Friday, March 19

Zack Snyder's Justice League

Well, I just finished watching all four hours of Zack Snyder’s Justice League. It is awesome. It makes the version that Joss Whedon butchered for the theatrical release several years ago compare like Andrew Lloyd Webber against Richard Wagner. Or like Miller Lite vs. Guinness. It is so easy to see all the Marvelesque Avengers crap that Whedon brought into what we got, whether that's really all attributable to him rather than Warner Brothers that lost faith in their own vision is debatable – and the loss of so much depth that resulted from that plus cutting the movie down to two hours. Snappy dialogue and cheap humor is not everything. It's absence here was so appreciated. [See more below]

Maybe I shouldn’t have been, but I was a bit surprised that the basic structure is so much the same – somehow Superman’s death at the end of Dawn of Justice activated the Mother Boxes, which called Steppenwolf to try to bring them together to somehow subjugate the Earth for Darkseid; Batman atoning for what he did in Dawn of Justice by bringing the heroes together – and realizing they need Superman. So, using the Mother Box in their possession they bring him back, which leads to a final confrontation in Russia and Steppenwolf being driven back. But so much was done so differently. Sometimes even the same scene was revealed to be something totally different (e.g., Martha and Lois in Lois’ apartment … except here it was not Martha). 

It’s not perfect, of course. The Martian Manhunter’s cameos , for instance … if he’s there, and knows about Darkseid, why is he not already in contact with Bruce and working with him to bring the heroes together? I would think he would be. But all in all, this is such an improvement. It’s like The Lord of the Rings compared to Game of Thrones. Yes, I went there. 

Unfortunately, in restoring Snyder’s original vision for this movie, it restores that original vision’s nature as not the end of the story. There is virtually no chance of the sequels he set in place (Darkseid’s second coming to Earth, the Injustice Society, etc.) ever being seen, at least in film form. Hopefully they will finish it out in some form – graphic novel, maybe?

All in all, I really enjoyed this movie.

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Addendum on Joss Whedon: I have been a fan of Whedon's in the past; I liked Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Angel. I loved Firefly and Serenity. And I really liked Avengers -- the first one he did, not the second one. It was actually with the latter, Age of Ultron, that I started to perceive just how much most of Whedon's work depends on "snappy dialogue and cheap humor" as well as the illusion of depth rather than any real depth (something that, in my opinion, pervades the Marvel movies [again, see below]. I have not gone back and rewatched Buffy or Angel; I have (just recently) rewatched Firefly and Serenity and find that those do (in my opinion) have both. They hold up well and I'm sure I will watch -- and enjoy -- them again in the future. But, sometime after Serenity, in my opinion, something changed. It's probably what so often happens -- he started to believe he could do no wrong, and that never works out well. I could say more, especially about the allegations that a host of former associates have made in the past few months, but I won't. This post is not about Joss Whedon, except that where Ultron lessened my regard for him as a movie-maker, the Justice League theatrical cut destroyed it, and seeing Snyder's original vision of that latter movie (and I am sure that it is that) simply confirms that for me.

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Addendum on the Marvel movies: First, a couple of admissions. 1) I have enjoyed most of the Marvel movies. But 2) I have always been more a DC fan than a Marvel fan., comics as well as movies. Part of it is that I have less regard for something that others think is key to the Marvel universe (from the beginning). DC has always seemed so much larger than life, less grounded in reality -- the best word is mythic -- while Marvel's schtick has always been a "false" "realism," a conceit that those stories were happening in a world just like ours, i.e., New York City rather than "Metropolis" or "Gotham City." But, of course, the Marvel universe -- comics or movies -- is not the "real world." It's just a pretense that ultimately, for me, distracts. And often the attempts at "depth" break down really quickly with a little thought. Suspension of disbelief is one thing. Thinking that, somehow, Thanos's motivation had "depth" goes beyond suspension of disbelief to suspension of basic intelligence. All it amounted to was ill-thought-out Malthusianism that would have, at most, bought a little time, delaying the "inevitable" Malthusian crisis that he claimed to be averting (not in so many words, of course ... the word "Malthusian" is not "snappy"). Darkseid's motivation, however -- pure, unadulterated power, the desire to control everything. To put it in Biblical terms, the desire to replace God. It's the oldest motivation in the book, that of Satan himself. People think the DC movies -- Zack Snyder's, in particular -- are style over substance? Avengers: Infinity War and Endgame are both exactly that -- style and superficiality pretending to be substance ... and ultimately falling flat. Snyder's DC movies, on the other hand, are -- to use the term again because none other fits -- mythic.

All of which is just, of course, my opinion. 

Wednesday, October 21

The Historical Development of the Warp Drive

via GIPHY


Preface

This is another of my "Covid-Projects," consequent to my "Star Trek History of the Twenty-First Century" project (which is drafted but still needs a lot of work). Basically, I wanted to work out an overall rationalization of the development of the Warp Drive that best fits what has been shown on screen and explains certain oddities that manifested themselves along the way. It varies considerably from a lot of fan-created Treknological assumptions through the years as well as semi-official resources published  and statements made along the way, even by producers and technical advisers to the various series and films. 

In the process of writing the "History of the Twenty-First Century," this kind of went on the back burner until I came upon an article on the blog Occasional Enthusiast entitled "Alternative Star Trek Warp Speed Scale and Related Equations" (2016) [LINK] which takes a very different approach but has some really cool ideas. My comment on that post led to a very helpful exchange with the author (at least, helpful to me) and inspired me to pull this back out, polish it a bit, and go ahead and post it.

Take it for what it is -- one fan's interpretation. And remember that, "Dammit, Jim, I'm an historian, not a mathematician!"

Friday, July 10

Canon and History in the STAR TREK Universe


05 April 2063: Getting closer all the time....
(SOURCE: https://wall.alphacoders.com/big.php?i=498337]
One of the tasks with which any historian must grapple in constructing a narrative of the past is determination what source materials are available and how reliable are the facts they provide. Many different factors must be considered, including the proximity of the source to the event, whether it constitutes a “primary source” providing contemporary first-hand knowledge unfaded by the passage of time and unmediated by subsequent accounts and influences, or, alternatively, whether the evidence is to be considered “secondary,” providing a more distant perspective based on assessment of such primary sources. In both cases – primary as well as secondary – one must consider in what ways the recording of the account may have been motivated by an agenda – unconscious or acknowledged – which determined inclusion or emphasis of certain facts and deemphasis or even exclusion of other facts which may, objectively, be critical in creating an accurate reconstruction of the events as they happened.

Friday, July 3

Making History: Preliminary Considerations Toward Constructing a Near-Future STAR TREK Historical Narrative

See the Video here [LINK]

Little did I realize when I undertook the “Starships Comparison” project early in the 2020 COVID-19-enforced lockdown [LINK] that it would lead me into another, bigger project that will – assuming I do not lose interest, or, more likely, find some other obsession to divert my attention – probably result in a series of essays that are doubtless of no interest to anybody except myself, but which I will end up posting here and then, possibly, attempt to publish. It is no less than a complete reconsideration of the early history of human spaceflight, basically until the founding of the United Federation of Planets in 2161, including such things as the history of Earth from the present until that time, the stages in the development of the warp drive from the beginning until the late 24th century when Star Trek: The Next Generation was set, and how much the later “prequel” series Star Trek: Enterprise (set between 2151 and 2155) and Star Trek: Discovery (set in the 2250s) should be considered – dare I say it? – fictional even “within universe” from the perspective of that later date. There will probably be other things as well. This newest obsession keeps leading me down the most unexpected rabbit-holes!

Tuesday, May 19

The Noble Lineage of Ships Named Enterprise

I thought about naming this post “Ring Around the Starship,” because that’s kind of where this most recent obsessio– – er, project – began….

Genesis of this Project
Around the beginning of May, while browsing the Internet I came upon this intriguing product for sale:
Sold on Etsy, by “Blue Fire Engraving,” for $35
[at the time of this writing [
LINK]). 
Sold on Etsy, by “Blue Fire Engraving,” for $35 [at the time of this writing [LINK]). I considered purchasing it but hesitated, not just because of the price for another piece of wall art my wife would probably not let me hang in the “public” parts of the house but also because I immediately perceived there to be at least one glaring omission. In Star Trek: The Motion Picture (1979), a “ships wall” is depicted as part of the recreation deck of the newly refitted U.S.S. Enterprise NCC-1701. Among a series of ships on that wall was a memorable ship which is absent from the plaque. A quick Internet search confirmed my memory via the article, “Enterprise Lineages on Display,” at the web site Ex Astris Scientia [LINK]. Five pictures depict in sequence:
  • A sailing ship.
  • An aircraft carrier “of the World War II era.”
  • The U.S. Space Shuttle.
  • A ship sporting a long central hull with two large rings near the stern, identified in the article as the “XCV 330 … actually based on an early design by Matt Jefferies that could have become the Enterprise NCC-1701.”
  • The pre-refit Constitution class U.S.S. Enterprise NCC-1701.

Wednesday, May 13

Star Trek: Vanguard – and a lot of other stuff


Periodically, I return to obsessions I thought I left far in my past. I have been a fan of Star Trek since soon after the original series went off the air and into syndication. Born at the end of 1961, I think I was just barely too young to get caught up in it during the original airings, which began in September 1966 and ended in June 1969. I would therefore have been four years old when it debuted and seven when it went off. Moreover, my obsession with space really began with the Apollo 11 moon landing on 20 July 1969 – ironically within weeks of Star Trek being cancelled. Just as I do remember flashes of earlier manned space missions (most clearly, Christmas Eve 1968, popping firecrackers with my older cousins outside my grandmother’s house, my uncle commenting that there were astronauts circling the moon right then – Apollo 8), so do I recall flashes of earlier Star Trek episodes on TV, but not clearly enough to know what episodes they might have been.

Wednesday, April 8

Pilgrimage in a Time of Pestilence

Presenting a chapter from my new book about pilgrimage – HOLY RAMBLINGS: Travelogues, Commentaries, and Meditations on Pilgrimages Far and NearAvailable in ebook and print formats: www.holyramblings.com

This link takes you to the post at my "travels" blog [LINK].

Saturday, September 9

R.I.P. Jerry Pournelle (1933-2017)

Just before I turned out my light last night, as I glanced at the blogroll on my personal/private page, I saw the sad news – first from The American Catholic, and immediately below it, from his own page, The View from Chaos Manor – “Jerry Pournelle is dead” [LINK].

I immediately sent up a prayer for the repose of his soul, and mulled over his passing through the subsequent day, and decided that, although I have let my own blog go pretty much moribund this year, I could not allow the day to pass without writing my own short tribute to the man. There are many others appearing across the web, of course [and there is a good general overview of his life and career at Wikipedia [LINK]), but he was one of my all-time favorite authors, and in the last decade came to be one of my most respected sources for political, scientific, and social commentary.

I previously [LINK] reviewed a rereading of one of his collections of popular science articles, A Step Farther Out, in which I briefly reviewed my own history with Pournelle as an author. To repeat, as I remember it, I first encountered him when I would have been in late elementary, maybe early junior high, when I read his novelization of the movie, Escape from the Planet of the Apes. I’m not sure, to tell you the truth, whether when, a few years later, in high school, I obtained and read his and collaborator Larry Niven’s great novel of first alien contact, The Mote in God’s Eye, I really realized that it was the same author. Maybe, maybe not. But around that time I do remember starting to find and read both his writings in science fact and science fiction. And, for a long time, he remained just that to me, mainly a favorite science-fiction author who also wrote about science, kind of like Isaac Asimov.

Then, about ten years or so ago, I discovered his aforementioned blog (he did not like that word) and learned that there was much more to Dr. Pournelle than that. He became my go-to source for reasoned commentary on major issues of the day – as I indicated above, political and social in addition to scientific, with especial perspicuity where those intersect, such as in the ongoing debate over “Global Warming/Climate Change.” That was interspersed with an ongoing record of his daily activities. Keeping a journal myself, I’ve always found others’ such writings fascinating, and have read a number of published journals, but this was a rare opportunity to share in someone else’s contemporary narrative. I followed him from that time on – through his battle with and recovery from a brain tumor, the decline and ultimate passing of his beloved dog Sable, his wife’s health issues as well as his own – a stroke a couple of years ago that left the maintenance of his page a laborious chore that he doggedly continued – and so forth. I’m doubtless forgetting a lot. Presumptuous though it might be, I thought of him as a friend.

The note from his son on Chaos Manor [LINK] reported the matter briefly last evening: "I’m afraid that Jerry passed away[.] We had a great time at DragonCon[.] He did not suffer." His own last entry was the evening before, Thursday 07 September, a short commentary on the current political furor over Trump's handling of the "Dreamers," with his usual ruminations as to what would be a reasonable solution – but also a report that he had come back from DragonCon last weekend with "the flu," followed by an abrupt end that he was retiring for the night as he was "experiencing a wave of nausea. Bye for now." The Wikipedia bio says that he passed away in his sleep.

I never actually met him, unfortunately. The closest I came was, a few years ago, at one of the Comicpalooza Conventions in Houston, where I had the pleasure of meeting and chatting with Larry Niven for a few minutes, having him sign a couple of books and asking him to pass on to Jerry my regards and thanks for the years of pleasure his writings had provided me. That would have been about 2012, I think. A year or so later, I did correspond directly with him via email and get to tell him that directly when he responded to my inquiry as to his thoughts regarding the Mars One initiative which led to a short exchange which basically revealed he and I were pretty much in agreement, that we are not really there yet, that such a step is, as I would put it, a bit too much of an initial “step farther out.” The moon should come first, much closer to home, for the inevitable trial-and-error learning process and a much better chance to overcome challenges that will arise, some of which we probably still cannot even envision – until they arise. The problems are “just” engineering and the need to gain experience, but it is a process that needs to be worked through, not jumping right into the deep end essentially without a life preserver. As I responded to him in what may have been our last communication, “The romantic in me wishes Mars One all the luck in the world, but the realist fears the consequences of what I feel is a very probable spectacular failure with loss of life that will devastate our collective will to pursue such endeavors.” As time passes, I continue to grow more pessimistic regarding “our collective will” as a nation and as a species in that area … but I constantly remind myself of one of his most oft-repeated admonitions, “Despair is a sin.”


Which brings me to the last facet of Jerry Pournelle that I was gratified to gather when I discovered and started following his daily activities and commentaries – he was Catholic. It’s not something he wore on his sleeve or ever made explicit reference to, but there were the matter-of-fact references to attending Mass, his wife’s membership in the choir, and so forth, that simply were part of who he was. I therefore have reasonable confidence that, God willing I make it to heaven, I will ultimately be able to meet him there.

Réquiem ætérnum dona ei, Dómine. Et lux perpétua lúceat ei. Requíescat in pace. Amen.

Friday, December 2

Invasion! – a.k.a. “Heroes vs. Aliens” on the CWDC television shows

Supergirl x Flash x Arrow x DC’s Legends of Tomorrow (CW 2016)

Monday through Thursday nights this week saw something I don’t believe has ever been done on American television – a four-night, four-show, four-way cross-over event, one story told in multiple series the likes of which has only ever, as far as I know, ever been attempted in the comic books which are the inspiration for the only block of television shows I’m currently watching with any consistency.

Based conceptually on DC Comics’ 1988 three-issues-plus-a-myriad-of-cross-over-issues event entitled, as was each of the cross-over episodes from each of the series represented here – except for Supergirl – “Invasion!,” this epic told how the alien Dominators were determined to eliminate the threat they perceived to exist in the metagenetic potential of humankind giving rise to the dawning age of the superhero, and how a coalition of such metahumans ultimately beat back this threat to our existence.

It was ambitious. And although the execution ultimately fell short, on balance I found it very satisfying.

Wednesday, November 23

The Tenth Region of the Night (Sword and Serpent #2, 2016)

By Taylor Marshall

Taylor Marshall’s first novel, Sword and Serpent, was a fine effort and well worth the read despite having certain shortcomings common to first novels [see my blog review at LINK ]. As is often the case, this sequel, The Tenth Region of the Night, improves substantially on the first, becoming one of the better books I have read this year, one I unhesitatingly recommend. The protagonist, Jurian, previously coming across rather flat, is now, in my opinion, developed into a fully fleshed-out individual who no longer pales beside the other main character, in that case a young priestess of the serpent himself (she reappears as well), in this latter case the daughter of the governor of Alexandria, named Aikaterina. Even the main villain of the piece gains depth and becomes something more than the stereotypical caricature he seemed in the opening volume. Overall the writing seems much smoother and more engaging than Sword and Serpent, gripping my interest right from the beginning as Jurian continues his quest subsequent to slaying the dragon – an accomplishment which instantly became a legend which dogs his footsteps from then on through this entire tale, for good and ill, as he strives to find and rescue a friend, lost to him in the first book, from death in the arena. Once again, Marshall has taken the history of the late Roman Empire under the Emperor Diocletian and a young Constantine, interwoven with the legends of Sts. George the Dragonslayer and Christopher the Christ-bearer, and others, and added to them the tale of St. Catherine of Alexandria, to create a gripping tale of the early Church in the Roman Empire on the eve of the Great Persecution. Knowing from early Christian history and tradition the trials and tragedies these characters face as that cataclysm looms ever closer, I nonetheless look forward eagerly to following their journeys through Marshall’s imagination to the triumph that ultimately awaits.

Cheers!, and Thanks for reading!

Wednesday, November 9

Election 2016

Well, yesterday was Election Day. I did not intend to watch any of the returns last night. I voted weeks ago. I had basically my last word the day before yesterday, in a Facebook post which pretty much said it all – actually a repost of what I wrote four years ago, with current commentary. So, first the post from back then, in 2012:

Eyes wide open. That's how America has collectively chosen to take on four more years of Obama. No longer can we take solace in the notion that we fell victim to the charisma of a masterful campaigner who promised to take us past the divisions of the past into a brave new world. Having seen how well that has worked out for the past four years, we (as a nation, by the slimmest of popular vote margins, by a wider margin in the Electoral College, but that is our system for better or worse) have chosen four more years. I fear it will be much longer than that, because whereas I believe there was a chance to turn back from the brink now, I believe that four more years will entrench such radical change to the very nature of our country that there will be no going back. Perhaps the saddest thing to me is that slightly more than half of our people are perfectly fine with, even desirous of, that. This is what they want. ... No, really the saddest thing to me is that the slightly LESS than half of our people must now live under the same deteriorating conditions that they strove to avert. But that is our system, for better or worse. God bless America, for we surely need it.

Thursday, November 3

Mel Gibson’s Resurrection

I just got through watching a segment on tonight's The World Over on EWTN, in which Raymond Arroyo interviewed Mel Gibson mainly about his new film, Hacksaw Ridge, but which also had a few words about Gibson's prospective sequel to The Passion of the Christ, telling the story of The Resurrection. I knew from some other stories that came out over the last couple of days that it might well be something unlike anyone's ever seen, nothing like, say, Risen from earlier this year. Specifically, that it might include some kind of narrative based on the line from The Apostles' Creed, "He descended into Hell." That seems to be confirmed here. I attempted to transcribe what Gibson said – but there’s not nearly the effect of seeing his eyes wide open and his gesticulations, with his hands waving all around as he haltingly explains his vision: