Archive for the ‘science fiction’ Category

Moonstruck   Leave a comment

MoonDaguerreotype

The Moon, as photographed by Louis Daguerre, 1839

I’m not kidding when I say I’ve been moonstruck since childhood. That’s when my parents dragged me out of bed on one sultry July evening. Mom opened the bedroom door, shook me and said, “Wake up! You have to see this!” Grumpily, I dragged my sleepy self down the hall and into the living room, where my parents, grandparents, sister and brother sat, glued to the TV. My seven-year-old self stared at the screen, impatient. After a few moments, Neil Armstrong hopped out of the LM and into history, followed shortly thereafter by Buzz Aldrin.

The whole concept seemed so wild to me. That giant Saturn rocket shooting them into space. Three men jammed into what seemed not much larger than a Volkswagen Beetle. Being able to see and hear them from an ever increasing distance. And then, the landing. Walter Cronkite’s gushing on air wasn’t much different from everyone in my house. Or the world, for that matter.

I didn’t really think about all the technology, or the training, or the money, or even the space race that evening. Other NASA missions came and went, and my family followed them all. But somehow, this one stood out from the rest. Three guys achieved something no one else has ever done then and since (although that will change shortly).

All I knew was that I wanted to be an astronaut. Desperately.

As the years went by, I shifted my interests to astronomy and learning the constellations, and the shifting planets in the nighttime sky, plus the occasional comet and meteor showers. I never did well in math, so I gave up my dream of becoming an astronomer. But my love for the offworld never faded, and I kept my sweet spot for the moon.

There’s nothing more entrancing than watching the glow of a full moon on a white blanket of snow, as the whitened trees glisten from its brightness. Or how a summer night feels so romantic with the moon sailing over the ocean. How welcoming the moon can be when it peeps out from a clearing sky, or transform into a mysterious red when it eclipses. Or blots out the sun and turns black.

Lots of sci-fi novels and movies use the moon as a backdrop or a plot device. It has religious significance for many. One can be mooned, have a moonface, or eat a moon pie, or wear a moonstone. Or be like Cher and Nicholas Cage and be moonstruck.

If you’re lucky and under the right conditions, you can catch the new moon in the old moon’s arms, or the old moon’s arm around the new moon. That means right before and after a new moon, there’s a thin ribbon of light, the slenderest of crescents, holding the dark side. Through a telescope or good binoculars, you can make out some details of the dark side too. This phase doesn’t last long, as it’s right before sunrise or just after sunset, and the moon is very close to the sun in the sky and very near the horizon.

If you catch it just at the right time, you can see an occultation, or the moon appearing to hide a star or planet. It’s literally now you see it, now you don’t. The moon slides in front of a celestial body, for a matter of minutes or hours. Then the celestial body magically reappears. It’s fascinating to watch.

During daylight, a moonrise might seem as if it’s almost see-through and blue. Spotting a full moon rising from a mountaintop is downright spectacular. You’ll never see something so big in your entire life. Or catching it rising over the ocean – the glow on the horizon, then a tiny, shy peep, as it creeps higher into the sky, a ribbon of light shimmering over the ocean’s surface, until, for a moment, the entire orb appears to be balancing on the horizon itself. Way cool!

I’ve already spent much of last and this week reliving the moon landing and the entire NASA early space mission by watching programs on PBS, or reading articles, or posts on my Twitter feed. I still marvel at this accomplishment.

But most importantly, I remember how unifying this singular moment was for our planet. How we all came together to marvel at such an achievement. It was an accomplished started out of competition and ended in peace. We need, not only as a nation, but as ambassadors of this legacy, to remember what good can come of scientific achievements, and to put aside all that makes us angry and frustrated, in order to move forward to use our discoveries to better the fates of all humankind.

 

My Summer Reads   Leave a comment

1930s-girls-in-swimsuits-reading

Since I write speculative science fiction with strong female protagonists, I’d thought I’d spend this summer reading female sci-fi writers writing books with strong female protagonists. You know, to see how they do it. Maybe I can pick up a few tips here and there.

So what’s in the pile?

All of Elizabeth Moon’s “Vatta’s War” series. I accidentally picked up the fourth book in the series, “Command Decision,” not realizing it was a later entry in the storyline when I bought it. I read it anyway. Sure, I didn’t get some references but it didn’t stop me from thoroughly enjoying it. I’ve got four other titles to read so I know what’s going on. Then after that, Ms. Moon added “Vatta’s Peace” to the collection. I’m looking forward to adding that to the list as well.

Last winter, as I sat on the examination table waiting for my doctor to see me, I occupied myself by reading “Command Decision.” The doctor walked in and noticed the book. He immediately pulled it from my hands and said, “This series IS AMAZING! So what did you think of the others?” That’s when I admitted I hadn’t read them. He then goes on telling me the plot lines, characters’ foibles and a few spoilers. While I enjoyed his hearty endorsement of the series, I fortunately forgot most of what he said. I’d love to find out for myself what dangerous situations Kylara Vatta has to dig her way through.

Octavia E. Butler, “Parable of the Sower,” “Parable of the Talents,” and “Kindred.” Oh, wowThis writer has me gobsmacked. No wonder she was the recipient of a MacArthur Fellowship and two-time winner of both the Hugo and Nebula awards. Not only is her prose wonderful, her stories will leave you on the edge of your seat. One can never be certain about anything in her worlds. Twists aplenty. Beloved characters die. In her worlds, nothing is certain except uncertainty.

I read “Parable of the Sower” first. Butler predicted the present measles epidemic when it was written in 1993. In “Parable of the Talents,” she predicts a Trump-like character who runs and wins the office of president, and the ensuing rise of racism and rabid Christians  wreaking havoc on an already fragile America.

Butler’s foresight all those years ago gave me chills. I’ve actually put sticky notes in the pages where her words ring close to true. But my favorite is the sayings she created in the books, and one in particular:

“All that you change, changes you.”

Right now I’ve begun “Kindred.” I’ve only read the first chapter and the range of detail and emotions she conveys has me hooked.

My sister teaches college. Her school offers a course on Octavia E. Butler’s literature. I only wish I lived nearby. I’d audit the class!

Happy Summer Reading, Folks!

 

 

 

 

Local Aliens   Leave a comment

Alien Fest - Mispelled sign

Humans Escape, Aliens Esape…Got It?

Tomorrow is the umpteenth Pine Bush UFO Fair, located in the northern edge of Orange County, New York. It’s a town that seemed to be plagued (or blessed) by an unusual amount of UFOs in the mid 1980s into the 1990s, although they’ve been spotted forever. Although I’m going to miss it this year (and I’m upset about that!), thousands will descend upon the place, seeking out stories from locals who’ve witnessed all sorts of strange happenings. There’s also a cosplay contest, live music, lectures from UFOlogists, authors and more.

What I like about this festival is it celebrates the incredible and unbelievable. I don’t doubt for one moment that the townsfolk have seen something, even aliens. But many others are skeptics, wondering what in the universe do all these aliens crave here? The Shawangunk Mountains? Horse farms? Corn fields? The Cup and Saucer Diner‘s coffee?

Who really cares.

What’s great is every nerd from miles around descends upon this quaint village and supports all the businesses, buys books from local authors, listens to good music played on Main Street and eats in its restaurants. And so should you.

Alien Fest - Star Trek Fans

Yours truly with a tribble and some like-minded folk

Alien Fest - Porch Aliens

House Guests

Alien Fest - Green Kiddies

Local Aliens

Alien Fest - T-Shirts for Sale

Neat Merch!

These days, reality is so hard on us humans. Every day we’re battered by news headlines that grow worse by the minute. When’s the last time you glanced at the paper or news app and didn’t cringe? So in a way, discovering that aliens are snooping through our hills kind of seems normal. I mean, it’s pretty hard to digest what’s happening to the United States these days, so why should the possibility of E.T. looking for a decent phone connection be out of the ordinary?

So if you find yourself driving on NY State Road 17 West, go on Exit 119 and head north on Route 302 until you hit Pine Bush. Even if you can’t make the festival, you never know what awaits you on your way there.

Or watches.

Just look out for those flying boomerangs at night. From what I hear, they’re pretty amazing.

Is Our Future Really Dystopian?   Leave a comment

Japanese Robot

One can argue that this is a great time for things dystopian. There’s a lot of discord in this world and in our country in particular. School shootings seem to happen so frequently they hardly get a notice in the news. Climate change is a reality more than a concept. Now measles is roaring back…is smallpox next? And superviruses and superbacteria threaten us all, with no cures or countermeasures in sight. Racial tensions are again on the rise, while the gig economy undermines workers’ abilities to save for the future or just be secure.

And so on…

It’s easy to picture a future without hope or purpose. I’m even going through a rough patch myself and wonder if there’s any sparkle left to dream about. Any one of those scenarios above could make great fodder for a novel. And have.

But just image if one day we all took stock of what we have and set about to make it right. Make changes that benefit all, not a precious few. Pollyanna as that sounds, one rather famous series used an evolved humankind as its background. Yes, that’d be Star Trek. In it, those who inhabit the Earth (and not necessarily humans) have eschewed wealth for equality and humanity. Sure, each episode mirrored what’s happened here on the home planet, but the outcomes often were positive, if not hopeful.

Would it even, I daresay, be an odd sort of dystopia if everything went right and nothing went wrong? Can you imagine? Sure, it’d be boring but the movie Pleasantville is based on a premise of a perfect TV world turned upside-down with the introduction of color.

I suppose it’s somehow easier to believe things’ll blow up than to bloom. There’s a certain comfort in knowing that you or me don’t have it so bad as they will in the future. Or in the past. Or on planet Zorthon. Think about it. Isn’t it cathartic to complain? A downhill slide from justice into injustice, because somehow society needs to be punished. Bombs will blow, diseases will conquer, war will end all.

Again, does it have to?

There are a few simple things we, as humans, can do to change things. They are (in no particular order):

  • Don’t like who’s in office? Vote! Or better yet, run yourself. Take an interest in your town, your county, your state, your nation. Because, believe it or not, your vote matters. Ditto for…
  • You don’t like it that school kids are being shot? Or our environment’s being polluted at a crazy rate? Or something else? Contact your congressman, senator, mayor, governor or even president. You might get the runaround. Attend town halls or village meetings. Speak up. Make your voice heard. And if that doesn’t work, see the above point.
  • Stop wasting everything. Buy enough food that you’ll actually eat so it doesn’t turn into a dystopian event in the fridge. Use one sheet of a paper towel roll instead of two. Or better yet, use a rag and wash it out. Buy household paper that’s been sourced from recycled paper.
  • Don’t litter.
  • Walk instead of drive…if you can. It’s better for you in a myriad of ways. And don’t run the car. Turn it off.
  • Here’s something to ponder: Toothbrushes. Count up the number of toothbrushes you use in a year. Six? Eight? More? Then count the number your family uses. Add that up. Now apply that number to everyone on your street. Or multiply that by the population of your town. Or the population of the United States (or whatever country you happen to live in. You throw all of that away and it lands in a landfill. It lasts longer than humankind. All for clean teeth. What’s the solution? While there are bamboo toothbrushes, which is a step in the right direction, we need to come up with something better.
  • Ditto with needles – the injecting kind – but that’s human waste…and dangerous. But it’s not recyclable either.
  • Or baby diapers. An infant goes through thousands. Add that number up by the number of births in one year. All going to the landfill…

Before you get totally depressed, all of the above can be changed. This is a nation of innovation, or was, anyway. We still can be. Let’s hand it to the upcoming generation of engineers and scientists (and anyone else who’s inspired to join in) and create/invent materials that will biodegrade and/or can be developed from renewable sources.

And maybe, our future will be that much cleaner, clearer and less dystopian.

The Teaser   Leave a comment

So there I was at work the other day, embroiled in my task. A coworker friend pats me on the shoulder and says, “Hey, what did you think of the trailer?”

To be honest, I was so into what I was doing I had absolutely no idea of what he was talking about. In fact (and I’m rather ashamed and embarrassed to admit this), I envisioned some sort of Casita-type or mesh-wire thing filled with junk or landscaping equipment.

“What trailer?” I say.

My friend nearly choked me with his eyes. “You got to be kidding me, right?”

Lord, oh lord how can I be so absolutely clueless? I stop what I’m doing and after that first flush of major humiliation, my mind goes into search mode. Within nanoseconds, it retrieves the teaser vid I’d seen the second it hit the cablewaves.

“Oh, that.” Nice save. “Of COURSE. THE trailer. Where Rey goes all Matrix on a TIE-fighter. Yeah, I saw it.”

Naturally, this leads into a spirited discourse on minutiae featured in the “Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker” trailer. Yeah, sure, we’re at work, but this is MUCH more important than our tasks at hand. And come on, what else matters?

I’ve been a fan of Star Wars ever since my friend Debbie and I walked into the Beach Twin as 14-year-olds with nothing else to do but see this film we kind of heard that was pretty okay. Our lives were transformed forever once we stepped out of the theater. I don’t think we ever took our eyes off the screen for a second. Every sequel since I’ve eagerly waited and watched, except for Episodes I, II and III, which, as you must all agree, sucked. And quite honestly, I liked IV, V and VI just the way they were, not with all those enhancements and ESPECIALLY not with that ersatz Anakin Skywalker stuck in over the one who really should be there.

I’ve actually enjoyed the rest of the Star Wars enterprise. It’s a brain vacation in a theater seat, as I become entirely absorbed in whatever those Rebels, First Order and Empire folks get themselves mixed up in.

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My son and me, geeking out over BB-8 at NY ComicCon

I know this year’s New York ComicCon’s going to have an amazing exhibition on “SW:TROS” and I can’t wait. That’ll only get me even more hepped up for its December 20th premiere.

And if this one’s anything like the latest entries in the saga, I’ll be anything but disappointed.

“The Last Jedi” Lashout   Leave a comment

Meme, “Terrible Snoke Theories Daily”

WARNING: THERE ARE A FEW SPOILERS HERE. DON’T READ UNLESS YOU WANT TO…

My, my. Whoever thought that a film that takes place a long time ago in a galaxy far, far away could generate such controversy?

I’m talking about “Star Wars: The Last Jedi” of course. And if you’ve been paying attention to all of the back-ended reviews, you’ll either see lofty praise or vitriolic rants. Check out Rotten Tomatoes, for example. There you’ll find a 93% critics rating, but a 54% audience disapproval rate. I’ve read quite a few and one thing is certain: many of the Star Warriors want their characters and plots to remain static and predictable. Or incapable of growing and changing. God forbid if you’re a new character added into the plot and worse if you’re a female (that would seem to go for Kathleen Kennedy too, according to one audience reviewer).

I can’t even quote some of the quotes I read from RT, but for simplicity’s sake, here a brief negative review which sums up some of those who went on for thousands of words:

This is not a Star Wars movie. If you are a Star Wars fan who liked the previous movies for their themes and messages, and not simply the explosions and spacecraft, you will not like this movie. Rian Johnson has little or no understanding of, or simply does not care about, what made Star Wars special. This movie was a non-descript space action movie with the depth of a Transformers movie. – One star review, Adam D

And here’s a positive review that sums it all up:

I’m seeing a lot of crybabies on here who’s preconceived notion of what they thought should happen in Star Wars 30+ years ABY was shattered in TLJ. It was a good movie. Without nitpicking every scene it was good and entertaining. The account between the main protagonists Rey and Kylo was on point and Luke was great as well. I agree I was a little bit bagels by the casino scene and was really disappointed that we regressed back to full FYI scenes, but it didn’t ruin the whole movie. The fact that the movie was unpredictable was a good thing. After seeing Snoke’s identity revealed theory videos on my YouTube news feed for the past 2 years, to see him get killed off without explanation was kind of funny to me in a good way. If they came out and said he was Darth Plagues it would have been completely anti climatic. The fact is, this movie has stirred up raw emotions of anger and sadness amongst viewers and that is a good thing. A movie that makes us feel human is good in my book. – Four star view, Nik M

I can’t agree with Nik M’s assessment more, especially the last two highlighted lines.

Of course I saw “The Last Jedi” on opening weekend – I’d never miss it! I totally geeked out at New York Comic Con and visited the amazing exhibition presented there. Been watching trailers and keeping up with theories and more. My take? I loved it. And while I agree the casino scene wasn’t entirely necessary, it didn’t exactly ruin the movie, either. Nor did I mind the mild info dump scenes either – they served as illustrations to the plot. What really grabbed me was the attention to detail that didn’t seem to be present in other SW films. And yes, there was inside humor that either went ignored or unappreciated by the nay-sayers who pooh-poohed this film. My favorite goes something like this:

Luke: You look different…

Leia: Yes. I changed my hair.

Luke: I like it.

(not verbatim, but close enough)

I laughed out loud during that exchange. If you looked closely at Mark Hamill and Carrie Fisher, especially their eyes, you’ll catch a twinkle in there, almost as if it were ad libbed.

And if the negative reviewers want to get all bent out of shape over plot details, let them. Why aren’t they complaining over past film plot incredulities such as Leia handling the complete obliteration of her planet with barely a sigh, or Darth Vader, a person who’s supposed to feel the force so strong yet he has no idea he has a daughter (or seems to, anyway) who also possesses said force or can’t find either kid. Darth doesn’t even feel Leia’s force when she’s captured and standing right next to him! Why would he keep something like that secret? And if Kylo Ren and Rey project and touch each other’s hands, why didn’t that ever happen with Darth and his kids? Clearly when the original stories were written, those plot developments weren’t even taken into consideration and stuck with the bigger story.

Look, “Star Wars: The Last Jedi” and all of the others are STORIES. Episodes I, II & III were an aberration, a weak attempt on constructing an origin story. These films/stories spawned a giant empire that all of us Star Warriors support. And I certainly don’t believe anyone who says they’re through with the franchise aren’t waiting for the next episode and/or won’t see it. So get over yourselves, have some popcorn and watch the film over again. You know you will.

 

NY Comic Con 2017 – Star Wars/The Last Jedi Edition   Leave a comment

Why We Go To Comic Cons…

So yeah, I braced the crowds and the stifling heat of the Jacob Javitz Center in NYC to witness one of the greatest events of our lifetime, the Star Wars/The Last Jedi exhibition. I did lots of other things too, but I’ll get to those in a later post.

And sure, I can tell you all about the neat stuff I saw in there, but why bother? I’ll just show you. Here’s what I stood in a very long but moving well line on Saturday.  This is a selection from the exhibit. All pictures and copy are from the Star Wars/The Last Jedi exhibition, sponsored by Verizon.

Here’s a preview of one of the movie posters for The Last Jedi. I felt it especially poignant since the woman depicted has departed our plane for other galaxies far, far away.

It says, “First Order Tie Fighter Pilot Uniform” Exhibit 1 – Tie fighter pilots were one of the key pieces of the first order’s overwhelmingly powerful military apparatus. Potential pilots were selected from the ranks as children and vigorously trained for years to shape their reflexes, visual acuity, and tactical instincts to extraordinary levels. Successful Tie Fighter pilots would go on to hunt enemy craft, protect bases, patrol sensitive territory and escort larger craft throughout the galaxy.”

There is glare on the photo but what I can make out says, “First Order Stormtrooper Blaster Rifle -Exhibit C – This…blaster rifle is the standard-issue weapon for…order stormtroopers. Here shown with attached butt stock a potent…weapon. The…is…durable and reliable, enabling stormtroopers to act as relentless enforcers of the First Order’s will.” (sorry if there are errors in my copy – difficult to read).

These are Kylo’s Tie Fighter (left) and Resistance Bomber (middle).

“Kylo’s Tie Fighter – Exhibit A-1- Kylo Res has inherited amazing piloting skills from his father, though he uses these abilities to pursue the First Order’s enemies.”

“Resistance Bomber – Exhibit A-2- Now reinforced with new combat craft, the resistance fleet dispatches hardy bombers into battle with the First Order fleet, escorted by swift star fighters, the munitions-laden carrier ships drop powerful proton bombs onto their capital ship targets.”

(As read from the copy)

“First Order Flame Trooper Helmet – Exhibit D-1 – Resistance fighters coined the terms “roasters,” “Hotheads” or “Burnouts” to describe this specialized class of stormtrooper. Flametroopers, equipped with flamethrowers and fireproof armor, are feared for their ability to lay waste to the battlefield and flush out resistance entrenchments.”

“First Order Stormtrooper Helmet – Exhibit D-2 – The most dangerous fighting force in the galaxy, First Order stormtroopers are trained from birth to ruthlessly enforce the will of the First Order. ‘A real stormtrooper has no room for sympathy. A real stormtrooper is the extension of the First Order, of Supreme Leader Snsoke’s will, nothing less.’ – Captain Phasma”

“Elite Praetorian Guard Helmet – Exhibit D-3 – The mysterious and fearsome figures known as the Praetorian Guard serve as Supreme Leader Snoke’s personal protectors. Eight in total, their features are completely hidden behind striking red armor meant to evoke memories of the Emperor’s Royal Guard.”

“Kylo Ren’s Lightsaber Hilt – Exhibit D-4 – This lightsaber hilt belonged to Master of the Knights of Ren, Kylo Ren. The distinctive cross guard design, which results in two additional red plasma blades emerging from either side of the hilt, was engineered by Kylo Ren himself.”

“Kylo Ren’s Helmet – Exhibit d-5 – Kylo Ren is the son of Han Solo and Leia Organa, protege of Luke Skywalker, and eventual master of the Knights of Ren. He is known as the “Jedi Killer” among the rank and file of the First Order. His helmet was crafted to mask his visage and voice, concealing his identity as he delves further into the power of the Dark Side of the Force

“Poe Dameron’s Resistance X-Wing Pilot Uniform – Exhibit H – Hailed as the very best pilot in the Resistance, the brash but resolute Poe Dameron quickly rose through the Resistance ranks and became one of Leia Organa’s most trusted operatives. Dameron commands both Red and Blue Starfighter squadrons and flies under the call sign Black Leader, based on his customized, dark-hulled X-wing, Black One. ‘I can fly anything.’ – Poe Dameron.”

Coming next post: more New York Comic Con 2017!

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