Monday, November 21, 2016

A Must-Read for Science Fiction and Horror Fans

I've been reading some more non-fiction lately than usual - a lot of technical stuff for work, and a lot of food stuff for my foodblog. I did manage to squeeze in a Star Trek novel, and I do manage to hammer out a little more on the fantasy novel everyday, but since March or so, my brain and time have been occupied with things other than keeping you folks on the edge of your seat.

My last published entry dealt with Moby Dick (1851), an American classic. This entry, though, will deal with a European classic that straddled the shifting literary trend from Gothic fiction to the slowly building age of Romantic literature. You know it as "Frankenstein" by Mary Shelley. Technically, it's "Frankenstein; or The Modern Prometheus," but that's usually something only us real geeks know.

It's a brilliant novel which explores themes of the general nature of mankind, morality, compassion, vengeance, and revenge. It's nothing like the Universal monster movies that everyone knows; it lacks the iconic character of Igor, who was created strictly for the movies, and Victor Frankenstein is not a doctor. In addition, there is even an entire section where the unnamed "monster" tells his side of the story.  


At first, Shelley published it anonymously in 1818 to only fair reviews. A few years later, the reprints included her name, which caused a small handful of critics to argue whether a woman could have written it, and another small handful of critics who said the novel's few flaws were directly because a woman wrote it.

With time, as we all know, it has become a classics novel in its own right, and can be credited with being one of the earliest science fiction as horror stories. The story is compelling, enough so that it's difficult to put down at times, and the language is quite beautiful throughout despite the novel's themes and mood. As an example, I thought I might include a few of the more thoughtful quotes below:
  
When Victor Frankenstein realizes that he's become obsessed with creating life from inanimate flesh:
"If the study to which you apply yourself has a tendency to weaken your affections and to destroy your taste for those simple pleasures in which no alloy can possibly mix, then that study is certainly unlawful, that is to say, not befitting the human mind." 

The point in the narrative when the unnamed creation decides to turn to evil to punish mankind for its sins:
"For the first time the feelings of revenge and hatred filled my bosom, and I did not strive to control them, but allowing myself to be borne away by the stream I bent my mind towards injury and death."

And another line spoken by the unnamed creation:
"Of what a strange nature is knowledge! It clings to the mind when it has once seized on it like a lichen on the rock."  

Finally, I've decided to include this last quote as well, solely because the Mel Brooks comedy "Young Frankenstein" included it when Frederick Frankenstein read from his grandfather's private library, and I'm a geek who is always on the look out for little bits of trivia like this:
"After days and nights of incredible labour and fatigue, I succeeded in discovering the cause of generation and life; nay, more, I became myself capable of bestowing animation upon lifeless matter."

 Overall, it's a short novel per se, and one that's well worth reading, especially if you've only ever seen movie versions. I've read it multiple times now and I'm always discovering and rediscovering numerous wonderful parts. If you take the time to give it a spin, I'm sure you'll enjoy it.

Until Next Time...
Victorly Yours,
Michael   

Saturday, March 19, 2016

Moby Dick - The Milestone

I must confess. This blogger, when nothing more a young, easily distracted bundle of college party energy, didn't always read all the books he was assigned to read. Yes, yes. There were books I simply either didn't read or only read the absolute bare minimum to pass the test. I skipped parts, read summaries, listened to others talk about the reading assignments, took good notes while in class, but didn't completely read a few of the actual books themselves.

Moby Dick was one of those books.

Assigned in American Literature class when I was a student at SIU-Carbondale, I don't recall how I performed on that test, but I ended the semester with a good grade, so I assume I must not have done too bad.

I never forgot Moby Dick though. What I did pick up from that class made me vow to read it at some point when I didn't have the stress of a classroom deadline and could approach it from a leisurely perspective. I liked the cover art of this particular printing, and it had many of the underlining and side notes I had scribbled in it from class.


Years passed. And passed. And passed.


It never left my sight. Always sitting there on the shelf, reminding me of the promise I made. It even manage to survived The Great Book Loss of the late 1990s when I accidentally donated the wrong box of books and lost some of my favorites. Recently, I took it down from the shelf, really gave it a good thoughtful examination, then began reading.

I'm glad I did, and I'm particularly glad I waited until I was an adult to do it. I fully believe that my reading now gave me more fulfillment than it would have then, and I also believe that I enjoyed this first reading at this age more than my classmates did from long ago. In fact, I'm convinced that if I had actually read this cover to cover when it was assigned to me, I would have hated this novel much like I learned to hate other great authors because of being forced to read them before I may have matured enough to fully appreciate their work.

It is a wonderful book, deserving of nearly all of the accolaids it receives, and I can understand why some people cite this as their favorite novel. It's a complex and deep work that honestly deserves multiple reads to fully grasp all the symbolism and philosophical elements it contains.With that being said, though, it is long and at times extremely slow narrative. I found myself thinking, "Oh let's get on with it," more than a few times, and sometimes, Melville's efforts to accurately portray every aspect of a whaler's life is more than is really necessary to make his point. I understand that a whaling voyage was mostly monotonous stretches of time broken up by unexpected and intense moments of action, but that didn't make this any easier to bear.

I have no doubt that I will randomly pick this up from time to time and reread some of my favorite parts, or even seek out quotes and sections for use in my other writing endeavors. I also have no doubt that I will one day reread it after I catch up on the ton of other books I need to knock off my list. But I can also guarantee that it'll be years and years from now - my brain simply needs the vacation.

Until Next Time...
Ishmaelly Yours,
Michael   

Saturday, January 23, 2016

Further Proof that Hollywood Execs Have No Soul

The man isn't even dead a month, and Hollywood has started the machinations to reboot Labyrinth (1986).

Oh yeah, you read that right. They're even casting about for the new Goblin King. Not that David Bowie could have played the part if he was still alive, but doing it so soon after his death just reeks of insensitivity. Of course, Hollywood is in the business to make money, and cashing in on Bowie's cult hit is not beneath them.

Reportedly TriStar Cinema is working with The Jim Henson Company and will be employing one of the co-writers of Guardians of the Galaxy. Any more details are not available and probably subject to change, but the rumor mill says everyone involved is excited about pursuing this.

The original was the last film Jim Henson directed. Monty Python's Terry Jones was the principle writer, and George Lucas was the executive producer. Despite the film’s current popularity and recognition as one of the greatest films from Bowie's movie career, initially it bombed at the box office and didn't earn the following it has now until it was released on video and cable.

What this means is that there will be a whole new slew of fans who will enjoy that universe of imagination and visionary wonder that Henson created, and maybe some of those fans will do themselves a favor and venture back to view the original. But for those of us who loved Bowie, he will always be the One True Goblin King, knowing deep in our hearts that the new one is an impostor  - or a wannabe at best.

Until Next Time...
Disgustedly Yours,
Michael

Friday, January 15, 2016

Shannara Surprise and Shock

Honestly, they caught me off guard.

I haven't watched MTV since.... well, let's just say a generation or so, and I haven't kept up with their broadcasting habits. I never expected this, but as I was innocently searching for something else, I was nearly knocked out of my chair when I stumbled upon this:

MTV has pushed the two hour pilot of The Elfstones of Shannara to YouTube!!

I KNOW!!! How great is this?

Something I thought I was going to have to wait until they released on DVD/BluRay, I inexplicably found on YouTube. Oh yeah, I'm definitely going to make The Boss sit down and watch this one with me. Of course, that screws up my whole idea of rereading the book before watching the adaptation, but dang it, now that it's out there, I can't NOT watch it.

Seriously? Could you?

I thought not.

So in case you didn't know, I had to share. I'm still going to reread the book this spring, and everyone one should, but don't let this opportunity pass. Watch it now before MTV comes to its senses and removes it.

Until Next Time...
Surprisingly Yours,
Michael

Monday, January 11, 2016

Don't Forget About His Film Career

With the passing of David Bowie this weekend, many news outlets are focusing on his music career and how much he influenced countless number of current musicians over his four decade career. I admit I have a handful of Bowie CDs I love, and in particular one of which I received from The Boss for my birthday a few years back and then played so relentlessly I think she came to regret buying it for me.

But many don't realize the influence and contribution he had on the fantasy genre book publishing business through his movie career. Many modern female authors of fantastic fiction credit the Jim Henson movie Labyrinth (1986) with directly turning them on to fantasy stories, especially fiction, as a way of recapturing that magical feeling of fairy tales and folk stories that they had had as young girls but had lost as they became teens. After watching that movie with Bowie as the evil Jareth the Goblin King and future Oscar-winning actress Jennifer Connelly as the young teenage girl who wishes her baby brother away, these young future authors began to not only seek out other fantasy stories, but began to write them as well.

His role as the Goblin King wasn't his only venture into the world of acting, though. To the previous generation, he was most famous for The Man Who Fell to Earth (1976), and I particularly loved his brief and uncredited cameo as "The Shark" in the movie Yellowbeard (1983). That short fifteen-second scene alone is worth YouTube'ing if you get the chance. He also starred in the television series The Hunger (1999) and did numerous other cameos and voice-overs in cartoons and video games.

Be sure to take a moment to pay tribute to this man who was much more than a musician; he was an actor, painter, and writer.

Until Next Time...
Fame-ously Yours,
Michael


Tuesday, January 5, 2016

Step On Up for an 80s Revival

I never start out the year with a solid reading plan. I usually have a few books in mind I'd like to finish before the end of the year, but that's about as close as I get to any sort of plan. This is usually because my mood determines what book I'll pick next more than anything else.

As mentioned in the previous post, I'm currently reading the Changewind series (1987- 1988, and 1996) from Jack L. Chalker due to all the weirdness that came about its rediscovery. And I do plan to throw in Saberhagen's Swords trilogy (1983-1984) this summer. There is also a reread of The Elfstones of Shannara (1982) I wanted to read before the series began airing, but considering that it starts this evening, the goal has changed to rereading it before the television series comes to a close. I also like to reread at least one book of Tolkien's each year - The Simarillion is on tap this year. Wanna guess when I first read that book?

Sensing some common ground here?

Me too, which also got me thinking about other books I loved during that time, especially The Winds of Altair (1983) and Orion (1984) by Ben Bova (which, by the way, garnered some teasing while I was in school because of the unusual cover art), and Hubbard's Battlefield Earth (1982).

Yeah, that's a lot of 80s science fiction and fantasy for one year, some rereads, some not. But I also have a few classic literature books I'd like to include, and I've promised myself to read more non-fiction. I like to keep up on modern literary novels as well, so I have to throw two or three of them on the pile. Plus I want to keep to my goal of reading 52 short stories in one year because not only do I enjoy the short form, I want to continue to promote the form both in this blog and in other areas.

None of that includes a promised reread of "The First of Heaven" so I can refresh my memory of the Wheel of Time series before tackling the Brandon Sanderson books sometime in the next year or two. I originally read this series as each book was published over the course of the past fifteen years, but got behind around book ten, and I don't trust my memory with everything that's happened from the early and middle books, which means a reread is practically required.

Phew! I've got my year cut out for me.

But all that 80s stuff is also infused with the launch of Comet Television in my local market. In case you've never heard of it, it's a new science fiction channel that is currently showing a lot of cheesy science fiction films, including a ton of 80s films. If I'm not careful, I really will accidently slip back in time, and my younger self ain't going to be too encouraged when he sees how I've aged (or how he will age, whichever).

All that means is that it's time for me to logon and put a few more pages underneath my belt this evening - I've got a lot of 80s reading ahead of me. Wish me luck!

Until Next Time...
Radically Yours,
Michael


P.S. Having no idea where my brain patterns have been focused lately, The Boss coincidently enough pulled up some old episodes of ALF that we've been rewatching on Hulu. "Now...where's that cat Lucky hiding?"

Tuesday, December 29, 2015

Adventures with Misplaced Books

Tell me if this has ever happened to you...

You pick up the first book of some trilogy. You're cruisin' along and at least 150 pages deep when you suddenly lose it. Who knows? Maybe it fell into some blackhole or a magician whisked it away to an ethereal place between realities. Doesn't matter. It's gone and you can't find it anywhere. You know better than to go out and buy a new copy, because the moment you return from the bookstore it'll reemerge and be sitting in the middle of your dining room table smiling at you mockingly, as if to say, "Hi, I've been sitting here the whole time." And while you spend your spare time looking around for the blasted thing, you move onto other books, eventually forgetting about that lost novel. One day a memory of it is triggered though, and you realize it's been twenty years and nine home moves since you've thought about it. You decide to buy it and try again, only to learn it's been out of print for the past ten years. Aaarrggghh!

That's happened to you, right? Right? No?

Sadly, that's happened to me twice.

When the Changewinds Blow by Jack L. Chalker and The First Book of Swords by Fred Saberhagen both fell victim to this bad luck, although it's been so long ago, I don't remember which one got lost first.

Hey, don't blame me! I'm not responsible for the actions of some rogue wizard or errant blackhole, I'm just your average scifi/fantasy junkie.

Now here comes the weird part:
At a local library-sponsored bookfair in the recent past, not only did I run across the complete Changewinds trilogy, I also found the entire Books of Swords trilogy and its sequel, Book of Lost Swords trilogy. But wait! It gets stranger... Both trilogies had two copies of the first book!


Are you thinking what I'm thinking? Yep, even though I live over 100 miles away from where they went missing, I'd be willing to bet that those extra copies of the first books were my original copies, whisked there through some wibbly wobbly timey wimey thing eagerly awaiting my arrival to reclaim them as their rightful owner. So in the middle of this gigantic book fair I'm totally geeking out at this point, and quickly throw all eleven books into my bag (Yes, eleven. I bought both copies of the first books - I'm not taking any chances).

Since my "To Read" pile is a queue that is about two years long, I'm just now getting around to reading the first book of the Changewinds series, and maybe this summer I'll start the Swords trilogies. But either way, I'll let you know when I complete them, and if anything "sideways" happens, trust me, I'll let you know.

Until Next Time...
Wobbly Yours,
Michael

Tuesday, December 22, 2015

Year End Short Form Review

It's the end of the year, and I've surpassed by goal of 52 short stories for the year (one per week). So I thought I'd take a few moments to mention some of the stories and authors I found memorable and worthy of seeking out longer works by.
 
"The Traveling Salesmen Solution" - David Erik Nelson
"Testimony of Samuel Frobisher" - Ian Tregillis
"Five Tales of the Aqueduct" - Spencer Ellsworth
"We Are Not Insured Against Murder" - Jay Carey
"Sir Pagan's Gift" - Tom Underberg
"The Culvert" - Dale Bailey
"The Wild Ones" - Albert E. Cowdrey
"Embrace of the Planets" - Brenda Carre
"Our Little Secret" - Barbara Nadel
"The Fox in the Water" - Richard Adams
"The Hole in the Sky" - Richard Adams
"I'll Follow the Sun" - Paul Di Filippo
"The Bomb-Thing" - KJ Kabza

 
The best story I read this year was "Yeshua's Dog" by Tim Sullivan and initially published in the November/December 2014 issue of The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction.
 
Next year, I hope to read more - of course, not the number that well-known editor Gardner Dozois reads in a year - but at least ten to twelve more.
 
Supporting short fiction by buying and reading short fiction works is good for the overall fiction publishing industry, especially the authors. So, set your own reading goals. It doesn't have to be as high as mine, but at least set one and honestly try to keep it. You'll be a better person because of it.
 
Until Next Time...
Shortly Yours,
Michael  

Monday, December 14, 2015

Who Wants Some Doritos?

Who can watch a late night B-movie without snacks? Doritos, Fritos, Ruffles with French Onion dip, or even the old stand-bys of pizza or popcorn. So with that in mind, I thought it would not be too far off theme to share a recent non-fiction book review about nutrition and modern food processing techniques that I've posted on Amazon, LibraryThing.com, and GoodReads:

"In The Dorito Effect Mark Schatzker details the cause of the health crisis today, including obesity and other preventable diseases, as being a direct result of what we as a society (and ultimately world economy) have done to our food. In simplest terms, the link between nutrition and true flavor, and how modern food is grown and processed may increase yield rates, but decreases a food's inherent flavor and nutritional value. In response, we have increased the use of artificial flavors disguised as "natural flavors" to satisfy our biological cravings for the real flavor and nutrition, therefore creating a cycle wherein we, as human beings, continue to eat these "faux" flavored foods in a futile attempt to satisfy our bodies' needs.

He explains that "natural flavors" aren't so natural, or on the off chance that these "natural flavors" really do come from natural sources, these flavors are used and placed within foods that they don't really belong, therefore fooling our tongues with manufactured deliciousness and creating "the snack equivalent of crystal meth." And not only is more manufactured flavor added to our food everyday, the number of availability of those foods is increasing simply due to cost reduction business decision where yield is more important than flavor because it is something that can actually be measured.

I was a little disappointed in the ending narrative when he details a dinner he planned based on a particular strain of tomatoes. It was cliched, not compelling, and predictable. Thankfully it only lasted about ten pages.

The Dorito Effect, quite simply, is what happens when food gets blander, flavor technology gets better, and its consequences to our health."


Note for my Cheesy Readers: The comment below does not appear on my posted review.

Despite all the informative and eye-opening information I read in this book, don't think for one minute that I'm going to stop eating these late night bags of goodness. In fact, I think I hear a bag or two calling to me from the local convenience store down the street.

Until Next Time...
Nutritionally Yours,
Michael

Saturday, November 28, 2015

Thousands of Hercules

There have been thousands of television shows and movies devoted to Hercules. Okay, maybe that's an exaggeration, but if it is, it's not much of one. A simple IMDB or Wikipedia search shows that Hercules has been the subject of the visual media since the early days of film, if not the protagonist at least an active character.

The other night I had the chance to watch two versions I hadn't seen since the 1980s. Lou Ferrigno starred as the demigod in these cheesy Italian-backed classics, Hercules (1983) and The Adventures of Hercules II (1985). All things considered, the special effects weren't too terribly bad considering the low budget and the tools were available at the time. If you get the chance, look those up and have a little fun. (Note: The next weekend, the same channel showed Hercules versus the Mongols (1964), which pitted Hercules versus Attila the Hun.)

Of course, as my highly educated Cheesy Readers know, the Ferrigno movies weren't the Italians' first foray in the annuls of Herculian lore. They pumped out a lot of myth-based films in the 1950s and 60s when they weren't busy filming Westerns, and many of these films are available super cheap in DVD box sets.

Pop quiz time: What was Arnold Schwarzenegger's first American film? Obviously, it was Hercules in New York (1969).

And who can forget the Hercules: The Legendary Journeys starring the skinniest of all Hercules Kevin Sorbo in the 1990s. It had such a large following that there was even two spin-offs, Xena: Warrior Princess, that ratings-wise did just as well as the Sorbo series, and Young Hercules.

Disney got in on the craze with their own movie and animated series, and in the most recent American version of the legend, Dwayne Johnson took a crack at the title role. Our half-man half-god is scheduled into the plotline of the ABC series Once Upon a Time, and has made multiple appearances in hundreds of cartoon, including Sailor Moon. He's been in outer space, in particular the planets Venus and Mars, and even spent time hanging with Superman. But of course, the most memorable of all Hercules appearances was when he starred with the three greatest comedians of all time in The Three Stooges Meet Hercules.

So why so many films involving Hercules? It's quite simple. Hercules is a half-god, half-man with the strength of a god, but mankind's foibles. Other than his twelve labors and a few mentions in a handful of other stories, 80% of his life has plenty of elbow room to elaborate on and give writers plenty of wiggle room to weave their own stories. What tale-teller can resist using this made-to-order and easy to recognize character for their own purposes? Quite simply, the character of Hercules has become the Go-To Guy for hero stories throughout the ages. But not only that, an action star with great muscularity but questionable acting abilities can star in a high-action film in which he can show off his muscles, wield a sword in cool on screen fights, and have a nearly naked damsel cling to him for protection. Only Conan can offer the same kind of on screen flexibility.

Until Next Time...
Herculianly Yours,
Michael