When Sixes Don’t Mean Boxcars

In 2013 at the World Science Fiction Convention, I had the great fortune of meeting Arriane “Tex” Thompson.   She was and acquaintance of a friend and she joined a group of us going out to dinner.  It took about 15 minutes before she charmed the entire table.    When dinner was over, I knew she had a novel being published in 2014 and that I would be reading it.  I wasn’t sure what to expect – either I didn’t ask or I had too much to drink and the former was unlikely – but I didn’t expect a western horror fantasy novel.  Don’t take the Sci-Fi portion of the convention too literally; the fantasy genre is often lumped in with it.  No one in their right minds thinks of A Song of Ice and Fire (which you may think of as Game of Thrones) as Sci-Fi and that was why I was there.

This summer, Tex’s  One Night in Sixes was published.  Having preordered it, it came with little fanfare in a box with a smile.  I had seen the cover on line, but I had not really gauged the entire “westernness” that confronted me.  I’m not really a western kind of guy.  I can say Zane Gray and Louis L’Amour because I’m observant – I’ve never read anything of theirs.  Nor have I read King’s Gunslinger series. My father always loved westerns like “She Wore a Yellow Ribbon”, but I always resisted the nonexistent temptation to watch with him.  I have seen “Unforgiven” so I’m not completely clueless. Just mostly.  That’s enough from the peanut gallery.

one night in sixes

Of course when I hear “Sixes” I immediately thing of one thing.  No, not people whose looks are slightly above average, but the Rolling Stones “Tumbling Dice“.

I’m all Sixes and Sevens and Nines

As a craps player, and thank you Dad for teaching me the game and reinforcing its joys, we want sixes and nines.  But usually it is sixes and eights or nines and fives or seven and elevens.  It is context sensitive (in addition to being fully math/statistics based).  I ‘m guessing Mick and Keith don’t roll the bones for money.  So while I hoped the novel had a dice based theme, I knew better.

I opened the book and started with minor trepidation.  Was she going to brand cattle? Teach us how to use a lasso?  Perhaps chuck wagon chili was on the menu.  Oh well, I was going to find out.  It didn’t matter after a few pages of establishing the western motif, I realized we weren’t in Texas anymore.   Almost immediately I was thrust into a new world, where western elements mixed with the unusual.  Was this some post-apocalyptic future?  Perhaps an alternate universe where the weather and man’s arrogance transformed this part of the world into a heap of dry clay, ready to be molded but unable to maintain any sort of structural integrity.  It didn’t matter; the landscape in my mind’s eye provided an ample canvas for the tale to unfold.

We quickly meet Appaloosa Elim and Sil Halfwick.   My next thought was this was going to be the literary equivalent of a buddy movie.  You know, Bob Hope and Bing Crosby in “The Road to Someplace” or Eddy Murphy and Nick Nolte roaming San Francisco for 48 hours, twice it seems.  But again no, the two main characters are not really buddies and they don’t really travel together.  Yes, I do have an overactive imagination.

The basic premise of the books is that Elim and Sil travel to the town of Sixes and bad shit happens.  Then it gets convoluted and worse shit happens and it continues to go downhill, with unusual characters and their veiled motivations pulled into that downward spiral ever faster.  I wondered if Tex listened to too much Nine Inch Nails while writing the book.

If I was 14, this would be where I start to summarize the plot and dissect the characters’ actions and motivation.  As an adult, I believe you can do that if you choose to do so.    What I do want to focus on is the depth and density of the detailed mythology Tex showers the reader with.  There are multiple cultures, languages and motivations that reveal themselves at her pace.    There are not any “remember when…” moments.  This is a smart book for intelligent readers.  The novel rewards both the thoughtful reader and the multiple rereads you will want to do.

She also pays homage and leverages what has been done well in the past.  I’m not about to say that One Night in Sixes is a new entry into the big book of Cthulhu mythos, but I definitely saw some influence from Lovecraft.  In my world that is always worth 3 bonus points.

Subtitled “Children of the Drought Book One”, this is clearly the first of a series, as the small print proclaims.  I’m looking forward to future books, as Tex has a fantastic way with words.  Her prose is engaging, descriptive and refreshing.  Here are a few examples.

A stab of fear pierced the fog as Elim was hauled up to his feet, and he suddenly understood done. (Page 122)

The darkness opened her eyes, angry white tears tracked down her cheeks, and found him. (Page 214)

But even with his hair half out from its tie and full pockets under his eyes, he knew better than to wait for an invitation to speak.  (Page 339)

Why yes, I did take these at random.  That’s what makes this such a rewarding read.  Her unique style fills the pages, keeping the reader – ok, me – fully in her thrall until she decided she was done with me.  Now all I can do is wait for the next book.  I’m sure I’m not the first to say this, but you’ll be hearing a lot from her.  My book collection is waiting for fancy limited versions that are trademark of beloved books.  I’ll make room for hers on a prominent shelf.

On a side note, Tex has called me “the MacGyver of Gastronomy”.  Don’t you think you should buy and read her book just for that alone?

 

Today’s blog brought to you by REM.  Boxcars – a carnival of sorts, if you please.

 

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An Unexpect Reappearance or Yeah, That Happiness Couldn’t Last Could It?

It had been at least 6 months, but the idiotic lady put another note on my car letting me know I may get towed because I blocked a wall that was a loading dock in some previous life.  It’s the same note she puts there all the time, but today I have new questions to ponder.  Why has she just now decided to tag my car with her ridiculous note?  Was I taking the spot she so desperately needed for her dog groomer?  I wasn’t the only one blocking the walls of her office, so were the others some sort of Oakland unicorn? Or perhaps they were her coworkers, given special dispensation to park in front of the imaginary loading dock.  We’ve already decided she’s a bit off her rocker.

I think my next move is to sell her character to TV as the next sitcom villain, a la The Soup Nazi.  I’m starting to think she’s make a great long running foil for Jeff Garlin on “The Goldbergs”.  Of course first we’ll need to address the subtle anti-Semitism on that show. I wonder if half of the country even realizes they are Jewish.  There are no cultural religious references past the traditional names Adam, Barry and Murray.  Did you miss that there was not Christmas episode? Instead there was a hilarious Thanksgiving episode, with no religious overtones, no dreidels and no latkes.

Let’s suppose the Goldbergs are highly assimilated.  That’s not a crime.  My paternal grandparents were.  But there home and their lives were not devoid of Jewish culture.  It is who we are and what we know.  No one is going to accuse me of being overly religious or unassimilated.  Yet if you look, there are religious symbols in the home, a beautiful Mezuzah on the door, a few special pieces of art here and there.  Some things should never be forgotten.  I hope that Adam’s family remember that this season.  I do seriously want Big Tasty to some sort of hardcore rap espousing the virtues of the latke.  Badly.

Murray and Pops from the Goldbergs would have a conniption with my nemesis, the parking Nazi.

<breaking the 4th wall> By the way, feel free to suggest a new name for this bitch.  She needs a more appropriate name for the next note I put in their mail box. </rebuilding the 4th wall>

Much like myself, the senior Goldbergs would ponder what type of company could this crazy parking lady work for?  Why would they let her run hundreds of copies of ridiculous notes off their copier?  Why would they allow her to antagonize the neighbors and local color?  You know that downtown Oakland, much like Philadelphia, has more than its share of nut jobs.  Why would you risk antagonizing them?  Is parking rage about to become the crisis of 2015?  I can see that.

Let’s look at her erratic behavior from a different angle.  Perhaps she pays for the copies out of her own pocket, either making the copies at some local copy shop or on her home printer. As you recall the note is written in 40pt font with a marker.  If you owned that company and you saw your employee doing that, wouldn’t you wonder what else she was doing?  More importantly, I might question what she WAS NOT doing by focusing on parked cars.  Which leads me to my most disturbing realization.

She either owns the company or holds a position of ridiculously imbalanced importance.  Oh fuck.  Imagine the poor souls whose employment depends on her making sound business decisions.  I’m still waiting for her to have my car towed.  I will own that fucking company.  Meanwhile, I guess I will work up a character treatment and see if I can get a meeting in Hollywood.

I’ve seen Episodes.  How hard can it be?

A Song of Geekery, Prose and Art

I’m sure this won’t come as a surprise to most of my 30 readers, but I’m a bit of a geek.  I know you probably aren’t surprised because if you are visiting my little vanity project here  you are probably a good friend of mine.  (Your visits are always appreciated.)  For those of you that don’t already know (I think that’s 3 of you), I worked in a comic shop in college.  More specifically the non-comic company center of the universe in the mid to early 80’s.  That explains the 15,000 or so comics and cache of original art I have. And my banner here.  About 15 years ago I added a new category to my myriad geekery – A Song of Ice and Fire.  You probably know it better by “A Game of Thrones.”

In 1983 one of my best friends handed me a copy of  Fevre Dream by George R.R. Martin and said it was the best vampire novel.period.  He was right.  Thanks Carl.  Thus began my love of the collected works of Mr. Martin.  His next novel was the Armageddon Rag, a rock and roll horror story.  I’ve never understood why it was not more popular.  It was, in my opinion, the perfect book for the time, with Reaganomics changing our culture, the Rolling Stone generation had hit a crossroads that I felt and saw. Add some horror and kick ass Victor Moscoso cover (on the Limited Edition) and you have the perfect book.  Try to see the words in the negative space in the picture.  Its one of the great features of the cover. Oh yes, I love my horror and my 60’s Rock Posters.  You already know our home is teeming with vintage Fillmore Posters.

Martin quickly became one of my favorite writers.  I devoured everything he wrote or contributed to.  Have you read the wild card series?  George and several others take comic concepts — super heroes, mutants and aliens — and place them in our history to create shared world series of mosaic novels, short stories and novellas.  It’s required reading if you love comics.  Or music.  Spoiler Alert – in this world Frank Zappa is a general and The Lizard King (Mr. Mojo Risin’) is a villain.  Great stuff. But in 1996, it all changed.

The internet was still developing and information flowed differently.  I got my book and literary information by going to Barnes and Noble once a week or so.  I saw on the new releases table A Game of Thrones, the first book of A Song of Ice and Fire.   Not only was different from anything George had written, but it was one of the singular best pieces of fiction I’d ever read.  Thus began my love of all things Westeros.  You thought Lost (the TV show) was complex and full of mysteries? Nope.  The slowly exposed back story, puzzles hidden in the background, and unreliable narrators make these books a serious investment in thoughts and emotion; a cost that pays off in spades.

I’ve been a huge fan from day one.  It was several years later when it dawned on me that level of detail (nothing in ASOIAF is insignificant) was a fertile field of information, perfect for an internet forum.  And there it was –  Westeros.Org.  If you haven’t been there, you should go.  It’s a wonderful community (minus a few trolls, as with anywhere in cyberspace).  Elio and Linda have set up, grown and maintained an important resource for years.  With the increased interest from the wonderful HBO adaptation, it’s even more needed and appreciated.  I have benefited greatly from the discussions and friendships that have grown from being part of  that on-line community.   The Brotherhood without Banners (you’ll see them in Season 3 of Game of Thrones) is the George RR Martin fan club and has a home there.

Yes, I’m a bit of a zealot.  But it’s rational — who doesn’t want to share something they love?  I was able to make Lambchop a convert several years ago.  It took a while, but I finally got my brother to get on board and he reads far less than we do.  Even my father watches the HBO version and then calls on Tuesdays with questions.  Even though we are heavily invested in all things Westeros, Lambchop was hesitant when I insisted we go to the World Science Fiction Convention in Reno last year.   Afterwards, after making friends and being knighted by George (we and several others are now Awful Awful Knights) we were thrilled to be going again this year.

Last year we met John Picacio, a gifted artist.  His work is well represented in my book collection — He’s done the cover for several Dan Simmons novels, another of my favorite authors.  John did the art work for the 2012 ASOIAF calendar.  He debuted the art at the convention and we were blown away.  Needless to say we were thrilled to find out he was producing limited edition prints of the images.  And who doesn’t want to support people they genuinely like?  I know I do.  Of course I had to get some. I did and off to the framer they went.  Lambchop was excited to have these prominently displayed in our house.

Several years ago, through Westeros.org I had met Mike Miller.  He had done the comic art work for The Hedge Knight.  The Hedge Knight was the first of a planned seven novellas that help solve several of the mysteries in ASOIAF by slowly revealing history.  Being the comic geek I am, I was thrilled to be able get several nice pages from him, including an alternate cover, which I consider to be the iconic image of that series.  Through Facebook (isn’t social media wonderful?) I have kept abreast of Mike’s work and was able to acquire the cover to one of the issues.

Yesterday was a red-letter geek day.  We had gotten a call from the frame shop where the 5 prints from John were being framed.  We had spent some serious time pondering how best to frame and display this spectacular artwork. When we got to the framers, they purposefully took their time bringing the pieces out.  Lambchop was clearly touched by what a great job they did and how it all looked.  But they brought out the Jon Snow piece last.  It was stunning and she teared up in happiness. There really isn’t  much that compares to seeing someone you love in the throes of unbridled joy.  Tyrion found a home a top the book-case next to the Wall by Martina Pilcerova, who also does some wonderful work.

After our framing adventure, we went by FedEx where they were holding a package for me.  Being a consultant, I can’t really have packages delivered where I work; I think it is bad form.  I wasn’t sure what it was, but I had a sense.  I was hoping it was the piece from Mike.  Indeed it was.   Lambchop hadn’t seen the original and seeing the color version next to the pencil and ink it was clear these needed to be framed together.  I guess I’m going back to the framer.   I might need to buy a bigger house if only for the wall space.