sci fi

Stuff I Liked in 2016, pt. 1 – Books

According to my Goodreads page, I finished 30 books in 2016, which proves that even in today’s era of bite-size, high speed information intake, I still love nothing more than telling people how many books I’ve read. Here are the top five (from any year).

Watership Down by Richard AdamsWatership Down
by Richard Adams
I’ve always said that Watership Down is one of my favorite novels, but it’s been so many years since I first read it that I worried going back to it I’d find it hadn’t kept up with me. It has. This is a true all-ages book.

I realize now that as a child one reason Watership Down was so important to me is that it guided me into grown-up ideas–most notably that life involves shocking change and loss and requires bravery to face them–but at age 41, if I were reading it without preconceptions, I can’t imagine I’d label it a children’s story. That’s because its themes have only become more essential to me as I’ve aged. I’m able to more deeply plumb them, and Adams’s book matured with me to help me examine how bravery intertwines with the concepts that are most important to me now: compassion, responsibility, modeling behavior. Being a grown-up.

That aside, Watership Down is epic fantasy the way it should be written, with a rich world, thrilling set pieces, and memorable characters (Hazel is still one of my favorite heroes in all of literature). As a writer, I envy Adams’s acute originality in conceiving a rabbit adventure within the bounds of scientific reality and the rigor he employed to pull it of. As a guy who wishes he had a metal band, I would definitely name it Hazel-Rah.

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How Star Wars: The Radio Drama Pre-Copied Special Relativity

Today I started listening to Star Wars: The Radio Drama produced in 1981 by NPR. It’s five hours long, so it includes several original scenes not even hinted at in the movie, including one that prefaces the film’s opening encounter between Princess Leia and the Empire. In it Leia is confronted by Lord Tion, an Impreial Doofus who tries to get into her pants.

I immediately noticed an eerie similarity between the performance of John Considine as Tion and the performance of James Urbaniak as Mr. Wandell in my own sci-fi radio show, Special Relativity. I created a short video with a side-by-side comparison of the two. It’s uncanny. Listen:

As I edited the clips, I realized how strangely alike these two scenes are. Leia (played by Ann Sachs) and Nox (played by Alex Borstein) both confront men they disdain. Wandell gets all smarmy because he’s afraid Nox is going to kill him; Tion gets all smarmy because he wants to boink Leia. Mine ends with an exploding tripe bomb; I think Star Wars does too.

As far as I know, neither James nor I had heard Star Wars: The Radio Drama before, so this isn’t copying. Special Relativity does involve time travel, so I’m obligated to think this might be some sort of pre-copying on the part of the Lucas people. Either way, it’s clearly a sign that I’m sitting on a multi-billion dollar empire. Finally.

Stuff I Liked in 2015, pt. 3 – Movies

Looking at the list of movies I enjoyed the most in 2015, it occurs to me that it’s a list my 12-year-old self would’ve carefully curated in his imagination as some kind of unattainable ideal. 1Even more so when considering that I also bolted out the door to see a new 007 movie this year. As a Very Mature Adult, that makes me a little disappointed in myself, especially in light of the mass societal infantilization that befell America as Star Wars approached. But the writer Mark Leyner once said that it’s the responsibility of artists to provide joy, so I’ve decided to happily accept a year of joyous, purely cinematic movies about how we become better individual humans.

ChappieChappie
Yeah, that’s right; I’m picking Chappie. This movie became the butt of so many jokes that I’m not sure anyone actually saw it. I can’t blame them, since no one could look at the trailers and posters without thinking, “Number Five is alive!” I wouldn’t have seen it myself it hadn’t shown up in the $2 theater on an afternoon when I was feeling particularly sad and sorry for myself and needed to step out of my life. Chappie turned out to be the perfect remedy, because it’s designed to remind us that being an adult necessitates understanding and dealing with our emotions in hard ways that most of us are unwilling to tackle. The moment when Chappie finally becomes a grown-up is the most touching one I saw this year, and I sat alone in the dark and cried.



Inside OutInside Out
Speaking of movies about dealing with adult emotions. Maybe the most impressive thing about Inside Out is that someone thought to produce it– to create a movie not just to induce feelings in children but to make them recognize and begin to understand their feelings. As an adult struggling with my own mental health, my psychiatrist told me something that I’d wished I’d figured out decades earlier: that one’s goal shouldn’t be to live on a plane of eternal happiness, but instead to experience the normal range of emotions that humans require. Luckily kids now have an experience as enjoyable as Inside Out to get them started on that idea.

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1. Even more so when considering that I also bolted out the door to see a new 007 movie this year.

Here is Orson Welles’s “The War of the Worlds” and the Reasons Why You Should Listen to It

Orson Welles on the air with the Mercury Theatre

Update, May 7, 2015: Yesterday would’ve been Orson Welles’s 100th birthday. I originally wrote the piece below in 2012 when raising money for the pilot episode of my radio comedy Special Relativity. That show came to fruition last month, starring Alex Borstein, and you can listen to the first episode at SpecialRelativityRadio.com or on iTunes.

As today’s incentive to get you to donate to Special Relativity’s sprint to raise $125 a day for the next 20 18 days, I’m giving you a gift of my favorite radio show ever, which also happens to be one of the most important works of art of the 20th century. (I know that the way these pledge drives usually work is that I give you the gift after you donate, but we’re all family here, and if I had any business acumen I wouldn’t have driven six miles yesterday to save $1 on a box of Fruity Pebbles.)

The show isn’t comedy, but it is science fiction. It’s the Mercury Theatre’s adaptation of H.G. Wells’s The War of the Worlds, first broadcast on CBS Radio October 30, 1938, produced/directed by and starring Orson Welles. You can stream or download the entire hour-long broadcast after the jump, though you’re obligated to read through my explanation of why you should think it’s great. 1I should mention that the reason I’ve decided that it’s okay for me to distribute this recording is that the question of who, if anyone, owns the copyright to old broadcasts like this one is very unsettled. That’s partly because at this point nobody really gives a shit. And while the estate of the show’s writer Howard Koch unquestionably holds the rights to the script, those don’t extend to the actual broadcast. Lots of folks with no claim to the material at all make money by selling CDs and MP3s of the broadcast, so I figure I can give it to the world for free.

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1. I should mention that the reason I’ve decided that it’s okay for me to distribute this recording is that the question of who, if anyone, owns the copyright to old broadcasts like this one is very unsettled. That’s partly because at this point nobody really gives a shit. And while the estate of the show’s writer Howard Koch unquestionably holds the rights to the script, those don’t extend to the actual broadcast. Lots of folks with no claim to the material at all make money by selling CDs and MP3s of the broadcast, so I figure I can give it to the world for free.

Help Me Destroy the Universe


Nearly three years ago, a bunch of people gave me money. Some of them did so because I bet them I could eat a wasp nest, but most of them were supporting my IndieGoGo campaign to fund my idea for a scripted podcast series Special Relativity, a sci-fi/comedy about the most evil woman on Earth, who travels back in time and kidnaps her younger self in a last-ditch attempt to save existence.

Despite their generosity, the campaign raised only twenty percent of its goal. With a lack of funds, I shelved the project while I awaited a more perfect future. TODAY, THAT MORE PERFECT FUTURE HAS (not) ARRIVED! Nevertheless,

I’m happy to announce that a 22-minute pilot episode of Special Relativity will debut online this spring.

Last year’s unprecedented success of the true-crime podcast Serial convinced me that the time was right for scripted radio to re-enter the online world. 1I say “re-enter” because 14 years ago, before there were such things as podcasts, or for that matter even iPods, I created a scripted online “radio” series for the children’s network Noggin. Radio Noggin streamed via RealAudio, a service which some of you might remember was almost as good as receiving shortwave broadcasts through your dental fillings. Anyway, you can listen to a highlight reel from the show here. But since the IndieGoGo money (plus my own contribution) isn’t enough to produce an entire first season, I’m making one episode. If people like it, I’ll find a way to make more. For now I can reveal the title of the premiere episode:

“First We Destroy the Universe”

I’m able to (barely) fund the pilot because I repaired and sold my 1968 Mercedes-Benz 250S. While I’m glad that makes this podcast project seem like an outtake from Darkness on the Edge of Town, sadly I have no more Mercedes to sell, let alone one per episode. The production could still desperately use money. So if you think you’ll like Special Relativity, or if you like me, please:

Meanwhile, stay tuned for more updates soon. Next up: the cast!

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1. I say “re-enter” because 14 years ago, before there were such things as podcasts, or for that matter even iPods, I created a scripted online “radio” series for the children’s network Noggin. Radio Noggin streamed via RealAudio, a service which some of you might remember was almost as good as receiving shortwave broadcasts through your dental fillings. Anyway, you can listen to a highlight reel from the show here.

Stuff I Liked in 2014, pt. 3 – Movies

We’re approaching a cashless society, demonstrated by the fact that my cashlessness prevents me from going to the movies. That turned my previous year-end film lists into the pitiful act of me ranking the few movies I’d seen in descending order of shittiness. Not this year! Thanks in part to free screenings, in 2014 I finally saw enough new movies to be able to pick a handful that aren’t shitty at all.

UPDATE! 12/26/14: The day after I wrote this, I saw a movie that’s funny, exciting, beautiful to look at, effortlessly teaches compassion. This one definitely deserves to be added to my list.

 
Big EyesBig Eyes

There’s a strange phenomenon that occurs whenever Tim Burton makes a movie set in the real world. Something about his Timburtoness sets everything just slightly off kilter, so that I feel like I’m watching a movie based on the movie I’m watching. That’s not a good thing for Big Eyes, which at its core is a simple story about marital strife, albeit especially bizarre marital strife between the artist Margaret Keane and her whacked-out pseudo-artist husband Walter Keane. But Big Eyes withstands that witchery, thanks to a funny and moving script by the kings of biopics, Scott Alexander & Larry Karaszewski, 1Ed Wood, The People vs. Larry Flynt, Man on the Moon and thanks especially to the performances by the everyone involved, most notably Christoph Waltz as Walter, wearing a smile as big and fake as a Tim Burton sandworm.

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1. Ed Wood, The People vs. Larry Flynt, Man on the Moon

A Very Madej Halloween

IMG_20141027_112957
Summer Block invited me and Sophie to her retro-futuristic Halloween party, and this is what happened. Sophie made the costumes herself, except for the head in the jar, which required use of my evil twin that I keep kept locked in my attic. 1Actually it’s a very clever design by Instructables user mikeasaurus.

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1. Actually it’s a very clever design by Instructables user mikeasaurus.