Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Beating This Book Into Submission

Progress: I has it

Yup, the manuscript for Princesses In SPACE!!! (not the actual title) now stands at just over 140,000 words. I'm aiming for a total length for the first draft of not more than 180,000 words, which means that if I can stick to my 500-words-a-day quota until I'm done, I should have a manuscript by Memorial Day. Then I'll set it aside for several months before editing it, during which I'll be at work on a project that involves neither Princesses nor SPACE!!!. It will, however, involve the son of a lighthouse keeper, a band of gypsy-thieves, and a man in black with an eye-patch and an enormous black feather in his hat. That one's another idea that's been knocking around my head for years, so it's time to do some excavation. And after that, it'll be back to my Princesses, for their sequel adventures in SPACE!!!

I love writing. I hope I can publish some of this stuff!

A Random Wednesday Conversation Starter

What's that one dish your mother or father used to make? You know, the one that no matter how good a cook you are, no matter how skilled in the kitchen you may be, that even though you have the actual recipe in your cookbook or recipe box, you simply cannot make to taste as good as when your mom or dad used to make it for you?

Tuesday, February 28, 2012

When cats suck

I was dreaming about...something. It was a nice dream. I think I was a Viking, or a space cowboy. Something cool like that. But a sudden, insistent electronic beeping pushed itself into my dream. I wondered what it was...and then, even though it was the wrong time period for my dream, someone said, "Is that a car alarm?" This incongruity pushed me awake. It was 3:00 am.

And the beeping was still there.

"Who the hell isn't resetting their car alarm?" I thought, thinking the beeping was coming from outside. But it wasn't.

Now The Wife stirred. "What's that?" she asked.

"I don't know," I replied. But by now I was awake enough to realize that it was coming from inside the apartment.

I staggered out toward the living room, and the beeping grew louder. The Wife stumbled behind me. When I got to the living room, I homed in the sound...just in time to see one of the cats go running away...from our cordless phone's base. Which cat? I couldn't tell; it was dark. But there was no doubt: The beeping was the phone's ringtone.

I haven't heard that phone ring in so long that I couldn't even remember its ringtone. We turned off the ringer on our phone and let the machine do all the answering three phones and eleven years ago, so I had no hope of recognizing the phone's ringtone on first hearing. But I picked the phone up and silenced it.

Whichever cat that was, had managed to press the "Handset Locator" button. The one that, you know, makes the phone ring, so you can find it. How did that cat do this? No idea. Which cat was it? No idea.

Took me another ninety minutes to get back to sleep, though. And I had to be up at 6:00.

Stupid cats.

Answers, the third!

Continuing the replies to queries posed in Ask Me Anything! February 2012.

Charlie asks: Imagine you were called upon to recast the Star Wars movies, for some reason. Who would your picks be?

Hmmm, that's tough. Very tough. Really, really tough.

If we were to reboot Star Wars right now, would it even have the same characters? Or would it go another direction? Interesting questions...but assuming that we just live in an alt-universe where Star Wars is made for the first time, right now, here's how it might be cast. Maybe.

Luke Skywalker: Geez, I don't know. I think you'd need a relative unknown for this role. I really do.
Han Solo: Well, if I can't have any more adventures of Captain Malcolm Reynolds...Nathan Fillion!
Princess Leia Organa: Why not? Natalie Portman.
Ben "Obi Wan" Kenobi: We need a somewhat older Brit here, don't we? You know, I'd be intrigued to see what Alan Rickman could do here.
Governor Tarkin: Christopher Walken.

Now, Darth Vader, C-3PO, R2-D2, Yoda, and others don't even need casting, because they'll be played by people in suits or CGI. When you really think about it, there really aren't too many major human characters in Star Wars. To really get some interesting casting going, we'd have to re-do the story somehow to get some more people in there, I think. I'd love to get Clancy Brown in there at some point, but where? Meryl Streep as Mon Mothma? Michael Clark Duncan as Lando Calrissian? And Summer Glau could play a female Jedi who is so bad-ass that she doesn't even need to use a lightsaber!

A reader who prefers to remain anonymous e-mails: What Guy Gavriel Kay novels do you think would make good movies? (Are there any films of his novels?)

What about other books? Anything you read recently that would make a good film?

So far, there are no films of GGK's novels. I don't think that all of them would make good movies -- The Fionavar Tapestry would, by necessity, strike people onscreen as a big-time rip-off of The Lord of the Rings, because film audiences wouldn't give him too much slack for 'playing with tropes' and that sort of thing. Tigana, by its structure, would be a difficult film adaptation as well. It might work as a miniseries, though.

I know that The Lions of Al-Rassan has been in development for several years.. I think it would make an interesting movie, but then, I'm biased in that it's my favorite of his books. It would also be easy to screw up, though.

The Sarantine Mosaic is too big to fit into a single movie. The Last Light of the Sun would work, I think, and work very well. Ditto Ysabel, which would work very well as a 'modern day' fantasy -- although the bits involving Dave and Kim from Fionavar would lack most of their impact without the earlier books as context. Given the quality of fantasy and adventure films from the far east of late, Under Heaven could be a magnificent film.

Ultimately, though, I tend to think that the GGK novel that would work best as a movie, by way of its fairly tight narrative, might well be A Song for Arbonne.

In terms of other books making good movies: I don't normally think in these terms, but there have been some books that strike me as cinematic in their writing. I have yet to blog about it, but Jim Butcher's Storm Front (the first of his 'Harry Dresden' novels) would film well, I think. There was a book I read a few years ago, called The Caliph's House, that I think would film really well -- it's about a man who decides, almost on a whim, to move his family from London to Casablanca, into a house that's a fixer-upper. A whole lot of 'fish out of water' stuff ensues.

The bit of reading I've done lately that would make the best movie, though, is this post of Sheila's, about one of the firefighters she met in the course of some recent harrowing (but well-ending) stuff that went on in her life. A man and a woman, brought together by their shared love of Elvis...and one cat! (Well, not really, but a really terrific romantic comedy-drama could be made from this stuff.)

More answers to come! (And new questions are still welcome!)

"Valar morghulis."

Tyrion, yay!, originally uploaded by Jaquandor.

So, I have now knocked off two books in George RR Martin's A Song of Ice and Fire series. I remember A Clash of Kings as being nearly the equal of A Game of Thrones; this time out, the book impressed me ever more than I remember it doing the first time out. This could be because I know what's coming; middle acts tend to look better once the acts that follow are in place, so that more of the structure can be seen. I don't think that The Empire Strikes Back's lofty reputation began to set until after Return of the Jedi arrived, and not because the former is clearly superior to the latter, but because once the third act is out, one can see just where the second act was going. So it might well be with Clash.

In this book, the smoldering tinderbox that was Westeros in the first book explodes outright into two separate wars. Or three. Or four, come to that, depending on how one counts them. Now, instead of great Houses jockeying for position under a single King, we have four different Kings, each looking to lay claim to the realm (or a big chunk of it). In addition to them, there's a fifth King on a crappy, rocky island looking to strike while everyone else is looking the other way, and there's the Queen Across the Sea, Daenerys Targaryen, who is still looking to put together an army that she can bring back across the sea and claim the Iron Throne herself. It's a heady mix.

Clash pretty much picks up right where Game left off, so we are brought up to speed on what happens to our favorite and not-so-favorite characters along the way. Arya Stark has fallen in with an officer of the Night's Watch who has come to King's Landing on a recruiting mission. ('Recruiting' for the Night's Watch is a pretty generous word, given the dregs of society that tends to go up there.) Sansa Stark is still a virtual prisoner of the Lannisters and is still betrothed to King Joffrey, who is still Exhibit A in Why We Don't Let Teenagers Be Heads Of State Anymore. Robb Stark is still trying to act the King in the North, with his mother's help. Jon Snow is still on the Wall, getting ready to journey with his fellow Brothers in Black on a mission to see just what strange doings are afoot in the far frozen north. And of course, there's Tyrion Lannister, who is sent by Lord Tywin Lannister to serve as Acting Hand of the King, which means that most of the statecraft and strategic planning in the book falls to him.

The ongoing theme continues to be the way that the people best suited for various jobs are not allowed to hold those jobs, simply because of bloodlines or sex. Tyrion has a clear gift for governing a Kingdom, but he can only do so as the Acting Hand of the King, because no one trusts a dwarf to run much of anything at all.

The 'soap opera' structure of the books continues to be in full effect, right down to either being excited or disappointed by the name at the head of each chapter, indicating who our viewpoint is to be for a while. This structure also helps keep the pages turning, as it's not hard to finish one Arya chapter and then say, "Well, I'll just keep going until the next Arya chapter." This also means suffering through some chapters that aren't terribly compelling, because I don't like the characters on whom they focus. Through the next two books, I have zero recollection of what, if anything, happens to Theon Greyjoy...but damn, I hope he dies. Hate that guy.

Some random thoughts:

:: Martin is not tipping his hand at all as to whether Benjen Stark is still alive or not. And very little mention of the Others, although we saw them in the very first pages of the first book. This is taking a lllooonnnggg time to develop.

:: Martin's writing of sex scenes is a bit too graphic for my tastes. I honestly did not need to read about Tyrion's probing of Shae's "secret sweetness" to the point where his beard was drenched.

:: Tyrion seems awfully prescient about how the river battle is going to go, as he starts getting things ready for it hundreds of pages before it happens. This is incredibly effective, though, as the actual battle unfolds; we follow Davos Seaworth into battle and we know that he is troubled by a gnawing certainty that he is sailing into a whole lot of shit, but he can't put a finger on it.

:: I tended, while reading, to wonder just what it was about the Baratheons that inspires such loyalty, because frankly, they're all jerk-offs. Robert was a drunken sot who ripped a kingdom apart because of a girl; Stannis is so busy being offended by the speck in his brother's eye that he never notices the plank up his own ass; and Renly is just a lightweight who has no real justification for his claim to the throne outside of "Because I wanna!". Why do so many people follow these guys? I wouldn't follow them into 7-11 if I really had to use the bathroom.

:: Bran Stark seems to have some kind of lycanthropy thing going on, and Arya is entranced by one guy's ability to change his face. I assume these threads will come to interesting ends at some point.

:: I'd forgotten about Brienne of Tarth, and what a tragic figure she is. It's clear that Martin has gone out of his way with her to create a character who has zero place, anywhere, in his universe.

Next up is A Storm of Swords, which I recall as being where, for me, some of the luster on this series started to diminish. We'll see.

Monday, February 27, 2012

"This mortal form grows weak. I require sustenance!"

Thor was never my favorite Marvel superhero, not by a longshot. I never really got the whole thing...he was a Norse god, that much I knew, but the whole "Norse god banished to twentieth century America" never made a whole lot of sense to me. I just didn't get it. And it didn't help that, from my perspective, the Thor comics weren't in the midst of a great run or anything when I was really into comics, from 1983 or so to 1989. Thor was just kind of there.

Thus, I wasn't all that keen on a Thor movie, either...I had no major objection to one, but I wasn't terribly interested in it, either. And frankly, the only reason I bothered to see it at all was because it's part of the background for the upcoming Avengers movie. So I decided to check Thor out.

And you know what? I'm glad I did. Thor is a comic book movie that really succeeds in nailing what a lot of comic book movies fail to do: combine elements of Big Mjaestic Heroes With Great Powers Who Are Fighting Cosmic Horrors, along with elements of goofy fun.

I won't bother giving a plot summary, since Thor's plot is fairly convoluted in that comic-book way of making sense while you're watching it, but not being easy to remember once you're done. There is an ancient struggle between Thor's people, the people of Asgard, and the evil Frost Giants of Jotunheim. These places look more like other planets than mythical realms – especially Asgard, which is a fantastic cityscape and yet looks oddly unpopulated at certain points along the way. Thor is an impulsive youth who is destined to be King, as long he doesn't keep screwing up...but screw up he does, and his father Odin (played with proper pomposity by Anthony Hopkins) banishes him. To where? Why, Earth, of course!

Of course, Thor is found on Earth by a trio of scientists, because you can't have a Marvel comic book story without some scientists roaming around. This time, our lead scientist is played by Natalie Portman; she's accompanied by Stellan Skarsgard (an actor who never bugs me, but also never really impresses me much, either), and a third scientist played by Kat Dennings. (Now, I had zero idea that Dennings was even in this movie, so that was a happy surprise. And I loved her character – she doesn't have much to do, but there's a weird 'happy medium' thing going on with her: she's a scientist, but from a different discipline, so she's usually one or two steps behind, without seeming stupid about it. Playing smart is one thing; playing smart-but-not-entirely-invested is something else.)

The production design of Thor is pretty nifty. This movie really looks like it's inspired by a comic book. Everything is big and bold and bright and colorful (except for the Frost Giant kingdom, but what can you do there, they live on a giant ice cube), and the film's main Earth location is not a big city but some small town in the middle of the New Mexico desert, the kind of small towns that comic books are always sticking out in the middle of nowhere so that Big Important Cosmic Things can happen there. Our scientists have a lab set up in what looks like an abandoned 1950s breakfast restaurant. And when Thor's Hammer shows up in the middle of an impact crater, something not unlike a redneck version of the knights coming to take a whack at pulling Excalibur out of the stone transpires. (Keep an eye out for the cameo appearance by a guy playing a doofus with a pickup truck.)

Thor is a movie where the heroes can all stand around talking about kings and wars for the ages and their destinies and their duties, while also having the hero meet the heroine when she hits him with her truck...and then, the next day, hits him with her truck again. There were times, watching Thor, when I thought, "This movie shouldn't work"...and yet, oddly, it does. Director Kenneth Branagh keeps things whisking right along; he doesn't spend much time lingering over anything, and the script is full of tiny touches that really ring true – such as Dennings's inability to pronounce 'Mjolnir' correctly, or Thor's attempt to secure a second cup of coffee in a diner. The film's only weak spots, for me, were in making Asgard look a bit too antiseptic, and in the guy who played Loki – he just seemed slightly bloodless. (Although, if they ever reboot Star Trek: The Next Generation, I know where they can find their Lt. Cdr. Data.)

At this point in the whole superhero thing, I don't think a movie is ever going to come along that will supplant Superman in my heart as the definitive superhero movie. But Thor comes quite a bit closer than most have. What a fun movie!

Sentential Links

Time for linkage...but first, check out this execution of a round of Pac Man, in which Our Hero passes straight through a ghost, unharmed, four times! The ghost? It's...Blinky!

(I'm wondering now how long I can keep this increasingly tenuous series of words that kinda-sorta rhyme with 'link' going....)

:: On Thursday night at 6 p.m. I got an email from my landlord telling me there had been a fire in my apartment building but my “cat was okay” and no one was hurt. (If you read only one of the posts I link this week, read this one. I watched all of this unfold over several days, in realtime, via Sheila's updates on Facebook. It's harrowing and scary and deeply emotional...and it has a wonderful coda.)

:: March 9th. What a great day. Not only will I be celebrating the life of the greatest rapper of all time who died way to soon (R.I.P. Biggie!), but I will finally get to see Edgar Rice Burrough's classic Barsoom series on the big screen!!! Given that this is the characters 100 year anniversary and that these stories featuring John Carter are the building blocks for movies like Star Wars, Alien, and Avatar... Well, quite frankly ITS ABOUT TIME!!! (I still find myself wishing they'd have titled this movie anything other than John Carter, which says absolutely nothing about the story. I mean, I hear that title, and I'm like to think it's a feature movie about the Noah Wyle character from ER. Oh well...I'll be seeing the movie, though! Probably not opening night, but sometime...soon....)

:: Everyone worked, everyone helped, and in the end we had brewed give gallons of sweet black beer, bottled another five of a coffee stout porter, and made a plate full of giant brats for folks to ziplock and take home to cook up for dinner. All around me was the human side of industry. People who used their kitchen, hands, stoves, cranks, and cappers to create a viking feast of meat and ale. It felt hardy. It felt primal. It felt good.

:: A 25-years-later sequel would be a bad idea for similar reasons. Part of me would love to catch up with Bender, Claire, Allison, Andy, and Brian in middle-age; maybe at a high school reunion. But most of me realizes that I still don't want to see that. I have my own ideas about where these characters ended up that are uniquely mine. Seeing anything else on the screen is doomed to disappoint.

:: I still can’t believe the events that led to Nola’s promotion! (I love that sentence. Love, love, love it. I'm going to incorporate phrasings like that into my daily lexicon: "I still can't believe the events that led to this equipment's malfunction!")

:: And think of this: unlike other issues, this one has a deadline. Having an actual date on this (imaginary) event makes it seem more solid, more real. I hate to write this, but I expect we’ll be hearing more about people going through with suicide over the next few months because of these doomsday claims. How many of them might have had a chance to seek help, to live longer, if the idea of a 2012 doomsday weren’t so prevalent?

More next week!

Sunday, February 26, 2012

Saturday Centus (Sunday edition)

I sat on this week's prompt for over twenty-four hours after reading it, in hopes that something else would pop into my brain to do with it. Alas, nothing did, so I'm going with my first -- and fairly grim -- impulse.

The date had been set for months, but still, he wasn’t ready. He’d had his last meal, he heard (but not understood) the words of the priest and he’d talked with his lawyer and his sister. But still, before the last chair he’d ever sit it, Leonard Luther Allen’s knees gave out.

The chair dominated the small room, it was so big. But he barely saw the chair. There, in the air around it, were faces. Their faces. Staring. Judging. One laughing.

“No,” he said.

“Yes,” they replied.

Leonard’s victims watched as the guards pushed him into the chair...and minutes later, judgment came.

This ties into an idea I've had knocking around my head for a supernatural thriller for quite a few years now. I haven't written it, because I'm not sure if it should be a novel or a screenplay.

Sunday Burst of Weird and Awesome!

Oddities and Awesome abound!!!

:: Twenty beautiful personal and private libraries.

I've seen most of these before online, but it's always fun to revisit them. Some of them look way too impersonal and antiseptic for me; the only ones that really look like places I'd like to hole up and work in for long stretches of time are the very first one, the one belonging to Neil Gaiman, and, of course, the one at the Skywalker Ranch. I really don't think I'd like the staircase one, where the books are actually stored in the spaces betwixt the stairs. I just know that dirt from my feet would end up co-mingling with the books, and that's not a good thing.

Still, if ever we have a Place Of Our Own, I will be constructing a better storage facility for my books than my current 'stacks everywhere one looks' thing that I've got going on.

:: It's Oscar night (no, I'm not watching), so check out this animated-GIF montage of the reactions of people who lost the awards for which they were nominated. As much as I like graciousness in defeat, there's still something oddly refreshing about the occasional "Oh, f*** that guy!" reaction.

:: Guy meets girl. Guy dates girl for a week or so. Girl gets guy's face tattooed on her arm. Facebooked hilarity ensues!

More next week!

Friday, February 24, 2012

Fixing the Prequels: Revenge of the Sith (part three)


And...we're back! And in a lot less than ten months, too. Huzzah! In the 'Credit Where Due' department, for the purposes of this series I'm referring to the film's script here.

When we left off last time, our Jedi Heroes had been caught, with Chancellor Palpatine and R2-D2, whilst trying to escape the ship of General Grievous. The space battle is raging on, but our heroes are brought to the bridge of the ship, where they come face to face with Grievous, a fairly bizarre individual who seems to be mostly robot, but with some kind of biological parts, who is hunchbacked, and who is constantly afflicted by a hacking cough. (This cough is actually explained by the final installment of a series of animated shorts called, appropriately enough, The Clone Wars, which aired on one of the cable networks between AotC and RotS, but it's not really important here...unless one wants to know why a person who is something like ninety percent droid is coughing. I personally, did not.)

As Grievous confronts the Jedi, he refers to Obi Wan as 'the Negotiator', a touch that I like because it implies that Kenobi has a kind of reputation that he's picked up in the course of the Clone Wars, not unlike Erwin Rommel's 'nom de war', 'the Desert Fox'. When Grievous meets Anakin, he notes that he expected someone of his reputation to be a bit older; Anakin replies: "General Grievous. You're shorter than I expected." I've always liked this line.

The rest of this plays out pretty much by numbers: R2-D2 creates a diversion, long enough for Obi Wan and Anakin to recover their lightsabers and free themselves from their bonds, at which point they go on yet another Jedi rampage against battle droids. There's nothing particularly major here that we haven't seen before in the Prequels, and it flashes by pretty quickly (albeit with an entertaining bit that comes when Obi Wan realizes that a particular model of battle droid can keep right on fighting even after decapitation). Grievous manages to escape yet again, this time by smashing one of the windows open and letting himself get blown out into space; he then uses a grappling hook to get himself to an escape pod while Obi Wan and Anakin have to take the controls of the ship, which is starting a death plunge into the atmosphere.

This whole sequence is really well done:

OBI-WAN and ANAKIN go over to the navigator's chair.

ANAKIN: All the escape pods have been launched.

OBI-WAN: Grievous. Can you fly a cruiser like this?

ANAKIN: You mean, do I know how to land what's left of this thing?

ANAKIN sits in the pilot's chair and sees on a screen the back half of the ship break away. There is a great jolt, and the ship tilts forward.

OBI-WAN: Well?

ANAKIN: Under the circumstances, I'd say the ability to pilot this thing is irrelevant. Strap yourselves in.

OBI-WAN and PALPATINE strap themselves into chairs. ANAKIN struggles with the controls of the ship. The ship starts to glow, and pieces break off. ARTOO moves in on Palpatine 's controls and assists in flying the cruiser.

OBI-WAN: Steady . . . Attitude . . . eighteen degrees.

ARTOO beeps.

ANAKIN: Pressure rising. We've got to slow this wreck down. Open all hatches, extend all flaps, and drag fins.

OBI-WAN: Temp steady. Hatches open, flaps extended, drag fins . . .

A large part of the ship breaks away.

ANAKIN: We lost something.

OBI-WAN: Not to worry, we're still flying half the ship.

I love that last line of Obi Wan's. This whole sequence is fun, tense, and the effects are amazing. This brief shot is one of my favorite sights in all the Star Wars movies:

And all the other visual details are terrific here: the flames of reentry outside the bridge windows, the fireships that come alongside to smother the burning ship in fire retardant, the way the ship flies through a thick cluster of clouds to suddenly emerge above the capital city of the Republic. The ship's bridge is dominated by yellow and green lighting, which is a color scheme we haven't seen before. I also like how well-conceived this sequence is, in terms of details. Yeah, they may actually be scientifically implausible, but within the rules of his universe, George Lucas has thought out some stuff. The cruiser has 'drag fins', big metal flaps that extend out and provide increased air resistance to slow the ship down when it's in the atmosphere (and remember, we've already established that cruisers of this size can land planetside), and the afore-mentioned firefighting ships.

Of course, Anakin brings the ship in for an impressive crash landing (taking out a control tower in the process...I always wonder if that tower was full of space traffic controllers, maybe one declaring this to be the wrong week to be giving up Death Sticks). The dust is settling, everyone is breathing a sigh of relief, and Obi Wan sums it all up: "Another happy landing!"

At this point, we're finally done with an action sequence that has taken over twenty minutes of the film's opening. It's almost a short film in itself, complete with three acts, and it was an exhilarating way for George Lucas to start the film. Now comes quite a bit of talking and politics. Not that a lot of this bothers me, but the pace slows down quite a bit now.

A shuttle brings the Chancellor, along with his Jedi rescuers, back to the Capital, where Obi Wan and Anakin have another bit of repartee:

ANAKIN: (to Obi-Wan) Are you coming, Master?

OBI-WAN: Oh no. I'm not brave enough for politics. I have to report to the Council. Besides, someone needs to be the poster boy.

ANAKIN: Hold on, this whole operation was your idea. You planned it. You led the rescue operation. You have to be the one to take the bows this time.

OBI-WAN: Sorry, old friend. Let us not forget that you rescued me from the Buzz Droids. And you killed Count Dooku. And you rescued the Chancellor, carrying me unconscious on your back, and you managed to land that bucket of bolts safely . . .

ANAKIN: All because of your training, Master.

OBI-WAN: Anakin, let's be fair. Today, you are the hero and you deserve your glorious day with the politicians.

ANAKIN: All right. But you owe me . . . and not for saving your skin for the tenth time . . .

OBI-WAN: Ninth time . . . that business on Cato Nemoidia doesn't count. I'll see you at the briefing.

I like the bit about keeping score – it's reminscent of the Original Trilogy, and the friendly rivalry between Luke Skywalker and Han Solo. Next there's a brief bit as Palpatine assures Mace Windu that the Senate will insist on continuing the war as long as General Grievous is at large; with Count Dooku dead, Grievous is now the leader of the droid armies. Not much is made of the fact that Dooku wasn't just a military leader, but a political leader as well – who will rise to lead the Separatist movement?

Of note here is that Palpatine has managed to create an environment of perpetual war in the Republic, a war that has the support of the Senate and is being led by the Jedi. And yet we know there is tension between the Chancellor and the Jedi, so the question arises – never really addressed by the films – as to just what the relationship is between the Jedi and the Chancellor and the Senate. The Jedi seem to be a somewhat independent body, governing themselves, but taking input from the Senate. But they're starting to not like what they are being required to do; as Mace Windu basically stated in AotC, they are basically policemen, not soldiers or military leaders. And yet that is their new role. Interesting, then, that a key facet of all of Palpatine's machinations is to manipulate the Jedi into serving a role that they are not well-suited to serve.

Anyway, back to the movie. The Chancellor and the Jedi and the rest of a group of Senators walk off. (In this bunch is one Jar Jar Binks, who is almost unnoticed except that he has his one line of dialogue in the movie, "Excuse me". What was funny about this is that when I saw the film in the theater back in 2005, as soon as people noticed Jar Jar, there was no booing or hissing – just several people in the theater exclaiming, "Hey, it's Jar Jar!" and some murmurs of recognition, not all of which sounded angry. Make of that what you will...but sometimes I wonder if Jar Jar isn't quite as hated as most people think he's hated. Or maybe I'm just delusional....) Anakin exchanges words with Senator Bail Organa (Jimmy Smits, who had quite the political acting life in the mid-2000s, appearing as a Star Wars Senator and as the successor to President Josiah Bartlet in The West Wing), and then he notices someone in the shadows of one of the great pillars. It's Padme.

Now, why isn't Padme in the group of dignitaries meeting the Chancellor upon his return? She is one of the most influential political figures in the Senate. Clearly it's because she needs to meet Anakin in somewhat private. They embrace, and this exchange takes place (material not actually in the final film in red):

ANAKIN: I missed you, Padme.

PADME: There were whispers . . . that you'd been killed.

ANAKIN: I'm all right. It feels like we've been apart for a lifetime. And it might have been ... If the Chancellor hadn't been kidnapped. I don't think they would have ever brought us back from the Outer Rim sieges.

ANAKIN starts to give her another kiss. She steps back.

PADME: Wait, not here . . .

He grabs her again.

ANAKIN: Yes, here! I'm tired of all this deception. I don't care if they know we're married.

PADME: Anakin, don't say things like that. You're important to the Republic ... to ending this war. I love you more than anything, but I won't let you give up your life as a Jedi for me . . .

ANAKIN: I've given my life to the Jedi order, but I'd only give up my life, for you.

PADME: (playfully) I wouldn't like that. I wouldn't like that one bit. Patience, my handsome Jedi . . . Come to me later.

ANAKIN embraces her, then looks at her.

ANAKIN: Are you all right? You're trembling. What's going on?

PADME: I'm just excited to see you.

ANAKIN: That's not it. I sense more . . . what is it?

PADME: Nothing . . . nothing . . .

ANAKIN: You're frightened. (a little angry) Tell me what's going on!

PADME begins to cry.

PADME: You've been gone five months . . . it's been very hard for me. I've never felt so alone. There's . . .

ANAKIN: . . . Is there someone else?

PADME: (peeved, angry) No! Why do you think that? Your jealousy upsets me so much, Anakin. I do nothing to betray you, yet you still don't trust me. Nothing has changed.

ANAKIN: (sheepish) I'm afraid of losing you, Padme . . . that's all.

PADME: I will never stop loving you, Anakin. My only fear is losing you.

ANAKIN: It's just that I've never seen you like this . . .

PADME: Something wonderful has happened.

They look at each other for a long moment.

PADME: (continuing) I'm . . . Annie, I'm pregnant.

ANAKIN is stunned. He thinks through all of the ramifications of this. He takes her in his arms.

ANAKIN: That's . . . that's wonderful.

PADME: What are we going to do?

ANAKIN: We're not going to worry about anything right now, all right? This is a happy moment. The happiest moment of my life.

So: Padme's pregnant, and judging by her clothes, she's somewhat far along. That's probably why she's staying the shadows, then; this is not a condition she wants to become common knowledge, for obvious reasons. Someone will ask who the father is, and someone else will figure it out, to the doom of Anakin's career as a Jedi, even though he says that he wants to just come out with it and let the chips fall where they may. I like Anakin's reaction to the news of her pregnancy: he's shocked at first, a bit overwhelmed, and then he manages to return to happiness. So, is he really happy that he's about to be a father? Or is this something he neither expected nor wanted? I think that the evidence in the film supports both possibilities, and I like the ambiguity of his response to being told and the way he covers it up almost immediately. At the point of the revelation, John Williams's music does not become lovely or plaintive; instead it churns in the basses, underscoring nicely Anakin's conflicted emotions about becoming a father.

I do think that Lucas made a wise choice in eliminating the bit about Anakin suspecting Padme of having another suitor. While his loss of trust in Padme will be the final straw in his march toward the Dark Side, it's much too early to plant that seed. Nevertheless, here is where I would make my first actual change in the film: as they embrace on final time, I'd have someone from the Jedi council see them embracing. The obvious choice here is Mace Windu. Why? Because I think a few seeds need to be planted here for later in the film, and because I think that the film needed to get a reminder in earlier on that Mace Windu has never really been in Anakin's fan club. He wouldn't say anything to Anakin and Padme; not now, anyway. But he'd look back and see their embrace and start to recognize it for what it is: a Jedi indulging forbidden love.

Now we cut to General Grievous and his arrival on the planet Utapau. For longtime Star Wars fans, the name of the planet Utapau is exciting (although we don't hear it for a while yet), as it is one of the very earliest planet names George Lucas tossed around way back in the early 1970s when he was originally cobbling together his notions for a big space adventure epic movie. After Grievous lands, he makes contact with Darth Sidious, who is behind everything; Sidious orders him to move the Separatist leaders to Mustafar and then answers Grievous's concern about Count Dooku's death with the revelation that he's already got his eye on a new apprentice, "one who is far more powerful". Uh oh....

And then we are whisked back to Coruscant, for a nice quiet scene between Anakin and Padme at night on the balcony of their 800th-floor apartment. Or what's supposed to be a nice quiet scene, because...well, this is what happens.

PADME: Annie, I want to have our baby back home on Naboo. We could go to the lake country where no one would know . . . where we would be safe. I could go early-and fix up the baby's room. I know the perfect spot, right by the gardens.

ANAKIN: You are so beautiful!

PADME: It's only because I'm so in love . . .

ANAKIN: No, it's because I'm so in love with you.

PADME: So love has blinded you?

ANAKIN: Well, that's not exactly what I meant . . .

PADME: But it's probably true!

Yeah...I know. There's just no way for me to sugarcoat this one, folks: this scene is a stinker. In a movie that so far has been hitting all the right notes, this scene comes along and reminds everyone of their biggest complaints about the last two movies, what with lines about how Padme's not like sand and how Anakin is tortured by his love for her and so on. I tend to roll my eyes whenever I hear someone trot out the "George Lucas needs someone to tell him when his ideas suck" meme (otherwise known as the "Gary Kurtz Conjecture", under the notion that it was Gary Kurtz's steady hand that kept Lucas from doing stupid things that ruined the only two Star Wars movies that anybody likes, or so the story goes), but this scene unfortunately provides some ammunition for that camp. It's not quite as bad as the Single Worst Scene In Star Wars History, but...well, it's right up there. I hate hate hate the way this scene ended up.

So, let's fix it. Here's what should have happened here:

PADME: Annie, I want to have our baby back home on Naboo. We could go to the lake country where no one would know . . . where we would be safe. I could go early-and fix up the baby's room. I know the perfect spot, right by the gardens.

ANAKIN: You are so beautiful....

PADME: It's only because I'm so in love . . .

ANAKIN: No, it's because I'm so in love with you.

PADME: So love has blinded you?

ANAKIN: No! I mean...uh....

He sees that she is grinning at him.

ANAKIN: You got me again.

PADME: Only because you make it so easy.

ANAKIN: You know that I'm not good at talking about my feelings.

PADME: You're not so bad at it, when you stop trying to talk like a poet. There aren't many famous Jedi poets, are there?

ANAKIN: (laughs) No. I tried reading some Jedi poetry, once...hundreds of lines about the Force. An entire book that sounded like Master Yoda...I didn't understand any of it.

He comes to her side.

PADME: What are we going to do? When the war is over and the baby is born? You can't be a Jedi and a father.

ANAKIN: I know. So I'll be a father.

PADME looks at him.

PADME: You'll give up being a Jedi?

ANAKIN: (smiling) For what I'd be getting in return? Yes.

They embrace.

Something like that...something which would show that Anakin is thinking ahead a bit, and that he has a happy ending right there for the taking, if he just doesn't screw it up...which we know he's going to. It would heighten the tragedy of his fall, and like I did in fixing AotC, I'd fix some bad dialogue by actually calling attention to it.

This scene is followed by a brief dream sequence, in which Anakin sees Padme giving birth, but it's a horrible, painful experience in which she is shrieking in agony. That's about all we see, before Anakin snaps awake and walks out to the living room. We don't really see it in his dream, but he interprets it as meaning that Padme is doing to die in childbirth, and the script bears this out by indicating that in the dream, Padme actually dies. Cut to the living room, then:

ANAKIN walks down a flight of stairs onto a large veranda. The vast city planet of Coruscant, smoldering from the battle, is spread out before him. He is distraught. PADME descends the stairs and joins ANAKIN on the veranda. She takes his hand. He doesn't look at her.

PADME: What's bothering you?

ANAKIN: Nothing . . .

ANAKIN touches the japor snippet around PADME'S neck, that Anakin gave her when he was a small boy.

ANAKIN: (continuing) I remember when I gave this to you.

PADME: How long is it going to take for us to be honest with each other?

ANAKIN: It was a dream.


ANAKIN: Like the ones I used to have about my mother just before she died.


ANAKIN: It was about you.

They look at each other. A moment of concern passes between them.

PADME: Tell me.

ANAKIN: It was only a dream.

PADME gives him a long, worried look. ANAKIN takes a deep breath.

ANAKIN: (continuing) You die in childbirth . . .

PADME: And the baby?

ANAKIN: I don't know.

PADME: It was only a dream.

ANAKIN takes PADME in his arms.

ANAKIN: . . . I won't let this one become real, Padme.

They embrace, then part.

PADME: Anakin, this baby will change our lives. I doubt the Queen will continue to allow me to serve in the Senate, and if the Council discovers you are the father, you will be expelled from the Jedi Order.

ANAKIN: I know ….

PADME: Anakin, do you think Obi-Wan might be able to help us?

ANAKIN: I don't need his help . . . Our baby is a blessing.

Obviously, I would have eliminated the bit about Padme worrying about Anakin's future once the baby is born; I've relocated that to the earlier scene. It doesn't seem to fit naturally in the scene where Anakin is dealing with a new dream about his wife's death.

The shooting script has a bit of dialogue in there in which Anakin angrily asks if Padme has told Obi Wan anything; I'm glad this is left out, as I still think it's too early for the jealousy angle to show up. I've always liked this, though – that Anakin isn't just afraid of losing Padme, but that he's having dreams and visions about it, and he's already had a similar experience with his dreams of the future dolorous fate of someone he loved – his mother – coming true. He desperately wants to prevent this future, but even though he vows that he won't let it happen, he is already suspecting that he doesn't have the power he will need to do so.

And since Palpatine knows about Anakin's actions against the Sandpeople in AotC, it's reasonable to assume he knows about the dreams then, too. The wedge is already there, waiting to be driven in.

Oh, and that bit with Padme wearing the Japor snippet around her neck, the one Anakin gave her as a boy way back in TPM? That's fantastic. It's a great touch by Lucas, one which will pay off with a gorgeously sad visual late in the film.

Anakin doesn't want to go to Obi Wan for help, but he does go to someone: he goes to Yoda. In the next scene, Anakin is talking to Yoda and gets some helpful advice:


YODA and ANAKIN sit in Yoda 's room, deep in thought.

YODA: Premonitions . . . premonitions . . . Hmmmm . . . these visions you have . . .

ANAKIN: They are of pain, suffering, death . . .

YODA: Yourself you speak of, or someone you know?

ANAKIN: Someone . . .

YODA: . . . close to you?


YODA: Careful you must be when sensing the future, Anakin. The fear of loss is a path to the dark side.

ANAKIN: I won't let these visions come true, Master Yoda.

YODA: Death is a natural part of life. Rejoice for those around you who transform into the Force. Mourn them, do not. Miss them, do not. Attachment leads to jealousy. The shadow of greed, that is.

ANAKIN: What must I do, Master Yoda?

YODA: Train yourself to let go of everything you fear to lose.

And by the look on Anakin's face, we see that boy, is that ever not what he's looking to hear.

This leads to one of the more interesting things about Jedi philosophy, as we hear it from Yoda throughout the Star Wars saga. Anakin is worried about his loved one, but Yoda tells him that the way to deal with his fears for her fate is to let her fate unfold and, basically, ignore it. This is virtually the same advice Yoda will give Luke Skywalker twenty years later, in TESB, when Luke has visions about Han and Leia suffering greatly:

LUKE: And sacrifice Han and Leia?

YODA: If you honor what they fight for...yes!

The advice goes about as well then as it does for Anakin, although Luke's doesn't end nearly as badly. The question is: why is this?

I think it's because Luke is able to do something that Anakin tends to find extremely difficult: he is able to trust his friends, where Anakin only looks inward, to himself, to his own powers and his own abilities. And why is this? Well, I suspect it's partly because Luke doesn't grow up – even partially, as Anakin does – inside the sequestered and sheltered bubble that the Jedi put themselves in. The Prequel Trilogy depicts the Jedi as an almost ascetic group who are supposed to be denying their emotional lives in favor of devotion to the Force. Luke later demonstrates that fealty to the Force is not at all incompatible with having love and friendship in one's life. I wonder if this isn't part of why the Jedi fall – because they've turned so far inward that they genuinely believe that attachment is bad, friendship is bad, love is bad...because under certain circumstances, they can lead to the Dark Side.

From Yoda's perspective, though, it's Anakin's love for Padme that leads him straight to the Dark Side, straight to joining the Sith, and straight to playing a role in the final fall of the Jedi. So when Luke comes along and wants to be trained and then has his own visions of horrible things happening to his loved ones and rushes off to save them, Yoda must clearly be seeing that as "And here we go again." He thinks everything is about to be undone by the passions of the Skywalkers, again. Once again, I end up admiring the way Lucas has events from the Original Trilogy having echoes and parallels in the Prequel Trilogy.

And there we will stop. Next time, Anakin is drawn into the political world, and his desires for power start to get stroked as well as his fears for Padme. Tune in!

Thursday, February 23, 2012

Answers, the second!

Time to knock off a couple more answers to questions posed in Ask Me Anything! February 2012. As before, note that I'm still open to questions!

In this edition I'm going to tackle all of the political questions at once, so if you don't want to read ranty liberalism, just keep scrolling. I'll put the rest of this after the cut.

Something for Thursday

At one point during my piano studies -- mentioned the other day -- I was working on this piece. I was never able to really get it 'under my fingers', so to speak, but that's more a testament to some less-than-impressive work habits on my part than anything else. Oh well. Here is Chopin's "Polonaise in A, Op 40 No 1".

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

A Random Wednesday Conversation Starter

Who is your favorite villain? Choose from anywhere!

Whatever that guy said? Do the other thing!

It's easy to Captain the Enterprise!

I think that at some point, Worf should have just said, "Captain! I recommend we hold position and do nothing whatsoever." This would likely have been met with Picard replying, "No, Mr. Worf, issue a Red Alert, lock all phasers on target, all crew to battle stations, raise all shields, and FIRE!"

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Just because it made me laugh....

...I'm stealing this from Cal.

Answers, the First!

OK, I think I've waited long enough -- it's time to start answering the questions from Ask Me Anything! February 2012. And feel free to still ask, if you's the 10th anniversary month here, so let's make this one special! If there's something you've always wondered about Yours Truly, or something you've always wondered what Yours Truly thought about it, or something you've never wondered about Yours Truly but it just occurred to you to ask, go for it!

My good old college friend (and husband of another good old college friend) Aaron asks: As a very slow reader (I started reading Stieg Larsson's Millennium trilogy in October and am just nearing the end. And, that is a pretty good pace for me), with a decent sized list of books on the "need to get to" list, should I add the Song of Ice and Fire series?

Krista and I are just finishing up the first season of the HBO adaptation, and have loved it, but it feels like so much is missing.

I just finished A Clash of Kings the other day (blog post forthcoming), and I do recommend it, thus far. My admiration of the series's first two books remains untouched; I'm most nervous now about the next two (as well as the fifth one, which I've never read yet), because I didn't like those ones as much the first time through. For a slow reader, these books do represent quite an investment -- I mean, look at these things! Since paginations differ, the best way to gauge lengths of books is word count, and check out the numbers on this site. Assuming these are accurate, and I don't see reason to doubt it offhand, the entirety of The Lord of the Rings checks in at approximately 473,000 words, while just the first two of GRRM's Ice and Fire books top 610,000 words. A Storm of Swords, GRRM's Book Three, is 404,000 words...meaning, that one book is a short novel shy of the entire Lord of the Rings. Wow.

Of course, word count isn't everything. Martin's prose, when he's on his game, can really propel the reader forward, in my experience; his dialogue can absolutely crackle, and the device of each chapter being told from the point of view of a different character is extremely effective when one gets used to it -- one effect I'm rediscovering is that I'll finish a chapter for a character I really like, Jon Snow for example, and then decide to keep reading until I get back to Jon Snow. What GRRM does, language-wise, is rarely as dense and descriptive-heavy as JRRT. So this is definitely a "Your mileage may vary" kind of thing.

As for the differences between the books and the teevee adaptations, I honestly don't know, as I haven't yet watched the teevee show beyond the first episode. I do plan to, though.

(BTW, on the subject of word counts -- I'm really hoping to bring the first draft of Princesses In SPACE!!! (not the actual title) in at no more than 180,000 words, with a further eye to cutting at least ten percent of the words upon the edit. We'll see!

Bill asks: Have you kept up your chops? Do you play anything besides trumpet?

Sadly, no. I haven't touched the trumpet since I played in a friend's wedding -- Aaron of Question Number One's wedding, actually! -- and that was in 1995 or thereabouts. Time and opportunities available tend to make it hard to do such things...not that there are no opportunities, but life has that odd way of moving on, and other interests surge forward, arise anew (when we have space to do so, one day, I plan to take up woodworking and carpentry), or resurface in a big way (I loved writing as a kid several years before I knew what music even was). My musical life now is pretty much as a listener, only. But that's fine for me; at least my musical training earlier in life has equipped me to appreciate music on a level that would be harder to attain had I never touched an instrument.

As for other instruments, I played the piano in high school and college. I do wish I had devoted more effort to the piano, because in all honesty, I was actually fairly decent at it. But I never took the piano as seriously as I took the trumpet, so I never got good enough at it to do more than scratch a surface. I consider that one of the missed opportunities of my life. I suppose I should write a post about my piano teachers one of these years....

More answers to come, and feel free to ask more, if you like!

Monday, February 20, 2012

Sentential Links

Linkage...but first, the Bond girl named "Dink"!

Boy, the casual sexism of the early Bond films still makes me squirm. Anyway....

:: Do you remember back in the "old days" when you'd be out and about somewhere and something would happen, and you'd think, "I can't wait to blog about this!" It wasn't that long ago, really. But these days everyone seems to have a phone that connects to every server in the world, and most people just send these moments to Twitter or Facebook. (I miss the sense of free-for-all conversation that used to be the coin of the realm in Blogistan, but I suppose that was inevitable, as the conversations moved to Facebook and Twitter. Neither is perfect, either -- on FB, we select the people with whom we want to interact, and that's that; on Twitter, anyone can interact with us -- unless we block them -- but man, that 140-character limit can be a bear sometimes. I've seen people on Twitter who decide to abandon their blogs, and then they proceed to post blog-post length items to Twitter, 140 characters at a time, for many tweets in a row. This always irritates me, since Twitter updates chronologically, so unless one is actually on Twitter when one of these starts, you have to scroll backward to figure out what's being talked about. My audience here is pretty much what it is, although I do probably pick up a reader or two here and there, and lose a reader here and there. And that's about it...the traffic remains the same, and it's mostly Google image searches. Does this bug me? A bit...but I can't shut myself up, so there it is.)

:: A lot of people have asked me why I don't review the Grammys. Any organization that gives Chris Brown awards instead of putting him in jail is not one I take seriously.

:: Gary Carter was responsible for some of the most memorable moments I've ever spent watching baseball.

:: Why, Otis Redding. Why?

Why did you have to leave us so early?
(This is a wonderful, wonderful post.)

:: Life is a complicated mix of good and bad, painful and pleasant. Through it all I decide which I will focus on .....what I have to be grateful for or what I have to sorrow about. I pick. I hope I can choose well. (My dear friend Lynda has had a rough start to 2012, after a wonderful 2011. I know that she will try to approach everything with as much strength and laughter as she can manage.)

:: Happiness is 20 kids making one pie. Look at the flour on their hands. Look at the smiles on their faces. If this doesn't make my 24 hours on 3 different airplanes worth the trip, I don't know what does.

:: When one believes in something you don't see or understand, too often we assume its them when it is us. There are fairies, there are gods, there are demons and there are angels. Who are you to say there is not? Without trumpets or wings, I know one passed this way.

More next week!

Godspeed, John Glenn!

Fifty years ago today, astronaut John Glenn launched in a spacecraft called Friendship 7 and became the first American to orbit the Earth. Here's a wonderful documentary, assembled by NASA after the mission's end, detailing the events of Glenn's mission, from pre-launch preparations to Glenn's post-splashdown arrival on the aircraft carrier.

I watched this film way back in third grade, when our class was doing a research project on space; I remember Mrs. Grosbeck, our teacher, looking with some dismay at the two giant film reels for this movie and realizing that we'd have to watch it in two installments. (That's something I recall from watching educational movies in school: seeing the teacher pick up the film reel, and noting its size which would therefore indicate its length. Big film reels, meaning longer films, made us happy. If it was a small one, someone in class would say something like, "Awww, a short one." Good times!) I've looked for this film on YouTube and in other places a few times over the years, and I'm thrilled that it's finally available. I could watch archival NASA footage for hours. It reminds me that there was a time when you could read about NASA and not see the phrase "budget cuts" in the next sentence.

I love the style of this film -- listen to the portentous narration, loaded with patriotic fervor and the clear belief that space exploration is obviously what's next. "Today, John Glenn and the Mercury team challenged space...and they won!" And while all this goes on, a stirring music score throbs away in the background. A documentary like this would be dismissed today as slavish propaganda, and I suppose, in a way, that it is...but you know what, I just don't care. Our space program in the 1960s, even though we might wish it was less motivated by a desire to beat the Soviets, was a time of greatness that we achieved because we just plain wanted it. And it saddens me to think that our era of space exploration was so short that a landmark mission, fifty years ago, now seems almost quaint.

Come on, America! Why are we messing around? The stars are awaiting us!

Read a good account of Glenn's mission here (the photo above comes from there as well). What a thrilling time that must have been. I sometimes wonder if maybe the spaceflight 'glow' would have lasted longer if what is certainly its 'Golden Age' to this point didn't coincide with Viet Nam...but that's a hypothesis for another day.

Sunday, February 19, 2012

Sunday Burst of Weird and Awesome!

Oddities and Awesome abound!

::  Want to take a few minutes and study a picture for all the SF-geek references within it? Sure you do. (It's mostly Star Wars references, but there's other stuff in there, too. I wish you could resolve it even larger....)

::  Roger Ebert reviews the new movie The Vow. This doesn't sound like anything I'd watch unless I'm in my fairly rare mood for whatever the Tearjerker Of The Day happens to be, but this closing paragraph of Ebert's caught my attention:

A footnote. The movie is said to be set in Chicago. It struck me as strange that it has such a large number of second-unit shots of the city: skylines, elevated trains, the Music Box movie theater. Yet the couple itself is rarely seen in them. There is one nice shot of the newlyweds running from the Art Institute across a footbridge into Millennium Park and ending up under the Bean, but otherwise something fishy is going on. Yes, the movie was shot mostly in Toronto. Poor Toronto. Poor Chicago. Poor Paige and Leo. Poor Jeremy, even.

I don't get this, really. I mean, I get why movies would film in Toronto -- it's cheaper to do so. But why go to the trouble of establishing its setting as Chicago with some second-unit stuff? Why not just set the movie in Toronto? Are we that afraid that Americans might say, "Hey, here's a movie we can see...oh wait, no, the movie's set in Toronto, not any good American city. Forget that!"? I just don't get this.

::  I may have linked this before, but if so, well...I'm gonna link it again. Check out NASA's current highest-resolution photos of our entire planet. You can look at both hemispheres. Amazing!

More next week!

Saturday, February 18, 2012

Saturday Centus

Wow...I missed one last week. Totally, completely, slipped my mind. Ugh! Sorry, folks.

Anyway, this week's prompt is fairly tough: we're to write our autobiography in six words. Hmmmm....

Includes: One heart. Some assembly required.

That ought to do.

Friday, February 17, 2012

Page One: the Marvel STAR WARS comic

Page One: the Marvel STAR WARS comic

It's kind of odd to think of it now, but once upon a time, there was no Star Wars. I know, weird, huh? And once upon a time, the only stuff out there with Star Wars on it were the movie itself (which you had to see in theaters), a novelization of the movie with George Lucas's byline on it (but actually ghost-written by Alan Dean Foster), and the comic book by Marvel. Here's the first page of it.

The original are was by Howard Chaykin, who would stick around for ten issues before leaving and being replaced by Carmine Infantino for a while. The first six issues were strictly an adaptation of the movie, but based on the original shooting script, so you had the deleted early scenes with Luke Skywalker looking up at the sky during his work and seeing flashes of light -- the flashes of laser cannon fire between the blockade runner and the Imperial star destroyer -- and his conversation with Biggs, who reveals his intention to leave the Imperial Academy and join the Rebel Alliance. There is also the deleted scene between Han Solo and Jabba the Hutt, which was eventually put back into the movie by George Lucas, but as there was no design for Jabba at that time, Marvel made him into a trim, bipedal alien.

After issue #6, Marvel found itself with a hit comic and no idea what was to come in the Star Wars saga, so they struck out on their own, first with a story tracking Han and Chewie as they return with their money to pay off Jabba. Unfortunately they get attacked by pirates, who steal the money; then they find themselves on a backwater world that's even more backwater than Tatooine, where they end up in a rehash of The Seven Samurai. Meanwhile Luke is sent out to look for a new planet for the Rebels to put their hidden base on, because the Empire is sure to counterattack at Yavin pretty soon. Luke finds a world that is nothing but ocean, where a whole separate war is going on. Then the heroes end up together on a space station that's a giant Las Vegas in space. And so on.

The Marvel Star Wars comics were really a lot of fun, especially during the period between A New Hope and The Empire Strikes Back. Without guidelines of what to do (or probably with some vague limitations), the Marvel series was basically a lot of fun space opera adventure. I didn't get to read these stories until some years later, during the mid-1980s, after Return of the Jedi had come out, and as part of my big comic book collecting phase, I amassed the entire run of Marvel's Star Wars books. The generally light-hearted, adventurous, swashbuckling tone of those thirty-one or so issues of the book (their Empire Strikes Back adaptation would begin with #39) was partly in keeping with the tone of the first film, the film in which the mythic aspects of Star Wars weren't quite so prominent as in later films (although they certainly were prominent). The tone of the book would shift after TESB to put the Rebel Alliance and its struggles in sharper focus, and the Empire would become significantly more important.

After Return of the Jedi, the comics lost a lot of their focus. The series kept going until issue #107 (ROTJ had been adapted in its own four-issue limited series, with #83 or 84 being the first post-ROTJ story in the series). At the time, the book was setting up an alien invasion story, but this got wrapped up by necessity entirely too quickly. This was not surprising, really; Star Wars pretty much went completely dormant after ROTJ left theaters, and wouldn't awaken until 1991 and Timothy Zahn's novel Heir to the Empire, which would launch the entire "Extended Universe", which is still going strong to this day.

The Marvel Star Wars comic has been anthologized several times. Oddly, even though I still own all the original issues (albeit in my parents' garage), I haven't picked up the anthologies.

Thursday, February 16, 2012

I can't help always makes me laugh.

Picard - WTF is this shit?, originally uploaded by DarksideHalo.

Something for Thursday

For ten years of blogging, I feel like some Berlioz. Here's the "Hungarian March" from The Damnation of Faust:

And here's some Rachmaninov, in his celebrated Vocalise:

And here's some Gerald Finzi, his Eclogue for Piano and Strings:

And finally...All you need is love!

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Ten Years in Blogistan

Looking down....

Ten years ago today, this post went live, and Byzantium's Shores was off and running. Wow.

I've told the story before of how this blog came to be, but why not...after all, today's the Blogiversary. In late 2001 or thereabouts, my main area of interaction with others online was on the newsgroup, as well as a couple other USENET groups. It was quite the free-for-all in conversation at the time, but there was always a pressure to stay on the topic of the group, so if I wanted to discuss a book I'd read, it wasn't really in good form to do in on r.m.m. Unfortunately, those were the people I knew the best...and none of them were active on any of the book groups. That's just one example...but I started wanting to write about things other than movie music. (And to be honest, r.m.m. was hardly the most militant group out there when it came to policing off-topic discussions.)

Also around this time, I would occasionally plug an old schoolmate's name into Google and see what, if anything, came up. More often than not, nothing did, because back then there was no real social networking to be had and few people had any kind of online presence. But one friend of mine did turn up, a guy I'd known from college, Sean Meade -- who appeared to have an odd kind of website that consisted of things he'd post, which were arranged by date. This idea appealed to me, but I had no idea how to implement such a thing.

A little bit after that, I read an article in TIME Magazine about a new thing called "blogging", short for "web log", which was simply an online diary onto which one could post anything one wished. Like...essays about books, movies, music, and current events! So I checked out this site called "Blogger", familiarized myself with the concept, and created a blog.

Which I almost immediately abandoned.

See, that first blog was something called "Jaquandor's Rants" or something like that. I regretted that title almost immediately, because I didn't intend to just rant all the time. I abandoned that one and created another one, and in striking about for a title, saw a book on my shelf: a historical fantasy novel called Byzantium by Steven Lawhead. It was a quick leap from there to Byzantium's Shores. As I wrote in my second-ever post:

Why "Byzantium's Shores"? Well, for one thing it just sounds exotic to my ear, five syllables which strike me as fairly melodious.

But more importantly, Byzantium was a place where east and west met along with new and old; it was a city which looked backward to the fallen glories of Rome and forward to the eventual rebirth of the continent that lay to its west. It seems a good fit, then, to cite such a place to name this space where I shall explore my own tastes -- tastes which range wildly from the techno music of Tangerine Dream to the symphonies of Mozart, from the abstracts of Jackson Pollack to the English pastorals of John Constable, from the magnificent verse of Shakespeare to the punching comedic prose of Christopher Moore. And then, of course, there is that wonderful poem by Yeats, as well as the wondrous fictional Byzantium that appears in Guy Gavriel Kay's The Sarantine Mosaic.

And then, the final word: "Shores". A journey can both begin and end at a shore, from either the land or the sea. No matter which direction one is traveling, a shore marks some kind of terminus. know, there's a reason why I rarely read my own writing. Could I have sounded any more like a pretentious ass? My God, that's just so twee, I can barely stand it. Ye Gods.

And yet, Byzantium's Shores stuck.

At first, I was strictly pseudonymous and said almost nothing of myself. I cut my Internet teeth in the mid-90s, when it was not an uncommon belief that it was unwise to post things online under your real name, and aliases were a lot more common then, so I merely continued the practice. As I went on, though, this began to feel more and more like a hindrance than anything else, so I gradually loosened the reins on that, allowing my name to appear here and there, and opening up as time went by. I revealed that I lived in Buffalo, and then Syracuse, and then Buffalo again; I discussed jobs of mine and the search for a new one; I discussed the birth of our second child, Little Quinn, whose story was vastly different than anything we'd ever prepared for. Opening up just seemed more and more natural, the longer I spent hanging out in Blogistan.

Oddly, I've never really fallen into any particular mold of blogging. I never blogged enough about politics to be considered a political blog, and even now, I tend to restrict my political comment to Sentential Links posts or to Tumblr, where I let the hair down a bit more even than I do here. I never blogged enough about any of the arts to fall into one of those categories, either. There was a relatively brief time when there was a "local" blogosphere -- what I called, for a time, the "Buffalo prefecture of Blogistan" -- but for the most part, the Buffalo blog scene is now pretty limited in scope and in sense of 'community'.

What kind of blog is this, then? I suppose it's just a personal blog wherein a guy with a fairly large set of general interests posts about anything that strikes him as post-worthy. And since that's really what it was meant to be in the first place, that means I've kept true to the original 'vision'. Yay, me!

So: what are some memorable moments I've had while blogging? Most obviously, the outpouring of support for Little Quinn's birth and later, his death. Seven-and-a-half years on, that event is still one whose ripples in the pond of my life are quite visible. Almost right up there was the end of our fourth attempt to add to our family, when baby Fiona was born at only 21 weeks' gestation. (And for those with long memories and who may be doing the math...yes, I said fourth. I never discussed the miscarriage that happened a year before Fiona, and likely never will. I have limits.)

Of course, it wasn't all sad. I've posted about Star Wars more times than I can remember (although, thanks to post tags, I can pull most of 'em up). And Star Trek. And James Bond. And The Lord of the Rings. And so many's mostly been fun.

Other moments haven't been quite as much fun, I must admit; some of those were my fault. My off-the-cuff "Too bad he wasn't having a fatal heart attack" comment about Rush Limbaugh following his hospitalization for chest pains a few years back was, shall we say, ill-advised. I've said other dumb things over the years, because, well, you can't say stuff for ten years without having something dumb-arsed cross your lips or emerge from your keyboard once in a while. I do generally try to keep from offending people, but there are times when one's beliefs are by definition offensive to someone. Given that, though, sometimes it's best just to not throw gas onto the fire. I haven't been guilty of that very often...but I have been guilty of it.

What's made blogging so fun for me -- after the bit about having my very own forum to spout about what I want, when I want, how I want -- are the other bloggers and the readers. I'm not sure I'd have kept it up through the years without the folks who would read this stuff and, occasionally here and there, link it from their own blogs. I'm grateful to each and every person who has ever read or linked me, whether they were "drive-by" visitors or people linking me just to make fun of me. (This has not happened much...nor have I received more than a handful of hate-mails or insulting comments. But it was mildly disappointing to get a link from only to have it turn out to be a "Hey guys, get a load of the big dummy!" kind of thing. Oh well!) I remember a few readers who were regulars but who fell away over time, for various reasons, and I remember the ones who are still around. I'm grateful for all!

I keep thinking about what is different now from when I launched this blog. The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring and Harry Potter and the Sorceror's Stone were in theaters during their first run; only four of the seven Harry Potter books had come out. George RR Martin's A Song of Ice and Fire stood at three volumes. The top teevee show was Friends. The first Spider-Man movie was due in a few months, as was Star Wars Episode II: Attack of the Clones. Just two NFL seasons had passed since the Buffalo Bills' last playoff appearance, and the newly-reigning Super Bowl champs were a team that I would grow to loathe more than any force in history: the New England Patriots!

The Red Sox and their "Curse of the Bambino" was still two years from coming to an end. I was working a telesales job at which I sucked. I was hearing things online about a space opera teevee show to come that fall, created by the guy who had created Buffy the Vampire Slayer. We were two years away from the dawn of a site called Facebook. George W. Bush was barely into his second year in office, and 9-11-01 was a terribly real and raw force -- it was barely a memory even, when I started this blog, just five months and a few days after that awful event. I was two years away from hearing about a state-level politician from Illinois whom some said might one day run for President. Space shuttle Columbia was still in service and would be for another year, before breaking up on re-entry over Texas. Adele was 13. George Clooney was still the most recent Batman. Pierce Brosnan was still James Bond.

And at that time, The Daughter was just two-and-a-half. We were a year and a half away from deciding to expand our family. I knew nothing at all about cerebral palsy. My sister-in-law, now a mother of two, was three years away from marriage. About the only constant was that I had long hair and I was wearing overalls a lot...but I was two years or so from putting up a picture of same. I'm now writing this very entry on a laptop that I bought in 2007, five-and-a-half years into the blog's life. This is the fourth computer on which I've written entries for this blog (of computers we've owned -- I've also posted a few brief entries from other computers, such as ones at work [only when I'm on break!] and the like). And Computer Number Five for Byzantium's Shores is like to debut sometime in the next few months, as my poor beloved Dell Inspiron 1520 is becoming slower and slower in its advancing digital age. When this blog started, I would not own my own cell phone for another six-and-a-half years. I'm on my second cell phone now. It's still not a smartphone.

Ten years in Blogistan. How much longer? Who knows? Maybe a while, maybe not. I don't plan it, really. When I started I figured that I might have one year of this in me...and here I am. Who knew!

And that's enough navel gazing, I think. On with the blogging!

Writer at work

(And if you haven't Asked Me Anything! yet, what's it gonna take? I'm waiting for you!)

A Random Wednesday Conversation Starter

Adele: what is her deal? (No, seriously -- what's her thing? I was vaguely aware of the existence of a person named 'Adele' before this past weekend, but now I'm seeing her mentioned and linked everywhere. Is there something I'm missing out on in my ignorance? Edumucate me, folks!)

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

On Newt and the Moon

Charles Pierce:

I have to confess: The fact that N. Leroy Gingrich, Definer Of Civliization's Rules and Leader (Perhaps) Of The Civlizing Forces, proposed building a base on the moon by 2020, only to have the idea turned into a punchline and general ridicule, actually bothered the hell out of me. When did we become so quick to mock this kind of thing? When did our national imagination wither this way? When did exploration become just another "big government" program for pipsqueaks like Willard Romney to ridicule?

I'm old enough to remember when the space program was something capable of moving the entire world to wonder and delight. It seemed like something we all got together and did as a species.

I've been rewatching Carl Sagan's Cosmos lately, and as brilliant as the series remains -- even with some dated material, I'm still convinced that it should be required viewing for, well, every single person on Earth -- I can't help but feel somewhat elegiac about it, because Cosmos has at its heart an assumption that the dream of the stars would continue. Instead it's died, and the only time we get to hear anyone speak of it, the words come from the mouth of crazy moral midget Newt Gingrich.

At what point did we collectively stick our heads up our own asses, anyway?

Monday, February 13, 2012

On Whitney and the Anthem

In comments to the previous post on Whitney Houston, Kerry asks why I didn't post the video of Houston's now-iconic performance of The Star-Spangled Banner at Super Bowl XXV. It's a fair question, worthy of a couple of answers.

First of all...the performance wasn't truly live. She was singing, with the mike turned off, while her pre-recorded performance, great as it is, was played over the stadium speakers and to the broadcast audience. She wasn't lip-syncing, but I have a hard time seeing that performance as a truly live performance.

Second: well, this may be stupid. But I often have a hard time separating events from one another, and that anthem performance is irrevocably linked with one of the most painful outcomes I've ever experienced for one of my sports teams. (The only one that hurts more to remember, down to this day, is the Atlanta Braves' Game Seven defeat of my beloved Pittsburgh Pirates in the bottom of the ninth in the 1992 National League Championship Series.) I hear Whitney Houston's anthem, and so much more floods through my mind: botched tackles. A heroic game by Thurman Thomas, to no avail. And yes...Wide Right.

Because the next three Super Bowl losses were all by much greater margins, they're easier to remember for me. Super Bowl XXV, though, is the one they should have won. They should have been champions when that night ended, and they weren't, and what's worst is that as things unfolded, that was their best shot at it.

This all probably sounds pretty trite, but I have very powerful memories of that game. The Bills' Super Bowl runs all happened (except for the last one) when I was at college, 800 miles away from home. The Buffalo Bills were home. When I sat down to watch that game, it wasn't just to watch my favorite team; it was in hopes and expectations that when it ended, I'd be sharing the same emotional high that everyone back home would be feeling. Instead...I got a kick in the gut.

You know what the worst thing was that night? I had a sectional rehearsal for one of my musical ensembles that night, scheduled for 9:30 or so. I'd told my section leader beforehand, "Look, I'll be there, but not one second before that game ends. Because it's the Bills." So the damn game ended, and I had to get up and head out for a damned rehearsal, pretending that I was just fine and ready to get back to work. Which was, frankly, the very last thing I wanted to do.

I've been through an awful lot of shit since the night of Super Bowl XXV, so it may seem silly to still feel icky feelings about that night and how it ended. But I'm not really wired to separate entire events from things that happened in life outside of it, which is why as a rule, my memories of Whitney Houston's Star-Spangled Banner aren't terribly happy ones.


Sorry about the complete disappearance the last few days, folks, but Real Life got a bit busy there for a few days. Nothing major, just a lot of stuff that ended up on the plate at the same time.

So, if you haven't Asked Me Anything! yet, why the heck not? Get thee hence and drop a question there!

(Sentential Links will return next week.)

Sunday, February 12, 2012

Sunday Burst of Weird and Awesome

Oddities and Awesome abound!

:: Want to learn how to make a whole lot of mixed drinks? Just follow the diagram! (Although probably not after you've had a few. You'd end up with some seriously awful drinks, or some seriously amazing drinks that you will never be able to replicate.)

:: Ever wonder what things look like from the perspective of the Hula Hoop? Wonder no more!


That's about it. Tune in next week for more!


I got home from grocery shopping last night to the news that Whitney Houston is dead. This is one of those odd celebrity deaths that is a combination of "WTF?!" and "Well, given what I know of her recent life, I suppose this isn't quite the galloping shock I thought it was at first."

I wasn't a huge Whitney Houston fan, but I never really disliked her, either. She did songs I liked a lot, and she did songs that I could live my life without ever hearing again ("Greatest Love of All" leads the way here). She had one of the amazing voices of all time, and she was, in her prime, able to use that voice of hers to do some pretty amazing things, and not all of them involved belting BALLADS OF ULTIMATE HUGENESS into the nosebleed seats at Super Big Arena or wherever it was that she was performing.

I find it a terrible shame and waste that her life ran off the rails and that she lost control to the extent that she did. Do I blame her? To a small extent, maybe, but then, I know enough about addiction and what it does to people to know that while Whitney Houston is the one who crossed that bridge, it's a bridge that often one doesn't even realize one is crossing until they're too far past it. (It remains, as I write this, to be seen just to what degree drugs played a role in her death.) Addicts make choices that lead to addiction, to be sure, but I don't for one second pretend that all choices are clear or obvious.

Anyway, it's a loss. For what it's worth, here's my favorite Whitney Houston song.