Tag Archives: Alien visitors

Exit January, Enter February

The first month of 2021 went reasonably well, despite the Wisp problems and TYG’s crazy schedule. I have Undead Sexist Cliches and Questionable Minds ready to start the Draft2Digital book-making process. I got work done on Alien Visitors. About 50 percent of my goals for the month completed in total. But almost nothing on fiction. So I’m revising my 2021 plans.

There doesn’t seem to be any chance that I can focus on fiction until the two self-publishing jobs are done, so I’m not even going to try. For February, I’ll work on getting the two books done, plus as much Alien Visitors as I can handle. In March, hopefully, I can get back to fiction alongside Alien Visitors and make up for lost time. Apparently my ability to bounce from project to project is not what it used to be.

I’d planned to apply myself to using the pomodoro technique — 25 minutes on, five minutes off, bigger break every 90 minutes or so — regularly this year, but I’m just giving up on that. It’s always been a bit impractical because my big breaks are dictated by dog needs. Now that I’m dealing with Wisp, food deliveries, occasional requests for assistance from TYG and a schedule that’s much less predictable overall, it’s just pointless to try. So I won’t.

On the plus side, doing little mental exercises and such on a daily basis is working out well, though hampered by not having my mornings as free as I used to. So I’ll stick with that. For example setting a reminder in my to-do list to take two photographs a day reminds me to keep looking out for interesting visuals, like this one from our recent cold snap.

I had the sense to put a lot of my goals as conditional on vaccinations: plans to eat out, visit the North Carolina Zoo or drink coffee with someone are contingent on getting vaccinated. Which so far ain’t happening. When it does it will shake up my schedule in lots of ways, as I’ll have many more options for what to do with my time. But that will be a pleasant bridge to cross.

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Lois Lane and fifties films: books read

Tim Hanley’s INVESTIGATING LOIS LANE: The Turbulent History of the Daily Planet’s Ace Reporter shows that Lois Lane is a paradox. On the one hand, she’s one of the world’s best known female characters, a talented, fearless, award-winning reporter. On the other, she’s “Superman’s Girlfriend,” later wife, so even when she has her own book she’s seen as more an attachment to the Superman legend than a hero in her own right. And that’s Lois at her best; at her worst, Superman and his writers (overwhelmingly male) have written her as the butt of the joke who has to be humiliated or taught a lesson, even in her own book. The Curt Swan image here, for example, involves Superman tricking Lois into thinking she has kryptonite vision to teach her a lesson (5,000 in a series).

Since the Silver Age, Lois has gone up and down, embracing feminism, reverting to Superman’s girlfriend, dating Clark for a couple of years, eventually marrying him. But Hanley concludes that hasn’t helped: before the New 52 reboot ended the marriage (it’s been retconned back since) Lois spent most of her time at home with Clark instead of the at the office, and her apparent death was used as a way to torture Superman a half-dozen times. Hanley does a good job covering all this and Lois’s appearances in other media. Despite a couple of minor errors (Lois started her nursing career well before her brief “women’s lib” period), it’s well worth reading.

I reread SEEING IS BELIEVING: How Hollywood Taught Us to Stop Worrying and Love the Fifties by Peter Biskind to see if it provided some insight into 1950s SF films for Alien Visitors. The book is in general an interesting analysis of political themes in 1950s cinema, which Biskind classes as centrist (the system is good. People should trust the army/government/medical establishment and work within the system), radical (the system is a conformist monster. Individualism and rebels are the ones to trust), left-wing (trust the white-collar technocrats or lone geniuses, depending whether you’re centrist or not) or right-wing (trust the GI over the officer, the local cop over DC officials). Thus Biskind sees the 1950s films about the burden of command (as described in The War Film) such as Twelve O’Clock High as liberal centrist: the enlisted men must trust their officers and choose duty to the platoon/battalion/group over saving their buddy.

As to insight, it’s a mixed bag. Biskind’s analysis of The Invasion of the Body Snatchers is that it has an anti-communist message but that’s just a cover for the film to attack American conformism (just as the giant ants of Them are a communist allegory, but just a cover for attacking American radicals). While the film can be interpreted as anti-communist, it wasn’t written that way, nor initially seen that way, and Biskind’s idea of a double-attack is just plain silly. However I do think he has a good point that any criticism of conformity doesn’t translate into supporting non-conformists (that had to wait for the 1978 remake). He does have some interesting points about the role of scientists in the movies and whether trusting the aliens makes them visionaries or fools. So worth the reread.

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Lost and found (my wedding ring that is)

Yep, Wednesday I came in from walking Plushie and as I was getting out dog food, discovered the ring was no longer on my finger. PANIC! I went back outside, couldn’t find it, searched in the house, couldn’t find it, but my gut instinct said it had to be indoors. I’m so used to it now, I don’t think I could go very long without noticing it was off my finger. And sure enough, Thursday I found it wrapped up in the hand towel I’d used — it had slid off my finger during washing. Which has happened before, but not usually without me noticing at once. TYG says I need to get it resized after the pandemic is over.

That was the most dramatic event in a week that was, while not dramatic, quite wearying. TYG took and passed a certification test Monday, after a weekend of cramming. Which is very awesome — I’m proud of her — but the cramming, the testing and then catching up on work sucked up a lot of time. I wound up with lots of extra dog care, often starting early in the morning, which always makes it harder to get my head in the game.

On top of which there was extra Wisp care. It was a cold, snowy week ——and she found central heating much preferable. Which is fine, except that the dogs seem to get more excited about dealing with her the longer she’s in the house (I pray to God this wears off!). Plushie, in particular, freaks out when Wisp has food and he doesn’t, or if she jumps onto the arm of the couch (“The not-a-dog flies! AAAAAH!”). This requires me to put in a lot of time making sure they’re getting along. So far, when the dogs do chase her, they don’t seem to be aggressive as much as playful, and she doesn’t claw or bite. Still when they’re sitting and staring at each other I have to worry. Monday I dropped out of my Shut Up and Write meeting early because I was watching the dogs (usually TYG takes them) and when Wisp came in there was no way I could focus on writing.That uses up a fair amount of mental energy and time. And while Wisp stayed in a couple of nights without mewing for attention, last night she woke me around 11:30 and I could not get back to sleep, even after she left. So feeling really beat today on top of everything else. However we’re going to keep letting her in unless I absolutely can’t stand it — if we want her to be more of an indoor cat (and we do) then I’ll just have to approach this as a transitional period and hope things improve.

And did I mention snow? Which is fricking cold to walk dogs in! Today, when it dipped to the mid-twenties, I had to walk both dogs at breakfast. Not comfortable.

Despite all of which, I did get a fair amount done, though my schedule was a crazy patchwork (up early, then nap, do exercises mid-day instead of morning, etc.). I got a full quota of Leaf articles in and I watched a lot movies for Alien Visitors. I’d hoped to write some chapters too, but while I was capable of noting down observations about the films, I didn’t have enough energy or focus to actually write them into even a rough chapter draft. And my cover artist emailed me back about Questionable Minds but I haven’t been sharp enough to really respond.

I intend to rest up this weekend, then start fresh on Monday if, as they say, the good lord is willing and the creek don’t rise. And our menagerie is reasonably cooperative.

At least I’m confident I won’t lose the ring again!

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Aliens, both hostile and friendly: movies viewed (with some spoilers)

The Asylum found a successful business model when it began releasing “mockbusters” of current theatrical hits such as Avengers: Grimm or Transmorphers. 2005’s H.G. WELLS’ WAR OF THE WORLDS was a mockbuster of Spielberg’s War of the Worlds that manages to rise above the usual Asylum level, though it doesn’t rise very far. C. Thomas Howell plays “George Herbert,” an astronomer who due to work blows off a trip to DC with his partner and their kid; after the usual meteors-that-aren’t-meteors strike and unleash their cargo, George sets out to find his family (as I noted in the previous War of the Worlds post, a common theme), hoping against hope they’re still alive.

This takes the religious elements of the 1953 film and amps them up big time: George winds up walking part of the way — the roads are blocked — with a priest who’s initially convinced this is all part of God’s plan, so we’ve nothing to fear; later he becomes convinced that the virtuous have been Raptured and he’s been left behind as unworthy. The alien battle vehicles are different from the Spielberg tripods in that they’re six-legged insectoid-style machines (as Wells’ Martians used tripods, I wonder if this was to minimize any legal problems with the Spielberg?). The biggest change is that George injects one of the invaders with rabies from a lab in the hope of infecting them, though for all he or we know, they died of ordinary germs just as in the original.

Overall this is forgettable, but watchable, with reasonably adequate F/X. That said, I doubt I’d ever have watched if I wasn’t working on Alien Visitors. “God rewards the faithful George — he doesn’t punish them.”

I was much more entertained by Netflix’ WE CAN BE HEROES (2020), in which the Justice League/Avengers-like Heroics go up against an alien invasion, and promptly go down. Their government watchdogs hide the kids inside the Heroics’ base, but the aliens are closing in so the kids go on the offensive. Unfortunately, they’re not ready for prime time: Missy (YaYa Gosselin) has no powers, Wild Card has every power possible but no control over which one manifests, Slo-Mo has super-speed but warps time so that he still moves super-slowly. It turns out, though, that the aliens are actually helpful: believing the older generation has failed, they want to force the Heroics’ kids to step up and become the heroes the world needs. The results are pleasantly amusing; if you’re a fan of The Adventures of Shark Boy and Lava Girl, this is a quasi-sequel (with the same director/writer, Robert Rodriguez) with the grown-up characters among the Heroics and their daughter Guppy as one of the kids. “‘We can be heroes/Just for one day’ — I know, I know, but it was just sitting there!”

My memory of Stephen Spielberg’s CLOSE ENCOUNTERS OF THE THIRD KIND (1977) was that it was blandly amiable with Richard Dreyfuss spending a shit ton of time making mountains out of mashed potatoes. I wasn’t quite right about that element, but I still find it bland and largely uninteresting.

Dreyfuss plays a Midwestern man who witnesses a UFO (in a nice moment it appears to be a car behind him on the road until it rises into the air) while Melinda Dillon plays a mom in the same town whose son has been abducted. They find a strange compulsion drawing them across country to the Devil’s Rock in Wyoming, which turns out to be where the military are preparing for first contact.

Part of the problem is that the movie makes no sense. We don’t know what the aliens want, and their treatment of Dillon is both scary and inexplicable (what’s the point in trashing her kitchen?). We don’t learn why they’ve singled out Dillon and Dreyfuss for contact. And hell, they’ve kept a group of U.S. pilots in their ship for decades, which is not acceptable conduct (and their compulsions destroy Dreyfuss’ marriage to Teri Garr). We’re supposed to forget all that and just feel a sense of wonder, but I don’t feel enough to suspend my disbelief. As an SF fan since childhood, I don’t find “aliens have contacted us” inherently interesting even when it looks this good — what matters is why and what comes next? Though that said, lots of SF fans do adore this one.

The film does serve as a grab-bag of UFOlogy elements at the time, like the mysterious military cover-up (which would be echoed in countless later films such as Official Denial); it gave back by establishing the “Greys” as the default image of alien visitors (it had only been one of several up to that point). And it made me appreciate one difference between a film like this and reality is that the UFOs are here are undoubtedly real — despite a mistaken identification at one point (a UFO turns out to be a helicopter) the onesDreyfuss saw is unquestionably real. “What I need is something so scary it’ll clear 300 square miles of every living Christian soul.”

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This harrows me with dread and awe

This was a much better week than last week.

You may recall my big disappointment (if you don’t recall, click on the link!) was running into a plot hole at the climax of Questionable Minds. This week, I sat down and started doodling ideas and presto, I found the solution. I’ll want to look over the ending again, but the book is done. I also completed the footnotes of Undead Sexist Cliches so that’s done too. That explains the awe.

The dread is that now I’m going to release them into the world. Self-published stuff, and not previously published like the stories in Atlas Shagged or Atoms for Peace. And much more substantial than Sex for Dinner, Death for Breakfast. I feel the inevitable trepidation — what if despite all my work, they suck? What if nobody buys them, like, ever? But regardless I’m forging ahead (well of course).

I did have a talented friend working on the cover for Questionable Minds but I think over the course of the pandemic she’s wound up checking out. Which I didn’t worry about when I was slogging through the middle of the book, but now? Kind of need it. So if I don’t get a response to my recent “how’s it going?” I’ll have to hunt elsewhere. Darn it. And also for Undead Sexist Cliches. Though that one’s slightly easier as I have a good idea what I want.  Assuming I can find a cover artist, I’ll be done with both before my birthday. The biggest obstacle will be indexing Undead Sexist Cliches for the hard copy version.

Dread, but definitely awe.

Other than the two books, I did some leafs, watched some movies for Alien Visitors and wrote some of the chapters. I’d hoped to work on some short stories, but no, the added demands of dog care ate into that. Still, I’m pleased with what I accomplished.

Definitely some awe.

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Second verse, same as the first

Which is to say, this week’s productivity wasn’t an improvement over last week, though the problems were different.

It started Friday night when we decided to keep Wisp in overnight. She doesn’t like being left downstairs by herself — she’s very wary about going upstairs — and around 12:30 her mewing for attention woke me up. I thought she wanted to go out, but no, she just wanted someone to sit with her. There was much petting and belly scritching, then she settled down and went to sleep on the couch cushion next to me. I, however, had no such luck. Sleep was shot for the night.

Sunday, more of the same, plus Plushie had the squirtles. TYG took him outside the first time, then I did, and then he and I settled in downstairs with Wisp. That would make it simpler if he had to go out yet again, which he did; after that, he went to sleep but again, I didn’t. And sleep Saturday and Sunday did not make up for the minimal night sleep. So I started Monday sleep-deprived and never made it up. The sense from last week that my mornings are too busy with pets and I have to get up extra early to get any work done didn’t help. The result was that I spent most of my week a little bit off peak condition.

That being the case, I pretty much dropped my initial plans and focused on the big stuff: more stuff watched for Alien Visitors, some minor formatting for Undead Sexist Cliches and finishing up Questionable Minds. Wednesday, despite all the distractions and lack of sleep, I was optimistic I’d have it done this week, but the last couple of chapter had problems. One was that a key scene involves a convenient oil lamp, but as the house is equipped with gas jets, there’s no real reason they’d have an oil lamp there. That proved relatively simple to fix, but then came the big finish where the bad guy buys it … and for some reason, it doesn’t work. I think I see a way to fix it, but it didn’t occur to me until too late today.

My schedule was also complicated because when Leaf articles were posted for writing it was at odd hours and moments. Normally I adapt to that pretty well but with my brain already foggy that didn’t go well. Still I got some done, and money coming in is always a good thing. And the dogs and Wisp are getting a little more relaxed about having each other around. Only a little, but it’s a good sign.#SFWApro.

 

 

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“The biggest thing ever to happen to our world!” Movies viewed for Alien Visitors

Alien Visitors will, of course, cover Alien Invasion films so I’ve been watching a few. In the few I’ve seen already (including Day of the Triffids) some patterns and tropes are becoming noticeable.

There’s the military, struggling heroically against the enemy until someone — typically a super-smart scientist — figures out a solution. There’s chaos as everyone loses their shit and panics — it’s every human for themselves, dragging drivers out of vehicles to take them and escape. There’s the desperate need to evacuate cities and people wandering around an empty downtown (e.g., Target Earth). Frequently someone searching for a lost love or family member. And the destruction of countless monuments — the Capitol building in DC, the Eiffel Tower. Not that all of these elements are present in every single movie, but they’re common enough, I think, to count as genre tropes. Though I may revise the list after watching a few more.

The movie I’ll build the chapter around is, logically, WAR OF THE WORLDS (1953), George Pal’s superb adaptation of the Wells novel (seen on my library’s Criterion DVD so it looks gorgeous and bulges with special features). Set in the present, it starts with an opening reminding us of technology’s role in WW I, WW II and the atomic age — and now we face a new battle against weapons of super-science, a … War of the Worlds (the quote in the title is from the trailer, included on the DVD). Then Cedric Hardwicke’s narration discusses how the intellects of Mars, a cold and inhospitable world, had decided it was time to relocate: scanning the Solar System it becomes obvious Earth is the most viable alternative. Before long what appears to be a meteor lands in Southern California, drawing the attention of excited locals — what a tourist attraction! — and Forrester (Gene Barry), a brilliant scientist fishing in the area.

When it turns out it’s not a meteor, the military step in, but to no effect. Unusually for a 1950s SF film, neither is science: neither the atom bomb nor anything else can stop the eerie alien ships and their horrific heat rays. Forrester’s role is to run, protect pretty Sylvia (Ann Robinson) and fall in love with her.It’s an excellent film; the emphasis on religion at the climax would probably annoy the agnostic H.G. but it feels appropriate for the film. While some people dislike Forrester falling desperately hard for Sylvia after knowing her so briefly, I can accept that kind of rapid love as a fictional convention. It might not have seemed strange at all to people coming out of WW II, when rushed romance before a soldier shipped out was a thing (check out the Judy Garland film The Clock as an example).

And those alien ships are just gorgeous, like manta rays with a serpentine tentacle/eye stalk rising out of them. The aliens are indeed alien, doing everything in threes even though, as the commentary track points out, one ship alone is unstoppable. Indeed, that’s something of a weakness: unlike Wells novel and the first drafts of Barré Lyndon’s script the ships are absolutely unbeatable. That ramps up the threat but it makes talk of heroic resistance around the world (and the movie does make it clear this is a global fight) kind of pointless — fight or run, it doesn’t make a difference. Overall, though, this is a great film. “Once they begin to move, no more news comes out of that area.”

Stephen Spielberg’s  WAR OF THE WORLDS (2005) has Tom Cruise as a hardhat jerk who finds himself struggling to keep his family alive during an invasion by — well, not Martians, but comparably  nasty aliens. In contrast to the ’53, this has a real feeling of despair about it, as the characters go up against unstoppable force with superior technology and struggle to survive, usually by running (though Cruise does find a way to take down a tripod at one point). Just as Wells used the aliens to question British colonialism — this is what it’s like being a tribesman with an assegai facing a Gatling gun! — I assumed Spielberg was making a point about our invasion and occupation of Iraq. Instead the film’s tone (as I learned from some interviews) was actually meant to reflect our shock and horror at 9/11 which feels slightly ridiculous to me. Sure, 9/11 was a shocking moment in history, but despite all the propaganda about the terrible threat of Muslim terrorism it was never comparable to the aliens here (“They defeated the greatest power on Earth in a couple of days.”).

A bigger problem is that unlike the Pal version, the aliens don’t make any sense. They teleported their tripods to Earth millennia ago, buried underground — Spielberg wanted an alternative to coming down from the sky — but why are they only now teleporting down to activate them? Why are they disintegrating humans when they see us as a food source? And while the tripods are impressive, they feel, I don’t know, more F/Xish than the sinister ships of the Pal version.  “Watch the lightning — that is them.”

EARTH VS. THE FLYING SAUCERS (1956) is Ray Harryhausen’s War of the Worlds riff (he’s one of many filmmakers who unsuccessfully pitched adapting the book over the years) in which UFOs demand the Earth surrender — though despite the title, the battle focuses almost entirely on Washington DC, which gives the alien ships a chance to destroy prominent memorials and crash into the Capitol building after they go down in defeat. The movie shows the influence from the Pal film — both movies have a similar discussion of the spaceships’ mechanical eye, for instance and these have a similar force-field — but it doesn’t catch fire the same way (protagonist Hugh Marlowe doesn’t have anything as intense as Gene Barry’s search for Robinson to occupy him, for instance).  However the ships are absolutely awesome, with far more personality than the aliens inside them. “Earth, crippled by these events, waited for the first sign of an invasion from outer space!”

COLOR OUT OF SPACE (2020) has Nicolas Cage and his family raising alpacas on his late parents’ farm when a chartreuse-glowing meteor (one drawback to doing this in color is that the meteor doesn’t get to be a color never seen before by human eyes) crashes to Earth, causing a catalog of ominous effects ranging from telephone static to mutations and insane behavior. This H.P Lovecraft adaptation got several good reviews, but I just found it aimless — all the weirdness never adds up to any sort of building tension, let alone horror. Karloff’s Die, Monster Die adaptation of the story was more fun. “It smells like someone burned a dog.”

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I don’t think the black-eyed peas I ate New Years Day brought that much luck

Because my first work week of the New Year was kind of a mess. Still the hopping John was quite tasty

Monday went great, actually. I watched the 1953 and 2005 War of the Worlds for Alien Visitors and wrote a rough draft of the Alien Invaders chapter (Wells’ work and its adaptations will be the main focus). For the first time in a couple of months I seemed capable of organizing my thoughts, catching the key details of Alien Invader movies — it felt great! I also did another spell-check on Undead Sexist Cliches (good move — Word spellcheck caught a lot that Scrivener didn’t) and started rewriting an old short story, Love That Moves the Sun, to read to the writers’ group Tuesday. I’d thought a relatively cursory rewrite would get it in at least good enough shape for presenting, but I was wrong. About 2,000 words in I started seeing the need for substantial changes, but that’s actually good: I haven’t really had an idea how to fix this but maybe my brain’s coming up with something. Unfortunately part of the fix will be turning it into at least novella length — the ending doesn’t work and to reach one that does, I’ll need an expansion — and  I still  don’t know where it goes beyond the original story.

However, the response from the group on Tuesday was very positive, so I’m encouraged to keep working on it. I got the standard criticisms I always receive — needs more detail on the setting, things happen too damn fast — and they’re absolutely right. Slowing it down and filling in detail will improve it and perhaps somewhere in there I’ll see how to expand it successfully.

Tuesday I did some more Alien Visitors work. And then Wednesday the shit hit the fan. No, not Trump’s attempted coup, at least not at first. It was Plushie: he needs heat applied to his hip joint every day, and we’ve started doing it in the morning so we don’t let it slide (he gets painfully stiff if we skip it for a few days). Coupled with other dog stuff and coping with Wisp, I wound up starting work about 90 minutes late, which put me off my game for much of the day. I’d intended to make up the time in the evening, but then I heard about the attack on Congress and spent the rest of the afternoon on into the evening doomposting. And not the fun Doom either.

Thursday and Friday I did more doomposting. And I had either Wisp or Trixie down with me in the early morning. That’s the only time I really feel is private, because nobody’s up; normally I can adapt when pets intrude (I won’t send them away) but this time I was stressed enough that petting and watching over them became like chaff in my brain. And then Thursday afternoon we had an appointment at the rehab vet.

Today I did a little better with Wisp lying next to me. But then TYG was doing something techie and I had to get off the Internet for an hour and help her with grunt work, so that cost an hour, plus I was hardly focused when the Internet came back up. So since Tuesday all I’ve done is a small number of Leaf articles.

Frustrating, but hopefully the hopping John will kick in after this.

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Filed under Nonfiction, Short Stories, Story Problems, The Dog Ate My Homework, Time management and goals, Undead Sexist Cliches: The Book, Writing

What rough year slouches towards Bethlehem, ready to be born?

Welcome to 2021. While I can imagine all kinds of ways in which it could be worse for me than last year, I’m nonetheless feeling hopeful that it’ll be better. And that I’ll do better with my goals, particularly writing goals. I’ve run over what worked and what hasn’t worked, plus what has to work (Alien Invaders is due in October, so I’d better be ready). I’m probably still a little optimistic, but not unattainably so. But I’m making hopping John today because Southern tradition says that brings in the good luck. And it’ll be tasty, so why not?

The two immediate goals are to self-publish Undead Sexist Cliches and Questionable Minds. Deadline: My birthday. It’s doable (the one big obstacle might be indexing USC) assuming my cover artist for the novel delivers and I can find a cover artist for USC. Later in the year, I’ll publish a short story collection, Magic Through History, with a mix of published and unpublished shorts. Though I will be submitting the unpublished stuff so it’s possible some of them will be off the table.

I want to finish three short stories — okay, I’d like to finish more than that, but I think that’s doable. That includes finishing Oh the Places You’ll Go! and rewriting my first published story, The Adventures of the Red Leech (which I wrote about here last year).

I want to finish my new draft of Impossible Takes a Little Longer, submit it to beta readers and finish a redraft based on their suggestions. That’s the schedule where I’m really pushing it, but I enjoy writing novels and I want to push on this so why not?

I also have odds and ends: try making YouTube videos, earn at least $20,000, prepare my “writing estate” (so TYG knows what I have out and where the rights are tied up) and pitch several articles and columns. I haven’t had much luck with either (outside of my Leaf articles) but it’s worth a shot, and I have some ideas that might sell.

In the personal field, I want to make my exercise schedule more demanding, and improve my diet: not that it’s massively unhealthy but upping my fruit and vegetable intake can’t hurt. I want to bicycle as much as two hours at least once, and walk six miles at some point, both of which are beyond my current range. I’m planning carefully so that I can (hopefully) work up to that level of intensity.

And there’s a bunch of activities and goals that apply if and when it’s safe to walk outside and mingle with people again. Hopefully not too long.

I want to increase my reading; obviously I read a lot already, but there’s so much to read and there’s more books I can squeeze in if I focus better (with dogs and Wisp, it’s sometimes hard). I also plan to keep improving my photography, just because it’s fun. As a token of which, here’s a recent image from a late night walk.I wish y’all the best for 2021. Let’s roll.

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Christmas and aliens: some movie/TV reviews

While it’s not as well known as their “I thought turkeys could fly” Thanksgiving episode, the “Bah, Humbug!” episode of WKRP IN CINCINNATI is every bit as entertaining. Station head Mr. Carlson is stiffing everyone on bonuses so he can buy new equipment and impress his “Genghis Khan of a mother” with his business savvy. Then he downs one of Johnny Fever’s brownies and finds himself trapped in one of “those Charles Dickens Christmas Carol” dreams. While I intend to acquire the whole series in DVD, this time out I just watched on YouTube, which revealed the syndicated off-air rerun I recorded for annual viewing actually has some funny moments cut. “I want my grandmother to see Eight Is Enough on a color TV set just once before she dies.”

Rewatching HOW THE GRINCH STOLE CHRISTMAS gave me fresh appreciation for how much Chuck Jones’ imagination adds to this classic. It’s a great story and Boris Karloff’s narration is amazing, but Jones makes it far more visually inventive than it needed to be. For example, the sequence in which the Grinch steels the ornaments off a tree by treating them like billiard balls and sending them ricocheting into a sack. “And then the true meaning of Christmas shone through — and the Grinch found the strength of three grinches plus two!”

MADAGASCAR was a Christmas special spinning off from the movie. When King Julian’s forces shoot down the red-clad sky demon who pelts Julian with Cole every December 24th, the zoo animal protagonists realize Santa is lying in front of them unconscious. Can they take over his route and save the day, despite the longstanding Cold War between penguins and reindeer (“Santa operated out of the South Pole until they tempted him to the Arctic with offers of low-wage elf labor!”)! Cute. “Everyone wept tears of joy when they beheld the wonder of the infant Julian.”

Despite some glowing reviews, I found myself bored by THE VAST OF NIGHT (2020), a 1950s SF drama in which a radio DJ and a switchboard-operator-cum-science nerd discover a mysterious signal. Calls to the radio show claim there’s something up in space, manipulating and controlling us, so off our heroes go to investigate … I really like the female nerd but otherwise this felt somehow recycled from bits of better stuff. And the trick of introducing it as an episode of a Twilight Zone-style anthology served no purpose. “In the future, everyone will be assigned a phone number at birth, for life.”

LIQUID SKY (1983) isn’t good but it’s certainly not boring. This SF drama mostly focuses on backstabbing, feuding and relationships in New York’s punk scene, complicated by aliens showing up and killing one model’s lovers mid-sex to drain their pleasure hormones. I described it to a friend as “the kind of movie you’d have enjoyed watching stoned in college.“In the beginning, aliens were spotted in areas with large amounts of heroin.”

Back to Christmas — HOLLY STAR (2020) is the tedious story of a young puppeteer who returns broke and jobless to her home town and becomes obsessed with unearthing a treasure she’s convinced she saw Santa Claus bury when she was a kid. Didn’t work for me.

JINGLE JANGLE (2020) didn’t particularly work for me, but I may have just been too frazzled to enjoy it. A black cast, headed by Forrest Whittaker, tells the musical story of the eponymous genius toymaker who ages into an embittered recluse after his assistant betrays him and steals his designs. Years later, however, his granddaughter appears, determined to put right what went wrong and reconnected her grandfather to the human race. I’ll try this again next year.

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