Add one more to the list…

Yesterday major media reported on the December 23rd passing of Vesna Vulovic at the age of 66.

While her name isn’t as “big” as many others who made the far-too-long list of 2016 celebrity passings, she was a fascinating woman in her own right and holds a record that I strongly suspect may never be duplicated.

What’s the record?

Back in 1972 and at the age of 22 she was a flight attendant for JAT Yugoslav Airways.  Due to a mix up, she was assigned to a flight from Copenhagen to Belgrade.  One hour into the flight, the airliner blew up over Czechoslovakia and Ms. Vulovic, pinned in part of the rear of the plane, fell as much as 33,333 feet to the ground…and survived.

No one else in the flight survived the explosion and Ms. Vulovic would awaken in a hospital with no memory of her harrowing experience.  According to Wikipedia:

she suffered a fractured skull, three broken vertebrae (one crushed completely) that left her temporarily paralyzed from the waist down, and two broken legs. She was in a coma for 27 days.

The following article by Ruth Graham for Slate magazine offers a window into Ms. Vulovic, who never felt she was “lucky” to survive:

Bask in the Bracing Unsentimentality of Vesna Vulovic, the Only Person to Survive a 1972 Plane Crash

For a year filled with so much to be depressed about, I agree with Ms. Graham’s uplifting take on Ms. Vulovic despite her passing and while reflecting on this terrible year.  As Ms. Graham points out, there’s something to be said for someone who faces an event so harrowing and near unimaginable yet offer the following words of wisdom:

“If you can survive what I survived, you can survive anything.”

So as this year ends (one more day), perhaps we should take those words from the ultimate survivor and look forward to -perhaps- better times.

May they come really soon.

Happy New Year, everyone!

Selfish thoughts and 2016…updated…

2016 started with so much promise.

If I recall correctly, I was looking forward to not just one, not just two, but three albums.  Considering how little I buy new music, this was truly a wealth of goods.

Two of the albums, Anthrax’s For All Kings and Megadeth’s Dystopia, were thrash metal albums released by my two favorite heavy metal bands.  The third album I was looking forward to was the latest and, it would turn out, last David Bowie album, Blackstar.

With the sudden and very shocking announcement of Mr. Bowie’s death a mere couple of days after the release of that album, what was a cause of celebration, hearing another of his works, quickly soured.  The album was damn great, mind you, but it was hard to listen to it with the gut punch of it being tied to his death.

As for Anthrax and Megadeth’s albums, I liked them but…I dunno.  They were perfectly fine works but didn’t have the same something or another their other, better albums had.

But things weren’t all bad.  I knew in 2016 I’d finally release my new novel, Foundry of the Gods.  I put in so much work on it in 2015 and by the time 2016 rolled around figured the book could be done by February.

Boy, was I wrong.

The book took far longer to finish up, ultimately taking me through November and its release just as we had what, to my mind, was one of the more depressing bits of news ever: The election of Donald Trump to President of the United States.

Yesterday word came that Carrie Fisher had died after suffering a heart attack on board a plane traveling to L.A.  The news wasn’t shocking considering what was described of the heart attack and her apparently being out and unresponsive but of course, it was shocking.

Between Mr. Bowie’s death and Ms. Fisher’s passing we’ve had a year full of deaths, from Muhammad Ali to Gene Wilder to Don Hendley to Abe Vigota to…it seems to go on and on and on and as I write this it is December 28th and there are still 3 more days left to this year and one wonders if we’re in for any more nasty surprises.

(UPDATE:  So now comes word Debbie Reynolds, Carrie Fisher’s mother and a remarkable actress in her own right, passed away one freaking day after her daughter.  This incredibly cruel year just can’t end soon enough.)

I said above this was about “selfish thoughts” and I’ll get to that now: Going into the year, I was filled with the optimism I noted above.  A new book just about ready.  Three albums I was looking forward to buying and listening to.

And then things went so very bad.

Despite the added length of time it took to finish up Foundry of the Gods, I (pardon my language) fucking love the damn book and consider it one of the best I’ve written to date.

Yet as much as I love the book and as much as I cherish my own personal accomplishment and the fact that for the first time I’m seeing so many people pick up my latest work as it is released (thank you all very much for that), the novel will be forever linked to what could well be one of the shittier years, at least in terms of downbeat news, I’ve ever witnessed.

2017 is right around the corner and a part of me hopes things will get better yet another part of me recognizes a Trump Presidency -and all the lunacy I fear will come from it- lies just around the corner.

I work on, hoping for better times yet worried 2017 might be just as turbulent and depressing as 2016.

For my very own selfish reasons, if I do manage to finish my new book before the end of 2017, I hope its release doesn’t tie it, at least in my mind, with any more depressing news.

Jason Bourne (2016) a (mildly) belated review

I’m a fan of the original three Bourne films (2002’s The Bourne Identity, 2004’s The Bourne Supremacy, and 2007’s The Bourne Ultimatum).  All three featured Matt Damon in the titular role of Jason Bourne, amnesiac American hitman who is trying to figure out the lost pieces of his life while the “Agency” works very hard to eliminate him.

Until the Bourne films appeared, the king of the spy films was James Bond but, as Pierce Brosnan limped through his last features in the role, not only James Bond but the entire superspy genre appeared to be played out.

So it was a very pleasant surprise to find there was still life in it, as long as one offered a great plot and genuinely exciting action sequences.  All three of the original Bourne films were a hit and their influence was clear when in 2006 the then latest James Bond reboot, Casino Royale, appeared and, to my eyes, to a great degree took note of the Bourne films and moved in that direction.

After 2007’s The Bourne Ultimatum, however, it seemed this movie franchise was at its end.  I distinctly recall Matt Damon was asked about either the plot of this film or where the franchise could go from here and, tongue planted in cheek, he noted something along the lines that all three films had the same plot.

He wasn’t totally wrong.

For each Bourne film does indeed feature a repetitive plot which I pointed out in the very second sentence of this review.

Despite the repetitive nature of the plots, the three original films nonetheless managed to use what they had well.  When we reached The Bourne Ultimatum, however, it was clear this film was intended to be the finale.  All of Jason Bourne’s original questions were answered and our protagonist made amends for his violent past while closing down the agency that made him what he was.

Despite this seemingly complete resolution, Hollywood being Hollywood and the allure of money to be made resulted in the first, and thus far only, “sideways” sequel to the Bourne films, the 2012 Jeremy Renner/Rachel Weisz starring The Bourne Legacy.  On paper the concept wasn’t bad.  Since Matt Damon wasn’t going to be in this film, the producers decided to focus on the many other “Jason Bournes” out there and make a feature on them.

Alas, what may sound intriguing on paper unfortunately didn’t work, IMHO, in the finished product.  I felt The Bourne Legacy (you can read my original review of it here) was at best an “OK” film that didn’t resolve anything and appeared to be intended to start a new franchise rather than stand alone as its own good film.  It comes as little surprise no sequels to this film were ever green lit.

However, Hollywood being Hollywood (redux) and money to be made, it shouldn’t be too terribly surprising that with the passage of years, Matt Damon and director Paul Greengrass (he oversaw the last two of the original three Bourne films) were again drawn into making another Bourne film.  They did, of course, and earlier this year Jason Bourne was released.

Alas, despite some really good action sequences and a very game Matt Damon, the best I can offer is, like The Bourne Legacy before it, a mild recommendation for Jason Bourne.

The film certainly isn’t a disaster.  As I stated before, the action sequences are quite good at times (even if the final car chase is ludicrous).

But the story…

Once again we have Bourne looking into his background.  Once again we have the “Agency” and their shadowy operative after our hero.  Nothing’s really changed except the concept this time around seems tired and at times I couldn’t help but feel things weren’t as interesting as before.

Yet there’s little doubt the film could have been great.  It features a good cast, including Tommy Lee Jones as CIA Director Robert Dewey, current “it” girl and soon to be Tomb Raider Alicia Vikander as CIA operative (and a woman with her own agenda) Heather Lee, Vincent Cassel as “Asset”, a hitman with a personal grudge against Jason Bourne.  Julia Stiles also makes her return to the Bourne universe as Nicky Parsons, a role she’s had in all three original Bourne films.

But, again, the movie was decent but never spectacular.

The big problem lies in the screenplay and the way the story is told.  As an audience we’re whipped from place to place and people are heading rapidly to the left, then to the right, then there’s gunfire and fist fights and car chases and general mayhem and rinse, lather, and repeat, and all revolve around a) Jason Bourne’s “origin” and b) a Mark Zuckerberg/Steve Jobs-like character who’s created some kind of Facebook-like program everyone uses and which the CIA hopes will allow them to watch over everyone.

By far the film’s worst sin and what soured me on much of what followed involves the films opening moments.  I’ll get to this in a moment but it does involve a big SPOILER.

So, before I get into that SPOILER, I’ll repeat: Jason Bourne is a decent enough time killer that you should be able to enjoy but, frankly, you’re better off checking out the original three films.  A mild recommendation for Jason Bourne completists.




All right, for those still here: The movie gets started by Julia Stiles’ Nicky Parsons breaking into the CIA computers (a wise move…NOT!) and downloading some very sensitive material, including files related to Jason Bourne and the assassin program he went through.  The CIA notes what she’s up to in real time and, because of the nature of the material she steals, they believe Ms. Parsons is in league with Jason Bourne.

This isn’t the case.

Jason Bourne has kept a very low profile while currently residing in Greece.  He makes money in bare knuckle boxing matches and while staying “off the grid”.  He has no idea at all what Parsons is up to but after she’s stolen the sensitive CIA material she seeks out and finds him at one of his boxing matches.  There, she allows him to see her.

After the match, Bourne finds she’s left him a note in his belongings on where to meet up with her.

This is where the stupidity of the story goes really deep.

Why not just meet Bourne right then and there?  Why leave him a note and then meet him elsewhere?

Oh, right, because when they meet up where she wants to meet, in the middle of a freaking all-out street riot in Athens, they become targets to the CIA who has, by this time, figured out where they are (as opposed to at that boxing match, where they weren’t at), and we get to have an Exciting-Chase-Sequence™ which eventually results in Nicky Parsons getting shot and killed…but not before she gives Jason a key to a locker which will lead him to the next place he needs to go.

How do I put this delicately?I  This sequence is STUPID, STUPID, STUPID.

Why the hell didn’t Nicky Parsons just wait for the boxing match to be over, approach Bourne, and talk to him there and then?

I’ll tell you why…Oh wait, I can’t.


It felt like the movie’s creators hoped to “shock” audiences at the death of this recurring character just as they did with another big character in the opening minutes of the second Bourne film (I won’t reveal who).

But in this case, the way it was done was just beyond stupid.

If you can get past that, you may enjoy the rest of the film a little more.


Anno Horribilis…2017 can’t come fast enough…

So over the weekend we had two big news items regarding celebrities.

The first was Carrie Fisher, best known for playing Princess Leia Organa in the original Star Wars trilogy and reprising the role in Star Wars: The Force Awakens, suffered a heart attack while on a plane traveling to L.A.  Based on some of the comments offered, things sounded very grim.  However, the latest update, from Carrie Fisher’s mother Debbie Reynolds, is somewhat encouraging: She reported Ms. Fisher was “stable”.

I’ve noted many times I never got into Star Wars, even though I was of the right age and a sci-fi fanatic then (as I am now). Despite this, I have nothing but positive thoughts for Ms. Fisher, who not only was good in the role (a damsel in distress with a no-nonsense attitude), but also was quite good in other roles, including her hilarious turn as the ex-girlfriend from Hell turn in The Blues Brothers

Then, yesterday, Christmas Day, came word that George Michael, ex-Wham! member and (even more successful) solo artist, had passed away at the very (too!) young age of 53.  I’ll remember him most for this video, which was stylish and sexy as hell and introduced the world to Cindy Crawford:

He also had a great sense of humor and was the first musical guest to star in James Corden’s Carpool Karaoke for Comedy Relief…

Like Star Wars, I can’t say I was ever a big fan of George Michael’s music.  Just wasn’t my thing.  However, there is little doubt he had talent and a great voice and, let’s be fucking serious, 53 is not any kind of age to pass away at.

2017 has got to be better, no?

(Then he remembers who becomes President in 2017.  Gulp.)

The Bigger They Are…

I’ve noted before how much I love new technology.  I’m always on the lookout for new products and love reading reviews of the same.

Not everything out there is worth buying, of course.  I can’t quite see the need to have, for example, this…

Image result for samsung refrigerator with tv

Don’t get me wrong, the “Family Hub” refrigerator may be a great product and all but…seriously, neither my wife nor I -together or separately- spend the sort of time in the kitchen area one would need to to actually use something like this.

For many years, Apple has been the golden child of technology.  Their iPhone, let’s face it, is THE phone to have for many, even though the Samsung models -and the big black eye they received with the Galaxy Note 7- are nonetheless is doing quite alright in terms of sales and market share, thankyouverymuch.

As I’ve also noted before, I’ve been around long enough to know that just because your company is big/huge now doesn’t mean you’ll stay there.

When I was very young, Atari was THE video game system.  Everyone had it.  Everyone loved it.  And for a while there it seemed Atari could do no wrong.

Image result for atari 2600

Until, that is, competitors came and stole Atari’s thunder with better products and games.  Atari, that dominant behemoth of the video game world, fell into disarray and, while the name still exists on certain products, the original company is long gone.

When smartphones started to come along, there was plenty of competition until one name rose above them all: Blackberry.

Image result for blackberry

These phones were so popular that people dubbed them “Crackberrys” because one could not be without them.

Well, the Apple iPhone came along and Blackberry had no answer.  Eventually, the company folded and no more Blackberrys are being made

But as big a company as Apple has become, I’ve noted there are troubles brewing.  The death of Steve Jobs, the company’s co-founder and guiding light, certainly had to affect the company’s direction.  Yet the iPhones were still doing well and the iPads were/are pretty damn great products and even their computers were doing well–


Apple’s newest MacBook Pro is the first MacBook not recommended by Consumer Reports

When the reports of the newest MacBooks were released, I was, as I always am with new products, interested in reading what was new and interesting in them.  Turned out there was one thing, it seemed, worth mentioning: The newest MacBook Pro laptop had a…touchbar?!

Image result for macbook pro touch bar

This graphic shows you what the touchbar does.  It effectively offers you a touchable bar (duh) where you can put shortcut keys or emojis or whatever you want to aid in whatever you’re doing.

Frankly, I was bewildered.

It just seems so…minor…a thing to add.  What about making the entire screen touchable?  It’s not like that doesn’t exist already in so many models of computers like, say, the Surface…

Image result for microsoft surface

I genuinely thought the new MacBooks would go the Surface route.  I mean, the iPad effectively is an intermediary already.  Why not go the full route with the MacBooks?

Yet this was not done.

But according to the above article, Consumer Reports was particularly bothered by inconsistent battery charge in these MacBooks.  Consumer Reports wrote (this is quoted in the article):

The MacBook Pro battery life results were highly inconsistent from one trial to the next.

For instance, in a series of three consecutive tests, the 13-inch model with the Touch Bar ran for 16 hours in the first trial, 12.75 hours in the second, and just 3.75 hours in the third. The 13-inch model without the Touch Bar worked for 19.5 hours in one trial but only 4.5 hours in the next. And the numbers for the 15-inch laptop ranged from 18.5 down to 8 hours. 


I mean, if you need your laptop for work and you can’t charge it and are expecting to get at least six hours of work in…its understandable if you’re very frustrated if 4 hours into whatever you’re doing the battery in your MacBook is down to nothing.  Especially if previously its given you 10 plus hours.

Apple remains a very big, influential, and admired company and there isn’t a reason (yet anyway) to think they’re about to go down like Atari or Blackberry did.  However, that doesn’t mean there isn’t danger.

They need to focus on improving their products and, frankly, making sure these types of glitches don’t occur again.

Otherwise, they may well join the ranks of the once mighty.

Counterfeit products…

Over on, author Helaine Olen offers the following fascinating article:

How Amazon’s Problem With Cheap Knock-Offs Got So Bad

I’ll say upfront: I really like  I think the site offers a great way to buy (and in my case also sell) products.

HOWEVER, as the article notes, there is a big problem here regarding “knock-off” or counterfeit products.  We’re talking about things such as clothing, phone cases, and, I’ve heard, even music CDs/DVDs.

When one buys a product, one expects to get what they asked for and not, as it will turn out, a cheap copy.  As pointed out in the article, these cheap counterfeits hurt the creators of the original legitimate product in two ways: 1) By being much cheaper in price than the legitimate products, they undercut sales of the real product, sometimes to a very high degree.  2) Because they are cheap knock-offs, they tend to break quicker and this, in turn, angers customers who think they have bought the legitimate product.  Bad reviews lead to worse sales and, sometimes, the legit creators are wrongly accused of building bad product.

At the risk of giving the entire article away, it is pointed out that is looking into this matter more now than they did before.  Hope so.

I truly don’t want to start looking around to make sure that product X that I’m looking to order is what I think it is.

40 Greatest One-Album Wonders…

…again, a list from Rolling Stone:

40 Greatest One-Album Wonders

I find this list incredibly interesting.  Of course, there are many “one hit” wonders out there, bands that had that one big hit song and never replicated that success.  It’s a little more interesting when you have a band/singer who creates a full album which is considered great and then…nothing.

#37 on the list, Hermann Szobel for the 1976 album Szobel is particularly sobering and intriguing.  Never heard the album but what happened to Mr. Szobel is heartbreaking, especially if the album is as good as described.

Then there’s #17’s The Shaggs and their 1969 album Philosophy of the World.  This is one seriously odd album, of which I’ve heard snippets of in the past.  Three sisters, perhaps (over) indulged by their father, released an album that…well…its an experience, for certain.  I’ll cut and past the entire description from the Rolling Stone article:

It takes all of two seconds for the Shaggs’ out-rock masterpiece Philosophy of the World to fall apart into a glorious, asynchronous mess. The group was a trio of sisters from Fremont, New Hampshire whose father and manager believed in their bizarre, messy music about cats, parents, Halloween and how “you can never please anybody in this world,” as Dot Wiggins sings on the title cut. Although the Shaggs were too weird for mainstream success – leading to their eventual disbandment after their dad died – their sole LP became an underground hit. Frank Zappa said they were “better than the Beatles,” Kurt Cobain named Philosophy his fifth favorite record ever and rock group NRBQ believed in them enough to coax two-thirds of the group out of retirement in 1999. Their story became the subject of an off-Broadway musical that opened in 2011. 

After that, I have to include Philosophy of the World, right?  Here you go:

Don’t say I never do anything for you.

Curious to find that Eric Clapton has not one, but two albums on this list, both of which are deserving of being on it.  You got Blind Faith with their self titled album at #14 and Derek and the Dominos’ Layla and Other Assorted Love Songs at #2.  Both groups, which featured Mr. Clapton, only recorded their one album before disbanding.

Before getting to the #1 album, I wanted to point out #9 on the list, The Postal Service and one and only album Give Up.  I picked this album up because of the many recommendations given to it and I find this song from it, in particular, incredibly haunting, though it isn’t the best known song from the album:

Something about longing for lost love is incredibly powerful.  Some of the lyrics send those cliched chills down my spine.  Love, love, love this song.

At #1 is (SPOILER ALERT!!!)…


…the Sex Pistols and their one and only full album Never Mind The Bullocks, Here’s The Sex Pistols.  Truly an album that came around at the right time and in the right place and turned just about everything upside down.  It was/is a smarmy, anarchic album which defined the times and insulted just about everything and everyone while doing so.  The album was a hit yet, if memory serves, newspapers would black out “God Save The Queen” from the Billboard list because it was so very controversial.

If you are a fan of rock and roll and punk and music in general, this album is most certainly worth having in your collection.

40 Best Science Fiction TV Shows of All Time…

…At least according to Rolling Stone.  The full list is here:

40 Best Science Fiction TV Shows of All TIme

One can always quibble with lists like this one.  For example Space 1999, and Stargate SG1 are given higher positions on this list compared to Aeon Flux, which barely lands on the list at #39.

Now, I don’t have anything against these three shows.  Space 1999 had some absolutely stellar effects and it was so much fun to see the then wed couple of Martin Landau and Barbara Bain together after Mission: Impossible.  But let’s face it, the stories weren’t all that great.  Some were, like the show’s concept of the Moon being ripped from Earth orbit and wandering space (and quickly finding aliens and adventure), rather laughable.  HOWEVER, if I were making a list of best TV show music themes (whether sci-fi or not), then Space 1999 is right there close to the top…

Also, when you get to the top 5, it seems to me The Prisoner should be higher.  I have no qualms with (SPOILER ALERT!) Star Trek and Twilight Zone taking up #1 and 2 respectively.  I have no problem also with Dr. Who being at #4.  And Battlestar Galactica, the new version, most certainly is a great show, though it was marred by a bad last season/conclusion.  I would switch Battlestar Galactica from #3 and move it to #5 and raise The Prisoner up to #3.

Thus, my top 3 personal all time favorite sci-fi TV shows would be Star Trek, Twilight Zone, and The Prisoner.  In that order.  I guess two out of three ain’t bad?!

The second big topic will be: What is missing from this list?

Where’s Person of Interest?  Or the delightful and wild Farscape?!  How about the “wow, this series is actually damn good” Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles?  Then there’s the weird and wild UFO, to my mind a better series by the same people behind Space 1999.

UFO, which as you can see from its intro theme, featured a Moon Base, was reportedly the inspiration for Space 1999.  And if you’re willing to put it in the sci-fi category, I’d also add the wonderful Wild, Wild West.  The show was basically James Bond in the Wild West and it was a freaking blast (To keep sane, forget a Will Smith movie version was ever made).  It too had a great theme…

So there’s at least five shows I’d add to the list.  But to add them to the list I’d have to remove some others.  There are a few shows listed in the Rolling Stone article I’m not familiar with/haven’t seen any episodes of so sticking with those I have seen, there are three for sure that wouldn’t make my list.

First up would be the original V.  While I liked the mini-series, afterwards and when it went to full seasons V lost it pretty quickly.  Two others I wouldn’t include are Dollhouse and Quantum Leap.  I understand what some loved about Quantum Leap, but the show never appealed to me.  On the other hand, I can’t understand the love for Dollhouse.  The early episodes of the series suggested creator/cult figure Joss Whedon was completely winging it.  The show was erratic and made very little sense and then, when the ratings faltered, it got “serious” and presented a conclusion.  Like the series itself, the conclusion was…weird.  Didn’t really care for it.

So there you have it for what its worth.  Your mileage, as they say, may vary!

Passengers (2016) redux…

Though I don’t intend to see the film and am turned off by the “twist” presented within (and, based on the reviews, the very lame way its dealt with), I’m nonetheless fascinated with the Chris Pratt/Jennifer Lawrence film Passengers.

In part it is because of similarities to a portion of my novel Ghost of the Argus, which, because it was a big element of said novel, clearly is an interesting topic for me…or else I never would have included it in my novel.

Having said that, a clarification: The idea of someone trapped alone on a spacecraft with a long time to go before it reaches its destination is not some blazingly new or original concept.  Indeed, if you peel off the sci-fi element, the person living all alone goes back at least to Robinson Crusoe.  In sci-fi, there’s what is arguably Stanley Kubrick’s masterpiece 2001: A Space Odyssey, which featured two astronauts alone on a big starship heading to a distant location while the other crew members were in some kind of cryogenic sleep.

As for the Passengers twist, check this out, the cover to Weird Science #20, originally published in 1951.  I vaguely remembered that particular issue (I’m a fan of the EC line of comics but shamefully admit the cover of this book and its similarity to the movie was pointed out elsewhere):

Image result for weird science #20

Pretty much the plot of Passengers, no?

Anyway, that’s about all I have to say about this film…unless of course something else occurs to me! 😉


How much for that Bladder of Snuff…?

Over at Rebecca Onion has a delightful post offering the following:

What Things Cost in an American Country Store in 1836

At the risk of giving everything away from the above article I’m going to…oh hell, give everything away.  Here you go:


You still should check out the article to find out where this list comes from and why it was made (As noted in the question, this was intended as an aid to potential businessmen who were interested in setting up a full stock for a store).

Fascinating, fascinating stuff.