September TV

September was a busy month for TV, with several shows vying for time to distract me from writing.First and foremost, there’s a new season of ‘Rick and Morty’ on Adult Swim. This might be might favorite show, period. It’s a cartoon, a family comedy, and a sci-fi adventure with enough mind-blowing ideas to make Doctor Who jealous. This season has featured some more introspective themes. What makes Rick tick? How is his megalomania affecting his family? Most of the episodes are self-contained, so you can jump aboard with just about any episode you want and get a complete, understandable story.

Earlier this month, Big Brother ended it’s polarizing, predictable 19th season with a polarizing, un-predictable finale. Personally, I was ‘Team Paul.’ Sure, he was maybe a little more manipulative than he needed to be (although this is Big Brother we’re talking about), but how can you not give props to a guy who, through separate plots, convinced every player to purposely lose a racing competition, so that a woman with a broken foot could end up winning it?

After Big Brother ended, Ozark (on Netflix) entered my life with a blistering first episode. Yikes! It’s fascinating to see Jason Bateman’s character be the financial planner/money launderer using his nerdy bookkeeping skills to hold off hitmen and thugs and drug dealers, episode after episode. The writers of Ozark definitely seem to be asking, ‘How can we add another problem to make this show even more dramatic?’ I was a little over halfway through the season when all the problems piled up had started to make me feel too stressed. So I’m taking a break from the show right now.

Also binged the first season of the Good Place. A very witty show. In between, I watched as many episodes of 30 Rock as I could. (It left Netflix on Septmber 30th). I enjoyed the first ep of American Horror Story: Cult, so I will probably watch more of that. Although a lot of times I don’t end up making it all the way through the AHS seasons.

How about you? What shows are you watching or looking forward to watching now that the summer TV season has ended and the fall season is starting up?

Nevada and Utah trip

Earlier this year, we took a trip out west to explore Las Vegas and Zion National Park, and a few points in between.

Examples of Tafoni in the Valley of Fire State Park, Nevada.

 

Near the Rainbow Vista in the Valley of Fire.

 

4000-year-old petroglyphs on Atlatl Rock.

 

Inside Zion National Park.

 

Looking down into Zion National Park.

 

A shot above the Virgin River.

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Once-a-book word: Nascent

Now presenting a word that will amaze your readers and confound your literary rivals. I beg of thee, use it sparingly!

Nascent. Okay, perhaps this word isn’t quiet at the level of some previous ‘once-a-book’ words: Desultory, Turgid, Sartorial, or Sanguine. But it’s still a word that I love, and whenever I run across it in a book, I always pause for a moment and savor it. Seriously!

Nay-scent. It just sounds nice. Simple but elegant. ‘Nascent’ is an adjective that means ‘just taking form’ or ‘budding.’ It’s a word that is implicitly full of potential; ‘nascent’ brings to mind big cultural forces—technological, political. It means big things on horizon, and who can’t get revved up about that?

Series Condition: Silver Surfer

More and more lately, I’ve been in the mood to read comic books and graphic novels. And more and more, I’ve wanted those comics to be bright and colorful—with fluid line-work and just a little bit cartoonishness to them. I’m really gravitating toward the work of artists like David Rubin and Andrew MacLean right now. But then the other day I realized, ‘Hey, why not check in on the modern master of bold, fun comics… Mike Allred!”

I’ve been a fan of Allred’s since back in my college days, when he drew Madman and also The Atomics. My favorite series he ever did was X-Force/X-Statix. In that series, he just went ree-dic-ulous when it came to color palettes and character designs. But also Peter Millgan’s plotting and themes on that series were surprisingly topical and hard-boiled, which was a nice juxtaposition to the art. I’d definitely recommend checking that out. But anyway…

I’d heard good things about the Silver Surfer series that Mike Allred had been working on, so I decided I should give it a try. Boy was I glad I did!

Silver Surfer
Writer: Dan Slott
Artist: Mike Allred
Color Artist: Laura Allred
Publisher: Marvel
2014-2015
15 issues (A completed series)

I can’t say I’m much of a fan of the Silver Surfer. From what I’ve seen of him, his personality seems as nondescript as his character design. Also he’s one of those cosmically powered characters who seems to be able to do anything, based on the circumstance he’s been written into. He’s a walking, talking Deus Ex Machina. Where’s the drama in that?

Series co-creators Scott and Allred avoid this problem by introducing Dawn—a plucky-yet-vulnerable earthling girl who becomes the Surfer’s companion on his galaxy-spanning adventures. Does the ‘companion’ part sound familiar? To me, it sounded a lot like Doctor Who. I like Doctor Who somewhat, but the episode ‘Silence in the Library’ kind of ruined the series for me. It was legitimately (and schlockly) scary—which I like—but also it emphatically points out the fact that the Doctor is compulsively putting random civilians in horrible danger, for the sake of intergalactic adventure. Sure the humans are willing participants, but it seems quite neglectful—even slightly diabolical—that the Doctor doesn’t offer much to protect his companions, except for a chintzy ‘sonic-screwdriver’ and the constant advice, ‘Run fast!’

This ‘Silver Surfer’ series avoids this problem of manslaughter-level adventureneering because:
A) It quickly establishes a quirky, swashbuckling vibe, and the dangers never seem that visceral or immediate.
B) The Surfer is always cosmically powerful, so he can keep Dawn safe in just about any instance.

The story begins twelve years before present time, and Dawn is a just little kid wishing on a star. That meteor ends up the being the Silver Surfer, who is in his pre-heroic phase—when we was a enthralled henchman of the planet-devouring god-villain, Galactus. Instead of wishing for something for herself, young Dawn wishes for the falling star—wishes that it will keep flying forever so that it always have the chance to grant wishes to others.

This first connection is never brought up in the series (although maybe it is revealed in the next volume), but nevertheless, the story skips ahead to present-day, and Dawn is abducted as a hostage because some enigmatic cosmic device declares that she is the most important person in the Silver Surfer’s life. How is that possible if they have never really met? The series spend a chunk of time unspooling the Surfer and Dawn’s relationship. And along the way, they find themselves in some pretty zany predicaments.

They tangle with the Never Queen, who is the cosmic entity who embodies of all unrealized possibility.

They go to a planet where everyone is obsessed with being the ONE perfect expert in their profession. On this adventure, they meet Warrior One, Banker One, Ice-Cream Maker One, etc.

They return to visit Dawn’s family just in time to face off against the obviously-name villain Nightmare. Then we’re treated to a classic ‘everybody faces their greatest fear’ adventure.

Add to that a ‘time-loop’ adventure that’s laid out so that the comic book issue can be cut up and pasted together into an real Moebius strip. Seriously.

Along the way there’s plenty of nice, smaller moments. Like the one where the Surfer has to get used to traveling across interstellar distances with a human who has to eat and drink three times a day, and pee and poop out all that stuff even more often.

But the highlight of this run is a multi-part story where the duo find a hidden planet occupied by 666 billion refugees from 666 billion worlds. Hmm, what kind of monster could have destroyed that many planets? (Burp!) and who is the former indentured servant who helped lead that monster to all these worlds? Let’s just say that the Surfer’s past comes back to haunt him, and it leads to a turning point in his Dawn and his relationship. And also a clash of cosmic powers that is actually truly memorable. The story culminates with a ‘I am Spartacus’ moment that ‘calls back’ to the Surfer’s origin story, and that is actually pretty emotional. It’s one of the best pure superhero stories I’ve read in a long time.

I’d highly recommend the series, if you’re looking for comic-book in the vein of Guardians of the Galaxy or Doctor Who. And the good news is that there’s a volume of Silver Surfer with the same creative team, so that means a whole other galaxy of possibilities and adventures to explore!

 

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Now available! ‘Exile!’

The conclusion to the Idyll Trilogy is finally here! Now available on Amazon.

Here is the description for Exile:

The Starboards and the Bridges are back for the pulse-pounding conclusion to the Sci-Fi Western / Dystopian IDYLL trilogy!

Now our settler heroes find themselves living in self-imposed exile on a cold and otherworldly island fortress. Their new ‘Citadel’ is arrayed with technology that’s more fantastic—and deadly—than anything they’ve ever imagined.

But their new position brings powerful enemies, and also the implacable curiosity of the Parliament, the world-shaping entity that ultimately controls all of Idyll.

Can they learn to work together—even while fostering new romances and tending to old wounds? Who is the mysteriously familiar stranger haunting their new home? And how far can their bonds of love and family hold? Beyond the threshold of death itself?

To protect their friends and their planet, Miriam, Virginia, Walt, and Samuel must prepare for the ultimate showdown. And even war.


Woo-hoo!

What else will you find in Exile?
• An honest-to-goodness pistol duel with plasma pistols.!
• A new, mysterious (alien?) life-form.
• And a debate about a virtual-reality afterlife! (I swear I wrote this before I saw Black Mirror’s ‘San Junipero.’)

Check it out… I hope you will like it!

 

 

 

 


 

 

 

 

Coming in May: Exile!

Officially announcing the release of Book 3 of the Idyll trilogy! Coming May 16…

The Starboards and the Bridges are back for the pulse-pounding conclusion to the Sci-Fi Western / Dystopian IDYLL trilogy!

Now our settler heroes find themselves living in self-imposed exile on a cold and otherworldly island fortress. Their new ‘Citadel’ is arrayed with technology that’s more fantastic—and deadly—than anything they’ve ever imagined.

But their new position brings powerful enemies, and also the implacable interest of the Parliament, the world-shaping entity that ultimately controls all of Idyll.

Can they learn to work together—even while fostering new romances and tending to old wounds? Who is the mysteriously familiar stranger haunting their new home? And how far can their bonds of love and family hold? Beyond the threshold of death itself?

To protect their friends and their planet, Miriam, Virginia, Walt, and Samuel must prepare for an ultimate showdown. And even war.

 

I just read: Twelve Kings in Sharakhai

twelve-kings-of-sharakhai-final-sm2This book didn’t really grab me until the midway point. I loved the idea of the Arabian setting, which was not the standard Medieval European backdrop that we see in so many Epic Fantasy books, but the main character, Ceda, is a pretty standard protagonist, who checks off on a lot of the typical Fantasy tropes:

– Orphan with a mysterious past
– Obsessed with revenge/redemption
– Ceda is pretty much a Mary Sue (She’s a world-class gladiator who beats men twice her size, and a world-class spy/courier. Add to that a knowledge of magical pharmaceuticals. Also, she’s gorgeous enough to catch the eye of royalty)
– And, of course, she eventually realizes that she is innately, magically ‘Special.’ She’s the only person in the realm perfectly suited to defeat her home city’s twelve evil kings. Jeez, she might as well have a lightning bolt scar on her forehead!

We spend the first half of the book rolling around in these tropes. Then, finally, Ceda finds a way to infiltrate the palace’s all-girl death squad, and that’s when the book gets interesting. I’m a sucker for a good spy story, or a ‘palace intrigue’ story, and that’s what we get here.

The best part of this book were the titular villains. Ceda is on a mission to kill the nearly-immortal Twelve Kings. Each king has a singular magical speciality, and a unique secret weakness that Ceda must find and exploit. It’s a conceit straight out of an old Kung Fu movie, or a boss-battle video game. Awesome.

I wish more of the book had focused on Ceda as a traitor in the midst of these kings, and there had been more on her discovering and solving the riddles that reveal their weaknesses. It’s hard to keep track of the twelve kings’ names and their specialties (also the names of all of their female bodyguards, and the deities that start to show up), but that was a minor quibble. A ‘palace intrigue’ story should be complex, with a lot of characters to follow.

A bigger problem I had was how ‘laissez faire’ the villains are with Ceda, once she joins up with them. Most of the palace guard don’t trust her, as a mysterious newcomer; in fact a few of them try to kill her (acting against the kings’ wishes). But then she’s also allowed to escape the palace during an attack (and to return without being punished), and then she’s allowed an apparent conjugal visit with the men who are conspiring with her. This kind of erodes the earlier tone of the book, where the palace-guard is presented as this super-efficient, super-ruthless operation. As soon as Ceda joins up, she is easily outmaneuvering her targets at every turn.

But still, I’m looking forward to seeing what happens in Book 2. In fact, I almost wonder if a reader would enjoy the series more if they skipped the set-up in Book 1 and went straight to the additional king-slaying that will hopefully occur in Book 2.