Thursday, January 17, 2019

Review: A Hobbit, a Wardrobe, and a Great War

Joseph Loconte’s book, A Hobbit, a Wardrobe, and a Great War is advertised to be an account of J.R.R. Tolkien and  C.S. Lewis in the First World War. So it was with great eagerness that I started to read it.

Unfortunately, I have to report it is no such thing. Readers of this blog will know this is not a negative blog, so this is more of a warning concerning truth in advertising.

Loconte is obviously an educated man who has done a good amount of research. His chapters are quick essays on important and somewhat overlooked aspects of societal trends before and during the war. He reveals how eugenics was popular among intellectuals in America and Britain, as well as in Germany, and the influence Darwin’s family had on it. He describes in detail how liberal theologians tended to identify the kingdom of God with their own nations, whether Britain, France, Germany, etc.

What is frustrating is he tends to describe an important movement or trend in society, then state that it must have had a great influence on Tolkien or Lewis. He may use no quotations, or a quotation from one of them that kind of has to do with the subject, or a quotation that has nothing to do with it. And he sometimes describes The Lord of the Rings incorrectly.

Back to this not being a negative blog. If you want a series of essays on those societal trends, with occasional quotations from Tolkien or Lewis, or other thoughtful people, this book can be eye-opening.

What really killed it for me was when Loconte started to have some good quotations from Tolkien, then he revealed he was getting them from some weighty tome out there called Tolkien and the Great War by John Garth. I stopped reading Loconte’s book halfway through. Maybe I’ll get that other book.

Monday, January 7, 2019

Hymns at the Mall

This is a little late. At a mall before Christmas, I noticed a group of Indian singers assemble. The women were wearing traditional saris. So I prepared myself to listen to some multi-cultural music. I was quite surprised when they sang Christmas hymns.

They are the Indo Seattle Christian Fellowship. After singing traditional hymns in English, they sang in Hindi, Telagu, and Tamil. So yes, multi-cultural music, and a good time was had by all.

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.

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. 


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