Sunday, June 30, 2019

I came across a series of three lighthearted articles I wrote a few years ago when I was in a production of Dial M for Murder at the community theater. The first of those three articles follows after a message from our sponsor and some observations on two things brought to me by the magic of television.

First, I'm pleased to announce that Power to Hurt has passed the 70K word mark. Strive as I might, I may not have it ready for purchase before the end of July because I may need an additional ten-thousand words beyond my original projection to complete it--so I may have another 20K words to write. That also means longer to proof and to edit. However, the end of July remains my target date. **If anyone would like to read and provide feedback on the novel up to this point, let me know.***

Second, I have a few thoughts on two shows: Rogers and Hammerstein's South Pacific, and the more recent Good Omens. One of the very few things these two offerings have in common is that they were both new to me. I finished the last episode of Good Omens on the same day that I saw South Pacific broadcast on public television.

Weighing in at nearly two and one-half hours, released in 1958, South Pacific is a light musical romance. Good Omens, a sort of dark fantasy miniseries based on the book of the same name, is six episodes long; each episode lasts just under an hour. So these two aren't even in the same weight class. The genres are also worlds apart.

The other thing both of these shows have in common is that they both disappointed me a bit. I expected more from each of them. I heard a few songs from SP that I had heard before but didn't know the source. Part of the reason for that is that when it comes to musicals, I'm rather an uncultured cretin. My entire body of knowledge with regard to opera came from Looney Tunes/Merry Melodies. As a kid I soaked up fabulous episodes like "Rabbit of Seville" and "Kill da Wabbit" with the greatest of glee. These two are true masterpieces of animation and music. That was the pinnacle of my musical theater education. When I heard Mitzi Gaynor sing, "I'm Gonna Wash that Man Right out of My Hair" I immediately associated it with the hair color commercial that first taught me the tune. "Some Enchanted Evening" was very nice. I enjoyed that song more than any other from the show. I liked all of the music but there weren't many that stood out. I do remember thinking that I would like to remember a few of the lyrics, but I've forgotten them already. I do remember something about nothing being quite the same as dame, but I don't think that's an accurate rendition of the words. Also, there was "where she's narrow, she should be as narrow as an arrow...where she's broad she should be broad where a broad should be broad," and that may not be an accurate recollection either.

SP featured a young Frances Nuyen whom I first discovered in Star Trek reruns as Elana of Troyius in the episode of the same title and which I have mentioned on this blog before. So it does have a TOS connection going for it. My wife didn't seem impressed when I pointed that out.

What disappointed me about SP? I'm not really sure. Perhaps it was the fact that it went a little long and became entirely predictable by the second half.

As for GO, the music featured heavy doses of Queen, including in the last episode "Bohemian Rhapsody," if I remember correctly, and that was nice. The acting and production were fabulous. The story, a darkly humorous take on Christianity and Armageddon smelled of pablum to please the current pop culture masses. The great acting and memorable characters couldn't save a fundamentally weak story. The story aimed more toward clever wit than depth and struck the bull's eye.

The old article from 2015:
An Actor’s View – Dial M for Thunderball
The Weiser Little Theater's production of Frederick Knott's Dial "M" for Murder rolls ever forward like an unstoppable thunderball. I understand that the term "thunderball" originated with soldiers who used it to refer to the rolling mushroom cloud created by a nuclear detonation -- perhaps that's not the image that I wanted to convey.
Speaking of Bond movies, the intrigue in Dial M is top notch. While we weren't able to lure the 1965 incarnation of Martine Beswick, or Jill St. John from 1971's Diamonds Are Forever, we do have our own scorching hot actress who does all of her own stunts. She's as deadly as any Bond girl…don't mess with her while she's on the telephone. (Also, don't try to tell her that she's remembering a scene incorrectly; she will deliver a swift punch to your ego and do the happy dance on the remnants of your self-respect while blinding you with facts. Of course, that's just one perspective. Your mileage may vary).
In typical Bond fashion, Good and Evil are both sharply dressed in Dial M. More importantly, the men are dashing and debonair with classic good looks and diction that is to-die-for. But enough about me. There are other male roles in the play as well.
An unintentionally entertaining part of rehearsals is watching an actor steadfastly attempting to remember and repeat his lines. It's very much like watching a blind man tapping his way across a treacherous ledge in the dark (of course, it's always dark to the blind man, but that detail adds to the utterly false sense of suspense that I'm attempting to create). The lines come forth in tiny, tentative taps, back and forth, repeated until ideas trickle out in the proper wording and sequence. Sure it's as irritating as a root canal without anesthetic, but I've found that people can be so judgmental when you punch a blind man. I mean, it's endearing, really.
While we don't have a one-eyed Emilio Largo, we do have our own figuratively one-eyed man. He has an eye single to detail. Every. Single. Detail. There is no detail too small which, if neglected even for a moment, threatens to become a SPECTRE (see what I did there) that will destroy the entire play. Fortunately, it appears as if a nuclear holocaust will be avoided, thanks to the screw-gun which he wields with no mean skill.
No Bond film would be complete without small-time criminals and ne'er-do-wells. Dial M has an ideal facsimile of just such an incorrigible reprobate…and the character he plays is quite a miscreant as well. But seriously, observations about type-casting aside, the dude is perfect in the role. Nobody, I mean nobody, plays a better sheet-covered corpse. If you don't remember his death scene, which makes Out of Africa seem like a fast-paced action flick by comparison, you'll still be astounded at his dramatics immediately subsequent to the demise. A magnificent method acting success, some would say (I’m not sure who, but someone…maybe).
Although Dial M lacks the lurking sharks of Thunderball, we do have a superb stage crew; they lurk, light the set, and lend assistance to idiots actors who can't remember lines, find their props (or their own body parts without written instructions and a gps); they also keep everything running smoothly. They almost never bite (I would just say never, but…well, there was that one incident).
Finally, the ray of sunshine, our Domino and Moneypenny all rolled into one (and she's not nearly as lumpy as that sounds) is the director. There are no words to describe her (except those commonly used in mental health diagnoses -- but I'm not really qualified to repeat those). However, I think the expression delusionally optimistic would not be out of place.

Seriously, this is a blast!

Sunday, June 23, 2019

In preparation for a future viewing of The Forbidden Planet, I decided to re-read Shakespeare's play upon which the film was loosely based.

"Now would I give a thousand furlongs of sea for an acre of barren ground..."

"Good wombs have born bad sons."

The two quotes above come from The Tempest; they illustrate a part of my view of the play. They also underscore one of the problems with magic in literature.

The Tempest, according to Wikipedia and others, was the bard's final play that he wrote on his own. The play relies heavily on magic and fantastical elements. Prospero has been exiled to a small island by his brother Antonio who has usurped his station as Duke of Milan. During his twelve years on the island, Prospero has mastered the art of sorcery which allows him to control Ariel and other spirits. By magical means he conjures a storm which casts his brother; Alonso, the King of Naples; and Alonso's son Ferdinand, along with some others upon the island. Through his sorcery, Prospero separates the group so that Prospero and his daughter Miranda can find Ferdinand. Romance between Miranda and Ferdinand blooms rapidly and without any interesting hindrance.

Meanwhile the rest of the castaways are gathered. Caliban, a wicked and savage monster whom Prospero has mastered, plots with some of the castaways to kill Prospero; he desires Miranda for himself to populate the island with his offspring. There is also plotting among some of them to slay Alonso the king. Ariel tells Prospero of these plans. Prospero puts Miranda and Ferdinand through a sort of betrothal ceremony which emphasizes the requirement for chastity before the marriage lest it be cursed: "Look thou be true: do not give dalliance too much the rein; the strongest oaths are straw to the fire i' the blood."

Prospero has Ariel thwart the plots against him and Alonso. Alonso consents to the marriage of Ferdinand and Miranda. The plotters run away. The ship has not been wrecked and the castaways may leave the island. The play closes with Prospero putting away magic, promising to throw his sorcerer's books into the sea.

After reading the digital version of the play, I had to check it against my paper copy in my large volume of Shakespeare's works. I couldn't believe that there wasn't more to the story--there wasn't. This may have been the bard's swansong, his final bow with Prospero representing him as he retired from the stage (that idea make more sense to me than the ridiculous theories that the play is meant as a commentary on European colonialism), but the play is not his best work.

The fatal flaw in The Tempest is the lack of conflict that cannot be solved with magic. The magic does everything; it brings the boat and passengers ashore and conveniently separates them for Prospero's purposes; it even informs Prospero of the conspiracies and ruins those plans. Prospero has merely to look on and direct Ariel to do his bidding. The romance between Miranda and Ferdinand could have been beyond the control of the sorcery but it proceeded without obstacle. Shakespeare pitched himself a big fat fast ball. He could have concocted a thrilling tale of a near triple play or a breathless run and slide for home plate by means of some romantic complications, which he wrote so well in so many other works, but instead simply had the batter hit a home run with the bases loaded and never allowed the other team to score. The magic in this play destroyed the magic of the mystery and conflict which should have been present in the story.

"There be some sports are painful, and their labour delight in them sets off: some kinds of baseness are nobly undergone and most poor matters point to rich ends."

Regardless of how rich the end was in this play, what might have been a treasure of delight for me was as that thousand furlongs of sea. I would have traded it for some small grounds, some conflict, some excitement. Although it did spring from a good womb, it was a bad son. Such is the weakness of magic in literature--whether that literature be as venerated as Shakespeare or something more contemporary. I've seen a video in which Brandon Sanderson says something like, "The weaknesses in the magic system are more interesting that its strengths." (I think this is the video). If I understand him correctly, the problems that the magic cannot solve are what makes a story interesting; how characters get around those weaknesses to solve the problems and overcome the opposition deliver the delight we seek; the rest is mere setting and build up.


Now that I've presumed to criticize Shakespeare and to explain what Brandon Sanderson means in one of his own lectures (color me unabashed), I can say that I had a nice week in writing. Power to Hurt has passed the 65K word mark. The more I write, the more I realize that my 80K word target is probably a good ten thousand words short of what it will actually take to get the story to end that I have planned for the book. It will be a little longer than Threading the Rude Eye, the first book in the series, but it will also be more exciting in my opinion. If it takes me an additional ten or twenty thousand words to make that happen, I accept the challenge and savor the taste to the very end. Indeed, I might say as Prospero, "Now does my project gather to a head; my charms crack not; my spirits obey; and time goes upright with his carriage." Seriously, some of these scenes have been in my head since the start; it's a pleasure to finally write them.


Here are a few left over quotes from The Tempest:

"And all the more it seeks to hide itself, the bigger bulk it shows."

"He that dies pays all debts."

"...the rarer action is in virtue than in vengeance..."

"How beauteous mankind is! O brave new world, that has such people in't!"

"Let us not burthen our remembrance with a heaviness that's gone."

Monday, June 17, 2019

I sauntered into the courtroom with the ardor of MacArthur wading ashore at Leyte. It was 3:30 in the afternoon. The outside air was hotter, and only slightly less moist, than an ogre's armpit, but the air conditioning in the courthouse blew as cool as the kiss of a barrow wight's blade. I enjoyed the refreshing chill brushing across my toes. The hair on the tops of my feet rose in joyous celebration of the exchange of hot pavement for the invigorating caress of cold carpet. I had information for the attorney that was about to blow his case as wide open as the mouth of Charybdis. I had never been privileged to see Gordon Q. Vlengelman wet himself in court, but I suspected that this would be my chance. There are some joys, even for a halfling, that money can't buy.

--Except from an unfinished story sloshing around in my brain pan--

I may have to take out the MacArthur bit (and the air conditioning) as I've not entirely decided upon the setting.


First in big news: I passed the 60K word point of Power to Hurt. I may run over 80K words, but that's still my target for completion. I was slowed by the fact that I had to go back and make some changes to a couple scenes which omitted some important references to a character whose presence will be significant in the coming scenes.

Second: The most quotable thing I heard last week came from a conversation I had with two boys of about 14 years of age.
Me: Are you becoming a video game expert? You've talked about quite a few games this weekend.
Boy 1: I am.
Boy 2: You shouldn't be an expert on that. (Gesturing to the surrounding outdoors) You should be an expert on all this.
Boy 1: I am. I just don't know a lot about it.


A Book Review:

I must confess that this was a DNF. I got the book for free. It purported to be a tale of one of the most famous of all Greek warriors. It was a New York Times best seller (which I have now come to believe means that people who have no idea about what kind of stuff most people want to read, list the stuff they insist that everyone should read). I should have been alerted by the fact that instead of the usual intriguing information on what the book was about, there were two high-falutin blurbs praising the book and the author. A sea of editorial reviews also followed. I didn't read any of that. I didn't read any of the reviews. After reading 20% of the book I felt like I had confirmation of what I had suspected from the first chapter. This was not in fact the rousing tale of the great Greek warrior and his daring deeds and stirring exploits. Having no desire to promote the steaming pile that constitutes the book, I'll mention neither the title or the author. The one-star reviews (which I should have read before I began the book) have it correct--except that they give it one star too many.

Sunday, June 9, 2019

Oathbringer is Sanderson's third book in the Stormlight Archive series following The Way of Kings and Words of Radiance. The file size on this e-book is gargantuan. It is listed at 1220 pages. TWoK weighed in at 1009 pages, and WoR tipped the scales at 1088 pages. That's just over 3300 pages to get to this point.What is this point? I don't know, but this series isn't over; this isn't a trilogy. Let me point out that Sanderson has chosen the word "archive" to describe this series. Merriam-Websters indicates that "library" is a synonym for "archive." Are you starting to get a sense of my feelings about this? I understand that there are ten volumes planned.

Let me praise where praise is due. Sanderson is a brilliant writer. Oathbringer has received over 2,000 reviews and has a 4.5 star rating on the big river site. My praise is as but one simple bead in the vast sea of Shadesmar, and I'm certain that my criticism will pass with as much notice.

In TWoK we met Kaladin, the slave, the bridge man. His story was extremely compelling. We met many other characters but Kaladin and Syl bound the tale together for me. Cool things like Shardblades and Shardplate added to the excitement and the transcendent awesomeness of the epic, filling our hearts with anticipation like gems with stormlight from a highstorm. In WoR, more of the focus went to Shallan whom I'll simply describe as a hot mess because the mess is too tangled to attempt to unravel or explain in a short review--and also because I have limited memory and I can't remember all of the details of her story which, while not as compelling as Kaladin's, nevertheless interested me throughout the second book. We learned more about Dalinar Kholin as he rocked the battlefield in Shardplate and smote hip and thigh with the Shardblade. Meanwhile, Kaladin's character arc continued with ups and downs that made us leap for joy one minute and pound our faces on the table in frustrated agony the next. In a word, or several: The story remained fabulous, like nothing that I had ever before read.

After finishing WoR, I became patient. At last my patience brought forth fruit and I found Oathbringer on sale. I think I got it for $1.99 or $2.99. Although I didn't want to wait to return to the awesomeness of Roshar, I did wait because I needed to be ready--ready to dive into the storm and commit to riding it through to the end. Having ridden the storm, I may not return to Roshar to visit Alethkar and Jah Keved and the other locations. You may ask: Why, after over 3300 pages, why would I abandon Sanderson's epic, awesome, high fantasy?

Let me explain. I have no patience for books that become a labor to read. There's a great story in Oathbringer, and it could have been well told in about 500 pages. The story left Kaladin on the fringes and focused on Shallan and Dalinar. Shallan became less interesting as she consumed more of the story. I grew fatigued with the memories and flashbacks, visions that made no sense, and characters and places who required a lot of time and attention but who didn't add to the enjoyment of the story--it was Heart of Darkness-boring at times and several times longer to slog through--the toils along the Congo were like an office party birthday lunch compared to this. I don't think that reading about a difficult experience should be as difficult and distasteful as the experience itself. It is likely that many of these places and things that drove away my original delight in the tale will eventually be crucially important. However, I'm not going to remember them. I can't remember a lot from the first, the second, or even this third book at this point--how am I going to remember this stuff ten thousand more pages into the future with all of the new stuff that comes with those ten thousand pages? I'm not.

Although several things bothered me, when the story finally became an Avenger's movie, I was thinking, "Just hit me in the head with the shovel and push me into the grave." Seriously, almost everybody gets to be a superhero and they have to fight the enemy superheroes. The fight goes on forever and then some. (I must confess that I believe a lot of readers probably enjoyed that part of the book as the payoff, the big conclusion for the third act--so I'm in a minority here.) When the epic fantasy becomes a comic book, I'm out. I can only imagine that someone is reading this saying, "What do you want? First it's too boring, and then it's too exciting? Pick a theme for your dissatisfaction and stick with it. The story can't be both too boring and too exciting!" That's a valid criticism of my criticism only if you have misunderstood my point. What I mean is that there are too many long, tiresome descriptions and stories that drag down the pace and which could have been omitted or explained in less detail. While the end is exciting, the degeneration into a comic book battle among superheroes, even told with Sanderson's usual skill and brilliance, isn't the destination for which that I signed up when I started the book. Movies and books that become all about the special effects are like carnival rides that won't stop--a little bit is fun but too much makes you wish that you hadn't enjoyed the fried foods and fountain drinks along the midway quite so much, because you're not enjoying them now--and you're about to share them with everyone. To put it another way: It's like bluegrass music or bagpipe playing--a little bit of it goes a long way to scratching a certain itch, but too much gives the kind of road rash that comes with laying down the Honda on the interstate while wearing only your swim trunks.

Don't take my word for it, read it and decide for yourself.

Sunday, June 2, 2019

Earlier this week between writing and working and mowing and etc, I wedged an episode of Combat! into my schedule. I also caught about 22 minutes of The Wrath of Khan. I'm only including a write up on one of those here.

Season 1 Episode 12:”The Prisoner”
Written by Robert Kaufman. Directed by Robert Altman.

The setting around the camp reminds me of a Star Trek Halloween episode (“Catspaw” which also has something else in common with this Combat! episode as you will see below).

Braddock sneaks into camp. He says he lost his watch; that’s why he’s late. Littlejohn reminds Braddock that he sold the watch to him. (I can tell that Braddock is lying about the watch. He’s about to lie some more). Hanley wants Capt. Harper on the radio but Braddock says it doesn’t work; the batteries are dead. There’s a guy I haven’t seen before: Bialos. He’s the runner for Lt. Booker’s 1st platoon. Why has he come to see Braddock? Because he traded good k-rations for dead batteries and he wants his rations back. When Hanley discovers that Braddock traded the dead batteries for k-rations he has a discussion with Braddock about whether he should go back into the line or continue as his runner.

Braddock at length decides he’s more valuable to the squad as a runner—the conclusion Hanley wanted him to reach. With the platoon unable to move, with no phone lines in yet, and no working batteries in the radio, Hanley needs someone to run back to Harper for orders or information. Braddock sees that he has fallen into Hanley’s trap.

After the intro we see someone belly-crawling through some low mist (see earlier “Catspaw” reference). It’s Saunders with a mouthful of mud and a report on the enemy positions. The Germans are dug in deep. Armor won’t do any good and it’s too soupy for air support. (Here comes what may be the central piece of the episode set up). Maybe the kraut colonel they recently captured can be of use. That colonel hasn’t revealed anything yet. Saunders wonders about pulling back. Hanley indicates the folly in that notion by stating that in their present position the German 88’s can’t reach them, but if they pull back they would be slaughtered. (This all sounds like a distorted and unlikely set of facts to keep the squad or platoon isolated and in need of extracting info from the prisoner). A shell lands nearby as Hanley finishes speaking. It’s the new danger: AA shells are being launched at them. (Which I doubted was possible,but was actually a tactic employed by the Germans).

Cut to Braddock making his way through the mist. He’s called upon by another American for the password. The soldier comes out looking for Braddock who surprises him. It’s Chekov! (Uncredited role for Walter Koenig) I half expected him to speak with a Russian accent. He has been in combat “ever since yesterday.” There’s a little bit about Chekov calling Braddock “sir” and Braddock saying he’s not a sir. (I’m thinking that my initial guess was wrong and this “sir” business is foreshadowing that Braddock is going to be taken prisoner and will be exchanged for the colonel).

Braddock gets in to see Capt. Harper. In Altman fashion the meeting takes place before two candles (in fairness, it may not have been an Altman convention in this case, but the kind of light likely available inside—but then later he does a nice shot with the two candles by the subject’s face—it’s signature Altman). After Braddock reports to Capt. Harper, there’s a call from a colonel who needs a driver who’s familiar with the company positions—Braddock knows the positions because he’s Hanley’s runner. It looks like he’ll be driving the colonel. (Looks like operation Braddock for colonel is starting to take shape).

There are more treats in store. The colonel’s sergeant is played by Richard Bakalyan who I associate with criminal types for his other roles. Colonel Clyde is played by Keenan Wynn and he comes out at his gruff, overheated best—like a freight train with a moustache and a cigar. Nobody does the bluster like Keenan Wynn.

When Braddock introduces himself, he is flustered by the colonel’s bluster and calls himself Sir Braddock. (More foreshadowing?). Braddock is regretting his decision. When the colonel is ready to go, Braddock is still coming from the shower. In the rush, he forgets his dog tags and wallet (Now I’m sure he’s going to be switching places with the colonel at some point). Clyde informs Braddock that he will drive; he says that he used to drive midgets before the war. When asked if he ever drove a midget, Braddock replies, in the best joke of the episode, “They wouldn’t drive with me, sir.”
Braddock starts sneezing. He attributes the sneezing to the draft and Clyde makes him take his coat. (The transformation from private to Colonel continues). Clyde drives like a maniac on speed. He swerves the jeep to miss a cow in the road. Braddock is thrown out. Clyde appears to go into the creek with the jeep. Braddock lies unconscious until a German patrol finds him in the middle of the road wearing a coat with colonel’s eagles on the shoulders—that’s Braddock wearing the coat, not the road; although a road does have shoulders and eagles could land there. He also has the colonel’s helmet. The Germans immediately become deferential. He offers them a cigar from the colonel’s coat pocket but the German instead lights it for him. He protests that he is only a private, but none of them speak English. He is taken to a German officer who speaks English, but doesn’t buy Braddock’s story.
Meanwhile, back at the company HQ, Colonel Clyde is overdue.

 An American patrol has seen that a colonel was taken prisoner by the Germans. They suspect that it’s Colonel Clyde.

Braddock gets the full officer treatment from the Germans and when he meets three other prisoners, they believe he’s a colonel too. When Braddock finds out that the other prisoners haven’t been fed, he goes into full Colonel Clyde bluster to get the Germans to feed them, and to let them ride on the car rather than walk behind.

At German HQ, Braddock learns that the Germans know all about Clyde. He doesn’t take kindly to the German efforts to confirm his identity now that he has embraced being Colonel Clyde.

The Germans see through the fa├žade but want to trade him for their captured colonel anyway. They send one of the prisoners back to Hanley with the proposal. It’s Tom Skerrit.

The prisoner is sent on to HQ. He is convinced that the colonel he saw was Clyde based on Braddock’s impersonation and cigar smoking. The proposal is to trade Clyde and the other 2 GI’s for the German colonel and his aid. At this point Colonel Clyde enters HQ! He’s marked with dirt like Braddock was when he first appeared before Clyde. Clyde puts 2 and 2 together and realizes the Germans have Braddock. He arranges to pull a fast one on the Germans by putting a couple German privates in the uniforms of the German colonel and his aid for the exchange. The exchange goes as planned and the irate Germans attack, falling into Clyde’s trap.

I was disappointed that there was no French spoken. We saw little of Hanley and we barely saw Saunders. This was pretty much the Shecky Greene show. He did a decent Keenan Wynn impersonation, but I would have preferred more Wynn and less Greene. There wasn’t any machinegun fire that I remember—I expect machinegun fire and some squad-to-squad combat from a show whose very title is a bayonet exclamation point following the word “Combat.” This is a show for and about manly men (and citizen soldiers) caught up in the toothy jaws of—need I say it—combat. Do I make myself clear? This was a decent but predictable lower tier episode without any surprises (except for Walter Koenig’s brief appearance--"Catspaw" was the first episode of Star Trek in which he appeared, although it was not the first with Koenig in it to air as "Catspaw" was held for airing near Halloween). I give it two-point-five-rounded-up-to-three of five bayonets.

As for progress on Power to Hurt, I've passed 49K words; many of the characters are in desperate situations and the action will continue to tramp forward to the climactic battle.

I want to do a series of posts on The Wrath of Khan (probably as I watch the movie in 20 or 30 minute increments) and I have a book review of Sanderson's Oathbringer to write. Maybe the latter will have to be a separate bonus post.