Tuesday, May 31, 2016

Eight Short (short) SF Stories

Here are eight short (extra short) SF stories I found over at the New Yorker magazine the other day.  Most are of the whimsical variety, so they are short and to the point.  You can find them here. 

As an update, I've been busy with several different things lately that has taken me away from blogging.  Some of it is just daily living stuff, and at times you just gotta take care of business.  One of the things was I got tagged by the IRS for my 2014 tax return.  I no longer do my own taxes.  I used to all the time, but it's gotten too complex for my feeble mind.  I started investing in the stock market back around 2000, and I still find investing and personal finance interesting on a lot of different levels.  It can be as complex or simple as you want to get into it.  At any rate, once I got into buying and occasionally selling stocks I could no longer do my own taxes.  I had to rely on an accountant and by and large I've had pretty good luck with good ones.  However, back in 2014 I ran into a pretty lousy one.  I won't go into the whole thing, but the upshot to it is, trust your gut.   This may apply to other things beyond taxes or personal finance. Like buying a house or car for instance, as well as other things in life.  Some of those old adages that you grew up hearing like:  If it sounds too good to be true, it probably is or a bird in the hand is worth two in a bush, or don't go skating in a buffalo herd--those have a nugget of truth to them.  Trusting your gut or intuition is another one that's hard, at least for me at times. 

The thing with the lady that did my taxes in 2014 was I didn't feel at the time she was competent or at least I was shaky about her.  True enough, she wasn't competent.  She made a bunch of mistakes on my tax return that threw up a red flag with the IRS.  So this year they sent me a letter saying I owed them a little over $3,000. extra, and I needed to pay it by a certain time limit (about a month) or they'd levy more penalties and interest on that bill.  Not fun at all.  At any rate, my current accountant, was already doing an amendment to that year.  I had taken that return by for him to look at as he might need it as a reference for my 2015 return.  He found a few oddball things on it that didn't make sense to him.  He told me to call my old accountant and ask her a few questions, and she answered them, but what she said didn't make a lot of sense either.  So I had to do a little more investigating. 

Well I won't bore you further.  The upshot of the story is trust your gut, and hey, you're never too old to learn something.  I'm just hoping that resolves my issues with the IRS and that's that.

Also earlier in the week we had some Texas storms that came through here and knocked out my wireless router and wired phone for a couple of days.  It's funny how something outside your normal routine effects you.  Plus I've been busy painting a couple of paintings for the upcoming 6 X 6 show here at the Downtown Gallery.  It's a charity/fundraising event, so I don't make anything off the sales, but it's always a fun way to recharge my creative side.  It's also a lot of fun to see what everyone else comes up with in their entry.  I had to admit there's a lot of creative and talented artist around our little corner of the world.  Below are the three things that I entered.

This one is called Pathprints.  It's done in acrylic.

This is a collage I did called Emerald Web.  It gave me the most difficulty.  There's always one out of the bunch that takes more time than the others.  I could never get the color right on it to suit me.  I finally just made the overall piece a greenish color.

This one is called The Arborist.  It's funny that everything I entered this year was in a greenish color, and that they all had a subject of plants in them.  I didn't do that consciously, it just turned out that way.  I wish I could stay a bit more productive in that area, but it's hard when you don't have a studio where you can go make something and leave all your supplies scattered about without worrying about messing up the place.   My studio is my kitchen table or garage.  In the summer, like now, the garage can be really hot or humid or both.  The kitchen works pretty well for small things, but you have to be really careful about not spilling paint and such.

Thursday, May 12, 2016

B. Kliban

Monday, May 09, 2016

Blockbuster Summer Rundown 2016

Summer is drawing quickly upon us, and with that season comes the summer blockbusters or sometimes referred to as tent-pole films.  Tent-pole as a term means to financially hold up the movie studios or TV networks from ticket sales, generally a crowd pleaser, and something bank-able.  It doesn't always work, but that's sort of their intent.  It has almost become the norm though these days, as even movies that aren't released in the summer sometimes have that appeal, generally aimed to a younger crowd.  Either way, I don't think about it too much as I have as much interest in these type films as anything else really.

So just looking over some of the summer movies, what am I excited about and what might I go see?   Disclaimer:  I'll generally wait to see a few reviews first or check in with Rotten Tomatoes or sites like that before doling out the cash.  It's easy to get caught up and seduced by poster art, and a smartly designed trailer (for the most part) to get warm bodies into the cinemas.  For some movies I might have an interest in watching them, but I can wait until they come out on DVD, and that holds true even for some of the films that maybe critics didn't particularly care for very much.

Anyway these are films I'm looking forward to and if they get a fairly good review I might end up seeing at the cinema.  First up is The BFG (Big Friendly Giant).  I do like the poster art, and a giant as a companion and friend has always appealed to me.  Coming out of the Disney studios doesn't hurt the film any and also being directed by Stephen Spielberg doesn't either.  Let's face it, he could probably make a good movie by this stage of the game blindfolded, and standing on his head.

I don't know much about Star Trek Beyond other than it's the third edition of the rebooted series starring Chris Pine, Quinto, and crew.  I enjoyed the first two in the series, and I'm hoping this one is even better or at least equal to the other ones.

The plot concerns stopping off at Starbase Earhart, a remote outpost on the fringes of Federation Space, the USS Enterprise, halfway into their 5 year mission, is destroyed by a powerful, unstoppable wave of unknown aliens. With the crew stranded on a unknown planet and with no apparent means of rescue, they find themselves in conflict with a new ruthless enemy who has a well-earned hatred of the Federation and what it stands for.  Could that be Romulans or Klingons or another race?  We'll have to wait and see.  It's slated for the theaters in July some time.

Tarzan has seen any number of adaptations.  All have been a little hit and miss for me to be honest, though with the nature of special effects these days, if the story is done well enough, and hopefully they'll be fairly faithful to the book, they should be able to pull this one off or at least get it in the ballpark.  I say that as after the recent Planet of the Apes reboots, they can make digital apes pretty convincing, and there's also the recent movie, The Jungle Book, that is currently showing in theaters, which many critics liked due to the effects and have said it looks amazing.  They should have his swinging from tree to tree down too as an effect due to the Spider-Man films.  So unless they just totally botch the script, I would think they'd be able to pull it off.  A lot of people were indifferent to John Carter, which I watched last night and I still don't think that was a bad effort.  It was fairly faithful to the book except for the opening sequence, but once on Mars it got its footing.  It was light, funny in parts, and had plenty of action.  I wish it had done better at the box office as it would have been fun to watch a sequel.  So with Tarzan, we'll have to wait and see.

I'm not much a gamer.  I've played my share of Tomb Raider and some Halo, and a few other games.  But I'm pretty horrible at gaming and I'd still consider myself a novice.  So I don't know much about Warcraft, but I saw the trailer which looked pretty good.  It's a fantasy adventure directed and written by Duncan Jones, so that's a plus.  You might remember Jones directed the Sci-Fi movie Moon, and if you haven't seen Moon, check it out.  He also directed another SF film, Source Code, which I didn't quite enjoy as well as Moon, but it too is worth watching if you haven't seen it yet.  So Jones is more than competent at directing and that's good news.  Supposedly Sam Raimi was going to direct it, but I guess either turned it down or was busy.  Either way, it's a seemingly simple plot about humans against Orcs.  I hope there's more to it than that, but I assume it will contain a lot of action, fighting and so forth.

For the most part, I've enjoyed the X-Men franchise.  I think there's only one of the movies I haven't seen, which it the third one of the initial releases, X-Men, The Last Stand.  I also haven't seen The Wolverine, although I've seen parts of it broadcast on regular cable.  I also used to read the comics back in the day, so I'm somewhat familiar with most of the characters.  If I were to rank the movies in order of preference, that would be hard, but it might be:  X-Men,  X-Men Origins: Wolverine, X-Men: Days of Future Past,  X-Men 2,  X-Men: First Class, and then the rest.  That said though they've created a pretty neat niche if you're a fan of mutants.  Apocalypse is the newest bad guy in this film, and that was around the time I quit reading the series.  He teams up with Magneto, and something tells me they'll lose, but it's all in the storytelling.  It should be fun, so we'll see.

That leaves us with Independence Day: Resurgence.  Oh boy.  I wasn't a huge fan of ID4 (1996) the original film.  I was suckered into seeing it on opening day (mostly by the trailer and actors involved), which if I remember was on July the 4th of that year.  We were off work as many others were, and the theater was packed!  ID4 was fun in some respects, and I've watched it a few times since its initial release.  It's sort of one of those bad films that's watchable or on the cusps of being bad due to one character for me, and that's Randy Quaid's character of Russell Casse.  His character of an alcoholic father that saves the day, by ramming his jet (an F/A-18 Hornet, I believe)  into the mother alien ship's weapons port kamikaze-style after only learning how to fly a jet and being sober for about two days is just hilarious.  Granted his character was said to have flown in Vietnam, but still...  I think his last battle cry while taking one for the ole USA was something like, "All right, you alien assholes! In the words of my generation: Up... YOURS!"  Or something similar to that effect that probably won't make it into the history books.  It doesn't help that the whole film plays out with such stern seriousness, and then there's...Randy Quaid.  I make light of the film, but I'll probably just rent this one on DVD just in case.

Saturday, May 07, 2016

Science Fiction's Best Year

As fans of SF we often forget the past in the rush to seek out the newest thing available.  I'm guilty of that as well.  I love it when a new SF film, TV series, or book comes along that even the critics have a hard time dismissing.  Just thinking over the past few years offerings there has been a new Jurassic Park sequel, the John Carter of Mars movie (although not exactly praised by the critics, but worth noting),  there is a new live action Tarzan film on the horizon, slated for next month I believe or shortly thereafter, a Max Max movie that even was nominated for some Academy Awards, and so on.

I think we all tend to glom to our favorite movies, and generally those tend to be the formative years when we first became aware of the genre, whether it be our teens or sometime around that time frame.  For me it was around that time that I discovered Ray Harryhausen, the Johnny Weissmuller Tarzan movies, those older SF movies, the Disney adaptations of Jules Verne's 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea, The Castaways, H. G. Wells, The War of the Worlds and so on.  I loved that stuff then and still do.

For those born later, it might be Avatar, the newer Planet of the Apes reboots, District 9, or something else.  We all have our own favorites.  Just today I was switching channels on the TV and ran across a movie I get drawn into from time to time, and even have a copy of on DVD called Enemy Mine.  It has great old school practical effects.
Be that as it may, I ran across this article today concerning what was the best year for science fiction ever.  For the writer of the article he says, 1912.  Although the article may have some truth in it, it seems a bit more slanted towards literature rather than movies or other areas of SF fandom, I think I'll let you read it and decide for yourself.  Adding that it is as arguable as anything else when concerning fandom.  We all have our favorite years as gateway to the medium as state above.  So rather than arguing the point, I think I'll let you read it. 

Wednesday, May 04, 2016

The Man in the High Castle

The Man in the High Castle is considered one of Phillip K. Dick's classic works and is now a series produced by Amazon.  I've watched up to around the fifth episode, and they have all been pretty good, and now it looks like it's going into a second season.  The Man in the High Castle is an dystopian alternate history SF tale in which the Axis powers won WWII.

The first episode opens in 1962 in NYC as a young man, Joe Blake (Luke Kleintank) is watching Nazi propaganda in a movie theater.  He's given a note in the theater by a mysterious figure.  As he exits the cinema we see that he's in the middle of Times Square and also we get to see how this alternate history has changed from our current world.  Oddly it has a retro 50s or early 60s feel to it, which totally works for the nature of this series.  Also early into the first episode you can feel the oppression and paranoia, which only increases as the series goes along, which are elements in most of Dick's work.  There's a dystopian scary feeling to the world similar to George Orwell's 1984, but also you feel the totalitarianism of the new government.  Perhaps these chilling portrayals in the film hit closer to home because at one time we, as a nation, actually experience some of that during WWII rather than the more fictional nature of Orwell's story.

 From the cinema Joe goes to find a factory and we find out he has volunteered for a yet unknown service as a truck driver.  Within this scene we see how oppressive and untrustworthy everyone is of each other.  Who do you trust in this society?  Joe and his contact eventually trust each other, and as Joe begins to drive away their plot is found out and troops are quickly dispatched there to stop the plot unfolding.  Joe escapes.

The story shifts to San Francisco known now as the Pacific States of America and occupied by the Japanese.  Evidently now the United States is divided into three distinct zones:  The Nazi zone, a Japanese zone, and a neutral zone.  The Nazis and Japanese are, of course, allies, but even there you get the inkling that even they are distrustful of each other.  In this second part of the story we meet the female lead, Juliana Crane (Alexa Davalos) as she is taking a martial arts class.  We get to meet some of her family, and later she meets with her sister.  While on the street her sister gives her a satchel, which she describes as a way to freedom right before she is gunned down in the street.  Juliana flees to her home, where we also meet her boyfriend, Frank.  We find out the package that her sister has given her contains a film.  Juliana watches the films, but it doesn't make much sense to her.  Her sister was going to meet with someone to deliver the film, now Juliana has taken it upon herself to find and deliver the film.   Her destination is Canon City in the neutral zone.

By now Joe is on the road, and we find out that he is going to the same location.  You can pretty much guess that these two protagonist will cross paths and meet.  Within the first episode we learn something about this alternate society, what the quest is for these two characters are, but yet there are still many unanswered question still left up it air.  It's hard to tell if Joe is a good guy or bad.  Is he involved in something to overthrow the current status quo or what are his motives.  We learn within the first episode that both have parts of a film created by the man in the high castle, but what is it, who is he, and what will it be used for?  How will these two character learn to trust one another in this environment?
The series starts out well, and has continued that way.  I'm on the fifth episode so far.  It has good production values, and has kept the suspense high with plenty of intrigue, good characters, and has good dialogue and a script.  This is the way I wish more Sci-Fi books to film translations would continue, and I hope Amazon continues the trend or someone else will follow in their footsteps.  (The SyFy Channel should be taking a few notes on this too.)  That said, I'm also wondering what Amazon will do with the series.  For now you have to be an Amazon Prime member to watch it or buy an individual episode off their site to watch.  I'm wondering if they'll allow Netflix (their closest competitor in the movie biz) to show the series, or Hulu, or if they'll want to prioritize the film just for their own customers.  I assume at some later date they'll issue this on a DVD set.  Either way, it's a pretty good series.  One that I think and hope others will emulate whenever they think about producing a SF story.  I've got the book as well, but haven't read it, but since I've gotten engaged in the series, I pulled it out the other night so that I can give it a read.  If you enjoy other types of SF stories like say Gattaca, Predestination, or say, Minority Report that aren't space opera, you'd probably enjoy it as well.

Sunday, May 01, 2016

Double Whammy

I took this picture here in Tyler at the Goodman-LeGrand house a few weeks back.  It's an 1800s local historical spot and that particular weekend they were having a home and gardening show combined with some local artist and their arts and wares, and people selling plants and such.  The main art gallery in town asked anyone that wanted to come down and do some painting to do so, as they're getting entries for the upcoming 6 X 6 show in a few months.  I decided to go just to show up and participate, though I'm not very good doing improvised artwork that way.  I obsess over whatever I want to do too much, and I guess you could say that's planning.   I like to have the full disposal of my art supplies on hand too so if I need something, it's there.  At events like this they at least let you use their paints, but some colors may not be available, and that day I was given a few dabs of dried up paint, which I found undesirable, but went with it, and figured, it's an outing for fun and PR more that anything else.  I gotta admit though that gallery runs their business oddly (inefficient) some times.  But since it doesn't affect me, I just go with it.  At least it was a beautiful day.

As far as the photo, yes, it really gets that pretty here, and I like that aspect about this part of the country.  However, to get that green and beautiful we get a lot of rain, and the humidity is high for the most part.  We also get quite a few tornado alerts during this season from spring to summer, like we did this past week, which get a bit scary.

At any rate, this year I took my taxes to a new CPA as I didn't have a very good one (understatement) last year.  While he did my 2015 taxes, I had brought along last year's 2014 taxes as well, and he caught what he thought was an error.  So I agreed to let him doing an amendment to that 2014 return.  Well, last week after I'd agreed to let him do that, I get a letter from the IRS saying that the lady that did the 2014 return also screw up a bunch more stuff.  So I'm having to track down paperwork for 2014 so that all this can be done before a May deadline so I don't incur more penalties.  Hopefully this will be able to resolve itself and that's that.

I'm surprising myself over this as it's cost me more money, but I've retained a cool head, I guess I figure what good would worrying or pitching a fit do, the outcome is the same, although I do worry some--I can't help it.  The upshot I think to all this is:  in 2014 I had the gut reaction at the time to not use this lady.  I'm not sure why, just that it didn't feel right or I didn't trust her or she seemed unprofessional, but went ahead and let her do the taxes.  I think I thought, well, I'll use her this year, and next year I'll find someone else, how bad could it be?  I need to trust my gut more.  Is that considered common sense or intuition?  I don't know, but yeah, sometimes it pays to pause and rethink things.
Yesterday I was out spring cleaning the room above the garage.  It was my dad's office.  I've also been using it more or less as a storage area.  But I was up there yesterday cleaning up some of the area, and thought, I'll get some of this stuff and stick it in the attic above another part of the garage.  Dad's office is finished out, and has carpeting, but there's not heating or cooling up there, where the attic area is like most attics, barebones.  You get to that area by pulling down a doorway into the ceiling, and then lowering a ladder that leads up into that area of the attic of the house.  It's hot up there and dark, and could really use lighting. It's not specifically a storage area, but dad put some sheets of plywood up there over some rafters and stored a few things up there.  So I thought if I put some stuff up there it would free up more room in the office area, which would be nice so I can find stuff.

At any rate, I tried to lower the door to the attic and it would not come down all the way to where I can unfold the ladder.  I kept looking at it, and thought maybe the springs holding the door up were messed up or maybe it was the mechanism that allows the ladder to get lowered.  I went and got a ladder to closer inspect it, and then a flashlight.  I kept looking and looking and couldn't figure it out, until I went to the underneath side of the door that lowers and noticed that when they put in my new garage door a few months back, the railing they installed sticks up a few more inches not allowing clearance for that door to drop fully.  So I've got to call them Monday or this week.  At least it looks like they can cut off about six inches of that railing to clear the door, and that's enough to solve the problem.  If it's not one thing it's two?  Oh well, that's life.