Category Archives: Diversions

The stuff that didn’t fit elsewhere.

How to turn a giant mansion into an alien landscape

Dale Chihuly is an American artist who makes ginormous, colorful glass sculptures. Or rather, he conceives of giant glass sculptures and then puts a team to work on them because a couple of accidents years ago left him unable to do the glass-blowing himself. His largest piece is on the ceiling of the Bellagio in Las Vegas — I’ve never seen it, but I’d like to because it looks gorgeous — and

I’ve been admiring Chihuly’s work from afar for awhile now, but Poppy and I finally got to some of it in person at the Biltmore Estate. Most of the works are incorporated into the gardens, and they are colorful and stunning and have turned the normally sedate, elegant Biltmore grounds into an otherworldly “Annihilation” landscape.

The Dale Chihuly glass sculptures at the Biltmore Estate will be there until mid-October, so you still have a few months to see the installation. My favorite local art gallery, Momentum, is hosting a contemporary glass exhibit until August, too, so make sure you stop in there if you’re in Asheville in the next few weeks.

Nichole has a few rambling thoughts about science fiction etc.

I generally don’t watch horror movies because I don’t enjoy having nightmares, but I do like a good story so sometimes when a horror movie is getting great reviews I’ll try to find a plot summary because reading it is less traumatizing than watching it. So that’s what I’d planned to do with “Hereditary,” but then Rockford watched it (because he does enjoy having nightmares, I guess), and he told me all about it in great detail because he is the James Joyce of plot summarization.

I will not tell you anything about the movie — other than I am glad I didn’t go see it because it sounds terrifying — but I will say that it sounds like it’s about a lot more than Jumps and Scares. And it’s getting panned by a lot of viewers who say “Oh, that wasn’t so scary,” and that reminded me of something I was thinking about the other day and that is the movie “Annihilation,” a guy on the internet who hated it and a theory I have about the stories we create and when we create them.

I read “Annihilation” a few years ago and I didn’t like it at all because I didn’t connect with any of the characters. But Rockford read the whole trilogy and loved it, so when the movie came out he went to see it and he loved that, too, even though it departed significantly from the books. He thought I’d like the movie, so he rented it a few weeks ago.

I didn’t like it in the sense that I’ll ever watch it again, but I did appreciate it. It was beautiful (except for that decidedly unbeautiful pig-bear), and it was an interesting approach to exploring how different people deal with grief and trauma. Obviously, I’ve thought a lot about it since we watched it.

After we watched “Annihilation,” I was reading other people’s opinions about it on The Internet — which might lead one to believe that I do enjoy nightmares — and one angry media consumer on a message board kept coming back to the lack of military force as the reason he hated the movie. The government wouldn’t send in a team of women (and I quote: “LOL”), he said, it would blast the whole area with all the nation’s firepower. An America’s Might vs Some Aliens story was the story that he wanted to see and therefore the movie was bad.

“Hold up, Internet Man,” I might have said if I’d been having a conversation with him rather than writing a blog post about it six months after he argued with other people about it on a message board. ” ‘Annihilation’ isn’t a sci-fi movie about blastin’ aliens. There absolutely is a place in our entertainment universe for those stories, but if those are the only stories we’re willing to hear we end up with a much less rich entertainment universe.”

Which brings me to my theory about story creation: I think we see more introspective horror and sci-fi when the world looks like it might implode, because we’re spending more time thinking about how we got to where we are and how we might survive it. The flip side of that theory is that we get more popcorn movies when everything looks swell. Again: There is a place for “Annihilation” and “Independence Day” and for “Saw” and “Hereditary.” But it’s disingenuous to share your opinion on a movie (or book or TV show or whatever) without disclosing that what you actually disliked about the story was that you expected explosions and instead got metaphors. It’s fine if metaphors aren’t your thing, but I don’t think it’s fair to unequivicolly say “That movie was bad because more explosions would be more realistic” when the truth is closer to “I didn’t want to have to think about anything today.”

And also “Annihilation” is about a mysterious, shimmery force making the coast all freaky-deaky, so the whole “it wasn’t realistic” argument sort of falls flat from the get-go.

In conclusion, “Annihilation” was weird and thoughtful and you should see it if you like weird, thoughtful sci-fi.

Some thoughts about some books: Goats and taxes, Han Solo’s origin story, and a life of danger

“Flat Broke with Two Goats” by Jennifer McGaha

I stumbled on this one via the Big Library Read. “Flat Broke with Two Goats” was purported to be a charming memoir about a life in Appalachia that doesn’t go as planned. The author is surprised to learn that they owe a large amount of back taxes to the government, so McGaha and her husband let their house go into foreclosure and wind up living in a “rustic” three-story cabin at the base of a waterfall, where they proceed to make a series of even more questionable financial decisions. I didn’t find the story all that charming.

“The Paradise Snare” by AC Crispin

I don’t think I’ve read a paperback sci-fi yarn since high school, when I found out that Rockford liked “Dune” so I decided to read it so I’d have something to talk to him about (and then before I knew it I’d read the whole series and was looking for all the sci-fi to consume). But then awhile ago someone on Twitter was talking about AC Crispin’s Han Solo trilogy, and it sounded intriguing. I requested a copy of “The Paradise Snare” from a library in a galaxy far, far away, and once it finally got here I read it in just a couple of days. I love Han Solo, and I enjoyed this origin story enough to read the next one. “The Hutt Gambit” should be arriving any day now. I’ll be curious to see whether “Solo” takes any cues from Crispin’s stories.

“I Am, I Am, I Am: Seventeen Brushes with Death” by Maggie O’Farrell

I think I originally read about “I Am, I Am, I Am” in the New York Times Book Review. I was expecting to be moved, to cry and to emerge with a greater appreciation for life and all its frailty. But the essays really just left me a little more paranoid than usual about life and all its frailty. This shouldn’t have surprised me, knowing me as I do.

If you’re interested in seeing everything I’ve read this year — and why wouldn’t you be? — you can check out my 2018 Reading Challenge at Goodreads.