Wednesday, December 27, 2017

Pride and Prejudice and Zombies

So there’s this story out there called Pride and Prejudice. It has four acts: Mrs. Bennet tries to foist one of her daughters on a rich guy. The rich guy’s friend, Darcy, gets wind of it and disapproves. The oldest daughter, Lizzy, gets wind of that and disapproves of Darcy. Lizzy and Darcy fall in love anyway.

Someone improved this odd story by adding zombies to it. The result is the eminently watchable Pride and Prejudice and Zombies, which I received for Christmas.

For my previous review of the movie, click here. Some people will find one version of the story boring, while some will find the other version disgusting, but I won’t say which is which. 

Saturday, December 23, 2017

Lithium Battery Fail and Alpha Shift

The Federal Aviation Administration doesn’t like large amounts of lithium batteries in cargo holds of airplanes. Watch what happens at 1:03.

People mistakenly think that batteries are safe, while things like gasoline or jet fuel are not. Let’s switch to cars. There’s a famous brand out there that I won’t name, since I’d like to keep this blog going. But they’ve had a couple of notable car fires. Why?

Think about it. The battery has to contain the same amount of power as a tank of gas. If the battery gets jostled or some sparking occurs at just the right spot, it could explode or catch on fire just as disastrously.

This sort of mistake used to happen in science fiction all the time. Some futuristic craft is said to run on batteries as it flies around a planet. But that much energy concentrated in a small space is just about guaranteed to blow up at the very start of whatever dramatic adventure they head into.

Which brings me to an excerpt from my science fiction manuscript, Alpha Shift. Captain Christina Chechi’s ship has been attacked, and she has been injured and trapped in an elevator. Now with the help of an engineer named Kelley who found a way to get onto a monitor, she’s trying to get out.  

And how does the power work on this spaceship? It works just fine.

The elevator stopped.
Kelley’s image had faded, now it frowned. “That didn’t seem near long enough. You’d better check the panel.”
She did, and saw the manual indicator matched the lit-up number above the doors. “I only went down two decks. What does this red light mean?”
“Means the doors to that deck are open and haven’t any power. Heh, funny. That should make the elevator bypass that floor.” Obviously, in addition to the cab of the elevator having its own set of automated doors, each deck had to have its own set of automated doors to keep anyone from stepping into the shaft. “Something made your elevator cab do an emergency stop.”
“Could sabotage to the power station on this deck do that?”
“Yes ma’am.”
Resentment burned within her breast. “I will go out onto this deck and see what’s happening.”
“If you believe some violent revolutionaries are sabotaging that deck, there’s no way you want to go out there, begging your pardon ma’am.”
“Do not question my decision. Can you follow me using the wall monitors on the deck?”
“No ma’am.” His faded image frowned at the eyebrows. “I’m having a difficult enough of a time communicating with you in an elevator that descended two decks. I wouldn’t know how to access the monitors on that deck.”
“Then tell me how to open these doors.” They slowly slid open to reveal her elevator cab had stopped a couple inches below deck level. The automated doors for the deck were open partway. Beyond that the corridor was mostly dark and empty. Dim emergency lights shone at strategic intervals.
“Yes, power has been cut. I will investigate. If the enemy are present, I will engage them.”

What contorted Kelley’s features wasn’t just fear. It was pain—pain at staying behind and not helping her. 

Handbell Choir

A handbell choir played at Crossroads Mall in Bellevue today.


They showed incredible skill.

This picture isn’t as good as one I took of the same choir last year

Monday, December 11, 2017

Alita Preview

The trailer for Alita: Battle Angel is out. I can't remember if I saw the anime.

It looks intriguing. 

Thursday, November 30, 2017

Brokedown Toilet

In rather gonzo news, I had to have a toilet replaced because a chunk broke off of it. And I didn’t do anything to abuse it.

I replaced the little rubber flap inside the toilet tank that controls the flushing because the old one disintegrated. If you haven’t had to do this, be thankful. It took a lot of scrubbing to get the black rubber gunk off my fingers. So I decided to replace the handle at the same time. It was held on by a hex nut inside the toilet tank. Using a monkey wrench, I gently turned it a sixth of a turn experimentally. To my great shock, a chunk of the toilet tank fell off.

As you can see, the upper left corner is gone. No, I didn’t hit it with the wrench, and I didn’t  crank on it really hard. It didn’t even make a cracking sound. It just fell off.

I stared at the chunk that came off for several seconds, stunned. I suppose experienced handymen would take it in stride, but I just gazed at the impossible.

I think that certain incompetent plumbers a year or two ago must have whacked it, but I have no way of proving that. I was actually thankful the chunk fell off while I was there and had the water to the toilet turned off. It’s hard to believe, but the bottom edge is above the waterline. But if things had been different and I hadn’t been home, it could have been a water disaster.

The thing was too old to just replace the toilet tank. So I had a reputable plumber replace the toilet and haul the old one away. All told, it cost a little over $700.00.

Needless to say, I learned a lot more about toilets than I ever wanted to. 

Wednesday, November 22, 2017

Book in a Box

Some agents and editors want the first five, ten, or fifty pages of an aspiring author’s manuscript. And they usually want that as part of an e-mail—they won’t open an attachment from some unknown person.

But then there is one particular entity that wants the entire manuscript—printed out.

My address and their address are covered by napkins

To give you the scale: This box I bought for a little over $3.00 can snugly fit an 8½ x 11 manuscript. The manuscript, which is over 400 pages and took me all evening to print, turned out to be a surprising 1½ inches tall. (It took all evening because I printed 50 pages at a time, and I looked through the pages to make sure they had printed out okay.) So the box is about 2 inches tall.

I showed it to a few people at work before mailing it. They were suitably impressed. One woman wanted to hold it to see how much it weighed.

I went to the Post Office on Tuesday evening. The inner part where the clerks are had closed about ten minutes before I got there, so those doors were locked. So I used the automated machine in the lobby.

First class would cost over $18.00. (As to why I didn’t consider something cheaper will be revealed below). But their two-day express would cost about $20.00. So I chose that. If the Post Office is doing its job, it’ll get there right after Thanksgiving.

Why the rush? November is NaNoWriMo. Aspiring writers are challenged to write 50,000 words, or the equivalent of a small novel, during the 30 days of November. What then happens is agents and editors are then flooded with lousy novels in December, because many of these writers don’t take the time to improve their manuscripts before sending them off. 

I know my box may just end up being in the bottom of a bin. But I like to think that my willingness to spend the money to get it there before the rush of hastily-written manuscripts, and the quality of my 85,000 word manuscript will make it stand out. But it’s out of my hands now.

What is the story? Fairy War. Read an excerpt. 

Tuesday, November 7, 2017

Harry Potter in Five Pages

The first page of the original synopsis of Harry Potter that J.K. Rowling sent to publishers is now online.

For those of you fortunate people who have never had to do this, agents, editors, and publishers often require a synopsis of a novel, along with sample pages. This is an incredibly . . . well, since I want to get published someday, I won’t finish that sentence. But think of it: You spend over a year writing a novel, then you have to summarize it in about three pages. And we’re told the synopsis has to be written in as interesting a way as the novel.

I can’t show you the page here. But to see the first page of the five-page synopsis J.K. Rowling wrote in 1995, click on the link below.

A couple things to note: A synopsis shouldn’t just be Person A does this, Person B does that. It should show what is unique about the novel. Also, the normal advice is to just name the main character, or perhaps a second character. J.K. Rowling named all three main characters, plus a couple others. I’m not sure if things are different for children’s book, of if the very names of the characters show what is interesting.

I’ve never been much of a Potter fan. But I did once have an incredibly detailed dream about the three main characters. 

photo by Megan

Monday, October 23, 2017

Screamingly Funny Slasher—Review of Happy Death Day

This may seem off-subject, but I say the best Jake Gyllenhaal movie was Source Code from six years ago:

(Was that six years ago? Wow. See my review here.)
Now imagine a slimmed-down version, without the science fictional elements. The screenwriter who riffed off of Source Code would have pitched it as comedy/horror.

The trailers emphasize different elements, but I saw that the death-by-bus scene in Happy Death Day was almost identical to the death-by-train scene in Source Code.

So I went to go see it. To my utter shock, the matinee cost $12.06. But I had come this far.

I found Happy Death Day amusing and entertaining. One reviewer said the movie didn’t take itself seriously, and that matched the trailer. As a bonus, the boy whose dorm room Tree wakes up in is emphatic that they did not have sex—he wouldn’t do that sort of thing. And they never do anything sexual.

But is it a rip-off of Source Code? I say yes. The clincher is that Tree keeps getting birthday texts from her father, which she ignores. Late in the movie, she reconciles with her father, and that gives her the emotional clearance she needs for the climactic moments. This matches how Colter Stevens in Source Code needed to reconcile with his father late in the movie before he could finally do what he had to.

Is it worth seeing? If you have that much disposable income, maybe. It would be best for you to wait for it to come out on Netflix. If you want to analyze it, watch Source Code first. If you want the entertainment aspects, watch Happy Death Day first, so you won’t be depressed by the lesser effort. 

Monday, October 16, 2017

Don’t Mess with Kevin Sorbo

I’ve been torn about whether to post anything about the massive meltdown in Hollywood. Things done behind closed doors have been shouted from the rooftops.

Here’s a surprising example: Kevin Sorbo was sexually harassed.

Before he was an actor, Sorbo was a male model. (I know, hard to believe. Not.) He was set to pose one time when the guy in charge of the shoot grabbed his rear end. Sorbo turned around and punched the guy so hard he was knocked unconscious.

Kevin Sorbo was fired.

The fact that Kevin Sorbo went on to be famous may make readers think I’m saying this is how every person should react in this sort of situation. No. I don’t know how every person should react. But this sort of thing does happen. It happened to Kevin Sorbo. 

See my review of his autobiography here

Friday, September 29, 2017

Buffy the Vinyl Slayer

Below is the Buffy action figure made out of vinyl.

How important was the TV series Buffy the Vampire Slayer? See my entry titled “What if Buffy had Never Been?” 

Thursday, September 28, 2017

Trek vs. Galactica

I didn’t watch the new Star Trek on Sunday. The SyFy channel very cleverly ran a Battlestar Galactica marathon over the weekend, and I was recording a stellar episode when the new Trek was playing.

To show you how important this sort of thing is, here’s a picture of yours truly standing near the actual prop that was used as Apollo’s viper throughout the series:

Notice the realistic detail, including the NO STEP on the wing.

To be fair, here I am in front of the actual chair Captain Kirk sat in during the original Star Trek:

Yes, it took me a few takes to get the chair and my head lined up, and my eyebrow just right. Can you blame me? 

Thursday, September 7, 2017

Truth or Lie

Crystal Collier’s blog takes its place as one of the more amusing ones in the blogosphere. A typical entry has her wry take on the world around her, complete with relevant (or irrelevant) pictures and memes. Then she’ll introduce someone’s novel, complete with a back cover blurb, link to Amazon, and a bio of the author. Then come the lies.

The author comes up with three unusual statements about him/herself. Fellow bloggers get to guess which one is the lie. From the pool of those who guess correctly, one will win an e-book copy of the novel.

This is a nice blog to follow. And it’s not just because I won this last time. 

Monday, August 21, 2017

Optimistic Hiroshima Movie: In this Corner of the World

In this Corner of the World is a beautifully animated, memoir-style movie. It focuses on Suzu Urano (married name Hojo). She starts out as a hard-working little girl who loves to draw. When she eventually does marry, she’s not quite certain of her bridegroom’s name. We see a real slice of life as she adjusts to married life in the 1930s.

During the war years, she uses ingenious methods to keep her family fed as the rations they’re issued keep diminishing. Then something horrible happens in 1945. Her home town was a suburb of Hiroshima, and she lives just a train ride away.

In this Corner of the World is not meant to make Americans feel guilty, or to argue the Japanese side of the war. It simply shows what everyday life was like in a bygone era. And despite what happens, it is ultimately a hopeful and optimistic story—although you have to stay through the end credits to really see this. (I’m told that in Japan, it’s normal to sit through the end credits, so often little extras are shown during or after.)

Many of the background scenes are hand-painted. Whether or not you’re an anime fan, you’ll want to see this movie.

For my review of Your Name, click here

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. 

Tuesday, May 16, 2017

Do Svidaniya, Powers Boothe

The news has come in that Powers Boothe died on Sunday. This follows on the heels of the death of John Hurt. I’m sure he’s remembered mostly for his more recent work, but I remember him as the fighter pilot who was shot down in the 1984 movie Red Dawn.

photo by Jane Boursaw

Red Dawn was somewhat simplistic in how it showed a group of American teenagers doing guerilla attacks behind the lines of a Soviet/Cuban invasion force. But it did show a healthy kind of gun culture. And it gained some credibility by having Boothe’s character of a colonel giving them tactical advice.

Those of you who saw the movie will know why I chose the phrase do svidaniya

Saturday, May 13, 2017

The Play’s the Thing

A few weeks ago, I attended students recitals and a play at a middle school run by a friend of mine.

(Apologies to those not pictured. The ones who appear are random.)

Overall, the class could recite massive amounts of quotations from scripture and classical literature.

I was not educated that way. It would have done me a lot of good to be required to stand and deliver.

Individual eighth-graders stood and delivered their own presentations, playing characters from history. Below is Sir Francis Drake.

Each presentation was by memory and highly impressive. Sir Walter Raleigh is in the foreground below.

Instead of just reciting facts, each student gave a first person biography, including the ambiguous nature of these real-life figures.

The play was A Midsummer’s Night Dream. Below is Oberon, King of Shadows.

As you can see, a lot of work went into the costumes. Also, the players didn’t just stand around and recite lines. They were almost constantly in motion.

Below is Nick Bottom

Wondering why a Shakespearean character has a donkey’s head? Read a book.

Overall, it was a wonderful evening. Many thanks to Sara Loudon and her Covenant Christian Middle School. 

Thursday, May 4, 2017

Prince Philip, Royal Troller, Retires

Prince Philip, Duke of Edinburgh and Consort of Her Royal Highness Queen Elizabeth, announced yesterday he is retiring from performing royal duties. He is only 95.

He showed he has a sense of humor by dubbing himself “the world's most experienced plaque-unveiler.”

He’s made infamous off-the-cuff comments over the years, and it’s not clear when he was joking and when he was not.

 What's he about to say next?
photo by Kiefer

To a child visiting a space shuttle: “Well, you'll never fly in it, you're too fat to be an astronaut.”

To a disabled man on a scooter: “How many people have you knocked over this morning on that thing?”

To the president of Nigeria in traditional robes: “You look like you’re ready for bed.”

To Australian Aborigines: “Do you still throw spears at each other?”

I won’t print what he said about Chinese, because I actually found it offensive. And I can’t print what he said about the Russians. But he could always have some secretary issue a royal apology.

So he had a good run. He did a lot of ceremonial things and met a lot of people. And he couldn’t get fired for what he said.

Saturday, April 29, 2017

Network Supervillains Win: Powerless Gets Cancelled

(Apologies to my non-American readers for this rant.)
I’m angry. My favorite television show got cancelled. Powerless told the story of the team at Wayne Security who worked around the clock and goofed off around the clock, developing protective gear for innocent bystanders of superhero battles.

Afraid of getting hit by bricks during one of those aforementioned battles? You need their brickproof umbrellas—which cascades bricks to the side, meaning they can sell more umbrellas. Or afraid of getting scorched by a ball of flame? You need their fireproof poncho, and they may or may not get a superheroine to pose naked in the ad before she dons it. (Poncho does not protect against rain.)

The series mainly focuses on office humor. The minor superheroes they encounter are actually off to the side. Emily, played by Vanessa Hudgens, has frustrating misadventures as she tries to bond with team members, save a good invention, or break her way into the good ol’ boy club that makes up the board. Her sunny smile, her awkwardly fading smile, and her wickedly triumphant smile just about carry the show.

Her incompetent boss, Van Wayne (a cousin of you-know-who), played by Alan Tudyk, often steals the scene with his vapid stupidity. His blunders, as well as the egos of the team members, can ruin Emily’s best-laid plans.

So, what happened? Their premier episode was funny, their second episode was outstandingly funny, and their third episode was okay. That may have let their ratings go down. Also, they were put on against Supernatural, which claimed part of their demographic. (This is like how Buffy the Vampire Slayer almost didn’t make it at first, because it was put on against Ally McBeal, which ruled among young females.) Then NBC preempted two of their episodes to premier some other comedy that wasn’t funny, which makes the audience forget to tune in again.

The rest of the show continued to be funny. It was the highlight of my Thursday evenings. But the morons at NBC cancelled it. If you’re able to access it through Comcast or Xfinity or whatever, hurry and record the available episodes of Powerless before they go away. 

Monday, April 10, 2017

Earth-Shattering Love: Movie Review of Your Name

Mitsuha is a teenage girl living in a village in Japan so small, it doesn’t even have a coffee shop. She hates the rural life and longs to move to Tokyo. Taki is a rather ordinary teenage boy in Tokyo who commutes to school by train and who works as a waiter.

One day, Taki wakes up in what is obviously a girl’s body in a house he doesn’t recognize. The next day, Mitsuha is told by her sister and her friends that she acted oddly the previous day—not recognizing people and acting as if she had amnesia, though she cannot remember it. Taki has the same experience. After a while, they realize they are switching bodies.

Overjoyed at being in Tokyo, Mitsuha spends too much of Taki’s money. And Taki doesn’t know how to play basketball or sit with feminine modesty. The switching happens on random days, so they write notes to each other, starting with Mitsuha writing her name on Taki’s hand. As they become more convinced of the reality of the phenomenon, they make detailed notes in each other’s diaries, including complaints about each other’s behavior.

Taki finally decides to call Mitsuha. But the call cannot be completed. And they stop switching bodies. What happened?

Your Name is advertised as the #1 film of Japan in 2016. I don’t know if they mean the #1 animated film, or if it’s just hype. But it is a beautiful movie. I can only say the twist that occurs shows that this phenomenon involves more than just Mitsuha and Taki. And the theme of “Who are you?” pervades the movie.

Some cultural notes:
-In Japan, they drive on the left side of the road.
-It is normal to eat rice and fish at breakfast.
-Politicians really do drive around in trucks and vans to give speeches on the street.
-High schoolers in Tokyo do commute by train.

Whether you’re a fan of anime or never had an interest in it before, Your Name is well worth seeing in a theater. Please do not be offended by their reactions at finding themselves in bodies of the opposite sex. Bring glasses if your theater has the subtitled version, and do yourself a favor by not reading any online descriptions of the movie. Some of the online people said they cried, but I avoided that by an act of will. 

Monday, April 3, 2017

Wonder Woman’s Shaved Underarms—Rage Against . . . Something

The latest controversy that makes twitter heads explode is the observable fact that Wonder Woman, the titular character in the upcoming movie, has no hair at all in her underarms. They look quite polished. And even though she is a superheroine who can hold her own with Batman and Superman, extremists who have their hair tied back so tightly it interferes with brain circulation claim that this is a sign of being dominated by the patriarchy. If only we had known it was so easy.

Gal Gadot, former combat trainer in the Israeli military and
the former Miss Israel in the 2004 Miss Universe contest and  
former model, now turned actress. 5’10”  

photo by Gage Skidmore

There are more pressing issues: How does Superman shave? Does he use razors with Kryptonite edges? And why isn’t Bruce Wayne horribly scarred up? Considering his lack of superpowers and all the fights he’s been in, he would be in pretty sad shape.

Or perhaps the world of superheroes isn’t meant to be completely realistic. How many women have you met in real life who looked like the Wonder Woman in the comic books or in the movies?

And this controversy does the opposite of showing the oppression of women. In The Hobbit, Bilbo Baggins was referred to as a “child of the kindly west.” You have to be a child of the kindly west (or part or an elite elsewhere) to have the time and energy to fuss about this, considering how women are treated in the majority of the world. So relax and enjoy a comic book fantasy. 

Saturday, March 25, 2017

Amazonfresh and Burger King

I was doing some errands this morning when I saw an amazonfresh truck pull into a fast food joint:

If you look at the right side of the picture, you’ll see the amazonfresh truck. To be fair, the guy was just getting some breakfast. But it's fun to imagine this is what would happen if a local Burger King ran out of food.

I haven’t seen a food truck scene this funny since I saw the Oscar Mayer Weiner Mobile after I got home from a Worldcon.  

Monday, March 13, 2017

Young, Blonde, and Out for Revenge—Review of Falcone Strike

Falcone Strike is Christopher Nuttall’s sequel to The Oncoming Storm (see my review here), so we know that Kat Falcone survived the hair-raising climactic scenes in the first book. A hero of the Commonwealth, her reward is to be given an impossible mission: She must lead a flotilla of decrepit ships that are old enough to be called antiques behind enemy lines, raiding as much of the enemy supply lines as she can.

It takes so long to install modern parts on the ships, half the crew get assigned to other missions. They get mismatched crew members—including shore patrolmen, who used to get in fistfights with crew on leave. But Kat still has Williams, her executive officer, whose long experience and steady hand were so vital in their original adventure.

So, leading a flotilla that could be vaporized by one broadside of an enemy dreadnought, Kat goes to do as much damage to the enemy as possible, to make up for the shellacking they gave her Commonwealth.

Once again, Christopher Nuttall has delivered a fresh and believable military science fiction novel. We are right there with Kat Falcone as she has to grope her way through uncertain space. Her dilemmas are laid out by realistic dialog, and although each decision has its pluses and minuses, we can see her reasoning.

This is a hardened Kat compared to what she was like in the first novel. If a civilian enemy ship is given the chance to surrender and it powers up its engines, she destroys it.

William, her executive officer, uses his experience and contacts to get in with raiders, which anyone else would find impossible to do, to extract needed information from that disgusting group. And we get more insight into the nature of the enemy, who are striking out from their home planet of Ahura-Mazda—religious fanatics with whom there can be no compromise.

As with the first novel, Nuttall set us up for conflicts that did not occur—no fistfights among the crew, no equipment failure at critical moments. And he still italicizes words to show stress in the wrong part of a sentence, if you know what I mean.

But get The Oncoming Storm, then Falcone Strike. If you like science fiction and are not familiar with the military side, or vice versa, these will be good reads. 


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