A writing update, of sorts…

This is a difficult one for me. I’ve faced incredible frustration with the time available for my writing, to the point where in the past month or so I’ve done very, very little.

If you’ve been reading these posts, you know that a large part of this is due to the catastrophes I’ve faced at my house. First, the plumbing problems which led to having to virtually change all the water exit lines on the east side of my house. This resulted in completely tearing up the yard on that side (they had to bring in a digger to create the trench for the new pipes), then, a grand total of two days after the pipes were laid in, my central AC went down and I had to spend even more money on getting that replaced.

Then, my daughter moved and I spent a week with the wife driving to her home, helping pack up her stuff, then spent two days on the road moving her stuff to her new home. Then, another two-three days unloading and unpacking then flying back home…

…and now I’m knee deep in fixing the bathroom that initiated the whole fiasco. See, that bathroom, our guest bathroom, had trouble getting the water out, whether when flushing the toilet or using the shower/bath. We brought in some people, they used a snake, but no result. Then they brought in cameras and determined that the old exit lines, which were metal (a popular choice when our house was built in 1959), had corroded and plugged themselves up to the point they had to be replaced.

Ah well.

Anyway, the original plumbers had to break the ground under the toilet and, since then, the bathroom was unusable. Realizing that simply fixing the floor would be, at best, a patch up job, we decided it was best to refresh the entire bathroom and that’s where we are now.

We’re on day three of this process and I anticipate we’ve got another three days -at least!- to go before being done.

At that point, I very much hope –and pray!– all these time sucking calamities will be done and I’ll be able to finally get back to writing my latest book, which I’ve found an intriguing work to this point.

What is it about?

Well, my intention is to create a good suspense/horror novel which is set in the Corrosive Knights “universe”.

While before I stated my next novel would be an “Epilogue” to the Corrosive Knights series, I’ve reconsidered that thought.

It boils down to this: There are more areas I want to explore in this universe and if I finish off the Epilogue book (the first draft is pretty much done), I fear that it may serve as closure to the Corrosive Knights series and I’m not quite ready to do that yet.

So stay tuned. I’m very, very eager to pounce on the current novel and finish it up as quickly as possible… provided all these other problems are finished up and my focus can return to my work.

Soon.

Hopefully!

What’s Up Doc? (1972) a (incredibly) belated review

A while back TCM played the 1972 Peter Bogdanovich directed screwball comedy homage What’s Up Doc? Here’s the movie’s trailer/behind the scenes:

I had warm memories of the film but, frankly, hadn’t seen it in at least twenty plus years. I wondered if it was as good as I recalled. The DVR was set, the film recorded, and then a couple of months later and with my wife and daughter sat down to see it.

It wasn’t easy getting those two to sit in!

After some twenty minutes, my daughter bailed. She doesn’t have a lot of patience for “old” films and, frankly, I can’t totally blame her. Nowadays films have a quicker pace to them, and this film certainly started “slow” compared to more recent works.

My wife found at least some of what she saw humorous enough and held on, but I think during those early minutes she too was “touch and go”.

But then, once the movie’s finished with the preliminaries and into the story proper, as well as the slapstick that’s to come, What’s Up Doc? becomes a truly wonderful comedy and very worthy of my pleasant memories.

The plot is complex but never complicated: There are four identical traveling bags held by four different characters.

Two of the suitcases carry totally innocuous items: Judy Maxwell (Barbara Streisand, equally sexy and off the wall as a walking hurricane of a character) has a suitcase of clothing. Howard Bannister (Ryan O’Neal doing his best to emulate a stuttering, stuffy Cary Grant who, along with his fiancé –Madeline Kahn in her film debut- is headed to a music convention in the hopes of getting a grant to study… Neanderthal music?) carries igneous rocks.

The two other cases contain something far more interesting: Mr. Smith (Michael Murphy) carries a suitcase full of top secret documents. He’s being pursed by a U.S. agent. The last suitcase, owned by Mrs. Van Hoskins (Mabel Albertson), contains a treasure in jewels.

The jewels catch the eye of the shady Hotel Clerk and equally shady Hotel Detective who plan to steal it. The U.S. Government agent, who Mr. Smith quickly gets wise to, wants to retrieve the top secret documents. And all four suitcases wind up, with their owners, in four separate rooms on the 17th floor of the Hotel they are staying at. This results in mass confusion and considerable hilarity.

The movie plays out, for the most part, like a slapstick stage play, with characters talking in and around each other while the identical suitcases move from room to room and character to character while Judy Maxwell takes a liking to her opposite, character-wise, in Howard Bannister.

The set pieces wind up working terrifically, each bigger and better than the other, followed by a breather before getting into the next comedic set piece. I feel the final big set piece, involving Liam Dunn (I won’t give away too much here, for fear of SPOILING a …gulp… 47 year old film) is a perfect climax and the proverbial cherry on top of the pie. Mr. Dunn, best known for appearances on Mel Brooks films, is but one of the people who would go on from this film to work in two of Mel Brooks’ most famous films. He, along with Madeline Kahn, Kenneth Mars, and John Hillerman would go on to appear in Blazing Saddles. All but Mr. Hillerman would also show up in Young Frankenstein.

In conclusion, if you don’t mind seeing “old” films and/or can put up with a few slow minutes in this movie’s opening act (assuming you’re spoiled on the more speedy pace of modern films), What’s Up Doc? is a no-brainer. A hilarious, albeit strangely forgotten, film that stands up quite well with some of the better comedies out there.

William Gibson’s Alien 3

A while back I mentioned the sorrow I felt when the comic shop I frequented for the past (*gasp*) 20 some years or so -likely more!- had shuttered.

Even so, I felt that it was a matter of time. Just as bookstores in this digital age seem to mostly be a thing of the past so too I felt comic book shops were facing an increasingly stiff digital tide against them.

What I didn’t realize with the shutting of the shop was the access I’d have to so many different comic books, both of recent and past vintage. I’ve been on a tear buying digital copies of series I never finished reading, such as Nexus, or books I was curious about but wouldn’t pay the very stiff amounts for the physical books (there are so many to mention, but I have pretty much the complete runs of Spider-Man, Fantastic Four, and Captain America up to the turn of the century. I also recently found Detective Comics on sale and picked up the late Silver Age/Early Bronze age issues and intend to give them a look see when I can).

One of the interesting things I’ve discovered is that there are several comic book adaptations of interesting unused screenplays. For example, after the success of the original Robocop movie, comic book writer/artist Frank Miller was hired to write screenplays to Robocop 2 and 3. My understanding was that both films bore little comparison to Mr. Miller’s screenplays, but I was always curious to read them. To my delight, I found that there were adaptations of Miller’s Robocop screenplays and I eagerly bought and read them. An improvement over the films, I felt, but perhaps too unfocused for their own good.

Similarly, I found the original/early drafts of The Star Wars by George Lucas and The Bionic Man by Kevin Smith were produced in comic book form as was a more faithful adaptation of the classic Star Trek episode The City on The Edge of Forever by Harlan Ellison.

Reading these works has proven to date a fascinating bit of literary archeology. In all cases I’ve wondered how these scripts were and “reading” them in a graphic novel format is perhaps the closest I’ll get at this point to “seeing” them as a film or TV show.

But it is proving to be a double edged sword.

As I mentioned, the Frank Miller Robocop proved ambitious in scope and scale but unfocused. I fear a faithful film adaptation of what I read would have been a mess. The City on the Edge of Forever, in my opinion, benefited from the changes made to Mr. Ellison’s script. Likewise, The Star Wars presented an interesting early view of George Lucas’ thought process but the eventually released film was far better.

Recently, William (Neuromancer) Gibson’s Alien 3 script was unearthed and adapted into a graphic novel by Johnnie Christmas (writing/art) and Tamara Bonvillain (colorist). For those unaware, after the success of Alien and Aliens, Mr. Gibson was hired to write the script for the third Alien film and did so. The studios passed on his script and it was filed away. The movie which was eventually made had absolutely nothing to do with Mr. Gibson’s screenplay.

Being a fan of Mr. Gibson’s writing, I was intrigued about this screenplay and, given my negative feelings with the theatrically released Alien 3, longed to read his vision of the Alien universe. Was this, finally, a story that deserved to be made into a film?

…welp…

So last year in 2018 Dark Horse comics published the five issue adaptation of Mr. Gibson’s screenplay. In August 5th of this year, the work will be collected into a single edition and I was waiting to buy it. However, over the weekend I found the individual five issues of the series were on sale, digitally, through ComiXology for 0.99 each. The total price for the five issues is $4.95. A bargain considering the upcoming digital collected edition is set to retail for $11.99. Seeing the bargain and no longer able to contain my curiosity, I purchased the five issues and, yesterday, read them.

William Gibson's Alien 3 #1 by [Christmas, Johnnie, Gibson, William]

So, my thoughts:

To begin, the story isn’t a total disaster. There are interesting elements here and there. For example, unlike the screen version of Alien 3, we have the return of Newt, Hicks and Bishop, the trio of which were (SPOILERS FOR A VERY OLD FILM) killed right off the bat at the beginning of the theatrical film version of Alien 3.

I’ll be getting into SPOILERS in a moment but before I do, let me offer this short review:

William Gibson’s Alien 3 is a competently done work with decent art and colors but with a story that is simply not very good. It drags at the beginning then devolves into a typical Alien bloodbath but, truly, offers little new or interesting to the Alien universe other than trying to flesh out political systems.

If this adaptation is true to Mr. Gibson’s screenplay, one can see why the Producers took a pass despite his well regarded reputation in the science fiction field.

Now then, a deeper dive into the story, but to do so we have…

….SPOILERS FOLLOW!…

Still with me?

Don’t say I didn’t warn you!

William Gibson’s Alien 3 presents the Sulaco, fresh off its adventures in Aliens, derelict. A group of people intercept her and discover that in the sleeping module of Bishop, the android, is an alien growth. They foolishly take the android and one of their men is infected and runs away and gets lost in the Sulaco. The others, realizing their time is short, take the 1/2 of Bishop with them and, in time, all hell breaks loose for them.

But before all that happens, the Sulaco is released so that it can complete its journey. There are politics involved and threats among the people who were behind the boarding of the ship and those expecting its arrival but this doesn’t really amount to much, IMHO, nor does it make for terribly interesting reading.

The bottom line is the ship makes it to a major space station and it is there that Ripley, Hicks, and Newt are revived. Ripley freaks out upon discovering Bishop is gone and the Alien threat may be happening and is quickly tranquilized.

And that’s it for Ripley’s participation in this story.

That’s right, kids, Ripley has one “scene”, is knocked out, and that’s pretty much all for her participation here.

Meanwhile, Hicks and Newt re-unite and Newt is sent on a shuttle to her grandparents.

Two characters down.

Bishop is returned to the station repaired (he was, as I already mentioned, torn in half in Aliens) and we find out the people who got to the Sulaco first are facing annihilation from the aliens they unknowingly brought with them. The people who have the Sulaco, meanwhile, are about to get into the same trouble as a “company” woman has them work on the alien DNA. They discover a way the alien DNA can essentially glom onto and over-write human DNA.

Guess what happens?

Anyway, as things are starting to go sideways, Hicks sends the still tranquilized Ripley out on a shuttle craft and to safety. Even in the comic book adaptation we don’t “see” her character or have her say any parting words because she’s in a pod before being sent away. I can’t help but think at the time Mr. Gibson was writing the screenplay the producers told him Sigourney Weaver may not be involved in the film.

Afterwards there’s bloodshed, there’s death, and ultimately we have a station that has to be cleansed by being destroyed.

In the last pages of the story, Hicks and Bishop consider what’s going on and realize that all out war between humanity and the aliens is just around the corner.

Dark times are a comin’.

Fin.

Meh.

When I saw it, I came away really hating the Alien 3 movie. Having said that, I’m put in the uncomfortable position of saying… for all its faults, and it has many, the film was still a better overall work, in my opinion, versus Mr. Gibson’s screenplay.

Now, before I bust on an author idol, I will give Mr. Gibson the benefit of the doubt: He was not involved, I’m assuming, in this comic book adaptation. He didn’t rewrite his screenplay so that it would “work” in a comic book format. Still, assuming what I read was a faithful adaptation of Mr. Gibson’s work, then I can safely say this screenplay would have made for a pretty bad film.

We’ll never know, of course, and for all we know Mr. Gibson produced this screenplay with the intention of then working it out and improving it with time. Perhaps he knew there were many things up in the air, including whether Sigourney Weaver would eventually participate in the film, and he simply wrote out a treatment and knew it would be at best a rough outline for some more fully formed work.

Maybe, maybe not.

At the very least my curiosity is sated.

However, I can’t say that what I read was some lost William Gibson masterpiece.

Into the breach once more…

BEWARE: Tesla post!

I promised a while back I’d try not to post so much about Tesla and the electric vehicles. It felt, to me anyway, that I’d written quite enough about my feelings regarding electric vehicles in general (I love the concept of EV cars and feel combustion engines are an environmentally dirty, very old concept that is way past its time to be replaced) and my Tesla 3 in particular (still loving it!).

The past few weeks for Tesla have been, to say the least, a roller coaster. Their stock prices have tanked for several weeks and those who are salivating at the prospect of Tesla floundering (or, perhaps more specifically, of Elon Musk failing) were ecstatic.

I know little about stocks, other than they go up and down, but I’ve heard of the so-called Tesla short-sellers, people whose investments are a bet the company will fail, and I’ve also read things Musk himself has written/said noting that Tesla and its cars are a direct threat to some very big industries.

Regarding the later, he’s quite right. If Tesla -or EV vehicles in general- become the norm, the several billion dollar auto industry and its many ancillary industries will change in drastic ways. Starting with the oil industry, there will be no great need for gasoline. I wouldn’t say gasoline will suddenly, completely disappear, but the fact is that a sizable portion of the sales will dry up.

Secondary markets will also be affected: Gas stations, oil changing companies (whether on gas station grounds or individual businesses), battery companies (those that create batteries for the gas powered cars), transmission fluid makers, parts manufacturers, etc. etc. etc.

Truly, if EV cars become the norm, which I strongly suspect will happen, many, many industries will be subverted. Many may well go under.

So there were those -investors, industry, Elon Musk haters, etc.- who were very happy to pile on to the company’s woes following a weak first quarter of sales.

The tables, though, seem to have turned. From Lauren Feiner at cnbc:

Tesla had its second best day this week following report its offering hefty incentives to reach high delivery

CNBC, a business reporting company, is, at least according to this article by Zachary Shahan at cleantechnica.com, not necessarily a reporting organization that offers many positives regarding Tesla…

40 Tesla headlines on CNBC in 2 days -31 negative, 2 positive

It’s tempting, as a fan of my Model 3 and EVs in general, to say the sudden about face and turn from negative to positive will mean from here on out things are going to be good.

Not so.

Just as we had a period of dark news and now we’re moving into positives, I suspect at some point in the near future there will be more negative news coming regarding Tesla and EVs.

I suppose the point is the old cliche of a marathon.

It’s a long race and Tesla may be, for the moment, ahead of the game when just a few days before they were falling behind and things looked very dark. This could very easily change in the near future.

We’ll see.

Sorry for the dearth of posts…

It seems to happen at least once (or twice) each year: There comes a period of time where I’m slammed with something or another and it’s simply impossible for me to post new entries here.

This time around, it was helping my eldest daughter move halfway across the country to her new job, which involved the wife and I driving to where she lived (4 hours), then helping her pack up while simultaneously renting a Suburban to hold her stuff/furniture, then 1 full day (8+ hours) of driving the Suburban (me) and her car (daughter and wife) to the halfway point, spending the night there, then another full day (8+ hours) of driving to her destination.

Once there, it was time to unload her belongings, go off to buy items she needed, get a lay of the land, return the Suburban (thank the Gods for car rental agencies which allow you to travel half-way across the country and then leave the car you rented with them there!), and, finally, take a flight (3 and 1/2 hours long!) back home on Sunday.

The later point, the flight back, really makes one appreciate how good it is to fly versus drive such long distances!

Still, once again it seems like I can’t catch a break: My youngest daughter, who remained at home caring for the pets while we helped the eldest daughter, told us the brand new AC unit I spent some very hard earned money on was making strange noises.

That night, Sunday, the wife and I heard the strange noises it was making upon starting up. Then, I noticed that it was blowing air but not cooling.

To say the least, I was beside myself.

The unit, not quite a month old, was failing?!

WTF?!?

After one hour of it simply blowing air and fearing the worst and very strangely, the AC unit was suddenly working and blowing cool air?

WTF Redux?!

While no expert in AC units, I’ve had plenty of experience with them and it was, to say the least, very weird that the unit a) was making this very weird noise and b) not cooling for approximately an hour before doing so.

On Monday I called the people who installed the unit and arranged for them to come see it. Thankfully, they came relatively quickly and I told them what we experienced. He was also bewildered.

He checked the Freon and machinery outside before moving inside. He said everything looked like it was good. Then, he realized the problem…

Image result for p-trap

What you see above is a “p-trap”. All sinks, bathtubs, toilets, and, yes, AC units have such things. The p-trap is used in the water exhaust of the above items. The point is the water comes down the tube on the left, hits the curved p-trap, and that speeds the water along to the right and out.

What the people who installed my brand new AC unit did was put a p-trap very near where the water comes out… and didn’t realize there was already another p-trap on the outside of the house and near the end of the exit line where the AC water is discharged into the lawn.

One can only have one p-trap per exit line. If you have two of them, the exhaust water gets trapped in the tubing between the p-traps and this can cause problems.

Like what I was experiencing with the AC unit.

Luckily, the fix was extremely easy: Remove the outside p-trap.

Whew.

Anyway, I’m still getting my legs back and am still very exhausted from the trip and the move.

I’m also very eager to get back to my writings, which I’ve understandably had to set aside for the past week.

We’ll be back to them.

As soon as today, later in the evening.

Upgrade (2018) a (Mildly) Belated Review

Sometimes, a movie takes you by surprise and rocks your world. Especially when the movie (and, one has to assume, the movie’s makers) are treading into creative areas similar to the one’s I’ve been mining.

Please, please, PLEASE don’t get me wrong: I’m not saying the delightful Upgrade is somehow “ripping off” ideas I’ve used in my novels.

Hell no!

What I’m saying is that there are elements in the movie that I recognize in some of my novels… but that’s all they are, similar elements.

The creative playground out there is quite big and it wouldn’t surprise me if writer/director Leigh Whannell’s been reading/watching/admiring some of the same material I have over his life. In other words: If you’ve read and like my books, I suspect you’ll like this movie and, no, it doesn’t “rip off” my books -at all!- but does play in similar territory.

But enough preamble. Here’s the trailer for Upgrade:

As you can see by the above, Upgrade involves one Gray Trace (Logan Marshall-Green, quite good) who is a mechanic and something of a technophobe living in the near future where computers are everywhere and a creeping dystopia is coming to life. When we meet him, he’s doing the finishing touches on a Trans-Am Firebird, the type many would be familiar as being in the movie Smokey and the Bandit, when his wife Asha (Melanie Vallejo) arrives from work.

They have some light banter before Gray insists his wife accompany him to deliver the Trans-Am to the man who hired him to refurbish it. Turns out the man is a computer genius who heads a large tech company and whose work his wife is familiar with. The man is sullen and awkward, but offers to show them his latest project, a new computer chip which he states will revolutionize the world.

Upon leaving the reclusive man’s home, Gray and Asha’s self-driving car is hacked and crashed. A group of toughs come to rob them and Asha is shot and killed while Gray is rendered a quadraplegic.

Understandably morose following a painful recovery that has this once independent man a widower and tied to a wheelchair, he is visited by his previous employer, who states the chip he showed him might just be able to get him on his feet again.

And that’s about all the spoiling I’m going to do for this film.

If you’ve seen the trailer, you know some of what’s to come, but this very low budget (supposedly around $5 million) film is quite amazing. It’s lean, mean, and doesn’t waste a second of your time while delivering a clever story that is at times familiar (boo!) only to surprise you with some well thought out twists and turns (yay!).

The ending, too, proved a fascinating, well thought out piece of cinema, giving you the proverbial cherry on top of the cake.

While Upgrade doesn’t necessarily revolutionize B movies, it offers plenty of thrills and clever storytelling. Further, despite its ending it also allows for -if the writer/director is interested- sequels which could examine… well… that would be telling, wouldn’t it?

If you haven’t seen it, give Upgrade a whirl. It’s well worth your time.

Post-script: I noted on director/writer Leigh Whannell’s IMDB listing that he’s attached to the Escape From New York remake. A very, very interesting choice. Given how much I liked Upgrade and how that film was set in a pseudo near-future not unlike the original Escape From New York, I can certainly see the reason he was chosen.

Could be good.