Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Dino's Descendents

Just occurred to me: what do the dinosaur in Danny and the Dinosaur, The Shy Stegosaurus Of Cricket Creek, and a parrot have in common?

They're all talking dinosaurs.

Not an earth-shattering revelation, I admit, but amusing nonetheless ...

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

"Even A Man Who's Pure Of Heart ..."

Say it with me, now:
And says his prayers at night
May become a wolf when the wolfbane blooms
And the autumn moon is bright.
That’s the quote as originally voiced by Maleva, the old gypsy woman in Universal’s original version of The Wolfman (1941), starring Lon Chaney Jr and Claude Rains. (The last line was changed in the 1943 sequel Frankenstein Meets the Wolfman to "And the moon is full and bright", thus ensuring that the hapless Larry Talbot would be a man cursed for all seasons.)

I take a back seat to no one in geek love when it comes to Universal Horror.

I grew up watching them all being rerun on Channel 9’s Million Dollar Movie and Channel 11’s Creature Features. As much as anything else, they made me the writer I am today. Frankenstein, Dracula, The Wolfman, The Mummy -- I loved them all, and watched them over and over. Even the second tier films the studio cranked out in the Forties -- Man-Made Monster, The Creeper, The Mad Ghoul (as opposed to all those sane ghouls) ... every time the paper listed one as scheduled to be shown (yes, children, back then you couldn’t just throw a DVD on the old home theater; you had to be there), I was glued to the old black & white 16-inch RCA cabinet model in our living room. (Which had a crack in the screen's lower left corner, due to my throwing a spark plug at it; the reason why escapes me at the moment.)

In 1992, Universal released the first of an eventual trio of big-screen, big-budget remakes of the classic monster films: Bram Stoker’s Dracula, starring Gary Oldman as the titular Count and directed by Francis Ford Coppola. It wasn’t bad, though a bit too much of the “Look Ma, I’m directing!” school. Coppola is not wont to disappear behind the camera under the best of circumstances, and obviously viewed this as an excuse to get crazy with period filmmaking techniques. I went to see it, wanted to like it, but there was simply too much artifice in it for me.

In 1994, Kenneth “Whatever Happened to ...?” Branagh helmed the second remake, and, not to be outdone, named it Mary Shelly’s Frankenstein. Again, too much style and not enough substance, although I thought DeNiro was a good choice for the Monster.

1999 saw Stephen Sommers’s vision of The Mummy, with Brendan Frasier, about which the less said the better.

And now, in 2009 will come the remake of The Wolfman (a pity they’re not continuing the auctorial tradition by calling it Curt Siodmak’s Wolfman, but fame is fickle). It stars Benicio Del Toro (good), has make-up effects by Rick Baker (also good), and will be directed by .... Joe “Honey, I shrank the Kids” Johnston.

Well, he can’t be any worse than Sommers. And I kinda liked The Rocketeer.

We’ll see ...

Monday, December 8, 2008

Nothing To Say

I have nothing to blog about.

Can this be true? Is my life so empty, so devoid of content, that I haven't felt the urge to set down my thoughts in over a week? So lacking in satisfaction and purpose that I can't even find anything to brag about? So wanting in belief, passion and certitude that I find myself unable even to get angry about things?


Part of it is, I freely admit, pure ennui distilled from the disease. It pulls at me, hampers me; it's like someone removed the power steering. I can still maneuver, but it takes considerable more effort. Of course, part of that is natural slowing down due to age; I'm 58, after all. Strangely, though, it feels as if my body knows how much is due to ageing, and how much more I have to deal with from the disease's patina.

But there's also a sense of reluctance to get too worked up over things, even given the recession we've been in for over a year. It seems to come, paradoxically, from hope. From an almost certainly spurious sense of things being set right again, finally, after eight years of darkness. From a sense of relief at having someone in the White House who can complete a sentence. The tendency is to sit back, breathe a sigh of relief, and leave the driving of the country to someone big enough (intellectually) to see over the wheel.

And that's a bad idea. And we all know why.

Monday, December 1, 2008

Unplanned Obsolescence

Or: How We’re All Technology’s Bitches.

Remember that scene near the beginning in Back To the Future II, when Marty and Doc Brown park in the alley? Remember all those shrink-wrapped laserdiscs waiting to be hauled away with the rest of the garbage? Well ...

For those of you who are of too tender years to even know what the word "laserdisc" means, let me first curse you enthusiastically for being so young, and then tell you that laserdiscs are to DVDs what LP record albums were to CDs -- big, ungainly discs, each one containing a movie. (And if you don’t know what LPs are -- or even, in this brave new world of iTunes, what CDs are, I give up. Ask your mother. Or your grandmother.) Being of the old-fashioned analogue, as opposed to digital, technology, they could only squeeze about an hour’s worth of movie on a side, so, unless you owned a laserdisc player fancy enough that the laser would automatically circumnavigate the disc to play Side 2, you had to get up halfway through your movie and manually flip the disc over. Positively antediluvian, I know, but hey, at least we got some exercise.

Why have them? Well, because they provided a better picture by far than did VHS, which was the only other option Back Then. Unless you were willing to spend the GDP of a small emirate on line doublers and suchlike, VHS looked like animated mud on the big-screen TVs of the time. Laserdiscs provided a better picture, and they offered another option not to be found on the plebian tapes: Widescreen. Plus some of them featured something totally new: a separate audio track on which film critics and auteurs commented on the movies while you watched them. Clearly, laserdiscs were the only medium of choice for the serious cineáste.

And then DVDs came along and blew ‘em out of the water.

I had a lot of laserdiscs. Not sure exactly how many, but it was over 400 for sure. All of which I have been, over the past four years, laboriously dubbing onto recordable DVDs. The project got stalled last year when my player finally gave up the ghost, but recently I found a refurbished Pioneer DVL-909 on eBay for a price too good to pass up. (Note to self: Stay off eBay!) I figure that I only have to dub fifteen or so movies to make it pay for itself.

Except, of course, for the ones that I have to buy again because of all the new bells and whistles.

Sigh. I’m resigned to being a running dog lackey of the Technolords. I just wish they weren’t quite so smugly certain that eventually I’ll succumb to Blu-Ray and it'll start all over again ...

Monday, November 24, 2008

Death Star Jr.

So the mass-market paperback of Death Star just arrived -- 25 copies, all nicely shrouded in bubblewrap, delivered right to my front door by a polite emissary of the United Parcel Service. Ain't life grand?

It doesn't look half bad. Couple of nice blurbs and ads for my Coruscant Nights trilogy on the inside flap. Plus it's nice and thick, which, as we all know, is good value for your hard-earned dollars. I think it'll do well. It's my 24th book.

Okay, enough smugness. Up it goes on my 5-foot shelf, and on I go with my life.

Friday, November 21, 2008

A Kegger Of Amontillado

Some thoughts on living with Parkinson’s Disease, borne of trying to explain what it’s like to some friends:

It’s a lot like being trapped in an Edgar Allen Poe story (pretty much any one, as they all seem to be about premature burial, being mortared up behind a wall, etc.). The one that comes most readily to mind is A Cask of Amontillado.

It’s also like going around in my own private gravity field -- one with a faulty intensity switch. There are times when I feel like I'm wearing my “Parkinson’s suit”, which consists of a big bag of dirt strapped across my shoulders, five-pound bracelets and gangland-style cement overshoes (the kind favored by Jimmy Hoffa). Each movement, even little ones like picking up a glass of water, takes at least twice as much effort. It also throws my balance off.

As bad as that is, however, if I had to choose against between that and not having a voice, I’d pick the Parkinson’s suit every time. For over eight months now I’ve barely been able to croak a few words with about the same clarity as a dyspeptic frog. And when I can produce enough air support to make a sound, it’s so hypernasal you can’t help feeling that somewhere a village is missing its idiot.

So I try to write, but that's no good either. My hand shakes, and people with Parkinson's are prone to micrographia, which means writing teeny-tiny words. I can't write longhand effectively. I can type, but picking away laboriously, one key at a time, really draws out the conversation to an excruciating degree for most parties.

I still have stories to tell, but they're trapped inside my head. Yeah, I know people have written wordage of Proustian length while completely paralyzed, save for an eyebrow or a pinkie they can twitch, so quitcher bellyaching, Reaves. I'm not that bad off, comparitively. But what's a blog for if not to blow off steam every now and then?

There are a lot of crimes that a lot of people have laid at George W. Bush’s door, but the one that’s affected me the most is, of course, his all-but-unilateral ban on stem-cell research, as a cynical bone tossed to the religious right, who think it’s blasphemy to use blastemas for research.

Think about it. To use just one hypothetical example, if stem-cell research hadn't been so hobbled and blinkered over the past eight years, Christopher Reeve might still be alive. Maybe even walking.

It's a sad universe we live in when Superman dies of bedsores.

Obama says that one of his first acts as president will be to undo many of Bush’s medieval policies, and stem cells is high, if not first on the list. I hope so. If I had a god I’d pray for it.

Remember A Cask of Amontillado? Remember the ending, as Montressor walls Fortunado away, brick by brick, in the tomb of his ancestors?

“For the love of God, Montressor!”
“Yes,” I said, “for the love of God.”

Monday, November 17, 2008

Reefer Mildness

I see that Massachusetts has pretty much decriminalized personal use of marijuana, more or less by 2-1.

Out here in enlightened California, of course, we've had milder laws concerning loco weed for some time. Unlike Massachusetts, however, same-sex marriage is still against the law.

I guess it’s comforting for gays and lesbians to know that, even though they still can’t marry in the Golden State, they can at least get stoned and forget their problems.

Sunday, November 16, 2008


So it's 12:30 in the morning, and I can't sleep. I rev up the StumbleUpon button on my browser, and first click off, what do I learn?

"(Edward Gorey) had particular affection for dark genre series like Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Batman: The Animated Series, and The X-Files; he once told an interviewer that he so enjoyed the Batman series that it was influencing the visual style of one of his upcoming books."

As my son would say: Dude. Dude. Edward Gorey. I mean, yeah, okay, it's from Wikipedia, which means you're best off taking it with an entire salt lick, but still --

Edward Gorey.

Excuse me while I do a total fanboy wigout.

Anybody out there have any idea which book of his we influenced?

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Proposition Hate

One of the biggest arguments against “intelligent design,” for my money, is the concept of the reproductive organs being chock-a-block with the excretory ones (and, in the case of the penis, actually doing double duty). Either God has a really sick sense of humor, or everything above the amoeba has been the most screwed up operation since the Bride Of Frankenstein.

I’m just going to say this straight out -- the physical act of homosexuality really freaks me out. It gives me the willies. (Male homosexuality, that is; along with Woody Allen, I’m much more tolerant of lesbianism.) And why do I confess to this politically-incorrect stance? Simply to point out that, even feeling this way, I still find the passage of Proposition 8 a high (or low) point in bigotry and intolerance.

It seems we always go two steps forward and one step back. We elect a man who's right for the job at long last, without letting the color of his skin be an issue. We finally repudiate the backwards intolerant policies of the incumbent party. But then we heartlessly marginalize a percentage of the population for a difference than is really, when all is said and done, no difference at all.

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

Yes We Did

I’ve said it before -- I’m not a political animal. I’m not even a political vertebrate. (That sounded a whole lot funnier in my head.) But, like I suspect many people have, I’ve followed this campaign with a passion and a desperation the likes of which I can’t recall feeling in a long time -- maybe ever.

I grew up in the 50s, and I lived in the Deep South during the early 60s. I’ve seen racism as a casual, cruel afterthought of society; seen public rest rooms, waiting rooms, drinking fountains and the like divided into “Colored” and “White”, and attended a public school in Tennessee in which there was one, count ‘em, one African-American student in a student body of about 400.

He wasn’t referred to as “African-American”. Or “Black”. Or even “Colored”. I never knew his name. I wish I could say I championed his cause, but as a stranger in a strange land myself, I was in no position to stick my neck out.

I never thought I would see a black man elected President.

I have to say, I’m proud of my country. Not so much because we elected, at long last, a black man President, but because we elected the right man President.

Yes we can. And yes, we did. There just may be hope for us yet.

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Why I Hate Neil Gaiman

Why? How can you not hate a guy who comes up with an idea that’s as evocative and brilliantly simple as The Graveyard Book?

I mean, there are some ideas that just fall from the sky and hit you like an Acme anvil. If you’re lucky, you pull yourself out from underneath and regain your higher brain functions in time to do something with it. If you’re lucky and talented, what you do with it will maybe even be good.

Neil’s very lucky, and he’s very talented. It’s a combination that’s easy to hate. When I say The Graveyard Book is Kipling’s The Jungle Book set in a graveyard, that’s just what’s called the logline. It’s the one-sentence shorthand that will let producers -- who have, in general, the attention span of a spider monkey on PCP -- immediately grasp the concept. (Assuming they know who Kipling is, a factoid I wouldn’t be anxious to put money on,)

No, there’s a lot more to the book than just a clever idea. I don’t intend to review it here, because frankly, it’s more fun to rant about Neil. It is, however, a piece of work well worth your time. But you knew that already.

Although he’s quite easy to hate in terms of talent, he is also, unfortunately, a very nice guy, which makes hating him somewhat harder. (Not impossible. Just harder.) And he and I wrote this book together, which makes hating him harder still. In fact, I really have to work at it.

The Graveyard Book. Buy it. Read it. I guarantee Disney won’t be optioning this one anytime soon.

Thursday, October 23, 2008

What's Next?

Okay, so maybe I don’t post too often here, but when I do, I try to make it worthwhile. This particular jeremiad comes as a result of trying to answer an existential question from my 12-year old son (“Is there a Heaven for us when we die?”) without compromising what I believe, and without bumming him out. I think I accomplished both, but it left me with a whole lotta thoughts, which I’ve tried to organize here ...

Seeing as how we humans are, as far as we know, the only creatures on the planet (maybe in the universe, for that matter, though I personally think the odds are against us being unique, what with 100 billion stars in this galaxy alone, and 100 billion galaxies of similar size just in that part of the universe that we can see) that live in awareness of four dimensions instead of just three, it makes sense that we spend a lot of time wondering What’s Next. And, since we don’t know What’s Next, we also spend a lot of time making up stories about What’s Next. In other words, the afterlife.

(Just to make sure we’re all on the same papyrus here, when I say “afterlife”, I mean the continuation of some immortal, usually immaterial form of consciousness, with memories and thoughts more or less intact. Not reincarnation, which is the supposed continuation of consciousness in a new physical form, albeit with memories of past lives usually blocked by death and/or birth trauma, and not some kind of gestalt entity that’s metaphysically more than the sum of various individuals. I mean, purely and simply, the soul -- the continued existence of the mind after the body has gone kerflooie.)

We’ve had various legends and beliefs about life after death ever since we stopped getting our knuckles dusty, if not before. Cro-Magnon cave art in Altamira, Lascaux and bunches of other prehistoric timeshares attest to this. Contrary to popular belief, religions didn’t start out simple and get more complicated as civilizations did. If you want proof, just take a stroll through the Fields of Aaru, ancient Egypt’s version of Heaven -- if you can get in, that is. First you have to be mummified, an excruciatingly drawn-out process involving, among other indignities, having your brain scooped out through your nose. (Of course, being already dead makes it easier, I suppose.) Then you have your heart weighed by Anubis; if your ticker’s no heavier than a feather, you get to pass Go; if not, it’s eaten by Ammit the Devourer, a demon made of equal parts lion, hippo and crocodile. Ouch. And once you get past Anubis, it’s still many a long kilo to Paradise, along a road beset with cranky, knife-wielding demons. And you thought Saint Peter’s Pearly Gates was a tough room.

We can debate the excesses and foolishness of various belief systems until the holy cows come home -- there’s something to offend everybody in doing that. Nor am I above going for the cheap laugh (e.g., Scientology). But what I want to explore is the notion of the survival of the soul after death. It all comes down to two questions:

1) How much evidence is there for an afterlife, and --
2) How much evidence is there against?

The answer to the first question is easy: Zero. Nada. Zip.
The answer to the second is easy, too: Oodles.

So, first off -- what objective evidence (remember, according to the Scientific Method a hypothesis must be testable, and the way it’s tested is through means that are empirical and measurable) is there for life after death?


At this point, most people immediately point indignantly quivering fingers at NDEs (Near Death Experiences). They mention the commonality of such experiences, which surely serves as proof for those not too blind to see. After all, if one dying person sees a glowing tunnel with a numinous light at the end, that could just be the last gasp of oxygen-starved tissue, but if a whole buncha people have in essence the same experience (minor details, like your mileage, may vary), then that’s proof, right? Can I get an “Amen!”?

Well, no. It could be the Local to Harpland, but it could also simply be that the brain is hardwired to create such hallucinations at the moment that our mortal coils get shuffled off. (Having done my share -- and probably yours, too -- of woo-hoo drugs, I’m personally convinced that this is the way to bet -- but I still acknowledge that I have no proof of this.) Still, the commonality of NDEs don’t mean doodley-squat, since they’re all subjective. If I see someone about to die get on the last train to Croaksville, then they’ve got my attention. Plus a lot of Hosannas.

Okay, so what about the evidence against? Simple - so simple that it’s practically impossible to believe so many millions can willfully ignore it. We’ve mapped and charted every last bit of the brain, and we know what mental functions correspond to where. (And don’t even start with that crap about only using ten percent of the brain. The only people that’s true for are the yokels who believe it in the first place.) More importantly for this argument, we know that damage to the brain’s physical sites causes corresponding damage to the mind.

And that’s it. We’re done. Case closed.

We know that ischemic strokes can cause infarctions that starve the brain of oxygen, and a direct result of this can be mental impairment. We know that brain trauma can cause a near-infinite variety of cognitive dysfunctions, sensory impairment, paralysis and other problems. We know that damage to the frontal lobes causes problems with sequencing tasks, lability, aphasia; that parietal injury can cause troubles with reading, writing, mathematical ability and coordination; that temporal lobe trauma can cause memory loss, asexuality and aggression.

To name but a few.

So -- if we are possessed of immortal souls that are bound to our physical forms during life, yet can somehow be cast, free and unharmed, from the brain’s mooring at the moment of death, does it make any sense whatsoever that, up until that moment, physical brain injury can cause devastating consequences to the mind?

We all die. It’s the single universal experience shared by every one of us (I’m not counting birth, since we’re not really conscious beyond a rudimentary stage when we’re born). But we all die, and, if religion is to be believed, we’re all conscious in some form or other beyond the veil. All of us, including the greatest savants and thinkers of our species. If there is a world beyond, then it includes such minds as Einstein, Archimedes, Edison, da Vinci ... a list much too long to even begin to inventory. And we can assume that, in that vast assemblage of knowledge and ability, there must be a few who are interested in letting those of us who are still alive know what to expect in the afterlife.

So I can’t help but wonder:

With the greatest minds in all of human history backing the project for centuries, with brilliance unparalleled in both theoretical and practical applications -- in short, with access to the best and brightest think tank ever -- why hasn’t anybody been able to come up with a more sophisticated way of telling us What’s Next than the Ouija Board?

Monday, October 6, 2008

Not-So-Instant Karma

So, I see that O. J. Simpson has been sentenced to 20-to-life on a robbery/kidnap charge.

(A brief parenthetical rant here: I hate the whole concept of prisons and imprisonment. Not from a reformer’s POV, but from a practical one: they don’t work. Never have. They epitomize, as far as I’m concerned, the human predilection for dealing with chronic problems by hiding them or throwing them away -- out of sight, out of mind. As a result we have prisons that are overcrowded and unutterably cruel criminal factories that can take a young man going in for drug possession or the like and turn him into a hardened killer by the time he’s paroled.

So how to deal with that element of society instead? Simple: rehabilitation therapy, including Schedule 1 empathogens like MDMA, which have been shown repeatedly to have very high success rates. I know it's not a perfect answer, but at least it's a humane alternative to institutionalization. For the small minority who are just irretrievably evil -- well, now that DNA testing has proven to be virtually foolproof in fitting the criminal to the crime, and if all other ways have been exhausted -- then execute them.

What? I told you I wasn’t a reformer. Besides, given a choice between life imprisonment in a max security hellhole and death, I know which one I’d pick. And it wouldn’t be a hard choice.)

All that said, I must say that if anyone deserves the Big House, it’s the Juice. It’s a kinda delicious irony that his sentencing occurs smack on the 13th anniversary of his beating the previous rap. As others have said, he should have no trouble finding “real” murderers galore Inside ...

Wednesday, October 1, 2008

Lies, Damned Lies, and Lipstick

Keith Olbermann said if Sarah Palin is elected, that “We will all, three hundred and five million of us, have to evacuate the country.”

Maybe that’s being a little harsh on Palin. Maybe her belief that, for example, humans and dinosaurs co-existed isn’t just pure blatant creationism. After all, in the latter case, science has pretty much settled on birds being direct descendents of theropod dinosaurs. So that’s true. Kinda.

And maybe it’s not that she can’t name a newspaper or magazine she’s recently read -- maybe she won’t. After all, constant vigilance is the price of democracy. You never know if the liberal media are going to pounce on her constitutional right to get her facts from, say, the Watchtower.

If McCain and Palin win this election, I’d recommend leaving not just the country, but the planet.

Thursday, September 25, 2008

Divine Enervation

At one point in my life, I owned three houses. Now I own none. This used to depress me. Now I feel a great sense of relief.

See? Something good can come out of the housing crisis.

I have all the interest in politics, the economy and related matters of a flash-frozen frog, but when it comes down to a choice between a candidate who’s young, obviously capable of keeping more than one ball in the air, and who seems to seriously put the welfare of the country ahead of everything else, even his own desire to win -- and a candidate who’s about one Lawry’s Special away from apoplexy and whose second in command has next to no experience, and whose oversized glasses shine with the reflection of oncoming headlights when asked a question out of a grade-school primer (not to mention both of them espousing a political philosophy that would make Torquemada blink), even I can do the remedial math.

The Fundamentalists keep telling us that God’s on our side, and this is meant to be comforting. I find it flat-out terrifying. What with the economy, the climate, the wars (note plural, please) and a plethora of other crises, God’s track record so far hasn’t exactly been 100%. Bottom line is that we can’t afford any more of God’s help. And we sure as hell can’t afford leaders who put their trust and the welfare of the country in His hands.

Friday, September 19, 2008

Shake, Shake, Shake ...

It’s been over two weeks since I’ve posted anything, which is about par for me. It’s extremely hard for me to type most of the time, so I have to triage my time at the keyboard. Also, I decided that it would be better to wait until I had something to say, rather than just post for the sake of posting. Sorry about that.

I said in my last post that I would talk about the young-onset Parkinson’s retreat Debbie and I went to. I was pleasantly surprised to see most folks vibrant and active, rather than defeated. This is something I have to struggle with greatly, since one of PD’s most insidious (and, it’s tempting to say, invidious) aspects is the way it saps one’s will and induces passivity. It is a struggle to get out of bed every morning, both physically and mentally. I have to triumph over my recalcitrant body and its stiffness and refusal to do what I tell it to, as well as this powerful depression and ennui that produce a reluctance to do the everyday chores and tasks that an adult has to do -- pay bills, shop, etc. So it was quite interesting to meet other sufferers and learn the various techniques and tricks they play on themselves in order to do what needs to be done.

The most common one is one I’ve done myself for many years, with varying rates of success. Basically, if I start thinking about all the many things that I must accomplish during the day, I become (sometimes; not every day, thank God), so totally overwhelmed as to be virtually paralyzed. I simply can’t face doing all this. Forget it.

But I can get up and brush my teeth. After I’m up, I usually make the bed, because that makes it harder to just get back in it, for some reason. Then I get dressed. And so on through the day, one task at a time. It’s important to find the balance between not being overwhelmed by the enormity of the day and not being consumed by each picayune task.

This is how most PWP (and, I’m sure, most people in general), get through each day. I suspect it’s a little harder when your body has to be prodded into each individual movement that most people do automatically. But I’m certainly not claiming that PWP have a monopoly on this kind of existential life.

Some days you get the bear, some days the bear gets you, as they say. Some days the bear just sits on you, completely immobilizing you. Those days are the worst.

Thursday, September 4, 2008

Out Among Them English

I am off tomorrow, together with my girlfriend, the marvelous Debbie, (whom I cannot say enough good things about and so, to date, have said none; a backhanded compliment if ever there was one), to an annual fete of young-onset Parkinson's People. Those who know me even a little bit know that for me to go to such a thing, especially with my voice still not working, is about as likely as a ... well, as an extremely clever metaphor for an extremely unlikely thing. And truth to tell, I wouldn't be going except for Debbie's insistence that I get out of the apartment and mingle with real people. I am still highly doubtful about this entire undertaking, and intend (at the moment, anyway), to hide in my room and snarl and snap at anyone foolish enough to stick his hand through the bars. I'll let you know the outcome of all this.

(The post's title, BTW, is a line from Witness which has become a catchphrase within my family. It is, I trust, self-explanatory.)

Tuesday, September 2, 2008

Let Marion Go!

As I was saying ...

Every fanboy knows the origin of the T-shirt slogan, “Han Shot First!” George made for a lot of disgruntled would-be spice smugglers when he re-cut Star Wars: A New Hope so as to have Greedo shoot first in the bar scene. By doing so, as anybody with even a rudimentary storytelling ability knows, he cut Han’s story arc off at the knees. By shooting first, Han Solo is shown to be at best pragmatic and at worst downright ruthless; definitely a character who looks out for number one and sticks his neck out for nobody when first introduced. By the movie’s end he’s transformed into a moral person who realizes that there are causes greater than himself and is willing to put himself in jeopardy to see them through. A thoroughly satisfying character change, and, for my money, one of the most satisfying parts of the movie.

Indiana Jones, in Raiders Of the Lost Ark, shares a great many traits in common with Han Solo, not the least of which is that they’re both played by the same actor. In Raiders, Indy is shown early on to be a shallow douchebag, as evidenced by the way Marion says he seduced her when she was a teenager and then, one assumes, ditched her. Indy has a decision to make early on, when he stumbles across Marion, bound and gagged in a tent at the Nazi desert encampment. His first impulse is to release her, but then he realizes that if she’s discovered missing, his chance to recover the Ark will be compromised. So he leaves her there to face possible Nazi torture. Pretty high on the asshole meter, if you ask me.

So now let’s chapter-skip to the third act, in which Indy pulls a bazooka and threatens to blow up the Ark unless Marion is released. So far, so good. But when Belloq calls his bluff --- he folds, and whatever growth the character had is lost. (And don’t give me “But he had to give it up or they wouldn’t have opened it at the end” don’t give me that. I can think of a hundred ways to get the story back on track for the big Deus Ex Machina at the end, and so can you.)

It really puzzles me why there aren’t just as many T-shirts being worn at cons that say “Let Marion Go!” (or some similar sentiment) as there are “Han Shot First” ones. It’s just as egregious an error in storytelling, in my opinion.

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Raiders Of the Lost Franchise

I know I said I was going to share my thought about Hellboy II: The Golden Army, (good but not as good as the first), but I caught up with Indiana Jones and the Kingdom Of the Crystal Skull at the bargain matinee, and boy, am I glad I didn’t pay full price to see it.

(SPOILER ALERT, although I’m sure everyone’s seen it by now.)

This is the kind of movie that makes you want to pull a gun on the cashier and demand everybody’s money back. There is an almost palpable stench of desperation about it, from the opening sequence, which takes place in the same warehouse in which the Ark of the Covenant is hidden (and which is inexplicably located within a quantum leap of White Sands Testing Range). Which leads to Indy escaping a nuclear test blast at ground zero by hiding in a refrigerator.

I guess they made ‘em better back then.

An attempt at believability was made by labeling the fridge as lead-lined (who knew they were that worried about irradiated produce back in the ‘50s?). So all he had to deal with was the shock wave and the thermal blast, which would've cooked him like a Swanson’s TV dinner. I know I’m supposed to park my brain at the door, but even my spinal cord couldn’t take this. And it went downhill from there.

Don’t get me wrong - I loved the first 3 movies. (Well, I loved the first and the third, and parts of the second.) But I don’t --

Well, that’s not entirely true either. In fact, I think I may be the only person on the planet who has a severe problem with the ending of Raiders. At least, I’ve never heard anyone else mention it. And oddly enough, it’s exactly the same problem that Han Solo has in the “Special Edition” of Star Wars. In that version, as every fanboy knows, Han didn’t shoot first.

And Indy didn’t either.

I’ll go into detail in my next post.

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

A Knight To Remember

THE DARK KNIGHT: I enjoyed this one as much for its complexity as I enjoyed Iron Man for its simplicity. This is the Godfather II of superhero movies. A little long in spots, and falls a bit flat (as does Two-Face; you’ll know what I mean at the movie’s end). But all in all, a fine business.

Everyone’s pretty much in agreement that this would’ve been Ledger’s breakout role. A damn shame, but at least we have this performance to remember. The scene with the disappearing pencil alone was enough to clue you that this ain't your father’s Joker, unless your father is Alan Moore. And Aaron Eckhart is wonderful as Harvey Dent; he doesn’t have that much to do as Two-Face, but makes that character his own as well. (And I must admit I was tickled that they did an homage to the B:TAS design.)

For a long time I had the pleasure of being told that the Mask Of the Phantasm, which I was one of the writers on, was the Batman movie, better than any of the live-action ones. When Batman Begins hit the screen, I stopped hearing that, and I don't expect a resurgence of compliments after this one. And I don’t mind one bit.

Monday, August 18, 2008

"Does Whatever An Iron Can ..."

Finally got around to catching a few summer movies, now that they’ve been relegated to the local bargain cinema. So, for what it’s worth, my thoughts on:

IRON MAN: Probably the most enjoyable superhero flick of the summer; certainly the most enjoyable Marvel movie I’ve seen since the first X-Men. Also probably the most successful origin story I’ve seen in awhile, for a very simple reason: It was an origin story. Period. It didn’t try to deal with how Tony Stark got the suit in the first half hour and then went on to battle the Mandarin, or Titanium Man, or War Machine (although there’s a nice tip o’ the hat to the last). No, they gave the story room to breathe, and that, along with some fine performances (especially by Robert Downey), allowed them to bring the characters to life in a way I haven’t seen a superhero movie do in awhile. I could’ve done without the open-with-blowing-stuff-up-and-then-flashback-to-the-party bit -- just tell it like it happens, you’ve already got my money. But that’s a minor quibble. Everybody stepped up in this one; even Jeff Bridges managed to do a lot with that thankless role of the baddie (I’m sure I don’t have to label that a spoiler, right? C’mon, you all spotted him a furlong away, didn’t you? I mean, he was bald! He smokes! He was Tony’s trusted mentor!). Lotta laughs, lotta fun. I look forward to the sequel and how they manage to make the Mandarin (Ten Rings, remember?) a politically correct villain.

And, since I’ve still got Dark Knight and Hellboy II to get through, maybe it’s best if I split this post up. More in a day or so.

Wednesday, August 13, 2008


I've been lurking on the Star Wars boards of late, and, while the responses to Jedi Twilight are generally quite positive, there is one complaint that crops up repeatedly, both on forums and in private email: Why do I use so many big words?

I find it sad to even have to mention this, but I've gotten enough complaints to wonder about it. A writer's job is communication, after all, and if my vocabulary is getting in the way of that, than maybe I should throttle back the thesaurus a mite.

The thing is, I don't consider my vocabulary to be all that baroque -- I'm just using words I know. I think English is a wonderfully descriptive language, and I enjoy using it. I figure that if they're words I know, then any 5th grader should know 'em. Also, most of the more esoteric meanings can be gleaned from context.

My concern is that if I start censoring myself, then I'll become paranoid and worry about using any polysyllables (like that one). (Should I have used 'gleaned' earlier? And is 'esoteric' too esoteric?)

See what I mean?

What gets me is how indignant they're all sounding. How dare I use a word they're unfamiliar with? I must be doing it to show off. I always thought geeks appreciated not being written down to; that I was writing for sf fans, who were a cut above the mundane.

I guess not.

How disappointing.

Sunday, August 10, 2008

Too Bad

So, for those who came in late: Marc Scott Zicree and I had been nominated for a Hugo award for our episode of Star Trek New Voyages, "World Enough and Time".

We lost.

I suppose I should be gracious and say that it was an honor just to be nominated, (which it was), and that we were up against heavy competition (which we were). But dammit, I really wanted to win. We were up for the Nebula, too, but I never figured we had much of a chance there, due largely to some incredibly picayune nitpicking about our eligibility. The Hugo, however, I thought we had a real shot at.

Ah, well. Too bad -- that rocket ship would’ve looked mighty fine on the mantle next to the Emmy ...

Thursday, August 7, 2008

Back Into the Fray

Here we go again.

I'll be honest -- I don't know how often I can post to this thing. Since I've been outed as far as having Parkinson's Disease goes (on Neil Gaiman's blog, no less, which is one step down -- or to the side -- from the Word Of God), it does me no good to keep being coy about it. This is probably a good thing, all in all; at least it gives me a legitimate reason to not feel obligated to post every damn day.

Anyway -- yes, I have PD. (Actually, I prefer to call it Michael J. Fox's Disease, because if you have someone young, courageous and charismatic publicly fighting the disease, it makes more sense to capitalize on that than to name it after some stodgy 19th Century physician no one's ever heard of. But that's just me.) I've had it for over 15 years, and for much of the time it hasn't been that big a deal, especially after my first DBS (that's Deep Brain Surgery; basically a pacemaker in the ol' noggin). Lately, though, after having it done again (each procedure takes care of one hemisphere, so the maximum number of operations is 2; the third one referred to on Neil's blog is a readjustment), I've had a lot of problems -- the biggest being my vocal chords atrophying. I haven't been able to speak coherently for 6 months, and while there are those who don't consider that a bad thing, it's damned inconvenient as far as I'm concerned.

So, anyway, I've decided to go public with it. I'll try to post regularly, but my typing speed is down from 90 words a minute to 90 words a day, if I'm lucky, so don't get your hopes too high.

(And just in case you're wondering -- no, this won't be totally about having PD. I'll talk about other things, too.)

More soon ...