Monday, December 03, 2007

Still Alive


Yes, I'm still here. I've just been on a brief personal hiatus from a lot of things. But I have a bit of news.

My third Digger tale, "Double-Secret Weapon," is now live at Baen's Universe. This issue doesn't have quite the all-star lineup of issue one (but quite frankly, what could?), but still, Nancy Kress, Mike Resnick, Eric Flint, Norman Spinrad... not bad to share a TOC with.

Funny, though, how the last few jobs I've worked all used the acronym TOC with different meanings. In the Army, it was Tactical Operations Center. At TV Guide, it was the Transmission Operations Center. At Clear Channel, we're the Television Operations Center. When I'm writing, though, it's a Table of Contents. I wonder if there's a big publishing house somewhere that has a department just for producing tables of contents for all their different book divisions. They could call it a Table Of Contents Operations Center (TOCOC).

The illustrations for this story (by Luis Peres, example at left) are better than the ones for "Astromonkeys." A nice comedic flavor, although the guy apparently kind of skimmed the story. He gave Digger a helmet with dog ears apparently because someone mentions Dig-Dog at one point. And he gave Digger white hair, although the story quite specifically assigns that feature to Professor Pierce. But those are tiny nitpicks against what is a Really Cool Thing: having another story officially published.

I actually started to do an illustration for this myself a couple of months ago, but couldn't get it looking the way I wanted, so I gave up. I may give it another try.

The story went live late Friday, and then today, Monday, I got another cool piece of news. "Astromonkeys" has been accepted for Escape Pod, so double-sale for that one. Yay!

Now I just need to start writing again. Haven't written a lick for a couple of months. Time to get back on it.

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

It's Here!

Daikaiju!3: Giant Monsters vs. the World is now available on Amazon. There's no cover art up yet, but if you scroll down this blog, you should see the cover in all its glory. Agog! says they'll be sending contributor copies from World Fantasy Con next weekend, so I should have mine before December, I hope.

Sorry for the slow posts, but a complicated personal situation has kept me busy.

Friday, October 12, 2007

The Season So Far

I have not been posting TV updates at the furious pace I did last season at this time, because nothing is exciting me the way it did last season. I haven't even tried to watch Smallville, which has stretched way beyond its initial concept. I think they were in a position to do a grand wrap-up about three season ago and end the series the way it really should have ended. But the ratings were too good so they've had to do all these ridiculous contortions with Brainiac and Bizarro and the Justice League, and now I can't even watch it.

Prison Break is the same way. The pilot was stunning, I thought. But the premise didn't seem like a good premise for a series (which it wasn't--Prison Break was apparently originally intended to be a feature), and the ridiculous contortions they've had to go through to keep from ending the series finally wore me out.

Heroes, I still like, but the newness has worn off, and they need to get things moving again. This week, they finally brought back Sylar and Niki (StripperHulk) and showed us what happened to them. But the multiple plots are just not progressing at all, except for Peter's maybe, and three episodes is a little long to let this go on. Stuff needs to start happening soon.

So far, I've been right about Reaper. Three episodes in, and it's pretty much a MOTW (Monster of the Week) show. It's a funny MOTW show, which helps, and Smallville showed you can grow out of the MOTW syndrome without losing the heart of the show. But I'm not sure how long I'll stay interested.

Chuck is strange. It's also funny, and in a sense, it's also MOTW, only in this case, it's Mission of the Week. But the characters actually seem to be growing and developing in ways that the characters in Reaper aren't, so I like Chuck more. The big problem with Chuck is the ABSOLUTE STUPIDITY of the central premise, which just bugs me. I think it would bug me a lot less if the government agencies he was working with were like U.N.C.L.E. or S.H.I.E.L.D. or something; having him work for real-world agencies makes it harder for me to accept the fantasy premise.

Journeyman and Bionic Woman intrigued me, but not enough that I wanted to keep watching either one. So far, the only new series that I'm really going out of my way to watch are Chuck and Kitchen Nightmares.

Tuesday, October 02, 2007

Fair Enough

We went to the Tulsa State Fair Sunday afternoon. I haven't been much of a fairgoer during my adult life; I always had other things to do, and there never seemed to be a compelling reason to go. This year, though, I was looking forward to it, mainly because Lileks videoblogged the fair in Minnesota for buzz.mn and it got me feeling nostalgic.

So how was it this year? Pretty good day, all around. We got there early in the afternoon, parking in the neighborhood several blocks away from the front entrance. I was a little uneasy about leaving my car unattended on a strange street, but Mother-In-Law said that was how she always did it. Walked into the Expo Square building which was the main entrance. They had gigantic booths for Channel 8 and for the combined Channel 6 and 12, but I couldn't find a Fox 23 booth.

We went outside to let The Girl ride some rides. While they were in line for a ride, I went to buy a corn dog. You have to have a corn dog at the fair; it's the law, somewhere. While I was in line, I felt a gurgle in my intestines. I figured I was just hungry, but then I felt it again, and again. I was starting to worry; I'd had a burrito for lunch, and thought maybe it was going to take some kind of revenge on me, which would certainly not make for a pleasant fair experience.

That tingly gurgle kept going, rhythmically, and then I heard a faint chirp and realized that it was just my phone vibrating. It was work calling with a technical problem. I was able to eat my corn dog in peace.

After a few rides, we visited the animal barns. We walked through the cow barn and saw a lot of, you know, cows. Down one row and back another, and the last one we saw was a calf having lunch at its mom's udder. How cute, how beautiful. Oh, the miracle of life. Then we walked out the front door and down toward the next section, passing a small pavilion out front sponsored by the Cattlemen's Association, where they were grilling steak.

This is the thing I love about the fair. Because they will unapologetically shove those two things together, right in your face. In other aspects of our modern lives, they try to separate those realities, the food you eat and the creatures it comes from, so you can pretend that meat just comes off the magic meat tree and eat in good conscience. But at the fair, there's a big barn full of cows, and right out front, a perfect demonstration of what they're good for. And for good measure, down at the end of the building, a big room full of leather goods and cowhides.

We also took a turn through the petting zoo and the poultry section, which wasn't so much a thrill for me, although I was astounded to see a young giraffe in the petting zoo.

After the animals, The Girl wanted to ride the Ferris Wheel, so we got in line. It was okay, although we had to wait in line an extra long time while sheriff's deputies searched the ride. They'd had a report that a gun had fallen off one of the Ferris Wheels, and they were trying to find it.

Right by the Ferris Wheel was the closest remnant of the sideshows of old, a couple of sorry trailers housing the giant alligator and the giant Texas Rat. This is something I miss about the old fair. I know it's politically incorrect, but there was always a sense of exotic mystery to the old sideshows, the bellydancers and fire-eaters, Popeye and the Bearded Woman and the Leopard-Skinned Man. I remember being titillated by the colorful, dramatic paintings outside, and being disappointed by the drab reality of the show the year I finally worked up my courage to go in.

An even bigger disappointment? The Fighting Pygmies of Africa. A couple of black midgets in boxing gloves, one so obese that he fought from a chair; luckily, he was a lot bigger than his opponent, so he kept knocking the little dude down. Just sad.

After a turn through the Made in Oklahoma building and some airbrush tattoos for Girl and Wife, I was about faired out. We headed back into Expo Square toward home, but Mother-In-Law decided she wanted to check out the shows. There was a magic show scheduled at 7, and they decided to stay for it. I took one more turn through the building to see if I could find a booth for Fox 23. I saw lots of other stuff, and a blonde with cleavage convinced me to sign up for a drawing being held by Creek Nation Casino, but no Fox. I made it back in time for the end of the magic show.

We walked outside, and it was raining hard, water shooting off the gutters in thick streams. After a few minutes though, the rain abated, and we started walking. It was actually pretty nice. Just a few sprinkles, and the evening was pleasantly cool after getting hot at the end of the afternoon. It was the perfect end to a nice day out, until we got a block away from the car and the sky opened up again. The last couple of minutes were a mad scramble to reach the car, get it unlocked and get inside.

All in all, though, a good day.

Sunday, September 30, 2007

The Rest of the Week

I blogged a bit about Monday night TV. What else am I watching?

A lot of reality TV, it seems. Still doing Survivor on Thursdays, of course, mainly just because it's a family thing. I had lost all interest in Survivor at one point, but the last couple of seasons have been really good. Interestingly, because they're in China this season and not on a tropical island overgrown with coconuts, they've regressed a bit and given the contestants a big bag of rice to start out with.

Beauty and the Geek is in its third season, and I'm quite enjoying that. This year they decided to play with the formula, though. They've reversed the sexes on one team, with a male 'Beauty' and a female 'Geek.' When the host introduced them at the end of episode one, the guy, obviously a male model, struts up and casually tosses off a Blue Steel.

I really like the show, because although it starts out reinforcing stereotypes, as the weeks progress you begin to see the humanity behind the poses. It's very hard to both make fun of someone and let you feel empathy for them, but this show manages it.

My favorite new reality show is Ramsay's Kitchen Nightmares. I wasn't initially interested in this, because I'd never seen Hell's Kitchen, and Gordon Ramsay just seemed to be a dick. But in Kitchen Nightmares, he goes to failing restaurants and tries to help them figure out what they're doing wrong and how to fix it. It's a fascinating show. In fact, I like it so much, I've also started watching the original BBC version on BBC America.

I think I like the British version better. The American version, obviously influenced by shows like Extreme Makeover: Home Edition, has a bigger budget and lets Ramsay come in and give the restaurateurs a bunch of free stuff. Need a new kitchen? Here. Need some remodeling done? Here you go. In the British version, Ramsay has to be more creative in th ways he helps the folks out of their jams, because he can't just buy solutions to their problems.

I also watched the pilots of Reaper and Bionic Woman. Reaper was more entertaining, but seemed like it would have worked better as a movie; I don't see where this show could go to get more interesting. Bionic Woman was not as good as I'd hoped it would be. Obviously, the 70's version wouldn't fly now--in a country where a sizable percentage of the population questions the official version of 9/11, and a smaller but still sizable percentage actually thinks the government was behind it, a show with a character who works for a heroic government agency probably wouldn't fly. So we get Bionic Woman and Chuck, shows where ordinary people are trapped into working for shadowy, perhaps evil, agencies against their will.

I have completely blown off Prison Break, and totally forgot about Smallville, a show I was also getting a little tired of. I'll see if they have the season opener online, though, and give it a shot. It might be worth one more season.

Tuesday, September 25, 2007

Monday Night TV Returns

Prison Break actually came back last week, but I found I didn't care anymore. I mean, at all. I decided I would rather watch a football game between two teams I don't care about than watch another exhausting season of ridiculous plot twists, no matter how much I liked Wentworth Miller's character.

Last night, though, was the good stuff on NBC. Debuts of Chuck and Journeyman, and the season premiere of Heroes.

Chuck is a McG show, so it's stylish and funny, but you can't expect everything to make sense. It's about a guy named Dave... kidding, it's about a guy named Chuck who works as a computer repairman at a store that is an obvious take-off on Best Buy. An old college buddy sends Chuck a mysterious email full of scary images that flicker across his screen at incredibly high speed. Turns out, the email attachment contains the entire contents of a top-secret database meant for sharing information between CIA and NSA (that's one hell of an attachment, let me tell you).

After that, things start getting weird for Chuck. He strikes up a flirtatious relationship with a gorgeous blond customer, getting his first date in years. A mysterious black-suited figure breaks into his apartment and tries to steal his computer, destroying it in the process. Then he recognizes a terrorist in Large-Mart (guess what it's supposed to be) without knowing how he knows. Then guys in black suits show up during his date, apparently trying to kill him. But that's okay, because his date turns out to be a CIA agent trying to retrieve the information on the email he received (she was the black-suited ninja, you see).

By the end of the episode, Chuck has managed to survive both the spies and a terrorist bomb plot, and it is revealed that the information sent to him is now permanently stored inside his head. So the only way the NSA and CIA can use all that information is if they work together to keep Chuck safe. He refuses to join either agency, so he continues to work at Buy More, while his beautiful CIA love interest and a bulldog NSA assassin (played by Adam Baldwin of Firefly) keep watch over him.

The show is a lot of fun with appealing characters. It doesn't make a damn bit of sense, though. I'm not a guy who furiously thinks through all the implications of every plot point, trying to find holes. Normally, I let myself go with the flow and only drop out of the trance if something egregiously stupid happens. Like somebody sending an email attachment from a handheld PDA that contains the entire contents of a room-size supercomputer. Or the contents of a hard drive being irretrievably wiped out when a computer falls off a shelf. Or nobody at the NSA thinking to retrieve the contents of the email attachment from the ISP, rather than from Chuck himself. But of course, once again, NSA is presented as the secret government agency in charge of assassination, not computer security-Hollywood is full of idiots.

So I'll watch the show as long as it's on, just for the fun and the relationship between Chuck and the gorgeous CIA babe. But I don't expect it to last even a full season unless they can fix the stupidity.

Journeyman was pretty good, too, almost a modern remake of Quantum Leap. This newspaper reporter begins inexplicably making brief trips back in time, in order to fix problems in the timestream or something. He's making the world a better place, but destroying his marriage in the process. I liked the show, but wasn't mesmerized by it, the way I was by Daybreak.

And I'm so happy that Heroes is back. Once again, though, the Wheel of Heroes turns exceedingly slowly. Once again, the premiere episode does not manage to fit in every character. We see nothing of StripperHulk's dysfunctional family, nor of the resurrected Sylar. And some actors apparently got signed to other shows--Matt "TelepathiCop" Parkman has quietly divorced, as has Nathan "The Flying Pol" Petrelli. Maybe the Heroes folks decided to fear the Rena Sofer Curse.

One thing that jumped out at me on this ep, other than the complete lack of plot progress, was the wonky time-shifting. We intercut between Hiro in the past and characters in the present. That's fine. But we also intercut between, say, Indestructible Cheerleader Claire in gym class, then Molly Walker having a bad dream in the middle of the night, then back to Claire, still in gym class. The characters are supposedly on opposite ends of the continent (I think), but even a three-hour time difference can't account for that. The commentaries in the Season One set mentioned that they sometimes break up scenes in editing to get a better flow, but this one just didn't work.

Still, I'm excited by the possibilities. Let's get this Wheel rolling.

Thursday, September 20, 2007

That Taser Guy

I know this is old news now, but am I the only guy in the U.S. who, upon watching this video and hearing the guy cry "Ow! Ow! Ow!", suddenly channeled my inner Hans Gruber and began saying, "Hit him again"?

I know, I know, it's sooooo awful that the jackbooted thugs of Bushitler's AmeriKKKa are trampling on human rights and suppressing free speech, but weren't you, in your heart of hearts, hoping the same thing?

I've been suffering loudmouth jerks like that all my life, people who abuse the manners and goodwill of others to make themselves the center of attention. I'm the quiet guy that people like him trample on. And he has apparently been trampling for a while. That applause and laughter you hear as the cops are trying to lead him away is, according to at least one witness, from people who've seen this douche do the same crap at other meetings and functions.

The guy is an attention whore. He knew what was going to happen going in. He goaded it into happening. He wanted it. None of the videos show it, but I'm sure he had a tiny little stiffy right before they hit him with the juice.

As to the use of the taser itself, perfectly justified. I've watched other videos that show the action from all angles, and it appears that, even with seven cops holding him down and multiple instructions to roll over and let himself be handcuffed, he was still struggling so hard they hadn't managed to cuff his second wrist. They could have brute-forced him, possibly injuring him, or they could shock him to take the fight out of him long enough to get him cuffed safely and out of the room, which they did.

Okay, Fraze, you made your point. Now let it go!

Thank you, Cowboy, I'll take it under advisement. Now hit him AGAIN...

Tuesday, September 11, 2007

Britney and Judy

If you didn't see it live, I'm sure you've heard about the debacle of Britney Spears's opening act at the VMA's. If not, here's the video. It's an awful performance: she's clumsy and unfocused, stumbling through minimal choreography while wearing an outfit that's much more revealing than her untoned body can justify. I couldn't watch the entire number. It was too painful.

But what little I did watch reminded me of another musical number by another troubled performer.

My first year at USC, I took a class called "The Films of Charles Walters," which was one of the easiest classes ever. You would watch a different film directed by Charles Walters every week, then Walters himself would talk about how it was made. Since Walters himself was giving the class, it was an easy 'A' as long as your final paper was full of sufficient praise.

Charles Walters was an MGM director back in the studio's heyday. He started as a choreographer, then later directed films featuring some of the studio's biggest stars: Fred Astaire, Gene Kelly, Leslie Caron, and most importantly for this comparison, Judy Garland.

"Summer Stock" was one of Walters's films for the studio. Starring Judy Garland (alongside Gene Kelly), it was her last big musical. She was not in good shape when the film was made; she was overweight and overmedicated, and the studio was worried about her, with good reason. She had suffered a breakdown on a previous film ("The Pirate" in 1947, also starring Kelly and directed by her husband, Vincente Minelli). And watching "Summer Stock," you can tell that this is not the sparkling Judy of old.

Until the final showstopping number, "Get Happy." Judy wears a man's hat and a suit coat as a minidress and performs the hell out of an intricately choreographed number.

But here's the thing. It was all a trick. According to Walters, Garland had suffered another breakdown during production and filming had to adjust around her absence, then shut down while she went through rehab. When she returned, slimmed down and cleaned up but still fragile, they only had one number left to do. Walters and his choreographer put together a number that would require little physically from Garland, camouflaging her inactivity with swirling movements from a chorus of male dancers. All she had to do was a few steps right and left and sell the song. And it works really well, although the song itself is horribly repetitive (video here).

Watching Britney the other night, I was seeing the same thing. Britney doing a few simple steps while the dancers around her provided the real physical energy. The problem is, Britney's no Judy. Plus, Britney was live. She didn't have a second take or third take to fall back on. She was on live TV before a live audience, and never managed to connect with them. She just doesn't have the same charisma.

I understand that there were several possible factors contributing to the poor performance. But ultimately, she did her reputation no good with this comeback. I doubt her career can ever fully recover.

Monday, September 10, 2007

Season Opener 2007

Please indulge me in a quick football note:

Dallas played its season opener last night. They won handily, 45-35. But it was not a good omen for the season.

Coach Wade Phillips came to the team from a job as defensive coordinator of the Chargers, who had the best regular season record in the league last year, so it was thought that he would bring a new dynamic to the defense. That dynamic right now is "giving up big plays." They're missing their best cornerback and their senior linebacker to injury, and last night, they lost their starting nose tackle.

They are not going to get very far this season if they can't stop an average offense like the Giants' from putting up 35 points. About the only thing that saved the Cowboys was the fact that the Giants opted not to use the high-tech cooling system that Dallas used, so Dallas's players stayed fresher. But that won't be true every game.

Unless they can shore up the holes on defense, Dallas is looking at an 8-8 season, or maybe a 9-7 at best, barely good enough to sneak into the playoffs (maybe), but no more.

BTW, I thought it was amusing that all the postgame stats on quarterback Tony Romo kept saying he was 15-24, 345 yds, 4 touchdowns. Romo threw for four, but he also ran for one. But statisticians don't like counting running TD's in a QB's stats, apparently.

Thursday, September 06, 2007

Rude Software

Pardon me while I don my rant cap for a moment. Strong language follows, so beware.

I mentioned a while back that I had stopped going to KFC. As I was passing by one today on my way to lunch, I decided to stop in and give them another try. I previously mentioned my annoyance at their new menu scheme; well, it's no longer new, really, but it still sucks.

The menu board is a big Colorforms toy, with big magnetic pictures stuck haphazardly with no obvious organization. Worse, they've taken away my previous favorite default choice: the two piece chicken and biscuit. Popeye's did the same thing, but KFC is worse. At Popeye's at least, you can get a combo with just one side item. KFC forces you to have two side items if you just want a couple fucking pieces of fried chicken.

Here's how bad the menu is: I ordered the boneless wings combo for $5.49--5 wings, fries and a drink. They had to cook the fries, which meant I was waiting on the food for a long time. When I finally got my order, I also had an apple pie. I was confused, but the lady confirmed my order--5 piece wings combo--so I assumed the pie was a bonus for having had to wait so long for my food. When I was leaving, I noticed they had a special going for exactly what thought I had ordered for $.50 less. Why did I pay extra? Because the pie is part of the normal combo. I ordered something without knowing I was ordering it, because the combo is only described by a picture in the far upper corner of the menu. That's bad menu design.

But that's not why I'm ranting. What really annoys me (and this happens at other fast-food places, not just KFC) is when I have this conversation.

SMILING EMPLOYEE DOOFUS: Hello, welcome to ????, may I take your order?

ME: Yes, I'd like...

SMILING EMPLOYEE DOOFUS: Will this be dine-in or carry-out?

I understand that the register software wants you to enter that field first. But don't fucking ask me for my order, then interrupt me when I start to give it. It's just rude, and it annoys the hell out of me every time it happens. And it's just one more reason for me to go to your competitor next time I get hungry.

I seriously want to find the software designer who came up with that design and kick him in the balls. For all of us. For the children.

Dumb fuck.

Wednesday, September 05, 2007

At Long Freakin' Last!


Last week, I received the page proofs for "Out of His League," the first Digger story I wrote. It was an odd experience to reread that story, which they've been holding for (I think) close to three years now. It was written in 24 hours and submitted under the wire for their first Daikaiju! anthology. It didn't make the cut, but they asked to hold onto it for future publication in an e-anthology, which later got changed to a print anthology through Prime Books.

Today was even cooler. When I got home from work, this was waiting in my email-- the cover art to Daikaiju!3: Giant Monsters vs. the World! It's by an artist named Nick Stathopolous. Seriously cool!

Reading the story now is odd, because I've sold two Digger tales since then (both to Jim Baen's Universe), and both were written in First Person Present. "Out of His League" is written in First Person Past, which feels wrong to me now. Plus, there are so many things I would do differently if I were writing it nowadays.

And of course, since Agog! is an Australian publisher, they Britishized (or is that Britishised) all my spellings, which really makes the story feel almost like someone else wrote it. And they clipped my final line. It makes Digger's next plan less clear, but it has better rhythm, so I'll let it stand without fuss. The book is supposed to be released at Conflux 4 in Australia by the end of the month. Not sure when it'll be available in the states.

Tuesday, September 04, 2007

More Heroes DVD Stuff, Six Degrees of Frazier's Brain, and a Tiny Touch of Reviewing Nostalgia

When I was reviewing movies for the Daily Oklahoman, waaaaay back in 1986-87, two of the movies I reviewed were "Teen Wolf" and "Burglar," both written by the team of Matthew Weisman and Joseph Loeb III. While watching "Teen Wolf," I figured that the writers must be comic book fans, both because they treated Michael J. Fox's lycanthropy more like a superpower than a curse and because they used the term "wolf out" to refer to his transformation (which was a shout-out to the old Bill Bixby/Lou Ferrigno Incredible Hulk TV series; the series's crew used the term "Hulk-out" when talking about Bixby's transformation scenes).

Imagine my surprise when I learned recently that Joseph Loeb III had changed his professional moniker to Jeph Loeb, comic-book writer extraordinaire who has also achieved great success in TV, as a producer/writer on Smallville, Lost, and Heroes.

Speaking of guys who change their professional monikers, Loeb and Weisman also received story credit on the sequel to "Teen Wolf," "Teen Wolf Too," but they did not write the screenplay. The screenplay is credited to R. Timothy Kring, known these days as Tim Kring, creator of Heroes.

I've now listened to all the commentary tracks (except one which was so inane that I couldn't finish it). One of the things I've been newly reminded of: Actors often don't read entire scripts. Depending on the actor's philosophy of acting and/or devotion to craft, they may only read the scenes in which they appear. This reminds me of a Shatner anecdote I'm going to try to find and post about later.

And here's my own little version of "Six Degrees of Separation," connecting me to Heroes. I went to high school with a guy named Steve Spencer, whose dad went to school with a guy named Hunt Lowry. Hunt Lowry produced (among other things) a movie called "Get Crazy," starring Malcolm McDowell and directed by Allan Arkush. McDowell played Linderman on Heroes, and Arkush is an exec producer and has directed five episodes.

So Steve Spencer to his dad to Hunt Lowry to Arkush/McDowell. That's four steps. Can I do better?

Hmmm. Another of my high school classmates was Suzy Amis, who starred in a movie called "Firestorm" with Howie Long. "Firestorm" was co-produced by Joseph Loeb III, aka Jeph Loeb, writer and co-executive producer on Heroes. That's two steps.

Can I do any more? Let's fish around on IMDB...

One of my classmates at USC was a guy named Ken Tsumura. His most recent credit was as an exec producer on "Curious George." The first time I saw Ken's name in credits was on The Simpsons as production manager. George Takei, who played Hiro's father on Heroes, has done voices on three episodes of The Simpsons. That's two again (I could cheat and say it's only one, because I met George Takei at my first sci-fi convention, but getting autographs doesn't count, I don't think).

You know, it's a fun game to play with Kevin Bacon, but it gets a little depressing when I start playing it with my own name.

Monday, September 03, 2007

Heroes on DVD

Happy Labor Day.

I bought the Heroes Season One DVD set on Friday. Watched them all weekend. I haven't watched all the commentaries yet, but TV episode commentaries aren't always that interesting. Usually, I'm looking for further insight into story decisions and lots of times, the commentaries are more along the lines of "We shot this in downtown L.A. at three A.M. I think it really looks like New York."

Anyway, a few observations:

  • The deleted scenes are mostly useless, but in at least one instance, they illuminate something that didn't make sense from the final aired episode. In the early parts of season one, there was a scene where StripperHulk drives a long way (after burying a couple of bodies in the desert) to visit D.L.'s mother. In the scene, we learn what crime D.L. has been accused of (and begin to suspect that it was really StripperHulk who committed it). But the scene seems to be pointless. Niki walks in the door, has a three-minute conversation, then says, "I want you out of Micah's life." What was the point of visiting, then? The deleted scenes give the answer; a deleted subplot about the grandmother calling Child Protective Services, trying to have Niki declared unfit, which was what prompted the visit. The scene couldn't be cut entirely, because it had too much necessary exposition about D.L. and Niki, but they probably had too little time or money to write and shoot a new scene which did the same thing, so we ended up with this weird pointless little episode.
  • I still don't like the "Hiro's father" sub-plot. It really seems tacked on and made up as they went. They refer to the "Takezo Kensei" stories as early as episode one (I think), but the idea that Hiro's dad is super-rich just sticks in my craw. It undercuts the everyman appeal that Hiro had at the beginning, and George Takei, beloved as he is by fans, just doesn't have the acting chops of the rest of the cast. I wonder about his powers, too. From the training montage with Hiro, it appears to be a super-teaching ability, or else some sort of time-dilation effect (like Hiro's space-time warping abilities) that allows him to compress a lot of action into a relatively short span of real time. Or else Hiro really did learn to be a sword master in a few hours. I don't know; the writing on that storyline seemed to veer wildly toward the end. For instance, the scene where Hiro reverses time to make a bullet fly back into a gun, only the momentum of the bullet flying backwards knocks the gun out of the girl's hand. What the hell?
  • Peter has a lot of abilities that he doesn't know about. We know that his mother and father had powers, and Mister Deveaux (Simone's father) as well, but he hasn't exhibited them (although I wonder if Peter's prophetic dreams don't come from Deveaux, since two of the dreams are the only scenes where Deveaux plays a major role). He also met Eden early in the season, but has never used her "command voice" ability. And he's only exhibited Sylar's TK, not any of Sylar's other abilities, like freezing or melting stuff or (especially) super-hearing. That last one should really have manifested in the final episodes.
  • I know some folks were upset that they did that hokey last shot in "Volume One" of Heroes, showing the bloody trail where a survived Sylar has crawled into the sewers after being killed. It seemed like a crass attempt to keep Sylar alive for the ratings next season; the earlier scene of his death made it seem definitive, after all, and they had already teased next season's Big Bad (the man Molly is scared of). But watching the season over again, and knowing that we only saw Sylar exhibit a fraction of the powers he had stolen, I wonder if resurrection is one of them. I say this because Sylar's death at the end of the season is not the only time we saw him die. He also died while in custody at Primatech Paper, then revived and killed the doctor preparing his body for shipping. So that ending shot was actually justified by events earlier in the season. Having said that, I'm disappointed; I've got Sylar-fatigue.
  • Wow, did they pimp the hell out of that Nissan Versa or what? They mention it by name in several episodes, and every graphic novel chapter on the website still bears a blue Nissan Versa ad on the first page.
  • I'm disappointed by the slim bundle of extras in the boxed set, although I guess I should be grateful they provided anything.
I'm really looking forward to the start of season two on September 24. And in the weeks before the season starts, I'll be watching the online "documentaries" about Takezo Kensei, the samurai that Hiro idolizes and whose sword he stole. That just happens to be the lone samurai Hiro runs into at the very end of season one, so Kensei will obviously play a major role in season two. The artwork of Kensei on the Yamagato Fellowship site shows him with a soul patch much like the one Future Hiro sported, so this may be where Hiro transforms totally into the badass we know he will be (although he'll obviously not be so much the dark badass, since Ando didn't die).

Tuesday, August 28, 2007

Popeye's and Other Chicken

Found a Popeye's within easy driving distance of work, which makes me happy. I like Popeye's chicken more than most other fast-food chicken places. Church's spicy comes close, but it's too dry, and their biscuits aren't as good either. KFC Original Recipe is probably still good, but every KFC I've visited in the past couple of years has given awful service, plus I hate the way they've rejiggered their menu, so I stopped going. Pelicana Chicken is awesome, but I'm nowhere near South Korea, so I haven't had it in a while; General Tso's chicken comes close, though, so I usually pile that stuff on when I hit a Chinese buffet. The only big problem I have with Popeye's is that they're expensive; $5.49 for a two-piece meal with drink. At least Church's offers some lower-priced options.

I read an interesting factoid on the Wikipedia site for Popeye's Chicken. Apparently, it did not take its name from Popeye the Sailor. I had assumed that Popeye's was part of that late 60's/early 70's fad of celebrities adding their names to fast food joints, like Minnie Pearl Fried Chicken or Roy Rogers Roast Beef.

We had a Minnie Pearl in Oklahoma City for a while, on Britton Road IIRC. The chicken was okay, nothing special (it was never intended to be special; the entire chain was founded on the concept of being Pepsi to KFC's Coke--a second-best siphoning off excess business). The chain mostly went under a few years later after an SEC investigation into accounting problems and allegations of stock price manipulation.

My stepfather used to bring home Roy Rogers sandwiches. They were awful, dry things that turned me off roast beef for years. I would go to Arby's with friends in college and just eat fries because I couldn't stand the thought of eating another cardboard sandwich. Most of the Roy Rogers in my area got turned into Hardee's in the 90's, and good riddance, I said.

So, with that kind of track record for franchised "celebrity name" restaurants, I figured Popeye's would be just another joint with nearly inedible food trying to make a fast buck with a famous name. Imagine my surprise when I finally broke down and visited the Popeye's near USC and discovered not only tasty chicken, but biscuits better than any I'd ever tasted before. I loved Popeye's in Los Angeles, couldn't find it in OKC or Tulsa when I moved back, had it again in the Army (Popeye's and Burger King were favorite destinations in Korea when we visited Camp Casey on "official" business). There are a few locations in Tulsa now, but none were within convenient driving distance, or so I thought.

Now I find out that, not only is there one close enough to visit frequently, but I was mistaken about the celebrity-name thing. Popeye's actually got its name from the character of Popeye Doyle in "The French Connection." So the famous name franchise curse is still operational.

Yeah, but what about Kenny Roger's Roasters? you ask. Their chicken was awesome.

I agree. Very tasty. But they made the mistake of charging sit-down restaurant prices for fast-food, and now there's only one location left, according to Wikipedia. The curse lives on.

Saturday, August 25, 2007

Big Mac Anniversary


So yesterday, the news is full of stories about the 40th anniversary of the Big Mac. I remember when they first released the Big Mac. They had these commercials with this guy dressed like a lumberjack standing on a mountaintop, proclaiming the advent of a new burger. I'm sure he said something like, "big as the Great Outdoors" or something like that.

What was not noted in any of the stories I saw, however, nor on the Wikipedia site, is that the Big Mac was almost certainly a copy of the Big Boy Burger, signature burger of Big Boy restaurants nationwide. Compare the Big Mac above with the Big Boy burger here. They're almost identical. Same two patties with cheese, same Thousand Island dressing code-named "special sauce," same sesame seed bun with a special bunlet in the middle. The only things missing from the description on the Big Boy menu are the pickles and those nasty reconstituted onion shavings McDonalds puts on their old-school burgers.

Even the name, Big Mac, is a pretty obvious shout-out to its origin as the Big Boy. So if you're having a Big Mac to celebrate the anniversary, take a moment to give thanks to Big Boy for providing the inspiration.

Wednesday, August 22, 2007

Comedy Is Hard

I'm still listening to classic old radio shows, although not as single-mindedly as before. And one surprising discovery I've made (which shouldn't be all that surprising) is how much material got reused.

I knew that mystery writers like Carlton E. Morse would reuse plots. But listening to ten episodes of the Bickersons back-to-back, you realize every one is written to roughly the same formula and rhythm. You even hear the same jokes being reused. Stuff like (as John complains how he denies himself luxuries to save money), "I don't even drink my bourbon anymore. I just chew the cork and hit myself over the head with the bottle!" Two shows even reused the same 45-second exchange word-for-word, which doesn't sound like a lot until you realize the skits were only 15 minutes long.

I don't know why this strikes me so differently than, say, a stand-up comedian using the same three-minutes of material over and over or the dudes on Saturday Night Live reusing the same characters and formulas week after week. There's something about having fictional characters speak the exact same dialogue that hits a button with me.

But I don't know why it should. Good comedy is hard, and if you gets a good line that gets a big laugh, why not fall back on it occasionally. Listening to that reused exchange on "The Bickersons" (and I know for a fact that this was at least the second time it was used, not the first), I noticed that it got one of the biggest, most extended laughs of the entire show (of course, this was one of the last episodes, and it seemed like half the lines in the script were recycled from other shows).

I'm not sure what all this means to me right now. I'm in Digger doldrums, fighting with the plot of the new book and trying to figure out a way to fix the last short story I wrote. Neither one works well on a story level. What magic did I have two years ago that I don't have now?

Monday, August 13, 2007

Fantastic Planet

I don't remember what got me all nostalgic about this movie, but I found out the entire thing is on YouTube, in pieces. So I watched it again. It's the French version, without subtitles--maybe that's how they get around copyright laws--but the story is simple enough that I was still able to follow it pretty well, especially since I read a couple of on-line synopses first.

Anyway, "Fantastic Planet" was a French/Czech coproduction originally titled "La Planete Sauvage," directed by Rene Laloux. It had its first release in America in December 1973, so I would have been 11 when I first saw it. What an eye-opener this was for an eleven-year-old!

Based on a French sci-fi novel titled "Oms En Serie," it tells the story of Terr, a young human (or "Om") who grows up as the plaything of Tiva on the planet Ygam. The humans' planet has been taken over by these giant blue humanoid aliens called Draags, and what few humans survive have been brought back to their home planet as pets and playthings. However, just like tribbles, Oms reproduce at a rate that alarms the Draags and many have escaped into the wild, so the Draags are constantly trying to cull the human population. The giant blue Tiva takes Terr as a pet after his mother is killed by a group of Draag kids.

Years later, Terr escapes from Tiva's house with a Draag teaching machine and joins a group of wild Oms in a park. They use the machine to learn Draag language and science. Armed with that knowledge, they begin a rebellion against their alien masters.

This sounds larger in scope than it really is. There's very little plot on display here, very little in the way of cause and effect. So much of the film consists of action in the background, depicting Terr and fellow Oms walking past landscapes of incredible strangeness, like a landscape of twisting orgainc pipes that look like intestines, which kink and curl and spasm when it rains. The characters are dull and undistinguished; the planet is the star.

Watching it now, it is obviously a product of its times. It has that early 70's psychedelia to it, a proto-synthesizer soundtrack, a ponderous and self-important obscurity in the storytelling. And it's full of sex, or at least it looked that way to an eleven-year-old kids who was just beginning to notice that girls were different in good ways. All of the female Draags have prominent bare breasts, although the Draags are distinctly non-sexual. The savage Oms also run around in clothes that leave at least one breast bared. There is a scene in which Terr watches the Oms conduct a mating ritual, which echoes a later scene in which the humans witness a Draag mating ritual (the climax of the film). The film begins with Terr's bare-breasted mother and ends with the Oms disrupting a Draag orgy, and everything in between is filled with the soft moans of a woman's voice on the soundtrack.

"Fantastic Planet" opened my eyes to the fact that animation was not just about funny animals and superheroes. It showed me a world of new possibilities, and though "Fantastic Planet" doesn't realize those possibilities terribly well, it is memorably weird and sometimes disturbing.

Friday, August 03, 2007

Ghosts

Sorry it took so long to finish this, but life intruded.

So in the mid-90's, Michael Jackson had hit a bad patch. In the 80's, everything Jackson touched seemed to turn to gold. But "Bad" had not sold as well as "Thriller," and "Dangerous" had sold less well than "Bad." By 1996, Jackson's oddity, always a factor in press stories about him, had now come to the forefront; the controversial "Black or White" video, the quickie marriage and quick divorce with Lisa Marie Presley, the child molestation charges, the morphing appearance, all overwhelmed coverage of his music.

Creatively, he had become irrelevant. He had not released an original album since 1991, and had instead released two very expensive compilations of older material mixed with a few new songs. Jackson continued to push his music with ever more elaborate music videos, hoping to reignite the spark to his career that had caught with the "Billie Jean" and "Beat It" videos from "Thriller." As the videos got longer and stranger, though, Jackson's efforts felt more and more desperate.

And in 1996, along came "Michael's Jackson's Ghosts." Thirty-eight minutes long, featuring special-effects make-up by Stan Winston (who also directed). "Ghosts" tells the story of the Maestro, a reclusive man who lives in a spooky house just outside a small town. The film opens in black-and-white, with a group of townspeople marching up to the house carrying torches. Apparently, some young boys have been spreading stories about the cool stuff the Maestro shows them when they come to visit, and the townspeople, especially the fat, white mayor, want the Maestro gone and their children left alone.

The gates outside open mysteriously, as do the doors of the house. The Mayor leads everyone inside, and the film shifts to color once they get inside the main ballroom of the house. The Maestro (Jackson) appears and confronts the Mayor. The Mayor calls him a freak and tells him the town doesn't want his kind of folk around anymore. "Are you going to leave," the Mayor asks, "or am I going to have to hurt you?"

The Maestro then declares that, since the mayor is trying to scare him, he will now scare them back. And he begins to sing and dance, while summoning ghosts from the walls all around him. After about twenty minutes of this, he finally scares the mayor away and convinces the rest of the townspeople to accept him.

As a movie, it's not very good. The story, credited to Jackson and Stephen King, is a flimsy excuse for the set-piece dance, and the dialogue is incoherent. And it's downright uncomfortable to watch, because you can tell it's clearly meant to be a commentary on Jackson's highly-publicized personal troubles and get us to sympathize with him. And maybe that worked to some extent in 1996, but in 2007, after more child-molestation allegations had surfaced, it is hard not to wince when we see one kid says, "Show them the stuff you showed us," followed by another kid saying, "That's supposed to be a secret."

And the discomfort continues once the music starts. Once again, Jackson spends long stretches of time shouting at the top of his lungs for no apparent reason. It would be bad enough for him to do it once, but he does it over and over again for long stretches of the film. And the scene where he removes his flesh and dances as a bare skeleton would be really cool, except that it is edited to look as if Jackson just removed his clothes initially, with cutaways to the townspeople, including the kids, who react... strangely (actually, the film is full of reaction shots that form no coherent arc-the townspeople alternate between scared and amused for no apparent reason).

The most disturbing, and perhaps revealing, moment of all is when the Maestro possesses the Mayor and forces him to dance. The Mayor manages to make himself stop, and then a hand holding a mirror bursts out of his abdomen. The Mayor's face changes into a demonic version of itself, and he begins screaming into the mirror in the Maestro's voice, "Look at yourself. Who's the freak now? WHO'S THE FREAK NOW?"

What's disturbing about this is that the Mayor is played by Jackson in an elaborate prosthetic make-up. So here we're seeing Michael Jackson, who has dogged for years by rumors that he has been trying to make himself white, made up as a white man possessed by a (sort-of) black man, screaming hatred at himself in a mirror. Urgh.

And of course, this video is further proof that Jackson's strategy of hiring supposedly the best (or most popular) talents in the world to support him just never paid off the way it was supposed to. It seemed like such a good idea in the 80's, when we all thought there would be some kind of crossover between music video and feature films. But that first wave of video directors like Steve Barron, Bob Giraldi and Russell Mulcahy never did make any features worth a damn.

And would anybody seriously argue that John Landis ("Thriller," "Black or White"), Martin Scorcese ("Bad"), "Francis Ford Coppolla ("Captain EO"), John Singleton ("Remember the Time"), Herb Ritts ("In the Closet") or Spike Lee ("They Don't Care About Us") did themselves proud with these things? "Thriller" was the most popular, but it's clumsy and let's face it, Landis was always a hack. David Fincher's video for Michael ("Who Is It?") works really well, but Fincher is one of those few in the second wave of video directors who has been able to slip successfully between the long and short forms.

Here, Jackson has the support of Academy Award-winning make-up/effects man Stan Winston, bestselling author Stephen King and Academy Award-winning effects house Digital Domain and it still turns out awful. The effects are great, but the film overall is boring. It's worth watching as a curiosity, but not as a film.

Thursday, August 02, 2007

Thriller

I was going to post some pics from Conestoga, but I take really boring pictures, so never mind.

So, typical night of websurfing last night. My daughter asks if I want to see her do a new kind of disco dancing, then does dome silly rolling around on the floor. I say it looks more like break-dancing than disco; she asks what break dancing is.

So I hunt around on YouTube, find some breakdancing clips to give her an idea of the flavor. She thinks it's pretty cool. The Wife comes up in the middle and asks if we've seen the Philippine prison guys dancing to "Thriller."

So I look that up. We watch it, along with Mom-In-Law, who is not familiar with the original video in question. So I look up the original, just to compare the dancing, and watch that, then read about it on Wikipedia.

Interesting bit on Wikipedia: To qualify for an Academy Award, "Thriller" was debuted at a special theatrical screening, along with the 1940 animated motion picture Fantasia. It was met enthusiastically by the audience with a standing ovation, and most patrons left without staying for the main feature.[citation needed]

I doubt if this will count as the necessary citation for Wikipedia's sake, but I was there that first night. It actually ran for a week or two. The theater was in Westwood, and I went there along with my college roommate and several of his friends. They were all classical music majors, so we were actually there to see "Fantasia," which had been reissued with a new digital soundtrack conducted by Irwin Kostal. We stood in line outside the theater for a long time, and I remember being somewhat surprised that so many people were there to see an old Disney film.

We went into the theater, and it filled up quickly until it was literally standing room only. The lights went down and "Thriller" came on, to shouts and applause. Fifteen minutes later, it was over, and people started leaving. I was amazed. Every person in that theater, as far as I knew, had paid full price (five or six bucks, I can't remember now) to see a two-hour feature, and they were leaving already. By the time "Fantasia" started, there were maybe twenty of us left in the theater. About half of those apparently only stayed because they had paid full price and figured they'd get their money's worth; they left in the first half-hour.

By the time "Fantasia" ended, there were less than ten people in the theater, and most of them were in our group.

After watching the original "Thriller" last night, I watched part of a version made with animated Legos: funny but frustrating, because it was out-of-focus the entire time. By that time, I was thinking about a bit of another video Jackson had done, of which I had seen only a tiny clip on TV years ago; it featured Jackson in a haunted house, in monster make-up. I looked it up and found it.

"Michael Jackson's Ghosts."

Fascinating and strange. More about that tomorrow.

Wednesday, July 25, 2007

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows

So I read Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, and I'd like to give a few of my thoughts. Nothing too in depth or spoilery, but a few impressions all the same.

As I said before, I bought the book at midnight Friday at the con. I drove straight home and decided to read the first chapter or two. I read a page and a half, then fell asleep. Saturday, I read a couple more pages, Sunday a few more, but I was having trouble concentrating on it, with the excitement of the con and all. Plus I think Rowling has trouble with beginnings (which may be purely a personal thing, because another blog review I read said the book started brilliantly, then fell apart). Monday, I had off from work. I got up early, decided to read a couple more chapters, then do some other things.

I read the entire book to the end that day, practically without stopping.

All of Rowling's usual weaknesses are on display here: the weak opening (as I said before), the flabby prose, the repetitive bickering between the three main friends, the idiot plot (in which the characters turn really stupid whenever the plot requires them to), the mysterious gaps of time in which nothing happens because each book is supposed to be roughly a year long so December will mysteriously turn into March with no progress made whatsoever.

This book still follows the rough timeline of the previous books, though it does not, as you would know from reading book six of the series, actually cover a year at Hogwarts. So Rowling gets to dispense with all the touchstones of school life throughout the year that had formed the spine of previous books. Some of those are really poignant in their absence, like Mrs. Weasley's Christmas sweaters, but most of them, we dont miss. Hell, I think even Rowling was getting tired of stuff like Quidditch and the Sorting Hat, because she'd been performing all sorts of plot acrobatics to avoid writing them for the last few books.

About fifty pages in, I wasn't enjoying the book much at all and feeling a little grumpy about it, because I'd really wanted it to be good. But there were enough cliffhangers to keep pushing me forward--Rowling's pre-publicity teases about major characters dying worked into this, because several times throughout the book, she has someone apparently die, and you think, "No, she didn't... she wouldn't..." then the character is miraculously alive, and something unexpected happens.

But as the book drives on, Rowling's considerable strengths push to the forefront. Her ability to make you connect with the characters and care about them, the way she weaves in small bits, practically forgotten, from earlier books and makes them suddenly vital clues to the greater mystery, her use of suspense and little cliffhangers to keep the plot pushing forward, her ability to make us sympathize even with the villains (some of them anyway).

By the middle of the book, I was literally caught completely in the spell. Clutching myself during the tense bits, laughing aloud or sighing with relief, reading some conversations out loud just to hear them and stretch out the experience, make it more vivid and real. I probably looked ridiculous, like a caricature of some Victorian housewife, reading a penny dreadful and swooning in its grip.

But it was that good, damn it. Some writers are very polished; Rowling is not. But she is powerful, and that's what she brings to bear here. I must admit, although I didn't cry (I'm not a girl, you know), I did get choked up a few times, when certain characters died or when Harry was faced with his heartbreaking choice toward the end (and I won't say anything else about what that choice is).

There are some things I want to say in more depth, but can't without spoilers, so I'm going to hold off for at least another week. But I will say, while it's not a perfect book by any means (and really, none of them have been), it's a very good and fitting end to the series.

Tuesday, July 24, 2007

Conestoga 11

So the con is over, and it was fun, as usual. Spoke on a couple of panels, listened to a few more. Read an excerpt from a short story called "No Love For the Middleman," which came in second in a short story contest among members of Codex earlier this year.

One thing that was odd this year was that it was sort of two conventions in one. Alongside the regular convention stuff was a track wholly devoted to Grantville/Ring of Fire, a series of novel and short stories that got its start with Eric Flint's alternate history novel, 1632 (available as a free download from the Baen Free Library). The 1632 folks had their own room and didn't mix much with the rest of the convention, but I spent half my time sitting in on their activities, because 1) I liked 1632 and am in the process of reading 1633, and 2) several of the folks involved in the con are also involved with Baen's Universe, and I like hanging out with them.

We also had a memorial to Jim Baen in the bar, at which I told my story of how Jim played a role in my first professional sale. It was a good time, with a much larger crowd than I expected.

Friday night was a Harry Potter launch party, at which books went on sale at midnight. I bought one, read it yesterday, and I'll do a sort of review very soon.

I have about decided not to go back to ArmadilloCon next month, because it's just too soon after Conestoga, but I might go to FenCon in Dallas in September.

Thursday, June 28, 2007

New Book Buys

So I've got a reasonably long list of books that I want to buy and read someday. Some books, like The Chinatown Death Cloud Peril, have been on the list for a year or more. But did I buy that, or The Confusion, or The Prestige, or Ghost Band by my friend John Wooley?

Nope, I ended up getting two books about dragons. Throne of Jade, second in the Temeraire series, and Bitterwood by James Maxey. I've never met James, but he's a member of my on-line writing group and beat me out in a short story competition earlier this year. I'm looking forward to reading his novel. I also plan to hunt down an earlier book of his, titled Nobody Gets the Girl, a superhero novel recommended by my friend M.T. Reiten.

I don't think it has dragons in it.

So I'm currently reading a history of Britain (just hit the Magna Carta), and I'm following it up with two dragon novels. Is there a fantasy novel in my future?

One never knows.

Wednesday, June 27, 2007

Bad Vibes

I don't talk much on teh politics (and how has 'teh' become such a big deal? every time I mistype 'the,' without exception, it's the other way around--'hte'), but this comment about the current immigration controversy strikes me as just right.

Tuesday, June 26, 2007

Random Odds and Ends

Had a car accident on Saturday and traveled to Muskogee last night to visit my father in the hospital, so the story I was planning to enter in Writers of the Future is still unfinished. At least that's my current excuse. It's been an extraordinarily hard story to write, which is weird, because on the surface, it seems very simple and straightforward.

I've been listening to a lot of old radio lately, and I'm debating putting together a new podcast about it.

Saw one of weathermen at work give his seven-day forecast a couple of weeks ago. All seven days were virtually identical: similar temperatures with a 50% chance of rain. Is there any clearer way for a weatherman to say, "Hell, your guess is as good as mine. Just flip a coin already."

And just for fun, here are clips of intricate and clever Rube Goldberg-style devices featuring rolling marbles and thread spools, with an addictive little jingle at the end of each.

Friday, June 22, 2007

New T-Shirt, Maybe?

So I've got Conestoga coming up, and I'm thinking it's time for new Digger T-shirts. I've got two more Digger stories set for publication later this year, so I figure I'll do one of each. Professor Pierce for one, maybe. For the other, I'm not sure. Either something from "Out of His League" (the story that's been set to publish in the Daikaiju follow-up for over two years now), or maybe something with the Digger Family Super Power Hour.

Sunday, June 17, 2007

Superhero Weekend

It was a superhero weekend here. City of Heroes/Villains has had a double xp event going all weekend, so I got my main guy, Metatronic, to level 50 (as high as the game goes) finally. After 677 hours of gameplay, and there wasn't even a fireworks display or anything. That was Friday night and Saturday morning. Saturday afternoon, I took Metatronic's evil twin, Dark Meta, up to level 25.

Then on Saturday evening, I wrote the first draft of a new Digger short story. There's some good stuff in there, but the ending is weak, I think, so I may have to redo it.

This morning, Sunday, I took my evil mastermind, Metalord, to level 18. Then The Girl took me out for Father's Day. We went to see Fantastic Four: Rise of the Silver Surfer.

It wasn't bad, as comic book movies go. As I've said before, I wasn't fond of the first one; I thought it was too goofy, and I hated what they did with Doctor Doom.

Well, Doom comes back in this one, and I don't like him any better this time around. But the adventure works a little better this time around, although the Fantasticar flies way too fast for something without a windshield. Then again, not only do the comedy bits work better in this movie, but the climactic shout-outs to the original comic and the classic villain, the Super Skrull, are pretty cool.

Then it was back home to squeeze a little bit more out of double xp weekend, leveling up both Doctor Jolt (a City of Heroes character based on one of my Hero Go Home guys) and MC Square (a hero who's set to appear in the sequel to Hero Go Home).

Oh yeah, and in between I watched cartoons. So yeah, it was pretty non-stop superhero action for me.

Wednesday, June 13, 2007

History of the British People

I have come, haltingly and not without much trepidation, to love history. Which is to say, in my youth, I did not seek out knowledge of older times and older ways. That stuff was old, and not nearly as cool as television, and even less cool than what was on television, like Space Ghost.

As I grew older, I discovered that ignorance of history was not an entirely good thing, so I began to read a little, and liking it, read some more. I'm not what you could call well-versed in history, by any means, but I know a bit of this and that, and on occasion, I get in the mood to be educated rather than entertained.

Which is an awfully long prelude to the story of a party I went to on Saturday night. I didn't know the lady whose party it was very well, and I knew very few of the guests. And as a sat down, I noticed a small stack of antique books on the table next to me. Curious, I picked up the top one. Green's History of the English People Vol. II.

Hmmm. Well, having nothing better to do, I picked it up to read a few pages, and ended up immersing myself in the book for the rest of the evening. It was fascinating. And when I was done, I decided to read a book that had been sitting around my house for ages, waiting for me to decide to read it. That book was Rebecca Fraser's The Story of Britain. So that's what I'm reading now.

But since it tries to handle a longer period of time that Green's book, it has to skim where Green's book dealt in depth with the rule of folks like Edward the Second. So I may end up going back to the Green volumes when I'm done with this.

Friday, June 08, 2007

Podcast Ep. 2

Yes, I continue to give the world's cheapest microphone a workout. I'm getting better at this, although I'm spending way too much time on each show. If it continues to be this much effort, I won't keep it up for long, at least not regularly. So here's the show. (25MB, 27:15)

Show Notes:

Backward masking (actually "backmasking" according to Wikipedia) started with a hoax.

Discussion of bands purposely inserting backmasked messages in songs: examples include ELO, Weird Al Yankovic and Oingo Boingo. Yes, I misquoted Al: he said "Wow," I said "Boy."

Accusations of hidden satanic messages in reversed speech. Examples include: Cheap Trick, Popeye(!), and a random guy from the BBC.

Why does this happen? Three reasons discussed in some detail, with digressions into military radio procedures, Stairway to Heaven (Robert Plant backwards sounds like Brak, BTW), classified coded messages from North Korea, and more Oingo Boingo. Along with shocking revelations from the first podtest two weeks ago!

Most examples taken from backmaskonline.com and reversespeech.com. Theme music by Partners in Rhyme.

I need a new theme song, and a topic for next week. Let me know if you like this one, and if you'd like to hear more.

Saturday, June 02, 2007

Official Episode 1

So I did another podcast. The link is here. (21 MB, 22:34)

Show notes:

Show was recorded late at night, so I'm speaking very quietly. Try not to fall asleep.

Comments on the Tomorrow show referenced last week.

Theme songs from 60's Hanna-Barbera cartoons, with a special surprise.

Theme music from Partners in Rhyme.

Have fun. We're still getting better.

Thursday, May 31, 2007

I'm a Hero!

There's this cool thing that Verizon is doing called "Action Hero." Basically, you upload a photo of your face, manipulate a few sliders, pick out some plot points and lines of dialogue, and voila!

You're starring in your own action movie!



It's not perfect. The picture I used was taken at a slight angle that makes my face look more lopsided than usual, and the lighting in the picture wasn't even enough, making me look blotchy. The voice isn't at all close to mine, either, which really hurts the illusion. If I could read the lines as well as have my face mapped on the figure, it would rule.

Tuesday, May 29, 2007

Studio 60 Again?

So Friday, I'm looking at the programs the Media Center PC has recorded, and it has a new Studio 60 on it. Apparently, after NBC announced they'd cancelled it, they decided to burn off some unaired episodes. Strange thing is, this is one of the best episodes of the entire series, and it is the only one in which none of the three principal actors appears. Coincidence?

Monday, May 28, 2007

Pod-Test-Cast

So here's the learning experience. The audio quality isn't great, partly because I'm using the cheapest microphone on earth. It took a long time to download for me, even though the file isn't that big. It's about 18 MB and 19 minutes long. It's not great, but it can only get better, right?

Show Notes:

Opening theme, mixed by Tony Frazier from music loops from Partners in Rhyme.

Reflections about my introduction to fandom in the mid-70's, including Star Trek, Space 1999, UFO, and a passing mention of Starship Invasions.

My first con, where I met George Takei and Bret Morrison, and had them sign a Ray Harryhausen fan magazine.

Downer endings in 70's films. Lots of spoilers.

The episode of the Tomorrow show I never saw, until today. And yes, I mispronounced Harlan Ellison's name, sue me.

End theme also provided by Partners in Rhyme.

Sunday, May 27, 2007

Girl-Zilla

For some reason, Encore Action was showing a bunch of Mothra movies today; the original, followed by the three movies in the Rebirth of Mothra series, followed by another movie featuring Godzilla, Mothra and King Ghidorah.

I always thought Mothra was kind of weak as monster concepts go. It's a big moth. You know, it attacks, and you just build a big bug zapper and bzzzttt! Moth flambe. But the character caught on and became popular for reasons that always escaped me.

So I had "Rebirth of Mothra" on in the background, and I'm thinking that it really sucks. It's super-juvenile with even cheaper-than-usual effects and a so-so-so-obvious eco-sermon. And The Girl walks in, and she's just turned seven, and she has missed three-fourths of it, and she is instantly captivated. Mothra is pretty and sparkly, and the little miniature idol singers are riding around on a miniature Mothra named Fairy, and it strikes me that the folks at Toho have come up with a perfect angle to expand the Godzilla franchise to appeal to girls too. Mothra is a pretty-pretty Girl-zilla with a baby caterpillar and magical fairy followers, and my daughter instantly planted herself in front of the TV and began cheering for Mothra without any previous introduction to the character at all.

I feel a little adrift after finishing the second draft. I feel this pressure to start writing something new: a short story, or a new novel or something, but I just have no energy at all. Work has worn me out, and today I've been progressively sicker. I'm debating whether to go in and work tomorrow or not. I don't want to, but I know that there's stuff that needs to be done. And somebody won't show up, I just know it. So I'm just worn down and feeling lost, like I should be doing something, but there's just nothing in me to bring out anymore.

Ugh.

Thursday, May 24, 2007

Lost and Test

We had the season finales of Lost and Heroes this week, and both pretty much kicked ass. I was a little, a smidgen, disappointed in the Heroes finale, simply because we're still not seeing these characters really cut loose. Well, that and the fact that master villain Sylar died, then came back long enough to set up the start of next season, then died again for real, and then... wasn't dead? I don't know. And of course, the fact that Peter didn't really need Nathan's sacrifice- he should have been able to do what Nathan did himself.

The Lost finale was exactly what a Lost finale should be. It answered a ton of questions, while setting up a ton of new questions, and ended with a twist which indicated that the show is once again going to be fundamentally different next season. I love the way that every season seems to be at once the same show and yet a different show from the season before. And the finale also made obvious that these guys haven't been blowing smoke when they say that they know where the show is going. They're not just making it up as they go along.

I put together a podtestcast, but I'm having trouble posting it. It was a lot harder than I'd though it would be, and the result is kinda dull, so I may redo it. Or not. We'll see.

Monday, May 21, 2007

Podcasting

So I mentioned Lileks's podcast a while back, and it got me searching for other podcasts. I've listened to a few here and there, and I'm thinking maybe I should give it a try. I like the concept of Kick Ass Mystics Ninjas, for instance. This is like a nostalgia podcast for old geeks like me, reviewing classic old books and not-so-classic movies and shows. Bester's The Demolished Man is an example of the former, and Airwolf an example of the latter.

If only the execution were a little better, I would seriously love this show. The audio is often of varying quality, and the shows often seem to run out of steam after a while, as the hosts all end up with long awkward pauses in the conversation.

Lileks's show is more polished, but hinges on obscure music. Anything I did would be more like the Ninjas, offering my own commentary on, you know, whatever. I have an idea for a first, test show. I have a microphone somewhere that I can scrounge up, and I've been learning how to use Audacity to put this stuff together. I may try to throw together a testcast (or is that podtest?) later this week and see if anybody likes it.

Sunday, May 20, 2007

Second Draft Blues

The second draft of Hero Go Home is finished, with the exception of a little clean-up, maybe. I read the first act and a bit of the second last night, and it's better than before, although I wonder if maybe I'm pushing too much backstory in too quickly.

Most things I write don't have much backstory. They start when they start, they don't depend much on what has gone before in the characters' lives, and frequently I couldn't answer many basic questions about the characters' pasts if you asked.

But for this book, I've written a few short stories about some of these characters already, and wrote about two-thirds of an (awful aborted) novel about another, so they have histories in place. And so much of the book feels like another entry in the series, I think. I don't know if I explain stuff enough so that a new reader, unfamiliar with the short stories, will ever feel comfortable with what's going on.

On the other hand, when I decided to write Hero Go Home originally (and now I'm talking about the late 80's/early 90's, when it was a vague screenplay concept and three pages of an opening scene that no longer appears in the book), one of things I specifically wanted was to avoid the usual approach to starting a new superhero world, which is to show a normal world with heroes and vilains just emerging for the first time. I wanted it to be a world already populated with heroes, with adventures happening all over the place on a daily basis; instead of having the reader come into the world gradually, dipping a toe at a time, I wanted to yank them right into the deep end.

And for all the changes that have been made to my original vision in the intervening years, this one thing I've stayed true to. Now to find new readers and see if it works any better than before.

Wednesday, May 16, 2007

This Time It's Personal

I mentioned in my review of "Spider-man 3" the totally unnecessary retcon of Uncle Ben's death. Basically, they changed the storyline to add a second shooter, unmentioned in the previous two movies, and said that he was the real killer so that Spider-man can go off to indulge his desire for revenge. Not only that, but he ends up being one of the major villains in the Spider-man rogues' gallery.

I really hate this. I've hated it for years, since Burton's first "Batman" film. In that film, we learn that the young Joker killed Batman's parents: a totally unnecessary twist that added nothing to the film, in my opinion.

My dislike for this particular trope got even worse two years later when Costner's "Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves" came out, in which we learn that the Sheriff of Nottingham killed Robin's father while Robin was out fighting the Crusades against his father's wishes.

This was a big change to the Robin Hood I grew up with, which was the Errol Flynn version. In that movie, Robin is a nobleman who refuses to join Richard the Lion-Hearted on the Crusades, thinking it a foolish waste. He acts out of principle to oppose a war which he thinks is wrong.

But when Richard is captured and Robin learns that John has usurped the throne and kept Richard's ransom money to line his own pockets, Robin then turns outlaw, again on principle, to support the rightful ruler. Robin puts principle above his personal feud with the king and puts his life on the line to save the man who had previously branded him a coward and traitor.

This is a story with real meat on its bones, and in the Costner version, it's all "My name is Inigo Montoya. You killed my father. Prepare to die." Let me call the Waah-mbulance.

Which is not to say that I dislike Inigo Montoya. I thought "The Princess Bride" was pretty brilliant. A character with a legitimate grudge against the person who killed his father is fine, fair game.

What I hate, hate, HATE with a passion is the retroactive addition of this particular grudge to any established hero of popular culture when the suits in the room think his origin needs spicing up. Why does Daredevil fight the Kingpin? I mean, "cause it's the right thing to do" is just so blah. But here's an idea: if Kingpin was the guy who murdered his father...

And in Spider-man 3, it's even worse, because not only did they change the origin story from the comics to make Sandman the killer, but they even changed their own continuity, because the first film told the story correctly. So they retconned a grudge that had already been resolved.

Just blind and stupid in so many ways.

Tuesday, May 15, 2007

The Problem with Threes

First off, damn Lileks! I listened to the latest Diner this morning, and he played four, count 'em, four versions of "They Can't Take That Away From Me" and now the damn song is stuck in my head.

I ended up working four hours on Saturday night and then turning around to do a morning shift on Sunday, so the weekend was basically shot. My boss then encouraged me to go home early yesterday, so I finally got to see "Spider-man 3."

A little disappointed, frankly. I had hoped that if anybody could avoid the "Curse of Three," it was Raimi. But alas, it was not to be.

We know that sequels are hard, especially if they're unplanned. A good sequel has to be the same, but different. It needs to flip all the same switches in the viewer's brain, but it can't be too similar, and most importantly, it can't be smaller.

But the third film is a different beast. Often, a good sequel has not only satisfied the "same but bigger" itch, but it has also resolved lingering questions from the first film to give both films greater resonance. A third film often has to "keep going, but start over" (which is why I think so many tend to echo the first film even more than the second did). And it's beastly hard to get right. I'm hard-pressed to think of one, actually. I think "Die Hard With a Vengeance" came as close as any. Maybe "Rocky III."

The good things: Raimi's still pushing the emotional core of the character. The special effects kick ass, mostly.

The bad things: Peter's a jerk in this one. We can blame it on the black goo, but frankly, he's pretty jerky even when he's goo-free. Mary Jane's even worse. Kirsten Dunst never made a good romantic lead; her "I love you" speech at the end of the first film was awful, and you never felt the chemistry between her and Tobey Maguire. You could sort-of understand why he had a crush on her, but not why they'd end up together. In this one, Peter has a competing romantic interest in Gwen Stacy (the gorgeous Bryce Dallas Howard), and she's everything MJ is not: beautiful and fun and interested in the same things Peter is. But Peter uses her badly, so she takes off and Peter ends up in a joyless dance with MJ, two unhappy people who are stuck with each other.

Too many villains: "Spider-man 2" managed to avoid the Batman "double-the-villains, double-the-fun" syndrome, but it was just a tease. In this one, they hit us with three! And it makes everything feel sort of overstuffed, not to mention the number of mind-boggling coincidences the screenwriters devise to make everything happen. Flint Marko just happens to fall into a hole on a nuclear testing facility just as there just happens to be a nighttime test, and Peter and MJ just happen to have a romantic interlude near where a meteor bearing sentient black goo just happens to crash, and the gorgeous model Spider-man saves just happens to be his beautiful classmate, Gwen Stacy, and the black goo just happens to infect Peter right after he learns that Flint Marko is the guy who killed Uncle Ben (in one of the most unnecessary retcons of all time), and Peter just happens to try to get rid of the black goo in a church's bell tower, where the vibrations of the bell just happen to be the creature's one weakness, and Eddie Brock, who just happens to be both Peter's rival at the Bugle and a suitor of Gwen's, just happens to be standing underneath Peter when the goo comes off, and oh my God, can stuff please STOP JUST HAPPENING?

Don't even get me started on the interpretive dance number in the middle. Raimi has always been a giddily indulgent filmmaker with a weakness for goofy slapstick (see "Crimewave" for the worst example). But in this one, he indulges his worst instincts. The depiction of Peter's descent to the dark side is virtually unwatchable; the characters have no emotional continuity at all, just whipsawing this way and that for the needs of each particular scene. And Raimi's love of cameos, so much fun in the first two pictures, really brings this one down. The requisite Stan Lee and Bruce Campbell cameos just don't work, and the cameos of his kids... I understand parents indulging their children, but the kids get too much dialogue.

I really, really wanted to like this one more than I did, but it's just not there on the screen.

Thursday, May 10, 2007

Old Radio

On Sunday evenings here in Tulsa, local AM radio station KRMG plays old-time radio shows. This past Sunday, they played an old Jack Benny, which was a revelation. Things were just so different then, you can't imagine.

No, I'm not talking about corny humor or Rochester as a racist stereotype. Frank Sinatra was the guest star, you see, only this was early in his career. So there were no references to him as the grand old lion of show business. No Rat Pack. No Vegas. No mob rumors. No "Chairman of the Board." No "New York, New York."

No, the jokes were all about how skinny Sinatra was. How insubstantial. How he looked like a pencil wearing a toupee. At one point, he's talking to a female cast member, and they start to go through a door. Sinatra can't open it. Because he's so skinny and weak, you see.

The woman, of course, opens it easily.

It's like observing an alternate universe. Really.

Lost, by the way, after an uneasy start to the season and a long hiatus that almost made me give up hope? Rockin'. And guaranteed three more seasons. (warning: the link to Zap2It will try to give you popups)

My random prediction? Sun and Jin find out they are brother and sister.

Friday, May 04, 2007

Anime: What I'm Watching Now

I've written before about Full Metal Alchemist and Neon Genesis Evangelion. The shows I'm watching currently are Blood+ and Bleach, as well as the occasional Naruto and Samurai Champloo.

I've also been sort of watching a show called Eureka 7, mainly just cause it was on in the same Adult Swim bloc as Bleach and Blood. Eureka 7 is the winner of the Most Annoying Character Name award this year. Although in English we pronounce "Eureka" as "yoo-reek-uh," on the show they consistently pronounce the character's name as "eh-ooh-wreck-uh," which rolls awkwardly off the tongue and just freakin' annoys me every time I hear it.The story itself is a mish-mash of nature worship and techno-fetishized mecha. You know, "we've killed the Earth with war and pollution and now we've got to save it--with giant freaking robots!" Completely senseless and convoluted, but some fun action scenes.

Saya from the DVDBlood+ is one I had high hopes for, but I'm not blown away by it so far. It's a sequel to the awesome short film, "Blood, the Last Vampire." In the original, Saya is a young-looking girl who battles monstrous vampiric creatures called "chiropterans" on an American airbase in Okinawa right around the start of the Vietnam War. For the sequel series, Saya has been redesigned to be more innocent-schoolgirl and less bitch-from-hell, but has lost her distinctive look in the process. She's like a cheap Sailor Moon clone now. The tone of the show also lacks the dark vibe of the original.

Saya from Blood+The chiropterans are still effectively creepy, but the story has turned into a turgid soap opera without the distinctive realistic flavor that made the original such a fun ride. The original had an almost documentary feel that made it feel completely different from other anime; the series, not so much. It's not Blood-plus; it's Blood-lite.

Wednesday, May 02, 2007

TV Round-Up: May 2

Heroes: Now that's what I'm talkin' 'bout!. We get a Days of Future Past-style future dystopia, complete with the deaths of practically the entire cast if Hiro can't get his shit together and kill Sylar already. Most of the action is still taking place off-stage, with only tiny hints of the powers being used--the big final confrontation between Peter and Sylar takes place outside a door around which we only see tiny flashes of light, for instance. Either they're saving up effects budget for a kick-ass season finale, or else the show going to tease us forever and never really cut loose. Hints of what's to come: Sylar is apparently going to kill both Radioactive Ted and the shapeshifter chick before they bring him down.

Drive: Fun show from an executive producer of Firefly and Wonderfalls , starring Nathan Fillion from Firefly. I liked it so much, it's canceled after three episodes. Tim Minear's next show show is going to be canceled before it airs, and the one after that is going into negative episodes.

American Idol: The two contestants from the top 24 with vague Oklahoma connections are still in it (Phil and Melinda), and I think Melinda's in it to win it, which will do incredible things for our station, having another hometown winner.

I'll doing some anime comments tomorrow or the next day.

Sunday, April 29, 2007

Yes, I Know What I Said Before

I'm almost finished with the second draft of Hero Go Home. Yes, yes, I know what I said before about putting it aside to write a better Digger novel. But even in that entry, I mentioned that as soon as I decided to stop, my block seemed to disappear.

Here's the weird thing: when I wrote Blue Falcon, lo these many years ago, it took me almost exactly one year to write the first draft. I thought the second draft would go much faster, but once again, it was almost exactly a year.

When I wrote the first draft of Hero Go Home, I seemed to have learned a lot about how to write novels. Instead of a year, the first draft only took about seven months, from November 1, 2005 to May 27, 2006. I figured I'd knock out the revision over the summer, get the book in the mail by fall.

Instead, here I am with about 10,000 words to go, and it's looking as if it will be within a week or two of the one year mark by the time I finish. A year again. What the hell?

Oh yeah, and speaking of Digger, it looks as if Agog! is finally going to publish the DaiKaiju sequels this year. I'll be in the number three anthology, due for publication in October. I have mixed feelings about this.

On the one hand, it's cool to finally end that suspense and add another publishing credit to my resume, not to mention the fact that every published Digger story increases the potential audience for the novel. On the other hand, the story is approaching three years old now, I think, and it's not my best work. Both Digger and I have grown since the story was written. I'm tempted to ask them if I can polish it up a bit before publication.