Star Trek – The Original Series – Complete Series Review – Season 2 Episode 11 – Friday’s Child

This is the quintessential second season episode.  It has so many kitschy tics going on that it’s a little overwhelming.  So first the plot.

The Enterprise is attempting to get a treaty with a tribal world that has some make-believe mineral that’s really important.  The natives are allegedly seven-foot-tall Visigoths that are very honest but very combative and warlike.  McCoy has spent time on the planet and is an expert on their customs.  He, Kirk and Spock beam down along with a redshirt who is immediately killed by the natives when he draws his phaser at an unexpected Klingon with the natives.  Scotty is left in charge of the Enterprise and has been warned that the Klingons may be lurking around.

The Klingon plots with one of the natives and eventually this tribesman kills the tribal leader and takes over the task of deciding whether the Federation or the Klingons will get the mining treaty.

Now the deceased tribal leader’s pregnant wife (played by tv’s Cat woman Julie Newmar) is about to be slaughtered by the new leader but Kirk intervenes and the Enterprise landing party and the woman are placed under armed guard until it is decided how they are to be killed.

Meanwhile the Enterprise is decoyed out of orbit by a Klingon ship masquerading as a Federation freighter in distress.  So, while the landing party is unable to call for help in their peril.  By means of a subterfuge Kirk and Spock manage to overpower the guards and headed for the Los Angeles hills where they find a cave where McCoy can deliver the woman’s unwanted child.  As the widow of the leader she is honor bound to kill herself and the child with her.  McCoy convinces her to want the child but somehow, she decides the child is now McCoy’s.

Kirk and Spock make bows and arrows and cause an avalanche in the cliffs of southern California and hold the tribesman at bay while the baby is delivered but eventually the Klingon kills the new chief for no apparent reason and then is killed by the tribe.  Just then Scotty and a landing party arrives and the Cat woman is made the regent for her son who will be the next tribal leader.  Back on the ship we find out the baby is named Leonard James Akaar after McCoy and Kirk and Spock acts annoyed.  Hilarity ensues.

Okay, now let’s review the horror.  The supposedly seven-foot-tall natives are barely average height.  The uniforms of the warriors look like they were designed for Liberace or Elton John.  Next, we have the classic McCoyism.  When he is trying to drag the Cat woman up an arroyo he complains “I’m a doctor not an escalator.”  And while Scotty is commanding the Enterprise he comes up with such gems as, “Fool me once shame on you, fool me twice, shame on me!” and, “Let’s charge right at him and see if he has the belly for a fight!”  Kirk and Spock up in the hills with their bows and arrows was pretty ridiculous looking.

All the little mannerisms have been built up over the season and a half are now in place.  Kirk has an established manner with each of the cast members.  You can almost predict what he will say to Spock, McCoy, Scotty or Uhura.  Even Spock and McCoy have their little routines that they banter at each other.  So, from the point of view of a second season Star Trek episode this is average.  Average in every way.  I’ll give it an average rating 7 with a low Shatner mockery rating so let’s call it a 7 // 4.

The Cyberiad by Stanislaw Lem – A Science Fiction Book Review

Many years ago, I read some short stories by the Polish science fiction author Stanislaw Lem.  I remember they had futuristic elements like interstellar travel but they also included a certain amount of communist doublespeak about socialist this and soviet that.  And that seemed really odd.

But recently War Dog mentioned favorably the “The Cyberiad” collection of stories and its mathematical love poem so I decided to give Lem another whirl.

The stories in this book are the adventures of two robot inventors, or as they are called in their world Constructors, named Trurl and Klapaucius.  And when I say robot inventors I mean to say that they are inventors who are themselves robots.  They are friends and rivals and from time to time enemies.  They go on assignments together or separately taking on contracts to build just about anything imaginable.  And sometimes they build things for themselves that don’t always seem to be very sensible.  For instance, one- time Trurl constructed a machine that could create anything starting with the letter n.  It could make needles, negligees, nepenthe, narcotics, nimbuses, noodles, nuclei, neutrons, naphtha, noses, nymphs, naiads but not natrium.  And why not?  Because natrium is Latin for sodium and in English sodium starts with s!  Later on, being told to make nothing almost puts an end to the universe but luckily Trurl stops the machine just in time.

So as you can see this is comic science fiction. It’s something sort of in the same vein as Douglas Adams’ The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy” but what it also reminds me of is Lewis Carroll and his Wonderland stories.  There is an enormous amount of wordplay and punning going on in the stories.  The interesting thing is that a lot of the word play is specific to English and these stories were written in Polish which makes me wonder if the translator had to find English equivalents for Polish puns.

The Constructors become involved in adventures that take them all through the cosmos fulfilling contracts for kings and emperors and pirates and sometimes for common people who just really need help.  They build monsters and demons and story telling machines and even machines that know everything about the whole universe.  Interestingly it seems most of the universe is populated by robots and other cybernetic beings.  Organic beings exist and seem to be pretty generally looked down upon by the robots.  But the robots are very human in their foibles and behavior and none more so than our heroes Trurl and Klapaucius.

Mixed in with the zaniness of each of their adventures is a good dose of irony about the human condition.  The selfishness and cruelty of many of their employers and the vanity and greed of the Constructors themselves is often the point of the stories and the fantasy setting is there to add humor and interest to the tale.  And also Lem is enjoying the poetic aspect of the words.  Sure, we can’t hear the Polish words to know it’s poetical but based on the English words you can see that Stanislaw Lem is like a “drunken lord of language” always using twenty words for effect where one is needed for meaning.  Here’s an example:

“Multitudinous are you?”

“We are!”  they shouted, bursting with pride.  “We are innumerable.”

And others cried:

“We are like fish in the sea.”

“Like pebbles on the beach.”

“Like stars in the sky.  Like atoms!”

You get the idea.  Lem is a poet.  And his stories are parables.  And because of this I find that it needs to be broken up and digested in small chunks.  Each of the chapters is a separate story and should be approached as such.  With all of the word play and digressions you can lose track of the nub of the story if you’re tired and not paying attention so I wouldn’t suggest reading them at night before going to bed.  This happened to me once or twice and I realized this wasn’t the kind of material that can be enjoyed at high speed like an adventure novel.  But if you give each story some time and attention it will reward you with a smile and a chuckle.  I’m glad now I was made aware of The Cyberiad.  I will enjoy returning to the adventures of the two intrepid Constructors Trurl and Klapaucius on some cold night in January when my world needs something lighthearted and clever to get me through the short days and long nights of winter.  But if you don’t like an airy, poetical style of writing this might not be for you.

Shakespeare in Film – Part 12 – The Merchant of Venice – Olivier’s 1973 Version

The Merchant of Venice is an odd play.  The romance plot line with Portia and Bassanio is decidedly comic but the Shylock story is a revenge story that verges on the bizarre.  Olivier is Shylock, a Jewish moneylender in Venice.  The story revolves around Antonio, a prosperous merchant whose friend Bassanio is in love with the rich heiress Portia.  Bassanio begs a loan of 3,000 ducats to woo Portia as a nobleman.  Shylock gives Bassanio the money but because of his hatred of Antonio he demands that if the money is not repaid on time Shylock will remove a pound of flesh from Antonio’s breast closest to his heart.  Antonio treats this lightly because he has many merchant ships in route for home that should enrich him many times the 3,000 ducats in cargo value.  But when all his ships are reported lost then the default clause is no longer a joke but a promise of torture and death.

Another subplot has Shylock’s daughter run away from her father and elope with one of Bassanio’s friends, Lorenzo and also convert to Christianity.  It is this insult from his daughter that unhinges Shylock and turns him into a merciless fiend dead set on exacting his pound of flesh.  Luckily for Antonio, Bassanio’s courtship of Portia is successful and when she hears of Antonio’s peril, she tells her new husband that all the funds needed will be available to pay off Antonio’s debt.  But Shylock refuses even thrice the delinquent 3,000 ducats, standing on his contract to extract the pound of flesh he is owed.  Finally, a trial before the Duke of Venice is scheduled.  Portia comes disguised as a learned doctor of the law from Padua with a recommendation to the Duke from Bellario, her lawyer cousin in Padua.  Acting as the judge Portia concedes that the letter of the law allows Shylock to demand his pound of flesh but in a stirring speech she expounds on the “quality of mercy.”  But none of this phases Shylock in the least.  Over and over he refuses the 9,000 ducats and demands his barbaric payment.  Then Portia plays her trump card.  She declares that Shylock can have his pound of flesh.  But not a hair’s weight more or less and without spilling a drop of Antonio’s blood lest Shylock be put to death for it.  Knowing that he is beaten Shylock then asks for the 9,000 ducats but Portia tells him he has already refused that.  Then he asks for his principal back and is equally denied that.  And finally, he is informed that his attempt on the life of a Venetian citizen forfeits his own life and all his fortune.  By an act of mercy, the Duke spares his life and half his fortune with the proviso that Shylock must convert to Christianity and leave his remaining fortune to his daughter and her husband upon Shylock’s death.

After this happy ending there is the usual sexual politics with the disguised Portia demanding as payment from Bassanio for her legal help a ring that she had given him earlier as herself and which he had sworn never to remove.  And when back in her normal appearance she demands to see Bassanio’s ring.  He sadly admits to having given it away.  She produces it and teases him with having spent the night with the doctor of law.  And then there’s a tiff about it that is quickly straightened out when she reveals that she was the doctor of law.  And hilarity ensues.

This is a good production.  It is a good cast and the production values are equally good.  The scenery and costumes are of a Victorian England.  I don’t think this was a particularly good idea but it certainly didn’t harm the story much.  Joan Plowright looked a little too old to be Portia but her acting was everything you’d want for the part.  Jeremy Brett was a good Bassanio and the rest of the supporting cast was very able.  Olivier was very good.  But I was a little let down.  Shylock just isn’t that great a character.  He’s certainly not Hamlet or even Henry V.  He’s doesn’t even have the great villainous lines like Richard III.  A lot of his dialog is odd and melodramatic.  So, for once Olivier is not the main reason for watching this recording.

Plowright has the shining moment.  She gets to recite the quality of mercy speech.  And that alone is worth watching this play.  It is one of the best things Shakespeare ever wrote.  It’s uplifting even for an old deplorable like me.  It almost makes me want to show mercy to my political enemies.  Almost, but not quite.  My conclusion, this is a good version of The Merchant of Venice.

I’ll end with the text of that wonderful speech.

 

The quality of mercy is not strain’d,

It droppeth as the gentle rain from heaven

Upon the place beneath: it is twice blest;

It blesseth him that gives and him that takes:

‘Tis mightiest in the mightiest: it becomes

The throned monarch better than his crown;

His sceptre shows the force of temporal power,

The attribute to awe and majesty,

Wherein doth sit the dread and fear of kings;

But mercy is above this sceptred sway;

It is enthroned in the hearts of kings,

It is an attribute to God himself;

And earthly power doth then show likest God’s

When mercy seasons justice.

Shakespeare in Film – Part 11 – King Lear – Olivier’s 1983 Version

King Lear is a very strange play to watch.  All of the virtuous characters are banished, disowned or fugitives from justice while all the rest of the characters that aren’t out and out villains are seriously flawed and unable to distinguish good from evil.  There is a continuous downward spiral as the evil characters consolidate their positions and everyone else including the hapless Lear ricochet from one disaster to the next.

I first saw this play back in the 1970s as a Shakespeare in the Park presentation in Central Park with James Earl Jones as Lear.  Some extremely timely thunderstorm activity by Mother Nature made for an exciting performance and I have enjoyed the play since.  But I will admit that the Storm scene is extremely odd to sit through.  Even the actors seem to be slightly at a loss as to how they are supposed to relate to each other during this weird act.

The 1983 version of King Lear starring Laurence Olivier is a British Television production and it is done on a television sound stage and it has the look of a sound stage made to look like a theater stage.  That is not to say that it is badly filmed but rather that it does not have the production values that the budget of a major Hollywood movie can allow.

The cast in addition to Olivier includes some well-known faces.  Lear’s Fool is played by John Hurt.  Leo McKern, who American audiences might know from the British import television series “Rumpole of the Bailey” plays Gloucester.  And if you’re old enough to remember the 1960s spy series “The Avengers” then you would remember Diana Rigg who here plays one of Lear’s evil daughters (Regan).  The rest of the cast is unknown to me but overall, the acting is reasonably good.

In my opinion, you watch this version for Olivier and to a lesser degree John Hurt.  They provide the stand out performances that elevate this above an average television version.  It is sad to see how frail Olivier is here.  He was 75 years old at the time and in extremely poor health.  This was his last attempt at Shakespeare.  But he gives the lines their due.  He allows Lear to make sense to an audience struggling with this bizarre set of characters and circumstances.  He was still a great actor even here at the end of his life.  That is not to say that the performance was perfect, although I believe it had more to do with technical problems of a television production.  During the Storm scene Lear’s voice is difficult to understand over the wind and rain noises.  If the video has captioning then this will not be as big a problem.  Also, some of the staging is a little odd to me.  The torches that were used during some of the scenes look very odd and I assume this was a limitation of the television cameras used to capture the action.

Overall, this is not a masterpiece like Olivier’s Hamlet or even a slick commercial production like Henry V that had a robust budget and a great supporting cast.  This is a modest production with a mixture of greater and lesser talent.  But it is your only chance to see Laurence Olivier as King Lear.  If that interests you then you should see it if it is available to you from whatever source you obtain your movies.

Star Trek – The Original Series – Complete Series Review – Season 2 Episode 10 – Journey to Babel

In this episode, the Enterprise is carrying ambassadors from several Federation races to a conference on a planetoid called Babel to decide the fate of a planet called Coridan requesting membership in the Federation.  The first scene involves the arrival by shuttle craft of the Vulcan ambassador Sarek and his human wife Amanda (played by Jane Wyatt who was the mother in the popular television series, “Father Knows Best”).  As it turns out they are also Spock’s father and mother.  We find out that Sarek and Spock have not been on good terms since Spock decided to join Starfleet instead of the Vulcan Academy as his father had desired.

Sarek is involved in an altercation that turns physical with the Tellarite ambassador over the illegal Tellarite mining of dilithium in the Coridan system.  Later, when the ambassador turns up dead, Sarek is the prime suspect.  Meanwhile an unidentified starship of incredible speed begins following the Enterprise.

While being interrogated by Kirk over the murder of the Tellarite Sarek reveals that he could not have been the killer because he is too weakened by a heart condition.  Suddenly Sarek is stricken by a major heart attack and McCoy thinks that surgery will be necessary.  But the Enterprise lacks sufficient supplies of Sarek’s rare blood type to safely allow the surgery.  Spock volunteers to undergo treatment with a drug that will supplement his body’s ability to produce new blood and will thus be able to produce sufficient blood for the operation.

Kirk is attacked by a member of the Andorian delegation named Thelev.  Kirk subdues him but only after sustaining a serious knife wound to the lung.  Kirk is taken to sick bay and Spock assumes command which in his mind makes it impossible for him to provide the blood transfusion needed for Sarek’s life-saving surgery.  When Amanda hears of Spock’s decision, she begs him to put another officer in charge and save his father’s life.  When Spock refuses on the grounds of duty, Amanda slaps Spock in the face and runs away from her son.

When McCoy tells Kirk, what Spock has decided Kirk tells McCoy that despite his critical injury he will go up to the bridge and pretend that he is recovered in order to force Spock to assist in the surgery.  Once Spock leaves the bridge Kirk will call Scotty to relieve him.  McCoy reluctantly agrees to the plan because Sarek is so close to death.  And it works.  Kirk fools Spock and McCoy escorts the Vulcan back to sick bay.

But just as Kirk prepares to call for his relief the mystery ship begins offensive posturing toward the Enterprise.  Simultaneously, Uhura detects communication between the enemy ship and the Andorian, Thelev in the ship’s brig.  Although Kirk is in obvious pain, he maintains command and calls for the Andorian prisoner to be brought to the bridge while he directs Chekov and the helmsman battling the enemy ship.  The ship is so fast that the Enterprise’s weapons systems are too slow to track it.  Finally, with shields already failing Kirk is forced to make a desperate ploy.  He deactivates the ship power systems to lure the ship in close and disables it with phasers at point blank range.  The ship self-destructs rather than be captured and the prisoner Thelev reveals that he also has a suicide plan and succumbs to poison before medical aid can be brought.

Meanwhile during the attack McCoy is attempting to perform delicate heart surgery to save Sarek’s life while the operating area is convulsed by the weapons concussions and power fails some of his most important surgical instruments.  At one point, Sarek’s heart stops and McCoy is forced to use a manual device to resuscitate him.  Spock is also in grave danger from the equipment malfunctions occurring.  But by the end of the attack McCoy was able to successfully repair Sarek’s heart.

Now Kirk staggers back to sick bay after allowing Chekov to relieve him.  When Spock regains consciousness, he informs Kirk that he believes that the alien ship and Thelev were actually Orions.  Thelev was surgically altered to appear Andorian and the Orions wanted to destroy the Enterprise and start a war and then sell pirated dilithium crystals to both sides.

Amanda appears and tells her husband to thank her son for saving his life.  Sarek counters that it would be illogical to thank Spock for doing the logical thing.  Amanda becomes outraged and disparages Vulcan logic.  Spock notes that his mother seems very irrational.  He asks his father why he married her.  Sarek replies that it seemed the logical thing to do at the time.

But now McCoy steps in and tells all his convalescing patients to calm down and stop talking.  After a few warnings, they fall silent and McCoy breaks into a big smile and says, “Well what do you know, I finally got the last word.”

This is not such a bad episode.  The Spock family stuff is mostly amusing and the ridiculous fake aliens are, of course, ridiculous.  They even have a couple of dwarfs painted copper that are supposed to be something or other.

Jane Wyatt relating scenes from Spock’s childhood and trying to reconcile her husband and son has some charm.  On the story side of the ledger this earns a 7.

On the Shatner mockery side, we have the scene with Kirk battling the knife-wielding Thelev.  At one point, when they are wrestling, Shatner does some kind of sideways jump where his legs collide with a wall and part of Thelev.  It looks extremely uncoordinated and ineffectual.  And after he is stabbed, he contorts and writhes in Shatnerian agony.  So altogether I’ll give this a 7 // 7.

Alien: Covenant – A Science Fiction and Fantasy Movie Review

I saw Alien in the theater in 1979.  It was one of the earlier movies produced with Dolby Sound and the theater in Times Square was extremely proud of their superb sound system.  And that was all that the movie can be said to have excelled in.  It was without a doubt the loudest movie I have ever been exposed to before or since.  Watching the movie back then I determined that rather than make a scary monster movie they made a painfully loud monster movie.  So, whenever the monster was about to jump out of the dark, they would turn the volume to eleven and the audience would jump out of their seats holding their ears in pain.  I guess they figured we might mistake burst eardrums for fear.  The movie is basically shot in the dark and you can never really see the monster when it’s killing someone so it’s really not scary, just annoying.

In the mid-eighties James Cameron was paid to make a sequel to this film with a troop of “space marines” added to bump up the body count and allow Sigourney Weaver to become a female Arnold Schwarzenegger and hopefully add some more sequels to the franchise.  Admittedly Alien 2 was better than the original but that’s not really saying much.  Then they made a third one which really sucked and finally a fourth that most normal people just ignored completely and so it was hoped that the series had died its natural death.

But sometime in the 2000s someone had the bright idea of having the creature in the Predator series meet up with the Alien creature and this spawned a new series of bad sci-fi movies.  But at least these weren’t “serious” science fiction films, whatever that means, and so the “integrity” of the Alien franchise was maintained.

In 2012 they dragged the director of the original Alien, Ridley Scott back to make a prequel called Prometheus.  It included a bunch of crap about how humanity was the product of genetic engineering by an advanced race called the Engineers.  And this gets all mixed up with the Alien monster showing up on a planet where one of the Engineer’s ships is holed up for some reason and the Earth crew’s android turning evil.

Well anyway in 2017 they made a sequel to Prometheus called Alien: Covenant.  Here a human colony ship headed for a new world intercepts a message and finds one of the characters from Prometheus and starts falling victim to the alien monsters again.

So, what’s the best way to say this?  Oh, I know!  It’s the same stupid story from 1979 all over again.  It’s exactly the same plot and even the same character stereotypes.  There’s the plucky young woman with a knack for killing monsters on space ships.  There’s the android who is fascinated by the creature and will allow the humans to die in order to learn more about the creature.  And then there is the rest of the crew who are just fodder for the creature on a killing spree.

That’s all there is, over and over and over.  Save yourself the trouble.  It’s not fun and it’s not interesting.  The characters aren’t great, the special effects are no better than any other CGI sci-fi movie and you already know the plot from the beginning.  Hollywood, try to come up with something different for once, please.

A Night at the Opera – An OCF Classic Movie Review

The Marx Brothers have the reputation for producing some of the funniest movies of the 1930s and 1940s.  This is in some ways deserved but it is by no means justified for all of their films.  In addition, no one would claim that the entirety of any of the movies is consistently funny.  After all, the number of people who would laugh through a three-minute harp solo is extremely small, probably zero.

But I consider A Night at the Opera their best effort.  For that reason, I’ll start with a review of it and if I decide to tackle any of the others it will involve comparing them to the qualities of A Night at the Opera.

The story starts out in Italy with Otis B. Driftwood (Groucho Marx) trying to convince the wealthy widow Mrs. Claypool (Margaret Dumont) to donate $200,000 to the New York Opera in order to cement her place in high society.  With the money, the opera company’s director Herman Gottlieb, can sign a famous Italian tenor Rodolfo Lassparri for the upcoming season production of Il Trovatore.  There is a love triangle between the soprano Rosa Castaldi, an unknown but brilliant tenor, Ricardo Baroni and the villainous Lassparri.

Tomasso (Harpo Marx) and Fiorello (Chico Marx) work to get Ricardo Baroni signed by Driftwood to the New York Opera instead of Lassparri but fail and the two of them are forced to stow away along with Baroni on the steam ship heading for New York.  Driftwood hides them in his closet sized stateroom and this gives rise to one of the funniest scenes in the movie when a troop of cleaning, maintenance and wait staff along with other miscellaneous persons end up crowding into the stateroom with the Marx Brothers and eventually explode out into the ship corridor when Mrs. Claypool opens the door.  This scene contains one of Groucho’s trademark wisecracks.  With about ten people already in the room a knock comes on the door and Groucho opens it to discover a young woman.

Groucho – Yes?

Girl – Is my Aunt Minnie in here?

Groucho – You can come in and prowl around if you want to.  If she isn’t in here, you can probably find somebody just as good.

Girl – Could I use your phone?

Groucho – Use the phone?  I’ll lay you even money you can’t get in the room.

The whole plot including the love story is a thin pretext for the Marx Brothers to sow chaos everywhere they go.  The climax of the movie is the opera opening night and the three brothers doing everything imaginable to sabotage Lassparri’s performance and provide Baroni with an opportunity to sing as the lead tenor in his place.  Harpo (or more likely his stunt double) ends up performing swashbuckling acrobatics in the manner of Douglas Fairbanks Sr. and eventually kidnaps Lassparri right off the stage to allow the climactic aria duet to be sung by Baroni and Castaldi.

And just as it looks like the brothers will be carted off to jail by the NYPD, Baroni blackmails Gottlieb into hiring himself, Castaldi, Driftwood, Fiorello and Tomasso and calling off the police in exchange for Baroni and Castaldi agreeing to perform an encore that is being thunderously demanded by the overjoyed audience.

This absurd story line is actually one of the tighter Marx Brother movie plots.  Their movies were sort of like a variety show out of vaudeville.  In between dramatic scenes you would get Chico playing the piano or Harpo playing the harp.  And most of the movies had several comic songs sung by Groucho.  In this movie there is also a number of songs and arias sung by the Baroni and Castaldi characters.  So, depending how you feel about songs in a movie will decide whether you can tolerate any Marx Brothers movie at all.

As indicated initially I like this movie.  That is not to say I wouldn’t prefer to cut out the harp solo.  And that is not saying all the comedy routines are equally successful for me.  But taking the whole movie together I would call A Night at the Opera a funny movie.  And I would say, compared to many of the Marx Brothers movies, the personalities of the brothers are much less obnoxious than they typically are.  And it is notable that the production values for this movie produced by MGM are much higher than their previous movies for Paramount.  If you are already a fan of the Marx Brothers and have never seen “A Night at the Opera” then I can unreservedly recommend this movie for you.  For everyone else, especially those born in the 21st century your mileage may vary.

Spellbound – Book II of the Grimnoir Chronicles – by Larry Correia – A Science Fiction-Fantasy Book Review

“Spellbound” is the second book in this series.  Obviously since I am reviewing this second volume, I enjoyed the first installment “Hard Magic” (see my review of it here).

In this story the main characters Jake Sullivan and Faye Vierra are once again swept along in the cataclysmic ricochets of real magic altering the world of the early 20th century.  It’s 1933 and FDR is coming into office and one of his priorities is dealing with the ‘Actives.”  This is the term for humans that have major magical powers.  This includes “Brutes” who are inhumanly strong, “Travelers” who can teleport, “Healers” who can cure almost any disease or injury and numerous other special types.  In the first book we learned how the Japanese had harnessed Actives as a spearpoint for their war machine in Asia.  And we met Jake and Faye.  Now they are veteran “knights” in the Grimnoir Society, sworn to use their powers to protect the innocent and destroy those using magic for evil.

But forces within the United States government are conspiring to discredit the Grimnoir and turn the American public against the Actives through a series of false flag operations.  This book is the story of the Grimnoir fighting against that operation.  But it also builds on the conflict with the Japanese Iron Guard, (enhanced military Actives) from the first book and then clarifies the nature of the forces that had originally unleashed magic into the world and how that will threaten the whole world in the very near future.

Okay, so that’s the setup.  Larry Correia is a very good story teller.  He paints a very rich picture with his characters and the action of the plot.  Even the villains are well written and the story is peppered with historical personages like J Edgar Hoover and Buckminster Fuller who are adapted to fill their roles in this alternate universe.  Each chapter begins with a quote from some person, mostly historical, saying something that illustrates how real magic has impacted the alternate universe of the story.

I find this alternate world very entertaining.  The Jake Sullivan character is one of Correia’s competent man heroes.  He is a brawler who has been treated badly by the world but refuses to abandon the good.  Even his enemies have learned to respect his abilities and this allows him to form alliances that otherwise would be impossible.  Faye is a powerfully gifted “Traveler” who possess abilities that far exceed what other Actives can do.  She is also a very young woman from a sheltered small-town environment who is still trying to figure out how she fits into this strange world she finds herself in.

These two characters are the twin focuses around which the other characters and the plot revolve.  The whole story is a straight forward action adventure.  There are plenty of good guys, bad guys and even some good bad guys and bad good guys.  It’s a combination of Buck Rodgers, The Untouchables and H. P. Lovecraft with some film noir thrown in for good measure.  If that sounds like something you might like then pick up the first book Hard Magic and start at the beginning.  If you’ve already read it then know that the series is still getting better in book two, Spellbound.

Star Trek – The Original Series – Complete Series Review – Season 2 Episode 9  – Metamorphosis

Kirk, Spock and McCoy are in the shuttle craft with Federation Commissioner Nancy Hedford (played by Elinor Donahue of “Father Knows Best” fame) returning from a space treaty negotiation on Epsilon blah blah blah.  Hedford has been infected with a rare but potentially deadly disease and needs treatment on the Enterprise to restore her to health.  But the shuttlecraft is intercepted by an energy entity that tows the vessel to a planetoid that possess an earth-like environment.

Once there they discover that the shuttle engine and communication devices are inactivated and they begin to worry how they will get back to the Enterprise before Commissioner Hedford dies.

A man appears and introduces himself as Mr. Cochrane and explains that the entity rescued him when he was a very old man dying in a space ship that passed by the planetoid.  They discover that Cochrane is the famous Zefram Cochrane, the inventor of the warp drive.  And his appearance convinces them that the 239-year-old Cochrane is being kept young and alive by the entity.

The entity has brought them to the planetoid to keep Cochrane company.  It turns out that the entity is female and loves Cochrane.  But now Hedford is actually dying and Kirk and Spock rig up a translator to allow them to talk to the entity.  They explain that not being a woman she can never love a man but that humans cannot live in captivity and so eventually Cochrane will die of loneliness.  When they tell the entity that Commissioner Hedford is dying the entity leaves them.

Suddenly Hedford shows up apparently healed and explains that she is both the entity and Hedford in the same body.  She saved Hedford’s life by joining her.  Now the shuttle can leave and Cochrane asks if the woman will come with him back to civilization.  But the entity reveals that her life force is fused to the planetoid and if she left, she would die.  Out of gratitude but also love Cochrane decides to stay on the planetoid with the woman.  He asks Kirk not to let the outside know that the famous Zefram Cochrane is living on the planetoid.  As they’re leaving Spock asks how the peace talks can proceed without Hedford and Kirk says, “I’m sure the Federation can find another woman, somewhere, who’ll stop that war.”

The idea of the story is kind of interesting.  A legendary historic figure made immortal by a lovestruck ion cloud.  Combining a career woman who couldn’t find love with an alien that needs a woman’s body to actualize the attraction she feels for a man is clever.

But the action we see is kind of lame.  At one point, Kirk and Spock rig up a device to disrupt the cloud’s electric field and essentially kill it.  But the entity foils their plan and then proceeds to choke them to death somehow.  As Shatner and Nimoy writhe around on the floor clutching their throats, DeForest Kelley growls out in his typical outraged way, “Stop it, your killing them!”  I mean, isn’t it obvious that’s what the entity is trying to do?  Elinor Donahue provides a sufficiently annoying bureaucrat.  All things considered, Cochrane and the entity are the only sympathetic characters in the teleplay.

I’d call this a 6.  The Shatner mockery score is significantly enhanced by the writhing strangling scene so let’s call it a 6 // 7.

Yellowstone – A Television and Country Music Review

Camera Girl is a remarkable human being but she is, foremost, a woman. And any husband worth his salt will tell you that’s not an unalloyed blessing. One of the many things that separate women from rational human beings is their love of soap operas. And this includes that bane of late 20th and early 21st century life, the nighttime soap. Luckily when we were young, we had children so we were too busy in the heyday of nighttime soaps to watch Dallas, Dynasty, Knots Landing, Melrose Place and the rest of that bilge.
But now that we are mostly empty nesters it’s no longer safe. And every once in a while, Camera Girl will reach beyond her annoying predilection for cop shows and look for something truly awful. And so it is that I have been dragged kicking and screaming into the demented saga that is Yellowstone. Kevin Costner and a mostly unknown cast (at least to me) ride horses and shoot guns up in Montana trying to preserve their Ponderosa sized cattle ranch from the real estate speculators, Indian tribes, disloyal cowboys, hedge fund pirates and other assorted lunatics who all seem to need killing. And kill them they do. Their enemies end up shot, stabbed, drowned, blown up, or pushed off cliffs more or less with impunity. And within the family, hatred and dysfunction are on full display. The daughter is a foul-mouthed man-eating lawyer. The lawyer son is her foil that she despises, berates and occasionally assaults. The cowboy brother is the hero, I guess. He’s a decorated war hero and his Indian wife and son have left the reservation and live on the ranch now.
The show truly is a ridiculous nighttime soap with egregious plots and ridiculous dialog. That being said, I was pleasantly surprised when I started hearing some of my favorite country artists on the soundtrack. Colter Wall, Tyler Childers, Chris Stapleton, Ryan Bingham and a bunch of other good to excellent country acts provide at least an interesting aural experience to go along with the annoying goings on at the Dutton family ranch.
One other saving grace that the show possesses are the vistas and landscapes that seem to surround you wherever you look in that magnificent big sky country. The juxtaposition of soaring snowy mountains, cascading rivers, verdant plains and technicolor blue skies can be seen sometimes all in one shot. You often find yourself wanting to yell at the actors to shut up and get out of the camera’s field of view and stop ruining the experience of just seeing and hearing the grandeur on display. But unfortunately, thy will go on yammering about whatever crime or deal they are conniving that week.
So that tells you all you need to know about the show. And honestly there is no way I can say I recommend this train wreck of a television experience. It’s a ghastly offense against story-telling. If you’re an enormous Kevin Costner fan I guess you can justify watching it to see him. He is one of the better parts of the show but even that isn’t saying much. And you can just listen to the soundtrack without watching the show. And I’m sure National Geographic has tons of documentary footage of Montana and Wyoming wilderness to watch anytime you want.
I, on the other hand, have to watch. Camera Girl is a woman and therefore barbarically cruel. I can always hope it will be cancelled soon. Damn you Costner.