Posts from October 2007.

Halloween: Thaw

It was a death sentence, despite his billions.

When he received the diagnosis, he invested everything–time, money, energy–into finding a cure. Supposedly there was none, but wealth can uncover secrets kept from the masses.

Top doctors in the field proved useless. They provided him with articles from medical journals, bolstering their claim that the disease was necessarily terminal, and suggested he investigate hospice care.

He met with researchers, demanding whatever experimental therapies they were pursuing. Some obliged. He was given a series of shots that clinical trials had demonstrated to be 0% effective. He was radiated, first with waves on the low-end of the spectrum, then with waves on the high. Those that provided these treatments did so knowing that they would not be sued. The patient would soon be dead, of that they were certain.

As he grew frail, he looked to the fringes of science. A faith healer in India extracted handful of viscera from his abdomen and declared him cured; the following morning he was again coughing blood, and the Swami was nowhere to be found. A tailor in Japan wove him a suit made entirely from magnets and Spandex; he wore it every day for a month. He paid 1,000 people to pray for him, eight hours a day, seven days a week.

In his final days he gave up hope. No cure exists, thought he. Not yet.

Only then did he contact Cryonics Incorporated. Founded by the world’s most accomplished cryopreservationalist, C.I. would freeze its clientèle until such time as their ailments could be cured. Law forbid C.I. from preserving a client before death, but the man offered them such sums of money that they had no choice but to comply.

A week before he was projected to expire, the man settled into a sleek, silver pod. The technicians busied themselves with various tasks; the man’s lawyer stood nearby, finalizing the terms of estate. Without heir, the man was investing his fortune into an interest-earning trust, half of which would be given to whomever revived him in the future, half of which he would reclaim upon awakening.

The lawyer took his leave. The technicians finished their preparations. The glass lid of the pod slid over the man, sealing him in.

He felt a slight chill before the sedative kicked in. Then, nothing.

* * *

He was conscious before he could open his eyes. Like waking from a restful sleep he could remember nothing of his slumber, but knew intuitively how long he had been out. Though, in this case, the duration measured decades rather than hours.

He was bitterly cold, but growing warmer by the moment.

When at last he mustered sufficient willpower to raise his eyelids, he wondered why he had bothered. All was dark, both the panels within his coffin and the room without. The pod insulated him from all external noise, though he would occasionally feel a tremor.

Isolated, he pondered his situation, eventually concluding that he had been thawed not by saviors, but by a power outage. He waited for his strength to return; he drifted off to sleep.

Several hours later, when the pod’s glass lid exploded inward, his eyes sprang open and his body twitched in alarm–his full range of motion, given the circumstances. An intense light blinded him. After a moment, the beam left his face and traveled the length of his body. A flashlight, the man thought.

“Look at this,” said a voice, garbled as though someone were speaking around a mouthful of water. The man, still dazzled from the light, could barely make out a silhouette, looming over his ruined pod.

Seconds passed. A second shape lurched into view. A wave of putrescence rolled into the pod like fog into a valley. The man instinctively held his breath; in the ensuing silence, it occurred to him that he heard no sounds of respiration at all.

As his eyes acclimated to the dim illumination provided by the flashlight, the appearance of his visitors slid into focus.

The Speaker was covered in grime and gore. What remained of its clothing hung in tatters, revealing a series of bullet holes across its chest. Its left hand held the flashlight; the right, a crowbar.

The Shambler lacked an arm and a third of its head; much of the rest of its body was in the throes of decomposition. The lower half of its torso had rotted away completely, with only the spinal column tethering chest to pelvis.

“Uht ah ey?” grunted the Shambler, lacking a jawbone to articulate.

The man heard the faint and distant sound of explosions, followed again by silence.

The Speaker returned the beam of the flashlight to the man’s face and chuckled. “Frozen dinners,” it said.

* * *

Halloween: The Backseat Killer

I contributed one of eight endings to The Backseat Killer, today in The Morning News.

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Halloween: Twenty Spooky Stories

The Body Snatcher by Robert Louis Stevenson (~ 7,500 words)

The Brazillian Cat by Authur Conan Doyle (~ 8,000 words)

The Call of Cthulhu by H.P. Lovecraft (~ 12,000 words)

The Cedar Closet by Lafcadio Hearn (~ 3,750 words)

Dracula’s Guest by Bram Stoker (~ 4,750 words)

The Furnished Room by O. Henry (~ 2,500 words)

The Haunted Author by Marcus Clarke (~ 1,500 words)

John Charrington’s Wedding by E. Nesbit (~ 3,000 words)

The Lottery by Shirley Jackson (~ 3,500 words)

The Monkey’s Paw by W.W. Jacobs (~ 4,000 words)

The Mortal Immortal by Mary Shelley (~ 5,500 words)

Nerves by Anton Chekhov (~ 1,500 words)

The Night Wire by H. F. Arnold (~ 2,500 words)

An Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge by Ambrose Bierce (~ 3,750 words)

Oh Whistle, And I’ll Come To You, My Lad by M.R. James (~ 8,000 words)

The Signalman by Charles Dickens (~ 5,000 words)

Sredni Vashtar by Saki (~ 1,750 words)

The Tell-Tale Heart by Edgar Allan Poe (~ 2,000 words)

A Terribly Strange Bed by Wilkie Collins (~ 6,750 words)

The Yellow Wallpaper by Charlotte Perkins Gilman (~ 6,000 words)

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Update: In the comments, Em asks, “what about Washington Irving?” Ah, yes. Well, I originally drew the line at 10,000 words, but, in the end, couldn’t bring myself omit Call of Cthulhu. Having broken my own rule once, I see no reason not to do so again.

The Legend of Sleepy Hollow by Washington Irving (~ 12,000 words)

And, while we’re at it:

Afterward by Edith Wharton (~ 12,000 words)

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Halloween: What’s My Clone Code?

In the early 80′s, at the height “child abduction” hysteria (and you kids thought CNN invented the culture of fear), our local TV station ran a series of commercials introducing the “Kid Code.” The concept was simple. Whenever a skeevy man wearing a hat and fake mustache approached you with a fistful of lollypops, you’d shout “What’s my kid code? WHAT’S MY KID CODE?” And the man would say “Manimal?”–which was of course your kid code because Manimal was effing rad. So you’d climb into the car with him and get molested. Another public service provided by local news.

Now that I am older, I am much better at estimating risk. I now recognize, for instance, the chances of my being abducted by a pedophile are vastly overblown (especially since I am 36 and have lost my boyish figure). No, the biggest threat, as I have learned from a quarter century of science-fiction novels and horror movies, is that:

  1. My body will be taken over by a malevolent presence or a rage-inducing virus;
  2. Someone will create a biological or robotic clone of me;
  3. A shapeshifter will assume my identity;
  4. Someone will graft my face onto their head;
  5. Due to wacky time- or interdimensional-travel related hijinks, there will be two or more copies of me wandering around concurrently.

Indeed, one of these scenarios seems to unfold in pretty much every movie made (e.g., Invasion Of The Body Snatchers, Face/Off, Steel Magnolias, My Dinner With Andre, etc.).

Fortunately, motion pictures have also taught us how to deal with such a contingency: you demand that the Doppelganger (if Doppelganger he be) divulge some fact that only the real person could possibly know. A Clone Code, if you will.

As with a Doomsday Machine, the whole point of a Clone Code is lost if you keep it a secret. So here is mine. The next time you see “me” in person, be sure to verify that I am who I say I am; if I hesitate in responding or provide the wrong answer, flee immediately, contact the authorities, and report a ursurpage (or, in cop lingo, a “4-43″).

Alternatively, if you have a shotgun handy, you may want to err on the side of caution and just take my fetch out yourself.

-----BEGIN CLONE CODE-----
Version: CCv1.0

Identity: Matthew Scott Baldwin

Challenge: "One year in high school, you wound up serially dating three girls with the exact same first name. What was the name?"

Response: "Shelley"

-----END CLONE CODE-----

If you have a blog, you may wish to publish your own Clone Code, to ensure that any of your doubles are promptly unmasked and eliminated.

And for god’s sakes, don’t get into a vehicle with anybody until you have adequately verified their identity. Unless it’s Automan, of course. Automan is effing rad.

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Layer Tennis: Brian Taylor vs Jason Santa Maria

My pre-game introduction is live. The coin flip is here.

Visit http://layertennis.com/071026 Friday at 2 PM CST (UTC-6) to watch the match unfold in real time. You can even chatter behind-the-scenes in the official forum.

Update: That was hard.

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See You Friday

I’m taking a few days off, both to finish the books I am reading before NaNoReMo 2007, and to limber up in preparation for Friday’s Layer Tennis match, for which I will be providing (live!) color commentary. See you then.

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NaNoReMo 2007: Catch-22 Syllabus

Okay, you know what? Reading this book is going to be easy peesy. My copy of Catch-22 starts on page 15 and ends on 463. That’s 448 pages in total. Round up to 450, divide by the 30 days in November–15 pages a day. No sweat.

Of course, your book may have different pagination, so we’ll go by chapters. I plan to write about Catch-22 every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday in November, which works out like this:

Date Chapters To Be Discussed
November 2nd Chapter 1: The Texan
Chapter 2: Clevinger
Chapter 3: Havermeyer
Chapter 4: Doc Daneeka
November 5th Chapter 5: Chief White Halfoat
Chapter 6: Hungry Joe
Chapter 7: McWatt
Chapter 8: Lieutenant Scheisskopf
November 7th Chapter 9: Major Major Major Major
Chapter 10: Wintergreen
November 9th Chapter 11: Captain Black
Chapter 12: Bologna
Chapter 13: Major – De Coverely
November 12th Chapter 14: Kid Sampson
Chapter 15: Piltchard and Wren
Chapter 16: Lucina
Chapter 17: The Soldier in White
Chapter 18: The Soldier Who Saw Everything Twice
November 14th Chapter 19: Colonel Cathcart
Chapter 20: Corporal Whitcomb
Chapter 21: General Dreedle
November 16th Chapter 22: Milo the Mayor
Chapter 23: Nately’s Old Man
November 19th Chapter 24: Milo
Chapter 25: The Chaplain
Chapter 26: Aarfy
November 21st Chapter 27: Nurse Duckett
Chapter 28: Dobbs
November 23rd Chapter 29: Peckem
Chapter 30: Dunbar
Chapter 31: Mrs. Daneeka
Chapter 32: Yo-Yo’s Roomies
November 26th Chapter 33: Nately’s Whore
Chapter 34: Thanksgiving
Chapter 35: Milo the Militant
Chapter 36: The Cellar
Chapter 37: General Scheisskopf
November 28th Chapter 38: Kid Sister
Chapter 39: The Eternal City
Chapter 40: Catch-22
November 30th Chapter 41: Snowden
Chapter 42: Yossarian

Now let’s take a moment to briefly review the NaNoReMo rules. Ha, sike! There are no rules. Start reading the book early, finish late, translate the thing into Klingon as you go–I don’t care.

But I intend to adhere to the above schedule. If you are reading along, we’d love for you to join in the conversation, either by chiming in on the threads I initiate on the designated days, or by posting your thoughts on your own site and sending me the link (which I will compile and include in my posts).

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Reflections On My Netflix Queue

Primer: I’m a total sucker for movies that break open your head and punch you in the brain, so Primer was right up my alley. Friends accidentally invent a time machine; their relationship–and chronology itself–rapidly becomes complicated. It’s one of those films, like Memento and Mulholland Dr., that pretty much necessitates repeated viewing. I watched it one night, spent about an hour the next morning studying this diagram, and then watched it a second time the following evening. I’d probably watch it again right now if I hadn’t already returned it. It’s not a fantastic film, but compelling as all get-out. Warning: aforementioned diagram gives away the entire plot of the film. You won’t understand it, but I feel obligated to include a spoiler warning nonetheless.

The Illusionist: Conversation with The Queen, the day after I watched this film.

The Queen: Do you want to watch that movie tonight?

Me: Which one?

Q: The magician one.

M: Uhh, actually I watched it last night and sent it back to Netflix this morning.

Q: What? I wanted to see that!

M: You didn’t, trust me.

Q: I was totally looking forward to it.

M: Maybe so, but you would have hated it. It pretended to be about magicians, and turn-of-the-century Vienna, and blah and blah and blah, but it was really just a very conventional romance gussied up like a thriller, full of twists you see coming 20 minutes before they arrive on screen.

Q: Even so, where do you get off deciding what movies I do and don’t get to see from out queue? I at least wanted to compare it to the book.

M: I’m pretty sure you didn’t read the book.

Q: I did! We both did!

M: Oh. Um, you’re thinking of The Prestige. And you did see it. We watched it together, like, four days ago.

{Pause}

Q: Oh, that’s right. Never mind.

Deadwood: Season 1: I’m not a much of a fan of westerns, but that’s okay because Deadwood isn’t must of a western. Set in a small South Dakotian gold mining camp in the 1870′s, it certainly has all the trappings of a Western, what with the guns and poker and whiskey and breeches and tormented sheriffs and diabolical saloon owners and robots. But after the obligatory shoot-out in the pilot, it settles down to be a fairly conventional ensemble drama. One thing I love about the show is the short seasons: each only has 12 episodes. So instead of six episodes of plot, 12 episodes of mid-season-stalling-for-time, and then six episodes of wrap-up (as you would get with a standard, 24 episode serial–think LOST), every installment of Deadwood moves the story forward fairly significantly. A little too much, actually, given that major characters drop like flies, and plot twists to which other shows would have devoted an entire season (e.g., the coming of smallpox) and dealt with here in three episodes and forgotten. Still, highly recommended–doubly so if you enjoy hearing the word “cocksucker” spoken 304 times an hour. I was lying about the robots.

Off The Black: One of those films that I added to my queue back in the day and somehow percolated to the top without my ever noticing. Nick Nolte is fairly astonishing in his role as a drunken umpire rapidly coming apart at the seams, but everything else about this film hews pretty closely to the standard “indie” film formula: a buncha quirky misfits who form unlikely bonds as they navigate the extraordinary and banality of everyday life. Off The Black reminded me quite a bit of The Station Agent–which was too bad, because it didn’t come close to stacking up.

Casino Royale: Great film. And actor Daniel Craig is easy on the eyes–or so The Queen felt compelled to mention about two dozen times during the movie.

* * *

Local News: Blows!

Seattle has been rocked by, like, 14 mph winds today. So naturally the local media is reacting as if flesh-eating marmosets devoured the mayor.

WIND STORM 2007 IS FUCKING ON!!

Please to be noting:

  • Video caption reading “One man was forced to hold onto a tree to keep from being blown over.”
  • Actual video shows man using single hand to grasp sapling about 1/50th his diameter and approximately 1° off perpendicular from the ground.
  • Lovable seven-year-old ragamuffin nonchalantly walks his bicycle past in the background.

You can’t truly appreciate the devastation until you’ve seen the raw footage. (Warning: contains scenes of umbrella carnage not suitable for all viewers.)

Of course HOLY SHIT WINDSTORM 2007!!! did manage knock out power at my house, which left me without access to online porn for an hour or so. Fortunately I have a copy of the 1977 Sears Catalog in our emergency kit for just such a contingency.

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Games: Wits & Wagers

As we approach the holiday season, I am going to start reviewing some of the titles that will eventually wind up on my annual Good Gift Games Guide. But before I begin, let me briefly mention one that appeared on last year’s list.

The official slogan of Wits & Wagers is “The Trivia Game For Everyone!”, but I typically describe it “The Only Trivia Game I Can Stand™” It’s true. Despite my typical enthusiasm for board games in general, trivia games have always left me cold. I always imagine the inventors of Trivial Pursuit sitting around one evening after a few beers, saying “You know what my favorite part of high school was? Taking exams that I didn’t study for. If only we could package the thrill of a pop quiz into a board game, but do it in such a way that 80% of the time you’re sitting around inertly watching other people struggle to answer the questions, we would have a sure-fire hit on our hands.”

Maybe Dominic Crapuchettes feels the same. At any rate, he created a trivia game that not only keeps all the players occupied all the time, but doesn’t only reward those whose heads are crammed full of otherwise useless facts.

Every question in Wits & Wagers has a numeric answer (or possibly a “numerical” answer; I’m sure the grammar cops will let me know in the comments), such as “What was the weight, in pounds, of the largest gold nugget ever recorded?” Each player writes his guess onto a laminated card with a dry-erase pen. Once everyone has done so, the cards are collected, sorted by value, and distributed across a betting mat.

And now, the genius. Before the answer is revealed, players may bet on which guess they thinks is correct (or, in Price Is Right fashion, “closest to correct without going over”). The farther from the median, the more a guess pays out. So if the guesses in response to the “gold nugget” question above were 16, 20, 75, 200, and 500, the 16 and 500 would each pay out 3 to 1, the 20 and 200 would pay out 2 to 1, and the 75 would pay out even money. You can even watch where others put their bets and make your wager accordingly, though you only have 30 seconds to do so. When the correct answer is revealed, the person who supplied the closest guess, and all those who bet on it, reap rewards; all other wagers are lost.

The cards on which the guesses are written are color-coded, so you can see at a glance who submitted what. In other words, you make money not only by knowing the answer, but by knowing who knows the answer. Species of Gardenia? Look to the gardener. Height, in feet, of the tallest skyscraper in 1900? Maybe the architect knows. Best of all, everyone is doing this at once, so there is absolutely no downtime.

I like to play a variety of strategy games, because there are so many out there I enjoy. But party games are more hit-and-miss for me, and when I find one I like, I typically play it until I can’t stand to play it no more. First it was 25 Words Or Less, then Apples To Apples, then Times Up. I played Wits & Wagers for the first time over a year ago, last played it a week ago, and expect it to be in heavy rotation this holiday season. It’s quick, perfect for any crowd, and definitely qualifies as a “two-minute game. If you want to get a head start of your holiday game buying, this is the one to get.

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