

This morning I dreamed that someone had given me an owl. It rested above the stairwell. It was tiny, and very soft. It would fly around the house as it wished, and come perch on my shoulder. It would lick my face if I stood still. It was a very cool dream. Perhaps Crysiana will take a small owl as a familiar.

Wednesday, January 14, 2004

A grey day is high time for another update. January always feels like today looks. O'ercast & dark. Tonight I'm quadruple booked. I need to get better at just saying 'no' to things. The problem is, I never really DON'T WANT to do a particular thing, it's just that usually in order to decline, I have to explain to someone that something else that someone else wants me to do is more important or interesting than whatever the subject wants me to do. Then of course, there are timing issues too. Maybe the secret is to wait until about 6pm before actually committing to anything, gather all the possibles together, then sort out and call back with confirms.

I just got something in the mail from the Wedding It was "The Groom's Companion" or something like that. It had a counter on the top of the email counting down the weeks until I am to be hitched. (I didn't know we had even picked a date yet.) It also had a bunch of dumb articles, each of which was labeled with a timer. "Packing for the Honeymoon: 2-4 weeks out." Every article was linked to a site which sold shit. "Click here to buy the perfect new luggage to go with your wedding." WTF? My old luggage becomes unserviceable because it might not match a bridesmaid dress during the one second that someone sees it in the trunk? I really think the whole thing is a sham, just designed to part folks from their money. I'm not just being a curmudgeon here. On the same topic, last night, the Professor was lamenting that no one would talk wedding stuff with her. (This was after I'd opened an elephant sized hole in the conversation, with an invitation for her to talk to me about the wedding.) Seems that what she meant was that none of the people (women) she is close to were willing to talk to her about it. They all were more interested in their own lives. Where's the sisterhood? Jerm has been saying for years that there isn't one. I'll point to this as people's exhibit DD sustaining this point of view.

Work today has been all about learning more Maya. It's a lot of fun to be balls deep in a 3D package again. Makes me feel like a real developer, not just a manager-type. I also got to write up my bio for upper management. Never a good sign. That means that they are looking for underqualified people to fire. Luckily, I've been at this for about 10 years now, and actually have a pretty good bio, especially for someone my age. Ah well. What can you do?

I've been bouncing around on the reading quite a bit. Still trying to finish: A Random Walk Down Wall Street, Creating Emotion in Games, Peopleware, Godel Escher Bach, Roads, and Quicksilver. But I loaned out Quicksilver to LT. Then I picked up Riddey Walker by a guy named Hobart, but couldn't get into it. So I grabbed Graham Masterton's A Terrible Beauty off the stack. It won a Bram Stoker award for horror fiction a few years ago. So far it is interesting, pulpy, and promises to be a fast-food novel. Fun! Will post a review when and if I finish it.


Sunday, January 11, 2004

Time for another update. A few interesting things before I get to the meat.
First, the NYT Magazine has an interesting article on blogs and blogging today.
Second, it seems that my friend the Duff has run across this blog and wanted to add a few comments. Unfortunately, Blogger doesn't yet support that. Too bad. Maybe they will eventually get their shit together.

This weekend was great. RS & I hung out with my little sister & her boyfriend on Friday, with my little brother & his girlfriend on Saturday night. Lots of fun both nights. On Saturday evening, several of us all went down to Ararat, a cool middle-eastern resturant. Good times.

After much delay, I finally finished The Crying of Lot 49 last night. Thoughts below.

The Crying of Lot 49 by Thomas Pynchon

"Shall I project a world?"

This seems to be the most commonly quoted passage from Pynchon's 4th (and shortest) novel. The Crying of Lot 49 is a fascinating, very challenging novel written in the early sixties. Pynchon is one of the masters of postmodernism. This novel explores themes of self-delusion, paranoia, conspiracy theories, information theory, textual revisionism, and a bunch of other weird, disconnected and disconcerting topics. It is a largely linear narrative, on the surface, it tells a story of a young woman drawn into a strange subculture in central California.

Plot summary: Oedipas Maas had a very wealthy boyfriend. He died and named her executor of his estate. In the course of her duties, she discovers hints to the existance of a secret society called the Trystero, which serves as a sort of anti/alternate postal service, and (apparently) has for several hundred years. Almost everyone Oedipas comes in contact with vanishes or dies. She continues to trace a series of clues and strange connections which become more and more bizarre. She eventually begins to doubt her own sanity. She (and we) are offerend a glimpse into a weird, dark world before the novels close in which, to quote Bob Dylan, 'nothing is revealed.'

Language. Pynchon is a master of language. It is no wonder that he is sometimes compared to Nabakov. His prose is dense, his metaphors beautiful. His writing is superlative and surreal. I understand now why William Gibson is always compared in turn, to Pynchon, in whose stylistic footsteps he very clearly follows. Likewise, I understand a great deal more now about David Foster Wallace. It had for years seemed to me that DFW was in a league unto himself when it came to wordplay, linguistic gymnasticis, and bizzare plot threads and narrative devices. It turns out the DFW is very clearly emulating Pynchon, happily dancing along in the disorenting cloud of DDT left in his master's wake. Likewise, an exploration of Pynchon's obvious penchant for the language theories of Wittgenstein would be fun. I thoughts the Broom of the Systerm was original in playing with logos & language as a symbol. It is not. The Crying of Lot 49 very obviously paved this road decades earlier.

I had a really hard time at first knowing what to do with the conclusion of this novel. I didn't 'get it'. The Professor told me there was nothing to get. She described the book as just Pynchon being playful with language, and in large part it is. Last night though, after reviewing a few websites on the topic ( ) I began to think of the book as more like something out of a Lovecraft story. Like Lovecraft, Pynchon doesn't want to explain to me how the world outside our own works. He doesn't want me to 'get it.' He wants to give me just a glimpe into some strange 'other spaces' where the rules and laws and logic that govern here don't hold complete sway. He wants me to underneath dark bridges and watch the funeral pyre of a sotted bum, and think about all the information destroyed when his matress burns. He wants me to wonder what the symbol of Trystero means. He wants me to think about language and reality as binary, either real, or unreal. Then he wants to close the window. It's a taste of a very strange candy that is offered here, one that is not satisfying at all, just very stimulating.


Wednesday, January 07, 2004

I don't feel like I did the McMurtry essays justice with the anemic paragraph below. There is a lot more worthy of mention, and there are some really annoying typos. In fact the whole section could really use a rewrite. But instead, since I'm at work, I'll just drop a few more observations into an equally ill-structured paragraph and move on.

In A Narrow Grave by Larry McMurtry Part II
I think that Professor Stout's ideas about the use of nostalgia by writers in the service of identity formation really resonate in this book. Her focus is on Irish Drama, specifically Yates' tenure at the Abby Theater, and she wouldn't be caught dead reading anything about Texas, but her theories are still pretty applicable.

It is worth mentioning that the essays cover a lot more fertile ground that just that mentioned below. LMM talks about the fliming of HUD, about a fiddler's jamboree in East Texas, about high plains whorehouses, about the dangerous bar-rooms of Houston, about the promiscious liberalism of Austin, and the violent injustice of the Texas border patrol (R. Cog Sr. for example).

There are a few good critical dissections of this novel. I read through them last night, and really wanted to carry on a dialog with the authors. These can be found in Taking Stock: A Larry McMurtry Casebook, editor Clay Reynolds. These essays give LMM a great deal of credit. They also do so much more quoting from the gems in this work that I feel really slipshod about the job I did below. But, they got paid, or at least, accrued debts in the observance of their duties as observers.

Okay, gotta get back to work on BF2 now.

Last night late and over lunch I continued the downward spiral into the insanity that is Pynchon. The Crying of Lot 49 is nearly concluded. What a cool, wild ride. Expect a post on it soon.


PS: It is so much easier to type here at work than it is at home... God my desk setup there sucks.

Tuesday, January 06, 2004

I just finished In A Narrow Grave. Review.

In A Narrow Grave by Larry McMurtry

Written in 1968 and now out of print, I was surpised to even hear of McMurtry's fourth book, titled 'In A Narrow Grave: Essays on Texas'. I thought that I'd read almost all of LMM's novels, and was going through a recent collection of Essays he wrote entitled 'Roads' in which we mentions that anyone who wants to know his opinion on Austin should read In A Narrow Grave. Luckily, my kind mother found the book for me in some used bookstore (of which LMM himself is said to own the largest in the state, somewhere up near Archer City) and gave it to me for Christmas.

In A Narrow Grave is a collection of 10 essays written in an elegaic tone. They deal with the character of several Texas cities, a farewell to the departed cowboy god of Texas, embodied (to LMM) by Frank Dobie's portrait of rancher Charles Goodnight and characters like Woodrow Call from Lonesome Dove, or the grandfather from Horseman Pass By. Indeed, LMM is clearly obsessed by the dissapearing myth of the cowboy. His entire tone is one of a wistful lament. Texas is a vast, empty space for LMM, now dead without his mythical heroes and indians. Reading In A Narrow Grave is like looking at a template for every LMM novel to date. His use of language is precise, folksy and possessed of a sort of tounge-in-cheek colloquial character. McMurtry repeats himself regularly, like the characters he describes, his thoughts keep coming back to the relationship between West Texas men and women, the status-obsessed provincialism of his hometown of Archer County (where he claims bestiality was rampant). It is his (and the earlier McMurtrys') love / hate relationship with his home soil to which he returns most frequently in this collection. While the focus is ostensibly on Texas as a whole, McMurtry seems to never be able to tear his gaze far from Archer County and his mythical town of Thalia. Like an old cowboy endlessly repeating himself around the campfire to any new bucks who will stop and listen, McMurtry seems stuck. In his essays he cannot leave Archer City behind, and as a man he can't seem to escape either. He is trapped by his books and his native land; stuck watching the plains suburbanize, selling used novels in a drafty warehouse, and hoping to catch a last glimpse of his cowboy god; a god who has already passed forever beyond his reach.
It has been a few days. New Years has come and gone. Garner X has come and gone. Both were lots of fun. I was surrounded by good friends and family, and things went off pretty well without and problems.

I'm back at work now, and feel like I'm now back in the swing of things. I've got a handle on the coming month's tasks, have greeted almost everyone and taken a barometer of the team mood. It's nice to see the parking garage filled with cars again now that everyone is back from vacation. Onward & upward with the creation of BF2! Today I'm trying to drill down into the customer satisfaction survey we recieved last month, working on learning Maya, dissecting reviews & how we are addressing their primary criticisms, and installing Call of Duty. I've finally given up on waiting for an Xbox version.

Several book reviews are just about to be posted: The Crying of Lot 49 by Thomas Pynchon, and In A Narrow Grave by Larry McMurtray are both within about 20 pages of being finished. So stay tuned!