Saturday, December 22, 2018

Movie Review: Anna and the Apocalypse

Singing teenagers. Dance numbers. Bloodthirsty zombies. What’s not to like?

Anna and the Apocalypse is a fresh take on zombies. We’re tired of seeing pointless violence by scary beings who can’t be reasoned with—and those are just the humans! Now we have gleeful high schoolers hacking and bludgeoning their way through hordes of the undead. And it’ll put a smile on your face.

As for the plot: Zombies attack. High schoolers fight back.

A standout scene is Anna singing and dancing her way through a cemetery. It’s all fun until . . . well, that would be telling.

A lot of the singers are brilliant, but the movie pretty much rests on the shoulders of Ella Hunt, who plays Anna. (She was previously in Robot Overlords, which I’ll now have to see.) Lovely voice. And she stays in character while singing, which is just uncanny on her part.

There is also a musical within a musical—a Christmas play the students are rehearsing. That singing and dancing is suitably horrid.

Thankfully, there are no nude or sex scenes. There is some foul language. And the beheadings are just barely off-screen.

Most of the songs are not specifically about zombies. I liked their youthful exuberance so much, I ordered the CD. 

For my review of Pride and Prejudice and Zombies, click here

Thursday, December 6, 2018

Blonde Dream

I think it’s important for writers to write down their dreams. Here’s the latest, from the night of December 5th.

Brit Marling
photo by Gage Skidmore

I stood in a store with glass counters before it opened. The woman training me emphasized I was to be part of an elite team training others. Instead of clocking in at the start of shift, we would develop a unique signature. I developed mine as HOBBIT. She also said we would skip through lunch breaks to continue training. I wondered if this was legal. We would each carry around some large, bulky box that possibly had training materials.

Four more members of the elite team walked in, all female. The lead woman walking in was a slim blonde with long hair. She was about my height. She was smart and attractive, and I hoped to spend time with her. She had written her signature, Brit Marling, on her right cheek in cursive.
I wrote my signature, HOBBIT, on the front of my right shoulder. I saw that at such an awkward angle, the letters came out distorted.
For some reason, I hadn’t shaved in a few days. My whiskers had grown long in patches, sticking out in odd angles from my face. I hoped the women would not notice.
We were now sitting in a lecture hall, students at an elite school. I was sitting directly in front of the blonde, with my row a level down from hers. I hoped I could spend time with her. The lecturer was a typical bearded type with glasses. He was standing at an overhead projector and going forth on a Christian subject.
A fellow with fuzzy hair and beard interrupted. He said in a helpless voice, “I’m close to following the teachings of E. It’s similar to Amish. You know, it stays close to the earth.” He meant he was thinking of abandoning everything and joining some religious agrarian community.
The lecturer looked offended. He said, “You know E. is anti-semitic.” He immediately produced an overhead transparency which he put on the projector, showing E. with unkempt hair and beard, part of a protest. He clearly held up a protest sign with an anti-semitic slogan.
The fellow said, “I know” in a way that showed he didn’t change his helplessness or his thinking.
The lecturer went on to loudly denounce E.’s teaching. He ended by saying to the fellow something like “Grow up!” but not so pedantic. He added, “I don’t have time for this,” and went back to his lecture.
After the lecture was over, I walked across the street to do something. I returned to the incredibly large lobby. The blonde was standing there with three other women. I walked up to them, mainly interested in her. They quite naturally accepted me as part of their conversation.
We walked off together. The blonde was now much taller than I was and wearing a thick coat. It now seemed we were part of a medical school. She said, “We were discussing how we have a pinched nerve.”
I said, “You mean, how you have a pinched nerve.”
She smiled and said I was right. “It was left after a procedure I had.”
One of the other women had light brown hair. I stared at her face a few moments to get familiar with her features.
There were now just three of us walking. The blonde offered to introduce us to Donald Trump. I agreed.
We were now in a hotel, and we walked into a conference room. The three of us didn’t seem to be students. Donald Trump was on the other side of a long table. He was in a business suit, and he seemed to be a famous businessman, not president. He spoke in his fast, sales pitch style. He offered to adjust the blonde’s spine.
She lay face down on the table. She was no longer wearing her thick coat. She pulled up her top somewhat to reveal her lower back. I said, “I need to leave.”
She said, “Why?”
I gestured and said, “Bare skin.”
She didn’t get it and said I should stay.
Trump continued to speak in his sales pitch style. He said, “I will now adjust the T3 vertebra.”
[This was completely incorrect. The T3 vertebra is thoracic 3, in the mid back. He was about to adjust L5, in the lumbar region.]
Even though he was standing to the right of her, he somehow did a chiropractic kind of adjustment to her L5, shifting it from left to right.
The blonde got up and was immediately better. Now wearing her heavy coat again, she offered to pay him fifty dollars, getting the fifty dollar bill out of her pocket.
Trump produced an envelope. He said if she wanted to, she could give it to a favorite charity of his. He announced the registration number of the charity. He held the envelope so a closed-caption camera could see the number on the envelope. He obviously realized he could get in trouble for accepting a fee for a service he was unlicensed to perform, and for doing it in a hotel. 


Since this was my dream, I know the interpretation of it. I’ve redacted the names of the innocent, and the guilty. Have fun with any comments, but only the dreamer knows the interpretation.

Wednesday, November 21, 2018

Thanksgiving for Sarah Michelle Geller

Sarah Michelle Geller (most famous for her role as Buffy the Vampire Slayer) posted on Instagram, “I’m just going to pin these up all over my house as a reminder not to overeat on Thursday.”

I’ll let you guess which pictures she chose. Her Instagram.

Meanwhile, here’s a picture that’s free to use.

photo by David Shankbone 

Which brings me to my own parody of urban fantasy. Dee and her friend Hope are NOT grown-up versions of Buffy. They have their own personalities. In this scene, Dee had walked in on her friend Hope, who happened to be dressed up in a French maid’s outfit in anticipation of her husband coming home. After some laughter, Hope went off to change. The idea is to parody urban fantasy by showing things from a housewife’s viewpoint.


She heard Dee call her name. Hope grimaced at the maid’s hat in her reflection, noting the polyester didn’t keep its shape well. “It’s no bother. We French maids change all the time.” She wondered if vampires could really blank themselves from mirrors at will. No wonder the females don’t bother with makeup.
Still with the one earring in her hand, she began to work on the left one when she heard Dee’s muffled voice again. Something bad. And how had she missed the sound of a struggle on the sofa?
Hope kicked off the little black shoes. Her nylon-stockinged feet zigged and zagged on the carpet as she charged into the living room.
Two vampires. Stockings or no, she tackled the female vampire on top of her friend.
It was a klutz move, but it worked: She and her opponent both ended up on their backs. But the female vampire was on top of her, smelling like it had slept in some ditch alongside the freeway. “I just vacuumed, you stupid vamp!”
Dee was still on the sofa, and Hope got a glimpse of her friend turning into a whirlwind. Now free of the female vampire, Dee whipped a leg up over her shoulder and kicked the male vampire who was holding a sack over her—dead in the face.
“Hey, great soccer kick.”

Saturday, November 10, 2018

Star Trek Bohemian Rhapsody

No, you cannot go until you see the bottom of this post.

The movie Bohemian Rhapsody is out. But you haven’t truly experienced it until you hear it in the original William Shatner:

Scaramouch! Scaramouche!

Which brings me to my own Star Trek credit. My short story “Yeoman Figgs” was published in Star Trek: Strange New Worlds V some years ago. This is a real Star Trek publication, not some fanfic.

You can read the start if you manage to look inside at p. 33. But if you like what you see, please buy a copy at Amazon or Barnes &Noble.

Wednesday, October 31, 2018

Zombie Mob

Thrill the World is an annual event I didn’t even know about until I happened to see an ad in a newspaper. (See? Print media still has its advantages.) This took place in Redmond, a suburb of Seattle. Specifically, it was at the Redmond Town Center.

Part of a tent

Before we get to the zombies, here’s an independent bookstore there. It’s cleverly named Bricks & Mortar Books. They have a different flavor of selection than a Barnes & Noble, or the Amazon stores. If you’re in the Redmond area, support your local bookstore.

I wasn’t trying to get too many pictures, so I’ll limit myself to a few of the better ones.

I saw a bee figure in the distance and wondered what that had to do with zombies. Oh.

The little girl in front really nailed it. She was all-out creepy.

And who says zombies can’t enjoy Octoberfest?

Looks like they just came from Leavenworth. (That’s local humor for the state of Washington.)

And this couple were the best ones there, for my money.

 click to enlarge

This really doesn’t do justice to how elaborate her hair was.

They had a tent for people to assemble their makeup. You might notice a corporate sponsor.

Some guy in Marketing must have thought it was a neat idea to associate their multi-billion dollar transnational company with blood-thirsty creatures.

So that was how I spent my Saturday. And remember the bookstore. 

[Permission granted to use any photo on this post, so long as it is labeled “Photo by Mark Murata”]

Tuesday, October 23, 2018

Movie Review: Antman and the Wasp

Now that Antman and the Wasp can be purchased, here is my gentle review. This is a fun, lighthearted superhero movie. The main characters don’t mope around brooding, and the fate of the world is not at stake. And to quote someone whom I will reference below, just about every scene in the movie works: The action scenes deliver, and the funny scenes are funny. 

Not only do Paul Rudd and Evangeline Lilly deliver their roles, the minor characters are surprisingly funny. Michael Peña as the Hispanic assistant and David Dastmalchian as the Russian assistant are a scream. And Randall Park as the hapless FBI agent knows how to make himself ridiculous.

Still, I had the nagging feel that the movie was not as satisfying as it could have been. K.M. Weiland in one of her posts on writing nailed it: The whole was less than its parts. Paul Rudd’s character of Antman was “ancillary” to the plot. I could go further and say he was unnecessary. The main conflict in the story was centered on The Wasp. Although Antman had good action scenes, the little plot twists that made him necessary could have been credibly handled by other characters.

But since Antman was so fun, he really should be in the movie. When you see it, just think of the movie as The Wasp, with Antman as a supporting character. 

Wednesday, October 10, 2018

Yeoman Martha Landon Passed Away

This was not your average blonde, female yeoman on the old Star Trek. Skip to 6:15 on this clip, and witness how Yeoman Landon takes out two natives who attack the landing party.

She was played by Celeste Yarnall, who had roles in Hogan’s Heroes, Bewitched, and It Takes a Thief. She passed away this past Sunday, October 7.

Tuesday, October 9, 2018

Stop Google from Going Googly on You

Ever look up vests on Google, or just the word “invest,” and for weeks it shows you ads on vests? What’s disturbing is not so much their taste in vests (which is questionable), but the fact they are tracking every word you use. Supposedly, this is just to do nice things for you like show you ads for stuff you like. Right. Why don’t we just let them search through our wallets? (More on that later.)

Kim Commando is a very reliable tech guru who has been giving valuable free advice for years. If you want to stop Google’s personalized ads, click here and go down to “Here's how to turn off Google's personalized ads.” The interfaces may look a little different from what she described, but the process works. Google’s ads only have short-term memory for me now.

That’s a start. But is that the end of Google’s data collection efforts on you? For irony, look at this puff piece they’ve put out for themselves. It’s funny at 2:50. The woman says, “Google has such a wide reach, so anything that I work on, I know it’s impacting, like, hundreds of thousands, probably millions.”

But it’s all to do nice things for you. Right.

Thursday, September 27, 2018

Dragon Con—Log Supplemental II—CNN

Dragon Con was held in Atlanta. I so wanted to stay in one of the three main con hotels, but I was shut out. I ended up booking in the Omni Hotel. It happens to adjoin CNN headquarters.

They have tours for a reasonable price, so I signed up for one. But first, here’s what part of their food court looks like. Yes, they own the Cartoon Network.

Each bear is about the size of a person on all fours

Not only is that the CNN globe, but that’s a narrow escalator leading up to it. It’s the longest open-air escalator in the country. And that’s what we took to start the tour.

The tour truly was behind-the-scenes. We saw the set for Headline News—CNN owns HLN. The regular morning anchor wasn’t there; it was the weekend host. She wasn’t on camera at the moment, so she waved at us through thick glass. She chatted with the guy in charge of the robocams—huge cameras that moved by remote control.

We were not allowed to take any pictures inside, so we were free to gaze down from a balcony at their newsroom. It looked like any open-air office with cubicles, but with large monitors. Our guide pointed out which desks covered foreign news. They receive news feeds from all over the world and decide what to put on the air.

A particular news studio was incredibly cramped. It showcased smaller segments for CNN, like their medical show. Our guide explained how one man operated all the lights in this studio. I think it was over seventy.

This clip gives you an idea of how cramped some of their studios are. If you don’t like one side or the other of the politics involved, just watch with the sound off.

So this brings me to a short segment from my science fiction novel, Alpha Shift. It’s a minor detail, but one producer operates all the cameras. Knowing that one man runs a multitude of cameras in the present day gives me affirmation. Here, the producer comes out in the open because she wants to meet a celebrity. Is it a good idea?


Terrence ignored the baritone reply and linked his hardcel to the monitor in the corridor to the left, through which Halak had entered. The four assistants from the shuttle loitered there—by coincidence, the same number as their remaining bridge crew: security guard, tech specialist, makeup artist, and producer. The producer—who looked insect-like with her headset, eyepiece, and large microphone stem—normally was back in the control room behind the cameras, using voice commands to operate them and give them signals, but was so eager to meet Halak that she had emerged and was operating the cameras by remote control.

Something strategic. The four assistants had gradually shifted so each one was behind or beside one of their crew.

Tuesday, September 11, 2018

Dragon Con—Log Supplemental I

Dragon Con in Atlanta, Georgia, is billed as the largest science fiction/fantasy/gaming/comics convention in the world. I went there for the first time. Also, believe it or not, I used Uber for the first time. I never had need of it before, but it’s much cheaper than those airport shuttles.

I had planned out just about every hour of my stay there in great (but not neurotic) detail on a Word document. But I concentrated so much on summoning Uber correctly, I walked out the door and left all my schedule and all my notepaper behind—including my two no. 2 ½ pencils!

But I did make it to the SeaTac Airport. No, this was not the plane I flew, but a marvelous display of a real plane inside the airport.

I had enough of my schedule memorized, and Dragon Con had sent me a link to their massive program list, so after some feverish work I managed to recreate my schedule using a notepad from the hotel store and a hotel pen.

Sample Page - click to enlarge

The convention was so gigantic, it completely booked three massive hotels, as well as having events at a couple of other hotels and other buildings. Here is a beautiful piece of art in the Atlanta Marriott Marquis.

The lobbies were jammed. You might see people in costume, or just some lone figure amidst the bustle.

On a similar theme, here’s a stormtrooper and son.

Sometimes a child will have political differences from his father, but that’s okay. 

I saw Harley Quinn there.

A girl needs to get some coffee, right?

Also, Leeloo from The Fifth Element.

They were both dressed for the heat, which was in the upper 80s or 90 degrees, with a good amount of humidity. Because of that, I didn’t stand around for the Dragon Con Parade. But the police were out in force to make sure everyone had a safe time.

They seemed highly amused by the all the cosplayers.

Inside, I confess I didn’t expect to see these gentlemen.

You might decipher from my hand-written schedule that one of the people I wanted to see was John Hemry, who writes by the pen name of Jack Campbell. He’s my favorite author, and I’ve spoken to him at a number of Worldcons. Since I haven’t seen him in a couple of years, I didn’t expect him to recognize me. But though I sat several rows back from where he was speaking on a panel, he spotted me in the audience and waved to me.

For such an accomplished author, he’s a friendly guy and very approachable. You might check out his latest series, The Genesis Fleet.

[Permission granted to use any photo on this post, so long as it is labeled “Photo by Mark Murata”]

Thursday, September 6, 2018

Dragon Con—Writers Conference II

I forgot to mention in my previous postabout the writers conferencethat Jody Lynn Nye brought in professionals to give us expert opinion about the real world of writing.

First was Anne Sowards, an editor at Ace Books. I met her several years ago at a Worldcon. Unfortunately, I don’t have a picture of her, since it would be outré to take pictures during the conference.

We also had Lucienne Diver, an agent at the Knight Agency. I do have a picture of her from a Worldcon in 2011.

We also had S.M. Stirling speak. Because of an alternate history he’s written, he was quite the expert on Theodore Roosevelt, regaling us with interesting trivia.

All in all, this was a series of experts who were able to answer our questions about this most quirky of careers.

Wednesday, September 5, 2018

Dragon Con—Writers Conference

Dragon Con in Atlanta is billed as the largest science fiction/fantasy convention in the country. The main reason I went was to attend a two-day writers conference hosted by Jody Lynn Nye, a writer I respect. I took along a copy of The Monster Hunter Files for her to autograph. It’s a collection of short stories, and she wrote one of the entries, though this version of the cover doesn’t show her name.

Ms. Nye ran the conference in the traditional style: We had each submitted about the first twenty-five pages of a novel, or a short story. We each wrote down our critiques, either as summary statements or notes on pages. Then one aspiring writer would sit quietly while the other twenty students read or stated from memory their critiques. Then Ms. Nye would give her more extended critique.

This is a very enlightening method. Having to come up with honest critiques of the other writers sharpens one’s own game. And listening to the others helps to crystalize certain thoughts. Ms. Nye gave very detailed critiques of some of us that had a better a chance of getting published, and I think that was her way of pushing us through the last mile.

Thursday, August 16, 2018

Vampire Parody—Dumping on TV Shows and Book Covers

The writer knows as Authoress has an interesting website. Once in a while she’ll call for submissions of snippets from beginning writers’ works in progress, which she’ll then post for people to make polite comments on. This time around, she wanted a short piece of dialogue. The entries should show up on her site tomorrow or soon after. 

Here’s what I submitted, from my vampire parody. 

photo by KMJ at German Wikipedia

Dee, a homeschooling mother, slays the occasional vampire that comes her way. She and her friend Hope follow a map that may lead to the source of the vampires.

Dee was grateful they were walking on grass that didn’t crackle too much, since it was still soft from September rains. “I suppose now I should start waving my flashlight around for no reason as we walk, the way all those stupid people do on TV shows where they’re hunting vampires or werewolves.”
Hope brought the smartphone closer to her face. It was finally lit enough to show she was frowning. “You really watch the werewolf stuff?”
“I guess there’s not as much on TV about werewolves as there is about vampires. But those novels in bookstores with threatening covers—eyes filled with contempt, strange tattoos, edged weapons—and those are just the women!”
“Doesn’t it bother you that they portray werewolves and other such things as sexy nowadays?”
“Sex sells, sister.”
Hope came to a dead stop. “This makes no sense. The path we’ve been following from this map keeps going straight. But you can see where the trail we’re walking on goes.” She gestured to the left, where the trail curved.
“Isn’t that just some tiny blip your map doesn’t show?”
“No, this trail we’re on doesn’t curve back to match the online path. You can see why.” She pointed to the steep hillside ahead of them. “Are we supposed to climb up and hike cross-country?”
“The answer is in front of your face.” Dee pointed with her flashlight. 
For another scene from my vampire parody, click here

Wednesday, August 8, 2018

Galaxy J7

So I finally bought a new smartphone. I was going to get the original Google Pixel, but reviews said sales were collapsing because users found it hard to manage. I then browsed the older Galaxy S models, but they can be sold by third parties that get terrible reviews on Amazon.

Along the way, I saw some Galaxy J models that were a lot less expensive than the S models, so I turned my nose up at the cheap things.

Looking at multiple reviews, I began to see the sense of the J models. Instead of being the flagship Galaxy S models, they were midline, workable phones that had what I needed without being the latest shiny object. Advertised for 219.99, I managed to get it for a little less when the clerk at the BestBuy brought up a discount. Of course I’ll get the protective case, since my manager recently dropped her S9 into soft dirt, and the screen got a spiderweb crack.

When I say finally, you may not believe what my previous phone was. It had the Microsoft operating system. Some of you will say, “There’s no such thing . . . oh, right.” My friend Kelly introduced me to it years ago, saying it worked just like the commercials said it did. It was the shiny new thing. But years went by. People stopped making apps for it. And it couldn’t download any Android or Apple apps.

So I’ve finally modernized.

On the subject of phones, here’s an excerpt from my urban fantasy manuscript, The Weapons of our Warfare. Stephen, a church intern, has discovered a coven has been spying on them. He returns the favor, with two teams of two on a hilltop in a wilderness. Unfortunately, the coven leader has a certain power.


Frustrated, Stephen listened to the static on his phone, keeping it pressed close to his ear so the sound wouldn’t carry.
“I thought we were far enough away.” Beverly’s jaunty mood was gone. “How are we going to tell them to move into position?”
“The coven leader’s definitely jamming it.” He looked up at the white glow. “But no reaction. As if she sets up a large jamming field by habit.”
Their plan had been simple, but bold. Before the coven leader could start her incantations, he and Beverly would confront her. If they were charged, he would throw Beverly down the hillside, if necessary, to save her.
Stephen’s hand tightened into a fist around the cell phone as he stayed determined to keep that part of the plan from her. Assuming the coven leader would flee in the opposite direction, Terrence and Minerva would apprehend her, Terrence using his authority as a police officer and a certain obscure statute they had looked up. The coven members would scatter.
But the hiss of static threatened to make it all in vain. The two teams couldn’t communicate, couldn’t warn or assure each other. Even worse, Stephen couldn’t tell if she knew they were there after all. Was it right for him to lead on, risking the others?

Wednesday, July 25, 2018

Side Effects of Stevia

Recently I bought some Snapple straight-up unsweetened ice tea. I figured I could add stevia to it, and that would be better than sugar. Stevia is natural, and I thought it would be better than artificial sweeteners.

public domain 

I added a stevia packet to a bottle at work one day. It was barely noticeable. Okay, so the next day I added three packets to a bottle. Later that morning, I felt like I was almost drowning because I was so badly congested. And my eyebrows were itchy. My eyebrows?

So I looked up the side effects of stevia. It turns out that if a person is allergic to ragweed (and I’ve had hay fever all my life), the body might react to stevia the same way. So it was like I just drank a bunch of ragweed.

I’ll set the box of stevia packets I bought in the lunchroom, for my co-workers to enjoy.

Which leads me to an excerpt from my novel manuscript Werewolf in the Fold. As something unique, it is set squarely in the year 1999. I know that most nostalgia stories are set in the 80s, but as people get older, they’ll get nostalgic for a time when the Backstreet Boys were popular, and the dot coms were a new way of doing business. The statements about aspartame and stevia are accurate.

Oh yes, it’s a slightly alternate reality, with certain minority groups. A rather innocent minor character Lily May is interacting with her friend Fonda.


And here she had met such people: Blacks who were well-educated and thought it normal to look white people in the eye and move into management positions, Asians (who didn’t call themselves Orientals anymore) who had been born in this country—just as their parents or even their grandparents before them—and who were as American as anyone else, and Elves like Fonda, who had befriended her and knew so much about fashion tips.
Lily May was well aware of the stereotype that Elves were amoral and chafed at society’s boundaries of decency. But if her friend had seemed to fit that stereotype for a moment there, she downplayed, suppressed, and forgot it in the slim moments between Fonda’s last comment and the next.
Fonda pointed a slim fingernail at Lily May’s soda. “And you chose the color of that to match your blazer? Those are too tame. Want some sweetener?” She rummaged in her tiny purse.
Lily May tried to snort, but it just sounded like a bad inhale. “I’m not that naïve. You just want to pour some sugar or that new aspartame stuff into it, to fizz out the carbonation.”
Fonda produced a small bottle. “Stevia. A natural sweetener. It’s banned here, but my people in Latin America like to chew the leaves.” She offered it.
Lily May thought that sounded too much like chewing some other kind of leaf, so she waved it off. Then she heard the sound of male voices approaching.
She put a finger to her lips, then whipped halfway around so she was facing Fonda with her blazer open. She kept her black Italian soda on the desk—something the guys could pretend to look at while noticing her new look.

Friday, July 13, 2018

Wonder Woman at Children’s Hospital

Here’s a nice moment in the midst of all the chaos in society. Gal Gadot is filming her second Wonder Woman movie. Between takes, she stopped by Inova Children’s Hospital in Fairfax, VA in full costume to visit some of the children.

tweeted by Kelly Swink Sahady July 6 at 12:12 pm

Sorry, guys. She’s married and has two children.

Friday, July 6, 2018

Lego my Patriotism

This is a little late, but Lego has done an outstanding job of building incredibly detailed replicas of historic American buildings. Let’s start with the Capitol, which houses Congress.

I think most Americans are familiar with a front view of the Capitol. So above is a side view.

And above is a back view. See the incredible detail?

This is Independence Hall, located in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. Notice they included the external halls.

Both the United States Declaration of Independence and the U.S. Constitution were debated and adopted in this building.

Now for something timely: The U.S. Supreme Court. 

They included the bas-reliefs at the top of the arch. (Click to enlarge.) You can just imagine interns running out with the latest Supreme Court decisions.

The back view, which I don’t think I had ever seen before.

So, happy 4th of July weekend!

Saturday, June 30, 2018

Plastic—Recycle or Landfill?

So a lot of you conscientiously throw your plastic bottles and other waste into recycling bins, not the garbage. But a new report from the Global Warming Policy Foundation argues that this harms the environment. How?

photo by NOAA

It turns out that most recycling materials from America and Europe get shipped to China and other Asian countries. They certainly recycle a portion of it, but they can’t use everything we send to them. They end up burning huge amounts or dumping them in the ocean.

So the next time you take a bag of plastic bottles and other recyclables out, you would be wise to ponder whether it is better to put them in the recycling bin, or toss them in the garbage—from there to be used in landfills to make uneven land useful for development.

The synopsis of the report is here.

You can read the full paper here.

Saturday, June 9, 2018

Review of Martians Abroad

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

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

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

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

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

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

Monday, May 28, 2018

Predators vs The Princess Bride

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Monday, May 21, 2018

New Indiana Jones Movie

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

No title has been announced yet.

My suggested title: Raiders of the Lost AARP.

Saturday, May 5, 2018

R. Lee Ermey Passed Away

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

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

The first four minutes are worth watching.


Saturday, April 21, 2018

Norwescon Blog III—A Wrinkle in Time

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

 Moderator Lish McBride, with Tiny Connolly and Fonda Lee

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

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


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