Tommy Ingram's Eclectic Variety Show

How these curiosities would be quite forgot, did not such idle fellows as I am put them down.

So Long, Bannatyne

I’ve been thinking about this site lately.

You probably haven’t noticed, because I doubt whether regular readers of this blog actually exist, but I haven’t posted here in a while. I have tried to maintain a more or less weekly schedule, but in the last few months that’s dropped off, and the last few weeks have been especially sparse. I haven’t written anything here that I’d consider fully developed in about a year. My Demon’s Souls post series kind of died off (though I still hold out some hopes of reviving it). As for the Half-Life articles, forget it. I was running on fumes for the last half of 2012—everything I posted was prescheduled capsule reviews of movies I’d watched in the summer. After that I had absolutely nothing except personal updates and two-sentence concert notices.

I started this blog when I was in grade 10. The post that is still the most popular item on the blog was written then. Mainly it was an outlet for some short fiction I was writing at the time. As it turns out, the fiction was embarrassing, and I hope against hope that all trace of it has been erased from the Internet’s vasty memory. The other stuff I wrote was criticism, which was terrible but not as terrible. Incidentally, I’m slowly beginning to realize that I have a knack for non-fiction, but it will be a long time before I’m able to write a presentable short story or novel.

As I read more and more widely and encountered different kinds of critical writing, I imitated it, which resulted in a patchwork of styles—sometimes academic in imitation of some highbrow book I had read, sometimes sardonic in the manner of countless online reviewers. The site has served me well as a writing laboratory, but I’m beginning to feel a little constrained by it. I’m beginning to see more and more paid writing projects. I’m making a good portion of my meagre income from editing. I’m also beginning to perform music and teach professionally. This site has a lot of baggage I wouldn’t mind leaving behind. I’m also extremely busy for most of the year, which means that I don’t have time for a weekly posting schedule even if I write well in advance.

The Eclectic Variety Show no longer serves my purposes, and while it may very occasionally amuse my few readers, they will no doubt find other equally interesting diversions online. TV Tropes is a good standby. I’ve heard good things about the SCP Foundation. The Last Psychiatrist is by turns provocative, intriguing, and infuriating. Rich Frye has 61 Feldenkrais lessons available for free on his site. Less Wrong is sometimes howlingly stupid, but almost always interesting and the quote threads are nice. You will probably not miss me for long.

So here’s what I’m going to do. This site will remain up until such a time as WordPress decides to close it down. I may check in from time to time to clear out the cobwebs, but don’t hold your breath. Sometime soon, I will hopefully create a new site. I will explore other venues, but it will probably still be here on because WP is a prime example of Doing It Right. I will operate under the name “Tom Ingram”, which is what I’ve been doing since first-year university anyway—I just left this site the same for continuity’s sake. The site will also take my name out of the title. That was something I never liked about this blog, but I couldn’t think of something better.

There will be a very relaxed posting schedule. Stuff will go up when it’s done. Ideally this will lead to more complete and more fully realized content being put on the site, even if it means there are fewer updates overall. I will make a concerted effort to do more small posts as well, though I can’t promise anything once the shitstorm that is Fall 2013 begins, but we’ll see.

Subject matter will continue to be eclectic. I will continue to talk about classical music and video games, but I also want to go into weightier issues on occasion. I took a hiatus from writing about politics and religion after I realized that all the stuff I had secretly or pseudonymously written when I was 14 was not just stupid but pernicious. Now I think I’ve gained a little perspective, at least enough to write stuff that will neither embarrass me nor land me on watch lists.

So farewell. It’s been fun and I have appreciated every comment and thumbs-up I’ve gotten over the years—even that one time I poked John Scalzi when I probably shouldn’t have. When the new site is up I will provide a link. Until then here’s some music:


Review: Wandering Stars

The list of Jewish science fiction writers is extensive and includes several big names. Picking up Wandering Stars: An Anthology of Jewish Fantasy and Science Fiction was a no-brainer: it included stories by Avram Davidson, Isaac Asimov, Robert Silverberg, and Harlan Ellison. The editor is Jack Dann, whose name I erroneously thought I recognized (but it’s a fortuitous error, as it turns out). The idea of a collection of SF and fantasy stories on Jewish themes is interesting and (for WASPy goyim like me) refreshingly unusual.

After an introduction by Isaac Asimov, the first story is by William Tenn, an old-school science fiction writer who has not published much since the fifties and sixties, and is largely forgotten today. It’s a story about aliens who want to become Jews. Actually, it turns out that if you ask twelve authors to write SFF stories on Jewish themes, 25% of them will be about aliens who want to become Jews. Of the three (or possibly four, if you want to count Ellison’s contribution), Tenn’s is by far the best. It’s the funniest, and beneath the humour there is the angst and strained optimism we expect from Jewish fiction. By contrast, Robert Silverberg’s story seems disappointingly bland, and Carol Carr’s is just suicide-inducing. Read the rest of this entry »

Review: Iron Man 3

Iron Man was an above average superhero movie. Iron Man 2 was was a joke. But those were on the far side of the singularity that was The Avengers. The future of comic book movies has been uncertain ever since last year. It seems like a bubble just waiting to pop, and after pulling out all the stops for what was ultimately a debut effort, it looked like Marvel and company would not be able to follow it up convincingly. Especially since the next scheduled release was Iron Man 3, a movie for which I and many others had understandably conservative hopes. Read the rest of this entry »

Recent reading

Troy and Homer by Joachim Latacz (translated from the German). An overview of research that has been done at the site of Troy in the latter half of the 20th century, bringing the average person’s knowledge up to date. Contains some tantalizing historical details, a broad and eclectic knowledge base, and ingenious speculation. Incidentally teaches a lot about how archaeology and historical reconstruction actually work in practice to those enthusiasts without much experience in the field. An easier read if you have at least a fuzzy knowledge of ancient Greek history.

Keep the Aspidistra Flying by George Orwell. A hilarious observant novel packed with well-drawn characters. A welcome break from Orwell’s gloomy political fare. Rather hard to find, but well worth it.

East of Eden by John Steinbeck. My second Steinbeck novel, the first being The Grapes of Wrath. Contains many of the same Steinbeck fixations—long digressions describing California landscapes, overt Biblical references, characters with significant initials, synecdoche. Extraordinarily beautiful but perhaps a little too long, especially given that it spoils the ending less than halfway through so there’s a few hundred pages of waiting for the inevitable.

A Concise History of Avant-Garde Music from Debussy to Boulez by Paul Griffiths. Very informative, especially for those of us who are tempted to dismiss all avant-garde music after Schoenberg. Takes an inside view of this kind of music, describing it the way its proponents would like it described. The result is that people like me have a clearer picture of what we’re up against, but Griffiths comes off like a raving partisan because he never takes a moment to situate this music in a larger context or note how bizarre some of the theory behind it actually is.

How to Win Friends and Influence People by Dale Carnegie. A very useful and easy read, as it promises. Contains advice that is practically vital for people like me whose instinct is to shun their fellow man as much as possible. Also occasionally gives you the feeling that you’re looking into the depraved inane mind of capitalism. A very good read if you are socially isolated and into Lovecraft.

Awareness Through Movement by Moshe Feldenkrais and Singing With Your Whole Self: The Feldenkrais Method and Voice by Samuel H. Nelson and Elizabeth Blades-Zeller. I’ve been taking Feldenkrais classes for a while now to alleviate some postural problems and improve my clarinet playing. These two books contain exercises that you can do by yourself away from the group classes. They’re both excellent, but the Nelson-Blades-Zeller book has a few advantages over Feldenkrais’s own. Its theoretical discussions are written with a practical use in mind, which is especially helpful if you are a musician. Its explanations are generally clearer than Feldenkrais’s, and the instructions in the lessons are easier to read and understand. There are also more lessons, and each lesson has a substantial introduction explaining what it does and why. The lessons really do work amazingly well, but the way Nelson and Blades-Zeller present them is preferable. Much of what they say applies to wind players as much as it does to singers.

Detention (2011)

Genre Horror
People Joseph Kahn d.w.; Josh Hutcherson a.p.; Spencer Locke; Dane Cook; Shanley Caswell
/10 6

A group of high school students (whose teenage solipsism is represented by shooting their respective scenes as if they were different movie genres) team up to stop a serial killer who’s murdering them one by one.

When this movie came out I was excited by the premise but due to its limited release I wasn’t able to see it. An entertaining and somewhat meaningful movie could be made off of that premise, and the script would basically write itself. This is not that movie; this is something infinitely stranger that doesn’t lend itself easily to description.

It’s cut together in a very abstract way and it moves fast. The dialogue is so mind-numbingly saturated with pop-cultural references that it’s difficult to tell what they’re talking about. Plot points are raised and discarded at a whim. I’m still trying to process this movie some time after having seen it. It’s not bad, exactly, just inexplicable.

By the way (and believe it or not), Dane Cook is actually one of the most easily acceptable things about this movie. That makes two bearable film roles for him (the other being that movie where he gets killed with a shovel).

1h35m; 2011; Colour

Review: Baldur’s Gate: Dark Alliance II

2001’s Baldur’s Gate: Dark Alliance was an underappreciated little game. Built on the Dungeons and Dragons RPG system and connected tenuously to the earlier Baldur’s Gate games, it was a short, self-contained little fantasy adventure that avoided most of the pitfalls of the genre. Hubs and NPCs were few and the vast space between them was filled with some serious dungeon crawling. The gameplay was straightforward hacking and slashing with very little to complicate it. The inane fantasy dialogue was rare and mostly not spoken aloud—and the voice acting wasn’t half bad. It was short enough that you could complete it in a day, and the sense of continuity of gesture that this provided greatly enhanced the game. The plot made continual ill-fated attempts to shock you with twists, but this just added to its charm. It was like a daytime soap meets Tolkien meets Half-Life 2.

The sequel came out in 2004 and became instantly scarce. It is almost impossible to find at used game stores—and has been for nearly a decade now—and even online it has held steady at an exorbitant markup for the past few years. The upshot of this is that I, no doubt like many others in my situation, matured or at least grew significantly older during the time between playing the two games. I know now that Dark Alliance‘s story-telling is nothing to write home about, and that the game’s strengths lie in the overall experience it offers, not its literary quality. So some of the disappointment of Baldur’s Gate: Dark Alliance II could be due to the loss of youthful enthusiasm. Read the rest of this entry »

A Simple Plan

Genre Crime
People Sam Raimi d.; Scott Smith w.; Danny Elfman m.; Bill Paxton; Bridget Fonda; Billy Bob Thornton; Brent Briscoe; Chelcie Ross; Becky Ann Baker; Gary Cole
/10 7

Three small-town men (Paxton, Thornton, Briscoe) discover a wrecked airplane in the woods with a dead body and $4.4 million in a duffel bag inside. Based on the novel by Scott Smith.

A comparison with No Country For Old Men is illuminating. It’s essentially the same story (though this movie was released several years before McCarthy’s novel was written) and fills much the same purpose. The money, the moral compromises and ensuing deaths, the apocalyptic tone and ultimate pointlessness are all the same. But No Country the book and film are both superior.

It’s not bad, exactly, although it’s agonizing to watch for the same reason an episode of Seinfeld is. There are some pretty good performances and it’s fairly well-written. It’s just superfluous and not very exciting.

2h1m; 1998; Colour; Oscar nods for Supporting Actor (Thornton) and Adapted Screenplay (Smith)

New books

Lately it seems that May through August is the only time I have to read science fiction. I’ve been making preparations in order to squeeze in as much as I can. One such preparation is knocking over Nerman’s Books, a nice little used book and antique store on south Osborne. The difficult thing about science fiction is that all the most important authors are out of print, so a used book store with a good science fiction section is a boon.

There are some miscellaneous short story collections—an anthology from New Worlds Quarterly, an anthology of fiction by Jewish authors, and an Avrahm Davidson collection. Orsinian Tales is a Le Guin book I know nothing about, but I enjoyed The Left Hand of Darkness enough to feel safe blindly picking up something of hers. Gateway is a Frederik Pohl book that I’ve been meaning to read for a while now because its premise interested me.

The Illearth War is Donaldson’s sequel to Lord Foul’s Bane, which was the literary equivalent of getting the cherry-filled chocolate from a Pot of Gold box at Christmas. The series has the potential to be better (the first book by all rights should have been better), and I’m curious to see if it actually gets better. But not $10 curious, so I’m buying it used this time.

The last one is Lin Carter’s study of The Lord of the Rings. My memories of The Lord of the Rings are generally positive, but I haven’t read it since I was thirteen and my mind is a little fuzzy on the details. I’m mostly interested in this book because of Carter. From what I’ve heard, he was a good editor and instrumental in getting a lot of important stuff published and reprinted, but his own writing is subpar and his scholarship is laughable—indeed, it set the tone for countless barely coherent fanboy rants over the past thirty years or so, my own included. If I can gather enough material for an article on this, I might just do one.

Still on the “to-read” pile is Shirley Jackson’s We Have Always Lived In The Castle, which I bought in August and didn’t get a chance to read before the school year got into full swing, and David Foster Wallace’s The Pale King, his incomplete third novel (not SF, but also in the “bought ages ago and haven’t read yet” category).

Django, Elgar, and others

I finally got round to seeing Django Unchained. Much like Inglourious Basterds, it’s very funny, very violent, and very disturbing. Tarantino manages the tension in a scene like a virtuoso, Foxx is a badass but with depth, Waltz is an amazing actor, and the other leads distinguish themselves as well. The KKK raid scene with Jonah Hill (who’s beginning to make a name for himself as a real actor) is a particular comic high point. The depiction of the pre-Civil War South is raw and unsettling. It’s something that needs to be seen and rarely is, but it is not for the squeamish. The idea of all this being done by a white guy adds an uncomfortable racial twist to a topic that already has enough—Basterds did not have the same problem, oddly.

I finished Baldur’s Gate: Dark Alliance II on Friday evening. I hope to put up a full review some time soon, but I can’t do it right now because I’m busy mentally preparing for an important concert. Speaking of which: tomorrow, April 8, is the final performance of the University of Manitoba Symphony Orchestra’s 2012-13 season. On the program is Mozart’s Symphony no. 33 in B-flat Major, K.319; Tchaikovsky’s Rococo Variations (Edvany Silva, cello), and Elgar’s Enigma Variations, op.36. This is the orchestra’s final performance under the direction of Richard Lee, who is leaving the WSO and the U of M after this season. The concert is 7:30 at Westworth United Church. Tickets are $15 or $5 for students.

I’ve had a lot of fun with the Elgar, and it’s taught me a lot about symphonic playing. People familiar with the piece will know that the principal clarinet features very prominently throughout, but especially in the thirteenth variation, where I play an extremely quiet solo above barely audible strings and a timpani played with coins for a mechanical effect. It’s the most tense, poignant moment in a piece full of tension and poignancy. It’s an honour to be able to play it, and a great learning experience besides.

As for Richard Lee, I have gained a lot from my brief period playing under his baton. He is ruthless and uncompromising but fair. He’s done wonders for the U of M orchestra, and I hope he succeeds in his future endeavours.

The really good news is that, with classes drawing to a close, I will soon have the time and energy to post more often in this space. I have lots of ideas floating around that I would love to put into words, and by the last two weeks of April, I’ll finally be able to.

WSO’s 2013-2014 season

It’s finally been announced. The current season, when it was announced last year, appeared to be packed full of crowd-pleasers, many of which turned out to be disappointing. This program, on the other hand, is smaller and full of oddities and surprises, with just enough tentpole works (i.e., Beethoven and Mahler) to keep everything running smoothly. Let’s take a look: Read the rest of this entry »