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. 

Tuesday, March 7, 2017

The Dread Night—A Temple Excerpt

Here’s an excerpt from my historical fantasy manuscript. Iphi (short for Iphigenia) was taken away from her family in Mycenae, in ancient Greece. Now a grown woman in a foreign temple, she sees unexplainable events happening one night. This is how the chapter ends.

photo by Rita 1234

Noise surrounded the temple—rushing winds. Iphi stopped with her mouth open. A chill like a winter stream crept up her back. The sound wasn’t a low roar but higher, as if whistling through cracks. It resembled a woman’s scream.

The wind blew in through the high windows, and the lamps flickered wildly, casting weird shadows on the plastered walls. One by one, they blew out in their sconces. Iphi regained her ability to speak. “This can’t be. The wind reaching the lamps?”

It started with the ones closest to the double doors. The darkening of the lamps ebbed towards them, the far parts of the walls and stone slabs of the floor disappearing from sight. It was as if some unseen being was approaching, trapping them in darkness. As the last two lamps on either side of the hall remained flickering, she knew their light was what stood between her and madness.

She felt arms about her thighs and looked down to see Melinta holding her. The grip of her strong hands was uncomfortable, but she couldn’t bring herself to shrug off the girl, whose wide eyes showed silent fear. The other three women were whimpering as they huddled together, their black eyes and red lips hideous in the failing light.


Iphi looked back in time to see one of the remaining lamps go out. She stared at the last one, holding her breath, waiting.

Monday, February 27, 2017

No Books Left—A University Bookstore Closes

As I went up the steps into the University Bookstore in Bellevue, Washington, on a recent Saturday a man in front of me said, “No books left.”

This was part of a group of bookstores that supplied textbooks and memorabilia to the University of Washington, whose main campus is in Seattle. They also sold a variety of books that could be found in a typical bookstore

I didn’t normally go there, but when I heard they would be closing, I decided to visit.



What the man said was not actually true—the books were gone from the area in front of the stairs. To the right, a lot of books were still left, but going fast. All books were 75% off. One man bought a stack of science fiction books he could barely carry. I bought a history book I may review one day.

It reminded me of the recent closure of the Barnes & Noble bookstore at the Crossroads Mall, also in Bellevue. A friend who runs a private school said she should buy her books at bookstores instead of online. I told her that would be a major expense for her, while it would be undetectable by the bookstore. There was nothing we could do to stop these closures.


The University Bookstore in Bellevue closed on February 15. 

Saturday, February 18, 2017

We Were Soldiers Once—and Young

Lt. General Harold (Hal) Moore passed away recently. He was the author of We Were Soldiers Once—and Young. Back when he was a lieutenant colonel, he was in command of the 7th Airborne Cavalry during the Vietnam War. On November 4, 1965, they engaged the North Vietnamese Army (NVA). This was the first major battle between the U.S. Army and the NVA, and they thought they were outnumbered three to one. Now that the government of Vietnam has released many of their records, I believe it was more like four or five to one. They were completely surrounded.

The book describes the battle in bloody detail. Artillery shells blew the bodies of the NVA soldiers to pieces when they launched human wave attacks. Rocket-propelled grenades were used to deadly effect. The main action was with rifle fire. But as the ammo ran out, the fighting could be hand-to-hand.



I have read ten books on the Vietnam War, and this one was by far the best. Do you dislike guns or have never read a gritty account of modern warfare? Read this book. (Just as in a previous post, I advised readers who think psychology is bunk to read an issue of Psychology Today.)

Some standout scenes:
-The cutoff platoon: In rapid succession, the lieutenant was killed, the platoon sergeant was killed, another sergeant was killed. Where were the maps? Where were the call signs to use over the radio? And the medic was killed.
-Modern artillery: The artillery was five miles away. But from highly precise instructions from the front of the battle, the artillery shells could land as close as thirty yards to the American troops. High explosive, napalm, white phosphorus. Some were timed to explode in mid-air.
-Crazy pilots: Some would fly less than a hundred feet off the ground, releasing their bombs on the North Vietnamese.
-The home front: This was the first battle in which telegrams notifying family members of soldiers’ deaths arrived while the battle still raged. The Army sent cab drivers—cab drivers!—to deliver them. When one particular officer found out, he insisted that an officer and a chaplain deliver any further ones. 

The co-author was Joseph Galloway. He became a real combat reporter. When he arrived at the battle, he tripped and fell on his face in the dirt, along with his cameras, amusing Hal Moore.

When the movie version, We Were Soldiers, came out, Galloway had to excuse himself from a friendly fire scene he knew was coming up. His attempt to save a horribly burned soldier is portrayed with brutal accuracy.


I remember a scholar once saying that Alexander the Great was the first of his soldiers to step over the wall of a city to attack it, and that cannot occur in modern warfare. But it did. Hal Moore was the first to step off a helicopter into the unfriendly landing zone. He was the last to leave, stepping onto a helicopter after what had become a battlefield was cleared of American bodies. 

Tuesday, February 7, 2017

If Chins Could Kill—Book Review

Bruce Campbell’s If Chins Could Kill: Confessions of a B Movie Actor is a surprisingly detailed account of all aspects of his life that relate to movie-making. This started in childhood, where he went beyond making G.I. Joes look wounded by burning them to charging fees for a makeshift golf course to purloining construction material to build a tree fortress.

Perhaps the most fascinating part describes how in high school Campbell acted with friends in a number of super-8 movies, made for a hundred dollars each that would actually play in theaters. By the time he was college age, he had more practical experience than a lot of drama majors.

Like so many who have unorthodox careers, he pretty much skipped college. But what steered him to horror movies? He had mostly done comedy, but he and his friends noticed that a scary scene in a horror movie always made an audience react. Campbell eventually made the lower than low budget Evil Dead movies, and the rest is history.



It’s hard to convey how uproariously funny If Chins Could Kill is. No matter how serious the event or how rocky the road to movie-making was, Campbell will describe it all with wry humor and exaggeration, as if his entire life has been one grand wink at his audience.

Almost every page has a photo or a diagram on it, which I’ve never seen in an autobiography before. This includes a diagram of how holes were cut into a floor so actors could stick their arms and legs through, to be filmed as disembodied limbs. (Remember: lower than low.)

He even goes into fundraising, which most books of this sort don’t describe. It was a matter of approaching businessmen, relatives, friends, and friends of friends, and trying to talk them into forking over money for a share in whatever profits the movie will make. I think most books don’t cover this because the process is so humiliating.


To stipulate: Chins does not cover the current Evil Dead series on Starz. But even if you’re not an Evil Dead fan (and I’m not), you’ll find this book hilarious. 

Monday, January 30, 2017

Oh no, John Hurt Passed Away

I really liked John Hurt. He was so convincing as Winston Smith getting tortured inside the Ministry of Love in 1984, I was always surprised to see him alive and looking okay afterwards.


photo by Georges Seguin

It kind of shows my taste in movies that I remember him from 1984, and as the guy who had an alien implanted on his face in Alien, and as the Viking king in Outlander (the science fiction version of Beowulf).


I know he played Caligula in I, Claudius, but I can't really think of him as playing that role, though I vividly remember a number of the Caligula scenes. As an odd twist, my mother said she recognized him in Alien from his body, not his face, because she had seen him doing his odd dance in I, Claudius

Wednesday, January 25, 2017

Progress—Writing Submissions

In late August, I sent my vampire parody to a major agent I had pitched to at a writers conference. That was the Pacific Northwest Writers Conference in July, which I described here. Although the word was that the market was too saturated with vampire submissions, one agent thought it was intriguing.

Then in November, I sent it to a major science fiction/fantasy publishing house. Why did I wait so long? Probably because I was transitioning between jobs.

During the conference, Andrea Hurst, a major agent, was very generous in giving free advice. She recommended the book Self-Editing for Fiction Writers.



This was the most helpful work I’ve read in a long time. I thought that internal dialog was one of my strengths. This consists of a character thinking to herself, denoted by italics. I had my main character Dee do this while contemplating a neighbor’s lamp:

. . . and admired the two-headed floor lamp in the corner with orange and white panels. Practical for reading to the kids. She didn’t think Hope would mind if she reached back to turn—

But much of the time, this can be part of the narrative. It actually has a stronger feel to it when done this way:

. . . and admired the two-headed floor lamp in the corner with orange and white panels. Practical for reading to the kids. She didn’t think Hope would mind if she reached back to turn—

Of course, sometimes internal dialog is so idiomatic, it should just stay as internal dialog,  as when Dee’s younger sister discovers an important file:

“Alchemical Source of Vampires.” The holy grail. I’m so good, I don’t know what to do with myself.

An unrelated but similar-looking correction from Self-Editing is the overuse of italicized words to indicate which words are stressed in a sentence. I can’t find an example from my old writing too quickly, though books with that minor problem do get published, as my previous post indicated.

And sometimes it is necessary to italicize a word, as when Dee’s older sister tells her during an online chat that something is behind her.

It was some thing, heading away from or towards . . . the kids.

So I’ve thoroughly gone through my science fiction manuscript Alpha Shift and my science fiction/fantasy take on the The War of the Worlds and made a number of corrections. Now I’m going to do the same for a historical fantasy that I’ve never posted excerpts for yet. Stay tuned. 

Saturday, January 21, 2017

Young, Blonde, and Captain—Review of The Oncoming Storm

Kat Falcone is only twenty-nine but looks nineteen thanks to her flawless genes, and she is suddenly promoted to captain of a heavy cruiser in her Commonwealth of worlds. Although she was a capable officer, thirty others more senior than her should have been considered for this command. She was given it because her extremely wealthy and politically powerful father pulled strings for her.

Though infuriated at being given special treatment, Kat’s father informs her she is to investigate Cadiz—their farthest world. A rival power is obviously preparing for war, refugees have streamed into their Commonwealth, raider attacks on their civilian ships have increased, and the admiral in charge of Cadiz might not be up to the task of defending them. Kat must go there and report back.

She boards her ship and meets her executive officer, who is in his sixties and has gray hair at the temples. He thinks she looks like a child.



With The Oncoming Storm, Christopher Nuttall has established a fresh voice in military science fiction. Instead of detailing the workings of military equipment or all the ratings and sub-ratings of the non-commissioned, he realistically describes the thoughts and emotions of two people put in impossible positions: Kat, who knows that everyone realizes how young and inexperienced she is, and William her executive officer, who must do everything to support her while knowing he is the most experienced officer on the ship.


The tension between the two is not as great as Nuttall led us to expect from this setup, since Kat is incredibly competent and William is dedicated to his duty. Also, Nuttall italicizes too many words for emphasis—often the wrong word in a sentence, if you know what I mean. But the tension is high throughout the book as they take their dangerous journey to Cadiz and there confront an unexpected situation when they arrive. 

Thursday, January 19, 2017

Another One Bites the Dust—Barnes & Noble

The Barnes & Noble at the Crossroads Mall in Bellevue, WA, where I spent many an hour, closed on December 31.




What hit me was I could still see the desks inside, where I often spent time writing fiction. 

It reminds me of my previous post, which showed how a Borders bookstore became a Forever 21 store. What will happen to this closed store?

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