Above, photo of Buzz Aldrin on the lunar surface.
One of the most momentous events in human history happened fifty years ago today. On July 20, 1969, Neil Armstrong became the first human being to set foot on another celestial body. It should have been declared a national holiday – hell, an international holiday – but people have never been very good at grasping what’s truly important at the moment it happens.
Before I go any further let me say that all you Apollo 11 deniers are completely and utterly mistaken. Like you, I’m a conspiracy theorist, but I draw the line at believing that significant events witnessed by hundreds or even thousands of people can be successfully faked. Sometimes they may be misinterpreted for propaganda purposes (such as the destruction of the battleship Maine in Havana harbor) but there always must be some basis in reality. Furthermore, if the US government felt it needed to fake a moon landing, why would it do so six times?
The tragedy, the travesty, the monstrous crime was that we stopped going after trip number 6. I emphatically disagree with people who say “we have too many problems here on Earth to solve first.” Fie on this defeatism! With that attitude, people would still be living in caves, because there have always been social and economic problems. There are a number of government expenditures we could sacrifice rather than space exploration such as corporate welfare and military intervention overseas (which is, to be technical, another form of corporate welfare.) Nor do we need to give “foreign aid” to third-world dictators who just stash the funds in their Swiss bank accounts. Fiscal conservatives often mock scientific research as a waste but the opposite is really the case. Science is more significant, more uplifting, and more beneficial than just about anything else the US government supports. It’s most of that other stuff that’s wasteful.
What the Apollo program proved is that we Americans can do great things and that people of all walks of life can play a part. Yet I don’t expect mankind’s greatest achievement to be celebrated with the enthusiasm it deserves, because it doesn’t fit the current year’s grievance-based narrative of identity politics. It’s just too darn uplifting, Too many of us want to be angry about something. To those people I say, search for a video of President Kennedy’s speech at Rice University where he challenges the nation to go to the moon. I dare you to listen to Kennedy’s speeches (especially his Inaugural Address) and not get choked up. I’m not ashamed to admit that I did.
Today is the fiftieth anniversary of a great accomplishment by heroic Americans. I may be disgruntled at times, but today is not one of them. Today I am proud to be an American.
Some people have recurring dreams about it being finals week in college and not having studied, or showing up at work in their underwear. I have a stranger dream, in which I remember I have a house somewhere else that I’ve forgotten about. I’ve left a bunch of my things there and need to go get them. In other words, I must have moved without much forethought. This blog is a lot like that. When I started my new blog Steampunk Desperado, I stopped posting here, and didn’t even leave a forwarding address.
I assumed this blog didn’t have much of a readership since I posted sporadically and my topics were all over the place. I didn’t even bother to check the visitor stats on Godaddy. However, my son Lowell reminded me that one of his friends used to read this blog, and although he didn’t often agree with my weird opinions, he was always interested to read them. So it is for unsung readers like him that I post this forwarding address.
The idea behind Steampunk Desperado was that I’d try to stick to the topic of my writing and not get so far afield on political nonsense. (My wife Arlys scolds me that I’m alienating potential readers.) I’d also post every day, which I’ve done since mid-October. At least half of these articles are reposts from the Sedition blog, particularly if they were about steampunk or related sci-fi or historical topics. I’ve also reposted most of the articles Arlys has written so far about Victorian culture and recipes and crafts related to our books. In the ten weeks since Desperado’s inception, we’ve almost run out of these, so it’s going to be mostly new stuff from now on.
I’m not entirely ruling out posting again on “Sci-Fi and Sedition,” especially if I want to talk about political topics, such as some of the deplorable channels I follow in You-tube. The problem is that it’s tough to get a blog post out every day on my main blog without doing stuff here as well. It’s always possible, though.
It may sound morbid, but “Death Note” is one of my favorite stories. I’ve experienced it in every form: the manga, the anime series, and the Japanese live action movie. I was excited to see the American movie version, a Netflix production, so I watched as soon as it was available. I was gravely disappointed within the first five minutes.
For those who aren’t familiar with it, Deathnote is based on a manga written by Tsugumi Ohba and illustrated by Takeshi Obata. Shortly before his high school graduation, Light Yagami finds a magical notebook labeled “Death Note.” It’s a supernatural prank by a shinigami (Japanese “death god”) named Ryuk. The book’s instructions say that anyone whose name is written within will die, at the time and by the method specified. Ryuk (a Joker-like winged demon in Goth attire) appears and encourages Light to try it out. Light tests the notebook by writing the name of a hostage-taker from the evening news. The criminal drops dead. Light decides he’s been chosen to rid the world of evil-doers.
This power, even in the hands of an upstanding young genius like Light is an insidious thing. It takes him down a dark path much like Walter White in Breaking Bad. Eventually, the media notices the mysterious deaths and dubs the anonymous executioner “Kira” for “killer.” To the public, he’s a vigilante hero while the authorities view him as an existential threat.
This theme of hubris and corruption plays out through 12 volumes of manga and 37 episodes in the anime adaptation by Madhouse. One of its most popular aspects was the game of wits between Light and “L,” the autistic savant teenage detective the authorities hire to stop Light’s reign of terror. Some viewers felt the show drags in the final season as Light eliminates the investigators one by one, sparing only the police chief, who happens to be his own father. I disagree. The latter episodes are as intense as the early ones. You can feel the desperation of the police as they face down Kira’s supernatural power.
Just as the smash-hit anime series was drawing to a close, Japanese director Shūsuke Kaneko converted Death Note into a pair of live-action movies. Because of the time limitation, he shortened and rearranged the story. Though purists hated these changes, I felt that the movies stayed true to the spirit of the original. Casting was superb, especially with Tatsuya Fujiwara and Kenichi Matsuyama as Light and the eccentric candy-devouring L, respectively. (By the way, Matsuyama appears in an alleged sequel, L– Change the World, with Matsuyama as L in one of the worst movies I’ve ever seen.)
Not so for the Netflix remake directed by Adam Wingard, which makes far more significant changes. Rather than being a “goody two shoes” from an upper-class family, Light Turner (played by Nat Wolff) is a rebel with a tragic backstory. His mother was killed by a criminal who escaped justice, predisposing him to a vigilante mindset. Though he’s smart, he’s already dishonest and gets caught selling homework to his classmates. Apparently, the American script writers thought it needed “girl power.” In this new version, Light’s girlfriend Mia (Margaret Qualley), a clueless pawn in the original, becomes Light’s co-conspirator right from the start. She’s the one who insists on killing the FBI agents who threaten Kira, while the American Light (unlike his ruthless Japanese counterpart) refuses to do so. These changes confuse and muddle Death Note’s message. Worse yet, there’s no time for the famous sparring between Light and L. Early in the movie, L confronts Light at a coffee shop, saying, “I know you’re Kira.” How? What investigation has he done? Even the ending has major changes. I won’t spoil it, except to say there’s a lot less death in this Death Note.
That said, there are some good points. I enjoyed Willem Dafoe as the voice of Ryuk, though the new CGI rendering makes him more of a demon than the trickster he was in the original. Lakeith Stanfield was also excellent as the eccentric “L,” though the script has him acting out of character at the end. I also must admit that the final plot twist surprised me, perhaps because my expectations had dropped so low.
To summarize, if you’ve seen the original Death Note, you might want to skip this train wreck of a remake. If not, you might not necessarily hate this version, but please don’t judge the rest of the franchise by it.
Note: While researching this article I became aware of a second Japanese live-action Death Note sequel called Death Note: Light Up the New World, directed by Shinsuke Sato. With some trepidation, I plan to see this one as soon as I can.
Sometimes a good thing is worth waiting for. Fifty years after the debut of the French space adventure comic series Valérian and Laureline, these intrepid heroes have reached the big screen. Valerian is the creation of writer Pierre Christian and illustrator Jean-Claude Mézières. The series has won numerous awards but few people know it in the English-speaking world. Though I haven’t yet read this long running series (it would give Doctor Who a run for its money) judging by the movie, it must be pretty impressive.
Valerian follows the 28th Century adventures of government agent Major Valerian (played by Dane DeHaan) and his partner and love interest, Sergeant Laureline (Cara Delevingne.) The story’s exotic settings include the giant multi-species space station Alpha and the paradise world of Mul. The film is visually stunning and replete with the usual CGI spectacle. The action is non-stop but well paced, not needlessly frenetic like, for example, J.J. Abram’s recent Star Trek and Star Wars movies.
Though “City of a Thousand Planets” is not the most inspired title, I’m at a loss to think of a better one, except perhaps “Series that Spawned a Thousand Imitators.” As I watched the move, I was struck by the number of elements I’d seen in other sci-fi TV shows and movies, including Star Wars, Star Trek, Avatar, The Fifth Element, and Babylon Five. Since the Valerian comic series has been around longer than most of them (and almost as long as Star Trek,) we can guess who was plagiarizing whom. The Millenium Falcon, to name just one example, looks an awful lot like Major Valerian’s spaceship.
Overall, the movie was quite enjoyable but no masterpiece. It couldn’t live up to its amazing trailer, which features a pastiche of the movie’s most spectacular images set to the Beatles song “Because.”
The story is interesting, though not terribly original. I correctly predicted many of its plot turns, which is always disappointing. The main characters are likable though their acting is a bit flat at times. In fact, my favorite performance was by pop singer Rihanna as Bubble the shape-shifter. In particular, I found DeHaan’s youthful appearance jarring. He barely looks old enough to drive a car, let alone pilot a spaceship. The movie’s lowest points revolve around the romantic banter between him and Delevingne, which was at times painfully cliché. The action scenes made up for that.
Flaws aside, Valerian is still a must-see for any science fiction buff, especially Star Wars aficionados who loved the originals. I’d rate it 4 out of 5 stars.
Happy Birthday, Nikola Tesla
Nikola Tesla was born 161 years ago today in Smiljan, Croatia. Known as a pioneer of radio, the father of alternating current, and the archetypal “mad scientist” he was awarded at least 278 patents. A lifelong eccentric, he never married nor had any romantic relationships, though he’s rumored to have been infatuated with a pigeon. Some of his ideas were as offbeat as he was. He proposed free power, transmitted wirelessly, and conceived a “death ray” that he believed would make war impractical. Another well-known aspect of Tesla’s life was his feud with Thomas Edison over which was better, alternating current or direct current. Ironically, he received the Edison Medal from the American Institute of Electrical Engineers in 1916. Tesla has become a cult figure in recent years and has appeared as a character in numerous fictional works including The Prestige by Christopher Priest (also a movie by Christopher Nolan), Goliath by Scott Westerfield, Wonder of the Worlds by Sesh Heri, and Fidelio’s Automata by yours truly. Background info from Wikipedia/Infogalactic.
It doesn’t seem that long ago that we were celebrating the Bicentennial and everything was red, white, and blue. Now, 41 years later, we’re having a bit of difficulty getting along with each other, and with the world at large. If America can manage to stay together, I propose we adopt a new version of the Stars and Stripes, one that expresses our most important mission for the 21st century: Peace! Happy Fourth, everyone!
When I was a kid growing up in North Dakota, winter was the best time for reading a good book. Here in Arizona, however, the summer is the miserable season. This June has been a particularly hot one, with the temperature hitting 120. So when you’re lounging around in your air-conditioned house, what’s good to read? You’re in luck because Arlys and I are offering our e-book Professor Ione D. and the Epicurean Incident for FREE on Amazon this coming July and August. And if you happen to be attending Westercon 70 at the Tempe Mission Palms, come see us on our steampunk-related author panels on 11 AM Sunday and 5 PM Monday.
This coming weekend, Arlys and I will be appearing on two steampunk-related panels at Westercon 70 at the Mission Palms Resort in Tempe, Arizona. To celebrate, we are offering a special promotion for our new e-book, Professor Ione D. and the Epicurean Incident. This is the newest our series of steampunk adventures featuring our feisty heroine as she attends the First Epicurean Exhibition in London. This e-book will be available for download absolutely FREE on Sunday and Monday, July 2nd and 3rd. We make only one request: if you enjoy this book, please leave a review on Amazon. Even a sentence or two would be great. It would help us generate publicity and we would very much appreciate it. (Link)
Panels featuring Yours Truly are as follows:
“The Future of Steampunk in Writing,” with David Lee Summers
Sunday 11 AM -12 noon
David Lee Summers has written over a dozen science fiction and fantasy novels, including the “Clockwork Legion” series of Western-themed steampunk.
“Steampunk before it was Steampunk,” with Katherine Stewart.
A discussion of “proto-steampunk” in books and media before the term was coined.
Monday 5-6 PM
We hope to see you there!
Ione D began with an effort by my then-girlfriend Arlys to promote my new steampunk novel, Fidelio’s Automata. She conceived of the character as a young Victorian-era girl who would travel to places mentioned in the book and write about aspects of the local culture, especially the cuisine. Her “Ione D” Facebook posts featured photos of the meals she prepared featuring Cuban, French, Western, and Native American dishes. The name was an homage to her parents, Ione being her mother’s middle name and Dee being her father’s. To create a face for the character, Arlys photographed her daughter Arlys Angelique in steampunk regalia of her own design.
I found the character to be so charming that I decided we would write a novel to give Ione D her own adventures. First was the matter of backstory: Ione would be the daughter of a US ambassador living in London, which would allow her to be a world traveler at an early age. Her mother is French and provides the impetus for her interest in cooking. Then there was the matter of the surname, which Arlys had envisioned as the initial “D” only. I discovered that there is a Welsh river which is called Dee by the English and Dfrdwy (differ-dwee) by the Welsh. Although most Welsh people have English family names, we decided that Ione’s Welsh-American father would be an exception, and take his difficult-to-pronounce name from that river.
I had always intended to list Arlys as my co-author, since she created the character, and gave her veto power over the character’s actions. To my delight she embraced an equal role in the writing, tirelessly editing and rewriting the manuscripts. Though the story lines and settings are mostly of my creation, Arlys has written a significant portion of the dialog, and she’s conceived many of the scenes that appear in the Ione D books. Without her participation, these stories would not be half as good as they are. She keeps me from going off into boring explanations and exposition and provides the woman’s perspective that we need to successfully write a first-person female character.
Epicurean Incident was my idea for the first book, but it proved to be more challenging than I’d expected. First of all, it is based on a cooking contest, something that’s largely outside my area of expertise. We re-wrote the original draft several times. In the interim, I stumbled upon a sci-fi folk tale competition and decided to write a short story in which Ione encountered magical artifacts in ancient ruins. By the time I was halfway done with this, I realized I’d misunderstood the contest parameters, and that what we had written didn’t fit them at all. That didn’t matter, because Miss Ione D and the Mayan Marvel, a novella featuring the adventures of a 19-year old Ione in Guatemala, had captured our heart. It became the first published Ione D book, predating Epicurean Incident, which is set in 1901, when Ione (born 7/7/1877) is 24 years old and the youngest female college professor in America.
Once Mayan Marvel was finished, we returned to the matter of finishing Epicurean Incident. One factor that helped us was watching the popular anime Food Wars, which features teenagers competing for dominance in an elite cooking school in Japan. It convinced us that a story line involving cooking could have an audience. We also decided to make it a murder mystery, which provided an additional challenge. The original story was too linear, containing none of the misdirections that a mystery novel requires. We needed to learn to think a bit more deviously.
Now that Epicurean Incident is completed and posted to Amazon’s Kindle Direct, we can’t help but look forward to Ione’s next adventure, this time on the island of Crete. Ione is intelligent, spunky, and kind, but not infallible. She does not hesitate to speak her mind, but she is often indecisive in matters of love.
Search “Vaughn Treude” on Amazon.com. Ione’s new adventure should be available shortly. It’s a great read for young adult and other age groups.