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In the Beginning (Babylon 5)In the Beginning by Peter David

My rating: 3 of 5 stars


I'm not a Peter David fan. Oh, I've read a few of his books, but I consider him to be a workmanlike author rather than an artist. Of course, I also consider him to be a newcomer, since I respect very few post-1980 authors (exactly three, in fact: Brust, Brin, and Watt-Evans).

But In the Beginning is surprisingly well-written. It was shot in the dark for me, quite literally; I don't remember where I'd originally picked it up, but I'm sure I didn't buy it new (the pencil marking inside says $2.95). It was late at night, I desperately needed something to read, and I'd just turned off the light in the den; it was pitch-black. So for a lark, I pushed aside the books in the outer layer of one of my bookshelves (I'm terribly short of shelf space), and pulled out a book at random from the row of books behind.

Now, I must admit up front that I was a big fan of Babylon 5. In fact, it was the last show that I would call myself a "fan" of; I think I got too old for the fan phenomenon after that. But from seasons 1-4 I was a big fan, and even wrote a one-shot zine for a Babylon 5 APA (amateur press association, a collection of zines on a topic).*

Anyway, I have to say that Peter David captured the voice of the narrator, Londo Mollari, extremely well. I could hear the voice just as Peter Jurasik performed it while I was reading it. I don't know if someone who isn't familiar with the show itself would get the same enjoyment out of the book, therefore.

In any case, I'd call it a successful novelization; it captured the plot and essence of the broadcast show extremely well. There was only one jarring note. On page 75, there's a line:
Indeed, the gravity on the Babylon 5 space station was achieved entirely through a steady rotation, the same as that on any planet.

Perhaps Peter David only meant to say that planets have a steady rotation, but it certainly seems as if he's saying that centrifugal (or is it centripetal?) force is the source of gravitation on planets - and of course, that's absolutely wrong! If planetary gravity was caused by rotation, everything not fastened to the planetary crust would be flung into space. Could a modern science fiction author really be that ignorant of basic physics? I have to wonder!

All in all, though, an enjoyable read. I was tempted to give it four stars. But if you're not a B5 fan, you're probably more likely to consider it a 3-star work.

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* - I'm not sure if this link will work, but if it does here's a link to that zine: http://www.maranci.net/babble-on5.pdf . It has been annotated from a years-later perspective.



View all my reviews
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I've been bored, and World of Warcraft sucks - I'm pretty much being ganked by the Horde three or four times a day now - so I watched some stuff on Netflix. Just for the heck of it, today I watched an old episode of Columbo, "The Greenhouse Jungle" from season 2. You know, it was surprisingly good! So I looked up some of the actors. I thought the villain was being played by Carl Reiner, but it turned out to be Ray Milland. Two of the actresses in the show surprised me; one of them was the actress who played T'Pring on Star Trek (the original series, of course). As a blonde, she was totally unrecognizable! Another actress had also appeared Star Trek; she was the villain in the final episode, "Turnabout Intruder", and has the distinction of also being the only person other than William Shatner to play James T. Kirk in the original series.

God, I'm such a geek!
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We watched an episode of The Greatest American Hero tonight via Netflix on the Wii. Unfortunately the pilot isn't available for streaming, for some reason.

I was a fan of the show when it was on, but I'd forgotten how good it was! And what really surprised me was how much it reminded me of another of my favorites, The Rockford Files. But that's not surprising, in hindsight; it's a Stephen J. Cannell show, and a lot of the people from Rockford worked on it. Heck, even the theme is by Mike Post! There's really quite a Rockford feel to it.

Interesting thing: There's also a bit of a Sopranos feel to it! Many of the people who worked on Rockford also worked on the Sopranos. All three shows definitely share a similar "feel" and lineage.
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Robert Novak is dead.

I was having a bad day, but this news brightens it a little. As, I would imagine, it has brightened his - or would, if there was a hell.
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We finished reading The Voyage of the Dawn Treader last week. Sebastian enjoyed it very much. So we started right in on The Silver Chair. That has been going very well, too.

The library has a DVD of the British TV series of The Chronicles of Narnia, or at least the first three discs (which cover Lion, Caspian, Voyage, and Chair). We watched the first disc, and well...it was pretty silly. The special effects were awfully cheesy, but that was pretty much to be expected. The pacing was much slower than the movie, of course, and Teri was bored out of her mind; but that was to be expected too (Sebastian wasn't bored at all).

But what got to me was the terrible British overacting. When a British actor is good they're outstanding, but when they're bad they're terrible. And there were a lot of actors in The Lion who were just painfully bad. "Bellowing scene-chewers" seems the best way to describe them. The Witch, in particular, was like a black hole of bad acting. She kept trying to shout her lines louder and louder, and it was simply awful.

When I was in [livejournal.com profile] stairflight's production of Romeo and Juliet, some of the other actors urged me to shout more to show that I was angry. I refused. I knew damned well that you can often convey far more anger in a softer voice, and that constantly screaming your lines can be surprisingly ineffective.

Eventually the bad acting got to me. I cracked and started MSTing (that is, commenting on the action MST3K-style). When the Witch's face was on the scream, I dubbed for her "I need some more TOILET PAPER!!!" with the requisite hamminess and eye-rolling. Sebastian completely cracked up, and made me say it again and again for the next two days.

Aslan was quite amusing too. For one thing, he was obviously stuffed. His mouth movements weren't synchronized with his words. So when he was on his way to the Stone Table to be sacrificed by the Witch, and Lucy asked him what was going to happen, I emoted "She's going to cut out my STUFFING!!!". More wild laughter from Sebastian. Ah, the fun. :D

The show of The Voyage of the Dawn Treader is far less silly. The sea-serpent actually scared Sebastian a little (lots of spiky teeth). The effects were better, as was the acting. In The Lion talking animals were played (painfully) by people wearing costumes, and other creatures were portrayed with quite amateurish cartoon effects; in Voyage there was only one talking animal, Reepicheep, and although he was played by a (little person? Is that the correct term?), he was relatively well-played and not too irritating.
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This may sound weird, but I've been watching a lot of Barney Miller lately. I'd forgotten how incredibly funny and well-written it was. I'm constantly being amazed at how good the show is.

But the televised episodes have been terribly cut. In season three, there was an episode with Mr. Lukather, who was blind. He was chatting with Harris and Yemana, and someone mentioned that when you lose your sight, your other senses become keener to compensate (which is actually not exactly true, I think; you probably just become more aware of them).

Mr. Lukather agreed, and said that for example he could tell that Harris was over six feet tall, nervous, and a chain smoker. Yemana was amazed, and asked Lukather what he could tell about him. Lukather answered something like "You're very cool and collected, with great self-control; a natural leader. Either that, or you're Japanese."

It was an incredibly funny moment, but the entire interchange with Yemana was simply cut from the show. Annoying! Maybe I'll see if I can buy that season on DVD, if it's not too expensive.

Saturday

Aug. 2nd, 2009 12:53 am
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Let's see...Teri and Sebastian picked me up on Friday, and we stopped at L.L. Bean. We spent more than I'd planned. We got a reasonably-priced backpack for him, and got it monogrammed with his initials for an additional $6; Teri hated the style Sebastian picked, and I have to admit that it's fairly awful. But he needs to be able to make his own choices and his own mistakes at least some of the time.

We also bought sneakers for him. And when I saw that I could get a good pair of sneakers for myself for $54...well, that's about as good a price as you'll find outside of Wal-Mart or Payless. And those ultra-cheap sneakers fall apart incredibly quickly. These sneakers have the L.L. Bean guarantee.
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Lastly, we stopped at a DVD store. I wanted to see - just to see - how much season 2 of Saturday Night Live cost. I assume it would be $60-$70, the same as season 1. And that was the original marked price. But it was on sale, marked down to $24.95. So were season 3 and season 4. I went a little crazy, so I bought season 2 and season 3. I'm looking forward to seeing some of those classic Franken and Davis sketches, among other things.

And now I should get some sleep. Whew! It's late!
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Dr Katz's Me at a Glance Dr Katz's Me at a Glance by Jonathan Katz


My review


rating: 4 of 5 stars

An extremely funny book. I laughed out loud quite a few times while reading it, and more than a little. It's based on the TV show which was on Comedy Central from 1995 to 1999, but no knowledge of the show is necessary to get the humor of the book.

Some books based on television shows are little more than cynical attempts to cash in. Others are simply illustrated transcriptions of episodes. This is neither; it's original, but perfectly in the style of the show.

If you're not familiar with Dr. Katz, Professional Therapist, think of the classic old Bob Newhart show where he played a psychologist. Dr. Katz has plenty of neuroses, but his patients are even crazier. As for his chronically unemployed son and astonishingly unwilling-to-work secretary, it's hard to say if they're neurotic, or just taking advantage.

As such things go, this book is somewhat lighter on illustrations and heavier on text than similar books. It's NOT a comic-strip book, nor are there many images from the show. That's appropriate, given the relatively static animation (Squiggle-Vision) which was used in the show itself.

The book takes form of a personal organizer, the property of Dr. Katz. It includes completed feedback forms from patients (anonymous ones), session notes, suggestions from Dr. Katz's son for marketing himself, song lyrics (Dr. Katz plays in a band) and a wide variety of other stuff - much of it annotated with post-it notes by Dr. Katz himself. The post-its are, of course, simply printed on the pages - but they look surprisingly real.

I'd had no idea there was ever a book based on the show until the minute I picked it up at the used book store next to the public library in Boothbay Harbor, Maine. I'd liked the show, so I picked it up on an impulse; it was cheap. Now, I'll definitely be keeping an eye out from more Dr. Katz books - and for more from the author, as well. Who is, despite the details above, Glenn Eichler - Jonathan Katz and Tom Snyder (yes, the Tom Snyder) are given credit for creating the show, but the book itself was written by Glenn Eichler. I hope he wrote more.

View all my reviews.
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David Carradine died in Bangkok yesterday. Apparently he hung himself.

By all accounts he was a very strange person, but I enjoyed his work in Kung Fu and Death Race 2000, among other things.
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I found this rather amusing, particularly what with all the hype about Terminator: Salvation (which sounds like a real piece of crap):
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I love Jon Stewart.
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Here's a link to a fascinating episode of NOVA about the intelligent design trial in Dover, PA.

Weekend

Feb. 1st, 2009 10:27 pm
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Saturday morning Sebastian and I joined his Cub Scout troop on a visit to the WPRI, channel 12 FOX Providence. We met Pete Mangione, one of the weatherman there. He gave the kids a talk about being a weatherman, answered a lot of questions (not all of which really made a lot of sense), and let the kids play on the blue screen a bit. I even got on the blue screen myself, since I was wearing a plaid blue shirt that made me look as if I were riddled with holes. The kids loved it.

I took some video and photos before my batteries ran out (damn it, that happens too often). Several of us sent photos to the troop Yahoo group, and the Cubmaster sent one of mine to WPRI. To my amazement and delight, they showed the picture on the broadcast! Pete even circled Sebastian and one of his friends, football-diagram-style, because they were the only two who had actually been looking at my camera instead of the one to my left.

I have the broadcast on tape, and I'll convert it to some computer format soon. I wonder if it's already online somewhere?

Prisoner

Jan. 14th, 2009 09:20 pm
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I was awfully sad to hear that Patrick McGoohan, the creator and star of The Prisoner, died yesterday at the age of 80. I was a huge fan; as a teen, I practically worshiped him.

When Sebastian is older I'll watch The Prisoner with him...and probably some Danger Man, too.

Avatar end

Jul. 19th, 2008 11:42 pm
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I don't know if anyone on my flist watches Avatar: The Last Airbender. The series finale was tonight.

No spoilers here...but it seems to me that there are a couple of major threads which weren't cleared up by the finale.

One is the issue of Prince Zukko's mother. The other, far more major issue in terms of the world of the show, is a problem that has seemed obvious to me since I first started watching the show:

The world of Avatar is one in which there were four great nations, each following a different element: Earth, Air, Fire, and Water. The Avatar had the power of all four elements, and was reborn as a member of each nation in turn. The Avatar's role is to keep the world in balance.

But 100 years before the show begins, a comet passes through the sky. It temporarily empowers the Fire Nation, and under the Firelord they conquer most of the rest of the world. The Avatar disappears at this time, his fate unknown.

The Firelord, knowing that the next incarnation of the Avatar will be as an Airbender (i.e. a magician of the Air Nation) proceed to exterminate the entire population of the Air Nation. And he succeeds! Every member of the Air Nation is killed. That's why the show is called Avatar: The Last Airbender, after all!

Aang, the Avatar and last Airbender, is found frozen in an iceberg. He's thawed and begins the task of bringing peace and balance to the world throughout the show. But - and this is the problem - even assuming he succeeds (and I'm being careful not to do any spoilers here), he'll still have a world in which the Air Nation no longer exists! In which case, how can there be balance in the long run? And since the Avatar will be due to be reborn as an Airbender again in four incarnations, doesn't that mean that the Avatar cycle is broken?

Now, there were some people living in the ruins of the old Airbender temples in the lands of the old Air Nation. But as Aang said on first seeing them, they weren't Airbenders. They'd been living in that place for a long time, and none of them were Airbenders. Nor was there any hint that Aang could train them to become Airbenders (it seems that you really need to be born as one). So it would seem that Aang has a real problem: how to restore the missing 1/4 of the population of his world, along with their culture and powers. There's no sign that that's within the powers of the Avatar.

While I'm at it, it's a pity that Mako died before the third season was filmed. The replacement voice actor did a good job (as the former Fire Nation general, Iroh), but it just wasn't the same. Even the words themselves didn't seem as well-written.

By the way, if you haven't seen Avatar and would like to, all episodes including the series finale are now available to view online over at AvatarChapters.com. It's not the greatest show in the world, but it's very well done and more intelligent then most TV shows.
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My comment on an article over on the Washington Post about Colbert vs Stewart:


The Daily Show has funnier sketches and supporting players (not surprising, since Colbert's on-camera supporting team is much smaller). But Steven Colbert is a far more incisive and effective interviewer than Jon Stewart, who has a tendency to take it easy on his guests.

All in all, The Daily Show is marginally funnier, but Colbert is more biting and newsworthy. But both shows are funny and great.

If I had to vote for one of the two for President? Colbert. His in-your-face speech at the 2006 White House Correspondence Dinner was one of the most impressive acts of political courage that I've seen in the past twenty years.

Which is, I'll admit, a sad commentary on the state of American politics: that a truth-to-power speech by a comedian to a criminal President and criminally negligent Washington press corps ranks as a major act of courage. Nonetheless, it does.

Krofft

Feb. 18th, 2008 10:24 pm
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A letter to Salon about Narnia in neon, an article about the children's television of Sid and Marty Krofft (subscription or ad-watch required).

I'm part of that odd generation that grew up watching the Krofft shows. I was born in 1964. My wife is a few years younger than me, and she'd never heard of them - although she'd watched more TV than I did, as a kid.

Any time I meet anyone born in 1964, though, I always find that we speak the same language: Krofft. We all dreamed about those shows, and our imaginations were forever changed - twisted? liberated? - by them.

So I bought the complete Pufnstuf and Lidsville series on DVD for my little boy. He's going to have the same bizarre images as I have floating around in MY subconscious. That may seem domineering, but have you looked at modern television for kids? It's either gross-out animation in the spirit of Ren & Stimpy (but without the talent) or the same perky-happy-crappy garbage that has been churned out for defenseless kids practically since the medium began.

Yes, I'm talking about you, Dora the Explorer, Little Einsteins, Hannah Montana, and the atrocity of the Winnie-the-Pooh shows featuring an animated perky AMERICAN GIRL in place of Christopher Robin (who was, damn it all, ENGLISH!). I'm talking about YOU, Disney! Mickey Mouse was NEVER funny!

And every single goddamned show is backed up by millions of dollars worth of focus groups, psychological research, and products to buy, buy, buy.

It's sanitized. It's sterilized. It's televisual pap! And what is that doing to the minds of our children?

Take a look at a random episode of Lidsville. It would never be made or broadcast today. The evil Hoodoo the Magician (Charles Nelson Reilly) having lost his "zap" powers to Raunchy Rabbit (I swear to God I am not making this up) dresses up as a female bunny and seduces the hapless lagomorph out of his powers!

Adults cringe in amazement at the sight of the tutu-wearing girl-bunny-disguised Reilly rolling around on a chaise longue with a little person in a bunny costume. But kids love it.

It feels as if Sid and Marty Krofft got a gang of brilliant maniacs together, said "hey gang, let's put on a show!" and made it happen. They're incredibly lose and amateurish compared to modern shows. There are obvious mistakes; for example, take the opening of Lidsville. Butch Patrick's fall into the giant hat was visibly botched - you can see his foot kind of bouncing there as he hits the padding upside-down at the bottom of the hat.

TV executives today would fire anyone for suggesting that a mistake like that be broadcast. But god forbid that even a smidgen of the creativity and imagination that the Kroffts displayed in almost every episode get on the screen now! Our screens must remain sterile...as sterile as our children's minds. I think that the time will come when we realize that raising our children in an ideologically pure and sterilized environment destroys their mental immune systems, just as raising them without exposure to germs and dirt destroys their resistance to physical disease. Both are a cruel disservice to the next generation.

Pufnstuf and Lidsville were the purest of the divine Kroftt madness, in my book. They give us a window into a brief time when American culture was on the edge of becoming something truly, fundamentally different. Instead, that change was assimilated, digested, and eliminated.

Land of the Lost was a fun show (as a kid I loved it), but didn't have the essential Krofft craziness; that seems to have required giant-headed puppet-costumes. Sigmund & the Sea Monster verged on the weirdness, but somehow never quite reached the same level of strangeness and magic. That was probably, I think, because unlike Pufnstuf and Lidsville the child-protagonists of Sigmund were never taken away to another, magical world; their California world expanded a little to include sea monsters and other creatures, but it retained a link to reality that somehow made everything seem a little flat.

As for the Bugaloos, I didn't watch it much as a kid. And when I tried to watch it as an adult, I just couldn't take it. Yes, it seems to be the true Krofft quill...but maybe you have to have first seen it with the eyes of a child to be able to really enjoy it.
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I'll write about our Christmas soon. The short version: it was a good one.

But things can never go entirely smoothly, of course. One of the things I'd gotten from Sebastian was an old VHS tape, Courageous Cat #1. I'd bought it via Amazon from Granbury Trader. I'd have bought the DVDs, but they're insanely expensive; I think they've been discontinued.

When it arrived, I was a little surprised at how worn the case was. The tape had a very old, stained label, but it appeared to be the correct one.

You've probably guessed that I wouldn't be writing this if it were the correct one, I'm betting.

Yup; we put it in the VCR today, and discovered that A) the tape was almost unwatchable, with incredible amounts of snow and serious tracking problems that c could not be resolved, and B) it wasn't a Courageous Cat tape at all - it was filled with random material apparently taped off the air, including commercials and some Disney TV stuff.

What's more, the record safety tab was still present - which indicated to me that this was almost certainly never a commercial pre-recorded tape. Those are manufactured without the tabs to begin with. I took a look at the label, and - well, here's the letter I sent to the vendors:
Sirs,

Regarding order 058-5210333-2224327, which I placed with you on 15-November-2007 for Courageous Cat #1 [VHS Tape]: the tape which you sent to me is incorrect. It is an old VHS cassette containing material taped off the air, including commercials and Disney TV programming (among others) - but with no Courageous Cat content at all, as far as we have been able to determine. There is considerable snow and the picture is extremely poor, almost unwatchable. It has the appearance of a home tape which has been re-used many times.

The record safety tab on the tape has not been punched out. Its presence clearly indicates that this was never a commercially pre-recorded tape, but rather a home VHS cassette. The Courageous Cat #1 label is also half-detached from the cassette.

How would you like to resolve this issue? Please contact me at xxxxxx@xxxxxx.com. Thanks!

I hope we hear back from them soon. Sebastian cried and cried when we found out that it wasn't a Courageous Cat tape. I'd chosen them to begin with because they seemed to be more reputable.
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You know what I hate about Heroes? It's so damned predictable. For example, the quasi-girlfriend of the Indian guy, the thin girl with the shot black hair. It's totally obvious that she works for the bad guys, whoever they are.

Boring...
bobquasit: (Bad Sam!)
I couldn't resist going over to the IMDB and venting my opinion about Crossing Jordon:
Predictable and not authentic

The series is supposedly set in Boston, but is about as authentically Bostonian as a Philly cheese steak (I think it's mostly filmed in Toronto - it's DEFINITELY not filmed in Boston). Apart from that, I found it painfully predictable. Some episodes haven't just *blurred* the line between real science and the supernatural, they've plowed up the ground that the line was drawn on and dynamited the underlying bedrock.

In other words, for a show which purports to have a mystery element, the writers simply don't play fair with the viewers.

The show also suffers from more than a tinge of "Providence" syndrome - the heroine is SOOO perfect, almost always right when she bucks the system (except for a few "very special" plots where she makes a mistake"), and every man is in love with her. Annoying!

I did like the characters of Bug and Nigel. They were funny and well-acted. But they don't make up for poor writing and utterly stale plots.

I suspect the comment will get a lot of bad ratings from fans of the show. Oh well.

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