Tuesday, August 1, 2017

What if Buffy had Never Been?

Buffy the Vampire Slayer changed popular culture in more ways than one. It paved the way for the incredible dominance of urban fantasy in novels—these are the novels set in our modern times that tend to have women fighting vampires, werewolves, etc. At one point, as I was looking at the science fiction/fantasy shelves of a bookstore, a fellow walked by and complained about the lack of science fiction. “It’s all vampires now!” Although urban fantasy is currently shrinking, it’s still an established part of such bookshelves.

Those who are not into such novels would have noticed the uptick in TV shows set in contemporary times featuring vampires, werewolves, etc. They must have wondered what was going on!

Buffy also changed pop culture in another way. Their musical episode “Once More, with Feeling” was so successful, other TV series went on to have special musical episodes. I find the song “Walk through the Fire” to be one of the greatest popular songs ever written. It’s copyright, so I can’t show you it on this blog, but I’m sure you can find it. That soundtrack is definitely worth owning.

But what if Buffy had never been?

I’m talking about a slightly alternate universe. Many people wonder why Buffy wasn’t that successful in its first season (actually only a half-season in length). Why? It was up against Ally McBeal.

For those of you who don’t know, Ally McBeal had a very different portrayal of the feminine. It featured Ally literally swooning over men she met, and it dominated among young female viewers. As I watched the first season of Buffy and saw how fantastic it was, I knew that many young women who should have been watching it were wasting their time watching Ally McBeal. I was quite concerned Buffy wouldn’t make it.

But for its second season, Buffy was no longer on against Ally McBeal, and the rest is history. But what if Buffy had been cancelled?

Urban fantasy would not have dominated the bookshelves. TV shows with contemporary vampires and werewolves would have been far fewer. Even the movie scene would have changed, since I don’t believe the Twilight series would have been such a raging success without Buffy paving the way. I know that Ally McBeal had its share of musical numbers, but without the success of the Buffy musical, other TV series would not have dared to write entire episodes as musicals.

Joss Whedon, who was the driving force behind Buffy, is now directing The Avengers movies, which are changing expectations for movie blockbusters. But without the culture-changing success of Buffy, he would have just been some guy who felt sorry for the blondes who got killed in horror movies.

So instead of pop culture featuring variations of Buffy kicking a vampire’s head in, it would have been dominated by stick-figured women swooning over the men they liked. Now, isn’t that a nasty alternate universe?  

Friday, July 21, 2017

Movie Review: Valerian and the City of A Thousand Yawns

This is not a negative blog. I try to report only on positive things. But once in a while, things are so frustrating, I want to comment.

I almost fell asleep a couple times during Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets. I haven’t been this hyped up by the previews for a movie and then so disappointed at the reality of it in fifteen years. The main problem (and this is so ironic after attending a writers workshop yesterday) is that I couldn’t view Valerian as a sincere person. He was not a character I could sympathize with. And besides, Dane DeHaan sounds like a nasally version of Keanu Reeves.

Cara Delevingne as Laureline is even worse. She is a one-note cold fish towards Valerian throughout.

Yes, there are lavish special effects in Valerian. But it’s mostly a matter of telling, not showing. Here we are told there are some exotic aquatic aliens. There we are told there are exotic programming aliens. And that is it. They play no role in the story. The movie features elaborate CGI sets, but mostly they are rushed by. 

Click below to read the spoilers. 

Thursday, July 20, 2017

Simba’s Journey

I attended an all-day writing session today taught by Christopher Vogler, author of The Writer’s Journey. In it, he takes elements of The Hero’s Journey and other sources to help writers understand story structure and archetypes. So why am I starting out with The Lion King?

Vogler is quite influential in Hollywood and has often been asked to help with screenplays (the screenplays are his specialty, not novels). He was allowed to have some influence on The Lion King. As he told it, the first ten million dollars’ worth of animation had already been done, which would have been the first quarter or third of the movie.

He watched in particular the scene where a baboon lifts up the young Simba. He suggested that something like stained glass should be in the sky, with a beam of light coming down to rest on Simba. At that, the animators started furiously scribbling away at their versions of the concept. The other people shivered—that kind of shivering people get when they are deeply affected by something. He knew then that the concept was a keeper.

So they redid that first part of the animation, even though it cost them an extra two million dollars to do it.

I highly recommend Voglers’ The Writer’s Journey. Vogler himself emphasized we should not slavishly follow the story structure in it. I agree. Joseph Campbell in The Hero’s Journey stated that all great stories in recorded history have the same structure. That is not really true. But I was already writing my novels somewhat in the style of The Writer’s Journey, so it was a treat to hear Christopher Vogler go over it in person.

Also helpful, though not discussed at this Pacific Northwest Writer's Conference, is Myth and the Movies by Stuart Voytilla. Although both authors write in terms of movie-making, their insights also apply to novels.  

Saturday, July 15, 2017

Amazon Kindle Ripped Me Off

So I ordered a copy of The Daughters of Palatine Hill by Phyllis T. Smith as a digital book for my Kindle. (It’s historical fiction set in ancient Rome.)

It never arrived on my Kindle.

I did all the troubleshooting Amazon recommended. I made sure I had a good wireless connection. My software is updated (I previously downloaded something just a couple weeks before.) I synced to check for items. My payment was valid, I wasn’t filtering incorrectly, and I did a full restart. I tried downloading it multiple times. Nothing.

To my horror, I discovered there is no way to complain about a missing e-book. If it’s a book made out of paper, they have an incredible tracking system and do everything they can to make sure the customer is satisfied. But for the digital editions, nothing. (If you’re a Dune fan, imagine Kyle MacLachlan saying, “For the father, nothing.”)

I found a cheap, used paper version on Amazon and bought that. In the future, if this happens again with a digital edition, what should I do? Should I go over to Barnes & Noble? 

Tuesday, July 11, 2017

Call to DEFCON One

I assume you’ve heard of Secretary of Defense James “Mad Dog” Mattis. A photograph in the news accidentally revealed his phone number. It was on a sticky note on some papers he was carrying? Zowie.

A student at Mercer Island High School here in Washington state noticed it. He called the number and asked for an interview. Guess what happened?

public domain 

Secretary Mattis agreed and gave the student a long interview. He not only gave factual answers to the student’s questions, he apparently gave him the benefit of his wisdom on a number of topics.

So if you find a similar opportunity, be bold enough to call, or ask, or chat. The worst thing that can happen is you’ll be told no. Or they’ll sic the dogs on you. 

Thursday, July 6, 2017

Rockets’ Red Glare—Not

For the Fourth of July, I went to the Downtown Park in Bellevue (Bellevue is a suburb of Seattle). They have a large, artificial waterfall that is keenly engineered. A fairly new cement walkway allowed this point of view, which I’ve never had before.

The Bellevue Square mall is on the north side of the park. As I’ve noted before, the Microsoft store inside is so confident of their brand, they don’t even put their name on the front of the store.

Their open-air design has the work hard, play hard kind of feel. Notice a guy on the right is wearing a VR helmet to show off that system. (Click to enlarge.) 

Not far away is their sworn enemy, the Apple store. And they don’t have their name on the front of the store, either.

Same design. But they have achieved a slacker cool kind of vibe.

So back outside. It’s hard to convey the crowd size with one picture. 

A real treat was a performance by the Bellevue Youth Symphony Orchestra.

Below is from the reverse angle.

They started with a medley from the recent Star Trek movies. In a word, fascinating. They quickly went on to a medley of Leonard Bernstein’s works. This must have been quite challenging for the conductor (who is facing us in the above picture), because of the variety of Bernstein’s styles.

Since I had to go to work the next day, I left before the fireworks show. But I could hear their booming explosions as I drove off. 

Saturday, June 17, 2017

Holy Obituary, Batman—Adam West Passed Away

Adam West said of his Batman series that it was morality tales for children, but done in a way that adults could enjoy. And he was right. The kitschy, overly-polite style was great for children as Batman and Robin slugged it out with bad guys, and it entertained the grown-ups as they watched the show. And the actors—Caesar Romero as the Joker, Frank Gorshin as the Riddler, Burgess Meredith as the Penguin (who really didn’t like being reminded of that role later in life), and Julie Newmar as Catwoman. They were fantastic for their roles, and Julie Newmar was a purr-fect fit.

public domain 

The actual Batmobile was at a science fiction convention. I was surprised at how small it was—like a tiny sports car. In the TV series, it really did have a jet engine in it. No fooling.

And the music! If you’re in a band, jam to that original “Batman” tune sometime. That was from a time in the 60s and early 70s when there was The Addams Family theme music, and “Best Friend” from The Courtship of Eddie’s Father. Great stuff.

So farewell, Adam West. Thanks for stopping when the light said Don’t Walk while you were chasing criminals, and for not throwing a live bomb in the water because you saw some baby ducks there.

Click for my comments on Powers Boothe and John Hurt

Saturday, June 10, 2017

Going Postal – Ancient Greek Edition

Citizens, do you want to force a change at your local federal institution? Even just a tiny change? Look closely at the picture below.

Upper right corner

It shows the typical huge, metal, rotating drum at a post office for dropping off packages. It’s inside the building, so packages can be dropped off securely. But there is no internal drop-off slot for envelopes in this post office. We are directed to go outside and place envelopes in the big, blue mailbox so common throughout the country. Are they insane?

There was the incident, some years ago, when someone took a cutting torch and cut through the four legs of the mailbox and hauled the whole thing off. This would be to wash the written ink from any checks they found in the mail. That way, the crooks could make the checks out to themselves for large amounts and wipe out the victims checking accounts. What about your personal letters and paperwork? They would just toss those.

So of course I would put my envelopes in the big metal drum, because it was inside the building. I and other people did it often enough, they added the sign in the upper right corner: STOP! Packages ONLY!

I like to think the most recent time I mailed a manuscript through there was the straw that broke the camel’s back. Now I get to point at the sign and say, “See that? I did that!”

And here’s an excerpt from that Temple Beyond the Sea manuscript. Iphigenia (Iphi) just told three new women in the temple that she is related to the great Helen.


Delailen made a chewing motion, her lips crooked, her eyes full of doubt. “You claim to be related to the great Helen? The one who was taken to Troy? What are you, some lesser relative?”
“Yes. Have you heard of her? Is the war still raging?”
Cordi’s eyes now opened wider, whites showing against her dark skin. “My, everyone’s heard of the great Helen, most beautiful of all women. And you’re related to her? Whee!” She reached out and touched Iphi’s robe. “And I’ve met you, and you’re related to her, and oh, I’ll have to let my family know, and all the fisher folk on the shore.”
Tassa also came close. “Sorry, I didn’t know. The caravans have been trading treasure from Troy for some years now. The siege was broken. Whether that means Troy won, or the Achaeans won, or whether that was one siege and the war continues, I do not know.”
“Thank you.” Iphi wondered if meeting these new people and asking more questions would lead her to discover what happened to her family, if they were all safe at home. She remembered her dream about the pillar that must have been Orestes, and hoped others did not share his fate.

She looked at Delailen. But her face was closed. If she knew more than these two, she was not telling. 

For a different excerpt, click here

Monday, May 29, 2017

Loony-Toony Seattle

If you’ve followed this blog, you’ve seen hints I live in the Seattle area. Every big city has its quirks, but Seattle is known to be way out there.

For instance, residents are required to have garbage cans, recyclable cans, and compostable cans. So far, so good. But for a while, the city required garbage collectors to snoop through the garbage cans to see if too much recyclable or compostable stuff was in there. Residents could be fined for that. Fortunately, a court threw out the search part, but the ordinance is still in place.

So if you have a bunch of old pizza or newspapers, throw them in the garbage can of a neighbor you don’t like.

photo by Todd Huffman 

What’s still current is that the Seattle police can no longer refer to a person they arrest a “suspect.” They must use the term “community member.” I’m not making this up.

I can imagine a reporter asking a woman, “Is it true you shot the man accused of trying to rape you?”

“Yeah I shot right for the community member.”

(no picture)

And this one sounds really silly, but it turns out to be sinister. Thousands of pet owners received letters from King County (which contains Seattle) demanding they license their pet, or they would get a $250 fine. How did the county know they were pet owners? Well, you know those little cards the grocery stores give you to scan at each purchase so you could possibly get a discount? King County has access to those databases. If you buy some cat food or kitty litter, guess what the government knows about you?

photo by irrational cat 

Suppose you buy a large amount of medical supplies. Are you eluding your duty to buy medical insurance from exchanges whose sites do not keep your medical information secure? Or do you buy a huge amount of non-perishable foods, matches, and camouflage gear? You might be a survivalist type, and if some criminal survivalist goes on the lam, maybe the police should see whether you’re harboring that fugitive.

I think there could be a story idea there. 


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