dr_phil_physics: (apollo-11-aldrin)
Somewhere I think I once did a blog review of Robert Altman's Countdown. I know I've mentioned it several times, including during my review of The Martian. It's a 1968 movie with Robert Duvall and James Caan about a juryrigged mission to put an American on the Moon, using a mixture of Apollo and Gemini parts -- because the Russians were going and the full Apollo wasn't ready.

I hadn't heard of it until just a few years ago when it was on Turner Classic Movies. Pristine print in letterbox widescreen. It is by no means a great space movie -- to me it is memorable because it was a big studio production with Altman at the helm which had the misfortune to come out the same year as Kubrick's 2001: A Space Odyssey. Oops.

In looking it up when I did The Martian review, I was reminded that it was based on a novel. So... off to Amazon, where I found a used copy for a couple of dollars. And it came the other day and I read it Monday and Tuesday night.

The Pilgrim Project / Hank Searls. 1964.
used via Amazon.com, paperback, $3.00 + $3.99 S+H.

Opening the package took me right back to my early SF reading. Books tended to be shorter -- this paperback was some 200 pages, with a small heavy font with very small margins and gutters. The three cut edges of the paper had been dyed a deep purple or burgundy -- the dye spreading onto the pages just a little bit. The cover art, as you can see, very stylistic and simple.

One of my favorite books in junior high school was Martin Caidin's Marooned, later made into a lackluster film much like Countdown. But Marooned comes in two versions -- the one I read was Apollo/Skylab. I finally tracked down a copy of the 1964 Mercury/Gemini version and am partway through it. (My used copy is slightly mildewed and so I can't read it in very long stretches -- one area that e-books have solved.) Marooned is much the better story, and the 1964 version is contemporary with The Pilgrim Project

This is cheap and dirty spacecraft design, a Just-in-Case Apollo isn't ready when the Russians try for the Moon. A Saturn I launch vehicle, with a Centaur third stage. A one-man Mercury capsule with extra supplies, using a Polaris solid rocket engine to get close to the surface and then a liquid fuel engine for maneuvering and landing. No launch vehicle. You're stranded on the Moon... and have to find the shelter sent up the week before and use that until Apollo is ready and you can hitch a ride on a LEM to go home. Huh. Doesn't this sound a lot like the plot of The Martian, except doing it deliberately?

This book doesn't make sense at first -- this isn't the NASA we grew up with -- until you understand the Cold War subplots between the U.S. and the Soviet Union. The Space Race wasn't just about firsts -- it was also about controlling the high ground. There really were fears that the Moon could be militarized and by the Russians if we didn't get there first!
“I do not believe that this generation of Americans is willing to resign itself to going to bed each night by the light of a Communist moon” -- Lyndon B. Johnson
And as NASA secrets go, Pilgrim makes a lot more sense as a positive thing than the conspiracy of Capricorn One when they realized their environmental equipment couldn't make it to Mars and back -- and they had to fake the Mars landing so as not to kill O.J. Simpson.

Like Capricorn One, there is a lot of lying going on. Including an abort of a manned Apollo mission for really poor reasons.

What is more unbelievable is the sort of standard issue 1950s/1960s matter of alcoholics, spies and interagency and interservice rivalries. The flight surgeon is against the whole project and behaves unprofessionally and -- in the Cold War spirit of the story -- treasonously. My take away is that Searls is a competent technical writer and researcher -- the basic parts and engineering are there. I read up on all this stuff in every book I could find in our school and public libraries when I was a kid. Today, you could research all this stuff on Wikipedia and make it sound convincing.

But technical accuracy does not necessarily a great plot make.

In the movie they used a Gemini capsule as a one-seater, so there'd be more room. But in the book, it's a Mercury capsule. Mainly for weight. But one of the things I forgot about Mercury was the periscope. If you're trying to land on the Moon and you're lying on your back facing up, it sure would be nice to see the surface. In the LEM, you're standing and looking through forward and downward canted windows.

They used the "little Saturn" rocket for launching, just as they did to get the Apollo capsules up for Earth orbit work in Apollo 7 and the three Skylab Apollo missions. They used Launch Complex 37, not the more famous Saturn V Launch Complex 39. As they start talking about the firing of the engines, I suddenly had to remember that the Saturn IB first stage did NOT have five engines like its big brother the Saturn V Moon rocket, but eight. Off to Wikipedia where I realized they were talking about the original Saturn I, not the IB: S-I first stage with 8 H-1 engines, burning RP1 kerosene and LOX, S-IV second stage with 6 RL10 engines, burning LH2 and LOX. And the never-flown S-V (Centaur-C) third stage, with 2 RL10 engines. The Saturn I flew some of the early unmanned boilerplate Apollo capsules, such as the one in Grand Rapids MI. (grin) The Saturn IB didn't fly until 1966, with an upgraded S-IB first stage, still with 8 H-1 engines, but the second stage was the S-IVB third stage workhorse of the Saturn V rocket, with its single J-2 engine, also used in the Saturn V's second stage.

Pretty clever to manhandle the mass around to make the Saturn I a manned Moon rocket.

Technical details are easy. People are hard, especially when we all know who the Mercury Seven are. Glenn is mentioned by name, as having left the program to run for the Senate. One of the main characters is the colonel -- he talks a lot about the commander. I'm assuming the latter is Shepherd, but is the colonel Grissom? That's who I assumed in my mind the whole time. It's an almost clever way to deal with NOT inventing extra original Mercury astronauts, which is the usual conceit. It's like 555- phone numbers and the endless number of made up large airlines in stories. It's one of the reasons it's easy to write in the 29th century -- or secret kingdoms. (grin)

And then on the top of page 170 I was suddenly thrown out of the story because one of their markers was Shiaperelli crater. What, wait? Sure enough, I was right and there is a Schiaparelli crater on the Moon AND one on Mars. Now I REALLY am wondering if Andy Weir ever read The Pilgrim Project when he wrote The Martian.

If I was a few years older, I probably would've found The Pilgrim Project on my own in the mid-60s and I would've liked it okay. Today, I am really glad to have found a copy and see where the movie came from. Has some good technical stuff, but the story... seems desperately far fetched today. For my money, Marooned is far superior and the 1981 Shuttle Down by Lee Correy is a decent more modern technical and engineering romp -- but the latter also suffers from some poor writing in some places.

RECOMMENDED for its historical value

As a footnote, I should add that McDonnell-Douglas, the manufacturer of the Gemini space capsule, really was investigating post-Gemini missions and adaptations, including a 12-man Big Gemini orbital resupply ship and:
A range of applications were considered for Advanced Gemini missions, including military flights, space station crew and logistics delivery, and lunar flights. The Lunar proposals ranged from reusing the docking systems developed for the Agena Target Vehicle on more powerful upper stages such as the Centaur, which could propel the spacecraft to the Moon, to complete modifications of the Gemini to enable it to land on the lunar surface. Its applications would have ranged from manned lunar flybys before Apollo was ready, to providing emergency shelters or rescue for stranded Apollo crews, or even replacing the Apollo program.
It's like the paper I discovered last year or so about the concept of using an Apollo capsule for Mars and Venus manned flyby missions!

In other words, there were a lot of hairbrained schemes for dangerous manned flight missions talked about, so that part of the story isn't completely bonkers.

Dr. Phil
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dr_phil_physics: (tomb-of-the-unknown)
Memorial Day (Observed)

Memorial Day weekend. Big noisy movies in the cineplexes. War movies on cable, including Kelly’s Heroes and Rambo III. The 99th running of the Indianapolis 500. PBS shows the National Memorial Concert with Joe Montagne and Gary Sinise. Picnics. Beach. A day off. One whole Facebook post which showed a red poppy on a hat. 10pm Sunday night and someone has just set off some fireworks… in the rain.

This morning the Sunday Grand Rapids Press had an article about two little girls who started something in April of 1862. And there is where my story comes from.

“Memorial Day-IV”
by Dr. Philip Edward Kaldon

Friday 31 May 2943
West End Cemetery
Kalamazoo, Michigan, USA, Nordamericano, Earth (Sol III)
     Wsh-sh-sh-sh-sh-sha.  The eight o’clock superslide from Chicago 
to Detroit passed by on the elevated techcrete track.  It was already slowing 
from 450 kph for Kalamazoo.  
     The old man was eighty-five.  He didn’t move so fast these days, but 
that wasn’t stopping him.  This section of the cemetery had opened in 2880, 
the year the war with the aliens began.  He took his time, pulling the weeds 
from around the black grantex markers.  One, two, three.  He used to count 
them.  Now he just looked to see how many rows were left.
     Wsh-sh-sh-sh-sh-sha.  The nine o’clock superslide from Detroit 
to Chicago passed by accelerating to 450 kph having just left the downtown 
Kalamazoo station.  
     Number 47 was always the hardest.  PAUL J. KUYPER (2858-2883).  They’d 
gone to school together, enlisted in the Fleet Marines together and even both 
shipped out on the cruiser USFS Kalamazoo (CCH-733).  Paul was the only man 
in this cemetery he personally knew.
     Wsh-sh-sh-sh-sh-sha.  The ten o’clock superslide from Chicago was 
arriving in Kalamazoo.  
     The old man had finished the weeding and was walking back to the start.  
He gathered his pack with the flags in it, preparing to cross an American and 
a Michigan flag to the left of each marker, and a Unified flag on the right.  
But on the grantex base of the first marker were a couple of early spring 
wildflowers with their stems twisted together.  And the next.  And the next.  
Five markers in all.  They hadn’t been there before.
     He looked around, but didn’t see anyone at first.  Then he spotted the 
two girls coming from the open fields to the west, bearing whole armloads of 
     Donna, 8, and Theresa, 11, often came to the cemetery park.  They’d ride 
bikes up and down the paved paths or wander through the fields looking for 
bugs or frogs or turtles by the pond.  They’d gathered up bouquets of 
wildflowers this morning to take back to their mom.  But when they spotted 
the old man cleaning the base of the stones, they’d shrugged their shoulders 
and started putting their flowers down.  They quickly ran out and ran back 
for more.
     They stood and watched the old man start to plant the flags.  He didn’t 
touch their flowers.  So they went and did eight more markers.  And when 
they started heading back to the field, the old man wordlessly handed them 
a cloth bag with a handle so they could carry a lot more flowers at a time.
     Wsh-sh-sh-sh-sh-sha.  The eleven o’clock superslide to Chicago 
sped up out of Kalamazoo.  
     Wsh-sh-sh-sh-sh-sha.  The noon superslide arrived in Kalamazoo.  
     The girls’ mother followed the tracking on her own bike, to get them 
to come back for lunch.  She found them quietly placing flowers while the 
old man placed flags.  No one else was about.
     The mother joined the girls in gathering more wildflowers.  The old man 
rested from his labors, waiting for them to come back so he wouldn’t get ahead.
     Wsh-sh-sh-sh-sh-sha.  They paid no attention to the one o’clock 
superslide streaking by the cemetery.
     But they kept on laying flowers and planting flags at the bases of the 
newly weeded markers.

"Memorial Day-II" for Memorial Day 2010 (DW) (LJ).

Dr. Phil
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dr_phil_physics: (tomorrowland)
Wow. Last weekend of May. That means Monday is Memorial Day (Observed). Three-day weekend. The Flying Chevy Indianapolis 500. And the Summer of 2015 of Movies continues to roll on. Two movies of note this weekend. The other one is Far From The Madding Crowd. But then there's this one. What's not to love? SF, rated G for gosh sakes, starring George Clooney and spectacular looking. We could've seen this in IMAX at Celebration North, but might as well save bucks for other movies and get the better popcorn and easier walk at Holland 7.

Of course, we were amused by this:

Not sure which movie on the marquee I want to see more -- Avengers Age or Tomorrowland of Ultron?
©2015 Dr. Philip Edward Kaldon (All Rights Reserved)

Didn't go out for dinner this time. Not with tomato bisque soup and meatloaf sandwiches at home!

Tomorrowland [G]
Holland 7 Theatre 2, 6:10pm, 2×$9.25
Relatively spoiler free review...

Yet another movie I knew nothing about until a few weeks ago when the first "utopian" trailer came out. This morning, the ads on my 2nd Kindle Fire HD had a link to a new trailer, which is darker. I suppose part of the issue is that I'm just not in the Disney and Rated G universe, so I probably wasn't attracting the advertising.

But George Clooney! In another SF role! Clooney is perfectly cast, where his old-time movie heartthrob good looks and voice are perfect for a place like Tomorrowland.

Tomorrowland continues two movie memes. The obvious first one is the turning of Disneyland/world rides into movies. First Pirates of the Caribbean and now Tomorrowland. What's next? It's A Small World? Oh, they sort of took care of that, didn't they? Maybe Space Mountain?

The second is the SF/F movie attraction with agriculture as metaphor. Walking into cornfields in A Field of Dreams, battling the Dust Bowl II in Interstellar and now wheat fields in Tomorrowland take you to the future.

Like last year's Interstellar, there's a lot of room to have an opening, or really a series of openings, which serve to not only ground the story, but also create the contrast needed to really appreciate Tomorrowland. The Wizard of Oz had a Technicolor Oz. Here we have a glorious bright Tomorrowland set against the dark of night or of interiors. There is some physical humor which I think is bright and sharp, and adds to the confusion our main characters are having to deal with, and not just something cute for the youngest audience members. They're puzzles, sometimes very serious puzzles, which our protags have to figure out.

The movie is part The Rocketeer via Electrolux, and there are strong hints of Men in Black, Contact, a little Tron and a little RoboCop, plus a dash of Mel Gibson's Conspiracy Theory Though of course, you're not exactly paranoid when they really are after you and trying to kill you... Also utopian hints of Pleasantville and The Giver. And a whopping load of nostalgia for the iconic World of Tomorrow. It was that first ten minutes in Tomorrowland itself that I wished we could've seen in IMAX. Hairstyle, clothes, hats and excited happiness included. Walt Disney was both a businessman and an optimist, who really pushed for a great future. It would be too saccharine and cloying if it weren't for the rest of the story.

Yes, there is CGI galore in this movie. And yet, Disney is able to give a depth and feel to Tomorrowland because they own "real" Tomorrowland properties they can use. ASIDE: I have a very fond nostalgic longing for the 1964 World's Fair in New York City. I lived in upstate New York from 1958-1968, but we never went to the World's Fair because it was "too far and too expensive". Having been taken a few years later to Expo 67 in Montreal, not going to the 1964 World's Fair is as big a regret as never having been to a rocket launch at Cape Canaveral. (huge-sigh)

Hugh Laurie, better known to most Americans as House M.D., is wonderfully understated as the governor of Tomorrowland. Casey and Athena, especially Athena, are well-cast. And even the boys -- young George Clooney and Casey's brother -- are certainly adequate. Tim McGraw plays Casey's father in a fairly disposable role. One wonders how much of his story was left on the cutting room floor.

There's a character named Hugo Gernsback, which immediately raised red flags with me -- not so much with our heroine -- as he is credited with creating the first science fiction magazine Amazing Stories in 1926.

Early reviews of this are mixed -- Rotten Tomatoes tonight was running at 49% -- but I wonder how much is dependent on your age and your expectations. They could easily have gone for a PG or PG-13 instead of Rated G, and probably picked up some better points with the big movie going teen demographic. It's not a blockbuster big summer movie like The Avengers: Age of Ultron or Mad Max: Fury Road already out this summer, but it IS a legitimate blockbuster just by virtue of the terrific big sets of Tomorrowland itself. At 2 hours 10 minutes there is plenty of time to develop the story and send out a bunch of false trails to muddy the waters as to which way they're going.

So okay, let's talk about SCIENCE for a moment. The good news is that they didn't go with inventing unobtainium. The bad news is that they've trumped Star Trek: The Next Generation by creating magical properties for neutrinos that real neutrinos simply don't have. It doesn't bother me too much because they obviously needed some kind of handwavium technology to do the things they needed to do and besides, it all feels more like they just picked a word out of a science book than actually care what real neutrinos do.

Besides, Tomorrowland is AMAZING.

On the other hand of science, the science literacy side (my big teaching moment), for a G-rated movie there is quite a capsule history of all things going wrong with our planet -- killer weather, global warming, rising sea levels, pollution, starvation, obesity, threats of nuclear extinction, etc., etc. So this is not totally worthless.

In my mind I had concocted a different explanation for the central crisis in Tomorrowland, one I think could certainly work -- I'm an SF writer after all -- but this one worked and has the virtue of being easy to discuss.

Oh, BTW, the opening company logo switch is probably the best I've seen since Raiders of the Lost Ark, which wasn't hurt at all by having called it before the movie started. (big-me-grin)


Trailers: Existing trailer for Star Wars VII: The Force Awakens. Even though it isn't actually George Lucas, will this be the Christmas present that erases the ignominy of the Star Wars Holiday Special? Expanded "plot" for Minions! And also more "plot" for Pixar's Inside Out about the little voices in our heads running amuck. It looks really cute and radiates a special use of color. Really hope this one is good.

ADDED: Oh, there's another trailer, from Aardman, the makers of those most excellent Chicken Run and Wallace & Gromit, and they've done it again... with sheep.

Dr. Phil
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Tony, Tony, Tony

Monday, 4 May 2015 00:13
dr_phil_physics: (pepper-potts)
So Saturday we drove to Grand Haven, dodging the falling concrete of the brand new and unfinished overpass for the M-231 bypass just as the violent earthquake struck... oh, okay, that part never happened. But we did have to go to Grand Haven, and after our errand we popped over to the harbor and had chili dogs and an order of jalapeno poppers with fried Monterrey Jack cheese.

I saw The Avengers (DW) (LJ) back in May 2012. Three years and several other Marvel movies later and it's time to see if the magic is still there. We could have gone down US-31 to the Holland 7, but no... Saturday was the start of Tulip Time in Holland and hundreds of thousands of people were going to show up for the beautiful weather, events and a couple million tulips.

Grand Haven 9 offered a lot of shows, but only ONE afternoon show in 3D. So we'd gotten a Fandango gift card at Christmas. Can't use it at Jack Loeks/Celebration North. But I checked and we could get tickets online for the 3D showing at 3pm. Thank you, Rebecca!

Grand Haven 9 is a Goodrich Quality Theatre, same chain as our favorite Holland 7, and also the Kalamazoo 10. But it's newer than either. In fact, we were here just once, in 1999 shortly after it opened to see Topsy Turvy, which was in very limited release around here. I remember we weren't impressed by either the help or the popcorn then. It was the middle of the week and late, so it just may have been stale, bagged popcorn and not fresh. There weren't a lot of customers. But, it's six years later and we know a number of people who live out Grand Haven way who are happy with the theatre, so we decided to give it another chance.

Of the rash of West Michigan multiplexes built in the 90s, Grand Haven is probably the smallest physically, despite one more screen that the Star Holland 8. Handicapped parking in front on either side of the entrance with multiple ramps. The power assist door, though, could've been a special effect for the slowly opening multi-ton door in Die Hard. A whole family was able to cross in front of me after I pushed the button on the pillar before it opened even a fraction of the way. When I let the family go by, the mother couldn't believe how slow the door was. The father would have held a door open for me, but by then the power assist door was almost open. WTF? And in the theatre, handicapped seating is in the mid-row, as in many stadium seating theatres, but oddly the actual seats were raised up in pairs by one step. So if you were accompanying someone in a wheelchair and they couldn't stand and climb up into the seat, they'd be like a foot or so below you. That sounds family friendly and inclusive, doesn't it? With iron pipe railings in front and behind the seats, I was able to safely step up and take a seat. Weird.

I don't know if we have just been spoiled by newer generation digital 3D projectors at Holland 7 or Celebration North, or if the film is unusually dark, but Mrs. Dr. Phil and I both felt it was a dimmer experience, more like what we'd seen early on in real film 3D movies.

The popcorn, however, was pretty tasty this time.

Avengers: Age of Ultron 3D [PG-13]
Grand Haven 9 Theatre 5, 3:00pm, 2×$9.00

No, there are not spoilers here. We know how these movies work. Marvel has a formula and has been damn good at delivering the goods. The Winter Soldier was better than Captain America: The First Avenger. And after all the Thor, Cap, Iron Man and Hulk movies, 2012's The Avengers was the best of all of them. So we had high hopes for this, which is why we had to see it opening weekend. John Serba, the local GRPress reviewer, gave it 3½ stars. We were stoked.

It's Tony Stark's fault. It's always going to be Tony Stark's fault. Sure, he saves everything in the end, but the man is a menace through multiple movies -- he's the Gregory House of superhero genius engineer billionaires -- his first several solutions are going to be wrong, wrong, wrong and make everything worse. And I ended up using a Pepper Potts LJ icon for this entry, because she's the one character who isn't here. Otherwise, we have to throw the kitchen sink at solving the Ultron mess.

There are quite a number of big fight scenes. But Marvel has figured out how to do pacing. And building up the characters into more than one dimension. We learn something about Hawkeye we didn't know before. And Black Widow. And truly, Mark Ruffalo's Dr. Banner/Hulk has got a lot more depth than previous attempts. Personally, he needs to stand up for himself a little more, but I can still go with him.

And what can I say about Ultron? He is the best villain I've seen in a long time -- best in a comic book movie, I'd say. Who doesn't love a villain who refuses to explain his evil plan to the heroes and makes a joke about it? I mean, if Marvel/Disney didn't have a cash making machine in this franchise, they SO could have had it all go south and have our heroes lose. It's possible. And although we know that superhero death isn't the same as regular person death, these guys were all in jeopardy here.

Of course it wouldn't be a first-class Marvel film without some humor at times. Stan Lee of COURSE makes a memorable appearance in a cameo. And there's a scene with Thor's hammer which is just plain fun. Don Cheadle, a class actor who forever is getting gypped in these films, gets to actually show up from time to time -- but he looks to be having such a good time. We even get to see a couple scenes with the excellent Swedish actor Stellan Skarsgård, who has figured in some of the previous movies. Idris Ilba and Haley Atwell get cameos. In a departure from usual Marvel practice, the actor who does the voice of J.A.R.V.I.S. gets to act a second role in this movie. Nice.

And given the nature of the enemy's attacks, they are able to explore some things which they hadn't been able to do before with the characters. Hell, they even wreck a city for no good reason.

Okay... so the Physics is, as usual, a little cringeworthy. What can I say? We know it. We can't worry about it or we wouldn't have any fun.

Bottom lines -- is it canon? Well, it seems to fit the Marvel movie universe. I can't speak to the comic universes canon. Is it fun? Oh my. We get to see shit blown up. A lot of shit. And, there is one whopping lot of collateral damage.

For the first Summer 2015 Blockbuster, seeing as it at least May now, it's 141 minutes well spent. Worldwide it pulled in over $600 million this weekend, putting in the #2 box office slot for all of 2015 already. Ahead of the half billion for Fifty Shades of Gray and behind Furious 7 which has been out a while.

Frankly, it looks like a good year for action films.


Wikipedia reports that, "Two sequels, Avengers: Infinity War Part 1 and Avengers: Infinity War Part 2, are scheduled to be released on May 4, 2018, and May 3, 2019, respectively."

An Aside:
Look at the poster. Look at it carefully. There are "A" Avengers and "B" Avengers. The big four are Hulk, Iron Man, Captain America and Thor. Target has ads showing these four action figures stopping a shopping cart with an Ultron action figure. A commercial before the movie showed four boys with masks and gloves and toys for The Big Four. So, Black Widow and Hawkeye, they're chopped liver? Well, just like Egyptian tomb art, the "B" Avengers are smaller figures. And clearly girls don't need to have superheroes marketed to them.

I get it. The Big Four are SUPERHEROES. One is a god. One is augmented and nearly immortal. One is, well, green and BIG. One has every technological gizmoid known to, if not man, then at least one superior intellect in the universe. But Hawkeye at least gets some fancy tech arrows. Besides her awesome mind, what does Black Widow get? A couple of pistols? And can we get her a movie? (H/T to Clarion 2004 classmate, novelist and comic author Marjorie M. Liu for the link.)

Trailers: Batman v Superman, which I shall just refer to as BS in the future. Look, I know that in the comics world we get good and bad versions of everybody, plus sometimes they team up and sometimes we just want to have superheroes smack each other around. But ignorant of the comic canon, BS just looks stupid. The motivation from The People looks like a lot of arguing of sending Superman back because he's an undocumented illegal alien. There is going to have to be a LOT of good press on this one before I go see it. On the other hand, several friends online have said that with very low expectations going in, that the trailer for Ant Man made them want to see this movie. You know, there is something to be said for Marvel vs DC in the movie business. So help me, it looks like fun. Existing 2nd trailer for Star Wars Episode VII: The Force Awakens, which clearly screams to be on the big screen. Bottom line, VII HAS to be better than III. Period. There was a fourth trailer, but I don't remember what it was for.

Dr. Phil
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dr_phil_physics: (xmas-kate)
For Your Holiday Enjoyment -- Part III

As promised, here's the third and final installment of three Christmas flash stories, here on Epiphany or Twelfth Night or...

                      "Silent Strike"
                by Dr. Philip Edward Kaldon

     "Got a suspicious package."
     "Describe, Henry-381."
     "No one shepherding package."  Henry Foster looked down 
the row of block houses, but nobody was heading towards him -- 
or running away.  "Package is roughly 40 by 60 by 80 centimeters.  
Brown paper wrap.  No address.  Clear tape."
     "Which house, Henry-381?"
     "5423A Butler.  Coordinates transferred."
     "5423A comes back as Ulrike Stefanos."
     "Confirmed, Control," Henry said.
     "Any postal codes?"
     "Negative, Control.  No markings of any kind."
     "Move in for closer inspection."
     "Roger that, Control.  Waiting for your clearance."
     Henry took a deep breath, then amped up the active 
protection on his suit.  Stepping forward, he held a mirror 
behind the package.  Nothing.  Then he flashed the package.
     "Any data, Henry-381?"
     "Looks like a box for a Sears toaster under the wrapping."
     As soon as he spoke, Henry drew back.
     "The last nail bomb on Sixth Street was built into a 
     "I know, Control," Henry snapped, then collected himself.  
"Radar shows a rectangular shape."
     "Blow it, Henry-381."
     "Acknowledged, Control."  He stepped back, bringing his 
water shot to bear.  "Range clear.  Impact pulse in five..."
     The blast of water tore through the layers of wrapping and 
exploded through the contents.  Splayed out... the remains of a 
toaster.  Just a toaster.
     "What the hell?"  Henry looked up to see Ulrike Stefanos, 
carrying an armful of soaked plain wrapped packages.  "You've 
ruined Greek Christmas!"
     It was early January, Henry realized.  All he could say was, 
"Merry Christmas?"
     She threw a small wet package at him.

And that's all for this season, so Merry Christmas and Happy New Year,

Dr. Phil

Silent Light

Wednesday, 25 December 2013 15:26
dr_phil_physics: (xmas-kate)
For Your Holiday Enjoyment -- Part II

As promised, here's the second of three Christmas flash stories -- you'll have to wait til Twelfth Night for the third...

                  "Silent Light"
             by Dr. Philip Edward Kaldon

     Shepherds watched the star brighten with every night.  
In the East, three kings began a pilgrimage to follow the 
new star.  At the little town of Bethlehem, the blazing 
star lit the way for a young couple trying to find a room 
for the night.
     In orbit above, the Mendarn exploration ship observed 
the collision course between the comet and the planet with 
growing alarm.
     "It is an extinction level event, Grand Commander.  
All surface life will be extinguished."
     "Nothing can be done, Sub-Lieutenant.  The Accords 
forbid interference."
     "Except for cultural or technological reprieves, sir."
     The Grand Commander looked askance at his junior officer.  
"And you find these creatures redeeming?  They do nothing 
but fight or torture each other."
     "But their works of art -- the poetry.  Those the Chief 
Artisan has translated, some are quite beautiful, especially 
those set to music."
     "You would save these creatures for a few poems and 
     "It fits the Accords, sir.  What else is there?"
     The Grand Commander countered, "They cannot fail to 
notice our interference."
     "Their astrophysics is nearly nonexistent, their religions 
are all old.  There is no indication they would change based 
on one celestial event."
     "Very well.  Save your creatures.  Divert the comet."  
Inwardly the Grand Commander was pleased.  It would be a shame 
to lose any piece of beauty in the universe.
     The Sub-Lieutenant was right.  A thousand orbits or two 
hence no one would remember the tales of one close cometary 
call, even amongst the Mendarn.
     No one.

Merry Christmas,

Dr. Phil
dr_phil_physics: (massive-stars-carina-nebula)
For Your Holiday Enjoyment -- Part I

Two weeks ago, I mentioned the A Merry Little Apex Christmas Flash Fiction Contest (DW). Alas, I didn't win, but you can see the winning stories at the Apex Magazine site. But wait, there's more.

As I wrote back on the 10th, "any stories which don't get picked, will grace these pages instead". So here's the first. Merry...

             "The Long Night That Never Was"
               by Dr. Philip Edward Kaldon

     Jorge stepped out of the stasis tube -- and into confusion.
     "Is that clock right?" he asked the nearest assistant.
     The woman looked at him like he was crazy. "It's linked to 
the ship's atomic clock. It damn well better be right."
     "I meant the date."
     "What's wrong with the date?"
     "We left Earth in October.  It takes about two weeks to get 
up to jump speed and two weeks to decel.  It should be November.  
It should be Thanksgiving."
     "Is that all?"  The crewman laughed.  "You forgot this was 
a two jump run.  That's two months in space, not one.  You 
missed Thanksgiving."
     Jorge pointed at the display.  "It's the twenty-sixth -- 
I missed Christmas, too!"
     "I wouldn't worry about that too much."
     "I was supposed to be with my daughter for Christmas. I was 
supposed to already BE on Laeyk IV!"
     The calendar display rippled.  DEC 26 changed to DEC 24.
     "Merry Christmas," the crewman said.  "Thanks to the 
vagaries of time synchro during jump.  You'll be on time for your 
daughter, after all."
     She clapped a hand on Jorge's shoulder.  "Now get out of 
here and catch your shuttle."
     Stunned and relieved, Jorge finally ran toward the hatch.  
He stopped and looked back. "Merry Christmas to you."
     "G'wan.  Get outta here."
     And Jorge was gone.

Dr. Phil
dr_phil_physics: (writing-winslet-2)
Writing SF/F And Are Over 50?

The Speculative Literature Foundation's Older Writers Grant is "awarded annually to a writer who is fifty years of age or older at the time of grant application, and is intended to assist such writers who are just starting to work at a professional level. We are currently offering one $750 grant annually, to be used as the writer determines will best assist his or her work."

I myself managed to get an Honorable Mention in 2009 (DW), which is a nice recognition even if it doesn't come with any cash. I didn't score anything in 2010, though I had some lovely correspondence with the contest administrator. And in the fury of running around dealing with family in March of 2011, I completely forgot about the grant deadline -- but I did put in a submission for 2012 and having gotten a nice email from them yesterday, I will remember to submit my grant application this year as well.

Anyway, the deadline to apply is Sunday 31 March 2013. You do not need to be published to enter, all you need to submit is a writing sample, as listed in the rules. They expect to announce the winners by May 15th. There is NO cost to apply for the grant, only the ravages of time from your first half century of living.

And for you writers under 50? Get off my lawn.

Dr. Phil
dr_phil_physics: (Default)
The Kool Kids Are Starting Early This Year

List their eligible publications for the Nebula Awards, that is.*** For 2012, barring any last minute sales, I have two eligible stories, a 1500-word short story under Rule 5a and a 17,000-word novelette under Rule 5b.

Nebula Awards will be made in the following categories:

Short Story: less than 7,500 words
Philip Edward Kaldon
"Brooding in the Dark" at Interstellar Fiction (1 November 2012)

Novelette: at least 7,500 words but less than 17,500 words;
Philip Edward Kaldon
"End Run" at GigaNotoSaurus (1 April 2012)

I had three other publications in 2012, but one was published in the U.K. and two in Canada, not the U.S. A complete list of Dr. Phil's publications is here.

I haven't yet made my third pro-rate sale and so am not yet a SFWA member, but if you are, the 2012 Nebula Award Nominations Period is Open. Should you be interested, that is. (grin)

And if you're not a SFWA member, don't worry, you can still click on the links and read the stories or read about the stories.

Thanks. And Happy New Year.

Dr. Phil

*** - Last year's eligible story posting was on January 2nd.
dr_phil_physics: (dr-phil-confusion-2009)
I'm Here

Arrived Friday night and checked in. Saturday was my busy day, with three panels and a reading.

Actually I'm rather impressed with this self-portrait -- centered and all. This is the second shot -- the first had a grim looking face as I concentrated on lining up the lens and... forgot to smile. Yeah, that's a little wry grin. (Click on photo for larger.)

About That Reading

I did read my zombie murder mystery police procedural... (Click on photo for larger.)

... to an empty room. (Click on photo for larger.)

I expected this, or at least anticipated it. Readings were scheduled late and weren't in the Program book -- and I'm not a Mike Resnick, whose 4pm reading sounded pretty full. (The door was shut.) There was no 5pm reading, so I couldn't even watch an audience file out on me. (grin)

And for the record I DID read my story. Found two missing words, so it wasn't totally unproductive.

The Zombie Steakpunk Dinner

The three people I'd expected for dinner couldn't make it, but I'd made a reservation at Harry Caray's for four at 7:30pm anyway. But without an audience I couldn't even invite anyone -- still I wasn't going to miss my steak dinner. I can dine alone.

Half order of calamari (part of their secret is that they marinate the calamari the day before), 9 oz. filet encrusted with Gorgonzola, asparagus. First two... perfect. Alas the asparagus was grilled and I didn't like it. Wasn't going to have dessert, but they had key lime pie. Came with candied shavings of lime peel -- really intense flavor. And the manager bought it for me, as I'd been "stood up". (grin)

Y'all missed a great steak dinner.

Dr. Phil
dr_phil_physics: (Default)
A NASFiC in Detroit?

With apologies to Gordon Lightfoot, if Detroit wins its bid for a NASFiC, it won't be a black day in July 2014. What's a NASFiC you ask? In years when WorldCon is away from North American, there is a North American Science Fiction Convention. My second publication, "The Pulse of the Sea", was written for Northwest Passages -- an anthology for the 2005 NASFiC in Seattle, the year WorldCon was in Scotland.

So in 2014, WorldCon will be in London. And Detroit is stepping up to the plate with a NASFiC bid: Detroit Marriott Renaissance Center • Proposed dates: 17-20 July 2014.

They now have their web page up, with details about the Ren Center (and $1/day Internet at the Marriott!). You should check out the FAQ page, especially if your thought are Detroit? Huh?

If you like the concept, you can join in support, or check out their tables or parties at upcoming cons. I hope to get a keychain while at WindyCon this weekend (DW).

Dr. Phil
dr_phil_physics: (dr-phil-confusion-2009)
WindyCon 39: Zombies
November 9-11, 2012
Lombard Westin

This coming weekend, WindyCon 39 opens at the Lombard IL Westin. Weather looks to be in the 50-60s in Chicago. Barring any last minute emergencies, I should be there from Friday night to Sunday afternoon.

I have five panels -- moderating two -- plus a reading:
Saturday, 11:00 a.m. - 12:00 noon: Choosing the Right Technology for You
Lilac C
Every few months, the newest, best, and shiniest new gadget is introduced to the market, but how do you determine which is right for you? Is it better to have the latest bells and whistles or a simpler device that does just what you need it to do? How do you separate the hype from the chaff?
P. Kaldon (M), F. Salvatini, R. Martinek

Saturday, 1:00 - 2:00 p.m.: Living in the Post Scientific Era
Lilac D
Polls show that increasing numbers of Americans are scientifically illiterate. What does this mean for the future? For science fiction?
J. Helfers, P. Kaldon, J. Plaxco, D. Burkhard, K. Strait

Saturday, 3:00 - 4:00 p.m.: What Everybody Knows Is Wrong
Lilac A
We all have preconceived ideas about science, but often what we know is wrong. Not just on the big things, but on the little things too. Sometimes this is caused by oversimplifications presented to the laity, and other times it is because knowledge has changed since we learned it.
P. Kaldon, J. Nikitow (M), R. Martinek, R. Garfinkle

Saturday, 6:00 - 7:00 p.m: Reading
Walnut Room
Dr. Phil will be reading from his zombie murder mystery police procedural short story that's been making the rounds. I just got the nicest rejection letter for this particular story over the weekend. (grin) This will be followed by the Zombie Steakpunk Dinner at 7:30 at Harry Caray's Steakhouse in the Westin Hotel.

Sunday, 11:00 a.m. - 12:00 noon: Is the Internet Making Us Dumber?
Lilac C
As more knowledge and information are available online, are we thinking less? Some studies indicate that the Internet may be shrinking our attention span, and our ability to create and follow complicated logical thoughts. Is this true? Or is it developing different parts of our brain that we didn't use 100 years ago?
K. Hughes, N. Rest (M), P. Kaldon, R. Martinek

Sunday, 1:00 - 2:00 p.m.: Why Is Your Protagonist a Straight White Male?
Lilac C
Writers, fans, and readers have so often bought into a common default that they don't even realize there is a question to ask.
P. Kaldon (M), M. Ryan, D. Burkhard, R. Martinek, E. Hull

Zombie Steakpunk

So back in 2009, I arranged Steakpunk at the Westin's Harry Caray's Italian Steakhouse (DW), following my Saturday reading.

I have to say, the steaks I've had at Harry Caray's have been some of the best I've had anywhere -- and the kitchen can accommodate a wide range of dietary issues if you ask.

I plan on getting a 7:30pm dinner reservation for this Saturday night -- if you're at WindyCon, or even just in Chicago, and want to join me, let me know.

Dr. Phil
dr_phil_physics: (dr-phil-confusion-2009)
WindyCon 39: Zombies
November 9-11, 2012
Lombard Westin

In just two weeks, WindyCon 39 opens at the Lombard IL Westin. And this year, barring any new disasters, I should be able to go. It's not as big as a WorldCon, but it's a decent con. And the theme this year is Zombies, so bring your cricket bats.

Anyway, got my preliminary schedule the other day for panels. There was a lot of crossover between the people running Chicon 7 and WindyCon, so they got a late start. (grin) Still have to schedule readings.

So I have five panels -- and moderating two:
Saturday, 11:00 a.m. - 12:00 noon: Choosing the Right Technology for You
Lilac C
Every few months, the newest, best, and shiniest new gadget is introduced to the market, but how do you determine which is right for you? Is it better to have the latest bells and whistles or a simpler device that does just what you need it to do? How do you separate the hype from the chaff?
P. Kaldon (M), F. Salvatini, R. Martinek

Saturday, 1:00 - 2:00 p.m.: Living in the Post Scientific Era
Lilac D
Polls show that increasing numbers of Americans are scientifically illiterate. What does this mean for the future? For science fiction?
J. Helfers, P. Kaldon, J. Plaxco, D. Burkhard, K. Strait

Saturday, 3:00 - 4:00 p.m.: What Everybody Knows Is Wrong
Lilac A
We all have preconceived ideas about science, but often what we know is wrong. Not just on the big things, but on the little things too. Sometimes this is caused by oversimplifications presented to the laity, and other times it is because knowledge has changed since we learned it.
P. Kaldon, J. Nikitow (M), R. Martinek, R. Garfinkle

Sunday, 11:00 a.m. - 12:00 noon: Is the Internet Making Us Dumber?
Lilac C
As more knowledge and information are available online, are we thinking less? Some studies indicate that the Internet may be shrinking our attention span, and our ability to create and follow complicated logical thoughts. Is this true? Or is it developing different parts of our brain that we didn't use 100 years ago?
K. Hughes, N. Rest (M), P. Kaldon, R. Martinek

Sunday, 1:00 - 2:00 p.m.: Why Is Your Protagonist a Straight White Male?
Lilac C
Writers, fans, and readers have so often bought into a common default that they don't even realize there is a question to ask.
P. Kaldon (M), M. Ryan, D. Burkhard, R. Martinek, E. Hull

Zombie Steakpunk

So back in 2009, I arranged Steakpunk at the Westin's Harry Caray's Italian Steakhouse (DW), following my Saturday reading. I hope to arrange a similar dinner assuming I get a 5 or 6pm Saturday reading for my Zombie murder police procedural I've been working on for a while.

I have to say, the steaks I've had at Harry Caray's have been some of the best I've had anywhere -- and the kitchen can accommodate a wide range of dietary issues if you ask.

This time, though, I'll make a reservation -- so let me know if you want to have dinner 6:30-7:30-ish on Saturday 10 November 2012. That's the Marine Corps birthday, by the way, so a toast to the Corps is always in order. (I've an uncle who's a retired Marine colonel.)

Dr. Phil

I Love This

Tuesday, 14 August 2012 12:13
dr_phil_physics: (Default)
Why I Love SF/F Fans

One of the blogs I follow is Partial Recall from Finland. Today Tero wrote about a Dirk Gently's Holistic Picnic:
Tuesday, August 14, 2012
Dirk Gently's Holistic Picnic

The traditional Dirk Gently’s Holistic Picnic takes place next Saturday (August 18). The gathering is at the Helsinki railway station, under the departing local trains sign, at 2 PM. Free attendance; you’ll need some money, the Helsinki trains timetable, and salted peanuts. The destination will be determined using the Helsinki maps in the phone book and flipping a coin.

We love the Dirk Gently books -- if we were in Helsinki I'd seriously think about this. Trains, picnic, SF silliness -- win.

Dr. Phil

Pulp Novel Covers

Thursday, 21 June 2012 14:10
dr_phil_physics: (Default)
Oh My Gosh -- Go See These Immediately

Someone has done a series of fake old pulp paperback novel covers for some classic SF movies -- Alien, The Matrix and (really excellent) Blade Runner.

Someone mentioned this on Facebook, but I got the link from Jay Lake: Go Here.

More on Prometheus

Wednesday, 13 June 2012 21:28
dr_phil_physics: (zoe-barnes-spacesuit)
The More I Read The Madder I Get

After reviewing Prometheus over the weekend (DW) with a minimum of spoilers, I am now reading a number of things from pre- and post-release. Seems that some of the bad science I noted wasn't just a case of Hollywood being sloppy, it appears that some of this trash was actually designed. Ridley Scott, say it ain't so!

At some point I will collect a number of links for you to peruse.

But in the mean time, I urge you to read this awesome captan's log. Larry Correia, who I'll admit is a New York Times bestselling author I've never heard of, absolutely nails Prometheus. He starts:
I quit reviewing movies here on the blog when I started selling stuff to Hollywood. The last thing I wanted to do was insult somebody that could potentially give me money for a book. However, I’ve just got to comment on Prometheus.

I really wanted to love this movie. I really did. It is gorgeous. This is one of the best looking movies ever. The acting from the main characters is remarkable. Michael Fassbender turns in an amazing performance. Idris Elba can do no wrong. Charlize Theron was great (especially the way she emoted in the flamethrower scene)… Noomi Rapace did a great job. The cast was awesome.

But despite all that good, Prometheus made my head hurt. I’ve heard some people try to say that it is a “thinking” movie for “grown ups”… No. And quit being a pretentious wannabe English professor. The problem with Prometheus being a Thinking movie is that the more you think about it, the less it makes sense. The more I think about it, the more things I have a hard time with. (you’ll notice that you never hear anybody complaining about the plot holes of the Avengers, because it didn’t try to be a Thinking movie. It just says shut up and enjoy your awesome).

Instead Prometheus was written in such a way that it required the cast of supposedly intelligent characters to make decisions like unto the cast of a low budget B horror movie. It was one step above “hey, we’re in the haunted murder mansion with a serial killer, let’s split up and wander around in the dark!” “Great idea. Let’s have sex and smoke pot so the slasher can murder us faster while we’re distracted!” I expect that kind of cheap cop-out writing from movies that cost $100 and the actors were paid in beer, not $200,000,000 gorgeous movies starring a bunch of great actors.

Yea, thar be spoilers in his piece. But it's funny as all get out. The man can write and it's spot on target.

Notice we both are still saying to go see it. But damn, it could have been a great movie. I mean really great. I mean 25-30 years later and we're still talking about Alien and Aliens -- about the timing, the scariness, the action, the questions, the awesome ensemble cast, the special effects AND the realistic settings. The list for Prometheus is much shorter. MAD Magazine could do parodies of Alien because it was great. Parodies of Prometheus will focus on how stupid the film team were.

Such an opportunity wasted.

Dr. Phil
dr_phil_physics: (zoe-barnes-spacesuit)
It Began With Ridley Scott

That first movie, Alien, lo these many years ago. 1979, I was still at Northwestern. It is so impressive that this movie still looks good. And my favorite thing was how masterful the timing is in that film. That whole opening credits designed to do one thing -- get your pulse rate down. And from the trailers and advertising campaign, we knew that one guy's helmet was going to get attacked. This takes us like 45 minutes to get to that scene. And then he leans over the egg... it opens... he looks into it... and... and... and... When it finally attacks, it has taken several beats too long and then it's too fast to see what's going on. All that and you're NOT ready for it. Masterful. And the chestbuster? We weren't expecting that at all.

Amazingly, seven years later we were treated to Aliens. one of those rare movies which goes against Dr. Phil's Rule of Sequels -- in other words, for many viewers, it is either equal to or superior to the first.

Tor.com has written some nice essays as part of their prelab for Prometheus: on Alien. Aliens and Aliens 3. I hadn't read the one on Alien Resurrection, i.e. Alien 4 or later before I wrote this or saw the new movie.

One of the cable networks has been showing 1, 2 and 4 in heavy rotation. which has been part of my prelab. I know lots of people who hate Alien 4, but there are parts of it I like, and seeing the aliens swimming is like watching Daleks levitate for the first time -- oops. (grin)

Prometheus 3D [R]
Holland 7 Theatre 5, 4:50pm, $8.75

The good news is that Prometheus looks great, especially in 3D. The ship of the same name has many fine features, including impressively large personal spaces, and they seem to be carrying lots of hardware to waste. And we are treated to many ghosts of things we expect to see in the later (earlier) movies.

David is the new synthetic -- and will be compared to the other synthetics in the series, and HAL, and Gerty from Moon, or any number of military movie people who goes against the grain to work some mission that no one else is privy to. He is superbly done. Going into the movie, I thought Charlize Theron was a synthetic, a question which David actually asks at one point, so I'll give Ridley credit for sowing doubt.

However, the crew is a mess. I can forgive the company people from the Weyland Corporation, because there's a mercenary aspect to the how this company works. We've seen this before, er, we'll see this is in the future. But my ire is really aimed at the scientists.

The whole franchise is based on first contact. In each movie, the wrong sort of people are called in to make essentially first contact with a (potentially hostile) alien species. Or local pathological bugs if you'd rather. Whether it's a mining crew, a terraforming colony followed by Marines, a prison, or trying to engineer a better bioweapon -- including that ugly white skull softshelled alien hybrid -- they're all out of their league. And "everyone" dies as a result.

But if anyone should have been equipped to deal with encountering either the Engineers or their pets/bioweapons/parasites, or spent more than three minutes planning for contingencies before they even left Earth, it should've been scientists who intended to go and find archaeological remains or first contact in the first place. Clearly these scientists haven't seen enough SF movies. Instead we have a synthetic who loves to push buttons. Plus a sneaking suspicion that Weyland must've gotten the contract for some of the equipment used in Avatar. (sneaky-grin) And why is it that alien tech always seems to work, even when there's been no evidence of power, even after 2000 years of inactivity? Maybe because the stuff always seems to be overbuilt with cast iron. (grin)

Much has been written or rumored or discussed about whether Prometheus really is a prequel to Alien. The best answer is -- sort of. The iconic image from Alien of the Engineer in the crashed starship with its telescope is almost, but not quite, here. And the cargo bay full of eggs is not directly explained from what happens here, nor are the shiny black aliens we are used to present. Which, of course, causes interesting questions of how many forms they have or how quickly they adapt or evolve -- and whether the whole Predator interaction is canon or not.

Here's one physics question for you -- if the starship Prometheus has been traveling interstellar distances, it presumably has to slow down (grin) to make planetary orbit. So why are the engines still pushing it forward? (evil-grin)

Still, I give Ridley a lot of credit for knowing what we wanted to see and then coming up with clever riffs off that, rather than just another me-too experience.

If you stay to the very end of the credits, there is somewhat of a Dr. Phil Special -- it's a little squib, but it amused me and it's akin to knowing when Skynet executes Judgment Day. (grin)


TRAILERS: Best new trailer is for The Great Gatsby, slated for Christmas and starring Leonardo DiCaprio and coming in 3D, even though that era barely had color or sound, let alone 3D. (snort) And a new trailer for Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter does a nice dissolve of the Washington Monument to its days under construction, when Washington DC was a small town.

Dr. Phil

500 / 10 Years

Friday, 1 June 2012 22:54
dr_phil_physics: (writing-winslet-2)
The Long Haul Burn To Space

Earlier this evening I sent in my 500th submission to any market. I thought it was my 499th, but my log sheets don't lie. 500. Friday 1 June 2012. And just eight days shy of ten years since I made my first submission.

It took 1427 days after 9 June 2002 to get to the first hundred submissions on 6 May 2006, 725 days for my second hundred on 30 April 2008 and 689 days to the third hundred on 20 March 2010 and 532 days to the fourth hundred on 3 September 2011. And now, largely due to last year's sabbatical, just 272 days for the fifth hundred.

75 completed stories sent out 500 times, with 19 publications including two reprints. One recent sale awaiting publication.


Dr. Phil
dr_phil_physics: (Default)
The Weather Is All Back And Forth

It is warm, about to turn HOT. When we left the house today at 3:30pm, it was around 77°F -- as I handwrite this in Holland, it's around 81°F. Sunday it is supposed to be in the 90s and very humid, also hot on Monday -- but Tuesday through Thursday has highs forecast in the 60s. And did I see on the weather map that near the Indiana border it'll be 98°F?

It's been so warm for so long this year, that it's hard to remember that May is NOT summer. And I'm not talking about the technical start of summer nearly a month from now. But until you get to Memorial Day weekend, it's really not summer in America.

The air is filled with cottonwood fluff. Not quite the same as the pulsing flowers of Avatar, but close. The parking lot at the Holland 7 was sealed recently, so there's still some puddles from earlier, which now have become fluffy with fluff. The pictures don't quite show off the 3D nature of the effect:

Cottonwood fluff on puddle. (Click on photo for larger.)

A closer view. (Click on photo for larger.)

We were in Holland on a mission. It's been ten years since we saw Men in Black II. There's been a lot of talk about how bad MIB 2 was, but we didn't think so -- the post office scene alone was worth it -- and we quite enjoyed it. Sure, it follows the emotional and quality letdown that follows Dr. Phil's Rule of Sequels, but so what? So far, the one comment I'd heard about MIB 3 was "better than 2".

Men in Black 3 3D [PG-13]
Holland 7 Theatre 5, 4:30pm, $18.50

Well, we thoroughly enjoyed MIB 3, which we saw in 3D, but not IMAX 3D, and overall the 3D was nicely done. Certainly didn't detract from the movie. As for the movie itself, it is useful to note that Mrs. Dr. Phil and I are old enough that we watched all the Apollo 11 coverage from July 1969 live. And in stirring Black & White. But in November 1968, I'd moved to White Plains NY, 27 miles north of New York City, so I watched the Mets become the Amazing Mets and pull off their miracle. Mrs. Dr. Phil was a loyal Cubs fan living in Chicago during the swoon. So perhaps this movie will always be a little more special to us than to the young whippersnappers of the Summer Blockbuster Ideal Demographic.

It's been some time since we've had a Will Smith "I own the 4th of July" summer blockbuster, so this year we get one on the official Memorial Day kickoff to summer. Considering that Spiderman is coming and how strong some of the spring movies were, it's still a pretty big weekend. Because with good popcorn and a suitable summer mindset, MIB 3 doesn't disappoint.

Our villain is pretty villainous. Reminds me of Mickey Rourke's villain in Iron Man 2, but, you know, alien. Good lord, how meta is it to be comparing sequels to sequels? Of course my big question in the opening shot is this -- I understand why high heeled boots have zippers, but why does the zipper go all the way down the stiletto heel to the floor? (grin) And it's no spoiler secret to know that we have a time travel adventure to deal with or that Josh Brolin has managed to channel an excellent young Tommy Lee Jones. Meanwhile Emma Thompson is flawless -- no one can deliver lines like she can (snicker) -- and the Andy Warhol bit is great fun.

But this isn't just about "the usual" time travel issues of what to reveal about the future to anyone in the past. Or even the small nods to recognizing Will Smith's special problems in dealing with 1969. No, where this movie becomes a joy for us is Griffin -- a (mostly) joyous alien who has a rather special relationship with time. Or his appreciation for the significance of temporal and cultural events. Even when the setups are obvious -- think Cracker Jacks -- he's still a fun romp of a character.

Unlike Battleship, which intends to use real world technology to battle the invincible aliens, there's no point in trying to worry about the Physics in a MIB movie. This is a special effects fest, delivered in a big tub of summer popcorn, emphasis on the corn.

What the time travel plot does -- besides inventing yet another novel AND ridiculous method of jumping in time -- is to put a fresh spin on what would be just the same old retread of the Will Smith and Tommy Lee Jones J & K schtick. And the puzzles and clues aren't too devious to figure out with or ahead of the characters. Although I have to say that the final two reveals, one in 1969 and one in 2012, are unexpected.

I'd really hoped for a Dr. Phil Special at the end of all the credits, but alas, producer Steven Spielberg is too cheap for that. (grin) Still, MIB 3 follows Dr. Phil's Rule of Sequels in that it doesn't have the innocence of the first, but knowing how this series goes, the third installment really delivered for us. Mrs. Dr. Phil opined that this was her favorite. And I think that'll suffice to leave this review there.

BTW, methinks that the Wikipedia entry is in error, referring right now to liquid nitrogen, when it makes perfectly more good sense that it should be liquid oxygen. I'm sure it'll shortly be changed. (double-entry-grin)

Highly Recommended

Trailers: Finding Nemo in 3D. Sure it's a Disney re-release, but it's been years since this one has been on the big screen and frankly the colors and the 3D animation are really great looking. And in November we get a new James Bond film with Daniel Craig. Still fence sitting on the new The Amazing Spiderman movie.

Added: 5-27-2012: First trailer I've seen of the new Total Recall. No Ah-nold. No Mars. No decision yet.

Dr. Phil
dr_phil_physics: (pepper-potts)
Saw Two Movies Last Week

Still have to write up a review on the one. This week I was busy with a variety of things, what with poor weather the beginning of the week and the abortive dinner plans (DW) of midweek, so I didn't get out to the movies until Friday. But it was a really pretty day out, which made a late afternoon drive exceptionally pleasant.

When I came out at 6:30pm, it was still bright blue sky nice. Still over a month to the longest day of the year, but what a difference a couple of months can make. Anyway, there were these two seagulls squawking on top of this light pole in the parking lot. I'd brought a camera, so I changed to a longer lens. By the time I got the shot, they were no longer on the same lamp housing, but they still amused me.

One pair of gulls, bathing in sunlight -- or the emissions from that cellphone tower. (grin) (Click on photo for larger.)

The Avengers 3D [PG-13]
Holland 7 Theatre 5, 4:00pm, 1×$8.25

The start of the summer blockbuster popcorn season came early this year and oh what a biggie. There was no way I wasn't going to get a small popcorn and drink, especially since the Holland 7 has the best popcorn around.

In the week since The Avengers blew up the box office, many people have raved about how good the flick is. Especially given the results of some of the comic book adaptations. I even think the local reviewer at the GRPress gave it four stars. And a lot of that love is justified. But there's also some carping about the lack of diversity -- despite Samuel L., Scarlett and Gwyneth among the major players. And that, too, is justified to some extent.

But, given that Marvel already has in the bag movies with Iron Man, The Hulk and The Mighty Thor, they've been building up to The Avengers for years. And Nick Fury of S.H.I.E.L.D. finally gets to come up to bat and bring everyone out to play. Everyone gets to have a lot of fun, sufficiently such that Tony Stark doesn't completely dominate/steal the whole show. And that is what makes this movie incredibly fun. The interactions and banter between all these powerful heroes -- and villains. Even the Big Guy. That big green guy. (grin)

Sure we have the usual Things That Go Wrong and Teams That Won't Team at first, plus the usual setbacks and stuff. I mean, they've got two hours and twenty minutes to fill, so they have to pack a lot of stuff into this movie. But there's actually dialogue and whole scenes of expository development. Really. Hard to believe.

Look, I know we're dealing with willing suspension of disbelief, but I do have a few issues with firepower, numbers of rounds and energy requirements. You've got all these bad guys pouring out of hyperdimensional hole in the sky, like so many anime shows or reminiscent of The Matrix: Revolutions. At least the latter made an attempt, even if poorly executed, of trying to include some semblance of having to actually carry a lot of rounds and reload from time to time. Instead we get one good indication of why having only one shot isn't such a good tactical move and then we have Black Widow blasting away the invaders with pistols. Right.

There were a handful of people at the showing I was at, including a bunch of teens after school. But only one group of adults stayed with me to see the first Dr. Phil Special -- you had to stay all the way to the very end to see the second. (grin)

Good popcorn.

Highly Recommended

Trailers: We're getting longer trailers for some of the movies we've seen previously. Two animated movies. Disney's Brave certainly looks entertaining. I can pass on Frankenweenie, since I have a bad feeling I've just seen all the best lines about a boy trying to resurrect his dog. And heavens to Betsy, they're trying to make me like Battleship.

Dr. Phil
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