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,

Tuesday, November 17, 2015

What's the Diff?

It's the age old question. Wise men throughout the years have debated this. Their long white beards, thick black spectacles, some even with pipes that they light with stick matches as the scent of cherry tobacco fills the air.

I even Googled it, searching among the mass knowledge available to modern researchers, hoping to stumble upon some collective knowledge of the matter. Answers came back from years ago. Posts that were dated as far back as 2005 and later (gasp).

The Answer: Nobody knows.

Oh, I nearly forgot to tell you the question, Cheesy Readers.

"What is the difference between Ellery Queen Mystery Magazine and Alfred Hitchcock Mystery Magazine?"

I've read many issues of both and I certainly can't tell the difference, nor do I have any real preference. I like the tradition and history of Ellery Queen, while at the same time, I grew up listening to "Alfred Hitchcock Ghost Stories for Young People" available on 33 1/3 rpm records from my local library. So for me it's always been a debate of Tradition versus Nostalgia.

Further clouding the debate is that both magazines are owned by the same publisher (Penny Press, a division of Dell Publishing). From what I can tell, they are two separate entities, although their webpages link to each other. Ellery Queen has a plug from Stephen King at the top of its page; Alfred Hitchcock has no plug from anyone on its site. Both magazines follow the same basic format, and their webpage layouts are nearly identical. They have two separate editorial staffs, and writers concur that a submission to one is not a submission to the other. It's not usual for a budding writer to be rejected by one magazine only to be accepted by the other. Even to writers they've published the distinction isn't clear.

The Collective Wisdom on message boards and forums seem to have no consensus on the differences. One person says the EQMM has been quality writing, another says the quality has fallen off enough that in ten years it'll be out of business (that was posted in 2005, and so far, I haven't heard a peep about either publication folding). Another keeps his subscription to EQMM because he used to love receiving it in the mail when he was young. Some say one will take "blue" language while the other doesn't, but everyone seems confused about which is which. More than a handful of readers subscribe to both simply because they love reading and love reading mysteries.

All of which brings me around to my original dilemma. What's the Diff? Yet another universal enigma that shall always remain unanswered.

Until Next Time...
Perplexedly Yours,

Wednesday, November 11, 2015

How Times Flies When You Read a Lot of Books

Unpacking and reshelving books after a move revives the love of those books and also serves as a reminder as to why you kept them. Granted, some make you wonder why you bothered to keep and move them, but many make you look back at them with a sense of nostalgia.
I'm sure I've mentioned before that I keep an Excel sheet of everything I've read since the late 1990s. It's helpful for many reasons, including the observation of trends in my reading habits, but it's especially helpful for two distinct reasons.

For instance, the Arthur C. Clarke short-story collection The Other Side of the Sky. At first I couldn't remember if I had read it or not. Reading the table of contents didn't help, and neither did reading the first few sentences of some randomly picked stories. So I pulled out the ol' Excel sheet, went back through the ages, and sure enough, I had read it. I scanned the notes I made and the stories came flooding back to my memory. I can even remember reading them on my lunch break at work, but when I saw the date when I read them, the shock nearly ruined my morning.


Holy Crap! Eight years ago! My memory of reading them is so vivid, it hardly seems like eight years ago. If I had had to guess, I wouldn't have guessed any more than five, and I would have considered that a stretch. When I scroll through all the stuff I've read since then, I can clearly see that the timeframe is accurate, just hard to swallow. Once I calmed down, I felt the urge to go back and reread those stories since I enjoyed them so much the first time. But Alas! The pile of books I haven't read yet awaits. And while I will reread these stories one day, they will just have to sit quietly on the shelf. Oh! The Lament of the Constant Reader: So Many Books, So Little Time.

Until Next Time...
Nostalgiacly Yours,

p.s. If you do get a hold of that Clarke book, or have access to some of his short works, I highly recommend "The Star", "The Nine Billion Names of God", "The Wall of Darkness", and "The Songs of Distance Earth" (which later evolved into a novel of the same name that I've read twice).