What Makes A Poem Mind Shatteringly Brilliant?

Joy Marchand engages the Rhysling Anthology for this year on her blog here.  I send you there for two reasons: one, I encourage the discussion of poetry and figure the more people we can link in an interrelated web of posts is a good thing, and two: Ms. Marchand is a brilliant writer whose story “Sleep Sweetly Junie Carter” is achingly poetic and you should go find it and read it.

So, regarding the post, I am most intrigued by this line: “And yet. And yet.”

And yet indeed.  Ms. Marchand states that 10 poems she loved in the Rhysling Anthology–she will reread them again and again.  But what of the others?  What is it about some poems that slices open stomachs, rips out our intestines and forces a hand, an elbow, an entire arm up our bronchi and trachea choking us on brilliance and sound and metaphor?  What is it that the other poems lack?

I endeavored to start reviewing poetry on this blog because even I, who have been writing and reading poetry for over a decade cannot express why Hass and Emerson and Jordan and Jones and Gilbert send me into a state of ecstatic bliss while others make me shrug ‘eh.’  Part of this is I am not very smart.  I don’t read enough or write enough or think long and hard enough about movements and construction. But I am trying. Honest.

Recently I decided that I would officially/unofficially open After Ever After to reprint submissions.  Guidelines can be found here.  But you’ll note that I’ll be paying a flat $10 fee for anything I accept: which is what several markets pay for original poetry, so if you would like to send original poetry, I’ll look at it.  The reason I am opening to submissions is I would like to keep a consistent publishing schedule–no more month long hiatuses.  It also means that I am not obligating myself to buying a poem once a week, I always have the option of writing my own poem, or writing some other post about poetry.  So in order for you to send me something I want to buy, it has to be really good.  Good enough that I want to pay you for the privilege of posting it on a blog that doesn’t earn me any money.  So good that I want to post it because I want the world to see it and I want the world to know that I like it.  So good it shatters the mind that tries to comprehend it like a frozen liquid terminator falling to the ground.

I want you to send me poems that I would email to all my friends–that I would memorize and recite to strangers in the street.  Send me something I’m going to nominate for the Rhysling award.

What poem is that?  It’s a poem that is balanced in, for lack of a better phrase, the four humors: Language, Form, Imagination and Music.  It’s a poem with a brilliant idea, flawless execution and a theme that vibrates in my diaphragm.  It’s the poem that dares–it makes leaps and associations, it travels from Kenya to the moon and back again.  It’s a poem about elephants that manages to also be about the human condition and also the feeling of a sudden absence of weight.

I wouldn’t necessarily look to the poems I’ve already put here on the blog as a reliable measure since they’re mine and I’m still learning.  I want poems that are better than my own.  I want poems that I wish I had written myself.  I want poems that will teach me.

If I had the money, I would be paying $10 a line for such a poem.  But alas I am poor.  Hopefully the challenge enough will tempt you.

Also, because I think I overdosed on the number of I’s in the above, how do you define a mind shatteringly brilliant poem?

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Dispatches from a Future Norwegian Futurist

Editor’s Note: This story is by Alex.  Do you know Alex?  You should know Alex.  I first met Alex back in Iceland when we were both fleeing from Communists.  Or maybe in Texas, whilst rescuing abandoned penguins. Or perhaps on a heaving locomotive which cut through the Great Smokey Mountains like a water moccasin towards the foot of some hapless swimmer.  Whatever the occasion, Alex leaves such impression the sights and sensations surrounding your meeting fade until there is only you, and Alex, and the robots. 

This story was originally published by Clarkesworld Magazine as “The Human Moments” because, no joke, Nick Mamatas had just recently bought another story with Futurist in the title. Or maybe it was Scandinavian Socialist.  At any rate, the title was changed but I now get to present it as it was originally intended.

Dispatches from a Future Norwegian Futurist

by Alexander Lumans

12:12. “We will glorify war—the world’s only hygiene.”

There are too many dead from the new flu pandemic, and the earth-movers bring bodies by the tons. One never thinks to consider a human population in tons: the weight of geological formations, of the Huns, the Visigoths, the Million Man March, the weight of knowledge that bears down on the shoulders of Western gods.

Every hundredth body that arrives to be broken down in this Cryogenics Lab, the video monitors change lenses and take slow-motion thermal video of the sonic ruin. I must review these videos as my position requirements dictate, no matter the level of inadequacy.

This time the video runs even slower. Frame after frame I watch the still-life body of a woman become crystals in space, and I am reminded of Duchamp’s Nude Descending a Staircase. Notice the fracturing of time, how the person has been smeared across the staircase; she doesn’t really exist in one place at any one time, just like quantum mechanics describes the electron. Clothed Standing until Detonation.

In this small sanctuary there is a cot and an instant hot chocolate dispenser and an over-the-shoulder sense that someone else is taking stock of the situation. I stand, walk to the room’s one bare wall, and press the one green button. On a tray, hot chocolate pours out into a Styrofoam cup. It’s the little things, the human moments. Bewildered Drinking His Spirits.

12:41. “We intend to exalt aggressive action, a feverish insomnia, the racer’s stride, the mortal leap, the punch and the slap.”

It’s Tuesday. Work on the dead continues. This lab is below the world’s surface and I have not seen the sun for eight months. The city of Drammen, the University of Oslo, Norway’s President Gunvar Haldor, der Fuerher, they spare no expense for the Cryogenics Lab. I am a division of a division in Sector Quad of the Jotne/SB Verksted, additional funding provided by the ATLAS Organization—bald, birthmarked men who fear how they will die more than Death itself. They do not want their pale skin to sag off or their eyes to go agape. But I hunt Death here, I the young lion and Death in black fur and pale crosses, Death who runs before me under the violet sky ceiling. A cold sense comes from the blast chamber I monitor through the one window and into the control panel that whirrs awake in my hands. LEDs flash in coded patterns, tell the time in green, and catalog the laser’s diamond cells. Every two-stage He-3 Cryostat cools radiation shields, heat switches, and the superconducting magnet system connected by OFHC thermal copper wire. All for the love of the engine. I have been culling this love for years, ever since Uni and my studies in comparative mythology, art and technology, the history of contemporary Father Italy.

From my chair, I freeze the dead and shatter their frost bones with high frequency waves that are searing enough to make dogs bleed from the ears. I redistribute radiation and sound sensor orbits. I match temperature gauge readings in the WRONGSCAN handbook to Kelvins sensitivity: absolute zero. Another body comes and I take comfort when I press the “Commence to Atomize” button. The laser looks phallic. I name it ADAM. Private Ansgar, out.

10:58. “Art, in fact, can be nothing but violence, cruelty, and injustice.”

By dumb waiter, meals always arrive on a wax plate with plastic forks and knives. It is always green beans, sauerkraut and pan-fried moose on Wednesdays. Fridays are surprises, but surprises imply security breaches.

They use plastic because they are afraid of exposing the metal to beta particle radiation.

Today a telegram comes on its own wax plate. The yellow paper resembles crude library cards (if there are any left in the world) and it reads: “Ansgar. Position: redundant. Humanoid Robot LIO-7 Prometheus to resume control of Cryostats for absence of error. Replacement: effective immediately.” The telegram means human error—the kind is that expendable.

Your odds of dying in a fireworks discharge: 1 in 340,733; in accidental electrocution: 1 in 9,968; in an air/space incident: 1 in 5,051. By falling: 1 in 218. Suicide: 1 in 121. Down here, the odds are equal: 1 in 1. My own death is certain, and so my name is no longer vital. Names are traceable. Out.

4:17. “We intend to sing the love of danger.”

Ancient life was all silence; sounds were attributed to gods. Here, the Liquid Argon and Nitrogen tanks sing to me. I do not speak, but follow the erratic strike of keyboard keys, blips on a radar module. I read manifestos between deliveries: F. T. Marinetti, Umberto Boccioni, Giacomo Balla. And when my brain tells me my retinas are burning up the way particles do on re-entry to the atmosphere, even I, the futurist, must break down and find beauty in the speed of a pencil tip.

I take out an old E.T. lunchtin from under the counter and place it in my lap. (I salvaged it from the stiff hands of a young American lad.) Inside the tin: a 4 X 4 foot sheet of high-resolution, professionally bleached paper folded into squares of 1 X 1, a Number 3 Pencil (tip sharpened with ADAM—an after hours success), a planchette of cedar set on casters, and the forthcoming hours. Between atomization of a Ukrainian nationalist with no legs below the knees and an Indian woman whose belly is swollen with child, I take readings from the crude wooden tool shaped like a heart. I slide the pencil down into the center hole, unfold the paper, and place the planchette on top. Even this simple machine has a sound. The cedar creaks, the unoiled ball bearings whine, and the graphite drags.

Step 1: Close your eyes.
Step 2: Place both hands on opposite sides of the planchette.
Step 3: Receive a Question from the back of your brain and do not speak it. The medium is aware. I sometimes do not remember the question.
Step 4: Open your eyes.

Words it has provided before: “Aleph,” “Nadir,” “Extra Fine,” “Vituperation.” I look down at the paper now and the word “Break” stares back at me. The pencil’s graphite is cracked and I cannot breathe with that word in my head.

Reset ultra-low-noise IF amplifiers to ultra-low DC Power. The secondary air purification system for the primary air purification system kicks on with the chug of a man choking on salt water. 76.5% Nitrogen, 22.4% Oxygen, 0.00433% Carbon Dioxide, 0.0018% Neon, 1.09387% Lime Scent. Death is domestication; someday I will die and something new will steal my carbon.

“Prometheus” is the word I am inundated by in this No Man’s Land. Prior to his arrival, will I program this installation to freeze my bones and shock me into shards?

Addendum: Who else waits for technology to take their place? Do birds?

3:49. “Time and Space died yesterday.”

Friday. The phrase “Abysmal Water” will not leave my mind. It glows in bright blue neon strips; electricity is a blue thing. My ears have begun to bleed on the hour, every hour, to the extent that I use my government-issued nylon sleeve to soak up the streams. Another telegram arrives by way of dumb waiter and it reads the same as the previous message, except that my position has now been downgraded to: “inadequate.”

I am Sysphysian in dexterity and Dionysian in gall.

I watch the video monitors. Three are trained on the body in the blast chamber. One monitor looks at me. I cannot see my eyes and that instills a fever. Most dead we receive here in Drammen still have their eyeballs, and I am reminded of how I once saw the photo of a young hibakusha onto whose iris an infinite image of the Father Bomb had been burned, grafted, cut and sealed like a newly minted coin from the planchet, a coin meant to commemorate the outnumbered survivors.

7:48. “Why should we look back, when what we want is to break down the mysterious doors of the Impossible?”

Twenty-six separate ice ages have occurred on Earth and I am ushering in the twenty-seventh with the repeated press of a button. Today is the day I lose count of how many times I press that button and it is the same day I begin counting how many times I blink. The average man blinks at five second intervals and each blink lasts one-third of a second; the eyes are closed for four seconds every minute. I do not like that I neglect the monitors for a total of ninety-six minutes every twenty-four hours. That’s ninety-six minutes during which Prometheus may arrive, and I cannot afford to even blink when he comes through the one locked door and bleeds dry what human moments are left.

Prometheus, I assure you, finds a certain salvation in firm number averages. My survival is as unlikely as Heracles passing by Mount Caucasus on a second course. Prometheus is coming and he has no liver upon which I may set an eagle to devour.

I take out the lunchtin again and use the pencil’s broken end to write a number on the bleached paper. The digit looks strange when made by a human hand, even one that is surely my own, so strange that I cannot discern where it sits on a number line. The Egyptians once used a decimal system of seven symbols. One is a single line. Ten is the drawing of a hobble for cattle. One hundred, a coil of rope. Ten thousand, a finger. One million is the figure of a god with arms raised above his head. Perhaps I have not drawn a number here on the white paper, but rather an arm, an arm whose fingers are so tiny that they escape the sharpest eye. I crush the paper into a ball before putting it back in the lunchtin. This many-fingered god is what I imagine Prometheus to be, and man has not yet eaten god.

11:11. “A typewriter is more architectural.”

The overhead fluorescent bulbs have turned off. I miss their humming that once sounded so much grander than a field of crickets. The lights in the blast chamber and the tracking stroboscopic patterns around the Argon Tanks remain on. I must continue the work. Another fine mist of ice falls to the chamber floor like snowflakes which science has discovered are not all atypical, but there must be some flaw in the prismatic rainbow that arcs across the room. The pattern should tell me more about Prometheus’s arrival and my departure.

I cannot recall what letters make up my name—I will sign with three coils of rope and a dove’s tail over a broken window.

Also: my ears have stopped bleeding, but that means I have finally been hemorrhaged dry. The dumb waiter dings. The third telegram I read by barium glow:

“Do not drink the hot chocolate. Continue Atomization as needed. LIO-7 en route, en masse. Prepare for transportation.”

The dumb waiter door shuts and I swear laughter echoes from the ceiling, though it is only the conveyor belts’ hydraulic engines high up in the facility.
The first thing I do is press the one green button on the one blank wall for a fresh Styrofoam cup of hot chocolate. This is my third since midnight. Even the most human of moments become mechanistic in sequence. I look up at the dark ceiling and drink. I have outlived a use, and it occurs to me, with hot chocolate in my mouth, that we do not have an initial use. We exist to make more exist, to one day transport ourselves away from ourselves. I swallow. I order a fourth cup.

Other definitions of “transport” that appeal more to me: to send to a penal colony overseas, or a state of overwhelming usually pleasurable emotion.

0:00. “Injustice, strong and sane, will break out radiantly in their eyes.”

The lights have not turned back on and the green digital clock has reset and not begun again. A man in corduroy pants and a leather jacket torn at the shoulder stands in the focal array zone of ADAM, and I refuse to press the “Commence to Atomize” key. His clothes are too familiar to disintegrate. I’m afraid the man looks pallid and hopeless like me, though I have not seen a mirror’s reflection in over one year. At one point in his life, he too wrote down a number he did not recognize and threw it all away.

Abysmal Water. The Great Possession. The Cauldron. The Clinging.
These phrases boom through me. For the last time, I open the lunchtin and place the planchette on the control panel. I make a fist, hold it down against the wooden tool, and then raise my arm above my head and smash the heart-shaped implement into pieces.

I pull out the splinters in my hand. Pain is an adaptation that keeps us alive through nerve stimulation: mildness, localization, distress, debilitation, agony. This is a good kind of hurt—a human hurt—as if more is learned about the body and soul by the reaction to acute mortality. I do not want Prometheus to find me in this injured state, so I uncrumple the wad of paper and wrap it around my hand to dressing the wound. The frozen man in the chamber assures me that someone is definitely watching.

0:00. “We want to hymn the man at the wheel.”

My own desperate mission is now to build a Prometheus. Fourteen Styrofoam cups stacked on top of each other make a figure. The cups make brittle bones, but bones nonetheless. Splinters hold the arms and antennae together. He’s a stiff old cosmonaut.

Again, I turn around to face the camera that once captured the back of my head. I pause the monitor’s feed and return to the front screen: my features I can only describe as humanoid, no longer flesh and blood. The laugh lines are ninety-degree angles. The broad forehead is a solar panel. The intersection of royal nose, pencil-thin eyebrows, and ridged skull in pale crosshairs follow the limits of the Golden Mean. All beauty is mathematics, the Greeks pronounced, and all beauty has been reduced to a ratio: 1.618 to 1. The Man Alive to Dead and Frozen and Dusted: 1 to Omega. Even the dimensions of my clenching teeth are based on Phi, not even a whole digit. By fundamental laws, we are base equations, and as perfection comes at the highest price, my squinted eyes tell me the cost is not worth the vastness. I turn the monitor off, shiver in my seat, and slowly pick open the holes in my hand. This is a quiet room.

0:00. “There was nothing to make us wish for death, unless the wish to be free at last from the weight of our courage!”

The bell chimes. The door opens. The fluorescent lights turn back on. But there is no man nor humanoid nor even a complete thing.

1. scalene triangle for hat
2. blue pipe of a nose
3. a head no more than a large washer turned on its edge—the hole facing me
4. a barrel body of faded red wood and a waist carved into a bulky skirt—three holes bored through the chest like lobotomies gone awry
5. a vague avian nature to every angle—the albatross around my neck
6. this machine stands seven feet tall on one peg leg

No Golden Ratio commands this creation. I cannot look away. With two arms that have no hands it carries a 200-watt flashlight and a green toolbox.

I ask, “Are you Prometheus?”

He says nothing. He blocks the one way out.

“Are you my replacement?”

In a motion that is anything but fluid, a mouth opens in its chest with the sound of small gears turning. This pale jaw lowers like a drawbridge at the helm of a thousand tiny fingers. The hole in its head is cold black. Its blank stare is far worse than any frozen man’s face. This, of all things, is my surrogate, and I am desperate to shrink. But instead of reciting a preprogrammed command or a string of Euclidean distances or an inventory of spare parts and services, the chest’s electrolarynx reads vibrations from its internal systems and speaks in low pitch: “Beat.”

“Beat?”

“Beat.” And this is all it can say. “Beat.” The one phrase that booms through that head, body, and heart. Seventy-two in one minute. This is how it keeps its heart rhythm constant, and the same as counting blinks, blinking every time I count the next one. But where the number of blinks may vary in a minute, this machine’s consistency is inhuman and perfect and beautiful, and I do not know whether to throw myself at its feet or slam the door on its lowered jaw.

I say, “You cannot count any faster or slower.”

“Beat.”

“And you have one task to fulfill.”

“Beat.”

“And you cannot swerve from that task.”

“Beat.”

The only important pattern is the lack of pattern. Not even the dumb waiter or the cups of hot chocolate fit into a meaningful sequence.

The lights go off again and Prometheus turns the flashlight on. The light is jarring, as if it indicates an oncoming train, and so what Fascism did to Italy’s rail system, Prometheus will do to our cryogenics facility by batterylight. Perfect time used to keep my atomization process on schedule. I recall how my face looked faceless in the video monitor, how my name is now distant, and I feel the eagle at my own liver. I babble to the idol: “Weather balloon. Dual currents. Pitchfork. Water fountain. Caldera. Speaker magnet. Cutlass. Kanji dictionary. Hair trigger. Phase diagram. Wand. Convolution integral. Camera. Harpie. Flywheel. Tower crane. Turntable. Scylla and Charybdis. Follicle. Resonant frequency. 3/8 inch drill bit. Oslo. Carabiner. Abstract. Dynamic. Extremely transparent. Brightly colored and extremely luminous. Autonomous. Transformable. Dramatic. Odorous. Noise-creating. Explosive.”

I say these words and even then I find myself describing Prometheus as a god. We futurists give skeleton and flesh to the invisible, the impalpable, and the imperceptible. We find abstract equivalents for every element, and we combine them to make our world more pleasurable. These dissimilar words, these are the human moments I’ve been looking for, and in this once dull white room, I find comfort in speaking because my voice is my own, still full of lifts, drops, and errors.

Prometheus says, “Beat.”

I say, “Camelia blossom. Disguise. Atomic mass.” Via ADAM, Prometheus and I have already scattered a thousand treasures of force, astuteness, and raw willpower; with fury, we’ve thrown them impatiently away, carelessly, unhesitatingly, breathless. Let it be proclaimed that the word “Norway” shall prevail over the word “Freedom.” Look at us! We are still untired because we do not ever stop.

Alexander Lumans has the uncanny knack for finding weapons in domestic settings, be it hatchet in the attic trunk or shotgun in the hall closet behind the winter jackets. He’s tried to channel this into something more productive, like dowsing or gold mining or avalanche rescues, but it’s never produced anything more than failures and crude things that resemble weapons. When not uncovering kitanas from under bathroom rugs, he writes fiction. He recently received a fellowship to attend the MacDowell Colony this fall, where he’ll spend seven weeks in the deep woods of New Hampshire, cutting down maple trees to make paper to write on.

The Day of the Elephant Pt. 3

Continued from “The Day of the Elephant Pt. 2” which continued from “The Day of the Elephant Pt. 1

The trust between Darwin and me was like taffy: stretched and stretched between us, the middle sagging into inevitable decay.  There was a moment I felt I could have balled it up in my fists, reworked it between my fingers but it passed.  I ignored Darwin when he walked beside me, did not pick up the silver plated brush when he placed it in my lap.  I answered the phone for all callers.  I did not care who it was, or when.  Even my cat’s affection for our pachyderm guest cooled until it was a small, half remembered ash.

It was not entirely the lack of smell which turned us away from him, but the combination of all his non-elephantine traits.  It was the feel of his skin like smooth plastic, as if Darwin were a toy given life and size and autonomy.  It was his lack of sound when surprised or angered, his occasional sneeze, so quick I sometimes though I imagined it, like the echo of a bell.  And lastly: the way he would follow me into the kitchen when I awoke in the middle of the night, his eyes shining in the dark like two satellites in geosynchronous orbit.

Thus were the reasons for Darwin’s and my falling out.

I have heard that you do not appreciate a thing until it is gone.

When the first elephants disappeared we breathed great sighs of relief.  The teachers at Sacred Heart walked straighter, though the students missed their unofficial sentries.  The joggers on the levees claimed to see the elephants go: first at a walk, then a jog, splashing and trumpeting their plunge into the Mississippi river.  Down and down they dove until there was not even a ripple signifying their entry.

Darwin disappeared in the space of a breath.  He lifted his head as the phone began to ring and watched me as I heard Josh tell me he had found someone else.  I blinked and Darwin was gone.  There was not even an impression on the rug where he had been sitting.

A few months later at the library I found a support group for those who had had elephants in their home.  We all had abandoned them in one form or another, before they abandoned us.  One by one we whispered their names as if that would call them back.

Carla, Darwin, Moonshine and Persimmon.  Blue Dog, Jimmy, Tulip.  Roger, Huey and Louis.

They didn’t return.

The leader of the group, a man named Alfred, said the elephants had been a test.  Of what, he wouldn’t specify.  I began to suspect that Alfred had never had an elephant, and this group was his way of promoting his self published book on spiritual awakening and I stopped going.

When someone else in the group called me demanding to know whether I had found the answer, I told her no.  There was no answer.  One day elephants came, another day they left.  We could no more trick them into returning than we could go back to the moments where we stopped trusting their presence.

She hung up on me.

Others called: members of the group, a representative of a city commission devoted to ecological issues.

I heard you had an elephant once, he said.

Yes.

Would you like to talk about it? he said.

No.

Sometimes I think they were never here at all, he said. 

Are we sure they were elephants? I said.

He had brown hair that fell into his eyes.  He never doubted his elephant’s intentions and kept a key to his apartment hidden where he knew she could find it.

My cat despised him but learned to tolerate him with a complete and total indifference.  I told him she had always been a capricious judge of character.

And many years later, when neither of us was expecting it, we found a pile of feathers swept neatly into a pile on our kitchen floor.  Buried beneath: two small bees, long dead that smelled faintly of salt and air and plastic.

Scotch Needs Scotch Fridays

Why no new poem or review?  Easy:

Bar bar bar bar bar bar bar bar bar bar bar bar bar bar bar bar bar bar bar bar bar bar bar bar bar bar bar bar bar bar bar bar bar bar bar bar bar bar bar bar bar bar bar bar bar bar bar bar bar bar bar bar bar bar bar bar bar bar bar bar bar bar bar bar bar bar bar bar bar bar bar bar res judicata emptor Pinkerton!

Anyway, I started a post about speculative poetry that turned far more critical than I really wanted (I haven’t exactly scrubbed my identity from this site and I’m a Southerner born, bred and trained to no say anything ugly about anyone… unless there’s no way it can be traced back to me), so I scrapped it.  Instead, random thoughts:

The Abridged Version of My Deleted Speculative Poetry Rant

I waffle between wanting to exalt speculative poetry and wanting to damn it.  Every once in a while I toy with the idea of starting my own magazine but I have neither the time nor the resources.  Also, and I can’t stress this enough: there is so much out there that I think is so much better than my own work that I worry about the hubris of “I CAN’T STAND ANYTHING! MUST BECOME EDITOR OF ALL THE WORLD!” One of the reasons I started doing the reviews on Fridays was to remind myself how much is out there that I think is good and great and wonderful–so I shouldn’t get distracted when W.S. Merwin manages to get nominated for the Rhysling, and not win.

Anyway, if anyone who voted for “El Codex Chupacabra” can explain to me why they did, I would like to hear it (of Perez’s two nominated poems, Human Fighting Is Illegal was superior in my view).

Related Confession: I neither nominated nor voted for the Rhysling–the former because I forgot, and the latter because I’m pretty sure that my membership expired this spring/summer and I was sent the email for the PDF accidentally.  I will renew my membership posthaste and be a better SFPA citizen next time around.

If I had the Capability, I Would Force the Following Survey on Every Visitor to the Blog.  Fortunately I Lack the Technological Know-It-All-How and So, Random Internet Viewers, You are Safe… For the Moment

  1. Who are you?
  2. Where did you come from?  How long did you stay?
  3. Which posts did you read?
  4. Did you like them?
  5. Do you like me?
  6. I mean really really like me?
  7. Oh my god could you stay forever and brush my hair and tell me your thoughts about zombies and oh my goodness while you’re at it could you tell all your friends and then they can come too and it’s like a giant slumber party and hey did you hear about the time that I wrote a post and it’d be uber great if you could read it and maybe give me your thoughts about it in the comments, no not here, there where I can read them again and again and your friends will read them and OH! Pingbacks! Could you subscribe via google reader and help me go viral via boing boing–
  8. Where are you going?!?

English Makes Me Nervous

I’ve rewritten about a half dozen of my sentences thus far because of a thread on a writer’s forum discussing laughable English mistakes.  I pride myself on having decent grammar–thank you Marcus inebrius est (inside Latin joke), but there will always be things  I’ll get wrong.  Ever since my cousin Ellen laughed at me for saying Chartres the French way (because I’ve been to the actual town, gosh darnit) instead of the New Orleans way, I’ve become painfully, exceedingly self-aware and self conscious about language (see, I just deleted, then added, removed, then altered, re-put multiple adverbs and adjectives in that sentence before deciding ‘ah eff it,’ I’ll add a parenthetical).

(Parentheticals…

are my valium)

Everywhere There are Signs!  Send To Me Them (But Only If they Are Funny)

Today at the grocery store I saw this:


I don’t know why, but the only thing I could think of was that the grocery carts occasionally go wild and start bumpcar-ing all the minivans and SUVs in the lot.  Maybe it’s because that one cart is outside the stall, as if to suggest I don’t play by the rules.

I applaud you outside-the-box-thinking grocery transportation device.  Bow to no man.

And not to turn into the lush fest that is the Hoda and Kathy Lee segment of the Today show, but I would love it if people sent me cell phone pictures of strange/odd/funny/frightening signs (email address: aftereverafter3 AT gmail DOT com).  I don’t want your internet junk–I have enough reader subscriptions to send my browser into anaphalactic shock when I ignore it for more than 2 days.  I want real pictures–pictures of the real world.  You know, that thing outside your window that I am ignoring right now in order to blog.

Anaphalactic Is A Word Isn’t It?

My blog is giving me that red squiggly line and suggesting “anticlimactic” instead.

Thank You Google

It’s anaphylactic

Speaking of Google

One of my Google+ circles is “People I Don’t Know Who Have Circled Me”.  And it actually took me several minutes to realize there’s another term for that: Crazy Internet Stalkers. Only these people aren’t crazy internet stalkers, they’re other writers who are employing the “I’ll Follow You if You Follow Me” method of self-promotion (I am not so naive as to think that I am somehow interesting enough to be followed on my own merits… yet).  I never saw a lot of this on Facebook since there people do have that mental check of ‘I don’t really know this person, so ‘friending’ them doesn’t seem appropriate’.  Google+ combines the passive aggressiveness of Twitter’s ‘follow complete strangers’, with Facebook’s push for reciprocity.  They’ve completely changed my perception of safe internet behavior.  Thank you Google+, I think I have the inspiration I need for my blog’s next apocalypse.

Apocalypse Survival Bag

For those who haven’t been following along, this blog is dedicated to the apocalypse.  We just finished a round of alien invasion, this week we interlude with an elephant migration, and will soon be exploring the world after a…  Well, who knows.

One of the reasons I started this blog was to give myself a chance to fulfill a lifelong dream: create a zombie survival kit. I think this desire stems from my packing obsession.  I really, really love packing.  I love making organized lists of which items should go where and daydreaming, yes–daydreaming, about where my boxes will go when I arrive at point B.  Unfortunately, two weeks of organizational good intentions into a move I invariably have collected 47 containers in which I have packed a mere 30% of my belongings.  The rest I throw haphazardly into laundry bins at the last minute when the UHaul arrives.

Hence, my hatred of moving.

A zombie bag however has all the perks of packing, but none of the hassle.  You’re not supposed to fit your entire life into a rucksack–only the bare necessities.  Or, to be perfectly honest, the necessities that are both necessary and somehow awesome.  And, since the Zombie Apocalypse has a low statistical likelihood of occurring, and there’s even a lower chance I’ll survive the initial infection, the Zombie bag is completely error free.  I’ll never use the bag, so it doesn’t matter when or how I actually fill it.

Thus, long have I dreamed of filling my apocalypse bag with Hello Kitty stickers, or Powerade bottles, or leathermen multi-use tools (only probably not as they are a bit out of my fictional zombie budget price range).  But since the apocalypse never feels imminent, this dream has gone unrealized.  Sure, anytime I wander the aisles of a West Marine I think “Hmm… could I use this as a weapon?”  but I never actually buy the collapsible paddle.

Until today.

Today I fill my Zombie bag.  Well, my Zombie / Alien Invasion / Elephant Uprising / Dragon*Con weekend bag.  And because I fully encourage the purchase of completely superfluous items in a weak economy, I invite you all to play along.

Research

After half-heartedly scanning numerous survivalist websites for the ultimate “at all costs have this” lists, I’ve found them lacking. A real apocalypse bag should be suited for multiple apocalypses.

Aside: This is a bag.  Not a stash.  Or a hoarder’s discount shampoo and off-brand macaroni cave.  If you’re really thinking about long term survival, this bag isn’t for you. Buy yourself a nice bunker, a 20 year supply of MREs and a chemical toilet and move in today.  Otherwise you’re just asking to be on vacation in Sweden when Patient 0 bites the ears off a car salesman in Wichita.

The generic purpose of the traditional ‘bug out bag’ is to contain the necessary items for 3 days in the wild.  But since I’m not a hiker, an Alice Pack or other backpack which are recommended for such uses isn’t going to be very practical.  The first rule of the apocalypse is flee whatever it is that’s doing the apocalypting.  Remember that scene in the Joy Luck Club where the mother’s hands fell apart because she was pushing a wheelbarrow through ALL OF CHINA?  Now think of your shoulders rubbed raw because you wanted to bring your Harry Potter Hardcover set.  This bag has to be light.  Light enough for you to run with–and climb trees with and sling off your arm dramatically and smack someone unconscious with.

Plus, and lets be really, really honest here: You want the bag to be attractive.  This is a bag that you need to be able to casually keep with you at all times.  Just think of the conversations you’d have if you walked down the street with military gear:

“Do you serve?”

“No.”

“Your spouse?”

“No.”

“Family member?”

“No.”

“Are you an evil traitor who stole the gear off a wounded soldier in some sort of mockery of the American way?”

… And now camping:

“Are you going camping?”

“No.”

“Are you homeless?”

“No.”

“Are you a dirty hippy who stole the gear off a wounded soldier in some sort of mockery of the American way?”

It’s not like you can explain that you’re just prepared.  For the zombies.  And that you’ll shoot the heads off of anyone who tries to bite you.

So the bag has to be… casual.  Messenger bags work well for this purpose–particularly if you happen to be a graduate student and you carry one of your books around with you in your arms like a precious baby.  The assumption is that the bag is filled with “Calculus Made Easy” or “Surgery for Dummies” or “Torts and How to Find Them” not your homemade shotgun shells and iodine tablets.

For myself, I chose the Broken-In Canvas Backpack from the Sundance Catalog.  I picked it because as a backpack, it will leave my hands free for shooting things and canvas is both lightweight and durable.  Some of you may be thinking that’s a bit much to pay for a zombie bag and yes, yes it is.  But I’m a law student who carries around 50 lbs of books (the official unofficial use for this item).  You can’t put a price on absence of back pain.

Aside: When my bag is in use for school, my car becomes my zombie kit.  It holds a lot more stuff and is also, you know, mobile.

Necessary Necessities

Now to fill it!  As previously mentioned in this post (about 10 years ago) food and water are the first things to consider.  Plenty of sites will sell you MREs (Meal Ready to Eat) but I hear they taste like things that are bad (I am a writer; admire my similes).  There are other versions of the same idea: survival food kit with 3600 calorie nutrition bars, petrified pasta, etc.

This is my question to people who buy those things: the world has just ended, do you really want to compound your misery with food that tastes like moldy cardboard?  Hell no.  Is there a solution?  Hell yes.

As a frequent dieter, I’ve become quite familiar with various nutrition bars.  Some of them are quite good.  This is because people who are dieting are dieting because they like food and tend to eat too much of it.  In order to get them to switch to something less caloric, companies need to make the bars taste like candy: chocolate, peanut butter, coconut, mint, whatever.  Personally I hate anything other than chocolate and mint–but I hear other people like other things. Right now the Zone Fudge Graham bars are my personal favorite.  My co-author thinks they taste chalky and strongly prefers the Special K brand.  My advice is to go to the diet section and sample a few.  Find your favorite.

And keep it stocked.  The reason people buy MREs and other kits is the 5+ year shelf life.  But you don’t need to worry about shelf life if you’re stocking with something you eat regularly.  These bars are full of protein and other nutrients–you can survive several days on them no problem.  Anything more than that–well, see earlier aside about buying a bunker and moving in.

Water: You drink it.  It’s clear.  I used to keep a 24 pack of Aquafina in the back of my car.  No, it wasn’t because I bought it for a float trip and was too lazy to bring it in the house.  It was totally for apocalypse planning.

Practical Necessities

If you are out in the wild, fending for yourself, the thing you’re most likely to die from (other than zombie alien elephants) is exposure.  Your body temperature is 98.6 degrees–the air (especially at night) is usually less than that.  You could carry fire starter and plan to make yourself a cozy little camp–but when the zombies and bears show up for smores and story time, you’ll wish you had instead brought along a space blanket.  It’s like a snuggie, but reflective and made with NASA technology.  I’ve heard unconfirmed and completely fictional reports that the blankets are made out of Neil Armstrong’s soul and it repels heat purely through the force of manifest destiny.

Weather Radio: Assuming the NOAA is willing to give undead sighting reports, this could be useful.  If not, there’s always the 30 seconds after a power outage in a thunderstorm that you think “I have a weather radio!  They can describe the weather outside while I look at it through my window.”  It’s also a flashlight.  Good for entertaining cats.

VHF / CB / UHF Radio / Scanner: To organize the resistance and/or eavesdrop on your bunker neighbors.

Para Rope: Samwise Gamgee spent half of Lord of the Rings bemoaning the fact that he didn’t have any rope.  At some point he really needed some rope, or maybe he just really thought it would’ve made things easier for him and he either had it or didn’t and the plot was either moved forward or not… I don’t remember.  Clearly impressionable impression aside, if Tolkein can devote 107,278,000 words to an item, I can list it here.  I also suggest you get it in pink because no one steals stuff that’s pink.

Weapons: If you do not know how to properly handle a gun, then do not buy a gun (I’m looking at you, unnamed Arizona State Senator).  You’re more likely to shoot and kill yourself before the zombies even rise–heck, this might even make you the first Zombie.  And then won’t your mother be proud.

A machete is a more practical item: it can be used as a defensive weapon, plus you can use it to chop down doors and tall grasses like a badass.  Try to avoid slicing off your fingers though.  Blood attracts sharks.  Undead land sharks.

First Aid Kit: I’ve kept a first aid kit with me at all times since I became a SCUBA Instructor.  I used to even keep an Oxygen bottle with me.  Other than the basic band aids and disinfectant, I recommend: Extra Strength Tylenol, Extra Strength Ibuprofen (two of each is roughly equivalent to a prescription pain killer according to my dentist aunt), Goody’s Headache powder (tastes like burnt chalk, but acts quickly), sunscreen (don’t want to survive the Cylon attack and then get skin cancer), eye drops, tampons (in a pinch can be used as bullet wound stuffers)

Duct tape: Because it has a light side, a dark side, and it holds the universe together

Wool socks / Sturdy boots: Tip: break them in before the apocalypse.  I once had to duct-tape my feet due to excessive blistering

All the stuff I purposefully left out: A typical bug out bag presumes that the world is still more or less in one piece.  This is a bag you use for natural disasters or for a hard core camping trip.  Fire starter, multi-vitamins, cash and coin–these are the luxuries of the status quo.  My bag is one half fun, one half show, and one half ‘Well actually that might be useful generally’ but since I don’t want to spend $5000 filling it, I’m going to cull when and where I can.

Apocalyptic & Other Necessities

Iron Bar and Salt: For fairies, demons, ghosts

Surgical Mask: I don’t know exactly all the methods of zombie disease spreading, but I bet swallowing infected blood isn’t good.  Generally it’s probably better to go with a full face gas mask in case there are biological/chemical weapons used by the military in a counter attack… but I don’t know where to buy one of those.

Reynolds Wrap: Alien mind control deflection

Scotch: Because

Robert’s Rules of Order: When civilization attempts to reassert itself, you can be there with the proper parliamentary procedure.  Also recommended:

Bespectacled scapegoat not included

Maps: I don’t mean ‘Oh lets take the scenic route through Canada’ maps, I mean ‘Here is a map I have specially prepared that highlights all of my previously planned food and weapons caches, abandoned missile silos and excellent antique stores at which I will finally now be able to get a decent discount.

Telescoping Paddle: Do you remember that scene in Dante’s Peak where they’re in the boat in the river of acid and their engine disintegrates and they don’t have a paddle and the grandmother jumps out to pull them ashore fatally burning herself in the process?  Yeah.  Don’t kill your grandmas: bring your own oar.  My brother pointed out that a shovel would be equally useful and could double as an acid water transportation method in a pinch.  Both can probably be used as weapons, though will likely not be effective against cylons.

Face paint: Greatest scene in Zombieland is Bill Murray’s reveal that he’s survived Hollywood by dressing up as a Zombie and walking around the undead completely undetected.  Unfortunately (spoiler) this may get you killed by an uninformed survivor.

Color Coordinated Clothing Items: (see aside)

Aside: You heard it here first.  After Ever After is developing the “Zombie Survivor Code” for signalling to non-zombies while in costume.  The Code will be a color coordinated system to indicate non-infection and other basic information.  For example: Red Hat means that the individual is probably not a Zombie, but a zombie incognito.  A Red Hat with a Yellow Shirt means that the individual is probably not a Zombie, but is a lone survivor.  Red Hat with Blue Shirt means he or she is a member of a group.  Red Hat, White Shirt, Green Pants and Plaid Shoes means that the individual was in a group but then killed them all.  Or is a former professional golfer.  We’ll work out the details later–but if you have any suggestions, I would love to hear them.

Dental Floss: The end of the world is no reason to neglect your gums.

Water Gun: For fun, and/or vampires (note: would also need a priest or Jesus).  Plus, I could imagine a scenario when you need to get someone’s attention really quietly or trip some trap and your small pebble aim is lousy.

First Conclusion

For those of you thinking that I just wrote a post about Zombie bags because everyone writes about Zombie bags and I would never actually fill said bag… Surprise:

I cannot be trusted at Target.

The List (not all of which is pictured; not all pictured will be listed)

Telescoping paddle
VHF Radio
Hand crank radio
Leatherman Blast
First Aid Kit: Bandaids, Neosporin, Benadryl spray, heat pack, support bandage
Flask
Jesus mints
Water gun
Reynolds wrap
Mini notebook & mini address book
Maps
Multi-use hammer (has nesting screwdrivers)
Socks
Pill box
Rubber band ball: Because when you need one, you really need one; it also bounces
Gum, Altoids
Dinosaur & Bug ID books
Two pairs of shoe laces (para rope is on order)
Camping soap (comes in little sheets, just add water)
Mini fan: Unfortunately it doesn’t work very well–will likely order one online since Atlanta in September is ungodly hot

The Pill Box: This was probably my most brilliant idea.  The problem with bottles of drugs is they’re wasted space.  So I bought a small tackle box from Target and used masking tape to label the individual compartments.  As my doctor friend pointed out, they’re incredibly redundant.  However, there’s a certain placebo effect with the association of certain brand names and conditions, i.e. taking Midol for muscle aches even if it’s functionally the same as Motrin which you take for headaches…

Ah who am I kidding.  I never take anything except headache powder and Vivarin.  The real reason I bought 18 bottles of pills is I am incredibly OCD and I wanted different sizes, shapes and colors in order to make my zombie apocalypse pill box aesthetically pleasing. Look at it!

See how pretty?

I also wrote the maximum dose in a 24 hour period lest anyone accidentally start eating them like candy.

Other fun stuff:

The Hope magnetic poetry was actually something I bought as an emergency law school graduation gift (as a Southerner I am required to carry along extra presents; this way if someone I did not expect gives me something, I avoid the awkward).

As for the book, ‘The Great Fires’ is not a novel, as most would bring, but a collection of poetry by Jack Gilbert.  This is the book I bring with me every place I go; I may actually have to buy a second copy in order to keep one in my zombie bag and one on my person.  Other contenders: House of the Spirits by Isabel Allende, Dune by Frank Herbert, Ender’s Game by Orson Scott Card… That could actually be a poll in and of itself.  The world is ending, which books do you bring with you?

This of course does not include your Kindle–if power weren’t an issue I would just start stocking up.  Err… stocking up more than I already have stocked up.

But ultimately, if I can only have one book in the entire universe, one book to last me all the rest of my days… It’s the Great Fires.  It’s not even a competition.

The Forgotten Dialect of the Heart

How astonishing it is that language can almost mean,
and frightening that it does not quite. Love, we say,
God, we say, Rome and Michiko, we write, and the words
Get it wrong. We say bread and it means according
to which nation. French has no word for home,
and we have no word for strict pleasure. A people
in northern India is dying out because their ancient
tongue has no words for endearment. I dream of lost
vocabularies that might express some of what
we no longer can. Maybe the Etruscan texts would
finally explain why the couples on their tombs
are smiling. And maybe not. When the thousands
of mysterious Sumerian tablets were translated,
they seemed to be business records. But what if they
are poems or psalms? My joy is the same as twelve
Ethiopian goats standing silent in the morning light.
O Lord, thou art slabs of salt and ingots of copper,
as grand as ripe barley lithe under the wind’s labor.
Her breasts are six white oxen loaded with bolts
of long-fibered Egyptian cotton. My love is a hundred
pitchers of honey. Shiploads of thuya are what
my body wants to say to your body. Giraffes are this
desire in the dark. Perhaps the spiral Minoan script
is not a language but a map. What we feel most has
no name but amber, archers, cinnamon, horses and birds.

The aliens want to read your brains, the zombies want to eat them, velociraptors are turning the door handle but you have Jack Gilbert squeezing every last ounce of beauty out of nouns.  That is the way to end it my friends.

And finally, as a reminder to myself:

Second Conclusion

This posted ended up being far longer than I ever intended it to be.  So I think I’d like to conclude finally stop writing by asking you what is in *your* Apocalypse survival bag.  Extra points for responses that are surprising, and yet intuitive.

P.S. Conclusion

I also have in my bag a telescoping marshmallow pick.

I do not know why.

The Day of the Elephant Pt. 2

Continued from “The Day of the Elephant Pt. 1

For two straight days the elephants rocked on their feet as if keeping time with a song only they could hear.  They did not eat, or drink, or sleep; their eyes remained open as if watching what we would do, as we watched what they would do.

But one elephant did not rock.  He was small, pink around the edges and followed me home from the grocery store where he had been living in the cart return stall.  He jogged behind my car, and I admit I slowed down when he lagged behind.  When we arrived at my building, he took one of the plastic A&P bags in his trunk and squeezed onto the elevator next to me, pushing the button for my floor before I could.  I named him Darwin, because why not.

Darwin liked strawberry ice cream and red wine.  Together.  He raised his head before my phone would ring, and grunted twice whenever it was a telemarketer.  I learned to stop answering when he did that.

Darwin slept beside my bed, and liked to be brushed with a coarse hair silver plated brush.  He disliked my cat, who in turn loved him with a fierceness possessed by the delusional and ignorant, and Darwin learned to tolerate her with a patient indifference.  Twice, Darwin prevented my cat from leaping out the dining room window when it had been left open by my boyfriend Josh.

In this way I learned that Darwin knew to display his true feelings, but act in accordance with my wishes.

Both Josh and my mother did not trust the elephants and begged that I turn Darwin out on the street.  They joined a group devoted to herding the elephants onto boats and setting them adrift in the Gulf of Mexico.  Sometimes Josh would erupt at the dinner table when I insisted on setting an extra plate for Darwin.  To keep the peace, I asked Darwin to stay in the office whenever my mother or Josh would visit.  He did, but I could sense the deep disappointment he felt for my choices by the way he dragged his feet when he walked.

“I heard one of them trampled a nun by Sacred Heart,” my mother said.

“Sacred Heart doesn’t have nuns,” I said.

“A teacher then.  A kindergarten teacher, with two children at home who are now orphaned.”

From the office we could hear Darwin arranging and rearranging the office supplies on my desk–he was particularly fond of pens.

“It stinks in here,” Josh said.  “I’m going to open a window.”

“Darwin doesn’t smell,” I said.

And it was true.  None of them smelled.  Not of musk or dirt–not of oiled leather or hay–not of any of the things I once thought elephants would smell like if I got close enough to touch.

“It’s unnatural,” my mother and Josh said together.  “Something’s not right with them.”

And I found I could not entirely disagree.

Falling Skies – Pilot

Falling Skies may have started airing weeks ago, but it’s hard to get excited about reviewing a show which, sadly, isn’t very good.

Note to Studios: Study What Came Before and Learn from Them

Back when Jericho‘s first trailers appeared I got really excited.  It was the first speculative show I’d seen on a major network since Star Trek.  That’s probably inaccurate, so I’ll qualify that I remember it being the first speculative show on a major network that I noticed.  And it heralded a flood of SF: there was the water alien show–and maybe another invasion show, Lost, Flash Forward, the Event, and Heroes (now that I think about it, Lost may have been the first).  None of which, with the exception of Lost, lasted for very long.  Some of those shows had a decent premise and lousy execution.   Many suffered from too many characters with placeholder problems for character development.  Jericho‘s main character was the prodigal son returned.  Lost had a barnload of stereotypes: drug addiction, prison record, more father issues.  I’m actually going to go out on a limb and alienate some people by stating up front that I am not a fan of Lost.  They did some things well (moral quandaries) but the devices were just so tired that I was never interested in watching the full episode.  I’d start it, then read the wikipedia summaries.

You know what shows did great character development?  Buffy the Vampire Slayer–though even they started to repeat themselves by the end.  Battlestar Galactica: More father issues, but the “issue” was more or less resolved by the end of the pilot/miniseries and what remained was personality clash and history.  Firefly: sadly we didn’t really see enough of the show to see them develop much past their introductions, but there was a well of deep emotion in all of them.  Anyone who wants to know how to truly tease out an issue needs to watch War Stories in which two men being tortured to death can’t stop arguing about a woman.  It’s all about the juxtaposition, the rising tension.

So if you’re going to blatantly copy a show, make it a good one. Jericho I feel failed because it focused on all the obvious problems (radiation, getting food, ‘discovering’ the extent of the problem) but without any energy. They rested on the inertia of ‘NUCLEAR BOMB!’ much like Falling Skies is resting on ‘GEEZ LOOK! ALIENS’ Tsk tsk. Plus, the characters suck.

Falling Skies: Oh How You Fail, Even When You Succeed

Falling Skies starts off well enough.  The premise is simple: Aliens landed and without the oratory skills of Bull Pullman, Earth’s collective ass was whooped.

We learn this through the drawings and voice overs of surviving children.  Aliens came, sat in our skies for a while, and we didn’t nuke them because for the first time in the history of ever, our first reaction is “Maybe they want to be friends.”  The last kid to speak is the son of the main character.  His father and older brother are out fighting and his mother is dead.

As an aside, why do apocalypses hate mothers so much?  Super 8: dead mom; father raising son alone.  Cormac’s The Road: dead mom; father walking with son alone.  Falling Skies: dead mom; father raising two sons alone (third son was captured by aliens).  I get that a single parent is an automatic sympathizing agent, but it’s also too easy.  Kill one parent so that the other becomes a sexually viable candidate for any other opposite sex character.  All the women we meet are attractive and probably single.

Now that we’ve been introduced to the orphaned, dirt smudged children, we must know that battles can happen.  Noah Wyle and his son are running away–there’s some screaming about food–people die and one woman gets harnessed (aliens are making some humans into slaves using some thing that goes on their back) so we see what that’s like (looks unpleasant).  There’s lots of yelling–the city has been lost, and as the intrepid fighters flee back to base we get a shot of an alien structure above the city.

Then we have an important military meeting.  An older man in an army uniform is going to abandon the city.  They’re going to split into groups of 100 fighters, 200 civilians each. They’ll head into the countryside and scavange–no doubt employing guerilla tactics on the aliens so they’ll give up and head back to Cuba.  Sorry, wrong film.

A man named Weaver gets the second Massachusetts–Tom (oh, that’s Noah’s name) is his second.  Weaver and the old army guy get into a fight.  We learn that there are far fewer skitters (bug aliens) and mechs (cylons) than there were before.  Weaver wants to stay and fight, old army says they can’t unless they know more about their enemy.  What exactly they’re supposed to learn by hiding in the woods protecting civilians is left unsaid.

Also, and this is really important: Noah Wylie is a professor.  They mention it about a dozen times in the first 20 minutes into the show.  He quotes military history: Trojan Horse, WWI fighters digging underneath the enemy.  They call him professor twice in 10 seconds.

I imagine the producers must have had the following conversation:

TV Exec 1: Lets cast Noah Wyle
TV Exec 2: The part calls for a military commander.  Noah Wyle is as brawny as my 2 year old nephew.  My dead grandmother could take him in a fight.
TV Exec 1: Make him a history professor.  A MILITARY history professor.
TV Exec 2: How does that make it better?
TV Exec 1: And we’ll constantly TELL people he’s a professor so when the main military commander makes him second in command of 100 fighters, the audience knows that everyone else understands he’s supposed to look like that.
TV Exec 2: So it’s a lampshade?  We’re aware there’s a problem and rather than addressing it we make people MORE aware of the problem?
TV Exec 1: Noah Wyle is hot and more women will watch the show if he is in it.
TV Exec 2: Then cast George Clooney.  He at least can buff up.
TV Exec 1:  We can’t afford George Clooney.  We can afford a librarian.

Hal (Tom/Noah’s older, fighting son) has a conversation with a blonde who, based on her reaction to another girl bringing Hal food, must be his girlfriend.  They talk about motorbikes to show that this girl, though blonde, attractive and virtually dirt free is a “hardcore freedom fighter.”  She’s also the only female fighter we’ve seen thus far.  Pretty much the only women we’ve met are a doctor (care giver), a girl who brings Hal food (more care giving) and this motorbike fighter chick (who, as a girlfriend, must be giving Hal something-something on the side).  There are no female military commanders, no other female soldiers.  This despite the fact that we have a thirteen year old child in Tom/Noah’s military group.

Anyway, feminist issues aside, they all pack up to leave the city and find shelter somewhere else.  There’s a huge pile of books on the side of the road and Tom/Noah picks through them.  He discards a trashy (women’s) magazine and weighs 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea against a Tale of Two Cities.  Just in case the constant ‘Professor! Professor!’ wasn’t enough, now we know that he’s a man of culture.

Personally I think it would’ve been hysterical and a nice nod to geek culture if the book had been something like Pride & Prejudice and Zombies or maybe Ender’s Game.  Something.

The civilians walk–in broad daylight–through the town they’re abandoning because of too many aliens.  Doctor lady remarks that she knows the neighborhood.  Tom/Noah replies with a 45 minute lecture on the development of suburban neighborhoods as influenced by a consumerist economy and Indian murder.  Haha, just kidding.  It’s just a nonsequitur about Indians.  Whom we murdered through smallpox.  Just like the aliens are doing to us–except with cylons.  Did you remember that Tom/Noah is a professor?  It’s okay, Doctor lady reminds us.  Then he makes a crack about tenure–just in case you missed it.

They scavenge for food at some convenience stores but there’s not enough.  Tom/Noah tries to diplomatically get Weaver to give him some men and weapons so they can go back for more food.  Tom/Noah wants half the men (50); he gets 6.  And weapons? Just the stuff they have with them, plus as many magazines as they can carry.  What about an RPG?  No. C4? No.

It’s okay, Tom/Noah the professor states, “We’ll make do.”

Umm.  So the military commander sends them off with inadequate men and weapons (as implied by the fact that Tom/Noah, second in command, asks and receives only fractions of what he, presumably, believes necessary).  Why exactly?  Does Weaver want the men to all die so he has fewer people to feed?  Does he just want to make Tom/Noah suffer?  Does he think Tom/Noah is just going to randomly antagonize some aliens and waste weapons for the hell of it?

Sexy doctor lady asks Tom/Noah “Are you sure about this?”

His son the scout and son’s girlfriend the scout volunteer to go along (because “Weaver is more likely to get me killed than you are”).  Asian guy is going too–and he stole some C4 for the mission.

So in the last few minutes we have been told that this military operation is being run by a petty man with a penchant for handicapping his completely necessary for survival missions and his men think that going along on an under-weaponed jaunt into dangerous territory is somehow less potentially fatal than staying with the bulk of the force and the RPGs AND we have theft.  Wow.  I am inspired by this show’s view of military competency.

We also have two, TWO black men.  That’s almost as many black men as white men.  Oh dear, we can’t have that.  One of them is clearly going to die before the show is over.

Cue scene of little kid, on the day of his birthday: “Dad, I just want everything back the way it was.”  I feel bad for this kid–not the character–the little kid.  I don’t know what kind of direction they’re giving him.  It appears to be mostly “Mope!”

Hal and his girlfriend are sent to scout–out on motorbikes.  Because that’s subtle.  Tom/Noah mistakenly calls the bullets hollow nose–because you can very easily work your way up to second in command of a large military resistance without knowing the proper nomenclature.  His son mocks him mercilessly.  Sorry, I mean, the son speaks in time with the rising swell of music:

Just remembering 7 or 8 months ago you wouldn’t let me ride my bike over to Julien’s at night because I didn’t have a bike light.  Now you’re offering me extra ammo.

Things change.

Yeah.

Some things don’t

Tom/Noah whines, a hitch in his voice.  Cue manly hug between father and son.

At least the show never gave us the “You’re too young to fight!” argument the characters no doubt had a couple of months back (the one small advantage of starting the show in the middle of it all).   Moments later Hal is hanging out on a river bed when a bunch of mechs and harnessed kids walk by–oh look, it’s missing son Ben!

Hal runs back to his dad to say he saw Ben–Hal insists they go and get him right now (because that’s smart), “screw that food thing.”  Most of the others agree–thus displaying their undying loyalty to the survival of the gigantic group of non-harnessed individuals on the run.

Tom/Noah, because he’s a professor and therefore not completely brain dead says no.  And beats his son to the ground: “We do this the right way, or we all die!  We get the food, we bring it to the group, and then we get Ben.”  They come up with a plan, offhandedly mention the possibility of attack so that Noah Wyle can lecture us again: History is full of inferior forces causing so much trouble that the invading army leaves.  Then he mentions a slew of historical examples (remember, he’s a professor and also played a Librarian in some other TNT movie) with which none of them are impressed until he says “Red Sox / Yankees -04” (because apparently none of these kids have any education whatsoever but think baseball is an appropriate analogy for this situation–you know, where that game in which everyone is roughly the same age, skill level and team size play against each other for jewelry) and they head to the food distribution center.

Here’s another problem: most food doesn’t last.  So what the hell are they getting from these places?  Here the director was smart and was sure to make this scene dark so that we don’t know what they’re grabbing–but the distribution center looks a lot more full and organized than I would expect in an apocalyptic scenario (these aliens were in the skies for a while before the first attack–have none of these writers ever been in a town where a hurricane is about to hit?  People get into fights about toilet paper).  Hal eventually climbs up top to get–cooking utensils?  He grabs a bunch of boxes of crock pots and throws them to the ground–unfortunately for him there’s a skitter that jumps out at him.  There’s a gun fight and a mech shows up.  They blow up the mech with c4 then the skitter is back, approaching Tom/Noah quickly.  Hal shoots it from behind and they all gather to stare at it as it dies.

It looks like it’s trying to talk to them and here’s where I first start wondering if there’s  something different about the skitters–or at least this one.  The skitter never fired a weapon–only the mechs have guns.  What if the mechs are running the show, and the skitters are slaves just like the harnessed kids.  What if the skitter wasn’t jumping out at Hal, but was merely trying to get his attention to warn him about the mech outside.  That would almost be awesome.

The fighters return with the food and all the townspeople converge.  Tom/Noah reveals his son is still alive to Weaver–there’s a tense argument about who is or isn’t going back.  Tom/Noah wins with a “He’s my son.”

There is hope for civilization! Mindless consumerism lives on!

Tom/Noah missed his youngest son’s birthday party, so they have a hostess cake by the river. Hal saves the day with “that thing you got for him”.  It’s a rip stick–just like little mopey used to have!  Mopey rides around while all the adults watch.  Aww, it’s almost like things are back to normal.  See, we may have cylons and buggers destroying all of our towns, but a little kid shares his useless toy with some other kids while old people watch.  There is hope for civilization! Mindless consumerism lives on!

The second half of the pilot is actually the second episode they latched onto the pilot like a leprotic remora.  It opens with Tom/Noah and his team in front of an armory.  They throw a ball that a dog chases to… do what exactly?  Ostensibly it’s to see if it’s a trap… but I don’t understand what the dog is supposed to do–or why they brought it with them in the first place.  The dog has the same problem I have.  When the mech comes around the corner, the dog sits down and stares, eventually starting to bark.  As the mech advances, the most idiotic kid in the universe calls “Nemo come back!” and runs towards the dog and the giant metal thing with guns.  They retreat–completely failing at their one mission.

Back at their camp, Weaver has an argument with the doctor about why the soldiers are all sleeping in houses, while the civilians are all in tents.

Weaver then gives the most logical answer in the history of the universe: His soldiers are running around killing things.  They get the least amount of sleep, so the one thing he can do for them is ensure that they sleep comfortably.  The civilians, on the other hand, need to be able to move–quickly–if they pull up camp.  Soldiers know how to move; civilians don’t.  It’s safer if the civilians are all grouped together in tents.  This is completely and totally reasonable.  If they don’t like it, they can abandon the protection of the soldiers and the constant supply of oatmeal (which, btw, is the food that the soldiers find, collect, and fight buggers and cylons for).  The doctor isn’t happy and says that they’re not “just eaters”.  They clean, they haul trash and water.  True, but that doesn’t mean that you get to sleep in beds.  It means you get people willing to sacrifice themselves for your safety.  Get over it.

Tom/Noah lectures on Civilians vs. Military and then has a conversation with the Biology professor who says some kid pointed out that when humans build robots we make them look like us.  But skitters have six legs and the Cylons are bipedal.  What gives?  Tom/Noah says it’s probably a psychological impact thing.  I’m still hoping for my ‘Cylons are the real enemy’ theory.

Later we have a gratuitous conversation about religion between the girl that likes Hal, Hal, and Hal’s slightly jealous girlfriend.  Girl that likes Hal piously states that her faith is stronger than ever.  She also says that she doesn’t pay for God to give her things, but prays that God shows her what she can do for him.

I have never wanted to hurt someone so much.  I want to wipe that smug “I am righteous” smile off your face with my fist.  Your jealousy is totally justified, blonde girlfriend.  Token religious girl isn’t even subtle.  She’s practically drooling when she looks at Hal.

Later, Tom/Noah and his crew go back to the armory, walking into a trap: but it was a human trap.  Another group of survivors has been waiting and they shoot second black guy in the stomach with arrows (HA!  Oh wait, so he didn’t technically die by the end of the first episode–but we’re still in the pilot).  This moment also gives us the best line in the show:

“You’re gonna die dude.”

Wow, that’s some comfort.

Anyway, second group forces Tom/Noah and his crew to surrender by putting guns to the heads of Hal and Blonde girlfriend (I think her name is Karen…I should probably put on my feminist hat and start calling her by her name–maybe if they made her into a real character, I wouldn’t have a problem remembering who she is).

When I first watched this show–this is when I started getting impressed.  A second group, that isn’t resistance–seems to hate the resistance (they’ve been watching the 2nd Mass for two days and they want their GTO and 50 cal mounted on top) provides some much needed “Humans aren’t all martyred survivors” perspective.  Pope, the leader of this group is great: glib, bit of a Jack Sparrow charm.  He sends Hal back to the 2nd Mass to give the terms (the life of Noah/Tom, etc for the GTO and 50 cal).

When he’s alone with Tom/Noah, he points out that this isn’t the Revolutionary War.  This is colonization vs. Indians–and guess which group we are?  He and his group are thrilled by the invasion because they’re out hunting bugs.  Which they enjoy immensely.

Pope monologues for a while, giving some terrible advice on killing bugs.  Don’t go for the head, he says.  Shoot the legs and slow them down.  Then go for the head.  That’s only true if you’re statistically more likely to hit the legs.  Since there are about 6 or 8 of them, maybe that’s true, but I doubt it.  Problem is the legs are spread apart and move around a lot more.  Now if you’re up close with a blunt weapon–definitely go for the legs rather than the body.  The former is much more accessible.

When Hal tells Weaver about the hostages and ransom demands, Weaver gives the second most logical answer in the universe: no deal, but for the dumbest reason ever: “They’ll bleed us dry.”  No, the reason is fighters really aren’t that special.  A 50 caliber rifle mounted on top of a working car, however, is irreplaceable.

Hal is taken upstairs to wait until they all flee (because the group of 5 armed men is a huge threat to over 100 fighters with a 50 cal rifle + god knows what else).  But Mike lets him go.  Sexy doctor lady, whom Weaver told to stay for… no reason except she was going to be needed by Hal in a few minutes apparently… leaves with Hal (oh yeah, one of Pope’s group was shot in the leg.  It was completely unimportant so I didn’t mention it).

They go back to the school, save unknown’s leg while Pope and his men go after the GIANT RESISTANCE ARMY.  Umm.  Okay.  And it is completely successful.  They sneak up, shoot some flares (which the aliens will pick up on and come shooting) and demand the food and the 50 cal.

Back at Pope’s hangout: Maggie, the token woman in Pope’s group, shoots all the bad guys.  Apparently they raped her at some point and she didn’t like that.

Back at Resistance army: There’s a shoot out in which Pope’s group is killed, Pope captured and later everyone is holed up in the school in which Pope’s group was hiding.

Now at new resistance hangout school: Weaver makes some random speech to Noah/Tom in which he blames Noah/Tom for getting his crew captured thus ruining Weaver’s logic streak.

The episode ends with Noah preparing for his ‘rescue Ben’ mission and a scene of Tom/Noah playing lacrosse with his son.  It’s the exact same scene AND music we had at the end of the first episode–or half of the pilot.

Final Thoughts

This is not a good show.  But few shows are good in the beginning.  The only interesting person is Pope and though he’s a prisoner by the end of the pilot, I doubt he’s going to be a main player.  Damn shame.

There’s a distinct lack of humor, even though occasionally they try.  The female characters are appallingly flat, but so are the male characters so I guess that’s just equality at work.  Overall it reminds me a lot of Jericho–in that they’re rehashing all the obvious points: we need food! We need weapons! Kids are our future and it is sad that they are harnessed!

Sigh.  Maybe I should watch BSG on Netflix instead.

The Day of the Elephant Pt. 1

muddy and whorled, this elephant they tried once to hang

because she killed three men and survived

Electrocuting the Elephant by Ciarin Berry



This morning I saw an elephant.

He stood on the levee, his trunk and tail sashaying in time with the joggers who swerved wide around him.

Audubon, we thought.  Clearly he has escaped from Audubon.

But: No, the zookeepers said, we are not missing any elephantsAre you sure it’s an elephant?

Mine was not the only elephant spotted that day.  Like bees they moved in packs and swarms, in the most unexpected of places.

How did we not notice their coming? My mother asked.

My father told her elephants make no sound when they walk. Their feet expand, contract. Expand, contract. A herd of elephants could surprise camouflaged soldiers trekking through the desert, one minute a dark smear along the horizon, the next silently smashing their well hidden tents.

What you have to understand about elephants, he said, is they remember their dead. Don’t cull one or two–but the whole family.  Or they’ll keep coming back.

But a man on TV say it wasn’t the culled animals that brought them here. Not the copse of bones scattered among the acacia trees offending their evening strolls.  We were too far away from ivory poachers.

Our crimes were Mary, hanged in Tennessee and Topsy’s smoking legs. It was Dumbo–altogether fictional–but elephants can’t discern the difference between two dimensions and three. It was Jumbo’s body and the whistle of a long stopped locomotive echoing across the Atlantic.

Whatever the reason: they came in parades, in memories–in flocks and sounders and huddles. They stood in line at the grocery store, at Starbucks and the Apple genius bar. They shouldered onto the subways–the smaller ones and those with contortionist sensibilities. When an old woman stooped to pick up her paper, she felt the slight brush of old leather against her skin and turned to find a slouched hairless cow in her den watching Hoda and Kathie Lee.

The elephants did not eat or drink from our kitchens; they were mindful of the furniture.

They paused for school buses and obeyed traffic signals. They did nothing to suggest a nefarious mind or purpose, but since we could not think of a non-nefarious reason for their gatherings, we of course defended ourselves. We pushed at them, glowered at them, shooed them with broom handles. We were always quick to lock our doors and windows, shuttering them against their dark stares, and our unfortunate neighbors who found themselves unwilling hosts to their bulk. We walked in groups with cattle prods and automatic rifles–which we did not fire but were always considering.

The 6 o’clock news displayed maps of sightings and campings–cities and rural areas were equally infested. No one had news of how they crossed the oceans leading one red headed newswoman to suggest “clone door” and “San Diego Zoo” and “Cal Tech fraternity prank”.

The elephants did not speak, and we did not speak to them.

They merely stood.

And stood.

And then they began to rock.