Tuesday, February 9, 2016

The Martian Review

When I heard a movie of Andy Weir's fantastic book "The Martian" was being made I was very excited. I listened to it on CD (R.C. Bray's reading was wonderful) and was completely riveted. Which was funny because, as I stated in the review for the book, the narrative is so chock full of minutia that I was amazed it kept my interest. I mean, knowing he may be stuck on Mars for years Mark Watney the protagonist has to not only parcel out his food and water rations, he has to figure out a way to get more. He does this by figuring out an ingenious, if rather disgusting but necessary way to provide fertilizer to dead Martian soil. He is a botonist after all who realizes that he's going to have to "science the shit" out of the situation in order to survive. And STS he does, ciphering how many potatoes could be grown from the potatoes in his rations. He needs to figure out the amount of soil he'll need, the amount of water he'll need, what he'll need to do to make that water (yes, he even figures out a way to make water) and how to accomplish it all in the Hab (The Habitat) the shelter that was erected for the scientists to live while they stayed on Mars. We're talking major algebraic soliloquies here. And yet I was engrossed.

And much later in the novel when the story shifted from Watney's first person to a third person account of NASA discovering he was still alive and deciding to mount a mission to save him, the hard science kept right on rolling. 

Andy Weir scienced the shit out of the whole novel but you didn't mind even if you didn't quite get all of it cause the notes of tension were so expertly played. 

Which leads me to the movie. It had many positive qualities in particular the respect for science as the problem solver. There were no big explosions, no easy answers. This was Sci Fi not fantasy. The sort of Sci Fi movie you don't often see.

I missed the chance to see the movie in the theaters. Judging by what I was seeing on my TV, I can only imagine how gorgeous it looked on the big screen. It's a beautiful film--wonderfully shot, particularly the Martian landscape which looked a lot like the American Southwest.

That could have been part of my problem with the movie. Now again this is Sci Fi and as we all know from Mars rover photos, the surface of Mars resembles a desert on Earth. I didn't expect the director to throw in giant Martian crabs or flesh eating fauna to thrill me into believing this was an alien world. But by the same token, nothing made me really feel as though this was anything more than a guy who's been through a desert on a horse with no name. Yes, he's in a space suit or encased in a "hab" (habitat with artificial air) but it didn't seem like it would be a big deal if he parked and stepped out for a breath of fresh air.

There, perhaps, is the rub. I felt no real sense of urgency in the film. Certainly not the heightened sense of urgency that came through in the book.

There were two things especially that were ever present in my mind while listening to the book. First was that at least initially it seemed every time Watney took a step forward to ensure his survival, something came up to push him back. I can't tell you how many times I bellowed, "No!" in the car as the latest mini crisis challenged Watney's survival. It literally was always something.

Then there was the monotony of his existence. Again, the minutia. Before he could make grand plans on meeting up wit the next Mars mission to arrive in a few years, he had to work out the details of his existence until that time: grow potatoes, create the soil, make the water, figure out air rations, etc. Establishing the routine so that he could then free up some time to think long term.

And speaking of long term, here's possibly the key: Watney would have to survive on Mars for years. The manned mission he's holding on for isn't due for four years. When NASA discovers he's alive and decides to mount a rescue mission, the rocket they're going to use hasn't been completed yet and even with a stepped up schedule it won't be for months. Once launched it won't reach Mars for years. In a push button world, that concept is big!

But I didn't get that sense from the movie.

Part of it could have been the way the story was told in the movie. In the book, we're hanging with Mr. Watney for a good portion of the beginning, as marooned as he is in some respects, uncertain if he can figure out a way to contact NASA. We're privy to every genius idea he comes up with to fix the latest problem that has challenged his existence, and we're there as he painstakingly implements the solution. 

About halfway through, the narrative shifts. Someone at NASA has discovered that vehicles have been moving on the surface of Mars and brings it to the attention of her boss. Time is spent to figure out if indeed Watney could still be alive, time is spent figuring out if a rescue mission is even feasible. We go from Watney's one man first person narrative to a third person narrative filled with a cast of characters ensconced safely on Earth.

Spending so much time with Watney first clearly establishes the loneliness of his predicament. Rescue, if it comes, which he isn't sure it will, won't come for years. A lot of time for him to run up against that one problem that he just can't fix. The urgency of the situation did not come through as clearly for me as I watched the movie. 

Time seemed to pass too quickly, a feeling only heightened by the "Starman" montage that appeared as we saw scenes of NASA and Watney working on their parts in the rescue mission. Don't get me wrong, it was a cool clip, but it did little to give me a sense of the weight of time hanging over the project, or for that matter the sheer scope of what they were undertaking.

None of that is to say the film was bad. It's definitely worth view and I regret not seeing it on the big screen. I just wish I could have gotten as wrapped up in watching the movie as I did in listening to the book. 

Monday, February 8, 2016

Something about the Beatles

Anyone who knows me knows I LOVE the Beatles. Absolute all time, full stop, no more entries, submissions are closed favorite group. Always loved them ("Yellow Submarine" was played on WGN in Chicago I believe around Easter every year and it was something I always tried to catch); fell in love with them when I was twelve and I saw "A Hard Day's Night" played on TV. My sister actually bought "Wings at the Speed of Sound" (she was never a huge Beatles fan) and I fell in love with the album. I remember buying "The White Album from" The Record People, a record store a few blocks away, and insisting that my sister listen to it cause it was so incredible (I don't think she ever listened to it, but she humored me and told she liked it). 

So I love the Beatles. They make me happy. Listening to them makes me happy. Watching them in movies and various performances makes me happy. And I will probably wax poetic on them every so often.

Right now I want to introduce you to a fantastic podcast about the Beatles by two Beatles "historians" and authors Richard Ruskin and Robert Rodriguez who do a podcast called "Something About the Beatles". The podcasts examines various things surrounding the Beatles (for example the podcast I'm listening to now concerns the myths that are part of the Beatles story). 

I highly recommend listening to this whether you're a Beatles fan or not. The hosts are incredibly knowledgeable and are very good on the "radio." And it's an fascinating part of history. This band, four guys from modest means, most who couldn't read music, changed so much about music and culture. It's astonishing. And when you listen to these podcasts, you get an idea of just how important they were. 

So tune in and enjoy Something About the Beatles.

Wednesday, November 25, 2015

Ujaali Prologue

I've recorded myself reading the prologue to Ujaali. Hope you like it. 

Ujaali is available on Amazon in paperback and Kindle formats.

To Touch the Sun is also available on Amazon in both formats.

Monday, November 23, 2015

Ujaali Book Trailer

Well the new book trailer is here for Ujaali, the second book in the Chicago Vampire Series and I think it turned out pretty cool. Take a look.

The photos of Chicago are from a talented photographer named Matt Tuteur who has a great eye for this gorgeous city.

You can check out more of his work at his blog Matt Tuteur Street Photography.

Wednesday, February 25, 2015

Happy Anniversary!

Balloons to celebrate
I've been having a bit of a party on my Facebook page today. It was a bit of a special occasion. One year ago today, To Touch the Sun my vampire novel set in Chicago was published by Dagda Publishing (available on Amazon). In honor of that, Dagda is holding an ebook sale that started midnight Feb. 25 and will run through midnight Feb. 27. For .99 (cents or pence) you can order your very own ebook copy of To Touch The Sun. 

I have to admit there were times when I wasn't sure this was going to happen. As I've stated before, my writing a vampire novel was a calculated thing. I was hoping to interest an agent I was in pleasant communication with whose agency featured a vampire series. I enjoyed reading vampire novels, watching vampire movies, but I  myself never had the urge to write one. I never had a character or story I wanted to present. Since I like to try new things though this gave me the perfect chance to try my hand at a vampire novel.

Unlike past novels I've written where I had the story and characters in my head before putting pen to paper, I went into this project cold. The only thing I had to build on was "vampire chef." Slowly, as time went on, the story grew, evolving as did the characters until at last I knew where I wanted to take the story. 

Love how it looks on a library shelf.
And thus you have To Touch the Sun. You can find more posts on the process and other information regarding the novels in the series blog The Sentient/Feral Vampire Series. I'd never written like that before and it was probably the most enjoyable writing I've ever done. Not only that, by the end of what I thought would be a one off novel, I realized that I had another story to tell. That's why the epilogue isn't so much an ending as it is a jumping off point for the next novel in the series (Ujaali, due out in a few months). 

That's right: I started with two words and I now have four novels (written while hunting for a publisher for the first one) and a spin off novel featuring two paranormal investigators that appear in the third novel. (The agent, however, did not stick around. But that's a whole other story).

The cover makes a good poster too.
I think that's why this novel is so special to me (even though I've written others). It came out of nowhere and really captured my heart. That's why it was so important for me to get it published too. And why I was so thrilled when I finally found a publisher. And why February 25 will always be a special day to me.

So come celebrate with me. I'll probably be enjoying the glow for a few more days. Visit Amazon and get your own copy of To Touch the Sun. I hope people get as much enjoyment from reading it as I had from writing it.

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Craig's Contract with his Audience

Only a few days remain until "The Late Late Show" is no longer hosted by Craig Ferguson. It's been a great ride. I've written posts that contain some of my favorite things from the show. What I want to point out today isn't the bust your gut funny moments, but those moments he made it real. That's one of the things that made Craig's tenure with the show so very special. Perhaps it was the main thing because it enabled because it enabled Craig to connect with his audience on a deeper level using his own feelings on a national or personal tragedy. It was cathartic for both host and audience.

Again, in no particular order, are ten examples.

This is the first monologue that I saw that Craig opened up about something troubling and it turned out to be a fantastic mix of humor and social slapdown. It's when I truly realized how special this show was with him at the helm.

David Letterman's production company, World Wide Pants, is the company that produces "The Late Late Show" which follows his own "The Late Show with David Letterman" every night. In 2009 news broke of Letterman's affairs with various female staffers over the years. As Craig himself says, this left him in a very difficult position since it was his job to comment on the news of the day.

This is just for fun. Apparently there was a power outage during the taping of his show. What do you do when a power outage occurs during the taping of your monologue? You take a few nips at the hand that barely feeds you.

Craig shared a lot with his audience. A lot.

I mean, a lot!

Five years after 9/11, an immigrant, two years shy of his U.S. citizenship, shared his memories of that horrible day. 

On July 20, 2012, a man went into a movie theater in Aurora, Colo. and shot 82 people, killing 12 of them. Two years ago an some change, we were still horrified by such an event (sadly I fear we've become a bit too accustomed to it now). A pre-recorded show of "The Late Late Show," including jokes about "The Dark Knight" (The film being shown when the event occurred) was scheduled to run, leaving Craig and his staff in a dilemma. So he decided to tape a new opening to the show that would address the shooting (and in fact his dilemma). It's the sort of sincerity that made his show so special.

And in a companion piece: On April 15, 2013 two pressure cooker bombs went off during the Boston Marathon. It was a horrific and cowardly act that left everyone shaken. Craig presents that confusion and anger perfectly.

Craig's mother and father had been on his show, his mother partaking in a particularly charming bit in which she went shopping with RZA of Wu Tan Clan. When his mother died, as he so often does, Craig shared his feelings with his audience. And he almost made it through without breaking.

Of course two years prior to the send off for his mother, fresh from the funeral, he spoke about his father's death. (The show that night actually became a wake for his father).

And of course honorable, and sad, mention belongs to his announcement that Craig would be giving up the reigns of "The Late Late Show."

Whether it was joy, frustration or grief, what you got with Craig Ferguson was an honesty and wit that couldn't be contained on a cue card. It was indeed his contract with the audience.

Tuesday, December 9, 2014

Let's Get This Party Started

I'm not quite sure when the puppet cold openings on The Late Late Show morphed into the spectacular lip synching numbers but I suppose it was inevitable in an ever evolving show. As I showed in the previous post the lip synching seemed to start with the puppets. A yodaling monkey, an acid rock wolf, a dinosaur and shark singing "Rain Drops Keep Fallin' On My Head." It was ridiculous and fantastic all at the same time. Eventually, with the help of a talented and playful staff, Craig Ferguson transformed this show opening featuring puppets into musical numbers that helped pump up the audience even more.

The numbers are remarkably notable when you consider the space in which they had to stage them. Some have quite a lot of choreography to them.

Again, in no particular order, here are ten of my favorite musical openings from The Late Late Show.

"Fireball XL5" was a children's show created by Gerry and Sylvia Anderson of Supermarionation fame which Ferguson very likely grew up watching in Scotland ("Fireball XL5" actually did run on NBC on Saturday mornings in the U.S. from 1963-65). It had a curiously poppy closing song considering its science fiction theme that lends itself perfectly to a bit on the Late Late Show.

The Village People's "In the Navy" is a song screaming out for a good lip synching and Craig and his crew are just the folk to provide it.


"Look Out There's a Monster Coming" is a catchy little tune that can be found on the album 1967 "Gorilla" by the Bonzo Dog Doo-Dah Band (one of its members, Neil Innes, would go on to write the fantastic songs to be found in the Beatles-parody band The Rutles). And it's nice to see Geoff Peterson get in on the act.

The Late Late Show's take on "White Lines" (covered by Duran Duran) is one of those numbers that definitely cemented the party aspect of the cold openings.

I think "Wonderful Night" was the first lip synching bit that I saw and it only increased my affection for this show.


It's only fitting that when Craig took the show to Scotland, his country of birth, the opening would need to be big. Add an awesome TARDIS effect and you have a rockin' cold opening.

And when in France:

"Over At The Frankenstein Place" from "The Rocky Horror Picture Show" was one of the more elaborate cold opens and it works excellently.

This next one is one of my favorites featuring a cover of "Istanbul" by one of my favorite bands, They Might Be Giants.

As a "Doctor Who" fan like Craig himself, this last one is probably the penultimate cold open for me. It didn't, however, actually open the show when it was broadcast since at the last minute it was discovered that they couldn't get the rights to the "Doctor Who" theme music. What was filmed was a practice run-through that Craig, none the less, winkingly encouraged should somehow make its way onto YouTube. And so it did. Brightening the lives of every Whovian out there.

These are the things that made The Late Late Show with Craig Ferguson, despite the late hour, such a joy to tune in.