Sugar and Daisy Pause and Contemplate the True Meaning of Memorial Day

And hope you will too, between the relaxing and grilling and enjoying the of the traditional start of the American summer.

A Seasonal Greeting From Daisy

Daisy ecumenically wishes you a Merry Christmas, Happy Hanukkah, brilliant solstice, joyous Kwanzaa and all the best for the coming year. And so do I!

Daisy Practices Her “I Am Very Sad In a Way That Only Food Will Solve” Face

It’s a pretty impressive look. Sometimes it even works!

(A reminder to people about to comment on her chunkiness that she is half mastiff. She looks chunky no matter what.)

Zeus and Daisy, Just Chillin’, Y’all

And if you have a problem with it, it’s your problem, not theirs. Clearly.

Daisy in the Yard

She certainly can be photogenic, when she makes an effort.

This particular picture captured by the cell phone, incidentally. The camera on it isn’t bad in a pinch.

Daisy and Lopsided Cat Pose For Their Spring Portraits

And as you can see, it was a lovely day for it. So lovely, in fact, that I spent most of it away from the computer. And I would do it again. Don’t worry; tomorrow’s supposed to be rainy and 20 degrees cooler. I’ll be back inside then.

Daisy’s Day Gets Better

Because one of the neighbor dogs wandered over to play with her. They ran around the yard for a good half hour, being goofballs. And yes, as you can see, the yard is now visible; it’s 54 degrees outside and the snow is in retreat. Good riddance.

While I was taking photos the dogs were moving fast enough that the “rolling shutter” phenomenon of digital cameras came into play. You can see a little of it in the picture above by looking at the neighbor dog’s front left paw, but here’s a photo in which it’s really pronounced:

I think that’s kind of a cool look, personally.

In any event, Daisy’s bounced back from her morning. It’s a reminder of something we sometimes forget: When you’re having a bad day, friends help.

A Daisy Dog Update

We’re closing in on the one-month mark of our ownership of Daisy, so I thought I’d catch you all up on her status. Basically, it’s gone very well, and she’s become pretty fully integrated into the Scalzi clan. In particular, the cat/dog issue seems to have been resolved to everyone’s satisfaction: The cats seem to understand Daisy is here for the long haul, and Daisy gets that the cats are family, and everyone gets along. They don’t cuddle up like the cats (well, Zeus and Ghlaghghee) did with Kodi, but it’s still early days.

Daisy definitely has her own personality. For one thing, she’s an attention hog: if one the cats is being petted she will headbutt her way into the pet session, because apparently no reason she shouldn’t get pets if someone else is. For another thing, she knows what’s allowed and what’s not but subscribes to the “if you didn’t see it, it didn’t happen” theory of morality, which allows her to get premium nap time on beds, which she knows she’s not allowed on but will get up on anyway. When I get up from my desk the first sound I usually hear is a soft thump as the dog quietly jumps down from whatever piece of furniture she knows she’s not supposed to be on, followed by the dog head popping out into the hallway to find out where I am. She’s a sneaky one.

Also, she’s a very excitable dog. Having an older dog for the last few years dimmed the memory that a favorite mode for dogs is run! everywhere! really fast! Well, I’ve gotten well-acquainted with that dog mode once again, and I have cause to observe that it’s actually a good thing I have 5 acres of lawn, because Daisy has made herself informed about every single square inch of it. This is not a bad thing for me, since what she enjoys most of the world is running around the yard with someone running after her, arms flailing, howling like the Cookie Monster set on fire, and guess who, as the work-at-home person, gets to do that. As a result, I’m getting a whole lot of exercise and looking entirely foolish as I do so.

And there we are. This is the end of “what’s up with our new dog” posts, I think; from here on out, when I post about Daisy, she’ll just be referred to as “the dog.” She’s one of us now, and she seems to be as happy about it as we are. And that’s a good thing for everyone.

Daisy, Drowsy

For the folks who are saying to themselves “it’s been two days and no new pictures of Daisy,” you can reset your clocks: Here she is via one of the faux-retro cameras that are all the rage on cell phones these days. Note the photo scratches! That’s your assurance of fake authenticity! The picture is of Daisy in her crate; she came crate-trained, which is actually a very good thing.

I’m also happy to say Daisy does now appear to grasp the concept that the cats are full fledged members of the family and not to be hugged using one’s teeth. The cats are still not thrilled by Daisy’s presence but seem to be accepting it with that sort of huffy exasperation they do so well. This counts as material progress, and makes me happy that we’re getting this all resolved before it actually gets cold and the cats basically stay in the house full time because, hey, it’s warm here. That would not be the time for animal personality conflicts.

Also, Daisy snores. It’s cute.

 

Meet Daisy

What we did with our Saturday: We went and got ourselves a new dog. Her name is Daisy, she’s a two-year-old laborador-mastiff  mix, and we got her through a local rescue service. Her previous owners were no longer able to care for her, which had nothing to do with Daisy and everything to do with their own personal situation. Daisy is housetrained and responds to commands and so far seems pretty happy. The cats are extraordinarily pissed, as they of course would be, although Daisy is not at all aggressive toward them so far. We assume they will get over it soon.

And that’s what I have for you at the moment, inasmuch as we’ve had the dog for all of 90 minutes now. More updates as events warrant. In the meantime, however: Say hello to Daisy.

I Was Going To Post a Roundup of All the Nonsense of Trump’s First Week as President, But Then I Decided You’d Probably Like These Pet Pictures Better

First off, here’s Zeus, winking saucily. Oh, Zeus! You Lothario!

And here’s Daisy, appearing to be having a bit of an existential crisis, with luggage. She’s not really having an existential crisis, by the way. She just has Resting Existential Crisis Face.

There, I think this was a much better choice! For each of us and for the nation!

A Year of Scamperbeastery

A year ago today we went over to my mother-in-law’s neighbor’s house and took possession of two eight-week-old kittens there. These kittens, tentatively named Thing One and Thing Two, eventually became known as Sugar and Spice, aka the Scamperbeasts. It’s been a pretty good year for them since then, as they’ve become beloved members of the Scalzi household, with Sugar becoming especially partial to Daisy, our large galumphing dog, and Spice apparently enjoying alternately antagonizing and adoring Zeus, the senior cat of the household.

Over the space of the year, other aspects of their personality have sussed out as well. Sugar, appropriately, is the cuddly the one — she likes sleeping with (or on) the humans in the household and will actively seek one out for pettings and affection. Spice also likes affection but on her terms, which is usually at 4am, when she will leap on the bed with a series of loud chirps. Sugar has claimed the front room as her primary domain; Spice prefers the master bedroom.

However, both these days prefer being outside. Once they were large enough not to be taken away by hawks, we let them out to roam around the Scalzi Compound, pursuant to our tradition of having our cats not only be pets, but working animals. To recap, there are agricultural fields on three sides of us, and in the fall, a lot of the rodents who had been living in the fields start looking for somewhere warm, and our house looks good to them. So the cats basically set a perimeter. As it happens, both of the Scamperbeasts are really good at the whole “don’t let rodents into the house” thing, and they pretty much stay outside until they are tired or decide they want kibble or petting. They’re country girls at heart. We’ll see what happens once it starts getting really cold overnight, however.

A year ago I was initially reluctant to take two kittens — more accurately, I was in the market for only one, although when both Athena and Krissy decided we should take two I didn’t put up too much of a fight — but I have to say that a year it, taking the two instead of just one seems to have been the right call. In the early months especially they kept each other company; these days they are rather more independent of each other but they are still obviously affectionate sisters. They make for quite a pair.

As I said, a good year for them, I think, and for us. We’re glad they’re with us and we look forward to them being with us for as long as they are. It’s been lovely to see them grown from kittens to cats. Here’s to the rest of it.

The Big Idea: Laura Lam

Book ideas can come from anywhere — but the time they take to get to an author can, well, vary. In the Big Idea for her novel False Hearts, author Laura Lam traces the path of the idea that became to dual hearts of her story.

LAURA LAM:

Sometimes book ideas hit you in a sudden burst of inspiration. You want to yell “Eureka!” even if you’re at your desk in your day job, or in the middle of the aisle while shopping for food. All the pieces tumble into place and you have a plotted book sitting in your head within a couple of hours or a few days. Other times, it seems to come in frustratingly small dribs and drabs: you love this premise or this idea for a character, but you don’t yet know how to work it into a plot and what world it should take place in, so it ends up percolating for a while before finally coalescing into something you can work with.

False Hearts was more the second process. I had the Eureka premise hit me clear on the side of the head and I was really excited by it, but then the idea had to marinate a little. I can pinpoint to the exact moment I had the idea; it was lunchtime on February 25, 2013, less than a month after my first book, Pantomime, had been released. I’d finished the sequel, Shadowplay, and I was slowly working on the third book, Masquerade, even though it didn’t yet have a contract. I figured I should work on something else, too, just in case.  This proved to be a good move, as the imprint of the publisher that released my first books folded a few months later.

That lunchtime, I read this article on io9 by Annalee Newitz about conjoined twins Daisy and Violet Hilton. Daisy and Violet were conjoined at the hip and famous on the vaudeville circuit. They were sadly treated badly by their family and various managers, and their lives were a series of ups and downs. When vaudeville started winding down, they ended up moving into cinema. The article had a clip from Chained for Life, where both twins have to go on trial for a murder one of them committed.

Wham. Book idea: what if your literal other half was accused of murder, and you weren’t entirely sure whether or not they’d done it? How far would you go to find out the truth?

I have identical twin nephews and see how close they are. They fight, sure, but at the end of the day, they are inseparable. I started researching conjoined twins, watching interviews, documentaries, and reading a lot of nonfic. But it took a while to figure out what I should actually do with that idea—what genre, where it should be set, how everything was going to actually fit. In little dribs and drabs, it came together. With each new snippet, I did more research (subjects included futuristic architecture, possible medical advancements, how mobs work, how cults work, neuroscience, how drugs and dreams affect the brain). In the end, I wrote a thriller set in near-future San Francisco. I grew up in the Bay Area, but moved to Scotland when I was 21, so it was a nice excuse to go home in my imagination for a while.

The San Francisco of False Hearts looks like a utopia at first glance. Poverty is all but erased. There aren’t any major world-scale wars. Health care is free and advanced. Crime seems a thing of the past. The SF bay glows green at night from the algae they farm to bolster the food supply, along with orchard skyscrapers and vat-grown meat. Everyone has ocular and auditory implants, streaming information directly into their cortex. When pent up emotions grow overwhelming, people go to one of the many Zeal Lounges throughout the city, plugging into the drug that lets you exorcise your dark desires in dreams. They come out of the trip refreshed and soporific. A little more tractable. A little easier to control.

The twins in False Hearts, Taema and Tila, were born conjoined at the chest in a cult set where Muir Woods is now. This cult, Mana’s Hearth, has been completely cut off from modern technology, and they essentially live like 1969 summer of love hippies. Like many cults, there’s a sinister undertone. Changing yourself in anyway is considered sacrilege—if you’re ill, you can use some rudimentary herbs, but otherwise you must bow to the will of the Creator.

At sixteen, when their shared heart starts to fail, Taema and Tila do not bow. They run.

In San Francisco, there is a pressure to fit into the narrow confines of what society considers perfection. Thanks to gene therapy and walk-in flesh parlours, people rarely let themselves age. Society has no idea what to do with conjoined twins, and, though the twins don’t really want to, they are pressured into being separated and fitted with mechanical hearts. Over the next ten years, the sisters subtly drift apart.

Then, one night, Tila stumbles into Taema’s house, covered in someone else’s blood. She’s arrested by the first murder from a civilian in decades. It’s all kept out of the papers, and soon Taema is given a proposal: they think her sister was involved with the Ratel, the underground mob of San Francisco that deal in a dangerous new dream drug called Verve. If Taema takes her sister’s identity and works with an undercover detective and finds out what’s going on in the Ratel, then SFPD might let her sister live rather than being thrown into stasis for her crimes.

Taema can’t stand that her sister has kept such a big secret from her. It eats at her. So she follows her sister into the dark underbelly of San Francisco, and ends up realising they didn’t leave their past as far behind as they’d hoped. At first, Taema is sure that her sister was not capable of murder. The father she falls down the rabbit hole, the less sure she is: and if Taema’s sister is capable of murder, what does that say about her?

—-

False Hearts: Amazon|Barnes & Noble|Indiebound|Powell’s

Read an excerpt. Visit the author’s site. Follow her on Twitter.

My Non-Spoilery Review of The Force Awakens

Super-short version: It’s not bad! Best since the original trilogy and arguably better than at least one of those. You’ll probably have a whole lot of fun with this film.

Non-super-short version: Star Wars is that friend of yours who you haven’t seen in a while, who was in a long-term relationship where everything was cool for a while and then things just plain went to hell, and the last time you saw them, they’d kind of hit the bottom. Now you’re seeing them again for the first time in years and before they show up you’re humming a little mantra that goes please please please please don’t let this be awkward and weird like it was the last time we saw each other.

And then they show up! And they look great. They sound great. You talk to them and slip into the groove with them, and they catch you up on what’s been going on in their life, including their new relationship with this fab-sounding person who seems to be doing good things for them. And you suddenly realize that for the first time in years your friend actually seems happy. They’re not exactly their old self again — who ever is, after all those years? — but the things you always loved about them are there once more, and you’re so happy to see them happy again that you almost want to cry.

So, yeah: If you’re a Star Wars fan, that’s how you’re going to feel about The Force Awakens.

This is an immense relief, but also, to use the words of a famous Mon Calimarian, it’s a trap. Because it’s Star Wars, and because you’ll have been used to Star Wars films being terrible for so very long, the highly-polished, super-competent and intentionally entertaining film that is The Force Awakens might feel something like a revelation. Finally, a Star Wars film you don’t have to make excuses for! That you don’t have to mumble something like “well, it’s part of a trilogy, you have to wait until the whole thing is done to see the entire structure” to yourself and others in a vain attempt to overlook massive flaws. This is the first Star Wars film in decades that you can relax into, and just sit back and enjoy. It’s not until the tension of having to pre-emptively rationalize your film choices is lifted that you realize what a burden it has been. The absence of that burden might just feel like greatness.

So: is The Force Awakens a great film?

No. It’s not on the level of great cinema. It’s not on the level of the original Star Wars (which I refuse to call A New Hope because fuck you George Lucas you’re not the boss of me) or of The Empire Strikes Back. It’s not the best science fiction film of 2015, or even the best new installment in a long-running science fiction film series (say hello to Fury Road for both, although The Martian and Ex Machina are in the running for the former). It’s not a great film, and you shouldn’t be relieved into thinking it is.

But it is a pretty damn good Star Wars film, which at this point in the series is exactly what it needs to be. This shouldn’t be overlooked, either.

Things to love (or at least really like): The dialogue, by Lawrence Kasdan, JJ Abrams and Michael Arndt, which for the first time since Empire sounds like words that might actually come out of the mouths of actual thinking human beings, and not merely declamatory utterances designed to fill up space. The relationships, of which there are many — more and more believable relationships in this one single film than in the entire run of the series to date. The care with which even minor characters are developed and seem like actual people, rather than toy manufacturing opportunities given a line or two in the film as an excuse to make parents buy the action figure for a stocking stuffer. The fact that Daisy Ridley and John Boyega’s characters (as well as one other character, who you will know when you see the film) are believably young and act like young people do, ie, make some questionable choices, without doing stupid things entirely for plot convenience.

In short, most of the best things about this movie relate to the characters in it — and the care with which the filmmakers use to make them as real as possible. This is the one thing George Lucas could never manage on his own, partly because he’s a leaden writer (Harrison Ford once famously quipped of Lucas’ dialogue “You can type this shit, George, but you can’t say it”), but primarily because I just don’t think he was that interested in it. He needed characters as chess pieces, not as people. In The Force Awakens, we get characters as people, and their game becomes more interesting.

Things not to like? Basically, the several points where the film has to bow to the tropes of the Star Wars universe mostly for plot convenience and fan service. Yes, yes, lasers and explosions and battles and the cute nods to the previous films, they all have to be in there. I get it (trust me, I get it). But for me all of that was a sideshow to the characters — and think about that! When was the last time you could say that about a Star Wars film? (Empire.) There’s also the fact that almost immediately after I left the theater there were a whole bunch of things about the film that I started to pick apart. Trust me, my friends, if you think the nitpickery of the Star Wars universe was positively Talmudic before, wait until the dust settles with TFA. There will be nitpickery galore.

Here’s the important thing about that last bit: On the drive home, I had things I wanted to nitpick — but the operative part of the phrase is “on the drive home.” When I was watching the film, I was in the film. I wasn’t focused on anything other than where I was. And that, my friends, is the goal. When I was the creative consultant for Stargate: Universe, that was actually my job: To read the scripts early and flag all the things that would throw people out of the story before the end credits rolled. It’s okay for the audience to be nitpicky, just afterwards. Managing that is not as easy as it sounds, and certainly the prequel trilogies never achieved it. TFA does.

Which is a testament to Abrams, his fellow screenwriters and to Disney. When Disney bought Lucasfilm I said that it was “the best thing that could happen, especially if you’re a Star Wars fan.” I said it because Disney, whatever other flaws it has (and it has many) understands better than almost any other studio that the audience must be entertained. You grab the audience, you carry them along for two hours, you keep them busy, and you drop them off at the gift shop when you’re done. Disney is relentless about this, and they’re not stupid about it, either, which is to say, Disney doesn’t treat its audience like marks, to be hustled. It treats them as opportunities for a long-term relationship, involving the transfer of cash to Disney.

Cynical? Well, yes. But, look, if what that means is we get good Star Wars films that aren’t painful to watch and tell a fun story while we’re shoving popcorn into our maws — stories with lightsabers — then I’m okay with that. Especially after having slogged through a Star Wars era where the only thing of interest was the merchandising. We’re getting more out of the Star Wars cinematic universe now than we were with Lucas. I don’t see this as a bad thing. “By the sweet and merry mouse above, you will be entertained,” I wrote, when the Disney deal for Lucasfilm was announced.

I was right. I was entertained. And because of the focus on characters in The Force Awakens — a focus I expect to continue through Episodes VIII and IX, and in the new “anthology” films — I am optimistic I will continue to be entertained in the Star Wars universe for a good while yet. I can’t tell you how giddy that makes me.

I don’t need greatness from Star Wars. I just want to have fun with it. And with The Force Awakens, I did. I’m glad my friend is back, and happy.

 

Cat/Kitten Integration Update

Folks have been asking how Sugar and Spice are getting along these days with Zeus, and vice versa. I’m happy to say at this point it looks like integration is fairly complete. Zeus stopped automatically hissing every time he saw the kitten some time back, and now the kittens go up to him on a regular basis and do the nose bop thing. They are not as chummy with Zeus as they are with Daisy, but then, Daisy feels very maternal toward the kittens and that has an influence. Be that as it may, I think we’re on the downward slope of the acclimation hill. Zeus knows the kittens are here to stay.

One Month of the Scamperbeasts

Yesterday marked one month since we adopted Sugar and Spice (previously designated Thing One and Thing Two), and I’m happy to say that the month has been mostly pretty lovely. Sugar is generally the adventurous and fearless one, always looking into cracks and crevasses, and trying to escape into the outside world (which we will not allow until they are large enough not to be easily carried off by birds of prey). Spice is generally the cuddly and affectionate one, although the two of them switch these roles from time to time on a schedule only they know about.

Daisy loves them both and wants to be their mommy — she frequently inserts herself between the kittens and Zeus, particularly early on, when Zeus expressed his displeasure at these new creatures in the house. The good news is that this Zeus does seem to be mostly over this; Sugar and Zeus have been seen touching noses without any hisses or aggressive acts. Spice mostly wants to play with Zeus’ tail.

With the passing of Lopsided Cat, among other things, it was a good time to have kittens in the house, and their general kitten rambunctiousness has been appreciated most of the time — it’s hard to be in a bad mood for long with two kittens scampering around like possessed stuffed animals. It’s not all adorableness, since both of them are reasonable stinky with their poos, and Sugar in particular is occasionally experimental in where she chooses to relieve herself. But that’s mostly been ironed out (thankfully). Overall, it’s been delightful. Kittens are fun.

So, one month down. Hopefully rather more than a decade to go.

Kitten Update, 11/10/15

The kittens are on this side of the stairs because they both climbed over the gate, evidence that the gate is not so much useful as a gate anymore, even if it has some continued utility as exercise equipment. That, combined with the fact that the last flea combing produced no fleas (aided by a spraying with age-appropriate flea treatment, which will be administered again probably tomorrow), means that I’m officially letting the gate come down and the kittens to roam around the house. They’ve already gotten acclimated to Daisy, who loves them to bits, and it’s time they had a little more contact with Zeus, who so far is less than pleased but need to deal with it. So out into the world (defined as “the house”) they go.

I do find the kittens already surprise me. When we got them, lo that whole week ago, I assumed that Thing Two, who is the larger and in many ways more forward of the kittens, would be the troublemaker of the pair, but it turns out that Thing One is the adventurous one — she’s the one who hopped the gate first, who acclimated to Daisy first, and who goes down the stairs at every available opportunity. Thing Two, on the other hand, is a little more cautious (but only a little) and is more openly affectionate, coming over to me meowing to be picked up and petted and so on. It’s nice they are already challenging assumptions and expectations.

This is likely the last regularly-scheduled kitten update here. Before anyone complains, if you think this means there won’t be additional kitten pictures here, quite obviously you’ve never actually visited this site before. There will be tons, I assure you. Just not every single day.

Er, probably.