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.

Tags: , ,

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.

Tags: ,

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.

Tags: , , ,

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!

Tags: , , ,

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.

Tags: ,

Starship Troopers Revamp

August 2nd, 2012

Over on io9, they have an article on upcoming SF movie reboots (and “why they might not suck”, their words, not mine).

There are a couple of films listed that I definitely want to talk about. The first is the badly needed redo of RAH’s Starship Troopers.

For those who know me, ya know I am a big fan of Heinlein and Starship Troopers is one of my favorite novels (I have read it about a dozen times).

Don’t get me wrong, I liked the 1997 Paul Verhoeven film, Starship Troopers, but it isn’t very Heinleinish, if you know what I mean. Verhoeven took many liberties with the film that didn’t go down well with hardcore Heinlein fans, making the Federation into some sort of fascistic society, which is not in keeping with Heinlein’s novel. As well as other issues (where the heck is my powered armor and capsule drops?).

According to a piece on Empire Online, Jaffe has stated that the plans are to keep the film “a little” closer to the book. I hope so, and if he succeeds, I’ll be in line to buy tickets. And this time, we may even get the powered armor!

The second is Logan’s Run. Not sure how they can improve upon it, even with its deviations from the novel. As io9 states, this is not a certainty, but it would be fun to see what a new look at Logan’s Run would bring us.

We’ll just have to wait and see if they happen.

Tags: , ,

Review: The Avengers

July 12th, 2012

Well, I finally got around to seeing Marvel’s The Avengers. I am, unfortunately, sadly disappointed by it. If you love violence, destruction, special effects, and little character development and story, then this is a film for you. If you prefer something with a little more substance to it, then wait for it to come on cable.

This is not to say there aren’t things to like about the film, there are, but they are few and far between. At least in my opinion.

Good stuff first. Special effects are state of the art, and the costumes are mostly good (Iron Man, Cap, and Thor especially), and a few characters are very cool. For the characters we’ve seen before in recent months, we see the same actors returning in those roles, which is a good thing. Chris Hemsworth makes for a darn good Thor (I still need to see that movie) and Samuel L. Jackson makes a good Nick Fury.

There is plenty of action and special effects eye candy to bombard your eyes and mind.

Not so good stuff. Samuel L. Jackson as Nick Fury? Okay, try not to take this wrong, but I grew up reading Nick Fury in the comics, both as Sgt. Fury and as S.H.I.E.L.D. so I was caught a bit off-guard when Fury went through a race change back in Captain America, one of the lead-ins to this. So I did a little digging and found that yep, Marvel re-imaged Fury as part of the new Ultimate Universe re-branding of many of their titles, and, in fact, modeled the new comic book version of Fury AFTER Samuel L. Jackson with the actor’s permission.

On the up-side (back to good stuff), the re-imaging works for Fury as SLJ, and works well. I liked Jackson’s Fury much better than David Hasselhoff’s Fury from the ‘90s, even though Hasselhoff looked a lot like the original comic book Nick Fury. Jackson is also a better actor than Hasselhoff. I may end up missing the Nick Fury I grew up with, but the new Fury is darn good and Jackson is a darn good choice for the role.

More not so good stuff. I hated Iron Man, or, more specifically, Tony Stark. This guy is so full of himself that he is not likeable. Back “in the day” I liked Iron Man and Tony Stark. Why the heck did they screw Tony Stark up?

There are a lot of other things I disliked, but I don’t want to bore folks with it. I do want to make one more point, though, and that is the film is made for people who are very familiar with the Marvel Universe and the various characters. I had to spend a lot of time explaining things to my bonnie bride about the various characters, like why the hulk in one scene was trying to kill Black Widow, and then later on the Hulk is saving her behind. This was a bit jarring for my bonnie bride, but then, hey, this IS based on a comic book.

From the historical perspective, I found that it is worth noting that the villain in Avengers #1 was Loki seeking revenge against his brother Thor, and that the Hulk was involved in the Avengers at that time.

Too sum up, I think there were too many characters in the film to build up a good consistent plot around with good character development. It’s an okay film, but not great. Like Captain America was great. If you are really big into Marvel Comics, or comics in general, you will most likely enjoy it. For me, it was a mixed bag. ‘Nuff said.

Tags: , , , , , , ,

Review: Brave

July 12th, 2012

Having a six year old daughter means being able to go to see animated movies and not feeling out of place. This time we went to see Pixar’s latest film, Brave. It’s hard to pick apart a Pixar film, as each entry seems to get better and better. Brave is no exception. it is a wonderful family film with good humor, excitement and true courage.

Brave is the story of a Scottish princess named Merida, whose father, Fergus, raised her up with a little too much of an independence streak for her mother’s liking. Soon she finds out that being a princess means that she must marry the son of one of the several Scottish lords allied with her father, a fate Merida rails against.

After a fierce argument with her mother, Merida runs away, and the story gets even more interesting when she meets a witch, er, woodcarver, who gives her a spell to change her fate, and change it, it does, but not in a way Merida expected.

Needless to say, and not wanting to give away too many spoilers, all chaos breaks loose, and tragedy is barely averted as Merida and her mother both learn a bit about their selves and each other.

This is a family film that all will enjoy. Excellent writing, animation and voice performances, including Scottish actress Kelly Macdonald in the lead role as Merida makes for a wonderful film.

Tags: ,

D-Day, 68 Years Later

June 6th, 2012

68 years ago today, the Normandy Invasion took place. This would put one of the final nails into the coffin of Hitler’s regime, bring about the liberation of France and the rest of Western Europe, and cost thousands of Allied lives. One of the bloodiest battles in WWII, those who lived through it still remember it.

One article published today was about an Army Medic, who recounts some of the memories of the invasion that haunts him to this day. Reading about Friedenberg’s life, one vivid sees what a living Hell war is.

The tens of thousands of soldiers, sailors, and airmen; the paratroopers, the pathfinders, the tankers, right down to the men driving the landing craft to the beaches. The fighter pilots and the aircrews the bombers and transport aircraft, and the glider pilots and the troops they carried into Harm’s Way. Courageous men all. They fought hard just to stay alive on the beaches until they could breakthrough and move inland.

Too few of the men and women who fought and served in WWII are left. Many of those share their memories. They truly are the Greatest Generation.

Below are a couple of good articles of people who were there, sharing their memories.

Always remember and honor the high price of Liberty, for so many of these brave young men paid that price for us in full.

Tags: ,

Ray Bradbury, Gone At 91

June 6th, 2012

Ray Bradbury passed away last night. He was 91, a little more than two months shy of his 92nd birthday. Bradbury, as most anyone reading this article will know, is best known for three major works: Fahrenheit 451, Something Wicked This Way Comes, and The Martian Chronicles.

Bradbury was a true story teller as well as a visionary. His works ranged from thought provoking “what ifs” and dystopian societies, to space exploration and hauntingly dark fantasies. Without a doubt, Bradbury was one of the best writers produced in the 20th century in any genre, not just in SF.

My first introduction to Bradbury was probably in the fifth Grade, reading the story “A Sound of Thunder”, the story of a hunter who goes back in time to hunt a dinosaur, and inadvertently changes all history.

It would be several years later, while in high school, that I would have my first opportunity to meet Bradbury. He was giving a talk at CSU Fresno, and I was able to get excused from classes that day in order to attend the event. It was well worth while going to. The student union at CSUF where Bradbury was giving his talk was standing room only and overflowed to the outdoors, which is where I was. One of the most memorable things Bradbury said, and it was a great piece of advice, was that if you want to be a great writer, write every day, for at least a half an hour. Sound advice.

Bradbury signed autographs, and I had a couple of books signed by him. It was a fun day, exciting for a teenaged geek.

A few years later, in San Diego, we would meet again, this time at the Old Globe Telethon. It was a busy event for everyone there, as everyone had some “job” they were doing for the Old Globe. Bradbury was one of many celebrities manning the phone bank and taking pledges. I was there with a group of SF fans from STAR San Diego, giving a check to the Old Globe; money raised by a recent convention we ran, organized by Pearl Stickler. The convention, What A Con!, raised $400 for the Old Globe, and a like amount for the Air Museum, both of which had tragically burned down.

Bradbury was not only a fine writer, and a great story teller, he was a fine man, as fine as ever there was. He will be greatly missed, not only by his family and friends, but by all of us whose lives he has touched. Rest well, Ray. We all miss you down here.

Read more at Locus Online.

Tags: ,

Memorial Day, 2012

May 28th, 2012

Today we remember those who died in the service of our country; the Soldiers, Sailors, Airmen, and Marines who went to war and gave their all. There are always too many who die in war; that’s one reason they say “War is Hell”.

Today we also honor the Gold Star Families, the mothers and fathers, wives and husbands, and the children of our fallen warriors. Our thoughts and prayers are always with these families, not just today, but every day.

There is a graphic floating around on Facebook of a soldier reporting in to Heaven, and saying to Saint Peter that he has already been through Hell. There is no doubt of that.

I am also reminded of a ballad called “Junior”, in which the narrator of the song recalls what his WW2 uncle said in the refrain, “all the heroes are 60 years and half a world away”, a reference to all his uncle’s fellow soldiers, including his best friend, who died on the beaches of Normandy.

Rest well, Warriors. You’ve earned. Your life was cut far too short. You have our gratitude for your sacrifice and honor your memory.


Happy Birthday John Wayne

May 26th, 2012

On May 26th, 1907, 105 years ago, John Wayne (born Marion Robert Morrison, and later changed to Marion Mitchell Morrison) was born.

For those who know me, you know that I am a big John Wayne fan. He has always been, and always will be, my favorite movie star. He is The Duke.

A lot of people I know don’t think much of his acting abilities, despite the Oscar for Best Actor for True Grit, as well as a nomination for The Sands of Iwo Jima. They must not have seen some of his best films, like Stagecoach, The Searchers, She Wore A Yellow Ribbon, The Quiet Man, The Cowboys, They Were Expendable, The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance or The Shootist. These are some of his best films.

I can’t claim to have seen all of Duke’s films, but I have seen a lot of them, including a fair amount of his “B” pictures and all three movie serials that he made in the ’30s.

Many of Duke’s best roles were as the rugged, individualist American, who survives by his own wits, self-reliance. This is why he is synonymous with the American Cowboy, and is an American Icon.

John Wayne’s life was cut short at the age of 72 by cancer, passing on in 1979. He now rides into the Great Sunset in the Sky. I think he knows that there is a lot of u down here that miss him, and wish that some of today’s actors were more like him.

Tags: , ,

Review: Red Tails

January 31st, 2012

I went to see Red Tails over the weekend. First off, let me make a couple of things clear: Red Tails is not, nor was it meant to be, a historically accurate portrayal of the 332nd Fighter Group and the Tuskegee Airmen. Lucas makes this clear during the opening with a message that the film was inspired by the 332nd. Second, I have never seen the HBO Tuskegee Airmen in its entirety; only bits and pieces, and not enough to make a comparison of it with Red Tails. Nor is that my intention.

The story of the Red Tails cannot be told often enough. It is a great story on so many fronts; courage, perseverance, honor, duty and overcoming racial barriers. There are reasons why the bomber groups requested the 332nd to be their escorts over hostile terrain, and for darn good reason: The 332nd had the best record for bomber escort in the war.

As for the film Red Tails, well, hey, it has Cuba Gooding, Jr. in it. He is a great actor and I have enjoyed his roles in films like Men of Honor and Snow Dogs (one of my favorite comedies, and it has huskies in it!). Gooding plays Major Stance, who seems to be the group’s executive officer, and is seen throughout the film encouraging his men, and chomping down on a pipe. He carried the role well and convincingly. Gooding is the only actor in the film whose work I am familiar with. Maybe I don’t get out enough anymore.

Quite frankly, nearly all of the cast, and especially all of the major players are darned good. From David Oyelowo as Lightning, the best pilot in the group to Andre Royo as Coffee, their main crew chief, who makes it known that he doesn’t like his planes being brought home full of holes (or parts of trains), but would much rather see the planes shot up and the pilots intact.

There is a lot to like about the characters, from Easy, the squadron leader with a drinking problem, to Lightning, the womanizer who falls in love and likes looking for trouble, to Junior, who, in his words, goes through Hell and back. There are a few, like Smokey, played by Ne-Yo (sorry, but that’s a name???), who is a bit under-developed and makes me wonder what footage was left on the cutting room floor. They all have a story to tell, and they get it done.

There is one scene that I thought was a bit contrived and just didn’t work for me, and that’s when Lightning goes into the Officer’s Club in town and is told by the white officers to leave, and a few racial epithets thrown out at him, resulting in his starting a fight and ending up in jail. that scene came off with a phony feel, like Lucas had to throw this in in order to get across the racial struggles that the Tuskegge Airmen faced. It could have been done better. Part of it felt like the actors playing in the scene just didn’t want to use that n-word. Can’t blame them; I wouldn’t want to use it either. The whole scene is there in order to lead into a later scene at the same Officer’s club where some bomber pilots make it known that they want to thank the Red Tails for being darn good pilots. This scene mostly doesn’t work, but there is one funny bit where one of the Red Tails says to the bomber pilots, “When you get mad, you turn red; when you get sick, you turn green; and when you turn coward, you turn yellow. And you call us ‘colored’?” Great line.

The aerial scenes are all CGI, which comes as no surprise as this is a Lucas Film (effects by Industrial Light and Magic) and there just isn’t that many of these birds still in flying condition. And believe me, I wish there were hundreds of these birds still around, but there just aren’t that many. The first time they fly an escort mission with their brand new P-51s, we see the tails first rising out of the clouds like the dorsal fin of a shark; predators on the rise; hunters.

Red Tails is definitely a movie worth seeing on the Big Screen. Aside from a couple of weak scenes trying to establish racial issues that were in the category of #fail, it is otherwise a very good picture with all of the elements a good war film should have: Honor, duty, heroism, and gutsy men doing what they have to do to keep themselves and their comrades alive.

One last thought. A few days before the release Lucas was complaining that Hollywood didn’t know how to market Red Tails as it is an adventure film with a predominantly black cast. To me, the answer is clear; you market it like any other film – on its merits. And Red Tails merits well.

Tags: , , ,

Review: The Unincorprated Man

January 28th, 2012

During the summer of 2010, I went to WesterCon in Pasadena with my family. while I was there I had the pleasure of meeting the brothers Dani and Eytan Kollin, the authors of The Unincorporated Man. Although it took me a while to get around to reading their first novel, I finally did.

The basic backdrop is a future Earth (and solar system) set approximately 300 years from now, after what the authors describe in their book as the Great Collapse, an economic depression that makes the Great Depression look mild. Into this future wakes a man of the early 21st century (our contemporary) named Justin Cord, and he finds himself to be a bit of a stranger in a strange land (apologies to RAH, but it is an accurate description). All of humanity is individually incorporated, not just the business constructs like American Express, etc. And the government automatically owns 5% of you.

Technology has also taken off, especially nanotech, which not only extends lifespans, but also allows people to maintain youthful vigor and appearances. It can also be used as a deadly weapon, as seen in several points in the novel.

Cord wakes up and is almost immediately forced to incorporate, but is smart enough to not sign the documents that would bind 20% of his life to a major corporation that smells profits without knowing which end is up. This sets up a long term conflict with his main antagonist (and nemesis), Hektor Sambianco. Sambianco is a conniving and plotting lawyer with grand plans of his own.

The plot weaves around Cord’s varied attempts not only avoiding being forced to incorporate, but to break the system that the human race has grown used to. Cord (rightfully) compares it to slavery, as people are unable to make a lot of their own choices until they reach majority control of their stock issue, a thought Cord (and a minority of people) hold.

The concept of self-incorporation as the means of binding society is an interesting concept. Kind of made me think of some of the futuristic societies that Heinlein painted (think of Beyond This Horizon or, better still, The Moon is a Harsh Mistress). It is a creative futuristic society that I found quite intriguing.

Self-incorporation as an allegory for slavery worked, as people are manipulated to do things they would rather not do, or into undesirable situations (like psyche audits) due to a lack of control of their personal stock. They view taxes as a great evil (who doesn’t, albeit a necessary evil) and prefer to just give 5% of their stock (and their livelihood) directly to the government. Their parents also own 20%. The rest is sold off in bits and pieces in order to acquire an education, skills, or for whatever frills may tickle their fancy (losing one’s virginity is one example that appears in the novel). The corporate executives, the powers that be, are able to arrange for assassinations with near impunity. People who can afford it higher their own personal security to reduce this risk.

Overall I found The Unincorporated Man to be an intriguing take on a future society with a fair amount of conflict and political intrigue and well worth the read. The Kollin Brothers won the Libertarian Futurists Society’s Prometheus Award in 2010 for The Unincorporated Man.

Tags: , ,

Review: Almuric by Robert E. Howard

January 28th, 2012

I’ve been meaning to read Almuric by Robert E. Howard for some years and I figured with the imminent release of John Carson (Edgar Rice Burrough’s Barsoom) in theaters in a few weeks, now was a good time to give it a read.

Almuric follows the exploits of the Earthman Esau Cairn, transported to a distant Earth-like world by mysterious scientific means, populated by many strange beings and creatures. One of the humanoid races he refers to as Man, like himself, due to their similar physics. But they are different in many ways, and moderately barbarian in nature. But their women are very much like Earth women, so he feels like he fits in.

Esau Cairn is a big, muscular man who is quite capable of surviving and thriving in the hostile wilderness. He encounters many strange creatures, some similar to various Earthly animals, some quite alien. Living in the wild physically toughens him further, enabling him to conquer the wilderness on his own terms.

Living in the wilds for months at first, and learning to survive on the world of Almuric (his name for the planet), Esau Cairn finally succumbs to a human need for companionship and approaches a city in peace. He is made a prisoner but earns the respect of the inhabitants of the city and becomes one of them.

He learns of other races of people, including the exceedingly evil winged beings, Yagas, that live to the south and raid the other peoples of the world that Cairn finds himself on. The Yagas eat human flesh, making them the main enemy in the story.

Overall, I found it to be an entertaining work by one of my all-time favorite writers. It is also unique in being one of Howard’s few novels, and his only foray into the genre of Planetary Romance. It is also considered to be a bit of a tribute to Burrough’s Barsoom series. It’s a must for all serious REH fans.

Tags: , , ,

Of #Occupy Promenade, Ice Tea, and One Percenters

November 15th, 2011

Captain’s Log, Stardate, oh, wait, that’s Pajama Boy stuff.

It had been a while since the last time I had put into port at DS9, and was surprised to see how much things had changed, and not for the better. The Promenade had become some sort of tent city, which is an odd thing to see in the middle of a space station. Protestors most of whom hadn’t showered in a month reeked to high Sto-Vo-Kor, carrying signs like “We are the 99%” and “Tax the 1%”, then “Cardassia Supports Occupy Promenade”, “If I had a job, I couldn’t be here!”, “Legalize Bloodhype” and “Down with Ferengi Billionaires”. The windows at Tunok’s Kill and Grill had been spray-painted with “One Percenter”. Station security were present, as was Starbuck, the refuge from a battlestar; Starbuck was trying to hand out job applications and bars of soap to the protestors, but not finding any takers.

When at last I had made my way to Quark’s, I noticed that several windows had been broken, and the same spray-paint job of “One Percenter” across the doors. Quark’s place was not overly busy, which was surprising as Happy Hour was in full swing. Morn was at his usual spot at the bar; the Doctor had moved his Police Call Box into one corner of the bar; a few other regulars sat about drinking something other than their usual libations.

When I reached the bar, Quark greeted me with what appeared to be the same drink everyone else was having. It was a tall glass filled with a dark brown liquid over ice and topped with a slice of lemon.

“What’s this?” I asked.

“Long Island Ice Tea,” Quark responded. “On the house.”

“That’s pretty uncharacteristic of you. What’s the occasion?”

“You’ve seen the Promenade?” Quark asked. It sounded like a dodge of my question.

“Yeah, it was a real stink to get through there to your place.”

“And that’s the reason. I figure anyone willing to get through that mess of stinky hippies to my bar deserves something on the house. Besides, the local Tea Party gave me the money to do it as a counter-protest event. I’m also serving up Alaska Ice Tea, Texas Tea as well as Ferenginar Ice Tea. That last one is a Quark original. I substituted root beer instead of cola. It’s Garak’s favorite.

I took a sip of the drink. The alcohol was present in abundant quantities. I paused, drank a bit more, then said to Quark, “How about a Qo’noS Ice Tea?”

“Okay, I’ll bite. What would that one be?” Quark asked.

“Substitute the cola with blood wine.”

“Of course. I should have thought of that,” Quark said as he slapped his forehead with his right hand in the Intergalactic Sign Language for “Like Duh!” Quark went down the bar and began mixing a new drink, starting with a large amount of blood wine. He looked up at me and asked, “Tribble Sweat instead of Triple Sec?”

“Absolutely. This one is just a tad too sweet.”

“You should try the Ferenginar Ice Tea. The Root Beer makes it all happy and cheerful. Like the Federation.”

“That’s insidious,” I responded.

“I know,” Quark said. He finished mixing the drink, sidled back up to me, and proffered the new drink, sans straw. After all, Klingons don’t use straws.

I took the drink and took a good long pull on it, then quickly drained it.

“Good?” Quark asked.

“majQa’,” I responded. “How about another one?”

“Coming up,” Quark said. As he went to work mixing up a second round for me, Quark asked, “Did you hear what those Fleabaggers did to Morn?”

Being off station for a surfing event, I had no clue, so I signaled Quark to tell me more.

“Well, when Morn was trying to make his way up here after putting into port, he had to get through that Occupy protest. One of those Fleabaggers attached a sign on his back. Then these Fleabaggers began kicking him in the behind and laughing at him all the way here.”

“What did the sign say?” I asked.

“Kick me, I’m a One Percenter,” Quark said.

“These people have no honor,” I said.

“No kidding. When Morn got in here, he looked both relieved and perplexed by what happened. Until I had him turn around so I could remove the sign from his back. When I showed him the sign, Blessed Exchequer, was he livid!”

“I’m surprised they didn’t try that with me.”

Quark looked at me and said, “They wouldn’t have the ears to do it. You’d probably hospitalize the first one that tried to kick you. They’d be better off beating a Wookie at holochess.”

Kahuna out.

Tags: , , , ,

Occupy Halloween

October 25th, 2011

It just had to be done.


Tags: ,

Captain America in Review

September 7th, 2011

I finally had an opportunity to see Captain America recently. For those of you who haven’t seen it, get out there and do so while you still can. It is best on the big screen, and don’t forget to stay through the credits for the “Easter Egg” scene at the end.

By way of that first paragraph, you can gather, rightly, that I enjoyed Captain America. In my youth I had managed to read reprints of some of those early Captain America stories, and only have vague memories of them, so I won’t try to make comparisons. Let us say it isn’t like the Liberal tripe that now passes as being Captain America on the comic stands today. It is good ol’ American daring do-or-die action.

This is the origin of Captain America and one of the great marvel Comics nemesis of the ‘60s and early ‘70s, The Red Skull, and the secret organization, Hydra. Steve Rogers, the proverbial 90 pound weakling, finds himself selected for the top secret soldier program not because he fosters a desire to kill Nazis, but because he hates bullies, any and all bullies. During the selection process, a grenade is tossed to where he and other candidates are working out. While the others all dive for cover, Rogers throws himself on top of the grenade in a display of self-sacrifice. The grenade, of course, was a dummy, but it highlighted characteristics in both Rogers and those around him.

Needless to say, Rogers is selected for the program, which is a success, but at a high price, as a Nazi spy kills Dr. Erskine, the lead scientist and steals the one remaining dose of the secret soldier serum for Hydra.

Meanwhile, the Red Skull and Hydra have been developing super-high tech weapons and fostering plans of world domination of their own under Hitler’s nose.

Rogers, as the only super-soldier, finds himself given a choice: lab rat or performing monkey. He chooses the later and eventually finds himself on a USO tour in Italy where the GIs hate him and want to see the girls. Rogers learns that his best friend’s unit, the 107th, was in the area and badly mauled by a troop of Hydra agents. Rogers determines to go after his friend, Bucky Barnes and goes alone, behind enemy lines, and discovers a Hydra facility. During the rescue, we are introduced to several other Marvel Comics icons, specifically some of the characters that made up Sgt. Fury’s Howling Commandos: Dum-Dum Dugan (Neal McDonough was well cast in this role!) and Gabe Jones (Derek Luke), as well as some other soldiers that would become Captain America’s elite squad of Hydra-thumpers. I really enjoyed their inclusion into the film, and thought it fit well. That Gabe Jones, in this storyline, not only speaks German, but French, worked when Gabe gave his explanation that the girls liked hearing French better than German.

There are some other little tidbits of Marvel Comics lore thrown in for good measure that added to the story.

Overall this was a good picture that showed a lot of traditional values: courage, sacrifice, loyalty. It also has some good humor in it at appropriate times, especially some lines from Tommy Lee Jones playing Colonel Phillips, the head of the super-soldier project.


Chance Vought F4U Corsair

July 2nd, 2011

This time around we’re featuring the Chance Vought F4U Corsair, one of the best fighters produced during WW2. It saw service with the U.S. Navy and Marines, as well as with the Royal Navy and the RNZ Air Force.

The Corsair’s gull-wing design gave it a distinctive look, as well as making it a practical carrier aircraft with its folding wing. Elegant, fast, with a high rate of climb, in addition to being well armed, made the Corsair a formidable aircraft in the Pacific Theater of WW2.

The Corsair was the plane flown by Colonel Gregory “Pappy” Boyington (Retired, USMC) and the VMF-214, made famous by Boyington’s memoir Baa Baa Black Sheep, and by the 1970s TV series of the same name inspired by their exploits.

I met Boyington for the first time the evening after the premier of Baa Baa Black Sheep. I was a high school kid at the time and tagged along to an interview that a buddy of mine was doing of Boyington. What an experience. Boyington is one of the most unique individuals I have ever had the honor of becoming acquainted with. He showed us one of his medals (if memory serves me, it was THE medal) and related how he was the only person awarded the Medal of Honor posthumously and lived to talk about it. The Military Museum backs up Boyington’s claim in its biography of him. The picture of Boyington on the wing of a Corsair is from 1976, taken during the filming of the series Baa Baa Black Sheep. Boyington said he was disappointed that the owner wouldn’t let him take it up for a spin.

references for pictures

The picture of Boyington on the wing of a Corsair was given to me by Greg the first time I met him. I have no idea who took the picture.

Tags: , , , ,

The Boeing B-17 Flying Fortress

June 24th, 2011

It’s been a while since I’ve done up one of these posts, and with the recent loss of the Liberty Belle, I figured it was time to do one on the Boeing B-17 Flying Fortress.

One interesting side note on the B-17’s history, and an SF connection, is that Gene Roddenberry flew B-17s with the 394th Bomb Squadron, 5th Bombardment Group (Heavy), XIII Air Force, during World War II.

Tags: , , ,