Elen sila lumenn omentielvo!

Wednesday, December 31, 2014

2014: The Highlight Reel

Here's a brief rundown of 2014 as it flowed by in this space!

Before links to specific posts and whatnot, a few notes on some series stuff: I did my traditional Ask Me Anything! games in February and August, and I finally put the whole Fixing the Prequels series to bed, finishing up on Revenge of the Sith.

Also, I didn't blog about movies much, for some reason -- probably because I spent a great deal of my writing time this year focused on my own fiction rather than other forms of writing. I do still write about books, but for the most part, my book-related commentary is shifting to my Goodreads account. I welcome followers and friends over there, though! I will still blog about books in this space, but in a more specific kind of way, not so much as "reviews" but as long-form quotes or ruminations on the content thereof. (And generally I don't offer bad reviews of books, because if I'm not enjoying a book I simply stop reading it.)

January


On the brewing of coffee
How I edit
On selfies

February



Sheldon Cooper kisses a girl
A brief bit of FROZEN humor
On worldbuilding and other parts of fiction

March


Holy crap, we're moving!
Mr. Wilson
CANDYLAND is a terrible game
A book quiz

April


(Not much posting in April, because of our impending move)
Painting the walls
Fans can be real assholes.

May


Fannish discussions suck
Building a Library
How NOT to move

June


Good morning, Mr. Watterson
On Khan Noonien Singh
The day a sitcom ruined my life
A century since WWI

July


George RR Martin on writers
Scarf!
Thoughts on The Fault in Our Stars
One badass flashdrive


August


Responding to Bonding (the "James Bonding" podcast)
A feline love story
In which I dumped a bucket of water on my own head
He should have turned ten

September


On being a fair-weather fan
This post contains my best tweet EVER.
On overdyeing overalls
On GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY
On students practicing their instruments
How can FRIENDS be 20 years old?!
My birthday Number One Songs
People who preach 'positive thinking' are full of poo

October


A grab-bag post, which includes my 2014 self-inflicted pie in the face
Advice on NaNoWriMo (which I then promptly failed!)

November


On owning a dee-oh-gee
Wow, looks like we're getting a lot of snow
Holy shit that's a lot of snow
The Millennium Falcon flies again!

December


Weird shit writers tweet
Where STARDANCER came from
Fixing the Prequels: the Finale
A STAR WARS quiz!

That's about it, folks! Catch ya in 2015! It's gonna be an awesome year!

2014: I came, I saw, I kicked its ass!

Wow, 2014 is just about in the books. And what a year it was! Here, without further ado or whatnot, is my annual Year’s End Quiz Thing!

Did you keep your New Years' resolutions, and will you make more for next year?

I just keep my resolutions the same: read a lot, write a lot, do fun stuff. That’s all I need. In 2015, though, I will be doubling down on writing.

Resolutions always seem kind of vague to me. I prefer goals, and I set a big one for 2014:

Day 99: Oh my. #100DaysOfHappiness #AmWriting #Stardancer

Did anyone close to you give birth?

Nope. A few coworkers that I’m not terribly close to, but that’s about it.

Did anyone close to you die?

No, thankfully. Two brothers, though, who are among my best friends lost their father, though, so that was a tough period.

What countries did you visit?

Physically, I never left the United States this year. Mentally, though, I left it daily! In fact, I left Planet Earth on a nearly daily basis.

What would you like to have in 2015 that you lacked in 2014?

More people reading my book!

What was your biggest achievement of the year?

Hmmmm...seems to me I got something pretty big done, now what was it...geez, what was that...oh yeah!

Sometimes I mentally undervalue getting Stardancer out, but...dammit, that was a real thing I did there, wasn’t it? The story that has been consuming my heart for four years now, and which continues to march onward, finally got out there for other people to read. It’s a hell of a thing.

I did it. I got the job done.

And you know you had a hell of a year when you have an accomplishment that actually outranks “moved into our first house” on the Awesome Scale.

What was your biggest failure?

Not finishing the draft of The Adventures of Lighthouse Boy, I suppose. And we’re still not completely moved in yet!

What was the best thing you bought?

The bookshelves for my personal library. At long last, I can see and access all of my books. It’s amazing!

Honorable mention? Scarves!

(Possible honorable mention: the dee-oh-gee, if you consider him to be a ‘purchase’. We adopted him, and there was an adoption fee, but I’m not sure we count that as a purchase.)

Whose behavior merited celebration?

As always, The Wife and The Daughter.

Whose behavior made you appalled and depressed?

Let’s just say that as a person on the left side of the political fence, this was not a banner year for sane political action in the United States.

Where did most of your money go?

Well, we moved. There went a big chunk!

What did you get really excited about?

Releasing a book and moving!

Compared to this time last year, are you happier or sadder?

Oh, take a wild guess!

Thinner or fatter?

Maybe fatter by a couple of pounds, as I write this. Not by much, though, and that’ll start to come off again as the holidays recede and I stop eating like every day is some kind of grand Bacchanalia.

Richer or poorer?

Richer. Not by much, but we’re doing OK, and I’m hopefully getting a foundation built for a future writing career.

What do you wish you'd done more of?

I always wish I’d written and read more. I never ever ever feel that I’ve done enough of those things.

What do you wish you'd done less of?

Wasting time on the Internet: it’s all your fault, people! Also, responding to people in comments who simply aren’t worth the time or effort.

How did you spend Christmas?

At home, with the family. The way it should be. (We never got our tree up this year, owing to a few logistical and scheduling issues that bit us, along with a short Christmas season and that big storm a few weeks back that threw everything into flux around these parts.)

Did you fall in love in 2014?

I fall in love on a daily basis. (Yes, that’s my stock answer!)

How many one-night stands?

Now, that’s not the kind of question a gentleman answers! (Another stock answer!)

What was your favorite TV program?

This year? Person of Interest and Castle. We’ve recently discovered Veronica Mars and Cutthroat Kitchen. Other than those, really, we haven’t made any major discoveries of late.

Do you hate anyone now that you didn't hate this time last year?

I don’t hate. I just don’t. I did form several visceral dislikes, but that’s about it.

What was the best book you read?

Joyland by Stephen King; Where Nobody Knows Your Name by John Feinstein.

What was your greatest musical discovery?

It’s provisional, but I am thus far impressed greatly by the country music trio The Band Perry.

What did you want and get?

A house, a library of my own, and books with my name in the byline. Oh, and scarves.

What did you want and not get?

Somehow I managed to go the entire year without getting a pie in the face from The Wife! It just didn’t work out in terms of scheduling. Maybe next year, I hope! (My sole pieing this year was, as part of a ‘challenge’ thing, self-inflicted.)

What were your favorite films of this year?

Guardians of the Galaxy, followed by Guardians of the Galaxy and Guardians of the Galaxy, in that order. I did enjoy The Hobbit III, but I have a few reservations that I’ll flesh out in a blog post sometime.

What did you do on your birthday?

I worked! We rarely celebrate my birthday on my actual birthday, choosing instead to celebrate a week or so later with our annual trip to Ithaca. (That said, the annual trip to Ithaca might not happen in 2015 because of other potential ideas we’re kicking around for late-year travel. Stay tuned....)

How would you describe your personal fashion concept in 2014?

Does it ever change? All overalls, all the time. And scarves. I’m getting seriously into scarves. And fingerless gloves. Those are pretty cool.

What kept you sane?

Finally having enough space to live; finally getting a sense that I’m moving toward something; and after initial trepidation, having a dog helped.

Which celebrity/public figure did you fancy the most?

Zoe Saldana, Chris Pratt, Kat Dennings, Martin Freeman, George Takei, Sarah Shahi, Lana Parrilla, Robert Carlyle...so many more!

What political issue stirred you the most?

They’re all angering, actually.

Who did you miss?

This was not a year for loss. A welcome thing, that – loss will come again. But this year, it held off.

Who was the best new person you met?

I couldn’t pick just one! So many amazing people, both online and off. What a fantastic world!

If you take selfies, post your six favorite ones:

This is a new question that I’m adding, since I saw it on Tumblr. Here I am, in various states from pie-faced to water-soaked to just plain happy about stuff.

Writing outside. This is THE LIFE!

Well, it's no pie in the face, but it WAS fun! #alsicebucketchallenge #overalls

I figured the rain would pass quickly. It did not. #sigh #overalls

Muscular dog. Ignore the weirdo in the overalls.

Like Dori the fish says: Just keep writing, just keep writing.... #AmWriting

I pied myself today as part of the #porphyriapiechallenge. Why this challenge? Because a big part of these is raising awareness, and I had never heard of pprphyria, which is a pretty rare condition, apparently.

That's right, folks! It's Winter Selfie Season! Brace yourselves! #overalls #winter #vintage #Lee #scarf #longhairdontcare

(Yeah, that's seven, not six. Oh well.)

Tell us a valuable life lesson you learned in 2014:

There really is “no place like home!”

And the usual ones: Read a lot, write a lot. Go for walks and look at sunsets. Take all the pictures you want. Learn new things and try new stuff. If you have a dog, take him for walks. Buy books for your daughter, even when she complains that she likes to pick her own books (let her do that, too). Nothing fits your hand so well as your lover’s hand. Eating out is fine, but learn to cook things, too. Have a place to go where they know you and what you order. Don’t be afraid to revisit your childhood passions now and again; you weren’t always wrong back then. Overalls are awesome, it’s OK to wear double denim, and a pie in the face is a wonderful thing!

And as always: Make good art.

Quote a song lyric that sums up your year:

Hmmm, what song to use? It seems pretty obvious to me, after its use in my favorite movie of the year:



(Ooga-chaka ooga-ooga)
(Ooga-chaka ooga-ooga)
(Ooga-chaka ooga-ooga)
(Ooga-chaka ooga-ooga)

(Ooga-chaka ooga-ooga) I can't stop this feeling
(Ooga-chaka ooga-ooga)
(Ooga-chaka ooga-ooga) Deep inside of me
(Ooga-chaka ooga-ooga)

(Ooga-chaka ooga-ooga) Girl, you just don't realize
(Ooga-chaka ooga-ooga)
(Ooga-chaka ooga-ooga) What you do to me
(Ooga-chaka ooga-ooga)

(Ooga-chaka ooga-ooga) When you hold me
In your arms so tight (Ooga-chaka ooga-ooga)
(Ooga-chaka ooga-ooga) You let me know
(Ooga-chaka ooga-ooga) Everything's alright

I'm hooked on a feeling
I'm high on believing
That you're in love with me

Lips as sweet as candy
Its taste is on my mind
Girl, you got me thirsty
For another cup o' wine

Got a bug from you, girl
But I don't need no cure
I just stay a victim
If I can for sure

All the good love
When we're all alone
Keep it up, girl
Yeah, you turn me on

I'm hooked on a feeling
I'm high on believing
That you're in love with me

All the good love (Ooga-chaka ooga-ooga)
When we're all alone (Ooga-chaka ooga-ooga)
(Ooga-chaka ooga-ooga) Keep it up, girl
(Ooga-chaka ooga-ooga) Yeah, you turn me on

I'm hooked on a feeling
I'm high on believing
That you're in love with me

I'm hooked on a feeling
And I'm high on believing
That you're in love with me

I said, I'm hooked on a feeling
And I'm high on believing
That you're in love with me
Hooked on a feeling!

Thanks for the memories, 2014! Hey 2015: BRING IT!!!


Monday, December 29, 2014

A Big-ass STAR WARS quiz thing!


Jason did a Star Wars quiz thing, and you can bet I'm gonna do it too! Let's jump right in!

1. Which film is your favorite of the Original Trilogy?

The one that started it all, Star Wars Episode IV: A New Hope. I know, most people consider The Empire Strikes Back to be the greatest of the Star Wars films, but for me, it's the first one that always has that special something, the one that took us into that amazing universe for the first time. All the conflicts are laid out in the first forty minutes or so. The swashbuckling fun, which gives way to that amazing Battle of Yavin...as much as I love ever single Star Wars movie, A New Hope is the one at the end of which I always find myself smiling with a sigh of contentment and the thought that if I could once, just once, tell a story that makes someone feel the same way at the end...I'll be a happy man.

2. If you enjoy the prequels, which one is your favorite?

I'm on record as loving the Prequels. The one I enjoy watching most? Attack of the Clones. I love its changes in mood, its structure as a mystery story, and that incredible battle at the end, when the battlefield is shrouded in dust and smoke and the whole field is a hellscape of blasterfire blazing through it all. I love that movie, the weakness of the Anakin-and-Padme lovestory notwithstanding.

3. How old were you when Episode 1 came out?

I was 27.

4. Which of the movies have you seen in the theater?

Every single damn one! A New Hope and The Empire Strikes Back, I saw at the Westgate Theater in Beaverton, OR, which is long-since demolished (but whose long run of showing the first movie is something of legend. By the time Return of the Jedi opened, we had moved to Western New York, so I saw that one at the Cinemas III at the Olean Center Mall in Olean, NY. I would later see all of the Prequels, all three of them, at the Regal Cinemas in Orchard Park.

Where will I see Episode VII? We'll see!

5. Did you go to any of them on opening night?

It's interesting. A New Hope was out for several months before we saw it, but I was five, so I had no idea. I'm not sure how long The Empire Strikes Back was out before I saw it, but it was a couple of weeks, at least. Jedi, I saw in its third day of release. We saw TPM on opening day, after seeing a stage production of The Phantom of the Opera the night before, so we've always called that "Phantom Weekend". AotC and RotS? Both of those, I attended midnight showings. Both were unforgettable.

6. Who is your favorite character from the Original Trilogy?

Who else? Han Solo.

7. Who is your favorite character from the prequels, if you have one?

Who else? Obi Wan Kenobi.

I also like Anakin and Padme a lot more than most do, apparently. And Mace Windu. And Queen Jamilla.

And I don’t hate Jar Jar.

8. Have you read any of the books or comics?

I was reading the Marvel series way back while the original films were coming out. I should do a longer blog post on those someday, but some of those stories still hold up pretty well, especially the ones they did between ANH and TESB, when nobody knew anything. The Marvel writers did things like have Han pay off Jabba, only to learn when they got the TESB script that they had to reinstate the price on Han’s head, and so on. Fun stories, from the days when Star Wars was more swashbuckling space opera adventure than the Campbellian fantasy it would turn out to be.

As for novels, I read one of Brian Daley’s Han Solo books back then, and then some of the “Expanded Universe” novels, when that started up. I quickly fell behind and then stopped entirely when they got to the point of releasing three or four novels a year. It just got to be too much. But I’ll never forget walking into Walden Books, seeing a new Star Wars book sitting there by some guy named Zahn, and thinking, “Wow, Star Wars is a going concern again?”

9. Favorite book or series? Favorite SW author?

Timothy Zahn, I think.

10. Favorite comic?

As mentioned above, the Marvel series, most likely. I haven’t read that many of the comics since then, and as I write this, Dark Horse Comics’s long history of Star Wars comics is coming to a close, which is a shame. All those comics will still exist, of course.

11. Favorite character from the Expanded Universe (EU)?

Mara Jade.

12. Favorite villain from the EU?

The standard answer here is probably Admiral Thrawn, but you know who I really liked? Captain Pellaeon. I liked how he wasn’t really evil, so much as a guy who just couldn’t find a reason to do anything other than just keep working at his job, even when it was unlikely that his job even existed anymore.

13. If you had your own ship from the Star Wars Universe (SWU), what would it be? It could be a mash-up/ugly.

The Millennium Falcon. Is there another possible answer?

14. Would you rather be Sith or Jedi?

Sith are evil and Jedi are stilted and a bit dull. Can I be a Corellian instead?

15. Would you rather be a Rebel or a member of the Imperial Navy? What would your role be?

I’d like to be a Rebel mechanic, one of the guys who fills and fixes the ships. That would be cool.

16. If you could be any species from the SWU which would you be?

If I have to be non-human, probably a Twi’lek. You can wear those tentacle things like a scarf.

17. If you could date any species from the SWU which would you pick?

A Twi’lek, obviously!

18. If you could date/marry any character from the SWU who would you pick?

Yeesh, this is getting a little fan-service-like, innit? If I didn’t think that Domina Tagge would kill me, then...maybe Domina Tagge.

19. If you were going to bone just one Star Wars character and you never had to see them again, who would you pick?

Oh, come on.

20. If you could BE one SW character, EU or not, who would you be?

You know who I like? Dex, the giant fat alien who runs the diner on Coruscant and has information. That would be cool.

21. What would your SWU name be?

Darth D. McDartherson III. (Sorry, this quiz is getting a bit silly.)

22. What color would your lightsaber be, what kind would it be (double-bladed, single blade), would you dual-wield, and what kind of grip would it have?

How about yellow? Nobody did anything with yellow.

As for grip...just a standard straight grip, I guess. Or the curved one like Darth Tyrannus’s.

I wonder why they only had lightsabers? Why not light-daggers or light-lances? A teeny Jedi-army knife with a three-inch lightblade might be cool!

23. Do you own SW merchandise?

Yup.

24. How much, to date, do you think you’ve spent on SW merchandise?

Books and a few toys and some art...maybe a couple hundred bucks. Not all that much, since it’s been spread over thirty years or so.

25. What is your favorite SW possession?

My die-cast Millennium Falcons, most likely. Or my copy of The Art of Star Wars, which dates back to the late 80s. JW Rinzler’s three Making Of... books are indispensible.

26. Do you have a favorite SW artist? If so, who?

Ralph McQuarrie, obviously. Honorable mentions to Drew Struzan and the Brothers Hildebrandt for their poster art.

27. Are there items you do not own but covet? What are they?

It might be memory playing tricks on me, but I remember seeing in 1980 or so a die-cast Millennium Falcon in a toy store that was about four or five inches in diameter. (The ones I own now are two inches.) I’d love to have one.

28. Are there items that are not made but that you wish were made? What are they?

No idea, really. I’m not much into collecting that kind of thing, really – I’m mostly happy with what I have.

29. Did Han shoot first?

Yes, but in all honesty, I don’t really care all that much. I object to Lucas changing this because it destroyed one of the movie’s biggest laughs. I reject, completely and utterly, any notion that this somehow changes Han Solo’s character in any way.

30. Did Boba Fett, in your opinion, ever leave the Sarlacc or did he die there?

Maybe once, but I’d hate to think he was some kind of superhuman who kept surviving anything and everything ever thrown at him.

31. Are there things about the movies you wish you could change? If so, name three.

Erm...see my Fixing the Prequels series: The Phantom Menace, Attack of the Clones, and Revenge of the Sith. As far as the original movies go, maybe change Boba Fett’s demise a bit to give Han some intentional action that does him in, as opposed to an accident. Other than that, not really. Maybe cut out a little of the “funny” stuff with the Ewoks.

32. Which era would you want to live in?

There doesn’t seem to be huge difference between the eras in the films (and why would there be, they’re only separated by about twenty years), so sometime in there would be fine. Preferably on one of the outer worlds where the Empire hasn’t quite got ‘round to totally taking over yet.

33. What SW games have you played?

None, since the arcade games. I’m a terrible gamer.

34. Do you play/own Star Wars Miniatures?

No.

35. Favorite SW costume for men?

Han’s get-up in TESB. He had a jacket on in that movie, not the vest.

36. Favorite SW costume for women?

Honestly, while everyone else is ogling Princess Leia in the gold bikini, the dress the Ewoks made for her always stunned me. Still does, actually.

37. Have you ever dressed up as a SW character? Who/When/Why?

No. Cosplay isn’t really my thing. I could do it, but I just don’t have the time to invest in it.

38. Do you ever have SW sex fantasies? If so, have you ever acted them out?

Like I’d tell you.

39. Do you Ship any SW characters who aren’t together? Who/why?

No.

40. Have you ever written SW fan fiction? Can we read it?

Funny you should ask, because in a way, you CAN read it!

41. Have you been to a Celebration or plan on going to one?

Haven’t, but would love to. They’re never anywhere near Buffalo, though.

42. Have you ever been to Star Wars Weekends at Walt Disney World?

No, but I would, if the stars aligned!

43. Do you wish they had Star Wars Weekends at Disneyland?

No. (Simply because California’s on the other end of the country from me. I have no problem with them having them, I just don’t care.)

44. Best section you’ve experienced on Star Tours?

I don’t recall it much, other than the ominous feeling when you’re falling toward the Death Star.

45. What initially brought you to the SW fandom?

I saw the original when I was six years old. I was done-for from that moment on. Everything since then for me, creatively, has been colored by Star Wars. I see the world through Star Wars-colored glasses!

46. Do you consider yourself a SW Fanboy or Fangirl?

“Fanboy” tends to be a term of derision, so no. I prefer “geek”.

47 Have you seen Fanboys? Favorite character and/or quote?

Nope.

48. Do you wish they would make 7, 8, and 9 or do you think they should be done with it?

Obviously this quiz originated before the Disney sale and the announcement of Episodes VII, VIII, and IX. I’m fine with it, but at the same time, it feels like an add-on to me. I’ll see it, you bet, but I could have lived perfectly happily with Star Wars being done.

(Interestingly, it’s always worth going back to George Lucas’s actual thoughts on Episodes VII, VIII, and IX from back in the late 70s. The “He always said it would be nine movies!” trope isn’t quite accurate.)

49. If they ever made 7, 8, and 9, do you think it should continue the Skywalker Legacy or use entirely new characters? Or something different?

As long as there are Star Wars stories being filmed under that include “Episode [number]” in the title, they should be about some generation of Skywalkers. Other tie-in movies? Fine. But I want Skywalkers. They’re totally central.

50. Do you watch The Clone Wars?

I’ve watched several episodes and been impressed with them. I need to watch more, obviously.

Monday, December 22, 2014

You can get STARDANCER for free!

I've been remiss in notifying folks here that I've listed STARDANCER as a Goodreads Giveaway. That's right, I'm giving away two copies, totally for free! Details here. There are three days and change left to enter, if you're a member.

(If anyone's wondering, I don't pick the winners. Goodreads does, and then they e-mail me two addresses to send the books, so there's no way at all for me to put my thumb on the scales, as it were.)

"Shiny in the Black": A FIREFLY Christmas! (part four and conclusion)

(Concluding my repost of this Very Special, but not in the Blossom way, Episode of Firefly.)


part three
part two
part one

"Those aren't toys," Kaylee said. "Those are agricultural supplies for a new colony. Did you change the job while you were out?"

"Seal it back up," Mal said. "That stuff is perishable, and by breaking the seal, we've started the decay process."

The crew stood around, staring at the crate that was supposed to contain toys for the children of the orphanage on Haven but really contained farming seed and fertilizer that had supposedly been destined for Whitefall. Jayne and Book lifted the facing of the crate back into place and restored the seals. When they were done, Jayne stepped back and looked at Mal.

"Well, Mal, guess we got ourselves another hiccup."

"Yeah, looks that way." Mal muttered another curse in Chinese and then he kicked the crate for good measure.

"That won't hurt the crate," River said.

"It will hurt your foot if you do that again, though," Simon said.

"So, what now?" Jayne said. "That's it then, isn't it?"

"I don't know," Mal said. "I'm thinkin'."

Zoe cleared her throat. "Captain, you know Jonas better than any of us. How likely is he to hold this against us?"

"Worried about us having another enemy?"

"I'm running out of space on the piece of paper where I keep their names written down, sir."

"Yeah. Preacher, how did this happen?"

"I have no idea, Captain," said Book. "I double-checked the numbers. We had the right slot number in the warehouse. The only way this happens is if the warehouse workers put the crates in the wrong slots themselves."

And with that, a silence settled over the crew as they realized what had happened.

"Well, this is new," said Jayne. "Never stolen the wrong goods before."

"Yeah, this is definitely a wrinkle we haven't tried before," said Mal. "All right, I'm open to suggestions."

"Suggestions for what?" It was Wash, who had just come down from the bridge. "Everyone's looking awfully glum here."

"We stole the wrong goods, honey," Zoe said.

"Now there's something we haven't done before!" Wash said. "Now what?"

"See?" Mal said. "Took him all of two sentences to get up to speed on this."

"What do we do?" Kaylee asked. "Captain?"

"Maybe the children want to play as farmers," River offered. "They can grow their own vegetables and work the soil."

"River," Book said, "the orphanage is in the middle of a city that's a hundred miles in diameter. There's no soil except what's in the decorative flower pots."

"That sounds depressing," River said. "Children need space."

"Well, we can't solve every problem at once," Zoe said. "Captain, Jonas is gonna know that he can't open the crate without breaching the shelf-life of the goods that he thinks are in there."

"I was thinking the same thing," Mal said. "If that's the case, then Jonas has no idea that he's got a crate full of toys on his ship. Which means that he's on his way to Whitefall. He won't know anything is wrong until Patience does. Of course, knowing Patience, she'll have already tried to shoot him."

"So that's it then," said Jayne. "We ain't gotta do a gorram thing. Let them shoot each other and then we can sell this stuff to whoever takes over for Patience. Make back our coin, and then some."

Mal considered this. After a moment, Shepherd Book stepped forward.

"Captain, I know that your ship is not a democracy, but I must voice my opposition to what Jayne has suggested."

"Yeah, I thought you might," Mal said. "Wash, go get us on a course for Whitefall. Get us there fast. We want to get there before the shooting starts."

"You got it," Wash said as he headed back up the stairs. "A pilot's job is never done! Until he lands, then he's done until the next job...."

"Zoe," Mal said, "I'm gonna need your help figurin' out how to approach this one. We've got to make a switch without both Jonas and Patience deciding that I'm cheating them."

"Sounds like a challenge," Zoe said.

"Why I'm givin' it to you."

"Wait a minute!" Jayne said. "We're gonna try to get the toys back? Anybody else think that's crazy?"

Simon shrugged. "I think it's kind of shiny," he said. Kaylee grinned at him.

"Doc, I'm gonna do somethin' hurtful to you someday soon," Jayne said. "Mal, how can you even consider this?"

Mal looked at Shepherd Book. "I took a job," he said. "And even though the job's starting to bring some trouble, truth is, that's what jobs do. And there ain't a job in the 'Verse that I'm like to walk away from once I take it."

Jayne shook his head. "I can't ruttin' believe this."

"Hey, look at the bright side," Mal said. "We're goin' to Whitefall to try and do business with Patience."

"Probably be some shooting," Zoe added.

Jayne laughed harshly. "Day's gonna come when you're not gonna be able to buy me off by lettin' me shoot some folk," he said.

Mal considered that. "Well, that's gonna be an interesting day. Come on, Zoe. We need to brainstorm."

***


It took them the better part of a day to get to Whitefall, which was a pretty miserable and dusty rock way out on the fringes. Malcolm Reynolds didn't much like this world; it was run by a crusty woman named Patience who didn't tend to practice any, and who had a nasty habit of trying to shoot him. She'd succeeded once, but the last time, Mal had got the better of her. He'd done the job, and despite some unkind words as regarding his character, he'd gotten paid. But this one was going to be tricky, no doubt about that.

"OK, Mal, we're here," Wash said as Whitefall loomed before the ship. "Now what?"

"Well, Patience is a woman of habit," Mal said. "So I'm thinkin' she'll want to meet with Jonas in that same spot she chose to meet us in last time we were here. Good spot for an ambush. So we'll go there and hope we're in time to avoid some fisticuffs and general tomfoolery."

Zoe looked at Mal. "'Tomfoolery', sir?"

"What? You know I like to dust off archaic words now and then."

"Part of what makes you charming, sir."

"Thanks for sayin'. Now, if I'm Patience, I'm puttin' two snipers in the hills around that meeting spot, after we took care of the one she ahd there last time. And Jonas is gonna have his own sniper up there somewhere too. So Jayne and the Shepherd will take care of the snipers for us, and then we walk in and make everybody happy."

"Aren't we doin' an awful lot of counting on the Shepherd to shoot people on this job?" Zoe asked.

"Probably, but that book of his is nonspecific as regards kneecaps and elbows, if I remember right. Wash, same landing spot as before."

"Sure thing, Mal," Wash said. "And I've got Jonas's ship on the scanner now. They're landing as we speak, two hilltops over. Looks like we got here in time."

"It's a Christmas miracle, Captain," Zoe said.

Mal rolled his eyes. "Now don't you start," he said. "Let's go get ready. Wash, put her down."

"Sure thing, Captain," Wash said.

Mal and Zoe walked down to the hold, where Jayne and Shepherd Book were waiting.

"Captain," Book began, "I feel I should apologize for having gotten you into this business."

"Did it with my eyes open," Mal said. "But if you're volunteering for a month of mess duty, I don't think I'll hear any objections from the rest of the crew." He glanced around at Kaylee, Simon, River, and Inara, who all just stood there placidly. "And a month it is! All right, Zoe and me have come up with what we think is a nicely nuanced plan."

Jayne grunted. "Book and I take out the snipers and cover you while you and Zoe try to talk some sense into Patience and Jonas?"

"Yeah, that's about it."

"We gotta start comin' up with plans that don't have quite as much 'if' in 'em," Jayne grumbled.

"Every time I ask you for input, your first words are 'I shoot them'."

"Yeah. Not a lot of 'if' when the other guy's got bullets in him."

"OK. Get that crate ready. And Kaylee, keep the engines warm. We may need to make a fast break for it."

"Be easier if you'd let me replace that drive inducer that I keep warning you about," Kaylee said.

"New year's comin'," said Mal.

***


The scene that confronted Mal and Zoe when they peered over the edge of the knoll above Patience's rendezvous spot was about what Mal expected: Patience sat atop her horse, while her men had Jonas at gunpoint, and Jonas's men had Patience's men at gunpoint. Everybody had everybody else at gunpoint.

"Whole lot of gunpoint," Mal muttered.

"Not too late to find a desk job, Captain," Zoe replied.

"More of us than there are of you, Jonas," Patience said. "And I've got a sniper aimin' at you right now. You're not walkin' away."

"I got a man took out your sniper," Jonas replied. "I'm not stupid, Patience. And my men are better shots than yours. Now how about you toss me the coin and we'll be on our way?"

"All I see here is a big crate," Patience said. "You might as well open her up and let us see the goods."

"Suits me fine," said Jonas. "Randy? Open it."

Keeping his hands visible at all times, Randy popped open the crate and swung it open. "Uh, Captain?" he said.

"This some kind of joke, Jonas?" Patience asked. "That don't look like seed and fertilizer to me."

"What?" Jonas turned to Randy. "What is she gorram talking about?"

"This crate, sir," Randy said. "It's full of...toys."

"Toys?"

"Toys, sir."

"Toys?!"

"This some kind of joke, Jonas?" Patience sounded annoyed. "So you're gonna dump fake goods on me after you have my money?"

Jonas looked uncomfortable.

"Do we go down now?" Zoe asked.

"Shhhh," Mal said. "Things haven't gone south enough yet."

"Patience," Jonas said. "Uhhhh...."

"I'd like to hear an explanation," Patience said. "Before I shoot you myself." She pulled out her pistol.

"Malcolm Reynolds cheated me!" Jonas said.

"Reynolds?" Patience's eyebrows went up. "What's he got to do with this?"

"Funny you should ask!" Mal called out as he rose up and sauntered over the knoll, his pistol in his hand but not aimed at anything. Zoe came behind him, her shotgun in her hand as well.

"Reynolds!" shouted both Patience and Jonas at the same time. Both also pointed their pistols at him, at the same time.

"Well there we go," Mal said. "Two criminals suddenly united in purpose. Warms the heart, eh, Zoe?"

"Sure does, sir."

"Mal, I'll shoot you where you stand," Patience said.

"And I'll shoot you again before you hit the ground," Jonas said.

"Sure," Mal said. "But then you wouldn't hear the explanation and my counter-proposal."

"Explanation?" Jonas roared. "You switched the crates and took the good stuff! What were you going to do, let me get shot and then sell Patience the real goods?"

Mal thought. "Huh. Zoe, that might have worked."

"Surprised you didn't think of it, sir."

"I gotta be goin' soft in my old age."

"Happens to the best of us, sir."

"Jonas, we didn't switch a gorram thing. The warehouse workers screwed up. Those crates were in the wrong spots. We took what we thought was our crate, but it was really yours. And you got ours, thinkin' it was really yours. Kind of an irony, ain't it?"

Patience rolled her eyes. "Right now I'm wondering which of you is the less competent one," she said.

"Well, that would be him," Mal said. "No offense, Jonas, but at least we discovered the problem and we're here to make it right. Now here's our proposal. We take our crate and go on our way. You get your crate, which we stashed about a mile away from here. Then you two finish your business and everybody goes away happy. Or we go away happy and you shoot each other. Whatever you prefer."

"Or I just take all the goods and keep my coin," Patience said. "Mal, you're still not very bright. Neither are you, Jonas. You may have taken out one of my snipers, but I put two up there."

"Yeah, Patience," Mal said. "As to that, we took out Jonas's sniper who took out your sniper. And then we took out your other sniper. So now the only two snipers up there are mine. And they're good, believe me. Aren't they, Zoe?"

"The best, sir."

"Yup. So, Jonas, we'll take this crate now. Yours is a mile that way." He pointed. "No reason for anybody to get shot."

"You takin' my hauler too, Mal?"

Mal shrugged. "I suppose we can leave it behind once we get our goods back on my ship. As a good-will gesture and all."

"Or we can come with you and make sure we get it back," Jonas said.

Mal shrugged. "Or that," he conceded. "We just want our goods."

"A bunch of toys?" Jonas shook his head. "What are you up to, Reynolds?"

"I'm doin' a job," Mal said. "Why does everybody keep asking me that?" He turned to Patience. "Give him the coin, Patience, and go get your box and keep running your little world. Nobody needs to get shot here. It's Christmas."

Patience blinked. "It's what?"

"Never mind. Just get out of here."

Patience sighed. "Every time you show up on this world I end up losing money," Patience said as she tossed a sack of coin to Jonas. "That crate ain't there and I'm puttin' a bounty on you, Mal."

"Yeah, well, I've got a track record here, Patience," Mal said. "I get you the goods and then I get paid. The way a transaction's supposed to be. You're the one likes shootin' people and tryin' to get out of paying, so I'd just as soon you rode off with your men and stopped disparaging me."

Patience laughed. "Fine, Mal, have it your way. But if you don't mind some advice, you need to stop expecting transactions to run the way they're supposed to. That's why you're still flying around in a rustbucket." She gestured to her men, who stood down, and then they rode off.

"She only says that because she can't fly in a ship for ten minutes without puking," Zoe said.

"Yeah, well, let's get this stuff back to Serenity. We've still got a job to do. Jonas, if you would?"

Jonas sighed. "You heard him, men. Let's go. Least we can with him saving our bacon on this one."

Jonas's men grumbled but obeyed. Mal spoke into the mouthpiece on the wire he wore under his coat. "Jayne? Preacher? You can come down now. We're all good here."

"How'd you know where to find us, anyway?" Jonas asked.

"Dealt with Patience before," Mal replied. "Let's move."

"Did you really leave her goods a mile away?"

"Yup."

Jonas shook his head. "You could've kept them, sold them someplace else. Made double profit."

"Thought of that," Mal said. "But I need to be able to do business. No need to make an enemy out of Patience until I have to."

They moved the crate of toys back to Serenity, whereupon Jonas ordered his men to start back to their own ship. Mal ordered his crew to get the ship ready for departure, and then he went outside with Jonas.

"Well, Mal," Jonas said, "it was a pleasure, as always. Now, if that's all--"

"Not quite," Mal said. "I'll be taking the coin that Patience gave you."

Jonas blinked. "What?"

"You heard me," Mal said. "You took coin from me that wasn't yours to take. And despite that, I still came here and saved your gorram hide. Way I see it, you owe me. Let's square up right now. Get it over with."

Jonas stared at him. Mal sighed.

"Jonas, you really want to see what a good draw I am? And what a good shot?"

Jonas sighed and pulled the bag of coin from his jacket pocket and flipped it to Mal. "Every time I wonder how it is you stay in business, you pull something like this out of your hat."

"Not much of a secret," Mal said. "I don't set my sights too high. I just keep flyin'."

"Yeah. Well, do me a favor and don't tell anyone you took my coin from me."

"As far as I'm concerned, it was a payment offered in good will."

Jonas nodded. "Yeah, call it that. But stay away from me for a while, would you?" He lit a cigar and went to join his men. Mal turned and went aboard the ship.

"OK, Wash, let's fly. We need to be in Haven's air within twelve hours."

"We can just make it," Wash replied over the loudspeaker.

Serenity lifted off.

***


Eleven and one half hours later, they were flying toward Haven. Mal came up to the bridge, where Wash was looking at a scanner.

"So?" Mal asked. "What's the new problem?"

Wash blinked. "I didn't call you!"

"I know, but we're due for the next problem with this job. What is it?"

Wash pointed to the scanner. "Alliance ship in orbit. They haven't scanned us yet, and maybe they won't, but if they do--"

"They might board us," Mal said. "Then again, they might not. They're in stationary orbit?"

"Uh-huh," Wash said. "Right above the part of town where our Shepherd's orphanage is."

Mal muttered several curses in Chinese.

"That's what I said," Wash replied.

"All right. Let me think." Mal thought. And then he pressed the intercom button. "Would everybody please report to the hold? You too, Inara. I need everybody."

***


The plan was this: Mal, Zoe, and Wash would stay aboard Serenity, in stationary orbit on the other side of the planet. They would load all of the toys onto Inara's shuttle – individually, because the shuttle wasn't big enough for something the size of that crate – and then Inara would fly down to the orphanage in the middle of the night, when Shepherd Book assured them no one would notice something like a shuttle landing on the roof. Then, Jayne, Book, Simon, Kaylee, and River would take each toy individually to a child.

It wasn't one of Mal's most thought-out plans, but it was the best he could come up with on fairly short notice. Mal thought it was a decent enough plan, until Zoe said "Nice plan, sir," which was what she usually said when she thought his plans were scenarios for utter disaster. But that was the plan, and so it was that on the night before Christmas, when all through the orphanage not a child was stirring, a shuttlecraft flown by a registered Companion came down to land on the roof.

"All right, we're here," Jayne said as he grabbed an armful of toys. "Let's get this ruttin' job over with."

"Said with the true spirit of the day," Shepherd Book said. "All right, everyone follow me. And keep quiet. The whole place is asleep."

"They always knew when I was sleeping," River said. "They knew when I was awake."

"She's gonna be all right, isn't she?" Jayne asked.

"Sure," Simon said. "Isn't she always?"

Jayne shook his head as Shepherd Book led them across the roof and into the orphanage via the roof access door, which Book lockpicked open in seconds.

"Real great security here," Jayne remarked.

"It's an orphanage," Book said. "One where everybody knows there's nothing worth stealing."

They went downstairs, where they found themselves in a very large room, with bunk beds running down each side, and a child sleeping in each bed.

"All right, there are four more rooms like this," Book whispered. "Every child gets a toy."

"Right," Jayne said, and he ran off and started randomly sticking a toy on each bed.

"Jayne!" Kaylee protested. "You can't do it like that! You can't give a boy a doll!"

"Why not?" Jayne asked. "They don't like it they can trade."

"Just do it right," Kaylee said.

"What kind of toys did he play with?" Simon muttered.

In this way they went through the room, distributing a toy to each child. Somehow, miraculously, they got through all of the rooms without waking a single child, giving a toy to each one, one toy to each of three hundred children.

Except the last bed, which, when Jayne approached it, he discovered was empty. No child here, just rumpled sheets. Kid probably got up to go to the bathroom, or get a drink of water. "Huh," Jayne thought. He looked at the toy in his hand – a teddy bear – and decided that he rather liked it. He'd always wanted one when he was a kid, and never got one. And this one was real nice, with a bow around its neck and everything. So there was a toy left over. So what? Kid shoulda been there in bed. Kid's loss. He turned and headed back for the ship.

Meanwhile, River was taking her time over each gift, gently laying it on each bed, and whispering a rhyme over each child. What made it take even longer was that she was inventing each rhyme off the top of her head. Simon wondered if he should intercede, but since she was speaking in verse about things that weren't somehow grimly dark or eerily foreboding, he thought it was best to just let her go.

Also meanwhile, Kaylee found herself wondering if it was really fair to try to pigeonhole these kids into girl toys and boy toys. After all, her toys had been wrenches and hammers and drivers and blast drills and parts from a hundred different ship engines, and look how she'd turned out! Nothin' to be ashamed of. It was a fine life, even if once in a while she wanted something a little more than engine parts and dirty overalls.

Also meanwhile, Inara saw that the orphanage's one lone security guard had had his curiosity piqued by some strange noises, and he came shuffling up the stairs to find a shuttle sitting on his roof. He was about to blow an alarm whistle when she came down and silenced him with a look and a flash of leg. It always worked, especially with young men like this. Barely old enough to grow a beard. Staring at her as though he'd just seen an angel. Sad world, Haven, she thought. No wonder Companions almost never come here.

"Is there a girl you like?" she asked him.

He managed to nod.

She removed a ruby brooch from her robe and handed it to him. He gulped.

"Give this to her," she said. "And say nothing of me tonight."

He managed to nod, again. A major accomplishment, that. And so she sent him on his way, knowing that this would be their little secret, forever. Inara could keep secrets, and what would he say? Would he talk of the beautiful woman in the spaceship on his roof? No. Of course not. She smiled.

Finally meanwhile, Shepherd Book went all the way to the lowest level of the orphanage, where the oldest kids were. These kids were in the worst shape, the ones most likely to end up in something a bit worst than Mal's line of work, the ones most likely to end up on the wrong end of someone's gun or floating dead through the Black. He had little hope that a toy, just one toy, would be enough to budge more than maybe one or two of them off the trajectory their lives had them on, but lots of miracles had started from smaller stuff than a single toy. He laid each one on a bed, and tried not to linger too much over the one particular bed, the one over there on the left. On his way back up to the roof, he paused at the door to the headmaster's apartment. He wondered if he might say hello, under other circumstances. Or if he might rather go in there with a gun instead of a bible. He lingered there only a moment and then returned to the roof.

"Are we all here?"

"We're just waiting on Jayne," said Simon.

"Where is he?!"

At that moment, Jayne was muttering, "Where's the gorram stairs around here?" He'd gotten lost. It was a bigger orphanage than he'd though, and now he had no idea how to get back up to the roof. But he had to get up there, fast; the night was getting old and people would be getting up soon. He rushed around, all over the place, looking behind every door, until he found the stairs up. "'Bout time," he said. And then he stopped, because there was an eight-year-old girl looking at him.

"Uhhh...hi there," he said. "You should be in bed, youngster."

"I couldn't sleep," said the girl. "I have bad dreams. I wanted a drink of water."

"Well, you got your drink, so back to bed."

"You're not from here," the girl said. "Are you here to steal things?"

"No," Jayne said. "Not this time, anyway. Maybe tomorrow, haven't figured out the next job yet. Don't know. Gotta keep moving." But he didn't move. That girl just stood there, looking at him. All big-eyed, with her tangled hair and bedrobe that wasn't filthy but had seen better days anyway.... "I think your eyes are stuck," he said. "I gotta go."

"Bye," she said. And she stood there watching as he went halfway up the stairs, where he stopped.

"Aww, gorram it," he said as he turned back and came back down. "This is for you." He handed her the teddy bear. "Hold onto it tight when you sleep. Might help with them dreams. I got a preacher friend who says this is Christmas, so...have a ruttin' happy Christmas." And then he went up the stairs, practically running up them, to get away from the girl with the big eyes.

"That all the toys?" he asked when he got on board the shuttle.

"There were about twenty or so left over," said Simon. "I left those in a playroom."

"We're all ready, right?" Inara called back.

"We're all here!" Book said. "Close her up and let's go home."

Inara guided the little shuttle back into the air, and up into the sky toward the planet's other side, where Serenity lay in orbit.

"What took you so long, Jayne?" Kaylee asked.

"Got lost," Jayne said. "And...there was a little girl. Don't worry, I gave her a toy."

River pointed at his shirt, his red shirt. "A man with a beard wearing red came in the night to give her a present," she said. "Just like the old stories!"

Jayne stared at her. "What is she ruttin' talkin' about?"

"Nothing," said Book.

When they arrived on Serenity, Mal was there, waiting.

"Nice work," he said.

"Thank you, Captain," said Shepherd Book. "I appreciate it."

"I did a job," Mal said. "Soon as that tree gets dry and starts dropping those sharp needles all over my mess--"

"I'll have it down, sir."

Mal nodded and headed for his bunk. "Nice work, everyone," he called out. "Zoe, wake me when we get to Persephone."

***


A few weeks later they'd done another job, and they all had a little extra money. Not a lot, but some. So they all decided to exchange gifts. Mal wasn't sure whose idea it was, or if it even was anyone's idea, but it seemed to happen anyway.

Zoe gave her dear husband Wash that stegosaurus figurine he'd wanted. Wash gave his beloved wife Zoe a brand new leather vest.

Shepherd Book gave Simon an old copy of a very old anatomy book, a 'classic text' on the subject, from Old Earth. Simon gave River a rose made out of glass, with gold leaf on the petals; she commented on the fact that it had thorns. River gave the Shepherd a new Bible, which she promised him she would leave 'uncorrected'.

Kaylee gave Jayne a new carrying case for Vera, his favorite gun; Jayne gave Inara a robe that she knew she would look stunning in but would never ever ever wear in front of Jayne. And Inara gave Kaylee a new engine stabilizer and one of her own robes.

And Mal? He got what he always wanted. He got to keep flying.

The End
Merry Ruttin' Christmas
and a Happy Gorram New Year!!!

Your Daily Dose of Christmas!

Mr. Lennon:

Sunday, December 21, 2014

Sunday Burst!

Linkage has been piling up! PILING UP, I tell you!!!

:: I found a Twitter feed called "Space Snaps" this morning, via this amazing photo of a space shuttle launch:



Yeah, follow that account if you're on The Twitters.

:: The latest trend in teenage misbehavior. Be vigilant, folks. Be very, very vigilant.

:: Check out this quite wonderful video tour of Toronto's skyline. Put it on HD in fullscreen, if you can. What a beautiful, amazing city. I just love TO!

:: Anatomy of the greatest Internet comment of all time. Wow.

:: Strong Language: a blog devoted to swearing and curse-words. Seriously. Fun reading, if you're not offended by salty language. (Note: Salty language alert!)

More next week!

Your Daily Dose of Christmas!

Sometimes sitcoms bring out the best in Christmas stuff! Here are some clips.

First, The Brady Bunch. This is actually an entire episode edited down to the bare essentials for the main story.


And then we have something more recent: from the second season of The Big Bang Theory. By way of background here, Penny has informed Sheldon that she's going to buy him a Christmas present, which makes Sheldon deeply nervous as he then has to reciprocate the gift. He goes to Bath and Body Works and buys a bunch of gift baskets, planning to give Penny a basket commensurate with however nice her gift is to him. It all makes sense, in his mind....


Lastly, we have my favorite sitcom Christmas moment ever, when Ross on Friends was frustrated because he wanted to explain Hannukah to his son, Ben. He decided that maybe little Ben would listen more if he was dressed as Santa, but he couldn't find a Santa costume, which resulted in this:



Saturday, December 20, 2014

Quick Note on Comments

Hey Readers,

Even though I have comment moderation turned on, I get a notice at my email every time a comment is left, which is why I'm usually able to approve them relatively quickly. Once in a while, though, I notice that some comments come along that do not get sent to me by email, so the only way I know they're there is to see them next time I log into Blogger. There's been a small uptick in this sort of thing over the last week, so if you notice your comments are languishing longer than usual, that's why.

Now, if you'll excuse me, I gotta start Christmas shopping. (Yes. I said "start". Oy!)

Your Daily Dose of Christmas!

What's Christmas without some solo trumpet music? Here is "In the Bleak Midwinter", performed by the great Tine Thing Helseth.

Friday, December 19, 2014

Your Daily Dose of Christmas!

I heard this first song on the radio today, sitting in an office with two coworkers. We were all gobsmacked by the song's outright weirdness, and it got me thinking about novelty songs. Here's something called "I Yust Go Nuts At Christmas", by "Yogi Yorgelsson", which was an alter ego taken on by an American comedian named Harry Stewart. I'd never heard of this guy before today, and the song is one of those old-time comedy songs that...well, here it is.


Other Christmas novelty songs? There have been a bunch, obviously! Here's a version of "The 12 Days of Christmas" by Allan Sherman:


And then there's this new one, which I just heard for the first time the other day. It's not my favorite thing, but as novelty songs go, it's kinda cute and I can't hate anything that Kristen Bell is involved with. Here she is, joining Straight No Chaser with "Text Me Merry Christmas".

Thursday, December 18, 2014

This is downtown Buffalo.

One of the projects that's been under construction downtown has been the recreation of old sections of the Erie Canal, which were then filled with water and which have now frozen.

Think of Buffalo as an old, decaying, has-been city filled with rotting buildings and tired, gray people? Think again, America.

This city still has lots of problems, but for now, there's a sense that yes, we can get this stuff done.






(Photo credits: Dennis Gee, Kevin Rybczynski, Craig Kannaley, and Canalside Buffalo)

Fixing the Prequels: Finale



The Fixing the Prequels series was never, as I’ve noted many times throughout, a project for me to complain about the much-hated films. My goal was always to acknowledge the Prequel Trilogy’s very real problems by suggesting ways they could have been overcome whilst preserving the main story, while also arguing that the films are often much, much better than their reputations have developed. I intended this series to end a long time ago, and my hope was that as time went by, the Prequels would gain a bit in the main estimation of pop culture. I never expected them to become beloved, but I hoped that their many good qualities would look better from a distance, and the angry and often obnoxious rhetoric about them whenever they were brought up would become less toxic.

This, sadly, has not happened.

The tone regarding the Prequel Trilogy has remained as belligerently hostile as ever, with seemingly every discussion of Star Wars that comes up either devolving into, or at least involving a substantial detour, into “Why the Prequels were awful” and “Why George Lucas is the worst thing ever” and all the other boring memes, like “Lucas needed someone to tell him ‘No’” and the always-dreary appeals that all the best thinking about the Prequels was ever done by the noxious Red Letter Media guy. Even the sale of Star Wars to Disney, with the subsequent rejuvenation of the franchise with a new trilogy of films plus a number of spin-off movies, ended up with a lot of cheering that “Hooray! Finally we get Star Wars that has nothing to do with George Lucas!” and “I wonder if they’ll completely ignore the Prequels!” and so on.

To this day, while I understand a lot of the criticism these three films have received, I’ve never understood the outright hatred of them. Their mere existence serves to dredge up a fairly ugly side of fandom every time they arise in conversation. I just end up shrugging and saying “Oh well”, all at the same time avoiding a lot of Star Wars discussion, because I just tire of saying the same things, over and over again.

Episode VII has a title. Let's mark the day by bitching about THE PHANTOM MENACE! #StarWars

Anyway, I have some final thoughts on things regarding the Prequels and Star Wars in general, so I thought I’d gather them in one place as an epilogue to this series in general.

Midichlorians

Might as well start here. I touched on the midichlorians in several places throughout the series (here and here, mainly), and my view on them has generally not changed at all. I see the midichlorians as an error on George Lucas’s part, but not from a philosophical standpoint but rather from a storytelling standpoint. I’ve never bought into the notion that by introducing midichlorians as some kind of “mechanism” for the Force, Lucas undermined the mysticism of the original trilogy. The problem is that there just doesn’t seem to have been any story reason to introduce them. The midichlorians add absolutely nothing to the narrative. They’re just kind of “there”, gumming up the works. There’s a very vague implication in Revenge of the Sith, when Palpatine tells Anakin that Darth Plagueis was able to influence the midichlorians to “create life”, that somehow he is responsible for Anakin’s “virgin birth”, but that’s all we have to go on. It’s my understanding that one of the “Expanded Universe” novels actually did something with that concept, but I don’t know, and it doesn’t matter now anyway, as the whole “Expanded Universe” has been swept beneath the rug. The very base suggestion seem to be that the Force somehow noticed that it was out of “balance”, and that it therefore influenced the midichlorians to bring forth a specially powerful being to restore that balance. This, though, also is never really dealt with or stated outright, so the midichlorians remain what they always were: a vexing idea that seemed to have no real reason to be there in the first place.

The “Balance” of the Force

This, too, was a vexing concept that was never really discussed. The prophecy was that someone would bring “balance” to the Force, and it was pretty much assumed by everyone that Anakin was the “Chosen One”. Oddly, though, it was never really discussed at all just how the Force was out of “balance” in the first place. The Jedi seemed to assume that “balance” would mean the destruction of the Sith, but...we’re talking balance here, right? Equal measures of yin and yang, not all the way one way or the other. I suspect that what Lucas had in mind here was that a thousand years of the Jedi maintaining peace and justice in the Old Republic led to a calcified, entrenched group of Jedi who were pretty much so set in their ways as to never budge. This is hinted at a number of times in the Prequels, what with the Jedi’s surprise that the Sith could have returned without being noticed and other similar markers along the way. Not until Revenge of the Sith does Yoda note that they might have misread the prophecy all along.

The general implication is that Anakin must play his role, turning to the Dark Side and destroying the Jedi so that they might rise again, stronger and wiser. Metaphorically, Anakin is like the forest fire that clears the forest of dead brush that is choking off new growth, and that “balance” is not restored until Anakin personally destroys Emperor Palpatine, at the cost of his own life. With their deaths, Governor Tarkin’s words from A New Hope come true, as the last remnants of that earlier time are, at last, “swept away”.

All this plays into my notion that Lucas probably should have played more strongly with the angle that the Jedi were not in their prime at the time of their fall, but were actually succumbing to ruin and rot without ever realizing it. For years I’ve thought that the Jedi were roughly analogous to the Knights Templar, who also retreated so far into their own arrogant self-assurance that they too did not realize that their end was at hand almost until the moment the attacks came and they were tied to the stakes and the firewood at their feet lit.

No “signature” ship

Now here’s a criticism of the Prequel Trilogy that does not come up as often as some others, but it’s one that actually does have real resonance with me: there is no single ship that appears throughout the Prequels, no one ship to signify the Prequel era and tie the films together.

In space opera, ships are important. In fact, ships become characters themselves. In Star Trek, each iteration of the Enterprise has been a beloved part of each show or movie. Firefly fans, like myself, can’t imagine the show without Serenity. And in the Original Star Wars trilogy, the Millennium Falcon is as iconic as it gets. When Luke and company defeat Jabba the Hutt in Return of the Jedi, the real moment of triumph is not when Jabba’s sail barge explodes, but rather when we cut to space right after, and the Millennium Falcon soars to space again.

The Prequel Trilogy has no single ship to tie everything together and serve as a backdrop for the adventures within, and that’s a problem that I just couldn’t solve in this series, given my intent on keeping the main story of the Prequels intact. The closest we get is that a chrome-hulled Naboo cruiser appears in each film, but it’s a different ship each time. There isn’t one ship to serve as the backdrop for all the adventures; there’s no single ship that is the scene of victories and heartbreaks. Ships matter in space opera, and while there are a lot of neat ships in the Prequel Trilogy, none of them becomes a home to the story. A great ship is a character in itself, and the absence of one definitely hurt the Prequel Trilogy’s sense of inhabitability. There was never a really strong sense of returning to a familiar place, as there often was in the Original Trilogy when we saw the Falcon, or even Luke’s X-wing or the bridge of a Star Destroyer.

Palpatine’s “Long game”

This is, to me, an underrated aspect of the Prequel Trilogy. I remember after The Phantom Menace, people complaining about the fact that Palpatine/Sidious is exerting all that energy to get a treaty signed to make Naboo subservient to the Trade Federation, and pretty much the exact opposite happens – and yet, Palpatine still wins. Why did he care, then?

I suspect that he actually didn’t care. Not really. Whether the treaty got signed or not never really mattered; what he was doing was sowing discontent in the very fabric of the Republic. He was creating tension that he could then use to his advantage, giving rise to a notion of the Republic as increasingly faulty and unable to function. Whether or not Naboo fell in line or somehow managed to get off the hook was never of major concern, which suggests that Palpatine was actually a genius at adapting his plans and spotting opportunities while everyone else was merely reacting to day-to-day events. Consider: Palpatine was scheming the creation of the Clone Army a full ten years before a need for such a thing was even recognized. That’s a pretty big thing.

This, in turn, suggests that Palpatine’s eventual fall was due to his eventual failure to keep adapting to circumstances. As Luke Skywalker would eventually say, “Your overconfidence is your weakness,” and this turns out to be exactly right. The Palpatine of the Prequel Trilogy would never let a bunch of sentient teddy bears destroy his precious defense shield! The Palpatine of the Prequel Trilogy was never overconfident.

The nature of the Sith

The films never really make much clear about who the Sith are or what they were doing. The implication is that they are basically the Dark Side equivalent of Jedi, but some history would have been called for at some point. What was the “revenge” they were seeking? What were they trying to accomplish? The films didn’t really address any of this at all, which I always found slightly vexing. Some of this was eventually explored in Expanded Universe stuff, but again, the Expanded Universe has been wiped clean, so...I guess we still don’t know. (Maybe they could take the step of only erasing Expanded Universe stuff past Return of the Jedi, but even then, it’s still disappointing.)

Whither Star Wars?

Where does Star Wars go from here? I expect that Disney is going to try making it into a mega-franchise not unlike the Marvel Cinematic Universe, which will be interesting. Star Wars is going to end up looking very different each time out, I suspect. Will it be too much? Probably not for me, but I do kind-of worry about losing something along the way: the sense that Star Wars was about a single story. I’d hate to see Peter Jackson start making all manner of “Middle Earth” movies, about anything and everything he can think of, once The Hobbit is done. But even so, it’s a big Galaxy, with lots of stories to be told. Maybe one day The Empire Strikes Back will be joined, at long last, by another Star Wars film none of whose action takes place on Tatooine!

I’ll be there, whenever there’s a new Star Wars film to be seen. Will I have the same connection to Star Wars as it continues to unfold? I don’t know. I’ll see the movies, but there’s a very real sense in which my Star Wars ended when Revenge of the Sith came out. What comes now will be fun to watch (I hope), but it really feels like what’s coming is the next generation’s Star Wars, not mine. I hope they play nicely with the old toys. And if they find grand space opera to their liking, I’ve got one for them!

With that, I think I can safely, and finally, call Fixing the Prequels complete. This has been fun, and at long last, I can end with this:

Your Daily Dose of Christmas

Time for another one that I feature most years, but there's a reason. This song, and this performance, are so sublime that just about all performances of the song ever since have left me cold, for a very big reason.

The song is, of course, "Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas", and this is its first performance, by Judy Garland in the film Meet Me In St. Louis. In the film, Garland's family is preparing to move from St. Louis to New York City, and thus the film is about all the emotional baggage that comes with leaving home, quite possibly forever. Entire chapters of life are ending, which is what makes the song such a masterpiece of what's so often bittersweet about Christmas.

Here's the song:


And here, below the fold, is what bugs me about the song ever since Judy Garland recorded it....


Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Your Daily Dose of Christmas!

Here's something different, at least as far as Christmas music goes: a string quartet by Arcangelo Corelli, which was apparently composed "for the night of Christmas". Corelli lived from 1653 to 1713, putting him slightly earlier than JS Bach (they overlapped, but Bach was born when Corelli was 32), so this is a fairly well-known composition from the Baroque period. I always mean to listen to more string quartets, and somehow I never do. I really must get off my arse about this....

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Your Daily Dose of Christmas

What's a month-long music feature without some film music? Here's a suite from Alan Silvestri's score to The Polar Express.

Monday, December 15, 2014

"Shiny in the Black": A FIREFLY Christmas! (part three)

Continuing my repost of this Very Special (but Not Blossomesque) Episode of Firefly.



part two
part one

"Weapons on the ground!" the voice shouted. "Now!"

"Do it," Mal said. He shot a look at Jayne, whose expression of disgust tended to be indistinguishable from his expression of being about to lose his temper. Slowly, Mal, Zoe and Jayne all laid their guns on the floor.

"Put that package on the floor too, preacher," said the voice.

Book put the crate down.

"All right, face the crates."

They complied.

"Put your hands on your head."

They complied.

"Stand on your left feet and recite the first stanza the Alliance anthem!"

Mal glanced at Zoe. "Uh, what?"

Now the voice burst out in laughter. "All right, turn 'em off," he said. The floodlights all shut off, and the light returned to the dim of the warehouse overhead lamps. Mal turned toward the source of the voice to see a stocky man dressed in old army fatigues approaching. The man was bald except for long, stringy hairs that hung from the back of his head; he had a thick mustache and three days' growth of beard. He gave Mal a gap-toothed grin as he put his hands on his hips.

"Ahh, Mal, what am I gonna do with you?"

Mal and the others glanced around at the 'lawmen', and saw that they weren't lawmen at all. They were a motley bunch of thieves. Not unlike themselves.

"Jonas," Mal said. "Fancy meeting you here. I never figured you to be on Ariel. Kind of a rich world for your tastes, isn't it?"

"Gotta go where the money is, my boy," the man named Jonas said as he lit a cigar and took a few puffs. "'Sides, ain't planning on being here long. I'm guessing you weren't either."

"Not really," Mal agreed. "Can we put our hands down? I don't tend to find this posture conducive to friendly chat."

"Ain't so sure we're being friendly," Jonas said. "But sure, let your hands down. Don't make a move toward those weapons, though."

"Of course not," said Mal. "After all, we're just bein' friendly."

"I suppose we are," Jonas replied as Mal and his people lowered their hands. "So, Mal, what are you doing here?"

"Same as you," Mal said. "Doin' a job."

"And what would be the nature of that job?"

"Well, we're purchasing the contents of this crate right here and going with them to a...client on Haven. Easy enough."

"Sounds easy. Haven's a piss-poor world...wait, did you say you were purchasing the goods?"

Mal shrugged. "Yeah, we're doin' it the honest way this time. Wanted to see what that was like."

"Really. Honest. Dumpin' a box of coin here and taking the box? That's a new version of honest. Sounds to me like you've found a way of stealin' that ends up costin' you money."

"Yeah," Mal said, shooting a look at Shepherd Book, "I guess we didn't really work all the kinks out."

"Well, Mal, I can't let you have this box. See, we need it, too. I'm doing a job, myself, and there's a cantankerous old woman out on Whitefall that could use some of what's in that box."

"Whitefall?" Mal laughed. "You're planning on doing business with Patience?"

"Sure. Why not?"

"Oh, no reason," Mal said. "Just make sure you plan for her to try to shoot you."

"Nah," Jonas said. "Patience and me go way back. I was the one who told her that she should shoot you if she got the chance."

"Well that was nice of you," Mal said. "She got the chance. Twice. I'm still here, still flyin'. Counts for somethin'."

"Yeah, I guess it does. But I can't let you take this box, coin or no. You see, Mal--"

"Hey, Captain!" It was one of Jonas's men. Jonas rolled his eyes.

"What is it, Randy? I'm trying to be threatening here, and you're interrupting."

"I know, Cap, but this ain't the box we're here for."

"What?"

"Look!" The wiry man named Randy held out a PDA for Jonas to look at. "See, that's the number of the box we want. It's the next one over. That one."

"Really?"

"Yeah. That one's got the farming seed and fertilizer in it. See, the one we want is in slot number 29-94-77. This slot is number 29-94-75."

"Oh," said Jonas.

"Well, this changes things a bit, doesn't it?" Mal said.

"I think it does, Captain," said Zoe.

"You see, Jonas, there's no need to make this deal confrontational. Instead of goin' that way, we can go another. We're not even here for the same crate. We'll take what we want, you'll take what you want, and everybody's happy."

"Seriously, Mal? You're after this crate? What's in it?"

"I don't think that really matters," said Mal. "Haven's not a big farming world, so you can bet I'm not looking for farming seed and fertilizer. Let's just take what we all want and be done with it."

Jonas kept his gun aimed at Mal as he considered things. Then he nodded at the Shepherd.

"Sure, Mal, we can do that. But I want the coin, too."

Mal shrugged. "Give it to him, Preacher," he said.

"Really?" asked Book.

"Yeah, really," Mal said. "Plan was to leave the coin here anyway. But if you're gonna take the coin, least you could do is have your boys load our crate onto our hauler for us."

"I suppose I could do that," Jonas said. His men grumbled, but he hissed them quiet. "A friendly gesture, right?"

"Yeah," Mal said. "If we promise not to shoot you, can we pick up our guns now?"

"Sure," Jonas said. "But we'll still be coverin' you until this is done."

"I figured," Mal replied as he picked up his pistol. The others followed suit.

"How'd you get in here, anyway?" Jonas asked.

"Door was open."

"Well, I suppose you can thank me for that," Jonas replied. "Paid the guards to leave it open and make themselves scarce. All right, boys, you heard the man. Let's get these boxes loaded! Remember, this one here goes with them, that one down there goes with us. With the Shepherd's coin."

Book handed the box of coin to one of Jonas's men, four of whom turned to the work of loading both crates while Jonas and Randy kept their pistols aimed at Mal and his people.

"Somethin' here ain't right," Jayne said. "We're gonna get screwed on this deal."

"Well, Jayne, the screwing was built into the deal, so at least we're not surprised by it." Mal shook his head. "This is a weird damn job, though."

"Nah," Jayne replied. "There's still some way this is gonna go south. You watch. Always happens to us."

Mal rolled his eyes. "Not all our jobs end in disaster," he said.

"Name one," Jayne said.

"Well, there was--"

"You ended up drunk and with a con-woman pretending to be your wife."

"Yeah, but it was good up to then."

After about ten minutes, they were all outside and both crates were loaded onto their respective haulers.

"Well, Mal," said Jonas, "I'd prefer if you'd drive off first. And try to stay out of my way in the future."

"Pleasure doin' business as always, Jonas," Mal said. "But I wouldn't mind pointin' out that just because we were in the same place, doesn't mean I was in your way."

"Even so. I don't want to get your luck on me, Reynolds. You have a history of taking on work that doesn't leave you much of a profit. One day you're gonna realize that 'Just keep flying' isn't a great strategy for life."

"Thanks for the wisdom, Jonas. Got some for you, too."

"Yeah? What's that?"

"Patience is gonna try to shoot you."

Jonas grinned. "Let her try." He gestured with his pistol, sending Mal and his people off.

"I'm tellin' you, this is gonna be a bad deal for everybody," Jayne said as they neared Serenity.

"Calm down, Jayne. Your opinion is noted."

Mal drove the hauler back onto the ship's cargo hold, and Kaylee closed the hatch behind them. Simon and River were there waiting; Wash was on the bridge, and he called down on the intercom.

"Captain?" Wash said. "I'm ready to lift."

"What are you waiting for!" Mal responded. The ship shifted beneath their feet as the engines roared and Serenity lifted off. Book and Jayne were offloading the crate from the hauler and securing it.

"You see, everybody?" Mal said as he took off his overcoat and tossed it at the foot of the stairs. "Nice, simple job. No big worries, no big fuss. We're out some coin, sure, but we've got a big crate full of nice, shiny toys that will make all the children in an orphanage on Haven happy."

"Everything went all right?" said Simon. "No hiccups?"

"One little hiccup," Mal said. "But it didn't amount to much."

"I wouldn't be so sure of that, Captain," said Shepherd Book.

"What?"

"Hey Mal," Jayne said. "We got a problem."

Mal glanced at Zoe. They walked aft, to where Book and Jayne were both staring at the crate, which Book had opened. Zoe took one look and let out a string of expletives in Chinese. Mal did the same, only with a string of completely different expletives in Chinese.

The crate was full of farm seed and fertilizer. They had the wrong crate.

End Part Three