Notice...

The purpose of this blog is to have a little fun. It is NOT to start arguments. I don't profess to be an expert on Sci-fi, nor do I aspire to become an expert. You are welcome to comment on any and all content you find here. If my opinion differs from yours, as far as I am concerned, it's all okay. I will never say that you are wrong because you disagree with me, and I expect the same from those that comment here. Also, my audience on the blog will include some young people. Please govern your language when posting comments.

Posts will hopefully be regular based on the movies I see, the television shows I watch, and the books I read as well as what ever strikes me as noteworthy.


***SPOILER ALERT***
Spoilers will appear here and are welcome.

Sunday, January 22, 2017

Milk Run: A Smuggler's Tale By Nathan Lowell - A Brilliant Spin Off From The Golden Age Of The Solar Clipper

Milk Run: A Smuggler’s Tale From The Golden Age Of The Solar Clipper: Book One by Nathan Lowell

Regular readers to this blog are well aware that I, and many, many others, have fallen in love with Nathan Lowell’s books about life in the “Deep Dark” as ships of various sizes and shapes travel between star systems delivering passengers and goods. Milk Run is the first of what will become a series of stories that will explore the darker side of traveling in space outside of the jurisdiction of the Confederated Planets Joint Comission on Trade (CPJCT). Space is a dangerous place in Nathan’s universe where there is little or no law, except for that of “honor among thieves.”

The story opens with what appears to be an act of self defense that might be interpreted as murder by the Trade Investigation Commission (TIC) which sends two Academy graduates on the run to Toe-Hold Space, a place with little regulation or law. Natalya Regyri, recent graduate and owner of a small scout ship known as the Perigrine, are forced to go on the run with her best friend and fellow graduate Zoya Usoko to escape prosecution under false pretenses. Figuring that they will be safe, Natalya heads toward space that is not under the control of the CPJCT where she plans to use her vessel to make a living as a courier ship between systems. However, when Natalya and Zoya arrive near Dark Knight Station, they discover that the Perigrine has a damaged part that must be replaced before they can start their enterprise.

Natalya learns that it is going to be prohibitively expensive to have her ship repaired at Dark Knight and decides to sign on to work on a bar-bell freighter for a one-time trip to earn enough to get the part she needs so she can get down to business. She and Zoya accept a job offer from Mr. Kondur, the owner of Dark Knight Station, to sail with Captain Trask and a rag-tag crew to deliver a cargo to Siren Station and to bring a cargo back; it is promised to be a “milk run,” but thanks to a few twists and turns, and a few shady characters on board, the journey becomes anything but easy when it is discovered that a locker full of spare parts has been raided and replaced with worthless junk.

Those that are familiar with Dr. Lowell’s previous stories should be pleasantly surprised at the different tack that Milk Run takes from the Ishmael Wang stories where everything is well regulated and maintained. In Toe-Hold space, it would seem that most anything goes as long as the job gets done and the cargo gets delivered. This, at first is a foreign concept to Natalya being just fresh out of the Academy, but soon she finds a way to fit in with the routine on board. She knows her stuff and is quickly assigned the position of de facto chief engineer of the ship under Steve Pritchard, the “official” engineer on board.

Dr. Lowell has a smooth and flowing writing style that makes any of his stories difficult to put down. He writes characters that are easy to believe and relate to, and are often people that I would like to meet and get to know. In this story, there are characters all across the spectrum including those that are good people and bad, some are shady and mysterious, while some are just trying to earn a little extra money; they are ordinary people doing a job under extraordinary conditions. A reader can find characters in Milk Run to care about right from the start of the tale, but there are some that one has to take a little time to warm up to, as well as a few that one can see will be trouble as the story unfolds. Milk Run reads a little like a whodunit with all of the elements of the story satisfyingly resolved by the end of the book. For the most part, I enjoyed this book and I am looking forward to future installments, but at the same time, I was a tiny bit disappointed by the ending because it did feel a little rushed to finish. The resolution of the missing spare parts part of the story happened at a pace that was much faster than the rest of the book.

Please don’t let my nit-picky observation on the ending deter you from enjoying yet another great story. This one comes from the darker side of the Golden Age of the Solar Clipper and opens up a new aspect of the universe created by this brilliant author.  It is well worth a look and I highly recommend it for fans of space opera that appreciate a story that focuses more on character than on conflict.

Well, there it is…

QaplaH!

Monday, January 2, 2017

Star Wars: Rogue One: A New Can Of Worms

Star Wars: Rogue One: A New Can Of Worms

On the outset, I will say that I love this movie and have seen it twice. I enjoyed it more the second time around because I was familiar with the new characters. It is an epic story about how the plans for the first Death Star fell into the hands of the Rebel Alliance and who was responsible for the vulnerabilities that allowed it to be destroyed in the original Star Wars film. If there is one shortfall that I wonder about is, where are the “many Bothans” that died as mentioned by Mon Mothma? But that is something for another time.

What I am thinking about today, and have been for the past couple of weeks is the CGI characters that appeared in the film, particularly Grand Moff Tarkin.

As the story unfolded on the screen, when I saw Peter Cushing’s image, I thought to myself that it was really cool that they brought his character back to life as an important part of the story. Then when I saw the other actors in their Rebel ships, I again was amazed at what the studio was able to do. Then, once again, at the end of the film, that last shot of Princess Leia accepting the plans that she would later entrust to R2-D2, I was both elated and saddened at the same time seeing Carrie Fischer’s character so respectfully there as the story, once again, comes full circle.

As far as Tarkin and Leia are concerned, the CGI was extremely well done, but also obviously it they were not the real characters because of a few very minor imperfections, of which I will not go into detail due to the insignificance of them. Suffice it to say that they were so close that I felt it more of a tribute and a necessary part of the story. I am not one to get all bent out of shape over minutiae and have no problem suspending my disbelief in favor of enjoying a film.

However, after thinking about what I witnessed on the screen, especially as I thought about Tarkin, I couldn’t help but wonder what implications this new and developing technology might have on future films. A link to an article came across my Facebook feed questioning the ethics of this practice. That is exactly what I wondered about too as the question of resurrecting departed actors crossed my mind. As I understand, Cushing’s family gave their permission, and may have even been compensated for the appearance, and kudos to the filmmakers for following through with should be considered the right thing to do. And one might also think about Tarkin’s image appearing in the animated series, Star Wars: Clone Wars and again in Star Wars: Rebels, while in those instances, it was an animated image that approximated the original actor, while in Rogue One, it was far more of an attempt to absolutely recreate the character as accurately as possible.

In the very limited reading I done on this subject, people’s feelings fall on both sides of the fence. It’s right or it isn’t right depending on how one feels. Many believe that it is okay in this case because permission was obtained and compensation was paid while others say it doesn’t matter and that the role should have been re-cast using a live actor. Perhaps either or both are right, I’m not sure myself, but I do have a few thoughts.

As I mentioned before, I think it was great that the actors who were in Star Wars were brought back. It gave Rogue One a comfortable sense of continuity for me, and was as much a tribute as anything else. While the technology as it exists today is prohibitively expensive that it probably cannot be afforded by any but the largest studios, we all know that as time goes on, more and more filmmakers will have access to this developing tool, and as such, a tool can be used for good, or can be perverted into something that could do great harm.

In Star Trek: The Undiscovered Country, the President of the Federation made a statement that I think might be something that could give one food for thought, “Let us redefine progress to mean that just because we can do a thing, it does not necessarily mean we must do that thing.”

So far, the use of CGI in films has been all over the spectrum from being used well, to completely dominating a film to the point that it overshadows the story and characters that it actually becomes the star of a film rather than something to help tell a story. With the current idea that a beloved, departed actor can be recreated and become a main character in a film has its implications too. As in the case of Rogue One, it can be beneficial, but what if a more unscrupulous filmmaker decides to use this as a way to take a limited budget and maximize his profits? In the not so distant future, it is conceivable that one could sit at a computer and make an entire film and not lay out a dime for talent. In this age of sequels, prequels, and remakes, this budding technology could open a can of worms should not be opened, in my humble opinion.

Let’s take a film like Logan’s Run as a possible candidate for a remake (actually, there has been talk about a remake for quite some time). Members of the cast, Michael York is in his 70’s, Jenny Agutter is in her 60’s. Richard Jordan, Farrah Fawcett, Peter Ustinov and Roscoe Lee Brown are no longer with us (in the case of the last, we never actually saw the actor, only his voice talents were lent to the robot character called Box). If one watches the film, one can see a huge number of flaws that would not stand up to modern film-going audiences. The sets are hokey, the effects are primitive, and the miniatures for large scope scenes are obviously models. Now I would have to think that that film was made using the best technology available at the time, it still looks a little off, but therein lies the charm of that film! As far as film-making history is concerned, it is perfect in everything that it is and need not be remade. Where the film does excel is in the performances of the talent involved in telling a story warning us about how we could lose control of our lives because the things that humanity values causes us to seek a more recreation based lifestyle, at least until one reaches the age of 30. So, if through the magic of CGI, we bring back the deceased actors, de-age the living ones (presuming they would allow it), and made the backgrounds slick and new, would you want to see it?  I know I wouldn’t and I know several other fans of Logan’s Run who wouldn’t as well. As a matter of fact, I wouldn’t want to see any remake of this Sci-Fi classic. As far as I am concerned, it is perfect just the way it was made originally, but that’s a rant for another time.

I cannot say what what I think is right, bit it is right for me. Some may agree while others, I am sure will disagree. I would love to hear your thoughts also.

Well, there it is…

Qaplah’!

Thursday, December 8, 2016

John Glenn - My Memories

John Glenn - My Memories

I have to admit that I don’t know as much about John Glenn as many others, but I do have memories of his orbital flight on February 20, 1962, and I am pretty sure much of who I am today is because of that flight and my own personal circumstances surrounding it. On that date, I was five years old, but not in school yet. Being born in December, I was too far past the cutoff date to start school until the fall of that year. I was pretty much a kid like any other kid, but I had a dad that was fascinated by the space program and he encouraged me to also have that same enthusiasm for it. I had books on space and spaceflight that are ludicrous by what we know now. The books I had told that would have a city on the moon and be freely exploring the solar system with colonies possibly on other worlds. If only.

I know the date and time of the launch only because I looked it up. Friendship 7 launched at 14:47 UTC (Zulu in those days). Where I lived in San Francisco, that would have made it 6:47 am. My dad worked nights at Hills Brothers Coffee Company and got home quite early in the morning. I awoke to find dad sitting on the edge of the bed (I remember this clearly) telling me that it was time to see the “blast off.”

Dad and I sat in front of the television, a black and white Admiral, and watched and listened as Walter Cronkite talked to people about the historic and scientific aspects of the flight and listened in as Jack King made announcements about the countdown and conditions of the vehicle and the pilot. I don’t remember how long it was before the launch happened, but I would imagine as a five year old, I was pretty impatient.

Finally the launch happened and we continued to watch. I remember the shaky camera work as the Atlas got farther away and how they had trouble keeping it centered in the picture. But that’s about all.

Looking back, I can say that it was a beginning for me. I never missed a launch after that, either because dad would get me out of bed (it seemed like all of the launches were in the early morning hours) or later, I would make a point of seeing them all the way through Apollo 17. But Glenn’s orbital flight was the first and a starting point for me to appreciate science eventually to embrace science fiction, space opera in particular, as a way of going to the stars myself.

Mostly, right now as I think about John Glenn, I am missing watching launches in the early morning hours with my dad.

Well, there it is…

Godspeed John Glenn, and thanks for bringing me and my dad closer.

Friday, November 25, 2016

Spaceman: An Astronaut’s Unlikely Journey To Unlock The Secrets Of The Universe by Mike Massimino

Spaceman: An Astronaut’s Unlikely Journey To Unlock The Secrets Of The Universe by Mike Massimino

Every now and again, I find that I need to get away from the realm of Science Fiction and read something that is more based on fact. That opportunity presented itself recently when I became aware that Astronaut Mike Massimino had penned an autobiography outlining his experiences on becoming and being a member of NASA’s Astronaut Corps.

Previous to reading Spaceman, my exposure to the author came through some of the interviews he conducted for the NASA Channel, some of the interviews of which he was the subject, and through his frequent appearances on Neil deGrasse Tyson’s weekly StarTalk Radio show which is available through iTunes. I have always enjoyed listening to Mike because, along with his giant sense of humor, he is an intelligent and thoughtful individual, but not one to be overstated when he talks. He is very personable as he visits with Dr. Tyson and others and just listening to him, you cannot call him anything other than Mike. So if he happens to read this post, it is my hope that Dr. Mike Massimino will forgive my presumptuousness in referring to him as just Mike. Along with listening to him talk and especially since reading his book, I feel this is a man that I could be friends with; he’s just an ordinary guy who found and made opportunities to do some truly extraordinary things in his life, and he’s still going strong.

Spaceman is the story of Mike’s journey to become a very important part of what has kept the Hubble Space Telescope in orbit and operating for so many years (the Hubble has been in orbit since April, 1990 and has taken numerous breathtaking photos as well as performed above and beyond expectations as astronomers continue to regularly make new discoveries about the universe). Starting out dreaming of becoming an astronaut at a young age, Mike would read everything he could get his hands on and dream of going into space. Among his inspirations there was the Apollo 11 Moon landing in 1969, and the release of the film The Right Stuff  in 1983. From there, Mike embarked on his life’s mission to become an astronaut which took many twists and turns that could have very well ended any possibility of his achieving his goal. However, there is no quit in Mike and as each obstacle presented itself, he would find a way to overcome and persevere, usually with the help of others. In the book, Mike often writes about the importance of teamwork and how being a team player opened doors of opportunity that he would not have been able to open by himself.

Mike’s writing style is conversational and straightforward, and it is obvious that he intended this book for anyone to enjoy. While there are many references to the technical aspects of his work with NASA, the reader is not overwhelmed by those aspects and they are explained adequately so one can understand without being distracted from the author’s story. However, what I found to be outstanding in this book were Mike’s descriptions of his time in space; the sights, the sounds (or lack thereof), and the way that astronauts support each other.

I recommend this book for anyone who enjoys learning more about what the men and women involved with the space program sacrifice to achieve their goals, and to further demonstrate that an alternate way to approaching seemingly insurmountable problems is to face them and solve them as opposed to quitting. I would especially recommend this book to any young people that may be considering pursuing a career with NASA as a fine, inspirational starting point for becoming prepared for an interesting life if one is willing to do the work it takes to get there.

Well, there it is…

Qaplah!

Saturday, November 19, 2016

Patriots of Mars by Jeff Faria - A Fine First Novel With A Surprise Ending!

Patriots of Mars: The God That Failed by Jeff Faria

A few weeks ago, I followed the author, Jeff Faria, on Twitter after he followed me. It wasn’t long after that he sent me an instant message offering to send me a copy of his new book, Patriot of Mars, in exchange for a fair and honest review of his work.  I replied to his message that I would be willing to do as he asked.

In the not too distant future, the Earth has all but run out of resources and has turned to our neighbor in the solar system, Mars to continue to provide what is needed for the continuation of life on our planet. In what is becoming an all too familiar trope, the corporations of Earth are in control of all aspects of mining the resources on the Red Planet and the workers there are little more than indentured servants. A small number of more wealthy earth citizens have also taken up residence on Mars to further add to the exploitation of resources and people there. While everyone seems to be happy with their situation, either running businesses or working for the corporations of Earth, a contingency would seem to be looking to gain independence when a freighter is attacked and its cargo is sent into space in a kind of Boston Tea Party-ish sort of move to claim Martian independence under the name of the Patriots of Mars. While I mentioned that this is an all too familiar trope, all is not what it seems as the story develops.

The story focuses on a young worker, Josh Reynolds who has no political aspirations, is not interested in Martian independence, nor wants any more than to do his job, take care of his mother, and hang out with his closest friends between shifts. Unfortunately for Josh, he becomes the object of scrutiny after he leads a group of his co workers out of a collapsed mine in a situation that no one should have been able to get out of. The police on Mars believe him to be one of, if not the leader of, a group of Patriots that caused the mining accident shortly after the routing of the freighter.

Back on Earth, the corporations convince the puppet government to dispatch troops to Mars to quell the uprising and their eventual arrival is going to make life for everyone on the Red Planet miserable, if not unbearable. Josh is thrust into the role of a leader that must find a way to turn the troop transport back before the unthinkable happens.

All the while, the plots weave in and out and everything comes to a head, but not in any way that might be called predictable, thus the trope is smashed and something new is coming to Mars.

I enjoyed this book for many reasons, one of which was the character development. As I read, I found that there were several characters that I was caring about and some that I was hoping would be successful. Along with that, there were other characters that, while interesting, were not very nice people at all; these were the people that were interested in exploiting any possible avenue to reap profit from any one else’s disadvantages. There was also one character in particular that intrigued me and that I want to learn more about; that character was named MOM. MOM is not a human, but rather a massive computer systems that regulates many aspects of life on both Mars and Earth. MOM’s role in the book is almost kept in the background for a good portion of the story, but makes her presence known in a big way in the final chapters of the book, thus setting up a next book.

One of the things that I was most impressed with was the detailed, yet not overstated world building the author incorporates in his work. The descriptions of the landscape and locations on Mars are plausible and palpable. That, along with the way that the characters at all levels interact with the environment and each other make this a fun and thought provoking story to read.

Patriots of Mars may be touted as a young adult sci-fi novel as it focuses a great deal on a small group of young adults, in my opinion, I think it would appeal to sci-fi fans of almost all ages.  However, due to the intricate blending of several story elements, perhaps readers aged seventeen and older would probably get the most out of it.

Well, there it is…

Qaplah!

Saturday, October 15, 2016

Autograph Collecting Secrets: Tools and Tactics for Through The Mail, In-Person, and Convention Success by Troy Rutter - A Great Resource Guide To Obtain Nerdy/Geeky Memorobilia

Autograph Collecting Secrets: Tools and Tactics for Through The Mail, In-Person, and Convention Success by Troy Rutter

You may well ask, “why is he reviewing a book on autograph collecting on a science fiction blog?” Well, the answer is very simple, I have enjoyed meeting and getting signed photos from celebrities as well as autographed books from my favorite authors for the last few years. I will say up front, the author, Troy and I are friends, but this review has not been, in any way, solicited.

I cannot remember exactly when and how Troy and I came to be friends, but I think it was through a mutual Facebook friend when I learned that Maggie Egan (Jane, the ISN news anchor on Babylon 5 was listed as one of the guests at the OSFest 6 convention in Omaha a few years ago. I learned that he was the webmaster on the Babylon 5 television series and instant messaged him to request an interview to talk about his experiences working on that show. I found him to be very willing, approachable, and friendly. Well, we continue to correspond and I consider Troy to be a close friend and a mentor in my newly acquired hobby, TTM (Through The Mail) autograph collecting.

As I write this, I look at the small collection of autographed 8x10 photos hanging in my “Man Cave,” Some are gifts from the Scifi Diner Podcast, some are from conventions I have attended or that others have brought back from conventions I was not able to attend, and one, my first TTM success, is thanks to following the methods that Troy lays out in his new book, Autograph Collecting Secrets, as well as his tutorial videos on YouTube. I will add more on that later in this post.

Autograph Collecting Secrets is a complete guide to the author’s methods of collecting autographs from numerous celebrities in movies and television, as well as a plethora of NFL and MLB athletes.  Well written, easy to follow, and easily read in less than three hours, it is chock-full of information for anyone that is a seasoned collector all the way to the beginner. As I would expect from Troy, the text is well organized and concise, but also contains brief descriptions of his personal experiences as a thirty-year veteran of this fun and interesting hobby.

In the 155 pages of text that includes illustrations and photos, Troy outlines the ins-and-outs of getting started as well as some ideas for improving one’s own experience if one is already a collector. He outlines successful methods that have worked for him and others and things not to do as one collects autographs of favorite celebrities, sports figures, or any other possible kind of collecting one may want to do. Following a foreword by Jack Smalling (a renowned autograph collector in his own right) is an introduction by the author explaining who the book is actually intended for, as well as who it is not intended for; you can read the introduction in the excerpt offered at Amazon.com. The chapters included in Autograph Collecting Secrets include

  • Glossary: A list of terms commonly used by autograph collectors and their definitions
  • Chapter 1: My Autograph Story: Troy outlines his personal experience in his 30 years of collecting.
  • Chapter 2: Is Autograph Collecting Dead?: Some say it is a dead hobby for various reasons.
  • Chapter 3: Autograph Collecting Supplies: Things that you need and are nice to have to begin your adventure.
  • Chapter 4: Finding Your Niche: What are you into? Sci-Fi, Cooking? Sports?
  • Chapter 5:: Finding Celebrity Addresses: Thanks to the Internet, there are several resources to find and confirm addresses for successful collecting.
  • Chapter 6: Through The Mail (TTM) Collecting: To do’s and not to do’s when sending requests through the Postal Service.
  • Chapter 7: Real or Fake?: Other than watching a celeb sign in front of you, how can you know it is authentic?
  • Chapter 8: In-Person (IP) Autograph Collecting: More do’s and don’ts for this type of collecting.
  • Chapter 9: Comic-Cons and Private Signings: Can be pricey but fun.
  • Chapter 10: Buying Autographs: Watch out for dealers and scammers; what to avoid.
  • Chapter 11: Storage and Display: You want to take care of your successes, here’s how.
  • Chapter 12: Social Sharing: If you are proud of your collection, you want to show it off.
  • Chapter 13: Selling Your Collection: Tips if you want to unload your stuff.
  • Chapter 14: The Future of Autograph Collecting: It is worth continuing?

At the end of the book are a lot of helpful resources to get started including addresses of all the Major League and Minor League Baseball addresses, all of the NFL Stadium addresses, and the major television and movie studios.

Concise, well organized, and every concept is clearly explained. If you are already a collector, or are just getting into collecting, or even if it is something that you might think you would like to do, I recommend this book.

As Troy and I are friends, he contacted me after he had most of the text written and asked if I would be one of his beta readers and help with the editing. He sent me the files and I went to work and thought, what the heck, I will give this a try. Troy had recently received a successful return from Armin Shimerman of Deep Space Nine fame.

I got the address that Troy sent to, an agency in Los Angeles. The I joined Star Tiger, one of several web based services that one can obtain celebrity addresses from, and got a 30 day free trial. I confirmed the address that Troy had given me. This was an unnecessary step, but I wanted to follow the methods outlined in Autograph Collecting Secrets. Next I found two photos of Mr. Shimerman on Google and uploaded them to Sharp Prints, a web based photo service that is very reasonably priced; about eighty cents per 8x10 print (as an aside note, if you use Sharp Prints, you will want to get more than two prints at a time or the shipping is very expensive).

When my photos arrived, they were very high quality and so I sent them along with a handwritten note. In Autograph Collecting Secrets, Troy explains that whether the note is handwritten or typed doesn’t seem to make a difference on returns and it is a personal preference. I choose to do the handwritten note because it just seems more personal to me; so for the time being this is my method. At any rate, I followed Troy’s procedures to the letter based on what he wrote as well as a video that Troy made for his YouTube channel for collecting.


I purchased some small packages of 10x13 and 9x12 envelopes from Wal-Mart and some a package of acid-free backing boards from Amazon and assembled the “Send” as instructed with the two prints and the note. I headed to the post office and purchased two $1.50 stamps from the kiosk and dropped it package in the box.

27 days later I received both photos signed as well as a short note from Mr. Shimmerman. My first TTM Success! Even though I was pretty sure that I would receive what I asked for, I was nevertheless elated when I opened my package to find that my first attempt was fruitful! Below are scans of the items I received…




I am currently preparing to do more TTM sends in the near future using the methods outlined in Autograph Collecting Secrets and will likely blog about my geeky/nerdy returns  as they come in, until then, you can find Troy’s book on Amazon. Below are some links to Troy’s web page, YouTube Channel, and e-mail. Feel free to contact him to exchange ideas or get advice. He is very friendly and approachable and is always willing to help a fellow collector at any level of expertise.

TTM Autographs Web Page: http://ttmautograph.com/
Mike the Fanboy (Troy contributes): http://www.mikethefanboy.com/

Well, there it is…

Qaplah!