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Mark Erikson
20 June 2013 @ 06:12 pm
I've been searching for a song for 17 years.  I found it today.

I'm posting this to LJ instead of G+ because the tale is long, boring, and anticlimactic.  But it's such a huge thing for me to have finally found this song that I feel the need to at least jot it down in some detail.

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Mark Erikson
20 January 2013 @ 01:04 pm
Finishing aMoL on Thursday night didn't make me as emotional as I thought it would.  I've gotten to the end of series - or even single books - that meant far less to me and felt hollow afterwards at the idea that I would never hear anything knew from those characters again.  I was sure, when I settled down to read those last 50 pages, that I would be close to devastated when I finished the epic I started in 1994.

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Mark Erikson
06 September 2012 @ 11:53 pm
There was a scene in the final episode of this season[1] of Breaking Bad where someone calls Walter White a monster.  The way it's said suggests a metaphor - describing a bad person as if they're a monster out of fairy tales.  But the actual impact on the viewer (well, me, at least) was something far more awful.  By this point in the show's run, Walt is a monster.  He's terrifying.  I can't imagine any fans of the show find him even the slightest bit sympathetic anymore, even if he is still utterly compelling.

And for the first time since I started watching Breaking Bad, I went back to the very first episode and watched it again, just to get a sense of how much Walt has changed.  In what has got to be one of the most inspired bits of casting in TV history, they chose the dad from Malcolm in the Middle to play Walt.  So what you get in the pilot is an ordinary, suburban dad.  He's a guy whose dreams didn't come true.  He once had a promising future in chemistry; now he teaches the basics to bored high school students.  He has his family, and he loves them, but he has to work a humiliating second job washing cars just to keep them afloat.  He's resigned to this life of impotency, though.  He's a guy who isn't particularly compelling, but he's utterly sympathetic.

Then he discovers that he's only got 18 weeks to live.  Now, his two jobs just won't cut it.  He will die, and his family will be left drowning in debt.  So he does something stupid, ridiculous, and desperate.  He seeks out Jesse Pinkman, one of his former students - who is now a lowlife methamphetamine addict and dealer - and offers him a proposal: Walt will use his chemistry knowledge to cook a much higher grade of meth, and Jesse will sell it on the streets[2].

There's a lot of things to praise about Breaking Bad: the cast of oddball characters that somehow add to the realism; its genuine unpredictability even while every plot twist seems completely natural and inevitable once it happens; the way every single action the protagonists take gets them out of the frying pan and into a bigger frying pan - and it's frying pans all the way down to Hell (five seasons of episodes have only covered one year of in-universe time).  Breaking Bad is so great that nitpicking it seems petty[3].  But the thing I like the most about it is the way it sets up moral event horizons for Walt, one after the other, and then gives him real, compelling excuses to cross them.

There's a character you get to see in movies: the guy who is so utterly amoral that he doesn't seem realistic.  He's just a badass villain who only exists in the world of movies.  What Breaking Bad does, over the course of five seasons (so far), is show you a believable path than an ordinary man might walk down to become that monster.  It's The Fly played out on a psychological level.  Step by excruciating step, you get to see Walt transform from a desperate, dying dad into a creature who isn't even recognisably human anymore.

[1] They're calling this year's episodes and next year's episodes a single season, divided into two.  But these eight episodes had a definite arc that came to a natural - and typically surprising - end, so I'll call it a season.

[2] I just looked at how much I'd written, and realised I'd basically just synopsised the whole pilot.  And now that I think about it, I seem to really enjoy trying to sell my interests to people who don't share them.  I've never really enjoyed talking about Nine Inch Nails with other NIN fans, but I can't keep myself from enthusing about NIN to non-fans.

[3] Here I mean finding minor flaws.  If it's just not your thing - and it's so black that I can see why it isn't for everyone - then that's a different story.
Mark Erikson
10 May 2012 @ 12:17 pm
So, my feminism inquiries continue.  It's eye opening in a "Oh shit, I do do that.  And I'm totally guilty of that!" way.  There's kind of a lifetime of really awful habits that have to be re-examined.

It also led me to some really great criticism of R Scott Bakker.  I said he was a likely misogynist back when I first started reading his books, but I didn't really have the framework with which to rebut his claims that the apparent horrifying misogyny in his books was an effect of the setting.  In Bakker's fantasy universe, women are "spiritually inferior" to men.  He says that, because this has been traditionally believed by most religions, he thought it would be cool to explore the idea of this being literally true.  So he basically created a world where the gods are also misogynists.  And if he'd explored this concept thoughtfully, it's possible that he might have actually had something interesting to say[1].  He hasn't though.  It's been pretty much awful treatment of all women from the outset.

I've written before about my love-hate relationship with Bakker.  I think he's got some of the coolest fantasy ideas I've encountered since the first time I read WOT.  The plot of his series is actually pretty unique within epic fantasy.  And he's got this kind of "deconstruction of Tolkien" thing going that's really cool.

On the other hand, his prose is pretty embarrassing.  His pacing is terrible (he's written five books that really should have been one and a half).  And he fills everything, every conversation, every inner monologue, with bullshit philosophy[2].  And, of course, the misogyny.

This article pretty much hits the nail on the head, and crystalises a lot of problems I had with the book, but couldn't articulate to myself.  And also, highlights some problems I wasn't even aware were there.  I won't reiterate what the article says, but I wanted to point it out as a concrete example of how Bakker is a) an idiot, and b) thinks he's so not-an-idiot that he can rationalise away basically any criticism with a lot of words that all essentially boil down to: "I'm really fucking smart, I'm operating on a whole other level to you, so you can't possibly understand what I'm getting at."  Also, this is awesome(scroll down a little, it's in three parts).

I know this isn't any great revelation to anyone familiar with Bakker's work, but I feel its important to point it out.  There's something fascinating about the guy.  He arouses enormous amounts of discussion - mostly not related to misogyny - despite his relatively small fanbase.  He writes a series that I will continue reading, because I think his poorly written books have some really cool ideas trapped inside them.  But he's also a raging dickhead.  It's entirely possible that his cool fantasy ideas are a byproduct of the bullshit factory that is his brain.

[1] It's possible that he still does - he's halfway through his series and is only just starting to explore the metaphysics of his world, so it's possible that he might break out some serious insight at some future point.  But highly doubtful.

[2] At some point I'll have to read God-Emperor of Dune again.  That book was cover to cover philosophical musings, but I remember being enthralled by it.  Of course, I was 18, so maybe a reread would have me rolling my eyes as much as I do when reading a Bakker book.  But Bakker cites Dune as one of his major influences.
Mark Erikson
06 May 2012 @ 04:13 am
So, I've been reading this feminism FAQ, clicking links like it's TvTropes, pretty fascinated.  But reading this shit makes me want to talk about it.  I'm posting to LJ because a) I imagine some ignorant dude trying to learn about feminism is probably one of the least interesting (and possibly common enough to be quite tiresome) things on the internet, and b) my musings on the topic are almost certain to be painfully stupid, completely unoriginal and probably offensive.  I don't intend them to be offensive, but if they are, let me know.  The whole point of me looking into this stuff is to try to be less ignorant and, therefore, less offensive.

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Mark Erikson
02 May 2012 @ 03:29 pm

1. I think LJ will become a place where I post more "personal" things.  G+ has already caused me to have poster's regret a couple of times - something that I haven't really experienced since rasfwr-j.

It's kind of strange, because the mess of names I'd come to recognise on rasfwr-j hadn't really penetrated my brain sufficiently to make me differentiate between them.  I know, super insulting.  But I think I was just so self-involved at the time that I really didn't bother paying attention to who I was arguing with.  The people who did make an impression on me back then - the ones I felt like I "knew" - are mostly not the people I've been interacting with on LJ for the last six/seven years.  So they all feel like strangers to me now, and my core group of rasfwr-jians are the LJ people.

So on G+, I kinda feel like the guy at the party who thinks "I know those guys from LJ, so I'll go talk to them."  And then spends the whole party hanging around with just a couple of people.

2. I went to the doctor about my hand.  She chastised me for not going straight to emergency.  Then she looked at the cut and said "Healed!"  Apparently I'd done a remarkably good job of dressing it.  Totally accidental.  She re-dressed it, gave me a tetnis shot, and told me it should be fine by next week.

I also wanted to ask the doctor about a weird pulled-muscle/hernia feeling I've been having in my groin for the last few weeks.  But when I arrived and my doctor turned out to be a remarkably attractive woman who was roughly my age, I balked at the idea of asking her to touch me in my bathing suit area.

Other guys have laughed at me for not wanting a female doctor touching my junk, claiming that they'd much prefer a woman groping them than a man.  But I'm terrified of having a physical reaction.  With a male doctor, I can be fairly certain that won't happen.  Or if it does, I can just shrug at him and say "Sorry man, you know how fickle these things can be."

3. Avengers again tonight.  In 2D!  Sally was in England when I went last week, and she offered to shout my ticket if I went with her to see it.

4. There's an article of on Tor.com about who Benedict Cumberbatch is playing in the new Star Trek.  Big spoilers, if you care about that sort of thing.  But in the comments there was so much vitriol about Abrams' take on Star Trek that I could help myself from trolling them.

But it did make me realise that I'm very interested in things peripheral to Star Trek, while not being particularly enthusiastic about Star Trek itself.  I read the except from that new Scalzi book called Redshirts, and I believe I will be buying it when it gets released.  I think Galaxy Quest is an awesome movie - and I know enough about Trek history to really enjoy it.  And yet I've never sat through an entire episode of any of the shows.  And I thought the plot for the new movie was really clever, wrapping the continuity around on itself the way it did, but I probably knew the bare minimum about the original continuity to actually enjoy the idea of the new continuity.

I'm actually vaguely interested in watching the original series now, just so I can see how the next movie diverges from it.
Mark Erikson
30 April 2012 @ 08:13 am
So, I'm going to write a little more about stabbing myself in the hand.  I'm doing it here instead of over on G+ because this is a little more lengthy and philosophical and self-indulgent.

So anyway, I suspect that what I went through when I managed to injure myself like that was a microcosm of what people go through when they're much more seriously hurt.

For starters, my brain completely shifted gears, which was a weird sensation in the moment that it actually happened.  My hand had slipped, and my immediate, that-nanosecond response had been "ah shit", but not a serious one.  The same "ah shit" you'd mentally say if you dropped an apple.  That apple will now have a soft spot.  That apple will be less ideal when you eat it.  No biggie.  You'll still eat the apple.  But you think "ah shit" when it hits the ground.

Then, I looked over at my hand and saw a sizeable gash in it.  It was the largest cut I've ever had.  Oddly, even though it wasn't horror-movie bad, that was what it reminded me of.  It looked like a special effect had been applied to my hand.  Then, blood started coming out of it.

So my reaction then was more "AH SHIT!"  I stuffed that cut into my mouth and applied pressure with my lips and tongue.  It didn't actually hurt at this point, but visual confirmation told me it was bad.  The reason I was thinking "AH SHIT!" was because I knew my priorities were about to change.  Everything I was hoping to get done that evening would go out the window, and I was pissed off that it wouldn't get done, and that I wouldn't get to do what I wanted to do.

A moment later, the gear shift had occurred, and I didn't care about any of that shit anymore.  I was no longer pissed off about it, because my brain was now functioning on the more immediate "deal with this crisis" problem.  It was kinda disconcerting.  All emotion just gone.  Brain only thinking about physical actions to take.  Stand up.  Go here.  Turn on light.  Look at cut in better light.  Assess.

I thought for a moment that there was a chance I would go into shock and maybe faint.  So I went and sat on my bed with my phone nearby for a few minutes.  But nothing happened.  I didn't even get the shakes.  So then I thought about going to emergency.  Not appealing.  I knew my cut wasn't bad enough to get any kind of immediate attention (I still had it in my mouth this whole time, but it wasn't pumping blood down my throat, so I could assume it wasn't too serious - just big), which would mean sitting around for hours.  And it was late on a Saturday, so it would mean sitting around for hours with drunk people, and lots of them.

So, new place, no first aid kit yet.  My parents have them though.  They're only one suburb over.  So, I drive.  One handed.  That was interesting.  My cut hand was my gearstick hand, so I basically had to reach across my body every time I needed to change gears.  It was kinda surprising how quickly I got the hang of it, and didn't have to think about it anymore.

Made a lot of noise in my parents house.  My parents are living in China at the moment, but my brother is staying there.  He must have woken, but he didn't get up.  The dog did.

Then, once I'd cleans, disinfected and bandaged the wound to the best of my abilities, I thought again about going the emergency.  The cut did look like it might need stitched.  Then again, it might not.  I decided I didn't want to gamble on sitting in the waiting room for hours, just to be told that a bandage was good enough anyway.

At this point, my brain shifted back down a gear, and all my old priorities came back.  I decided to go home and finish what I was working on.

Funny thing is, thinking back on that moment when I first saw the cut gives me a weird feeling now.  My brain wants to shy away from it.  Mostly because of how remarkably stupid I was to have cut myself like that in the first place.  Also because its a moment at which point I felt I'd done myself some permanent damage.  Now I'm fairly certain it will just leave a scar, but in the moment it looked bad enough to make me wonder whether I'd maimed it properly.

On the other hand, from the reactions I got on G+, this was one of those stories that made people clutch their hand in sympathy pain.  What I found was, the pain you imagine when you think about that happening to your own hand is actually worse than the real pain.  At no point did my hand more than sting a little bit, even when I was cleaning it with those disinfecting napkin thingies from the first aid kit.  It looked horrible, but it felt pretty much the same as a graze.

I don't know why I felt it was worth writing all this shit out, except maybe that I find the steps my mind went through during the accident kinda interesting.
Mark Erikson
23 April 2012 @ 11:57 pm
1. I was all remorseful and ready to post an update talking about how I shouldn't have gotten all cranky about the flight booking thing.

Except, the number of hoops I had to jump through to actually finally get my flights changed makes me feel somewhat justified - even though its all sorted now and I'm back to being calm and happy and looking forward to my trip.  It was still a massive pain that set me back, organisation wise, three days.

2. I am now trying to get a Chinese Visa, which is proving itself to also be painful.  Mainly because after filling out all the paperwork (which it took me a couple of days to do, what with having to email some different people to say things like "What's my travel insurance account number?" and "Can you send me a scan of your passport?" and such), I now have to book an appointment for a visa interview.  My brother and sister have both done this without making it sound like too much of a hassle.  However, I've gone onto the website, which says they're booked out all this month, and the next.  And the next.  And the next.  In fact, I started clicking forward through the months, and the website was saying they're booked out all the way through to 2020.  Which is either an insane amount of demand for visas, or there's something wrong with the website.  Hopefully calling them will help.  If not, they also say they accept walk-ins (though I'd prefer not to spend several hours of one of my days off sitting an a consulate waiting room with my fingers crossed).

3. Mad Men.  I love you.

I know the whole "a day in the life of..." thing has been done before, but its usually in a "you'll finally understand what's really going on once you get all perspectives" kind of way.  This episode was instead about a character payoff.  The final scene was awesome.

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4. Game of Thrones was better this week.  Probably the best episode yet from this season.  Great opening scene.  Great closing scene as well.

After season 1 adhered so closely to the books, I'm still finding it a little disconcerting that season 2 isn't.  It's weird, because I often found that my favourite scenes in season 1 were the new ones.  I'm still not sure whether I like it or not.  I probably should.  I want the show to be its own thing.

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5. Girls sucks.  I didn't want to write an HBO show off after a single episode, but after seeing a second, this show is just plain bad.  Maybe, for people in their early twenties, this show has something to offer, but I have no interest in seeing self-absorbed twenty-somethings being self-absorbed.  I'm busy being a self-absorbed thirty something.

But seriously, if there was more to the show than that, there might be something.  Mad Men has self-absorbed twenty somethings.  It just does something interesting with them - mainly by having them interact with older people.  Watching them interact only with one-another is like watching an ignorance feedback loop.  Irritating and pointless.

6. Veep.  Another new HBO show.  This one left a much better taste in my mouth.  It's a near-remake of a British show that is apparently very good, which I've surfed past on TV a few times, but never made any real effort to watch because it was already a full series, and I don't really have time for full-immersion television right now.  But if the next Veep is as good as this one was, I probably will make some time to dive into whatever the British series is called.  Also, and don't tell Sally this, but I actually like British people - especially when they start swearing.  Nobody can rattle off a series of ordinary swearwords and make them sound hilarious like the British.  Except perhaps Australians.
Mark Erikson
18 April 2012 @ 09:09 pm
Trying to change my flights is far more stressful than it should be.

I looked on the website for Frontier Airlines last night and saw that they had a section just for changing itineraries, and felt great relief.  I was able to sleep, and all that.

However, trying to actually use that website today has been fruitless.  The process gets to a certain point, and the "Next" button vanishes.  I've tabbed all over the page to see if there were hidden links somewhere.  Nope.  Tried a different browser.  Nope.

So now I think I'm going to have to call them, internationally, and hope that whoever I get through to might actually be able to help me.  However, I've had pretty much 100% bad luck with customer support lines thus far in my life.

But now, the whole damn thing is knawing at me, pretty constantly.  Which is not my usual attitude.  I'm one of those people who just doesn't worry about shit until the last possible second, then does them all in a rush.  But booking a holiday isn't something you can do last second.  If I can't get this sorted tonight, I'm not gonna be able to sleep.
Mark Erikson
17 April 2012 @ 02:32 pm
Reasons why I currently hate Paul:

1. He's getting married.

Many years ago, in my early twenties, I declared that I was never getting married.  At the time, all my male friends agreed that they, too, were never getting married.  All my female friends probably rolled their eyes.  A part of this agreement, though, was that if any of my friend did decide to get married, they could count me out.

The thing is, I reckon that my other male friends had totally different reasons for thinking marriage sucks than I do.  You can probably guess those reasons, and roll your eyes at them.  You might roll your eyes at my reasons too, but I'm still standing by them.

My reason is this: I think being in love with someone is just about the most private and personal thing there is.  A wedding, where a couple is essentially trying to share that, to open a window onto their secret little world for other people to see, is a horrifying concept to me.  It's offesnive, and disrespectful both to myself and my loved one.  This may sound like utter lunacy, but its how I feel.  A wedding is something I would never, ever want to do.  Also, going to weddings is something I find intensely uncomfortable, for the same reasons.  I don't want to be the peeping tom looking through that window.

Problem is, now that I'm in my 30s, all those guys who thought marriage was for suckers are now getting married.  Which is fine.  I don't have a problem with other people getting married, so long as they don't get offended when I stick to my guns and say I don't want to go.  I have, after all, been saying the same thing for years now.

But people tend to take their own weddings very seriously, and not showing up without a very good excuse is kind of a dealbreaker.

That said, Paul's wedding is one of the few that I actually don't feel that bad about going to it.  Why?  Probably because Paul and I are so close that I don't really feel like I'd be invading the private little world of his love as much as I would with almost everyone else in the world.  I already have a relationship with him that is similarly as close as the one he has with his wife-to-be (only without the nude physical contact).  It's a Venn diagram type situation.

2. But, Paul's wedding is in the USA.  Which means I have to fly out there for it.  I normally wouldn't go to the States two years in a row.  I had vague plans to do a Europe trip with Sally this year - a more luxurious one than the backpacking I did with Paul back in 2004.  But I'm making the most of it.  I'm going to visit my parents in China first, and staying with my sister in NY after the wedding.

3. Paul has only recently sent out the formal invitations, but he didn't bother sending one to me, because he and I have been talking about this wedding, and my travel plans, for months now.  I've even had to send him my suit measurements (I really hope he isn't actually buying me a suit - hopefully this is just for the suit hire on the day).

However, the one thing he's failed to tell me until just today, is that the wedding isn't in Kansas City, where he lives, but in St Louis where his girlfriend's family lives.  He told me this because I sent him an email which basically said "Final step completed!  Just got my internal flights from NY to KC and back!"

These are non-refundable tickets too.


So that, is why I currently hate Paul.