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.

Spoilers will appear here and are welcome.

Saturday, February 28, 2015

Nathan Lowell's Trader's Tales From The Golden Age Of The Solar Clipper - Part Two: Books Four - Six

This post is a continuation of an earlier post on the Trader’s Tales From The Golden Age Of The Solar Clipper series by Nathan Lowell.  In the last post, I summarized the first three books of the series, Quarter Share, Half Share, and Full Share.  In those first three books that span a period of about two years, we follow the early years of Ishmael Wang serving aboard the Lois McKendrick, a clipper that travels between systems delivering cargo and making a profit.  As Ishmael works and learns, gains the respect of the officers and crew of the Lois, and at the urging of almost everyone, decides to attend the Academy to train to become an officer himself.

Ishmael’s story picks up following his graduation from the Academy almost five years after the events of the third novel in the series, Full Share.

Double Share: Book Four of the Trader’s Tales From The Golden Age Of The Solar Clipper by Nathan Lowell

The events of this book take place between May 22, 2358 and November 26, 2358.

Almost immediately after graduating from the academy, and after a leisurely trip to the Diurnia Orbital space station, Ishmael prepares to begin his first appointment as an officer for the Diurnia Salvage and Transport company.  His first assignment as a third officer is aboard the William Tinker, commanded by Captain Rossett.

Ishmael soon learns that the ship he has been assigned to is nothing like the Lois.  What he actually finds aboard can only be described as appalling.  First, he notices that there is a strange odor on the ship, then he learns that the food and coffee is less than desirable.  As time goes on, he also finds that the ship has been poorly maintained and that there seems to be very low morale amongst the crew, which consists of all women with the exception of himself, the Captain and a very crude First Mate named Burnside, and a couple of other thuggish characters.

As Ishmael sets about doing his best to improve conditions on the ship, he finds that he is being fought every step of the way.  Morale improves, but Ishmael pays a cost for every improvement he makes on his one-man crusade to make the Tinker a better place to live and work.

During his time on the Tinker, Ishmael makes some friends, but he also makes enemies that threaten his very life. However, in the end, it is the crew of the ship that wins as the owner hired Ishmael specifically to clean up the ship and help him get rid of the undesirable captain and first mate.

Captain’s Share: Book Five of the Trader’s Tales From The Golden Age Of The Solar Clipper by Nathan Lowell

The events of this book take place between August 22, 2371 and September 13, 2372.

It is some thirteen years later and Ishmael is now the First Officer on the William Tinker.  He is also married.  

On their way back into port, the ship gets a report that there is a derelict ship that is causing a navigations hazard and the crew of the Tinker takes on the task of investigating the situation.  Ishmael goes on board and finds the entire crew dead and takes command of the derelict.  They guide the ship back to the orbital and Ishmael soon learns that he is to be a captain and will be getting his own ship.

While in port, Ishmael goes to his apartment and spends time with his wife, but when he informs her that he is to become captain and that he will be shipping out again soon, an argument breaks out.  This has become a regular pattern in his relationship.  Later, when he learns about the ship he will be commanding, his wife seems to have a change of heart and is happy that he will be captain of his own ship.

Ishmael takes command of the Agamemnon, which has the reputation for being the worst ship in the fleet for many reasons.  As he assumes command, he uses his usual charm and people skills to get his ship in shape for business.  As this happens, He also learns that the change in his wife’s attitude is because she is having an affair.  He promptly begins divorce proceedings.

So Ishmael gathers his crew and sets sail for the Deep Dark once again.

Owner’s Share: Book Six of the Trader’s Tales From The Golden Age Of The Solar Clipper by Nathan Lowell.

The events of this book take place between December 10, 2372 and January 1, 2374.

Ishmael has managed to turn the Agamemnon around and has made it a profitable ship.  After starting with a rough crew, he manages to get them trained and they work well together.  He also learns that he is very likely going to become a very wealthy person thanks to his part in the salvage of the found derelict, which brings him some unwanted attention and a very annoying celebrity status.   Pictures of him show up everywhere documenting almost his every move in every port he enters.

Meanwhile, the owner of the company that he works for passes away and he is urged by many to become an owner in his own right, but those urging him on have an ulterior motive; while the owner’s daughter stands to inherit the entire company, he has made a stipulation that before she is allowed to take over, she has to spend a year working on a ship from another company.  Several investors come together to help Ishmael get his company started and running.  While it is assumed that the daughter is somewhat of a selfish brat, it actually turns out that she becomes a valuable and excellent member of Ishmael’s new crew.

As often happens, celebrity status and high stakes also come with high risks, and soon Ishmael find himself, unwittingly in the middle of a power struggle that almost costs him his life.  All of this causes Ishmael to reassess his life and his future, which is quite uncertain at the end of this book.

When it was recommended to me that I read this series, I was not sure what to expect.  I guess I expected to find a typical sci-fi with all the usual elements of the space opera that I normally read.  I was pleasantly surprised, right from the start, that I was in for a different kind of sci-fi than what I normally read.

The Trader’s Tales is not about war, the ships aren’t armed, and there are no people in impossible situations finding solutions by impossible means, rather these are just good stories about ordinary people doing their jobs as best they are able and solving problems as they come along.  I would like to put an emphasis on ordinary, but also stress that the prose here is extraordinary.

The hero of these books is a man of Asian descent named Ishmael Wang.  He is a brilliant person who really knows how to handle people without compromising his own standards.  Once he makes up his mind to do something, he does a fine job, but he is not a flawless character; he does make plenty of mistakes, but he faces the consequences for all of his actions with honor and dignity. Ishmael tries to surround himself with people that are of high quality, but sometimes falls short of the mark.  But as a natural born leader, he almost always finds a way to bring oout the best on those around him just by being who and what he is, a good person.  In the series, he takes some of the most seemingly impossible characters and helps them rise above themselves and see their own self-worth.  This is exactly the kind of person I would love to work for, but all to rarely find.  No matter what problems come up, Ishmael handles them with a cool head and compassion, treating those around him as equals and rewarding them on their merits as opposed to what they have done for him.  One prime example of this, throughout his entire career as a Spacer is his policy that one doesn’t “screw with crew.”  Yes, that is exactly what it means, even though opportunities abound on every berth he is on, he refuses to get into personal relationships with members of the crew he is serving with.  That is not to say that he is made of tempered steel though, he is quite often tempted by the strong female characters and his convictions are quite often challenged.

The stories are told from Ishmael’s point of view.  The writing is in the form of a narrative prose that is easy to read.  This is truly the story of people doing jobs, so there is little time spent on the technical aspects of the ship’s operations.  There are a few brief explanations of how some of the systems work, but we don’t get bogged down in a lot of jargon, which keeps the stories flowing smoothly.  While one might think that such mundane material might get boring, these stories are anything but mundane thanks to the brilliant pacing of the narrative.  The way the story is told, one can easily visualize what a ship or an orbital station might look like.

Nathan Lowell holds a Ph.D. in Educational Technology and specializes in Distance Learning.  He learned about live aboard ships by working on fishing boats and while in the Coast Guard.  Nathan now lives in Colorado.  Recently, I friended him on Facebook and a few weeks ago assured me that the adventures of Ishmael Wang will continue, but he gave no details on when to watch for a new installment of the Trader’s Tales.  Links to the books and audiobooks can be found on the author's Solar Clipper Diary webpage.

In July of 2012, Dr.Lowell was interviewed by the SciFi Diner Podcast.  Just click the link to listen to that interview in which the author talks about his work.

I give these works my highest recommendations for some great reading.

Well, there it is…


Friday, February 27, 2015

So Long Leonard Nimoy, And Thanks

Today saw the passing of one of my biggest heroes.  I am, of course speaking of Leonard Nimoy.  I am going to try to put into words what I am thinking and feeling this evening as I sit here in front of my computer and make an attempt to gather my thoughts.

I learned of Mr. Nimoy's passing this morning while at school.  My 8th Grade General Music class had just let out and I glanced at the computer where I saw my friend Scott Hertzog had posted a link to the New York Times announcing Leonard Nimoy dead at 83.  I asked If it had been confirmed and soon learned that it had been when my e-mail exploded with news bulletins and notifications from other friends.

Shortly after, I went to help with lunch duty.  Everyone that I have duty with kind of knew that something was up, but no one asked.  I just sat, numbly staring off in the distance.  Just before the high schoolers reported for lunch, my good friend and colleague, Chuck asked me about "that actor" that I told him had entered the hospital with severe chest pains.  Don't misunderstand, Chuck is a compassionate individual, but not a Sci-Fi fan and really knew nothing about Leonard Nimoy beyond what I told him.

News travels fast in a small school.  As the high school students passed by me, many of them offered condolences, some just looked and nodded, a few flashed the Vulcan salute to me. One avid fellow Trekkie asked if I had heard the news, and another, who loves to argue (jokingly) the merits of Star Wars over Star Trek put his hand on my shoulder and expressed his recognition of my sorrow.  Lest there be a doubt, the kids get it.  When I was done monitoring the lunch room, I returned to my classroom and broke down.

I managed to gather myself together in time for my next round of classes, and even managed to hide my feelings, and as usual, the kids helped me through the day.

So now I sit in front of the computer typing and listening to Star Trek soundtrack recordings.

I am old enough to have watched Star Trek in its original run on television, but not until the third season.  My mother didn't this it was good for me to stay up too late on school nights at the age of eight and nine, but when I was ten, she relented and allowed me to watch the show.  I cannot remember what was the first episode I saw, but it was one from the third season.  I immediately noticed the guy with the pointed ears and wondered about him.  As I watched, I learned that he had no emotions, and he was loyal to Kirk to a fault.  All too soon, that third season came to an end.  I hear many brutally maligning that season of Trek, but it was gold to me, and especially the logical Mr. Spock.

It wasn't long after that the episodes started airing in syndication.  Every evening at 5:00 I was in front of the television watching and catching up on what I had missed.  I so much loved this show that I began, much to the chagrin of my dad, emulating Spock.  I became emotionless, stoic, introspective and analytical.  Emulating Spock also got me in some trouble, because if anyone around me misstated something, I would correct them, just as Spock did.  Most people just laughed it off, ignored it, or simply shook their heads.  One day I corrected dad.  Baaaaad idea, but that's another story.

I got to the point that I had seen every episode so many times that I could tell you which one was on within about 20 seconds of the beginning of the teaser.

Now, I have never met Leonard Nimoy in person. Mostly, he was no more than a frequent visitor to my living room in the persona of Mr. Spock.  I also would occasionally see him at the theater, or on interviews, or a few times I encountered him in print form or more recently on an audiobook or social media.  But through all of that, I can truly say that I could feel the man's honor and integrity through all of his works that I have seen.  I see Mr. Nimoy as a person who was a professional who cared about ethics, not only holding himself to high standards, but also having high expectations from those around him.  Perhaps this is only how I imagine him based on what I know of him through various media, but he set a standard that I have tried to follow through the years.

So I will close this with a thank you to an almost lifelong hero, Leonard Nimoy.  Thanks for making me laugh and cry.  Thanks for setting an example of how to live logically and ethically.  Thanks for all the years of wonderful entertainment.  Thanks for your part in my making connections to others that have similarly been influenced by you.  Thanks for sharing your life with me, as well as millions of others all of these years.  They, and I

will miss you.

So, tonight I close this blog, not with the usual Q'aplaH, but rather...

Live Long and Prosper

Tuesday, February 24, 2015

Pangaea - An Anthology To Watch For - Huge Book, Great Authors, Now Funding On Kickstarter

Pangaea - A Kickstarter Project By Mike Friedman And A Pantheon Of Excellent Authors

Mike Friedman is at it again, another Kickstarter project, but this time he is not alone.

It wasn’t too long ago that well known author Michael Jan Friedman was dropping little cryptic hints on Facebook of something that he had in the works. I asked him what was up and he just told me to keep my eyes open for something big. Well he wasn’t kidding. This new project is an anthology of stories that will explore how the world might appear if, instead of the seven continents we know, that if all of the land masses were to have remained joined as one giant supercontinent called Pangaea. Here is the video that explains the project...

Students of natural history probably already know that this was once the case in the past, but according to Mike, his research tells that the land masses of the Earth have been all joined together on at least four occasions, but this has never happened during the course of known human history.

On the Visionary Trek podcast known as The Captain’s Table, Mike was interviewed and talked about how he loves to speculate on the “unexplored corners” of history in his books. Fans of Mike Friedman are probably aware of two novels that imagine what it might be like if Cortez had never conquered the Aztec civilization (see my blog post on Aztlan HERE).

Anyway, as I mentioned earlier, Mike is not alone on this project.  Pangaea will be an anthology of stories by Mike, as well as his fellow Crazy 8 authors, and Dayton Ward, Kevin Dilmore just to mention a few.  To see a complete list of writers involved, follow this LINK to the Kickstarter page where you will find a better description of the projects, the investment levels and the perks that go with them.

As always, I do not promote projects such as this unless I have contributed.

Well, there it is…


Sunday, February 15, 2015

Jupiter Ascending - A Film That Descends To New Lows - Unwatchable For Many Reasons

Jupiter Ascending - 2014

As a former movie theater manager and owner, I have seen many films.  Many of them were very good and a few were really bad. As I remember back to those days, I can honestly say that Jupiter Rising would easily make it on the list of the worst Sci-Fi films I have ever seen.  And I don't even mean one of the best of the worse, it is just altogether bad.  What makes me really sad is that I was looking forward to this film so much because it is not a prequel, a sequel or a reboot, as so many of the offerings are these past several years.  It is an original film with a supposedly original story that falls so flat that it is virtually unwatchable.

Jupiter Jones is an unfortunate cleaning woman in a family business.  Her main job seems to be cleaning toilets.   Jupiter however doesn't know that she also has the genetic makeup to be the queen of the Earth.  An alien, Balem Abrasax knows that the planet has been seeded with human life that is to be harvested to make a substance to sustain and extend life for his species.  Balem will be able to harvest the planet very soon but he first must obtain ownership by getting Jupiter to sign it over to him or if she is killed.  It is up to Caine Wise to protect Jupiter and make sure that nothing happens to her majesty.

The plot of the film comes down to Jupiter's choice to save her family and allow the Earth to be harvested, or, with the help of Caine and a sort of galactic police force save the Earth from being harvested by Balem.  As one might suspect, and because of the predictability of this so called "original" story, Balem is defeated, Jupiter and Caine fall in love, and the population of the Earth is saved.

There are other characters and things that take place in this film, but they are really not worth mentioning because the really add nothing to this 127 minute (that seemed like "six hours" according to my ten year-old daughter who went to the show with me) ride through utter boredom.

Outside of saying that what I didn't like about this film is just about everything, I have to be more specific...

Characters: The characters were flat and uninteresting. There was very little character development. Jupiter as portrayed by Mila Kunis probably had the most development of all of the characters.  Her father was killed in an armed robbery of the family's home, she was born on a ship in transit to the U.S., and her and her mother went to Chicago to live with her aunt who runs a cleaning business.  Beyond that, characters come and go with little to no introduction or background other than that everyone is ready to advance their own causes to gain ownership of the planet.

Direct Reference to Dune?
Plot: This film, minus the killing and other pointless violence, is basically a Disney Princess movie.  The main character discovers that she is royalty, is protected by a handsome prince, chooses to become a hero by saving lives, and finally falls in love with the prince and lives happily ever after.  But that's not all. Now take the Disney film and mash it up with David Lynch's Dune film from 1984!  I'm not kidding.  The place where Balem lives looks like what one might imagine Geidi Prime.  The ships and structures like they were taken directly from Dune, and judging from what I have seen of the documentary on Jodorwoski's Dune, might even be a direct ripoff of those Joderowski's designs.  Even Balem himself has an eerie resemblance to the Baron Harkonnen complete with a Piter De Vries mentat-like sidekick.

Visual Effects: Nothing special.  While the visuals in the film are well done, they are in most films made in the last few years.  But the way they are used is truly appalling.  First of all, it is far too obvious that the Wachowskis directed this film to pander to the 3D crowd (I am on a one-man boycott of 3D, by the way.  It is ridiculous, in my opinion, to pay extra for the privilege of sitting in a dark movie theater wearing dark glasses and getting a bad case of eye strain and a blinding headache.).  Almost every scene has people or objects flying at the viewer, and along with that, these scenes are far too long to be entertaining.  One such scene seemed to go on for about 15 minutes!  One of the heroes in the film lives in a house that is virtually covered with beehives and there are bees constantly swarming around characters.  In one scene, the bees launch a mass attack on forces who are after Jupiter.

Sound: One particularly irritating aspect of watching this film is that almost all of the characters seemed to be mumbling their lines.  I found that I missed a great deal of the dialog. It was even worse if someone in the theater was rattling a popcorn bag or unwrapping cellophane from a candy package.  Also, the genius of Michael Giacchino was not even enough to pull this farce out of its tailspin.  The music was good and may have been the only redeeming part of this disappointing movie-going experience.

I attended the film with my daughter, Chrissy, who said that "there were too many scenes" in this film and as I stated before, she said it felt like it was too long.  I cannot disagree.  As I said, any of the scenes went on far too long to get the full effect of the 3D.  Chrissy also said that "it didn't make sense."

About twenty minutes into the film, I was seriously considering walking out.  It was just a few seconds later when a family of three got up and did just that.  I hope they got their money back. A few others also left at various times.  Those of us that stuck it out left the auditorium looking like we had been caught in a boiler explosion, and I will admit that there were a few times I found myself nodding off.

On the poster, it touts the Wachowskis as the directors behind the Matrix.  This isn't even 1/10th of the film that was and I will tell you that in the future, Wachowski will be more like Watch-Outski when it comes to me attending another one of their creations.

Just to be fair, I have to admit that a colleague and good friend, Mr. Chuck Roe texted me before the film started and said that I should go to American Sniper instead.  I should have listened.

My advice is to save your money for a film that was featured in the previews, Ant-Man.  The trailer looked very good.  

Don't see this in the theater, don't see this on PPV, don't rent it, or buy it in any form, unless you are a glutton for visual punishment.

Well, there it is…