Dresden Debts

Finished the 7th book in the Dresden series – Dead Beat.  Seeds laid in the previous book come to the forefront right away in this book.


The mystery of the sigil burned into the palm of Dresden’s burned hand is craftily revealed and with it comes the promise of greater power in a time when Harry needs it the most badly.  Halloween Eve is coming and with it the bad guys – this time necromancers – are up to evil on such a scale that war on the Wizard Council is but part of a feint for a more devious plan.


Balanced against all of this and the lure of greater power is the certainty that if Harry goes down that path he will lose himself to fallen angel Lasciel.  She is also known as the Seducer, the Webweaver and the Temptress.


Harry’s little dog is not so little anymore and guards his master well.  A new character, Butters – a timid one man polka playing band – is a techie that ends up becoming much more of a fighter than even Harry thought he could be.  


Handled far more slowly and carefully is the relationship between Harry and Murphy.  She takes off with the mercenary Kincaid from the last book; reading between the lines in an attempt to get some form of reaction out of Harry.  Even though she is absent from most of the book, all of Harry’s actions are predicated on protecting Murphy.  During the course of the story Harry is forced by his half-brother to confront his feelings about Murphy even though nothing is resolved when the two of them meet at the end of the book.


But I can’t wait to see Murphy’s reaction when she finds out she was the reason Dresden took all the risks he did in this story.  If she does find out that is.  My money is on her finding out.


Really enjoying the character arc and growth for Harry.  His power has grown substantially from the first book and so too have the choices Harry has to make.  And the price he has to pay.


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This Friday we are heading to Lake Louise out in the Rockies for the weekend.  It’s a four hour drive from home and I was hoping by the end of March that the worst of winter was behind us.  But it’s been the second coming of winter with snow falling on consecutive days and more in the forecast.  


This could be an interesting trip.

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I Swear By Jupiter’s Cock!

I’ve been reading my first Ramsey Campbell book – Creatures Of The Pool – and after hearing so much praise for him my initial impressions are decidely mixed.  I’m a third of the way into the book and an overwhelming majority of it has been a history and geography lesson of Liverpool.  I’m a big believer in setting but this is going overboard. At this point, very little has been revealed about any of the characters and beyond the story noting how damp everything is, very little of the story itself has yet to be revealed.   I’m probably making a fool of myself at this point with my initial reaction given Campbell’s reputation.  Or maybe I just chose the wrong book to start with.

On the flip side, when I want a fun and quick read I find myself turning to Jim Butcher’s – Dresden Files series.  The book series came to my attention after the short lived TV series. Butcher writes the Dresden books in engagingly dry manner that harkens back to those old hard boiled detective noir style stories and has mixed it with wizardry, magic, and the supernatural.  Harry Dresden is a very sympathetic character who carries the weight of the world on his shoulders and never seems to get a break.  Harry has a great sense of humor which leavens up the grist mill of obstacles and tribulations Butcher puts his poor protagonist through.

If the title of this post rings a bell for you then chances are you too are a viewer of the StarZ series – Spartacus.  The show is in its last season and has followed the story of Spartacus’s capture into Roman slavery, his rise in the gladiatorial arena, and the Slave Revolt he has led against the Romans.  In the final season, which is four episodes in, Julius Caesar himself has been summoned to deal with the ever growing rebellion.

Spartacus

After a first season shaky start in the first four episodes – exacerbated by the show’s signature battle scenes that are very reminiscent of the 300 movie’s slomo bloodfests – the series has crafted a complex and intricately plotted story that constantly presents characters with life and death decisions from which very few walk away alive.  The body count is high and favored characters fall with a degree of regularity that tops that of The Walking Dead.  The difference between Spartacus and The Walking Dead is that with Spartacus, character deaths consistently illicit emotional responses from both sides of the spectrum depending on where your character loyalties lie.

This is a very adult show.  Blood, limbs, heads – cloven whole or in half, and gore flow freely.  So does wine and bodily fluids.  Spartacus is an equal opportunity show – full female and male nudity, yes including that of the frontal variety – are often on display in all the possible configurations and gender pairings possible.  These were violent times and Spartacus captures it all whether it be in the arena, on the battleground, or behind closed doors of a master’s estate. 

Further props have to be given to the cast who undergo a rigorous physical regime to maintain and project the musculature of warriors.  These actors, in very physical roles, then must master many weapon types with swords the most common choice.  The physical aspects of the show are then married with modern technology to create battle scenes that, for my money, surpass most things seen on the much more lauded Game of Thrones.  Another show which I enjoy watching.

Spartacus is a great show that deserves far more acclaim than it has garnered to date.  This is a harsh, gritty world where the characters live and die hard. Check it out. Highly recommended.

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On a writing front I put together a piece of micro fiction and sent it off today.  The deadline is mid-March so it was great to get that one under my belt. Especially since it is my first dribble of fiction writing in ages.

Review of Smart Pop’s The Psychology Of Dexter

The Psychology Of Dexter

Taken from the Smart Pop website ‘About’ page:


‘Smart Pop Books – On the best in Pop Culture Television, Books, And Film’

‘Smart Pop books is a line of smart, fresh funny essays on the best of pop culture tv, books, and film, with particular focus on science fiction and fantasy television and literature.’

From the back cover of Smart Pop’s The Psychology of Dexter book:

‘Millions of us are fascinated by unlikely hero Dexter Morgan – a character who constantly makes us question what being “normal” really means.  What makes Dexter tick? And what makes a show about a serial killer so appealing to those of us at home?

Think you know Dexter?  The Psychology of Dexter will make you think again.’




‘Get Inside The Head Of America’s Favorite Serial Killer,’ is the tagline on the book cover of Smart Pop’s collection of articles about Showtime’s long running series – Dexter.

How successful that mission is accomplished within the seventeen articles that comprise this book will invoke subjective responses from each reader.  In broad strokes the book does a superior job.  The deeper levels are more difficult to quantify because in reading the articles, like watching the show, the journey into Dexter’s mind forces one to hold a mirror up to their own. Which is not always a comfortable exercise.  Each of us has our comfort levels or filters that function at different levels.  Plus our facility for self deception is impossible to address or suppress ie  I could never be like Dexter!  

Many reasons are put forth in the articles in this book as to why viewers are drawn to a show about a serial killer.  Here are the main ones that draw me in:

1) The Dark Passenger  – we all have one.  The vast majority of us have learned how to sublimate it.  With Dexter we get to see it unleashed in a vicarious manner.

2) Social Commentary – the show can be darkly hilarious at times.  Dexter’s outsider observations of accepted normal behaviour are often dryly, darkly, hysterically funny.  ‘He taught me to golf.  I taught him how to kill.  I guess we ARE friends,’ is a paraphrasing of one example of Dexter’s comedic inner monologues.

3)  Justice: Vigilante Style – there is a poetic justice and satisfying emotional symmetry for viewers in seeing other serial killers meeting their ends at the hands of one of their own.  Not only is it satisfying on a base emotional level to have the bad guys meet their ends but to have it done with the tables turned on them so that they experience what their victims felt like, feels so appropriate.  Dexter’s killings may be the work of a serial killer but they feel like justice.

As the book points out, these are not the kind of thoughts that we share openly with each other.  Many refuse to entertain such thoughts, much less share them with others.  None will, however, deny that we all do possess a dark side.  

The articles in, ‘The Psychology of Dexter,’ are all written by psychologists and psychiatrists.  So every article in the book approaches Dexter from a scientific, objective viewpoint.  In Dexter’s case this is understandable given the show has provided ample material which can be studied and used as the basis for their theories.  Even more so, as noted in several of the articles, there is an unique ‘In,’ into Dexter’s mindset because of the dramatization of his inner monologue.

Dexter, naturally, receives the lion’s share of focus in the articles but there is a surprising amount of material about the other characters too.  Not too surprisingly Harry, as Dexter’s father figure and mentor, is often touched upon. Given how much importance is placed on personality development via nature versus nuture, Harry’s importance in Dexter’s development is expected.  

One of the more interesting articles, ‘Rethinking Dexter,’ by Lisa Firestone delves into the premise that Harry’s development of the Code for Dexter is built on a false assumption.  Harry believes that because of the childhood trauma Dexter faced with his mother’s murder that Dexter will be unable to contain his Dark Passenger permanently.  Sooner or later the Dark Passenger will find release and innocent people will die.  Hence Harry’s Code is formulated, funneling Dexter’s murderous tendencies to be used against only those that deserve it; those guilty of murder themselves.

The article further delves into Harry’s personality and suggests his narcisstic needs as a police officer frustrated by his inability to always get the bad guy were transferred to Dexter.  And to Debra as well.  Hence Harry’s ‘Code’ was created instead of seeking counselling for Dexter.  A fascinating article and a perspective that I must admit never occured to me.

Other chapters deal with Dexter’s ability to self delude, to lie without qualms, the psychology of his modus operandi of his kills, Dexter’s inability to feel emotions and empathize with others, how Dexter and his relationship with Harry affected Deb, and Dexter’s evolution of growth over the run of the series  – most notably his relationship with Rita which grew from a convenient cover to something real. There are other chapters that point out ‘normal’ is hard to define and continually evolves in response to social mores.

What the book never tackles, disappointedly, is the concept of good versus evil as palpable forces.  Sometimes people or things are bad for no objective, explainable reasons.  While Dexter certainly has mitigating factors as to how he turned out like he did,  some of the other killers he has run across, may or may not have such factors.  How do people with seemingly normal upbringings and loving parents etc become serial killers?  

Why do people enjoy watching Dexter and find him intriguing?  It may be akin to slowing down to survey a terrible traffic accident.  That, ‘Wow, that’s terrible.  It could have been me. Thank god it was them and not me,’ line of thinking.

Or maybe watching Dexter is a form of sanity check.  After watching the show and/or reading this book: we can all go to bed, turn out the lights, and enjoy a blissful slumber; comforted in the knowledge that our Dark Passengers are firmly under our control.

Or are they?

Fringe Science: Parallel Universes, White Tulips, And Mad Scientists

Fringe Science: Parallel Universes, White Tulips, And Mad Scientists

Taken from the Smart Pop website ‘About’ page:

‘Smart Pop Books – On the best in Pop Culture Television, Books, And Film’

‘Smart Pop books is a line of smart, fresh funny essays on the best of pop culture tv, books, and film, with particular focus on science fiction and fantasy television and literature.’

From the back cover of Smart Pop’s Fringe Science book:

‘Fringe has always been more than the sum of its parts-but its parts, too, are worth a closer look.  The show combines a surfeit of mad science, some old school sci-fi flair, and a dash of strawberry-milkshake whimsy to create the challenging, fascinating Pattern that keeps us coming back season after season and universe after universe.’

Smart Pop line of books are permeated with an aura that reflects a labor of love.  They are books dedicated to genre material filled with content created by and for fans.   Which is an excellent touch because knowing your audience is an enticing way to make a book attractive to your target market.

And who knows a fan better than a fellow fan?  That the fans that provide the content for Smart Pop books have expertise in an area of science or literature or media or all three or more is a sweet bonus.

Take the Fringe Science book for example and it’s eclectic mix of writers and the articles they have provided.  Not only are theoretical and practical sciences covered but articles about Fringe and how it relates to the roots of Science Fiction, be it written or filmed, are included .

Under the guidance of editor Kevin R. Grazier, whose background includes being a research scientist at NASA plus science advisor on shows such as Eureka and BattleStar Galactica, writers have been selected from such diverse vocations as Film Makers, Internet TV Reviewers, Historians, Cosmologists, and Cognitive Sciences Professors.

Like the show that they are writing about, the articles work best when they are crafted in a relatable manner where the topic is tied to the characters of Fringe. One of the articles, ‘ Parallel Universes,’ by Max Tegmark has been retooled from its previous publishing as a MIT article.  It remains dense with abstract concepts and, for this lowly reader, difficult to parse in relatable terms. Regardless, the possibilities raised by this article are mind blowing.

All told there are thirteen articles which are self contained and can be read in any order according to the tastes of the reader.

My personal favorite is, ‘Deja New,’ by Mike Brotherton, an astronomer and SF novelist. It is a timely article given the state of the show which is about to launch its fourth season.  ‘Deja New,’ is much the layman’s version of Max Tegmark’s article. Brotherton calls into duty, the rarely seen but always thought about, Schrodinger’s Cat along with Deja Vu to explore the Fringe stories of alternate realities and choices. Comparisons are made to the original Star Trek episode of, ‘Mirror, Mirror,’ Buffy the Vampire Slayer, SG-1, and Sliders.

Another highlight of the book is noted genre fiction writer and editor, Nick Mamatas with his cleverly titled piece, ‘Waltered States.’  In it, Mamatas compares Walter and Walternate to two noted men of the 1960s; Timothy Leary and Gordon G. Liddy, respectively.  Leary and Liddy were persons of diametrically opposed ideologies with little reason for the two to cross paths. Fate intervened and their lifes became intrinsically interwoven.  So too with Walter and Walternate.  Both sets of men are two sides of a coin. A coin that circumstances or Destiny or Fate have forced them to share.

The book is rounded out with articles on memory, time travel, diseases, neurotechnology, and the 1950s antecedents in film and television which form the foundation upon which Fringe rests.

If you are one that loves to ponder and discuss such topics then Smart Pop’s – Fringe Science is a book that you will want to incorporate into your reality.