All posts by Boredhousehusband

OBITUARY: Dan Groner (1970-2018)

My friend Dan Groner passed away this month. He was 48. It was a stroke, apparently.

I hadn’t seen Dan in at least 30 years.

Obviously, even though we were friends, we weren’t super-close. It might be better to say that we were friends who drifted away on good terms after graduation, as happens to most people, I guess.

We were in college together from 1988 to my graduation. He was a music major, having recently switched over from classical acoustic guitar to electric, and started playing rock. He was exceptionally proficient, though given his background he was a little stylistically cold to begin with. He got better over time, though and was always the best thing in any of the bands he had going at that particular moment.

He was a tall, handsome, rock star-looking kinda guy with an enormous mane of late-80s heavy metal hair. Sometimes people would ask him to teach them guitar. I would say 95% of these were girls who just wanted an excuse to get close to him because, duh. His standard running gag was “Sure, we’ll use the Dan Groner method of musical instruction, which consists of three simple steps.
STEP 1 – Basic music theory
STEP 2 – Basic chords and riffs
STEP 3 – The Dan Groner Hot Oil Treatment,” and which point he’d usually wave his hair around. That always cracked me up.

Dan was one of maybe three people on campus who was actually interested in writing original music and songs. I was another. Unlike me, though, his songs actually got heard. Me, I was just a singer who couldn’t hold a band together or play an instrument. Him: he was a musician. He practically had a waiting list to join his bands. Still, we’d talk about the frustrations of trying to find an audience for your stuff when everyone else on campus was just playing John Cougar covers (ugh) or songs by The Ramones. I tried to recruit him into one of my ill-fated projects once. He politely declined.

I say “Bands.” Dan had a lot of bands. They were usually pretty short-lived and there were a few core musicians that he tended to rotate through from project to project, in addition to some lesser folks that’d turn up for one iteration, then never be heard from again. These bands were always almost inexplicably short-lived. A week, a month, six weeks, and they were gone, followed by a new lineup playing largely the same music, plus a new song or two.

I was never sure why he had such a high attrition rate, but I think it was just the strain of trying to do original music around a bunch of kids who really didn’t want it. It’s hard to keep people motivated in a band that continually starts its sets with, “Here’s a new one you’ve never heard before…” You don’t get the adulation you’d get with “Here’s one by INXS.”

Two things were consistent in all of Dan’s bands, though: (1) No matter how good the rest of the band was, Dan was always the bet thing in it and (2 ) The band had a terrible name. For whatever reason, Dan was just the worst when it came to thinking up names for his projects. “Gepetto’s Workbench” was a particularly awful example. And what can you make of “Three Dollar Socks?” There were myriads of others, but those are the only two I can remember right now. If anyone knows any others, sound off below.

But the name and the lineup didn’t matter because whatever they were called, and whoever was in it that week, it was always fundamentally the same, it was always Dan’s show. He knew what he wanted to do and he did it.

One day they were playing somewhere and I couldn’t remember their (disposable) name, so I referred to them as “Dan and the Not-Quite-As-Good-As-Dan Band.” The name stuck – at least among my friends – and we called them that ever after, or at least as long as I can remember afterwards. I came back for a visit two years later and people were still calling them that name.

I’m not really giving a clear picture of what a nice guy he was, though. He was always smiley, he was always friendly. Kind, even. I’m sure he had arguments and disagreements with people just like we all do, but he kept them quite and seemed quick to forgive. Even if you absolutely sucked at music (Like I did), he didn’t talk down. He was just a genuinely nice guy, and while we were never super-tight, he was always on the short list of people I didn’t hate. (I was a bit of a misanthrope in those days)

I don’t know what his life was like after graduation. I know he taught music for a while. I know he got married, but don’t know if he had any kids. I know he didn’t become a rock star, dammit. I’m sure that, had we both lived to a hundred, we never would have crossed paths again.

Even so, whenever he’d come up in conversations about the old days, or I’d find a forgotten old picture of him in a photo album, I’d always smile. It always made me happy to know that he was out there somewhere still gigging around, with that goofy smile.

The world is a poorer place without him in it.

If I were making Battlestar Galactica this week…

An actual conversation over brunch today:

Bey: “If I were remaking Battlestar Galactica this week…”

Me: “As opposed to all the other times and ways we’ve talked about remaking it?”

Bey: “Yes.”

Me: “Ok.”

Bey: “The first season would be almost identical to the first season of the original show, but in the second season I’d have the Cylons following the fleet.”

Me: “They already were.”

Bey: “No, for a different reason.”

Me: “Ok, what’s the Cylon’s reason now?”

Bey: “They want to find earth for the same reason the Galactica does: They’ve lost their home and have nowhere else to go.”

Me: “Holy crap! Ok, what happened to their home?”

Bey: “Commander Cain. After he escaped from those three base ships and that planet..”

Me: “Gamoray.”

Bey: “Yeah. He just went straight to the Cylon homeworld and just devastated it from orbit, wiped out everything, completely glassed it.”

Me: “Cool! Isn’t that a little powerful for a battlestar, though?”

Bey: “Is it? We’ve only seen them fighting other ships, which have armor and defenses and maybe shields and stuff. We’ve never seen them just unload on completely undefended rock. I would imagine that’s different than fighting a ship.”

Me: “Fair enough.”

Bey: “And it fits with Baltar’s plan in ‘Lost Planet of the Gods,’ when he said that the homeworld was virtually undefended with the entire fleet out scouring the galaxy looking for the Galactica. He said that if the Galactica came back they could destroy the empire.”

Me: “Yeah!  But, wait, there’s a problem?”

Bey: “What?”

Me: “The Pegasus has no crew and no weapons. Remember? Right before his suicide charge at Gamoray he evacuated all his fighters and shuttles and all but the smallest possible skeleton crew to the Galactica, and he fired off every weapon he had at the base ships.”

Bey: “Ok, so how big is a skeleton crew?”

Me: “Dunno. I asked a friend how many people it’d take to keep an aircraft carrier going if all you intended to do was run in a straight line for a half hour or so. He said a hundred people or so.”

Bey: “Ok, so two hundred people out of a crew of 5000, and no fighters or weaponry.”

[Long pause]

Bey: “Got it: He flies back to the Colonies. They’re abandoned, there’s probably only a token presence there.”

Me: “And given Gamoray had been lying about the Pegasus, and the Imperious Leader never found out, and Baltar certainly wasn’t gonna tell anyone, the Cylons on the Colonies wouldn’t be expecting it.”

Bey: “Right. So he goes in, and simply salvages as many fighters and munitions and supplies as he needs, from factories, or abandoned bases, or whatever. There must be a lot left. He could get more than he needs. I have this picture in my head of the Pegasus with extra really large guns and missiles hanging off of it.”

Me: “What about crew?”

Bey: “There’s got to be some survivors, right? People who were in ships between worlds, miners, spelunkers, that kind of thing, hiding out?”

Me: “So he grabs them, and forces them into service?”

Bey: “Somewhat unwillingly, yes.”

Me: “I’m imagining anyone who was retired military would automatically be put back in service in their old positions. 50-60 year old fighter pilots, stuff like that.”

Bey: “Yeah. So their planet gets glassed, and only one Base Ship escapes, maybe with one of those single-disk old-model Base Ships”

Me: “And a buttload of tankers”

Bey: “Yeah. They run to Lucifer’s Base Ship, which has been following the Galactica, thinking, ‘well, they must know where they’re going.'”

Me: “So they’re attacking the fleet, or just hanging back and observing, or what?”

Bey: “Some battles probably ensue, but Lucifer is the new Imperious Leader.”

Me: “Makes sense.”

Bey: “He hasn’t had the operation yet, though, doesn’t have the afro. Maybe he’s had a little bit of it, just enough to justify a redesign and make him look cool.”

Me: “Ok.”

Bey: “And they’re actually trying to establish diplomatic relations with the Rag Tag Fleet.”

Me: “That’s brilliant!”

Bey: “Adama wants none of it, but the council overrules him.”

Me: “Adama was capable of empathy. There were Cylon civilians mentioned a few times in the show, and it was overtly mentioned that civilians and civilian targets were strictly off limits. The only people we ever met who went after civilian Cylon stuff were instantly sent to prison. Maybe seeing the ships full of civilian Cylon refugees makes him…I dunno….feel sorry for them?”

Bey: “Maybe, I dunno. Anyway, for whatever reason they realize it’s better to work together for the short term than fight each other to the death. Then the Pegasus shows up, and Adama has to order his own vipers to attack it.”

Me: “Wow. How are you going to do all this? It’s a lot to have happen offscreen, and just hear about later.”

Bey: “Helo plot. 5-15 minutes per episode, as required by that week’s story. 30-40 minutes of Galactica-as-usual, and 5-15 minutes of the unrelated adventures of the Pegasus and Cain.”

Me: “Man, you’ve gotten good at this. There’s a problem, though.”

Bey: “What?”

Me: “Cain is a far better strategist than Adama. They all-but say it in ‘The Living Legend.’ He’s openly referred to as ‘the best damn warrior in the history of the colonies,’ and nobody ever contests it or attributes it to ego. He really just is that good.  I mean, he kept an aircraft carrier – ”

Bey: “Battlestar”

Me: ” – battlestar fully functional behind enemy lines for five years, raiding the enemy for supplies and knocking over Cylon outposts and keeping his people alive with very few casualties. He told them they were never going home again, and they were ok with it. So Adama could *not* win in a fair fight.”

Bey: “So don’t fight fair.”

Me: “Also, Cain’s men – 2/3rds of the Galactica’s pilots at this point – would be vastly more loyal to Cain than Adama, just because.”

Bey: “Lock ’em up, put Cylons in the cockpits of the Vipers.”

Me: [laughing] “Ok. And humans in the raiders?”

Bey: “Mmm-hmmm. The fight isn’t fair because the fighters are behaving in super-crazy-no-way fashion, unlike vipers and raiders. Owing partially to them exchanging technology, and partially due to humans piloting Cylon stuff and Cylons flying humans stuff. That’s how they win.”

Me: “So do they kill Cain? Blow up the Pegasus?”

Bey: “Dunno. Don’t really care at this moment. I just want to come up with some way to remove the Cylons from the board as a threat so we can move on to some more interesting threat. Like the Seraphs, probably.”

Me: “I’m impressed.”

I had antlers growing out of my head as a small child

I remember having antlers as a child. It was the weirdest thing. At some point in college, I woke up distinctly remembering I had antlers. It wasn’t a dream, it was more like a sense-memory from childhood. It may actually be one, since as a very very small child I had a gimpy spine and required a lot of physical therapy, as well as wearing a partial brace for a while. I have no *conscious* memories of this, but (not counting the antlers) I do have one definite recurring nightmare that’s definitely from that time. So it’s possible.

Anyway, so I woke up in bed in the mid-80s thinking, “Man, this reminds me of when I used to have antlers.” I don’t know why. I might have rolled over a book or something in my sleep, which triggered it. I remembered very distinctly that I *hated* having antlers because I could only sleep on my back and couldn’t turn my head. That was the worst part: not being able to turn my head.

Then I thought, “Wait a minute, when did I have had antlers? And why am I *remembering* having antlers? And what the hell *happened* to my antlers? And why would I have had them in the first place?” Again, I can’t stress this enough: this was a memory of a childhood sensation, not a dream. I can tell the difference. Most people can.

This didn’t freak me out so much as confuse/intrigue me because I was reading entirely too much Philip K. Dick in those days, and also I *am* nuts. (Doctors say so!) Eventually I figured out it was probably the back brace keeping me from being comfortable when I slept, and here we are. Every now and again, the memory will pop up. “What are you thinking about, Randy?” Oh, back when I was little and had antlers.

Still, it’s intriguingly weird to remember something that never happened.

Sometimes, rarely, (As some of my friends can attest), I’ll just bring it up out of nowhere. There’ll be one of those long pauses in conversation that’ll go on a minute too long because whatever you were talking about has fizzled out, and no one has thought of another topic yet. “I used to have antlers,” I’ll say, bright and cheerful as day.
“Right, those little Christmas antlers you wore when we were opening up presents a couple years ago, I remember.”
“No, actual, real antlers. Made out of bone. Growing out of my skull.”
“Ah…uhm…”
(At which point one of my other friends will usually say, “Oh, not this again,” or “I’m leaving.”)
“Great big Bulwinkle J. Moose ones,” I’ll say, proudly.

I did that yesterday, actually, at a restaurant. It was poorly timed. The old guy was reaching over from the next table to ask if he could get the sugar for the coffee, since there wasn’t any on his table. His mouth was open, he was about to speak right when he overheard the conversation. He was actually dropjawed for a moment, and then he accidentally made eye contact with me. His expression said something along the lines of ‘I will never stop vomiting because of what I overheard.’ Then he just sat up at his table, eyes-forward, and militantly avoided looking in our direction afterwards.

My longsuffering wife gave his wife the sugar.

“Can you please not talk about that in public?”
“Right, right, right, sorry. Must only say crazy things around friends. Mustn’t frighten the ‘Danes. Must use my insanity for good, not evil. Forgot. Sorry. Sorry.

I actually don’t read very much

A friend of mine was talking about people who don’t own TVs and won’t shut up about it. They’re just pretentious. He said the same is true of pretentious readers, who brag about all the great stuff, but really “They’re just reading Latin ass-masters,” to keep their Pretentious dues up to date. (“Latin Ass Master” being the greatest quote Iv’e heard this month, and I’m totally stealing it)

Anyway, this has got me wondering if I’m pretentious or not w/r/t reading.  I mean, I read Dante’s Inferno, but I didn’t understand a word of it. I’m more likely to blurt out “I read it” than “I didn’t understand it.” I will reluctantly admit that if questioned, though.

I read Gulliver’s Travels, which you can’t brag about because everyone thinks it’s a children’s book, but (A) it’s not and (B ) it’s a fucking HARD read! It’s 300 years old. It’s not as tough as reading Shakespeare, but it’s much harder than reading modern English. (If you point out in comments that Shakespeare is Modern English, then fuck you, you, sir, are the problem, not the solution. Also, it’s now considered ‘Early Modern English.’) I also read “Tale of a Tub,” which Swift thought his greatest book, and which was widely regarded as his funniest.

Comedy doesn’t age well.

It took me about three years to plow through that book, and while I got about a third of it (It’s an allegory about denominationalism in Christianity) I couldn’t quote a single thing from it from memory, and I don’t think I laughed once. (Conversely, I did laugh quite a bit at Gulliver during the Laputa adventure). Any discussion of “Tub” generally starts with me freely admitting I didn’t understand it, and making a joke out of the situation. I’m less likely to do that with Dante, which I understood less of. So basically I’ll volunteer that I’m an idiot on something I *kinda* got, but will only admit I didn’t get the other thing when I’m cornered and have no escape. Seems reversed from the norm, but probably still pretentious.

I read Caesar’s Gallic Wars mostly just to say I did it. (Years later I read it to Bey during homeschooling for history. He liked it better than I did, though. It is pretty fascinating, it just did’t pop my cork)

Everyone assumes that I’m this amazingly well-read guy, but if you made a stack of all the Classical Latin Ass-Masters that I’ve read, and the Star Trek novels I’ve read, I guarantee you the Trek pile is higher. And I don’t even *like* Star Trek.

Thing is, I don’t even read all that much. I mean, I used to read a lot more than I do. When I was a kid, if I was good for a week, my reward was a Hardy Boy’s Mystery (“The Case of the Caper about the Capers in the Case”), which I’d wolf down in a day. There were a billion of those, so it was an easy way for my mom to buy my loyalty.

And I did used to read much more, but never what you’d call “A lot.” And it was generally pretty lowbrow. Whatever the school library had in Science Fiction (Generally from the 50s) or Space stuff (Generally from the 60s). In college I’d raid the flea markets and bookshops for used stuff, but again mostly old SF. I got in the habit of keeping  a book in my car to read when I was unpredictably stuck somewhere doing something – Jiffy-Lube, Doctor’s office, whatever – and had a half hour to kill, and I’d usually have another one or two in my room. So I might have 2 or 3 books going at a time, but that’s nothing special.

I always preferred Short Stories to novels. I’m Shallow. Short attention span. If you make a stack of all the SF I’ve read in my life and placed it next to the stack of ‘straight’ fiction – that is, stuff without rayguns and aliens and space ships (or at least submarines) – the trashy SF stack would tower above the ‘real’ fiction stack like Trump’s ego towers over the Burj Dubai.

Of course that cheap joke implies I’ve read a lot more than I have. It’d be more like a two-story house compared to a standard wheeled garbage can.

I’d have love affairs with some author. Iike I plowed through everything by Kurt Vonnegutt in one summer, and hence can not tell his books apart (They overlap a lot). Same with Philip K. Dick. (They overlap less, but he repeats himself a lot)

Thing is, after college I read a lot less, and then when I started writing my own stuff (12 years ago) I read less still (“Why listen to music when you can play it?”) and when my eyes started going REALLY nearsighted, I read even less still. And honestly, I don’t even write all that much anymore. 1/2 a book in three years? Unimpressive.

So am I a poser, or what?  I totally do judge people who read Trek novels. Including myself. A standard Randy joke is to make fun of SF geeks who’ve never read any SF apart from tie-in novels to Star Trek, Star Wars, Stargate, and anything else with “Star” In the title. (BattleSTAR Galactica?)

(Actually, the 70s/80s Galactica novels were pretty good. They weren’t much like the show at all. We should talk about that some time. And the SW novels from about 1990 on tried to maintain an internal continuity. Star Trek Novels have always been bullshit.)
And I regularly make fun of SF authors I don’t like. For instance, the grandmasters of the Genre are Asimov (“Brilliant technical writer for nonfiction, but somehow his fiction was always dry and passionless”) Arthur C. Clarke (“Never quite wrapped his brain about the need for a plot in his books. They’re all just a bunch of stuff that happens, then stops happening, but there’s no *story*”) and Robert Heinlein (“A self-obsessed creepy old swinger and *LITERAL* motherfucker”)
You could argue this is pretension on my part, or taste. In either case I’m fairly unrepentant about it. There’s stuff I can’t understand well (Highfalutin’ classics of centuries gone by) and stuff that I’m totally at home in (Science Fiction). I won’t mock stuff I don’t understand, but I’ll completely tear into stuff I do.
The only case where I consider that a problem is when I’m reading amateur work. I really am very good at what I do (In all modesty), and so there’s a tendency for me to be a little too rough with people who are just starting out. I had this problem early on when I was editing stuff for people, but I stopped, but I have to keep putting effort into *NOT* doing it. Also, I don’t edit stuff for people anymore.

I guess I am pretentious, slightly, as I take no efforts to correct people’s misapprehensions about me, but then again I don’t brag much, if at all (It conflicts with my fundamental self-loathing), so, hey, you decide.

OBITUARY: Harlan Ellison (1934-2018)

He was kind.

The thing that struck me most about Harlan Ellison was that he was kind. That’s not the attribute most people mention about him, and I don’t think it’s one he probably would have used himself, but in the year or two I knew him, he was very kind to me, and he didn’t have any real reason to be.

I don’t want to give the impression that we were bosom companions, or besties or even terribly close. We didn’t have a walking-through-the-field-at-night-looking-up-at-the-stars-and-wondering-what’s-it-all-about-Alfie kind of friendship. We were never even in the same room at the same time. Honestly, I’m surprised we were friends. He’d called me up to talk about movies or something, the conversation roamed all over the place as it generally did with him, and then he said, “I presume we’re friends?” I said ‘yes,’ of course. You coulda knocked me over with a feather.

Back in 2009, I wrote a massive three-part review of his book about The City on the Edge of Forever, and the infamous clusterfuckery surrounding that. I was the head-writer at a now-defunct Science Fiction website back then. A week or so after I’d posted the last installment, my boss called me up and said, “You made Harlan Ellison cry!”

“Oh, shit, I’m a dead man!” I said.

“No, no, no,” my boss said. “You made him cry in a good way.”

A few days later he called me up, and he was funny as hell, and friendly as hell, and overwhelmingly smart. I mean, you could feel intelligence just boiling off the guy. If you’ve seen him on TV, or read stuff by him, you don’t really get the full sense of it, but, damn, the guy was an effortless, born genius. I’m far from stupid, but I could not keep up at all.

I talked him into an interview for my website, and we spent two or three days on the phone talking about everything and nothing, and joking around, and reluctantly coming back to the topic at hand before going off on a wild tangent. I taped it all, of course. Somewhere in my house I have a recording of him hacking up a lung when the breakfast he was eating went down the wrong pipe.

“Oh, God, [splutter]”

“You ok there?”

“Yeah,” he said, then started joking about how I’d be famous forever as ‘The guy who taped Harlan Ellison choking to death.’

I never posted the interview. It was very long, obviously. I sent him a copy of it beforehand, as I knew better than to risk misquoting him. He thanked me for the copy, said he really enjoyed it and it was very well done, then requested that I not publish it.

Harlan spoke a mile a minute, and he spoke about a lot of obscure things in rapid succession, and he used a lot of words that I don’t know. There were a lot of misspellings, and other problems, all technical. He said the content was good, but that he would appreciate it if I didn’t publish it until all those problems were cleared up. I was disappointed of course, but he reiterated that it was a very good interview, and that I asked him a number of questions that nobody, ever, had asked him before.  They weren’t massively insightful or anything, but they were at least new.

Here’s the best example of his kindness. Not the only one, but the best one: He spent the next year and a half trying to get at least some of my interview published in the real press. He did this without even telling me. One night he called me up, and said, “Randy, I thought I had something for you with a magazine in Poland, but I didn’t like their terms, and they wouldn’t budge, so it fell through.”

I told him thanks, but he really didn’t need to waste time trying to get my goony stuff published.

“It’s a good interview. It’s a historical document. I don’t have time to correct it, but you did the work, and you deserve something for it, even if it’s only a couple of kopecks.”  I told him to knock it off. A couple months later he called me up saying a website out of New York wanted to run a portion of it. We had a conference call with them, but they irked him, and he said goodbye, and that was that.

Here’s this guy, living legend, on everyone’s short list of the greatest authors of the 20th century, and he’s wasting time trying to help dipshit ol’ me. Not only was he trying to help me, he was expressly trying to make sure I got paid. 

Why did he do it? Because he was kind. Again, that’s probably not the word he’d use, he’d probably consider it maudlin, but he felt the need to look out for the little ones. I’m hard pressed to think of an established author who’s done more to help new writers get established. He considered it a moral obligation, and he was often very aggressive about it, but aggressive kindness is kindness still.

He got sick.

Actually, he’d been sick for a while, but he didn’t mention it.  To this day I still don’t know what was wrong.  It became more apparent the longer I knew him, though. One day he called up to answer some question or another that I’d bugged him with, and he sounded like a ghoul. I asked him what was wrong. He said that he’d spent the night in the hospital, following some kind of attack that almost killed him. I suggested that maybe he shouldn’t be yacking to me after that, maybe he should just try to take it easy. “I’ll be fine, I just need to keep working.” A few minutes later, he said, “Do you mind if we come back to this some other day? I’m not feeling well.” I said of course.

The last time I talked to Harlan Ellison we were both very much aware that it was the last time I was ever going to talk to Harlan Ellison.

I was doing the dishes when the phone rang. He sounded…just awful. At death’s door. His breathing was weird, his voice was quiet enough that I had to ask him to repeat a couple things, and he was clearly terribly sad. I’ve been around it before. This was clearly the voice of a dying man.

In gist he apologized for not being able to get my interview published. I told him (For the Nth time) to forget it. He said that he had really wanted to do it, but he’d failed, and he wasn’t going to be able to now. He said that he wanted to give me something to make up for it. I said there was nothing I wanted, nothing to feel bad about, just getting to know him a little was plenty. He kept saying he wanted to give me something, and it became apparent that what he was really doing was closing out files and saying goodbye. It was important to him. He had started something, and he had to finish it, and if he couldn’t make it work, he had to at least give something. He asked what I wanted.

I named something trivial to let him off the hook. He said, “Ok. Well, I gotta go.”

“I understand. Hey, Harlan?”

“Yeah?”

I tried to think of something meaningful to say. I almost said, ‘Don’t go gently,’ or something half-assed like that, but fortunately I realized that was just completely inappropriate to say to a dying man. Then I thought, ‘who the hell am I to try to tell him something meaningful?’ I mean, he’s the hyperlexic’s hyperlexic. The man’s toenail clippings have more talent and drive than my entire body. No, it wasn’t my place to even try that.

“Goodbye.”

“Yeah, bye,” he said.

I expected to hear that he’d died a day or two after that. I think he expected that, too.

That was, I think, somewhere in the middle of 2011, maybe earlier. He rallied and held out for another seven years.

It’s impossible to talk about someone famous without coming across like you’re name dropping. It’s worse when you only know one famous person, which is the case with me. I’m sorry for that. I’m not trying to make myself seem great through my connection to him, I’m trying to point out how great he was through his kindness to a less-than-nothing like myself.

Everyone knows Harlan as The World’s Angriest Man, as the sue-happy guy who was always complaining about something, as the outrageous guy on stage, as the hopelessly prolific writer, the raging lefty, as the guy who’d effortlessly cut you down eight ways from Sunday in a debate. He always saw himself as a boy scout. There’s a million different Harlans, and all of them are probably at least somewhat true. I don’t have any great insights, but I just thought I’d share with you a quality he shared with me, and one that I don’t think I’ve heard anyone mention before:

He was kind.

I just finished my 9th book, “Big Pharma”

I just published a new book yesterday.

My friend Jim Graham had been writing a series about a guy with the unfortunate nickname of “Scat” (Real name: Sebastian Scatkiewicz). He was a retired marine who more-or-less accidentally starts a civil war and ends up (As Jim put it) as the fulcrum about which the history of the galaxy turned. It called on a lot of stuff from his time in the British Army. Good military space fiction with political intrigue.

He was about 4/5ths of the way through one of his novels when he discovered he was terminally ill. He asked me if I would please finish the book for him, and of course I said yes. I had hoped to have it done before he passed, and he’d thought he’d had some more time left than he did, but that ended up being the last time we spoke. Jim passed away less than a month later.

His widow Vivien sent me his manuscript and notes, and I got cracking.

He’d written two “Main” novels in the series (“Scat” and “Army of Souls,”) and intended to write a third to bookend the series. (About which nobody knows anything, AFAICT). As the”Army” takes place about a decade after “Scat,” he intended to write a bunch of shorter novels set between the books. I call these “Interquels.”

I’m gonna be honest, it was a little daunting. My normal method is to just sit down and sprawl out crap as it comes to me, hence the hokey-jokey herky-jerky style of writing. It works for my stuff, and Jim liked my stuff, but it didn’t fit him at all. I wanted his last book to be *his* last book. I didn’t want it to be 4/5ths his book and then – zang – it switches to crazy Randy bullcrap, right?

So I reread the previous books, I took ridiculous amounts of notes, and I tried to match his style as closely as a could. I found I tended to overthink things. “How would Jim phrase this? Would he say it this way, or would he reverse those two words?” Etc. This isn’t be complaining, by the way. I don’t feel put upon at all. I feel honored to have been chosen to do it, and glad that I was actually able to make good on my promise to my friend. I also had help in the form of the Reverend Oliver Harrison, Church of England, who was of immeasurable assistance in translating my portion of the book from American to English.  He went through it and painstakingly identified places where Americanisms had to be replaced by Anglicisms. (Remember, Jim was British) I didn’t want the tone to switch from “Stiff upper lip” to “howdy, howdy, howdy, I’m a cowboy,” you know? And overall I tried to match Jim’s tone as much as possible.

Also, as with *everything* I’ve ever done, it simply would not have been possible without David Teach. He’s my George Martin. Mad love, man!

Anyway: I don’t really consider this “My” book (Though they were insistent that my name be on the cover), I consider it Jim’s book, and I was just a pinch hitter here. If anyone chooses to read it, and you like it? That’s all Jim’s doing. If you read it and hate it, that’s my fault. Also for my fans (If any) it might be a little hard to follow since it takes place in between books 2 and 4 in a very involved series.

Still and all, I think it’s a good book, and I think I did a pretty good job with it, and I think the points where it switches from him to me and back again are pretty seamless. It’d be fun to know if his fans can spot the sutures, so to speak. I hope to hear back from some of ’em.

The book is now up on Amazon and Smashwords.

Phew. So now that that’s done, it’s time to go back to my own normal weirdo-chaotic-goofball-nightmare stuff. 

(By the way, this was my 2nd co-authored book, and my 9th book overall)

I ruin movies by making them better…in your mind!

I tend to ruin movies by making them better.

See, I’m one of those annoying people who, for entirely selfish reasons, tries to get his friends to watch movies I’ve already seen. The reasons? Mostly so I can have someone to talk about it with, and of course, validation. (“Yes, Randy, that was a good film that I would not have seen were it not due to your incessant nagging. You have good taste in film, and hence are a good person, and you can stop hating yourself now.”) I have a lot of issues on that front.

Anyway, the problem is that I’m a pretty shallow man and hence have pretty narrow tastes. Mostly I just watch Science Fiction films. Current ones, old ones, classics, sclock-fests, I don’t really care. I also like anything by the Coen brothers, up to and including that bootleg of a very drunk Ethan puking his guts out in a toilet, while his sibling is laughing so hard that he can barely keep the shot in frame. (“[Rowlf] For God’s sake, Joel, why aren’t you helping me? [Rowlf]) I also claim to like everything by Terry Gilliam, but I’m lying about that. I really only like three of his films. Some war movies are cool. I mostly pretend they’re happening in space, anyway. Theoretically I like any western that’s more than two hours long, but watching a marathon of Terrence Hill films a couple years ago has made me question that. Oh, right, and I used to like some foreign art films up until I turned 40 and suddenly started finding them all disturbing.

So, really, not a lot of depth there, if I’m honest. Which I just was.

Bottom line: Nobody is interested in the movies I’m interested in, nor have they ever been, nor should they be. Yes, everyone will go to see Star Wars IX: The Legend of Curly’s Gold, but everyone was going to see that anyway, right? I’m grateful to have something to talk to them about, but it’s completely lacking in the ‘validation’ thing I mentioned above. It’s not like I talked them into seeing Colosus: the Forbin Project, or The Andromeda Strain (Both of which are super-rad and bitchin’ by the way). Do you know how hard I had to work to get anyone to watch Blade Runner in the decade between its release and the time it spontaneously became popular? And now everyone thinks it’s the 2nd best SF film of all time, and half the people reading this were born after 1992, so you’ve never known a world in which it was just me and Ridley Scott saying, “No, honestly, it doesn’t suck! And it’s pretty!” And Ridley, honestly, didn’t seem that interested after “Legend” also bombed. (That one totally deserved it. It sucks)

Since nobody likes what I like, I have to kind of oversell it in order to pique their interest. I’m sort of bad at this, in that I tend to be honest. “Sundown: The Vampire in Retreat is, unquestionably, the most original and important thing to happen to the vampire mythos in 50 years. However all that important stuff is in the last five minutes, and you also have to suffer through a pre-acting-lessons Bruce Campbell, which, as you know is painful, but here’s a list of concepts that, while poorly executed through the rest of the movie, are still sort of interested. And again: the last five minutes are the absolute best thing in the entire history of best things themselves!”

Needless to say, my batting average is pretty low.

Which brings me to the way I ruin movies for everyone.

See, I grew up in a semi-abandoned citrus grove that only had three other widely-spaced houses, and the occasional biker gang. Oh, and rattlesnakes. Lots and lots of rattlesnakes. Needless to say I didn’t have a lot of friends to play with. My dad was a dad, and hence mostly interested in sports, and relaxing after a hard week at work. Movies were low on his priority list. My mom…wow. My mom worked as a ticket girl in the box office of a movie theater in the ‘50s, but never bothered to go in and watch any of the movies. In 1977 the last film she’d seen in a theater was “The Sound of Music.” That movie was two years older than I am, and I’m half-convinced that she only went to see it because she used to work for the Von Trapp family. (It’s true! She did!) There was absolutely no chance on selling her on seeing anything, ever.

I had a shot with my dad, though. The problem there was that his attention span for things he wasn’t already interested in – like football – was fairly short. It was even shorter when football was actually on TV while I was making my pitch. This meant I had a very narrow window of opportunity to make my sale. I’d wait for the extended commercial break between quarters, and I only had 15 minutes. Less if he needed to use the can.

Basically I’d stand directly in front of him, and run through the whole plot of the movie at lightning pace. I’d jump around to give an impression of any cool action scenes. I’d deliver dialog in different voices so there wouldn’t be any confusion as to who was speaking – because, remember, I didn’t have time, and he was only half-paying attention. I would quote any cool dialog I could remember, and other dialog I couldn’t quite remember verbatim I’d punch up on the fly. Sometimes I’d hum or whistle theme music. I would describe in glorious detail any cool visual scenes, and then, hopefully, I’d get to the conclusion before “…and we’re back. It’s the fourth quarter, and the Bucs are down 21 points against the Dolphins. For the third time in three seasons.”

I never had much luck with my dad, but I got really good at my weird little presentations. Being constitutionally incapable of selfconsciousness, I started doing them at school. I had a better memory in those days, so I could just launch into one whenever the opportunity arose. These were always extemperaneous, always tailered to whatever the person I was talking to would find cool. Spoilers? Pfeh. Here’s the truth: most people won’t watch movies if they don’t already know how they’re going to end. Audiences are lazy. Particularly with old films, and remember, there wasn’t much Science Fiction in theaters in those days, so much of the time I was just trying to get people to watch, “It: The Terror from Beyond Space,” or “Fantastic Voyage,” or acting out why people shouldn’t watch, “Creation of the Humanoids.” Yeah, that’s right, I could use my skills to plug or kill a movie. I’m just that good.

It got so people would ask me to explain a movie just becaue they wanted to watch my floorshow. My pitch for “Outland” was referred to by a teacher as, “A one man show stage version of High Noon.” Which is pretty apt, really. I did this in college, I did this after college, heck, I still do it now. It’s become reflex. As society’s attention span dropped ever-lower, I got more effective.

Which brings us to the part where I ruin movies:

At some point, people started saying stuff like, “Yeah, ‘Brazil’ was pretty good and all, but I liked your report on it better than watching the movie itself.” Or, “Honestly I think the death scene in ‘The 9th Configuration’ was better the way you did it, then in the film.” or “Your rendition of ‘Forbidden Planet’ didn’t really prepare me for how corny and stiff the dialog in the movie was.”

Eventually, “I liked the Randy version better,” became a common complaint.

Why?

“Well, you get so excited about them, and you’re so energetic, and you emphasize stuff they don’t and downplay stuff they emphasize, and some of your mis-remembered dialog is cooler than theirs, and you leave out the scenes that don’t work. I end up with a picture of the movie in my head, I go in expecting that and I get…just a movie. Not The Randy Version of the movie, which is more fun.”

“And shorter?”

“Oh, yeah, way the hell shorter. I really don’t have the attention span for a three-hour movie.”

Fat, Sweaty British Bastards and Charities

You know those charity candy dispensers you see next to the cash register in some restaurants and small offices? The ones that have, like, York Peppermint Patties or some other ‘meh’ candy like that, and you’re supposed to plunk in a quarter to take one, all proceeds going to the MDA or the ASPCA or whatever?

Quite a few years ago, I was sitting in my desk in the front of the office I worked in when this fat British dude came in with one, and asked if he could put one in our lobby. Low man on the totem pole, I had to deal with these things. I said, “No.”
“Why not?”
“You’ll see on the door right there, it says ‘no soliciting.'”
“This is different, this is charity.”
“I’m sorry, no. Good luck to you, though.”
“Why not?”
“I don’t think it matters, sir, I said ‘no.'”
“I want to know why not.”
“It is the stated policy of [name of company] not to allow local franchise holders to make donations in the name of the company, nor to allow others to place charitable donation boxes on our property, nor to endorse charities. The company does make quite sizable donations to charities, however, and I’d be happy to give you the regional office phone number, if you’d like to see if they can help you.”
“So I could go on TV and say your company doesn’t support charities.”
“You could, but as I just explained that’s untrue, and you could get sued.”
“[Grabs business card off of my desk] I’m going to be on channel 13 later today, interviewed for my charity, and I will tell them that Randall Schantz, speaking on behalf of [name of company] refused to give a donation to a national charity.”
“It’s pronounced ‘Shawn’s,’ not ‘Shantz’. I think you should go, and I’d like my card back.”
“Why? Are you afraid of me naming you on TV as a heartless selfish person?”
“No, I’m afraid you’re going to start calling and harassing me at 3AM, you nut-bar. Look, I don’t know how you think charities work, but bursting in to an office and threatening people’s livelihoods if they don’t take your crappy candy machines is *not* how you win supporters. Now give me my card back.”
“No, I’m going to go on TV and tell everyone that your company hates sick kids and I’m going to tell everyone that you’re the one that told me that.”
“[Picks up phone] I’m calling 911. See? I’m pressing ‘nine’. Give me my card back.”
“No [backs towards door] you can’t threaten me.”
“Oh brother. I’m pressing ‘one’…”
“You watch channel 13, you watch, your name will be all over the place! You’re ruined! You should have done it, but you’re ruined now! And maybe your replacement will be nicer.”

He left. I hung up the phone. My office manager stuck her head over the partition and said, “What the hell was that?” While I explained, I saw the guy go to a couple other offices in the plaza. “Should I get Gene [our boss] to call his lawyer?”

I sighed. “Nah, I got this.”

I got up and went to the pizza/sub place next door.
“Hi Randy. Want a sandwich?”
“Yes, actually. Did some fat sweaty British guy and demand you put up one of those charity candy things?”
“Yeah, I sent him packing.”
“Irksome. How about a Cuban, and a coke?”
“Yeah. Fifteen minutes, I’ll pound on the wall to let you know it’s done.”
“Thanks, Nick.”

I left there and went to the travel agent next door.
“Hi Randy.”
“Hi, Elaine. Tell me, did some fat British bastard just come in here and threaten you if you didn’t take one of those stupid candy machines?”
“He didn’t *threaten* me, but he was very aggressive. I just took it to get rid of him.”
“Could I maybe see it?”
“Yeah, I got it in the back. No way I’m letting that crap clutter up my office.”

She brought it out. There was a phone number on the side. I went back to my office and called.

“Hello, [name of charity]”
“Hi, could I speak to your manager, or whoever is in charge there?”
“May I ask why?”
“Yeah, one of your employees just burst into my office and personally threatened me, and I’d like…”
“Just a moment.”

Less than a minute later a guy came on the line.
“Hi, this is Jerry. What happened? My receptionist said someone threatened you?”
“Oh, not just me, he threatened my Fortune 500 company as well.”
“What?”
“Some British guy came in here not half an hour ago claiming to work for you – you know, now that I think about it, I have no way of knowing if he actually does or not, he didn’t provide any identification or anything…anyway he blustered in here, and when I explained that we couldn’t take his candy thing as a matter of national corporate policy, he went all freakin’ psycho. He said he was going on TV later today – are any of your people being interviewed on TV today?”
“No.”
“Good, I was actually a little worried about that. Anyway, he made an elaborate show of taking one of my business cards and read my name aloud and said he was going to specifically name me on TV for wanting sick kids to die…”
“He did WHAT?”
“Uh-huh. And he was going to badmouth the largest insurance company in America for a local agent refusing to take one of your little candy dealies.”
“Well, you don’t need to worry about that. There’s nobody going on TV today.
“Well, that’s a relief. So does this guy even work for you?”
“Well, he *did.*”
“What, you mean he used and now he’s gone all Colonel Kurtz, doing this as a scam?”
“No, I mean he’s fired. Like as of right now.”
“Oh. Wow. Do…uhm…do you even know who he is? Who I’m talking about?”
“There’s only one fat British guy working for us, and he’s really bad at his job.”
“Ok. Well, look, I don’t want anyone fired, I just want my business card back.”
“Why?”
“Because honestly I’m a little scared of the guy calling me up and threatening me in the middle of the night or whatever.”
“Yeah, see, if he’s threatening to get people fired and slandering huge national companies, and you’re *afraid* of him, then he really shouldn’t be representing us.”
“I can’t argue with that, but really I just want my card, and maybe an apology. Or just some kind of promise that he’s not going to jump out at me with a meat cleaver when I’m walking to my car.”
“I’ll get your card back, and if you ever see him again, just call the cops.”
“Yeah, ok, fine. Also, could you please send somebody by to pick up the dispenser from the travel agent next door? I’ll give you the address. She didn’t want it either, she just took it to get rid of him.”
“Oh, God, yeah. Sorry. I’ll send someone up right now. You know, I hope…”

Nick pounded on the wall.
“My lunch is ready, I gotta go.”
“Ok, I’m really sorry.”
“S’ok.”

Three days later I got an official envelope from [name of charity] in the mail, which only had my business card in it.

The weird thing is that I came out of that whole situation feeling guilty.

MOVIE REVIEW: “Battle in Outer Space” (1959)

I haven’t done one of these in a long while, but when I came across a Japanese space movie I’d never seen before, I just knew I had to cover it.

PLAY BY PLAY

In the not-too-distant future – I dunno, the 1970s, I guess, or maybe the late ‘60s – Japan has a vigorous space program that has its own large space station that looks a lot like a roulette wheel, complete with the little spinny bit at the tip. The station – which is armed for no good reason – is attacked by flying saucers, and destroyed.

Roll opening titles!

UFOs cause several acts of wonton destruction (Which is a great Chinese punk cover band that used to play in…oh, wait, I already used that gag in another review) involving wrecking a train, the Panama Canal, and Venice. Japan got off light. You knew the train was going to get destroyed, though, since it was obviously a miniature rather than stock footage. That’s how you can always tell when something is about to explode in these films: if they use miniatures for something they could have simply gone outdoors and shot for real, it’s gonna’ die.

Anyway, a UN conference is called at the Japanese Space Center to discuss the loss of the space station, the miniature train, and the two poorly painted pictures that are alleged to be photographs of Panama and Italy. They conclude that the earth is under attack by aliens from the planet Natal. How they know this isn’t made clear, and in fact there’s really no way they could.

Meanwhile, the Iranian delegate to the UN Science Thingie wanders off by himself (Always stay with the group! Always!) and gets Zombified by the aliens. He’s now their slave. Why’d they pick an Iranian? I’m assuming either it was the whole “Hostages” thing, which wouldn’t happen for another 19 years, or it might be that he wore a turban, which hid the surgery scars. So anyway, he runs amok breaking stuff ineffectually until he’s outed by a random gaggle of UN delegates who chase him around (If you’ve got sound editing equipment, remove the soundtrack during these scenes, and replace them with “Help” by the Beatles and some girly screams. It’s hilarious!) so he escapes smirkingly, and is disintegrated by his alien overlords.

Scooping up some of the red dust that remains, and putting it under the microscope, they conclude that there was a tiny machine or something in his head that made him act all goofy. The UN re-convenes, and declares that the aliens from the planet they’ve never heard of and shouldn’t know the name of, have set up a base on the moon and are planning to invade, which they also shouldn’t really know. Ok, the invasion is a no-brainer, but the moon thing? What, was it written on the mind control device in really tiny print or something?

In less time than it takes to say ‘jumpcut’ the nations of the world are working together building two large spacecraft (Who’s size is really inconsistent) to go the moon to do recon or possibly to kick butt (Also rather inconsistent). Rather than simply go, however, they decide to pad out the film a bit with the most unromantic romantic subplot of all time:

Protagonist and Chick (The characters are all ciphers and fairly interchangeable ones at that, so let’s not even keep the pretense that they have names) go out for a skrog in the park. They lay down. Chick looks up at the moon and says, “You know, when I look at the moon, I keep imagining there’s a prince up there who’ll come down and swoop me off my feet.” I don’t know where you come from, but around here (Florida), if a girl starts mooning about some guy other than you to take her away, you’re pretty much not gonna get any.

Meanwhile, Protagonist says “I think as we move further into the future, our sense of beauty will fade.” What the frack? What are you, a French existential nihilist? Dude, seriously, that kinda’ crap wouldn’t even get you laid in Paris in the ‘50s. Yikes!

I should mention that the girl is reeeeeeealy pretty. Her name was Koyoko Anzai. I can’t find any pictures of her, but believe you me, she’s way prettier than the chicks you generally see in movies of this caliber and period. While watching this, I remembered a scene in the movie “The Mysterians” that was almost identical, and wondered if clueless people not making out was just the zeitgeist of the time. In looking it up, I found that this movie is actually a sequel to The Mysterians, so it was probably an in-joke. Turns out this was a trilogy: The Mysterians (Which I’ve seen a zillion times, but not in 30 years), this movie, and a third one that I’ve never heard of.

So anyway, Protagonist and Koyoko see a flying saucer and beat it back to the base. Meanwhile, their fellow-astronaut friend – let’s call him “Imomura”* – decides to drive into town before the mission to “Kiss the girls.” He’s abducted by the aliens, who plant yet another Zombification device in his head.

The next morning, the two ships – cleverly named “One” and “Two” – are launched. As they fly to the moon, they have no gravity. One third-class yokel – exactly one, and nobody else, despite there being like thirty people on the mission – gets out of his seat, floats up, and bangs his head on the ceiling. The skipper reminds him that they’re weightless, you need to be careful.

“Oh, that’s right, I remember you saying that.”

You’d think this stuff was covered in Astronaut training, but nope, it’s just “Everyone can be an Astronaut day” down at the Japanese Space Center. First fifty people get to go on a suicide mission to the moon. The first hundred get snow cones!

So they pull the guy down. Let’s let that sink in a moment.
He’s floating ‘cuz he’s weightless, they’re weightless too, but they pull him down, when in fact they should go Peter Panning their way up there, too. Evidently, however, you don’t float in zero G as long as you walk carefully.

Seriously: They never explain this. I’d have expected some exposition about “Magnetic Boots” or what have you , but no, just take light steps. Then the officers head into the control room.

Wait – shouldn’t they have been in the control room for liftoff? Wasn’t that where they’ve been all this time?

Evidently not, no.

So they go into the large, submarine-like control room. Evidently the ship was launched on autopilot. Well, really, all rockets are, so I guess they didn’t need to be up there, but it still seems like wasted floor space to me. Ah well.
They pass the floating ruins of the space station, and say a prayer for the dead. This is a really nice scene. Then, en rout to the moon, they get attacked by flying saucers shooting “Space Torpedoes.” (Wouldn’t that mean ‘missiles?’ No matter, they look like rocks anyway.)

Using the super-zap heatray guns that I forgot to mention earlier, but which were invented during a jumpcut in an earlier scene in the film, they manage to fight their way through this and take out a few saucers. Meanwhile, acting under alien influence, Imomura attempts to sabotage and destroy one of their own ships, and disables it’s super-ray gun. He’s caught and ineffectually tied up.

While landing on the moon, the spooky alien baritone warns them to go home, or die. They actually briefly discuss going home.

They then lower some ridiculously over-designed moon rovers to the surface. Seriously: they’ve got tractor treads, and then above these, never touching the ground, they’ve got big car wheels sticking out to the sides. And the things can fly. And they can bend in the middle, but they never do. Impressively enough, they actually built a full-size mockup of the front of one of these! No sooner are they there, then Yokel Third Class (Same guy) manages to bound over the lander by accident. He’s again chided for not being careful.

So they tool around a bit, in boring fashion, and eventually find a cave. Going through the cave, they find the alien base, which is kinda’ boring. They discuss going in to attack it, but decide to get the big portable heat ray machine gun. They send Koyoko back to get the gun, and she’s ambushed by a whole bunch of the aliens in an effectively creepy scene. She’s then rescued by her “Eventually our sense of beauty will fade” boyfriend who’s so forgettable that I actually honestly did forget he was in the movie. And he’s the protagonist!

Why is this scene effective? It’s shot and thought out well. It’s a cave already, so it’s dark and spooky. The aliens are wearing space suits, which saves money on monster costume costs, and allows our imaginations to fill in the blanks. They’re humanoid, but short, child sized, and there’s a lot of them capering about, with helmets that aren’t designed for human heads, making creepy gibbering noises. Protagonist kills them, the they both get back to the cave opening overlooking the alien base.

Meanwhile, Imomura frees himself and blows up one of the moon rockets, then makes his way to the second one.
Humans and aliens shoot at each other a bit, until the alien base blows up, but it disgorges several saucers before it does. On ship two, Imomura loses the voice in his head. In a neat, though brief scene, his face goes from heartless cold to confusion as the signal ceases, and he tries to figure out his last instruction. Then awareness of what he was doing. It’s well played. He sets things right.

The expedition returns to the landing site to find one ship blown up. They assume the saucers did it, but Imomura confesses, begs forgiveness, and stays behind to hold off the saucers with his ray gun while the ship blasts off.
And there you’d think the movie end, but no, there’s an entirely superfluous fourth act.

Back on earth, they decide there’s really nothing to stop the aliens from attacking again, so they decide to build a massive fleet of the “One man scout rockets” they’ve been using, and convert them to fighters. We see several scenes of construction, the aliens attack, and the fighters are launched. These are, no question about it, X-15s with a different paint job.  Seriously, they’re just toy model kits.

Then there’s the titular ‘battle in outer space’ which involves none of our characters. Well, they’re in it, but they’re largely interchangeable anyway, and they’re all on the ground gawking at monitors while the fighting goes on. For a while I thought Protagonist was one of the fighter pilots, but, no, I was wrong. He wasn’t. He was just a gawker, too.

So this is pretty dull. Imagine the last 15 minutes of Star Wars if Luke and Han stayed on Yavin, and the whole fight was left up to Porkins and Biggs. Yeah.

The aliens blow up a very substandard model of NYC, and they take out a mediocre model of the Golden Gate bridge.  The alien mothership attacks Tokyo. Big ray guns on the ground destroy it. Everyone congratulates each other.

Then an American who hasn’t been in the movie at all up to the battle stands up, and a woman and kid come in, and they make a point of introducing his family, and then he leaves. What the heck was that all about?

The end.
OBSERVATIONS

They never specifically say it, but it appears there are only three manned space programs in the world in this movie: The American one, the Soviet one, and the Japanese one. It’s sort of taken for granted that the Japanese had the only space station.

Since it’s illegal to use the UN logo for profit, or without written permission, the producers of this film made a near-exact duplicate, only the earth is turned 90 degrees to the right. Clever! And they never actually say “United Nations” in the movie.

There’s no getting around it: this is a lavish production. George Pal would have killed to have this kind of money. Take, for instance, the space station in the opening scene: it’s shaped like a wheel, and the interior sets stretch off into the distance and curve up, just like “Space Station V” from 2001. That movie was filmed 9 years later. They built half of the moon rover. The interior sets of the space ships were not particularly awe-inspiring, but they were competent and pretty big. They had at least a dozen full space suits for the adults, and at least another dozen for the aliens, and at least 24 helmets, they had a fighter cockpit set, they had a pretty large cast, some of whom, I gather, were minor names at the time. This was a sequel to “The Mysterians,” and it clearly had a lot more money behind it than the first film did.

Wanna’ know how to tell if one of these old productions had any money? Space suits. They’re expensive, especially the helmets. If you’ve got a bunch of ‘em, this is a pricey proposition.

The special effects are your typical LB Abbot/Howard Lydecker thing: models on wires. That said, the quality of the shots is really good, and a couple of the scenes – the wreckage of the space station, or the rockets tumbling towards the moon in slow motion – are really pretty. And everything looks good in lurid Technicolor Oh, sorry, “Tohoscope.” When The model building in this movie is surprisingly sub-par, however.

One neat touch: you know how in these old SF films, fire is belching out of the back of the rocket, and the flames kind of bend in some other direction than straight down? And it looks fake? It’s because heat rises, and the flame will find ‘up’ regardless of the position of the model. In this film, to get around it, they built all the launch pad sets upside down, put the camera upside down, lit the fuse, and then dropped the rocket into a net out of shot. The flames don’t look all bendy, and best of all the clouds of smoke gradually appear to rise. They used the same trick for when the aliens are destroying buildings in Tokyo with their anti-gravity guns: the models and camera were upside down. When the explosions start, all the debris falls up, or appears to.

Man, the science in this film is hokey, even by the standards of the time! We’re told that gravity and temperature are related. The alien anti-gravity weapon works by freezing things so cold that they become lighter, and are thrown into the air by the earth’s own centrifugal force. Uhm…..whaaaat?

And…uhm…I guess that’s about it. Now I remember why I haven’t done one of these in a year or so: they take forever to write. I’m tired.

*- That’s actually the character’s real name, I just wanted to see if you’d look down here.

I wrote a new story

yesterday I wrote a short story called “Dead Man’s Dream,” which isn’t entirely apt, since nobody is asleep in it. They are all dead, though. Mostly, though, I just liked the sound.

Took about 3 hours to write, 2300-ish words. Starts out funny, gets kind of poignant in the end. It was originally going to go much darker, but that would have doubled the length of, basically, a one-joke premise that leads into my actual point, so I wisely dropped it.  The wife and kid read it, and thought it was pretty funny.

To be honest, I don’t think it’s very good. I mean, it’s good enough. I’ll set it aside as complete, but I don’t think I entirely ‘stuck the landing’ so to speak. I got my idea across, but not as strongly as I’d hoped. Not really worth going in and heavily re-working it, though.

HOWEVER: this *IS* the first wholly original short I’ve done in, I dunno, a couple years? So hopefully this will be the first step in me doing more writing, and I’m sure I’ll get less rusty quickly. And I’m told, as usual, that my dialog was both absurd, snappy, and fun. So that’s good.