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.

Sunday, May 29, 2016

Boarding The Enterprise: Re-released For The 50th Anniversary, This Is One You Don't Want To Miss!

Boarding The Enterprise: Transporters, Tribbles, and the Vulcan Death Grip in Gene Roddenberry’s Star Trek Edited By David Gerrold and Robert J. Sawyer

I have been, and always shall be a Trekkie…

As we approach the 50th Anniversary of the phenomenon called Star Trek, I cannot help thinking about how much that show has shaped my life and the influence it has had on me, and all completely for the good, I might add. I cannot tell you how many times I have watched each and every episode of the show over and over again and still enjoy it as much now as I did when I was a youngster growing up during the heady years of the space-race between the U.S. and the U.S.S.R., and while there were frequent voyages of astronauts launching on rockets, original series Star Trek was on to watch weekly, and later daily to fill the gaps between NASA missions.

I continue to watch the original series at least once or twice a year, start to finish, every episode good or bad, and I continue loving it. I have said before that sitting down to watch these shows is like getting a visit from an old friend that I haven’t seen for a long time. It is comfortable and fun.

I have also read numerous books on Star Trek including numerous making of, philosophy of, science of, biographies of, etc. and so on but never really gave much thought as to the meaning of the show and the influence it has had on the greater world. I have heard much on the “Roddenberry Vision” and the message that he intentionally, or unintentionally, meant for us to find in the shows, that is, until now.

Recently, I received an e-mail from a representative of BenBella Books inviting me to be a part of something called a blog tour. It is an honor to participate in this and I deeply appreciate the opportunity to help promo the re-release of Boarding the Enterprise, a truly unique book, at least as far as the reading I have done on the subject of original series Trek.

So first off, let me explain what Boarding the Enterprise isn’t; it isn’t a rehashing of all of those stories we have heard many times about how Gene Roddenberry sold his show, it isn’t all about those behind the scenes stories that we have heard many times, it isn’t an expose of how the actors got along, or didn’t. This book is a collection of essays written by writers and scholars that deals mostly with the influence that Star Trek has had on us as Trekkies/Trekkers individually, on television as we see it today, and on society in general.

Boarding the Enterprise contains thirteen essays written by men and women who either have been involved with Star Trek directly, or who have been influenced by it in some way that inspired them to go into their chosen profession because of the show. Nearly every essay contains references to events that have taken place along with specific references to episodes that are relevant to the commentary; some even quote specific scenes as they relate to the author’s material. Add to that the introduction by Robert J. Sawyer, and a foreword by David Gerrold, two award winning Sci-Fi writers and you get what is, in my opinion, a great read.

One example of a very fine essay included in this volume is titled “The Prime Question” penned by Eric Green. Green discusses how original series Star Trek either dealt with, or danced around their own “Prime Directive.” In his essay he cites numerous episodes including “Friday’s Child,” “Plato’s Stepchildren,” “Return of the Archons,” and even “Spock’s Brain” as well as many others as examples of how the Prime Directive was either applied or ignored depending on the situation. Green also makes it more relevant by citing the realistic relationship between governments in the real world and how such a directive, if it were to be adopted, might help relations in our own tension filled world. In my humble opinion, this essay alone is worth the price of the book.

In another essay by Dorothy Fontana, she neatly sums up what made Star Trek stand out among other science fiction shows on the air around the same time as Star Trek. Two such examples were Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea and Lost in Space, both of which were, more or less, “monster of the week” shows, while at the same time Star Trek was more of an anthology show in with a different story every week. In Fontana’s words (used by permission):

“Our tales weren’t like that (i.e. Monster of the week). Gene Roddenberry and the Star Trek writers were more interested in stories that reflected the issues and problems of our times. We were the only show on the air that managed not just one, but several episodes that examined aspects of the Vietnam War during a time when the networks had decreed the subject absolutely taboo for anyone else. Against a backdrop of science fiction, we talked about racial discrimination, determining one’s own future, defending personal and national freedoms, compassion, love and friendship that held against all odds. Star Trek told stories of how Man could be far better than he was, how there could be a better future if we could only reach for it and build it.”

“One network executive, frustrated by our insistence on honesty in the science and truth in the stories, finally blurted out in a meeting, “You people think that ship is really up there!””

And there it is in a nutshell. Why do we keep watching this show, introducing to our kids, talking about it, attending conventions about it, dressing up as our favorite characters? It is because  the writers and people involved with the show helped us believe that the Enterprise was real, and still is, and it reflects the best of what we can, as humans, can be.

One does not have to be an academic to appreciate what is contained in these pages and will gain a better understanding of the social and political aspects of Star Trek, and the reader of this work will gain an even better appreciation behind the creativity that went into the show, and may also be better able to define what the meaning of Star Trek is on a personal level. I give this book my highest recommendations for one that should be added to a library containing non-fiction books on Star Trek.

*** RED ALERT! ***

I have been authorized to give away two copies of Boarding The Enterprise by BenBella Books! If you would like to participate, please send me an e-mail with your name and e-mail address to I will have a random drawing and notify the recipients by e-mail on June 5th, 2016. This offer is limited to residents of the United States and Canada.

Well, there it is…


Friday, May 13, 2016

Grunt Traitor: A Task Force OMBRA Novel By Weston Ochse - The Sequel To Grunt Life - More Intense, Deeper, And Epic - A Must Read!

Grunt Traitor: A Task Force OMBRA Novel by Weston Ochse

It wasn’t too long ago that I read and reviewed Weston Ochse’s Grunt Life in which we were introduced to Benjamin Mason, a soldier and veteran of the war in Afghanistan who suffers from PTSD and was plucked off of a bridge in Los Angeles by a representative of OMBRA, a company that is putting together a highly trained army of former soldiers to fight the Cray, an alien race that not very much was known about, except that they were very deadly.

Grunt Traitor picks up not long after the events of the previous novel and, according to the author, many have told him it is better than the first.

After returning from Africa and being dubbed the “Hero of the Mound,” there are some radical changes taking place, chiefly in the climate of the planet and in the expansion of the Cray; the average temperature has risen along with sea levels, and it seems that the Cray have unleashed a new weapon to go along with their flying, and ground based insectoids, as well as their constant electromagnetic pulses rendering all but the most hardened devices working in the vicinity of mounds the Cray dwell in.

Benjamin Mason, a newly minted lieutenant in OMBRA’s army is sent into L.A. along with Dupree, a scientist, to investigate a new threat from the Cray in the form of a black vine that releases spores into the air. When animal life comes into contact with these spores, they attack anyone and anything that has not been similarly infected, thus spreading the disease. While trying to protect Dupree during a battle, Mason himself is infected and thinks he might die soon, but manages to take samples back to his OMBRA base for study and analysis.

The scientists and doctors actually find a cure, but the spores leave Mason changed. It is the changes that makes him the ideal man to lead a team back into L.A. to destroy one of the mounds with only a slim margin of time to escape. But even though there is a chance for more victories against the Cray, there are many who merely try to survive, some who are overly ambitious, and others who sincerely believe that there is little hope for the survival of humankind on this planet. Perhaps a victory by Mason may inspire hope around the world and change the course of the future, but Mason must be willing to pay the price for a successful mission and will have to take the risk of being labeled a traitor instead of hero.

Like the first novel in the series, Grunt Life, the story mostly follows Mason as he faces many difficulties in trying to complete his assigned missions. Mason is a very compelling character that one can very much care about. He is a complicated man who is a good leader and a good soldier, but he has a strong sense of right and wrong and is not afraid to stand up to his superiors and fellow soldiers to do what is right. Mason also has to make many difficult choices in this story which leads to the death of friends and foes that he would rather not kill, but the circumstances force him to make those hard decisions. While he doesn’t hesitate to do what is necessary, he does pay a price for very life he is forced to take, and is often deeply affected by what he has to do, even to the point of being in danger of losing his own life. Mason is a character that one can really care about.

Oh but there are also characters in this story that a reader will come to loathe and despise as they follow their own sinister agendas. One such character is “Mr. Pink,” the commander of the OMBRA army that Mason serves with. In Grunt Life, Mason falls deeply in love with a fellow grunt, Michelle, who is changed into a kind of human communications device because she is able to tap into the communications of the enemy. After Mason is cured from the spores, he finds that he is able to communicate with Michelle and he makes it his personal mission to save her from being used by Pink and other scientists. When Mason locates her, he unfortunately finds that the only way he can rescue her is to end her life as Pink and the scientists treat her more as a machine than a human being.

One of my favorite parts of this story is when we learn more about the Cray. It would appear that the beings that have invaded the Earth are not actually the master species, however they are more like drones sent by a more advanced race to secure the resources of the planet to be used in a much larger conflict taking place in another part of the galaxy; humans are merely in the way and the Cray’s mission is to get people out of the way so the resources can be mined and taken back for the larger war effort.

I highly recommend this book, as well as the first book in the series as some outstanding examples of military sci-fi that will appeal to fans of this particular branch of the genre in numerous ways. Being a veteran of the military himself, Ochse does an amazing job of describing weapons, devices, and people, but he does it in terms that anyone can understand. I think that fellow vets will be able to relate very well to the characters and situations presented.

I would also warn those that are not so inclined to reading intense descriptions of military operations and those that may not be well able to handle graphic descriptions of death, injury, and destruction on a large scale, this story is laced with many such instances and may not be a good fit for the casual reader.

Well, there it is…


Monday, May 9, 2016

Captain America: Civil War - Great Film Including A Philosophy 101 Lesson!

Captain America: Civil War

Once again, Marvel Studios delves into the lives of The Avengers, only this time, it would seem that the writers and director decided to take a little bit of a new approach to the storytelling for Civil War. For me at least, this was most unexpected and also very welcome, at least for me. But more on that later.

The film opens with a scene in which Bucky Barnes intercepts a car to recover more of the super soldier serum that made him into the Winter Soldier and made Steve Rogers into Captain America.

About a year after the events of Avengers: Age of Ultron, several of the Avengers manage to stop an attempt to steal a biological weapon from a lab in Lagos. The antagonist, Rumlow, decides that he cannot get away so he detonates a bomb in which he will kill himself as well as others on the streets. Wanda, the Scarlet Witch attempts to direct the blast away from her fellow Avenger, but several bystanders in a building are killed. The bystanders Wakandan humanitarian workers.

Owing to the death and destruction left in the wake of previous battles, particularly those in New York, London, and Sokovia, the United Nations prepare to pass the Sokovia Accords to establish an international group that will oversee the Avengers in hopes of limiting further devastation resulting from their activities. When U.S. Secretary of State Ross informs the team (minus Thor and Bruce Banner), there is a definite split in opinions between Tony Stark and Steve Rogers on whether the accords are needed or not. Stark believes that since it was his activities that led to the rise of Ultron, the U.N. Is justified in their concerns while Rogers maintains that the Avengers are well able to govern themselves.

During the conference that would ratify the accords in Vienna, a bomb kills many including King T’Chaka of the Wakanda. When the security footage is reviewed, the bomber appears to be a very fuzzy view of Bucky Barnes. T’Chaka’s son, T’Challa vows that he will find and kill Bucky. Rogers is tipped off by Sharon Carter (Peggy Carter’s niece) as to the whereabouts of Bucky. Rogers sets off to bring Bucky in alone. He and Sam Wilson find Bucky in a hideout in Bucharest and attempt to protect him from being captured by authorities, but all, including T’Challa (as the Black Panther) are apprehended.

Helmut Zemo steals a book that contains code words that activate Bucky to become the Winter Soldier. Zemo then manages to gain entrance to the facility where Bucky is being held in very tight security and activates him sending Bucky into a rampage to cover his own escape. Rogers intercedes and manages to take Bucky away and allow him to regain his senses. Bucky explains that Zemo is on his way to a facility where there are other super soldiers are awaiting activation from stasis.

Realizing that they will never catch Zemo in time if they wait for permission, Rogers and Wilson decide to go rogue. They also bring in Wanda, Clint Barton (Hawkeye) and Scott Lang (Ant-Man) for assistance. Meanwhile, Stark assemblies a team consisting of himself, Natasha, T’Challa, James Rhodes (War Machine), Vision, and a very young Peter Parker (Spider-Man). Rogers team is intercepted by Stark's team at a German airport where a battle ensues. Rogers and Bucky manage to escape with the help of Natasha, but the rest of Rogers’ team is captured and imprisoned, but Rhodes is wounded and partially paralyzed after accidentally shot out of the sky by Vision. Natasha is forced into hiding.

When Stark learns that Bucky was framed by Zemo, he talks with Wilson who tells him where to find Rogers. Stark (who is secretly followed by T’Challa) arrives at the Siberian HYDRA Facility and makes a truce with Rogers and Bucky. They discover that the super soldiers have been killed by Zemo who is from Sokovia and has taken on the mission of punishing the Avengers for the death of his family. Zemo shows Stark a film that allows him to see that the car that Bucky intercepted was being driven by Howard Stark and his wife, Stark becomes enraged and turns on Bucky and blasts off Bucky’s mechanical arm. Rogers, in turn, disables Stark’s armor. Leaving his shield behind, Rogers departs with Bucky. Thinking that he has accomplished what he set out to do, Zemo attempts suicide but is stopped and apprehended by T’Challa.

The movie closes with Rhodes working on learning to use exoskeletal leg braces that Stark has made for him, while Rogers breaks his comrades out of custody.

In two “Easter-egg” scenes, Rogers and Bucky are granted asylum in Wakanda by T’Challa. Bucky has chosen to have himself placed back into cryogenic sleep until his brainwashing can be broken. At the end of the credits, Peter Parker plays with a device that Stark has given him.

I managed to avoid spoilers leading up to my viewing of the film and was very much pleased with some of the character development in this film. While many of the established characters were pretty much the same as always, I was again very pleased with the performance turned in by Robert Downy Jr. as Tony Stark. In the past, I have been rather snarky on the subject of Stark’s appearances because he has come off as a constant deliverer of snappy one-liners showing very little depth of character. I just plain didn’t like him, but in Age of Ultron as well as this film, he has become more thoughtful and is looking at what he does and seeing that there are consequences. In one scene where he announces that he has funded all of the projects that students of M.I.T. are working on, there is almost no evidence of his usual past super ego that was portrayed in the Iron-Man films and is becoming a character that I am starting to like a lot. Wanda has become a very important part of the Avengers and has come to terms with working well with others. It was nice to see Bucky return as someone who was more than just a mindless automaton bent on destruction at the hands of his HYDRA handlers. We see a hint of a budding relationship taking place between Vision and Wanda that I well remember from the days many years ago when I read comics regularly. Also from those halcyon days of reading Avengers comics was the addition of T’Challa, the Black Panther brilliantly played by Chadwick Boseman! It is my sincere hope that T’Challa returns in future films and perhaps will get a feature of his own. Boseman is a classy actor playing a classy character that was one of my favorites when I was much younger. Another addition to the Marvel Film Universe under the auspices of Disney was young Tom Holland as Peter Parker/Spider-Man. Now I have to admit that I have never really been a huge fan of Spider-Man and have avoided the feature films made over the past several years, but this portrayal of the Web-slinger was refreshing and fun. I was, at first, apprehensive when I learned that he was to be included, but the writers did a great job using this portrayal to inject some fresh and youthful perspective into the film. I especially loved when he was wrapping up Ant-Man’s legs with webbing all the while describing scenes from The Empire Strikes Back! Hilarious! Another addition was Emily VanCamp as Sharon Carter, the niece of Peggy Carter. While she did appear in a previous film, she received some small amount of character development as an ally of Rogers, as well as a potential love interest. But this brings me to the only disturbing moment in the film as she grabs Rogers and plants a kill on him that, in light of the relationship with Peggy in the first Captain America film, made me cringe just a little bit.

One of the things that one can depend upon in the Marvel films these past few years is that there is usually a clear-cut line in the good versus evil. The villains are usually pretty easy to spot and the Avengers know what their target is.  In this film though, the lines are not so clear cut. In the case of Civil War for the most part, we have the good guys fighting the good guys, and even the one bad guy, Zemo, was not a super villain, but rather became more of a terrorist as a means of taking revenge for the death of his family.

For me, the first hour of the film was a little slow, not too slow, but from my point of view, the writers of this film have taken things to a new height in Marvel films; they seemed to delve into the realm of philosophy and gave me food for thought as I reflect on what I saw. What I detected was a struggle not between good and evil, but rather a struggle between idealism and pragmatism.

Captain America would seem to be the ultimate idealist. He is willing to go against the established command structure and go a bit outside the law to do what he sees as right. The first instance of this is when he tells Stark that there is no need to sign the Sokovia Accords; as far as Cap is concerned, the Avengers are more than capable of seeing what the objective is and can determine how to take care of it. This is not to say that he is willing to just take lives and leave destruction is the wake of the battle without feeling remorse as a consequence. Cap has fought in a war where there was a lot of collateral damage and believes that it is something that has to be accepted if the battle is to be won. On the other hand, as a pragmatist, Tony Stark realizes that he can make mistakes as he along with Banner created Ultron. Stark is willing to accept that the Avengers should operate within a structure that might limit how they operate and is willing to accept limitations even when morals may be telling him that action is needed. This is one way in which the Stark character has grown in the franchise.

Another example of this dichotomy is when one looks at how the two are divided on the subject of Bucky Barnes. Cap knows that Bucky has done wrong in the past, and is willing to have him face justice, but it has to be on Cap’s idealistic terms; he is not going to let anyone just summarily kill Bucky, even if Bucky is guilty (and even Bucky himself admits that he did kill Stark’s parents, which alluded to me that Bucky believes he was wrong and at least understands why Stark is behaving the way he is). One defense Rogers uses against Stark was that Bucky was under the influence of HYDRA when he committed the crime, he can therefore not be held responsible. At the same time, Stark takes the pragmatic view that it doesn’t matter who was in control, Bucky committed a criminal act and should pay for it.

So who is right and who is wrong? Or is there some gray area here and there is no clear cut right or wrong? As far as I am concerned, it is up to each of us as individuals to decide the answers to those questions that best fits our personal philosophies. As for myself, I find it difficult to adopt a strictly idealistic or pragmatic point of view; each situation calls for careful study and the solution will come from the side that best fits. Perhaps what is commonly perceived as a dichotomy is actually false in many cases.

At any rate, Captain America: Civil War is an excellent film. It is entertaining, humorous, serious, and has some great battle scenes that all comes together into one hell of a roller coaster ride that should be seen by on the big screen. But at the same time, be careful, it might also make you think.

Well, there it is…