Netflix reboots Lost in Space

First, let me warn you, this contains spoilers.

Second, you need to understand this isn’t your father’s Lost in Space (in my case, I am your father, so this isn’t the LiS I grew up with). I liken this remake to the remake of Battlestar Galactica. The original BG was silly, yet a fun, lighthearted romp through the galaxy trying to find home while attacked by silvery robots with strobing eyes and cool voices. The remake was grittier and darker.

The same with LiS. The original was sometimes a silly, light-hearted, sickly-sweet pull-at-your-heartstrings family melodrama, that was still a fun adventure as they traveled through space trying to find Alpha-Centauri. And this new version is grittier and darker with a dysfunctional family.

Let’s compare the characters.

John Robinson. In the original, he’s Zorro and Father Knows Best rolled into one. He always has a great family speach ready after he just kicked some alien’s ass.

The new John Robinson is a U.S. Marine, but is a little self-absorbed, not very family-oriented, and is essentially a stranger to his wife and kids.

Maureen Robinson. June Lockhart was the all-American mom and essentially played the same apron-wearing, hand-wringing character she did in Lassie, merely swapping a collie for a robot, and spends every episode worrying about what sort of trouble her son and robot were getting into.

The new Mrs. Robonson seems a little angry, a little cold, and very much in charge where her family is concerned (and who can blame her since John seems like a selfish dick). She gets things done even if it means selling government secrets if she thinks it’s what’s best for her family (in this case, having Will’s rejection status to go to the new colony changed).

Judy Robinson. The original Judy was just eye-candy. Her part was to blend into the background, when she wasn’t helping her mom with domestic chores or being the love interest to Don West. Her and her sister Penny were often damsels-in-distress.

The new Judy is from Maureen’s previous marriage and is intelligent, is a doctor, and very self-sufficient and self-assured. When the Jupiter 2 sinks deep into glacial waters, John demands Will to jump in to get a battery pack they need to survive because Will is small-enough to fit in a hatch that was partially jammed open. Will is terrified, so Judy jumps in to both protect Will and to show her step-father up (or to show him she exists). The action almost gets her killed but it shows her head-strong attitude.

Penny Robinson. The original Penny was an annoying, whiny girl whose only purpose seemed to be the target of Will’s brotherly misogyny, “Girls!” She spent most of her time with the women being subservient to the men.

New Penny is a feisty red-head with a wonderfully sarcastic personality. When she gets it into her head that something needs to be done, she does it, consequences be damned. At one point, her parents are off exploring, having given orders to Judy and her to stay put. When she sees an impending storm heading where her parents are, she takes it upon herself to assemble the chariot and rush to their rescue. Easily my most favorite character.

Will Robinson. The original was a precocious child prodigy, and really, just a little too unbelievable for a 9-year-old. He was the focal point of the whole show. He and the robot were the main characters, always getting into some sort of jam because of Will’s curiosity.

New Will so far seems to think before acting, is aware of the dangers, and is a little more hesitant to rush headlong into a situation. He also acts more like his age, being afraid of situations he doesn’t understand or are out of his control. In other words, he’s a little more believable than old Will.

Don West. The original West was hot-tempered, ready to fight, and served no purpose on the flight except as pilot, or co-pilot as John always seemed in charge. He was also the only one on board who never trusted anything Dr. Smith did, unlike the rest of the family who all seemed to have short-term memory.

New West is scoundrel. He’s a mechanic and a petty smuggler. He is very much a narcissist, but despite his bad boy exterior, he is caring. He takes care of a chicken he saved from the crash, and later, despite the danger it puts him into, he carries an unconscious survivor over rough terrain to safety.

Dr. Smith. The original was a saboteur who became trapped on the Jupiter 2. His character slowly transformed from selfish and uncaring, willing to put everyone else’s life at risk just so he could return home into a selfish, uncaring, yet silly characture of himself.

The new Dr. Smith is a criminal on Earth, ineligible to be a member of the colonists heading to Alpha-Centauri and start a new life. Her real name is June Harris. She drugs her own sister and steals her identity to join the colonists. She makes it successfully onboard until her sister’s boy friend discovers who she is, threatens to expose her, and she promptly ejects him into space. In other words, she’s selfish and uncaring, willing to do anything (even commit murder and leave people to die) to achieve her own ends.

The Robot. The original robot, the B-9 Environmental Control robot, was programmed by saboteur Smith to destroy the Jupiter 2. “Crush! Kill! Destroy!” (One wonders why an environmental control robot would have such destructive military-capabilities in the first place). In later episodes, thanks to Will, the robot became sweet and lovable and protective of the family, except when Dr. Smith rewires him.

The new robot. It’s an alien robot, not something provided to the Robinsons for their journey. Will finds it after becoming separated from his father and getting caught in the middle of a forest fire. The robot is broken, torn in half when its own ship crashed, and is dying. Will helps it and in turn, it helps Will, even uttering the famous expression, “Danger. Will Robinson.” The robot then goes on to help Judy from her predicament (she was frozen in ice trying to bring back the battery pack), helps the family get the Jupiter 2 back into working order, and so on.

The premise. The original premise was the Robonsons were going to be the first family to colonize Alpha-Centauri. Why just one family? Who knows, but they were elected, and would spend the entire trip in suspended animation until they reached their destination. Dr. Smith programmed the robot to destroy the ship (never really explained why), but the ship blasts off before he can make his escape. The robot wakes up and starts smashing things, and because Dr. Smith can’t stop it, he wakes everyone up to help him. The robot’s rampage sends them zipping wildly off-course and out of control, unable to correct their course, becoming Lost, in space.

The new premise. Spoilers alert! Instead of just one colonist family, there is a whole colony of people seeking a new life on Alpha-Centauri, but only those who test in as worthy can go, while those left behind get to die from an impending extinction event on Earth. The Robinsons are but one family among many. They get to leave on the 24th colony ship. (The Jupiter crafts are essentially used as transport vessels to the planet’s surface once they reach their destination and also as their homes once there).

John is on another deployment when he gets a call from Maureen wanting him to sign permission slips for the kids to join the colony, without him. John, somehow, ends his deployment early and shows up at home, really pissing Maureen off, who wanted to start a new life without him.

Once in space, the colony mother ship is attacked by aliens, robots like the one Will finds and tames, and the Jupiters are ejected so they can reach safety. In the confusion, June/Dr. Smith escapes detention, meets the real Dr. Smith (played by Bill Mumy), who is wounded and needs help. She pretends to help him, but only steals his coat and I.D. She attempts to get on-board a Jupiter when she meets Don West and his companion. Don naively helps her into the Jupiter, and Smith invites them along realizing she has no training in flying. The escaping Jupiters end up crashing millions of light years from Alpha-Centaur. Now the surviving colonists must find each other to survive because they’re all lost, in space.

We learn much of this through flashbacks as the series progresses. In the first episode we know nothing of what’s going on as we first meet the Robinsons nonchalantly (or so it seems) playing a game of Go Fish.

Then all Hell breaks loose and doesn’t let up as the Robinsons go from one danger to the next, complete with episode ending cliff-hangers, just like the original.

Final Thoughts.

As I said in the beginning, this isn’t your father’s Lost in Space. In many ways, it’s so much better. For one thing, it has stunning special effects and breathtaking landscapes.

Now, I loved the original series. I was eight when the show debuted. There was no other show like it at the time. The ship, flying through space, the laser weapons, aliens (even if somewhat cheesy), and the robot all sparked my imagination unlike anything had up until that time.

I still have a soft spot for that show. And I often get very upset when someone remakes something I used to love as a child and turns it into a complete mockery of the original (intentioned or not) as if they had never watched an episode. I can think of several movies that angered me no end, such as Wild,Wild West, Dark Shadows, and Starsky and Hutch. Those movies were lampoonish and offended me.

This reboot, however, doesn’t do that. It doesn’t seem like a cash grab at the expense of our childhood memories.

In many ways, while it’s a completely new, and updated version, it is also an homage (complete with Easter eggs) to the original. The real name of the Dr. Smith character, for instance, June Harris is a nod to the original Dr. Smith actor, Jonathan Harris. At one point, Don West is wearing a flight jacket with “Goddard” embroidered on it, a nod to the original actor Mark Goddard. Plus, if you listen carefully, you’ll catch some refrains from the original show’s music score, which had been written by the great John Williams.

At first blush, the new LiS might seem dark and cold with unlikable characters but as the series progresses however, they flesh-out, we learn their motivations, and they become more of a real caring family, with heart-warming moments, and we begin to see that this new show also has it’s own charms.

I’m enjoying it and I hope it has a successful run.

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Writing Wednesday

This weekend that just passed, Decades TV had their weekend binge, where they show an old television show all weekend long. This time around they showed whatever it is — 40 hours? — of Lost in Space, one of the great sci-fi television programs of all time.

OF ALL TIME!

There is no argument about that.

151120-lost-in-space

But seriously, if you grew up in the 60s, the first sci-fi space adventure television program that aired was Lost in Space. I was at the perfect age where I was mesmerized by lasers, force fields, the Jupiter 2, and of course, the greatest robot ever created, the Robot, or B9 as some of us call him.

Jupiter-2 168 10-9-11

And because I had fallen in love with the concept — a family of space pioneers setting off to colonize Alpha Centauri, who were unfortunately sent astray by a saboteur, who they then welcomed into their family with open arms — I was able to simply accept the fanciful silliness .

It’s been many years since I’ve watched it. I caught an episode now and then when MeTV was airing it several years ago, but not since they changed their lineup. When Decades aired it this past weekend, we had our television tuned to it for the duration.

And you know what? I still love that show. Even with all the pseudoscience and over-the-top fantasy elements of pirates, knights in shining armor, hillbillies, and a talking carrot, I still found the show very enjoyable to watch.

In fact, something strange happened while watching it.

I started to get the itch to write about it. I mean, if you’re a fan of Star Trek, Doctor Who, Star Wars, for example, there are tons of authorized novels out there to satisfy even the most voracious reader.

But Lost in Space? Nothing.

Well, OK, there was one book, published back in 1967 or so, which I read when I was 10.

Novel

But that’s it.

And without even consciously thinking about it, a story, a novel of Lost in Space has begun to formulate in my imagination.

Personally? I’d rather it just go away because what could I do with it? Who would buy a novel about a television show that only aired 83 episodes and went off the air in 1968?

I’d rather write something marketable.

I’d rather start the final polish on my own urban fantasy fairie tale.

Or start working on the sequel to my urban fantasy fairie tale.

Or even finish up my two weird westerns.

Anything!

But so far, all I can think about is Lost in Space, and the story keeps growing and growing and at this rate, it won’t be denied.

Maybe I should write it just to make it go away.

Lost in Space is suited to my writing style, however, because it is as much fantasy as science fiction and it’s science is often somewhat fudged. In that way, Lost in Space is more akin to Star Wars than Star Trek.

Lost in Space can best be described as pulp fiction style space opera. More ray guns and monsters than quarks and string theory.

So in that regard, Lost in Space is almost a perfect venture for me.

Let me mull it over some more.

Stay tuned. Same time! Same channel!

-30-

Friday randomyness

A Friday Haiku

Star Trek: Discovery
I saw just one episode
I won’t pay blackmail

Growing up blond

I was a towhead kid. Very light-colored hair. Most of my friends had dark hair. I hated them for it.

Why? Because all the cool television characters at that time had dark hair and the dorks had blond. So when we’d get together on the playground and oretend we were, say, The Monkees, all my friends were Davy, or Micky, or Mike, the cool guys. So who got stuck being the idiotic Peter? Yes. Me.

Starsky and Hutch? Starsky was the cool guy who drove the cool Torino. I got stuck being the sappy Hutch.

All the shows we watched, the cool guy always had dark or black hair. Captain Crane on Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea? Black hair. Jim West on Wild, Wild West? Black hair. Don West on Lost in Space? Black hair. Jim Kirk on Star Trek? Not black, but a darker brown than blond and then as T.J. Hooker, it was black.

OK. OK. Sergeant Saunders (Vic Marrow’s character) on Combat! had blond hair, but it was always covered by an Army helmet. So although Saunders was cool as hell, he was an outlier.

My point is, for role models, us blond kids didn’t really have any. And yes, it still bothers me all these years later. Woukd it have killed TV to have a few more blond heroic characters for us to identify with?

The Silver Age: Thor

I’m current reading the very first stories of The Might Thor. The original ones plotted by Stan Lee, written by his brother Larry Lieber, and drawn by Jack Kirby. These first few stories are almost laughable in their simplicity. In Journey into Mystery #83, we are introduced to the lame Dr. Don Blake, who is vacationing in Norway. He is hiking (with a bum leg and a cane) in some wilderness and comes across an advance scout party of aliens from Saturn here to invade Earth.

He steps on a twig, which the rock creatures hear and chase him. On his bum leg. In the pursuit, he loses his cane, but manages to climb some rocks and hides in a cave.

In the cave, he finds an old gnarly stick, which he uses to try to move a boulder blocking the back exit of the cave before the aliens find him. He strikes the boulder in anger and he us transformed into Thor, the Norse god of thunder and his stick is now Mjolnir, the enchanted uru hammer.

On the hammer are inscribed the words, “Whosoever holds this hammer, if he be worthy, shall possess the power of… Thor.” Words I don’t believe we ever see again. One also wonders, does this mean anyone could have picked up the cane and become Thor?

Now Dr. Blake has all the immortal powers of the thunder god until he strikes the hammer and resumes his mortal form again. However, if he is separated from his hammer for longer than 60 seconds, he becomes the frail doctor again.

So as you can guess, many of the early stories use that weakness to create tension. “It’s almost been 60 seconds! If I don’t touch my hammer soon, I’ll be at their mercy as Dr. Blake.”

In the third issue, Journey into Mystery #85, we meet Loki and some of the other gods of Asgard. But Thor himself doesn’t appear in Asgard until the tenth issue, Journey in Mystery #92.

So far, I’ve noticed several interesting things. First, Dr. Blake and Thor aren’t two different people. Blake becomes Thor when he strikes the cane, but he just seems like Don Blake with muscles and powers.

So the question becomes, where was Thor all this time? Odin, Loki, Heimdall all exist on Asgard, but what about Thor? And why was Mjolnir disguised as a stick in that cave?

When Blake becomes Thor, he still thinks and talks like Blake. They haven’t yet introduced the strained Shakespearean speech Thor is known for, with thees and thous and anon.

As Dr. Blake, he’s very much in love with his nurse, Jane Foster, except he’s afraid to profess his love for fear as she will either laugh because he’s frail and handicapped, like a grown-up Tiny Tim, or he fears she’ll only pretend to love him back out of pity. So he says nothing. All the while Jane Foster is in love with Dr. Blake, but thinks he beyond reach because he’s cold and impersonal. Then Thor appears and she’s all, whata guy! If only Blake was that exciting.

The whole thing is very reminiscent of the Clark Kent/Superman/Lois Lane schtick.

I grew up a child of the Silver Age, but I didn’t become aware of Marvel Comics until 1965 or so, three or four years after these stories came out. By then, many of Marvel’s characters had already gone through their growing pains.

I was more familiar with DC, which was better established and had a stranglehold on the distribution system, making it difficult for Marvel to reach many markets. I can’t even recall seeing their comics early on, just DC, Gold Key, and Dell.

So, I’m finding these early stories fascinating from a historical perspective and I can’t wait to watch how Thor evolves into the character I remember reading in the late 60s and early 70s. Verily.

I might also mention that, in the comics at least, there were several blond role models for a kid to look up to, including Thor and Captain America/Steve Rogers.

Weigh-In Friday

I didn’t. It was a busy week, workwise. I only ran once, on Sunday. So, it’s probably just as well I didn’t step upon the scale.

The Orville

I admit, I wasn’t going to watch this. It just didn’t seem interesting. Most sci-fi comedies are more corny than interesting. I also have no idea who this Seth McFarland guy was, so that didn’t pull me in.

But, given the fact that CBS fucked us over with Star Trek: Discovery, I decided to give The Orville a shot.

I was going to DVR an episode to watch, but discovered that there is this thing called Fox OnDemand. I can watch all the episodes.

I gave the first episode a shot at impressing me.

And you know what? It was good. I mean, really good. Sure, it had it’s flaws, but overall, I was impressed.

The special effects are as decent as any serious sci-fi show out there. The story took a while to build, but it entertained. The acting was good. The characters, although at times their parts seemed a bit forced, were relatable and likable.

I’d say, overall, The Orville is a very good sci-fi program and unlike the first (and only free!) episode of Star Trek: Discovery, it managed to make me want to see more. (I’ve already posted why I didn’t care for ST:D.)

I will be making The Orville a regular viewing habit. Good for Fox. Shame on CBS.

Halloween at Frankenstein’s Castle

Every Halloween, one of WTMJ-AM radio personalities, Jonathan Green, would play a recording from Armed Forces Radio of a Halloween prank recorded in “Frankenstein’s castle.” Green retired many years ago, but I found the recording on YouTube.

The premise is that Armed Forces Radio program director Hunt Downs took three announcers to spend the night in the castle, explaining the myth that the monster’s ghost returns to haunt the castle every 100 years and this was that night.

Each was given a small flashlight and a walkie-talkie and sent to different parts of the castle.

The following recording was unscripted and are the true reactions of those announcers.

Enjoy.

-30-

Friday roundup

Another Friday Haiku

Another week gone

Time speeds past, where does it go?

Left with memories

Independence Day

Another 4th of July has passed, Happy Birthday, America, but can we please grow up and stop blowing shit up all night long, keeping people who have to work the next day awake, terrorizing pets, and traumatizing military veterans suffering from PTSD?

Not to mention maiming and killing ourselves and starting fires. For what? Because we think playing with explosives while drunk is fun and somehow our right as Americans?

In most communities, fireworks are illegal, (even sparklers!) and yet somehow people still get them and then blow them off right in the middle of residential areas without regard to anyone or anything around them.

I love fireworks. I admit it. The bigger the boom the more exciting it is. But I like watching from an established safe distance while professionals shoot them off.

Standing outside my house armed with a garden hose in case something lands on my house is not my idea of fun.

Grow up, America. 

Sparklers are fun and relatively safe unless you touch the burning part. I mean, it’s burning at a temperature of 1200°F and up. Show some restraint and they’re very beautiful.

10,000 Sparklers Lit Off At Once

Does anyone remember punks? It was a stick made of a slow burning material that gave off an odd smelling smoke. As kids we thought they were to keep away mosquitoes. They were a mild, safer alternative to sparklers. Turns out they were originally used to set off fireworks because they provided a longer reach than matches.

June Challenge and beyond!

June, I challenged myself to run a mile every day. I had been unhappy with my dedication, if you will, to the sport. I had lost my motivation to run and sometimes went a week or longer without running.

Thus the challenge. And I was very pleased with myself that I had stuck with it and faithfully ran every day for a mile.

And though I am not a morning person, I found running first thing gets it out of the way. It’s over and done with and I don’t have to worry if I’ll fit it into my schedule. Also, as I’ve said previously, I don’t have restless nights as I did running in the evening.

So now, I’ve made a new challenge, a Life Challenge, to continue to run every morning, slowly increasing my distance (because increasing speed, well, that takes far more effort to achieve and let’s face it, it’s still the fucking morning and it’s enough that I’m running). So far for July, I’ve increased my distance to 1-1/2 miles (3k?) and I only took the 4th off because I was very tired. Thanks, people who kept shooting off explosives nonstop throughout the night.

Weigh-In Friday

OK. OK. I gained 1.3 pounds. 

We took a six day vacation, four days of which we spent in the Wisconsin Dells celebrating my son’s birthday. So a lot of good food was eaten. (If you ever are in the Dells, have a meal at the House of Embers. You won’t be disappointed.)

One thing I’ve noticed, which has me puzzled. Last week I lost 2.1 pounds, yet my body fat average increased 2.3% and my muscle average decreased 1.5%. This week, again, my body fat average increased 1.3% while the muscle average decreased by 0.9%. Why is that? You’d think with a daily run my muscle average would increase, right? Right? Anyone? Bueller?

Speaking of the Wisconsin Dells

Dragon’s Tail at Mt. Olympus

See that? That waterslide? The orange one (no relation to TheRump)? That’s called the Dragon’s Tail and it’s at the waterpark we stayed at this year (and last year, and also several year’s ago). It is seven stories tall. I hate heights. But I finally screwed up my courage and took the plunge, so to speak. It was thrilling, exciting, and scary as Hell, especially when it felt like I became airborne for an instant on the second bump.

Next year, I’ll try the purple slide on the left of it. You can’t see it because it’s behind the Dragon’s Tail. They call it the Demon’s Drop and it has an 85-foot sheer drop that they claim is virtually straight down, putting you in “free fall” until the water and slide curve out to catch you.

Yeah. Ok. Maybe not.

Running outside

Since I returned to running last year, I have only run outside two, maybe three times. I ran on our treadmill the rest of the time for several reasons.

First, I felt a treadmill would be better for my joints. Our house is essentially concrete-locked. Meaning, there are only sidewalks and streets upon which to run. Nothing soft or giving like a high school track or a nature area with running paths cut into the dirt by the feet of thousands of previous runners. So I’ve treadmilled.

Second, although you don’t go anywhere on a treadmill (and many runners find that boring), it gives me the chance to either watch something on TV or to listen to music. (I’m aware you can listen to headphones running outside, but I don’t have a bluetooth set and when I did run outside with earbuds, the cords nearly strangled me and were painfully ripped from my ears several times.)

Well, last Friday morning, because we were in the Dells and our hotel did not have any indoor exercise area or equipment, I took the show on the road. And you know what? I enjoyed it. The pounding on my feet and joints wasn’t as bad as I feared and I was able to enjoy the scenery.

I ran outside three days while there, and when we returned home, I have continued running outside. No music or TV, sure (unless I get a decent bluetooth set of earphones), but the outside offers changing scenery. Especially since the weather is nice. Once the winter gloom, cold, and ice make an appearance, I’ll return to the treadmill, but for now outside running is working for me.

Currently Reading

I have a paperback copy from the 1960s of “The Time Machine and other stories” by H. G. Wells. I have never read the story before only having seen the 1960 movie adaptation with Rod Taylor (who I just now realized was portraying H. G. Wells himself! In the story, the main character was only ever refered to as “The Time Traveler”), and also starring my childhood crush, Yvette Mimieux as Weena. A classic, by the way. The movie, I mean, not neccessarily Ms. Mimieux.

The short story/novella is similar to the movie except where the movie decides to make the focus about the romance between Wells and Weena where he returns to her future time to rescue her from the Moorlocks. That doesn’t happen in the short story. Instead, the Time Traveler just goes off in time and leaves the narrator (portrayed by Wilbuuuur of Mr. Ed fame in the movie) to speculate where and when he went and if he died or not.

This book also contains “Empire of the Ants” (not to be confused with his other story “Food of the Gods”), “The Country of the Blind,” and “The Man Who Could Work Miracles.”

If you like Wells, you’ll enjoy these short stories. His writing is fluid and poetic, even if a few of the concepts and social mores are dated (“The Time Machine” was first published in 1894, for instance). If, on the other hand, you don’t enjoy Wells, what the Hell is wrong with you?

Go read Wells!

-30-

Out of the darkness

A long, long time ago in a galaxy not so far away there existed people who were outcasts, shunned by mainstream society, bullied, picked on, and made fun of.

These were people who enjoyed strange and bizarre things. They read comic books, and enjoyed science fiction and fantasy. They stayed up late at on Saturdays, but not to go to the bars or nightclubs, no, these people stayed up to watch horror movies on TV; movies introduced by horror hosts.

These people would go to drug stores to purchase (shudder!) comic books! And they’d carried them home in unmarked brown paper bags.

They’d go to bookstores and lurk in the dark recesses where they kept the science fiction and fantasy novels. And when they’d walk through the store, they had “Conan the Adventurer” or “Tarzan of the Apes” sandwiched between ordinary best sellers by Erma Bombeck or Jackie Collins. Then at the counter they’d say, “I changed my mind about these” and they’d just buy the Conan and Tarzan, and the clerk would wink knowingly.

At home, they’d put on their Battlestar Galactica jacket (which they could never leave the house wearing for fear of ridicule) and go into their closet, pull out a musty old box labeled, “Grandma’s quilts,” inside of which was their secret stash of Marvel and DC comics, Warren and Mad magazines, and their collection of Edgar Rice Burroughs novels. And they’d read!

It was a secret society. There were no meeting places, no memberships, no secret handshake, because you never knew who was watching you.

You never flashed the Vulcan salute because, like a gang sign, you couldn’t be sure who would see it. Maybe a school jock would see it, peg you for “one of those pencil-necked geeks” and before you knew it your ass would be on fire from a wedgy or you’d find yourself face first in a toilet receiving a swirly.

We lived in constant fear that our secret life, our forbidden passion for comic books and science fiction and fantasy, would be found out.

But today, that has all gone mainstream and geek has become a pop culture phenomenon.

We didn’t have comic books stores where you could speak geek with others who shared your interests. No Internet with forums for our kind.

Now there are whole shelves at Target devoted to superheroes, Star Wars, video games, entire online stores, like Think Geek, selling nothing but geek-inspired items.

Television is inundated with superhero and sci-fi shows. The biggest blockbusters at the theater feature the Marvel Universe.

We had Lou Ferrigno in green make-up as the Hulk. You have CGI. We had Robbie the robot and the robot from Lost in Space. You have R2D2 and some round little thing. We had Captain America in a motorcycle helmet and an Evil Knievel-like suit. You have Chris Evans. We had Adam West. You have the Dark Knight. We were laughed at by the girls. You have the beautiful women of Cosplay.

We blazed the trail, we took our lumps, we hid in the shadows. You get to come out of the darkness as the force awakens.

You’re welcome.

-30-

Influences and Inspirations

I was reading David Gerrold’s “Worlds of Wonder: How to Write Science Fiction and Fantasy,” and did one of his exercises, which was “Take out a blank piece of paper (or open a new file on your computer), and make a list of your favorite science fiction and fantasy movies.”

I did. And the more I thought about it, the more I realized that these movies, and the television shows I also added, most likely had the greatest influence upon my young mind and imagination. These were the images that were most indelibly imprinted upon my subconscious as a writer.

To be honest, I wasn’t much of a reader as a youngster. Sure, I read the usual stuff, “The Song of Roland,” “Alexander the Great,” “The Once and Future King,” and illustrated versions of “The Illiad and the Odyssey,” and the Norse legends. Along with assorted non-fiction books and Hardy Boy mysteries and school assignments. Not to mention a boatload of comic books from “Little Lulu,” to early DC superheroes, such as The Flash, The Atom, Superman, Aquaman, The Legion of Superheroes, Teen Titans, and Batman. Marvel’s merry mayhem joined into my reading when I was probably nine or 10.

It wasn’t until I was around 13, maybe 14, when my actual science fiction and fantasy literary education finally began, first with Robert E. Howard’s “Conan” and Edgar Rice Burroughs’ “Tarzan,” then later with nearly everything. But in the beginning, in the dim twinkling recesses of my memory, there were the movies that first held greatest sway over my curious beginning writer’s mind.

So now, without further ado, that list of science fiction and fantasy movies that greatly influenced me growing up.

“The Wizard of Oz.” Flying monkeys. Witches. A living strawman and tinman, and a lion that could speak. This movie was shown nearly every spring and in those days, before the invention of recording devices, and I’d watch it every time it aired. In addition, I also read many of the Oz books.

“Forbidden Planet.” Earthmen traveling to a distant planet in a flying saucer. Robby, the robot. An invisible monster that made footprints in the sand.

Invisible monster from “Forbidden Planet”

“Johnny Quest.” The Saturday Morning Cartoon. It had science fiction. Adventure. Lasers. Robots. Futuristic jets, subs, and hover discs. It also had an invisible monster, just like “Forbidden Planet.”

Invisible energy monster from Johnny Quest

“Lost in Space.” Sure, corny by today’s standards, but as a child, all I saw was the Jupiter 2 spaceship. B9 robot. The spacepod. The “chariot.” Laser guns. Force fields. And of course, lots and lots of weird aliens.

In the same vein, “Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea.” The Seaview, then, seemed like such a futuristic submarine to my young mind. Today, I know that such a sub, with those wings and fins would have created such turbulence that even the least technologically advanced nations could track it while underwater. Nor would glass windows in the front be practical if even possible. But still, it had the flying sub. And lots of giant monsters. (Additionally, all the other Irwin Allen shows, such as “Time Tunnel” and “Land of the Giants.”)

“Star Trek.” This had everything the previous shows had, stunning spaceships, rays guns now called “phasers,” along with transporters, food processors, and more alien worlds, but it was more serious and much of it written by some of the big names in science fiction, including David Gerrold.

“The Outer Limits.” It had elements of horror, sci-fi, fantasy, and to be honest, probably scared the bejeesus out of me with episodes like “The Zanti Misfits” more than anything else on television or the theater.

The Zanti Misfit still creep me out

I think those had the most influence upon my childhood. But there are more. “King Kong.” “Godzilla.” The giant bug movies: “Them!” which is still one of my all-time favorites. “Tarantula.”

Other 1950s science fiction movies included, “The Thing from Another World.” “The Day the Earth Stood Still.” “The Blob.” “War of the Worlds.” “The Fly,” which our middle school showed over several lunch periods.

Of course the Universal monsters, especially “The Creature from the Black Lagoon,” had a big influence, as well as the Hammer horror films. Many of these movies aired on a late night horror show in my hometown on Channel 6. It was “Shock Theater” with Dr. Cadaverino, who was among the great horror hosts of all time.

And I’d be remiss if I didn’t include the movies by special effects giant, Ray Harryhausen: “Mighty Joe Young,” “Jason and the Argonauts,” “Earth vs. the Flying Saucers,” “The Beast from 20,000 Fathoms,” “20 Million Miles to Earth,” and “The 7th Voyage of Sinbad,” and more. Even today I marvel at his work and probably subconsciously try to recreate his wonderful story-telling ability.

There is one more movie, or show, that has influenced if not my imagination, then my nightmares. I don’t know its name. I was fairly young when I saw it, somewhere between eight and ten I’d guess. I was up late one night when it came on. As I said, I can’t recall its title, but I remember distinctly the beginning. This man was driving down a dark country road in the rain when suddenly something unidentifiable ran in front of his headlights. He struck it, but when he got out to see what it was, he couldn’t find it, however, in the light of a lightning flash, we see that this little clawed hand came up and punctured his tire. He got back into the car and made it to a diner, I believe. At that point, the horror was too much for me, so I went to bed, but not before it left an indelible footprint upon my subconscious. I had nightmares for weeks afterwards and to this day, I still have an urge to rewrite that story, “stealing” that beginning then creating my own horror story from it.

I just haven’t had the nerve to do so yet.

So there you have it. A small look into my mind’s inspirations.

So what sci-fi and fantasy movies do you think have had the most influence upon you?

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Happy Writer’s New Year

While incapacitated after my shoulder surgery, I’ve had a lot of time to think and reflect upon my writing career, specifically, the lack of progression toward success within my writing career. I’ve been writing off and on for most of my adult life, submitting stories since I was at least 15 years old, and collecting mostly rejections. At best, I’ve had one story published each decade. Not what I’d call an impressive showing.

I haven’t improved as a writer. I haven’t made any sort of inroads to a successful writing career. So I’ve had time to ponder about why that is. Sure I have ADHD and it was undiagnosed for most of my adult life and that has played a role in it, however, I’m not here to assign blame or look for a scapegoat. I’m trying to discover what I can do now to correct the situation.

In high school, I was anything but studious. Again, we can blame many things on that, but so what? It won’t change anything and wallowing in self-pity is less than useless. It’s actually counterproductive, in fact. The point is, I’ve had an incomplete education. Instead of paying attention in class, instead of learning grammar and studying literature, instead of breaking down short stories and novels into their component elements and learning what makes a good story, instead of concentrating on technique, I was doing my own thing. I’d read pulp fiction, The Shadow, Doc Savage, the works of Edgar Rice Burroughs, Robert E. Howard, E. E. “Doc” Smith, along with many of the then current science fiction and fantasy stories. Or I’d daydream, scribbling little pictures in the margins of my notebooks and textbooks ala Sergio Aragonés of Mad Magazine. Or I’d write my own stories. Stories that I submitted in my English teacher when we were in the composition phase of the English class and I’d get good grades on.

So, arrogantly, I thought I knew what it took to be a writer. A writer writes, right? I was already doing that. Therefore, I had even more reason not to pay attention in class. Learning that stuff was for the mere mortals in class.

As a writer, I was able to create my own voice fairly early on and wrote in my own style rather than create imitations of other writer’s works. My natural abilities as a writer were able to carry me through high school and into college, where I was still able to get good grades and comments from my instructors. They’d see something in my style and suggest certain authors I should read and analyze.

Analyze? Me? Why? I already was a genius, wasn’t I? A prodigy? So I failed to follow their advice. The only how-tos on writing I read were from “Writer’s Digest” on how to submit to fiction markets.

And submit I did. And rejections were received for everything I submitted. But all that meant was those editors were idiots. They just couldn’t recognize my genius. It was their fault I wasn’t selling, right? Not mine.

Fast-forward to today. After decades of writing, Ive sold a story in 1987. Another in 1997. Three twitter-length fictions in 2009. And finally, a story in 2011 and another in 2012. Not much of a record, is it?

A glance at that career makes it appear as though I’m just a hobbyist instead of someone who takes their career seriously. And the last couple of weeks have made me take a long, hard honest look at that career and it’s come up sorely lacking.

ImageLast week I picked up “Robert Silverberg’s Science Fiction 101” (formerly titled: Worlds of Wonder). While reading his very first essay, “The Making of a Science Fiction Writer,” he explains his own educational journey to becoming a successful writer, and during that journey, he read a book by Thomas Uzzell called “Narrative Technique,” and I read Silverberg’s account of what he learned from that book, which was that writing was much more complicated than he first thought. It just wasn’t taking an idea and expanding it to short story length. It was that a story is constructed from many elements, including plot, characterization, situations, conflict, style, and more.

And then it struck me like a cold slap in the face: I had no idea what any of that meant. I know what the words mean dictionary-wise, but not in a writing context. My arrogance had led to form a shaky, unstable writing foundation. In other words, my writing houses were being built upon a bog of ignorance.

Today is the beginning of a new year. I plan on making 2014 a year of education. I am going to relearn everything I should have learned in high school. I’m going to tear down this house of cards and create a sound foundation upon which to build my writing chops.

I’ve already asked for help on the writer’s forum I attend, Absolute Write, and they’ve given me many great suggestions, such as the Longman Anthology of Short Fiction and the Norton Anthology of Short Fiction, for example. Now Norton’s sounded familiar. I thought maybe I had a copy, so I tore my library apart looking for it but came up empty, but I know I’ve seen it somewhere, possibly at my mom’s.

Image

So I’ll check her house, then I’ll check Half Price Books and the library for copies. Until then however, I’ll finish Silverberg’s book, which also has many great short story examples in it. I’ll break them down and try to analyze them to see what makes them tick.

Thus, my goal, or resolution, for 2014 is to spend it learning, relearning, and growing my knowledge of the basics of writing fiction in the hopes that a more solid foundation will help me to become a more publishable writer.

As Robert Silverberg said at the end of his essay, “only you can make a writer of yourself, by reading, by studying what you have read, and above all by writing.” Great advice that I will finally, after all these years, take to heart.

So instead of drinking a cup of kindness for times gone by, I’ll be looking to the future, to times as a better learned writer.

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