Monday, July 17, 2017

"The Twilight Zone," Season 1 (1959-1960)

There is a fifth dimension beyond that which is known to man.  It is a dimension as vast as space and as timeless as infinity.  It is the middle ground between light and shadow, between science and superstition; and it lies between the pit of man's fears and the summit of his knowledge.  This is the dimension of imagination.  It is an area which we call the Twilight Zone.
Your humble blogger acquired the complete Twilight Zone Blu-ray set for Christmas in 2016, and decided it might be nice to share his journey through Serling's masterpiece as he works his way through it.
I've seen a handful of episodes over the years, and know some others by reputation; but for all practical purposes, this is new ground for me.  How can a fella be a science fiction fan and not be intimately familiar with The Twilight Zone?!?  A good question, and one I'd like to prevent from hanging over my head any longer.
"Where Is Everybody?"
(season 1, episode 1)
airdate:  October 2, 1959
written by:  Rod Serling
directed by:  Robert Stevens
The place is here; the time is now...

Sunday, July 16, 2017

Now the Thing Must Take Its Course: Dune Club, Session 2

We'll dive right in to the second batch of assigned reading from Comic Book Girl 19's Dune Club.

YUEH (yü’ē), Wellington (weling-tun), Stdrd 10,082-10,191... 
If we are paying attention to this chapter’s epigraph then we note that Yueh lived to be 109 years of age.  This might strike us a couple of different ways.  If we’re reading the novel for the first time, we might notice it and assume that Yueh lives to a ripe old age, and therefore survives whatever treachery he perpetrates against the Atreides.  If we’re rereading the novel, though, we might take note of the age and realize that the man’s longevity is due to the geriatric qualities of melange. 

Monday, July 10, 2017

Must It Always Be So?: Star Trek episode 8, "Balance of Terror"

"We have seen a hundred campaigns together, and still I do not understand you."
"I think you do.  No need to tell you what happens the moment we reach home with proof of the Earth men's weakness; and we will have proof -- the Earth commander will follow.  He must; and when he attacks we will destroy him.  Our gift to the homeland: another war."
"If we are the strong, is this not the signal for war?"
"Must it always be so?  How many comrades have we lost in this way?"
"Our portion, Commander; our portion is obedience."
"Obedience; duty; death and more death."

It's an interesting title, isn't it?  It seems somewhat incongruous to think that a "balance of terror" could even exist.  After all, terror, as a concept, is fundamentally wild and ungovernable.  How, then, can it be balanced?
I don't know that this essay will answer that question, or even seek to answer it; but it's worth keeping in the back of our minds, maybe.
The episode-analysis portion of this post is going to be a bit more abbreviated than has been the case with other episodes.  This is not necessarily because there is less to say (there's plenty to say), nor is it necessarily because I'm disinterested in saying it (I'm plenty interested).  No, it's necessarily because of the willful obstinance of our mortal enemy: time.  I've had relatively little time for blogging lately -- a recurring theme of all my blogs -- and have been letting this post sit, unfinished, until such time as more ... well, more time ... materialized.  It's looking like weeks before that will happen, though, and I thought maybe it was best to just get a few thoughts on the episode out and move on.
With that in mind, I want to touch on a few things, beginning with this episode's blatantly militaristic -- and specifically naval/submarine -- backbone.

Sunday, July 9, 2017

To Be Conscious By Choice: Dune Club, Session 1

Ever heard of Comic Book Girl 19?

I had not until earlier this year, when her show for, Greater Creators, was announced.  I wouldn't have heard of it even then if not for the fact that she was doing an episode about Stephen King -- and my Google Alert for Stephen King news helps me stay clued in to that sort of thing.
I reluctantly decided to check that episode out.  I say "reluctantly" because my perception of Comic Book Girl 19 -- based on absolutely nothing, I might add -- was that she was a "YouTube star," a la goons like the Nostalgia Critic.  I know people (including some readers of this very blog) enjoy that sort of thing, but it's just not for me.  In short, I expected Greater Creators to suck.  But since I'm inclined to experiment with things if my beloved Stephen King fandom is involved, I gave Greater Creators a chance, beginning not with the King episode but with the two-part Alan Moore episodes.
I ended up quite enjoying it!  You probably saw that coming, didn't you?   Subsequent episodes on Frank Herbert, King, and Stanley Kubrick were just as entertaining; and I still need to check out the ones I missed from before (including Gene Roddenberry, Hayao Miyazaki, Alejandro Jodorowsky, Frank Kirby, Frank Frazetta, Mobius, and Ray Harryhausen).
So when Comic Book Girl 19 announced that she was going to spend part of this summer doing a weekly live-streaming book club devoted to Dune (arguably my favorite novel of all), I knew that was a thing I was going to need to be a part of.  Excuse to reread the novel?  Fine by me.
It also seemed like a good excuse to write about the novel for this blog, though.  I don't really know what format that's going to take, but that's okay; if it ends up only being vaguely-organized notes, that's fine by me.  My inclination is to offer chapter-by-chapter thoughts, but that's the sort of thing that sounds great on paper and then ends up being considerably less great in actuality.  Also, from a purely practical standpoint, I don't know that I have time for it.

Because here's the deal: I could spend an entire year writing about Dune, I bet.  It's unquestionably one of my favorite novels, right up there with The Gunslinger and Lonesome Dove and It and The Lord of the Rings.  It's tough to pin it down to a specific order; but I believe if you put a gun to me temple and promised to pull the trigger if I didn't name a #1, the #1 I named would indeed be Dune.

So finding things to say...?  Not an issue.  Restricting myself; BIG issue.  (That, and saying anything coherently, which is always an issue 'round these parts.)

Here's where it all began:

This late-1984 movie-tie-in paperback from Berkley was my introduction to the world of Dune.  I was, at that time, a devoted reader of movie novelizations.  I can't remember when I developed that obsession, nor what movie kicked it off; it was likely Return of the Jedi or something like that.  It became a way for me to collect "movies" at a time when movies themselves were not particularly collectable.

Sometimes, of course, the "novelizations" were actual novels, and that was obviously the case with Dune.  I didn't see the movie itself for years; presumably my parents weren't interested in it, or maybe it didn't stick around in theatres long enough for us to get to it.  Hard to say for sure; but I didn't see it at all until it appeared on HBO, and even then didn't see it all, owing to the fact that Mom didn't like something she saw toward the beginning and made it off-limits.

I didn't much care, though.  I had the novel, and that was sufficient.  I read it, all 537 pages; and was utterly flummoxed by it.  It made no sense to me at all.

This was perhaps no surprise.  Dune was by far the most complex thing I'd ever tried to read.  It's not exactly clear sailing for an adult reader, much less a 10-year-old (as I was at the time).  Frankly, looking back at it, I'm astonished that I made it through.  The most challenging thing I'd read up until that time was probably The Wonderful Story of Henry Sugar and Six More by Roald Dahl, and it earned that more by dint of its emotional complexity than via its prose.

So tonight, when I sat down to begin reading the novel for the umpteenth time, I was no more than a page or so in before I found myself really quite impressed by 10-year-old me.  There's a lot to fight through in the first chapter; I cannot, in late '84 or early '85, have understood more than 25% of what I was reading.  How, then, did I make it through?

Wednesday, April 12, 2017

His Alien Love Could Victimize: Star Trek episode 7, "Charlie X"

We're seven episodes in, and already Star Trek is beginning to cannibalize itself.  "Charlie X" shares a few things in common with both "The Cage" and (especially) "Where No Man Has Gone Before," and while it aired before either of those episodes did -- it was the second to be broadcast -- it is nevertheless derivative of them in certain ways.
Is this automatically a bad thing?  Nah.  I don't think so.  I think of stuff like this as like unto jazz: you're interested in the changes moreso than in the melody.  And "Charlie X" is plenty different enough from those earlier episodes to keep it from feeling like a mere rehash.
If you disagree -- and you might -- then I honestly don't know you would bear watching the rest of this series, because (spoiler alert!) it won't be the last time this happens.  Not even with this plot!  You WILL get more petulant godlike beings; rest assured.  So if that bothers you, I'd recommend pulling the ripcord now.
I type that as though I'm addressing people watching the series for the first time.  Lol, like anybody is reading this at all, much less some hypothetical bodies who have never seen Star Trek!  Sometimes I just type this shit because that's what is in my head.  Am I doing that now...?
I'd kind of like for this post to be a bit more succinct than the last few have been.  We'll see if that actually happens, but it's the goal.
Don't think that's because I find this to be an inferior episode or anything.  No sir, I love this episode, and if anything I love it more after this deep-dive than I ever have before.

In the spirit of trying to be brief, there are three things I want to discuss regarding this episode.  Let's begin with the perils of adolescence.

Charlie Evans, you may recall, is a teenager who's been living all by his lonesome since (solely) surviving a crash on the planet Thasus when he was a small child.  He's reached adolescence and now, and has been found by a passing Earth ship.  They rescued him and are taking him to an Earth colony to live among his own kind, but the boy has some behavioral issues.  Nothing particularly unusual about having behavioral issues as a teenager (be you boy OR girl).

Tuesday, March 21, 2017

No Beach to Walk On: Star Trek episode 6, "The Naked Time"

"The Naked Time" is the episode that I spent years thinking of as "the one where everyone got drunk and acted crazy."  It's never been a favorite episode for me, but I think that might have changed this go-around. There's a deep lake of melancholy lurking beneath the surface of this episode; it's frozen over and covered by a thick sheet of excitement, and the combination of the two creates a heady mixture at times.



Let's see if we can get to the bottom of that lake.

Sunday, February 26, 2017

The Last of Its Kind: Star Trek episode 5, "The Man Trap"

One of the most celebrated aspects of Star Trek -- among its fans, certainly -- is the ethical nature of many of the inherent trappings of the show.  Go to a Trek convention, and you won't be able to take a step without tripping over somebody giving the show an attaboy for its diversity, its forward-looking optimism, and so forth.
I'm not always convinced that these sentiments are entirely earned by the series.  As expressed by Trekkies, these sentiments often feel smug and self-congratulatory.  I should know; I've found myself taking pride in them on occasion, too.  Regardless of whether the fandom could be convicted on charges of smugness, the fact is that the bulk of TOS -- and, for the most part, the series which followed it -- do indeed express an inherent sense of optimism and progressivity.  Here in 2017, we're in a weird place where it's somehow verboten to punch a god damned Nazi in his fucking face: an odd, disconcerting turn of events, and one which gives me pause when I'm considering doing things like criticizing Trekkies for being smug.
But I have the thoughts that I have, and the reason why I'm here is to explore them for myself.  And that being the case, I couldn't help but be a wee bit troubled by "The Man Trap," which in some ways is less an example of the optimistic and ethically-advanced Star Trek Trekkies declaim than it is a simpler thing: a monster-movie done for television.
Or is it?
In a way, it makes sense that the first episode of Star Trek to air was one which is not entirely typical of its philosophies.  Something like "The Man Trap" sits somewhat uneasily beside later episodes like "Devil in the Dark" and "Metamorphosis," or even "The Corbomite Maneuver."  But then there are other episodes like "Obsession" and "The Doomsday Machine" that are more akin to this one than to those.
The fact is, Trek has never been quite as consistent in its philosophies as its fans might have you believe.  It's almost as if the show was a raft of optimism that was afloat on a sea of pessimism, one that on occasion got a bit waterlogged and didn't float so much as tread water.  So while we might get something like The Motion Picture or The Voyage Home on occasion, we were just as apt to get something like The Undiscovered Country or "Q Who?"  In the latter, the Federation is confronted by an unstoppable force (The Borg) bent on subjugating and replacing everything in its path.  "The Best of Both Worlds" intensifies that conflict.
But then, lo and behold, the sequel to that episode turns it on its head somewhat, with the unstoppable enemy stopped not by force, but by ingenuity and trickery (Data giving their hive mind an order to go into a looped diagnostic mode, i.e., putting them into a sort of coma).  It's not diplomacy, but neither is it genocide; so that's kind of Trek-ish in its philosophy.
The franchise would not be able to maintain that stance on the Borg, however, and later episodes would revert somewhat.  Eventually they appeared in a movie (First Contact), where they are no more than monsters to be defeated.  Good movie; bad philosophy (at least within a Trek-ian context, or perhaps just within a Roddenberrian context).

Friday, February 3, 2017

Let's Stop Pretending: Star Trek episode 4, "The Enemy Within"

Tonight's episode:

It's a classic installment, one that has a great deal to recommend; but I'd be a liar if I said it's ever been a personal favorite.  In trying to figure out why that is, I've come up against a bit of a wall.  Here's a peek behind the curtain for you: it is currently 3:57 AM.  Earlier tonight -- when it was still yesterday -- I spent several hours laboring over five or six paragraphs for this post.  The intent was to express a simple idea: I've never been a big fan of this episode, even as a child, and _________ is the reason why.

Thing is, I didn't actually know why.  I kind of thought I did, but as I wrote it out, it made less sense to me every sentence further in I got.  Writing these posts is almost always an enjoyable process for me.  Duh!  Why else would I do it?  The latinum?!?  "Fuck" and "no," my friends, "fuck" and "no."  No, it's for the enjoyment of the thing, and that enjoyment is almost always present when I go looking for it.

It was utterly absent earlier tonight while I sat here and agonized over the words I was typing.  I was doing a poor job of convincing myself, and it showed.  I decided to take a break for a while, so I went and did some housework, and came back to it.  The result: delete, delete, delete.  All that shit had to go, and go it went.

When I find myself in a pickle of this nature, what I often do is steer into it.  Driving on an icy road and your car begins to swerve?  Steer into it.  Blogging about a favorite subject and your thesis abandons you?  Steer into it.

Wednesday, January 18, 2017

"Westworld" Before "Westworld"

Since it's been a thing a lot of people have talked about recently, I thought it made sense for me to say a few words about Westworld.
Good show!  I love it and am glad it's doing well and will happily continue watching.
And that's all I have to say about that, at least for now.  If that doesn't look like anything to you, I get it.  So now is when I reveal that what I'm here to actually discuss is the Westworld(s) that existed prior to the HBO series.

It all began with the 1973 Michael Crichton film.  In case you're unfamiliar with Crichton, he is best known as a novelist who wrote the book Jurassic Park.  He started out as a physician, but decided that wasn't for him, and jumped ship all the way from one side of the fence to the other, opting to become a writer.  He was able to begin publishing almost immediately, and one of his early novels, The Andromeda Strain, was a bestseller that was adapted into a hit film by director Robert Wise.

Crichton somehow parlayed this success into a secondary career as a film director, and Westworld was his first movie behind the camera.  It was a hit: MGM's biggest of the year, bringing in nearly ten times its budget at the box office.  Crichton never had another directorial success like that one, although he did go on to direct The Great Train Robbery (starring Sean Connery) and Runaway (starring Tom Selleck and Gene Simmons).  Plus, as a producer, he had a hand in creating a little show called ER.  So he did okay for himself, apart from being a big-deal writer.

I saw the movie once years ago, during a time when I went on a brief Crichton kick that was spurred by Jurassic Park.  I read most of his major science fiction novels, such as The Andromeda Strain, Sphere, and Congo, and that led me to Westworld.  By the time the HBO series began, however, I remembered nothing about the movie apart from the poster; by the time the HBO series ended its first season, I suspected it had forever supplanted the movie as the thing I'd think of when I heard the title Westworld.

Sunday, January 15, 2017

There's Only One Kind of Woman: Star Trek episode 3, "Mudd's Women"

Tonight's episode:
It's by no means one of my favorites.  Don't misunderstand me: if you tell me that you like it, I'm not going to retaliate by coming over and shitting on the hood of your car or anything.  I mean, to each their own and all that: so if you're a fan, I ain't judgin' ya; it's just that I'm not a fan.
That said, I found my analysis for this post made me appreciate the episode more than I did before.  There are things here to enjoy, so let's discuss them for a bit and then get while the gettin's good.