Friday, December 26, 2014

I Saw the Doctor Who Christmas Special

Yes, I saw it, but I won’t reveal what was in it. Instead, I’ll post an eerie dream I had back in 2009. Does it resemble the Doctor Who Special? You’ll have to watch it to find out.

I strongly encourage writers to write down their dreams. That way, you’ll have nifty accounts like this.

            I was sitting in a Bible study, possibly in a pew or in a row of chairs. I was at the end of my row, and to my left a friend of mine was at the end of his row, and his wife was beyond him. The friend and I were both reading texts while someone was up front, pointing at things on an overhead projection screen.
            It might have been at this point that my alarm went off, waking me. I reached up and shut it off. I looked out my window from my bed. The blinds were partway up, and I could see it was snowing out, which the news last night had predicted was a possibility. The snowflakes were a good size, and they were being blown from right to left by the wind, so it was snowing horizontally.
            I woke up from that dream and saw the snowflakes were actually very fine. They were coming down vertically, but the slightest draft would blow them from left to right for a moment.
            I woke up from that dream and saw that the window was now right next to my bed, without any blinds. I could see in the dim light someone was climbing up the building. Part of him was showing through the right edge of the pane, which was near my head. He was making knocking or hammering sounds as he climbed, and I could also see the head of a dog through the left part of the window -- which shouldn’t have been possible, since I live on the second floor. The dog was staring at me or the climber, but it wasn’t barking.
            Grabbing the edge of the sliding window that was near my head, I opened it. I grasped the edge of some of the climber’s clothing and yelled, “Hey! What are you up to?” He didn’t pay any attention to me, though my grabbing him stopped his climbing any further. He was dressed like an elf. Not an elf out of Tolkien, but one of Santa’s elves -- colorful, simple clothing, and with a cap. His nose was prominent and red. He simply looked off into the distance to my left.
            I realized my room was very dark. What I thought had been the edge of the sliding window was actually the edge of a room divider I had been grabbing in my sleep.
            I woke up from that dream and saw my window was the usual distance away, and the drapes and blinds were closed. Some dim light was coming in, which is usual for this time in the morning. I haven’t looked outside to see if it is snowing yet.

Monday, December 22, 2014

The Movie The Hobbit: The Battle of Five Armies

This won’t be a full review. I’ll content myself in noting some major differences with the book, and a couple of standout scenes.

Among the main characters are Galadriel, Legolas, and Tauriel. None of these characters appear in the book The Hobbit. Tauriel is not even in The Lord of the Rings; she was made up for these movies.

This was a leftover concept from the movie version of The Lord of the Rings. An early concept was to take Arwen—the elf-maiden Aragorn was in love with—and make her a warrior and part of the fellowship of the ring. The fan backlash made them abandon that. So they snuck in Tauriel for The Hobbit.

As for standout scenes, considering the title of the movie, you shouldn’t be surprised if there’s . . . a battle? When Thorin Oakenshield and company charge into battle, it was an incredible moment in cinema. And it was great fun when Bard the bowman has only one arrow left to go up against the dragon Smaug the Golden.

I’ll let people say for themselves whether they like the movie. Just brace yourself if you see the movie first and then read the book, because the differences are huge.

And Jana, if you’re reading this, Beorn got ripped off again. Are they prejudiced against bears?

Nothing against Evangeline Lilly, who looked great as Tauriel
photo by Luigi Novi

Monday, December 15, 2014

Book Review: Memory Zero

“There was a touch of reluctance in her voice, and he had to wonder whether it was simply a matter of knowing what was on the disks and not wanting him to see it or that she didn’t want to pry into Kazdan’s affairs more than necessary. But that didn’t make any sense—not if she wanted answers.”

(For teaser sentences on other books, see MizB’s Should be Reading.)

Memory Zero by Keri Arthur starts in an unusual way. Sam, a rather normal detective in a world that acknowledges the existence of vampires and other non-human creatures, has to kill her partner Kazdan when he attacks her. While trying to clear her name, she finds unknown assailants trying to assassinate her. What’s interesting is though Sam is supposed to be a normal human, she develops abilities no human should have. This first becomes indisputable when she flees an assassination attempt by jumping out of a two-story building and landing on her back on pavement with no ill effects.

Gabriel is an experienced member of the Spook Squad who ends up protecting Sam and investigating her at the same time. She resents him, thinking he sees her as a lab rat, but he goes out of his way to save her out of more than one deadly situation. Gabriel has his own unique abilities, which he shows when he casually takes to flight.

Memory Zero goes along at a good clip, with surprising twists and turns. It takes a while to get used to this combination of fantasy and science fiction, with vampires and powerful handheld lasers existing in the same universe. Sam and Gabriel end up unraveling conspiracies with implications far beyond a special police squad, leading to the tumultuous climactic scenes that seem more science fictional than fantasy.

A weak point is that Sam escapes more than once from some prison or locked room, just because no one bothered to keep a camera pointed at her. The futuristic nature of the story just makes this glaring.

For me, a relief is that there were no sex scenes and no romance in Memory Zero. I like urban fantasy without the girl falling for the bad boy, or wondering if two characters are going to get into a clench right at the halfway point. 

Tuesday, December 9, 2014

Non-Christmas Christmas Songs

The subject came up recently of non-Christmas Christmas songs—that is, songs we sing this time of year that have nothing to do with Christmas. I think Jingle Bells was mentioned, although it turns out this was originally a Thanksgiving song.

My favorite is Good King Wenceslas. Many are surprised at this since it is found in hymals, so it is thought to be a Christmas hymn. It is actually a Saint Stephen’s Day hymn. After all, the first two lines are “Good King Wenceslas look’d out / On the feast of Stephen.”

public domain

Saint Stephen’s Day is December 26, so this hymn is mixed in with the Christmas hymns.

Another fellow, Saint Nicholas, has his day on December 6. His reputation as a giver of gifts also was mixed in with Christmas, but that is another story.

Tuesday, December 2, 2014


A lot of writers will start a blog entry with something like: What’s on my Playlist. They will then state a piece of music they were listening to while writing. The problem is I don’t listen to pop music that much . If I listen to music while writing, it will probably be a soundtrack from a movie.

If I do get published and become popular, the production company of the movie or the screenwriter might then accuse me of getting plot elements or characters from their movie. No, I haven’t heard of this happening, but considering the lack of originality in Hollywood, I wouldn’t be surprised.

photo by Richard Yaussi

So for now, I’ll simply list the composer whose music I was listening to. This past weekend, it was music by Hans Zimmer as I revised one of my Athena stories.

The passage below wasn’t what I revised, but a previous blog entry showed it to be popular.


“A family.” Athena was disgusted. “They killed a family.”
Perseus gestured at the other figures. “Athena, all these are facing away from the Gorgons.”
“As if fleeing.” She thought deeply. “They do not turn to stone instantly. This man was carrying the child as they fled. The Gorgons do something to them to start the process of hardening, then the victims try to get away.”
“‘Start the process.’ You mean something different from just their ugliness?”
“No matter what, use the reflection in the shield to look at them. I’m not sure what is happening. My thoughts on this are incomplete.”
“My mother once told me of a man who was bitten by a snake, and he became stiff, as if made of wood—”  
“Did you go deaf?” Athena was angry about the dead family, angry about secrets held by her fellow immortals, and angry about her inability to control this young man. “Do not ponder your way into doing something unsafe. I didn’t pluck you off the island of Samos so you could think your way into trouble, instead of listening to wisdom!”
“You didn’t choose a man who was deaf, or unable to think. I can do both.” His cheeks tightened with his own anger. “Why can’t I listen to your wisdom as you talk out loud, and we both begin to draw the same conclusion?”
“Because we’re approaching danger, that’s why.”
“Oh, is that why I brought this weapon? I thought we were approaching some paved fountain in the desert with little children skipping around.”

Wednesday, November 26, 2014

Carving Initials on the Colosseum

A Russian tourist was caught this past weekend carving his initials on the Colosseum. There, where gladiators battled for their lives, epic sea battles were reenacted, and people were executed before audiences of over 50,000, some dimwit decided to deface it with graffiti.

photo by Paul Zangaro

He was fined 20,000 euros. And if he can’t pay it, he should be thrown to the lions. 

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Book Review: The River of Doubt

Candice Millard’s The River of Doubt: Theodore Roosevelt’s Darkest Journey is a pleasure to read. This is a comprehensive account of the former president’s exploration of an unknown river in Brazil, using the journals of a number of people involved in this dark and almost disastrous journey.

Theodore Roosevelt was a man’s man who plunged himself into vigorous pursuit of outdoor danger after any disappointment in life. After his father’s death, he explored and hunted in the backwoods of Maine. When his mother and wife died on the same day, he went out breaking horses in the Dakota Territories. When he finished his terms as a Republican president, he explored and hunted in Africa. And when he failed to regain the presidency as the Bull Moose candidate, he explored a river in Brazil infested with caimans (a South American alligator) and piranha.

It’s hard to convey the tremendous work involved. They rowed their dugouts, yes, but when they encountered falls they had to portage those same dugouts. This involved hacking away with machetes through the jungle beside the waterfall, then using ropes to haul those dugouts down. They did this several times, giving an idea of how hardy these men were.

Woefully ill-prepared, the expedition had to go to half-rations, yet continue the same arduous work of rowing and portaging, not knowing if they would starve to death if this river of unknown length outlasted their rations. They tried to hunt game, but the Amazon rain forest usually defeated their efforts to spot any.

At one point, Roosevelt lay near death, feverous from disease and from a large abscess that developed from a leg injury during portaging. His son Kermit, an engineer whose skills were vital for the expedition, expected his father to die.

Since I’m leaving a link for Teaser Tuesdays, a bookish meme at Should Be Reading, I will include two random sentences from The River of Doubt:

When the expedition reached Tapirapoan just before noon on January 16, Roosevelt stepped off his boat expecting to find a well-organized army of oxen and mules prepared to carry heavy loads and make a quick departure for the River of Doubt. To his amazement and dismay, what awaited him in the little riverside village was not military precision but utter chaos.  —p. 85.

A companion volume is Roosevelt’s own account, Through the Brazilian Wilderness. It discusses in great detail how the expedition suffered the most from insects. If a man’s knee pressed against the mosquito netting overnight, that would allow access to the mosquitoes’ snouts, and the knee could look like cauliflower the next morning. There were ants whose bites stung like fire, black ants an inch and a quarter long, termites that would eat their clothing, and multitudes of stinging flying insects.

And besides the insects, there were spiders who did not so much spin webs as lower weblines down to the forest floor, as thick as ropes. 

Thursday, November 13, 2014

Comet Probe Lands in the Shade

The European Space Agency probe Philae is in trouble. Yes, it just successfully landed on a comet, but it landed in the shade. It relies on solar energy to recharge its batteries, so it will run out of energy sometime this Saturday.

Comet Churyumov-Gerasimenko

The ESA is wary of trying to move the probe around, since it might tip over. Will they risk it?

Bold ventures face success or failure over such odd happenstance, like landing in the shade of a huge rock. 

Thursday, November 6, 2014

Richelle Mead at the Bookstore

Richelle Mead is the author of, among other things, Vampire Academy, which was recently made into a movie. She’s also a friendly and accessible author and did a reading at the Barnes & Noble bookstore last Saturday to promote her more recent series, Bloodlines and Age of X.

This was less eventful than a previous time I saw her, which I made into a mythical journey. Richelle had a more cozy turnout this time (about twenty-five people, instead of a huge mob), so she was able to take the time to speak to each one of us—I asked her questions about incorporation—and for photos.

So if you hear of Richelle Mead doing a reading near you, make the effort to turn out and get the opportunity to ask her questions about her books or writing in general.

Saturday, November 1, 2014

Movie Review: Nightcrawler

Stringers are independent cameramen who make their living getting unique pictures or film and selling them to news outlets. Those who follow celebrities are called paparazzi. But there is a different breed, those who have police scanners in their cars and who race to car crashes and violent crime scenes, sometimes beating the police. In this movie the Los Angeles breed are called nightcrawlers. Their motto is “If it bleeds, it leads.”

Lou Bloom (Jake Gyllenhaal) is a fast learner. Once he gets his scanner and camcorder, he is right there, recording the bloody faces of victims and bargaining with the late night shift of a news station for money. What helps is Lou is a total sociopath.

Nightcrawler turned out to be a lot more disturbing than I bargained for. I thought it would show Lou becoming more cynical as he learned the trade. Nope, he’s a sociopath from his very first scene. At one point, when he’s accused of not understanding people, he replies, “Maybe I just don’t like them.”

It’s hard to convey what Jake Gyllenhaal did in this movie. For one thing, he lost thirty pounds to play the part, and the makeup does not cover up the lines in his face. But for most of the movie we see him perceiving the world around him in this unsympathetic, unblinking stare. In other words, the subject of the movie happens to be what a stringer or nightcrawler does, but it really is a study in how a sociopath survives and thrives.

This is not a negative blog, so I really wish I could recommend this movie. What I can say is if you’re a real Gyllenhaal fan, or if you want to see how a master actor portrays an unsympathetic character in an unflinching way, see Nightcrawler. If you want a movie where you see how violence sucks the soul out of a man, or a somewhat dramatized view of a news stringer, you’ll get something different from what you expected. 

Friday, October 31, 2014

Hello Kitty Drunk Driver

Happy All Hallows’ Eve. 

This woman should be Darth Vader’s running mate from my previous post. She was pulled over for drunk driving in a Hello Kitty outfit.

mugshots are public domain

Cosplayer hint: Nothing screams sober to the police like driving down the wrong side of the road while wearing a Hello Kitty costume. 

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Darth Denied

Darth Vader was turned away from the polls in Ukraine because he wouldn’t remove his mask.

The only person in this whole thing who smiles is a young woman in a knit cap when Darth brushes past her. Everyone else takes it so seriously.  

Friday, October 17, 2014

Marissa Meyer’s Writing Process

Marissa Meyer, author of Cinder, has posted her writing process from idea to finished book. 

She describes in detail such things as outlining, using Scrivener (I still use Word), how to take criticism from beta readers, and the publisher’s editorial process. Her first installment is here. Her overall blog is here.

I met Marissa Meyer last year when she spoke at the Bothell Library. Instead of simply reading from a manuscript, she regaled us with older versions of fairy stories, as I described in my blog post.

personal photo 

So if you hear that Marissa Meyer is speaking in your area, be sure to go see her! 

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

Ripping the Mask off of Movie Composers

Who really composed the score for Frozen?

If you go to the site for The Score and page down to the recording of “The Orchestrator” episode, listen to the first eleven minutes (or click to the third segment and listen to the first five minutes). It will change your view of movie scores forever. Some of these great movie composers send a file with the most bare bones of a score to an orchestrator, and the orchestrator actually fills it out or cuts it back, then he writes the actual written score composed of notes for all the different instruments in the orchestra.

image by August Hogn

That demo the orchestrator was given for “For the First Time” was a joke.

This rips the mask off of some the supposedly great composers in the business. The closest comparison is when a movie script is handed to a novelist who works closely with the movie business, and he proceeds to take a 90 page script and turn it into a novel of 300+ pages.

I remember one particular scene where a woman rolled a bicycle out of her room. The novelist added in the feel of the bicycle, the crumpling sound from some objects on the floor, and how all this reminded her of her father. At most, I imagine the movie script would just say she wheeled the bicycle out.

But this novelization process is open and above board—the writer’s name appears on the cover of the novelization. But the orchestrators’ names do not appear on the film scores. In the future, we will look back and see the orchestrators were the real geniuses.

Wednesday, October 8, 2014

Stephen Hawking: There are no black holes

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.

A black hole during a total eclipse 

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.

Tuesday, September 30, 2014

The Maze Runner – Sources of the characters

This will not be a comprehensive review. As I indicated in my previous post, the movie was much better—kind of a Lord of the Flies meets Peter Pan in a maze. But that was because they changed the plot and characters immensely.

But first, a couple sentences so I can participate in Teaser Tuesday. That bookish meme asks us to randomly pick two sentences from our current read:

Using the same method of pushing each of Alby’s arms and legs up two or three feet at a time, Thomas slowly made his way up the stone wall. He climbed until he was right below the body, wrapped a vine around his own chest for support, then pushed Alby up as far as he could, limb by limb, and tied them off with ivy.

Instead of reviewing the plot, I will contend the characters in the book (not the movie) correspond to characters in Alice in Wonderland. Thomas is Alice, the main character who knows this strange world should not be this way and reproves the odd characters encountered. As a clever move, this equivalent of Alice is male and goes up to the strange place, instead of down a rabbit hole.

Gally, who has insane hatred for Thomas from the start, is the Mad Hatter. (I don’t know how many times he’s referred to as “insane” in the book.)

Chuck, the constantly cheerful young kid who is immediately friendly to Thomas and sometimes seems to appear out of nowhere is the Cheshire Cat.

Minho, one of the runners who is constantly nervous in the maze, to the point of abandoning Alby when he is wounded, is the White Rabbit.

Teresa, the girl who gives Thomas cryptic information, is the caterpillar.

Alby and Newt, the two leaders, don’t have much in the way of distinct personalities. They could be Tweedledee and Tweedledum, but that is much less solid.  

Keep in mind, I’m saying the characters correspond to Alice in Wonderland, not the plot. The plot is obviously much different. For those of you who have read the book, do you agree? Disagree?

Using archetypal characters in new fiction happens all the time. For a much stronger example, remember the movie Inception, with Leonardo DiCaprio and Ellen Page running around through different levels of reality? For my analysis of how those characters are from Alice in Wonderland, see my review of Inception.

When I told an English and literature teacher that these characters that Lewis Carroll used are archetypes that occur over and over, she asked me where Lewis Carroll got them from. I shrugged.  

Monday, September 22, 2014

Movie Review: The Maze Runner

Thomas (Dylan O’Brien) wakes up to find himself in a cage—no, actually it’s an elevator taking him up to some unknown location. But he can’t remember anything about himself. He emerges to a jeering crowd of other teenage boys who call him “Greenie” because he’s the new guy. He breaks free of them only to find himself in a large, grass-covered glade. Beyond the trees in the distance are immense stone walls a hundred feet tall.

Thomas soon discovers that the walls continue for some distance, forming a maze. For three years a new teenage boy has arrived once a month, only to find out the glade is pretty much a prison. The “runners” who explore the maze have never found a way out. Worse, the entrances to the maze close at night, and anyone stuck in the maze overnight gets killed. But when Thomas sees a couple runners trying to make it back, he runs through a massive stone entrance right as it is closing. What will he discover?

I have no hesitation in giving a strong recommend for The Maze Runner. If you profess to love Young Adult stories, you should hang your head in shame if you don’t go see it. The movie is much better than the book, which I’ll review soon. I don’t normally say this when a movie is based on a bestselling novel, but the movie is better because it adds action. The novel has Thomas sitting around or wandering around, all insecure and nervous. In the movie, Thomas is a natural leader.

From the start, the glade has a real Lord of the Flies vibe to it, with Will Poulter as Gally just thriving as the teen who relishes the tribal nature of the ceremonial fires and impromptu wrestling. Ki Hong Lee is great as the level-headed Minho, leader of the runners. And Dylan O’Brien, best known as Stiles in the television series Teen Wolf, is in a league of his own. Unfortunately, Kaya Scodelario as the lone girl Teresa does not have much to do in the movie version, except stand around with great-looking hair, though I don’t think there’s any conditioner in the glade.

The maze itself is a standout part of the movie. The crenulated, vine-covered walls have a fascinating texture, and they shift around, rise, and even twirl at the most inconvenient times. It’s a grand thing that special effects have advanced enough to give a visual treat that seems a real part of the background.

Overall, Thomas can be thought of as a Peter Pan leading a group of lost boys, with the maze and the creatures inside serving as the crocodile with the ticking clock. So while the movie version is Lord of the Flies meets Peter Pan in a maze, the characters in the book have a different nature, which I will reveal soon. 

Thursday, September 18, 2014

Scotland Votes on Independence

Scotland votes today on whether to secede from Great Britain. This has caught a lot of people off guard. A few months ago the Yes vote was around 40% in the polls, so the issue was ignored. But in the last few weeks they caught up and now it is considered too close to call.

This was partly because the Yes or Independence vote rallied with all their might, while the No or Unity vote just sat around, thinking nothing would happen. I have no way of predicting the outcome, which should be announced tomorrow.

In the meanwhile, I highly recommend the soundtrack from the movie Braveheart. Some people say the main theme is the same as Holt’s “Jupiter Suite,” but the composer James Horner modified it enough to call it his own. It’s great background music while doing other things. 

Saturday, September 13, 2014

Richard “Jaws” Kiel Passed Away

Aw. Richard “Jaws” Kiel, who played that recurring henchman in the James Bond movies, passed away this week. I believe his only line was “Here’s to us,” as he clinked glasses with a girl with braces.

For those of you who like to watch reruns, he was also the alien in the Twilight Zone episode “To Serve Man.”

public domain

I would like to get his autobiography Big, but it was a limited edition and kind of pricey. I did find this line he wrote about himself, after getting free of all that alcohol that floats around in show biz:

“Not only did God deliver me from the bondage of alcoholism, he also blessed my family financially because of my commitment to honor what he had done for me and for not doing what I believed could possibly be destructive to others.”

So see you, Richard Kiel, presumably in the big and tall section of heaven. 

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

Scandalous Photo

If you have a photo leak out that you would rather not have people use, if it wasn’t a selfie, you can’t control it. If you did not take the photo, you do not own the copyright. You cannot legally demand that people who post copies of it take it down, and you will not have standing in court if you try to sue. So let’s look at the recent wild photo that made headlines:

Gimme the copyright or it’ll
be Planet of the Apes, okay?

Well, what were you expecting? This is the famous selfie taken by a monkey who snatched the camera from a nature photographer. (I assume it came out so perfectly because the monkey was fascinated by the camera action, so it stared straight into it.) Since the photographer himself did not take the picture, this is public domain. And since the monkey is an animal, it can’t own the copyright either—so says the Copyright Office:

“The Office will not register works produced by nature, animals, or plants. Likewise, the Office cannot register a work purportedly created by divine or supernatural beings, although the Office may register a work where the application or the deposit copy state that the work was inspired by a divine spirit,”draft report, “Compendium of US Copyright Office Practices, Third Edition.”

This can easily be used as a plot twist. If a werewolf or an angel takes a significant photo or video, there is no copyright. It could be something crucial, or something cringe-worthy—I can’t find the video of Al Gore dancing around to “Man, I Feel Like a Woman,” but you get the idea. 

Tuesday, September 2, 2014

Teaser Tuesday: Batman and Psychology

Teaser Tuesday is a meme at Should Be Reading. We’re to post two random sentence from a current read.

“Long before he makes the crazy-sounding decision to run around dressed like a bat, Bruce Wayne first makes the decision to wage war on all criminals—a goal in some ways crazier than wearing a mask because one person cannot fight all criminals. To understand how the decision to fight crime anonymously evolved somewhere in between these two points, we should look at how his general thinking ability developed.”

This is from page 56 of Batman and Psychology: A Dark and Stormy Knight by Travis Langley, which I reviewed in last week’s post. Again, this is a clever way to get people to learn about psychology by applying it to the Batman universe.  

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Book Review: Batman and Psychology: A Dark and Stormy Knight

What is the difference between The Riddler and The Joker? Quite obviously The Riddler is an obsessive-compulsive type who grew up with a love of solving puzzles. Simply getting away with a crime would be no fun; he has to pose riddles that give someone as smart as Batman the chance of catching him. But The Joker is a full-blown psychopath, showing no sign of conscience or empathy as he goes on his killing sprees. When he is not depressed between his manic episodes, his goal is to conform the world to his own tortured persona.

Travis Langley in his Batman and Psychology: A Dark and Stormy Knight has given us a primer on abnormal psychology. The quite obvious hook is that while most psychology books are rather dull, he develops case files on each major character in the Batman universe, thus making it an entertaining read for anyone with an even moderate liking of the comic books. So while recalling the escapades of King Tut and Mr. Freeze, you’ll learn about the difference between biogenic and psychogenic amnesia and the problem of love turning into objectification along the way.

Although Langley’s work is not meant to be a history of the different versions of the characters, he gives surprisingly detailed thumbnail sketches of how they changed through the golden age, silver age, etc. of comics.

So if you want a primer on abnormal psychology that is not dry as dust, pick up Batman and Psychology. You’ll be glad to know he concludes Bruce Wayne/Batman is not mentally ill. If he were, what would that say about so many of us who admire him?

Friday, August 22, 2014

Mythbusters—Say it Ain’t So

Kari Byron, Tory Belleci, and Grant Imahara have been axed from the long-running everyman science show Mythbusters. They were sometime referred to as the “B team” of the show, but I often found their antics more interesting than those of the “A team.” There was the time they ran a convertible beneath a semi, only to have the convertible launch over the protective berm of the property and almost land in the street outside. Or the time they lit some coffee creamer, only to run in panic when they saw the size of the explosion.

Self and Grant Imahara

You may be surprised at my calling it a science show, since they also did gonzo stunts. But they often showed how real science is done. Instead of visualizing people in white coats inside a lab, think of how they would measure the lift of toy helicopters or set sensing devices around an explosion to see at what distance it would be fatal to a human body.

As I stated in a previous post, writers often have to write on subjects they don’t know much about. If some of your characters need to speak in a scientific manner, watch several episodes of Mythbusters. You’ll soon have your characters speaking about “proof of concept,” the need “to establish a baseline,” and setting up markers “to measure in precise increments” in a convincing manner.

This may jar some people, but I’m actually not that sad to see Kari Byron go. She was kind of too coy on camera. I much preferred Jessi, the stuntwoman they had on for a few episodes, including the one where they tested Captain Kirk’s cannon against the Gorn.

Monday, August 11, 2014

Book Review: Follow the River

In the 1700s, Mary Draper Ingles has everything torn away from her when Shawnee Indians massacre her Virginia settlement. She watches horrified as a neighbor’s baby has its head smashed open, then her mother’s scalp is waved in front of her. Pregnant and with two young boys, she is taken captive and forced to ride and walk far beyond where any white people have settled. All she can do is memorize landmarks along the way, although she receives hostile looks when she glances back to see what a course back would look like.

She gives birth in squalid, unclean conditions. Only her dignified air makes the Shawnee leader respect her enough to grant her some material comforts as she is forced to continue the journey without pause, along a river larger than any she has seen before. Mary is determined to escape and return home, hoping her husband is still alive. But how can she make it all the way back on foot, all those hundreds of miles?

Follow the River by James Alexander Thom is historical fiction based on the incredible true story of Mary Draper Ingles, who walked an estimated eight hundred miles along the Ohio River and through the Appalachian Mountains.

Thoms describes the ordeal in vivid detail. In this passage, Mary recovers from her numbness after the massacre:

Her skin began to tell her of the humid valley air, the trickling of her own sweat, the crawling of wood ticks, the bites and stings of mosquitoes and no-see-ums, the rubbing of the horse’s hair against the inside of her knees, the whip and drag of leafy branches across her face and shoulders.

This description continues as Mary passes through scenery beyond her imagination, encounters Shawnee culture, plots her escape, and makes the arduous journey back.  

I highly recommend Follow the River as an engrossing account of an unlikely survival story, and also as a slice of life that exposes a violent period of American history. I have to make a couple of qualifications: If you didn’t like the part about a baby’s head getting smashed open, there are other gory details as the Shawnee torture other white captives. And for some reason, Thom has Mary daydream about having sexual relations with her husband, in too much detail. I have no idea why he did that, but it makes the book for adults only. 

Monday, August 4, 2014

Review of the movie Great Expectations (2012)

Pip is an orphan brought up in grinding poverty, but he’s good-natured—he even shows kindness by taking food to a violent escaped convict. But being raised by a semi-literate blacksmith, he has no expectations.

One day he is escorted to a large manor house on the whim of the owner, Miss Havisham. To say that Miss Havisham is eccentric is like saying the surface of the sun is a touch hot. She constantly wears her wedding gown from decades ago, when she was jilted on the day of her wedding. And the drawing room still has the wedding cake and other preparations from that very day. For that matter, the entire house has been preserved as it was in that one moment, when she received the letter telling her it was over. But not exactly preserved—rotting.

In the midst of all this is Estella, a young orphan just like Pip. Pip has been brought to play with her. But Estella has been trained by Miss Havisham to exact vengeance on the male half of the race. Pretty, flirtatious, but with a heart of ice, she educates Pip in the finer things of life while only showing him coldness. Poor fool, the young Pip falls in love with her.

One day Pip is arbitrarily sent away by Miss Havisham. Not content at being an apprentice blacksmith, Pip dreams of someday being a gentleman while hammering away. Then a lawyer shows up out of the blue. He informs Pip he has great expectations. An unnamed benefactor has decided to sponsor Pip to live the life of a gentleman. He is to leave for London immediately.

Pip thanks Miss Havisham and goes off to London, where he joins a gentlemen’s club and begins the difficult transition of becoming mannered. But what price lurks behind this sudden change in fortune? And when he sees Estella again, she is busy flirting with the most unworthy of these moneyed young men. Can he reach her heart?

This 2012 version of Great Expectations is a lush, dark, beautiful retelling of the tale. One of the standout scenes is when Pip (Jeremy Irvine) arrives in London in a foppish-looking small town concept of a gentleman’s suit, only to be greeted by the fresh butchery needed to feed the city, street urchins trying to sell him all manner of things, and lots and lots of mud. Then the thuggish behavior of the young gentlemen in the club, who are assured of incomes they never earned, fairly bursts off the screen in their thoughtless boisterousness. Other period details, from moss on a gravestone to the gems in Estella’s hair to the impending approach of the great paddlewheel of an oncoming ship are so perfectly portrayed that they stay imbedded in the mind’s eye. Some of the early scenes with young Pip and Estella are lit by genuine lamplight, which shows the effort taken to be authentic.

Although Jeremy Irvine and Holliday Grainger as Estella do their best, they are overshadowed by the older stars. Ralph Fiennes is unrecognizable as the convict Magwitch, and it looks scarily uncomfortable to be within several paces of him in his dirt-caked persona, muck and saliva hardening in his beard. And Helena Bonham Carter is just disturbing as Miss Havisham with her deathly pallor. She can dismiss Pip with an abrupt “Goodbye” that surprises, or seem to become lost within her wedding gown. She dominates almost every scene she’s in, even when she’s being wheeled around in her chair while lying almost horizontal. The one exception is when Holliday Grainger comes into her own, and as Estella, tells Miss Havisham, “You made me.”

This version stays surprisingly faithful to the book without any harm to the pacing. This is a movie worth clearing an evening for, to watch the macabre and splendid aspects of Victorian life compete with each other in this Dickens’ classic.

For those of you who saw the 2011 version on PBS, with Douglass Booth as Pip, Vanessa Kirby as Estella, Ray Winstone as Magwitch, and Gillian Anderson as Miss Havisham, I’ll make a few comparisons. This is also a beautiful version, but instead of staying as close to the book, it was somewhat more of a reimagining. That is, they would take certain moods and themes from the story and find their own way of expressing them in a compelling way.

I’d have to say the newer version has the better cast. Gillian Anderson was impressive as Miss Havisham, but she played her in a scary way, rather than as an eccentric. I’ll make an exception for Ray Winstone. It’s true that Ralph Fiennes is quite the chameleon in his acting skills, but Ray Winstone has a face that’s been “lived in,” and he makes the better convict Magwitch.

The end of the 2011 version has more of a CliffNotes version of the fates of Miss Havisham, Pip, and Estella. It’s best to see this version first, than the 2012 version. It’s kind of like making sure to go to Disneyland before going to Disneyworld. 

Friday, August 1, 2014

Drones Part II

To continue from my previous post, back on the 4th of July I was in an area park. I saw a feature new to me: a large mobile, several feet high. It had model airplanes attached to it, and they moved as the mobile moved. This was an incredibly neat thing to see.his was an incredibly neat thing to seeones. ttached d as the mobile moved.

But when I walked up to it, I saw the models attached weren’t airplanes. They were military-style drones. I was astonished.

I guess this is what happens when the Boeing Corporation is a major local donor. 


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