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Did the Cold War’s End Transform Star Trek: The Next Generation?

Monday, July 14th, 2014 - by PJ Lifestyle Comment of the Day

A very thoughtful, enlightening comment from Terrekain on The 10 Most Obnoxious, Overrated Alien Cultures in Star Trek:

None of these series were created in a vacuum.

The writers originally imagined an “introspective” series with episodic “lesson learning” (America-bashing), using alien races as props. Herb Wright, for example, was a socialist, college Vietnam protestor, and apologist for the Soviet Union, who created the Ferengi to represent an evil capitalistic race to be Star Trek’s new primary villain.

Needless to say, Wright frequently had confrontations with the lead writer who created the Borg, Maurice Hurley, proving the adage that “A man is defined by the character and nature of his enemies”.

This was why so many of the early alien races in TNG were written, as many have complained, like “cartoon caricatures”; transparently insulting to the intelligence of its American audience. The fatal flaw of TNG’s early writing (and therefore writers) is why the show was in real trouble in its first two seasons.

Basically, TNG was swimming against the tide back in the late 1980s, although it should be noted that many socialists in the United States and Hollywood still regarded World Socialism as the “winning side” even after the dissolution of the Soviet Union.

America’s “cultural zeitgeist” wasn’t buying TNG’s villains, in the same vein that many anti-war movies in the 2001-2008 era were losers, more badly-written propaganda than profit-driven endeavors to sell to an American audience.

Things came to a head, however, with a slate of anti-Left events in 1988-1989: The election of Bush, the withdrawal of the Soviets from Afghanistan, and uprisings against Communist Parties all over the from Asia to Europe. By the time the Berlin Wall was breached in late 1989, TNG’s executives realized they didn’t just risk being criticized for being naive or incompetent or even apologists;

They were at risk of being branded evil.

While that might seem strange to some Millennials today, for the sake of illustration: imagine branding Christians and Jews as religious terrorist bombers right after 9/11.

In hindsight, things like that are cheesy and laughable.

In the moment of the times and for the people living though them, it’s outrageous.

The result was a major shakeup that led to the release/re-assignment/firing of TNG’s writers and the hiring of writers who were less susceptible to showing contempt to their audience (especially in their major market, the United States).

One of those writers was the creator of the Borg’s understudy and friend, Michael Piller, who became the narrative driving force of the TNG series as well as its spinoffs like Star Trek: Deep Space Nine. Piller used open hiring to circumvent Hollywood’s closed-socialist hiring circles, discovering some of TNG’s best writers including Ron D. Moore and Rene Echeverria.

The Borg were not originally meant to be the primary villains of Star Trek TNG, but with Piller, they became the most recognizable and menacing villains of the 90s. The Ferengi, by contrast, were fleshed out in Deep Space Nine and received something of a more balanced narrative.

Stories inevitably tell you more about the authors than about the subjects. This was true for the producers and writing staff of TNG just before the Cold War ended, and the new staff inducted into TNG right after the people in Hollywood realized the jig was up.

Star Trek is not to be hailed as some sort of important creation on par with the combustion engine, the transistor, or even the Hoola Hoop.

But TNG does represent a case study, like a capsule in time, reflecting Hollywood’s response to prevailing attitudes in America during some interesting times.

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The 10 Most Obnoxious, Overrated Alien Cultures in Star Trek

Friday, July 11th, 2014 - by Dave Swindle

10. The Romulans

What exactly do the Romulans have that justifies their defining quality, their arrogance? They’re among the most boring species in all of Trek, the kind of evil twin to the Vulcans, known for their deceitful and warlike nature.

Their only redeeming feature seems to be how cool and genuinely intimidating their warbird ships are:

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Who Are the Best Characters in the Star Trek Universe?

Wednesday, July 9th, 2014 - by PJ Lifestyle Pop Culture Debates!

In partnership with the new fiction publishing platform Liberty Island, PJ Lifestyle is going to begin promoting and co-hosting a series of debates and discussions about popular culture. The goal is to figure out what works and what doesn’t so that in the future we can promote and create better fiction and culture of our own. These are public brainstorming sessions for writers and culture advocates interested in developing a more vibrant popular culture. You’re invited to submit your answers to any of these questions — or a related one of your own! — that interests you:

A) in the comments

B) Via email to PJ Lifestyle editor Dave Swindle.

C) at your blog, then let us know in the comments or via email. 

The most interesting answers may be linked, cross-posted, or published at PJ Lifestyle. 

Earlier this week we started a discussion about Star Trek: How Would You Rank the Star Trek Movies?

Who’s up for a continuation? What Trek-themed debates should PJ Lifestyle explore?

Here are some character-based questions for today:

1. Which of the Captains is the most dynamic, well-written, emotionally engaging character?

(Editor’s Note: I’m a Benjamin Sisko and Deep Space Nine partisan and will explain why in a future list post… Any others in my Trek tribe out there? Exhibit A for Sisko’s supremacy in the Trek pantheon below…)

2. Who are the most interesting characters on Star Trek: Voyager?

3. Is Worf a strong enough character to warrant his own spin-off show?

4. What about villains and bad guys? Q? Khan? Gul Dukat? The Borg? Have any of the series’ enemies really hit the mark?

5. What are some new Star Trek shows you’d like to see? Here are some great ideas from one of PJ Lifestyle’s strongest contributors, Walter Hudson: 7 Ways to Reboot Star Trek With a New TV Show

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How Would You Rank the Star Trek Movies?

Tuesday, July 8th, 2014 - by PJ Lifestyle Pop Culture Debates!

In partnership with the new fiction publishing platform Liberty Island, PJ Lifestyle is going to begin promoting and co-hosting a series of debates and discussions about popular culture. The goal is to figure out what works and what doesn’t so that in the future we can promote and create better fiction and culture of our own. These are public brainstorming sessions for writers and culture advocates interested in developing a more vibrant popular culture. You’re invited to submit your answers to any of these questions — or a related one of your own! — that interests you:

A) in the comments

B) Via email to PJ Lifestyle editor Dave Swindle.

C) at your blog, then let us know in the comments or via email. 

The most interesting answers may be linked, cross-posted, or published at PJ Lifestyle. 

A very thoughtful email from Richard B. to get the discussion going:

Hi Dave!

When you said that you were going to start ranking the films, I said “YES!”.

The interesting thing is that you have to use multiple groups to rank them:

Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home    This would be the best of the original series. But it’s really the third film of a trilogy

Star Trek II: The Wrath of Kahn      Just sheer fun that revitalized the series. Beside, Ricardo walked off with that movie.

Star Trek III: The Search for Spock     Had to come up with a way to bring back Spock and besides, it helped Nimoy learn to direct a major motion picture, setting the stage for IV.

I put Star Trek The Motion Picture equal to Star trek VI: The Undiscovered Country       Both were good for opening and closing the original series movies. (Besides, you had Jerry Goldsmith for music here. Say “Patton”? Another list for you, Best movie composers. Goldsmith was original while John Williams is derivative.)

Star Trek V…….(I don’t even remember the title. Please be aware that I’ve seen every movie on opening night and that was the only time I saw this one. I keep the unopened DVD in my collection, but I won’t update to Blu-ray.)

Next Group:

Next Generation Movies

Star Trek: First Contact   Could be the best of all the movies. Good use of two simultaneous stories. Besides, I like how they brought in continuity from the Original series. (Goldsmith hits a grand slam with his soundtrack. It might the best of any movie.)

Star Trek: Generations   I think this was actually a pretty good movie, aside from killing Kirk. (I hate the speed of light error.)

Star Trek: Insurrection

Star Trek: Nemesis (I’ve seen both of these twice in the theater, just to “insure” that they make more.)

Alternate Timeline Movies:

Star Trek  A very good movie, great action, nice way to reimagine the series. (I did like the way they mentioned Admiral Archer.) (Why do they have the speed of light error again?)

Star Trek Into Darkness  Another good movie, Cumberbatch did a good job of being the new Kahn.

Well, that’s all I can think of.

Thanks!

What do you think?

Also: what are some Star Trek and science fiction-themed lists and articles you’d like to see at PJ Lifestyle? Your thoughtful comments are appreciated.

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Mexico’s Best and Brightest Celebrate Cinco de Mayo in America

Monday, May 5th, 2014 - by Bonnie Ramthun

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Imagine a new country suddenly emerging somewhere in the world, a country based on America’s old Constitution and nothing more. This new country has no taxes, a strong military, a free and open press, and a limited government.

Would you pack your bags? Let’s head out for the Atlantis of Atlas Shrugged, or Sarah Hoyt’s Eden colony in Darkship Thieves, or Heinlein’s lunar base in The Moon Is a Harsh Mistress. We’d miss our old home and feel sorrow over leaving our old country, but to be free of the increasing weight of totalitarian government? Color me gone, and my family too. We did it once, generations ago, when we got on a boat and headed to America. We could do it again.

This is why Mexico is a failed state. Rebels who object to a government unwilling to preserve individual liberty and protect private property have an Atlantis shimmering and beckoning on the horizon. They’ve packed their bags and moved here, some legally and some illegally. Some have died in the deserts of the American Southwest, murdered by coyotes or succumbing to thirst, willing to die to gain freedom.

Left behind are the people who either engage in corruption themselves or have no energy to fight it. Consider Michoacan, Mexico. Almost half the state’s population lives in the United States. Those left behind endure passively as corrupt government officials make deals with drug cartels and refuse to protect people’s safety or private property. Their rebel for liberty, their Patrick Henry or Thomas Jefferson or Ben Franklin, isn’t around. He’s moved to America.

Cinco de Mayo celebrates the victory in 1862 of a small, ill-equipped Mexican force over the powerful French army at the Battle of Puebla, southeast of Mexico City. It took another five years before Mexico gained independence, but the 5th of May is celebrated as the symbol of Mexican freedom. Today’s rebels should fight to free Mexico and turn her back into a vibrant and wonderful country, but I can understand how the lure of freedom in their neighbor to the North is too much.

Because if you had a free country to emigrate to, would you stick around here and fight it out, or would you pack your bags?

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Images courtesy of Shutterstock:  Bilha Golan, Iurii

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Lucasfilm to Partially Reboot Star Wars

Saturday, April 26th, 2014 - by Walter Hudson

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While growing up, I had the good fortune to live in two consecutive homes that were each a block away from their town’s respective libraries. From fourth grade through junior high, I had easy access to books, tapes, videos, and even video games available for check out. I spent a lot of time in the library, browsing and grazing, checking out volumes piled higher than I could ever read in the time allotted.

Among those many books were the Star Wars novels of Timothy Zahn. Now known as “the Thrawn trilogy,” they began with 1991′s Heir to the Empire. Set several years after Return of the Jedi, the Thrawn trilogy continued the adventures of Luke Skywalker, Princess Leia, and Han Solo as they fought the remnant of a collapsing Empire and confronted a new disturbance in the Force.

Zahn’s novels triggered an explosion of new Star Wars fiction spanning books, comics, video games, and more. In 1996, collaborators went so far as to develop a “movie without the movie” called Shadows of the Empire. The idea was to create merchandise around a story as if promoting a film. There was a Shadows novel, a video game, and even a fully orchestrated soundtrack for a film which was never actually produced. The story connected the events of The Empire Strikes Back with Return of the Jedi.

In later years, the timeline of this Expanded Universe became jam packed with stories detailing the fates of “the Big Three” along with their friends and offspring. Jacen and Jaina Solo, twin children of Han and Leia, joined their brother Anakin and their nephew Ben Skywalker on perilous and transformative adventures which spanned several stories across many mediums.

So when Disney acquired the Star Wars brand in 2012 and announced plans to produce Episodes VII, VIII, and IX set in a time period well covered by the Expanded Universe, obvious questions emerged. How would they work around the existing stories? How would they present the offspring of Luke, Han, and Leia? How would they tell consequential new stories without trampling upon established lore?

Lucasfilm has finally provided an answer, and it comes in the form of a soft-reboot. Precedent can be found (perhaps not coincidentally) in J.J. Abrams previous major sci-fi refurbish – Star Trek.

With Trek, Abrams and his writing team devised a way to have their cake and eat it too. They used the plot devices of time-travel and parallel universes to effectively reset the Star Trek universe, enabling future stories to take creative new directions without adhering religiously to established canon.

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The Rise of the Robot Employee

Tuesday, April 8th, 2014 - by Bonnie Ramthun

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President Obama’s new initiative is a higher minimum wage, and if he is successful the result will not be higher-paid employees heading off to work every day. Instead their jobs will be filled by an entirely new sort of worker: Robots.

Robots, unlike humans, don’t require pay or sick time or vacations. If they break they’re thrown out and recycled. Robots are expensive, but the threat of a higher minimum wage is now making a robotic worker more cost-effective than hiring a real person.

Across Japan the noodle-making chefs are now made of metal, and when you order a Big Mac at a MacDonald’s in Europe you do it by touch screen. A company called Momentum Machines in southern California has developed a robot that cranks out 400 perfectly-prepared burgers every hour. (Note: Robots do not sneeze. Ever. Think about that for a bit.)

Where is this going? Are we heading for a future where slinky femme fatale robots plot the destruction of mankind while wearing the perfect red dress?

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Give Me Back My Spaceships and Dinosaurs

Monday, March 31st, 2014 - by Sarah Hoyt

kansas

Lately I’ve been going through books I’ve been lugging around for 30 years and putting some of them up for sale. Part of this is because we plan to move as soon as possible to a place that’s easier for me to manage and clean while running a fully-time job in writing (and indie publishing.)

Part of it is that I’m allergic to household dust, and paper books are paper magnets.

Notwithstanding which, you couldn’t have pried my books out of my hands save for the Kindle paperwhite, which makes it easy and fun to read books in a format other than paper.

Anyway, I’m digging through a 30 year accumulation of books, some of which I’ve read multiple times, and some I might have read once, twenty three years ago, while on bed-rest with my first pregnancy – a time when I got so desperate for entertainment I sent my husband to the local library/remaindered sales with the largest suitcases we owned and told him ”Just fill it to the top.”

Then there are books I don’t remember having bought at any time and no one in the house admits to having bought. No, not that kind of book. Though one of the sets is a complete series of engineering manuals, and it had a similar effect on my younger son as those other books you were thinking of. He has absconded with them into his bedroom and I expect we’ll see him again when he’s digested the contents and not a minute before.

And then there are other books which, presumably, I bought, but have completely forgotten.

One of these: The Shores of Kansas by Robert Chilson made me stop. The cover shows a man battling two dinosaurs and it says “the mind-boggling epic adventure of a time-traveler torn between two nightmare worlds.”

I have no memory of having read – or bought – this book. And perhaps it is really bad. Don’t care. It’s going to be my bedtime read tonight.

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20 Things You Might Not Know About Robert A. Heinlein

Saturday, March 22nd, 2014 - by Sarah Hoyt

Editor’s Note: This articles was first serialized in four parts here, here, here, and here. What other authors and subjects would you like to see explored in list format in future articles? Let us know in the comments.

Part 1: His Maculate Origin

s9oLeWU

1. When Robert A. Heinlein was a child, his family was so poor that “[H]e slept on a pallet on the floor for years, in a constant state of amiable warfare with baby sister Louise, ‘A notorious pillow swiper.’”

Most of the writers who, in later years, would apostrophize Heinlein as “too optimistic” and turn their stories into “poverty porn” could probably have benefited from having some idea what true poverty was. Even those of us who were poor as children for some time were never so poor as to have rationed pillows.

Heinlein wrote rags to riches stories, of which those who believe the individual is powerless before his fate disapprove. But Heinlein’s own life is a refutation of their theories, so they can go suck an egg, as far as I’m concerned.

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20 Things You Might Not Know About Robert A. Heinlein, Part 4: His Happy Destiny

Saturday, March 15th, 2014 - by Sarah Hoyt

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Click Here for Part I: “His Maculate Origin”

Click Here for Part 2: “His Preposterous Heritage”

Click Here for Part 3: “His Eccentric Education”

16. A lot of people nurtured on Heinlein juveniles went on to make a difference in the fields of aeronautics and space exploration.

This effect is still going on with my sons’ generation. (Or at least Have Space Suit Will Travel was a great part of second son’s decision to study Aerospace Engineering.)

Some of the others of us just went on to dye our hair a shade of red and keep too many cats. In my defense, however, the only juvenile I read before my thirties was Have Space Suit Will Travel. I became a fan with The Moon Is A Harsh Mistress, and never looked back. (Interestingly, by the way, I discovered Heinlein among a welter of seventies New Wave books. I still liked Heinlein better. Now that I’m older and know the history of print runs in my field, I know that this is true for most people. New Wave, on the other hand, is much preferred by the intelligentsia.)

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20 Things You Might Not Know About Robert A. Heinlein, Part 3: His Eccentric Education

Saturday, March 8th, 2014 - by Sarah Hoyt

Robert A. Heinlein_1973_Time Enough For Love

Click Here for Part I: “His Maculate Origin”

Click Here for Part 2: “His Preposterous Heritage”

11. Heinlein was married three times.

His first wife was named Elinor Curry. Not much is known about her, and their marriage lasted only about a year. Before leaving the Navy, Heinlein married Leslyn MacDonald. She was intelligent, well read and very liberal. Their marriage was ultimately unsuccessful, but it lasted for well over a decade. He was married to his third wife, Virginia, (nee Gerstenfeld), until he died in 1988.

It is believed many of his early heroines resemble Leslyn. Perhaps so, but perhaps Heinlein just liked multi-competent females. Having been privileged to speak to the third Mrs. Heinlein, I can attest she was intimidatingly intelligent and well read, and that I found her echo in many of his female characters. So much for everyone who claims that his women are men with breasts. (Whether he had a male’s naïve view of female sexuality is a wholly different matter. To a certain extent, try as we might, we are all prisoners of that space behind our eyes, and no matter how much talented individuals try to escape it, they’re prone to believing what others wish them to believe.)

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20 Things You Might Not Know About Robert A. Heinlein, Part 2: His Preposterous Heritage

Saturday, March 1st, 2014 - by Sarah Hoyt

heinleinorphans

Click Here for Part I: “His Maculate Origin”

6. According to Patterson at least, Heinlein wasn’t particularly popular at Annapolis.

This was an habit he kept up for the rest of his life, choosing to be individual rather than to fit in with the crowd. Also, he was considered a rustic from out West, which would have made fitting in harder. It is tempting to assume that this gave him his pattern for his heroes who don’t always fit in, but always try hard and in the end exceed those with the advantages. If so, these circumstances made him the quintessential American writer and served him well in the end.

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20 Things You Might Not Know About Robert A. Heinlein, Part 1: His Maculate Origin

Saturday, February 22nd, 2014 - by Sarah Hoyt

s9oLeWU

1. When Robert A. Heinlein was a child, his family was so poor that “[H]e slept on a pallet on the floor for years, in a constant state of amiable warfare with baby sister Louise, ‘A notorious pillow swiper.’”

Most of the writers who, in later years, would apostrophize Heinlein as “too optimistic” and turn their stories into “poverty porn” could probably have benefited from having some idea what true poverty was. Even those of us who were poor as children for some time were never so poor as to have rationed pillows.

Heinlein wrote rags to riches stories, of which those who believe the individual is powerless before his fate disapprove. But Heinlein’s own life is a refutation of their theories, so they can go suck an egg, as far as I’m concerned.

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Charlie Brooker’s Black Mirror: A British Twilight Zone for the Digital Age

Wednesday, January 8th, 2014 - by Andrew Klavan

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Here’s an entertainment find for lovers of Sci-Fi and the supernatural: Black Mirror, a British TV anthology series that is billed as a cross between Twilight Zone and Tales of the Unexpected. That’s actually not a bad description. What it shares with TZ, at least, that so many imitators do not, are big ideas that are genuinely creative and original. Most of these ideas tend to center around current technology amped to the level of madness. The stories are often set in a world in which computers, cameras and screens increasingly stand between us and real life. Oddly but compellingly, the look of the stories is often retro, the jazziest tech offset by oldish cars and clothes.

The show is created, and often written, by Charlie Brooker.  I never heard of him either, but apparently he’s some British guy and clearly a very talented one. I’ve now watched all of the six available episodes and most of them were very entertaining, spooky and thought-provoking.

Unfortunately, the first episode — The National Anthem — is the weakest of the bunch.  It tries a little too hard to get our attention. It’s about the Prime Minister being blackmailed into screwing a pig on TV. I know — yawn, right? But it’s done well and the resolution is smart and insightful. Anyway, don’t let it put you off. After that, Brooker and his gang settle down and the stories are much less self-conscious, much more exciting. The second episode of the second three-show season, White Bearis a small masterpiece: a piece of terrifying science fiction and a piece of slashing social satire at one and the same time. The episode before that, Be Right Back, is chilling and fine. The final episode of the available bunch, The Waldo Moment, isn’t as viscerally chilling as the others, but it’s as thoughtful a piece of political satire as you’re going to find on TV. Excellent stuff.

I got this for no extra charge through DirecTV’s Video on Demand. You can also buy the DVD set from Amazon. I’m sure it’ll be streamed elsewhere soon. If you’re a Twilight Zone fan, look for it. It’s really good.

*****

Cross-posted from Klavan on the Culture

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Godzilla Reboot Emerges to Leave Theaters in Ruins in 2014

Monday, December 16th, 2013 - by Bryan Preston

Godzilla returns.

But will the reboot turn out better than the awful, un-Godzilla-like 1998 treatment that starred Matthew Broderick?

The first teaser-trailer for 2014′s Godzilla is out. Take a look. You should take it full screen. Chromecast it if you’ve got it.

The teaser opens with a group of soldiers HALO leaping into a city that is already being ravaged by the beast. We get to fall along with the troops, then see fleeting glimpses of the wreckage on the ground, reactions from the puny humans in the city, and then the monster, shrouded in a massive cloud of dust and debris.

The teaser doesn’t show much of the legendary monster, whose name is an amalgamation of the Japanese words for “gorilla” and “whale,” but what is shown already looks far better than the villain from the 1998 version. That Godzilla was more of a leaned-forward speed-walking dinosaur-like creature than the upright plodding disaster of the Toho films. It neither moved nor felt very much like Godzilla.

The 2014 version appears to be standing upright in the sequence that leads up to the frame below. The sequence begins with a shot of Godzilla’s feet at ground level, tracks upward showing the spikes on his back, and around his neck to his head. And then we hear a bona fide Godzilla roar. This is no man in a rubber suit, and the cinematography that brings him to life is spectacular.

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Godzilla’s cast looks decent. Hollywood notoriously lacks any original ideas these days, and returning to a giant monster that first leveled Tokyo in 1954 certainly doesn’t speak to the film industry’s originality now.

But still…it’s Godzilla. In 3D. And IMAX 3D. Movies just don’t get much bigger than that.

Godzilla destroys us all starting May 16, 2014.
******

cross-posted from the PJ Tatler

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Why Disney Brings New Hope to Star Wars

Wednesday, November 27th, 2013 - by Walter Hudson

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Star Wars holds a sacrosanct place in my heart, as it does with so many among my generation. As we’ve grown up, its mythology has served as a ready reference, shaping our perception of the world. Good and evil, light and dark, rebel and tyrant – while its moral dichotomy may prove simplistic, the struggles in Star Wars nonetheless resonate with conflicts we face in real life.

Anything which has such influence over a child, sparking imagination, shaping morality, and stimulating aspiration, ascends to an object of reverence. It becomes something we carry around with us (some more literally than others) and cling to like a sacred idol. A kind of theology develops around it, with conflicting doctrines advanced by competing denominations of fandom. So it is with Star Wars. For that reason, any tinkering with the the saga’s mythology inevitably draws cries of heresy.

Betsy Woodruff of National Review went so far as to declare Star Wars dead, due in large part to the brand’s acquisition by mega-corporation Disney. Citing George Lucas’ own introspection regarding his Vader-like transformation from ragtag rebel of the film industry to head of his own corporate empire, and detailing her experience trying out for a role in director J.J. Abrams’ forthcoming Episode VII, Woodruff concludes:

Here’s why Star Wars is dead: First, because they made a huge mistake in not casting me. Second, because it’s no longer in the hands of a bunch of nerds in California and because it’s been entrusted instead to the kind of people who think eight-hour meet-and-greets are a good idea either as A) publicity stunts (or, giving them the presumption of good faith) B) a good way to determine who’s going to be the next Luke Skywalker. It’s because Star Wars — a story that’s profoundly anti-centralization, anti-bureaucracy, anti-depersonalization — is being micromanaged and scrutinized by nameless bureaucrats who think that people who’ve stood in line for five hours will be satisfied with being directed to a website. And it’s because a film enterprise that was initially about risk is now about bet-hedging. No one should need to be told that the seventh film in a franchise probably isn’t going to be super great. But, you know, just in case, consider yourself warned.

Consider me a fan of another denomination. While the next film in the franchise may indeed bomb, it won’t do so for the reasons Woodruff cites.

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Surviving the Zombie Apocalypse in a Hardware Store

Thursday, October 31st, 2013 - by Builder Bob

*Disclaimer: This article is intended for entertainment and exercising-your-inner-MacGyver purposes only.  The weapons in this article are potentially dangerous and should only be used on the living dead or surplus pumpkins.*

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I have an obsession with everything Zombie-related. I love The Walking Dead, 28 Days Later, Dawn of the Dead – hell, I think I’m the only one who liked World War Z (I’ve always wanted a Macro zombie movie that focuses on the global ramifications of a worldwide outbreak instead of focusing on a small group of survivors). Now I know that there is no likelihood of the dead reanimating, but I think it’s a great mental exercise to prepare yourself for a disaster situation. On slow days at work I often wonder what I would do if a zombie outbreak occurred at work and I was stuck with only my bug-out bag and pistol that I leave secured in my car, while the heavy artillery is locked in a safe at home 35 miles away.

So you’ve survived the initial outbreak and are looking for a secure location to hole up for awhile and ride out the worst of it.  You find a hardware store that is defensible, probably close to a grocery and drug store, and chock-full of goodies to aid in your survival. The only problem is that uncreative looters have taken the most apparent weapons: machetes, hatchets, crowbars, and hammers. But you haven’t survived this long without some ingenuity. It’s time to build up an arsenal for you and your small band of post-apocalyptic warriors.

Steel Bar Stock Machete

A machete is a great tool for dismembering the undead hordes. While this homemade version may not be as graceful as Michonne’s katana, it will definitely get the job done

Supplies: 24″ x 2″ x 1/8″ piece of steel bar stock, Angle grinder or metal file,  Dremel with metal grinding cone, jigsaw or hacksaw with a metal cutting blade, honing stone,  5gal paint stir stick, duct tape, black spray paint

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4 Rules to Make Star Wars Great Again

Friday, September 27th, 2013 - by Charlie Martin

Star Wars Episodes IV, V, VI were brilliant, especially before Lucas decided to pretty things up. Here’s some guidance for Disney:

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7 Directions No Trek Has Gone Before

Thursday, September 19th, 2013 - by Walter Hudson

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Worf wants back into your living room. Michael Dorn, the veteran actor who portrayed Star Trek’s most beloved klingon in two series and five films, has been telling fans of his desire to bring the character back to television. Hollywood.com shares Dorn’s belief that Worf has more to give to the galaxy.

Once I started thinking about it, it became obvious to me that I wanted to at least put it out there, which I have, and the response has been pretty amazing. We’ve been contacted by different individuals… about wanting to come on board and be part of this.

I was on a movie not too long ago, where one of the producers was basically lobbying to be part of it. He was like, “Michael, I’d love to write it, if you haven’t.” So, at this point, my agents and my manager are looking at all the avenues and trying to figure out which is the best one.

The itch to bring Trek back to the small screen has Rolling Stone clawing as well. A recent article calls for the re-launch of Star Trek: The Next Generation, arguably the most popular and successful series in the franchise. Author Andy Greene explains why the time is right:

With Star Trek Into Darkness hitting DVD this month and a third film in the rebooted series roughly slated for 2016, it’s pretty safe to say the Star Trek movie franchise is in the best shape it’s been in years, possibly all the way back to the days of The Wrath of Khan and The Voyage Home. Prior to these recent J.J. Abrams movies, there were never even two great Star Trek movies released back-to-back, and Paramount is obviously thrilled by the box office results.

Unfortunately, no Abrams-like figure came around to save the Star Trek TV franchise. It’s been off the air ever since Star Trek: Enterprise got yanked in May of 2005 after just four seasons. Audiences never warmed to Scott Bakula’s Captain Archer, and the idea of a show taking place 100 years before the original Star Trek was better in theory than actual practice.

In the last eight years there hasn’t even been any serious attempts to put Star Trek back on the air, and everyone seems entirely focused on the movies. This is a horrible mistake. At its core, Star Trek is a television series…

Indeed, Trek thrives in its native format. However, Green’s call to revive The Next Generation sinks with the same nostalgic weight that Enterprise did. The fourth and final season of that last Trek series was actually quite good, but hit its pace too late to save the show. Viewers tend not to suffer through three seasons of meh waiting for a cast and crew to get their act together. A new show would have to make it so from the start.

Trek should return to television. The time is right. However, it needs to arrive with a new perspective. It needs to progress. The Next Generation did not succeed by its emulation of the original series. It made its own mark, building on the original’s legacy and advancing in creative new directions.

A new series would signal a new era of Trek – a next, next generation. And would need to set a new tone for a new time. To do that, it would have to go where no Trek has gone before. Here are 7 possible directions.

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Winding Down And Knowing When You’re Sick

Saturday, September 14th, 2013 - by Sarah Hoyt
Haven't I been here before?  Didn't I hate it every time?

Haven’t I been here before? Didn’t I hate it every time?

Organizing Your Creative Life In 13 weeks, week 11

Prolific science fiction novelist Sarah Hoyt follows up her “Your Novel in 13 Weeks” PJ Lifestyle series with a new weekly experiment each Saturday to figure out the best way for all creative types working from home to better organize their efforts.

Week Zero, Introduction: Organizing Your Creative Life In 13 Weeks

Week 1/2, Preparation: The Case For Making Lots of Lists

Week One: How to Make Your Mind Like Water

Week Two: What Are the Best Apps For Artists and Writers Desperate To Get Work Done? 

Week Three: The Lone Writer Against The Time Masters

Week Four: How to Tame Your Subconscious

Week Five: How Separating When and Where You Do Tasks Improves Both Productivity and Quality of Work!

Week Six: Organizing your Life is Like Learning to Juggle Eggs and Chainsaws

Week Seven: 4 Tips So You Don’t Organize Yourself to Death

Week Eight: Organizing your Writing Life When Words Fail You

Week Nine: After an Upset in Your Routine Catching Up Is Hard to Do 

Week Ten: If You’re Trying to Do Two Things at Once, Pick One

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Sometimes I think I suffer from very specialized kinds of memory issues that relate only to symptoms and to how my body works.

At least I hope they’re very specialized memory issues, because if this starts affecting all my memory I’m in serious trouble.

As I’m working on organizing my creative life, which in my case is also my professional life by using Getting Things Done, a penguin timer and a bunch of note cards, I hit a mid-size snag.  It’s a snag I’ve hit before, when working on other projects, and yet somehow it took me a few days to figure out what it was.

The week started very well on Monday, with me feeling energized and full of concentration.  I figured out what I’d been doing wrong with Through Fire and edited the first chapter. Then I got some stuff edited to go up and listed to the lecture on publicity by Dean Wesley Smith.

It looked like the week was going to go very well.

Maybe.

And then I woke up on Tuesday feeling exhausted.  One of those mornings when you go “can I sleep another day or ten?”

I attributed it to the approach of nine eleven and our truly bizarrely tangled national politics.  I tried to slug through the day, but all I got done was the piece for PJ Media.

Wednesday was bad, but again I thought “oh, this is just the result of its being 9/11.  I’m allowed some grief and depression.”

But on Thursday it felt pretty much the same, only with a curious new symptom.  I had the ideas in my head, I knew exactly what I should be doing, but I couldn’t somehow muster enough strength to take the words in my head and put them on paper.  I was also having trouble concentrating on such demanding tasks as emptying the dishwasher or folding clothes.

At which point from the dim depths of my memory I got the feeling “I’ve been in this place before.”

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If You’re Trying to Do Two Things at Once, Pick One

Saturday, September 7th, 2013 - by Sarah Hoyt
It makes for a very exciting way to start a book, but I could use a little less excitement in real life.

It makes for a very exciting way to start a book, but I could use a little less excitement in real life.

Organizing your Creative Life in Thirteen Weeks, Week 10

Prolific science fiction novelist Sarah Hoyt follows up her “Your Novel in 13 Weeks” PJ Lifestyle series with a new weekly experiment each Saturday to figure out the best way for all creative types working from home to better organize their efforts.

Week Zero, Introduction: Organizing Your Creative Life In 13 Weeks

Week 1/2, Preparation: The Case For Making Lots of Lists

Week One: How to Make Your Mind Like Water

Week Two: What Are the Best Apps For Artists and Writers Desperate To Get Work Done? 

Week Three: The Lone Writer Against The Time Masters

Week Four: How to Tame Your Subconscious

Week Five: How Separating When and Where You Do Tasks Improves Both Productivity and Quality of Work!

Week Six: Organizing your Life is Like Learning to Juggle Eggs and Chainsaws

Week Seven: 4 Tips So You Don’t Organize Yourself to Death

Week Eight: Organizing your Writing Life When Words Fail You

Week Nine: After an Upset in Your Routine Catching Up Is Hard to Do 

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Run!

Patricia Wentworth has a novel by that title.  Exclamation mark and all.  I don’t remember if this was her first book that I bought – I do remember that that book grabbed me right from the title, and since that was also the very first word on the book, it caught me and made me read it right to the end.

Putting your character in a situation where they must do or die right off the bat will grab the reader and not let go.  At least if you have the ability to keep the pace going the rest of the book.  (Okay, Wentworth slacks off a little.  She’s more romantic suspense than suspense.)

So, does this mean that I’ve given up on organizing my creative life and taken to dispensing writing advice again?

Not exactly.  I’m here to tell you that finding myself in the position of that character in that book is a lot less fun than it is reading about it.

No, I wasn’t lost in fog outside a creepy old house.  I didn’t hear steps behind me, and someone didn’t pass me, running, while yelling “run.”  Well, not literally.  In a metaphorical sense, it came pretty close.

The good news is that I’ve finally finished revising Witchfinder and sending it off to editors, including the real one (though it will come out from a small indie press, Goldport – mostly because even though I love Baen books, I want to keep a foot on the indie thing.  It’s a new avenue, and I like exploring.)

The bad news is that I’ve still not finished Through Fire, mostly through having tried to back up and do it from a different perspective.  Don’t go there.  Just don’t.

Part of the issue with the two books was something that I’ve heard of other writers running into: you’re working on a piece, which blocks the other piece you’d like to work on.  This happens.

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Where’s My Flying Car?

Friday, August 16th, 2013 - by Sarah Hoyt

shutterstock_108458915

Those who, like me, grew up on the dreams of golden age science fiction writers like Robert A. Heinlein, might find some solace in these news from The Telegraph.

Ever dreamed of owning your own jetpack? It could soon become reality after developers of a personalised jetpack said aviation regulators had issued a flying permit for the device, which could be on sale in just two years.

And if they rage against the automobile now, imagine how much those who wish to control others will hate a personal transportation device with the range of a jetpack.

Of course, as far as I’m concerned it’s too little too late. I want a flying car, as in The Puppet Masters or even a flying whole house as in Clifford Simak’s works. It’s the ideal vacation for a writer — fly your house over there, and look vaguely out of the office window at your family enjoying themselves in new surroundings!

See also Charlie Martin today: “Where’s My Jetpack”

*****

image courtesy shutterstock / Mike Heywood

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Where’s My Jetpack?

Friday, August 16th, 2013 - by Charlie Martin

James Bond flew one in Thunderball; Professor John Robinson flew one in Lost in Space, with some great Bernard Herrmann background music:

Nerdy kids like me looked at that and dreamed of having our own rocket pack, flying over the neighborhood, escaping from the bad guys. The real Bell Rocket Belt would have been a bit of a disappointment — total flight time less than 30 seconds, and you really don’t want to run out of gas. Still, I’d have gone for it, and I’m disappointed to discover that while a few of them still exist, pilots are limited to 175 pounds.

Maybe things are (heh, heh) looking up. A New Zealander named Glenn Martin — no relation to me, and as far as I know, no relation to the other aviation pioneer named Glenn Martin — has been working for years on his own version of the jet pack. His version solves some of the problems.

First of all, instead of using real rockets, this uses two ducted fans driven by a gasoline engine. This is not as inherently cool as a rocket, but it means that you can get pretty reasonable flight time.

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Matt Damon Brings Elysium Nonsense to Letterman

Friday, August 2nd, 2013 - by Walter Hudson

YouTube Preview Image

Try as I may to give the upcoming Neill Blomkamp sci-fi actioner Elysium the benefit of the doubt, the more I hear from star Matt Damon, the more I stand convinced the film could have just as easily been titled Occupy Space Station. Promoting the project on the Late Show with David Letterman this week, Damon joked about his 2012 flop Promised Land, a film produced on the presumption that American audiences love a good yarn railing against oil fracking. “You and I are the only ones who saw it,” he told Letterman after the host claimed to have liked the environmental tale.

Naturally, when one movie preaching against the evils of capitalism and development fails, Hollywood tries and tries again. Damon describes the forthcoming Elysium as an attempt to cloak the social commentary of Promised Land in sci-fi garb. Truth be told, the tactic may work. The science fiction and fantasy genres boast a long history of controversial social and political themes going back to 1951′s The Day the Earth Stood Still. Stick forehead ridges or antennae on a painted head and you can recast real-life tensions with alien stakeholders, lowering audience resistance to embedded ideas through making the players unreal.

Letterman turned serious on the topic of fracking, making the ridiculous claim that “water is disappearing from the planet [because of fracking], we’ve poisoned and drained the great aquifers underneath the great plains.” Damon took the opportunity to tout his non-profit, which seeks “safe water and the dignity of a toilet for all, in our lifetime.” The hand-wringing commenced.

Every 21 seconds, a child under the age of 5 dies because they lack access to clean water and sanitation.

The irony of Damon’s concern takes shape when we consider his opposition to capitalism, development, and the free-market process. All of these things enable the world’s poor to rise and enjoy the benefits of modern civilization.

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