Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Star Wars: Darth Bane - Path of Destruction by Drew Karpyshyn

This is one of those books I initially had no interest in. I never cared for the Knights of the Old Republic games or comics, so I didn't really care. I felt I already knew what was important-- there used to be a bunch of Sith, they killed each other off, and so Darth Bane created the Rule of Two. What more was there to say about it?

Well, the Lost Tribe of the Sith had me more open to stories about the ancient Sith. And after seeing how the Sith operate, I was now more interested in seeing what made them go from an entire culture of their own to just two.

And I'm really glad I did. This is an incredible book. It benefits from not treating it simply as a Jedi story with Darth Bane being the bad guy-- Bane is the story's protagonist. We meet him as a miner with no future, and watch him grow to become a footsoldier in the Sith army to a Sith apprentice and then a Dark Lord of the Sith in his own right. And you can't help but feel a certain empathy for him. Like any well-developed character, he has his reasons for turning to the dark side, and watching him grow and learn and come to the conclusions that there should be only two Sith ("One to embody the power, and one to crave it") are fascinating to watch.

Some of the scenes towards the end of the book started to get a little familiar, so I checked Wookiepedia and found that it tied in with Dark Horse's Jedi vs. Sith comic, which I was really only lukewarm to at the time. So after I finished this book I re-read the comic, and I definitely enjoyed it more this time, although the comic's approach to Darth Bane still wasn't as interesting. I feel that Drew Karpyshyn really elevated that story to a new level-- the Jedi and the Sith having become so locked into their ongoing war on Ruusa that both sides have become like each other, and the Force becoming a muggy gray.

I'm not sure that I'll enjoy the next two books as much now that Darth Bane has found his path and established himself, but I definitely enjoyed this book enough that I'm looking forward to trying the next one to find out.

Smallville - "Charade"

Spoiler Level: Kinda' High-ish.

Once again, lots of great comic tributes in this episode. Franklin Stern, owner of the Daily Planet in the comics, although now he's the new editor. (And along those lines-- do they feel they can't use Perry White now that they introduced him way back in season one or two or whenever it was as played by Michael McKean?) And Maxwell Lord was a nice surprise. Were his mental powers a more recent revelation or did he always have them? And of course Lois Lane in a Playboy Bunny outfit. Well, okay, I don't remember that having been done in the comics, but I figure after all these years someone had to have done it sometime.

Best of all though was the classic love triangle of Clark, Lois and Superman. (Or the Blur, rather.) Very nicely done. Although they're building up such a good case of why Clark can't go public or reveal himself to a loved one that I can't see how he can ever become Superman.

Monday, April 26, 2010

V - "We Can't Win"

Spoiler Level - High

Wow! This is the first episode that actually felt like V since the pilot! Multiple resistance cells! Ordinary people (including high school science teachers!) trying to find out the truth about the Visitors! The Visitors trying to win over the people of Earth by making big fancy presentations of gifts to solve the Earth's problems! Humans taking sides-- some seeing the downside to the Visitors gifts, others questioning what they see, and others willingly selling out! Lots of running around underground!

I think it's a little weird that the human resistance movement is also becoming known as the Fifth Column. The expression "fifth column" comes from a group trying to bring down something from the inside. Imagine it's a building, that's held up by five stone columns-- one in each corner and a fifth one in the center. The outside army attacks from each corner, taking out each corner column, and the insiders attack the fifth column from within. Even if the outside attackers fail, the inside attackers-- the "fifth columnists"-- can still bring it down by destroying the center column. When both the inside and outside work together, victory is assured.

So having the human resistance -- the ones attacking from the outside-- be called the Fifth Column seems a little backwards. But if you figure in this version, the humans are following John May's lead, who was on the inside and chose the name Fifth Column, then it makes sense. Names take on a life of their own.

And with the the Fifth Column being treated as terrorists, the FBI is helping the Visitors to stop them-- again, a classic V point being brought more to the forefront in this episode. So I guess it works if you figure the Fifth Column may have to be a resistance to human forces as well.

The social commentary is more subtle but it is slowly creeping back in. This episode was a HUGE step in the right direction.

Sunday, April 25, 2010

Doctor Who - "The Beast Below"

Spoiler Level: Fairly High

Still very high on the new season and the new Doctor! We got to see Matt Smith play the Doctor's angry side this episode.

The episode itself is great. Once again "nuWho" finds a way to show us a fancy future spaceship and yet still treat it like it's Earth. Nice Megazone 23 overtones.

I am really sensitive about bad things happening to kids, so the opening scene really creeped me out.

Amy continues to intrigue me. We keep learning things about her in bits and pieces. She has the same boldly-rushing-in attitude she did in the last episode, making her own decisions without consulting the Doctor (and royally ticking him off in the process), and keeps revealing things in bits and pieces-- she's obviously not thrilled about getting married.

And in addition to the repeating pattern of the time/space crack, there's also another "zero" reference. Coincidence? Am I looking for patterns in things that aren't there?

Saturday, April 24, 2010

V - "John May"

Spoiler Level: High

I'm enjoying this show more and more. I find it amusing that since they changed "V" to mean Visitors, they've had to create the "John May Lives" phrase to serve the purpose of being a symbol of resistance. But I'm glad they did.

Oh! Lizards lay eggs! Of course!! Silly Fer. Okay, I can buy Anna giving birth to an army now.

Nice to see the secrets all coming out as well.

And wow, they killed a major character! Okay, I guess he's only been a "guest star" for all his appearances, but with no opening credits the guest stars seem just as much to be lead characters as the "main" stars. I had no idea until he was only a "guest star" until I saw him listed as such in my search for a good screen cap.

And along those lines, ABC's V has the worst screen caps. ABC.com releases them ahead of time, so of course they're all bland pictures of the characters talking to each other and none of the cool moments. And I can't find any nice fan capture sites out there. I'm going to have to start trying to make them myself.

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Smallville - "Upgrade"

Spoiler Level: High

Metallo acts like a good guy, Clark acts like a bad guy, and Metallo, Clark and Zod all throw down in the Fortress of Solitude. Nice.

I thought the Red-K was going to bug me, but actually it didn't. I liked how it made Clark be more open to Zod. The bonding between the two on their Kryptonian heritage was enjoyable, even if you know it can't last.

And I really like the way Metallo was handled. It may not be what he's like in the comics, but I thought the reversal of the good-guy/bad-guy roles worked really well.

Didn't care for Chloe chloroforming Lois. And here I thought she'd stopped doing boneheaded things like that. Oh well, at least I can understand what she was thinking this time (unlike when she was dumping bodies for Doomsday).

Things I don't remember: (1) Where did Zod get the Kryptonite knife? (2) Didn't Clark already learn Zod had powers in the last episode? He seemed surprised about it in this episode. (3) ...there was a 3, but I forgot it again.

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Star Wars: The Clone Wars - "The Zillo Beast Strikes Back"

Spoiler Warning: High

Well, I can't say this episode was a surprise, but it certainly gave me everything I hoped for-- the Zillo stomping through Coruscant, swatting Republic gunships out of the sky, and trashing the Senate building!

Extra kudos for having Anakin torn between Padme and Palpatine, and for Palpatine's jutification for driving the Zillo extinct in the name of saving Republic lives. Spoken like a true politician. And Sith Lord.

Monday, April 19, 2010

Carl Macek, 1951 - 2010

Carl Macek 1951 - 2010

It's no exaggeration to say that this man changed my life.

In late March of 1985, Joy and I had just broken up... again. V and Otherworld, the only science fiction shows on television, had just been canceled. I got in a fist fight after school, which needless to say I lost, and in a fit of rage and despair I came home and ripped all my posters off my walls, and spent quite the next few days curled up on my bed ignoring the world.

So after a week or two of this I saw an ad for a new cartoon series called Robotech, boasting "a story to rival Star Wars." Yeah, we'll see about that, I groused, and watched it out of curiosity. It had an interesting start, and I was surprised that there were no parachutes when the jet fighters blew up. I was even more surprised when it ended on a cliffhanger.

So I came back the next day... and that one ended on a cliffhanger too.

Day by day, week by week, I had to find out what happened next. And just like Scheherazade and her 1001 Arabian Nights, it kept me alive and looking forward to the next day. No matter how bad things got, I still had that half hour every day.

Robotech was a cut above any other cartoon on the air. In a time of sanitized, heavy-handed, interchangeable stories, Robotech dared to buck the system and present its story as a multi-generational serial of the Earth at war, showing both the excitement of space combat and the gritty reality of the loss and tragedy that comes with it. Lead characters were killed, there were honorable military leaders you respected and dishonorable ones you despised, and 70% of the entire population of the Earth was wiped out on camera. It had characters that grew and changed, and you felt like they were real people. Oh, and it also had a cross-dressing rock star.

Robotech pulled me out of that depression. The first thing I hung on my bare walls was this picture of the SDF-1 that I found in a Starlog magazine:

So I tried to learn all I could about this show, and the man who was at the forefront of it all was Carl Macek.

Carl Macek ran a comic shop in California. He was a fan of animation and knew the kind of storytelling that anime had going for it. But until that point, any attempts to bring anime into the US always met with it being toned down. The continuity was removed to make the episodes interchangeable, deaths of characters, minor and major, were removed. (Star Blazers gets kudos for being the first to keep the serialized storytelling intact, but they still removed most if not all of the character deaths.) And so when Harmony Gold got the rights to the Japanese anime Macross, Carl Macek became the one to try to bring this show to America with its heart and soul intact.

There were concessions that had to be made. The show had to be 65 episodes long to meet syndication requirements, so it was combined with two other unconnected shows. But even this was done by tweaking the shows to keep the serial format going and to make it a mulit-generational epic. The name had to be changed to "Robotech" because they were being funded by Revell, a model kit company who had bought the rights to many of the Macross model kits, and that was the brand name they were selling them under. And the character names had to be Americanized because people just didn't have faith that audiences could handle names like Hikaru Ichijo and Stick Bernard. If anyone else had been in charge of this project, it could have been another Force Five, but Carl Macek pushed to keep what made these shows special alive.

I got to meet Carl Macek at the Creation Robotech Convention in Valley Forge PA, October 18, 1986. He was very forthcoming about the way the American animation and television industries worked, and how tough it was for a show like Robotech to compete with the big boys that were on the air at the time like He-Man and ThunderCats. He talked about how he had to fight with the model company to have Stick become Scott, when they really wanted him to be named Spike. But he also talked about how rewarding it was to see that there were people who appreciated it, and how "the best was yet to come."
How right he was.

I saw him twice more after that, at Robocon 10 in California and another Creation con where he debuted the Sentinels video. He was so patient with me. After I got his autograph and he was leaving, I followed him just pelting him with more and more questions, and he patiently and politely answered them all while we walked.

He went on to co-found Streamline Pictures, which was dedicated to translating anime movies into English so they could reach a wider audience. I remember making trips to the Roxy Screening Room in Philadelphia with my friends to see Akira, Laputa: Castle in the Sky, and my favorite of all, Lensman.

Because of Carl Macek making Robotech, I made some long-lasting friendships. I met A.J. at a con in a video screening room showing "Codename: Robotech," and he was a huge part of my life during my late teens and early twenties, and we're still friends to this day. I met Derek on the AOL Robotech message boards, and he's practically family-- in addition to he and I being friends and just enjoying hanging out whenever we can, he married my wife's best friend, and taught my daughter how to build and shoot fireworks.

Because of Carl Macek making Robotech, Joy and I got into anime so much we started our own business, Joy's Japanimation, which provided my livelihood for nearly ten years and took me all over the country. It's still there to this day, being run by our friend Steve-- a friend we made because of Joy's Japanimation, just like Danielle, Amy & Craig.

Because of Carl Macek making Robotech, my daughter is named Mylene. When Joy was pregnant we were close to naming her Miriya, until Joy suggested we name her Mylene instead, who was Miriya's daughter from the Japanese sequel Macross 7. I loved the idea, and our daughter became Mylene Elissa Goodnough.

Because of Carl Macek making Robotech, I was able to look at the character of Lancer / Yellow Dancer and say to myself, you know what, maybe it's not so terrible that I can't be as butch as all the other guys. Lancer's still tough when he needs to be, and he's totally at peace with his feminine half. It helped me accept myself for who I am.

When I entered college, I had to write a letter saying what my goals were. I had no idea what my goals were (still don't, for that matter), but I was hoping for a career in film production. So in writing the letter, I decided that I didn't want to be like Stephen Spielberg-- I wanted to be like Carl Macek. Someone who may not have the fame and fortune but has created something worthwhile that really touches people. And when I look back on my life now, and I think of the store and the friends I made because of it and my daughter... I think maybe I have.

Carl Macek changed my life.

Sunday, April 18, 2010

Doctor Who - "The Eleventh Hour"

Spoiler Level: High

There are three things I love about Steven Moffat's Doctor Who stories:

1) His dialogue,
2) His appreciation for the entire Doctor Who mythology,
3) The way he uses time travel as part of the story, and not just as a way for the characters to arrive in the story.

Matt Smith's debut story as the Doctor had all of this and then some. The opening scene has got to be the best TARDIS crash scene yet. The post-regeneration humor had me laughing out loud. The time-traveling elements of how the Doctor met Amy were just wonderful. The first look at the new console room had me bouncing in my seat. And the debut scene of the Doctor in his new outfit is hands-down the best debut shot for a Doctor, ever.

The plot itself is a fun story, with a cool monster and even cooler aliens. The scene where that alien message started playing all around the Earth and I realized that they were referring to the Earth itself and not just Amy's house gave me chills. (Although it took the Doctor long enough to figure it out... maybe because he had just regenerated?) But as with most Doctor Who stories in the new series, it's just as much about the characters as it is about the plot itself, and this story successfully balanced both.

And Matt Smith nails it as the Doctor. I was concerned about him being so young, but I never even thought about it once. The way he opened the TARDIS doors with the snap of his fingers came across as so natural. I think he's going to make a great Doctor.

Okay, more about the new TARDIS console room. I love the balcony. Brings back the HUGENESS that you got with McGann's. I love the typewriter and pinball machine parts. I don't really care for the bulbs inside the time rotor, but I'll get used to that. All in all I feel like this one stays true to its roots and expands on what was started in the RTD era.

Steven Moffat's stories have always been my favorites, and this one is no exception! Long Live the Moff! Long Live Series Fnarg!!!!

Friday, April 16, 2010

Star Wars: The Clone Wars - "The Zillo Beast"

Spoiler Level: High

STAR WARS VS. GODZILLA!! Oh man, this is awesome.

First we get a great battle between a HUGE Battle Droid army and a bunch of Dugs (with just as cool-looking Dug steeds), which leads to the discovery of the Zillo Beast... rising up from the depths to stomp through the Dug city, smashing buildings and throwing tanks!

And the best part? They captured it and... get this... they're taking it to Coruscant!!! Oh, I can't wait for the next episode to see this beastie stomping through an entire city planet, swatting air cars out of the sky and trashing the Jedi Temple!

Star Trek - Unspoken Truth by Margaret Wander Bonanno

Spoiler Level: High

Poor Saavik. Is she Kirstie Alley or Robin Curtis? Half-Romulan or full Vulcan? David Marcus's lover or betrayed co-worker? Spock's future wife, or adopted younger sister? Ditched in The Voyage Home, ignored in Final Frontier, replaced in Undiscovered Country and bumped from the Next Gen episode "Cause and Effect." I can't think of another character who was greeted with so much enthusiasm and potential that ever got fumbled so badly.

So I was really looking forward to Margaret Wander Bonanno's new Star Trek book, Unspoken Truth, which follows what happened to Saavik during and after Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home. I was hoping this would be the book to put Saavik back on the map and get her back into the Star Trek mythos. (Especially after Bonanno's wonderful Captain Pike book, Burning Dreams, which I absolutely loved.)

But I don't think I realized just how fractured a character Saavik was before this book. Oh sure, there's always the Kirstie Alley vs. Robin Curtis issue, and I assume that's why the cover features a Vulcan building and not Saavik herself. But I don't think I realized how radically different books had used her.

The original books with her had been, of course, the novelizations for Wrath of Khan and Search for Spock by Vonda N. McIntyre. In these books Saavik is half Romulan (based on a cut scene from Wrath of Khan which can be seen here on YouTube) and she and David fall in love. So when he's killed in Search for Spock, Saavik goes berserk. However when directing the film, Leonard Nimoy took the approach that since the half-Romulan line was cut from Wrath of Khan Saavik was now a full Vulcan and insisted she play the scene where Saavik tells Kirk that David is dead with no emotion at all.

There's also a book that deals with how Spock met Saavik called The Pandora Principle by Carolyn Clowes (which I own, but confess I haven't read yet), and she and Spock get married in the book Vulcan's Heart.

This book keeps the events from Pandora Principle, so it keeps any of the elements that Clowes followed up on of McIntyre's, but Unspoken Truth also chooses to ignore anything from McIntyre's actual books themselves. I suppose I can understand this; it has been 26 years since they came out, and it's more likely that new readers have only seen the films and not read the books. But I loved the relationship between Saavik and David as a kid, and I'm saddened to see it go.

More complicating, however is that Saavik has been raised by Sarek and Amanda. Apparently this was also set up in The Pandora Principle, but since she repeatedly calls them Father and Mother this really makes the concept that she'll one day marry Spock feel rather incestuous. So I'm left feeling that this book isn't meant to connect with Vulcan's Heart either.

All of this really made it tough for me to get a bead on Saavik in this book. I would keep coming across things that made me have to unlearn what I thought I knew about her. If it had treated her as full Vulcan or even half-Romulan with a different origin, it would have been easier; but the fact that some parts were consistant and others weren't kept throwing me off.

The story itself is okay. Saavik runs into an old friend from her youth on the failed Romulan world of Hellguard, who warns her that survivors from that world are being killed. She also accepts an assignment to the USS Chaffee, where they explore a world with giant telepathic worms (which if I understand the timeframe right would explain why she wasn't in Final Frontier). There's intrigue, twists, romance, and Saavik goes through a lot of angst as she tries to recover from everything she's gone through. It's not bad, but it didn't really excite me either.

The book does set her up for potential future books, either with the new characters introduced here or with the classic TOS cast. And now that I know what direction she's being given, I think I'd enjoy future books with her more.

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Smallville - "Checkmate"

Spoiler Level: Low

Eh. S'allright.

I'm not a big fan of when everyone refuses to talk to each other and do things on their own. I don't find it mysterious, I just think, wow, if these people would just talk to each other this storyline might really go somewhere. And this was definitely one of those episodes.

On the plus side, it was nice to see the Martian Manhunter in action again, and using his mental powers as well. And mentions of the JSA are always nice.

Monday, April 12, 2010

V - "Pound of Flesh"

Spoiler Level: High

I think I liked this episode. I'm not entirely sure, because I was watching it on abc.com, and it had some buffering issues, which messes with my brain.

I definitely like the bits with Father Jack and Chad, and the bits with Ryan aboard the Mother Ship. And the bit where Anna's broadcast was interrupted with the "John May Lives" message was truly awesome. Was there any logical reason for the message to look like spray paint? No, but it stirred in me the images over big red Vs spray-painted over top of posters that said "The Visitors Are Our Friends," so it made me cheer to myself. I think the Fifth Column storyline is growing quite nicely, but I agree with Hobbes that a human Resistance of 5 people is pretty sad. I hope it expands into a real movement and they don't feel they can't add any more resistance fighters because it will make the cast too big. Not everyone in the Resistance has to be a lead character.

Although technically they have nothing to resist against, really. It's still all just conspiracy.

I don't like that Ryan is giving his girlfriend drugs that "once she takes it, there's no going back" without even telling her, even if it is to help her with the pregnancy. If it's that important, he needs to talk to her about it first. Not cool.

Friday, April 9, 2010

Smallville - "Escape"

Spoiler Level: High

Well, this was a pleasant surprise! At first I thought we were getting a classic "freak-of-the-week" story. Then I thought, hey, with those eyes and the skull-like face and the streak of white hair, this reminds me of Silver Banshee. And low and behold, it was Silver Banshee! Y'know, if I knew my super-villains better I probably would have realized from the moment they said they were going to the McDougal Inn. Silver Banshee was never my favorite villain so that's probably a big part of why I didn't recognize her real name,* but I still think it's absolutely awesome that they used her and made her recognizable even to someone with a bad memory like me! This season of Smallville has been just great.

(In fact, I wanted to watch Smallville instead of Stargate Universe the other day, but I couldn't get The CW's video player to work on either Firefox or Internet Explorer. I tried again today using AOL's browser, which worked.)

I also loved the character interaction. Watching Clark and Oliver try to make small talk was hilarious. "So... save any orphans lately?" "No, no... Oh, I did stop a bank robbery the other day." "Oh look, little jellies!" But Chloe got the best line of all... "Don't take relationship advice from Clark Kent." Amen.

I like how Chloe has come out from under Clark's shadow and is becoming her own person this year. She's no longer the unrequited love, and they seem to have dropped that story line of Clark ignoring her. They're doing a much better job of balancing the super hero action and the character growth. Clark's still a bit pompous, but he's getting better.

* Oh, and by the way, I had no idea that Siobhan was pronounced "Shuh-VON." Which is funny, because one of my best friends growing up had a cat named Siobhan, and I always assumed the cat's name was spelled Shouvon. Learn something new every day!

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

Stargate Universe - "Space"

Spoiler Level: High

Remember how I said that SGU was like Voyager meets Macross wrapped in a Battlestar Galactica coating? Well, I may not have mentioned I've always had a love/hate thing going on with both Voyager and Galactica.
Voyager was a lot of wasted potential, and Galactica was too much of people making stupid decisions. SGU has both flaws wrapped into one show, with the wasted potential being all the Macross elements that were in the premiere. So I'm getting the same mixed feelings I always got with both of those shows.

I liked the aliens. About time we got some aliens! Well, besides the dust-cloud monster. But if you're on a ship exploring the universe, you really should be running into LOTS of aliens.

I didn't like that the show is filmed so dark I couldn't get a look at their ships at all. I kept fiddling with my TV settings to no avail.

I like that the aliens want Destiny. Shades of the Zentraedi wanting the Macross.

I figured Rush would be back in this episode, but I had kinda' hoped it would take him more than one episode to make it back to the Destiny.

I like that Rush and Young were willing to put aside their attempts to kill each other for the sake of the crew. I don't like that Camille immediately began planning the next attempt to get rid of Young, and Rush was right there with her. I know the drama on this show is supposed to come from the conflict between the military and the civilians (again, Voyager with Starfleet and the Maquis) but that's Galactica drama-- the "let's do something stupid even though it's obvious it would work against us" logic. I'd like to see these people learning to pull together and rise up to the challenge. But that's not what this show wants to do, so I have two choices: get used to it or quit watching.

Star Wars: The Clone Wars - "Bounty Hunters"

Spoiler Level: Medium

Obi-Wan was way cooler in the movies than in this series.

While investigating an attack on a medical base, our heroes crash land on Falucia. The Falucians are being harassed by pirates and have hired some bounty hunters to protect them. And good old Obi-Wan only cares about getting off-planet as fast as he can to notify the Republic that the medical base has been destroyed. Oh, sure, he's concerned that if they stay there too long it'll bring the Seperatists down on the Falucians, and since we've seen that happen in a previous episode it's a valid concern. But dammit man, you're a Jedi. You protect the innocent and the weak. And not just any Jedi, you're freakin' Obi-Wan Kenobi, dispenser of wisdom. So stop acting like such a douche in this show already!

The rest of the episode is awesome. The character designs for the Falucians is great. Hondo's little Salacious Crumb-critter is humorous. There's a great duel sequence between Anakin and Hondo. And bounty hunter Embo totally steals the show-- he doesn't speak Basic, he's tough, he kicks some serious butt, and he can use his hat as a shield! MORE EMBO!!

The Greatest American Hero - "Divorce Vensian Style"

This is the first time I've seen this episode in many, many years. I'd like to say it still holds up, but in many ways it doesn't.

First off is the fighting between Ralph & Bill that leads to Ralph taking of the suit in the first place. It feels kind of forced. I get that they're supposed to have been getting on each other's nerves being cooped up for 3 days on a stakeout, but that just doesn't seem to be enough to justify how fed up Ralph gets.

Next is the interior of the spaceship itself. I was sufficiently wowed when I first saw this in when I was 13, even though I did recognize the sound effects as being from Star Trek. But man, I didn't realize nearly all the sound effects were from Star Trek. The doors, the bridge noises, the warp drive... worse yet, some of the sound effects were from Lost in Space! And now I recognize the footage of the alien's homeworld as being a simulation of Mars and Olympus Mons. Basically, they just didn't have the money to develop much original beyond the alien himself and his little sidekick.

But Greatest American Hero never had a big budget, so I can forgive all that. And the scenes after Ralph has been shot and Bill is holding him in his arms are just priceless. "Maybe it's our time," Ralph says, referring to the episode where their predecessors with the suit died and were taken away in the space ship. "They'll send you down another partner," Ralph chokes out as he's dying. "I got the best partner in the world, I don't want another partner" Bill replies, and Robert Culp makes it sound 100% believable. Damn, I'm sad he just passed away. That man was a great actor.

So even though the special effects may not hold up, the characters still make it worthwhile.

Star Wars: The Clone Wars - "Cat and Mouse"

Spoiler lever: high

Man, I hate spiders. And Seperatist bad guy Trench was spider-like enough that I threw a pretzel at my screen. At least I didn't go for my Spider-Whacking Stick. He made for a great villain, though, so it's almost disappointing that he didn't survive. (Almost. Brrr. I hate spiders.)

Anakin is way cooler in this series than in the movies.

It was interesting to see a cloaking device handled in Star Wars. It was mentioned in The Empire Strikes Back that they do exist in the Star Wars universe, but we've never actually seen one before.

And as always, lots of great spaceship battles.

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

V - "Welcome to the War"

Spoiler Level: High

Really? Are we going to have a war on this show? Honest? You promise?

Sorry... still trying to unlearn.

Actually, this episode did seem like more of a turn toward the original show, which makes me happy.

The introduction of the mercenary Kyle Hobbes ads a Ham Tyler character to the mix, albeit a blander version. But since all the characters in this version are blander than the original (what others would call "more realistic and less cheesy"), it's appropriate.

And the Dream Chamber seems to be a more passive version of the classic Conversion Chamber-- instead of flat-out brainwashing you, it shows the Visitors your emotions so they know exactly which buttons to push to get you to do what they want.

And best of all, they're starting to play on the Visitors' alien nature more-- Ryan showing his alien eye, an allusion to the Visitors eating mice (FINALLY!), Anna's big sharp pointy lizard teeth... okay, wait a minute, what was up with that? Come to mention it, what was up with that whole mating scene? You're telling me Anna is going to give birth to an army? Well, thank God we did away with the cheesy concept of them simply bringing an army and setting themselves up as our fascist protectors.

But again, in the show's defense, they did have the Visitors stepping in and using the attack on the warehouse as an excuse to further their own agenda and remove someone who they would consider a threat to them, so that was good too.

And Valerie is becoming the Robin Maxwell of the series-- pregnant with an alien child and starting to get cravings for mice!

I'm trying real hard to enjoy this show on its own merits, but I think I'd be doing a better job of it if they called it something else and I just felt it had homages to V and the alien invasion genre in general. I don't know if I'll ever be able to stop comparing it to the original.

Monday, April 5, 2010

Heechee Rendezvous by Frederik Pohl

Spoiler level: medium

Frederik Pohl's Heechee trilogy never fails to produce surprises for me. I absolutely loved the first book, Gateway, but I figured that was all there was to tell for the book's protagonist, Robinette Broadhead, and that further Heechee books would focus on different characters, similar to Asimov's Foundation trilogy. So when I heard that the follow-up book Beyond the Blue Event Horizon still focused on him I was wondering how that would work. The answer was, brilliantly.

Heechee Rendezvous ties up the plot threads opened up in Horizon, giving the Heechee series a good place for closure while at the same time opening up the door for even wider stories. (And a quick wiki search has shown me that there are two more novels and a collection of short stories left! Oh boy! I'm not done after all!)

There are many things that make this book special, my favorite of which is seeing how Robin has grown as a person from the first book. His demons have been mostly exorcised, and he's a much more compassionate (if not still practical) man. His own survival has become one where his every need has been met for years, so his goals now are to the survival and growth of mankind. And Wan, the man-child discovered in the previous book, is his exact opposite: the universe revolves around him, and having all his needs met has only reinforced his selfishness. We see both extremes of humanity in these two characters.

The book also digs deeper into artificial reality than ever before. AI characters have always been a part of the Heechee books, with Robin's counterpart being Sigfried von Shrink in Gateway, followed by Robin's virtual Albert Einstein in Horizon, but they were always treated as simple programs imitating intelligence; here the line is firmly crossed into sentience. And the question of why the Heechee disappeared in the first place is finally answered, with major implications for the future of the human race.

It's a shame that most of the books are out of print. Finding them is no trouble thanks to the internet (half.com has most of them for $0.75), but I would think that there was more demand for these books since Gateway is considered a classic. I found Heechee Rendezvous at a used bookstore over a year ago and bought it even though I had yet to find Beyond the Blue Event Horizon, and I'm glad I did. It was definitely worth it!