Monthly Archives: February 2016

I Used to Have a Blog

Remember that?

Remember how I used to post frequently, if not regularly? How I wrote long posts about topical subjects, and sometimes I even managed to move people with my more heartfelt pieces? I felt proud of this blog then, like I was really accomplishing something. Maybe I wasn’t writing the Great American Novel, but it was something.

Good times.

Nowadays, I start a lot of posts. Sometimes they’re even topical, at least when I begin them. But I never seem able to finish them the day I begin them, and the pages of the calendar flutter on by, one after the other like they do in those old movie montages, and pretty soon a week has passed, and sometimes two or three, and what’s the point then, I wonder, because that subject is now as dead and buried as old Marley at the beginning of A Christmas Carol, and I’m left to wonder what the hell happened as I watch the remains of whatever this website used to be crumble in my hands like ancient paper and blow away in the breeze, and I wonder if I can ever get it back… or if it even matters…


Friday Evening Videos: “Nothin’ at All”

At first listen, the song in tonight’s Friday Evening Video might not strike you as especially romantic. It’s an uptempo rocker instead of a ballad, and the word “love” isn’t uttered once in the lyrics. But the thing about this song, the thing that made me think of it as we head into the Valentine’s Day weekend, is that it brilliantly captures the sensation of a new romance if not the poetry of it, that giddy euphoria you get right at the beginning when everything seems to be going right and you can’t stop thinking about that lucky girl or guy, and you’re counting the minutes until you can be with them again.

It’s also one of the handful of songs that effortlessly make me happy; something about its sonic construction — the melody, the beat, the quality of the vocals — presses a button in me and makes me feel good regardless of what sort of day I’ve been having. And the line “I walk home every evening and my feet are quick to move/because I know my destination is a warm and waiting you” is simply one of the dead sexiest lyrics I’ve ever heard.

Ladies and gentlemen, one of my absolute personal favorites:

“Nothin’ at All” was the fourth single released from Heart’s self-titled 1985 album, which was the band’s first on the Capitol Records label. Heart had been around for roughly a decade at that point, depending on which date you use as its official beginning, and I know some older fans were a bit put off by this album, which brought Heart a new, slicker sound and a hair-metal visual makeover. But it also yielded their greatest commercial success, becoming their first (and so far only) number-one album and spending a mind-blowing 92 weeks on the Billboard charts. The album yielded four hit singles, one of which — “These Dreams”  — was their first number-one. “Nothin’ at All” was released in April 1986 and peaked at number 10. Curiously, the song exists in different forms; the mix featured in this video and on the 45 rpm single is an alternate version of the album track, although some early pressings of the Heart album used this mix as well. The original mix, which has a far more subdued vocal track and guitar solo, appears on other pressings of the album and some compilations. For what it’s worth, my preference is the punchier alternate mix you just heard in the video.

As for the video itself, well… it’s admittedly not so great. Sisters Ann and Nancy Wilson were never terribly comfortable with the MTV thing and its emphasis on musicians’ appearance over the music, especially Ann, who has long been self-conscious about her weight (needlessly, in my opinion, but then I know firsthand that how you see yourself often isn’t how others see you). They both seem pretty awkward in front of the camera to me, much as I like looking at them, and the whole bit in their bedroom with Nancy trying on different outfits is just cheesy. Nevertheless, I do enjoy watching this one. It has an air of glamour that was common to a lot of popular media in the mid-1980s, and which I think we lost with the closing of that decade. I miss that kind of moody lighting. And it doesn’t hurt either that the video was filmed in Los Angeles’ Bradbury Building, a gorgeously preserved structure from 1893 that’s instantly recognizable fans of the movie Blade Runner as the home of JF Sebastian.

And with that, I’m going to press play on the video again and wish you all a very happy Valentine’s Day. See you in the pyramids in light!


“Sheer Egoism”

Not that I’ve written much of anything recently, creative or otherwise, but nevertheless I relate to many of George Orwell’s thoughts in the essay “Why I Write,” in particular the motive he chooses to put at the top of his list:

Putting aside the need to earn a living, I think there are four great motives for writing, at any rate for writing prose. They exist in different degrees in every writer, and in any one writer the proportions will vary from time to time, according to the atmosphere in which he is living. They are:


(i) Sheer egoism. Desire to seem clever, to be talked about, to be remembered after death, to get your own back on the grown-ups who snubbed you in childhood, etc., etc. It is humbug to pretend this is not a motive, and a strong one. Writers share this characteristic with scientists, artists, politicians, lawyers, soldiers, successful businessmen — in short, with the whole top crust of humanity. The great mass of human beings are not acutely selfish. After the age of about thirty they almost abandon the sense of being individuals at all — and live chiefly for others, or are simply smothered under drudgery. But there is also the minority of gifted, willful people who are determined to live their own lives to the end, and writers belong in this class.

I fear I’ve slumped into the “smothered under drudgery” stage of life; that’s as accurate a description of my day-to-day experience as anything I’ve encountered. But I still dream the dream I had when I was younger of producing something that will endure after I’m gone… of leaving my mark on the world, an echo of my voice and mind. I guess we all dream of that, though, writers or not…


Review: Star Trek: Captain’s Log

Star Trek: Captain's Log
Star Trek: Captain’s Log by David Tipton

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

This graphic novel, which I suspect will be of interest only to hardcore Trekkies, collects four stories about starship captains whose names aren’t Kirk or Picard: Pike (from the original series’ first pilot episode “The Cage”), Sulu, Harriman (briefly seen in the feature film Star Trek: Generations), and Jellico, a character who appeared in the two-part Next Generation episode “Chain of Command.” While it’s an interesting idea to more fully flesh out some of the background characters of the Star Trek universe, the results are decidedly mediocre, in part because three of the four stories follow essentially the same formula: the starring captain experiences (or is told about) a specific incident, then finds himself in similar circumstances and uses the trick that worked years ago to save the day again. Only the Jellico story breaks the mold… as does the Jellico character himself, perhaps the only truly abrasive Starfleet captain we’ve seen in all the many, many years of Star Trek stories.

My favorite of the four stories involves Harriman, captain of the Enterprise-B, and his struggle to come to terms with his role in the incident seen in Generations, in which the legendary Captain Kirk was (apparently) killed saving Harriman’s ship. Harriman is widely believed to be “responsible for the death of a monument” because he froze when the crisis began, and his confidence isn’t helped when an angry Doctor McCoy dresses him down. Overall, the story is somewhat banal — McCoy apologizes and shares some wisdom, the Klingons attack, Harriman outwits them and regains his mojo — but there are some really nicely written exchanges between Bones and Harriman, and the dialog is all in-character and authentic. (My favorite: “You’re a wise man, Doctor.” “Nah, I’m an old man. People just mistake the one for the other.” That’s Bones McCoy, at least in his later years; I even “heard” the words in De Kelley’s voice.) It helps that this segment has the best artwork of the four, too; Andrew Currie really captures Kelley’s and William Shatner’s expressions.

The Pike story has some nice emotional moments as well, expanding on a relationship only hinted at in “The Cage” between the captain and his attractive young Yeoman, but overall it’s just a generic shoot-’em-up tale. The Sulu story was completely forgettable (seriously, I can’t even recall what it was about). As for the final story about Jellico… it’s a nice change from the others, in that it’s told from the perspective of a newly transferred officer who’s trying to get used to her new captain, but I find Jellico such an obnoxious bully that I can’t believe he’d be an effective leader, and I can’t bring myself to care too much about him. He’s a jerk at the beginning of the story, he’s a jerk at the end of the story, and the protagonist has simply learned to live with it.

Ultimately, this is a fast, but disposable read aimed at a niche audience. But it does have its moments…

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Review: Space: 1999 – Aftershock and Awe

Space: 1999 - Aftershock and Awe
Space: 1999 – Aftershock and Awe by Andrew E.C. Gaska

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Last year, I spent some time revisiting a TV series I dimly remembered watching as a young boy, Space: 1999. If you’ve not familiar with it, the premise is this: by the year 1999 (as imagined in the early 1970s), humankind is busily exploring the solar system and has established a permanent lunar outpost, Moonbase Alpha. It’s also started dumping its dangerous nuclear waste on the far side of the moon, which is a swell idea until a freak mishap detonates all that waste material, blowing the moon out of orbit and sending it hurtling out into the universe, along with Moonbase Alpha and everyone living there. Far-fetched, yes, even ridiculous, but also weirdly compelling… compelling enough that the show still enjoys a healthy cult following some 40 years after it originally aired. For proof of that, you need look no further than the 2012 publication date of the (mostly) original graphic novel Aftershock and Awe.

Aftershock and Awe comprises two parts. The first retells the events seen in the TV show’s pilot episode, climaxing in the nuclear detonation and the so-called “breakaway.” I understand this segment was adapted from a vintage comic book as well as one of those children’s storybook records that were common at the time; accordingly, the artwork has a pleasing (to me at least) retro appearance. Having just seen the television series before reading this, I also appreciated certain story tweaks to reconcile discrepancies that were created when the show was retooled in its second season, such as giving us a glimpse of characters that didn’t appear in season one.

However, the real meat of the book is the second part, which tells the story of what happened back on Earth after the moon’s departure, something the series only hinted at. The action follows several different characters scattered around (and above) the world: two men in an orbital station; the father of a young girl who is touring Moonbase Alpha with her mother at the time of breakaway; the brother, daughter, and ex-fiance, respectively, of three of the series’ most loved regular characters; and a number of powerful politicians and military men. The narrative builds a convincing alternate history in which President Kennedy was not assassinated and the past several decades proceeded very differently than we remember them — thus explaining the discrepancy between the imagined 1999 of the TV series and the real one we experienced — then interweaves all the individual characters’ storylines against the backdrop of an almost unimaginable global disaster. The plot includes dramatic rescues, failed conspiracies, and the question of how best to rebuild on an Earth radically changed, finally ending on a surprisingly optimistic note ten years after “the last moonrise.” My only complaint with this half of the book, honestly, is with the artwork. While it’s fine on its own terms, I found the modern painted realism rather jarring after the old-fashioned look of the first part. I would’ve liked to see a bit more uniformity between the two segments. But that’s my own preference; as I noted, there’s nothing really wrong with it.

As presented, the story is perfectly accessible to people who aren’t familiar with Space: 1999, but I suspect it will be of more interest to established fans, for whom Aftershock and Awe will make a nice companion to the beloved old series.

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Review: Honor Among Thieves

Honor Among Thieves
Honor Among Thieves by James S.A. Corey

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Since the release of The Force Awakens, I’ve thought a lot about that movie and about Star Wars in general, and I’ve come to the conclusion that my favorite era, both in terms of storytelling as well as the real-world Star Wars phenomenon, was that scant handful of years between the first two movies, i.e., Episodes IV and V… or, as we old farts who’ve been there since the dawn of time like to call ’em, Star Wars and The Empire Strikes Back. That period was the most fun, in my opinion, when this whole crazy juggernaut of a franchise was still a swashbuckling adventure untainted by the tragic undertones that crept into it later, when anything was possible and Luke Skywalker was just, to borrow a memorable phrase from James S. A. Corey’s Honor Among Thieves, “a farm boy who love[d] flying his fast ship.”

Honor Among Thieves was one of the last Star Wars novels published in the so-called “Expanded Universe” of tie-in materials (books, comics, and games) produced before Disney acquired the Star Wars brand in 2014. The book was originally intended as part of a projected trilogy titled Empire and Rebellion, set in that sweet spot between the Battle of Yavin and the Battle of Hoth, and with each book focusing on one of the “Big Three” heroes: Han Solo, Princess Leia, and Luke Skywalker. Only two of the three novels in that trilogy were published, however, before Disney’s controversial decision to decanonize the EU and recategorize all those stories as mere “legends.” So technically speaking, Honor Among Thieves and its companion piece, Razor’s Edge, never happened. Which is a shame, because it’s one of the more entertaining SW tie-ins I’ve encountered.

The time is shortly after the destruction of the first Death Star. The Rebels have abandoned their now-compromised base on Yavin IV and are searching for a new world on which to settle. Han Solo still has not committed to formally joining the Rebel Alliance and considers himself an outsider to their cause, an independent contractor who’s willing to do jobs for them but expects to be paid in return. So when Leia asks him and Chewbacca to fly into Imperial space to pick up a Rebel spy who’s called for extraction, it’s just another paycheck. Naturally, though, he gets more than he bargained for when the spy reveals why she called for help: an Imperial agent has discovered the path to an ancient alien artifact of immense power, but a third party has accidentally acquired the information as well and intends to sell it to the highest bidder. And now the race is on to intercept the data and recover the artifact, which will bring its possessor ultimate control over the Galaxy. Matters are complicated by an old friend turned bounty hunter who’s picked up Han’s trail and intends to capture him for Jabba the Hutt, as well as by an unexpected side trip to rescue Leia from an approaching Imperial fleet…

Refreshingly free of the usual mystical light-side/dark-side concerns involving the Jedi and the Force, Honor Among Thieves is more reminiscent of the old Han Solo novels by Brian Daley that I loved as a kid, or perhaps the original Marvel Comics Star Wars series (as opposed to the current Marvel series), just a fast-paced space opera adventure about a scoundrel with a fast ship and a sharp tongue. There’s even a bit of an Indiana Jones vibe in the final act as our heroes trek across a jungle world toward an ancient ruin that houses the story’s MacGuffin.

The tone never gets too heavy, but the book does offer some interesting ethical questions — voiced by the most unlikely of philosophers, Han Solo himself –about whether a New Republic founded by a victorious Rebel Alliance would be much different from the Empire for people who live on the margins, like himself — meet the new boss, same as the old boss — as well as whether anybody can be trusted with the kind of power promised by the object everyone is trying to obtain. And while I personally have grown very weary of all the superweapons in the Star Wars universe — including Starkiller Base in the new movie — the artifact in this story has the novelty of being alien in origin and non-destructive in nature, an idea that I found far more intriguing than just another variant on a giant laser.

Bottom line: official canon or not, Honor Among Thieves is a fun read that’s perfect for a lazy Saturday afternoon. If you love and miss a certain kind of Star Wars story the way I do, it’s highly recommended.

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