Saturday, April 30, 2011

Runnin' the joint

One of the perennial questions pondered by readers of my blog is "just what do the aliens want?" or "Why would they even be here?" Last night, an old program aired on...of all places...the Planet Green network that attempted to explore such questions.  I would now like to blog a few responses to what I saw.

Jim Marrs, journalist and author of numerous conspiracy books, said that after the first atomic bomb was detonated in 1945, an enormous wave of energy traveled out into space, garnering the attention of anyone out there.  "The kids have found the matches," he postulated the aliens as saying.  I like Jim.  I think he's a good guy.  But I must disagree with him on this point.  Could our first atomic test really be discernible in space, where so many detonations of far greater magnitudes take place?  I'm not so sure.
Peter Gersten is an attorney who as of 2006, has brought ten lawsuits against the federal government in an effort to gain release of files pertaining to UFOs.  He has received over 100 pages of documents.  Many of those pages have been blacked out and redacted due to "national security concerns."  While Gersten appeared to see this as a evidence of a governmental UFO cover-up, I don't think that is entirely the case. The US government has many means of gathering intelligence.  Among those are spy planes that utilized highly advanced...and highly  
I did like how the producers had Gersten in the middle of a desert at a desk.  A desk complete with a phone and a lamp.  And they were plugged into what exactly?

Clifford Stone is a former Army specialist and a man with a unique story.  He claimed to have worked for two top secret projects, one called Project Moondust and the other Project Blue Fire. His unit was tasked to recover objects fallen from space, whether they be satellites or craft that were ours, Soviet, or others (cue ominous music).  In 1969, he and his unit were called to a crash recovery operation.  The colonel in charge warned the men of radiation and that the Soviets sent monkeys into orbit from time to time.  If they saw anything weird, they were to always keep in mind it was a monkey.  
Well Stone did see something weird.  The crashed vehicle was saucer-shaped and dangling out of its door was a dead alien.  "I know it wasn't a monkey," a visibly shaken Stone said.  Of course the military denies this, but leaning towards believing him.  The poor guy was scared and he has nothing to gain by lying.  
Perhaps more disturbing, just what was the endgame planned for these Soviet space monkeys and how many are still in existence?

Richard Dolan, a solid and level-headed UFO researcher, showed up in a dark parking garage to talk about Men In Black.  Certainly the parking garage was chosen for effect by the show's producers.  Dolan confirmed that his research did point towards intelligence agents whose existence was off the books and whose authority was above most other operatives.  These MIBs are tasked with harassing witnesses, sowing disinformation, and enforcing the UFO cover-up by any means necessary.

Lucky for us viewers, the show found an actual MIB and I'm not talkin' Will Smith.  The man would not reveal his identity (natch) and only appeared in shadow.  He attested to have been involved with numerous operations to protect the UFO cover-up, a few of them involving his interaction with actual aliens.  "They're between 3-4 feet tall," he said.  "Large eyes with double eyelids as they come from a planet with a very bright sun."  Biologically, I have to wonder why an organism would develop such large eyes under a brilliant sun.  Doesn't make sense.  
Then again, the show was quick to point out that this "MIB" was unwilling to offer any evidence to back up his story...nor could the producers find any themselves.  My guess is, he's just some guy who wanted to say "hey, check it out.  I'm on TV.  Can't see me in the shadow, but that's really me."

So again we must ask, why go through all this effort of a cover-up?  Jim Marrs seems to think it's because of the alien technology involved, likely anti-gravity.  If that were to get out, the oil industry would be in the soup.  But then again, why couldn't the industry just sell it themselves?  My reckon is that the real reason for the conspiracy is panic.  What government wants to admit that it is impotent in the face of another power?  Or how would people react to information that might disprove the Bible?  Not well, is my guess.

We still have not gotten to an answer as to "what do the aliens want?"  Derrel Sims believes they want to control us.  He is a private investigator who claims to have been abducted by aliens at age 3 and reports that his own son has had abduction experiences as well.  Sims is said to be in possession of several alien implants that have been surgically removed from other abductees, devices that can control the serotonin and dopamine levels of the brain.  If one of these implants existed in your body, the aliens could control your emotions and therefore could control you.  Is that it?  The aliens want control of our minds?  Shockingly, Sims declined to release the implants for independent examination.  Sort of remind you of anyone?

Then, the big finale.  David Icke shows up!  I've blogged about Icke before.  What a fun guy.  He believes that since the dawn of time, humanity has been secretly ruled by a race of reptoid aliens (a la V) who have assumed the guise of those in power.  Bush, Kennedys, even Britain's Royal Family.  You can now rewatch the Royal wedding with an entirely new perspective. 
Not only are these aliens running the whole show behind the scenes, but we ourselves might be inside an enormous computer simulation.  Of course one wonders about the motivations behind doing that as well.  Aren't there simpler means of control?

Again we find ourselves in the murk and the mist.  Only when an actual alien (or inter-dimensional being) fesses up on national television are we all going to know the truth.  
And I just don't see that happening any time soon.

Follow me on Twitter: @Jntweets

Friday, April 29, 2011

And yet more books

Sometimes, a trip to the library, the bookstore, or even to surf online is not required to urge me to get through what I'm reading now and speed down my list.  All I need do is sort through my own unread collection.  Here's a few finds from just last night's rummaging.
The Beat Hotel.  An examination of the time period when William Burroughs, Jack Kerouac, Alan Ginsberg, and Gregory Corso all shared lodgings in a hotel on Paris' Left Bank.  Of course there is plenty of sordid goings on it looks like (would you expect anything less?), but its the literary and social developments that interest me.  I want to know what shaped these very influential American writers, influential both to literature and to me personally.  To place it in perspective, this is the literary equivalent of when I found out Bono, Michael Hutchence, and Simon Le Bon all shared a house in the south of France once.  Dope.

The Difference Engine.  This seminal steampunk work by William Gibson and Bruce Sterling has been on my shelf for far too long.  It's a detective story, or so the jacket back says, taking place in 1885 when Charles Babbage invents a steam-powered Analytical Device.  The age of computers and cybernetics arrives 100 years before its time.  When I met William Gibson last September, I recall him speaking of this book and how much detailed research Bruce Sterling put into it, reading endless newspapers from the Victorian Age.  

The Ghosts of Manhattan.  "Steampunk's first superhero!"  Whenever I see a book make a claim like that, I normally steer clear, but I found this at a closing Borders where it was 40% off.  The cover art was pretty...a hot mess between pulp and steampunk, the price was right, so I figured devil-may-care.  This is apparently about a vigilante superhero named "The Ghost" who goes up against a New York mobster called "The Roman."  Judging by the poor reviews I've just seen on Amazon, I'm thinking a full-length Gray Ghost from Batman: The Animated Series might be of superior quality.  I'll let you know after I read it.

Whenever that is.

Follow me on Twitter: @Jntweets

Thursday, April 28, 2011

In the year 2000!

In the realm of "need-to-read,"  I'm sadly more caught up with comic books than I am prose compositions.  There is however, one area in which I am sorely lacking.  That is the British science fiction series, 2000 A.D.

To the American public at-large, 2000 A.D. remains something of an unknown, yet comic book fans know that this series is a veritable incubator for talent that is now considered legendary in the industry.  Creators like Neil Gaiman, Alan Moore, Grant Morrison, Frank Quitely, Mark Millar, Alan Grant, and Dave Gibbons all cut their storytelling teeth here, honing their craft to where they could not be ignored by the likes of Marvel and DC.
One attractive aspect of 2000 A.D. is that it was an anthology book, carrying several separate, ongoing stories at once.  You really got a variety within the covers of the book.  Sure, the "big two" in America would do the same thing, but it was rare.  One of these storylines eventually became known on these shores.  Yes, even if the average American is unaware of comics talent involved, they are perhaps more likely to be familiar with one of 2000 A.D.'s nefarious characters, nefarious only for the awful Hollywood movie based upon him.  I am of course talking about Judge Dredd.  I implore you, please do not base your evaluation of Judge Dredd or anything else 2000 A.D.-related upon the horror, the monstrosity, the kidney stone of a film that is 1995's Judge Dredd.  Please!

Ahem.  Judge Dredd took place in a future world that was pretty much leveled by nuclear war.  The world's population was gathered into "mega cities," futuristic, cyberpunk metropolises that served as walled city-states awash in the post-apocalyptic wasteland.  Patrolling this cyberpunk city were Judges, law enforcement officials who were judge, jury, and executioner all in one.  Toughest among them was Dredd.
Like most comic books or fiction really for that matter, the Judge Dredd continuity was a bit of a pastiche of what came before it.  The character's attitude was Dirty Harry, the look and feel for the book was said to be modeled on Death Race 2000.  A cross-country epic called "Cursed Earth" was a take on Zelazny's Damnation Alley (again, please ignore the film with George Peppard).  "The Robot Wars," one of the few Dredd stories I've read, is a riff on most every "robot uprising" story you've ever seen, slightly reminiscent of Magnus: Robot Fighter.
The only other 2000 A.D. character I've had exposure to is Nemesis the Warlock.  The titular character is a fire-breathing alien possessed of many magical abilities.  He fights to free the world from the tyranny of an oppressive ruler named Tomas de Torquemada (yes, named after the grand inquisitor.)  In this day of Hellboy, you need to understand how rather revolutionary a character like Nemesis was.  Even I didn't fully grasp it when I saw it those many years ago.  Here was the story's protagonist and he appeared demonic, while the villain looked perfectly human.  Likewise lost on me at the time was the political subtext.  As the Wikipedia entry on Nemesis reads: 

"Written at the height of Margaret Thatcher's grip on the British public, the fiercely left wing Mills [Pat Mills, writer] depicts anarchic anti-heroes violently railing against a bullish, intolerant authority. That the authority in question is the human race thousands of years in the future adds a further dimension: a heavy-handed condemnation of human nature. Particular targets for Mills' ire were imperialism and religious fanaticism. Book 6 had a comment about South Africa and Apartheid removed, which was reinstated in the Titan Book reprint."

So now there are anarchists involved.  It keeps getting better.
These are but two of the many characters in 2000 A.D. and as you can see, I have much catching up to do.  I'm off to Amazon.

Follow me on Twitter: @Jntweets

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Ike and the Aliens

One thing I have said many a time here on Strange Horizons is that UFO lore has great stories.  As a science fiction writer, I'm rather envious that I didn't come up with a few of them myself.  But in the end, that is all they are: stories.

An example of this, to my way of thinking, is the story of a secret meeting that took place between President Eisenhower and aliens on February 20th, 1954.  Like any good story, this one has a bit of fact woven into it.  Let's start with those.

All records support the fact that between February 17th and 24th, President Eisenhower took an impromptu vacation to Palm Springs, California.  Another surprising fact is that on the evening of the 20th, the President actually disappeared.  Rumors spread quickly that Ike was either dead or gravely ill.  The White House press secretary called an emergency conference and informed reporters that the President had broken a crown on his tooth and needed to see the dentist.  Ike showed up for church early the next morning and everybody seemed to forget about it.
Then over the years...suspicion set in.  Why did Eisenhower take a sudden vacation when he had been on vacation just the week before?  There was only one dentist in the area to do the crown work.  That dentist and his wife were welcomed by the President the following evening for a steak dinner.  Yet that dentist's widow cannot recall the date of the meeting nor any specifics of her husband's time with the President in the chair.  Lastly, there is an absence of any record of dental work for that weekend in the records at the Eisenhower Library.
All in all, none of this is anywhere near enough to constitute involvement with aliens.  Then UFO researchers such as Michael Salla and Art Campbell began to relate testimonies they had gathered from US Air Force airmen stationed at Edwards Air Force Base on the night of February 20th, 1954.  Versions of the story from here on out are many, but most of them boil down to the rumor that President Eisenhower met with members of the Grey race of aliens that night in a hangar on the base.  
One version maintains that this was not Eisenhower's first diplomatic effort with extraterrestrials.  There are allegations that he and Pentagon officials met with members of the "Nordic" race, aliens that look just like us but with perfect features, blue eyes, and blond hair.  These aliens wanted diplomatic relations with us, but demanded that we cease destroying our environment and that we dismantle all nuclear weapons.  We didn't like that last part, the Nordics refused to give us any technology, so the whole thing went off the rails.  That's when we called a meeting with the Greys. 
Col. Philip Corso, author of The Day After Roswell with Dr. Bill Birnes, alludes to the idea that a secret, "negotiated surrender" took place that night with the aliens.  We knew we could not defeat the Greys militarily, so we brokered a deal.  They would give us advanced technology, we would allow them to abduct our people and mutilate our cattle. In plainer language: they sold us out.  Michael Salla asserts that this came to be called the Greada Treaty.  Shocker of shockers, we didn't get nearly the amount of advanced technology that we wanted and the aliens abducted far more people than they originally claimed they would. 
Any other juicy tidbits from the supposed meeting?  Well, I like the rumor about the exploding heads.  Supposedly, the Greys warned the Air Force not to have any armed guards within a defined perimeter of their persons as they feared adverse reactions with the ammunition the MPs carried.  Naturally, the military ignored this warning.  Once the MPs crossed the perimeter, the aliens sent out a force (possibly telekinetic) that caused the guards' heads to burst.  
This meeting also tidily (but not substantially) explains the onset of the alien abduction phenomena.  Prior to this date, alleged encounters with ETs were mostly said to be of the "Space Brother" variety.  Someone meets a friendly, Nordic alien, they get a ride in a saucer, they get a warning about what we're doing to our world, and then they're dropped off back home, safe and sound.  If the Nordics were told to get lost by our leaders who then jumped in with the Greys, then the abrupt rise of what we now typically call an "alien" with their cold, nigh sadistic demeanor makes sense. It would also explain Gen. MacArthur's 1955 address wherein he warned of "interplanetary war."

Do I believe that our government is suppressing knowledge of alien or at least nonhuman contact?  It should be obvious by now that I do.  Do I believe that there is a sort of clandestine agreement between them?  It wouldn't surprise me, even if it is just on the most basic of levels.  But did the 1954 meeting with Ike happen?  There's no way to say for sure.  In fact, the only way to affirm it would be to have solid evidence and there really isn't any to support it right now.  So it remains only a story.
For a very balanced and well-researched look at this alleged incident, click here to read William Moore.

For an interview with Art Campbell on the subject, click here.

Follow me on Twitter: @Jntweets

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Film Review--"The Arrival"

starring Charlie Sheen, Teri Polo, Ron Silver, Richard Schiff, and Bree Olson as The Beav.

An astronomer (Sheen...I'll let that sink in for a bit) discovers what he believes to be a signal from an alien civilization and entreats his superiors to listen to it.  His reward for this is to be fired and his NASA program shut down.  This begins an epic quest, one that reveals that aliens are already among us...and they do not have our best interests in mind.

Before he was "winning," Charlie Sheen did good movies.  More good ones than you may realize.  Wall Street is one of my all-time favorites, Platoon is amazing but I can only take small doses, Major League is hilarious, and who doesn't have a soft spot for Red Dawn and a sneaking admiration for Navy SEALS?  (contented sigh)
While I fully expected this film to join the ranks of the latter examples of cheese, it really belongs in the column of quality.   If you can get past the notion of Chuck Sheen as an astronomer, you can see the unique take the film has on the old "clandestine invasion" meme.  I would also call this movie a thriller in addition to science fiction, but not the kind that involves gunfights and car chases.  No, this is more of Hitchcock's style of thriller.  The ending, however, is unfortunately a trifle weak and I reckon that to be more from a producer's influence.  They were afraid to commit to a conclusion that would be unsatisfactory to the protagonist, so they took it in a Hollywood direction.  As a result, it doesn't quite work.
Yet that's relatively the only major flaw.  This is an entertaining, suspenseful, and at times, really rather cerebral film.  I'd call that "winning."

Plus, you get to see a pre-West Wing Toby Ziegler in Richard Schiff. 

Follow me on Twitter: @Jntweets

Monday, April 25, 2011

Serving up Hodge Podge

After the excitement of the past few days, I'm afraid I don't have much in the way of a post, so I'll just go with a potpourri of random things on my mind.
Very low and lethargic at my day job.  Worst of all it's only Monday.  Oh what gruesome reality.  But I've been wondering, how can I push a request through the purchasing department for one of the massager chairs from The Sharper Image?  I'm afraid it will have to be one of the higher-end ones because it needs to work the shoulders.  I mean, otherwise what's the point, right?  I think it would definitely lead to greater work productivity...or slow evaporation into a nap.  Therefore, I also will require an espresso maker.  Oh and a  latte for the Lizard Queen as well.

I'm still fumbling towards vegetarianism.  Lunch can now consist of a salad and french fries and dinner a pasta dish of one form or another.  Panera has a quite delectable tomato and mozzarella panini that is really rather filling and gets me through the afternoon.  Yet in reality, fatigue relegates my diet to a modest conglomeration of Cap'n Crunch and Cheez-Its.  But it's still vegetarian, right?  

My desire to go vegetarian has doubled.  Recently, my poor dog Chewie tore an ACL and needed emergency surgery.  His rear-right leg was shaved and now has a purple, Frankenstein-like vertical line of stitches running it.  With all the black fur gone, the definition of his leg is more clear.  It looks like a drumstick.
How easy to forget that eating meat could be the same as eating one's pet.

We've been experiencing several days of spring rain in Chicago.  In fact, it's been near torrential at times.  I don't seem to mind it nearly as much as everyone else around here does.  The colors of gray over green have a nice Celtic look that I've always appreciated.  While I am much more of a winter person, I can come to terms with spring.  Even if it does mean another Cubs season is over before it begins.

Enhancing the aesthetics of this blog has become an imperative.  If anyone has any ideas...or more to the point, how to implement ideas, hit me up. Web design has always driven me nuts.

"When did you get interested in UFOs?" she asked.
My monomania began at a young age.

Want to see where I was at Saturday night?  Click here.  Ignore the poster's inane comment.

Follow me on Twitter: @Jntweets

Sunday, April 24, 2011

Duran Duran, House of Blues, Chicago

I am now deaf in both ears.  Or more aptly, I can't hear anything over the loud ringing.  Every one of my muscles aches.  I feel completely hungover, yet I didn't drink a drop last night.  
I did, however, see Duran Duran at Chicago's House of Blues.  The show was amazing while the evening was...interesting.
It started out as most concerts do by waiting in line outside the venue.  My friend, SM, saw a woman he knew from high school approaching the line.  They greeted one another and he introduced me.
"Oh you must be a great husband or boyfriend to come to a show like this.  This guy," a point to her bulky husband with her "would never go see Duran Duran."
Ahhh, you know what they say about the word "assume?"  I leveled my gaze at her and spoke.
"This is my 16th Duran Duran show."
"Which one is your favorite?"
"Nick," I said, unflinchingly.  "I see him as the artistic heart of the band."
"And he's so dainty," the husband added, complete with a limp dangling of the wrist.
I smiled, chortled, and bid the jolly troglodyte a good evening.  
Nothing I'm not used to.  I've always run up against this uniquely American attitude of "a straight male who loves Duran Duran is like a vegetarian who cooks a mean steak."  
In fact, one of the many female Durannies at a show once challenged me, suspecting my fandom as merely a way to pick up women.  
"Quote a line from a song that wasn't a hit," she demanded.
" 'We're miles away from nowhere, and the wind doesn't have a name.'  'Hold Back the Rain.'  It's 5th track on Rio."  The chick was toast.  That's right.  I'm hardcore, bitches.
Anyway, we entered the venue.  If you've never been to a House of Blues, it is essentially an open pit space before a stage, ringed by bars (the booze-dispensing kind) and underneath gold leaf balconies.  You get there as soon as you can, get as close to the stage as you can, and then stand and wait.  And wait.  During the wait, a few of us caught Roger Taylor peeking out from one of the upper balconies.  We waved, he waved back.  A very nice gay man off to the side of me yelled to him.  "Come on down!  We have cookies!"
Not wanting to falsely lure Roger, I tried to think of where the nearest convenience store was on Dearborn. It'd have to be a decent one, one that carried Keebler Soft Batch brand because I wasn't giving Roger a cheap bag of Chips Ahoy, tasty as they may be.  Oh fuck, what were we going to do?
It gets better.  I spent the hours standing and waiting for showtime by kibitzing with fellow Duran fans, again they were mostly women.  We talked about the album All You Need Is Now, performances at Coachella and the Mayan Theater, and previous tours.  SM thought if any of them confessed to an interest in UFOs, well...that would've been it.
Then...he showed up.
Just before showtime, an older man in a tweed jacket who looked exactly like Kid Rock minus the mullet, squeezed in front of us and stood.  He brought his trailer park darling in tow.  They both stank of vodka and Carmex.  Obviously inebriated, this Kid Rock Sr. swayed back and forth bumping into me.  Gin and juice in hand (I used to bartend, I could smell the drink), he  leaned back to me and said in a rural drawl,
"I can duck down if you need me to.  I don't know the first fucking thing about this band, couldn't tell you one fucking song they sing.  I'm here for her."
He promptly sucked face with his Wal-Mart strumpet.  Now this was not a big deal for me.  Unpleasant, but not untenable. I've been to see bands like Slayer and Ministry and dealt with far tougher hombres than KR Sr.  But many of the women in the vicinity were upset with his drunken presence, so I simply said to them, "It's ok.  He says he doesn't give a fuck about this band and will duck if we need him to."
Well that was it.  The blood was in the water and the Girl Panic sharks began to swarm, demanding that he move on.  All I had to do was lean back and watch.  Security eventually told him to keep walking.  He did.  About three feet.  Soon I began to hear a woman say, "don't touch me."  SM tapped me on the shoulder and said, "KR's bothering these ladies.  I'm going to get in front of them."  SM's a man of wide form.  I had his back, but I knew it would be tough for KR, all seven sheets to the wind, to try to get past him.  Sure enough, when ol' Kid did try to scoot by, he tripped to the floor.  Security moved in rapidly and uh...escorted the gentlemen to the outside.  That's right.  Respect, courtesy, and band devotion may be absent in your parlance, but it's how we Durannies roll, motherfucker.  And oddly enough, Wal-Mart girl remained on the floor with us, indifferent to Kid Rock's removal.  I guess he had elsewhere to go and be "livin' free."

The lights went down.  Nick Rhodes walked on stage.  I had been purposely avoiding setlist previews, hoping to be surprised by the chosen songs.  Nick struck one chord on his synth and I immediately knew..."Planet Earth" was the opener.  Righteous.  The show then kicked off and here are my bullet-point thoughts on it:

-Anyone who thinks Duran Duran are an 80s nostalgia act is an idiot.  They have amazing new material featured in their sets.  They have hit songs from the past decade and the 90s and I am adamant that they only play better with age.  Not just that, but they look like they're having even more fun than ever.

-John Taylor can pound the hell out of the bass.  In fact, I'll go so far as to name him the best bass player currently in rock music.  No one has his signature style.  Doubtful anyone ever will.  "Play that fucking bass John..."

-Andy who?  That's right, Mr. Taylor.  Dominic Brown has your role covered just fine and your services will probably not be needed.

-"Ordinary World" is a beautifully written song.  I've always known that, but when I hear it live, I can't help but be reminded of the superbly powerful lyrics and layered sounds.  It is indeed one of the crown jewels of the Duran Duran catalog.

-Give Roger Taylor two toothpicks and a soda can and he will probably be able to pound out a beat.
-Simon LeBon was in rare form.  I've never seen his stage banter border so much on stand-up comedy.  For instance, in introducing the song, "Blame the Machines"...
SIMON: Technology drives our world and our little lives.  But what happens when it goes wrong?
SIMON: That was a cue, Nick.

-Nick Rhodes needs to write for Strange Horizons.  As Simon's introduction explains, "He is the future.  The future of the human race.  The man from transhuman space.  Soul-brother, Nick Rhodes!"
Give me a double "hell yeah!"

-I can't dance.  Not one step.  But at a Duran show, I don't care how dumb I look.  Last night, I was a movin' and a groovin', flailing my arms around during "Rio."  Bonus.

Here's the setlist:

Planet Earth
Hungry Like the Wolf
All You Need Is Now
Being Followed
Leave a Light On
Friends of Mine
Blame the Machines
The Chauffeur
Ordinary World
Girl Panic!
Careless Memories
(Reach Up for the) Sunrise
The Reflex
Girls On Film

All in all, a great show.  Duran Duran have always been there for me.  Therefore, I will always be there for them.  They and their music have always been spiritually re-energizing to me in a way that little else has.  Case in point: as I stopped in a gas station on my way to an Easter meal this morning, the clerk noticed my shirt and tie combo and asked, "Going to church?"
"No," I replied.  "I went last night."

Follow me on Twitter: @Jntweets

Saturday, April 23, 2011

Green Slime: Earth War Episode 3: Death Drives A Stick

    People across Southeast Asia stopped and looked skyward as soon as the enormous shadow fell over them.  As it passed over, the ship, a saucer measuring an estimated one-kilometer in diameter, elicited both gasps and silence as the flames of re-entry trailed behind it.  The crowded streets of Bangkok froze.  A motorcycle messenger in Burma took his eyes from the dirt road to look skyward and ran down into a ravine.  Even temple monks, isolated with their reclining Buddhas inside dense jungles stopped to gape upwards and utter obscenities.  The ship’s descent continued to slow until it came to a hover just over the Himalayan Mountains.
    Chinese armed forces went on full alert.  Two ATF (Advanced Tactical Fighter) jets were scrambled and sent to recon the object.  As they circled it, the pilots reported no discernible features to the craft, save for its dark hue and the three ice-blue orbs in its aft section that were apparently the propulsion system.  All the while a strange and intermittent signal was being detected as it was broadcast all over the world.  Its point of origin...the newly arrived ship.  Through the glorious invention of worldwide electronic media, news of the alien arrival spread in a matter of seconds.
    And all the while the slime grew, mutated, and then stood fully erect.

    “What the hell is that thing?” Gen. Thompson said, capping his question with a slam of his palm onto the mezzanine railing.
    “How should we know?  It’s only been here for five minutes,” replied Curtis, the diminutive subordinate before taking a sip of his coffee.  He then looked down at the contents of the cup with a pursed and sour mouth and one eye closed.  “Tastes like feet.”
    Thompson stared at the alien craft on the viewscreen for a moment more and then nodded his head as if having made a decision.  Hands on his hips, he turned to his executive officer.
    “Advise the General Secretary to gather every top scientist that she can.  Astrophysicists, oh and maybe one of those chicks that work with the gorillas and chimps.  You know, the ones that teach monkeys sign language and stuff?  They might come in handy.  And where the hell is Rankin?”

    Outside of Lisa Benson’s apartment building, Jack Rankin stood with a portable stereo held aloft above his head.  From its speakers came a song in perfect digital quality, a song entitled “This Time I’ve Hurt Her More (Than She Loves Me).”  Each warble of the vocal and every twang of the steel guitar filtered into the air and escalated the situation to critical mass.  A window on the third floor slid open and Lisa stuck her torso through the gap.
    “I’ve just suffered a death!  Turn off that infernal...” she said before squinting her eyes. Recognition then boiled across her face.  “Jack?  What is that music?”
    “It’s the venerable Conway Twitty,” Jack answered.
    Her eyes and head cocked in thought while she tapped her fingers on the window ledge.
    “Who is this... ‘Twitty’ of whom you speak?” Lisa asked.
    “A favorite of mine.  My way of wanting to make things better, babe,” Jack smiled.
    Lisa disappeared through open window and the glass pane slammed back into place.  In slow movements, Jack lowered the stereo and pressed the “STOP” button.  With a lowered head he turned around and walked in the direction opposite the apartment building.
    “Let’s fly home, Twitty Bird,” he said as he kicked a rock from his path.  “Let’s fly home.”

-The shock on the farmer’s face as he set his beer can down and leaped from the tractor was impossible to describe.  Out of the Indiana cornfields waved tens of dozens of flailing, bumpy green tentacles that were charged with electric current.  Green slime monsters.  All of them headed for his herd of cattle just beyond the fence at the edge of the woods.  In anticipation of raccoon (or whatever other furry animal that might happen his way that could be termed as “them’s good eatin’”) hunting later in the day, he had left a vintage twelve gauge against a fence post.  He knew it was still loaded from teaching his six year-old to shoot earlier in the day.  If he could just reach it in time... Yet that would not come to be as the final thing he ever saw was the blue, springtime sky while the many tentacles dragged him down to his death.

-The Russians met their creatures splendidly and in the only way that they knew how: by blasting the holy hell out of them.  Tanks, troops from armored personnel carriers, and missile artillery were all deployed after laser weapons were found to be more trouble than good (though the beam weapons knocked the awful green things down,  a new creature eventually generated with each blast.)  Even Russia’s new Putin-class attack helicopters flew sorties against the green, lumpy, one-eyed people eaters.   Detonations from explosive ordinance did scatter the creatures to pieces, but heat from the sun eventually helped them to regenerate and coalesce back into form.  As the Russian army hid behind overturned cars and streetlamps while watching the towers of the Kremlin crawl with green...they knew a war of attrition was underway.

-A similar scene played out in New York City.  A solid blockage of cars and trucks formed on the George Washington Bridge as the creatures advanced on the city.  Motorists jumped from the bridge and into the water rather than face the oncoming horde as the wreckage of vehicles flew.  With New York at risk and no other real option available, the military ordered an airstrike on the bridge even though civilians were still present.  Missiles from air force fighters struck the bridge in two sections, blasting it apart and sending it into the sea. 
    This did little however to deflect any harm from the green slime creatures that had already made it across into Manhattan.  The NYPD worked valiantly to keep the populace under control.  But when people come face to face with green, slimy, tentacled, one-eyed monsters, there’s only so much rational behavior one can expect.  There was madness in the streets.  Cars were smashed, trains were ripped off their rails, and still the things just kept coming.  Panic ensued and people ran everywhere.  They took shelter inside stores, strip clubs, or wherever they could.  Several even jumped down open manhole covers for the imagined safety of the sewer system.  Much to their surprise, the creatures followed them and even seemed to enjoy the new environment.  
    A school bus full of kids on a class trip would become the stuff of legend in the years to come.  With a McDonald’s as their Alamo, the kids held off wave after wave of creatures using whatever weapons that they had available.  Cooking knives, hot grease, week-old McNuggets, and even a rocket launcher that a child had procured from a fallen soldier helped them to hold out even when the creatures swarmed the fast food restaurant and nearly caused the roof to collapse under the weight.  Sadly, the U.S. military saw the congregation of green creatures as a juicy target of opportunity and razed the area with missiles from attack helicopters...totally unaware of the little squirms inside.  
    The creatures then seemed to use Central Park as a rallying point.  Thousands of them packed themselves into the grassy, wooded area...leaving only flames and slime in their wake.

-It was Opening Day in Major League Baseball.  In honor of the sports commentator’s retirement, St. Louis had proclaimed it to be “Joe Buck Day” at Anhueser-Busch Stadium as the Cardinals took on the Chicago Cubs.  Just as Buck was about to roll out the first pitch, hundreds of creatures overran the stadium.  As players and fans alike ran and in some cases even jumped from the upper decks, Joe Buck was ensnared by two sets of tentacles and then summarily torn in half in a grotesque tug-of-war.  Though there was the benefit of one of the worst sportscasters in history coming to a just end, Cubs fans were forced to mourn yet another baseball season that was over before it even began.

-To the North of St. Louis, in a suburb of the Cubs’ hometown, Romeo Rodriguez packed his family and as many of his friends as he could into the basement of his Aurora home.  The tattletale sound of sharp red claws dragged along the aluminum siding of the house rang out the news the creatures had found them.  His sister’s baby started to cry and that tipped the things off.  The things pried their way through the basement window and flooded through.
    Romeo’s cousin Julio opened up on them with an automatic pistol.  The .9mm slugs did damage but were nothing against the sheer numbers.  Romeo’s uncle slammed a garden rake into one of them while Romeo himself brought a lawnmower blade to bear on a creature.  Still, he knew it would not be enough. 
The Pentagon was hesitant to use any more military force to stem the onslaught after seeing so many civilian causalities in New York.  But when the President learned that it was Aurora that stood between the creatures and Chicago, a nuclear strike was immediately approved (oddly enough, when radiation-suited emergency responders rolled into the area, little difference could be seen between the town as it stood and the way it looked before the blast.)

-At sea, a green slime monster of titanic proportions rose up from beneath the waves.  An asteroid fragment had hit the ocean floor and the slime upon it was fed by the thermal energy of a volcanic vent.  Given a constant feed of energy, the creature grew to a Godzilla-like height.  As it broke the surface, a Japanese whaling ship was capsized by the ensuing waves.  The whalers, having been knocked overboard, were all spared a demise at the hands of the creature.  Of course with the waters being so shark infested, they were then equally screwed.

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Friday, April 22, 2011

Let's talk about "The Passion"

Yes, I cribbed that title from an R.E.M. song.
Today's Good Friday.  That got me thinking about a film I've never seen and still don't plan to: The Passion of the Christ.
I managed to stand against the tidal wave of popularity that film enjoyed back in 2003.  The kind of furor that spurred middle-aged, suburban housewives to dig the gold cross necklace from the bottom of their jewelry boxes.  It might be well-shot and well-directed, but I have zero interest in seeing it.  This is not based on religious grounds, even though I don't want someone else urging their religious interpretations upon me.
It's because it basically sounds like torture porn.  I was raised a Catholic.  In the Church (and possibly other Christian denominations, I'm not sure), there is something called The Stations of the Cross.  It's basically a stage-by-stage breakdown of the execution of Jesus, all the way from the sentencing to the placing of his body in the tomb.  Like it or not, I've got the whole thing committed to my mental hard drive. I just don't need to watch one person, whoever they were, tortured and put to death by a hoard of other people.  And from all accounts, director Mel Gibson was not skimpy on the blood.  "I had no idea the human body could even hold that much blood," I remember one film critic saying.  I'm certain that the crucifixion was an unbearably gruesome affair because Catholic school spared no details.  Therefore, I don't need to see it. I refuse to see any of the Saw films, either.

And then there's Mel.  I feel like I've followed his acting career from the beginning and that he evolved with me through every stage of my life.  First he was Mad Max, The Road Warrior during my teen years.  When I was a young adult, became William Wallace in Braveheart, one of my all-time favorite films.  Then he was Rev. Graham Hess in Signs, another one of my top favorites, as I settled into married and home-owning life.  In a few ways, I came to admire him.  All of his recent bad press and abusive behavior has severely tarnished his image in my mind and the minds of others.  To have him give me a two-hour Biblical lecture would just be too much at this point.  Does that condemn my mortal soul?  Nehh...I'll take my chances.

"Karma police, arrest this man
He talks in myths
He buzzes like a fridge
He's like a detuned radio"


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Thursday, April 21, 2011

Angry Youth! Born to Die!

I was thinking today about Stevie Washington.

Stevie Washington was half of a cartoon duo called Stevie and Zoya.  In the very late 80s, MTV would show the animated series in one minute snippets between videos, commercials, or inane VeeJay banter (I shouldn't complain.  Back then, MTV was like the Library of Alexandria compared to the current nadir.)  Stevie worked for a nebulous organization known as DADDIO.  He rode a skateboard and faced down supervillains in a city that was "all crime."  Here is the unforgettable voiceover into for each installment:

"Stevie Washington, the angry youth.
Born to Die!
New York's, New York. [sic]
The turn of the century.
All crime!!"

At that point, Stevie finds himself surrounded by a bunch of shady guys.
Believe it or not, I just learned that the film noir narration was provided by Russell Johnson, the same actor who played The Professor on Gilligan's Island.

What was it about Stevie that captured me?  Several things.
First, there was the fast-paced kitsch of it all.  It was drawn in a film noir style and blended with a 1960s sensibility.  The plot was deliberately pulpy with its time and place being deliciously weird and ambiguous. 
Most of all, it resonated with my 18 year-old angsty self.  While on college radio, I adopted the moniker of "Jonny Nichols: Angry Youth.  BORN TO DIE!"  Keeping stacks of heavy metal and goth alternative CDs at my side, I vowed to keep the campus of St. Joseph's College safe from the likes of Elton John, Billy Joel, and Journey.  I would also play out that Angry Youth character through radio dramas with my both on and off air compatriot, Bingo Elkins.  You can see the character in your mind's eye, can't you?  Me in my black leather jacket, lighting up a smoke in a trashy alley with an anarchy symbol spray painted graffiti-style on the brick wall behind me?
This persona went on for three years until I eventually subsided into a run-o-the-mill heavy rock radio format.

That's a lot of influence for a one-minute cartoon to have.   And thanks to YouTube, you can all relive it with me:

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Wednesday, April 20, 2011

So many books AND why is my prostate trying to kill me?

You have undoubtedly heard me lament over and over again about how many books I want to read but seldom find the time to do so.  Well, you're going to hear it again.
I really did believe I was going have the opportunity to get caught up over these past two weeks.  Alas, it was not my fate.  If you've read Monday's post about a drone's life, then you know I've been a nursemaid, a laundry folder, a lawn raker, a dog walker, and so on and so forth all the live long day.  All while it rained buckets outside.  Doesn't matter.  I still keep finding books that appear promising and I add them to my "to read" list that grows exponentially by the week.  Here are my latest finds:

Jennifer Government by Max Berry.  Corporations rule the world in this book's future.  So much so that all workers take their corporate employer as their last name (e.g. Jon Nike) and the NRA has publicly traded stock.  The book itself sounds like my kind of thing and that alone makes it worth a read, but Max Berry has taken author promotion to a cool new level.  He has his own online game called NationStates that is based on the novel.  You can play for free.

The Secret Life by Paul McAuley.  An alien virus thriller that takes place on Mars in the near future.  According to Amazon, the book targets corporate greed and Luddism.  Dope.
In the Ocean of Night by Gregory Benford. A hard sci-fi novel of space travel and an overcrowded Earth.

So what exactly am I reading that is preventing me from speeding down my queue of books?  Crytponomicon by Neal Stephenson.  Lord, that thing is a tome.  As I started into it, I seriously wondered why Stepehenson included all of the literary digressions.  Or more to the point, how could an editor have allowed the book to go "into the wild" like that, so to speak.  Now that I see the method and motivation behind the digressions, I have a better understanding of his artistic choices and they are far greater than simply digressing for the sake of postmodernism.  I'll make my way through it eventually and post a review.

In other news, I think my prostate is bloated.  Yep, I've reached that age where men have to think about these things.  Every evening I tend to feel...uhhh, "full," and no matter how many visits I make to the washroom it doesn't seem to go away.  So I'm going to the doctor tomorrow in an effort to ascertain if indeed my prostate is in revolt and attempting to kill me.
Wish me luck and a latte.

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Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Beatnik spam

Since needed emails are sometimes routed to my spam folder, I must sift through the sewer.  From time to time, I find a pony in the manure.
Today, as I scanned the subject headers of these marketing gems, I noticed how they turned into an almost stream of consciousness poem.  So with my striped shirt and beret on and one of you Strangers accompanying me on the bongos...
Bill my parents
Discount penis enlargement
Watch her in action on webcam

You may already qualify
Payday too far
Penny stocks that jump 900%

Have you had hip surgery?
New jobs for 2011
Apply for gas card today and save money

Family photos--new features favorite
Determine if hair restoration is right for you
iPads and Kindles for under $20

Invent it and we will develop it
Having toning shoes caused you pain?
Lasik for $299

Thirty seconds to credit card pre-approval
Learn business skills by earning business degree
You may qualify for a government grant

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Monday, April 18, 2011

Droning on

That's me in the photo.
That's me in the ant...suit.
Drone to my obligations.

Or at least that's how I feel.  Lately I have been fully cognizant of the neverending "to-do" list that confronts me.  All of it is household related.  Clothes to launder, dogs to walk, lawns to rake, floors to vacuum, and crud to scrub.  And when it is all completed, when it is all said and done, the counter resets to zero and I start the process all over again.  Sisyphus, anyone?
So why do I do it?  I'll admit to being a neat freak in my own odd way.  I want to feel clean when I come out of a bathroom and I want a sense that the space I prepare meals in is sanitary.  But beyond that, why do I do it all?  Who is going to come and check up on me that it's done and to satisfaction?  Just what cosmic force am I trying to appease by keeping a strictly unsullied dwelling?  And accomplishing the process at such a corybantic rate that leaves me exhausted for the entire next day?  What would happen if I devoted all that time to something I loved?  Something that would benefit me?  Beyond winning the "Mr. Clean" award, that is?  It's enough to get you down, wear you out, and just plain fill you with ennui.  Tell this to your doctor and the solution would likely be psychotropic drugs.  Something to pharmaceutically buoy you up...all the way until you're drugged-out enough to no longer care that the problem still exists.  Oh what to do. 

Fact is, I do like a clean home.  There are also greater things I want to accomplish.  Perhaps that is why I need two of me.  Yes, the Jondroid concept again...the robot that would carry out all those tasks I find tedious and tiresome.  Things like scrubbing, cleaning, pleasing family members, and working at the day job.  In the meantime, I would fully devote myself to writing and research in both the Humanities and Forteana.  
What if I took the Jondroid concept to an entirely new level?  Yes, I'm beginning to see just how hampered my experience is by having just one of me.  Imagine other robot copies of me in different locations around the world.  I could link to them cybernetically and experience what they are experiencing.  "Surrogates," if you will.  :) 
It is a herculean task for one person to see the entire world in their lifetime.  Few of us manage to accomplish such a feat.  But with these remote-controlled copies of myself, I might just pull it off.  Oh the things I could accomplish.  Yet how fully would I be able to experience things through these multiple Jondroids?  Is it still considered polygamy if it's your copies that are in multiple relationships?  Now there's a conundrum.  

Oh who am I kidding?  There's little if any likelihood of any of this coming to pass in anywhere close to the near future.  Except in my imagination, that is to say.  Guess I need to be at peace with being a drone.
Or at least not care so much about every patch of dust that I see.
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Sunday, April 17, 2011

Elsewhere in the universe...

Scientists are now visualizing what happens in the collision of two black holes.  There are ripples in both space and time, stretching outward from the point of this collision, just as there is wake from when a rock is thrown into a pond or lake.  There is even a new word in the scientific lexicon for the lines of that stretch objects caught in said space-time warping: tendex.   As stated in the article...
 "Tendex lines describe the stretching effect of a strong gravitational field. "Tendex lines sticking out of the moon raise the tides on the earth's oceans," said David Nichols, the Caltech graduate student who coined the term. When many such lines are bunched together, as in the surroundings of a black hole, that creates a super-stretching region called a tendex. An astronaut passing through a tidal tendex would be pulled apart like taffy — an effect sometimes known as "spaghettification.""

By the by, David Nichols is no relation.  
There are a good many startling implications this research could have towards space studies, not the least of which is the notion that such a collision of black holes might result in a gravitational burst so powerful that the newly merged black holes are flung from the galaxy.  Wow.  Truly force on a scale that is difficult to comprehend.

In other news, time travel just can't happen At least that's what two electrical engineers at the University of Maryland say.  These researchers have simulated the Big Bang, the theoretical detonation that give birth to our universe, inside a metamaterial.  In watching this process, they were able to observe how light expanded since that point and how it suggests that time travels forward in a linear manner.  Thus, it seems unlikely that one would be able to move backward or far forward on the line.  Or more to the point...
"But when further analyzing the situation, they found restrictions on how light rays could move in the model. Although certain rays could return to their starting points, they would not perceive the correct timelike dimension. In contrast, rays that do perceive this timelike dimension cannot move in circles. The researchers concluded that Nature seems to resist the creation of CTCs (close timelike curves), and that time travel - at least in this model - is impossible."
To be sure, there are those who find this model to be flawed.  Then again, any model is flawed to one degree or another.  And that's the nature of science, isn't it?  Just when we think we have it down, something comes along to cause enormous vicissitude in our understanding of how the universe works.  

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Saturday, April 16, 2011

Green Slime: Earth War Part 2

 Gen. Thompson was indeed correct.  Fragments of space station Gamma 3 fell to Earth all over the globe.  One section of debris happened to land near Paks nuclear power plant in Hungary.  Others ran aground in New York’s Hudson Valley, Ratcliffe, UK, and Grovers Mill, New Jersey, just to name a few.  Like bird droppings they came down, in clumps and in single pellets.  Given human society’s ever increasing demand for electrical current, much of the wreckage touchdown near power plants.
    And on much of it clung droplets of that tenacious survivor of open space, green slime.

    The scent of roses diffused through the third floor corridor of SPACOM’s Giggitty Glen apartments.  Jack Rankin had bought three of the flowers inside a floral shop in the mall and augmented them with a few more he had found after rooting through the store’s dumpster.  With a deep breath and a shot of Banaca to the mouth, he knocked on the door to what was once the home of Vince Elliot and Lisa Benson.
    With a sharp pull the door swung open.  Lisa was standing there, her eyes puffed and red.  Her mouth turned further downward as she saw Jack standing there.  Then her eyes narrowed.  Undaunted, Jack held out the flowers to her as an offering.
    “Thought we could talk,” he said.
    Lisa clenched her hand around the edge of the door and propelled it forward with great force.  Before the wooden rectangle slammed shut, Jack caught a glimpse of someone sitting in the apartment.   He appeared to be a large man of African descent in a SPACOM cadet uniform.  Then the door closed and Jack was left alone in the hallway with his flowers.
    Or at least he was until a Japanese officer of SPACOM came barreling down the hallway.  The young-faced woman came to a stop in front of Rankin and reported that his presence was requested by General Thompson at Command and Control.  Rankin tossed the roses over his shoulder and sent them to the floor.  He then followed the Japanese girl’s round-ripple ass all the way down the corridor and out into the open.

    Jack Rankin walked the approach to SPACOM C&C.  The area had dim lighting and metallic, clanking sounds rang out then echoed into oblivion.  Every time he made the walk, the same noises reverberated.  Jack always wondered what they were, but the question was invariably forgotten once his eyes came into contact with all the shiny things in the command room.
    Thompson had been waiting for him.  As soon as he saw Rankin enter, he rushed down the stairs from the mezzanine level and guided the man over to in front of the massive viewscreen.
    “All due respect, General.  Whatever you brought me here for better not suck,” Rankin said.
    After a directive wave of Thompson’s hand, the viewscreen transitioned to a blurry, black and white photograph of a circular shape in an onyx but star-dotted void.  It took on what Rankin saw as the color of Cookies and Cream ice cream, only with the colors reversed.  Thompson informed him that what they were looking at was an object that space sensors had recently detected entering the solar system.
“Another flippin’ asteroid?” Rankin groaned.
    “It’s not shaped like one,” Thompson said.  “Plus, the thing’s slowing down.  That makes it a spaceship of undetermined origin.  Seems we’re looking at a first contact situation here, Rankin.  But I’ll be go to hell if I know what we’re faced with.”
    “Yeah, back to what I said about ‘not sucking’...”

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Friday, April 15, 2011

Much ado about nothing

Last night, ace UFO researcher Richard Dolan was on Coast-to-Coast AM.  Good thing, too.
There's been a fair amount of news lately about documents released by the FBI on their public website, "The Vault."  Allegedly, these papers reveal that an alien spacecraft did crash in Roswell, New Mexico in 1947 and that the bodies of the crew were indeed recovered.  In addition to this strong assertion, there are likewise files on other notable UFO cases.  Thankfully, Dolan was able to point out that none of this is really new.
Because it isn't.  Noted UFO researcher Bruce Maccabee first looked at the former mentioned FBI memo back in the 1970s, obtaining it through FOIA.  In other words, this document that has been making news has been readily available to the public for about 30 years.  Plus, it appears not to refer to Roswell, but rather another supposed UFO crash in Aztec, New Mexico in 1948.  Most critical of all, there is significant doubt as to the authenticity of the document itself.  For more discussion around that, please see Dolan's After Disclosure site.  It's worth your time to do so.

This is why I'm no longer excited by seeing UFO-related news headlines.  If it's a video or a photo, it can be easily faked by today's software.  If it's a supposed "disclosure document" or other so-called "smoking gun," it's likely to have been passionately pounced upon by a denizen of Above Top (not that I have anything at all against that site) before being properly vetted and authenticated.  Don't get me wrong, I believe that there are ample amounts of government documents that point towards the cover-up of alien visitation.  Those documents have been obtained and thoroughly investigated by men such as Timothy Good, Stanton Friedman, and of course, Richard Dolan.  In the end, it will be these folks who provide the smoking gun.  They have already, if you ask me.  And in the end, it will be these folks who will are vindicated for all of their hard work.

Related, Dolan put forth an interesting theory during his C2C interview.  He postulates that there could be an entire "breakaway civilization" of shadowy, government operatives who utilize advanced technology to live off-world or deep underground.  In fact, Whitley Strieber offered that Gary McKinnon, the British hacker who broke into Defense Department computers in search of UFO evidence, is said to have seen entire lists of military personnel that are currently living on other planets.  Allegations of this sort have been around for a while (see the ending of Close Encounters of the Third Kind), but they seem to be moving from whispered lore towards something perhaps provable.  Time will tell.

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Thursday, April 14, 2011

Grendel: the Devil in black and white

I have been fortunate enough to indulge in more comics this week, so I thought I would talk about one of my favorites.
I had known about Matt Wagner's Grendel for quite a while, but didn't start actually reading the books until around 2008.  The first sector of that year was an especially rough one for me and I don't recall the exact circumstances in which I came across Grendel, but it was serendipitous.  Perhaps it's true that your subconscious draws things to you in ways which you are not aware.  But I digress.  First, a bit about Grendel.
The character of Grendel was created by comic book legend Matt Wagner.  Wagner is both a writer and an artist and used each said talent in the creation of this fine character (rarer than you think.  Few comics creators can do both of those tasks with equal skill.  Wagner is one of them.)  In case you are wondering, the character is indeed named after the antagonist in that epic work of literature, Beowulf.  Fitting really.  Grendel is not in the mold of your typical comic book superhero.  In fact, I wretch a bit at even writing the word "superhero" as I don't think that it applies.  Grendel is, at best, an antihero.  If you have any shred of morality or have any desire to live a peaceful life, you would not want to be Grendel.  When you look at the character's inspirations, the reasons for that becomes clear.
Wagner drew on sources varied and mixed.  There's Moorcock's Elric as well as the French Diabolik and Fantomas, yet the best character comparison, however inadvertent, for the uninitiated is Hannibal Lecter.  At least to my way of thinking.  Grendel is not a nice guy.  He is aggressive, bloodthirsty, and will "carelessly cut you and laugh while you're bleeding" as someone far less original than Wagner once said.  But Grendel is so charismatic, so damn good at what he does, that you cannot help but find him likable or at the least, love hating him.  Same with Lecter.  Lecter is not someone I would hope that any of my readers would wish to emulate, but his style, his strength, and his savage intelligence all merge together at the same high point to make him an unquestionably captivating character.
Same with Grendel.
So who is Grendel?  Grendel is the story of Hunter Rose, though that was not his birth name.  That name is only given as "Eddie" in the first Grendel book (which was really a collection of backup stories from Wagner's Mage for Comico), Grendel: Devil by the Deed. Eddie was a childhood prodigy.  And that was the problem.  Everything came very easily to him and he was bored.  With nothing better to do, he threw himself into the world of competitive fencing.  There, he began an affair with an older woman named Jocasta Rose.  Upon Rose's death, a despondent Eddie embarked on two new and bold directions.  He changed his name to Hunter Rose and became a bestselling author.  This lucrative path led him into the highest of social circles.  
At the same time, he became Grendel: an elegantly masked assassin and eventual organized crime boss with a body count too high to calculate.  Grendel was soon hunted by Argent, a Native American wolfman cursed with an urge for violence.  Argent attempted to turn his curse into a force for good by working with police to bring down Grendel.  In a bizarre twist, Hunter Rose adopts Stacy Palumbo, the daughter of a mafia boss that he killed.  Rose is a fine and loving father to Stacy, but she also develops a "Beauty and the Beast" friendship with Argent.  Stacy sells out Grendel to Argent and the two enemies meet in a fierce battle on the rooftop of a Masonic temple.  Argent is left paralyzed.  Grendel is killed.
Stacy develops severe psychological illnesses and as an adult becomes committed to a mental hospital.  Devil by the Deed is written from the perspective of Christine Spar, Stacy's daughter.  The story does not stop there, however.  There are several Grendel editions that tell tales of Hunter Rose before his demise, a few even crossover with Batman.  There are also at least two future Grendels that I know of...Wagner seems to leave me with the impression that there has always been a Grendel somewhere in the world and that all of the stories have yet to be told.

Wow.  I mean, my God what's not to like?  Look at all of the inventive devices at work here, the use of metatext and nonlinear narrative, all turning and pivoting with the harmony of some profound literary machine.  Obviously, there is a great deal of adolescent fantasy at work here, just as there is in many comics.  You have a roguish youth who is brilliant and an outcast.  He then gets into an affair with a MILF that brings him into manhood.  This youth grows into not only a wealthy sophisticate (and a writer!) but a badass killer.  Yeah, it's all there.  But it's just done with this inimitable sense  Style and elegance.  Those are the first words that come to mind when someone mentions this comic book series. 
Which brings me to Wagner's art.  The majority of the Grendel books are done in black and white with strategically placed applications of red.  There is a blending of styles at work in the book, a simply gorgeous blending of art deco and film noir that looks good enough to eat.  Trust me, you won't find art like this anywhere else in comics.

I apologize for this fanboyish peregrination.  There is simply so much to Grendel and I have neither the time nor the space to properly express all of its nuances and facets.  So go read it for yourself and start with Grendel: Devil by the Deed.  If you have any appreciation for literature or fiction, you will be glad that you did.

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Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Why haven't we colonized Mars?

An article on the other day marked 50 years of humanity in space.  Yet we have still to colonize a single planet or at least The Moon.  Why is that?
Well, for a number of reasons, I thought before I even read the article.  There's the enormous economic cost and perhaps even more insurmountable, the indifference of society.   But the article pointed out areas of resistance that are similar, yet distinctive in their own way.
First of all, the Cold War is over.  The Moon race was held basically as a political pissing contest between America and the Soviet Union.  Plus, technological developments in space exploration often filtered into defense.  The model of rocket that carried Yuri Gagarin into space was easily adapted into the first ICBM.  A sure game-changer in the world of warfare.  Without the Soviet threat, America as a whole just doesn't feel the need to go on with the program anymore.
Then there's the question of a willingness to go.  Since the Challenger and Columbia disasters, I think that people are being more reluctant when it comes to space travel.  We're openly asking ourselves, "is this worth human lives?"  
I think it is undoubted that lives will be lost in the colonization of Mars or any other planet.  I'm not trying to pessimistic but realistic.  It's dangerous business, space exploration.  Still, danger never stopped humanity from exploring in the past.  It didn't preclude the Vikings from coming to America in longboats that few of us would choose to traverse the ocean in today.  Plane crashes happen every year and car crashes happen every day, but most of us still get into those vehicles to get where we're going.  As Robert Zubrin, president of the Mars Society, points out in the article, "My uncle landed on Normandy beach. They didn't hold up the Normandy landing until they thought it was safe. If you're going to wait to go to Mars until you think it will be safe, then you'll never go to Mars."
At first blush, Zubrin's comparison of the exigency behind the Normandy invasion and a journey to Mars may sound off kilter, but is it really?

Face it.  We're going to have to leave this planet.  Even if we enact every single possible measure we can to preserve the environment, something is going to happen that will force humanity to either leave or perish.  It might be overpopulation, a new form of deadly virus, or an asteroid on unstoppable collision course, but something will transpire that shall necessitate our leaving here in order to survive.  Better to be prepared with systems in place and colonies to go to in order to do so.
Besides...I want to know about those "monuments" on Mars.

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Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Gurdjieff: an introduction

A while back on Facebook, John Shirley posted that his book, Gurdjieff: an Introduction To His Life and Ideas, was available in a Kindle edition on Amazon.  Being a fan of Shirley's writing, I did not delay in clicking the link.  I expected to find a cyberpunk novel or perhaps more likely, a horror novel written as biography.  
I was about as incorrect as you could be.  John Shirley's book is actually a work of nonfiction about a man named George Gurdjieff.  This man was hitherto unknown to me, so I decided to do a bit of research.  Here's what I found.
George Ivanovich Gurdjieff was mystic and a spiritualist.  He was born of combined Greek and Armenian heritage sometime in the late 19th Century (the exact year is unknown).  That Greek business made me sit up and take notice.  I've been steeped in Greek mysticism and superstition for over ten years now and I still don't fully understand it.  The more I read however, I rapidly saw that Gurdjieff's work was in an entirely different direction than what I've been experiencing.
Perhaps his most notable work is the notion of The Fourth Way.  Gurdjieff believed that the various religions of humanity had lost their connection to people as a whole.  They were instead, rote means of producing automatons.  Factories for churning out a populace unable to think for itself and therefore easily controlled.  What is more, most religions provide only spiritual development (if you're lucky.)  Gurdjieff's "Fourth Way" was intended to develop and harmonize a person physically, mentally, and spiritually in order to create a balance and harmony within yourself.  In following The Fourth Way, one does what is called "The Work,"  meaning working on one's self.  I am enamored with that idea, that it takes work to be saved as opposed to just checking in at a building every Sunday.  Gurdjieff taught that through enough work, one really would be able attain a higher level of consciousness and being.  
Here's something Gurdjieff focused on that I really like: he pointed out that the phrase, "The Kingdom of Heaven is Within" is a quote from The New Testament that had lost its true psychological meaning.  The kingdom of Heaven is within.  It's inside each one of us.  We have it within ourselves to create "heaven" and need not rely on any invisible force.
I must say, I'm both impressed by this man and embarrassed that I had not heard of him earlier.  I like free-thinkers and I always enjoy reading about alternative (that's a loaded term and I apologize, but I mean it by strict definition) views of spirituality and consciousness, so his work warrants further inspection.  We need this kind of critical thinking and awareness now more than ever.

Addendum: I am astounded at the wide range of people that have claimed Gurdjieff as an influence over the years.  Not just John Shirley, but Robert Anton Wilson, Timothy Leary, Kate Bush, and Frank Lloyd Wright.
To purchase John Shirley's book in either paperback or Kindle format, click here.

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