Category Archives: Books/Literature

Sad… and yet expected

Yesterday came news that the venerable Mad Magazine, the satirical/smart-assed magazine published since 1952, was for all intents and purposes being cancelled.

Sure, there are a few “ifs” and “buts” to this news, but essentially the Magazine will be producing more and more “best of” editions and stopping the original stuff.

You can read more about this in this article by James Whitbrook and presented over on i09.com:

Mad Magazine is basically dead

To me, and as I wrote on the header above, this is sad but expected news. It’s been many, many years since I’ve read Mad Magazine, and likely well over twenty plus years since I’ve held an original newstand issue release.

But there was a time, back in the 1970’s and into the 1980’s, when Mad Magazine was one of my favorite publications. I loved it so much that I even had a subscription to them and got issues over the mail. Not before and not since had I ever done that, and I still recall the first issue I received in the mail…

Image result for mad magazine king kong

From 1977 and not one of their “best” issues, nonetheless I loved the parody of King Kong (the first remake film, which featured a very young Jeff Bridges and Jessica Lange).

I was fascinated with Mad and eager to pick up their earlier issues. Luckily, they would release “Best of” editions which often allowed me to get peeks at the long history of Mad Magazine parodies.

Many years later and at the dawn of the “digital” age, a beautiful CD Rom compilation was released which featured all the issues of the magazine up to that point. Even better, it included odds and ends found in the various “Best of” compilations, including songs and other silliness…

Image result for mad magazine cd rom

Loved it!

A few years after this release they released another up to the moment CD Rom set, but this one didn’t feature all those wonderful bonuses.

When I got the CD Rom edition, I tried to read some of the more recent magazines included in the set but found the humor… just wasn’t as good as before.

Worse, many of my favorite artists and writers were no longer there. Don Martin left the book amid a squabble over royalties with publisher William Gaines and eventually went to work for Cracked, did his own series, and passed away. Sadly, in reading the incidentals regarding Mr. Martin’s situation, I couldn’t help but feel that Mr. Gaines had taken advantage of not only him but many of the other artists he hired from the early EC days through Mad Magazine. Mr. Gaines made plenty of money reprinting older strips and, at least according to Mr. Martin, didn’t offer royalties to the talent who made the works.

Similarly, other artists and writers, such as Antonio Prohias, who created and wrote/drew Spy vs Spy, had also either left the book and/or passed away. What I saw with those later issues were works by people I neither knew nor found all that interesting.

Ah well.

Still, it’s incredibly sad to read that Mad may finally be shutting down. It had a good, long run, but today it competes with memes and comedians who are on TV nightly. The humor it brought forward is readily available in so many media and a magazine coming out bi-monthly simply didn’t have as much of a chance.

Good things, as they say, eventually come to their end, and so too it appears to have happened to Mad.

The dangers of buying digital things…

First, I have to be honest: I LOVE buying things “digitally”.

I LOVE not having the clutter of so many books and movies and the ease by which I can enjoy both through either my cellphone, tablet, or through my “smart” TV.

I LOVE IT!

…however…

Stories like these make me mighty uncomfortable. From Matt Novak and presented on gizmodo.com:

Ebooks purchased from Microsoft will be deleted this month because you don’t really own anything anymore

The title is self-explanatory: Microsoft sold eBooks starting in/around 2017. The service appears to have not done very well and the company decided they were going to stop selling books and, further, delete those that people bought.

Money will be returned by Microsoft to the people who bought these eBooks, just to be clear, and the service seems to have been a flop pretty much from the beginning so not that many people were affected.

However, this does present a sobering thought: What if this should happen with Apple or Amazon? How about VUDU? All my books/graphic novels -and I have a BUNCH of them- are on Amazon. Pretty much all my film purchases are currently being done through VUDU.

What if these services have a problem? What if suddenly all these many thousands of dollars I’ve spent will *poof!* be gone?

Again, I love the digital services. I love the fact that my home isn’t getting filled up with more books and movie boxes.

I love this!

But, seriously, there needs to be some kind of permanence created for these bought items yet I wonder if such a thing could be accomplished, other than downloading your stuff and saving it to increasingly full Hard Drives.

it’s been a blur so far…

…at least for me.

I’m referring to the summer. Truly since the start of May, perhaps even the end of April, things have been on a whirl.

I mentioned a few of the things that have affected me already: The plumbing problems, followed by the AC problems, followed by moving my daughter, followed by getting the bathroom fixed up.

We’re still in the process of the later, but at least all the major stuff is done. There’s still painting to do and a shower door and cabinets to be made/installed but the dust is settling and my poor sinus is starting, at least a little, to relax.

Most importantly, in the last few days I’ve been able to devote more and more time -my regular time, stolen by the above- to writing.

The book I’m currently writing hasn’t quite gelled yet, though each day I can get to it (far too little since late April/early May), has proven a wonderful new adventure.

I’m adding in fascinating details and the overall plot, at least in general, is solid. But I’m a fussy guy and solid isn’t nearly strong enough for my taste.

I’ve mentioned it before but I’ve always tried to make every book I’ve written be as original as I can make it, with as intricate -but not overly complicated- story which will hopefuly shock as much as it entertains. I want people to feel the time they’ve given me was worth it, and I will not accept a work/plot that follows too many familiar or well-worn paths.

I’m not quite there yet but its coming along.

Stay tuned.

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!

Game Of Thrones… Finale

DISCLAIMER: I have yet to see a single full episode of the Game of Thrones TV series and I have not read any of the G. R. R. Martin books on which the series is based.

And yet… I’m fascinated by the HBO series. Have been almost from the beginning. As each episode has appeared, I’ve read the mostly positive reactions to the show and I know most of what’s gone on in it: The surprise/shock deaths and the evil machinations of the various characters.

I’m sure I’m missing quite a bit, having not seen show or read the novels, but I’m familiar enough with some of the main characters and know that many fans have found the final season and conclusion of the HBO show a bitter disappointment.

Going back in time, I recall people thinking/hoping the final two books in Mr. Martin’s series would be released just as the show reached its end. Soon these same fans realized it was very likely the second to the last novel might be released by the time the show ended, but it became increasingly doubtful the final novel would see the light of day before then. Then, more time passed and suddenly it was clear neither of the two last books would be released before the show ended.

And so it’s come to pass.

In fact, readers still don’t know when the last two books will be released, if ever, and they’re certain the decline in quality of the series and, especially what they witnessed in this last season, was due to the fact that the show’s runners no longer had Mr. Martin’s books to guide them.

In that, they’re likely quite right.

I’m sure you’ve been wondering: If I haven’t seen the damn series nor read any of the books, what in the world could I possibly add to the conversation regarding Game of Thrones and its TV end?

Welp, if you’ve been reading my posts, you know I have my own little series of novels which I’ve recently concluded. The series, titled Corrosive Knights, consisted of seven novels…

When I heard a few years back that it was likely Mr. Martin would have neither of the last two novels of the series done before the TV show finished, I knew the show might be in trouble and feared exactly what’s happened for many, that the show ended in disappointment.

Understand, I’m no psychic. I based this on the experiences I had writing my own novels.

You see, when I was knee deep in writing Ghost of the Argus, the fifth book in the Corrosive Knights series, I had absolutely no idea the series would go on for two more novels. At that point, believe it or not, I had absolutely no idea how the series would end, if ever. I was enjoying writing each novel and seeing where my imagination would take me.

Granted, I knew I had to eventually wrap the series up and create some kind of conclusion, but there was method to my madness. By focusing on each novel as I wrote it, I was determined to make each book stand out on its own and build upon what came before.

By the time I was on the last couple of drafts of Ghost of the Argus, I had this wild, sudden vision of where the next two books would go. Suddenly, I knew the next two books would offer a conclusion to the series and, just like that, I had a general framework for where I was going.

But it was only a framework.

What followed were four years of very hard work, of trial and error, of new/surprising directions. You see, while I had a general idea of where I was going, I still had to get there. I had to take this framework and build organs and musculature, flesh and blood, around it.

Had HBO been working on a Corrosive Knights TV adaptation of my works and were getting along on the series and wanted to know how I was going to end it, had they asked me before I had my vision I would have had no answer for them. After my vision, I could have provided them with the framework but that’s all they would have had. What I created in four years after was very much different from that initial set of ideas.

I can’t help but think that the Game of Throne showrunners were in a similar position, given general ideas from Mr. Martin. They were the ones who had to come up with all the organs, flesh, blood, and outer skin… and if we’re going by many of the negative reactions, they simply weren’t up to the task.

Frankly, I feel for them.

I’m certain they did the best they could but the fact is they aren’t Mr. Martin and they haven’t gone through the trial and error and actual writing that Mr. Martin has.

Maybe one day the books will finally appear and all those fans of the series will get their better ending.

Until then, they’ve got what they have.

Voynich Manuscript… Deciphered?

Heard about the mysterious Voynich Manuscript? No?

Then check out the Wikipedia entry concerning it:

https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Voynich_manuscript

In essence, the Voynich Manuscript is a book consisting of strange writings and illustrations purchased by Wilfred Voynich in 1912. Since that time, scholars as well as the curious have tried -and failed- to decipher the writings within the manuscript.

In the past few days, however, Gerard Cheshire, a University of Bristol academic, announced he has deciphered the famous manuscript. If you’re curious, you can read the article explaining how he did it here…

https://www.tandfonline.com/doi/full/10.1080/02639904.2019.1599566

Sounds good, no?

Finally, finally, we get to find out what mysterious things were written in this very mysterious book, right?

Well, hold your horses because Jennifer Aullettee points out the fact that many people have claimed over the years to have deciphered the Voynich Manuscript and, so far, none have proven correct. She also offers in her article reasons to doubt Mr. Cheshire’s claims, as well:

https://arstechnica.com/science/2019/05/no-someone-hasnt-cracked-the-code-of-the-mysterious-voynich-manuscript/

I have to say, when I heard of Mr. Cheshire’s claims, I was excited. Hell, I’m fascinated by things like this, essentially unsolved mysteries from the past.

However, it seems to me Ms. Aullettee has effectively thrown cold water on Mr. Cheshire’s claims and… well… until I read otherwise I’m thinking this might be one of a long line of claims that don’t quite hold.

Funny thing is, I suspect when/if the manuscript is deciphered the end result will be a lot of stuff that, to modern readers, will appear to be nothing more than old nonsensical ideas/notions/stories. I strongly suspect we’re not about to find a lost classic of literature.

My basis for this is in some of the illustrations presented in the manuscript, such as…

Or…

Or…

There are many other pages from the book one can find online. Many deal with flora, like the second piece presented above, while others show oddities like pictures 1 and 3. What has so many curious is the writing alongside these pieces. This is, obviously, what so many are trying to decipher.

Until we have final proof -and assuming this latest decryption turns out to be not quite what it is being billed as- I’ll keep hoping for a day when the manuscript is indeed completely deciphered, though I feel whatever writings there are will prove to be, perhaps, quite nonsensical.

We’ll see!

5/17/19 POSTSCRIPT:

We’ll see indeed!

Not even 24 hours later I find this article by Ryan F. Manbelbaum and presented on Gizmodo.com which states:

Sorry, it looks like a Researcher didn’t just crack the Voynich Manuscript after all

The upshot is that the university in which the above mentioned individual who claimed to have cracked the Manuscript… well… I’ll let the University Speak for itself (you can read their full statement here):

Following media coverage, concerns have been raised about the validity of this research from academics in the fields of linguistics and medieval studies. We take such concerns very seriously and have therefore removed the story regarding this research from our website to seek further validation and allow further discussions both internally and with the journal concerned.

Yeah, sounds like they feel just maybe the whole “I deciphered the thing” statement previously released might have been… well… premature, to say the least.

News of the weird…

Growing up in the 1970’s and early 80’s was an odd experience. There was incredible intrigue around the notion of “unexplained” mysteries. You had popular books like…

Chariots Of The Gods.jpg

Which theorized aliens visited Earth in ancient times and built all kinds of things those primitive humans simply could not.

There were plenty of other mysteries out there to explore. How about…

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…or perhaps UFOs? How about Bigfoot? Or the very mysterious fate of hijacker D.B. Cooper?

Image result for d.b. cooper

Yes indeed, a weird, entertaining time to be an armchair detective, sorting through the half-truths presented in various books/magazines and, yes, even TV shows hosted by… Leonard Nimoy?!

Yeah, a fun time to be around, even if many of these purported mysteries were likely far less mysterious than the presenters would have us know.

Welp, now and again certain “mysteries” bubble up. Some are relatively new (the chupacabra!).

With great amusement I found this article by Julia Hollingsworth and found on CNN.com concerning…

“Yeti” footprints sighted claims Indian Army tweet

I can see the upcoming documentary now…

😉

Do heroes kill…?

In what is sure to create further controversy, director Zack Snyder, when asked about the fact that he had Batman kill in Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice, made some rather strong statements concerning this topic.

As written by Charles Pullman-Moore and presented on i09.com, the article’s title will give you an idea of Mr. Snyder’s thoughts on that subject:

Zack Snyder wants you to “Wake the fuck up” and accept that Batman kills people

Part of what made BvS so controversial was its generally grim tone and, yes, the fact that Batman sure does seem to murder a bunch of bad guys in the film.

To be fair, he does so because they are very actively trying to murder him, so its not like he’s simply shooting them in the back when they’re, say, loading up some questionable merchandise inside a van or something.

But it does bring up an issue I personally have wrestled with concerning heroes: Should they kill?

James Bond, famously, had a “license to kill”. As presented, one would think that he would have no qualms doing what I proposed above, ie killing a badguy no matter what they were currently up to. If they’re loading a van or taking a walk on the beach, if British Intelligence views the person as a major danger to England/the World, and he has a “license to kill”, one could theoretically understand that if it is imperative to kill the badguy, you do so, no questions asked.

Clint Eastwood’s many “heroes” were often darker as well. Starting with the so-called “spaghetti” westerns of the 1960’s and going on to Dirty Harry in the 1970’s and 80’s, you had a darker variation of the “good guy” who might well shoot a badguy, whether while confronting said individual or offing them when they weren’t necessarily a threat to you at that moment.

But what about superheroes? What about heroes that aren’t supposed to be so damn dark, character-wise? Batman, while indeed a “dark” character, has been portrayed very often as not wanting to use a gun, though in his very earliest comic book appearances did indeed do so, and did indeed kill badguys…

Image result for batman with gun golden age

The above opening page of a story shows Batman with a weapon. Here, he uses it… albeit to kill a vampire:

Image result for batman with gun golden age

Here he uses not just a gun, but a machine gun, to off some badguys…

Note what Batman says in the above panel: “Much as I hate to take human life, I’m afraid this time its necessary!”

So, yeah, early, very early Batman could be as merciless in killing badguys just as his primary inspiration, the pulp hero The Shadow, did as well…

Image result for the shadow pulp covers

But very soon after Batman’s first appearance in Detective Comics #27 in 1939 and in issue #38 of Detective Comics, Batman was given a partner, the dashing Robin…

Image result for when did Robin first appear

I think its arguable that the introduction of this character put Batman over the top and sealed his transition from a superhero version of The Shadow into something new and exciting to audiences. Suddenly readers had an avatar, a young daredevil they could grasp and, vicariously, have their adventures through.

The tone of the Batman stories from that point on grew lighter and lighter, and Batman no longer mercilessly killed the badguys (though there were some “accidental” deaths still to come) until, soon enough, it was established that Batman DID NOT KILL, period.

In the late 1960’s and into the 1970’s, darkness crept back into the Batman character. The fine work of writer Dennis O’Neil and artist Neal Adams redefined the Batman character and brought us a version closer to what came early on, though the character still did not use weapons and still did not murder the badguys…

Image result for batman secret of the waiting graves

And so it was, roughly, a short time time later I first became familiar with these various characters.

In my very young mind, I felt that superheroes did NOT kill. If anyone perished in the course of a story, the hero tried their best to not kill anyone, even if they were despicable in their actions and very much deserved that fate. Heroes were, IMHO, people who found ways around such actions.

Then came Population Zero, the first episode of The Six Million Dollar Man’s regular series, first aired on January 18, 1974, and this terrific, and confusing to my very young mind, ending…

The plot of the episode, to be frank, was something of a rip off of Michael Crichton’s The Andromeda Strain. In that novel (and subsequent film adaptation), an entire small town is suddenly found dead with two exceptions, and it turns out some intergalactic virus is to blame… and this bug needs to be neutralized or it might spell the doom of the human race.

In Population Zero, the villain uses a sound machine (as you can see from the video) and it turns out the scientist behind it lost funds for his project because of the Bionic Man project. He obviously harbors deep anger and is determined to show that his weapon should have been given the proper funds. In the meantime, he tries to kill off the Bionic Man and then Oscar Goldman and the entire army base outside the town he initially attacked.

Steve Austin, the Bionic Man, gets away from his deathtrap and runs to where you see him. He realizes the mad scientist will kill a lot of innocent people and pulls up the metal fence post and, using it as a javelin, spears their truck, killing the scientist and his henchmen.

This really messed with my mind back then.

For it seemed to me Steve Austin could have run over to the truck and, I dunno, turned it over or something. He could have thrown the javelin at the electrical cables the bad guy was using to charge up his weapon and therefore rendered the sonic weapon inoperative.

No, he deliberately targeted the truck and by spearing it caused it to explode and kill everyone.

I’ve defended Batman v Superman more times than I care to and still believe this film will experience a re-evaluation in time and come to be viewed as far better than the early critics and fans felt it was.

And I have little problem accepting that Batman kills the bad guys both when he chases them in his Batmobile and later on when he’s trying to save Martha Kent.

Why?

Because if you truly, truly think through both scenarios, he’s quite literally fighting for his life. In the first scenario he’s being shot at with heavy weaponry. A lucky shot and his vehicle -and himself- is toast. It’s a high speed chase and very dangerous to not only Batman, but to anyone else who might be around that dock area.

Should Batman aim for the tires? Sure, but realistically, that a damn hard shot to make.

In the warehouse fight, the same applies. It’s one guy against a large number. In “real life” you need to take these dudes out and quick because if you don’t, you may die. So Batman can’t play nice while the bad guys here are using guns, knives, and whatever else they have to take him out. He has to fight back.

Hard.

Still, the little boy I was does feel a certain apprehension about the idea of a good guy, especially a superhero, resorting to killing and, at least in my stories, I’ve tried to show the consequences of killing (particularly in Mechanic) while also trying not to have my characters depicted as favoring killing first to deal with bad guys.

There truly is no answer, I suppose, and your opinions on this matter will certainly be guided by the literature/stories/TV shows/movies you’ve grown up with.

Too big…?

Over at Hollywoodreporter.com, Georg Szalai and Paul Bond have an article which notes:

Disney Closes Fox Deal, Creating Global Content Powerhouse

I’m not surprised by these developments. Disney has been on a roll of late, making buckets of money on their parks, their movies, and their TV shows. When Disney bought up Marvel Comics, they went on a further roll with the various Marvel Universe films featuring Iron Man, Captain America, and Thor.

Though Disney owned the characters published through Marvel Comics, it was Fox which had the rights to making movies featuring what were arguably the most prominent Marvel Comics characters: Spider-Man, X-Men, and The Fantastic Four.

Now, I’m not suggesting the only reason Disney targeted buying up Fox was to get all the Marvel characters’ movie rights under one umbrella, but given some of the loads o’ cash these films make, it had to be a consideration.

So, for those who long to see an Avengers vs. X-Men film, it looks like it could well be on the horizon.

On various boards, people who are fans of Disney’s Marvel films are happy for this possibility, but I’m rather disturbed by the whole thing.

Why?

Because we seem to be reaching a point these days where there exist one or two or three companies that control virtually all the entertainment being fed to us.

AT&T recently purchased Warner Brothers. Now Disney owns Fox.

I worry when we reach a point where there are so few companies responsible for so much. Will our entertainment get more and more bland?

I suppose.

I suppose its also possible that new, independent artists can catch fire, but given the size of the giants out there, how long before their concepts/ideas are bought out as well?

There is also this, found in the Disney/Fox article:

Disney has promised $2 billion in cost savings from the Fox takeover, with some in the industry expecting between 4,000-10,000 layoffs.

Ouch.

Star Trek/Dr. Suess Mashup…

Stumbled upon this article posted by a friend on Facebook. The article is by Eriq Gardner and presented on hollywoodreporter.com:

Star Trek/Dr. Suess Mashup Deemed Copyright Fair Use by Judge

The book in question is Oh, The Places You’ll Boldly Go!, and the cover to the book looks like this:

A judge praises the "highly creative" nature of "Oh, the Places You'll Boldly Go!" and doesn't see sufficient evidence that the book will harm Dr. Seuss' position in the children's book market.

Which is, of course, a parody of…

Image result for oh the places you'll go

So the judge felt the Star Trek book was “fair use” and didn’t harm the Dr. Suess estate.

I… I don’t agree. Yes, Mad magazine exists for many years doing “fair use” parodies of pop culture icons…

Image result for mad magazine star trek

And…

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…and…

Image result for mad magazine star trek

…and I totally get that being “fair use”. Mad magazine essentially exits (in large part) of parodying A LOT of cultural icons.

But the Oh, The Places You’ll Boldly Go! is not part of some series. It is a one off book that clearly makes use of Star Trek AND Dr. Suess to make its point of sale and I strongly suspect what’s inside the book also takes its point from Dr. Suess’ works (though, having not seen the whole thing, I don’t know).

I also strongly, STRONGLY suspect Paramount Pictures, the company that has the copyright to the Star Trek property, approved of/holds the copyright to this particular work and therefore “OK’ed” it for release.

Why, if that is the case, is the Dr. Suess estate considered not as important on OKing this?

I have to say, if someone used my stories/properties and created a one-off book that very clearly used my concepts to sell their work, I’d be plenty pissed at the judge who made that ruling.