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Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Copenhagen cuisine

Had dinner at Nyhavn last night and lunch at National Museum cafeteria today. The food is very good, much better than I remembered from 12 years ago. However, 12 years ago I hadn't the money to eat at such fancy places. Have a very modern, fusion feel. Organic ingredients are touted by chefs and menus. Simplisity seems to be the dominant approach. Good seafood. Still, I have to complain about the price. Ah, only in one place in the world can one find gastronomic ecstacy in any dingy little corner deli for a pittance.

Had excellent fried fish and fish soup in Ystad last Saturday. (Thanks to Barb's recommendations.) Good coffee everywhere.

Another significant change is the large number of Chinese and sushi restaurants in tourist areas. I won't have the chance to try and see if Chinese food here is now finally edible. I am fairly agnostic about the meal plan for the next 2 days, but my fellow traveler insists on doing local cuisine, which is fine, all fine.

At the moment I am sitting in the breathtaking Royal Library by the cannal between the city and Christianhavn. Known as the Black Diamond, the stylish, futuristic new half of the building was finished in 1999 and is joined with the older building. It is full of glass and open space, letting in warm glow of the afternoon. The riverview is so romantic.

Thursday, August 26, 2010

Terribly Happy



丹麦电影---排除 Lars von Trier---似乎隔三岔五会出一部 film noir。上次看了 Just Another Love Story 大概才是去年吧?这又来一部(2008出品)。偏远的乡下小镇被派来一个新警长,镇上居民特别自闭,总是念叨我们这里的事情自己处理,不想外人来插手。一个美丽的女主妇跑来找他帮忙对付家暴的丈夫,警长渐渐泥足深陷 (literally and figuratively)。情节的套路其实并不新奇,但仍然搞出一些新鲜的成份,特别是临近结尾时。


Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Medicine for Melancholy



Medicine for Melancholy 前两年在独立制作影片的圈子里制造了颇不小的一阵轰动。这是一个只有两个人物的恋爱的故事,但它实际上是一封写给三藩市的情书。 "I love this city," 男主角说。"I hate this city, but I love this city."

现在几乎没有人写 Brief Encounter 这种故事了,特别是电影里,萍水相逢,一见钟情,然后迅速分手,几乎绝迹。现在的人不信这种感情,也不干这种事了。 Barry Jenkins 的故事非常没有野心,一对男女青年经过无聊的一夜站之后,一起度过了一天一夜,彼此试探着自己有没有开始一段新恋情的勇气。但是他们各有各的感情包袱。

故事非常淡雅,没有什么情节,几乎没有解释和叙述 (exposition),即使到了结尾我们仍然感觉到只是刚刚认识这两个有意思的年轻人而已,而他们在镜框之外的人生还很长很巨。这正是偶遇邂逅的典型感觉。

影片的摄影风格非常好看,褪成近似黑白的色调,亲密的手执镜头,最重要的是无比浪漫无比深情无比有气质的三藩市的街景。这是一个 collage 类型的艺术作品,手画的线条、发黄的照片、旧报纸,都贴在一起。有些影评嫌它段落混杂,不够连贯有机,但我觉得他要的就是这种跳跃和直观的感觉。影片中有一些直通通的甚至有点confrontational 的关于种族与阶级的讨论,也许是因为出奇的直接,反而不显得生硬和图解了,我能感到Jenkins的意图和矛盾心情却无法用言辞解释---越是放出激烈尖锐的言辞(但是很短片段),越表明传递的感情是难以言喻的。

这种几乎无情节的电影全靠演员的天然魅力和彼此的化学反应撑起来。男主角Wyatt Cynac 过去没演过什么电影,而是在 The Daily Show With Jon Stewart 里面常常客串讲笑话。但是在影片中有种可爱而vulnerable的味儿,跟女主角Tracey Higgins很搭。Higgins的角色非常白描,几乎没有可落脚之处,没有历史,现在的信息也很少,全凭感觉,但立刻可以看出男主角为什么被她吸引。

当然影片的真正主角是三藩市。Through a haze of tender and profound love we see the city with the filmmakers' eye.

Sunday, August 22, 2010


这两天忽然染上了 head cold,在家窝着睡觉,希望周五出发之前能够烟消云散。有一搭没一搭地收拾旅行证件,地图,衣物,之类东西,尽量轻装,祈祷天气不要太坏。

呼啦啦地又看完一本SJ Rozan 的小说。实际上现在我应该读的书是旅行指南,但不知为啥总提不起精神来。哥本哈根三天,看看Tivoli,王宫,Nyhavn,走走stroget,或许坐一趟cruise tour,再挑半天坐火车去一下Frederiksborg,就差不多了。


Saturday, August 21, 2010

GK Chesterton's Defense of Pulp Fiction

Excerpts from A Defense of Penny Dreadfuls

In this matter, as in all such matters, we lose our bearings entirely by speaking of the 'lower classes' when we mean humanity minus ourselves. This trivial romantic literature is not especially plebeian: it is simply human.

[T]his is what we have done with this lumberland of foolish writing: we have probed, as if it were some monstrous new disease, what is, in fact, nothing but the foolish and valiant heart of man. Ordinary men will always be sentimentalists: for a sentimentalist is simply a man who has feelings and does not trouble to invent a new way of expressing them.

If the authors and publishers of 'Dick Deadshot,' and such remarkable works, were suddenly to make a raid upon the educated class, were to take down the names of every man, however distinguished, who was caught at a University Extension Lecture, were to confiscate all our novels and warn us all to correct our lives, we should be seriously annoyed. Yet they have far more right to do so than we; for they, with all their idiotcy, are normal and we are abnormal. It is the modern literature of the educated, not of the uneducated, which is avowedly and aggressively criminal.

[W]ith a hypocrisy so ludicrous as to be almost unparalleled in history, we rate the gutter-boys for their immorality at the very time that we are discussing (with equivocal German Professors) whether morality is valid at all. At the very instant that we curse the Penny Dreadful for encouraging thefts upon property, we canvass the proposition that all property is theft. At the very instant we accuse it (quite unjustly) of lubricity and indecency, we are cheerfully reading philosophies which glory in lubricity and indecency. At the very instant that we charge it with encouraging the young to destroy life, we are placidly discussing whether life is worth preserving.

He sure did hate intellectuals and all other kinds of thinkers and learned men hahaha. For someone like GK Chesterton, being right (or wrong) is entirely beside the point. It's all good and fun and cool, but one can take only a small dose at a time, or one would despair enough to convert to Catholicism too. Excessive cleverness can eat up reality like a black hole eating up matter. In all his anti-hypocrisy observations, intellectual dueling with his contemporaries, and swirling arguments, the ground you stand on quickly disappears, and soon enough there is nothing left beneath your feet. At least that is how I feel every time I take a slight overdose of GKC.

Friday, August 20, 2010

Sketch: The Earnest Dr. M.H.

Dr. M.H. is intense, that I sensed right away in the first meeting he ran. There was a trace of vulnerability and insecurity in his too-eager, too-serious, too-rapid voice. Normally this type of work is rather simple and need no kick-off meeting, he acknowledged, but nevertheless "we're having one anyway."

Men who grow a beard are usually either self-absorbed loners or naturally shy. Dr. H is clearly the latter. He is around 40 with curly brown hair and brown beard. When someone else is talking, he would lean forward and look at the person intently. During the meeting, when I started to make a comment, his gaze packed a bit too much pressure, and I had to shift my eyes to the wall behind him.

It was an interesting contrast: the division boss sitting at one end of the table compared with Dr. H at the other end. The boss is a bald old man with a sagging Sharpei face and a nose blooming with rosacea. His smoke- or alcohol-marinated voice was slow and sarcastic, as if long past giving a damn after decades of stewing in middle management.

Every time after saying, "Let's do this" or "I don't think that will be a problem", Dr. H would quickly shoot a question to the boss, "What do you think Dr. B? Do you agree?" to seek affirmation. Dr. B. would shrug and make a noncommittal noise, raise an eyebrow, and mumble something vague. I wondered whether this drove Dr. H, who clearly needs constant assurance and definitely answers, crazy.

At the end of the meeting, Dr. H spent 10 minutes going over every milestone for the next 6 months while begging every team member to turn in their homework on time. Thankfully the project manager is a motherly middle-aged woman who soothed his anxiety with reassurance that she is on top of everything. He looked like a little boy trying very hard to win adults' trust and approval.

Thursday, August 19, 2010


I have intentionally stayed away from the Sherlock fan site for the past weeks. I like the TV series well enough, but the fans tend to irritate me. On the one hand, I can't possibly join all the teenage girls in their swooning over Mr. Cumberbatch (too skinny) or his thousand-pound coat. On the other hand, the excessively bookish and self-important tone on the above-mentioned fan-site gets on my nerves too. That "Dr" Matt Hill, a "Reader in media cultural studies at Cardiff University," ugh, sounds so ivory tower and starch-collared. And he doesn't even seem to have read the entire canon.

Cardiff 大学的教授,我也曾经认识过一个,不过人家有学问也没有pomposity,爱看香港武打片,热烈地爱着元彪。我对自我感觉太好,在XX系呆得太久的学术派天生就过敏,一靠近就打喷嚏,或者刷刷地流汗。他们的 interpretation ,分析 pop culture 也好,分析莎士比亚也好,都会让我不由自主地从鼻孔里发出“哼”的一声。Dr. Doyle 自有他 campy 的一面,从来没太把自己当回事,也没把这套小说当成牛津文学系课题来写。

也许因为喜欢 Sherlock Holmes 原著的人太多了,人人心中都有一个自己的解释和形象,把自己的出发点深深地代入其中而无法忍受其他粉丝心目中的形象跟自己的印象有所出入。也许因为如此,我至今不爱看绝大部分的“新版”福尔摩斯,Elizabeth George (Inspector Linley 系列的作者) 写的也好,Michael Chabon 写的也好,我都不喜欢不喜欢不喜欢。终于讨到我的欢心的几个作品都只是模仿借鉴原著的精神但不实际套入人名地名,明显地向原著致意但保持一定的距离。This is one of the things that I am extremely touchy about. Don't touch the canon because it is mine!

好不容易遇到两个把原著倒背如流的疯子(MoffGat),搞出一点忠于原著的东西,机智程度跟Doyle医生(人家才是真正的Doctor)程度相当;特别是 Gatiss,似乎跟自己的趣味和重点离得非常之近---虽然有一些差别但仍可以接受,第一次没有让我cringe,而且轻松/调笑/后现代主义的态度也恰恰好,绝非学院派---这才看得下去甚至相当赞同。可是看其他影迷的评论又让我感到十分失望,原来大家仍然是南辕北辙。算了,一个作品就拿它本身独立地看好了,众口过度分析评论反而变形走样。

不管研究的是啥,学院派的最大本事似乎是大家比赛看谁最能把本来直截了当的东西扭曲得面目全非。连弗洛伊德都说过,Sometimes a cigar is just a cigar. 但是对于学院派来说,这种态度显然是不能帮人升教授的,时间一长,连自己都搞不清啥是啥了。

Jazz/Ragtime Piano

今天下午一边工作一边开了WAMU的网站听上周六(8/14/2010)的Hot Jazz节目,可以减轻烦躁感。听到2:18的时候,忽然耳边响起一段钢琴曲,十分轻柔,登时感觉好象被人一拳打在胸口 --- 要死了,太好听了,我一下子噎得魂飞天外,几乎哭了出来。赶紧用鼠标倒回去听听介绍这是啥人的音乐。

这几个钢琴曲是从 Bryan Wright 的唱片 Breakin' Notes 里摘录出来的。第一首,就是让我魂飞魄散的那首,有异国味和探戈节奏的,是 Nove de Julho by Ernesto Nazareth (Brazil) ,写于1917年。

最后一首也非常非常好听,又让我差点听哭了---这么说也不准确,是听得热血沸腾心花怒放。这首曲子相当有名,是 Bix Beiderbecke 写的 In a Mist (1927),有点变奏但仍然可听出 Ragtime 的节奏,含有一定的 dissonance。

顺手狗了一下 Beiderbecke 的生平,哇塞太传奇了。生于1903年,从小就展现音乐天赋,不爱学习,功课很差。爹妈不理解,硬把他送到军校里去“改造”,结果他反叛到底,1922年被学校给开除了,于是在外面跟爵士乐队混。开头因为不会读乐谱而屡次被乐队踢出来,后来慢慢地闯出了一些路子,也录制了一些曲子,渐渐出名,变得抢手起来。他的主打乐曲是小号和钢琴两样。因为酗酒,特别是因为在美国禁酒令期间喝了伪劣酒而搞坏了身体,1931年患并发症(肺炎与痉挛与脑水肿)而死,时28岁。早死的天才更加 fascinating,令他的故事更传奇。


Ernesto Nazareth 也挺有意思的,混杂各种音乐风格,从舞厅舞曲探戈、狐步,到本地南美风音乐,到北美流出来的 Ragtime, Jazz,创作了大量的曲子。Rob Bamberger 在节目里说 Nazareth 最后患梅毒而死,尸体被发现时双手向前伸着,仿佛在虚弹钢琴。

我有时也觉得很奇怪,为什么人到中年忽然老房子着火堕入了爵士乐之情网。Jazz 含有一种极度的自由 --- 不是现代音乐(特别是学术派)那种急急忙忙地自我中心和逃离经典的那种做法,而是真正的无牵无挂随心所欲的自由自在的境界。让我一听之下猛然发现,啊,其实我一直都爱着它么,只是没遇到而已。

半路出家撞上 jazz,我完全没有过系统的知识和学习,慢慢地随机地接触到一些人名,也不曾被权威教育过谁最高明,谁最主流,谁是华山论剑的第一名,什么流派高级经典,什么流派低俗卑微。我还真挺享受现在这样无知无畏的状态,不必被自己内心的虚荣与从众的本能污染了直觉感受和第一印象。

好吧,趁没人注意再添一个视频:Juan Tizol 作曲,Duke Ellington 乐队演奏的 Caravan

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Story (5)

The next day was a Saturday. I got up early and went to the police station. Captain McLeod looked like a middle-aged accountant with receding hairline and bags under his eyes. With no uniform on, he was in shirt-sleeves with a loosened tie. Coffee mug in hand, he greeted me and sat me down in a small office with glass windows.

I was a little nervous and then worried about appearing nervous. I hadn't done anything illegal, but one could hardly be expected to be at ease in a detective's office. A computer and a printer sat on his desk. A file cabinet against the wall. The chair was unexpected comfortable. I remembered the couch in Robbie's office.

McLeod asked me a few questions about my relationship with Robbie and my personal information such as my employer, home and work addresses, and telephone number, and the last time I saw him. I answered truthfully but briefly without volunteering any information---based on my extensive reading of mystery novels, I was prepared to blurt out "I want to call my lawyer" at the first hint of being suspected of any wrongdoing. However, the captain did not even ask me where I was at a certain time yesterday. He glanced at my identification absently and wrote down the number in his notebook, then looked up and said, "All right. Thanks for coming in. You may go."

"That's it?" I asked with surprise.

"Yes, that's it," he said. "I'm sorry for your loss."

"What about the investigation?"

"What investigation?"

"Uh..." I wondered whether it was wise for me to even bring this up. "Robbie's death. Is the case closed already?" His eyes on me were not suspicious but curious. By then I was growing more comfortable with speaking to him. It helped that he did not look like a stereotypical policeman and had soft brown eyes.

"Almost. It's really pretty routine," he said. I flinched at the word "routine." He noticed and apologized. "I'm sorry. It's not very sensitive of me to say that."

I nodded and tried to smile.

"It was a pretty straightforward suicide," he intentionally softened his voice. "We have talked to Dr. Wood's colleagues yesterday. Apparently Dr. Wood had a nervous breakdown a few days ago and had not been able to work."

"Nervous breakdown?" I had not told Captain McLeod about Robbie's strange behaviors during our final date, but merely said that he looked distracted at the time.

"Well, by all account, Dr. Wood was 'not quite himself' a few days before the incident, and called in sick on Monday morning. He never went back to the hospital the entire week," the captain said. "It seems pretty clear. A colleague of his at the hospital said Dr. Wood had consulted with him a few times before that in confidence but was reluctant to start treatment because concerns for his reputation at the hospital."

My brain was churning quickly as I remain expressionless. If this was true, Robbie certainly showed no indication of problems when I saw him. Was I so blind that I was unable to pick up on any change? He seemed a bit more distracted and quiet lately, perhaps, but I could recall no signs of depression or distress.

"Can you tell me ... What exactly happened?" I asked.

McLeod hesitated for a moment, perhaps weighing how much to tell me. "Apparently he jumped out of his building between 3 and 5 am yesterday morning. No one heard it. He was discovered only when a neighbor went to work after 6."

I chewed my nails. "What is going to happen to his ... uh ... body?"

"He had no relatives locally," McLeod said. "His sister told us she was flying in on Wednesday to pick up his body."

I thanked him and left.

Barney was in the kitchen cooking some foul smelling stuff when I got home --- "A new recipe from his boss," he exclaimed proudly.

"I thought you were going home today?" I asked.

"Nope. The contractor said he's only half way through the project. It may take another week." He said happily. I groaned.

"Don't be glum," he said. "I'm not so bad, am I? Maybe I'll find out for you who killed your boyfriend."

"Nobody killed him," I said tiredly. I lay down on the couch. Barney brought out a grayish eggplant dish, but I had no appetite. I told him about my trip to the police station. "It's suicide. That's it. Plain and simple." The eggplant and its strange fishy smell made me want to weep again.

"Maybe," Barney said thoughtfully. "But then why would he delete all of his patient records and notes before killing himself?"

"What?" I stared at him.

Barney nodded. "Every last bit. It's as if he had never seen a patient."


这个故事写完之后可能要做一些大改动,有点太草率了,还没想好整体结构,只是抓住了关键的概念就下手了。Mystery 真是不好写啊。

Tuesday, August 17, 2010


这是一个所有系列故事作者都要面对的难题,如果主要人物是两个人,他们之间的关系如何处理。我忽然发现,如果主角只有一个倒也罢了,但是两个主角自有两个主角的好处:一搭一档,既可以共同进退,又可以花开两朵各表一枝,而且还可以通过对话向读者解释案情与进展。但是一对搭档之间是啥关系呢?又要密切,又要持久,又不能把系列故事变成两个主角之间的肥皂剧 ... 传统的二男搭档无人能接近Holmes & Watson的程度,但成功的例子很少 (Morse & Lewis, Lethal Weapon 电影系列,算是还比较成功的)。从Raymond Chandler开始,孤独侦探之设定变得更常见。Dashiell Hammett 有试过夫妻档 (The Thin Man),普及程度远逊与他的Sam Spader(马耳他之鹰)。

现代genre作品中一男一女的配对更常见。男女档侦探系列蔓延到影视,最著名的例子当然是Mulder & Scully,在九十年代初期也算是比较先锋的设定了。这样的设定的好处(后来大家都发现了)是一种不言明的sexual tension,浮游在剧情之外,作者可以暗示也可以不理,也可以略微挑逗读者,无需影响故事主线,但又给系列提供一定感情和人物的连贯性。于是现在这是常见的结构了。随着这个程式的成功,问题也来了。一对男女总是在一起工作,互相信任,互相有好感,怎么老不搞出浪漫感情呢?What is wrong with them? 两人之间的chemistry和sexual tension本来是吸引读者或观众的卖点,时间一长就麻烦了,读者也不耐烦起来,所以到最后Mulder & Scully变成了曾经沧海的关系。

Lydia Chin & Bill Smith这一对搭挡也是victims of their own success ,有读者催他们赶快get a room吧,都这么多本小说了还在暧昧着,也太weird了。后来我仔细看过系列中的好几本才发现作者对这个问题的处理手段是凝固小说内时间 --- 就是说,虽然第一本是1994年出版的,最近一本是2009年出版的,但是在小说系列中这些故事都是在同一年,不超过一年半之内发生的。那么,他们之间的浪漫关系毫无进展也就可以敷衍过去了。在书外,时光流逝十几年,在书里,他们未曾增长一岁。但是未来的某一本小说里,他们会不会终于不再吊读者胃口而get a room呢?我担心那就是作者给系列画上句号的时刻。在一切小说中,男女主角一旦采取行动,戏剧冲突与张力与悬念就烟消云散,大家都要回去洗洗睡了,作者失去了手中最有力的工具。这才是为什么婚礼永远是故事的结尾。

Monday, August 16, 2010

Story (4)

"Where are we going?" I calmed down after a little while and asked. "I haven't told you how to get to Robbie's apartment, and this is not the right way."

"Change of plans. We're going to his office instead," Barney replied. "The crime scene must be crawling with police, and they won't let us go near anything. However," he turned and winked. "They probably haven't had time to go to his office."

"But, but, how do you know how to get to his office?" I asked.

"You said last time it was downtown in an office building," he said. After a pause, he added, "Besides, I looked him up."

"You what?"

"I was intrigued."

"Barney, you're so nosy," I said disapprovingly.

"What you said was very strange. I was going to check him out," he said.

Silence fell in the car. He had obviously committed the address and map to his brain --- with a photographic memory, who needs any electronic navigation system? He drove straight into the parking garage under the high-rise building next to the low-rise that housed Robbie's office, and we walked over.

The outer door was open, but the inner door to the office was closed. I remembered that Robbie shared his office with another psychiatrist and stopped, but Barney ignored my hesitation and knocked on the door. Loudly.

A tall man in his 30s with a chiseled face and gold-rimmed glasses opened a crack and poked his head out. "Do you have an appointment? Please take a seat," he said tersely. "I'm with a patient. I'll be with you in 15 minutes."

I blushed for Barney's rudeness and pulled his T-shirt from behind, but Barney did not back down. "I'm sorry to interrupt you, Dr. ... uh ...?"

"Richardson," he said impatiently. "Look, I really can't ..."

"Your partner's dead," Barney said directly. I cringed behind him. This was part of Barney's natural talent: Utterly unflappable bluntness.

Color was drained from Dr. Richardson's face. "Who?" He asked.

"Dr. Wood," I said quietly from behind Barney.

He stared us for a long moment, then nodded and said, "Give me a minute," and closed the door lightly. We heard muffled voices, after which a small, middle-aged woman scurried out of the office and the front door without looking at either of us. Richardson opened the office door, "Come on in."

I quickly explained to him Robbie's suicide. Richardson said that he had not heard from the police or anyone else, but that he had been seeing patients for three straight hours and had turned his telephone off. He looked stricken.

"I would never have guessed..." He shook his head. "No, it's impossible. I should know, shouldn't I, being a psychiatrist myself? I suspected nothing."

"How often do you see him?" Barney asked. Unlike me, who was sitting politely on the big sofa, he was pacing around the office and sniffing and touching everything: the bookshelf, the desk, the trash can, and even the waxy potted plant. Richardson sat in his psychiatrist's chair, his eyes followed him with a trace of annoyance, but Barney just ignored him.

"Well, not that much, because, you see, we come in on different days," he admitted. "Actually the last time I saw him was ... oh, must be about a month ago. Robbie came in on my office day because he had forgotten to take some files home to work on."

Richardson stood up and walked to the window. The light outside framed his lanky figure against the darkness of the room. He wiped his face with a hand, then turned around and eyed me up and down.

"Wait, who are you again? And why are you here?"

"She is Dr. Wood's girlfriend," Barney injected before I had a chance to open my mouth. "She could not believe that Dr. Wood killed himself. It was love at first sight." He gave me a look to block my protestation against such outlandish characterization. "She is extremely crushed and baffled by Dr. Wood's suicide. So she has asked me to look into this case."

"Case?" Richardson looked at Barney with growing suspicion. "Are you a detective or something?"

Barney made a noncomittal shrug and picked up a notebook on the desk and flipped through the pages, "This is Dr. Wood's notebook?"

Richardson walked over and took the notebook from him, "Please don't touch it. It may contain confidential information about his patients."

"But you will read it ..." Barney mumbled to himself while lightly kicking the trash can.

"No, I won't," said Richardson firmly. "No one can see any notes about these patients, not even the police, except their physician ... their next physician."

"So, are you going to take over his patients?" Barney continued, oblivious to Richardson's deepening suspicion.

But I was not nearly as oblivious. "Shut up, Barney," I gave him a severe look. I turned to Richardson and said softly, "Robbie ..." I felt my eyes tear up again. "Why do you think he ... did this? I saw him three, four days ago and he didn't seem depressed to me." I wiped away a tear.

Richardson sat down across from me and gazed into my face. I realized that he saw my swollen red eyelid from the weeping in the car. He seemed a little assured by my veracity.

"I have no idea, either. He seemed fine ..." A shadow flitted across his face and caught my attention. I leaned in closer inquiringly. "Except, uh, I don't know. He seemed to be more absent minded lately," he shook his head. "He's been leaving stuff all over the place. I've had to clean up after him when I come in. Robbie didn't use to be like this. He was immaculately neat and organized. A few days ago he even left his laptop in the office. It had never happened before. This morning," he waved a hand across the room, "I came in and saw a mess, books and papers open and strewn all over the place."

"Where is the paper?" Barney asked, pointing to the trash can. "It's not here."

Richardson opened a drawer and took out a pile of paper. "You can look at it. There is no patient information here. All of our patient records are completely electronic."

On the papers were big block letters written in thick black marker: "Infection", "Schizophrenia", "Blindness", "Psychosis", "Contagious", "Paranoid delusions".

We all stared at these scribbles silently. "Do you think I should show all this to the police?" Richardson asked.

I looked at Barney. He shrugged. Yeah, what did he know about police? Unlike me, he didn't even read detective novels.

"Probably," I said. I thanked him and we shook hands. I dragged Barney out of the office.

"Ah, too bad," he said as we walked out of the building. "If he had not been there, I could have searched the office thoroughly."

I rolled my eyes. "You were doing quite enough already. I'm surprised he didn't call the police on us."

As we returned to my car and Barney went into the driver's seat, I remembered something: "Say, are delusions infectious?"

"No," Barney replied.

Story (3)

For the next few days I resisted the urge to call up Robbie and yell at him "Why?!" and "What the hell was wrong with you?!" Truth be told, I was hoping he would call me and apologize, followed by a perfectly logical explanation. But he didn't.

When Friday afternoon rolled around, my curiosity overtook my pride. I dialed Robbie's cell phone number. I really liked him and, if he had wanted to dump me, there would have been much more sensible ways to do it. I could not quite accept such an abrupt and bizarre defeat.

The phone rang and rang with no answer. A mechanical female voice finally came on and told me to leave a message. I hung up, not knowing exactly what to say. Did he choose not to take my call after seeing my number? I waited for a few minutes and dialed again from my desk phone. I had never call him from this line and would not expect him to recognize the number. This time, Robbie's phone was picked up on first ring, but it was not he who answered. A deep male voice I did not recognize said tentatively, "Hello?"

"Hi..." I did not know how to go on.

"Who is this?" He asked.

"I ... I'm looking for Robbie," I replied. For some unknown reason my gut began to tighten.

"Who are you?" The voice insisted.

"I am his friend." I said evasively without a clear idea why.

"Girlfriend?" He continued to push.

"I ... not really," I was feeling increasingly uneasy. "Who are you?" It occurred to me that offense may be the best defense.

"I am Captain McLeod of the metropolitan police," he said gravely. I gasped. He continued. "Dr. Woods had a, uh ... an accident."

"Is he all right?" I asked. The knot in my stomach tightened.

"He is dead."

I did not react. It felt like a joke. After a moment of silence, he asked again, "May I have your name, please?" His tone was nowhere near as polite as his words. "And your relationship with Dr. Wood?"

I told him and briefly explained --- We were just dating. For three months.

"I ... where is Robbie?" As soon as the words slipped out I realized that I meant where his body was.

"Outside his apartment building," Captain McLeod said. "He jumped."

I had been to his apartment and knew he lived on the 10th floor. Suddenly I remembered the view from his window. It was a parking lot immediately below, if I remember correctly. Far away I could see treetops...

The captain's voice woke me from the stupor. I shuddered. "Miss, I would like to talk to you. We need to ask you a few questions. Will you come to the police station tomorrow?"

"OK..." I said numbly and hung up. I then realized that my hands were shaking. I dialed Barney's number and told him what happened.

"Oh, shit," he said.

"Oh shit indeed," I said. The knot in my stomach was so hard now that I wanted to lie down and curl up in a fetal position until my brain grasped what it all really meant, but still it did not feel quite real to me.

"Wait for me," he said, apparently alarmed by something in my voice. Perhaps it was the lack of emotion in it. "I'm coming home."

I thought he was going to comfort his old friend, but he hopped in and exclaimed, "Let's go. Let's go."

"Go where?" I asked.

"The crime scene, of course."

"What?" I stared at him speechless. "You, you want to go see a puddle of blood on the ground?"

"Of course, and his apartment where he jumped."

He looked so absurd that I laughed. It was a nervous laugh, but oddly enough it loosened the knot in my stomach a little. "Ugh. You're so morbid," I groaned. Then something occurred to me. "What crime scene? He committed suicide." Saying this made me feel depressed again. I heaved a long sigh.

He shook his head. "We won't know for sure unless we see it with our eyes, no?"

"I didn't know you were into crime-solving," I eyed him suspiciously. "Fancy taking up private investigation on the side?"

"Nope. Just curious," he shrugged. "Besides, if it really is suicide like you said, there is no crime."

As we drove toward Robbie's apartment, I said, "Isn't this strange? I was just thinking of him and calling him for the first time after that night, and it happened to be right after ... Do you think this was my premonition?"

Barney waved a hand dismissively, "Don't be superstitious."

"But it is strange, isn't it?" I insisted.

"Yes, it is strange." He nodded. "Did he seem depressed to you?"

"No!" I pounded a fist on the steering wheel. "Not the last time I saw him, nor on the dates before that. He seemed fine --- even when he was acting strange he did not seem depressed or remotely suicidal. He did not seem stressed out about work, either..." I threw a glance sideways at him and tried to smile. "Don't try to pin this on me. He was not madly in love with me, and I most certainly did not drive him to suicide ..."

"Maybe he thought you'd dump him after the strange behavior a few days ago and got depressed after that," he suggested.

I thought about it and shook my head. "First, he did not know that I was going to dump him, and I was not -- not necessarily at least. Second, in the three months I've ... I had known him, he had never seem fragile to me. He was sensible and calm, and fairly open. I really liked him,"
finally a lump caught my throat and I teared up.

Barney kept his eyes straight ahead on the road and said quietly to himself, "Still, it is odd..."

Out of the blue Robbie's face emerged in my head. Suddenly it hit me, and tears streamed down my face and blurred my vision.

"All right, all right. Pull over," Barney demanded. I did so. We switched seats. "I didn't know you loved him," he said.

"Oh, what's love got to do with it," I dismissed it. "It's the shock. I have never, ever had any friend die on me before," I blew my nose with wads of tissue paper. "No suicide, no homicide, not even natural death! I only pick healthy people to be my friends just because I'm afraid of this kind of thing happening to me."

Sunday, August 15, 2010

China Trade

这是Lydia Chin系列中的第一本,也是SJ Rozan 的第一本小说,我正读了一半。可以看出某些剧情和风格方面的生涩之处,没有后面的小说那么流畅圆熟。这都没什么。最让我惊叹的是她从一开始就抓住了纽约唐人街的真髓,华人移民的行为和思想的规律,简直神奇得要死。特别是老派华人对于人情交易的敏感,在华人圈内人情/favor是人际关系中的真正硬通货,这个重大而微妙的关节被她写得惟妙惟肖,没有穿帮之处,坦白地讲,我这个在新中国文化里长大,未曾在老派华人中打滚的华人肯定写不出来。其他方面例如上一代与下一代之间的矛盾,对于面子问题的解释,也很恰到好处,既不过度显摆自己多么猎奇,手里抓了多少exotic 内幕,又提供足够的信息和解释给鬼佬读者,令他们不至于看不懂。

哎,这套系列总是让我读一会儿就忘记了是个非华人作者写的!有时我甚至怀疑在挂名作者背后有一个 Chinese-American 才是真正的作者。看了这么精神上准确无误的跨文化作品就更想把Steve Thompson这种蠢货给毙了。这么驾轻就熟深入其中自内而外的跨文化作品,类似的我只能想起 Jenny White 的土耳其系列,但第一她是的工作就是研究这个的,第二我不是土耳其人,真有细微的不妥我也看不出来。而SJ Rozan 写的华人移民社区,我自认有资格鉴定真伪,而且我这个读者一般对整体态度和气氛的细节描写非常敏感,她让我无可挑剔。


Christopher Hitchens may have won Roger Ebert's admiration and sympathy for being a fierce dying intellectual, but I just find him tiresome. I can't waste my short, limited life on reading things that I find silly and ridiculous.

It's like people somehow believe a beautiful person must be good. Just because some people have a talent for stringing words together in a powerful and persuasive and seductive way to stir up many people's feelings and the urge to agree with him, it does not make them any less silly and ridiculous. Tiresome, tiresome, tiresome.

Sorry he has cancer and is suffering and is scared that he will soon die. But he is not any less tiresome because of that. The more he is convinced of his own righteousness the more I find him utterly dull. I don't wish him ill but I do find the pomposity of these intellectuals so tiresome.


Saturday, August 14, 2010

Story (2)

Sitting on the couch, Barney did not hear me as I entered the apartment. He was doodling on his tablet PC with both ears plugged. He was always doing at least three things at the same time, and his compulsion for multitasking was getting worse lately.

I patted him on the shoulder, he turned around and smiled at me.

"Wow, the whole building is dark except my apartment," I pointed to a glowing rod on the desk. "I'm the envy of the whole neighborhood."

Because of a violent thunderstorm, power outage had hit many residential areas since a couple of hours ago. "Your torch is so much brighter than mine," I said.

"It has super LCD units," he shrugged. No doubt another cool toy he swiped from work or his colleagues. "It lasts for days on a couple of regular batteries."

"I hope the power outage doesn't lasts that long because I am dying for a hot shower..." I plopped myself on the couch and stretched with a deep long sigh.

"How was your date with what's his name?" He threw me a glance while continuing to tap the screen on his lap. Without electricity, he could not run his tablet and my PC at the same time.

"Robbie," I said and paused. Something in my voice alarmed him. He raised his gaze at me inquiringly. I ran both hands through my freshly permed curls and scratched vigorously and thought hard for a moment. Barney waited patiently.

"Man, you won't believe this," I said with an unconvincing chuckle. "This was the weirdest date I've ever been on." Then I told him about it.

I met Robbie at a semi-social event three months ago and went on a few dates with him. It was lukewarm at first, but we gradually warmed up to each other and began to meet more often. We had not planned to see each other tonight, but he called out of the blue and asked me to dinner. He picked me up after work and we had a quick bite at a falafel shop nearby. I suggested that I pay a visit to his office. "I have never been to a psychiatrist's office," I said. "I'm curious."

"It's pretty boring..." he hesitated for a moment, but relented at my insistence. We took metro to the downtown business district. The office buildings and streets were emptying out rapidly with the waning rush hour. Robbie took me into a boxy, featureless low-rise building. His office on the fifth floor was like one of an accountant's. The small waiting room had no receptionist, with cheap gray carpet, a couple of second-hand office chairs, and a pot of limp plant with waxy leaves in the corner. I tried not to look disappointed.

"I share it with another psychiatrist. He comes in two days a week and I three days a week." He said. He had told me before that he worked half-time and sometimes on call at a local medical center. "We are both new and don't have too many patients."

He led me through an inner door into the office and turned on the light. The room was quite large and a bit cavernous. Two of the walls were lined with wooden bookcases. A couple of framed photos, one of tropical island and another of green forest, hung on the third wall. A plush leather sofa sat in the middle of the room.

"So, your patients lie down on this and tell you everything about their madness?" I asked.

"Nah, usually they just sit here," he shook his head. "It's comfortable, and if the patient insist he can lie down, but we don't practice the Freudian analysis any more." He sat down on an office chair directly facing the sofa, a low coffee table between the sofa and the chair. "It's just like any other office. We try to encourage open dialogs."

"You need more furniture for this room. You can almost hear echoes ..." Before I finished the sentence, a lightening suddenly tore open the night sky outside the window and a thunder exploded above our heads. I jumped and reflexively threw myself into Robbie's arms. He was a large-framed and slightly chubby man and, truth be told, had a very nice embrace. Just the kind I liked.

The lights flickered and died. We were plunged into total darkness. "Looks like the whole neighborhood has lost power," I said. He did not answer. I faked being frightened and continued to hold on to him. He held on to me as well.

While contemplating a kiss and perhaps something more intimate right there on the sofa, I heard Robbie mumbling something inaudible.

"Pardon?" I looked up and, by the faint light from outside the window, I saw that he was very pale. Only then did I realize that he was slightly trembling.

"I hate the dark. I've always hated the dark." His eyes were fixed on an invisible point in the air. His voice took on a strange tone, as if he was talking to himself. He seemed to have forgotten my existence. I put my arms down and released him. He completely ignored me. Suddenly, he stood up and rushed out of the room. I stared at his shadow with disbelief.

After a moment, I groped out of the office and, with more difficulty, the windowless waiting room. Feeling my way down the hallway with one hand on the wall, I could hear Robbie's heavy and frantic steps, then a door being opened and closed. Must be the stairs, I thought, and followed the sound to find it myself. At this point I was too shocked to be angry.

Thankfully, the stairwell was not entirely dark, but rather lit by faint red "EXIT" signs on every level. When I stumbled out of the last flight of stairs and pushed the rusty door to the lobby, the first thing I saw was Robbie's broad back against the glass front door. Even from the back I could see he was shaking violently. Outside, the black sky opened a river onto the earth, spraying the pavement and the windows and doors like a thousand machine guns.

"Robbie!" I cried out to him. He turned around and gave me a strange look, as if he did not recognize me. Then he turned back, pushed open the door, and disappeared into pouring rain.

I stood with an open mouth for a long time, until the rain lessened its intensity. The power was still off, but the road lamps came back on. Now I could see the streets around the building were completely deserted. There was not a ghost within sight. I called telephone directory for the number of a taxi company, and waited for 15 minutes until a taxi came back to pick me up. By then the rain had slowed down to little more than a drizzle.

As I finished my narrative, Barney had stopped doodling on the tablet PC and was listening to me intently, his legs folded up on the couch like a monk.

"Just don't say 'I told you so'." I said gravely. "Because I'm not in the mood to beat you up." This was only half a joke, as Barney had always been a small and skinny kid. In elementary school, I had rescued him a few times from bullies, for which he would forever owe me a debt.

"No, that's not what I was thinking," he said thoughtfully. "This sounds strange, very strange. You never suspected he was ... uh, a little off?"

"No! And you know how sensitive I am to fruitcakes," I grunted. "For three full months he seemed perfectly normal. Never said or did anything odd ..."

"One could hypothesize, for example, that he might have had a traumatic childhood memory or something about darkness," Barney winked and joked, "but I'm no psychiatrist." His tone turned serious. "If you see him again, I'd like to meet him as well."

"Hmph, fat chance for that," I snorted, suppressing a shudder as I remembered watching him being swallowed by the gigantic sheets of rain, which glowed in the blackness of the night. For an instance I thought that I would never see him again, that he had walked into another dimension.

Friday, August 13, 2010

Prince of Thieves


从开头几章起我就想,这么长一本小说(三百多页而且印的是小字),Chuck Hogan 绝不可能保持如此强烈的感情张力,结果我错了,他还真的保持了很强烈很激烈的戏剧冲突,从头到尾。实际上打劫戏并不多,只有三场而已,中间的激烈冲突和感情张力都来自人物和人物之间,人物和命运之间的争斗。最近一星期基本上都是在公车和地铁上读这本书,下得车来常有鼻青脸肿的感觉。


Charlestown ,波士顿城内的一个小旧街坊,当其他街坊已被 gentrification 的浪潮吞没后,它的爱尔兰裔土著们还在极力抵抗。在古旧的时代里,一条街上住的都是同类工匠作坊,手艺在家族里代代相传。Charlestown 里最主要的家族生意是打劫银行。Doug McRay 的父亲当年是街坊里最拉风的 King of Thieves,Doug 就是书名所指。他跟三个从小一起长大的伙伴作案,他脑子最好,最有计谋与耐心,他是主脑。在某一次抢银行的行动中,蒙面的他爱上了被抢的银行职员,一个中产阶级的白领女。在他眼中,她象征了一条逃离 the Town,逃离家庭,逃离历史,逃离命运的通天之路,一根精神上的救命稻草。但是他四周的环境和情义紧紧地抓住他,把他往漩涡里越拖越深。与此同时FBI 的银行抢劫专案组的侦探盯上了他和他的伙伴们。The world is crumbling around him.

这样描述情节,这似乎是一个很俗套的故事,但别忘了 It's not what it's about but how it's about it. 小说里充满了热腾腾的生动细节,不仅物质细节而且心理细节真实得把读者直接扔进那个环境里。实际上从外面看,Doug 的困境几乎没道理:他有存了很多钱,这是二十世纪九十年代的美国社会,他随时可以人间蒸发,远走高飞,但是却不能迈出一步。作者必须能把读者扔到Doug的环境里,他的脑子里,他的绝望感和心理监狱才有说服力。

Hogan 完全做到了。

这是一本纯粹男性角度的小说。两个女性人物,象征的成分多于真实的描述。对男人的描写...我怎能自信地说这些是真的呢?我又不是男的,我只是直觉一定是真的,一定是从他的亲戚朋友熟人身上观察出来的。但 Hogan 形容的内外世界都真得吓人,现实感之强,简直伸手可触。

Hogan 与 Dennis Lehane 的相似之处自不必言,二者都有希腊神话型的悲剧感和宿命感。不过与 Lehane 的小说相比,我更偏爱 Hogan 这本,主要就是因为这里面持续的不断的强烈感情冲突,搞得我这种非天主教读者看得头昏眼花,倒有点像刚看到吴宇森的火爆枪战兄弟片时的感觉。只是被吴宇森浪漫化的兄弟情义。靠了Chuck Hogan的笔,我才第一次终于明白了所谓男人之间的情义是什么东西 --- 根本不是什么理想化的精神沟通,也不是 homoerotic 肉体吸引,而是狼群里的一只普通狼仰望和崇拜头狼的关系,头狼与追随者的关系。有些人,他们比较罕见,在人群里自然而然地成为领袖,其他人,特别是男人,不由自主地忍不住要去崇拜与服从他们。我真没见过把男性心理这么赤裸裸毫不留情的解剖。

Movies to Watch

Reminder list:

1. "Patrick, Age 1.5": Sounds like another of those crazy, quirky, but ultimately sentimental Swedish comedies. A gay couple thought they were adopting a 1.5-year-old little boy, but in walked a 15-year-old juvenile delinquent. To be released on August 20 in DC area.

2. "Animal Kingdom": A dark and gritty Australian gangster movie about family. Gee, where have I seen this story before? Winner of foreign movies at this year's Sundance. Well received by critics as it opens today in LA and NY. To be released on August 27 at E Street Cinema in DC.

3. "Jack Goes Boating": Local release September 17.

4. "The Town": Release date September 10. (Now that I've finished the novel, I am a bit worried. The movie will not be able to match its intensity.)

Thursday, August 12, 2010


SPL=Structured Product Labeling. It is an XML-coded database format used by drug regulatory agencies and pharmaceutical companies around the world. Information about a prescription or nonprescription drug, approved by the regulatory agency, used to be written and printed on a piece of paper and stuffed into the cardboard box that contained the bottle. Now, however, this information is broken down into various sections/elements (drug name, pharmacological class, dosage form, strength, manufacturer, indication, side effects, contraindication, etc.) and coded in XML. Thanks to the XML structure, this information goes into a searchable database.

OK, wake up. I know this is boring stuff. It is boring to me too. I'm not a database analyst or administrator. Today I attended a class -- not my own choosing -- about how legally regulated drug information (ie, product labeling) is increasingly broken down into granular information and stored in these electronic bee hives. The databases allow people to conduct a variaty of analysis, mix and match, shake and bake. These databases can also chit and chat, and mate and mingle with other XML-based databases, such as patient information, medical records, and side effect reports. You can find a needle in a haystack, or see patterns in ocean waves.

Thus, a lecture on bioinformatics, which I had expcted to be a snoozer, turned out to be fascinating. I got a glimpse on how they think -- these people who meticulously break down things that appear to be whole into various degrees of smaller granularity. A drug is not just a drug, but can be defined by its chemical structure, its biological effect on one's body, the disease it treats, the side effects it causes, the type of patients who should take it, the type who should not, the dosage form (liquid or solid, pills or powder), other drugs with similar indications (class), and other criteria. One drug, many descriptors, many identities.

Midway through the lecture I started to sweat a little, as I suddenly grasped the vision of these indexers, these people who dream up all these labels and granules and endless connections between seemingly unrelated concepts. It was as if I was seeing the world, for the first time, through their eyes, which are entirely different from my own. The view became warped. I felt dizzy.

Because, because, because ... at the moment I realized that anything can be viewed through the lens of granularity and classification, including people. Each person can be identified by a variety of characteristics he or she possesses --- See? He or she, that is already one characteristic: sex. Of course, population census has already been doing this for a long time --- cataloging people by sex, race, ethnicity, age, biometics, health status, marital status, income, language, profession, etc., etc. But these are crude measures. One can keep digging, deeper and deeper. A person can be classified by his parents' characteristics (socioeconomic status, education level, smoking history, medical/mental history, parenting style, religious affiliation ...), by his own biological characteristics, dietary and lifestyle habits, location of residence, the kind of TV he watches, the amount of savings or debts he has, the characteristics of his spouse and friends, the Web site he visits, etc., etc.

Then these data can be organized and analyzed. At some point, when enough breadth and depth are reached, patterns will emerge. At some point, the patterns will become so clear that they are predictive. Behaviors, decisions, preferences, whims and tendencies, and trajectories will all become knowable. Given a child's internal biological and external social categorizations, his life course can be prophesized with rising accuracy: Who he will become, what he will do for a living, whether he will marry and have children, when he will die. Given the history of a nation/people/tribe and the current condition, their behaviors can be predicted: Who they will choose to run their country, what policies they will demand, whether they will go to war, how rich or poor they will become, whether they will go bonkers. To achieve the latter may require even less data and calculation than to pin down the fate of an individual.

Like predicting climate trends and weather patterns, someone will be able to reliable predict how certain humans will react to certain conditions/stimuli. The hold-up, I think, is not only collecting and analyzing a large amount of data over time in various conditions, but also to formulate the classifications/specifications/categories correctly. In predicting behavior, what are the meaningful characteristics? Age, sex, upbringing, intelligence, personality, peer groups, socioeconomic class, location of residence, parents' history, genes? We don't know very much there. Maybe aspects we assume to be critical are negligible. Maybe the key factors are few and unexpected. Yet I don't think this difficulty is insurmountable. The advertising/marketing sector has already achieved a great amount of success.

The same type of analysis is already being conducted in weather forecasting, traffic management, Google, marketing (commercial and political), the stock market, and many other areas of life. In fact, this type of analysis is already being applied to human behaviors. It is only a matter of time before we reach a meaningful size of predictive power, for the masses and for individuals.

There will be no mystery of the heart. There will be no free will.


省得每次都要放狗搜。出自:Jonah Lehrer's The Frontal Cortex Blog:

We like to believe that the gift of human reason lets us think like scientists, so that our conscious thoughts lead us closer to the truth. But here’s the paradox: all that reasoning and confabulation can often lead us astray, so that we end up knowing less about what jams/cars/jelly beans we actually prefer. So here’s my new metaphor for human reason: our rational faculty isn’t a scientist – it’s a talk radio host. That voice in your head spewing out eloquent reasons to do this or do that doesn’t actually know what’s going on, and it’s not particularly adept at getting you nearer to reality. Instead, it only cares about finding reasons that sound good, even if the reasons are actually irrelevant or false. (Put another way, we’re not being rational – we’re rationalizing.)

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Story (1)

"I'm off to work. Bye," I grabbed my purse and headed toward the door.

"What's his name?" Barney's voice from behind stopped me before I put my hand on the door knob.

"Who?" I turned around and blinked.

"You know, the guy you are seeing." He poked his fork into a piece of sausage and looked at it thoughtfully. "The guy you went out with and probably had sex with last night."

"How do you ...?" I blushed.

Despite being male, Barney has been my best friend since second grade. We were romantically involved for a short while in college, but it didn't work out. Shockingly, our friendship survived over the years. Barney is a genius and works for some ultra-secret government research institute. He was sleeping on my couch for this week only as his bathroom underwent the last phase of an extensive remodeling.

The second day in my apartment, he was already sticking his nose into my personal life. That was so typical.

"Ah, if you do not want me to sniff around, you should have been totally open and tell me every gory detail about this guy from the start," he picked up a forkful of the scrambled egg and shoveled it into his mouth, sitting at my desk that doubled for the dining table. As a single woman living alone, owning two tables just seemed a bit too frivolous.

I sat down on the couch and sighed, remembering all the gory details from the night before.

"Judging from the smile on your face, I'd say this was the first time you slept with him, wasn't it?" He peeked at me over the brim of the coffee cup.

"Hey, how do you know I ... eh ... slept with him last night?" I asked.

"You came home much later than usual. I heard, but didn't see, you come in, but I definitely did not hear you taking a shower then. Neither did you shower this morning. There is only one explanation: You showered at his place." He grinned.

"Hmpf," I grunted. "It's bad enough that I have a mad scientist in my apartment, but he's now Sherlock Holmes too?!"

"Nah, it's obvious," he shrugged. "Now tell me about him."

After a moment of hesitation, I took out a business card from my wallet and handed it to him.

"Robert Wood, M.D. Whoa, a psychiatrist! That's a new one for you," he commented. "He must be old."

"No, he is not." I sneered. "He's 33 and very cute."

"A cute psychiatrist? Must be rarer than a unicorn," he said. "When are you going to bring him home for my inspection?"

I waved the back of my right hand at him dismissively. "You never approved of any of my ex-boyfriends," I said. "Why should I expose him to your pranks? He is a nice guy and I don't want you to scare him off."

"Aw... I guess you really like him," he chuckled. "Don't worry. I'll handle him with kid gloves." He thought for a moment and shook his head, "I don't know. Psychiatrists are often crazy themselves. I have a bad feeling about this."

"Oh, shut your front door," I stood up and walked out of my own.

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Martin Beck on NPR

Hahaha. Even NPR is onto the Martin Beck series. You can listen to the story here.

Note: "The Laughing Policeman" won Mystery Writers of America's Edgar award for best novel in 196?. So Sjowall and Wahloo are by no means strangers to American mystery fans.

Monday, August 9, 2010


某朋友跟我联络,月底要到本地出差,希望见一面。我倒地不起,您几年才回来一次,一来就挑中了我一年一次的海外旅行。很可惜,这个朋友经常有大把政府八卦,原先住在本地的时候,我很喜欢听她爆内幕。后来她越搬越远,从西岸一路搬到夏威夷,让人嫉妒,现在在哇虎岛上的海军基地上干活。她是个 writer,所以叙述起人与事来总是生动有趣而且条理分明,而且习惯了对生活的观察与记忆。这次见不到她真是太可惜啦。

记得很久之前我去听一个小说作家的讲座,每次遇到这种场合总有听众会举手提问:怎样才能变成一个小说家?我怎么知道自己能否写小说出版?--- 绝无例外。每个作者的回答都略有不同,其实我怀疑很多作家自己都说不上来。有一个作家的说法我记得特清楚,他说,你会讲笑话吗?当你跟朋友叙述一件趣事的时候,你能不能把故事讲清楚?能不能 deliver the punch line?如果能,说不定你有当作家的天赋。



所以上星期顺手买了五本 paperback mysteries,因为亚马逊上的优惠,大部分的 mass market paperbacks 买三送一。四本 SJ Rozan 的,一本 Laura Lippman 的。


Sunday, August 8, 2010

Mad Men

Episode 403:

开头十分钟,我还以为第四季第三集象上一次一样 aimless,没想到突然引爆一重磅炸弹。真是没想到。某善良人物患癌症快要死了,这么狗血这么烂俗的内容,Matt Weiner 居然敢用,而且我居然看哭了!TNND 小时候看过那么多要死要活的日本电视剧都无动于衷,看不下去,我简直不敢相信自己竟然吃他这一套。实在是 ... 晚节不保,汗。一大部分要怪 Jon Hamm 的表演,真是太,呃,没法说,好想掐死他。这些年你都在干啥?要长相有长相,要演技有演技,竟然没有红。


Prince of Thieves 读中

Ben Affleck 不是出色的演员,但是他绝不是个笨蛋。这一点在他的编剧和导演的 credits 中已经得到了证实。自从他导演了 Gone Baby Gone 之后,再也不能将 Good Willing Hunting 作为一只抓到死耗子的瞎猫而忽略不计(GWH 并不是旷世佳作,但也不是烂片,对新手来说已经不错了)。Affleck 的写作能力我倒不想过度推测,因为这几部电影的剧本都是他跟别人合写的,Who did what 很难确定。不过仅从 Affleck 选择源材料的眼光来看就相当可敬。(在眼光方面,我也要给刘德华应得的赞扬,他投资的电影里有几部相当的小成本佳作,很不错。)

Chuck Hogan 的小说 Prince of Thieves 吸引 Ben Affleck ,肯定有波士顿土著的成分,不过,看了前十章(大约四分之一)之后,我忍不住赞叹,挑这本小说拍电影的人果然不是傻子。火爆的题材,尖锐的戏剧冲突,个性强烈的人物,生动阳刚的对话,色彩鲜明的环境,而且作者的文字又硬朗又有画面感,简直就替你导演画好了一半的分镜头素描,我一边读一边已经在脑子里浮现层次分明的电影段落,都不用改编。

特别让我注意的是 Hogan 的文字风格,描绘典型的蓝领和男青年,让人能从纸上嗅到隔夜的酒味与烟气,与雄性激素。唉呀,这些鲜活尖锐的写实派文学真的只能在mystery/thriller类型里面找到,I would give an arm --- no, a leg (since I need my fingers to type) --- to write like Richard Price, Chuck Hogan, or SJ Rozan. Fantastic.

对小说改编的电影 The Town ,我暂时持谨慎乐观态度 --- 这么好的材料,好像肥沃土壤恰当气候长出来的新鲜蔬菜水果,烧出来不好吃也难。至于 Affleck 能否胜任男主 ... 看了再说吧。我倒觉得让 Jon Hamm 来演男主更加合适。

Saturday, August 7, 2010

The Lookout

看完 The Lookout (2007 年出品) 之后回头在脑子里把故事滤一遍,我意识到原来这部电影其实是个 film noir。在DVD的花絮中有人称之为 heist movie,但其实抢劫银行只是一个表象,是整个故事里的一小部分。为什么这么说呢?因为此片的剧本的整体构架和机制遵循非常传统的 noir 套路。

Noir 的套路是:一个普通人过着平静的生活,某日这个状态忽然被打断,有危险分子(一般是个美艳危险的女人 femme fatale)凑上来用前所未有的诱惑吊在他眼前晃啊晃,诱他偏离正道走向堕落。但是这个犯罪过程从来都不会顺利完成,事情总是半路出麻烦,而且麻烦越来越大,直至 climax ...

同样的套路在不同影片以各种形式出现,The Lookout 里面的独特成分在于,主角 Chris Pratt 是一个头部受伤后遗症的患者(traumatic brain injury),他有各种微妙的行为和记忆障碍,只能在一家银行里做清洁工。一开始我还有点担心这片子会被拍成 Memento 的模仿版,但还好不是,走上了一条凝视人物的道路。我对这种类型的独立电影非常没有抵抗力,它们一般都很小型很便宜,没有烧钱或特技的动作大场面,没有艳丽精美的摄影画面,没有歇斯底里的炫技表演,没有错综复杂人数众多的卡司。摄影机象一对好奇的眼睛默默注视着很少的几个人物,话筒象两只好奇的耳朵悄悄地把邻座的八卦都录了下来,我们观众得以钻到别人的脑中,暂时身临其境过上他人的生活。

编导 Scott Frank 原来一直是做编剧的,而且以写耐听的对话著称,显然善于捕捉偷窃生活中四处飘荡的只言片语。这是他的第一部导演处女作,所以在电影中保持了十分文气(但不是文艺腔)的风格。特别有趣的是,男主角脑伤后遗症的症状之一是 sequencing 障碍,就是说在做一件复杂的事情之前,我们健康人会把它分解成许多小步骤,然后串联起来,他的障碍是整理不出过程先后顺序,总是搞乱。他的室友,一个瞎子,帮助他把任务编成一个故事讲给自己听,而编故事的时候倒着来,先想好结尾,再一步一步地倒推上去,就能整理出步骤了。当时看到这一段的时候我就一拍大腿,意识到这肯定是作家(不是文艺抒情作家,而是讲复杂情节的作家,例如侦探小说)惯用的写提纲方法之一!啊太有用了。

影片的环境设定在 Kansas 一个小镇,很偏远的西部,很农村,很寒冷。摄影有很强的视觉风格,大量用黑夜和白雪做背景,气氛很重。有些镜头漂亮得立刻可以装框挂起来。

几个演员都相当出色。最重要的当然是男主角 Joseph Gordon-Levitt,故事从他的角度讲出,他在几乎每个镜头中都出现,是全片的基础,又需要表达出人物的微妙病态---不是搞成象 Rain Man 那样夸张、呆呆的德性---又要表达出 full range 思想斗争和感情冲突。

结果不出意料,JGL 同学完全胜任,从头到尾精彩表演,没有一处偷懒走捷径,也没有一处过犹不及地顿足捶胸。非常好。在DVD花絮中,他说好剧本太少了,太罕见了,所以能遇上这么好的剧本来演觉得很运气。我心想,有品味和判断力,能尝出什么是好剧本什么是烂剧本的演员很少,而根据剧本质量来选 project 的演员就更TMD罕见了。

剧中的大反派 Gary 是英国小生 Matthew Goode 演的,很让人意外,因为跟他平时的套路 (Match Point, Brideshead Revisited) 完全相反。脏兮兮的,含有危险的魅力,除了稍微有点不够土之外,其他方面都很胜任。配角盲人室友是 Jeff Daniels 演的。他这种老戏骨演这点东西根本不用费力,信手拈来而已。

女演员是澳大利亚的 Isla Fisher,长得很象 Amy Adams,居然还带了点南方口音。

说实话我觉得这部片子在有些背景信息上(例如 Chris 跟他家里的关系,反派 Gary 跟女主角的关系)过于精简,留白过多,其实还可以多交代两句。不过在大多数情况下留白总比过度阐述要强,不交代反而让人老惦记着。而且给人那种感觉:故事里的人物在影片的框架之外自有他们的历史和未来,而不是仅仅为了这两个钟头的情节,为了观众而存在的。真正关注写人而且把人写活的作品都有这个特点。

总之这是一部有缺点但是有意思的影片。我宁可看有想法有缺点的作品,要表达的东西越多,就越容易产生歧义和瑕疵; 没意思的玩意儿更容易达到“完美无暇”的程度,因为根本就是空洞洞的没啥东西,反刍一下陈腔滥调而已,扁它都懒得动手。

除了刚来美国后的那两年暑假狂看动作大片以外,后来一直就比较偏爱这种文气重的小片---不是文艺调调,不是 Michael Haneke 或者王家卫那种类型,不是高级名作那种---而是好奇地静静地注视着人,几乎要钻到人家脑子里,但最后仍揭示人心之神秘 (mystery of the heart) 的这种类型。在现实中遇到很多很多的人,慢慢地意识到实际上有很多人的心毫不神秘,行为与思想的规律(即所谓性格)实在简单直白,好猜得很,简直跟一条铁轨上的火车一样。但人性是一个很有弹性的东西,有趣的和出人意表的例子很多很多,好玩的神秘的不可预料的心也很多呀很多。这种作品,看上去似乎是不追求感官刺激,不搞 sensational 的打斗啦动作啦火爆场面,实际上对我来说更刺激,这是更强烈的 psychological 刺激。


最近各牌子的 eReader 降价大战,直接后果是在地铁上手执 Kindle 的人数剧增,男女老幼各个年龄段都有。我忽然想起最近跟俩小朋友吃饭的时候,我提起自己的车上没有 GPS,实际上我从来就不用 GPS,对方瞪大了眼睛象看外星人一样看着我,哇,世界上还有不用 GPS 的人,实在是太新鲜了!而且居然没有 iPhone, SmartPhone 之类的玩具,太落伍了,太化石了。

Friday, August 6, 2010

It's Supposed to be Funny (spoilers)

本季电视,PBS Masterpiece 栏目会在九月播放 Inspector Lewis 系列,在十月播放三集 Wallander 第二季,在十月底到十一月初播放 Sherlock---WGBH (波士顿的分台,也是 Masterpiece 的后台) 帮着BBC凑份子出钱制作,所以也算老板之一吧。

Wallander 第二季包括三个故事: Faceless Killers (在小说里是第一部),The Man Who Smiled,和 The Fifth Woman。

In Faceless Killers (October 3), The Man Who Smiled (October 10) and The Fifth Woman (October 17), the down-at-the-heels sleuth is nearing the end of his emotional rope — at odds with his daughter, his father, his gyrating blood sugar and coming to terms with having killed a man. It's almost more than a self-doubting crime solver can stomach.

看剧情介绍似乎把 Wallander 的生活写得特颓废,其实也不必这么悲剧性嘛,小说里头还是笑料很多的,不过主要都是干干的瑞典式笑料,自嘲的中年男人那一套。人生就是这样,忙不迭要把自己树立成悲剧主角,谁也不会拦着你。想从坑里爬出来呢,也只能靠自己一勺一勺地挖出台阶来。

虽然可以推脱为英国剧抓不住瑞典民族性,不过瑞典黄鸟公司拍的 Wallander 系列(不是 Mankell 写的)也很难看,比 Branagh 版更难看,我好憎恶那套系列剧。在第一季最后一集里居然把一个半主角给写死了。说起来这套瑞典黄鸟出品的 Wallander 系列电视剧很不祥。本来就难看,主角 Krister Henriksson 也根本不象书里那个 Wallander ,拍完一季之后女主角,演 Linda Wallander 的 Johanna Sallstrom 又不幸自杀了 --- 我一直疑心跟工作有点关系,这套剧的剧本特别黑暗,而且老让她的角色 (Linda) 遇到一些很痛苦的情节。我就觉得这剧本很无聊地毫无意义地搞得很黑暗,又沉闷又叽叽歪歪的,也不知道这个管事的 show-runner 是什么衰人,到底想讲什么,是发泄自己的变态不满,还是报复社会故意给观众添堵。难道这就是瑞典国民性中的黑暗面么?! Mankell 本来打算写 Linda Wallander 三部曲小说的,结果因为 Johanna 的事而伤心得写不下去了。结果这破剧集后来居然又拍了第二季!(第二季还在BBC4播放过。)

黄鸟改编了不少瑞典侦探小说,Girl With the Dragon Tattoo 三部电影也是他们拍的。但 Beck 系列片 (90年代版本,不是根据原著小说改编的故事) 就不是他们拍的。


Once upon a time there was a medicine man. He was competent but no miracle worker. He fell in love and got married as a young man. After a few happy years, the wife was infected by germs and nearly died. He tried everything he could to cure her. The illness was incurable, but he stubbornly worked to keep her alive. They stopped making love.

A few years later, the good doctor fell in love with another woman. She was vibrant, healthy, talented, interesting, and, worst of all, was also in love with him. Then what?

They chose not to cut off all contact with each other and instead became close friends, as close as they could be without causing a scandal. Yet they also chose to not have a physical affair. And they decided to hide their fondness for each other from the dying wife.

The wife had been given the prognosis of dropping dead any time, but she continued to refuse to die and hung on for her dear life ... for nearly 10 years.

That is what I am most curious about. All those insufferable years.

In the dark corners of their hearts, in the endless waiting and despair, did the other woman prayed for her rival's natural death? Did he think about it? He was a physician and a writer of crime novels. He could poison her and nobody would suspect a thing --- because he had been such a selfless and devoted husband in the years past. Or perhaps, he could not bring himself to murder her precisely because his platonic affair with the other woman was known by many people out there --- perhaps I am letting my own cynical black heart slipping out for a moment, sorry.

They insisted that they were strictly platonic before the wife's death, but who knows. And I would rather they consummated their feelings for each other. That would be a bit more humane. Even if they did, the uncertain future and the guilt (and perhaps the impatience and hatred? Oop, here comes my black heart again) must have gnawed at them from the inside from time to time. Ten years! I can't imagine.

What about the wife? Did she suspect anything? Did she want to keep on living for the benefits of her poor husband? Was she just trying to eek out a few more years because she did not want to die? Did she think about what would happen to her husband if she died...

Finally she was dead. They got married in the next year and became a perfect couple. As if nothing had happened. As if there had been no bitterness and evil thoughts and ... It was a darned happy ending.

Yet, the Maughamism in me cannot rest. Did certain thoughts float in his mind? --- It would be so easy. A tiny dose of digitalis. A bit more morphine. Even if only a slight delay or neglect in care would do it. It would be so easy. He had seen it so many times in newspapers, police reports, and even his own patients. Murder could be so easy and he would have done it better than anyone. He would never be caught. And all of their problems would have disappeared ...

Thursday, August 5, 2010




虽然Dr. Doyle屡次将福尔摩斯描绘成鄙视女性的男性沙文主义者,但是全集中的女性人物几乎没有傻冒、愚蠢、或固执的,几乎全是温柔而刚毅,勇气未被恶男打倒的例子,倒是男性人物是各种奇形怪状丑态百出的都有,于此可见作者自己的态度和喜欢的女人性格。虽说维多利亚时代的英国文化、浪漫主义风气仍然宣扬骑士/绅士态度,呵护女士,但他笔下的女主角们大都坚强自立,有主见,需要帮助但不需要居高临下的保护和代庖。

前两天刚注意到,Mary Morstan 跟华生结婚时已27岁,一直靠做家庭教师养活自己。其他故事中亦有不少30岁左右的女性接受求婚,然后遇到困扰而找私家侦探解决。也许维多利亚时代大龄而婚并不罕见。

Dr. Doyle 自己26岁时结婚,当时他还是一个 struggling young physician,开业之后生意清淡,闲着也是闲着,一边等病人一边在诊所里写小说。后来太太患上了肺结核,他们很多年没有夫妻生活,医生爱上了另一个女人,但是为了太太而不能跟她公开恋爱(显然没有加入狄更斯学派)。后来太太去世他才跟情人结婚。

David Pirie,考据狂和电视/小说作家,指出,1893年医生把福尔摩斯写死的时间,跟他父亲去世吻合。他父亲有患长期的精神疾病和酗酒问题,但是他很爱他父亲。I don't think Pirie is correct about Arthur's relationship with his mother. I tend to believe that Arthur had, by and large, a pretty good relationship with Mrs. Doyle.

Brightness Falls from the Air


作者是 James Tiptree, Jr.,又名 Racoona Sheldon,原名 Alice Sheldon。当年是很坚持的女扮男笔,连发奖给她都不肯出现让大家看见。I don't blame her. 除了有科幻小说界的性别歧视传统之外,我猜她的主要目的还是为了不让读者对作品形成先入为主的印象 --- 因为她喜欢在小说里玩模糊的性别立场,特意避免 stereotype。眼下这年头当然不成问题,女作家人数剧增而且风格多样化,但是三十年前的状态是不同的。

这本小说的结构颇有点不寻常。开头一半左右的篇幅都缓慢平淡,十来个旅行者来到一个只有三个人类员工驻扎的外星居留保护区参观恒星爆炸变成 Supernova 的景色,当地“人”是外表类似于人但更美且会飞的异形,技术不发达,加上其他原因,需要保护。大家似乎都很正常和蔼,没啥特别,甚至面目模糊,有一搭没一搭地闲话。节奏慢而无悬念也是让我读得很慢提不起劲头的原因之一。

篇幅一过半,故事突然逆转,大量的冲突、暴力、悬念、流血事件都出来了,而且不停地掉包袱,不停地冒出意料之外的转折,节奏很快,把我都看晕了。有些地方还真够恶狠狠的。不过,文字中虽然有描绘颇血腥的部分,仍然不是很典型的“动作片”类型的故事。女作家写暴力血腥、vicious 的内容,总是让我叹服,因为自己写不出来。




Wednesday, August 4, 2010





Thompson, Don't Write out Loud

One of the enduring qualities of Dr. Doyle's Sherlock Holmes series is how well the stories hold up in repeated readings. For nearly three decades, I read every story in the Canon many times. Despite his confusion over the location of Watson's wound, ACD's rendering of logic and motivations is impeccable. Even the most bizarre stories make sense. Very few of the Holmes fanfics or imitations can achieve the same, with notable exceptions in David Pirie, Rene Balcer, and Stephen Moffat.

Steve Thompson's script for "The Blind Banker" --- not so much.

The episode crumbles into a heap of dust upon second viewing. Not counting the pacing problems and lack of wit (especially compared with episode 1), there are some irreparable problems at the bottom of the story.

First, let's imagine that you were a gangster/smuggler/assassin (Chinese or otherwise). An employee has stolen a very valuable jewel from you stash. You go after him. You find him. Then what?

Obviously, you would grab him and take him to a dark, isolated corner and ask him where the jewel is. Perhaps nicely at first, perhaps not. Perhaps you have to threaten bodily harm, until he gives it back or takes you to the fence where he unloaded the merchandise. All this must be done quietly because you do not want to attract anyone's attention, especially the police's. It's a no brainer.

But what does our Chinese secret-society villain do? He goes to van Coon's (fairly) high-security work place, enters some irrelevant boss's office, spray-paints a couple of big numbers on the wall, and hopes van Coon would see it. Obviously, the message is not clear enough to convey what he is looking for. Then, the villain goes to van Coon's apartment, jumps in from the window (it would be so much easier to just follow him in), avoids van Coon's gunshot, and ... shoots him in the head.

I ask: Why? Isn't the goal to find the hairpin? How does killing him achieve that? Does the villain shoot him in haste and therefore have no time to interrogate van Coon? No, because he shoots van Coon in close range. Remember that, in both encounters with Sherlock Holmes, the villain tries to strangle him in close range. He never uses a gun. Yet he shoots dead the two men whom he really must talk to.

All you have to do is ask.

Second glaring problem: How does Holmes trace the clues to Soo-Lin Yao? Holmes and Watson sit in the cafe across the street from the Fortune Cat Shop. He notices that the apartment next door to the shop (where the smugglers) has not been occupied for 3 days, so he breaks in. The apartment must have something to do with the case because it is the neighbor of the depot of the smuggling gang? Give me a break. So there's a phone book outside her door. Maybe the resident is on holiday. Maybe he or she just moved out. There is no logical reason for the break-in.

Perhaps even worse is Soo-Lin's motivation. Suppose you are a young woman who is trying to escape your past life in a dangerous criminal gang. Suppose you want to live your new life without interference. Would you choose to live next door to a shop that is a front for this particular gang that you are trying to escape? Wouldn't she know these people and what is going on in the shop? She was one of them for heaven's sake. Is Soo-Lin retarded? Doesn't seem like it.

There are many other sloppy and lazy details. Awkward, unfunny lines. Scenes that go nowhere. Poor editing.

Dull. :P

Tuesday, August 3, 2010

Who is Toby?

He is Molly Hooper's cat.

I keep wondering whether I am too suspcious. Maybe the whole Molly's blog thing is just a cute device to draw fans to the show's Web site. But I still wonder, why her? Why not Lestrade's blog or Mike Stamford's blog?

I am still reading "The Sign of the Four" in 10-minute increments in bed. Dr. Doyle really has a way of describing mysterious and haunting scenes, creating a creepy, Gothic atmosphere, all the while still rooting his stories in reality. The part about the dead stiff Bartholomew brother whose face, wearing a crooked smile, floated in moonlight is one of the scariest things I've ever read.

So who is Toby? He is a dog from Sherman's taxidermy shop who helped Holmes trace and find Jonathan Small and his "savage" killer servant.

Holmes: "When you have dropped Miss Morstan, I wish you to go on to No. 3 Pinchin Lane, down near the water's edge at Lambeth. The third house on the right-hand side is a bird-stuffer's; Sherman is the name. You will see a weasel holding a young rabbit in the window. Knock old Sherman up and tell him, with my compliments, that I want Toby at once. You will bring Toby back in the cab with you."

Watson: "A dog, I suppose."

Holmes: "Yes, a queer mongrel with a most amazing power of scent. I would rather have Toby's help than that of the whole detective force of London."

Monday, August 2, 2010


Feeling a bit lethargic this weekend and today. I shall be limp as a rag for a while (and it's not because Watson's running off with a woman).

The Last Jedi as a Spiritual Descendant of ESB

I was about 9 or 10 years old when I made my first contact with Star Wars. It was the novelization of "Empire Strikes Back," ...

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