SF Writers Who Served

November 11th, 2014

This year for Veteran’s Day, I thought I would take the time to recognize some of SF’s writers who served in the Armed Forces. Although mainly looking at U.S. writers, I’ll also be recognizing some of the British Commonwealth writers as well.

Robert A. Heinlein, one of SF’s Three Grand Masters, author of Stranger in a Strange Land, Starship Troopers, and many other novels and stories. Graduated Annapolis Naval Academy and served in the United States Navy.

Arthur C. Clarke, the man who gave us 2001: A Space Oddity among many other stories and novels, another member of SF’s Three Grand Masters, served in the Royal Air Force during World War 2.

Isaac Asimov, the third member of SF’s Three Grand Masters served in the United States Army for nine months in 1946. This came after working as a civilian at the Naval Yard during World War 2.

Harlan Ellison, one of fandom’s most celebrated authors, with such stories as A Boy and His Dog. Ellison served in the United States Army during the late ‘50s. I would really like to see pics of Ellison in uniform.

Gordon R. Dickson, United States Army, World War 2, he would go on to give us the Dorsai stories, as well as collaborate with Poul Anderson on the Hoka series of stories.

A.Bertram Chandler was merchant marine and the last master of the HMAS Melbourne. His life as a merchant marine would influence much of his writings, including the Commodore Grimes series.

David Drake, the man who gave us Hammer’s Slammers and many other stories, mainly writing Military SF, served in the 11th Armored Cavalry, US Army, during the Vietnam War.

John Ringo, another fine Military SF writer, 82nd Airborne, US Army. Ringo has contributed a large body of work to SF, including the Posleen series.

John Brunner, whose novel Shockwave Rider who brought forth such computer terms as worm as well as predicting computer viruses, served in the Royal Air Force during the 1950s.

J.R.R. Tolkien, the man who gave us Middle-earth and one of the world’s most brilliant Fantasy authors, served in the British Army in the First World War.

C.S. Lewis, a close friend of Tolkien, and another of the world’s great Fantasy authors, and world bring us the Chronicles of Narnia, also served in the British Army in the First World War.

C. M. Kornbluth, co-author (with Frederick Pohl) of the novel The Space Merchants, served in the US Army during World War 2, and awarded the Bronze Star for his service in the Battle of the Bulge.

Speaking of Frederick Pohl, he also served in the US Army during World War 2, as an air corps weatherman, attached to the 456th Bombardment Group in Italy. Pohl went on to write many SF novels, including HeeChee Rendezvous and Man Plus.

Joe Haldeman, author of The Forever War, which is considered a counter-point to Heinlein’s Starship Troopers, as well as one of the best examples of Military SF. Haldeman served in the US Army during Vietnam.

This list could easily be a lot longer, however, I think I’ll call it here.

My thanks to all who served their country, whether it was during a time of peace, or during a time of war.

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Fury, One of the Best WW2 Films in a Long Time

October 29th, 2014

Last night I went to see the movie Fury with a couple of my friends (Mike and Linda). Fury is the latest film starring Brad Pitt, set in the last days of World War 2. It is the story of a tank crew of a M4E8 Sherman tank, and their exploits in the liberation of Germany from the Nazis. It is a fairly graphic violent movie, and laced with large amounts of profanity. This should not be surprising as it is a war film.

Fury was written, directed and produced by David Ayer. I am not familiar with his previous work, although I remember seeing the trailer for U-571 (which failed to peak my interest), and it has been suggested he learned a lesson from that film about tweaking history too much.

Brad Pitt is the main lead, playing the tank commander “Wardaddy” Collier. The rest of his crew are played by Shia LeBeouf (Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull) as “Bible” Swan; Logan Lerman as Norman Ellison, the crew’s replacement bow gunner, a kid fresh from the States; Michael Peña as “Gordo” Garcia; and Jon Bernthal as “Coon-Ass” Travis. Most of the cast I am not familiar with, however, if this an example of their work, they are quite good at what they do.

I don’t want to give away too much of the plot as I hate spoilers as much as the next person. The story opens with Collier and crew (minus Norman) on a battlefield, post battle. They are trying to get their tank running again so they can return to base. Once rolling, and back at base, the dead bow gunner is removed, and they begin the process of rearming for their next engagement. Enter Norman Ellison, a kid, eight weeks in the Army, trained as a clerk typist (he says he can type 60 words a minute), has never been inside of a tank, let alone seen battle.

Their platoon of tanks (5 tanks comprises a tank platoon) is dispatched to a town that the U.S. is presently engaged in retaking. Allof them Sherman tanks, but only the Tank Fury is an Easy 8 model sporting the high velocity 76mm gun, the others are all older Shermans sporting the medium velocity 75mm gun (probably M4A2s or M4A4s).

The town is littered with the bodies of young German men (more likely teenagers) who were hung by the SS for their refusal to take up arms and fight. In this town Collier and Ellison meet two German women, and befriend them. Things were fairly relaxed and friendly until the rest of the tank crew bursts in and causes a great deal of tension. Ellison shows he is quite smitten with one of the women, Emma.

The crew of the Fury, along with the rest of their tank platoon are dispatched to stop an advancing column of German infantry, which we later find out is a battalion of SS looking for a fight. En route to engage the enemy, they encounter a Tiger tank. And we’ll leave the spoilers there.

The appearance of the Tiger tank is significant film-wise as the Tiger used is Tiger 131, the only operational Tiger 1 tank in the world, and was on loan to the film production team, courtesy of The Tank Museum in Bovington, England. This is also significant in that it is the first time in modern film that a real Tiger tank was used (according to notes elsewhere, the last time a real Tiger tank was used in a film was in 1946). The Tank Museum also furnished an M4E8 to serve as the main tank (and title character), Fury. A total of 10 Sherman tanks were used in the film. Kudos to The Tank Museum for their participation in the making of Fury. The added bit of realism by using working tanks, and not prop tanks like other films says a lot about the quality of this film production.

Battles are bloody and violent, graphically so. People who know me now I am not a fan of overly graphic violence. However, for a war film to be truly accurate, it is going to be pretty bloody. They say War is Hell, and if you want an honest, and real depiction of war, it is going to be bloody.

Other themes explored in the film, along with the horrors of war, are camaraderie, friendship, duty, honor, courage, and self-sacrifice. We see this well depicted as Collier takes young Ellison under his arm, so to speak, and helps him learn to survive the horrors they are going to face together, and how each of them is dependent on their comrades to do their job (killing the enemy), and do it well and without hesitation. The crew eventually counts Ellison as one of their own when Travis gives Ellison the nickname “Machine”. The crew of the Fury on several occasions, including in the climactic battle, say “best job I ever had”, in reference to their duties as a tank crew.

Fury is certainly the best war film I have seen since Saving Private Ryan, and I think in many ways it is a superior film. Excellent production values, great story, wonderful performances. This is a film that deserves to be seen on the big screen as movies are meant to be seen.

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Beyond Belief

October 14th, 2014

I only recently learned of this about Marin Zimmer Bradley, child abuse accusations laid down by her daughter Moira Greyland. There is more, in Greyland’s own words, at Sounds like Weird, if you have the stomach (I only read part of Greyland’s poems about the abuse, I don’t have the stomach for more).

I knew about Walter Breen’s child abuse, he went to prison for it. I remember meeting him a few times at SCA events (when I was involved in the SCA) and at conventions. I seem to recall Breen wearing a button that read “If it moves, fondle it”, which was disturbing even to me. I could be misremembering who wore that button, it was quite a few years ago, but I don’t think I am.

This is sad as I remember reading many Darkover novels in the ’80s, and was recently thinking of revisiting Darkover. Not now. Not ever.

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A Brief History of Klingon Fandom Part 1

October 4th, 2014


Earlier this year I was on a panel on Klingon Fandom at MarsCon (the one in Minnesota) with several of my fellow KAG members. I was the proverbial dinosaur on the panel. No, not the oldest member, just the one who had been doing Klingon the longest, since the mid-70s. Dinosaur. Or, maybe Neanderthal?

After much reflection, I thought maybe it was time to write up a bit of history about Fandom, Klingon Fandom in particular, based on a host of experiences. This will be a periodic series of unknown length. And from my own observations, so it will be far from complete.

Part 1

My first REAL introduction to organized SF fandom, which would quickly lead to Klingon Fandom took place because of a chance meeting at an event at Cal State Fresno. Ray Bradbury was speaking, and I was able to get excused from my classes (I was in high school at the time). Crickey, I even remember the jacket I was wearing – light-weight windbreaker that had a Star Trek insignia on it. Yes, I was a geek at an early age.

While there, and waiting to get an autograph, a guy flashed me the Vulcan salute, and we started chatting. Turns out he had heard about a Star Trek club that was forming. STAR Fresno. After some chit-chat and information exchange, I was well on my way to SF and, more importantly Klingon Fandom. You see, this guy was Chris Gudger. No, not an organizer of STAR Fresno, but he knew about it, and the guys forming it (turned out one of them was someone I knew from Junior High School, albeit a couple of years older than me).

Chris was one of the original Klingon fans, the first person I ever ran across who costumed as a Klingon, and one of the very few at that time on the West Coast who did Klingon. This is still the era of The Original Series. No latex headpieces required.

STAR Fresno was being formed by John (or is it Jon) Golding, Mark Hernandez (the guy I knew from Junior High School) and another guy whose name eludes me.

Things kind of blossomed from there. I started hanging out with Chris Gudger and a couple of other friends, can’t exactly remember names (Eric, Ron, and a couple of others). I developed an interest in film making, costuming and, well, Klingons. I also started reading Famous Monsters of Filmland (Forrest J. Ackerman’s famous magazine!). Also of note was a friend of Golding’s who would regularly show up, who had legally changed his name to James T. Kirk and drove the Shuttle Van, a van painted up to look like the shuttlecraft Galileo from Star Trek. To an impressionable young teen, this was cool stuff.

Over the next couple of years I would learn about Lincoln Enterprises (a business run by Majel Barrett that sold Trek and related memorabilia), the Star Trek Welcomittee (a group dedicated to promoting Trek Fandom and connecting fans with clubs) and SF Conventions.

I also joined my first Klingon Club, Friends of Klingon. For a buck I received a membership card, a certificate, and a couple of other items. Okay, it wasn’t a real club, and it was a buck that may have been better spent on a few comic books, or a Doc Savage novel, but, what the hey, I did it anyway. At least it made for a good memory.

Next time, San Diego and my first convention

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The Search for Sergeant Rock

October 2nd, 2014

I have a search going on, or, rather a quest. You see, when I was a young kid, about my daughter’s age now, I wrote the only fan letter I have ever written. It was to Joe Kubert and the DC Comics series Our Army At War, featuring Sgt. Rock. They published it.

Of course that was so long ago, and before I discovered that, hey, there is a market for comic books. (I sold a lot of them off at a swap meet for a couple of bucks…if I had only known then what I learned a few months later! I never would have sold them.) Sadly, I no longer have the issue in question.

Now, being a parent, I kind of have a hankering for nostalgia, and such. And I am trying to find that long lost issue with my letter in it.

Last spring I was at an event where I was able to check a few likely issues, but no joy. I did purchase a couple of issues that I particularly remembered and had fond memories of reading. Nostalgia at its best!

Now a few months have passed, and I am preparing to begin the chase again. There are two (that I know of) online comic databases, and, low and behold, one of them (Grand Comics Database) listed letter writers for some issues in the target range. Although my name did not come up in any of the issues I checked, I was able to eliminate eight more target issues.

Maybe, just maybe, I’ll get lucky soon.

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Gilligan’s Island Season 1 DVD

September 23rd, 2014

One of the great things about parenthood is introducing a new generation to the things I loved as a kid, and in many cases, I still love these same things. Gilligan’s Island is one of these things, and we recently finished watching season 1 of Gilligan’s Island.

Without a doubt, Gilligan’s Island is one of the best sitcoms ever made, as well as being my favorite sitcom. My daughter loves it as well.

The season 1 DVD set for Gilligan’s Island also includes the series pilot. Some of the scenes from the pilot were reused in later episodes for the first season, especially the part with Gilligan sending the radio and the transmitter into the ocean while fishing, and then searching the fish he caught to find them again.

From the pilot to the shooting of the series, three supporting characters were changed. The high school teacher became the Professor, Bunny became Mary Ann, and Ginger went from being a secretary to a glamorous movie star. Reasons noted in various documentaries is that those three actors didn’t do well with test audiences, and after watching it, I have to agree. Sometimes actors and roles just don’t work well, and that was the case here.

Thus we were fortunate to get Tina Louise as the glamorous Movie Star, Ginger Grant, Dawn Wells as the girl next door from Kansas, Mary Ann, and Russell Johnson as the brilliant Professor.

Bob Denver and Alan Hale, Jr., were the comedic equivalent of Laurel and Hardy. These two actors had their roles down pat, and played well with each other with such chemistry that it is hard to imagine anyone successfully reproducing these roles (and in the ’70s, we saw an attempt to pair Bob Denver with Forest Tucker in the similar series, Dusty’s Trail, which I am probably one of the few people in the world who liked it, but the chemistry wasn’t there).

Jim Backus as the Millionaire, Thurston Howell, the Third, and Natalie Schafer as his wife, “Lovey”, always great, always fun.

Seven actors, seven characters, all blended together to make this a wonderful, and memorable series, that is still loved after nearly 50 years.

A few high points from season 1 – Hans Conried as Wrongway Feldman appears in two episodes, even attempting to teach Gilligan to fly. Vito Scotti shows up as a Japanese sailor in a mini-sub ( and appears later in the series as the mad scientist, Dr. Balinkoff), still fighting WW2, and a young Kurt Russell as a jungle boy.

We are also treated to the castaways learning to get along with each other, getting organized to survive, several episodes involving voodoo, greed when Gilligan stumbles into a gold mine and finds a treasure chest, gangsters, and an invasion by hostile natives from a nearby island.

Yes, I do love Gilligan’s Island, even after all these years, and am delighted that my daughter loves it as well.

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The Movie THEM!

April 29th, 2014

Recently on one of the very few groups on Facebook that I participate in, there was a discussion about the movie THEM!, mostly because a very young Leonard Nimoy had a small, uncredited role in the film. I remember watching this film a couple of times as a kid and have some distinct memories about it. So I sat down and watched it over the weekend, with my daughter.

THEM! is one of the first post-atomic SF films involving mutated creatures as a result of atomic bomb tests. Watching it today I was amazed at how well written and produced the film is, with some very good performances by some young actors who went on to star in some major films and television over the next couple of decades.

The film opens with James Whitmore, starring as a New Mexico State Trooper named Ben Peterson, on patrol with his partner Ed Blackburn (played by Chris Drake), and supported by another trooper in an aircraft. The trooper in the aircraft spots a kid in the desert, all by herself. Peterson and Blackburn pick her up and find that she is in a state of shock, unable to talk, or even respond.

Up ahead is a car and trailer, it has been torn apart and the occupants missing. A gun is found, as well as plenty of blood, but no bodies. Cash is also found. An odd print is found in the sand near the trailer; Peterson rules out it belonging to a bobcat due to its shape and being too far from the mountains where bobcats can be found. Forensic experts and medical personnel are called in to the scene. The girl is taken to a hospital in an ambulance. Peterson and Blackburn head up to Gramps store to see if he knows anything.

At Gramps store, they find it has also been torn apart. Gramps rifle, a .30-30, is found bent at rendered useless. Gramps is found dead, in a small basement under the store.

So far we have the makings of a good suspense story. We see a lot of evidence, a lot of clues, but we don’t actually see the source of the attacks until later.

Robert Graham (played by James Arness) comes on to the scene, an FBI agent assigned to the area and put on the case. Soon we are introduced to a pair of scientists, one played by Edmund Gwenn (Dr. Harold Medford) whose voice is recognizable from his role as Kris Kringle in The Miracle of 34th Street. The other is played by Joan Weldon, Dr. Pat Medford. Later on we are treated to a spectacular performance by Fess Parker as pilot Alan Crotty who saw flying saucers that looked like ants, which helped get him the role in Disney’s Davey Crockett. His performance alone makes this film worth watching, and it is a darn good film overall.

Granted, the mechanical ants are a little dated in their appearance, but for the time it was made, 1954, they would have been considered quite good.

THEM! was nominated for an Oscar for its special effects, and won a Golden Reel Award for sound editing. Not bad for what today would be considered a ‘50s B-picture.

It was planned to be shot in color and 3D, however those plans were scrapped in favor of black and white. Quite frankly, I think that was the right decision. Black and white filming can convey some pretty interesting effects, especially when building up a suspenseful feeling, a feeling that color film often loses.

There is a lot of interesting trivia about the film on the ‘net. One bit I found that interested me is that the VB-25J used to transport the Doctors Medford (father and daughter) was the personal transport for a Major General. Being an warbird buff, I would like to learn more about that aircraft.

After watching the movie, I asked my daughter what she thought of it. Her response: “Awesome!”. I agree with her assessment 100%. THEM! is a classic SF/Horror thriller that any SF buff should see.

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Review: Soylent Green

January 14th, 2014

Soylent Green is a long time favorite film of mine, and am glad I had the opportunity to watch it again over the weekend. Based loosely, and I do mean loosely, on the 1966 harry Harrison novel, Make Room, Make Room, we are introduced to a dystopian society where there is a sharp divide between the haves and the have-nots. Set in the year, 2022, the action takes place in a heavily overpopulated New York City, where 40 million people are attempting to survive in a heavily polluted environment on starvation rations. Unemployment is high, and those with jobs are under constant pressure to keep their jobs as there is a long line of people waiting to get the few jobs that there are.

If you have never seen Soylent Green, then you should add this to your must see list.

Winner of a Nebula Award from the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America as well as a Saturn Award from the Academy of Science Fiction, Fantasy and Horror Films, Soylent Green sports a great cast headed by Charlton Heston and Edward G. Robinson. Robinson was one of the all-time great screen actors, and this was his last film, passing away 12 days after filming. Chuck Connors, of The Rifleman fame, plays the main heavy, Tab fielding, and Brock Peters of Star Trek Fame, better known to Trekkers as Admiral Cartwright as well as Sisco’s father, plays Hatcher, the Lieutenant of Detectives, Thorn’s (Charlton Heston) boss. Robinson plays Solomon Roth, Thorn’s aged Police Book, a researcher who helps with investigations, skilled at finding information in various archives.

There are few resemblances between the film and the book it is based on, and for good reason. I read Harrison’s novel several years ago, and found it, well, lacking. Harrison spent too much ranting about overpopulation and the need for zero population growth. aside from the major themes of overpopulation, pollution, cannibalism, the green house effect, and the murder that triggers the investigation and the major plot line, there isn’t a lot in common, and I find that the movie is by far a superior and compelling story than Harrison’s novel. But one should read it and decide for themselves, and not take my word for it.

Thorn’s investigation into the murder of the wealthy elite named Simonson triggers a long chain of events, that leads to Sol, and others, learning the truth about what Soylent Green really is. Simonson, it turns out, was eliminated as he good not live with the truth he learned. Thorn is able to deduce, based on circumstantial evidence, that Simonson was not the victim of a burglary gone wrong, but assassinated for some unknown reason. Thorn takes from Simonson’s home a number of items for his personal use, including a pair of research books by the Soylent Corporation, which he gives to his police book, Sol.

Any rate, things become even dicier for Thorn as he and Sol get closer to the truth.

Robinson is a stellar performer, and shows it in his final scene in this film, making Soylent Green a must see for his performance alone. God, he was great! I wish we had more actors like him in film today.

Richard Fleischer directed an excellent cast in a darn good story scripted by Stanley Greenberg. All of the supporting cast turned in solid performances, a cast that included Joseph Cotton, Leigh Taylor-Young, Mike Henry (The Green Berets!) and Lincoln Kilpatrick, among many others.

Remember, Tuesday is Soylent Green Day.

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The Right Stuff Blu-Ray

December 18th, 2013

Recently we celebrated the 66th anniversary of Chuck Yeager breaking the sound barrier. I was surprised to learn that my wife had never seen the movie The Right Stuff. And I was delighted to learn that there was a new 30th Anniversary (for the movie) Blu-Ray edition out.

I am willing to be that most people visiting my blog have seen The Right Stuff before. It’s a great movie depicting a tremendous period of history, especially Space History.

Good stuff: the casting director, Lynn Stalmaster, along with whoever had final say on casting decisions, did a remarkable job of assembling actors that could carry the roles of some pretty well known people in American History. Every one of the cast members, the test pilots, the astronauts, their wives, turned in great performances. Ed Harris was excellent as John Glenn, and Sam Shepard as Chuck Yeagar was convincing. Fred Ward, Dennis Quaid, Scott Glenn, and all the rest, excellent performances.

How historically accurate the film is can be debated, but this is a film, and some artistic license has to be made for an epic that is squeezed into a two and a half hour time frame.

There are also a lot of bonus features with the set, some of which are a little dated, and obviously so, but are still good to watch.

For the film, there are a few things left out that would have been better to know about, such as Pancho Barnes’ background – she was an aviator herself, and had set a number of records. But we don’t get that from the film. Also, why did her place burn down? Scott Crossfield, the first man to fly at Mach 2, is mostly just a minor background character, despite his importance in the age of spaceplane development (X-1 and X-15). Crossfield was an aerospace engineer (BS and MS), and became a test pilot so that he could design better planes. But that’s movies for ya, and, like I said, there is only so much that can be squeezed into the time they had for the film.

This Blu-Ray edition also comes with a booklet discussing the film, some of the historical figures, and some of the actors in the film. It’s a nice little booklet, but I would have preferred more of a focus on the real people rather than the actors. That’s a personal nit.

Overall, a great picture, well worth adding to the film library, and, if you are one of the few who has never seen it, now is the time to check it out.

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Review: Fool Moon

December 10th, 2013

A few years back I read Stormfront, the first book in Jim Butcher’s The Dresden Files. Although I liked the story, I didn’t like the main character harry Dresden, nor did I like the number one supporting character Detective Karrin Murphy. I thought Harry Dresden was a class-A jerk, and Murphy was a thug with a gun and a badge. I just did not like either one of these characters. Friends of mine who had read more of the books assured me that they get better.

Fast forward to today, and I have read the second book in the series, Fool Moon. Dresden is a more likeable character. Murphy, on the other hand, is still a thug with a gun and a badge. Murphy also jumps to conclusions based purely on circumstantial evidence. Some friend!

Johnny Marcone returns, and he is a convincing character that works well. He is a real thug, Chicago’s gangland master. He also has some legitimate business interests.

As for Fool Moon, this is another good tale from Jim Butcher. As the title suggests, we’re going to get werewolves. Lots of them. Butcher obviously did his homework on werewolf folklore and had me doing some of my own. I had no idea that folklore presented so many different ways of achieving the lycanthropic effect, as I am so used to what we used to get in the movies. Full Moon rises, and, behold, Lon Chaney, Jr., becomes the Wolfman. Nope, in Fool Moon, we get a lot more, and Butcher gives each type a unique moniker fitting the type.

Dresden finds himself drawn into an investigation of a recent outbreak of murders that look like wolf attacks, but forensic evidence points to something not quite wolf-like. Thus his research into werewolves with the help of Bob, his air spirit in a skull.

Not wanting to give out too much in the way of spoilers, everything about Dresden’s investigation goes wrong at every turn, and somehow still manages to pull his bacon out of the frying pan in the nick of time. This makes for a nice, fast paced story with plenty of action. It is also extremely violent, more so than what I recall from Stormfront. But then we are dealing with werewolves.

Susan Rodriguez is an important character in this story, not only as the reporter for the Arcane, but also bails Dresden out of several tight situations, and we see a budding romance as it becomes obvious that she has deep feelings for Dresden. Susan is a likeable character, and, character-wise, I think she helps bring out some of the better qualities in Dresden that we see in this book.

Meanwhile, Butcher stitches together some very nice prose, especially when describing the full moon coming up at the climax of the book where Butcher gives us some really nice imagery that goes beyond your typical “silvery moon”. Overall I enjoyed reading Fool Moon more than Stormfront, in part because it was a darn good tale, and also due to Dresden’s improving character. And if you are wondering if I will read more in the series, the answer is, you betcha. Albeit it may be awhile as I have several other books staged up ahead of the next book in the series.

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Review: On Basilisk Station

October 8th, 2013

On Basilisk Station by David Weber is the first book in the Honor Harrington series. Weber chose the name to have the initials H.H. for the main character knowing that his series would be compared to C.S. Forester’s Hornblower series.

Honor Harrington, a commander in the Royal Manticoran Navy, has taken command of the light cruiser Fearless, and after a series of war games, is assigned to Basilisk Station and its single habitable world, Medusa, where intrigue is going on, as well as rampant smuggling. Harrington sets about cleaning up the system and putting a stop to the smuggling only to find herself facing political intrigue and a native insurrection on Medusa.

Like so many of the military SF with a naval focus, the RMN is reminiscent of the British Navy during the Napoleonic War era. There is also a distinct aristocracy. What Weber does in this first book is how the Star Kingdom of Manticore developed into an old Europe style monarchy and nobility in a manner that seems plausible. From a story point of view, it actually made sense how it developed.

We also learn a bit about the Republic of Haven, which sounds more like a metaphor for a Stalinist state than a free republic, but they are the main antagonists in this first book, even manipulating some Manticorans behind the seasons with their own political agenda.

Weber also introduces Treecats, a species of feline native to one of Manticore’s habitable planets, Sphinx. They seem to be somewhat empathic and have a fairly high intelligence, but the humans have not quite figured out exactly how sentient they are. Treecats sometimes bond with humans, and accommodation in the RMN has been made for its personnel who are bonded to Treecats.

Overall a darn good read, which I enjoyed immensely from start to finish. And yes, I expect to read the next book in the series soonish.

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Review – The Ghost in the INvisible Bikini

August 21st, 2013

My daughter had requested we watch The Ghost in the Invisible Bikini. Sadly, I don’t have this in our video collection, but, as luck would have it, Amazon Prime did have it for streaming video, and there was much rejoicing.

The Ghost in the Invisible Bikini is a departure from the rest of the AIP beach movies in that A) there isn’t a beach scene, B) no Frankie Avalon or Annette Funicello, and C) it is a horror/comedy. And, yeah, it did scare my daughter, but, hey, she’s not yet eight, so not a huge surprise.

The only real linkage between this movie and the other AIP beach movies that featured Annette and Frankie is the appearance of Eric von Zipper (Harvey Lembeck) and the Rat Pack. This gang of misfits on cycles is always welcome. Jesse White returns, reprising his role J. Sinister Hulk from Pajama Party.

The plot revolves around Hiram Stokely (Boris Karloff), who is recently dead and has to perform one good dead in order to get into Heaven. To help him accomplish this feat is the ghost of a long dead girlfriend, Cecily (Susan Hart), who is the Ghost in the Invisible Bikini. Cecily’s task is to make sure that Stokely’s rightful heirs receive his fortune and not be cheated out of it by his lawyer, Reginald Ripper (Basil Rathbone). Ripper has hired J. sinister Hulk and his cronies to do away with the other heirs to Stokely’s fortune so he can keep it all for himself.

Good stuff – interesting plot the throws Lili (Deborah Walley) and Chuck (Tommy Kirk) together as a love interest, the Rat Pack with their antics, and Boris Karloff.

Weak points – the Indian in Hulk’s gang was NOT played by Buster Keaton. Not sure when this was being filmed, but it would have been right around the time that Keaton passed away. The editing is a bit choppy during the first third or so of the film, but evens out as it gets into the main part of the story line. Could have done without the Indian, Chicken Feather (Benny Rubin). In fact, would have been better if they had rewrote the role as something completely different instead of trying to build off of Keaton’s Chief Rotten Eagle from Pajama Party.

Overall a satisfying film, but not one of the better AIP beach movies. This I probably the only one of the Beach films I had never seen before. I had heard of it, but never seen it. Karloff is great in this film, as are the leads and most of the supporting cast. I am kind of sad to say that although it is not a bad film, it is not a great film. Still, if you like the AIP beach films, it is worth seeing.

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Review: How to Stuff a Wild Bikini

August 21st, 2013

One of the joys of parenthood is introducing your children to the things you loved growing up, and hoping they love them too. So it was the past Saturday night when, after dinner of too many burgers with a couple of friends, we decided to watch a movie to let things rest before trying out the blueberry ice cream I made (yes, homemade ice cream is the rule in our house). The movie selected was How To Stuff A Wild Bikini, one of the ‘60s AIP beach movies featuring Annette Funicello and Frankie Avalon.

Brief synopsis – Frankie is in the Navy reserve and stationed on some remote South Pacific Island, making time with a native girl, while Dee Dee is at home waiting for him. Said native girl (Irene Tsu) manages to convince Frankie to visit the local witchdoctor, Bwana, played by the great Buster Keaton (okay, I admit it, I am a Buster Keaton fan). Bwana sets up a pelican to keep a bird’s eye view on Dee Dee and then conjures up a decoy to keep other boys away from Dee Dee.

The film also features Mickey Rooney, an ad agency exec, who is looking for the perfect girl to go with the perfect boy to change the image of motorcycling. His plans go awry when he chooses the decoy, Cassandra (Beverly Adams), to be paired up with his boy, Ricky (Dwayne Hickman), and Ricky chooses to pursue Dee Dee. It becomes more complex when Eric von Zipper and the Rat Pack appear on the scene and von Zipper decides that Cassandra is nifty.

Frankie Avalon, for whatever reason, only appears in a few scenes in the film, possibly due to scheduling conflicts as he was filming Sergeant Deadhead about this time. Regardless of his short presence, the story works.

Keaton also turns in one of his best Beach Movie performances as the witchdoctor, with nifty special effects every time he takes a slug of torpedo juice provided by Frankie as payment for his reports on how Dee Dee is doing. Bwana: “She teetering”. Native girl: “I hoped she had tottered!”

All in all, it is a wonderful film. Maybe not the best of AIPs beach movies, but it is a good solid entry in the genre, with a surprise cameo at the end. Sorry, no spoiler on that one.

And yes, my daughter, not quite eight, really liked it.

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Who’s The Doctor?

June 4th, 2013

Matt Smith is leaving Doctor Who, and the “Net is abuzz with speculations and thoughts on who will become the 12th Doctor. Not wanting to be outdone, I thought I would chime in on my own recommendation.

In my highly respected opinion, I believe the best choice to be the next Doctor is William Shatner. Here’s why: Shatner has the experience that few other actors have in traveling through time and space. Has Captain Kirk he has traveled back in time to different points in time on Earth, as well as on other worlds, as well as traveled throughout the galaxy.

Shatner’s experience as a time traveler resulted in keeping Earth’s history on course by preventing a peace movement that would result in Nazi domination of the world in “City on the Edge of Forever”. Kirk again saves the future after accidentally interfering with Earth’s timeline in “Tomorrow is Yesterday”. Not to mention saving the whales in ST:IV.

Shatner has battled bug-eyed monsters, including Gorns, Tellarites, Salt Vampires, and lawyers. Oh, wait, the lawyers are from Boston Legal.

Not only has Shatner extensive experience in traveling through time and space (“No, I’m from Iowa. I only work in outer space.”), dealing with aliens, battling gods, he has traveled to other dimensions by entering the Mirror Universe.

Who is more qualified to play the 12th Doctor? What other actor can bring this much experience to the table? I don’t know? Third base!

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71ST Anniversary of the Doolittle Raid

April 18th, 2013

Today marks the 71st Anniversary of the Doolittle Raid, the famous raid on the Japanese homelands in the opening months of the U.S. involvement in World War 2. Only four of the Raiders are still with us, and they held their last public gathering, with three of the men gathering near Eglin AFB in Florida. There are plans for the four Raiders to gather to drink one last toast together, from a bottle of 1896 Hennessey Cognac, using the goblets that has accompanied every Raider reunion since 1960.

Of the four Raiders, Lieutenant Colonel Robert L. Hite is the only one remaining of those who survived being captured by the Japanese after raid.

The raid itself, doing little material damage to Japan, and all aircraft lost, served as a significant morale booster for America, and proved to the Japan that their homeland was not safe from American air power.

Most of the Raiders made it back home after the raid, with only eight being captured by the Japanese, with two died of drowning when they ditched at sea, and one other killed while bailing out of his aircraft. Of the eight that the Japanese captured, three were executed and one other died during captivity.

The Internet WW2 database has a good article on the entire raid, and well worth reading. Along with watching the movie Thirty Seconds Over Tokyo.

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Changing Direction

April 18th, 2013

Well, after several years of writing about politics and issues facing America, I find myself a bit burned out in that direction, and wanting to refocus my writing energies on topics that would be more productive, and enjoyable. Things like history, science and science fiction, and rural living. Maybe even a bit of fishing. You never know. I’ll continue to dabble in political discussions, but mainly on the LSF site, but not here.

My thanks to all of my reads over the years. I hope that those who have put up with my extended writing absence will stick around for what I have to say going forward, even if it doesn’t involve bashing the current crop of politicians.

A Little Electoral Prediction

November 3rd, 2012

I ran across a piece on Breitbart’s Big Government that noted an interesting historical point: The Republican candidate for president has one the election every time it has fallen on November 6th since the election date was standardized in 1845. The Trend began with Lincoln in 1860, followed by Harrison, McKinley, Hoover, Eisenhower and Reagan. This year the election falls on November 6th, with a heated contest between Obama and Romney.

What is interesting to note is that when you dig up all of the elections from 1848 through today, only the November 6th election date has ever had a one party winning streak. all of the other dates (November 2nd through 8th) tend to be evenly split, but still show a distinct pattern for most dates.

Nov 2 dem (Pierce) gop (Garfield) gop (Harding) dem (Truman) dem (Carter) gop (Dubya)
Nov 3 gop (Grant) gop (McKinley) gop (Taft) dem (FDR) dem (LBJ) dem (Clinton)
Nov 4 dem (Buchanon) dem (Cleveland) gop (Cooledge) gop (Eisenhower) gop (Reagan) dem (Obama)
Nov 5 gop (Grant) dem (Wilson) dem (FDR) gop (Nixon) dem (Clinton)  
Nov 6 gop (Lincoln) gop (Harrison) gop (McKinley) gop (Hoover) gop (IKE) gop (Reagan)
Nov 7 whig (Taylor) gop (Hayes) dem (Wilson) dem (FDR) gop (Nixon) gop (Dubya)
Nov 8 gop (Lincoln) dem (Cleveland) gop (Teddy Roosevelt) dem (FDR) dem (JFK) gop (GHW Bush)

Based on the pattern, I have come up with a set of predictions for the next run of election dates:

Nov 2, 2032 gop
Nov 3, 2020 gop
Nov 4, 2036 dem
Nov 5, 2024 dem
Nov 6, 2012 gop
Nov 7, 2028 dem
Nov 8, 2016 gop

Will any of these predictions come true? Only time will tell. But I do hope I am right for this year.


Get Prince Harry Out of Afghanistan

September 18th, 2012

The Taliban has announced that Prince Harry, currently on deployment in Afghanistan, is target #1. They intend to kill him any way they can.

The United Kingdom needs to pull the Prince, aka Captain Wales, out of Afghanistan. They should do this immediately. Not because he is a prince and subject to special privileges, but because the Taliban, by specifically targeting Prince Harry, puts the lives of all those around him in jeopardy as well.

It is not a question of his manliness. There is no doubt Captain Wales is fully capable of performing whatever he is called to do in the field.

With the Taliban leadership stating that they will use “all our strength” to eliminate Harry, which also means that all those around him are also targeted for elimination.

So, my message to the British Army is get Prince Harry out. Now. Not because of who he is, but because of the families of those with whom he serves want to see their loved ones come home as well.

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Debt Hits $16 Trillion

September 12th, 2012

Obama’s Number 1!

Yes, that’s right folks. Barack Obama is Number 1 – in driving our country further into debt, even surpassing the record set by his predecessor, George W. Bush.

According to the Federal website, treasurydirect.gov, the national debt stood at a STAGGERING $16.015 TRILLION.

To put this in perspective, on January 20th, 2009, when Obama took office the national debt stood at $10.626 TRILLION, which is also an immense amount. Okay, this is simplifying the matter, but to keep things as an apples to apples comparison, and trying to be fair to Obama, on January 20th, 2001, when Bush took office, the national debt was a whopping $5.728 TRILLION. One last data point from the treasurydirect, is that when Clinton took office on January 20th, 1993, the national debt was $4.188 TRILLION.

Doing a little simple math, under Clinton, the national debt rose $1.54 TRILLION, not a small amount, over 8 years (note – Congress, at least the House of Representatives, had a GOP majority, helping rein in spending). Bush (with, I might add, two wars to fight, 9/11 aftermath to deal with, and a Democratically controlled congress the last few years of his administration) definitely topped Clinton, with $4.898 TRILLION, nearly, but not quite, doubling the national debt over 8 years. And I was livid about the national debt level back in ’92! Now we get to Obama, with a little over 3 years and 7 months in office, and the national debt, under his watch going up an obscene (especially for under 4 years, with two years of Congress controlled by the Democrats, and 1 year and a half and change where the Senate was still controlled by the Democrats while the House was controlled by the Republicans) $5.389 TRILLION.

For a little clarity – 8 years under Bush, the debt increased $4.898 TRILLION. In less than 4 years under Barack “Debt is Unpatriotic” Obama, the debt increased $5.389.

At this pace, if Obama is re-elected, the debt will increase over $12 TRILLION to a horrifying $22.675 TRILLION.

Is this really good for America? Is this really good for working Americans? Is this really good for our children?

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A Game of Voter ID

August 21st, 2012

One of the things I like about writing a blog that covers Science Fiction, Fandom, and Politics is when I get to combine the elements into a single post. Thank you George R. R. Martin for making my day.

Martin, the author of A Game of Thorns, has dished out quite a bit of ignorance in regards to the issue of Voter ID laws that are slowly making their way through the country, and even plays the race card, insinuating that anyone who supports such laws is a racist. If that were not enough, his referring to those of us in the Tea Party movement with a euphemism for a crude sex act is more than enough to remove him from my reading list.

Skipping over the obscenity and race card, and other low-brow thoughts we get to this tidbit from his blog Not A Blog:

It is one thing to attempt to win elections. But trying to do so by denying the most basic and important right of any American citizen to hundreds and thousands of people, on entirely spurious grounds… that goes beyond reprehensible. That is despicable.

Now a reasonable person might think he is referring to recent attempts, attempts that have been going on for the better part of a decade, to disenfranchise military voters, especially those serving overseas. Nope, he is referring to Voter ID laws, those pesky initiatives that require voters to prove they are who they claim they are by showing a valid picture ID, like a driver’s license or a passport, or some other form of, yes, government issued identification. You know, the same kind of documents you are required to show when you accept a job with a new employer, or get on an airplane, or enter some public buildings, cash a check, open a bank account, and so many other aspects of everyday life.

As for the claim that these laws are denying Americans their right to vote, Martin, and all the other zealots on the Left, are quite wrong about this. I can’t say that this is true in all cases, but here in Minnesota the proposed law sets up a fund that will be used to provide identification cards to poor people for free (well, at taxpayer expense, and yes, I am okay with this expense). Now it may be denying some people the ability to vote using another person’s name, like John Doe walking into a polling place and claiming to be Bruce Wayne and voting under that name, but that’s why we need these laws. It will also prevent people from voting in more than one precinct, a problem we have here in Minnesota due to the nature of same day registration with no ID required, just someone willing to claim you are who you are and live where you claim you live.

An example of this abuse came in the after the 2004 election when a gal I met had discovered that there were 64 people who were registered to vote using her address, and yes, they all voted. Another more blatant example around the same time happened in the city of Coates, where the guy who ran a strip club there got a bunch of his friends to vote for him for mayor by registering to vote using the address of his club. Not sure if this clown is still in jail or not.

In the aftermath of the 2000 election, it came out that hundreds of people voted absentee in both New York and Florida, and yes, it is believed that there were votes on both sides of the political divide.

But the Left, instead of wanting to address the problems of voter fraud, they want to keep things as they are, because the Left knows that if they can’t win in an honest election.

And those of us who man up and take this issue head on, we get called racist bigots, corruptocrats, as well as other names involving crude sex acts.

Martin goes on with:

It would really be nice if there were still some Republicans of conscience out there who would stand up and loudly denounce these efforts, a few men of honor and integrity for whom “win the election” does not “win the election at any cost.” There were once many Republicans I admired, even I disagreed with them: men like Everett Dirksen, Clifford Case, Henry Cabot Lodge, William Scranton… yes, even Barry Goldwater, conservative as he is. I do not believe for a moment that Goldwater would have approved of this, any more than Robert A. Heinlein would have. They were conservatives, but they were not bigots, nor racists, nor corrupt. The Vote Suppressors have far more in common with Lester Maddox, George Wallace, John Stennis, and their ilk than they do with their distinguished GOP forebears.

Martin doesn’t believe Goldwater or Heinlein would approve of Voter ID laws? How omniscient of him. And, no, those of us who support Voter ID laws are not anything like Lester Maddox, or George Wallace, or John Stennis.

The people behind these efforts at disenfranchising large groups of voters (the young, the old, the black, the brown) are not Republicans, since clearly they have scant regard for our republic or its values. They are oligarchs and racists clad in the skins of dead elephants.

Um, no, we believe in free societies where elections are free of corruption, and as there are always people who are willing to follow the Leftist adage of “Vote early, vote often”, we need to have Voter ID laws.

And don’t tell me they are libertarians either. No true libertarians would ever support a culture where citizens must “show their papers” to vote or travel. That’s a hallmark of a police state, not a free country.

I guess I am not a “true” Libertarian, but that isn’t surprising as there are several key issues I disagree with the Libertarian Party on. But one has to ask, has Martin tried to get a regular job lately? (Papers, please!) Or board a plane? (Papers, please!), or open a bank account? (Papers, please!) And the list of everyday tasks people asked for identification goes on and on and on.

It is clear to me that Martin needs to stop living in Leftie-Fantasyland and learn the basic facts behind Voter ID laws, instead of screaming “Racist” at those who support these laws.

Oh, yeah, be sure to peruse the comments in the thread, as some of Martin’s response to his critics are absolutely hilarious, and I don’t mean that in a good way.

After that, click on the “politics” tag and see some his other rants, including his desire to strip Joe Lieberman of his citizenship. Can we say “totalitarian wannabe”?

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