I take a look at my hall pass, and the lifeclock is a big fat black color.  For whatever reason, the boog-a-loos don’t come descending on my head.  They haven’t departed.  The house is still haunted with weird stuff.  The faucet in the kitchen is now leaking.  I have to get that taken care of.  The electrical guys haven’t been back to finish the work.  I guess I’m just learning to live with wacky toilet time, the creaks and groans at night, and the bugs that appear to plague me.

K and I used last weekend to organize and unpack from our emergency move a year and three months ago.  We got good work done, and cleared some space, which was a help.  I got some of my piles of papers back into line, and came across a poster from back in the day.

The poster came with an Alien doll I got back during the craze of the movie that came out in 1979.  It’s a drawing of scenes from the movie with a few artistic licenses thrown in.  That movie was all the rage with my classmates in 6th grade.  A group of folks from a rival class tried to put together a home movie based on their devotion to that science fiction classic.  Crumbs, if only they’d had YouTube back then.

I dug out my Alien baseball trading cards, a complete set except for number 61 – “the chest-burster”, and gazed at all the pictures.  The puzzles got me to thinking about back when movie trading cards were all the rage after Star Wars.  I have to organize these darn cards of mine someday – Blue, red, yellow, green and orange Star Wars cards to name a few.

I had to trade that one for card number 1.  Back then number 61 cards were a dime a dozen, so I figured I’d be able to get another one easy.  Unfortunately, the series stopped being sold on my next trip to the local seven-eleven (which is a hair salon now, go figure), and I’d somehow given away all my extras.

I meditate on the movie, and recollect memories from my young fascination with the film.  I decide to go to Best-Cry and buy the DVD for ten bucks, as I haven’t yet added it to my collection.  K and I have an evening where we watch the movie and have a blast.

I remember seeing Alien for the first time at a late show in D.C., at a theater that sadly, no longer exists (though you can see it in Exorcist III – the main character and his best friend go there for their yearly mourning ritual to watch It’s a Wonderful Life).  Alien scared the pants off the crowd several times.  It was awesome.

The DVD has several deleted scenes that I’ve never seen, and which are actually pretty good.  I feel like I’m seeing an old friend again, and discovering something new about them.  I rethink my old experiences in light of the new scenes and how I might have thought.

My copy of the novel comes off the shelf and I read it three times to get every nuance.  A line from the scene where the remaining crewmembers are talking to the decapitated head of Ash the android sticks out at me.  He asks them if they’ve tried to communicate with the alien.  It’s a dead end for the crewmembers, but I wonder if Ash, being an android with a gender-neutral point of view, isn’t speaking of something outside the crew’s immediate experience.  He was probably trying to mislead them, but he might have thrown them a crumb from the limits of his artificial brain process.

I get to obsessing over the film.  Then I start looking up Bigfoot movies that I suddenly remember watching on Channel 20 WDCA during that channel’s glory years.  There’s this movie where a bunch of college students uncover a mummified Bigfoot and it comes back to life to rampage.  I used a tape recorder to tape the sound when I was a kid, and I listened to it at night with my blankets over my head for years until I recorded over it.  I use the mighty power of the internets and find out it’s called Curse of Bigfoot, and it’s available on Amazon.

My investigations go deeper.  There’s a Bigfoot movie called Creature from Black Lake that I’ve never seen, but I think I might have and forgotten.  See, there’s this scary music hook that I can always remember and associate with Bigfoot.  But I don’t know where it’s from.  So I Netflix the movie and see if that leads to anything.  K shakes her head at my poor taste in B-movies, but I think Creature from Black Lake actually is a decent monster movie.  It does not produce the music I’m straining to remember, however.

I finally go to YouTube and find an old show called Monsters, Mysteries, or Myths, which was narrated by Rod Sterling of Twilight Zone fame.  It’s a TV show that tried to explore Bigfoot, the Abominable Snowman, and the Loch Ness Monster from a “somewhat” scientific viewpoint.  There’s a three to five second sound bite where the music that’s stuck in my head plays, and I recognize it.

It’s weird, because that one brief sound bite has stuck in my head since 1975, and only now do I reconnect with it and get into the vibe with a show that scared me so bad I couldn’t sleep for weeks.  The show was re-edited with a different narrator and shown again in the early 1980s as The Mysterious Monsters, which I think I saw and that probably dredged up scary memories.

What this adds up to is that old scary spooky feeling again.  I’m getting the shakes, and yet I can’t stop looking this stuff up and re-experiencing it.  In particular, the self-destruct part of the Alien keeps replaying in my head.  The last crewmember’s endgame and final confrontation with the monster, all while experiencing nearly unbearable panic and fear.

I wonder if my mirage is up to his old tricks again.  Come to think of it, my garden troubles might be his doing.  He does know weeds and soil like the back of his hand, and it would be a laugh-riot if my folks got a bumper crop while K and I got a crummy harvest.  I just discovered the parental units have planted corn and it is already almost ready.  The stalks were hidden by their tomato plants.  Argh!  The garden beat-down knows no depths.

In a certain sense, the movie Alien is about discovery, both of something new and different (even if it’s a horrific one in terms of what happens to the crew), and Ellen Ripley’s inner resources.  It’s a message, one that I observe and reflect upon.  I don’t get the sense that I’m supposed to do anything more than that.

I have a dream.  In it, I encounter the creature from the movie.  It jumps on me like a cricket, and we wrestle in a dark place for a long while.  In Alien, the creature is more than a match for any human because it has inhuman strength and snap-reflexes in addition to claws and slime-lubricated teeth.  But in the dream, we’re equally matched somehow.

The alien snaps it piston-like teeth into my cheek, and instead of eviscerating my face, I resist and slide out of its grasp.  Some sort of understanding passes between us, and all of a sudden I’m “one of its kind”.  We lay on our stomachs together, cheek-to-cheek, and listen to the darkness.

Crumbs, sometimes you can’t sit down and write a post no matter what.  It’s like the summer of beat down and all I can do is go back spaces and slide down chutes.  Everytime I sit down to compose my thoughts, I get another random encounter.  But should I do something else, such as read a book or make a round of pesto, the random encounters hide behind the couch again.  I’m feeling like Batman in that awful TV Batman movie.

The garden has become a battlefield of weeds and failed plantings versus the last stand of the forces of yumminess.  The weather here has been so volatile, it’s hard to get out and do any work.  It’s hot and humid, with regular threats of thunderstorms that rarely materialize any rain, but look threatening to keep K and I indoors.  The onion and potato shields are down to 50% and falling.  The tomatoes are still weeded and strong, but growing slowly.  The leeks are okay for now, but the lettuce has all bolted, so that game is up until fall planting.  I was getting tired of lupin salads anyway.  The basil is online, thank goodness!

Half of the garden is overgrown with weeds, led by thistle towers and grass infiltrators.  The only good thing is we’ve had no bugs at all.  They don’t even want to touch what we’ve got.  The bees and butterflies are more or less there, but in scraggly amounts.  The birds use us as a syopover, but the general traffic all around is way down from last year.  A chippie-munkie has taken up residence under a fence post and is helping himself to our seeds.  As usual, the horseradish is indestructible and pushing the weeds aside.  One thing we do have a lot of are earthworms.  It’s almost as if the soil is terrible for everything but them.  Eat up worms, may as well since the garden’s on auxiliary power.

Meanwhile, the parental unit garden is looking great.  They’ve started to harvest their bumper crop of potatoes already, it’s sad.

K finished a spare kitty pie and I cleared the space between my metal organizers on my desk.  Combine pie with space, and Frankie has settled into a new roost.  That cat is spoiled!  Meanwhile, Michael has been getting fatter and more lethargic.  Which means his poop factory is at 110% reactor capacity.  The big cat news, however, is the installation of the new curtains.  By the Paul and K handycrew, that is.

The metal blinds that came with the townhouse have not been popular with the cats.  So they push them out of the way to look out the windows and end up bending the metal.  It’s a choice then, between allowing the blinds to be slowly damaged or no privacy when the sun goes down.  Plus, the noise the cats make when pushing the metal aside is annoying.

So we scanned for some cheap thick curtains, scored big time, and put them up.  The blinds went up all the way, and the cords were stashed.  Now the cats can poke their head through the gap or around the sides without any problems, and we can shut out prying eyes when we don’t feel like being on display.

The coolest thing though, is the box bay window.  We put the curtains up so the cats have a private sunroom with cushions, blankees and kitty-pies.  It’s like a big tiger den they can retreat to and snooze, snoop out the window, or loaf regally.  Frankie went ape for it, and her happy meter went way up, since she’s a tiger anyway.  Michael just found it and approves, in a “it’s about time” kind of way.  Blink has her own den, in the towel closet, which she has figured out how to open.  She climbs up a few ledges and falls asleep on the sweaters.  Cute +1!

Finally, K and I have been watching Charmed.  We just finished the first season and are starting the second.  Oh, dear, sweet potato pie the writing is horrible.  But it’s like a train wreck, you just can’t stop looking and cringing.  I like the premise, and the demon-of-the-week plots are mildly interesting, but it’s an acting-free zone populated by dysfunctional plot elements you can see coming a mile away.

Three hollywood-beautiful witches gain superpowers and the ability to cast spells from a spellbook when they inherit said spellbook (called “the book of shadows”) from their grandmama.  They become “the charmed ones”.  That means they fight evil, protect the innocent, and struggle with all that real world stuff like career, getting dates with hollywood thud-studs, and working out their family issues.  Hey, what’s not to like?

Unfortunately, the lame writing is filled with convoluted plots and illogical character actions.  The actresses can’t act worth beans, which makes the terrible dialogue and scene pacing agony to watch at times.  The WTF moments per minute is very high.  But, hell, I know I’m eating a Big-and-Nasty here, not a burger I cooked on my own grill with all the fixins.  It’s interesting to me because there’s so much potential in the show.  That potential gets picked up, dropped, and trod over.  But it’s still there, so I watch and gaze in wonder at this two-headed baby with dull surprise.

Going over my posterboard supply, I notice that other than the piece I’ve set aside for my book cover project, I don’t have any small pieces left. That award I worked on used up the last of my free range board slices. Grumble, that stuff doesn’t come cheap, and I hate to have to do the cutting. I really need to get a good surface. Maybe when I win the lottery and get that multi-circuited workstation complete with trusty robot sidekick and icebox buddy complete with Polecat beer.

Hand in hand with the posterboard are my PH Martin Radiant watercolors, now down to “why bother?” levels. I keep telling myself I will revive my collection. I just haven’t been doing the poster board art scene for my personal advancement enough in that area. I’m going to have to if I’m going to get that book cover of mine ready for consideration.

Speaking of the book in the oven, I’m still in a heavy editing phase. I’ve been collecting a list of revisions, mostly consistency corrections that I’ll have to phase into my latest draft. The feedback I received gave me a few ideas that I’m going to want to develop further. I need to describe and develop certain points that may be unclear to readers. That’ll take some time. Finally, I’ve got some ideas that have percolated on their own that I’d like to adjust or change in certain scenes.

What this means is more redlines in my future. That is, more work. I’m pleased with my progress, and should I get this taken care of to my satisfaction, I can focus entirely on the grammar and spelling. That aspect might be a major stumbling block. At this point, I’m 90% confident in my content, but my style may need a lot of work. I’ll have to make some choices, as some of it might only improve with long practice.  And I need to get this stuff out!

Scenes from the next book are already crowding my brain. I’ve had dreams showing exactly how to compose certain scenes. It’s driving me crazy. I might have to just start writing the second book and get it out of my head. Actually, that’s not a bad idea.

Thanks to the deficit spending of our glorious leader, I ordered some new CDs for inspiration. Some Lustmord classics – Heresy, Where the Black Stars Hang, and Purifying Fire, which should round out my collection (yes, I’ve been saving the best for last), along with Erotikon by Deutsch Nepal for a little ambient differentiation. I’m looking forward to using the fresh life support to give me the energy I need to get through my editing challenges.

I also used the influx of funds to get some more role-playing games. I ambled over to Indy Press Revolution and got me a copy of Capes and Shock. Service was quick and easy, and prices not too shabby, considering that I won’t have to buy a dozen supplements to play. The future of gaming really is independent publishing, it’s great.

Shock is a science fiction game where you create a world based around a “shock”, or science fiction concept such as “Some people are androids” or “Mind transfer is commercially available”. The players create characters that struggle with one another in the context of the world’s “shock”, and explore the social issues that are revealed through play. My friend Lossefalme might find the concept interesting.

Capes is a superhero game where players compete with one another for control of a story involving their own characters and the minor non-player characters of the story. The premise is that superpowers (like flight, or weather control) are fun and you should use them, but do you deserve them? I think my current game group might like this one, because of the dynamic resource management and ability to come up with anything at all within the constraints of the rules. You can do anything, but can you achieve your goals?

K and I have used a 19-inch TV since we moved in together, and it’s done us well all this time. My dad’s neighbor was getting rid of his old television set for a new-fangled plasma, and my dad pestered us about it until we caved and took it. It’s a 26-inch, so it’s much larger, but it has some quirks that I’m not psyched about.

The remote is buggy, the sound has a low level buzz that you can hear in moments of silence during a show, and the section of the tube gun that handles the color blue seems to be lining the screen at times. This dinosaur might keel over soon. If it does, maybe this is a sign we need to upgrade to a larger screen. I refuse to go plasma or HD just yet, just because I’m against the concept of “better visual quality” when so much of TV is absolute junk.

I ambled over to the local bookstore chain and picked up some classic books – The Secret Garden by Frances Burnett, Emma by Jane Austen, and Tess of the D’Urbervilles by Thomas Hardy. I want to study some of the classics and see how they are written, so I can compare my own style and content against theirs. I’m also looking to see how complex social interactions and stories of personal relationships are built and played out by these authors. Finally, I’m hoping to have an enjoyable read.

I looked at the SciFi and Fantasy section of the bookstore and all I saw were names I’ve already read and can’t stand, franchises based on popular culture staples, and books based on roleplaying games done to death. It’s depressing and makes me want to state that this small niche is dead and rotting. Meanwhile, the teen and manga sections had tons of new material taking chances and having fun. It overwhelmed me.

I’ve also been hitting the local library. It seems like my reading this last year has increased many times over what I usually amount to. I’m hungry for good material, or in other words, Mars needs women! There are about a dozen books next to the couch where I read. It is as if I’ve stopped watching my movie/TV collection and find my nourishment in literature instead of visual participationism.

Yup, I’m gathering goodies to myself for molecular reconversion.

I’ve been out of sorts the last few days. The shock to my nervous system from finishing the revisions “shocked the monkey”, and I found myself entering near dementia with all the psychic ripples in my “Motorhead” pond. My personal hygiene took a nosedive, and while I managed to maintain the outward operations of business-as-usual, inside I felt as if my efforts had stirred up a lot of detritus from the depths of my own personal Mud Lake.

These kinds of stunned doldrum episodes can last for days, with all manner of images, memories and ideas coming to the surface. This time, I was ready with my glass-bottomed boat to catch a glimpse of whatever mudgulpers might wade past. Oh, wow, the things that I caught a glimpse of, I’m going to need an additional vacation to meditate on. The Icky Girl Power really made an impact on me. Which is okay, because I was voluntarily leading with my jaw this time. But crumbs, I really got it handed to me this time, and the tussle ain’t over yet! Thank goodness I got more skills and tools this time around.

One of this things that came to the surface was my old childhood fascination with the old television series In Search Of…, and some of the subject matter from that show. In case you never saw it, Leonard Nimoy (yes, Mr. Spock) hosted a half hour show program in which an attempt was made to explain some “mystery” from a list of “extraterrestrials”, “magic and witchcraft”, “missing persons”, “myths and monsters”, “lost civilizations” and “strange phenomena”. Leonard Nimoy would narrate as evidence was put forward, scenes were re-enacted, and highly dubious explanations were put forward. All of this was accompanied by a synthesizer soundtrack that can only be called “eerie”, “otherworldly”, and “scary as all hell”.

My memories from that time are a little dim, but I couldn’t get the soundtrack out of my mind, nor could I get over the episode about Bigfoot, which frightened the poop out of me as a youngster. Fears that Bigfoot would break into my house and attack stem from various sources during the seventies, but this program did nothing to help with that, and I would be very afraid at night, staying up late with the light on and wondering what I could do to protect myself.

So I hit the old Youtube pool and found a host of episodes from the show, including the Bigfoot episode. Many of the episodes I remember seeing. Crumbs, I’d forgotten how much I used to be a regular watcher. The music was even creepier than I remember, and even in the safety of my own home, I felt the clutch of fear from childhood return. Every unknown noise freaked my scene out! The music from the UFO episode caught a hold of my brainstem and started to replay in my head even after I’d stopped watching.

Then I found the scariest episode of all for me. The one about the Amityville Horror. That episode scared me so bad I had to sleep with the covers on and with a flashlight in my hand back then. There’s this scene where a doll’s eyes open and turn red with a satanic glow, and that scene gave me many sleepless nights. Actually watching the episode, with the spooky red room, the story behind the doll (an evil monster imaginary friend that would mess a kid up for life), and the scene with the girl singing “silent night” on and off as she went in and out of a room, well all that stuff brought back so many memories in a flood that I had trouble sleeping for several days.

At night, I tossed and turned so much K sent me to the couch downstairs. And even with three dedicated cat protectors, they all fled upstairs and left me alone to freak out about Bigfoot, UFOs, the voices of plants, Dracula, and of course the scary doll creature from the Amityville Horror. It didn’t help that I had to go into the basement to use the Jakes at night, to avoid waking up K (her own work situation has taken a rather weird turn, so she needed the sleep). I heard phantom cats using the catbox in the basement, I felt cold chills from sixth sense spooks, and images of horror flashed before my eyes before I could flip light switches on.

And meanwhile, my old fears of Icky Girl Power came back to me as well. Blob capable of coming through the sink as I wash my hands sends thrills down my spine. Green slime from the UFOs with Leonard Nimoy narration as spooky music plays in my head over and over. This goes on for two nights. I’m scared out of my wits with childhood memories and present day fright seizing a hold of me so bad I’m afraid to close my eyes and get off the couch. So I go back and watch the episodes again, and I wonder why on earth these things aren’t on DVD, because its a fabulous show.

I mentioned skills and tools. Well, I’m not a kid anymore, at the complete and total mercy of the unknown, although I’m not immune to it. Maybe the only difference is that I know how much I stink, both in terms of hygiene and ability to cope. I refuse to let the spectres of fear dancing on my head completely have their way. I engage them in dialogue, I demand they explain themselves. I interact with Bigfoot, I chase off the UFOs, yelling at them “HEY! YOU FORGOT YOUR BUTT PROBE!” like a stupid fool. I confront the scary red eyed doll as big as I am trying to choke the life out of me and I say “That all you got?” I can’t explain the impossible conflict between my pathetic little life and the vast unknown, because it makes no sense and there’s no solution.

Except that things start to happen. You can’t reach into the deep slime and not be affected, but neither can the unknown. The night terrors don’t fade when the sun comes up, nor does the immediacy of their demands, but then the music I’ve been listening to lately starts playing in my head. All the CDs I got for Xmas, The Verve, The Ocean Blue, and my new obsession, Neko Case, who has been a phenomenal find for me. It’s as if something else wells up inside of me and gives me a break. I step back and I get my head back on straight. My fears take on different shapes and forms, and I realize things are trying to talk to me and tell me important information. I’m not safe, but I’m not completely vulnerable either, and I write down stuff.

The psychic wave passes, and I start getting a hold of things again. I know I’m going to have to dive again into the waves, but its okay, there’s all sorts of scary, interesting, and lively material for me to tackle when I’m ready. I clean up my act, shave and shower, brush my teeth, all that good stuff, and I feel a little human again. I don’t smell so bad, nor does my breath make me want to gag anymore. Important stuff is happening. There are ghosts in my house, and I’m doing my best to relate to them. I didn’t even know how scared I was of Icky Girl Power until I went in search of it. I don’t know if I can come up with some of the outrageous explanations Leonard Nimoy posits in the show (some of them are really WTF moments of logical deduction), but when it comes to the irrational and the subjective, perhaps the way out really is in.

Some things are better left unknown. If you swim in the dark lake at night, you have to be ready to scrape your feet on the slimy skin of the creatures that might be resting on the lakebed. Maybe our explanations for the unknown are no better than the ridiculous assertions of the show. And sometimes you catch a glimpse of something wonderful, or you feel something slither under your feet as you tread water, and you get to tell a tale gathered around the warmth of a fire in the dead of winter.

Last night, the mysterious unknown did its thing, while I had a good night’s sleep.

Now that the holiday madness has past, I’ve been able to take stock of the post-santa-claws damage.  My car’s engine mount succumbed to the forces of doom and collapsed, just in time for my yearly inspection.  So I’m socked with a repair cost and delays during the nebulous holiday spirit that means every mechanic is doing the total dodge.  As if that weren’t enough, Frankie caught a lite sneeze, and needed a vet visit to get the kitty drug hook-up.  Sometimes, if you really try, you can feel the jackup gnomes with their vacuum in your wallet.  I must have landed on the square in my personal board game where I have to lose 2 turns.

My friend Liephus gave me a minor linkdump, which gave me a chuckle.  He’s all about the funny, and I think that’s a good a life goal as any.  First off, he sent me a link where a group of video game “experts” do a “scientific” study.  They show a compelling correlation between the time it takes for a game avatar to encounter a “crate” and how good the video game is.  See, it’s a staple in video games that there are crates everywhere.  They conceal “powerups”, “heals”, and “ammunition”.  They are often used as scenery or obstacles to liven up what are otherwise boring environments.  Some games start you out staring at a crate (and therefore are traumatic, horrible games to play), while others take half an hour before you encounter a crate (you have just found gameplay better than any vice you can imagine).

Second, he introduced me to Korean professional StarCraft matches on YouTube.  I think StarCraft is one of the greatest computer games ever made, and a heck of a lot of fun to play, either solo or against other folks.  In the matches, video game players fight to the death on-screen for fabulous glory and prizes.  The Korean announcers lose their marbles following the ebb and flow of play, which is pretty funny.  Some folks dub over them with English (such as DiggitySC), and give it that understated, but deeply satisfying humorous edge.  It’s all about the funny!  Just one more match, and I’ll head off to bed, I swear.

K and I have been watching Grey’s Anatomy, Seasons 1 and 2.  I think House is by far a better “medical” drama, but I like the premise and many of the characters of Grey’s Anatomy.  I loathe the main character, Meredith Grey, however, and her One True Couple counterpart Derek “McDreamy” Shepherd.  She’s very much an example of “The Beautiful Lady without Mercy”, making it all about herself and caring not a whit for what happens to other people.  I sense a post of some kind coming out of this in the future.

My Pa noticed the work I was doing on my rum punch recipe, and gave it the enthusiastic thumbs-up.  Then he passed along to me some vital ingredients.  It appears that I have yet some kung fu techniques to work on, and will likely have to modify my alchemical concoction.  Or perhaps do an addendum post on the matter.  But it’s very encouraging to have my efforts be recognized and have the parental unit pass along another part of the secret recipe down.  On K’s end, she’s been fiddling with crepes, trying to duplicate her Ma’s baffling ability to create rolled-up sugar crepes of smooth munching satisfaction.  She got a pair of really cool cookbooks from the holiday loot-fest, and has been readying to level up her baking skills.  Which reminds me, I have to summon the Cookie Aphid and go back to basics – the Chocolate Chip Cookie of Doom.  I’ve been experimentin’ a little too much, and need to return to solid ground.

Plans for the garden this year are already being made.  The entire garden gang got together the other day and drew up preliminary plans as to what will be planted, and how it will be harvested and stored this year.  There’s some fence work, sod-busting, and composting in my future I fear.  The ground is cold and damp, and the planting many months off.  But this year will be a new level with more hit points and better rolls, I can feel it.

Whew!  Another Xmas survived.  Now that the wretched holiday of good cheer is finally past, I feel restored to my good-natured self.  With the solstice behind me, I can already feel the sunlight returning to the power-meter.  Woo and hoo!  K, as usual, made out like a bandit (as well she should).  Her swag bag was overflowing with goodies from the tribute wagon, and it’ll be some days until she has everything all sorted out.  I sense some material for the Menagerie soon to come!  Including the final tally on the advent calendar that refused to make any sense.  Chaos?  No Chaos here.

I got some more work in on the book over the holidaze, working on what is probably the most important revision.  Had to break in a new ceramic cup (thanks boss!) for the meditations.  I find that a little muscle relaxant, aka grog in a cup, helps the creative juices flow as I mold the text into new shapes and forms.  Hard to believe I’m just a week or two from the one year mark of when I started this work.  Still plenty of work to do, and its got me psyched up to the max.

One of the presents I got was the Secrets of Isis DVD I mentioned a while back.  Wow, totally corny, but I love it.  UFOs (that turn out to be faked Scooby Doo style), Bigfoot (who turns out to be just a really scary tall mountain man), and (my favorite so far) car thieves who steal the Trans-am of Isis’s mundane alter-ego.  The thieves repaint her car from red to yellow, and it remains that color for the rest of the show.  Hilarious!  Disturbing that the “morals” segment of the show was cut from the masters in the early nineties – but they show up in the special features thanks to diligent taping by considerate fans!  Awesome.  I always thought shows with morals at the end were eating with both hands.

Here comes 2008.  A “Chaldean ten”, also known as an Isis/Osiris beginning of great power and danger, where new transformations come forward.  I’ll be keeping those Isis morals in mind when the whip comes down, and that wheel of fortune gets a-spinnin’.  No telling what may come up.

I just got done watching a friend’s tape of the latest entry in the Battlestar Galactica (also known as BSG) good-episode sweepstakes, a two-hour TV movie called Razor. Ever since the amazingly whacky and laughable finale of the third season, I’ve cashed in my BSG hat. I got tired of watching the series bog down in pandering towards “message of the week” and flounder about in pathetic attempts to remain “edgy” and “cool’. Ugh, another one bites the dust.

For those of you not on the BSG wavelength, the current show running on the SciFi channel is a re-imagining of the original series that ran in the late seventies. The show tells the story of the survivors of a massive inter-planetary genocide, who are fleeing their enemies in spaceships towards a mythical planet named “Earth”, where they believe they will find sanctuary. The fleet of spaceships are led and protected by the last military ship, called a battlestar, known as “Galactica”. Their enemies, robotic humanoids called Cylons, attempt to find the spacefleet and destroy them thus making their conquest of the galaxy complete.

The original series has quite a fan following. While it is dark in places, for the most part the show is “safe”, with good guys and bad guys more or less easily identifiable. The special effects and music were exceptional for the time. The episodes are fairly average on the whole, with a few turkeys (a medieval and a wild west themed episode for example) and some magnificent episodes that really stand out.

The new series takes the story and injects elements of “dark realism” which are popular in today’s shows. The program has a grittier, less moralistic tone, with suffering, human greed and sudden death pushed to the forefront. The special effects and music are again top notch, and the writing approach has created some memorable scenes. The actors are all fabulously good, and the creative team behind the show have taken some groundbreaking steps in sharing information on the internet.

There’s a sort of animosity between the fans of the old and new shows, which was rather pronounced until the new show demonstrated its chops. I’d be the first to say re-imaginings blow chunks, and I am a hardened fan of the old series (I grew up watching it), but I think the new show stands on its own. Both shows are excellent, and the new show in no way disrespects the old. I’ve thoroughly enjoyed the way the new show has run with the old material, in many ways giving us some really innovative looks at science fiction.

So, why the beef with show now, you ask? Well, it’s hard to summarize my feelings about the direction of the new BSG without giving a long-winded background on the show to provide some context. Here’s why I’ve given up on the show:

1. The Cylons Are Just Emulators
The cylons have created human versions of themselves to infiltrate and sabotage the humans. It is this ability that allows them to make the initial surprise attack that wipes out most of humanity, and to make things difficult for the remaining survivors. The cylons have been attempting to complete their imitation of human beings, by exploring the concept of “love” and trying to reproduce like humans do. To this end, they have taken to capturing and torturing humans to examine their reactions, and some cylons have pretended to join the humans to further aspects of their “experiments”.

The show has been suggesting that the cylons have been genuinely trying to become human (much like Pinocchio), and the show has been trying to blur the distinction between man and machine. My guess is to keep the audience “guessing” as to who the good guys are and who the bad guys are.

The problem is, the cylons fail in one crucial test for humanity – elementary morality. I have yet to see a single cylon express remorse for the murder of what must be billions of human beings (the cylons nuked the twelve planets the humans, or “colonists” lived on). Not one of them has felt any pangs of conscience over the thousands of humans tortured and experimented on. Not one cylon has turned against their own people to oppose the continual hounding and massacre of humans in the fleet (Athena does not count, she is “experimenting” with the human-cylon hybrid Hera, and is only giving out information to keep herself alive).

So that reduces the cylons to at best an impersonal force, like a storm or an earthquake, and at worst to a hostile organism like Kudzu or Ebola. The show pretends that the cylons are “people”, when they most obviously are not. I’m just tired of the show presenting machines as if they were human beings, when adaptable emulators are all they really are.

2. The Humans Are Just Dark Hats and Victims
That leaves any human interest and character development in the hands of the colonial fleet. Unfortunately, the humans have not been reacting well to their situation. With a few exceptions, every human we’ve seen has gone insane, abandoned their morality, or joined a fringe group of whackos. While this is realistic, it makes for some really ridiculous storytelling, because you’re presented with people who are all bad guys, or the victims of the bad guys.

The human race has been reduced to thirty-nine thousand people, and dropping. This is literally a life-or-death, extinction event for an entire species. Instead of exploring the possibilities of this unique event, the show has everyone acting as if it’s just business-as-usual! The draconian and extreme measures the colonial government takes are the wrong ones. They’ve reverted to the classic despotism, supported by the military leadership, even though the politics of the fleet is no bigger than a small town!

The way in which the humans all drop to the dark side is easily explained, given the enormous psychological tragedy everyone is carrying. I just wish I’d see some character or another stand out and make a moral stand without later caving in. The fleet has been running, on and off, for about two years now. There should be children on the assembly line now who are straining the resources and testing the commitment of all these dark hats. President Roslyn tortures suspects and takes away civil liberties, while Commander Adama threatens to kill the family of a union leader representing strikers who are tired of working in the refinery ship. Starbuck airlocks people suspected of collaborating with the cylons and Colonel Tigh murders his own wife for betraying them. These are the people I’m supposed to care about? I’m rooting for the cylons!

See, just because life has handed you a rough deal, doesn’t mean you get a hall pass for bad behavior. I didn’t set up the show’s original premise, which was “do we deserve to survive?” The first episode presents the human race with the judgment of “you can’t hide from the things you’ve done” and “it’s not enough to survive”. Well, if that’s the case, the human race is already extinct, because there’s no one worth saving!

So, getting back to Razor. The movie is meant to tide fans over during the long wait between seasons three and four. I hear season four is the last one, where presumably the fleet will reach earth and we the audience will find out what fate awaits the two sides. Unfortunately, Razor is mostly a filler installment, where the writers go back to explore some of the gaps in time from previous seasons, and is less a story than an infodump for people curious about previous events.

I’m not a huge fan of flashbacks or “back then” episodes. A story must always move forward, and keep in the present, or else the audience’s participation becomes passive. Razor takes place in the past, focusing on the perspective of a character named Kendra that’s already dead, and whom we’ve never met until now. She gives us an outside perspective on the main characters of the show (and boy does their ugly dark side look nasty from a detached viewpoint). In between, Kendra flashbacks to the moments that made her what she is – a person who has lost all feeling and surrendered herself to the moral outlook of a superior officer she once served. A superior officer who was a moral monster that ended up dead. So you can guess poor Kendra is going to end up in the grave, even if you don’t catch the fact that she never appeared in the mainline series at any time.

If that isn’t enough, we get some further flashbacks from one of the main characters to explain via exposition the current mission situation the characters are all faced with. That means you have multiple points of view, from multiple points in time, in a movie that’s already an exploration of the past. I was able to keep up, but I found the narrative switches jarring and poorly handled. Some of my friends said they had trouble figuring out what was happening a lot of the time. I can sympathize.

To summarize, Razor takes place at a time period when Commander Apollo (a main character) takes command of the Battlestar Pegasus after the previous commander died saving the ship from a trap he put the ship in. In the second season, the fleet met up with another battlestar that had survived the cylon attack. The original commander of the Pegasus (Cain) and her crew were all psychopaths who started trying to take over the fleet and scrap it for spare parts, until Cain was murdered by a cylon agent who escaped prison. Her second in command took over, until he was murdered by black marketers for wanting too big a cut of the action. You with me still?

The only officer left from the original Cain cabal is Kendra. Apollo wants her to be his second in command, mainly to show the remaining Pegasus crew that their new rulers honor Cain’s legacy of murder and torture. She accepts because, what else has she got to do? The story then gets rolling. The fleet comes across an old cylon ship from the first cylon war that is still fighting and resisting the cylon call to return home. Kind of like those old World War II pockets of resistance you come across in old movies. The outdated cylons capture some prisoners, and the humans decide to attempt a rescue mission and plant a nuclear device to destroy the ship. The humans succeed in rescuing some of the prisoners, but Kendra has to stay behind to manually detonate the bomb.

While this plays out, Kendra goes back to when she first came aboard the Pegasus. She relives the cylon sneak attack on the colonies and how the Pegasus escaped (by doing a blind hyperspace jump). We also get to see her during key moments of when Commander Cain utterly loses her marbles, and the crew joins in with her. At one point, we get the flashback from the other character, Admiral Adama of the Battlestar Galactica. He remembers the first cylon war and his initial encounter with the old cylon ship the humans now face.

While the space battles in BSG are always amazing to watch, the character interaction nearly always baffles me. Never mind the overt problems I mentioned above, I just have a hard time connecting with what’s going on in the story. Kendra has descended into drug abuse and non-connectivity with her fellow human beings, and believes herself damaged beyond repair. She ends up acting out the same unconscious death-wish Cain had. Her effect on the story ends up being zero. Meanwhile, the portrayal of Cain, which I suspect most fans were tuning in for, has no nuance. She’s an obvious loony from the start, and she cracks up immediately after her ship escapes. Her snap decisions come off as capricious and random, the result of a complete psychological collapse. How are we supposed to follow her story if it’s set in stone?

The old cylon ship story is pretty cool. I loved seeing the old cylons from the original series make an appearance. I kept thinking, where were story ideas like this during the second season? Unfortunately, it’s the same old zero character effect on events we started getting in the second season. Since the only casualty is Kendra, who doesn’t matter anyway, the destruction of the cylon ship has no resonance. The surprise revelation of the cylon hybrid is a waste, since it has no effect on the characters. It’s only there to tell us the audience information on what we should be interested in (Starbuck’s destiny). Yawn.

That’s pretty much BSG in a nutshell these days. Characters you don’t care about, who have no effect on the story (such as it is), in pretend-dark edgy situations of anvil-style moral messages, with lots of space battles that look cool. I give Razor the double thumbs down!

The progress on my book continues. I’m 87% through the revisions, and am about to tackle the climax of the story. Come on, big creative push!

I got my hands on the DVD for Hawk the Slayer, and am very pleased I made the acquisition. It’s a sword and sorcery movie from 1981, and is actually watch-able, in a Beastmaster kind of way. The dialogue, characters and plot are all hilariously awful. I place the movie somewhere between average and good. It’s not “good enough” to be good, but it isn’t “average enough” to be average. This is the kind of movie you can watch with friends and have some laughs. Though nothing will beat the sheer WTF-ness of The Core. All I can say is that the universe must have taken pity on me for having suffered through The Return of Captain Invincible, and compensated me with a movie that is both bad and fun.

Just finished Season 1 and 2 of Heroes by means of Netflix. K’s new computer, plus our nifty high speed FIOS connection, equals “watch now”. Apparently, you can watch Netflix movies on your computer, who knew? Because we subscribe, we get a certain amount of free hours of viewing each month, so we’ve been draining that account dry to get caught up with the show. Maybe I’ll go into analytic detail of the show in another post, but for now all I’ll say is the show is worth watching. Lots of problems and plots that don’t add up, and Season 2 drops in quality significantly, but I’d say Season 1 was a heck of a lot of fun.

Musically, I’ve been listening to The Cure’s Wish and really digging it a lot. It comes on the heels of Disintegration, which carries the distinction of being my big breakup album. So to hear the post-breakup energy many years later after putting college way behind me, it’s very cathartic and enlivening. I’ve also been listening to Deutsch Nepal, a dark ambient sound that I’m really starting to dig. I’m going to have to get some more of this stuff. It puts me in the zone when I need to concentrate at work or hash my book revisions out.

On the cat zone, K and I got a large bath mat for the upstairs bathroom, and Frankie loves it. She uses it as a springboard to dash downstairs, then comes back up and rests on the bunched up mat. Frankie made sure to trill at K and give her the head-butt leap of affection to let her know this was approved. Meanwhile, Michael and Blink got a new soft throw to lay on. The fuzzy warm goodness does well on the couch, and when a human sits there with the throw over them, the two cats gravitate. Even independent Frankie has been taking turns resting on it. Wow!

My car was broken into the other night. I drive a bucket, and one of the doors doesn’t lock all the time. Needless to say I never keep anything valuable in there. Just a glove compartment jammed full of napkins ripped off from fast food joints, some moist towelette packets, and a pad of paper with a pencil. I could follow the progress of the intruder exactly. First, the pad and pencil tossed casually to the floor of the car. Then all the napkins got shoved out of the way and left on the passenger seat. Finally the moist towelette packets had been thrown on the ground outside of the car in disgust before leaving the door semi-closed. I had to laugh, because it’s a lot of effort to clear the compartment out for zero returns.

It may be winter for all practical purposes, but I’m still looking forward to next spring’s planting. K and I got ourselves a garden weasel finally, and aim to test it out as soon as the ground dries out a bit from the recent snow we had. The ground hasn’t hardened quite yet with the cold, but the weeds and other plants are on the defensive. I’ll give the scoop on how reliable this ding dang darn thing is when compared to the TV commercial soon enough.

And on a final note, I have yet to begin writing my Xmas cards. The beat down looms!

037_spockStar Trek is dead, and it’s never coming back.

Seriously. The only person who may have really understood what Star Trek was about was Gene Roddenberry, and he’s passed on. I submit as evidence the decline of the Star Trek franchise after the man’s passing away. Deep Space Nine, Voyager, Enterprise, and all the ridiculous Star Trek movies after the first have increasingly failed to capture either the magic or the message of the original show. I can’t watch any of them without thinking about how unlike Star Trek they are.

It’s like putting Conan the Barbarian in place of Aragorn for Lord of the Rings.* You’re watching someone with the same name, but acting completely out of character for what you thought you were watching.

Star Trek as I originally “grokked” it, was about the exploration of problems in consciousness. It had nothing to do with outer space at all; it was all about inner space. Or, as Q very rightly put it, “the unknown possibilities of existence.” The external world of Star Trek seems to be the only thing fans have increasingly latched on to or developed, with all the techno-gadgetry, identity politics of different “planetary races”, and space battles most of all. Got to have space battles! People have gravitated towards the “mapping stars and studying nebula” aspect of Star Trek, and have shied away from the more difficult task of rendering the far out and the unknowable.

If the fans don’t get it, you can bet your two-hundred Quatloos that the studios and networks sure aren’t going to come within a hundred parsecs of the message. But that won’t stop anyone in a suit from trying to resurrect the franchise and give the aging fans one more shot at nostalgia to keep the money rolling in. Yes, it’s coming, the Foetal Scooby Doo version of Star Trek. A “reimagining” of the franchise, now that the old one has hit rock bottom, and the fans are left staring around like stunned fish after a depth charge.

Forget it people! Star Trek is never coming back. We’ll only ever see some space action adventure show with people named “Kirk” and “Spock”, shooting phasers at anyone who isn’t a member of the Star Fleet Empire. That’s all anyone will ever get now. The innovation and creativity of the original has been drained to a husk, and we’re just sucking corpse dust through that straw.

The vision has been lost. If it shows up again in our lifetimes, it won’t be in anything bearing the name of Star Trek.

So go enjoy the space battles. That’s what advanced, interstellar civilizations are based on, right?

* Oh wait, Peter Jackson already did that. Thugs in place of “high men”. I especially loved it when Conan!Aragorn chopped off the Mouth of Sauron’s head. Today’s heroes have to be dark and edgy, rather than courteous and courageous, otherwise they might be considered “sissies”.

I’ve been a big fan of Lost, the hit television show, for a while now. Unfortunately, I think that’s changed and I’m getting a divorce. The third season concluded this year, and I got to thinking a lot about what’s happened on the show, and where I think it’s going.

If you haven’t ever watched the show, I’ll try and summarize it. A plane on its way from Sidney, Australia to L.A., California becomes lost and crashes on a remote tropical island. About fifty people survive the crash and try to survive as best they can until rescue. The complication is that the island is inhabited by mysterious phenomenon like an invisible monster, voices in the wind, and strange apparitions. The past lives of all the survivors intersect with one another and are related by a cursed numerical formula. Each show focuses on one of a dozen or so “main characters” in the tribe of survivors, and their efforts to overcome some personal obstacle. Punctuated by the current action are “flashbacks”, where an aspect of the character’s past life is shown.

The show has presented itself as a puzzle deep in subtext and invited viewers to speculate on what might be happening on the island. In other words, what the “answers” to the “mysteries” might be. The writer/producers of the show have engaged in all sorts of evasive suggestions in interviews, numerous products have been put out to suggest “clues”, and the network’s hype machine has pushed viewer buttons saying “this is the show you don’t want to miss”. You watch the show, hoping to catch a vital clue and figure out what is going on. What did the billboard in the back of the character’s flashback say? How does the billboard’s message relate to several other similar clues we’ve seen? You know, that kind of thing.

If you haven’t watched the show and want to preserve some of the so-called surprises for yourself, read no further.

I’ve come to the conclusion that Lost was a miniseries with a bunch of really good ideas that should never have gone beyond a dozen episodes, and that the creative team behind the episodes have exhausted those ideas and are not up to the task of making what’s left interesting. A lot of the happenings in the show rely heavily on context, so it’s really hard to come to any conclusion until you’ve had enough information to gain a certain amount of perspective. In retrospect, it’s easy to see where the major flaws were, and at what point the writers slipped up. I think Lost “Jumped the Shark” in it’s sixth episode, but it was so subtle, and the wipe out so prolonged, that it is easy to mistake later slip ups as the “definitive moment.”

To be fair, the flaws in Lost were there right from the very first episode. I took the time to revisit the first and second season, and compare and contrast their development with what came out of the third season. A lot of internet discussion has revolved around whether the writers have a plan and where the show is going, but I’ve come to the conclusion that it doesn’t matter if they have a plan or not. There are only so many moves you can make in a story, even a long term one, before you run out of options. The story resolves in one way or another, whether or not you have a long-term strategy.

For example, Babylon 5 is often toted as an example of an “epic series” planned out from start to finish, but I think the whole thing is rubbish. Every story is punctuated with major events that push the story forward irrevocably. The shark has to keep moving or it dies, so to speak. You could condense the epic story arc of Babylon 5 (the Shadow war) to a dozen episodes. The rest is just story-of-the-week and fluff (that’s gamer talk for background material not immediately relevant to the story).

The same goes for Lost. If the writers had a plan, it wasn’t much of one to begin with and they’ve made so many tweaks to the outline that the original idea has been squashed to jelly. They’re just flying blind now. The “puzzle”, whatever it was, will never make any sense or strike home with any resolution the way say, the first season of Veronica Mars did (an excellent example of how to keep an audience involved in a mystery without spoiling anything until the end).

I think it is more likely that the writers had an outline for a miniseries with a bunch of mysteries that never had any solution, and they’ve been milking things out as much as they can. Unfortunately, as of the last few episodes of the third season they’ve run out of ideas.  They’re having to recycle old plotlines and revisit territory already traveled (Charlie dies again! The Others attack the camp again! Locke finds a Dharma station again!).

It’s sad. Lost had a lot of potential, but as so often happens in television, the corporate suits get their stupid hands in the pie and ruin the recipe. The writers for the show haven’t exactly risen to the challenge either. The quality of the episodes has gone down as the ideas lose their freshness, and the writing just hasn’t kept pace with that fact. I’ve had to watch the show that excited my interest and imagination slowly break my heart with every growing mistake and misstep.

The high point of the show for me was the fifth episode of the first season, “White Rabbit”. There are already several points that don’t stand up to scrutiny, but I think they are minor at this juncture. As I mentioned earlier, the flaws were there at the start, they just haven’t developed into actual cracks. The main integrity of the story’s consistency hasn’t been breached as of yet, and a lot of narrative momentum is going on to keep viewer interest high.

In “White Rabbit”, you have an amazing amount of stuff going on. The survivors suffer their first death due to the dangers of the island (someone drowns in a riptide), they are running low on water (on a tropical island that’s life or death), the pregnant woman has passed out from heat exhaustion, and group cohesion is starting to break down. Jack, the unofficial leader (who also happens to be their only doctor), has a temporary crack up and nearly dies in an accident after chasing his dead father around in the jungle. Meanwhile Locke, the guy everyone thought was a nut case, turns out to be the only guy who has an idea of how spooky and magical the island really is. He acts like a kind of shaman and gets the people with the next strongest leadership skills to keep everyone cool while he goes off in search of water and their cracked up leader.

Locke rescues Jack, then helps the guy get his head on straight. Jack continues his quest for his dead father, only in a more reasonable frame of mind. A dead father who may not be dead at all, because the island is special. Jack finds his father’s empty coffin (from a section of plane wreckage), near a cave with a large fresh water source. He works through some of his issues (though not all of them), and he finds it in himself to accept what people need from him. Jack makes an awesome speech and assumes the leadership role he was afraid of. At the end of the episode, you get the feeling that something amazing is happening, with all sorts of story possibilities popping forward. The episode is a thrilling mixture of real life danger and interpersonal conflict, with some of the creepiest ghost scenes I’ve ever seen on television.

Then you get the next episode, “House of the Rising Sun”, in which the story takes a disappointing turn. Last episode, Jack made an impassioned speech about everyone working together, and the need for everyone to find a way to contribute to the group’s well being. A day later, he’s decided to try and convince everyone to live in the cave he found, regardless of what people want. Never mind that no one knows if the cave is stable, or if it is a sometimes home for the polar bears that live on the island, or that there are two old corpses placed in little makeshift tombs in the cave near the water. It becomes a divisive issue, with half the group wanting to stay on the beach, and half wanting to go live at the caves.

I’m not even going to go into the problem of not following up on the crazy mystical stuff Locke brought up last episode, the lack of a funeral or mourning for the woman who drowned yesterday, or that nobody challenges Jack for leadership over this bumbling mistake. There are a dozen loose ends I could point to and get upset about. What I object to is that Jack’s behavior and subsequent poor decision completely nullifies everything he went through in the previous episode. His “new” leadership ability ends up dividing the entire group, and fails to organize them into any kind of mass labor necessary for survival.

All of this is glossed over or minimized into the background because the episode focuses on the character whose episode and flashback this is (Sun, the Korean woman with a Mafia father). Not that the focus shouldn’t have been on Sun, or that the story is done poorly (it is rather excellent), but I think the decision to negate Jack’s character development is a fatal mistake. It is this decision, I think, that creates the first crack in the integrity of the show. How can you take anything the characters do seriously, when their actions will be rendered meaningless in the next episode?

It’s hardly an immediately devastating blow. You keep expecting Jack to get back on track as a character, and you don’t have enough episodes under the belt to form any context. But it begins a precedent that the show never recovers from, and in fact grows steadily worse as the seasons drag on. By the end of the third season, every character on the show has experienced life-altering moments, made what should be irrevocable choices, or acted in ways that would get them clobbered by any reasonable group of people, only to return to the same person they were when they first came to the island. As a side effect, the things that these characters interact with also become meaningless. The ghost of Jack’s father? Never seen again and never explained. Locke’s mystical explanation for the island? Never followed up or referred to again. The cave? Abandoned at the end of the first season for no real reason. The water source? Tarps magically appear and are turned into rain collectors by invisible servants. The things in “White Rabbit” may as well have never appeared, for all the importance they had.

That, I think, is my fundamental problem with the show, and why I refuse to watch it anymore. Nothing matters. Nobody changes. I’m not sure that the puzzles even mean anything, if they exist. I’m still waiting, three years later, for Jack to fulfill the promise he showed in “White Rabbit” (among many other numerous stalled storylines). You could fit the character development of the entire cast in about six episodes, even though there have been over seventy episodes now! Everyone is still stuck in the “I can’t get over my issues” phase of the heroic journey, and consequently all we get is the characters eating dirt instead of facing consequences.

It’s a problem I think has become particularly endemic in today’s television programs. Networks make money off of shows that they can milk long term. They are afraid that if they have actual long-term storylines that resolve themselves, they’ll lose the audience share they are milking for ratings. The result in recent years seems to be a preponderance of what I call the “false tension rollback”. You build up a massive conflict in an episode with promises of major consequences, only to back down at the last minute, then spend the rest of the episode explaining how the characters got to that point. I’ve seen a lot of “promises” from Lost in the last two years, none of which have delivered.

Broken promises. Broken heart. These boots were made for walkin’.

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