Saturday, June 9, 2018

Review of Martians Abroad

Polly is part of the thriving Colony One on Mars. She dreams of piloting a starship one day and has her internships lined up. But her mother abruptly informs Polly and her twin brother Charles they are being sent to Earth for their education.

To Earth? Earth is old, grubby, and stifling.

Shaken, Polly wants to stay on Mars and get back into her cancelled internships. But their mother dangles in front of her the prospect of getting into a piloting program upon graduation from the Earth academy. Besides, they have no choice. They leave in two weeks.

Carrie Vaughn’s Martians Abroad is an impressive story. Polly is not a whiny brat, neither is she a superwoman, but she is smart and bold as she gets thrown into one challenge after another. Look at the excellent cover above. Mars’ gravity is only one third of ours, so Polly grew up tall and thin. Notice how slender her torso and limbs are. As she approaches Earth, she knows she’ll have difficulty moving around in a gravity three times what she’s used to.

Her brother Charles is a genius—not just in theoretical matters, but in detecting plots against them. Yes, there are plots. Not just physical difficulty, not just some semi-bullying by elite Earth students, but some actual hostility—a rockslide here, a kidnapping there. What is going on?

Martians Abroad is an enjoyable read for teens on up. For more on the author Carrie Vaughn, click here.

Monday, May 28, 2018

Predators vs The Princess Bride

Predator is a science fiction/horror franchise where ruthless aliens hunt down human beings for sport and pleasure. I’m not a fan because it’s so grotesque and pointless, but I caught the last part of the latest entry, Predators, some time ago. I was impressed enough that I watched the whole thing last week.

What occurred to me while I was watching this increasingly violent and grotesque movie was that it’s just like The Princess Bride.

I’m supposed to warn there are spoilers ahead, but I don’t think I’m giving anything away when I say there is kissing in The Princess Bride, but none in Predators.


The major plot points of the two movies match in an astonishing way. Predators has a group of people stranded on a planet, and at one point they tumble down a long cliff. That made me realize the resemblance: There were three attacks before this. The first one involved sharp objects that were set in clever traps, the second was much less clever and involved brute beasts, and the third involved a character callously using his wits in a way that results in someone’s death.

Described in this general way, these three attacks resemble the sword fight with Iñigo Montoya, the attack by the giant, and the battle of wits with the Sicilian. A skeptic might point out that these looked different in the two movies. Of course they do—these are two different stories in different genres, and no particular character in Predators corresponds to Westley or Buttercup. but the structure is the same.

Moving on, the characters in Predators encounter weird things in a jungle (yes, they spend most of the time in a jungle, but see how this turns out.) Westley and Buttercup spent time in the fire swamp. Then the characters are taken inside a grounded spaceship by someone who at first seems friendly, then turns hostile. This corresponds to Westley being taken inside a cave and at first cleaned up by the Albino, but is then subject to torture. The characters get out of the spaceship, and then things turn similar to a comical degree.

A character has a swordfight with one of the predators. That’s right—a swordfight! It occurs in the same part of the movie where in The Princess Bride, Iñigo has his “Hello. My name is Iñigo Montoya. You killed my father. Prepare to die” swordfight.

From there, the movies have their different action scenes for their climaxes. But what is interesting is that in Predators, a main character is paralyzed, then barely manages to recover enough to do something crucial in the climax. This is just like Westley being too weak to fight, but managing to stand and intimidate Prince Humperdinck.

The remaining characters go on to an uncertain future, but in a way that continues the adventure from the start. This corresponds to Westley telling Iñigo he would make a great Dread Pirate Roberts.

Overall, here is how the plot points line up (including the water escape at the start which would not have sounded like an impressive match at first):

Water Escape: The doctor escapes from being stuck in a tree by falling into water, Buttercup escapes from a boat by jumping into water.

Sharp Attack: Sharp objects in clever traps, sword fight with Iñigo.

Brute Force Attack: Brute beasts attack, the giant attacks.

Wits to Death: A character uses his wits and causes someone’s death, the battle of wits to the death with the Sicilian.

Long Slide: The characters have a long, violent slide down a cliff, Westley and Buttercup have a long, tumultuous slide down a cliff.

Wild Scenery: The characters have adventures in the jungle, Buttercup and Westley have adventures in the Fire Swamp.

Friendly Shelter that Turns Hostile: The characters are taken to a grounded spaceship by a host that seems friendly but who turns hostile, Westley is taken inside a cave and is cleaned up by the Albino but is then subject to torture.

Swordfight: A character has a swordfight to the death with a predator, Iñigo Montoya has a swordfight to the death with Count Rugen.

Paralysis: A character is paralyzed and barely manages to recover for the climax, Westley is too weak to fight but stands and intimidates Prince Humperdinck.

Uncertain Ending: Characters go their way to start the adventure again, Iñigo will become the next Dread Pirate Roberts. 

So, do I believe the plot points were copied from The Princess Bride on purpose? Yes. Again, these are two different stories, and the actions scenes look different from each other. But the similarities in plot structure are too great.

Even if you disagree with me, you should see the lack of originality in Hollywood. Don’t try too hard to see plot similarities in movies. Just let it come to you as you’re watching a movie and you say, “Hey, I’ve seen this story before.”

Monday, May 21, 2018

New Indiana Jones Movie

Disney announced a fifth Indiana Jones movie will star Harrison Ford once again. Harrison Ford is 75 years old.

No title has been announced yet.

My suggested title: Raiders of the Lost AARP.

Saturday, May 5, 2018

R. Lee Ermey Passed Away

The great R. Lee Ermey passed away. He served for several years as a Marine drill instructor, then went into his second career as an actor.

This particular clip has two great features: 1) It’s the start of a science fiction series, Space Above and Beyond, and 2) Since it was a TV show, there’s no swearing.

The first four minutes are worth watching.


Saturday, April 21, 2018

Norwescon Blog III—A Wrinkle in Time

On one panel, YA authors Tina Connolly and Fonda Lee surprised me by both expressing their admiration for A Wrinkle in Time. This was part of a theme of stories in which children and teens did not rebel against their parents—surprise! Parents or parent-substitutes are supportive in some stories. Sometimes a child has to rescue a parent. A Wrinkle in Time shows both.

 Moderator Lish McBride, with Tiny Connolly and Fonda Lee

When news of the movie came out, I decided to read A Wrinkle in Time. I couldn’t get through it. Yes, I realized it’s a children’s story. I read Peter Pan as an adult, and reread 101 Dalmatians as an adult. But A Wrinkle in Time didn’t work for me.

I didn’t see the movie, for the reasons the critics gave it a thumbs down for. But there’s this wonderful 90-second version. The movie cost one hundred millions dollars. I would be surprised if this version cost more than ten bucks.

Tuesday, April 10, 2018

Norwescon Blog II—Supplemental

I was determined to see Carrie Vaughn. I had spoken to her at the 2011 Worldcon in Reno, Nevada. My novel manuscript Dust after Slaying features a unique main character for an urban fantasy—a married woman.

Just about all urban fantasies with a female protagonist highlight her as very single, at least at the start of a series. That way she can fall in love with a good guy, or more commonly some bad boy from the wrong side of the tracks. Sometimes the good guy is the bad boy. And there was at least one urban fantasy where the female protagonist had three different guys of three very different ages interested in her.

So I had asked Carrie Vaughn if she knew of any urban fantasies where the woman starts out married. She did not, and she said her own character of Kitty only got married in the fifth book of the series. But she encouraged me in my efforts, saying I should write something different in the field.

She did a reading at this year’s Norwescon, and I managed to thank her at the end for her encouragement. She looked gratified—I didn’t realize how much an established writer would enjoy seeing her effect on an aspiring one.

I was going to ask her for an autograph on her young adult novel Martians Abroad, but there really wasn’t time.

The cover art is especially good. Polly was raised on Mars, which has one-third the gravity of Earth. Notice how elongated her torso and limbs are.

But obviously, I have to use this entry to post an excerpt from Dust after Slaying. Dee is talking on the phone to her best friend, Hope. Dee’s younger brother is Jeremy. As a married urban fantasy character, she has to deal with a real difficulty: babysitting. 

“Okay, we strike back twice as hard. We strike at Issaquah this afternoon. If you’re too distraught to make it, let me know.”
“I’ll be there.” Hope’s voice was convincing. “Childcare?”
“I can’t raise my parents on the phone for some reason. Since Jeremy’s already there with you, and if we can use your SUV for any unforeseen rough travel, you can bring him over with your kids to babysit both yours and mine, then we take off in the SUV.”
“Someday, we’re going to get confused and have your mother babysit my kids at Doctor Teutonicus’ office. Implements?”
That was their term for weapons. Dee glanced around. For this conversation, she knew it paid to make sure neither child popped up beside her like mushrooms after a rain. Nathan was taking a nap, after some scrubbing had finally managed to get the gooey smell of butterscotch off his fingers. Miriam was busy drawing a salmon based on her own observations, to compare with the same from the Lewis and Clark expedition. “Bring sharpened garden stakes. Road flares. Garbage bags, in case we have to be neat.”
“Okay. Abel and Seth, garden supplies, car safety implements, and garbage bags to be tidy. Did I forget anything? Oh yeah. Jeremy. Did you want to say something to your sister?”
His voice came on, resigned. “Wherever you go, there you are.”
“Thank you, Thomas à Kempis.”

Sunday, April 1, 2018

Norwescon Blog 1—Supplemental

This weekend I attended Norwescon, the largest science fiction/fantasy convention in the Pacific Northwest. I’ll have a couple of things to say about authors, but first let’s have some pictures:

The background is somewhat complicated, but I hope you can see the bow in her right hand and the quiver behind her right shoulder. It was the authenticity of the arrows that caught my eye. I didn’t think at the time to ask if she was a female Green Arrow, so I don’t know.

Here are some volunteers waiting to learn the art of Norse fighting. The woman at the left came in her own chain mail, which impressed the instructor.

Harley Quinn. That’s a very large hammer.

At a glance, you can tell she’s from the mirror universe of Star Trek. (My apologies to her dark-haired friend. Her picture didn’t come out.)

This young guy has a mechanical right hand that is highly articulated—think of certain scenes from the Terminator movies. he could actually close the fingers.

Power Girl wowed everyone with her barbells. But is there something familiar about her?

Yes, I’m sure I’ve seen her before.

This is kind embarrassing. There’s this one person, Torrey Stenmark, who teaches organic chemistry and who was Ms. Marvel a couple years ago.

There’s this other person, Tereshkova, who has dressed up as Padmé Amidala and as Star Trek characters.

They’re the SAME PERSON! I’ve been so fooled by wigs.

Saturday, March 24, 2018

Stephen Hawking: There are no black holes

Stephen Hawking recently passed away. I’ll repeat below my post from 2014, then add a comment.

Stephen Hawking is one of the creators of black hole theory using relativistic physics. (Actually, it would have been possible to come up with a black hole theory using the old Newtonian physics, but nobody ever bothered to.) Hawking has actually become quite the celebrity from his work, and he even appeared in an episode of Star Trek: The Next Generation. He’s one of the most easily recognized scientists in the world.

photo by Doug Wheller

Now Hawking has rethought it and declared black holes do not exist. A standard feature of science fiction has vanished, as if it had fallen into . . . well, we’ll think of something. Easy for Hawking to say—sorry I was wrong about what’s made me famous over the past few decades, next I’ll invent some other impossible things for you yokels to believe in.


Telling some people who are really into black hole cosmology that black holes do not exist is like telling a child that Santa Claus does not exist. Or like having the projector fail during a Star Wars premier before an audience full of geeks.

Tuesday, March 13, 2018

Apocalypse Now?

First, Elon Musk came up with easy-to-use flamethrowers.


photo by Nike Scream 

Okay, she doesn’t work for Elon Musk, but just look up “Mary Elizabeth Winstead,” “flamethrower,” and “images” and have a blast. 

Then Costco came up with food kits for emergencies or natural disasters that can feed a family of four for a whole year right here, that will have a shelf life of twenty-five years. Delivery time varies.

photo by Nandaro

And now it turns out that certain towns in Georgia require gun ownership. That’s right—they don’t ban gun ownership, they require it.

Here and here.

So, what do they know that we don’t, huh? Is something approaching? If you don’t like guns, look up one of those flamethrowers on eBay.


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